Right now there is a barrage of information on the topic of returning to school. Some of it appears to be well-intended, helpful information while some of it self-serving and even divisive. Because it’s about the well-being of our kids, the emotional charge of it can get us off balance and cause us to doubt ourselves and our ability to make the right decision for our children. Don’t bite the emotional hook, you know what’s best for your kids. For the last forty years I have been a parent, I hang with parents and I advocate for parents. I trust you, you are my people, believe me when I say, you’ve got this!
My decades of work has been at all levels (local, state and federal). What I have seen time and time again is that the people in the community are the experts. They know best what they need, and they have skin in the game. So trust yourself and trust the power of community. These are your people.
Let me give you a great example. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician, professor, and public health advocate whose research exposed the Flint, Michigan water crisis; why did she take the time to review all of her patients cases, collect data and stick with it in the face of government officials who tried to discredit her? Because she trusted herself, cared about the children in her practice and in the community. She was part of the community, she had skin in the game.
If you doubt your ability, let me take you back to earlier this year when schools shut down due to Covid-19. Parents and teachers did an extraordinary job pivoting. At first we were under the impression it would be only a few weeks, then weeks turned into months, but together parents and teachers did it. It was remarkable to see the compassion parents and teachers showed for one another. It would be a shame to slow the momentum of building those important relationships that are proven to benefit kids so much.
Whenever you’re feeling emotionally triggered, I encourage you to hit the pause button. Acknowledge the emotions, they will only last a few minutes. Then look for your people, the ones who have skin in the game. Most importantly, take care of yourself, your kids need you!
When my first child was born, my mother hand-made a pillow with this cross-stitched verse;
Cooking and cleaning can wait till tomorrow For babies grow up we’ve learned to our sorrow, So quiet down cobwebs, dust go to sleep, I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep!
There’s just no escaping the nurturing feeling one experiences when reading this verse. When we’re most troubled, especially when feeling alone or abandoned, we instinctually yearn for a Mother’s nurturing which embodies unconditional love, connection, reassurance, counsel and safety.
This year, we are all in need of the arms of a loving Mother who will comfort us. And feel in the embrace of her loving arms the gift of grace to understand, accept and look for the meaning in the present moment.
This Mother’s Day, we have the freedom to pay homage to all Mothers past and present and to those who may not officially hold the title, but who nurture and protect. We can do this by living in a place of grace and extending open arms of love to everyone. The collective energy of living in this place of grace will shower love and nurturing across the globe. We can do this because every moment is precious and “our babies don’t keep!”.
Yes, go find one, right now. It can be your kids teacher, your former teacher, a relative, friend or neighbor who’s a teacher. Track them down and thank them for what they do. It’s hard to understand why it took a pandemic to get everyone to notice what a daunting profession teaching is. Perhaps a better word would be “vocation,” a calling. As parents who were thrust into homeschooling will agree, not everyone can be a teacher. The task could bring a Wall Street executive to his/her knees faster than a recession. One can only hope during Teacher Appreciation Week, you will reflect on the enormity of impact that teachers past and present have had. They are the original essential workers. Every essential worker today, from hospital, EMS, law enforcement, service industry, researchers and scientists, economists, local, state and federal government, everyone, all got to where they are because of the original essential worker, the teacher.
Your assignment is due this week May 4-8, extra credit if you say thank you on Teacher Appreciation Day, Tuesday, May 5, 2020.
For the sake of our children, let’s pretend. Let’s pretend the Easter Bunny is real, and just for Easter Day, lets allow ourselves to pretend there is no Coronavirus. We can do this for our children as well as for our own sanity. If you haven’t gone to the land of pretend in a while, I beg you to give it a try. In Latin it’s “praetendere” which translates to “stretch forth, claim.” When we let go of the fear, our brain can think outside of the box, imagine and pretend.
I am not a writer of poetry, however, a couple of years ago I felt compelled to write this poem about being a child at play. I guess I needed to connect to the child in me. This holiday, we can allow our children to be our teachers and take us back to the land of pretend. Play is what we all need right now.
Just for today…by Barb Flis
Just for today let me be a child at play Fresh from a dream filled sleep
Waking up with a smile Overflowing with a joy that is mine to keep
Just for today let me be a child at play Persistently questioning all that I see
Taking nourishment in the wonder Shameless about my curiosity
Just for today let me be a child at play Fearless about opening my heart
Heaping love on to others With an absence of malice if they depart
Just for today let me be a child at play Where no rush hour ever exists
A giggle in between every word I speak Demanding more laughter is what I’ll insist
Just for today let me be a child at play And in exchange I guarantee
Play will be my nourishment To make sure I never forsake that child in me.
Yes, you! I’m proud of you! Being proud of someone is the same as a trillion “likes” on social media. That’s how proud I am of you. More importantly, I hope you’re proud of yourself. I have yet to find a YouTube video for parents on how to juggle work, entertain and homeschool kids, manage extended family needs, and figure out how to stay afloat financially while maintaining sanity during a pandemic. Don’t worry, you’ve got this. You’re doing a great job, your children are in tender and loving hands.
There is no hierarchy based on who has it worse. Parenting is a level playing field and parents; you get to wear a badge of pride, not only during a pandemic but every day. Parenting is heart work and hard work. While we are in a time that requires “social distancing” it does not mandate isolation. For far too long parents have felt invisible, not seen and not understood. Parenting during “normal” times is a lonely endeavor. Now more than ever, parents would benefit from others support as well as the support of each other.
Do you realize that the world is looking at you through fresh eyes and wondering how many more hats you can possibly wear? They are becoming more curious about you and your life. Whenever I get more curious than afraid, I find myself in awe and amazement at how well and creatively you forge through. Seize this moment! Open your heart and be vulnerable. Share your story of family life not only in the times of this pandemic but your everyday life pre-coronavirus. In normal times, raising a family was hard but now it’s daunting. Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. We are all responsible for building a stronger future for our children. We’re in this together and I’m proud of you!
Parents are being bombarded right now with tips and resources from school, educational organizations, parent groups and even grandma/grandpa. While these are very well intended and useful, parents are feeling overwhelmed and pressured to continue the classroom in their home. And when they aren’t pulling off a well-structured day of “classroom” learning, while trying to “work from home,” a whole range of emotions emerge from frustration to feelings of inadequacy as a parent. Ugg, even shame creeps in!
In unprecedented times like this, the wisest thing to do is keep it simple. If you are a classroom teacher, then be a classroom teacher and if you are a parent, then be a parent. The lessons learned in the classroom and the lessons learned at home are equally important and have profound affects for our children’s future. One way of learning is temporarily stalled, and that’s unfortunate. However, in a weird turn of events, that loss can be a huge gain for children and families. Families have a choice. They can keep trying to be something they are not, or they can do what they know and be a family. Look at this as an adventurous vacation – family time that is a roller coaster ride full of fun, a little scary at times and when its over a lifetime of great memories of being with family. This I know for sure, love transcends fear every time!
I am hearing from teachers and seeing posts of letters and pictures from students telling teachers how much they are loved and missed. I guarantee you, the love is reciprocal. Teachers are worried about their students and their families. They are concerned whether their students will be able to keep up the progress they have made, and if they are anxious because of ever present discussions and fear. Teachers are concerned about how students are doing with a change in routine and how families are going to manage it all. They are especially concerned for their students with trauma and other special needs.
Here’s what I want to say to teachers, THANK YOU! Thank you for all that you do, thank you for caring. Now, please take this time to rest and have some fun! I’ll let you in on a little secret…It’s okay to be happy. Does that sound odd or somehow not right? Being happy and being concerned about your students and their families are not mutually exclusive. It’s okay to put the worry aside, take time to rest, have fun, enjoy your family, linger over a cup of coffee, take more than ten minutes to eat a meal, heck throw caution to the wind and go to the bathroom as often as you like! These are all acts of love to yourself and when school is back in session your students will be all the better for it.
We are socialized to think that when there is suffering, a crisis or tragedy, we feel selfish if we take care of ourselves. There is this either or thinking that says, “This is serious, I have to be worried, I’m not allowed to be happy”. Yes, it is serious, but you are allowed to be happy, in fact it will ease your worry and be a great model for others. If there was ever a time to practice self-love, this is it. From what I see, your students are showing you lots of love, the least you could do is believe you deserve it!
For the sake of public health, let families weigh in on school closures!
If ever there was a more critical time for families and schools to work together it is now! When considering K-12 school closures due to the Coronavirus, it’s imperative for school districts and families to connect so schools can hear from families how a closure will impact them. This action needs to go beyond checking in with just a few of the involved parents, but casting a wide net out to all families, such as a district wide survey (on line surveys are free and easy to do).
Here are five compelling reasons to hear from families:
Some students will not get a nutritious meal. Students who live in low income households or the homeless population will suffer.
Many families who don’t have the luxury of missing work and don’t have the means to pay for childcare will rely on grandma or grandpa (the at risk population).
Families who are able to be home with their children may be inclined to take “stir-crazy” kids out to public places such as mall play areas. Restless teens will hang out at coffee shops, fast food restaurants and malls. Information about self-quarantine and why its important will have to be communicated to families in a way that they can personalize it for their family.
A break from academics and social interaction combined with a steady stream of news about the impact of the virus will increase anxiety among children, teens and their families. Those students and families that are currently struggling with mental health issues will be adversely impacted.
Thirty-eight percent of nurses in our county working in the medical community have kids in school. Who will take care of their kids?
Many families don’t have the financial means to keep two weeks worth of food and medications, and a quarter of Americans don’t have the luxury of paid sick leave or adequate health insurance. Asking families how closing school would impact them is authentic family engagement and a sign of respect. A district may just discover that keeping kids in school may be the least risky place for them to be. This simple and thorough inquiry will create a community of schools and families working together to keep everyone safe and healthy.
I found this interview with Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH an infectious disease expert and professor who holds an endowed chair at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health helpful about the spread of the virus and how it differs with children.
With the onset of the Covid-19 virus, education, public health and families have a unique opportunity to partner and rally around for the enhanced health and well-being of children and they can do it using Social and Emotional Learning (SEL).
While young people don’t appear to be at risk for Covid-19, this is a teachable moment for them to learn and practice healthy habits for themselves and their community. Schools are teaching SEL across multiple contexts every day. Now we can use SEL on this very important public health issue. Here are the five SEL Core Competencies and how they can be put into action in the arena of public health:
Self-Awareness – Being aware of their emotions around illness; knowing the adults who support them; and demonstrating personal responsibility such as washing hands, and covering their mouths when they sneeze.
Self-Management – Identifying and calming any fearthey may have about illness, and demonstrate integrity by staying home and not going to school or events if they are sick.
Social Awareness – Show compassion, kindness and support for those who are at risk of infection or are quarantined.
Relationship Skills – Use positive communication and social skills when speaking with others who are ill, having a tough time remaining calm or not practicing proper hygiene.
Responsible Decision Making – Act responsibly by taking care of their healthand being a positive role model in school and in the community.
By teaching and more importantly role modeling these competencies on this current public health issue, we will enhance the health and well being for future generations.
The term “okay” is highly underrated. I have a dear friend I’ve known since high school. Every time I called her with a big problem whether it was something with my kids, my health or some other life predicament she would very quickly but calmly say, “it will be okay, it will be okay.” Her words felt so reassuring to me, that I was able to experience a moment of tranquility. I’ve made those emergency calls to her so many times that I finally developed the skills to self-soothe. So whenever I am feeling afraid, I channel her voice and repeat in my head, “it will be okay, it will be okay.” Sometimes that’s all we need is a nanosecond to feel down to our core that it will be okay and to trust that I am okay!
Call me hokey for blogging about love in February, I don’t mind. How can I not spout off about it when love surrounds me. It’s in the squeal of delight when I surprise my granddaughter at school; it’s in the stories from teachers I’m with each week as they beam about the progress made by their toughest students; and love is ever so evident in parents doing their best and making the sacrifices necessary to raise and provide for their family.
So here’s the hard question. Do you see and feel the love all around you? If you struggle to say “yes,” then may I suggest you try this: Place your hand on your heart and say “I am okay.” Start with you. Take care of you. Love you. What we practice grows stronger, so practice being okay with you. There is magic in practicing the art of loving you…love self, love others, accept love from others…it’s magic!
When the month of February rolls around, we’re surrounded by images of hearts and flowers. It has become the official or unofficial month of “love.” In last week’s blog, How much do you love YOU?, I shared with parents, teachers and those who are a part of a child’s life, that the best way to love your child is to love yourself. The first strategy was to notice every time you are highly self-critical or self-judging. How did it go? For me, I found my self-criticism to be higher than I expected. Oh my, that striving for perfection is exhausting.
It takes time, awareness and self-love to find the delicate balance of being reflective enough to see how to improve without beating yourself up or throwing the towel in for not getting it right. In the education arena, teachers strive to instill a “growth mindset” with students. A growth mindset is the belief that skills and qualities are cultivated through effort and perseverance. For example, if your child has put a lot of effort into something and failed, could you congratulate him/her? Are you guilty of influencing or taking over your child’s project so that he/she can shine? I know I’m guilty as charged. Too often we praise our children for the high marks, rather than giving them kudos for their effort and stick-to-itiveness.
So now, my perfectly imperfect humans, let’s hold up the mirror. When you don’t reach the mark as a parent or teacher, are you able to offer compassion to yourself for trying? Can you say “tomorrow is a new day”? What we practice grows stronger, so making friends with your perfectly imperfect self is the most kind, compassionate and loving thing you can do for you and for your children.
This week my two granddaughters came over to assemble a Valentine Gingerbread House. As is my style, I dove right in without reading the directions. Much to my dismay, the roof kept sliding off our little love shack. I became frustrated because in my mind the final product had to be worthy of a Pinterest post. My six year old granddaughter stood back popping candy conversation hearts into her mouth while I grabbed a glue gun to get it to stick. Observing the disappointed look on my face, she said, “It’s okay Barbie (yep, I’m a Barbie not a Grandma), “once the decorations are on, it will look awesome!”
I guess sometimes we need a six year old to remind us that “awesome” is in the eyes of the beholder. This week, rather than paying attention to what you’re not getting right, pay attention to how awesome you are for trying.
When parents ask for advice on raising their children, I always tell them “The best way to love your child is to love yourself.” This “loving yourself” is not to be confused with the sacrifice parents make to meet the needs of their children. Sacrifice of that enormity takes all of the 24 character strengths, with love, self-regulation and humor; probably the character strengths most called upon. It doesn’t, however, prohibit you from loving yourself.
The hardest thing about parenting or teaching for that matter, is sacrificing your needs (like time to yourself) to tend to the needs of your children. Our babies don’t keep, so we make the sacrifices in an effort to be a good parent. We all know our job is to give our kids a safe, secure, and loving environment where they feel seen and understood. I am here to confess, while my intention was 100%, my performance fell way short while raising my children. I’m not even sure on my best parenting days that I reached the eightieth percentile. My attention often went to scolding myself for poor parenting when my children didn’t listen or had academic challenges. Lucky for us though, our children are born with a forgiving and understanding nature. They always allow us a do-over. The success of the do-over is in our willingness to allow a difficult experience to be felt with warmth – self-love.
So here is the deal. Ironically, loving yourself (that is being kind and compassionate to yourself) makes the sacrifice that comes with parenting easier. If you can lighten up on yourself, the grip of self-doubt will lighten up. There is no shortage of opinions on how parents should raise their children but there is a shortage of support for parents. The more you practice loving yourself the more you will start to be your own #1 fan. Who knows, we could even start our own fan club.
Throughout February, I will blog about some self-love strategies to practice. For this week just notice every time you are highly self-critical or self-judging. Say to yourself what you would say to a child. What we practice grows stronger. Soon you will be your own #1 fan.
We are down to the final days before Holiday Break! It’s rush hour out there as we squeeze the gift buying, decorating, baking and holiday events into an already busy life. How are you doing? Are you feeling rushed, tired, broke? Is the “to do” list in your mind getting longer and longer? Hold that thought, in fact, hold all your thoughts for just a moment and breathe.
Now ask yourself this? What is one word your kids would use to describe you right now? Happy, content, fun or would it be frantic, frustrated, tired or impatient? Keeping up tradition, making memories or pleasing Grandma are well intended but they can backfire on parents. Children have fresh, fertile minds. They are unaware of what tradition your are trying to keep alive or what childhood memory you want to recreate. I can assure you however, that they are aware and will remember the emotions coming from the most important person in their lives, their parents!
Give this a try! Turn your “rush hour” into “hush hour.” Tell your thoughts to hush, then just float in blissful silence. The childlike playfulness you’ll feel will take you by surprise. Best of all your kids are making a memory of a happy and fun holiday!
Barb Flis, Founder – Parent Action for Healthy Kids
This time of year we hear a lot about gratitude and the importance of being grateful. I noticed, especially this past week, after receiving a compliment, an edge of awkwardness, a resistance to appreciating and really savoring the compliment. Our human brain has a negativity bias, it’s wired that way to keep us alert when danger lurks. It has been said that positive comments are like Teflon™, they slide right off and negative comments are like Velcro®, they stick! We can re-wire our brain so negativity is not the default. Consider the calm and contentment that we can all experience in receiving and appreciating.
Here is a perfect example:
Once a week I am at an elementary school helping the staff with family engagement. I was having lunch with a group of elementary teachers this week. We were discussing how Parent/Teacher Conferences went. I asked them to tell me a positive story from conferences. They thought for a few moments, then a first year teacher very humbly shared how a Dad told her how well his son is doing this year. Last year at this time he had 8 pink slips and this year so far only one. “Wow,” I said. “Savor that, let’s just all take that in for a moment and feel the appreciation that dad has for you, his son’s teacher!” I asked her who she shared that story with, she said her parents. The large group of her teacher colleagues at the table all cheered and congratulated her. Their faces reflected a shared understanding of the vocation of teaching. “Now”, I said, “can you take it one step further and call or email the Dad and tell him how much his words meant to you, especially as a first year teacher”? This will allow the appreciation to come full circle and an authentic connection will be made.
Giving for many is easy, receiving appreciation, not so much. Life speeds along as if we are in a race to the finish line. It is only when we slow the pace and take a pause can we notice, appreciate and savor the moment. It takes vulnerability to open our hearts to receive, savor and acknowledge. Humans all have a need to be seen and understood. Giving and receiving appreciation is how we can create a community of belonging in our home, schools, workplace and community. I appreciate you!
Engaging families to work in partnership with schools and communities improves the chances for student success in school, and throughout their lives. Family engagement promotes student equity, which is crucial to the nation’s increasingly diverse student body.
Involving families in their students’ education in a meaningful way can be challenging for state agencies and school districts that are looking to simply meet a “family engagement” requirement.
By reframing how staff thinks about family engagement and infusing guiding principles throughout health and education systems, families can be partners in their students’ education and well-being.
Whether Josh Jaime and his 17-year-old son, Solomon, are in the car, jogging around Kensington Metropark or powering through strawberry waffles at IHOP, they always end up talking sports.
It’s usually recapping the recent Detroit Tigers game or running through stats for Tigers catcher Brian McCann, Solomon’s favorite player. But occasionally there are deeper topics — like when Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punched his then-fiancée into unconsciousness in an Atlantic City casino elevator.
“We’ll take those examples and we’ve turned them over into conversations we can have about sex,” says Jaime, a single dad from Novi, Michigan. “(And topics like) drinking and how to treat a woman. To him, it’s very relevant. He follows baseball, he follows football, these are his heroes. (I tell him) ‘This is the way you wanna be and this is the way you don’t wanna be. If you are this way, this is what the consequences are.'”
Jaime wasn’t always so comfortable bringing up sex and healthy relationships — despite a deep parental desire to do so. But thanks to some training and parent education through his local school district in Michigan, he’s now got solid information and said he feels empowered to talk, and keep talking, about these crucial topics — blending them almost seamlessly into the regular conversational cadence of life.
Josh Jaime and his son, Solomon, 17, take in a Detroit Tigers baseball game at Comerica Park in downtown Detroit. | Provided by Josh Jaime
As a parent, he sees himself as his son’s first and most important educator, but appreciates the backup Solomon gets from high school sex ed classes and rejects the idea that parents and schools have to be at odds over this topic.
His stance is echoed by many experts who believe that when the topic of sex ed devolves into an argument over ideological approaches — abstinence-based versus comprehensive sex ed — it overlooks the most powerful factor in any school’s sex ed curricula: parental involvement.
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Parents can be a powerful force, but only if they have information, connections and encouragement — like specifics about curriculum options and the needs of kids in their local school, relationships with schoolteachers and other parents and a sense that their voice matters.
“Sex education programs may give information, but attitudes, beliefs, values and modeled behaviors often take place elsewhere, (like in) the family,” says Kim Miller, senior adviser for youth prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Center for Global Health.
“In a perfect world,” Miller continues, “we would better equip parents and caregivers to support lifelong sexuality education — that begins in the home and embraces the values and beliefs of the family.”
Putting parents first
When teens were asked in a national poll who most influences their decisions about sex, 52 percent of 12 to 15-year-olds said it was their parents. Only 1 percent said teachers and educators.
For the 16- to 19-year-olds, 32 percent said parents’ voices were the most important, with friends coming in close behind at 28 percent. Only 3 percent said teachers were most influential for their sex-related decisions, according to the survey by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
“Parents are the primary, we are the secondary,” says Samantha Bushman, CEO of the nonprofit “Talk, the New Sex Ed,” which she calls an alternative approach to sexuality education. She wants to stop the polarized discourse around the topic and return parents to the leading, but supported, role as sexuality educators for their children.
“Parents spend 18 years with them, so as an educator, my responsibility and my duty is to support and empower parents,” she says. “I always defer to the parents, they’re the best experts on their kids.”
But parents don’t feel like experts, especially when it comes to talking about sex, Bushman says. So the Pittsburgh program starts by working with parents in an after-school setting, giving them a conversational framework and assuring them that talking about sex won’t encourage risky behavior. From there, trained “near-peer” educators facilitate classroom discussions with teens and teach decision-making and critical-thinking skills that go beyond rote memorization.
A growing number of programs are working to involve parents more by offering homework assignments and activities for teens and their parents throughout the curricula, knowing that an ongoing, years-long conversation at home will be much more impactful than a dozen hours at school.
In the comprehensive sex ed program “Get Real,” each classroom lesson is followed with a family homework assignment, which allows parents to see what was taught and add their own family values. The relationship-focused sex ed programs “Love Notes” and “Relationship Smarts PLUS” do similar things, with parent/teen connection activities that provide parents with talking ideas and even specific words to use.
By making sex ed a team effort, Bushman hopes parents and teens will focus their conversations on issues like: What age should I start dating? What does a good relationship partner look like? When is sex appropriate and not appropriate?
Then topics like basic anatomy, puberty, sexually transmitted disease testing — can be discussed in classes with trained professionals, a division kids already seem to prefer, Bushman says.
Schools involving parents
Yet, if parents aren’t OK with certain information coming from the school, they should have the right to opt their child out and tackle that side themselves, many advocates and educators say.
“(Parents) absolutely rule,” says Barb Flis, founder of Parent Action for Healthy Kids. “If they don’t want their kids to participate, that’s OK, thanks for telling me that. I’m not going to judge.”
For the last decade, Flis has worked with hundreds of school districts in Michigan to increase connection between parents, communities and schools on important health issues like sex ed, school nurses, physical activity and nutrition. She’s also in the business of breaking down stereotypes, like the ones that say parents aren’t interested, won’t participate or are even adversarial toward school initiatives, particularly sex ed classes.
As someone who became involved as an interested parent, Flis knows many parents want to be involved, but along with their busy schedules, just lack a foundation.
Most schools, including those in Utah, approach sex ed by sending out letters informing parents of the approaching course and requiring a signature before kids can be taught. Letters also often invite parents to “come look at the curriculum” if they’d like.
Most parents don’t “go look” because that invitation is akin to handing Flis a stack of documents describing different mortgage options and saying, “pick the best one for your home.”
“I’m not in the mortgage business,” she says. “I need it translated into a language that I can understand — what does it mean for me as a homebuyer? It’s no different with any kind of curricula, especially sex ed curricula, which is very personal. How are you translating what you are doing in the classroom into something that I can understand as a parent? Then, at that point, I can decide if this is something I want for my child.”
Flis works to improve communication around this topic by working with school districts and their sex ed advisory committees, as well as with parents through her “Talk Early & Talk Often” workshops, and has even done day-long Saturday events where parents came, had potential curricula presented by teachers, heard from a panel of teens about the issues they face in school, and talked with other parents about potential concerns and questions.
In all of her work, she relies on data from the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, or YRBS, which monitors health risk behaviors, including sexual behaviors, in young adults across the country. Flis says those figures help parents and educators use facts, instead of emotions or perceptions, when discussing the challenges teens face and what should be done to help them.
Flis has found that once parents understand what their teens need, and what effective programs really include (or don’t) they move beyond assumptions or decades-old experiences and become the biggest supporters.
And when the parents and schools are on the same page, they can choose the best evidence-based program for their community.
In Utah, state law requires that teachers use an abstinence-based curricula, which conveys a strong message of abstinence but allows for some discussion of contraception and sexually transmitted diseases. Of the 41 school districts in the state, only Canyons, Jordan and Provo districts have chosen a more limited abstinence-only approach, as each district has the freedom to decide, under state law, how they want to teach human sexuality, said Linda Mayne, health specialist for the Utah State Board of Education.
Utah’s law also forbids teaching in four categories: the intricacies of intercourse, sexual stimulation, erotic behavior, etc. 2. The advocacy of homosexuality. 3. The advocacy or encouragement of the use of contraceptive methods. 4. The advocacy of sexual relations outside of marriage or sexual promiscuity.
Worried that current law might confuse providing information with advocating, in January Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, will reintroduce a bill that would allow districts and parents in the state to choose a comprehensive sex ed curricula instead of an abstinence-based program. The bill would continue the policy of parental permission for students to attend the class but would give parents the option to give their child an expanded curriculum.
However, even using the term “comprehensive sex ed” may stir up unnecessary controversy, King said, because he’s much more concerned about increasing the teaching as it relates to healthy relationships, not just biological or anatomical facts.
“I want to talk … about how sexual relationships are multifaceted,” says King, “in a way that will cause thoughtful kids — and when taught the right way they will be thoughtful — to say, ‘You know what? Maybe instead of initiating with this person, I’m going to wait. And the reason I’m going to wait is I’m better educated and I understand more how significant this is, rather than just a lark in the back seat of my dad’s car.'”
Clemens Wittekind has always been an involved parent, eager to know what’s going on with his kids’ education.
So when his daughter and son reached elementary school, he started to ask other parents about the school’s approach to relationship education and whether they thought it was enough.
Wittekind knows these conversations aren’t easy, so he would break the ice by asking other parents about how their teens reacted to that scene in a popular movie, or how parents manage kids’ media time, or when they let their kids date.
Wittekind’s drive to get answers landed him on the PTA and later on a sex ed advisory committee at the district level in Michigan, where he helped choose a local curriculum.
“School districts want that,” said Wittekind, who now lives in Atlanta and whose children are 24 and 21. “They want parents who care. There are so many sex ed teachers that crave parent involvement in this and that’s what we need. That’s how it gets to be better for everybody, when people get beyond just speculating about what the district is doing, and digging in, finding out and getting involved.”
Not every parent needs to serve on a district board or be heavily involved in the PTA, he says. (His wife chose to serve in other ways.) But he believes that every parent should stay engaged in their child’s learning, because as parents, they are the first and best educator, no matter their child’s age or grade.
“One of the biggest things that parents have to bring to the table, what schools can’t, is moral issues,” said Wittekind. “This is where parents need to step up. You want your child to feel and know and have a little voice in their head about how you as a parent feel about this.”
“Nobody is an expert at this,” he added with a laugh. “You have a lot of people with whom you have that in common.”
Schools are unique environments where people with a variety of experiences, opinions and backgrounds join together with a common goal of helping raise strong, resilient kids. When parents are willing to engage in open-minded conversations with people they don’t know well or may even disagree with, and then work past the discomfort they feel, it’s a “huge step forward,” Wittekind says.
Those conversations push the discussion beyond “abstinence” or “comprehensive sex ed” paradigms, (or maybe even start a discussion for the first time) and help parents really talk about what they want for their children, and what program would work best for their school community.
“With sensitive subjects like this, it’s amazing how many people start opening up, and you make connections,” Wittekind says, “especially when there’s sometimes painful things involved. You start sharing, you create deeper connections. That’s what life is about. That’s what makes our life richer.”
Barb Flis, Founder of Parent Action for Healthy Kids
Parents and supportive adults play a key role in empowering teens to choose to have a fun and safe prom night. Teens who report regular, open communication with their parents about important issues are more likely to care about their personal safety and less likely to engage in risky behaviors like drinking or using drugs and driving.
Here are a few tips for parents to consider:
Tip #1: Remind your teen to keep things in perspective. This is one event of many in their life. Prom, like graduation is a celebration of growth and moving forward, it is not meant to be celebrated as if it were the last event of their life.
Tip #2: Stand in the mirror with your teen. Tell them you love them and how happy and great they look. Tell them tomorrow you want to see that same happy teen. Impaired driving, or riding with someone who is impaired, can too quickly change the reflection in the mirror.
Tip #3: Send your teen off with a positive expectation for a fun and safe night. We tend to think that worrying shows that we care, but in reality it sends the message that we lack confidence in our teen.
Tip #4: Remember A3. They can call you Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere for help. No questions asked; you will be there.
Parents are often overwhelmed by the constant changes and advancements in technology. The truth is parents of teens and pre-teens don’t have to be tech savvy in order to help their kids be digitally responsible. Parenting in the digital age requires these four acts of L-O-V-E:
L is for Limits! Limit the amount of time online and on the phone. Have a check in station upon arrival home for all electronic equipment.
O is for Overemphasize! Overemphasize the seriousness and consequences of sending text messages or pictures over the internet or cell phone.
V is for View! View what your teen is posting. Ask them their views on what they consider public and private and discuss it.
E is for Expectations! Be clear about your expectations. Let your teen know what you consider to be appropriate and inappropriate behavior when it comes to internet and cell phone use.
Parents interested in gaining additional skills in talking to their teens and pre-teens about cyber safety are invited to register for the Talk Early & Talk Often℠ Parent Connection Conference. The conference is being held on March 2, 2013 in Livonia, Michigan for parents of middle and high school aged youth. The workshop, Is Sexting, Texting and Social Media Hurting our Teens?, will help parents become aware of the benefits and pitfalls of digital connectivity in their teens life. This conference will be the first ever sex education conference exclusively for parents. For additional information and to register, visit www.parentactionforhealthykids.org.
When on Twitter, be sure to use the hashtag #TPCC2013 when tweeting about conference, or when looking for tweets about conference.
Barb Flis, Founder of Parent Action for Healthy Kids, is an advocate for parents and a published parenting and children’s health expert. Her focus lies in connecting families, schools and communities for the purpose of promoting the well-being of children’s social, emotional and physical health. Her “parent-to-parent” approach has garnered her much praise and national media attention. Visit http://www.ParentActionForHealthyKids.org for more information.