Younger Sibling Success: UPDATED

UPDATE::  Thanks to everyone for their comments and good wishes for DD. She did not win the overall contest but is still happy to be one of the finalists. Her picture will be in the Weekend Section on Dec 18.

A few weeks ago I wrote to everyone about my DDs report cards and what kind of reward, if any, parents give their children for succeeding. During the discussion, many folks talked about how it can be hard with two or more children when one succeeds at something and the other does not. Well, we recently had a great example in our house that I wanted to share with everyone.

Every year the Washington Post magazine has a holiday wrapping paper contest. My two DDs (9 and 6) entered the contest weeks ago. We found out over Thanksgiving that our youngest was picked as one of four finalists for the whole area! WOW. We were so excited.  I could tell my oldest was not taking the news well.  She was trying but it was really hard for her. That night we talked and I told her how proud I was of her supporting her sister. That is when the tears came and her own disappointment. I explained to her it was ok to feel the way she was but to remember that she had a lot of accomplishments to be proud of — picked for the G&T program at school, fantastic soccer player, and on and on. Her response was that her sister was also good at those things. But, I reponded, “You always get to be good at things first. And this is the first time your sister got to accomplish something that is all hers and she got to do it first.”

My DD looked at me and said, “You know you’re right. This is cool for Bridget and I will try again next year.” I was so proud of both my girls I needed to share it with all of you and thank everyone. I felt much more prepared going into this conversation after reading all the good suggestions and comments from everyone on the other diaries on this topic. Thank you MTers.

If anyone is interested in seeing the wrapping paper you can go to    WPOST annual wrapping paper contest. Her entry is #4 the one with the Christmas trees and red ornaments. I will let you know if she wins!


It is all in the name

I have a question I need to ask all you  MTers.  What do you call private body parts in your house? Do you say penis and vagina or use others name? If you use another name please share with us what you use when talking to your children.

The reason I ask is because I have been having a running debate with my mother ever since my girls were babies. I refused to call body parts by names other than the correct ones.  My mother was/is appalled. She cannot stand the word penis and say vulva and vagina and you would think you cursed at her. The reason I am so strong in my views is not just to be disagreeable with my mother… though I have been known to do that … but because I think I was 14 or 15 years old before I had ever heard someone say the word vagina out loud. And, I can’t tell you how embarrassed I was in my health class to be one of the only girls not to know what the teacher was talking about.  Stuff “down there” or your “private parts” I soon learned encompassed a great deal.

So, I am at one end the spectrum insisting that the words penis, vulva, and vagina are used when appropriate in our home. But, it is not always easy and sometimes it is embarrassing like when DD screams to her sister in crowded changing room at the pool, “Shut the curtain everyone can see my vagina!”

Anyway, what do you all do and words that you use. Thanks.


Reward or not to reward a good report card

It is report card time in our house. Both of our DDs — 1st and 4th grade — did a great job and have been working hard this fall. We give both our girls the verbal praise and lots of hugs for the great job they have been doing in school. But, whether to do something more, such as give them a special treat like a new toy or video game, is something I am now pondering.

The main reason for my pondering is that when I was growing up my parents downplayed my good report card. I was the oldest of three kids and my younger brother and sister did not get nearly the grades I did. My sister tried but my brother was basically a slacker.  At report card time, I would come home with straight As, my sister Bs and a C every now and then and my brother was a pretty solid C student.

So on the day we would bring report cards home, my mother would praise each of us the same and we would all get a new toy. As I got older I started to question why my siblings would get the same treatment as I did when I did better — and put in way more effort — on my schoolwork. My mother’s reply was, “Grades are not that important and you don’t wear your report card around your neck so no one knows anyway.”  My mother now denies saying this but my sister comfirms my memories and agrees with me that this was an awful thing to say and devalued all my hardwork.

Anyway, now I am the parent and I find that I am going too much in the other direction and perhaps placing too much value on grades.  I want to strike a happy middle but I am trying to decide how much of a big deal to make out of their report cards. So, please share your experiences and views on ways to praise kids for their good grades (and effort — I know it is not all about the grade but what you put into it) but not go overboard.


A new twist on sleepovers

What would you do if your 16 year old daughter came to you and asked if her boyfriend could sleep over? Sounds a little crazy and you may be thinking to yourself, has my daughter lost her mind? But the idea may not be so crazy after all. I recently came across some comparisons researchers have been doing in how in the U.S. we talk about and deal with adolescent sexuality compared to folks in the Netherlands.

When researchers compare the two countries, they find: teenagers in the U.S. and the Netherlands begin to engage in sexual activity at about the same age, but teenagers in the U.S. are nine times more likely to give birth than teens in the Netherlands, syphilis rates are more than twice those in the Netherlands, and gonorrhea rate in U.S. among adolescents is almost 33 times greater than the reported teen rates the Netherlands. You can see the comparisons at Advocates for Youth website.

Why the differences? A piece by John Santelli and Amy Schalet shed some light on the issues.  They say:

An important reason that European youth have better sexual health outcomes is that adults approach teenage sexuality differently than do adults in the United States. The Netherlands is a case in point: prior to the sexual revolution, sex outside of marriage met with strong disapproval. When the sexual behavior of young people changed in the decades that followed, Dutch parents and health care providers came to see sexual intercourse as an acceptable part of adolescent development, as long as youth were using contraceptives responsibly and involved in healthy relationships. Health care providers, policy makers, educators, and members of the media facilitated a normalization of adolescent sexuality by ensuring that young people had access to reliable contraception and by providing different public forums for the discussion of sexuality and relationships (Jones et al., 1986; Ketting & Visser, 1994).

The article goes on to talk about how in the U.S. parents — of course not MTers — but many parents “dramatize” adolescent sexuality and focus on the “dangers, conflicts, and difficulties of becoming a sexually active teenager.” On the other hand, the authors talk about how the Dutch “normalize sexuality” and view it as a normal part of development.  Here is how they describe a “sleepover.”

Parents also approached teenage sexuality very differently at home. The majority of U.S. parents interviewed opposed giving young people the opportunity to have sex. Dutch parents, on the other hand, counseled teenagers to move slowly and exercise caution, but most reported they would permit 16- and 17-year-old teenagers in steady relationships to spend the night with their boy- or girlfriends at home.
While permitting a teenage couple to spend the night together may seem like extreme parental laxity to parents in the United States, Dutch parents continue to exert a great deal of control over the terms of the sleepover. Most parents interviewed said they would permit a sleepover only when they saw that adolescents felt ready, were using contraceptives, and related in healthy and loving ways. By normalizing adolescent sexuality within distinct parameters, Dutch parents are able to maintain a connection with their adolescent children as they develop their sexual identities. (Several Dutch parents spontaneously mentioned that their child might prefer a same-sex partner.) Thus, Dutch parents can encourage their adolescent children to stay true to their own sense of readiness, can urge caution and contraceptive use, and are able to monitor the nature of their children’s romantic relationships. In fact, one reason that the Dutch parents cite for permitting the sleepover is a desire to stay connected to their children and prevent secrets which could interfere with open communication. By contrast, the dramatization of adolescent sexuality in American society instills fear of teenage sexuality among parents and teenagers, but gives them few tools to create an empowered sexual development.

Since my DDs are only 9 and 6 I figure I have a couple more years (but just a couple) to ponder this issue and I am curious to see what other MTers think about this idea.  


Obama and His Boys’ Club

I just finished reading Kathleen Parker’s piece in the WPOST today about the hot water President Obama has gotten himself into with his basketball games that are men only. I find a great deal of what Parker says compelling especially when she states…

Obama’s basketball game, thus, has become a convenient metaphor for an inconvenient truth. Generally speaking, guys prefer to play ball with other guys, just as women prefer to form book clubs with other women. That’s not because women don’t like men (and vice versa) but because when relaxing, women mostly want to drink wine together. And talk about men. I don’t know what men do on the basketball court that is so compelling, but they apparently need it, and I don’t.

On the other hand,  I also find it frustrating being a professional woman and not having the same access as male colleagues. I experienced this a bit myself a number of years ago when my husband was playing a weekly basketball game in Washington DC. Many of the men he played with were journalists and every now and then an occassional Congressman or Senator would play with them. I was so jealous the day he came home and had played ball with Bill Bradley! And, while he no longer plays with the same guys I just bumped into a friend who told me David Axelrod drops by the game every now and then. For my husband this means nothing. For me, a consultant working in DC having that kind of opportunity to just introduce myself to Axelrod would be amazing.

So while I don’t want to fault the president for his guy-only games, I am a bit frustrated (and some days angry) that it is still much harder for women to gain access to people of power than it is for men. Perhaps, Parker offers the best advice in her piece:

…women peeved by the president’s perceived masculine insularity might benefit from my father’s advice when, as a young girl, I complained about life’s unfairness. “Don’t complain about the game,” he said. “Learn the game and play it better.” There’s more than one way to score a point, in other words, and history has never suggested women are unclever.

I just wish I could figure out what game that would be. What do the MTs think?


Marriage Equality in ME needs help — fast

I was just catching up on some reading and came across an old post on daily kos on the Maine initiative to end marriage equality for gay couples in Maine.

I remember hearing about this initiative back in the summer but completely forgot to keep on top it. Unfortunately, according to the latest polling numbers all is tied up.

Fri Sep 18, 2009 at 09:52:04 AM PDT
Research 2000 for Daily Kos. 9/14-16 results. MoE 4% (No trend lines)

As you may know there will be one question on the ballot this November in Maine addressing the issue of same-sex unions. In part it will read “Do you want to reject the new law that lets same-sex couples marry?” A yes vote takes away the right of same-sex couples to marry. A no vote keeps the right of same-sex couples to marry. If the election were held today would you vote YES or NO on this question?

       Yes    No

All      48    46

Men       52    43
Women  44    49

Dem      31    60
Rep      74    20
Ind      45    52

18-29    43    52
30-44    45    49
45-59    51    44
60+      55    38

1st CD   45    50
2nd CD   51    42

I think most MTs agree that Maine cannot go the way of CA on this so I wanted to bring the issue to our attention again.  


Coming Out in Middle School

I just finished a great article in this week’s New York Times Magazine titled, “Coming Out in Middle School.” It talks about middle schoolers coming out in schools and to their families. The amazing part of the article is reading these young people, as young as 12 and 13, discuss their sexuality. The article also illustrates what a loving home and accepting school community can do for these young people’s self esteem and well being, as well as what it can do for a whole school. One piece that particulalry caught my attention is a quote from a school principal talking about the Gay Straight Alliance club at her middle school:

“I had some staff who were livid at first, because they thought it would be about sex, or us endorsing a lifestyle,” she said. “But the G.S.A. isn’t about that, and they’ve come around. This is a club that promotes safety, and it gives kids a voice. And the most amazing thing has happened since the G.S.A. started. Bullying of all kinds is way down. The G.S.A. created this pervasive anti-bullying culture on campus that affects everyone.”

Interested in what other folks think of the article. There is a lot here to chew on.


A Teen Sexual Behavior Calculator — What next?

Last night I stumbled upon an interesting website by the University of Maryland Medical Systems that provides people with health calculators. There are 24 “calculators” for people to figure out their BMI or risk for depression or fat intake for a day or teen sexual behavior. As I have written  before, a personal interest of mine is how we think about young people’s sexuality in our culture. So I checked out the Teen Sexual Behavior “calculator.” Basically it is twelve yes/no questions about your teen and at the end tells you your teen is “XX percent less likely to have sex compared to other teens of similar age.”  Here are some of the questions they ask.  I was most intrigued by the questions on religion. At the end they also provide a little blurb on the risk factors.

Question 1: Would you characterize your relationship with your teen as close and caring (i.e. satisfactory relationship with mother and/or father)?

Question 2: Has anyone in your family attempted suicide in the past 12 months?

Question 3: Does your teen understand that you disapprove of adolescent sex?

Question 4: Does your teen have a good experience at school (such as associates with friends, feels teachers are fair, likes going to school)?

Question 5: Does your teen’s school have a high average daily attendance in school?

Question 6: Does your teen attend a parochial school?

Question 7: Is your teen religious?

Question 8: Does your teen mention being at risk for an untimely death?

Question 9: Does your teen work 20 or more hours per week?

Question 10: Does your teen appear older than most teens of the same age?

Question 11: Does your teen get good grades?

Question 12: Has your teen pledged to remain a virgin?

I was somewhat concerned at the end of answering the questions the website promotes “virginity pledges” for teens. I have somewhat mixed feelings about these pledges — if it helps teens delay intercourse great but are we (greater US society) using the pledges as a way to get out of talking to our teens about sex? And what happens when they break the pledge —  studies by Drs. Hannah Brückner and Peter Bearman in the Journal of Adolescent Health (2005) and American Journal of Sociology (2001) indicated that taking a virginity pledge can help some young people to delay sexual initiation for up to 18 months, but that once these young people break their pledge, they are less likely to use contraception or condoms putting them at risk for unintended pregnancy and HIV or other STDs. (sorry could not find a link to the studies). So I guess at the end of the day it troubled me that a University Medical website was promoting something that in the end could make teens very unhealthy.

Anyway, thought the MT might find the questions interesting and would love to hear what think.


The Onion does it again

I know there have been a number of posts lately talking about sex education. I came across this story in The Onion and had a good laugh so I thought I would pass it around to all of you.

THE ONION — July 27, 2009
Study: Abstinence-Only Lunch Programs Ineffective At Combating Teen Obesity

WASHINGTON—According to the findings of a recent Department of Health and Human Services study, school lunch programs that teach children to avoid all contact with food may not be an effective method of reducing teen obesity rates.

Despite the popularity of abstinence-only meal programs in schools across the country, the study found that children who were provided with no food at lunch and cautioned against eating at an early age were no less likely to become overweight than those who were provided with a well-rounded nutritional education.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the findings could adversely affect federal funding for all programs that tell kids “lunch is worth waiting for.”

“There’s no evidence to suggest that instructing teens not to chew, swallow, or even think about food is actually going to stop them from eating,” Sebelius told reporters. “Let’s face it: Kids are already eating. And not only during lunchtime. They’re eating after school, at the mall, in their parents’ basements. Pretending like it’s not happening isn’t going to make it go away.” “After all, they’re teenagers,” Sebelius continued. “Eating is practically the only thing on their minds.”

Researchers tracked a random sampling of students who received an abstinence-only education, like those in the popular “None for Me!” lunch program at Woodbridge High School in Chicago, which encourages children to abstain from eating until after graduation.

“Although these students were repeatedly warned about the evils of eating and made to take fasting pledges, the abstinence-only program did little to curb their overall appetite for food,” the report read in part. “In fact, students at Woodbridge were nearly three times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than children who were given a portion of meat, whole grains, and green vegetables, and then encouraged to skip dessert.”

Perhaps more troubling, students who completed the abstinence-only program were reportedly unable to answer the simplest questions about their own digestive systems, and some as old as 17 still believed they could catch high blood pressure from their very first Snickers bar.

“Kids need to know the truth about food,” said Sue Weber, a nutritionist. “It’s irresponsible for these schools to fill their students with misinformation about the devil working through trans fats, instead of just saying to them, ‘Look, I know eating that entire box of Cheez-Its might feel good now, but when you’re older, you’re going to wish you had gone for the salad.'” Others argue that complete food abstinence sets an unrealistic standard for the nation’s hungry teenagers.

“You can’t just tell kids not to eat,” said child psychologist Dr. Beth Garcia. “As children grow and their bodies begin to develop, they’re going to have certain metabolic urges that are impossible to suppress. We should be giving our kids the tools they need to engage in safe, responsible eating. I’d hate for someone’s first time to be with some greasy cheeseburger in the backseat of a car.”
Garcia also urged parents to talk to their young children about food before it’s too late.

Despite the study’s findings, many parents continue to support abstinence-only lunch programs, claiming that it’s their right to protect their children from knowing anything about calories for as long as possible.

“It’s not the government’s place to step in and tell my kids about food and how it’s okay in moderation or whatever,” said Woodbridge PTA member Steven Bray, a father of two students. “My son’s going to learn how to eat the same way I did—by watching monkeys do it at the zoo.”

Yesterday, President Obama called on the nation’s public school system to work together with his administration to develop a more progressive lunch program that emphasizes healthy eating and discourages late-night snacking. But it remains unclear how students will adjust to the new, more honest nutritional approach.

“I’m never ever going to eat, because eating is wrong, and I’m worth more than a chicken sandwich with asparagus and rice pilaf,” Woodbridge seventh-grader Tracey Holmes said. “I heard Jennifer Hines eats all the time, like 50 times a day. I heard she eats all her ice cream upside-down, though, so she doesn’t get fat. That’s how it works.”

“It’s really hard, though,” Holmes added. “I get so hungry sometimes. Especially after hours and hours of unprotected sex.


H-P What? — UPDATED —

cross posted at Advocates for Youth

Hi all. This is my first diary post and I guess I jumped in a bit too quickly. So let me take a step back and introduce myself. I’m a mom of two girls who just turned 9 and 6. I work full time in public opinion research but my personal interest the last few years has been in thinking more about sex education and related topics. I just started to blog on the Advocates for Youth website where this blog also appeared and for awhile now i have been following the conversations on Mothertalkers and thought folks might find this piece interesting. Sorry my ignorance of the process has taken away from conversation on the topic. Thanks for all the wonderful advice and i will do better next time.

The annual trip to the doctor’s office with my daughters is a time I look back and take a few moments to think about how they have grown. You receive the instant reminders as the nurse tells you their weight and height. You look around the waiting room and see the anxious parents holding newborns and think how that seemed like just yesterday – and then you smile at the couple and think to yourself  thank god my daughters sleep through the night (mostly) and diapers are a thing of the past.

Well this year my oldest turned nine and we went to her annual visit thinking about the normal things – how much she had grown, did she need any shots, how long will we have to wait to see the doctor, will we get the nice nurse who likes to chat or the one that scares everyone – including parents.  

The visit started off just like all the others over the years. The doctor asked the usual questions – How much milk do you drink? Do you eat your vegetables? What time do you go to bed at night? And, then it came time for the shots. “Let’s see,” the doctor started to say as he looked at her chart. “We need to do a tetanus booster and oh yes it is time for her to get the HPV vaccine.”

H-P- what?

I nearly fell out of my chair. My baby. My little girl. Old enough to get the HPV vaccine. Couldn’t be happening. I looked over at my daughter and realized that yes she actually was nine years old and was starting to enter puberty.

Given the shocked look on my face, our pediatrician began to explain about the HPV vaccine and how the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends girls start getting the vaccine at age nine to ensure they receive the vaccine before they have start having intercourse. Seeing me get a little paler the doctor looked at me and said, “You know girls as young as 12 are having babies these days.”

Take a deep breath. I knew all the facts and information he was providing. In fact I just recently argued with a dear friend about the need to make HPV a mandatory vaccine for young girls.  But this was different. We were talking about my girl, my little girl.

So we discussed the issue further with our doctor and decided to wait until next year for the vaccine, mainly because she was getting her tetanus booster and next year she would not need any shots and the doctor agreed that one more year was fine.  “BUT,” he said looking me sternly in the eye, “she should get the vaccine next year and not put it off.”

And we won’t put it off. The HPV vaccine is too important for my daughter’s health. Unfortunately it has gotten a bad rap for being tied with sexual intercourse and concerns about young girls having sex. The truth is the vaccine saves lives.  I know it will not encourage my daughter or other young girls to have sex any earlier.  But don’t take my word for it. This is too important and all parents of young girls – and possibly soon young boys — should be prepared when their pediatricians say it is time for the HPV vaccine.  More importantly, if pediatricians do not bring it up, parents need to advocate for their daughters and make sure they receive the vaccine.

Read more about HPV.…