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Parenting a Media-Savvy Generation

Once my husband and I took a rare opportunity to have a date night leaving our six-year-old twins with what we thought were capable babysitters. Well, were we surprised when returning home we found the twins finishing up the R-rated movie The Matrix.

We have found it virtually impossible to shield our boys from Big Media’s bombardment of images and lifestyle choices of the current crop of celebrities. Yesterday’s Snooki is today’s Kardashian. The Simpsons used to be horrible, now it’s South Park and The Family Guy.

Sexual Teens, Sexual Media: Investigating Media’s Influence on Adolescent Sexuality had this to say about the subject a few years ago: “From Anthony Comstock’s late 19th-century crusade against ‘obscene’ literature to present-day parents’ anxious suspicion that news reports on the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal introduced adolescents to oral sex, Americans have blamed the mass media for inciting youth to ostensibly inappropriate sexual behavior.”

Then there’s Bella’s influence in Twilight showing teenagers that it’s totally cool to have sex with a vampire, just in case they ever meet one (or a werewolf) at high school?  I think Bella has a lot more influence than Clinton ever had on the sexual behavior America’s teens.

Parents have always worried about the influence media has upon their children’s behavior. Did you hear that in 1905 a Brooklyn librarian banned Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn from the children’s section? The librarian said these two characters were “bad examples for ingenuous youth.”  She ordered the books removed from the children’s section because of their "coarseness, deceitfulness, and mischievous practices."

So what’s a parent to do?  Is there a strategy beyond banning books, pitching the television in the garbage and never, ever, allowing children to have access to a cellphone?  Most media experts recommend a sane strategy for dealing with the influences, both good and bad, of media in a child’s life.

1) Co-Watch: Parents should consume the same media while using the time as a teachable moment, not a starting point for a lecture on the evils of media. As adults we’ve erected a filter to combat the need for all of the sugary cereals and cheap plastic toys being hawked by corporations in the endless commercials. How did we learn to discern? Teach your kids those same filters.

2) Provide Alternatives:  My mother was disgusted by the quality of television we consumed when I was young – think endless hours of Gilligan’s Island. Every time I watched another mindless television show, it left me feeling bad and bloated – much like consuming too much Easter candy. I wish, instead, that she had come alongside of me as an advocate for my mind and offered a tasty alternative. How about switching over to PBS, sitting down and having a heart-to-heart conversation, or taking me to the library for a new stack of books?

3) Discuss My Choices: I don’t think we explain our behavior to our children enough. We think they “get” our thinking just because we’re older. Explain why you refuse to watch certain television shows because they demean women or are full of violence. This will empower them to make their own intelligent decisions.

4) Spend the Time:  As a parent in a busy household, I have an overwhelming To Do List. Which would I prefer to do? Watch a vapid episode of Family Guy or South Park, play another round of Call of Duty or World of Warcraft, or wash the clothes that are piled on the laundry room floor? It’s awful tempting to accomplish my list while my children are occupied, but raising children well takes lots of time and lots of energy. And talking. There’s a heck of a lot more talking than I ever did with my own father or mother.

David and Paul have actually grown into pretty decent human beings, despite their early introduction to The Matrix.  And there have been benefits. David to this day can walk on walls and dodge bullets but Paul took the red pill and may grow up to become a philosopher.

Remember, it was Morpheus who said, “You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

 

For more info on Raising Media Savvy Kids, go to:  www.Commonsensemedia.org where they post reviews of the latest movies, television and media targeted to your kids.

 

Frequent Marijuana Use Among Teens is Up

A joint. JJIE file photo. Ryan Schill / JJIE.orgHeavy marijuana use among teens has increased drastically in recent years, with nearly one in 10 sparking up 20 times or more each month, according to a new survey of young Americans released this morning.

The findings represent nearly an 80 percent increase in past-month heavy marijuana use among high school aged youth since 2008.

Overall, the rate of marijuana use among teens has increased. Past month marijuana users, or teens that have used marijuana in the month prior to the survey, increased 42 percent, to 27 percent of teens, compared to 2008 findings. Past-year and lifetime use also increased, but not as drastically, at 26 percent and 21 percent respectively.

Marijuana use has not been this widespread among American teens since 1998, when the past-month usage rate hovered around 27 percent, according the survey conducted by The Partnership at Drugfree.org and the MetLife Foundation.

“Heavy use of marijuana – particularly beginning in adolescence – brings the risk of serious problems and our data show it is linked to involvement with alcohol and other drugs as well,” Steve Pasierb, President and CEO of The Partnership at Drugfree.org, said in a press release. “Kids who begin using drugs or alcohol as teenagers are more likely to struggle with substance use disorders when compared to those who start using after the teenage years.”

The use of marijuana is becoming normalized among teens, too, according to the survey of 3,322 teen-aged students in grades 9-12 and 821 parents. Seventy-one percent of teens said they have friends who use the drug, up 64 percent from 2008, and only 26 percent agreed with the statement, “in my school, most teens don’t smoke marijuana.”

Still, while the number of teens who have used marijuana in their lifetime is on the rise, less than half of high school aged students have actually used the drug. The rate of teens who disapproved of their peer’s use of the drug remained unchanged since 2008, with more than 60 percent disapproving of the practice – and 41 percent who said they “strongly disapprove.”

Heavy users  are drastically more likely to use other drugs such as cocaine, Ecstasy and prescription drugs, compared to their peers who reported not using marijuana in the past year, the report found.

Teen boys, especially Hispanic males, have led the increase in the past year. Heavy usage by teen boys usage increased at nearly twice the rate of their female counterparts. Hispanic high school males are more likely to have used marijuana in the past year compared to their peers. Fifty percent reported using the drug in the past year, compared to 40 percent of black and 35 percent of white teens.

“The latest findings showing an increase in marijuana use among teens is unsettling and should serve as a wake-up call to everyone in a position to prevent unhealthy behavior,” said Dennis White, President and CEO of MetLife Foundation, who contributed to the report. “While it may be difficult to clearly understand just how dangerous marijuana use can be for teens, it is imperative that we all pay attention to the warning signs and intervene anyway we can.”

The findings are part of the 23rd annual Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, a yearly gauge of teens’ and parents’ attitudes toward issues that affect their lives.

 

Photo credit: Ryan Schill/JJIE

Parenting Advice Video: When a Daughter’s Laptop Meets .45-Caliber Pistol

This week a “parenting advice" video went viral and is currently running at 13 million page views. It involves a father from North Carolina who reads a disrespectful Facebook post from his 15-year-old daughter complaining about having to do chores.

After reading her post, he decides to plug her laptop with eight hollow-point bullets from his .45-caliber pistol.

Scary.

There are two camps in the comments on this video. Camp one is the beleaguered parent group who are saying, “Good job, Dad!” On the other side of the debate is the mental health community who are planning on treating this emotionally scarred kid for years to come.

As I began my parenting journey in the late 80s, a parenting poem by Dorothy Law Nolte was making the rounds and became pretty popular. But the words are still true all these years later:

When I first saw this video, I was reminded of Dr. Nolte’s poem. Unfortunately, this dad, Tommy, has just taught his daughter how to handle conflict – the wrong way. Pull out a gun and use violence. I anticipate that the next time this daughter has a huge conflict with her parents, she’ll be doing some property destruction – and it’ll probably be something that her dad and mom truly value.

This is the lesson I’ve learned while parenting seven sons in a blended family. If I yell at them, they yell back. If I treat them with respect, they’re respectful. It’s a pretty simple parenting principle, but as a parent I’m the leader in our household, setting our family culture. And, it can have pretty broad consequences as what is done to one will be done to others. For instance, my husband, Steve, one night had it with our older son who insisted on breaking the house rules by having his girlfriend in his room with the door closed and locked. The guilty son insisted there was no girl in his room and wouldn’t let us in, so Steve kicked in his door, removed the door, and told him he could “earn” the privilege of a door back by his behavior. Yes, he had a girl in the room. At the time, we felt like breaking a door in was appropriate action to make sure that this son understood that we were serious about this house rule.

Within a few months, this son had a conflict with a step-brother and demonstrated his anger by kicking in his door. Later, another brother had a conflict and punched a hole in his brother’s wall to make his point. Unwittingly, we had set a precedent of making points by breaking things. It was a powerful lesson for us as parents. Children do as we do, and not as we say, especially when involved in conflict.

This point stretches me. My first impulse is to yell at bad behavior when I see it. I want to make my point loud and clear. But, my parenting goal is more than to correct bad behavior -- I want to teach productive ways to resolve conflict. Do I really want to create a culture where my children yell at me every time they think I’ve done something wrong? And if I don’t want them to make their points by blowing holes in my laptop, I’d better look for better ways to express my feelings than blowing holes in theirs.

I’ve tried very hard to do two things with my own children:

1)      Communicate with them – even on the tough issues, and

2)      Give them options for problem solving that don’t involve violence.

This Dad might want to take a deep breath and talk with his daughter once in a while. Privately.

Controlling Parents More Likely to Have Delinquent Children, Study Finds

Demanding, highly controlling, authoritarian parents are more likely to have delinquent, disrespectful children than parents who are seen by their children as legitimate authority figures, according to research from the University of New Hampshire (UNH).

Relying on data from the New Hampshire Youth Study, a longitudinal survey of middle and high school children, researchers identified three distinct parenting styles — authoritative, authoritarian and permissive and looked at whether those styles influenced children’s beliefs about the legitimacy of their parents’ authority, according to a press release from UNH.

“The style that parents used to rear their children had a direct influence on whether those children perceived their parents as legitimate authority figures,” said Rick Trinkner, a doctoral candidate at UNH and the lead researcher. “Adolescents who perceived parents as legitimate were then less likely to engage in delinquent behavior.”

Authoritative parents, who are demanding and controlling but also warm and receptive, are more likely to raise children who view their parents as having legitimate authority.

Children of authoritarian parents, on the other hand, perceived their parents as the least legitimate, according to the study.

“When children consider their parents to be legitimate authority figures, they trust the parent and feel they have an obligation to do what their parents tell them to do,” Trinkner said. “This is an important attribute for any authority figure to possess, as the parent does not have to rely on a system of rewards and punishments to control behavior, and the child is more likely to follow the rules when the parent is not physically present.”

Permissive parents who are not demanding or controlling of their children but who are still warm and receptive to their needs, have children who are less self-controlled and content. Because they rarely enforce rules, their children do not see them as having parental authority.

“While it is generally agreed that authoritative parenting is more effective than authoritarian and permissive styles, little is known about why some parenting styles are more efficient than others,” Trinkner said. “Our results showed that parental legitimacy was an important mechanism by which parenting styles affected adolescent behavior.”

Catching a Buzz From the Wrong End? What Parents Don’t Know about the Alcohol-Soaked Tampon for Girls and Boys

vodka soaked tampon | JJIE.org stock photo | Clay Duda/JJIE Staff

In early November, a local television station in Phoenix reported that a school resource officer heard teens talking about how they used vodka-soaked tampons to get drunk. This report re-ignited a rumor that’s been reported by the media since the 1990s, that young women and sometimes young men use tampons to ingest alcohol.

While unsubstantiated accounts have been circulating for years, the question remains, is this “everywhere” as the school officer said, or is it only an urban myth?

The why behind alcohol-soaked tampons

You have to wonder why anyone would want to combine alcohol and tampons. But then you might remember the not-so-smart things you tried as a teen. And also, there are three generally-mentioned reasons why teens try it out:

  1. So that alcohol cannot be smelled on the breath. In reality, alcohol is partially eliminated from the body through the lungs, when alcohol is in the blood, so it will always be present in expired air.
  2. To get drunk quicker. This would be true since the substance immediately enters the circulation by fast absorption without passing through the stomach and being diluted with gastric fluids, according to physicians.
  3. To prevent someone from throwing up from too much alcohol. This might work, but it’s much easier to get alcohol poisoning, which can lead to death.

Getting drunk without being obvious is another reason someone might try it. And then sometimes, there really is no why. You just do it.

But just doing it brings enormous risks, say medical experts. Anyone thinking about trying it should consider the damage it might cause. Dr. Lisa Masterson, co-host of "The Doctors," says this method will "literally destroy the vagina," and the website Teen Alcohol Abuse refers to a number of serious health problems that could be caused by the practice.

Are teens really doing this?

Snopes.com lists the truth status of this tale as "undetermined." When asked, a spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control said the CDC did not have any information about this topic.

Then again, the CDC hasn't talked to 21-year-old Alden, a college student in Georgia who told JJIE he has used an alcohol-soaked tampon twice in the last few years.

"I was at this party when I was 17," he said. "We were all telling stories and one of my friends said something about tampons soaked in vodka."

Alden, who declined to give his last name, said he immediately got a tampon from a girl at the party, soaked it in Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum and inserted it into his anus.

"It burned a little," said Alden, "but other than that, it didn't cause any pain."

He said he gave it a try again a couple of years later, but he said he couldn't say if the intoxicating effects were stronger or not because he continued to drink after the exercise with the tampons.

Asked whether he felt the practice was widespread or limited to a scattered few, he said, "well I can say that I'm not the only one. Not long after the first time I did it, another guy I know did it."

Twenty-three-year-old Kate Stone of SqueamishBikini.com who lives in the U.K. said over email, “Like most teen crazes, I heard about it in the press first. Even when I was a teen, I never knew about all these crazy things we were apparently getting up to until the news told me so.”

She said she has not done it before but some of her friends from small towns know people who had done it as teens.

“I think when stories like this come around people like to call it a trend and fret over it, instead of seeing it for what it usually is, either a very localized group of friends who experimented or an urban myth,” she said.

Generally teens aren't shy about talking about drug us on such sties as Facebook and Twitter. Indeed, after the news articles and blog posts began to pop up and Stephen Colbert mentioned it on his late night TV show, teens’ reaction on social media seemed to serve as an occasion to make jokes about it. But some have also reacted with shock.

For the most part, however, social media has been pretty quiet on the issue. Only a few examples of people talking about the practice can be found. A YouTube video posted by a user in the United Kingdom on July 2011 shows what looks like a party where several teens appear to test out the alcohol tampon idea (though one cannot be sure as the actual attempt is not shown). Also, a Facebook topic has a comment left over a year ago by a young woman in Canada who says she tried it.

Media reports of alcohol-soaked tampon 

The practice is called slimming in the United States, where the trend started, according to a German newspaper report in March of this year. The story mentions an account of a girl who collapsed during a street festival, supposedly intoxicated from a vodka-soaked tampon. The paper also said that youth researchers have since found this form of alcohol abuse to be trendy in the region. Media in other countries have talked about it too, especially in Columbia and in other parts of Europe.

Despite these mentions, no outlet seems to offer any accounts from people who say they have tried it, or who know someone who has.


 JJIE Stock  Photo: Clay Duda/JJIE Staff. 

Whole Foods Funds School-to-Garden Pipeline

Whole Kids FoundationThe Whole Kids Foundation (WKF), a non-profit created by Whole Foods Market to support schools and improve children’s nutritional wellbeing, is accepting grant applications from eligible schools and non-profits.

The School Garden Grant Program, WKF’s first major grant initiative, is designed to help schools grow students’ relationship with and understanding of food through the practice of gardening.

The initiative will provide a grant of $2,000 to one thousand schools around the country, along with curriculum resources and mentoring.

To qualify, applicants must be a non-profit K-12 school or school district, or a 501(c)(3) non-profit working in partnership with at least one K-12 school. In addition, the related school(s) must be currently maintaining or in the development stage of a school garden program.

Deadline is December 31, 2011.

Smokeless Tobacco Products on the Rise for Teen Boys

Smokeless tobacco—with snuff and chewing tobacco being the most popular forms— is not a safe alternative to cigarettes. While older men were once the primary users of these products, today young men and teenage boys make up 92 percent of smokeless tobacco consumers, according to an article in the Daily Herald.

Writing for the suburban Chicago newspaper, Pediatrician Helen Minciotti, pointed out several other facts, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute, about these products and their usage.

  • Smokeless tobacco use among high school boys is up from 11 percent in 2003 to 15 percent in 2009.
  • Smokeless tobacco users have an average start age of 12 years compared to 14 years for cigarette smoking.
  • Smokeless tobacco contains 28 known carcinogens.
  • Research shows that smokeless tobacco use causes oral, esophageal and pancreatic cancers, and has been linked to the development of precancerous white patches in the mouth (leukoplakia), gum disease and heart disease.
  • Studies show that users of smokeless tobacco products have blood nicotine levels similar to cigarette smokers, and that these blood levels linger longer in smokeless users than in smokers.

“There is no safe tobacco product, and there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke,” the cancer institute states on its website.

For more information about drug and alcohol use by youth, see the resources from JJIE.

Last Day on the River Before Back to School [audio slideshow]

As summer winds down, kids are looking for those last-minute thrills and good times. At one popular spot along the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta, Ga., they go swimming and tubing and -- if they work up the nerve -- jump off a big rock.

Playgrounds — To the Summit of the Monkey Bars

The future of parks in the present. Recognize anything from your childhood? -- Inman Park, Atlanta.

A few bumps, bruises and broken bones from playing on a playground might be good for kids after all. Playgrounds with safety features such as low height limitations and padded ground might be too safe, the New York Times reports, potentially preventing kids from developing emotionally and contributing to unnecessary anxiety later in life.

Risky play, such as climbing or wrestling, gradually exposes kids to dangers and helps them solve problems. What kids learn on the playground is a similar technique that therapists use to help conquer phobias in adults – starting small and working toward larger goals, such as reaching the top of the monkey bars – Ellen Sandseter, a professor of psychology at Queen Maud University in Norway, told the Times.

Some experts and parents disagree with the idea that playgrounds may be too safe, worrying fears may be introduced too early in a child’s life and ultimately develop into phobias. However, recent studies have shown quite the opposite, purporting that kids injured at a younger age are less likely to develop phobias toward risky behavior as those who didn’t experience the same life lessons.

“There is no clear evidence that playground safety measures have lowered the average risk on playgrounds,” David Ball, a risk management professor at Middlesex University in London, told the Times. “This sounds counterintuitive, but it shouldn’t … If children and parents believe they are in an environment which is safer than it actually is, they will take more risks. An argument against softer surfacing is that children think it is safe, but because they don’t understand its properties, they overrate its performance.”

Seesaws may be out, but spring-powered space ships look like they are here to stay -- Inman Park, Atlanta.

Another factor is boredom. While the added safety features may work great for toddlers, teenagers and older children may get bored with, say, the reduced height of the monkey bars and seek a more thrilling play experience in more dangerous environments, or not at all.

Long-time fixtures such as slides and seesaws have slowly vanished from America’s playgrounds in recent decades due to a number of reasons, including parental concerns, federal guidelines and the fear of lawsuit. Some consider the ultra-safe, enclosed playground platforms of the 80s and 90s an overreaction, but few seem willing to return to the rough-and-tumble days of playground’s past.

More recently, industry has introduced some creative solutions.

The monkey bars and tire swings may be out, but the next generation of doohickies and thing-a-ma-jigs are just starting to make their way into the every day lives of today’s youth.

Photography: Clay Duda, JJIE Staff