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Peer Pressure: Advice For Tweens and Teens About Sex & Choices

teen couple kissSometimes it feels like everyone’s trying to push you into having sex: your friends, your boyfriend or girlfriend, films and TV. But it’s up to you when you have sex, and it’s OK to say no. Find out how to resist the pressure.

One minute you’re playing kiss-chase in the playground and sex doesn’t come into it. The next minute your friends are obsessed about when everyone will lose their virginity.

You might be thinking about sex, but the reality of it can be confusing. It takes time to understand what sex is all about, and just because you want to know more doesn’t mean that you have to rush into anything.

If you’re feeling pressured into having sex, you’re not alone. You might feel like the only virgin, but the average age that teenagers start having sex in the UK is 16 (and 17 in the US*). This is true for boys and girls so not everyone who says they’ve had sex is telling the truth.

Good relationships start with friendship, and trust builds from there.

What is peer pressure?

Peer pressure is the pressure that your friends and the people you know, put on you to do something you don’t want to do (or don’t feel ready to do), such as have sex. There are different types of peer pressure:

  • obvious peer pressure, such as: “Everyone’s doing it, so should you”
  • underhand peer pressure, such as: “You’re a virgin, you wouldn’t understand”
  • controlling peer pressure, such as: “You would do it if you loved me”

Good reasons to wait until you’re ready

The pressure that your friends put on you is worse than the pressure you put on yourself. Most of us have to deal with it at some point, but it’s difficult when friends brag about having sex and criticise you for being a virgin.

Not everything you hear is true. They could be exaggerating to make themselves look more experienced than you. Rushing into sex just to impress your friends or partner could leave you feeling like a fool because you didn’t make your own decision.

It might help you to remember that:

  • being in love or fancying someone doesn’t mean that you have to have sex
  • not having sex is not a sign that you’re immature
  • saying no to sex is not bad for anyone’s health

It’s fine to say no or to say that you want to wait a while, even if you’ve had sex before. Find out 15 things you should know about sex.

Making your own decision

Don’t do something you’re not ready to do just to please other people. You’re more likely to regret your first time if you do it under pressure. You’re also more likely to forget about contraception and condoms, which help to prevent pregnancy and protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as chlamydia.

Having sex won’t make your boyfriend or girlfriend like you more or stay with you. Your first time is important, so think carefully about it and take it slowly.

Everyone (girls, boys, lesbian, gay, straight or bisexual) deserves to make their own decision in their own time. Sex can be great when both people like each other and feel ready. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

How to stand up to the pressure

Standing up to peer pressure means deciding whether to go along with everyone else or make your own decisions. Your friends might say things that put you under pressure. Here are some things you can say back to them to keep them quiet:

They say: “You haven’t had sex because no one fancies you.”
You say: “I haven’t had sex because I’m not afraid of saying no” or “I’m waiting for the right person”.

They say: “You’ll get dumped if you don’t do it soon.”
You say: “We like each other for more than just sex.”

They say: “We’ve all done it loads of times.”
You say: “And Santa really climbs down the chimney every year.”

They say: “You must be gay.”
You say: “As if waiting for the right person means anything about my sexuality. Gay and straight people can wait for the right person” or “So what if I am?”

They say: “You’ll get a reputation for being frigid.”
You say: “Waiting for the right person makes me smart, not frigid.”

If you want to talk to someone in confidence, in the UK you can call the Sexual Health Helpline on 0300 123 7123 (for under-25s). (In the US there are several Sexual Health hotline resources available)

Find out more about:

The 15 methods of contraception

Girls’ bodies growing up

Boys’ bodies growing up

How to say no

*Editors Note: Guttmacher Institute – American Teens’ Sexual and Reproductive Health, May 20014

*Photo credit: Sarahcstanley; CC license

What to Tell Your College Kid About Smoking, Alcohol & Drugs

Studies show that students are more likely to drink alcohol, smoke and take drugs than the general population.

Peer pressure, cheap student bars and the freedom of living away from home all contribute to the choices students make.

Be aware of the dangers associated with smoking, drinking and taking drugs so you can make an informed decision about the way you live your life and care for your health.

Students and alcohol

College-students-pizza-and-beerStudent life can seem to revolve around alcohol, with the student bar and local pubs often the centre of the college social scene.

Drinking in moderation is an enjoyable and usually harmless feature of student life. Getting drunk regularly can have potentially serious physical, social and academic effects. Even drinking to excess just occasionally can be damaging.

In the short term, drinking too much can impair academic performance because it affects concentration and makes you more likely to miss classes, hand in work late and do badly in exams.

It can also put you at immediate risk of serious harm, ranging from date rape to car crashes. If you’re drunk, you’re also more likely to be a victim of violence or to have unprotected sex, which carries all the associated risks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancy.

In the longer term, regularly drinking too much can cause liver disease, an increased risk of heart attack, weight gain and a number of different cancers. These problems are now occurring at younger ages as alcohol use has increased.

The healthy choice in the short term is to take just a little extra care to protect yourself and your friends when you are going out drinking. For example, know your own limits and make sure you know how to get home safely.

If you’ve had a heavy drinking session, you should remain alcohol-free for a full 48 hours to give your body time to recover.

Over the longer term, you need to have an idea of how much you’re drinking on a regular basis, in units of alcohol, so you can keep your risks low. The NHS recommends that:

  • men should not regularly drink more than three to four units a day
  • women should not regularly drink more than two to three units a day

Use this alcohol tracker tool to check how much you’re drinking.

Read more about alcohol and how to cut down.

Students and smoking

As with alcohol, there can be a lot of social pressure for students to smoke.

Smoking increases your risk of lung cancer and heart disease. It prematurely ages the skin and triples your chance of getting wrinkles around your eyes and mouth. It also causes impotence and reduced sperm count in men, and reduces fertility in women.

It can lead to gum disease, makes the body store fat around the waist and increases the risk of cellulite.

Don’t assume that smoking will help you through the stress of exams. Medical evidence shows that smoking doesn’t actually calm you down. It’s simply the case that nicotine cravings between cigarettes make you feel stressed and anxious, so when you have one you feel temporarily calm. You’ll feel less stressed once you quit and no longer have cravings.

If you’re already a smoker, becoming a student could be the ideal time to quit. Going to university or college is a fresh start and a new way of life, and this is your chance to start your new life in a positive, healthy way.

Read how the NHS can help you stop smoking.

Students and drugs

Almost half of 16 to 24 year olds in England and Wales have tried drugs at least once, most commonly cannabis. Experimenting with drugs can sometimes be presented as part of the “student experience”.

But drugs are illegal for a reason. As well as the risks to your mental and physical health, using them can make you more likely to have unprotected sex, which in turn can increase your risk of being infected with an STI and having an unplanned pregnancy.

A small but significant proportion of regular drug users can come to rely on cannabis or become addicted to drugs such as heroin or cocaine. Any such addiction can have a disastrous effect on studies and health.

The legal penalties for drug possession can be severe for some drugs. Possession of a class A drug, such as cocaine, can lead to up to seven years in prison. Also, your university will not look kindly on you if you’re arrested for drug possession. Many universities would ban you from campus, or drop you from your course.

It’s not just illegal drugs that you need to be wary of. There are legal substances for sale with potential health risks. Read more in our article about legal highs.

The best way to minimise your risk from drugs is not to use them. Failing that, find out as much information as you can about any drugs you’re using, including the risks, the potential for addiction and what happens when you mix one drug with another or with alcohol.

Read more about drugs and their effects.

Counter the Risks of Over-Sexualized Images On Young Girls

How to counter “Too Much, Too Soon, Too Sleazy” ads aimed at our daughters and raise healthier girls from the inside out

Thongs undies for toddlers.
Push-up bras for eight-year olds.
Sneakers to “tone” legs for preschoolers.

Two pretty girls lying on white floorMarketers keep pushing that “too sexy, too soon” envelope on our young daughters, and we are seeing the impact on our daughters’ self-esteem and body images. Keep in mind that it isn’t just one advertisement or one commercial that affects a young girl’s self-concept, but the constant slew of images pushing a “too fast, too soon” look. And that’s exactly what our girls are exposed to these days. The “constant” seeing or hearing over-sexualized messages can be damaging to a young girl’s mental, emotional or moral well being.

The extent of that damage depends upon each particular girl, but we do know younger girls (especially those seven to twelve years old) and those with lower self-esteem are more vulnerable. But let’s be clear: these “too much, too soon” messages are not healthy for any girl’s self-image or body image, and it’s why we should be concerned about the onslaught of these sexualized messages on our daughters. They are having a negative impact. Here are a few dangers, and why we should be outraged.

1. Pushes a Wrong Message on How to Achieve Happiness
Children’s self-beliefs, values, and attitudes are formed through repetition. Continual messages that stress “thin, looks, tone, sexy” can cause girls to believe that they should be pushing their childhoods ahead. For instance, a young girl can translate those messages as:

“I should be acting and dressing like a teen even though I’m in grade school.”
“I should be dieting.”
“I should be wearing makeup.”
“I should be worried about if my legs are toned.”
“I should be ….”

The problem is her “should bes” are unrealistic, unhealthy, and damaging. Is there any wonder why 80 percent of fourth grade girls worry they will be fat? This morning my local newspaper contained this interesting fact….and I quote: “One study found that 80 percent of all U.S. women admit to being dissatisfied with their figures.” Concerns about our “shoulds” don’t seem to improve with age.

2. Develops a “Flimsy” Self-image that Endangers the Development of Resilience
Authentic self-esteem is a fine balance between a “feeling of worthiness” and a “feeling of capableness.” Developing both of those essential feelings is what helps our daughters handle stress, cope with life, and bounce back when the going gets tough. And those crucial school years are when our daughters are doing serious work in shaping their self-concepts and forming their “Who I am?” opinions about themselves.

Messages over-loaded with looks, appearance, weight, dress size, and toned legs (all addressing the “Am I worthy?” side of the self-esteem quotient) don’t allow girls to develop positive images for their “feeling capable sides.” Too much emphasis on looks can also cause girls to miss out on those crucial opportunities that help them figure out their strengths, interests, likes, hobbies, values, etc. A flimsier self-esteem is also likely to mean a girl has a weaker “Resilience Quotient” (that crucial commodity she’ll need to handle life) due to an unbalanced acquisition of self-esteem.

3. Decompressed Childhood
“Too fast, too soon” messages push girls to grow up too quickly for their age and maturity. Growing up “before their time” also means missing out on developmentally appropriate activities, rituals, and games that are such an integral part of growing up. Instead of playing, discovering, learning, creating, relishing, or just being, they are devoting priceless energy wondering how they should look or weigh or act. There is no rewind button on childhood, folks.

4. Boosts Health Risks
Do you know the new hot “Sweet 16″ birthday gift request? It’s Botox! (Yep, Botox… I still haven’t quite figured that one out or found a sixteen year old girl with a wrinkle). Breast implants are now on our girls’ high school graduation “wish lists.” According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, more than 36,800 cosmetic surgery procedures were performed last year on girls eighteen and under. There is always a risk with surgery, but what about the risk to a young girl’s body image? And why?

5. Increases Mental Health Risks
Research also shows that the proliferation of sexualized images in advertising, merchandising and media are indeed harmful to a young girls’ self-image and health. A five-year study of 2516 teens by the American Psychological Association found that girls who frequently read those dieting and weight loss articles are far more likely to fast, vomit, or use laxatives to lose weight. In fact, the data found that the more frequently a girl sees those over-sexualized, images, the more likely she is to resort to extreme weight control behaviors.I don’t think it’s a mere coincidence that we’re also seeing a tragic increase of eating disorders in girls who are seven and eight years of age.

6. Increases Odds for Risky Behaviors
Those “too fast, too soon” images can also push our girls into those “teen” years sooner. (From the looks of things eight has become the new 13). Growing up faster also means the potential for earlier drinking, earlier promiscuity, earlier peer pressure-and those all add up to taking more unhealthy risks.

There are dangers on all those too sexy, too much, too soon negative images on our girls’ physical, mental, emotional and moral development. So how do we counter those negative media images and raise healthier daughters? Here are a few ideas.

Countering Negative Media Images To Raise Healthy Girls from the Inside Out

“Up” Your Outrage!
These products are sold because they are purchased. A collective parental “NO!” would send a clear message to advertisers. Write your concerns to distributors and product developers. Those complaints do work…several of these companies have reconfigured their advertisements and even removed them from their websites. “Outrage” petitions are also gaining signatures by the minute. Speak out and keep your wallets shut. Also, share your concerns to your daughter to help develop her media literacy.

Three happy, well-adjusted tween girls standing togetherCheck Your Attitude
Kids who see and hear their parents (especially moms) worrying about their appearance usually adopt the belief that “being young and thin” is the standard to achieve. So watch your comments (please!!) and tune into your own behavior. Your daughter is watching and listening more than you may realize! And you are also far more influential on her development than you may be giving yourself credit for.

Build Self-Esteem from the Inside Out
A positive, authentic, well-rounded sense of self-esteem and healthy body image are essential for our girls. So find ways to help your daughter gain competence in physical, social and academic endeavors. Help her realize her innate strengths and wonderful personal qualities. Focus your praise on her deserved inside qualities-a kind-heart, optimistic spirit, stick-to-it attitude-so she realizes “who I am is more important than how toned my legs are or what I look like.”

Watch Her Media Diet, Please!
Control your remote, get her a subscription to healthy magazines, and find her healthy outlooks that don’t require wearing sexy attire. And while you’re at it, put down those celebrity magazines…at least when your daughter is in the room!

Check her Friends
Tune in a bit closer to what your daughter’s friends are talking about. If the focus is all about the latest “diets” and “dress size” it may be time to steer your child toward others friends with healthier outlooks.

Find Like-Minded Parents
Consider talking with parents of your teen’s friends and hear their views. Chances are they share your standards. Standing together will reduce those, “You’re the only parent who feels that way.” I’m betting you’re not. Find parents who share your values and join forces so you can stop this craze together.

Find Positive Role Models
Tune into those so-called role models. Make sure their examples are ones you want your daughter to copy. Let’s offer our daughters female role models who feel comfortable in their own skin and don’t need to rely on Botox, breast implants, dieting, and designer labels to feel attractive. Expose your daughter to authentic, confident women, and then tell her why you admire them. Our girls need strong, resourceful female examples to emulate.

Our best hope is to help our daughters learn—and as early as possible—that real happiness isn’t borrowed or copied, but lies within. That’s exactly why we need to help our girls become strong from the inside out. Doing so is what will help our daughters feel comfortable in their own skin.

Enough!

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Borba - book cover -parentingsolutions140x180Dr Borba’s book The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, is one of the most comprehensive parenting book for kids 3 to 13. This down-to-earth guide offers advice for dealing with children’s difficult behavior and hot button issues including biting, tantrums, cheating, bad friends, inappropriate clothing, sex, drugs, peer pressure and much more. Each of the 101 challenging parenting issues includes specific step-by-step solutions and practical advice that is age appropriate based on the latest research. The Big Book of Parenting Solutions is available at amazon.com.

How to Talk to Your Kids About…Sex

How do you talk to your kidsFor most parents, the thought of having “the talk” makes our hands sweaty and our minds go blank. We are afraid of saying the wrong thing or saying too much or too little.

There is not a set script. However, here are some guiding principles for you to consider when you sit down to talk to your children about sex.

Set a foundation.

Establish open lines of communication with our children early. They need to trust us and know they can come to us with any and all questions they might have about any topic. Respect their questions, don’t laugh, don’t belittle, and don’t avoid conversation topics.

Talking won’t make them “do it”

Research shows that teens who have talked to their parents about sex are more likely to wait longer to begin being sexually active and are more likely to use contraception.

Don’t be the last to talk.

We might not like it, but peers, the internet, music, and TV are talking to our children about this topic. If we don’t speak up and teach our children, they will listen to all the other voices that are louder than ours. Be sure your voice is heard and don’t be the last one to talk. It is important we talk to our children when they are young, and if possible, have both parents present.

Be Anatomically Correct

Using silly terms for body parts will not make your conversation less awkward. Do your children a favor and talk about body parts using their real names.

Know Your Stuff

It is really hard to have a conversation when you don’t know very much about the topic. Learn the terms so you know how to explain the concepts.

Review the Material

Many schools offer maturation and sex-education to our children in the 5th and 6th grades respectively. Do you know what your children are going to be learning? Go to school and review the curriculum to make sure they are not being taught information you disagree with. Talk to your children before they attend these school classes. It will make it less awkward for both of you and safeguard your children from being embarrassed or blindsided with the information.

Basic Components to Include

  • Anatomy and reproduction.
  • Intercourse
  • Pregnancy
  • Other forms of sexual behavior
  • Abstinence and Birth Control
  • Self Image including the messages that dress and clothing sends to others
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases
  • Emotional aspects of sex
  • Religious Views on Sexual Activity

Practice

There is nothing wrong with rehearsing the conversation before it starts. Think through what questions your child might ask and practice your answers.

Listen (…don’t just lecture)

Talk to your kids about sexYour children have probably heard more about this topic than you think. They might not know what all the vocabulary means, but the words are out there. During the conversation, listen, and let them tell you what they know. It will give you a good idea of how to address the topic and what you should say.

This conversation will be different with each child. But if you can keep the above in mind, it will really help as you talk to your children about this difficult subject.

How to Talk to Your Kids About…Using Bad Language

No parent likes to hear four letter words around the house, or potty talk during a play date. Talking to our children about the importance of appropriate words, can help put a stop to the foul language and dirty mouths.

When bad words start appearing at your house, don’t overreact. This is what your child wants you to do. When we get upset and draw attention to the unacceptable words, our children will use them more and more to get attention. We need to stay calm.

Take time to talk to your children:

  • Explain that even though they may hear other people using profanity, it is not acceptable in your family and you expect them to make better word choices.
  • It is also important to talk to your children about how words can hurt people just like hitting them does. Foul language can be mocking, degrading, and scornful. Help your child examine the effects that swear words have on others and on themselves. Where appropriate, use a personal example to illustrate a time when bad words hurt you or someone you know.
  • When your child does use profanity, make it clear that you expect them to apologize to those around them that heard the bad language.

Then, take time to talk to them about why they are using those words and how they feel when they swear. Talk about other words they could use when they are angry or frustrated, instead of foul language.

Our children learn the most from the example we set for them. We must be sure that we are not using bad words. My husband learned this the hard way. About a year ago he said, “these kids were screwing around at school” in front of our 3 year old. Although this is not a four-letter word, we don’t want our three year old saying it. She spent the rest of the day saying, “screwing around.” Hearing it once was all it took. My husband learned quickly, to watch every word. We also learned to pay close attention to the music they listen to, the TV and movies they watch, and the friends they play with.

Talk about the consequences of swearing, before it happens. Choose wisely. The consequence should encourage them to make better word choices, without scaring them off from communicating with you altogether. Talk to your child about why they used the words they did. Did they swear to impress their friends, to get your attention, or maybe because they are angry? There are reasons our children talk like this, try to find the reason and it will aid in knowing how to deal with the problem.

Other tips for dirty mouths:

  • When children are small, teach them the correct names for body parts. This way, they will be “no big deal words” to your kids and they won’t get excitement or satisfaction out of using them.
  • Often, children of all ages swear or use potty talk to get attention. Children need lots of attention. Whether the attention comes from positive or negative actions, they are still getting attention. Be sure you are giving your children plenty of positive attention.
  • Do not respond to bad language. Make it clear that you won’t respond unless they speak using appropriate words. Walk away if you need to.
  • Teach kids how to manage and deal with anger. Older kids swear because they are angry or trying to fit in and be popular. If they learn young how to manage their anger, they will be less likely to swear when they are mad. Teach them self-mastery. Help build your child’s self esteem so that they don’t feel the need to act out, to “fit in” and be popular. Make sure they know how popular they are in your eyes so they aren’t overly seeking that attention in other places.

It is very normal for young children and teenagers to go through “dirty mouth” phases. We can’t stop the words from coming out of their mouths, but we can do a few things that shorten the “phase” and keep things on track.

How to Talk to Your Kids About…Divorce

Divorce is a very sensitive subject. One that is hard for all parties involved. It can be especially difficult for parents to know how to talk to their children about such an adult subject.

Adults need to realize that the way they talk about divorce will set the tone for how their children view, and handle the situation.

Do’s

  • If possible, talk to your children about the divorce together as a family, with both parents present.
  • Talk to your children as soon as you have decided to get a divorce. Don’t put it off. Hiding it from your children will not make it easier.
  • Make sure you and your spouse agree before hand on what you are going to tell your children.
  • Assure your children that they are not responsible for the divorce.
  • Tell them why you are getting a divorce, but keep it age appropriate. (Your father and I don’t get along anymore, and living together has become awkward.)
  • Talk to them about the most important details, how the divorce will affect them. (Include, where the children will live, who they will live with, where the other parent will live, when the other parent is leaving, how visitations will work, etc…)
  • Assure them repeatedly that they are loved.
  • Assure them that you have tried to work things out.
  • Talk about how things are going to stay the same. Remember children like predictability because it makes them feel safe and secure.

Key phrases that you might consider including.

  • “You haven’t done anything to cause the divorce; this is between me and your father.“
  • “Just because your mother and I won’t be living together anymore, it doesn’t mean we don’t want to be with you.”
  • “Just because I won’t be living here, doesn’t mean you can’t talk to me whenever you want. You can always call me on the phone, anytime. You can always reach me.”
  • “Even though your mother and I won’t be living in the same house, we will always be here for you. We both love you very much.”
  • “Your dad and I understand that you might be feeling lots of different things. We are always here to talk about how you feel and answer any questions you have..”

Don’ts

  • Don’t try to buy your child’s love to make the divorce more manageable for them. Kids don’t want gifts; they want you and your spouse. They want security and to feel loved. They want honesty and loyalty.
  • Don’t talk negative about your spouse.
  • Don’t talk to your children when you are angry
  • Don’t talk about the details of the divorce such as financial matters and custody issues.
  • Don’t blow off your children’s questions.
  • Don’t rush your children into adulthood. Let them be children. Keep them protected from adult details and adult decisions.
  • Don’t take your resentment or frustrations for your spouse, out on your children.

Divorce is difficult for all families, but with patience and preparations, talking to your children about divorce can be a positive experience that assures them that above all things, they are loved, and always will be.

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