Friday, June 29, 2012

Always be sure to Inspire, Connect, and Impact...

The kids are looking, so let's always Inspire, Connect, and Impact.
The stairs weren't this large, but Taylor, our blog manager, likes to exaggerate!
A few months ago, my then 2-year-old and I were walking downstairs at my Mother-in-Law's house.  I slipped while holding a glass of tea and, yes, I fell down the stairs. The rest of the family ­­­ FINE, I just lost my balance and dropped the glass.  My husband snickered because he knows how clumsy I can be, but everyone else was fine with my assertion that everything was ok….everyone except my 2-year old that is.  My toddler boldly inserts himself in the conversation and tells everyone to “WAIT…my Mommy FELL down those stairs RIGHT THERE and she fell LIKE THIS” – that’s when he goes back up the stairs and begins what turns into a live looped reenactment of my secretly not so flattering fall!!  No need for a You Tube video!  It was absolutely hilarious and made me realize that NOTHING gets past this kid.

All joking aside, as parents, teachers, counselors, social workers, and other youth-serving professionals, we should never take for granted how our words AND actions impact young people, especially those most vulnerable and at-risk.  None of us are perfect and young people KNOW THIS, so when we stumble or even fall, we must remember to show them how to persevere through difficult times, how to make tough decisions, and how to ask for help.

My immediate reaction to the fall was superficial…how do I look in this situation, how can I prove that I am really ok.  Yet, as adults, we always want kids to share, to be honest, and to listen.  Well, my toddler demanded that my true circumstances be brought to light.  And, really that’s what young people want…not to know all of our business, but to know that we care and are not judging them.  If we want young people to be open, then we must not be clouded by superficial notions of what things SHOULD look like, but be able to meet young people where they are and show our openness to what they have to say.

A few weeks ago, the SC Campaign hosted more than 350 youth-serving professionals at our 13th annual Summer Institute, entitled Inspire, Connect, Impact.  We were grateful to have so many passionate adults willing to carve out some time to learn more about best practices in teen pregnancy prevention and other health/youth related efforts around the state and country.  Professional development opportunities like this shape our ability to effectively reach young people and to grow as mentors and role models for the next generation.

We can truly inspire, connect, and impact the lives of young people even as we constantly work our own way through the maze of life!

Kimberly Wicker is the Outreach Specialist for the SC Campaign.

Monday, June 25, 2012

More than a number...


 A couple starts going to therapy to work on their troubled relationship. The therapist asks the couple separately, "how often do you have sex?" The wife responds to the question "ugh, all the time...3 to 4 times a week" and the husband separately responds "hardly ever, only 3 to 4 times a week."

The story above is a great example of how data can be the same in value but completely different in context.  It is important to understand what numbers mean and not just understand the value of the data.  For instance, the newly released summary of the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS)[1] shows the percentage of students engaging in various risk behaviors including “never wore a bicycle helmet” and “in a physical fight on school property one or more times.” At first glance, the national findings may seem “normal” but when compared to the state of South Carolina, the findings paint a different picture.[2] 

·       *Nationally, 47% of high school students have ever had sexual intercourse.  That means that almost 5 out of 10 high school students have ever had sex.  This alone seems like a big number.  However, when compared to the percentage in South Carolina, this number doesn’t seem as large because 57% of high school students in the state have ever had sexual intercourse.  That means that in South Carolina, almost 6 out of 10 high school students have ever had sex.

·       Nationally, 15% of high school students have had sexual intercourse with four or more persons.  This is a certainly a cause for concern, however the findings in South Carolina are even more disturbing.  In South Carolina, 21% of high school students have had sexual intercourse with four or more persons. 

·         Nationally, 34% of high school students had sex three months prior to the YRBS survey.  This percentage doesn’t seem as bad when compared to South Carolina, where 42% of high schools students in the state had sex three months prior to the survey.

All of the above comparisons are examples of how data can be interpreted when we don’t take in account the context of the data.  It is important to also define “good” and “bad” so that when you first look at a number like “3 to 4” you can better understand whether that is “good” or “bad.”  When looking at the findings from the YRBS, one way to see how South Carolina students are doing in terms of their sexual behaviors is to compare the state to the nation or to other southern states.  Understanding the context helps someone better identify whether a number is “good”, “average” or “below average.”  The “average” can change from year to year or from state to state depending on the context of the data. 

I leave you with this thought: my husband is an avid outdoorsman and has been trying for years to get me to also love the outdoors.  I recently went fishing and caught a 1lb catfish that fought me like a 90 pound golden retriever.  I was beyond thrilled when I eventually pulled up the fish and thought that I deserved an Olympic medal.  My husband, who was excited that I was excited, was less impressed with my small catch.  He has caught fish over 60 pounds so to him a 1lb fish was considered bait fish.  So as you interpret data as “good”, “bad” or “average”, be sure that you understand the difference between the “bait fish” and the “big one.” 

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance: United States, 2011. MMWR 2012;61(No. SS-4):1-162.
[2] Note – the findings from the YRBS have been rounded.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Talking "the Talk"...

As someone who came into this field knowing very little about public health, I like to think I have learned quite a bit over the last five years and even have the talking points down pat, but having a son of my own, I have realized that it is much easier to talk the talk than it is to walk the walk.
What do I mean? Well, it is very easy to tell the public that parents are the number one influence on their children's decisions about love, sex and relationships. Very easy to tell parents they need to start conversations early and have them often. Very easy to tell parents to use teachable moments as a way to have ongoing conversations.

What's not so easy is when it's your own child and mine is only 2! But I am taking the advice of my colleagues and literally practicing what I preach.
Over the last couple of months I have come to realize that even for toddlers, teachable moments abound. In full disclosure, there is really no private time for mommy, so when Lucas follows me to the bathroom he has many questions - like why Mommy doesn't stand up or my favorite, "mommy, oh no, your penis is gone!!!" But, thanks to my job, I am equipped to use these moments to teach Lucas about body parts (so proud that he knows the real names) and how boys and girls are different, instead of shying away and avoiding his questions.
Believe me, I know the questions are going to get harder, but my hope is that they don't stop coming. I want Lucas to feel comfortable talking with me about tough topics and hopefully by "starting early" that will be our reality.

by:  Cayci Banks, Director of Communications,

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Teen Prom Decision Challenged by Uninformed!

Told ya'!
I like to believe I am an average (slightly neurotic), informed citizen in these United States.  I read the news, I watch CNN, and I talk to other informed friends about world happenings.  I thus, understand a few things as more true than others, 1) The North seems slightly less conservative than the South on many issues, 2) there is a current insurgence in media coverage of reproductive rights, and 3) I could never be a news anchor and not crack up constantly.  Seriously, anyone out there who knows me, do you see me on the news...without giggling?  “Tonight on News at 7, Federal Agents Raid Gun Shop, Find Weapons”  (That, by the way, folks, is a true headline used in the news…found weapons…at a gun shop-well call me shocked!)

Anyway, with the following things above being mostly true, in my opinion (maybe minus the last one), it struck me when I passed an article the other day, in the Huffington Post, about a New York school that was changing its mind about handing out condoms at the prom.  You read that last part correctly-“changing their minds”, meaning prior to the “changing”, a school had decided TO provide condoms at the prom.  There was some vitriol responses from SOME parents and community members about the schools decision to provide condoms at the prom, with some stating it gave the teens “permission” to go and have sex after the prom. 
There are statistics that tell us in high school, around 46% of teens report having had sexual intercourse (at least once)-with more than 1/3 of all high school students reported being sexually active.   Nearly half (49%) of all high school 12th graders (READ:  PROM GOERS) reported being sexually active compared to (21%) of high school 9th graders.  So what does this data mean in relation to this report? 

More than streamers, folks!
Well, first it means that the school district had a good idea-because teens in high school are having sex, with or without protection.  Secondly, it means that those who were worried that giving condoms would give teens “permission to have sex” need not worry-teens aren’t waiting for anyone to give them permission.  Thirdly, it means that now, because of some misinformed people, teens who are going to be sexually active on prom night have to purchase their own condoms, get them from their local health center, or worse case scenario, have sex without protection. 
Folks, here in America, we have to stop and understand the statistics.  Teens are having sex.  And because teens are sexually active, if we don’t provide them with access to the correct protection, they run the risk of unplanned pregnancy, STDs or even HIV.  We have to stop worrying that teens are waiting on the “go ahead” from adults to have sex.  They aren’t-whether we like it or not.  And we have to understand that providing protection doesn’t mean that they are going to make the decision to have sex.  I applaud the original intention of the high school administrators who started this idea, and am astonished at the ignorance of the people who fought to get this option removed from the school prom. 
Americans, teens need more than streamers to have a safe prom night!