Mental Health Issues In Teens Have Significantly Increased Over Past Decade

Back in the ’90s, when I was a teen, sullen seemed to be in. Dark hair matched dark moods, and there were times when I honestly thought we invented the depressed, disinterested teenager vibe.

Was I actually depressed as a teenager? Well… yes, actually. I was. That’s when my life-long struggle with depression started to take shape, but I don’t believe all of us were clinically depressed. Many of us were just putting on that black eyeliner as part of an act.

Back in the ’90s, we hung out in the same room to talk about how much we hated our parents. We went to Blockbuster together. When our pager beeped, we had to actually call someone instead of sending them a text. We even rode in the same car. The majority of our interactions were face to face — and it turns out, teens were a lot happier then.

Not that this will shock anyone raising children in 2019, but teens of the 2010’s predominantly interact online, and it’s having a huge impact on their mental health. According to a recent study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, “More U.S. adolescents and young adults in the late 2010s, versus the mid-2000s, experienced serious psychological distress, major depression or suicidal thoughts, and more attempted suicide.”

The lead author of this study, Jean Twenge, PhD, and professor of psychology at San Diego State University said that, “These trends are weak or non-existent among adults 26 years and over, suggesting a generational shift in mood disorders instead of an overall increase across all ages.”

My oldest is a preteen, and like any parent falling into this age group, these statistics freaked me out a bit. But what I think made me even more anxious was when I read the scope of this study, and realized how much mental illness had increased. They looked at survey responses of more than 200,000 adolescents age 12 to 17 from 2005 to 2017, and almost 400,000 adults age 18 and over from 2008 to 2017. I don’t want to state the obvious, but that’s a pretty large sampling.

What they found was extremely alarming. The rate of individuals reporting symptoms consistent with major depression in the last 12 months increased 52 percent in adolescents from 2005 to 2017 and 63 percent in young adults age 18 to 25 from 2009 to 2017. There was also a 71 percent increase in young adults experiencing serious psychological distress in the previous 30 days from 2008 to 2017. The rate of young adults with suicidal thoughts or other suicide-related outcomes increased 47 percent from 2008 to 2017.

I suffer from depression and anxiety, and I come from a long line of family members with mental illness, so I watch my kids pretty closely for signs of depression because I know how important it is to manage your mental illness. But what really hit me was that the authors of this study didn’t feel that this increase had anything to do with genetics or socioeconomic status, but rather lifestyle.

“Cultural trends in the last 10 years may have had a larger effect on mood disorders and suicide-related outcomes among younger generations compared with older generations,” said Twenge. She believes this trend may be partially due to increased use of electronic communication and digital media, which may have changed social interaction enough to affect mood disorders in teens. This was hands down the major contributor to this increase in depression.

But there was another related factor, and that was lack of sleep. Naturally, these two are intertwined. What this study found is that teens are spending more time awake late at night, interacting online, and it is contributing to their depression.

Now I’m with you, as a father of three, the last thing I want to do is monitor my children’s online activity in the middle of the night. But I must say, just a few weeks ago, I found my preteen in our living room playing games and live chatting with his friend at 4:30 a.m. on a school day. Who knows how many times he’d pulled that move and I’d slept through it. He now has to check in all his devices before going to bed.

As much as this should all give parents pause, the positive side is that you can change a lifestyle a lot easier than you can change genetics. And I know, I know, getting teenager to do literally anything they don’t want to can be a serious challenge, and asking them to put down their phone for even a moment feels a lot like severing a limb. But it is possible, and after reading this study, it might just be very necessary. And this is exactly what the authors of this study concluded.

“Young people can’t change their genetics or the economic situation… but they can choose how they spend their leisure time,” the study’s author’s wrote. “First and most important is to get enough sleep. Make sure your device use doesn’t interfere with sleep…don’t keep phones or tablets in the bedroom at night, and put devices down within an hour of bedtime. Overall, make sure digital media use doesn’t interfere with activities more beneficial to mental health such as face-to-face social interaction, exercise and sleep.”

As someone who had learned to live with depression and anxiety, I can say confidently that lifestyle changes can help (along with medication and therapy, in some cases). And I get it, asking parents to add one more thing to their ever-growing list of things that will benefit their children can feel overwhelming. But the sad fact is, managing screen time and online interactions is what it looks like raising teenagers in 2019, and as this study pointed out, the stakes for online management have never been higher.

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How To Help Your Teen Choose The College That’s Right For Them

May 1st is rapidly approaching and seniors need to choose which college or university they are going to attend. It’s exciting and scary and a bit overwhelming. You’re armed with your college acceptance letters but now how do you choose which one is for you?

There are so many different factors that are important: curriculum, size, location, cost, sports, and activities; the list goes on and on. Obviously, people choose to weigh it out differently and some need to choose based on cost, while others may choose based on salary rates and job readiness after graduation. Even so, there are often several good options. So how do you find that elusive “fit?”

Be honest with yourself

To find a school that will truly make you happy, you have to be honest with yourself about what you really want in a college experience. Is it the dorms or the food? If you’re a super picky eater,  look for a college that has a flexible meal plan and a wide variety of food options. Are you focused on the percentage of kids that stay after freshman year or how many kids graduate in four years? Or is it whether it’s got a good football or tennis team? What about how well it rates as a party school or how safe it is? Because all of these are rated these days.

Who are you?

Think about who you are and what you want to get out of college. This is tough to do—if you’re anything like I was in high school, you’re still feeling pretty unsure about your future plans. That’s ok, but you should evaluate your interests and personality traits. Are you a hermit or are you going to party it up? If you’re very introverted, for example, you may feel uncomfortable at a big party school or in a city environment. Do you want to be in a small intellectual environment? Are you competitive or more collaborative?

What setting do you need?

What about setting? You may have a set idea on this, but you may also lean toward something new at first—and then realize that may wear thin. For instance, if you live in the suburbs, a more urban campus may feel like an adventure and pull you. But just be sure to think about after a few weeks or months—will the noise get to you? Will you crave the great outdoors? If you are used to stimulation like the hustle and bustle of a city, but choose a school in a rural area, will you be bored and feel penned in—will you be randomly looking for people and things to do at midnight?

What do you want out of college?

As for what you want to get out of college, this can be more complicated. But basically it means thinking about your academic interests and strengths, when you want to pursue sports or theater and any other activities you plan on continuing in college. If you have a unique passion or talent, you may want to choose the one that will nourish that talent. You want to be able to learn and also have fun and be creative.

What field of study will you choose?

If you have a field of study in mind, then you should go somewhere that has strong academic offerings in that area. You may be surprised at which schools have great programs. A school with an amazing math department and a good ranking may not be the one with a neuroscience department. Just because you haven’t heard of a school doesn’t mean it’s not an awesome fit for you—or that it’s not a “good” school. Don’t get caught up in the rankings, because Forbes rankings are completely different than US News or Princeton Review. It’s kind of crazy when you compare!

Will you be able to explore?

If you have some idea of your interests but haven’t settled on a major, look for schools that will give you the opportunity to explore your interests further. You don’t need to lock yourself into any one field of study yet—unless of course you know exactly what you want to do or want a vocational school. If you’re looking at a more general or liberal arts school, then you can explore when you get there—you may change majors a few times before you are sure. And that’s ok. You are only 17 or 18; there’s no need to map out your whole life right this minute.

Time for a campus visit?

For many kids, visiting campus is the Holy Grail. Taking a class or going to Admitted Student days are really helpful for some. Other kids want to wander without crowds. If you can possibly visit the schools, do so. That may very well be what tells you where to go. Try to picture yourself on campus. You might really like the programs and offerings of the school, but if you can’t see yourself there, that’s something to listen to. Hone in on that and think about why. Are kids in groups or each person walking by him/herself with earbuds in? Are people outside in the quad or is the campus almost empty? What’s the atmosphere in the dining halls like—loud, quiet, bright, dark?

All of these tell you something. That’s where knowing who you are (and your parents knowing you) really helps. When you choose your college, you want to go where you feel good and at home—go for the slipper, not the high heels. College is a big adjustment for everyone so put yourself where you can jump in, participate and flourish. Remember, the overall culture of your college and whether you personally thrive or not will play as big or bigger a role in your future success as your degree.

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The Shocking Realization That Made Me Take A Hard Look At My Own Phone Habits

“What you pay attention to is what your life becomes.”

I recently read this quote, and it really resonated with me. It made me think deeply about myself and my thoughts. What did I pay attention to in my life? My kids? Certainly! My husband? Of course! Myself? You bet! I was feeling pretty good about myself. I gave myself a little pat on the back. If your life becomes what you focus on, then I was doing pretty darn good! High Five!

Then, my daughter said something to me that pulled me out of my thoughts. I am not sure what she said, but I gave it some half-hearted attention along with a half-hearted response. Later, she said something else to me and I gave her another response that seemed appropriate to her question. Immediately she was upset with me. What did I do?! She continued to tell me that whatever I just said to her totally contradicted what I previously said to her. You know, the half-hearted answer I gave her while I was mentally high fiving myself for how much attention I pay to my family.

I looked at her and realized exactly what I was paying attention to. I realized I was praising myself for a quote that I found while scrolling through my Facebook feed. The same Facebook feed that I spent the last half hour scrolling through. At least I think it was a half hour, maybe it was an hour, who knows? Time flies while mindlessly scrolling through friend’s kid’s pictures, food pictures, pet pictures, inspirational quotes, recipes, political arguments, whatever.

Holy shit! What did I really pay attention to in my life? I looked at the “screen time” tracker I set up on my phone. The same tracker that I have to hit “ignore limit” when it informs me (daily) that I went over my self imposed time limit. Over the past seven days, my average screen time was 2 hours and 27 minutes per day. On average, I pick up my phone 90 times per day, 629 times per week. For 2 ½ hours every single day, I focus on my phone. Between the time that I get home from work and my kids go to bed is only about 4 ½ to 5 hours. I spend about half the time my family is together on my phone.

What you pay attention to is what your life becomes.

I decided to take it a step further. I looked at my daughter’s phone. I wanted to cry — over 5 hours per day on her phone. She receives over 2,000 notifications on her phone per day. This broke my heart. I don’t blame her. She’s a teenager. As she has told me hundreds of times, her life is on social media. It sounds awful to say that out loud (or put it in writing), but it is the truth of this generation. Whether they are online or not, they are still being pulled in. If I take her phone away, she still has people “talking to her” or “talking about her” on social media. If I make her delete certain apps (Snap Chat), then she is pulled out of 95% of her “social” connections. Agree or disagree, that doesn’t feel like the right answer. It doesn’t solve the problem.

Her screen time numbers made me question myself as a mom. If I weren’t on my phone so much, modeling this behavior, would she be on hers as much? Something has to change. I know what has to change, but I’m not sure how. How do you just quit something that is such a big part of your life? I know, I know. This isn’t Brokeback Mountain here. It’s a phone. But still, what you pay attention to is what your life becomes.

Funny how sometimes when something is weighing heavy on you, the answer finds a way of showing up. I came across an article by Kevin Roose in the New York Times where he talks about his phone addiction and how he “Unbroke My Brain.” The article addresses some simple ways to ditch the phone addiction.

1. Become aware of your phone habits.

When and why are you going on the phone? Pay attention to the different times and places that you seem to pull out your phone most often. What are you avoiding or what are you trying to fulfill?

2. Ask yourself three questions every time you pick up your phone.

Before you pick up the phone as yourself: “What for? Why now? What else?” Roose changed his screen saver to these three questions, to ensure he was not just mindlessly picking up his phone. In a nutshell, only use your phone for a specific purpose and know the reason behind the purpose.

3. Do not charge your phone in your bedroom.

If you need an alarm, buy an alarm. Studies have shown that people who do not charge their phones in their bedrooms are significantly happier than people who do.

4. Give it the Marie Kondo treatment and only keep the apps that spark joy.

This might be a hard one because I am sure we can all justify why social media brings us joy, especially for teens. But, maybe just cut down on the amount of social media apps. This might be a good negotiation tool to get your teens to buy-in.

5. Find activities to replace the phone habit.

Is there a new hobby you’ve wanted to pick up? Can’t find time to exercise? Well, here you go!

6. Trial separation.

Roose suggestions a 24-hour time period with no electronics. This is a hard one for me because technology does bring me joy. It kind of reminds me of booze. I know its not good for me, but it makes me happy. Everything in moderation, right? My suggestion to this one is to put the phone away and only have designated times (maybe four) that you are allowed to check it. Set a timer and make sure to check it for a set amount of time. Again, I think this is another way to possibly get teens to buy into the detox.

7. All of these suggestions seem doable.

At least I feel like they are a starting point. Technology is part of our lives, and it is not going away. We have to find a way to incorporate it into our lives without having it control our lives. These suggestions are a place to start.

I am going to present this idea to the rest of my family and hope everyone is as excited about our technology detox as I am. Although this conversation will have to wait until later; my husband is in the middle of a Game of Thrones marathon right now.

What you pay attention to is what your life becomes. High Five!

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10 Things I Want My Teen To Know About High School

It feels like just yesterday you were a teething toddler biting your sister, and in a flash, the years have flown by. The biting phase is long gone and, come September, you’ll be heading off to high school. It’ll be great, you know. Really! But, keep in mind that it won’t be an endless array of fun times. High school life will present you with some obstacles to navigate and the learning curve might feel steep every once in a while. I have faith in you though and I know you will find your way. But, before you embark upon this next adventure, I want to share some words of wisdom with you.

1. Build genuine friendships with people.

Be a good friend and choose your company wisely. Lift each other up, have each other’s backs, and be there for one another. Don’t sh*t-talk other people and especially don’t speak badly of your own friends. Be the kind of friend you’d like to have and you’ll attract the ones worth keeping.

2. Jealousy is natural, but don’t let it rule.

Everyone feels that pang of jealousy once in a while but when it happens to you, try hard to keep it under control. People will act like jerks toward you because of jealousy at some point in your life. You may find yourself being judgey or acting like a jerk towards others because of it. Stop yourself. Don’t give into it. It will only lead to bitterness and negativity in your own life.

3. Don’t be an a-hole and don’t tolerate them, either.

If you ever date or hang around someone who tries to bring you down — and most of us do at some point — learn from it. Learn that you deserve better. Learn that you should never settle or accept someone else’s half-assed or messed-up version of a relationship. Also remember, nobody else should settle for your messed up behavior either. Treat people with respect. Don’t play games. And demand the same of them.

4. Broken hearts hurt a lot, but they do heal.

You will have your heart (and your ego) broken at some point. Likely on a few occasions. You will get through it, though. I promise. And you will come out of the experience with some new insight about yourself and about what you want and need in your relationships.

5. Tough times will happen, but you can handle them.

Sh*t-storms will happen. Sometimes you will bring them upon yourself. Sometimes others will be at the eye of the storm. If you’re responsible, own up. Apologize if you need to. (An apology really can go a long way.)  When it comes to tough times, do your best to make things right but know that you can’t always fix things. Try your best and if it isn’t working, let it go. Remember, the passing of time really is a powerful thing. Be patient. It will feel better with some time and distance.

6. Nobody is a stranger to self-doubt.

We are all insecure. Every single person (no matter how “perfect” they appear to be) lacks confidence in some area of their life. Acknowledge your own insecurities. Maybe even chat with a friend about them to get a different perspective but know you are not alone. If you feel nervous about a new challenge, remember this is natural. It’s okay to worry but don’t let it hold you back or limit you from doing something you want to do.

7. You are in charge of your own body.

Your body is yours and it belongs to you. You are in charge of who touches it and in what way. You are entitled to say “yes” and “no” and “I change my mind,” and anyone who is worthy of your intimacy will respect that.

8. You are amazing.

There is nobody like you. You are marvelous and worthy of great things. The more you believe this, the more it will come true. Take time to get to know yourself and to explore your own interests. Getting to know yourself is a lifelong adventure.

9. Mistakes will happen.

You will make mistakes. That is life. And, you are loved by your family, no matter what.

10. Try to be grateful for what you have…

The more you appreciate your life (especially the little things) the happier you will be. It’s okay to set and aim for goals but don’t forget to be grateful for what you have right now. Also, what you see on other people’s social media pages show only a glimpse of their lives and usually it’s the version they want you to see. Stay grounded and connected to the people right in front of you.

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What Happens As Your Son Turns 16

As he turns 16, he will be quick to tell you that you’re not needed anymore, and slow to ask for help.

As he turns 16, he will spend less time with you. Quality over quantity will become your mantra.

As he turns 16, his friends will outrank you. Make sure he is surrounded by good ones, but try not to judge the “bad” ones.

As he turns 16, he will be entrenched in social media. Likes and follows are worth gold to him. Be a present figure in his online life, but do so at a distance. Resist commenting on all of his posts. A few low key likes on his Instagram pics is acceptable. Anything more will embarrass him. If he follows you back consider this a win.

As he turns 16, he will want pricey clothes from American Eagle and Hollister. He will beg you for 200 dollar Timberland boots. This is totally fine. You prefer Lord & Taylor’s over Wal-Mart as well. Have him get a job. This will not only instill a sense of pride in him, but give your wallet a break. He will quickly learn if eight hours of washing dishes at the local diner is really worth those expensive shoes.

When he saves his money consider this another win.

As he turns 16, he will suddenly covet abs. With his rapid growth in height, he will be long, lanky and criminally handsome, yet insist on being “cut.” You will find yourself cooking low carb recipes for him as he gets leaner, erasing all physical signs of that kid that used to call you mommy.

It’s strictly Mom now.

As he turns 16, invest in Clearasil, Panoxly foaming wash, and salicylic acid. Pimples will bother him more than he lets on. When he gets one, or seven, don’t say a word. Just leave the products on the bathroom counter.

As he turns 16, he may unnerve you with his blatant cocky swagger. You may question “Where is my child — the one I raised to be a decent young man?” He’s there Mama, but honestly, he lives for pushing your buttons. The less reaction you give, the less he will push. But never tolerate disrespect. Remember you’re raising someone’s future husband.

As he turns 16,  you may feel bemused with the amount of time he frets over his hair. He will use your hairdryer — the good one with the Italian motor, your olive oil infused comb, and anything else in your hair care arsenal. Do yourself a favor, introduce him to men’s hair wax and paste. Teach him the difference and then let him decide between touchable, controlled hair, or high shine.

Have him avoid hair gel. He will look outdated. Remember the show Growing Up Gotti? Consider yourself lucky if you don’t.

As he turns 16, he will be able to sleep 14 hours. He will wake at noon, announce he’s tired by 3, and take a snooze at 4:30. Is he depressed? Lazy? Possibly lacking an essential vitamin? Most likely no. Like an infant, the teenage species needs large amounts of recuperating sleep. A teen brain is complex and growing. Sleep allows cells to be refreshed and the frontal cortex to mature. Yes, your teenager is maturing!

As he turns 16, have him read The Scarlet Ibis by James Hurst, watch Life Is Beautiful by Roberto Benigni, and listen to “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. He will be a better person for it.

As he turns 16, his reasoning skills will ever so slightly improve. Finally. He may actually understand why it was a bad idea to skip studying for his chemistry midterm. Take this opportunity to rejoice.

As he turns 16, don’t be so quick to save him from his mistakes. It will go against every grain of motherly instinct, but let him fail once in awhile. This will teach him to handle that uneasy feeling when life is less than perfect. And it often is. But let him know you got his back when things get too rough.

As he turns 16, he will think a lot about sex. There’s a good chance he may even have it. Talk candidly with him about values, responsibility, feelings, and any religious beliefs. Make your expectations clear, but avoid scare tactics. If you want him to wait until he’s in college to become sexually active, communicate this to him, but be accepting if he doesn’t. He needs to know he is loved unconditionally.

As he turns 16, he may be anxious about his future. Adulthood is just a stone’s throw away. A man in a boy’s body or a boy in a man’s body? That shift from child to grown up isn’t just hard on you. A chapter is closing. And although a new one is opening, change is hard.

As he turns 16, you will mourn and celebrate. Equally.

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When My Teen Son Was Struggling, This Was The Surprising Thing That Helped

My teenage son went through a hard year after my ex and I separated. He changed his group of friends, he refused to participate in all the team sports he once loved, and then he got caught smoking pot on school grounds more than once and was facing expulsion.

I didn’t even recognize the boy I’d given birth to. He shut me out completely, retreated to his room, and never wanted to discuss why he seemed so angry all the time.

He was desperately searching for attention and help. I tried as hard as I could to give it to him — I was tough on him with punishments, letting him know I cared about him too much to allow this behavior. I spent extra time with him. I tried to get him involved in team sports again and encouraged him to have his old friends over. This went on for almost a year and it was clear he needed more than what I was able to give him.

Nothing my ex-husband and I tried was working and he fell deeper into a depressed and anxious state. My ex and I realized he needed outside help so we got him into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

If you aren’t familiar with CBT, it’s a hands-on approach to help to make changes in the way you feel by giving you tools to help cope with your sadness, anger, anxiety, or whatever you are dealing with. While it’s not for everyone, it was the only type of therapy he agreed to attend because he knew he wouldn’t have to talk about his feelings a lot and it worked beautifully for him.

A few weeks into therapy, my son wanted to join a gym after his therapist explained the benefits of exercise and I couldn’t sign him up fast enough — it was the first time in over a year he seemed excited about something.

He fell in love with lifting weights and wanted to get to the gym 6 days a week. He began taking measurements of his biceps and legs. He started cutting out sugar, and he has many pictures to document his progress. Sometimes he posts them on Instagram, but mostly he keeps them for himself.

I watched my son return to himself through those gym sessions. He’s stuck with it. He’s much happier now. He’s found a healthy way to cope when he feels sad or anxious. And taking and posting his progress pictures have been a part of that journey.

I’m aware that before and after pictures can be triggers for people who have had eating disorders in the past (like me), are in the process of recovering from an eating disorder, or have medical conditions. And of course, if these images lower your self-esteem or make you feel anything less than healthy about your body, they don’t need to forced upon you and you have every right to not look at them.

But think we need to realize the intention behind a lot of those shots is not to make anyone feel like thinner or more fit bodies are better. They aren’t about telling someone else they should change their bodies either.

My son looks at his pictures and he is proud, as he should be. He’s worked hard to achieve those muscles, but even more than that, his hard work helped him through a really rough time in his life. But in no way is he promoting the fact his body is the way everyone’s should look.

A few of my friends and family members rolled their eyes after seeing his muscles pics saying how he was presenting as a “Knucklehead.”

I have problems with this attitude for a few reasons: one, that’s my son you’re talking to, so shut it.

Two: we are constantly posting pictures or videos of our children scoring a goal, making a basket, or singing the solo in the chorus concert, right? Is that the only acceptable way to share certain accomplishments?

NO. 

I’m not teaching my kids to shrink themselves into a box and that they should only be proud of certain goals that are reached — I encourage those progress pictures.

But the most important reason shaming a progress picture should be off limits is because we have no idea what the person has had to battle to get where they are now.

We don’t know if pilates helped them stop drinking.

We don’t know if running saved them during their divorce.

We don’t know what working out and praising themselves, and wanting to spread that energy, has gotten them through.

We may think it’s narcissistic or conceited at first glance but let’s take a second to rewind here.

A chiseled physique is only one of the benefits here, folks. When someone posts a progress picture, it’s because they are proud of the strides they have made, and it takes guts to be proud of yourself. Especially after you’ve been through some tough shit and have worked through it.

So think twice before you leave a rude comment or roll your eyes at what you see — you probably aren’t getting the whole story.

People work out and document their progress for many reasons — to look and feel better, to spread the energy to others they hope will be contagious.

Or, just maybe, they could be like my son and want to share a happier version of themselves after getting through a rough patch and seeing it through to the other side.

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10 Things I Want My Kids To Know About Sex

I was 14 years old the first time my mother called me a whore. That was the full extent of my birds and the bees talk. That is was what I was told about sex. That I was a whore.

Through conversations with girlfriends about sex and sexuality recently I have observed one very common thread among myself and these women. We all seemed to receive similar messages growing up and they looked something like this…

Almost all of us have had more times than we can count where we directly related (or still relate) sex to feelings of shame. We were made to believe that our sexuality was bad, dangerous, even disgusting. That we were somehow doing sex wrong. Not having sex wrong, but wrong in our doing all together. So in all that wrongness we engaged with our sexuality more and more from a place of shame. And as we have all learned, shame breeds more shame. We learned that in order for sex to be acceptable, for us to be doing it “right,” it needed to abide by a lot of unspoken rules.

The problem was just that: they were unspoken.

Why in the hell weren’t they ever spoken.

WHY WAS NO ONE SPEAKING?

The only spoken messages were degrading ones.

Whore, slut, hussy, prude.

Why did everything always seem so secretive and dark and dirty.

No wonder so many grown women are still struggling with sexual brokenness, because we have never been told or shown what sexual “whole put together-ness” looks like.

I think in order to start, we have to step away from the dark and silent place. We have to let the light in and let the words out. We have to do better. We owe it to the next generation to do better.

I will talk to my sons and my daughter about sex. I’m sure I won’t always have the right words, but I will have words nonetheless. In fact I have some right now.

What I want my kids to know about sex….

First rule of sex: It’s always okay to talk about sex. This is not fight club.

Second rule: No one makes rules about your sex life except YOU.

So let’s start over.

No rules. Instead, lets call them “things I would like you to consider.”

1. Your mind and your body are both always allowed to be there.

If you ever feel like one of them has to take a step back or check out in order for intimacy to happen, then please have ALL of you take a step back. If there isn’t room for every bit of you in an intimate space, then please pause. Love all of you enough to not leave any part out.

2. Allow yourself to be drawn to whoever your soul is drawn to.

Their genitalia or gender does not determine whether or not you have permission to be attracted to them. As Mary Oliver says, “you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” Rise above our culture’s binary and confining views of sexuality, sexual orientation, and all that goes along with it. Love who you love. You do not need to label, define or defend yourself.

3. Speaking of love… I hope you have sex that is full of love.

With that being said, you might have sex that is about freedom or exploration more than it is about love. That is ok. You are not dirty. You should not “be ashamed of yourself.” You are writing your own rule book. You are NOT a whore. You are a human. Your own human who makes your own choices and creates your own experiences.

4. I hope you never speak or accept language around sex that involves the word “purity in relation to virginity.

Do you know what the antonyms of pure are? “Dirty, foul, contaminated, unclean, polluted, tainted.” There is nothing you can do that will define you as any of those things. Do not ever internalize any message that makes you believe that the loss of your virginity is tied to a loss of purity. You will be just as pure and whole and worthy after you have sex as you are now. Never allow peers, adults, the church or anyone else make you believe anything different. They are wrong. Sex is not shameful. The distorted message of purity is shameful. I hope you never feel the damage that comes along with that dialogue.

5. Forgive the church for how they handle this subject. I promise it’s getting better.

The church is not perfect because humans are not perfect. We are a part of the church. You are a part of the church. Open up the dialogue, keep the conversation moving forward. Future generations will thank you. The church needs you to talk about sex, sexuality, homosexuality, and God. Because all of those things need to exist in the same place. Its ok if you make people uncomfortable. You are my kid, they will expect it.

6. Please be safe.

This is so important. I might actually call this one a rule. I get to write at least one rule about your sex life because I’m your mom. Be safe.

7. What you like matters.

Spend time figuring out what that is and then have the courage to say it. You are not merely an instrument of pleasure for your partner.

8. You are not merely an instrument of pleasure for someone else.

Your body is yours. It is not to be used, abused, taken advantage of, pressured, guilted, or shamed into anything. Please never use it with the intention of gaining love or worth; it can’t buy you those things, and you already have them anyway. You are allowed to say no. You are allowed to say yes and then change your mind and say no. You are allowed to do whatever the hell you feel like. This applies to everyone else too. Treat every single person you encounter with this same respect and understanding.

9. Be sober. It’s better.

For your mind, your soul, your body, your safety and your orgasm. Anyone who is trying to convince you that intimacy is better drunk is missing out. Don’t dull your senses when it comes to something as vulnerable as sex. Just don’t dull your senses ever actually.

10. It is not weird to talk to your parents about sex.

A lot of people could have been saved from a great deal of pain if sex was an on-the-table topic. So it’s on the table now. We are here. We will always be here. We promise to never shame you, control you, or condemn you. We promise to try to answer your questions, to talk openly with you, to be honest with you, to provide you with the healthcare and resources you need, and to love you even if we see things differently than you do at times. Please forgive us when we stumble our way through the awkward and hard conversations. Please forgive us when we fail. We will do our best but our best won’t always be perfect. You are worthy and you are loved. Nothing will change that.

xo

– Mom

The post 10 Things I Want My Kids To Know About Sex appeared first on Scary Mommy.

How Teens Are Becoming Victims Of Dating Abuse In The Digital World

Reese requires Rae to keep Snap Map on at all times so she can track Rae’s movements. 

After an argument, Jade finds a way into Maz’s Finsta and posts a humiliating pic of Maz. 

Eli threatens, “If you break up with me, I’m going to take your private videos and make them public.”

This is what it looks like when dating abuse meets the digital world— and teens across the country are falling victim.

Here’s the reality: teen dating abuse has been an epidemic for decades, with millions of victims each year. The numbers are staggering: 1 in 3 adolescents in the U.S. has been a victim of physical, sexual, emotional and verbal abuse from a partner. Today, the level of online “connectedness” among teens in 2019 provides abusers with new and innovative ways to exercise power and control.

Take Jess, for example.

Jess (name change) is a high school senior who spoke to me candidly, and with the promise of anonymity about her relationship with Jax. She explained that “things are mostly good. But, at times, Jax gets a little jealous and possessive.” When I probed, she divulged, “He watches where I am through Find My Friends. This one time when I turned it off, he Snapchatted me nonstop and when I didn’t respond, he posted a private pic of me on my Finsta with a caption SNEEK-E BITCH.”

The more I questioned other teens, the more I saw that Jess was not alone. Many high schoolers I spoke with were tracked on Snap Map, pressured to share passwords, or required to allow a significant other to look through their phone.

Others were humiliated on social media or coerced to send private, sexual images by a significant other. As a former special victims prosecutor who now works with teens and tweens, I can’t say I am surprised. Coercion and manipulation have long been tactics used to perpetrate intimate partner violence. But today, these tactics are exacerbated by online access.

Constant digital activity creates a dangerous expectation that a person should be accessible, available and “visible” at any given moment. Snaps, texts and emojis have replaced face-to-face conversation and intimacy, causing a severe absence of empathy. Private moments frequently blur into the public sphere, causing chaos, extreme embarrassment and at times, legal consequences.

It’s time to change this, and fast.

Public humiliation, reputation damage, and cyber stalking should not be ordinary hazards of dating in 2019. Instead, young people need to be given the tools to navigate healthy relationships, which must include candid conversations about healthy digital boundaries. These conversations need to happen in schools, in our communities and in our homes. We need to  start talking early (yes, elementary school!) and this dialogue needs to occur often.

And in case you are wondering what you can do, here are a few suggestions:

– Talk to your teen, but more importantly LISTEN.

– Discuss the importance of boundaries: in the digital world and within a relationship.

– Help them understand that no one should be cyber-tracking them on Snap Map or Find My Friends or anywhere.

– Explain that when love is used to manipulate (“if you love me, you would…”), it is not love. Repeat this over and over.

Helping a young person navigate the social and emotional complexities of growing up in the Digital Age is nothing short of overwhelming. But empowering teens to set healthy boundaries and foster mutual respect in their real and wired worlds will help them build healthy relationship skills for life.

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Why I Won’t Give My Kids The Same Privacy I Had As A Kid

The other night, we caught my 9-year-old daughter watching TikTok videos in her bed. She was under the covers, with an old cell phone that had connected to our WiFi. She and I had discussed the app before, and I told her that I would need to research it before she’d be able to use it. I knew that whatever my research about TikTok said, she wasn’t going to be able to use it without my supervision. And certainly never in her bedroom by herself. She’s just a preteen, and I know how dangerous social media can be when parents aren’t involved.

Technology has changed the game as it pertains to children and privacy. I remember having a lot of time to myself when I was a kid. I would be in my bedroom for hours with the door closed, reading or working on projects. There were days when no one would check on me from breakfast all the way to dinner time. I wasn’t doing much. I’d maybe make collages with pictures of boys from my favorite boy bands, or write scripts out of imaginary conversations with my friends. There were no cell phones or tablets or internet back then. My mom and dad felt confident that I was safe. What could possibly happen to me while I was in my bedroom, under their roof?

I was in middle school when my parents bought me a computer and put it in my bedroom. It was a Commodore 64, a big ole clunky thing that I couldn’t really do too much with due to my lack of coding skills. It came with a couple of games. There were some primitive applications, too. I mostly just used it to type up stories. Unlike today, there wasn’t a way for strangers to connect with me through the computer. I don’t think any of us even imagined that would ever become a thing. I was left alone, still, to do whatever it is I wanted in my bedroom, just now with a computer.

Fast forward a few decades and I have no plans of letting my children have computers in their rooms. I definitely never planned to have cell phones in the bed, under the covers. While my parents had no concerns about outsiders negatively influencing me, that’s all I think about. My husband and I work very hard to maintain our daughter’s innocence and not have her grow up too fast. At times it seems that every single convenience in our modern life is working against us.

We love how the Amazon Echo makes our home more “smart.” We don’t like that it might be listening in on our daughter’s conversations with her friends. It’s great that Google makes research for homework much easier. It sucks when a misspelled word brings up softcore porn videos on YouTube. Or leads them to some website where they end up with messaging with a grown adult pretending to be a kid.

Oh, and let’s go back to YouTube. Home of weirdos who make videos that look like they’re for kids then turn sexual or violent in the middle. I thought it was safe for my daughter to watch on her own. There have been a couple of times, though, when I looked at the search history and discovered that she accidentally stumbled onto an adult topic that was (thankfully) over her head. Once I realized how easy it was for that to happen, we put a lockdown on the account, and told her she could only watch videos when she was in the room with an adult.

My parents never had to worry about that.

I was in the 10th grade when I got a pager, and my dad put restrictions on it. A pager! The only thing I could do is see the numbers of people who had paged me, but I had a 10 PM curfew anyway. After that, I had to put the pager away. It was kind of dumb since it’s not like anything other than a phone number would pop up. It’s not like now where kids can send everything from a text to an image to actual video calls. Anyway, my dad told me that he didn’t want strange boys texting me when I was supposed to be in bed. I would rather that than what I’m up against now.

Now that I’m a parent myself, I can say that I see what my dad was trying to do, because I’m trying to do the same for my daughter. I want to keep her safe. Things have changed so much since when I was a kid, though. The angsty teenage years where we’d brood in our bedroom were part of growing up. Now, it’s too dangerous to give our kids that type of space. There are too many opportunities for people who mean them harm to gain access to them, manipulate them, and really cause damage to their lives.

There’ve been teens who have been encouraged to commit suicide by people via text messages. There are way too many cases of children meeting someone online and then leaving home to meet up with a stranger. Kids are having their nude pictures go viral because, one evening, in the privacy of their home, they decided to take a picture and send it to someone they thought cared about them. Whole entire young lives are being destroyed by one bad choice. And it’s happening right under their parents’ noses. Behind closed doors. In the houses that they live in with their families.

Finding my daughter sneaking to watch videos scared the hell out of me. After she was sufficiently punished (no screens until further notice) and we explained why we were so upset (we talked about the dangers of the internet), I went through every inch of that cell phone. I looked at who she was following, and to see if she had downloaded any other apps. I was relieved to find that she had only been watching silly videos of kids her age doing age-appropriate things.

I know that we were lucky.

Gone are the days of teenagers having privacy. Nothing is private anymore thanks to the internet. Which means that nothing is private under my watch. As my kids get older, I’ll continue talking to them and encouraging them to be open with me about what they’re doing. I want them to trust me enough to be honest so I won’t have to snoop and they won’t have to sneak. If we don’t come to an agreement, though, I’m still going to be all up in their business regardless. They can have all of the privacy they want when they’re grown and out of my house.

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How To Manage Your Kids’ Fortnite Obsession

If you are dealing with children who are obsessing over the game Fortnite, and you aren’t sure how to encourage healthy habits with its use, you are not alone. This game has become a source of fascination for many boys and girls of any age. The game offers an online platform to engage and play with other gamers, including your own real life friends. This combination of video game and social experience has all the ingredients to cause kids to become infatuated or addicted to its use – and many parents are reporting just that.

So how does a parent encourage their children to use Fortnite responsibly? Is it possible to foster habits where children can play online games like this, without it becoming an addiction? Here are a few strategies that might help:

1. Allow your child to manage their own use.

This might sound crazy, and you are probably wondering if I have lost my mind, but sometimes giving the child a sense of control can bring with it an increased sense of responsibility. My suggestion here is to come up with a reasonable amount of time that your kid will be allowed to play Fortnite. This might be very individual and could depend on the child’s age, personality, and even behaviors you are seeing when they play. So for example, if you decide as a family that little Sam will be allowed 3.5 hours of Fortnite time per week, he can ONLY play up to 3.5 hours a week, BUT he can decide if he wants to blow the whole time allotment in one go, or play a little each day. He is in charge of that, but when the time is up, that is it. No more Fortnite until the next week!

This might cause some struggles at first, but it will eventually teach your kid to have some self-control with when, and how long, they play. The use of timers is suggested, because it’s very easy for them to lose track of time when they become engrossed in the game, and parents can also easily get sidetracked and forget to keep track. So Sam will decide how much time he wants to play, and you can set the timer for that length of time. When the timer goes off it is up to him if he wants to turn the game off or keep playing (if he has weekly time remaining), but you can remind him about the weekly limit, and how much remains compared to how many days of the week remain. He will start to make his own decisions based on this. This allows you to relinquish the role of the bad guy or “keeper of the video games” and put the onus back on him. If he blows through his 3.5 hours in the first few days, he will have to wait 5 days without the game to play again – but that was his choice.

2. Fortnite is a privilege.

It is always helpful with kids to establish ground rules, and STAY consistent with enforcing those rules. With Fortnite this is no different, and it is reasonable to expect that they fulfill certain commitments in order to gain the privilege of playing the game. This can be any number of things depending on the family, but certain obligations such as homework or household chores should be completed before gaming. This sets your child up to develop good work ethic and learn that relaxation and rewards are something to look forward to after your work is done. It also prevents the trap of them either running out of the time/or motivation to get their work done after gaming into the evening.

3. No-gaming zones.

Certain times should be off limits for playing the game. Screen time can be very detrimental to sleep if it occurs directly before bed. This applies to children and parents alike. A good rule is to power down all electronics about an hour before the targeted bedtime. Allow some time for calmer activities that don’t involve a screen (such as crafts, reading, playing board games), so that your child can avoid being overstimulated right before bed, and will be able to fall asleep better. Another good idea is to have a rule about how early they are allowed to play. If they know they won’t be allowed to play until after 10:00 am, this avoids the temptation of shorting themselves on sleep in the morning in order to play.

4. Fortnite money is earned and has a limit.

One of the most common complaints parents have about this game is the in-game purchases, and subsequent begging from their kids. Players can purchase different items or packages within the game to improve their performance and their odds of winning or getting further. The added social pressures of “keeping up with the Joneses” can lead to children who are constantly whining for more purchases to be made. Unfortunately it doesn’t often help to reason with them and point out that they are spending their (your) money on things that aren’t real and don’t have any real value.

What can help here, is to have an agreed upon amount or limit to what they can spend each week. So for instance if you decide that they can spend $5 a week (or whatever amount is reasonable for your family), then that is all they get. And if a new “skin” or item comes out the following day and the money has already been spent, then that is just too bad. They will have to wait until the next week when they are allowed more money. The other thing I suggest is that the money is also a privilege and earned with good behaviors and getting their work done. They will soon learn that if they want to buy better packages or more expensive items, they may have to not spend anything for a few weeks and save up their allotted money. A great lesson in budgeting!

5. Bad behavior has consequences.

If your child is showing you through unwanted behaviors that they are unable to handle the responsibility of playing Fortnite, then a break needs to be enforced. So whether this is tantrums, breaking the other rules, or whining for more time/money to spend above and beyond the agreed upon limits, Fortnite will be banned for a length of time. The first time this happens they will probably kick up a stink and act like you are the meanest person in the world. It probably won’t be pretty. But if you follow through and stick to the ban for the whole length of time, they will learn that they can’t get away with that behavior, and the behaviors will stop pretty quickly. If for whatever reason your child doesn’t learn the first time, the second ban from the game can be a longer period of time. So if you banned the game for a week, then notice unwanted behaviors again right away, it can be banned for two weeks the next time.

This might sound like a lot of work, and in the initial few weeks the growing pains might be very real, but with consistency these strategies should help your child to use Fortnite in a healthy and respectful manner. Ideally these ground rules would be introduced when the game is first allowed into the house, but if you have already noticed that Fortnite has taken control of your house, it is never too late to have a family discussion and implement the new rules. And if your child can’t learn to use Fortnite responsibly, then there is nothing wrong with banning it altogether in your house. You are still in charge!

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