Ah Push It, Push It Real Good, and Other Life Lessons From “Glee”

While initially I was hesitant to allow her to watch “Glee”, I realized she was learning things that mere conversations could not impart.

“Mom, do you and Dad do the sex to this song?”
My daughter shouted this question over the blaring music during a recent spontaneous dance party. The song in question was “Push-It” by Salt-N-Pepa. At the age of 12, she has cultivated a love for music from the ’80s and ’90s thanks to her newfound love, the TV show, “Glee”.
I never imagined I would be that mother who allowed her child to learn about the birds and the bees or other important life lessons from television. Nevertheless, here I am trying to figure out how to turn “Push-It” into a teachable moment, but I can’t stop laughing.
I have never been shy about talking about sex with either of my girls. I used the anatomical names for all their body parts, much to my mother’s horror. The first time my mom heard me say “vagina” when referring to my daughters “private spot” she nearly fainted. My mom never spoke to us about such things.
Mom wasn’t a prude per say. To her credit, she did try to engage me in “the talk” during one very uncomfortable walk on a spring day when I was about my daughter’s age. I remember feeling my heart race and my hands become moist with nervous sweat as I anticipated the words about to spill from Mom’s lips. I knew they were going to be about puberty and sex. My pace increased from a casual stroll to a speed walk. Not able or willing to keep-up, my mom got the message and dropped the subject, never to bring it up again.
Fast forward three decades: I am the mom that must have those potentially uncomfortable talks with my girls. Stories of girls and boys engaging in oral sex on the school bus as early as fourth grade propelled me to be open and upfront on the subject of sex with my girls from the moment tampon dispensers existed in public women’s restrooms.
My ploy was to start early so I could ease into the taboo subject while making them believe that talking about sex was as normal as talking about what we might eat for dinner. Of course, my penchant for making everything into a joke with carefully placed sarcasm made this goal a challenge.
My older daughter took sex talk in stride and seemed to grasp the concepts. Now, well into her teen years, she understands all the innuendos my husband and I can’t resist using. We love the “that’s what she said” phrase and use it often. She laughs with us, feigning understanding of our more obscure sex references.
My younger daughter has remained more innocent and unaware. She gets that we are talking about “the sex thing,” but has no idea what we are really saying. While she knows the anatomical names for all things related to sex and sexuality, she refuses to utter them. She insists on referring to her period as “the thing.” Vagina and penis are referred to as the “girls down there” and the “boys down there.”
Of course, being the obnoxious, instigators we are, as soon as she uses these invented terms, my husband and I chase her around the house saying “penis, vagina, period” over and over as she runs, covering her ears, and screaming in mock horror. Ahh, the good times we have torturing our daughter with sex words.
Wait, who is the child?
To complicate matters more, my daughter does not just have an aversion to talking about sex. She has trouble reading and understanding social cues and accessing and using her language skills appropriately. We suspect she may be on the mild end of the autism spectrum. Though she is immature in these ways, her body is in full bloom.
Like so many girls, she reached full puberty early. Her body is curvy and lovely. If she ever realizes how attractive she really is and starts to dress and groom herself in such a way that others will notice, too, we may be in trouble. Big trouble.
Recently, we visited a developmental pediatrician who expressed the same worries. He instructed us to talk with her about sex openly and often. He spotted the same characteristics in her we recognized as worrisome. Only after knowing her for a few minutes, he became protective of her, which was sweet. We have taken his advice seriously (well, as seriously as two sarcastic, silly adults can) and talk about sex, a lot.
While initially I was hesitant to allow her to watch “Glee”, I realized she was learning things that mere conversations could not impart. Like many people on the autism spectrum, she is a visual learner. She also learns with repetition, lots of repetition. Music and movement, her greatest loves, aid in her ability to comprehend and remember. Watching these shows over and over (thank you, Netflix), which she is motivated to do thanks to the musical component, teaches her way more about sex than my words and explanations ever could.
Many important themes and scenarios are played out in “Glee”. She watches as a teenage girl struggles with pregnancy and the boys who are the “baby daddies.” She has learned about people using sexuality to entice and hurt others. She has added to her knowledge regarding homosexuality. She has learned about birth control. She has learned about broken hearts. She has learned about all the good and the bad about being a sexualized adolescent.
Inevitably, she is filled with questions about what is happening between the characters. She relays the scenarios to us, asking pointed questions. These questions lead to in-depth conversations about choice, love, birth-control, and saying “no.”
Even the less often heard topics of knowing that sex should be enjoyable, that woman should gain as much pleasure from the sex act as men, and that having sex to make a boy like you is not the best choice become fodder for dinner table conversations. My husband likes to point out that teen “boys don’t think with their brains” which is the only thing he knows for sure about the topic of adolescent sexuality.
The male lead, Cory Monteith committed suicide, which allowed us to talk about depression, substance abuse, and drug addiction. The homosexual themes have helped her understand the diversity of sexuality in the world. The show addresses marriage, bullying, and other topics that can be hard to bring-up in casual conversation.
So now, we blast music from “Glee”, and spontaneous dance parties to songs like “Push-It” break out. As my daughter claps, laughs, and dances her way through the soundtrack, she often hits the pause button as the song reminds her of a question she had about the show. I think she is starting to understand her sexuality and, better yet, her right to control her body.

How I Know My Tween is Adulting Better Than Most Adults

Raising confident daughters who have strong senses of self-worth is my main goal as a mom. I think I’m doing just fine.

We have a female-dominated household – my husband is the only dude among us. Each one of our three daughters is a cool chick, doing her thing in her own unique way (as long as it’s what everyone at school is cool with, of course).
I could write an entire book about each of my kids because I’m an observer like that. I love analyzing the shit out of the people around me. (Yes, I am watching you.) But, we all know the only peeps who’d want to read a mother’s in-depth psycho-analytical description of her kids would be the mom herself, the kids (when they’re older), and grandma.
For the sake of this piece (and in a bid to be relevant to the online world) I’ll just go ahead and get to the point: My eldest daughter just turned 13 and she is a force to be reckoned with.
 
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First of all, she is a rock-solid acrobat who is, literally, upside down more often than not. (And yes, she “obviously” has the Instagram feed to prove it). She is also slightly cynical with a natural ability to see through people’s bullshit.
She drives me crazy and makes me so proud on the regular. Such is life when you’re parenting a 13-year-old. Am I right? I mean, come on people! Can I get a “Hell Ya?!”
Raising confident daughters who have strong senses of self-worth is my main goal as a mom. Sometimes I worry that I’m not doing enough to ensure this.
Recently, though, my eldest girl made me feel like my work here (in the area of self-worth) is pretty much complete. I mean, I know my work here is only just beginning, but for a few bafflingly spectacular moments I saw a level of wisdom in my child that let me know my time spent explaining the derogatory nature of Drake’s song lyrics was time well invested.
Our recent exchange went something like this:
Teen: “Mom, Jake asked me out.”
Me: “Oh, really? When? What did you say?”
Teen: “Last night. In a text. And…I told him to fuck off.”
Me: *gulp* “Oh? And why is that?”
Teen: “Because he has a girlfriend already, Mom! He shouldn’t be asking me out when he already has a girlfriend.”
Me: “And you felt the need to use the F-word?”
Teen: “YES! He’s a player; the kind of guy who, when he gets older, will have sex with as many girls as he can, Mom.”
Me: “Fair enough. Well done, kid. Well done.”
See, what I mean? Quite the jaw dropping, what-the-hell-just-happened, parenting moment, isn’t it? I couldn’t help but feel proud – proud of my child’s natural ability to know she deserves better than what that little douche canoe was offering up. I also whispered a tiny “WTF?!” to myself, because: a) my daughter was being asked out by someone, and b) she has a real little edge to her. She swears and calls people out on their bullshit.
My F-bomb-dropping teen likes to wear what everyone else is wearing. She also likes to listen to the music everyone else is listening to. When it comes down to it, however, my girl has a mind of her own and she’s not afraid to “text” it.
My teen can fry an egg AND she knows an asshole when she sees one. She is basically adulting better than many adults. Now, if I could just get her to tidy her damn room…

Coming Soon, Hopefully: Less Sexy Commercials

The jury’s in, and the news is great. They were indeed wrong. Sex actually doesn’t sell, and Science just showed up to prove it.

We’re all familiar with the endless warnings to parents about the dangers of kids surfing the Internet unsupervised. We’ve fielded (or skillfully avoided) preschoolers’ curious questions about why that grandpa in the magazine ad looks so happy about his little blue pills. We’ve cringed at the risqué advertisements that pop up during what would otherwise be a family-friendly Super Bowl game.
Letting the little ones watch TV or click around online while you make a speedy trip to the toilet can end with questions you don’t want to answer (at least not yet). When your wide-eyed preschooler demands an explanation for why “that mommy and daddy were wrestling in the bathtub,” you know you’ve got a problem on your hands.
Solutions are piecemeal, and they vary based on the form of mass media in question. Freestanding or traveling billboards, for example, offer few options for parents who want to shield young eyes from sketchy content. Advertising bombarding kids via TV and the Internet, on the other hand, better lend themselves to application of parental controls.
For Internet-based concerns, net nanny type parental control software helps, but it’s not perfect. Marketers are clever, and they are constantly at work to evade systems put in place to thwart them. So it’s largely a matter when, not if, something unwelcome makes its way past that software. In addition, if it’s not set up properly, it can block legitimate sites your kid might need to access for homework purposes.
For TV, it often comes down to limiting your viewing to kid-specific channels. Unless it’s Disney Jr., Nick Junior, PBS Kids or similar, you take your chances. And that chance-taking includes networks that would seemingly be kid-friendly, but actually include frankly adult programming in the late evening and wee hours of the morning (e.g., Cartoon Network).
For some who want as close to 100 percent effectiveness as possible, the only reliable option is to be physically present at that keyboard or TV literally every second the kids are using it. Up to pre-school age, that’s pretty do-able. But as soon as they hit upper elementary, sometimes even before then, that safety practice can get very unwieldy very quickly.
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why we’re perpetually peppered with sex-soaked ads across the media spectrum? The answer is not exactly an industry secret. Sex sells. We know it. Marketers know it. They’ve known it since the dawn of time.
But what if they only assumed sex sells. What if they were wrong?
The jury’s in, and the news is great. They were indeed wrong. Sex actually doesn’t sell, and Science just showed up to prove it.
In his meta-analysis of published research on the topic, John Wirtz found that sexual appeal in advertisements had no statistically significant effect on brand recognition and recall. Further, sexual appeal in ads had no effect on intention to buy and even had a negative effect on brand attitude. And Dr. Wirtz should know. Wirtz is a professor in the Charles H. Sandage Advertising Department at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne’s College of Media.
The major findings of Wirtz’s ground-breaking research, though counter-intuitive, are plain as day. And they should send shock waves through the advertising world which has relied on a mistaken assumption for a very long time.
So what does this mean for parents, who would really, really like to be able to run to the bathroom for 20 seconds while their third grader watches a seemingly innocuous clip of the latest Disney movie online? Well, that depends.
It depends on how quickly advertisers wise up to Wirtz’s research. Hopefully, it will be sooner rather than later. And given their financial motives, it’s a good guess that marketers will quickly shift their strategies to accommodate this revelation. If sex doesn’t sell, that means they need to find out what does, and to start funneling those dollars in a different direction.
Eventually, this should mean fewer sex-based ads for your child to stumble upon. Until marketers adapt, though, you’d better keep that bathroom door ajar. With any luck, by the time they’re off to college, you’ll be able to breathe more easily. Then again. . .

Is It Time to Bring Back Charm School?

I conceive a tentative curriculum – a reintroduction of the concept of ‘polite society,’ but with a democratic, post-patriarchal makeover.

Once upon a time, women of a certain culture and class were educated at what was known as a “finishing school,” or a place where they were groomed for their role in polite society.
Though these so-called charm schools still exist (and even thrive in places around the world), the modern western attitude about them has generally shifted its favor. The idea that girls should focus on their self-presentation, their manners, and their aptitude in old fashioned arts seems to us now passe at best, insulting at worst.
But what if we’re being a bit too dismissive? What if we don’t discard this model altogether, but update it for the age we now live in – not just for girls, but for all kids?
Make no mistake, our age is one of rapid change, a time of technological expansion and cultural consolidation, which could certainly use a refresher on etiquette. As the ground shifts beneath us, we parents confront historical levels of concern.
How do we raise kids on this new frontier of digital nativity? How do we ensure their social well being in a world that’s known for fostering cynicism and feeding trolls?
I think about this as I zoom forward in my imagination, to the day my daughter asks me for her own tablet or smartphone. I don’t want to hold her back or show distrust in her self-expression, but someone other than her lame old mom needs to seriously impress upon her the stakes of life online.
We’ve seen the consequences of immature internetting take the darkest turns: cyberbullying, doxing, child pornography charges resulting from underage sexting, and countless cases of lost jobs, ruined friendships, and damaged reputations. So I conceive a tentative curriculum – a reintroduction of the concept of ‘polite society,’ but with a democratic, post-patriarchal makeover.

Class 101: Manners

Life has gotten pretty casual, and honestly? I’m a fan of that. I don’t like wearing suits. Heck, I don’t even like wearing shoes, and most kids I know fall to that side of things. But as great as it is to bring our dogs to work and call our sisters “dude,” formalities still offer us a useful function, if only we can remember what that is.
Saying “excuse me,” “please,” “thank you,” et al., should not be an old-fashioned habit, or a means of manipulation. Manners are meant to free us to be honest and direct while still signaling respect and consideration for another person’s feelings. How can we retain good manners online without sounding like a bot? Excellent question.

Class 102: Civil Discussion and Online Debate

Here we explore some need-to-know terms to help us dialogue without the benefit of body language, intonation, and the immediate emotional feedback that those things usually bring. We’ll become aware of linguistic triggers – things we write or read that trip impatience, condescension, and close-mindedness – and devise alternatives.
We’ll investigate things like confirmation bias and learn how to check our sources before disseminating them. We’ll study rhetoric, specifically how to make a point without being passive aggressive, abusive, or supremacist, and how to counter points that bear those markers without escalating tension.
Mansplaining? Sea lioning? White fragility? If we introduce these concepts early, kids might have a better chance to develop a self-awareness that plugs into any screen.

Class 103: Online Courtship

Miss when a gal had to sit by the phone until it rang because she couldn’t go out without a date? Me neither.
Thankfully, the rules have changed, but we’re far from being on the same page about how things should work. Sexuality is everywhere, in everything, and believe it or not, relevant at any age. Kids are curious, sometimes unconsciously, about their attracted sex, and it’s stilly to ask them to use a social platform without exploring this aspect of their social nature.
So, flirting is going to happen online and via text. Sorry, Mom and Dad! Relationships will form, warp, and break down, just as they do anywhere else. But it’s important to talk frankly about the difference between wooing and harassing, discouraging and shaming.
We will reflect on the consequences of making our private lives public and of sharing intimate “content” through networkable media. We’ll talk about when gossip becomes slander, and how to recognize signs of a toxic relationship that may be calling out for intervention.

Class 201: Identity and the Internet

Hey, the digital world is one of forms and formulas. It asks us to check boxes and fill in blanks, which shapes how we look at ourselves and others. But the truth is, everything is relative.
This tension between how things actually are and how we represent them for the purposes of analysis can be frustrating, especially when people have different ideas about what terms to use or the grammar that governs them. Phobias and even hatred spring up where we feel resentful about not knowing how to navigate a social situation.
For example: not knowing the preferred pronoun of someone who appears to us transgender, or the preferred ethnic moniker of someone we experience as outside our own tribe. These are linguistic conundrums, products of mental inventions, but we experience them emotionally. They stimulate embarrassment – anxiety about looking stupid or having to ask a direct question that might offend (or being asked a question that might hurt). They stimulate guilt. And among the overburdened or immature, they stimulate resentment for having stimulated these feelings!
So this class will be dedicated to talking about loaded words and our resistance to the feelings they arouse in us. We’ll share – by invention, if necessary – techniques for getting to know each other’s preferences in a sensitive and sensible way.

Class 202: Posture

That’s right, we’re still gonna balance books on our heads. Because now more than ever, we need to be aware of how we are holding our bodies.
Sitting is the new smoking, as they say, and many of our kids will spend all their scholastic and working lives slouching in a chair if we don’t intervene. They deserve to know the consequences of compacting their nerves and organs while hunching over keyboards, as well as options to mediate those effects.

Class 203: Traditional Skills

Yes, we still need them. In fact, the tedium of old school crafts(wo)manship perfectly compliments the never-ending mental engagement of modern life. Here we pick up the needlepoint and put down the podcast. Because when we have some quiet and allow the mind to wander, we actually augment our memory and our reasoning.
Why? Because the brain doesn’t get smarter while taking in new data. It gets smarter playing with that data at recess. That’s when the so-called Default Mode Network synthesizes information from different parts of the brain so that what we know can actually build meaning. In other words, we have to take breaks from being taught and entertained in order to understand and create.
Who knew? Knitting lace is not just an artistic technology, but a cognitive one – and a spiritual one, if married with meditation.
The idea of a modern charm school is not to make more rules, and it certainly isn’t to create new levels of class. It’s to help brace children for the climate of this new social wilderness, and help them hold onto their perspective while they explore it. We still have plenty worth passing on from the trends of the past, even to our futuristic kids.

How My Rape Influences My Parenting

I must admit my own history is in the back of my mind when I’m parenting my two sons. I want them to recognize risk and know that stop means stop.

I followed an interesting conversation on Facebook a few weeks ago. One woman was calling an act rape, but others were taking issue. The woman’s rape had begun as a consensual act, but at some point during sex the woman had changed her mind. Some people explained to the woman that because of this reason, it could not be rape.

I have struggled with the question of whether I’m allowed to call my rape a rape because it was nonviolent and I was at fault in many ways. Even though I know, just as most men and women do, that no matter what a man or woman does or says or wears, if an individual has sex with him or her against his or her wishes, it is rape.

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As soon as somebody says “no,” that’s it. The sexual activities must stop.

I must admit my own history is in the back of my mind when I’m parenting my two sons. When one boy’s doing something unwelcome to the other and is told to stop but doesn’t, I make a point of saying, “As soon as somebody says ‘no’ or ‘stop,’ you must stop.”

I want to instill in them that they must obey when someone asks them to stop something. I want them to feel empowered to be able to tell others to stop what they don’t like. I am also giving this same lesson to my daughter – she can and should say “no” and “stop” if anyone is ever doing something to her that she does not like.

That’s what happened to me. I said “no” and “stop.” I know I should not hold myself responsible for it, but I do because of my actions. I put my own safety at risk. It’s not to blame myself, but to protect myself and my family in the future.

Now I’m older and wiser and don’t practice the risky behaviors that I did when I was younger, and I also know how to protect myself from some types of rape.

If I put myself in dangerous situations, I put myself at risk. Therefore, I will try not to put myself in dangerous situations.

I believe that there’s a difference between risk and responsibility. That’s what I want my children to understand.

They have every right to act how they want, dress how they want, and go where they want, but the reality is that some of those actions, attires, and places may put them at risk. It doesn’t matter how many times we say that we shouldn’t have to moderate our clothes or our behaviors, it isn’t realistic in the world we live in.

No one taught me this when I was young. I was sexually active at 14, well before I knew how my behaviors would affect my future.

When I was 18 or 19 and on vacation in Florida, I agreed to meet a man on the beach to go fishing. I honestly thought we were going fishing. Yes, I did have a condom in my bag because I thought that we might also make out and I wanted to be prepared, but I was not scared.

I remember when I saw him walking down the beach toward me with no fishing equipment. I felt my body shiver and I hoped that everything would be okay.

It was 5:30 in the morning. There was nobody around. It was a secluded spot. This was before cell phones.

He jogged over to me and we started kissing and, before I knew it, he was on top of me, holding me down against the sand.

I still had not freaked out. I was still interested in kissing him, but as he held me down tighter and ripped off my underpants, fear rose in my throat. He began to have sex with me and I said, “No.” I said, “Stop.” He kept going, and I realized he wasn’t going to stop.

I couldn’t fight him off. I pushed and wiggled, but he was stronger than I was.

“Please use a condom,” I managed to say. “There’s one in my bag.”

He continued without the condom. Before I knew it, he’d come inside of me while I lay there. He pulled out his dick and tucked it back in his pants, and then turned around and walked away.

No, he ran away down the beach while I lay there.

It wasn’t a violent rape. I wasn’t injured. I didn’t hit him or scream. I didn’t kick. I was immobile. I didn’t know what to do. I was in shock and didn’t even know if I was allowed to say “stop.”

I want my daughter and sons to have fulfilling sex lives, to explore and be with the people they want, and feel empowered to be in control of their own bodies and sexuality.

I also want them to be safe. I don’t want them to struggle for years not knowing if they are even allowed to call something that happened to them “rape” because of their own choices.

I want them to know that they should never think they’re responsible if they’re ever sexually assaulted. I also want them to be on guard of the situations they put themselves into. I want them to be safe, and realize and understand that they need to take responsibility for themselves to reduce the risk.

I still feel guilt and responsibility, but that’s also mixed together with the fact that I was cheating on my boyfriend. I was not an innocent in the story. I believe the guilt of my cheating made me feel more responsible than I actually was for the assault.

I will teach my daughter and sons to be aware of their surroundings and the situations they find themselves in. I will teach them to fight like hell if someone is doing something to them that they don’t want. I will teach them that no matter what they say “yes” to in life, they are always allowed to change their minds.

I was lucky I wasn’t injured physically that day, but the emotional scars that I carry remind me how much I love my children and want them to be safe.

Yes, that man raped me, but I went to the beach alone with no safety net. That is not an excuse for him. It’s a lesson for my daughter and sons to protect themselves and to understand that sometimes in life, it may be better to give up certain freedoms and potentially fun situations to keep themselves safe.

6 Things You Can Do to Guard Your Kids From Sexual Abuse

There is proof that children can be taught skills and knowledge to help them identify risky situations and prevent abuse.

Every child, everywhere, is at risk of sexual abuse.
Although we all want to protect our kids from sex crimes, subconsciously we believe that they are not at a large risk of sexual abuse because “those crimes happen to other children.” Yet the statistics about child sexual abuse are terribly alarming. 10 percent of all children (one in seven girls and one in 25 boys) will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday.
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime:

  • Girls are more likely to experience sexual abuse – one in five girls and one in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. The statistics are probably worse because most child sex abuse goes unreported.
  • The most vulnerable age is between ages seven and 13.
  • Up to 20 percent of adult females (and 10 percent of adult males) have memories of sexual abuse incidents.

Most parents whose children have been victims of sexual abuse rarely suspect a thing. It obviously doesn’t help that most offenders are related to, or close to, the victims’ families. According to the evidence, only 14 percent of child abuse victims are abused by someone unknown to them. This makes the fight against child sexual abuse harder because it’s more difficult for family members or close friends to be perceived as potential offenders, and it’s also harder for abused children to speak out.
The hardest thing for parents is that there is no foolproof way to protect your child from sex crimes. Although no evidence to date suggests that educating your child about sexual abuse will stop abuse, there is proof that children can be taught skills and knowledge to help them identify risky situations and prevent abuse.
According to one study, children who receive sexual abuse education are six to seven times more likely to demonstrate protective behavior in simulated situations. Yet another study has found that children taught by their parents about sexual abuse are better able to recognize inappropriate touch requests and have better personal safety skills compared to those taught by their teachers alone. Naturally, the most effective approach is getting both teachers and parents involved.
Tips to protect your child before abuse starts:

1 | Get vocal about sexual abuse

It is not because we keep things away from our kids that those things go away. The best way to protect your kid from sexual abuse is to talk about it, and the earlier the better. Our kids need to be aware of what inappropriate conduct is, just as they need to know what inappropriate contact is. Sexual abuse also involves issues such as exposure and exposure to child pornography so they need to know about them.
It’s never too early to start talking to kids about inappropriate conduct. There is evidence that younger children learn more and better than older kids. It’s also important to bust the “stranger danger myth” with your child. Teach your kid what parts of their bodies are off limits to everyone – family and friends included.

2 | Overcome taboos

When children are taught about their genitalia, they have more positive feelings about these body parts. How do you refer to your child’s genitalia? Vulva, vagina, dick, penis, jolly stick, privates, genitals, fountain of love? Get comfortable saying those words around your child.
Naturally, you just don’t spill out the words in the middle of dinner – you find the right occasion and the right time to talk about them. As your daughter is taking her shower, you talk to her about her vulva and talk about all the body parts that no else but her can touch. You also teach her that if someone tries to touch her, she should tell them to “stop touching my vagina.” Many offenders do not expect children to be vocal about their genitalia so this could help stop them in their tracks. This might work because contrary to common belief, the majority of offenders are not “strongly motivated to offend” but rather take advantage of “easy bait.”

3 | Monitor online predators

The Internet has become a dangerous place for kids. An increasing number of predators are now using it to get into contact with children. Install parental controls. Talk to you child about these predators. Explain to your kids why it’s important not to disclose personal information on the Net.

4 | No “secrets” or “games” around genitalia

Teach your kid that he or she must share with you any secret or game that involves the genitals. To make it easier for your child to speak out, try using a “personal code.” For instance “something fishy happened” can be a code to tell you that he or she experienced inappropriate contact.
Kids also need to know that they will be listened to and that they will be believed. Very few reports of abuse are false. When you develop a positive and open relationship with your child, he or she is more likely to come to you so it’s important to improve how you communicate. Remember that when your child comes to you about a sexual abuse issue, how you react will determine how much he or she will disclose. Keep calm. Listen. Ask questions. Don’t respond emotionally.

5 | Adopt an open-door policy

Over 80 percent of sexual abuse cases occur in one-on-one situations and involve someone the family trusts. By adopting an open-door policy, you can drastically reduce the risk of abuse.
Leave the door open when your child is online in his bedroom. If your child has individual lessons, privilege open spaces. There is a reduced risk of abuse when potential offenders know they can be easily observed. Choose group activities whenever you have a choice.

6 | Talk after outings

When you ask your kid how his outing was, he’ll say, “fine.” Or “awesome.” Or “good.” But he won’t give you details so you need to know how to ask to make him open up and talk about how the outing really was.
Remember that the objective is to get the most information out of him without making it seem like a suspect interview. Ask specific questions. To get ideas of questions you can ask other than “how was your day,” check out the post 30 Questions to Ask Your Kid Instead of “How Was Your Day?”
It’s also important to be attentive to your child’s reactions. Does he or she suddenly seem uncomfortable around certain people? Find out why.
While we might be able to teach our kids about sexual abuse, it is also important to teach them that the responsibility for preventing abuse does not lie on their shoulders. Kids should never be made to feel guilty for failing to prevent sexual abuse.
Additional resources to help:

Teach Your Daughter About Pleasure (Without Wanting to Crawl Out of Your Skin)

As mothers, we can signal to the next generation of women that they deserve not just to experience pleasure but to invent it for themselves.

Ironically, I don’t think I reached sexual maturity until after I had a baby.

It’s not that I didn’t have good sex before, it’s just that there was always some part of me that was closed to all it could be. My husband and I had good chemistry and a healthy sense of adventure, so there was certainly nothing to complain about, but I held onto internalized slut-shaming and body-shaming throughout my twenties. I didn’t realize the level of fulfillment I’d been missing until I gave birth.

It may be silly but the sacrifice of carrying, delivering, and nursing a baby finally convinced me that my body was mine. It took something that big to feel I had earned it, away from the stewardship of my upbringing, my peers, and society as a whole. Having a child made me feel like a grown-up, and with adult confidence, I could finally explore and express my wholeness without needing to get drunk or feeling selfish. I could finally admit that sex was important not just to my relationship but to me.

But of course, pregnancy changes the body, as does age itself. Sometimes anger flares up when I think of how I wasted the physical and energetic prime of my life being ashamed of (or simply oblivious to) my appetite for touch. [su_highlight background=”#ff6a59″]I’ll be honest, it’s strange for any mother to think of her young daughter growing up and becoming sexually active – there’s a mix of queasiness, worry, and even jealousy – but when it comes down to it, I don’t want her to have my regrets.[/su_highlight] I don’t want her to spend the first quarter of her life believing she is leasing her body from me, obliged to shoulder the baggage of all women who came before her.

Emboldening young women to embrace their sexuality, teenage girls intertwined on the grass

My daughter has right now, in her early childhood, such a splendid sense of entitlement to pleasure, commanding affection and space with equal ease. She’ll spend any amount of time admiring various sensual wonders – the squish of muddy puddles, the softness of sage buds, the pure joy of spinning until she topples to the grass.[su_highlight background=”#ff6a59″]Her body and mind are not yet at war. She doesn’t feel obliged to justify why things feel good or bad, or care whether anyone agrees.[/su_highlight]Dancing naked is ecstatic. Pooping makes her brain feel “sparkly.” Right now, and hopefully for a while yet, sensation is delight.

It’s this curiosity and lightheartedness that I pray she retains even as her life becomes less about personal gratification and more about joining society. Because even believing that sex is a holy practice, you can’t just sit at an organ and start cranking out hymns. We need permission to mess around a bit, to experiment and fumble, to develop the range of our personal style and discover the logic of harmony with our fingers, not just our minds. Casual play is an important part of serious practice, and self-knowledge is an important part of true intimacy.

Some little girls do this on their own, engaging in masturbation from a very young age. My mom friends who have such daughters feel this is no reason for alarm – that insofar as it’s an issue, it can be resolved with a simple talk about limiting self-touch to when we are all by ourselves, with clean hands.

But then there are the girls like me, who never would have dared to learn about my body first-hand. Is it the job of a mother to encourage them otherwise? Certainly there tends to be embarrassment on both sides of parent-child sex talks. I sometimes wonder if sexual self-discovery is a type of threshold where kids are meant to enter a new frontier without any guidance from their parents, perhaps for the first time. But the fact remains that exposure to sex is only happening sooner and more often in the age of streaming porn and camera phones.[su_highlight background=”#ff6a59″]If moms want to have any influence on setting the tone, we may have to work with the technology that is setting the pace.[/su_highlight]

Enter digital resources like OMGyes (NSFW), Juicebox App, and MakeLoveNotPorn. The first focuses on “lifting the veil on women’s sexual pleasure,” introducing us to a collection of diverse, everyday women (complete with human personalities and cozy bedrooms!) who explain and demonstrate tenets of female pleasure as defined by original research. For those who can afford the subscription fee (which funds both the studies and the development of a groundbreaking touchscreen video format), these real women spread their own legs to show the viewer stimulation techniques such as “Edging,” “Hinting,” “Orbiting,” and “Layering.”

Though MakeLoveNotPorn may sound anti-porn, as its sex positive founder Cindy Gallop once told the Huffington Post, it’s founded on a simple belief. “It’s not that porn degrades women, but that business degrades porn.” Thus she’s built a resource to dispel myths perpetuated by a male- and money-centric industry, structured around a co-op style video library where one can rent erotic home videos made by real couples with typical bodies and a rainbow of turn-ons.

Sites like these do the heavy lifting of awakening young women to their own sexual authority. Moms don’t have to choose between playing dumb or breaking out a flip chart, we can simply pass along a link when the time feels right and make ourselves available for questions. Our daughters will likely appreciate the discretion as much as the support, because let’s face it, who wants to hear about their parents’ sex lives in full detail? On the other hand, who wants to let their daughter live on an island of self-ignorance and sexist clichés?

With the help of a few private tutorials like these, we can signal to the next generation of women that they deserve not just to experience pleasure but to invent it for themselves.

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Are There Child Traffickers in Ikea? The Fine Balance of Parenting, Paranoia, and Preparedness

We are parenting in a time of paranoia. What are the statistics about abductions and sex trafficking in our current culture? It’s not as dire as you’d think.

One morning, as I casually sipped my coffee and thumb-scrolled through my Facebook feed, I came across a terrifying headline describing one mom’s horrific experience of nearly losing her children to a child trafficker in Ikea.
Like thousands of other moms across America, I clicked through to read the story because, hey – I’m a mom, and I go to Ikea.
 
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My heart raced as the mom described being followed through the store, shadowed by two men who clearly were not there to buy reasonably priced furniture in a box. I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the moment when they’d pounce. Who would the heroic rescuer turn out to be, I wondered? Security? A passerby?
But there was no hero. Suddenly, the story just ended.
Huh? Wait a minute, I thought. What happened to the part where her children almost got kidnapped and sold into child sex trafficking? Did I miss something?
It turns out, I did not. What Diandra Toyos described in her viral Facebook post was her feeling that something just wasn’t right. She did what any mom would do in her position; she protected her kids.
When she posted about it on social media, I’m sure she had no idea she was about to ignite a firestorm. In the weeks that followed, her story was covered by nearly every national news organization and was viewed and shared on Facebook hundreds of thousands of times. (It has since been removed.)
While some worried readers frantically fanned the flames, demanding that we all be more vigilant in a society where sex trafficking is rapidly expanding, others called the mom a fear-monger, lambasting her for a misinformed and sensationalistic representation of an experience that ultimately just felt uncomfortable.
Though no one can say with any certainty whether her fears were founded, one thing is for sure: Parenting is scary. But we would do better to educate ourselves about risk before allowing the fear to rule our parenting.
We are parenting in a time of paranoia. We have somehow gotten to a place in American news and social media where a creepy feeling constitutes a near-miss, and a national news story. Fear sells, and unfortunately, we live under a cloud of it. It seems that no one is safe – especially a mom with three kids, who goes to Ikea.
But are our fears justified? I decided to go straight to the source and review the statistics about abductions and sex trafficking in our current culture. What I found was more reassuring than the evening news would lead you to believe.

The current pattern of crime in the U.S.

First of all, crime rates are down. Pew Research Center reports that violent crimes are down at least 50 percent since the early 90s. While one survey showed a slight uptick between 2014 and 2015, the fact remains that, overall, violent crime in the U.S. has declined sharply over the past three decades. Property crime has also fallen roughly 50 percent in the same time period.
Despite the statistics, though, public perception of crime is on the rise. A Gallup poll conducted regularly dating back to 1972 reveals that each year, Americans believe that crime has increased in their area. Similarly, in a 2016 Pew Research Center poll, 57 percent of registered voters said that crime had gotten worse since 2008.
What is causing the perceived increase in crime rates despite the consistent and sharp decline in actual crime? The constant barrage of crime-related news paired with the power of social media has played no small part. But are our children actually safer than they were 30 years ago?

The current statistics on kidnappings and abductions by strangers

A 2016 issue of the Juvenile Justice Bulletin compared data related to stranger abductions from 1997 to 2011 and found that, overall, rates have remained fairly steady, but low.
Each year, there are approximately 105 stranger abductions reported nationally. With an estimated 74 million children in America, that makes the odds of any single child being abducted by a stranger about 0.00014 percent, or one in 700,000.
Of the children who are abducted by strangers, 92 percent are recovered alive. This represents a 40 percent increase in recovery rate since 1997, mostly attributed to increases in cell phones and mobile tracking technology.
Of the victims, most are girls aged 12 to 17, and in nearly two-thirds of all cases, the child went with the abductor willingly, usually having been tricked into complacency. Specifically, only 36 percent of abductions happened in public spaces, and only 16 percent were related to sex trafficking. That makes the odds of a child being abducted by a stranger for the purposes of sex trafficking roughly one in four million.

The current state of human trafficking in the U.S.

It is true that prosecutions related to human trafficking are on the rise in the United States, but only slightly. The 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report produced by the U.S. Department of State reports that in 2015, there were 257 federal human trafficking prosecutions, charging 377 defendants. This represents a slight increase from the 208 prosecutions charging 335 defendants in 2014.
It’s important to realize, though, that prosecuting more human traffickers does not necessarily mean there are more human traffickers. It could also be an indication of more effective investigations and arrests.
Regardless, for every human trafficker prosecuted, dozens of others no doubt escape unscathed. The human trafficking activist group Polaris estimated over 8,000 cases of human trafficking in 2016, representing a 35 percent increase over the year before.
Let’s consider how human traffickers generally operate. Dr. Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco has served as a human trafficking expert witness in multiple criminal cases and has trained federal law enforcement agents on geographic patterns of human trafficking prevalence. She recently spoke with CBS News, warning that “These types of [social media posts] perpetuate misinformation, which leads to people being misinformed about how human trafficking happens in real life.”
She goes on to relate that human traffickers generally build relationships with young people over prolonged periods, sometimes as long as a year, before luring them away from their families. They also generally target minors who are particularly vulnerable, such as runaways or homeless youth.
“It’s not happening overnight or as some people have described ‘in a matter of seconds or minutes,’” she adds. In fact, in her years interviewing over 2,000 victims of human trafficking, she has never heard of a single case in which a child was simply snatched suddenly from a crowded public space.
Of course, statistics don’t matter if your child is the one in four million. So, how can we safeguard our children against abduction and sex trafficking? Here are some tips for getting started:

Monitor your child’s social media use

Many victims are groomed online before they are actually abducted. Set parental controls, know what apps your child has access to, and regularly check their online communications.

Make a family rule against secrets

Teach your kids that it’s not okay for older people to ask them to keep a secret. Most sexual predators count on the fact that a young child will not tell on them. Does this mean that we have to tell grandma what we bought her for her birthday? Of course not. Teach that surprises are okay, but secrets are not.

Teach young children about “tricky people”

Stranger danger is now commonly considered an outdated technique. More often than not, strangers are not a danger, and in some cases, a child may need to ask a stranger for help.
Instead teach about “tricky people,” adults who ask for help from children. Teach children that there’s no reason an adult should ask a child for help. Of course, there are exceptions, like holding a door for an elderly person or helping mommy rake the leaves. But in general, an adult should not ask for help from a child.

Trust your gut, and teach your children to do the same

Diandra Toyos will never know if her children were being targeted in Ikea, but she went with her gut and protected them. You can never fault a parent for erring on the side of safety.
Teach your children that if something feels wrong or makes them uncomfortable, they should leave the situation immediately and tell a trusted grown-up right away.

Let your kids know when it’s okay to be rude

We spend so much time teaching our children to be polite and respectful, but that’s the last thing we want them to be if someone is abusing or abducting them. Make sure your children know to do whatever is necessary to get away from someone who tries to touch them inappropriately or force them to go someplace against their will. Teach them that, if that ever happens, it’s okay to be aggressive and make a scene.
It’s hard not to ruminate over the worst case scenarios we envision around us. There’s a fine line between protecting our kids and living in fear. By knowing the facts and taking reasonable steps to safeguard against the unlikely nightmares we imagine, we can keep ourselves grounded in reality, where we all have the same goal: to raise kids who are healthy, safe, and strong.

Date A Jerk – And Other Tips on Love for My Daughter

You will fall in love, more than once, in the years to come.

You’ve been wearing my shoes and stealing my mascara, lately. Though it feels like just yesterday I was searching for your favorite stuffed zebra so you could fall asleep. Enrique-the-Zebra lives in a box in your closet now and you’re turning thirteen next month.
Of course, I knew these teen years were coming. I may have lost track of my own age but I haven’t forgotten yours. If I’m truly honest, I feel excited for you. This is the time when you begin to discover and decide who you are and what you’re all about.
This won’t be a smooth ride, though, so get ready to hang on, and to steer, and use your brakes!
Know there will be tears and disappointments which, though painful, will make you a stronger and wiser person. There will also be friendships, experiences, and accomplishments that you will cherish for a lifetime. There will be laughter, silliness, and creations you’ll feel proud of.
Oh, and there will be people to fall in love with.
And you will fall in love, more than once, in the years to come.
So, before this happens, I thought I’d offer up a few hard-earned words of wisdom.

When It Comes to Relationships and Love, Always Remember:

1 | Never put yourself down

When you are in a new relationship, or in the presence of someone you’d like to be in a relationship with, avoid pointing out personal insecurities or perceived flaws. Don’t hate on any part of yourself in front of them! Hold your head up, and use full eye-contact (no looking at the ground).
Reason being? If you want to attract someone who is respectful, you need to model what you expect from them. You do not expect to be talked down to, or to have negative things said to you, or about you, right? So don’t talk down to, or speak negatively about yourself. Of course, as time goes by, you should be able to share some of your more vulnerable stuff within your relationship but not in the beginning.  
*Note: When you have insecurities (and everyone does) talk them out with friends or family, instead.  

2 | Date someone you never thought you’d date

Go on, do it!  Even if it only proves you were right, they weren’t the one for you. Spending time with someone really different than you means getting to view life (or at least a few experiences) from a new perspective. Going off your usual path helps you get to know yourself, which is what these years are all about! You can better discover who you are, and what you need, by spending time with different types of personalities and seeing how they impact you.
*Note: Every person you spend time with can teach you something. Keep your eyes open for what you can learn.

3 | Don’t lose yourself

This happens when you become more a reflection of your partner than of the person you were when you met (ie: You take on their style in fashion. You like the same movies, music, and sports. You may use the same words and sayings). Some of this is natural but don’t forget to stay in tune with your own interests, too!
If you aren’t sure what your own interests are right now, make time to figure it out. Stay grounded in what makes you tick and what makes you, you! Anyone worth spending time with should be open to what you like and willing to spend time taking part in those things, as well.  Relationships go both ways and should not be something that you simply go along with.
*Note: If you do feel like you’re losing yourself, don’t worry you can always get back to you.

4 | Don’t ditch your friends.

Even if you’re in a relationship and you are so loved-up you want to spend every waking hour together, don’t forget to prioritize your own friendships. Because, quite simply, life is better when you’re surrounded by good people who get you. In order to keep yourself surrounded by good people who get you, you need to treat people well and be there for them. This means, making time for your friends, no matter what!
*Note: Good friends should lift each other up, support each other’s goals, and have each other’s best interests at heart. Be sure these are the kinds of friends you have. Otherwise, move on and find new ones.

5 | Date an Asshole.

I mean don’t, by any means, actively seek out a jerk to date, but if a person, with asshole tendencies, does end up in your life, it’s not the end of the world. Stay confident. Stay strong. And, do yourself a favor, don’t stay too long!  
Dating a dick actually provides a wonderful gift. Because, even if your trip to the dark side feels alluring and adventurous at times, you’ll come out of the Hunger Games knowing this: when it comes to long-term relationships, a good-hearted person who treats you well, is where it’s at!  
An unhealthy relationship will tear some layers off your confidence, though. So remember this: You’re gorgeous and smart and funny and… well, the list goes on and on. Anyone worthy of you knows this about you and is confident enough to make you feel gorgeous, smart, and funny in their presence. Anyone who tries to make you feel anything less than that isn’t worthy of your time.
*Note: Time heals the wounds that assholes inflict. I promise! This is another reason why number 5 is so important.  

6 | The decision to have sex, or not, is always yours  

Whether to have sex or not is always your choice. When is happens, how it happens, if it stops partway through – your choice. If you change your mind before it begins or you want something different to happen during – your choice.
You are in charge of your body, no matter what the situation is. Choose to be intimate with people who respect you and whom you are comfortable with. Sex, with the right person, can be a positive thing. Sex with someone who lacks respect for you… is the opposite.
*Note: Be safe. (Every. Damn. Time.)

7 | Your mistakes don’t define you

Now, remember, you will make mistakes when it comes to love, sex, and relationships. But know this: Those mistakes do not define who you are. Those WTF-was-I-thinking choices can actually help you grow. Sometimes, life can feel really hard, and scary, and you will feel lost at times. But, you are never alone.
*Note: Your mistakes don’t define you but they do help you better define what you want and need in the future.

The Birds, the Bees, and…Tiger Butts?

When she sleeps she looks exactly like she did when she was a tiny tot in her crib. How can she possibly be standing on the edge of puberty?

How did this happen?

How did my six-pound, bright pink, squalling bundle of baby get so big? Everyone tells you it will all go so fast, like lightning fast. One day you are waddling around the living room with giants bags under your eyes and leaky breasts under your shirt and then you blink and your little one is turning double digits. At this rate, I expect that the next ten years will fly by even faster and the next time I stop and look over at my girl she will be wearing eyeliner, a bra, and a scowl.

So here we are, on the edge of womanhood. Her tiny little body is starting to blossom and her hormones are starting to scare me. I know that she will be entering the bullshit that is womanhood very soon, yet it all seems so inconceivable. She still plays with stuffed animals and barbies, and needs to be tucked in and snuggled at night. When she sleeps she looks exactly like she did when she was a tiny tot in her crib. How can she possibly be standing on the edge of puberty? As perplexing as it is, it’s definitely happening. I was recently reminded of this impending stage in life by a letter in the mail – the Reproductive Health Letter from the public schools. Part of me thinks that it’s just too soon to be traveling down this path, but the other (far more rational) side knows that it is time. Really it was last year that she started to have some questions about reproduction. She was working on an animal report on the tiger and had watched a National Geographic video that included a tiger giving birth.

“Mom! Come here!” She screeched from her bedroom.

Of course, I flew like a bat straight out of hell to her little tween lair wondering what had caused the urgency in her voice.

“Mom! Did you know that tigers give birth from their butts? Oh, Mom, I’m so happy that I’m not a tiger.”

It was right then that I realized she didn’t know squat about the miracle of life and for all I knew she still thought babies dropped out of a giant bird’s beak all swaddled up and ready to roll. I sat her down and explained that the newborn tiger didn’t come out of a bum, but the “other” hole, as all baby mammals do. Little Miss Smarty Pants connected the dots real fast and suddenly realized that her mammal body was capable of the same act. Before she could panic, I assured her that when the time came the doctors would give her so much medicine that she wouldn’t feel a thing.

I had panicked; it was all I could come up with on the fly. She seemed okay with my response, but this tiger birth conversation did make me think about all of the other questions I might be answering in the near future regarding the birds and the bees. So yesterday when she asked me what she would be learning in Reproductive Health Class I was a bit more prepared. We sat down on the porch steps.

“Honey, remember how you were asking what a tampon was?” (As strange as this sounds, one of our toddler twins has a real fascination with tampons. Trying to open and destroy them is like her very own disturbing Rubix cube.) “Well, they are what grown up women use when they have a period.”

Naturally, I was met with her confused face until I continued on, explaining to her the whole babies grow in a uterus and once a month the uterus does its thing and hence the period, the pads, and the glory that is female-hood. She was a bit grossed out, I don’t blame her. I waited for her to ask more questions, like the ever dreaded, “where do babies come from” and “how does the baby get inside a stomach.”  Alas, she threw me a bone and didn’t want to ask any more questions. She just wanted to go inside and make herself a bagel. Yes! Fine with me! I told her to ask me anything should questions pop into her head, and then I released her from this awkward rite of mother-daughter passage.

I didn’t sleep that whole night. Did I do this right? Is there a “right” way? Why isn’t there some script on the internet for parents like me who fumble and bumble when faced with the really tough questions?  You can get ANYTHING on the damn internet! What if I confused her? Scared her?

In the end, I’m glad that I at least opened this door with her. I hope that she feels comfortable coming to me with her questions, I know that eventually, she will have a whole lot of them. For now, I think I am going to turn this topic over to the public schools and let them finish scarring my baby girl with Reproductive Health facts.