Thursday, May 31, 2012

The sex(t)ual revolution

Trends in technology are engaging kids at younger and younger ages. My adolescent children have an innate sense of how to navigate through email and video games. Years ago, when my grandmother died in her nineties, her education in gadgets got her to the point where she could almost program her VCR. Today, my kids can pull up a video of her on a cell phone and, if they chose to (assuming I would allow it), could with a push of a few buttons send it to all their friends—and/or to anyone else on the planet within reach of a computing device and an internet connection.

These days, it’s that easy to connect… but with such ease comes the risk of putting too much of oneself out there for the world to see.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, one in five teenagers has engaged in “sexting”—that is, has sent a sexually provocative message or visual image from a cell phone or computer. Another study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy estimated that 22% of teenage girls said they had sent or posed for nude or semi-nude photos. And still another poll found that 44% of high school boys had seen at least one naked picture of a female classmate.

Even if these figures turn out to be off by a few percentage points here or there, they point to a sure trend. Why do kids do it? Some suggest that sexting is just a new symptom of changing attitudes about sex among young people, that casual liaisons and freedom of sexualized expression are the new norm—and this new expression is enabled by (driven by?) the advent of personal, handheld computing devices… just as the sexual revolution of the 1960’s was fired by the invention of the “pill.”

Some of the young women surveyed cited pressure from guys or friends for why they sext. But to many other respondents, sexting is really “not a big deal,” and some see the steady stream of “leaked” celebrity sex photos and videos as evidence that consequences for sexting are often minor. After all, in Hollywood don’t they say that all publicity is good publicity?

With sexting so pervasive and starting so young (six percent of the sexters surveyed began at age nine), parents need to be vigilant. Consequences can be devastating—what might begin as a private image or text shared between boyfriend and girlfriend could wind up shared with all their classmates, their school, their community… the world. When private content reaches the public, the damage can spiral out of control, threatening college admissions or future employment… or worse. 18-year-old Jessica Logan committed suicide in 2008 after her ex-boyfriend forwarded nude images she had sent him to hundreds in their high school.

Legally, sexting can cross a line when private images are transmitted to others. Regional laws often lag behind the pace of technology, with most created to target child pornographers, not the high schoolers who with their errant images might inadvertently provide the content for them. In some instances and in some states, kids who send lewd images (even of themselves) can run afoul of child-pornography statutes, meaning they could be labeled as sex offenders and forced to register as such. (In Maine, juveniles are not subject to registry.)

So, how do we prevent our kids from sexting?

Talk to them openly about the risks and consequences. Stay aware of their friends, their “frenemies,” their crushes. Tell them the buck stops here: if they receive a sexually charged image or text, don’t forward it: that’s as bad as sexting themselves. Emphasize that responsible behavior has an online component.

Adolescents have always pushed boundaries. So has technology. Let’s be sure it doesn’t take our kids to places they don’t want to go.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

You're going to WHAT?

I recently attended a concert featuring a couple of pretty big name bands.  It was an interesting experience, as I had not been to a concert featuring "metal" bands in quite some time.  I fully recognize that I am now firmly established as a member of the middle-aged group, but I must say that I was surprised at the number of people who expressed shock that I would be interested in seeing a live metal concert.

TDC Photography
Our concert-going party included three girls who were not quite 20 and three women who all had adult children.  I hadn't met any of the girls before, and it was obvious that they were curious about how I would handle the event.  We discussed optimal distance from the speakers and stage, watching out for concert goers who were enjoying themselves a tad too much, and the balance between staying hydrated and avoiding the porta potties.

Once in the venue, it was fascinating to see what a mix of people there were.  Plenty of young people, plenty of old, plenty of leather, and quite a few average mom types like me.  As the sun went down it was also fascinating to see how many marijuana smokers were in the audience.  I wasn't surprised to see people light up, but I was surprised to see how many were doing so.

This led, as you may guess, to something of a dilemma for me.  Working in the field of substance abuse prevention might logically preclude my standing in middle of a crowd surrounded by a haze of pot smoke.  I do not smoke marijuana myself, and would much rather that people don't use it, especially around me.  BUT, I sure do love live music.

I chose to stay, but I did do one thing that I felt was necessary to keeping my "prevention" badge.  During a break in the tunes I discussed the pot smoking with the young adults I was with.  We had a good talk about being able to have fun and enjoy the music without being stoned.  We then proceeded to dance, sing, and people-watch the night away.

We can't always escape the negative influences of this world, but we CAN discuss them with the young people who enter our lives.  Staying silent implies that we condone the behavior...staying away can leave us without the opportunity to engage with some pretty interesting young people (and the opportunity to enjoy some spectacular drum battles).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Art of Fighting Without Fighting

This week's post was contributed by Five Town CTC Board Member, Andrew Lesmerises.

One of my all-time favorite movies is “Enter the Dragon,” starring Bruce Lee.  In this movie he’s on a boat with a group of other fighters heading to an island to compete in a martial arts tournament.  One of the competitors is going around bullying the staff on the boat and the other fighters.  He approaches Bruce and asks him, “What’s your style?”  Bruce replies with, “the art of fighting without fighting.”  When pressed to show him a bit of this style, Bruce tricks him into getting into a rowboat to go to an island where they will have more room than on the crowded boat.  Once the bully is in the rowboat, Bruce lets the line out, thereby isolating the bully from the rest of the people on the boat.  He has thus fought the bully without fighting.

At the martial arts school I run, we spend a lot of time dealing with self-protection.  In our classes we teach the “A,B,Cs of Self-Protection.”  This not only applies to bullies and abduction, but also fitness, nutrition and having a positive self-expectancy.  After all, diabetes, obesity, and depression are all very real risks for everyone.  Five Town Communities That Care also embraces the art of fighting without fighting in their work to keep the youth in our community healthy.

We teach that “A” stands for Awareness.  This is both being aware of external dangers, but also being aware of what we feel.  FTCTC uses awareness by gathering data from the youth in our community via the Maine Youth Drug And Alcohol Use Survey (MYDAUS) to find out what risks our youth are facing.  This means that they aren’t guessing or thinking; FTCTC knows the answer.

“B” stands for Boundary Setting.  In our classes students learn how to use voice and body language to keep a safe distance from dangerous situations.  For FTCTC this means that once the risks are known, they can support or implement programs that have been tested and proven (via scientific evaluation) to either lower the risk or raise protective factors that prevent the risk.

“C” stands for Core Confidence.  In our classes students learn de-escalation skills to defuse conflict or confrontation, and only if absolutely needed, the physical skills to keep themselves or loved ones safe.  FTCTC makes sure that the tested programs that they support or implement are being done properly and having the desired results.  You can go to to see some of the data for our community.

FTCTC’s goal is to PREVENT the problems that face our youth rather than to fight once the youth is in the grips of the problem. That is fighting without needing to fight!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Hanging With My Heroes

This spring has been a fabulous one for me.  One of the contributing factors to the "fab" scale is that I have had an opportunity to spend some face time with the developers of the Communities That Care system.  I am always energized when I can ask questions and listen to them explain the WHY behind what we do when we use CTC to address problem adolescent behaviors.  Drs. Hawkins, Catalano, and Haggerty may not really understand just how much they have positively influenced my life, but they have.  They are heroes to me.

I respect all three of these men not only because of their contributions to our understanding of how to effectively mobilize communities to make a difference in the lives of kids, but because of their passion and dedication to it. They walk the walk.  And they challenge me to as well.

I suspect that I am not the only person out there to have more than one hero.  In fact, I have more than the three mentioned above. As I grew up in midcoast Maine and my perception of the world and my potential place in it matured, new heroes stepped in.  When I was very young my parents and other close family members made up the bulk of the list.  As a teenager several coaches and mentors joined them.  As an adult the list grew wider as professors and community activists were added.  Some people on the list are there because of their ability to support others or to parent with much more grace than I.

In all of these cases, the ability of these people to influence me hinged on one thing...our relationship.  Those who took the time to engage and challenge me have profoundly influenced who I am now.  Having someone that I respect take the time to discuss things, push my thinking, and challenge my biases is a sure-fire way to get me to examine my belief system and perhaps make a positive change.

So why am I sharing this?  Because I want you to consider that YOU are a potential hero.  Young people need heroes and mentors in many dimensions of their lives.  We cannot leave the job of creating heroes to the mass media.  Instead, we need to be brave enough to accept the idea that we can be heroes if we reach out and engage our community's youth.  You don't need to be Superman, Iron Man, Wonder Woman, or Maria Hill to be a hero.  You just need to be a caring, positive role model.  Please consider this a call to duty...will you answer?