Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Turtle Power!

When I was about five, I was obsessed with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I had all their action figures, begged for karate lessons, and told my mom I’d die if I didn’t get home in time to watch the show. Obviously there was only once choice for a Halloween costume that year.

Me and my older sister, 1991
That year I wasn’t dressed up as Rafael. I was Rafael. I was taking my ninja skills to the street and God help any bad guys trying to steal candy or egg houses. I was funnier, smarter, and stronger than the five year old I had been that morning. That’s always been the essence of Halloween in my book. The chance to be something you’re not.

So why do so many young women choose to take characters with fantastic traits and reduce them to a “sexy ninja turtle”? Anyone can throw on some makeup and a short dress, but how many people can pop out of a sewer drain, stop crime, and finish it all with a hilarious pun?  

It’s no secret that the media is bombarding our girls with messages that say they should derive their worth from their beauty, how they dress, and how easily they can attract men. But in the face of all that, how do we make them believe us when we say it’s way cooler to be the smartest or funniest girl in your class than it is to be the one with the shortest dress?

When we get that message across, it'll be easier to tell our girls that boys and men can and will love them even if they say no to sex. That it’s your personality, your brains, and your sense of humor your partner should hold most dear, not how hot you look in a skimpy outfit.

by Kylee Perez, Communications Specialist, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Letter to My Son

So, I am not quite a parent yet since I am still “cooking” what seems to be a toddler-size fetus for the next four weeks, but I have thought about what kind of parent I hope to be and what I want to teach my baby boy. I am sure that this is the first of many letters that I will write my son.

Dear Mac,

Currently you are tap-dancing on my bladder but in less than four weeks, your father and I will meet you face to face and hold you in our arms. Your father and I decided on your name almost 14 years ago. Your father and I were high school sweethearts and we talked about how if we ever had children that we would name our son after my grandfather. You see, you were in our dreams, our thoughts, and our prayers long before we were married or even old enough to vote. And now as we count down the days until we meet you, we couldn’t be more excited to hold you for the first time and tell you how much we love you. We want you to have the best experience that life has to offer, but we know that life can disappoint and hurt you sometimes, so here are a few things to always remember:

  • It’s okay to not be okay: You don’t have to be the best at everything you do, in fact sometimes the only way we learn anything in this messy world is when we make a few mistakes. So know that it is okay to NOT be okay. These are the times where we hug a little tighter, cry a little harder and you may see mommy drinking a little more wine…but that’s okay because we are a family and we WILL get through anything that life brings us. 
  • Be silly and laugh often: One day, you will have a mortgage, medical bills and a family of your own, but until then – enjoy life and be silly! Your father is better at this than I am, just ask him about his award-winning hula dance and coconut brassiere.
  • Love unconditionally: Love is not a noun but a verb, you have to make it work and work hard at it. Your father and I have experienced moments when it was very hard to love one another but we worked through it and tried our best to put our relationship first before our own individual needs. You will get grossed out when your dad kisses me or when I pinch your dad’s cute toosh, but just know that we love each other unconditionally, and we will do the same for you, no matter what. 
  • Fight for what you love: You will see that your father and I don’t always get along and have had times where we wanted to throw in the towel, but we never gave up and we ask you to do the same. Fight for what you love and for who you love. This might mean doing things that you wouldn’t necessarily do on your own, like when I go hunting with your dad or when he goes antiquing with me. I will do the same for you and you will get dragged into antiquing with me.
  • Respect yourself and others: Your father fought in Iraq for our country and your great grandfathers fought in the Vietnam War and Korean War. Each of these honorable men made a sacrifice to fight for a larger cause other than themselves. They fought for the freedom we have today, so we ask that you always respect yourself and respect those around you. This means that you should always look people in the eye when speaking to them, open doors for women and always stand up and shake hands when being introduced.
  • Talk to us: Your father and I were 15 once and made some pretty stupid decisions, so it is okay to talk to us. We have most likely been there, done that. I know that sometimes you will only want to talk to your father but know that I am here, and I will do my best to provide a listening ear. 
  • Take risks: Sometimes life requires us to be bold and take risks. Sometimes this means moving to a 198-square-foot apartment in a city where you don’t know anyone (just make sure to call mom) and sometimes this means applying for a job that you don’t think you have any chance of getting. Sometimes the juice is worth the squeeze….so squeeze away my son.
  • Keep your head down and your eyes up: Your father and I spent a lot of our life running from God and never quite feeling whole. When we finally stopped running, we realized that the most important lesson in life is to stay humble and keep our eyes focused on our faith. This is the most important lesson of all. We will screw up and we will not be the perfect parents, but we promise to do our best to be humble, love God, love each other and love you with all our hearts. 

I can’t promise that life will be easy but I do promise that we will love you and stand by you no matter what. We promise to teach you what we have learned along the way, but I am confident that you will teach us more than we could ever teach you. 

"I wanted you more than you ever will know, so I sent love to follow wherever you go." – Nancy Tillman

Love Always,
Momma and Daddy

by Sarah Kershner, It's Your Game Project Coordinator, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

If I Were a Child Again

A few Sundays ago, the pastor of Brookland Baptist Church gave a sermon on love, pertaining to parents and children.  The scriptural reading came from 1 Corinthians 13:4-13: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. When I became a man, I put away childish things.”  He gave the sermon from the insight as a child talking to adults. 

Pastor Jackson’s first point of emphasis was:  I hope my parents and adults would remember when I had something to say I would SPEAK it as a child.  This means children imitate what is heard from other adults.  I have grown to realize many people do not believe that children listen to what they are saying, because they almost never listen whenever they are given advice. Children often see and hear more than what we think they do.  For instance, a story was told during the sermon about a little boy in Sunday School who was called upon to pray.  He started off his prayer with Dear Mr. Damn.  After he finished praying, the teacher asked why he referred to God as “Mr. D.”  The child answered saying, “Well, isn’t that God’s second name?”  He was speaking what he had heard from other adults.  Those adults are his role models, and I’ve heard many adults say, “Do as I say, not as I do,” but that doesn’t guarantee that a child won’t imitate you.        
Pastor Jackson’s second point was:  I hope my parents and other adults would remember I UNDERSTAND as a child. I put thoughts into action based on my understanding from my role models.  Basically, what I see in my parents and others is how I will act because what they are doing is how I understand things to work.  If parents and other role models portray strong work ethic, then children will understand what it means to work.  If there is an emphasis on education around children, then they will understand how important education is.  On the other hand, if a child only sees one parent or adult working in their household and the other sits at home watching TV and eating all day, then they will understand that this is the way a household should be.  

Finally, Pastor Jackon’s last point was this:  I hope my parents would remember that my childish thoughts about love are how my parents display love toward each other.  Pastor Jackson pointed out three kinds of love:  IF love, BECAUSE love and ANYHOW love.  IF love is explained as conditional love that depends on behavior; the love is earned.  An example given was:  “if you make all As and Bs in school, I’ll be proud of you as my child.”  All children understand IF love because they are always bargained with IF love to gain certain results.  Children recognize IF love that is dependent upon works, not grace.  IF love can be great to mold children into how they should act, but it should not be the only love displayed.

Children view BECAUSE love as being more protective of the parent and not considerate of the child.  It is based upon appearance, because a parent holds a certain position, i.e. a president of a company, may expect certain things from their child and they have to conduct themselves in a certain manner.  This means not bringing shame upon the parents and upholding the family’s name.  This could be a great kind of love also because it brings children a sense of responsibility and duty into their lives.  However, many times BECAUSE love is what keeps families together, because the family does not want to break their image. They may stay together for the children no matter what, even if they are no longer in love. 

Thirdly, ANYHOW love is recognized and thought about by children for their parents.  Children need ANYHOW love because of the many challenges they may be facing in their lives.  Children will make mistakes, just like adults did and still do.  ANYHOW love is patient and kind, not jealous or arrogant, does not insist on its own way, not irritable or resentful, does not rejoice in wrong but rejoices in the right, and bares, believes, and hope of all things.  Children may disappoint their parents at times but parents should love them anyhow. 

I can only hope that I am being a great role model to the children that are looking up to me and displaying actions of love for them to imitate.  Once I become a parent, I also hope that I will be able to display actions that are worthy of my children’s hearing and seeing.  One way to ensure this is to open the lines of communication between children and parents and/or trusted adults.  Knowing the things your children are doing, and how they are doing those things, will always show what the child is being taught through other people’s actions at home.  This goes back to an earlier example of the child calling God Mr. D.  A parent would have known that their child calls God Mr. D if they are keeping an open line of communication and could help to correct that behavior.  It’s always said that “learning starts at home.”        

For resources and information on how to talk to your child, visit our Parent Portal.

 by Edwina Mack, USC Master of Social Work Field Place Student, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Silence is Only Golden in the Movies…

I wholeheartedly believe that communication is the key to any worthwhile relationship, including the relationship between parents and children.  Ever since I was a little girl, my mother has shared with me that I can always come to her no matter what.  Knowing this, it made my relationship with my mother transcend into something so much more.  Over the years, I have talked to my mother about everything from guys to social pressures.  Through these conversations, my mother became more than my mother…she became my best friend.  Now, whenever I go through anything in life, the first person I call is my mom, and it is because she laid the foundation for open, honest communication from the start.

I dedicated my dissertation to my mother because she has always been that listening ear and my primary source of wisdom and advice.  My dissertation was on parent-child communication and my research found that having conversations early and being open and honest about sensitive issues will result in an increased bond between parent and child.  I encourage all young people to talk to your parents about what you are going through, and I challenge parents to be more open and receptive to what their child has to say.  Just because they talk about it, doesn’t mean they are doing it!  In celebration of Let’s Talk Month, I challenge all young people to start at least ONE conversation with their parent daily.  It can be about anything from fashion, to sports, or an upcoming pep rally!  The point is that it is never too late to start talking to your parents.  I am 28 and my mother just turned 60 last week, and I still call and talk to my mother every day about life and it is because she encouraged this communication from the start.  Don’t let fear or embarrassment silence you…START TALKING TODAY!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Your Challenge: Become an "Askable" Adult

Growing up in several non-traditional family situations, such as living with my grandparents and with my friends’ families, I had many sources of information as a teenager. But how do you know who to trust and who to go to for guidance and advice?  I surely wasn’t comfortable turning to my dad, brother, or grandparents for advice about love, sex, and relationships. I was lucky that my middle school and high school supported a comprehensive sex education program, so I learned a lot about the birds and the bees in health class, but sometimes that just isn’t enough.

Me and my beautiful nieces, June 2010
Due to the instability at home in middle school and high school, many of my friends’ moms took me under their wing and made sure I was doing well. I always felt like I had many moms who deeply cared about me and supported me in all that I did – school, music, athletics, attending college, and later, grad school. I even had a friends’ mom go to a doctor’s visit with me when I was feeling anxious about a certain procedure and diagnosis. Not every child is as lucky as I was to have so many adults involved in their lives, but many times these adults were someone other than my parent; they were in a different role, but were in a position to be a trusted, “askable” adult.

During my senior year of high school, I moved in with a family who I had become very close to, and I was fortunate to be supported by everyone – immediate family members and extended. They took me in as one of their own on Nov. 2, 2004, and I have loved them as family ever since. It was also fortunate that my new “dad” was a pediatrician and my new “mom” was a pediatric nurse (both have recently retired), so I had more access to accurate health information than other people my age. Most of the time, I was more comfortable asking sensitive questions to those adults who were not in my biological family.

My challenge to you is this: even if you aren’t a parent, become a trusted, “askable” adult, whether it’s to a sibling, a niece or nephew, a member of your Girl Scout troop or on the football team you coach. Our young people need to have access to and be comfortable with having open, honest conversations with adults who are knowledgeable and know accurate information about sex and contraception. Educate yourself on these issues and make yourself available as a good resource for young people in your life. I hope that when my nieces are old enough, they will approach me for advice about sensitive topics, and I will be prepared to guide them and support them in making responsible decisions.

For resources on how to talk to young people about love, sex, and relationships, click here.

by Sara Lamberson, Corporate Communications Specialist, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Parents Weekend

Photo credit:
When Parents Weekend comes around each year, the campus transforms into an entirely different place.  All of my residents’ rooms are spotless and there is nothing inappropriate written on the white boards posted outside each door. I’m used to students acting differently around their parents, but I was especially surprised this year.  Knowing that most of my residents are sexually active, I made a bulletin board that had helpful resources pertaining to sex on it.  Everyone liked the board and found it helpful- until Parents' Weekend came around.

I had several residents come to me and ask me to take the board down before their parents got there.  They said their parents would feel uncomfortable, and it would embarrass them.  If my residents are afraid to let their parents see a bulletin board that has information about birth control on it, I can only imagine that they are not having open conversations about their own relationships.

If you’re a parent, I encourage you to tell your teen that you will not be embarrassed by a bulletin board about sex or birth control.  Not only that, but I encourage you to talk to your teens about sex and healthy relationships on your own.  Open conversations on these topics will lead to a more open and honest relationship.  You should strive to have a relationship where your child does not feel the need to morph into another version of themselves when you come to visit them in college.

by Ella Brittingham, Graphic Design Intern, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Let’s Talk Month: Supporting Parents at Every Stage in the Journey

Credit: Child and Family Mental Health
It’s often easy to say should have, would have, could have, when talking about all types of issues.  But parenting is one area where, in many cases, everyone’s an expert – until they have the experience!  As the parent of a four year old, I realize that I am only beginning this journey, yet I feel like I have already had to deal with some very interesting experiences when it comes to guiding Landen in the ways of behavior and relationships.  One thing is for sure, starting early is any understatement.  Early on, especially during potty training, we had to explore the proper terms for his body parts which led to his most important work of art – the picture of the spider with a penis (see my blog on this episode!)  His friendships with a couple of female classmates have included kisses on the cheek and the tightest hugs ever.  Now, we do our best to not make a big deal about these very cute moments, but they are great teachable moments when we can talk age-appropriately about good touch/bad touch, respecting other peoples’ space and boundaries and respecting himself as a young man.  Deep stuff, right?  Well, it doesn't have to be heavy all of the time – we often talk about his future and how he will be a an adult one day who will have to continue being nice and helpful to others, especially those who he is really close to – like a girlfriend.

Let’s Talk Month has always been important to me as a professional because it emphasizes the importance of supporting and partnering with parents as it relates to preventing teen pregnancy and preparing young people for maturity in relationships.  Now, as a parent, I realize that campaigns like this are crucial in helping us get through every stage of this journey called parenting.  This process is not about teaching parents something they don’t know or judging their performance – rather it’s about SUPPORT. Although this does include education and guidance at the core of this campaign, it is the realization that we are all connected and everyone, not just parents, are impacted by young people’s growth and development within our communities.

I started working in teen pregnancy prevention in my early twenties, when my perspective was all about mentoring young people and providing resources for parents.  Over the past decade, I have grown tremendously as a professional, and I credit the experience of leading local public awareness campaigns such as Let’s Talk Month, with preparing me for this new journey:  parenting and helping develop a mature, respectful young man.

About Let’s Talk Month  
Let's Talk Month is lead by Advocates for Youth. Each October, groups across the nation, including the SC Campaign, promote effective communication between young people and the adults they trust, especially their parents. Let's Talk Month emphasizes the importance of a strong partnership between the community and families in helping young people develop responsible, positive, sexual health attitudes and behaviors.

by Kimberly Wicker, Outreach & Development Specialist, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Making of a Man

I had the pleasure of attending a Young Men’s Program meeting in Boston last week hosted by John Snow, Inc. (JSI). The goal was for us to learn how to better engage young men in teen pregnancy prevention work, but the result was so much more! As a female, I have taken for granted how differently our boys and young men think, act, and believe because I have not had the experience of being male. As we kick off Let’s Talk Month, there are some things to keep in mind when communicating with our young men – full credit for these concepts goes to Ozvaldo “Ozzie” Cruz and Mario Ozuna-Sanchez of the National Compadres Network and National Latino Fatherhood and Family Institute.

Society teaches young men that they are supposed to be strong and not show emotion – they are supposed to be the protectors. They must be respected.  If not taught how to be protective, our boys and men can express this sentiment through violence. We need to talk to our young men about the difference between being a warrior and a soldier – soldiers follow orders as they go into war. Warriors try to protect and avoid situations that would be unsafe. Our boys are often entering into battle to show that they are strong because they don’t understand that using their head instead of their fists shows greater strength.

 Our boys seek relationships, but if they aren’t taught what a healthy relationship looks like, they begin to equate sex with relationships. The media teaches our young men that they aren’t “real men” if they aren’t having sex as often as possible with as many women as possible.  We need to help our young men understand that while relationships can certainly be sexual, having sex with someone is not the same as being in a meaningful, fulfilling relationship. It’s also important for them to understand the importance of having strong relationships with other men.

Males value honor, but if not taught how to live honorably, it is easy to determine that honor comes with money and material possessions. When our young men equate success with the size of their paycheck, selling drugs (for example) may seem like a really good idea. Making money at all costs makes sense. We need to work with our young men to develop a different understanding of success and what it means to be a man of honor.

The final thought from Ozzie and Mario that stuck with me is that we, as adults, do not give our young people purpose. They already have purpose. Our job is to help them unearth what their purpose is. I’m hoping that Let’s Talk Month will push me to meet some young men where they are as they are and help them learn their purpose. And I hope that you will do the same.

For advice on how to talk to your child or other youth, visit our Parent Portal.

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

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Parent-Child Communication from a Big Sister’s Point of View

October is Let’s Talk Month where we encourage parents and other trusted adults to talk to teens about love, sex, and relationships. A trusted adult could be a pastor, coach, teacher, aunt, uncle, brother, or sister. I’m proud to say that I am someone my little sister trusts for accurate, reliable information. I’m only three years older than her, but I've always tried to look out for her, and protect her, giving feedback and guidance every step of the way.

Growing up in a single-parent household was tough because there wasn't a consistent father figure present, and I had to grow up so fast. I was faced with adult situations early on, making me mature much faster than most kids my age. With mama working odd shift to provide for us, I felt as if I were a substitute mom to my sister, holding myself responsible for her triumphs and mistakes. There were times my sister asked me situational questions about love, sex, and relationships that even I, in my infinite 20-something- year-old wisdom, had no experience with. When she would start her sentence off with “If a boy were to say…,” I knew I had to brace myself for something wild to follow. There were times like this that I wish she could talk to mama for guidance. But I knew the circumstances all too well. My mom wasn't exactly an “askable parent.” I didn’t even feel comfortable going to her with my own relationship woes, so I knew my sister wouldn’t dare ask her anything. That left me in the middle, sweating it out in an interrogation room plastered with B2K and Lil’ Bow Wow posters every Friday after school. I’m thankful that I happen to be a bookworm and had enough sense to use resources available to me for those questions about love, sex, and relationships that I couldn’t answer. I know there are thousands of single-parent families in South Carolina and you can only hope that the trusted adult would readily seek knowledge like I did. But we know that’s not the case. That being said, I would like to challenge parents to be more askable. An askable parent or adult is someone who listens, is nonjudgmental, conversational, welcoming, open, and honest. To sum it up, being askable means that you try to keep it real with your children without compromising the core values that you've instilled them.

I wouldn’t trade my upbringing for the world, but I had to grow up a lot faster than others and that’s a lot of pressure to put on someone who’s still a child themselves.  Being an askable parent doesn’t mean you have to compromise your values of your belief system, but if you don’t talk to your child about love, sex, and relationships, somebody else will.

For tips on how to be an askable parent and more, visit teenpregnancysc.org/parents!

by Shana Adams, Communications Assistant, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy