The Sex Talk You May Not Know You Need To Have With Your Children

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At one point in my career, I taught sex education to 4th grade girls. It was age-appropriate and very basic (think anatomy and puberty- nothing about actual sex). I was formally trained and was comfortable talking about what I consider to be an exciting part of growing up. There were always a few kids that had deeper questions and I would encourage them to go home and discuss with their parents, with the hope that most parents would be comfortable engaging in a healthy dialogue.

Today’s topic however, I’m going to guess, NO ONE is comfortable discussing. Not even a formally trained sex education teacher. But, here we go. We must. It’s our job because kids are learning about it without our help and it’s not going well.

PORNOGRAPHY.

Ughhh. I get it. I don’t want to either but it’s the big elephant in the room. If you have a child 10 and up who uses the internet, you need to at least think about it. I’m breaking it down into two sections- young kids and teens. Personally, I think the teen piece is critical because pretty much everyone is overlooking this in terms of our teenagers’ healthy sexual development.

YOUNG KIDS

Elizabeth Schroeder, the executive director of Answer, a national sex-education organization based at Rutgers University, said: “Your child is going to look at porn at some point. It’s inevitable.” But the most common mistake parents make, experts said, is to wait to have the conversation until some incident precipitates it.(Taken from So How Do We Talk About This? When Children See Internet Porn, NYT)

So where do you start? I think the first logical place to begin is to put some safeguards in place on laptops, ipads, and cell phones. However, you must realize that even with the best parental controls in place, your child is not completely protected. We can’t keep them in a bubble and there will come a time, whether it’s by accident or through natural curiosity, when they see explicit images they are not ready to see.

The (ongoing) Discussion

Start by letting your child know in very clear terms that if they see something online that seems inappropriate, they should tell you right away, making a point to assure them that they will not get trouble. These images often come with intense feelings of both excitement and shame and are very confusing for young kids.

If your child does come to you or you find out that they have viewed inappropriate sites (you do randomly check the history on all devices, right?!) explain that there are some things online (you tube and instagram are the biggest offenders) that kids are not meant to see. Tell them you know they are curious- stress that that is completely normal- but some of the pictures and videos online are not normal. Ask them if they have any questions and do your best to answer honestly but keep it age appropriate. Whatever you do, don’t lie. With younger kids, it’s always OK to say that this is something you’ll discuss more with them when they’re older.

TEENS

The first thing you need to realize is that the pornography of today is very different than the porn of twenty years ago. Most of us can remember coming across a Playboy or maybe even a rauncher Penthouse and the images we saw. Those are not the images our teens are seeing. Todays teens can access pornorgraphy by specific category and a great deal of it is extremely degrading and often violent, with the sexual acts themselves on the outskirts of what most would consider “normal” “healthy” sexual activity.

The biggest issue, in my opinion, is that the easy access to porn is setting up our teens for unrealistic, sometimes dangerous, unhealthy sexual experiences. Research shows that some young men are shying away from real experiences because of the easy and less intimidating access to sexual expreiences online. Other times, boys are expecting their girlfriends to perform the sexual acts they see in porn (unfortunately, whether we like it or not, statistically males view porn significantly more than females). Girls, wanting to please their boyfriends, are complying and not feeling good about the experiences OR actually enjoying unusual sex acts and setting themselves up for unhealthy relationships and encounters in the future. No one is winning here.

So what do we do with our teens? We can certainly tell them our opinion on porn (remember, we as parents have way more influence than we think) but we need to leave the shame out of the conversation. Many articles actually discuss teaching our teens about “safe” sites (rules rather than prohibition), which sites to stay away from, and how to keep themselves safe online.

Regardless of your personal opinion, we MUST explain that pornography is a fantasy world and to expect what they see in porn from their real-world girlfriends and boyfriends is not OK.

Here is a sample conversation starter and some tips taken from the article, There’s Pornography On The Internet? Really? How To Talk To Your Kids from Huffpost Parents.

“I’ve noticed that you’ve been spending a lot of private time on the Internet, and it looks like from the history that you’ve visited some adult sites. I want to make sure you understand some important aspects of these sites and the risks associated with this material.”

You should then go on to stress that the computer itself becomes tagged in the cyber world once pornographic sites have been visited. Servers become “aware” of where a computer has been. That can lead to unwanted, even dangerous attention to those who use that computer.

Most importantly, let your children know that what they see online is NOT REAL. That’s the most important advice. Sexual activity is normal, but what they’re seeing is staged. It’s like reality TV, and you can use that analogy. No one really believes that reality TV isn’t to some extent scripted. Similarly, even the adult Internet sites that are meant to be “regular people” are, by definition, not engaging in regular sexual activity. That’s because they’re on camera, or worse, because they’re being unknowingly filmed. This is potentially and in many cases without question exploitative, and you can stress to your teen that sexual activity never goes well when one person exploits another.

 

Here are some more resources for those interested…

How To Talk To Your Kids About Porn, TIME

How To Talk To Your Teenagers About Poronography, NYT

If you’ve made it to the point of parenting where this is a concern, you already know how tough it is to raise a child. This is one of those difficult subjects but one where your guidence will surely help them wade through these murky waters.

 

Why My Daughter Sits For The State Tests

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The opt-out movement is huge on Long Island. I’ve received numerous emails from friends and even strangers and have read countless posts on social media, all stating that we should “opt-out” our children from the standardized tests. Besides discussing it with a few close friends, I’ve chosen to remain relatively quiet because, drum roll please, I actually think our kids should take the test. Since the other side has been making such a concerted effort to convince people to opt out, I figure it was about time to speak up as to why my daughter sits for the state standardized tests.

First, my background- I am a NYS certified teacher and I also hold a professional teaching certification in Florida. I spent eight years teaching in what is considered a “high-stakes testing” state. My school was given a grade based on our test scores and we as teachers received bonuses if we were an “A” school. I have been out of the classroom for the past five years as I spend this time at home with my own kids but I remain extremely passionate and up-to-date on all things related to education (I even receive daily google alerts regarding any articles related to education) and volunteer my time in my daughters’ schools. My point here is I have sat at both sides of the table.

The hoopla about these tests is related to the new standards, the Common Core. Before the Common Core, each state came up with their own set of learning standards. For example, what a child was expected to know in the 2nd grade varied greatly from state to state. The idea was to come up with a set of uniform standards that all states would adopt. I don’t think many would argue with the rationale behind that idea. However, the issue became with the assessment of these new standards. Some states started assessing right away. Some states gave it three years, meaning they would begin teaching the new standards right away but hold off on testing for a few years. Others started the new standards in kindergarten and would assess when those kindergarteners were in 3rd grade. As you can see, this part got a bit tricky.

New York decided to assess right away. It was not a good call in my opinion but, like most things related to politics, money was involved as an incentive so our state signed up. We were told the students would not do well and they didn’t. There would be no penalty for the students, teachers, or schools for the first year but these scores would serve as a baseline to measure future growth. As a parent, I was OK with that. As long as there is not a negative consequence to my child for not performing well, I understand we have to start somewhere.

Now we are approaching year 4. There are still no consequences for students who do not perform well on the test. This is important to note because not all states are set up this way. In Florida, for example, if your child does not pass the yearly standardized test, they are in danger of being retained. Many states use these tests for promotion/retention decisions. We in NYS do not.

There seems to be three main reasons for opting out. There are people who believe these tests are harmful to their child, people who are taking a stand because they don’t believe in the actual standardized test and people who do not want teacher accountability to be tied to standardized tests. I’m not going to spend any time discussing teacher accountability because, for now, that piece has been removed from the equation in NYS.

First and foremost, if you believe that taking these tests will be detrimental to your child, by all means opt them out. If your child is suffering from a real, overarching anxiety about taking these tests, that’s a serious matter. Having said that, in eight years of teaching, I can only site one experience where a child had true test anxiety. Most kids get nervous and that’s OK~ it’s our jobs as parents and teachers to help them learn to manage their anxiety and nerves. I would also look to where the stress is coming from. Teachers should be working to create a “We’re not scared, we’re prepared!” vibe in the classroom. If you feel your teacher is putting undue stress regarding these tests onto students, pick up the phone and speak to them about it or speak to your principal. In addition, if your child is significantly below level and will not be able to read the passages or perform the equations, I can see why opting out would be a consideration. Before I continue, I want to state that I do believe strongly in a parents right to choose what they feel is best for their child. If you feel taking the test will hurt your child, opting out may be your best bet.

But lets assume your child does not suffer from any type of severe test anxiety and is not significantly below level. Next is the argument that these tests are pointless or invalid. I’ve heard many say, what is this test going to tell me that I don’t already know? The answer is a lot! Standardized tests are not new; they’ve actually been around since the mid-1800’s. I took them as a child and I’m guessing you did too. The reason why standardized tests are so important is because they are objective measures of student achievement. Yes, your child’s teacher knows them well and can offer more insight than one test can. I do not disagree with that point. However, insight can be subjective and often relative to your child’s classmates and even the community you live in. “Danielle is a great reader!” used to be an acceptable form of feedback for parents at teacher conferences. What exactly is a great reader? Is she a great reader compared to her classmates? Is she a great reader compared to other students her age? Does her teacher think “great” means the same as the teacher next door? Even in-class tests can be subjective, especially at the elementary level. Teachers often give a test back to a student and have them “look again”. Questions are often deemed “bonus questions” because the teacher may feel they are too hard. The students in the same grade but different classes often complete different assignment and may take different tests. All of this creates a subjective view of how the student is doing. A standardized test, that all students in the same grade, at all schools in the same state take, provides an objective measure of student progress. You will see how your child is doing compared to all the children in the entire state. This is valuable feedback to me as a parent, and should be to my school and teacher as well.

For example, I, as a parent, can see on last year’s mathematics test, in the sub-area of Number and Operations in Base Ten (what exactly that means is also spelled out), my child earned 15 out of the possible 18 points. The state average was 11. I feel pretty good about that! If I didn’t, I would know what area to ask her teacher for extra enforcement of skills. I would also know what to work at at home with her or, if she was significantly below average, I would look into a tutor. Do I take this as the end all, be all? No way. If the test told me she was below the state average and I did some digging and found that her teacher disagreed strongly and felt she just had a bad day, I would take that into consideration too. Regardless, I want to know where my child stands so that I can make informed, personal decisions pertaining to her education.

The school SHOULD be doing a lot with this information. Teachers should use the data to reflect on their teaching. Did a large portion of students struggle with vocabulary? Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the methodology used for teaching vocabulary in the classroom. Your child’s teacher the following year will have access to their test scores and be able to see specifically which areas they were successful in and which areas they encountered difficulty. It’s true; they will not be able to see the entire test but over 50% of the actual test is released each year. If teachers do not use the data from these tests, then yes, it is a waste of time. That would be a district/school issue that would need to be addressed.

In the end, we as parents need to do what we feel is best for our children. I only hope the decisions are based on facts and not just that the children don’t want to sit for a test. What child would? Beginning in 8th grade, Regent grades are listed on high school transcripts, as are AP exams and, of course, SAT and/or ACT scores. Tests are an integral part of education and are necessary to measure knowledge gained. I’m happy that this is sparking a dialogue about education reform and look forward to hearing other viewpoints.

Start a “Home Learning” Project With Your Kids This Summer

So far this blog as been a little bit of everything that makes up my crazy life but it’s real objective is to motivate myself and possibly inspire others. Each summer I have the idea to start a Home Learning project with the girls but can’t seem to follow through. I’m making a commitment now, for the world to see! Read about our first project below.

It’s time to break out the colored pencils and watercolors! One of the things that saddens me about the state of education these days is the lack of time available to teach some of really interesting and important things such as history and art. To help close the gap in my daughters’ education as well as expand my own, I’ve decided to begin what I’m calling our “Home Learning” projects.

First up, Art!

I decided we would begin in the renaissance period, studying Michelangelo and Da Vinci. For the Michelangelo portion of the project, I had both girls work together on a PowerPoint presentation. My older one found the information and the younger one chose the pictures. My older one scoffed at first but quickly got into it and was very eager to share the completed project. To introduce Da Vinci, I found a cartoon video on youtube. We watched it together and then googled his most famous works of art.

Now mind you, the girls wouldn’t be happy about doing this if there wasn’t real art involved. After checking out the Crayola website, I found a really cool project that manages to encompass both artists. I also wanted to have the girls try sculpting because both artists did that as well. I made a trip to the art supply store and stocked up on clay, new colored pencils, small canvases, Crayola Texture It!, and watercolors. The first day we all tried sculpting and the girls quickly grew frustrated and bored. That’s ok~ at least they gave it a go! Yesterday, we worked on the second project and although my older one lost interest fairly quickly, my seven year old and I spent two hours drawing and painting together. Quality time like that is priceless.

To “cement” what they’ve learned, I bought them both composition books and they’re summarizing what their newly acquired knowledge. Nothing intensive~ just a few sentences. I think music during the renaissance period will be up next, following our upcoming weekend trip to D.C. (government/politics).

xo,

Tanya