A Sex Educator and a Parent:  My essay for “Rage Against the Mini-Van”  Mommy-blog

A Sex Educator and a Parent: My essay for “Rage Against the Mini-Van” Mommy-blog

As a sex educator, I’m used to being the odd person out. Unless hanging out with colleagues, I’m usually the only person in a group who will speak frankly about sexuality issues.  As a grad student, I’d get annoyed when peers spread misinformation and I’d freely offer corrections.  Luckily, I found an outlet working as a health educator and got paid for my advice and opinion. I recall providing workshops for foster parents struggling to handle sexual issues with the children placed with them.  I emphasized the PLISSIT model, developed by Jack Anon and widely endorsed by sexuality education groups. This is based on a belief that most sexual problems can be dealt with by giving someone permission to be sexual (that’s the P) and limited information about how their bodies work (there’s the LI).  A very small minority of people need specific suggestions (SS…) and fewer yet need intensive therapy.  I encouraged these parents to give their kids permission to be sexual and the information they needed to understand their bodies. These parents needed the P and LI as well; like any other aspect of parenting, we don’t suddenly know how because we gave birth.

And then I became a Mom. In retrospect, I realize that I practiced what I preached.  I still giggle at the memory of my son, barely age three, demonstrating that he was  integrating a conversation we’d had about male and female bodies. We were visiting my father and step-mother, rather staid people with plastic slip covers on brocade couches, when my son stared first my dad, then at his wife and looked at me to exclaim ” Grandma — gina, Grandpa penis, yes?”  O yes, I replied, that’s right! Boys and men have a penis and girls and women a vagina!  The only thing that matched my pleasure at his insight was the intensity of my step-mothers agitation….. “Where did he learn to talk like that?!” she sputtered, red faced and upset.  I never did find an explanation that she found acceptable.  I know that I gave my son permission to ask whatever he wanted and  limited information appropriate to his age.

Later, as he reached the “Mom we need a ride” phase, I was privy to all sorts of conversations observed from my rear-view mirror.  Jokes about girls were gently squashed. Misinformation about erections was corrected. My intervention was limited to kids whose parents I knew; otherwise misinformation was corrected in private as soon as we got home.

I recently learned that my son and his friends freely helped themselves to the college level sexuality text books I kept in my office. I knew only to leave books accessible that I was OK with him seeing, and it worked. A boy will reach an age when his Mom is the last person with whom he wants to discuss sexual arousal, and he needs to know where to go to get his questions answered.

Any parent can prepare themselves to be the primary sexuality educator for their children. We’ve known for years that parent-child communication about sex helps kids make better decisions about sexual activity and promotes their sexual health. Now that so many sex abuse prevention programs focus on stranger danger without mentioning sex, parent child communication about sex is critical to sexual safety as well!  I feel so strongly about this that I wrote The Sex-Wise Parent to help every parent do just that; talking about sex with our kids is not easy for so many of use, but you don’t need to be a professional sex educator to do it well; just an informed and loving parent.

Find more information at www.SexWiseParent.com and www.JanetRosenzweig.com

http://www.rageagainsttheminivan.com/2013/08/what-i-want-you-to-know-about-talking.html

What Parents Need to Know: The one “fact of life” that kids must learn early

What Parents Need to Know: The one “fact of life” that kids must learn early

No matter how much discipline we try to exert over our bodies, in some ways they’re just going to do what they’re going to do. We breathe, we have reflexes, when we’re scared our bodies make ready to fight or flee.  And anyone who has ever diapered a boy baby has probably seen a tiny erection, a reflexive physical reaction.

It is absurd to think that a baby’s genital feelings are sexual — babies have no concept of sexuality and just naturally respond to anything that feels good. Human bodies are wired to react to many types of stimulation without conscious decision — like getting goose bumps, or blinking. These types of bodily responses, including physical arousal of the genitalia, are called autonomic responses. They are governed by the autonomic nervous system and not conscious choice.

What does this have to do with sexual health and safety?

Many popular sex abuse prevention programs focus on teaching kids about “good touch-bad touch”, but the words of one adult survivor of sexual abuse must be heard: “No one ever tells a child that a wrong touch might actually feel good!” In fact, molesters often count on a child not knowing this critical fact of life, and use a child’s physical response to convince him or her that they were a willing participant. Similarly, a young man who does not know that his arousal came directly from his own brain may choose to ‘blame’ his arousal on someone and attempt to coerce them to relieve it, an all too familiar story heard from sexually aggressive adolescents.  Parents of young children have an opportunity to set a foundation for sexual health and safety by helping make sure their child understands how their genitals work.

Transmitting this message to kids can be as easy as doing nothing. Simply, a non-reaction to a baby handling their genitals gives the message that as parents we’ll treat all body parts equally. As babies become toddlers, we can set boundaries around genital play, focusing on privacy, much the same way as we present potty-training; there’s a time and place for everything. We can also begin to introduce the difference between privacy and secrecy; a child can learn that there are things she can do in private, but Mom and Dad need to know about them. Parents of toddlers can prepare to answer questions coming from a child who knows that he can ask his parents anything.

One mom interviewed for The Sex-wise Parent shared her total meltdown when her 3 1/2 year-old son asked, “Mommy, why does my winky get big sometimes?” Another expressed how hard she had to work not to reprimand her four-year-old daughter who loved to rub favorite toys on her genitals in the bath. Both of these parents were off to a good start by not punishing their child for talking about sex or pleasuring themselves, and both have an opportunity to do more.

A question about an erection can be answered with an age-appropriate version of this: “Sometimes our bodies do things all by themselves because of how they feel, like when you laugh if you’re tickled. Penises get bigger when they feel good, whether you told it to nor not.” The pre-school girl may be ready to hear, “I know it feels special when you rub your vagina, but don’t rub too hard; vaginas can get scratched too, like your knee did when you feel off your bike yesterday.”

Speaking like this to your child may feel odd at first; a great way to prepare is to practice with your spouse or a friend. Take turns thinking of the toughest question you fear hearing from a little one, then help each other craft short, clear answers. The more you say the words and phrases with a trusted friend or partner, the easier it will be to speak to your child with pleasant authority instead of discomfort.

Comfort, knowledge and language about the sexual parts of the body are crucial to the foundation of sexual health and safety for our kids. Children with knowledge and language are less appealing to molesters, who seek out kids lacking the tools to speak up. Children who know the fundamental difference between healthy privacy (“I can do it without Mom or Dad watching“) and secrecy (“Mom and Dad can’t know about this“) are less likely to be sworn to the silence that provides cover to people who sexually abuse children.   And, if a child is touched inappropriately like thousands are each year,  the knowledge that their body’s autonomic reaction doesn’t make them complicit and that there are no secrets from mom and dad will spare them the devastating confusion resulting from experiencing a physical response that they neither wanted nor expected.

Having those frank discussions about genitalia with your children while they’re still young enough to want your answers means they’ll be more likely to listen to you as they negotiate the turbulent teen years.  Good luck!

 

This post was written for  the Healthy Kids column at Philly.com, published 9/24/2013

http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/The-one-fact-of-life-that-kids-must-learn-early.html

How’s the ‘sexual climate’ of your child’s school?

How’s the ‘sexual climate’ of your child’s school?

Most of us pay no attention to the weather unless something extraordinary happens — a horrible storm, or a gloriously sunny day in the middle of winter. Likewise, most people pay no attention to the sexual climate in the places they spend their time each day until something doesn’t feel right. Maybe the jokes are just a little bit too risqué, displays of affection are too intense, or questionable photos are hanging over a colleague’s desk; something just feels creepy. A lot of adults relate this concept to their workplace, but few of us recognize that it also applies to our kids’ schools.

Kids spend most of their waking hours in school, and schools each have their own climate or “social feel”.  A school’s “culture” would be its policies, procedures, rules and regulations, while school “climate” refers to how it actually feels to be in a school.  This is a difficult concept for people who have spent time in few schools, but the differences can be vast. Researchers use variations in school climate to predict outcomes like academic achievement, rates of bullying, and sexual health and safety.

What is a healthy sexual climate?

Every school has a physical, social, affective and academic environment, and they can all relate to sexual health and safety. Here are some examples of what we don’t want in the school climate:

  • Children terrified to change clothes in the locker room or walk through certain corridors;
  • A popular teacher texting favorite students;
  • Sexual slurs used with impunity; and
  • A bus driver whose hand brushes against a student’s butt as she exits.

On the other hand, here are some examples of what we hope for:

  • Faculty and staff who understand the psychosexual developmental stages of their students and have appropriate expectations;
  • An air of mutual respect between genders, between adults and students,            between administration and staff and people of different sexual orientation;
  • Locker room and bathroom privacy with age-appropriate adult supervision; and
  • Parents who model and reinforce these ideals at home.

A school with a healthy sexual climate promotes tolerance and respect, and the faculty and staff respond quickly to real or perceived threats including rumor, innuendo and bullying.

Why is it important to understand sexual climate?

  • To eliminate student-staff sexual relationships: A 2004 report commissioned by the US Department of Education, still considered the most  authoritative study on this topic  concluded that at least 5 percent of students report sexual contact with school personnel by the time they graduate. High-profile cases of student-teacher sexual relationships are making the news more frequently, but their incidence is not new at all. No parent wants to consider the awful possibility of their child in a sexual relationship with an adult charged with their care. A school with an unhealthy sexual climate can provide cover for predators disguised as a popular teacher or coach.
  • To improve learning: A school owes your child accurate, unbiased and age-appropriate education on topics where sex and sexuality have a role. Art and history, for example, join anatomy and physiology as topics requiring a healthy sexual climate for learning.
  • To stop bullying: No child can learn when he or she feels unsafe. An unhealthy sexual climate may show itself in girls who fear being fondled when walking through crowded halls, boys terrified of locker room antics or sexual-minority youth being targeted for bullying or physical violence.

What can a parent do?

Open communication with your children is important here, as it is with many parenting issues. Pay attention to how students and teachers speak and behave when you visit the school, and don’t just visit on parent-teacher days. Use this  checklist  to help assess the sexual climate in your child’s school and contact school officials if you have any concern.  Remember, the climate of any organization is determined by its members, and parents are very important members of a school community.

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig is the national consultant for child sexual abuse prevention for Prevent Child Abuse America and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent. For more information, read her blog or contact DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com to schedule a program for your school or community group.

 

 This article originally appeared at  http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/Hows-the-sexual-climate-of-your-childs-school.html

 

Family Summer Safety Tips Part 2 –Restroom Safety!!

Family Summer Safety Tips Part 2 –Restroom Safety!!

Part 2 in my series for the Centre Daily Times, State College, PA

  An important summer safety rule is to drink lots of liquids, but we all know what that means — bathroom breaks. When you’re traveling and nature calls you may not have time to be choosy but there’s always time to be careful, especially when traveling with children.

The best option is to use the “family restroom.” A single stall with its own entry provides privacy and security; a stall designated for people with disabilities may fit the bill.

Stay with a child until about age 8 or 9 in a multiple toilet facility even if the child has hit the “I can do it myself” stage. As children get older, they should still be kept within range for you to see or hear them.

Things get more complicated when the child and adult are not the same gender.

Boys traveling with mothers reach an age when they hate being dragged into a ladies’ room. Too bad. Sex offenders watch for this when seeking targets. Never accept an offer from a seemingly nice guy to keep an eye on your son. If you notice a family where a man leaves his wife and takes his son to the men’s room, consider asking him to keep an eye on your son. It’s difficult to imagine someone hurting a child with his own as a witness, but use the 300-second rule. This means setting a time limit of 300 seconds for a trip to the men’s room. Both of you should start counting together, and do not hesitate to walk in if you reach 301. Always be aware of your child’s location and keep your eyes glued to the exit.

Men traveling with girls have a bigger problem because urinals are rarely in stalls. Girls old enough to be out of diapers are old enough to recognize that men are urinating. Dads can carry a little girl into a restroom, shielding her eyes, and head right to stall with a door. Because of this, girls may age out of accompanying their fathers at a younger age than boys with their mothers. When this happens, consider asking a mother heading into the ladies room with her kids to watch your daughter. And still play the counting game.

Teens need to be reminded that drug users, purse snatchers and sex offenders are among the unsavory people that can operate in a restroom. Remind teens to scope out restrooms with caution and common sense. Parents may feel more at ease if there are a dozen people lined up for the facility. Bad guys (or gals) don’t operate well with witnesses. On the other hand, if the crowd is all teens, consider finding another option for your younger child. Teen judgment is not fully developed and this can lead to the occasional cruel or stupid act.

Common sense should rule. Kids need to learn that life is not always totally safe. Discussing restroom safety is a great opportunity to teach your child to be aware and cautious.

Janet Rosenzweig is the author of “The Sex-Wise Parent: The Parent’s Guide Protecting Your Child, Strengthening Your Family, and Talking to Kids about Sex, Abuse, and Bullying” and a 30-year veteran of child-welfare and youth-serving programs (www.SexWiseParent.com). This weekly column is a collaboration of Centre County Communities that Care serving Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola area school districts, and Care Partnership: Centre Region Communities that Care serving the State College Area School District.

Read more here: http://www.centredaily.com/2013/07/17/3690651/communities-that-care-restroom.html#storylink=cpy
CentreDaily.com
Family Summer Safety Tips:  Part 1 ~ Discuss safety rules prior to family vacation

Family Summer Safety Tips: Part 1 ~ Discuss safety rules prior to family vacation

The long-awaited vacation is almost here; you’ve spent months researching, planning and saving, and you can’t wait to have some well-deserved down time with your family. Spend a few more minutes planning for safety and improve the odds that the vacation will be everything you want it to be.

Safety starts at check-in: Good desk clerks never announce a room number; they will hand you a key or card and point to the room number. You have no idea who in the lobby may be observing a member of your family or your possessions with a special interest. No one should know exactly where you are unless you decide to tell them.

Daytime fun: Many family-themed resorts offer a kids program, but parental vigilance is required as these programs are rarely subject to the same standards as child care centers. Ask the same kinds of questions you’d ask about a camp — Who are the staff? How are they screened? What kind of training do they receive from the hotel?

You can feel more secure if your hotel contracts with licensed child care providers for programs and parents should always know where their children are. Younger ones must be kept within eyesight; adolescents and older kids should be given a time limit to report back to parents. The limit can range from 15 to 30 minutes for younger adolescents; older kids may earn the right to be gone 60 to 90 minutes. These same time limits apply if parents chose to leave an adolescent in charge of younger siblings while the parents enjoy resort life. This can be a risky proposition — parents deserve privacy and vacation time as well, but it’s not easy to combine romance and family time. Safety first, couples’ time second.

Beach safety: Adolescent girls in bathing suits often can appear to be older than they are. When sunbathing without a chaperone, they may attract attention from men or older boys. A young girl may be flattered by this attention and equally unprepared to respond. This topic makes a great pre-vacation conversation and is a wonderful opportunity to share family values and beliefs about topics ranging from respect to puberty.

Sleep arrangements: This is a good time to remember some basic physiology. Sexual arousal is autonomic and occurs in response to conscious or unconscious stimuli. People do not choose when to get aroused any more than they choose when to blink. Most sexually mature (and maturing) human beings experience all or part of the sexual response cycle while sleeping. This simple fact of life should be considered when making sleeping arrangements for vacation. It is best for people who do not mean to share accidental arousal not to share beds. Put the adolescents on the floor with sleeping bags if there are not enough beds to go around.

Don’t forget the basics: Be cautious, use common sense, supervise little ones at all times and always know the whereabouts of adolescents and teens.

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig is the author of “The Sex-Wise Parent: The Parent’s Guide Protecting Your Child, Strengthening Your Family, and Talking to Kids about Sex, Abuse, and Bullying” and a 30-year veteran of child-welfare and youth-serving programs (www.SexWiseParent.com). This weekly column is a collaboration of Centre County Communities that Care serving Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola area school districts, and Care Partnership: Centre Region Communities that Care serving the State College Area School District.

 

This article appeared originally at  http://www.centredaily.com/2013/07/10/3682979/communities-that-care-discuss.html

Read more here: http://www.centredaily.com/2013/07/10/3682979/communities-that-care-discuss.html#storylink=cpy
T-Ball and Sex-Wise Parenting?  YES!

T-Ball and Sex-Wise Parenting? YES!

Summer means sports and baseball gloves are being oiled up in homes round the country.  Thoughts are turning to runs, hits, errors, uniforms, caps and spikes.

And cups.   It’s standard practice for leagues to require boys to wear a hard protective cup over their genitals during practice and games.  One family I know had a golden teachable moment when their 5 year old wanted know why he had to wear a cup over his penis.  “I’m not going to pee during a ballgame!”

Some parents might have answered the “why” question with a simple “Because it’s the rules”, a close cousin to “Because I said so”.   These answers have a place when disciplining a child, but in this instance would only stifle curiosity and an opportunity to share values and facts.

It’s fairly typical for pre-school aged boys to think of their entire genitalia as their penis.  This boys parents explained to their son and his now-curious brother that the penis is the name for the skinny part in front that boys use to pee, but behind it the sac that holds the special parts that men have that makes their Daddy seeds. And those parts, (called ballies in some families, testes in others) would hurt A LOT if they accidently got hit with a baseball!  They grabbed their copy of The Sex-Wise Parent, turned to the line drawing of male anatomy on page 59 and gave both of their sons an age appropriate lesson in sexual health  and safety.  Because of T-ball!

These little boys learned the anatomy of their genitals and  that Daddies make seeds in their testicles and mommies make seeds in their ovaries.  They learned that we take care of our genitals and keep them healthy – a precursor to a condom discussion due in about 10 years!

And, they learned that they can talk to their parents about ANYTHING, including their genitals — an important protective factor in keeping pedophiles at bay.

Before long, sex-wise parents will see how spontaneous, frank discussions with children as issues come up render THE TALK unnecessary!  Get more information at www.SexWiseParent.com!

Changing Times~ prepare your child for the summer camp locker room!

Changing Times~ prepare your child for the summer camp locker room!

While the world changes around us, some things are timeless. The exhilarating feeling of a sweaty body hitting cool water never changes; neither does the anxiety of changing into a swimsuit in front of other kids.

Kids respond uniquely to the changing experience. Some kids could not care less; others find it terrifying. How will your child react? How can you help?

What can influence  a child’s reaction?

Age plays a big role.

Pre-school and younger kids generally don’t care. They just want to swim.

Sometime around age 5 or 6, children become aware of the differences between people; their curiosity levels vary. For some kids, different size or shaped genitals may be no more interesting than variations in facial features. As kids are exposed to various images emphasizing and sexualizing body parts, associations set in. It is not unusual for a 6 year old girl to “know” that bigger breasts are a sort of status symbol. Group changing can be particularly uncomfortable for pre-teens; they are often highly  status conscious and confused about the changes in their body.

Family’s norms will have an effect.

Camp preparation is a good time to pay attention to the messages you send your child about the difference between privacy and secrecy. Private means we choose who to share something with; secrecy means no one knows. There should be no secrets between parents and children regarding their bodies; families develop their own values about privacy. Children from families with more stringent norms about privacy may need additional preparation for changing time. If you have been avoiding this issue now is the time to talk to your child!

Who’s in charge?

The locker room is one of the worst places to be bullied or teased — a child is particularly vulnerable. Having trained, mature staff manage the experience is crucial.

Parents should know who supervises changing time. Young camp staff can still be struggling through their own adolescent issues and may not be the most sensitive human beings. It may be impossible to have a developmental psychologist in every summer program, but it is a great idea for  a camp provide a training session for all its staff.

What can you do?

Prepare your child with a preventative discussion; this is a good topic to slip into a conversation about summer camp. “Are you looking forward to swimming? The changing room can be interesting; kids your age can look pretty different from each other.”

Don’t forget the ultra-practical — make sure the swimsuit is simple. Locker rooms are no place for fancy decorations that could get tangled or fasteners beyond a child’s reach. If the child just HAS to have something really fancy, practice getting in and out of the suit with your child.

Check in with your child once the program is in progress. Try mixing a personal thought with a question, for example, “How’s the locker room experience going? I remember everyone giggling so hard we could hardly get our suits on,” or “I remember being teased because I had (or didn’t have) hair (pubic hair, leg hair) before other kids did.”

Getting ready for summer camp provides great opportunities to discuss privacy, secrecy, puberty, peer pressure and other issues where parents want to transmit their values to children. Take advantage of it! You’ll get closer to your kids and help keep them safe and healthy!

 

Janet Rosenzweig MS, PhD, MPA is the author of the Sex-Wise Parent  (Skyhorse, 2012)  and  a thirty year veteran of child welfare and youth serving programs.  She is committed to bringing the best possible  information to parents  to help them raise safe, healthy, happy kids.

 

Include a plan to become a sex-wise parent in your schedule for the next school year

As many of us are enjoying our summer schedule or looking forward to our vacation, some folks are deeply into their plans for the 2012-2013 school year.  After the horror of the Summer of Sandusky it’s my hope that  program planners for schools, congregations and social and civic organizations throughout this country will take a good hard look at what they are doing to help keep kids and families sexually safe and healthy.   I want to help.  I have developed workshops for parents and professionals based on my experience in sex abuse treatment and prevention and the research I completed to write The Sex-Wise Parent.    I took the semester off from teaching to help reach families and communities everywhere.  Download this flyer and send it to the people planning programs in your community!  I’m ready  when you are!