Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Redefining Childhood for Our Children

I know I'm not a parent so I don't know what it's like to have a daughter growing up in today's world. But it breaks my heart when parents of beautiful 13- and 14-year-old daughters allow their kids to wear shorts with their rear ends hanging out, skirts and dresses so short we have to hope for a windless day, or shirts that outline every detail of their changing bodies. Women have to deal with being ogled and aware of the response we will get with every inch of skin we show. Our CHILDREN should not have to deal with that. And they certainly shouldn't be putting pictures of themselves dressed in swimsuits, booty shorts, etc. on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. We live in a tainted world and are as naive as these 13 year olds if we don't recognize that we have a role to play in keeping them safe.

Allow your children and pre-teens to enjoy being young. They'll have plenty of time to worry about being hot or sexy. It's okay for them to be beautiful, smart and modest at the same time. Show them they are worth more than their bodies and that they should be valued for all they have to offer - which is much more than a cup size or flat abs.

All of this holds true for 15, 16, even 37 year olds, but your children need to learn these things from you now so they will believe these things about themselves later.

That is all.

by Dana Becker, Spartanburg Community Specialist, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Pledge to Put our Children First

I’m guilty.  My husband is guilty.  I think we are all guilty to some degree. 

As I was reviewing an infographic this morning on the Digital World of Teens (http://visual.ly/digital-world-teens), I came across a statistic that really hit me in the heart.  21% of all teens say they wish their parents spent less time with their cell phones and other devices.  While I don’t have a teen at home, I am pretty sure that even 3 year olds feel this way.  I can remember multiple times when Lucas has said put your phone away mommy, or even times when he takes my phone and chunks it on the ground – which at the time I chalked up to a rebellious toddler, but after reading this statistic, I think he too is just sick of mommy and daddy always being “plugged in.”

Source: http://tiny99.com/256686
If I remember back to my childhood, when I was at the dinner table with my parents or even sitting down to watch a program on TV, I wasn’t competing with an iPhone, iPad, lap top, etc.  No, I had their undivided attention.  It was our time to talk about our day, re-cap the basketball game from the night before, discuss an upcoming school assignment, or catch them up on the latest with my friends.  Today’s teens (and toddlers for that matter) don’t always have that undivided attention from their parents because they are competing against technology.  “Well, I just need to check my email really quick.”  Or, “this call will only take a minute.”  Or, “let me text him back, it’s important.”  What’s more important than time with our children?  Time that we will never get back?  I can write this blog without being hypocritical because I have owned up to the fact that I am guilty.  But, from this day forward, I want to pledge to do better.  I need to set an example for my son when it comes to technology, and to date, I don’t think my husband and I have been the best examples in this area.  As a working mom, I have to realize that my time with my son needs to be spent fully with my son.  That email can wait.  That text can wait.  My son’s childhood will not wait.  As I have already seen, the days, months and years go by way too fast.

Will you take a pledge with me?  A pledge to put our children before technology.  Certainly, there are going to be times where we do need to do a little work from home or return a text to a friend because it truly cannot wait, but let’s pledge to make those times the exception and not the rule. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How My Life Changed at Summer Institute

It’s that time of year again…the birds are chirping, the sound of lawnmowers are buzzing in the morning air, and your bathing suit is yelling at you from the back of the drawer every time you order fries.  Sure, it’s Spring time, but it’s also time to register for Summer Institute!  

Shannon Flynn, myself and Dr. Mary Prince at Summer Institute 2008.
This is the 14th Annual Summer Institute hosted by the SC Campaign – and my 7th time attending.  The first time I attended SI (as those of us on the inside refer to it!), I was a state employee slowly making a move to the field of teen pregnancy prevention.  In fact, I was an HIV Health Educator moonlighting in adolescent sexual health.  SI was held at the SC Archives and History Building in Columbia – a far cry from the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center where it will be held this year.  When I arrived, I carried with me the heaviness of a young professional with dreams of changing the world but no one to support me on that journey.  When I got there, I found the typical conference fair – breakout sessions, key notes, and information booths.  The speakers were informative, which I expected, and I filled my conference bag with stacks of flyers, fact sheets, business cards, and any pen I could get my hands on.  However, what did surprise me was the number of young professionals present – who were laughing and enjoying themselves and their jobs.  They too had dreams of changing the world and it looked like they were living it.  I came back for the second day a little lighter in my step and more hopeful.  I listened with more intent to the speaker – who challenged me to think outside the box, take a chance on a young person who no one thought would make it, and stop making excuses.  I went back home and added the tagline to my email, “Stop complaining, start a revolution” which I stole from a favorite feminist.  It was what I yearned for; young people needed an advocate, and I was ready to be one.  

After my first Summer Institute, I dumped my bag of conference goodies on my desk and began to study them.  I was surprised and moved by the data and wanted more.  I signed up for the Friday Broadcast and visited the SC Campaign website periodically after that for information to help me with my work.  Without looking for it, I stumbled across a job posting one day – CDC Project Coordinator.  Long story short, I applied for and got the job.  However, my journey there included interviewing with Forrest Alton, Carol Singletary and Suzan Boyd.  Talk about an intimidating group.  BUT, I was a revolutionist now!  When Carol asked me what I wanted to do in 10 years, I confidently replied, ‘change the world.’  She didn’t laugh at me – and I knew then that I had found an agency that matched my same passion.  

So, my Summer Institute story was life changing.  Six and a half years later, and I’m still a SC Campaign employee planting the revolutionary seed – I hope to see it grow in both our partner communities and our staff who serve them.  I talk with pride about the hard work of the SC Campaign – and my contribution in that.  I’m not saying that your Summer Institute will be as revolutionary as mine, but if you are open to it, it will definitely change you.  You may have a few weeks before the pool opens, but don’t wait any longer to register for Summer Institute.  It’ll be Famously Hot here, so bring that bathing suit!

by Erin Johnson, Director of Capacity Building, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sex Education 101

Every parent dreads the moment when their son or daughter will learn about sex for the first time, a moment that can be just as uncomfortable for a child.  My best friend in fourth grade vehemently swore that her parents had never had sex.  I assured her that they must have had sex for her to exist, but she simply refused to believe it was true.  Her disbelief reminds me of the beloved Sam Weir from Freaks and Geeks who experiences an abrupt introduction to sex.

Set in the early eighties, Freaks and Geeks explores the sex and relationship developments of two Michigan siblings, 12th grader Lindsay and 9th grader Sam.  While Lindsay tries to shake her “mathlete” status by hanging out with a group of weed-smoking teens who have little direction in life, her younger brother Sam spends his free time with his two best friends (Neal and Bill), reading science fiction comics and trying to appear cool to girls. 

In the fifth episode, Sam sits in his first sex education class with a look of confusion as a classmate tells a joke about a quadruple amputee man ringing a doorbell.  Embarrassed by their lack of understanding, Sam and his friends try to learn as much as possible about sex.  They talk to a wise and trusted classmate and flip through anatomy textbooks, but ultimately find themselves watching a sex movie on a reel-to-reel projector in Neal’s basement.  The film, given to them by one of Lindsay’s new friends, Daniel, leaves Sam horror-struck and disgusted.  At dinner, he is unable to eat.  He spends the next couple of days walking in a haze, blinded by unimagined sights.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to predict when a child will first learn about sex or how they will react to the news.  Even if a parent plans to talk with their child, their son or daughter will likely hear pieces of the story sooner than expected.  Can parents prevent the denial or astonishment that my fourth grade friend and Sam Weir experienced?  Probably not, but parents can help ease the learning curve by listening and talking with their children well before puberty.  Layering conversations about sensitive topics during childhood will build parents as a resource for accurate sex and relationship information when the time arrives.  While peer groups do influence children as they get older, parents must remain in the game. 

by Kemi Ogunji, Executive and Development Assistant, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Secret Society That We Call Sisterhood

Almost six years ago, I made the big move from Clemson to Columbia. The home of the Gamecocks did not exactly welcome this Tiger fan with open arms. I found it pretty difficult to meet people in the area. I often times felt like I didn’t fit in and just hadn’t found my niche. I eventually met another young woman in graduate school named Jenny, who felt just as out of place as I did.

Jenny was from Charleston and we instantly bonded over Gap sweater vests and our love for boxed wine. Jenny has been a friend through thick and thin, through grad school exams and nasty break-ups, through bad experiences with a bottle of hair dye and completely inappropriate wardrobe decisions. Jenny was beside me when I got married and helped me heal after losing my grandfather. And this year, she will be there to support me when I finish the doctoral program (finally) and I will stand beside her when she marries her soul mate in September (finally).

Young women often take for granted the friendship and sisterhood they can have with another woman. I believe that adolescent females have a hard time developing relationships with other females because they, too often, do not see what a real friendship looks like between women. If you watch any amount of TV, you mostly see women who back-stab each other and “bad mouth” about each other once their “friend’s” back is turned. Even worse, women will sometimes resolve their issues with physical violence. With these types of “role models”, it isn’t a surprise that adolescent girls don’t know how to really connect with other girls.

I grew up in a house completely overcome with estrogen and girl power. I was raised by an amazing woman who is not only my mother, but I also consider her one of my dearest friends. I know what a healthy friendship looks like because my mother showed me through her relationships with other women. And when I became a young adult, my mother and I developed our own friendship, grounded in love, respect, and trust.

In order for young women to have kind, trusting relationships with other young women, they must see these relationships being modeled in real life. So take some time today to figure out what you are modeling for the young women in your life, are you showing them what a trusting, respectful, and loving friendship looks like? Or are you showing them that friendships are shallow, disrespectful, and fake?

As women, we have a sisterhood that we must honor. We know what it means when Aunt Flo comes to visit, we know about the “flashes”, and we know what it means when we shave our legs on a weekday. We must honor our young sisters and empower them to build strong friendships with each other, to maintain this secret society that we call sisterhood.

I strongly believe that there are only a few things in life that cannot be solved by long talks and giggles on the phone with a girlfriend.