Tuesday, November 15, 2011

No Such Thing as THE Talk...Let's Talk 365!

When it comes to love, sex, and relationships, it is easy to say – in theory – that ongoing communication is important.  But, we all know that as children grow and become more and more curious, we can often be blind-sided by what our youth actually know – or think they know – about sex. 

This is why the talk is not simply a one-time presentation that we can schedule for a certain age or circumstance.  As uneasy as it could be, we have to continue using teachable moments and life lessons as spring boards for honest, open communication with young people…about all types of issues, but especially about sex.

This is also why, as professionals, we have to practice what we preach and make parent-child communication an ongoing priority in our awareness, education, and marketing activities.  October was Let’s Talk Month, but we should continue to emphasize this issue all year.  Accordingly, the SC Campaign is please to highlight our parent portal emphasis and public awareness campaign – Let’s Talk 365!

If there is no such thing as THE TALK, then I guess we should be careful not to depend too much on THE MONTH of October as the main platform for parent-child communication about sex, love, and relationships!  Please keep talking with young people and using our resources throughout the year.   If we want families to help in prevention efforts every month, then we must keep the issue prominent in our activities…365!

-Kimberly Wicker is Outreach and Development Specialist at the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Contact Kimberly at kwicker@teenpregnancysc.org.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

My Trip through the APHA Expo Hall: Where Theory Meets Practice

From October 29 – November 2, 2011, APHA’s held its 139th Annual Meeting & Exposition in Washington, DC. APHA stands for the American Public Health Association which, I believe, is the largest organization of public health researchers and professionals in our country. Over 13,000 people reportedly registered to attend APHA this year. One of those persons was myself, the Training Coordinator for the SC Campaign. While I grew up near Washington, D.C., and lived there as an intern in 2007, I was not prepared for the experience about to take place. I truly believe anyone who works in the field of Public Health should attend APHA at least once. You need to see with your own eyes, the scope and scale of this conference. Imagine how Dorothy felt when seeing OZ for the first time.

When I first arrived at the Washington, D.C. Convention Center (which takes up two full city blocks) – I followed the crowd and signs up to the third floor where I registered with a swipe of my conference issued ID card. That’s right, you don’t just get a name badge, they give you an ID Card (I’ll explain why in a minute). They handed me the conference program with the complete list of presentations, poster sessions, meetings, caucuses, meet n’ greets, and vendors was 418 pages long. “That’s not a program,” someone remarked to me, “it’s a phone book.” Good thing they gave us an APHA branded recyclable shoulder bag to carry the book and other items.

Then I took a walk through the Expo Hall. Now “hall” is a deceiving term, think more like airplane hanger, or better yet, picture a sci-fi movie with spaceships landing in a spaceport. That’s the size and scale of this room. APHA reported that over 650 businesses had spaces in the Expo Hall, but from where I stood, it looked like thousands of booths!
(pictured: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (aka CDC) station featuring national and global health projects)
Overwhelmed by the scale of the spaces, I quickly retreated to a couch in the internet lounge (offering free Wi-Fi) so that I could review my conference ‘phone book’ (I mean, program) and chart my course for the next few days. I planned out each day, where I would be every 1-2 hours. There were 30 minute breaks between sessions, which seems like a long time but with long walks across the building, lines for coffee/food, and the time it took to find the closest restroom, 30 minutes seemed barely enough time to get a good seat in the next session.

The scientific presentation sessions were just that - very scientific. The opportunity to hear from expert researchers in the field was eye-opening but often over my head since everyone who knows me, knows that research isn’t my cup of tea. I like to read the executive summaries at the beginning of each journal article, and I’m infamous for skimming through a 30 page report in too short a time. I’m sure others in the field of teen pregnancy prevention can relate, while others who love research and data are saying “shame on you, Ryan.”

So after hours of sessions – hearing lots of theory and tons of data points, regression models, p values, etc.... it was time for me to rerevisit the “spaceport” (I mean, Expo Hall). The Expo Hall was alive with activity. The loud speaker announced upcoming book signings and raffle drawings for those who had visited 24 premiere vendor books and gotten a stamp from each on their conference ‘passport’. There were booths from most of the major universities and schools of public health in the country. Students looking for advanced degrees or graduates looking for employment stopped from station to station. My favorite was a booth set-up like a living room and the admissions staff invited you to have a chat on their sofas.

The next row over, there was a mobile dentist office in a converted RV set-up complete with a LCD TV on the side showing educational videos about oral hygiene. One booth featured the APRIL aging software that helps you see what you will look like at 72 if you eat unhealthy foods, smoke, or tan without UV protection. Trust me, the smoking, tanning, fast food eating Ryan at 72 is NOT someone I hope to ever become… There was one vendor that asked us to take off our shoes and stuck special support cushions in there, before you knew it, they felt so good you almost gave them $38 to keep them in your shoes – but I resisted their sales ploy. If you saw a vendor who you liked and wanted more information from, you could give them your ID card and with one swipe, you were added to their mailing list. Goodbye age of business cards – hello digital age!

The thing about the Expo Hall that I liked the most was that the vendors weren’t just selling junk or giving away useless information. Every single booth was there for a reason! This was public health theory in its most practical form. Research had been conducted, theories had been developed and from those theories, products were create and now either being given away, raffled off, or sold. This Expo Hall was a place to find the latest demonstration models for those working in nutrition and healthy eating, software for those conducting qualitative interviews, services to help you translate documents or in real-time into over 160 languages, and the vendors that caught my attention most – companies or non-profits related to HIV and Teen Pregnancy prevention.

I filled my conference bag with condom samples and models of IUDs, brochures, and postcards. I spoke to national organizations and groups local to Washington, D.C. I visited the booths of ETR, Select Media, the CDC, and Health and Human Services (HHS). These practical tools that I gathered at the conference now rest on shelves in my office, spread across my desk, and distributed among my coworkers at the SC Campaign. From what I learned and gathered at APHA, we can now bring some of the theories home to South Carolina and some of the practice recommendations home to you at your agency or directly into the places where your kids will learn how to be better prepared for adulthood.

I’m glad I took a stroll through the ‘spaceport’ to collect stamps for my 'passport' with my ‘phone book’ under my arm. It was worth every minute I spent in the Expo Hall at APHA!

-Ryan Wilson, MEd., is a Training Coordinator for the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Contact Ryan at  rwilson@teenpregnancysc.org (803) 771-7700 ext. 126.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Revealing New Spin on Football

Orlando Fantasy. Las Vegas Sin. Philadelphia Passion. San Diego Seduction. What sounds like very expensive, potent cocktails are actually titles of teams competing in the Lingerie Football League. The LFL, started in 2009, claims to have “formally shattered” the ceiling on women playing tackle football. The ladies who play on these teams are powerful athletes without a doubt and deserve to compete at a professional level in a sport that has traditionally been for men only. However, if the only way for a woman to compete at that level requires her to run around a football field in her underwear, have we really accomplished anything to improve the status of women in our society?

I know I have a soapbox related to the portrayal of women in the media (hope to write another blog post soon about the Miss Representation documentary which aired recently on the Oprah Winfrey Network). If you talk to me long enough, you’ll quickly find out how much things like the LFL tick me off. But above and beyond the misguided concept that women are making strides for equality because they’re allowed to play football in their underwear, the LFL has decided to go one step farther. They are developing youth leagues.

Yes, you heard correctly. Here’s part of the press announcement (with thoughts by me in italics): “With the growing popularity around the LFL [by what shockingly appears to be mostly men who regularly comment on the LFL Facebook page with original quips about the athletes like “she can sack me anytime”], younger and younger girls are starting to dream of playing LFL football. [I doubt this is what Martin Luther King, Jr. had in mind.] In recent months and years, parents [clearly loving, caring parents who aspire for their daughters to grow up and accomplish great things] of young ladies routinely contact LFL league offices inquiring about everything ranging from what size football do you use to what form of training should I place my daughter into now to prepare her for LFL football [clearly in addition to scheduling her implant surgery, regular spray-tans, and salon appointments].”

There is so much about all of this that makes me angry, I’ve had trouble compiling my thoughts for this blog, but here’s an attempt:
  • If playing football is something women aspire to, then let’s look at what is SAFEST for them as much as we would for men. Playing tackle football with only helmets and shoulder pads doesnot seem safe – much less comfortable. Could you imagine men playing in something similar?
Football players - Female and Male wardrobe differences
  • If we want for people to truly see and appreciate the athleticism of women on the football field, could we allow them to be dressed in such a way as to emphasis their talent rather than their cup-size?
  • In a recent survey conducted by Essence Magazine with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 72% of young people surveyed said that the media portrayed black girls’ sex appeal as their most important quality and 39% of females who had had sex said they wished someone had told them they had more to offer someone than just sex. Is it any wonder our young people feel this way when organizations like the Lingerie Football League are airing games on MTV2 – a channel viewed predominantly by teens? Is it possible to feature beautiful, strong, smart black women with CLOTHES ON???
My final thought has caused me the most trouble since discovering the LFL and the idea of a youth league to ultimately recruit new players – even though the league founder and commissioner guarantees that “we would never put 13 year olds in lingerie and have them play in our league”  (many thanks to ESPNW for clarifying that for us!).  What do we DO about things like this? What do we DO when we see women continuously being portrayed as sex objects or little girls being made up to look like grown women or female politicians being asked more about their clothing choices than their thoughts on foreign policy? What do we DO when we see girls flipping through magazines or channels and looking with some sense of inadequacy at the made-up, touched up images they feel constantly forced to compare themselves to?

I’ve decided to finally DO something. I’m starting with conversations – with adult women I look up to and with young women I admire and hope to influence in positive ways. I hope to keep you informed on how those conversations go - whether or not talking about what we see, struggle with, and get angry about can help to ultimately bring about change. And in the meantime, I’ll stick to watching NCAA football and will skip the LFL games. How about you?

- Dana Becker, M.Ed, is the Spartanburg Community Specialist for the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Contact Dana at dbecker@teenpregnancysc.org.