Articles for Parents

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    7 Ways to Support Teens During a Divorce

    I was 18 when my father announced he was divorcing my mother. My sister and brother were 13 and 20 respectively.

    While some might think that the three of us were old enough to grasp what was going on, our lives were honestly in an absolute tailspin. Sure, we had heard our parents fight, but it never seemed like it was anything major.

    Never in a million years would I have suspected they were headed down the road to divorce. If you had asked anyone in our community about the likelihood of my parents splitting, they probably would have laughed in your face. The whole thing was a very big shocker.

    “What some people don’t take into consideration is the younger you are when your parents divorce, the more childhood you have left to travel between two parents whose lives become more different with each passing year,” says Elizabeth Marquardt, author of Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce and director of the Center for Marriage and Family at the Institute for American Values.

    “The older you are when your parents divorce, the more you have to lose. You have a long experience with your ‘whole’ family. You have (for yourself, the teen) a lifetime of memories, experiences, photographs and stories of YOUR FAMILY. All of that comes apart.”

    A World Turned Upside Down

    Going through the divorce process was an awkward time, not just for my family, but for friends, youth leaders, teachers, and neighbors. People knew what was happening, but seemed to keep their distance as if they weren’t quite sure what to say.

    Just recently I was talking with a childhood friend about my parents’ divorce. She said the divorce shocked her so much that she didn’t know what to say - so she never said anything at all.

    As a teenager, I had all these thoughts and feelings rumbling around inside my head and no idea where to turn to sort things out. Furious with my parents and the situation in which I found myself, I wondered how I had missed the severity of the situation and if there was any way I could have helped to prevent the divorce.

    I had questions:  

    • “Would we have to move?”
    • “How would I afford college?”
    • “Would we see our father and did I even want to see him?”
    • “What will my friends think of me?”
    • “Why me?”

    I would lie awake at night praying that this was just a bad dream and that I would eventually wake up and everything would be just fine.

    “Divorce is tremendously painful at any age (even if you are grown and have left home when your parents divorce), but especially so in the vulnerable teen years when you are just looking at the world and imagining taking it on, on your own,” Marquardt says. “You are standing on the rock of your family, about to jump off, but needing to know that the rock is there so you can jump back at any time. But before your eyes the rock fractures in two.

    “Teens can be more likely than younger children to get drawn into their parents’ needs and to worry about their parents’ vulnerabilities. And this is occurring at precisely the time when, developmentally, they are supposed to be identifying more with peers than parents. It’s not developmentally appropriate for a teen to spend the weekend ‘visiting’ his father or ‘visiting’ his mother. His parents are supposed to just BE THERE, steady, in the background, while the teen is focusing on other things.”

    Teens Need a Strong Support System

    In many instances, teens don’t feel like they can talk with their parents about the divorce. I suspect there were many people who wanted to be supportive of me as I went through this tough time, but just didn’t know what to say or how to approach me. Honestly, I think just letting me know they were aware and available if I needed to talk would have been helpful.

    “Parents can do their teen a great favor by personally speaking with people who are close to their teen such as grandparents, a beloved aunt or uncle, coach, youth leader or close adult friend letting them know they want their teen to feel free to speak openly about how they’re feeling, even if it means sometimes saying something bad or unflattering about their parents,” Marquardt says.

    “Clearly, this is not about family members and the teen joining together in badmouthing the parents, but they do want to give 'permission' to the teen and family member to speak openly as the TEEN wishes. Parents need to understand that if this person is not someone the teen already has a close relationship with, the teen is likely just to see them as another adult and unlikely to form a trusting bond during that time, unless the person is especially skilled and empathetic.”

    Family members, friends or others who have their own feelings they need to process about the divorce should turn to someone besides the teen, cautions Marquardt.

    Local clinical psychologist, Susan Hickman encourages caring adults who find themselves in a position to reach out to teens who are experiencing divorce to consider the following:

    • Be immovable. Provide unlimited, unyielding support at a time when everything seems chaotic.
    • Be patient with their behavior. Remember that teens often express their pain through their behavior versus words. Respond to this with positive regard and consistent support for the child providing gentle limits and correction if needed.
    • Listen, listen, listen. Do more listening than talking. Teens experiencing divorce are in pain and confusion. Someone needs to hear them.
    • Validate their feelings even if you do not agree. Emotions aren’t reasonable. They are expressions of exuberance or distress. Acknowledge their emotions and tell them you understand why they might feel that way.
    • Save judgment or criticism for later. This is a time of repair – being there for them in the midst of distress speaks volumes. Teens need to know you care and that they are worth caring about.
    • Find a teen support group. Support groups for teens experiencing divorce allows them to connect with people their own age in similar circumstances.
    • Time is the key. Giving teens the time they need can sometimes be challenging. Just like there are times when we think people ought to be in a certain place in their grieving process after a death, people often assume that after a certain amount of time kids should just be over the divorce. Sometimes it takes a long time for teens to process what they have been through and for healing to take place.

    “Teens going through this very hard time should get the help they need. They should also be encouraged that there are so many great ways to learn about having a good and happy marriage,” Marquardt says. “The pain they are going through is something they can use to inspire them to be a great husband/wife and father/mother some day. There are many children of divorce in happy, lasting marriages and that can be them, too.”

    They say time heals all wounds, and I suppose to some degree that is true.

    I remember talking to one of my college professors before heading home for Christmas break my freshman year. I did not want to go home. After listening to me for a while, he said, “I know you don’t want to do home. I understand that what you are experiencing is miserable, but you have told me that you plan to be a counselor. And while this is not something I would wish on anybody, what you are experiencing now will be helpful to you later on when you are working with people who are dealing with divorce.”

    He was right. I am painfully aware that my parents’ divorce left scars on my life. If there is a positive side to the divorce, it would have to be the tenacious passion I have for having a healthy marriage and for helping teens that are experiencing divorce. They need to know somebody out there cares and is willing to walk the road with them. 

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    Helping Teens Manage Money

    For a group of people who typically don’t have full-time jobs, teens certainly have a lot of money to spend. In 2014, MarketingVox/Rand Research Centers found that roughly 41 million kids ages 10-19 in the United States spend $258.7 billion annually. They spend it on everything from fashion to electronics, but where do they get their money? And, is it a good thing?

    It seems like more teens than ever before have part-time jobs that keep money in their pockets,” said Tracy Johnson, educational specialist with Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Chattanooga. “Either they are working or their parents give them money. Regardless, what we are seeing is many people spending huge amounts of money, yet they really don’t know how to manage what they have.”

    Parents should start teaching children about money early on.

    “Money is associated with power,” Johnson said. “If we don’t teach children how to handle that power appropriately by managing their money, they can end up being a slave to it. Giving your child an allowance is an easy way to help your child begin to grasp money management skills. As your child gets older and the amount of money increases, you can teach them new skills.”

    By the time your teen graduates from high school, he/she should know how to build a budget and live within it. Teens should also know how to balance a checkbook, put money in savings and have an idea about home maintenance costs.

    In order to teach these skills, Johnson recommends the following:

    • Don’t give your teen things like a car or a cell phone without teaching them about the costs associated with them: Insurance, gas, tires and 3,000 mile tune-ups all cost money. Most young people only think about getting the car and putting gas in it or getting a cell phone and using it. What happens when your teen goes over their limits on the phone or racks up a huge bill?

    • Teach your teen about credit cards. Teens often see parents use credit cards to buy everything from groceries to gas, but they never see them pay the bill. No wonder they think money grows on trees! Credit card companies target teens, especially when they are away at college. It's hard to walk away from a $2,000 credit limit when you don’t have to pay anything up front. If your teen maxes out the card at $2,000, doesn’t charge anything else on the card but starts paying back the $40 minimum monthly payment at 21% interest, it will take 10-12 years to pay it off. At that point, your teen has paid $5,060 – more than double the original charge. Teens need to understand how to use credit wisely.

    • Teach your teen to spend less than he/she makes. Expenses should never exceed income. Many people say, “If I just had a little bit more, I would be fine.” But if you can’t make ends meet on $25,000, you won’t be able to make ends meet at $30,000. The more you make, the more you spend.

    • Delayed gratification is a good thing. Teach your teen how to budget and save for the things he/she wants. It will mean more if they had to work for it.

    • If you don't have great money management skills yourself, consider attending a free budget counseling session for your family at Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Chattanooga.

    “There are many easy ways to teach teens about handling money,” Johnson said. “Instead of letting money burn a hole in their pocket, give them a good financial foundation before they leave the safety of your home.”

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    Things Your Teen Won't Tell You

    Ellen Pober Rittberg is the mother of three. She had three children in three years and she spent 13 years representing young people as an attorney. Both of these experiences have given her insight into the lives of young people which led to writing 35 Things Your Teen Won’t Tell You, So I Will.

    “I wrote this book as a message to parents that you can do this,” says Rittberg. “I think that it is probably the hardest time to be raising a teen. There are threats to their safety, head-spinning technological advances, they are encouraged to dress provocatively by celebrities who they see dressing provocatively, and peers are more important to them than family. The book is really a form of cheerleading in an informed, honest and positive way.”

    Rittberg believes the biggest mistake parents can make is to trust their teen all the time.

    She cautions parents that in spite of the fact that their young person seems really smart, their judgment is defective and they will make poor decisions because they are adults in the making.

    35 Things Your Teen Won’t Tell You, So I Will is the manual I wish I had had when I was raising my teens,” Rittberg says. “I didn’t want to be preached to and I didn’t want to read clinical pieces written by educators, psychologists or medical doctors. I wanted to know the practical do’s and don’ts, the big mistakes to avoid, what to do when you are at the end of your rope and ways to enjoy the challenge of raising teens.”

    Rittberg encourages parents to be open to the fact that they can learn to be a better parent.

    “When I was pregnant with my first child, I read a ton of books because I didn’t know how to parent,” Rittberg recalls. “We need to continue exposing ourselves to information that will help us be better parents. Parents also need to consider the values they want to impart to their children and how they will be intentional about doing it.”

    Here are a few of the 35 things Rittberg wants you to know:

    • You shouldn’t be your child’s best friend. We have a role as parents to be responsible and reliable. If you act like a teenager, your teen won’t respect you.
    • Your child needs meaningful work. Anything that encourages a healthy work ethic and sense of family duty is a good thing.
    • To know your teen’s friends is to know your teen. If you want to know what your teen is up to, get to know their friends. Make your house a welcoming place. You have to be there when they are there.
    • A parent should not buy a child a car. There are large consequences to buying your child a car, the largest is that the child who doesn't earn a significant portion of the car will likely total it soon after getting it. When they have worked for it they will take better care of it.
    • Know your child’s school. School officials should know your face, what you do and that you want to help.
    • Curfews are good. As the old saying goes, nothing good happens after midnight!

    “Parenting teens is challenging, but you can do it and be good at it,” Rittberg says.


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    Survival Plan for Parents and Teens

    Parenting a teenager can be a mind-boggling experience. 

    One minute they are yelling things like:

    “I hate you!"

    “Don’t speak to me.”

    “Nobody else’s parents do that.”

    The next minute you are holding their head while they are sick, they ask you to borrow the car or they want to snuggle up next to you on the couch. It’s enough to make your head spin and cause you to question, “Is this the same kid who said he never wanted to see me again minutes ago?”

    Parenting teens is not for the faint of heart. When parents who are currently raising teens compare notes with those who have lived to tell about it, you might think there really is a universal playbook teens use to make parents question their sanity. At any given moment, you may even wish you could ground your teenager for life. BUT, that would defeat the whole purpose of adolescence.

    Adolescence is when children learn the skills and strategies of adults and that takes time and patience. But honestly, the process can be painful for the whole family.

    Consider these things:

    • Parenting experts say that one of the reasons adolescence is so challenging is that parents often don’t recognize the strongest needs of their teen.

    • Parents look into their teen’s world through adult eyes and needs. They tend to miss all of the change and internal conflict their teen is experiencing in continuing to have their needs for belonging, freedom, power and fun met.

    • Parents need to feel in control whereas their adolescent is competing for his freedom. 

    • Both parent and teen have well-developed strategies for getting their needs met. These differing needs and strategies often intensify to the point that the relationship between parent and child becomes strained.

    During adolescence, kids need adult intervention more than ever before. Adults should not assume that once teens begin to look like adults they will automatically start thinking like an adult, relating like mature adults and making responsible decisions.

    If you are leading an adolescent into mature adulthood, here are a few things to consider:

    • Remember your own teenage struggles.

    • Don’t panic. It is important not to let your fears control you.

    • Don’t overreact. Most teens say they do not open up to their parents because they tend to overreact.

    • Make sure to handle things in a way that builds your teen up versus tearing them down.

    • Take time to enter your teen’s world – spend time with them, listen to their music, get to know their friends.

    • Provide direction according to their needs… not yours.

    • Understand that teens don’t want you to fix it for them. They want you to listen to them. A teen’s self-confidence is built through learning to problem solve and come up with reasonable solutions.

    • Separate the behavior from the teen. Love your teen, but don’t be afraid to deal with unacceptable behavior.

    • Develop a support network of parents who have been there, done that.

    • Remember, you and your spouse are on the same team.

    Raising teenagers is a predictable challenge for most parents. Keep perspective and recognize you will survive. After all, your parents did.

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    9 Ways You Can Be Your Teen's Best Friend

    Lots of celebrity moms go out on the town and party with their famous kids. But while some teens might think it sounds really cool that a mom would party with them, most young people say they don’t want their parents acting like they do.

    According to Dr. Kevin Leman, author of Adolescence Isn’t Terminal, It Just Feels Like It, some parents believe they need to become their teen’s best friend in order to navigate the teen years.

    Many parents believe that teenagers know enough to make good decisions with little or no guidance from their parents. However, brain research has shown strong evidence that when it comes to maturity, control and organization, that's just not the case. In reality, all key parts of the brain related to emotions, judgment and thinking ahead don't finish forming until the mid-20s. This means teens definitely need their parents actively involved in their lives.

    “Sometimes as the parent you have to make decisions that will not be popular with your teen, but are in their best interest,” says Leman.

    Teens do not want their parents to act like them, talk like them or dress like them, either. Despite grunts, attitude and carrying on, young people do want you to act like their parent.

    “Kids who have parents who try to act, look and talk like teenagers tell me that they feel very self-conscious and embarrassed when their moms or dads attempt to be teenagers,” Leman says.

    If you really want to be your teen’s best friend, here's what Leman suggests:

    • Make your home the center of activity. Instead of your child always being somewhere else, make your home the place they want to be with their friends.

    • Listen to your teen when he or she is ready to talk. Being approachable is the key, even if it is 1 a.m. and you go to bed at 10 p.m. This gives you a chance to continue to build a close relationship in the midst of your child's growing independence.

    • Be an imperfect parent. It isn’t about you being perfect. Admit your mistakes and don’t be afraid to say, “I am sorry.” Share stories about when you were a teen. Be real.

    • Spend time with your teen. Make it a point to notice what they do well. Be approachable. Guard against becoming a critical parent who only notices mistakes and weaknesses. Be REAL with your teens: Real, Encouraging, Affirming, and Loving.

    • Expect the best from them. Keep your standards realistic. Expect them to make good choices. Research shows that daughters with affirming fathers are most likely to marry a guy with those qualities.

    • Don’t snowplow the roads of life for your teen. When they fail, let them experience the consequences. There is no better time for them to fail than when they are at home around people who love them. You can actually help them get back on their feet.

    • Love and respect your mate. Young people learn how to treat their future spouse by watching you. Model the behavior you want your children to practice when they are married and have children of their own.

    • Never beat or bully your child into submission. Take time to think about what you will say or do and the outcomes you are looking for. Shepherds use their rod to guide their sheep, not to beat them into submission. As parents, our role is to guide our children and teach them how to live as productive citizens.

    • Pray for them daily. The teenage years can be very challenging. Make sure your child knows you are on their team and you love them unconditionally.

    “Your goal as a parent is to help your children become all that they can be,” Leman says. “The best way to steer our kids through the stage of adolescence is to know ahead of time what type of children we want to raise.”

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    20 Warning Signs in Teens

    If you live with a teenager, one thing is certain: their emotions change as often as the weather or their clothes. They ascend to the heights of joy one day, the depths of teenage despair, the next.

    The teen years are a time to explore new ideas, new attitudes and new feelings. Since a certain amount of unpredictability is normal, how can you tell if your teenager’s emotional swings are beyond the normal ups and downs of adolescence?

    Although it's not always possible to know what goes too far, there are some things you can look for in the process.

    Here's a warning-sign checklist from the Minirth-Meier psychiatric organization that can help you:

    • Deterioration of grades;

    • Chronic truancy;

    • Chronic school failure;

    • Mood swings;

    • General Apathy;

    • Drug/alcohol use;

    • Blatant sexual behavior;

    • Verbal or physical displays;

    • Withdrawal or feeling of hopelessness;

    • Sleeplessness, fatigue;

    • Low self-esteem;

    • Sadness, crying;

    • Secretive;

    • Suicidal thoughts, unexplained accidents;

    • Death of significant person;

    • Interest in the occult;

    • Poor impulse control;

    • Family history of substance abuse or mental illness;

    • Extreme change in appearance or friends; and/or

    • Inability to cope with routine matters/relationships.

    Jay Strack suggests that a parent’s first response to these signs of trouble is crucial. He's the author of Good Kids Who Do Bad Things.

    “Overreacting parents often drive kids into an emotional shell from which they are reluctant to venture. Underreacting parents send a message to their kids that says, ‘I just don’t care.’ Either response can be devastating when the individual loses his emotional balance,” he writes.

    Strack says it is important to differentiate between the normal pressure of life and crisis situations.

    If your teen is demonstrating a number of the warning signs, here are several action steps you can use.

    • First, don’t panic. “This is no time to lose control of yourself,” Strack says. "A calm demeanor and a listening ear are crucial."

    • Next, act quickly. Strack writes that parents should not sit around “hoping the problem will solve itself or just go away. Timing is crucial in a crisis.”

    • Then, seek advice. Seek the advice of those who can really help, like counselors, pastors and teachers. You may need lawyers, police and other officials, depending on the situation.

    • Always stick to the main issues. “While your teenager may have several areas in which he needs improvement (e.g., self-acceptance, personal discipline, study habits, etc.), it's important to stick with the major issues of the crisis until they are resolved,” Strack says. “Only then will the teenager be clear-headed enough to focus on the other issues in his life.”

    • Finally, strike a balance. Strack’s fifth guideline is important. Teens need to know that you love and cherish them, despite their behavior.

    “At the same time,” Strack says, “you will need to balance love with discipline when necessary so that your teenager doesn’t just run over you.”

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    6 Tips for Parenting Adolescents

    Most parents have probably thought they couldn't wait until their kids got older so parenting would be easier. But those currently parenting tweens and teens might have a few words to say about it. You know, the idea of things being easier as the tribe gets older.

    “I have three sons, two of whom are teens. I would say our parenting efforts have ramped up substantially with our teen boys,” says Gena Ellis. “You think because they can feed and clothe themselves, shower without supervision and they seem more independent that you can back off. But really, the teen years almost require more parenting, just in a different way.”

    When children are young the focus is on teaching them right from wrong, how to be polite and what it means to share along with learning to count, and know their colors. As children mature things get a bit more complicated as parents realize the decisions made during these formative years will impact them in the future.

    “In the early years, I think both my husband and I were under the impression that the younger years would be the most intensive for us as parents,” Ellis says. “Now that we have moved on, we realize that adolescence is no less intense and that our boys still need us actively involved in their lives. Not overly-involved, but involved enough that we can help them continue to grow and learn what it means to be an independent adult. We are very clear that adolescence is no time to take a back seat when it comes to the parenting journey.”

    When Ellis’ oldest son forgot to turn in a paper, her first reaction was to pick up the phone and call his teacher to explain that he had been at band rehearsals all week until late in the evening. As a result, he was running behind on his school work. Instead of doing that she asked her son about the situation. He told her he had already spoken with his teacher and explained the situation. They worked something out and mom never had to get involved.

    “I was very proud of my son,” Ellis says. “It made me know he has been paying attention to all we have been teaching and modeling for him when it comes to taking responsibility and being accountable. What he learned from this experience was far more powerful that if I had intervened in the situation.”

    Here are a few thoughts on parenting tweens and teens:

    • Make sure you are handling things in a way that builds up your teen versus tearing them down.

    • Provide direction according to their needs, not yours.

    • Understand your teen doesn’t want you to fix it for them. They want you to listen.

    • Learning to problem solve and coming up with reasonable solutions builds a teen's self-confidence. The more they can do this in a supportive home environment, the better off they'll be in the real world.

    • Keep your expectations realistic.

    • Spend time with your teen. They may act prickly like they don’t want you around. Don’t misinterpret their behavior.

    “When they are little, children need you in front leading,” Ellis says. “When they are older they need you behind them, encouraging them."If you think parenting gets easier as your kids get older, you might want to think again. Here are some helpful tips for the teen and preteen years.

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    What Teens Are Saying About Social Media and Their Parents

    Should your parent check your phone?

    When you sit down to a family meal, are people on their devices?

    Do your parents follow you on social media?

    These are just a few of the questions from an informal survey of more than 1,000 middle and high schoolers during March and April of 2018. The responses might surprise you.

    When students were asked if their parents ever checked their phones, 82 percent said their parents never checked or only checked it once or twice a year. Forty-five percent of respondents said they are not on their phones or watching television during family meals, and 22 percent said they don’t eat meals together as a family.

    When it comes to social media, 45 percent of the teens said their parents follow them on some apps while 28 percent said their parents do not follow them on any social media apps. Only 27 percent said their parents follow them on all their social media apps.

    Overwhelmingly, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, iMessage, FaceTime, Facebook and Twitter were the most popular apps, used by 60 percent or more. Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube were all above 80 percent.

    Here’s where things really get interesting. 

    When asked about negative experiences on social media:

    • 56 percent of respondents said they had been contacted or messaged by a complete stranger.
    • Over 46 percent said they have been unfriended, unfollowed or deleted from someone’s account. 
    • More than 39 percent said someone had asked them for inappropriate/sexual pictures. 

    And when it comes to breaking up, 36 percent said someone had broken up with them by text or another form of social media.

    The final question, “Has social media ever made you feel stress, anxiety or depressed?” had some very interesting results. Overarchingly, 45 percent of respondents said social media never makes them feel stress, anxiety or depression. However, in unpacking the data, 62 percent of middle-schoolers said social media never makes them feel this way. Conversely, by 12th grade, 60 percent of teens say it has contributed to stress, anxiety and depression.

    Another aspect of this involves structure and parental engagement in the home. Teens who say their parents are actively involved in overseeing their social media engagement reported significantly less stress, anxiety and depression than teens who reported less parental involvement. Teens who reported the least amount of structure and parental engagement also reported the highest levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

    Before you convince yourself that technology is the problem, breathe. The truth is, technology will only continue to evolve and move faster as time goes by. Being tuned in to your child is their best hope for navigating those changes in a healthy manner. In a previous survey, teens were asked what helped them make good choices with social media and phone usage. The number one answer was “knowing that my parents check my phone.”

    It may be tiring and frustrating, but you are the best app for your child’s phone.

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    What Parents Need to Know About Preventing Teen Pregnancy

    Teens want to know what adults think, even if they don't act like it.

    • Adults are powerful figures in the lives of young people and hold the key to preventing teen pregnancy.

    • An MTV poll found teens ranked their parents as their #1 heroes.

    Forget about "The Talk." It is an 18-year conversation about love, relationships, values and sex. Start early and let your kids know that you are an "askable parent."

    • Teens tell us their parents tend to give them information too late and in too vague a way.

    • They can get clinical information from school or books (and they already know more than you think), but what they really seek are parents who are comfortable talking with them about relationships, how to handle peer pressure to have sex, how to say "no" without hurting feelings, and other such issues.

    Don't let your daughter get involved with a much older guy.

    • Teen girls who date much older guys are more likely to report later that they didn't really want to have sex in the first place and are less likely to use birth control/contraception.

    • Among mothers aged 15-17, about one in four has a partner who is at least five years older.

    • Older boys and men can lead younger girls into very risky situations and relationships.

    • Seventy percent of teenage pregnancies are caused by guys over the age of 20.

    Sometimes, all it takes for teens not to have sex is not to have the opportunity.

    • Many teens say that if they had something to do after school that's fun and interesting, they are less likely to experiment with sex, drinking, and other risky activities.

    • If parents can't be home with kids after school, they need to make sure their kids are busy doing something constructive and engaging.

    Parents need to make girls feel valued and important. You can't give a girl self-esteem, but you can give her the opportunity to develop it -- encourage her involvement in sports, volunteering, drama classes or other activities that make her feel talented and confident.

    • Girls involved in sports are half as likely to get pregnant as non-athletes, regardless of how much sex education they have. They are more likely to delay sex until they are older, and to use protection when they do so.

    • Another study shows that girls who are active volunteers throughout their high school years have half the teen pregnancy rates of the average for their peers.

    • If you give a girl something positive to say "yes" to, she'll be much more likely to say "no, not yet" to sex and pregnancy.

    • Remember, condoms do not protect the heart.

    Talk to sons as well as daughters. The nearly 1,000,000 teen girls who got pregnant each year don't do it alone.

    • Boys need to know that teen pregnancy happens to them, too. We need to talk to boys - not just girls - about consequences, responsibility, sex, love and values. Surveys show that boys want to do the right thing.

    Learn the facts yourself. It is a scary world out there. Sexually transmitted diseases have multiplied at a frightening rate in the last 30 years.

    • We have gone from two to 38 identifiable Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD’s), and some of these – including AIDS, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), and Herpes – are incurable.

    • HPV causes more than 90 percent of all invasive cervical cancers, and condoms do not prevent HPV. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 45 million Americans have HPV.

    • In addition, chlamydia is rampant and is frequently symptomless. Chlamydia is a leading cause of infertility in later life.

    Adapted from The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy Tips for Parents

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    Parenting Teens

    “Raising kids through the adolescent years is like guiding your family in a raft through whitewater rapids,” says Dr. Kevin Leman, author of Running the Rapids: Guiding Teenagers through the Turbulent Waters of Adolescence.

    Like going down the river trying to navigate rapids, rocks and other hidden dangers, there is definite risk in experiencing the adolescent years. In fact, it can be potentially destructive for parents, teens and the entire family. Leman believes that how you choose to travel the river makes all the difference for you and your teen. Some people believe that the teen years are the most difficult, but Leman would argue they are the best years.

    “The teenage years are a wild ride, with good reason,” Leman says. “I encourage parents to talk with their kids before they become teenagers about some of the things that will happen or that they are likely to experience - including the idea that the day is coming when you are going to think your parents are really strange and don’t know anything.”

    According to Leman, the goal during adolescence is not for parents to be their teen’s best friend. It is to be a smart parent. There are three elements parents need to pay attention to as they guide their teen through adolescence:

    • Major on the majors. Not everything is worthy of concern and debate. During his teen years, Leman’s son came to the dinner table and announced he was getting an earring. His mother was frantic waiting for Leman to handle this situation. Leman did not say a word. Three days later, Leman showed up at the dinner table with an earring. Several minutes passed by before his son noticed. Kevin squinted and looked at his father with disgust and said, “You look ridiculous.” To which Leman responded, “Really? Your mother likes it.” End of discussion.

    • Learn to say positive things to your kids. Children are a gift. Make an effort to affirm your teen when he/she makes good choices.

    • Find something your adolescent can do well. Emphasize this strength and help your teen feel accepted and special.

    “My friend Stephen Covey tells people to start with the end in mind,” Leman says. “That is exactly what I encourage parents to do. What kind of young adult do you want to see emerge at the end of adolescence? The decisions you make and the decisions your teen makes during the adolescent years will make all the difference in the outcome. I know many parents who choose to put their teen in the raft without a guide, but I believe if you are interested in the best outcome for your teenager, you will put him/her in the raft with you as their guide.”

    As you navigate the whitewaters of adolescence, here are some additional thoughts on how to be a great raft guide for your teen:

    • Give your teenager freedom, but hold him/her accountable.

    • Sometimes parents are too quick to bail their teen out of trouble.

    • Are you raising your teen in a home or a hotel?

    • Mutual respect is the cornerstone of all relationships.

    • Everybody’s thoughts and feelings have value.

    • Watch your tone of voice. Rude behavior is not acceptable from anyone.

    • Use nonthreatening communication.

    • Laugh at everything you can and find reasons to have fun.

    “In spite of what you might hear from the culture at large, parents DO make a difference in the lives of their children. They watch every move you make and how you live your life. Recently, I received a note from my 32-year-old daughter that said, ‘Dad, thanks for teaching me that people are more important than things and living that out in your life. Love, Holly.’

    “Even if you are uncertain about your parenting skills, don’t be afraid to get in the raft and guide your teen through the rapids,” Leman says. “I have learned more from what I did wrong than all the things I did right.”

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    Sexting and Your Teen

    Dr. Sheri Madigan and her research team wanted to know the prevalence of sexting behavior (sharing of sexually explicit images and videos through technological means) among youth. Between 2006 and 2016, they conducted a meta-analysis, looking at 39 different studies about sexting that included 110,380 young people from all over the world, including the United States.

    Studies indicate that sexting has been on the rise among teens while teen sex has declined. Findings from the meta-analysis indicate that:

    • 1 in 7 teens send sexts, 
    • 1 in 4 receives sext messages, and 
    • 41 percent of teens are having sex according to a 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 
    • Additionally, older teens are sexting more often than younger teens.

    While boys are often portrayed as the requestors of nude images, studies show that girls and boys are equally as likely to participate in sexting. Plus, most of them use their smartphones versus a computer when they sext.

    Compared to boys, girls report feeling more pressure to sext and worry they will be judged harshly whether they sext or not. If they do, there is slut-shaming. If they don’t, they are considered a prude. Boys, however, may see sexting as a way to showcase their social status.  

    Many sexters assume the images will remain private, but the research indicates that:

    • 12.5 percent of teens are forwarding intimate photos without the sender’s consent. 
    • Another 8.4 percent of teens had one of their own sexts forwarded without their consent.

    According to the research team, these findings raise some concerns and challenges. Teens may feel that sexting is an expectation if everybody else is doing it. When sexting is coerced and images are used as a form of blackmail or a threat, the combination of digital insecurity and the teen brain processes could lead to compromised safety. Since teens’ brains are still developing, their capacity to critically analyze digital tools and apps may not be enough to keep them safe. So, what can parents do to help?

    If you're a parent, Madigan encourages you to talk with your teens about healthy dating relationships, peer pressure, digital security, sexuality and citizenship. Make it an ongoing conversation where you're being proactive instead of reactive.

    Also, discuss strategies for dealing with peer pressure surrounding sexting and the potential consequences of sending sexts. Once someone sends an image or video, there is no control over who sees it. 

    Family Zone offers these 10 tips to help you deal with sexting:

    • Have open and honest conversations with your children.
    • Don’t abstain from educating your own children about sex and sexualized behaviors. If you don’t educate them, somebody else will.
    • Do not assume that your child will not pass on a nude photo or take one of themselves and share it.
    • Discuss the risks of sexting, including how they would feel if their photos were shared.
    • Be very clear about the law and criminal consequences with your children.
    • Discuss their digital footprint and what that means.
    • Explain their digital citizenship responsibilities.
    • Warn your children to never share photos with people they don’t physically know offline. Consider providing examples of grooming and pedophilia.
    • Attempt to explore if these behaviors are part of a bigger problem with self-esteem and confidence. Like everyone, children like attention and reassurance, but as parents we need to help our kids find healthier ways to feel good about themselves.
    • Ensure they know who they can talk to and where they can get help if needed. They may not want that to be you, so ensure they have a safe person to confide in.

    For tips on parenting get our E-book "How to be a Guide for your Teen" Download Here

    If you'd like additional resources to help guide these conversations, here are some good ones: Common Sense Media’s Sexting Handbook, Common Sense Media, Connect Safely, Social LEADia: Moving Students from Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership.

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    What You Can Do to End Human Trafficking

    An alert American Airlines ticket agent has been hailed a hero after preventing two teen girls from becoming part of a human trafficking scam. The girls showed up with one-way first-class tickets to New York City from California. They had no identification on them and the agent discovered the tickets were purchased with a fraudulent credit card. The suspicious ticket agent denied the girls’ tickets. While the teens walked over to a Starbucks table and made a call, the ticket agent alerted authorities.

    Authorities learned that a guy had invited the girls to New York City for the weekend so they could earn $2,000 performing in music videos and modeling. The teens had no idea their tickets were one-way.

    Who wouldn’t be excited about earning $2,000 in a weekend? Human traffickers often portray themselves as agents to connect young people to their dream career or to easy money. But that’s not the only way people end up being trafficked. Stories abound of people being preyed upon in stores, at truck stops and online.

    Research indicates that while human traffickers look for the most vulnerable at-risk youth, even young people who have loving, caring parents can fall victim to traffickers. According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s website:

    • In the United States, on average, every two minutes, a child is bought or sold for sex.

    • The average age of a child sold for sex is 13 years old.

    • Human trafficking is the second-fastest growing criminal industry, just behind drug trafficking.

    “According to the Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative, 41 percent of those who are trafficked are trafficked by family members,” says Emily Aikins, director of survivor services at Second Life, an anti-human trafficking nonprofit in Tennessee. “Many people have this stereotype in their mind of the kind of person that is trafficked when in reality, victims of human trafficking come from literally all walks of life.”

    Todd Womack, Senator Bob Corker’s chief-of-staff, happened to hear a human trafficking-focused sermon delivered by International Justice Mission’s Gary Haugen at Passion City Church in Atlanta a few years ago. At the end of Haugen’s talk, he made a plea to attendees, saying the only way to end human trafficking is if everybody looks around and decides what they can do to shed light on this tragedy in their own sphere of influence. 

    Womack and Corker took that call to heart and began working with the END IT Movement and other nonprofit organizations to envision, develop and pass into law the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act, which is now operating as the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery. 

    You may be wondering how you can help prevent young people from becoming human trafficking victims. Here are some ways anyone can help:

    • Get educated. Educate yourself and family members, especially your teens, and friends about the signs of human trafficking. The more educated you are, the more prepared you will be to stop it.

    • Be alert. Whether you are in a restaurant, airport, walking on the street, at a sporting event or getting a pedicure, you can help prevent children from becoming victims - just like the American Airlines agent. If something looks suspicious, alert authorities by calling 911 or the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Resource Center line at 1-888-373-7888. Tennessee’s own trafficking hotline is 855-558-6484.

    • Teach your children good internet safety skills. Know who is in your kids’ social network. Many predators connect with teens on social media and begin grooming them - then they do exactly as the person did with the two girls headed to New York City. They offer them something too good to be true, but even though they may know their parents wouldn’t approve, they aren’t quite discerning enough to realize they could be getting themselves into a dangerous situation.

    • Talk with your teens about healthy sexuality. Help them to know that sex is not a commodity to be bought and sold.

    No matter the size of your platform, everyone can do something. 

    Turner Matthews, who interned in Senator Corker’s office, learned of the END IT Movement two years ago. Upon returning to his school, he painted a huge rock on campus known as the “The Rock with a red X.” This year he not only painted “The Rock with a red X,” he also created an event around it to bring attention to human trafficking issues. He, like so many others, is using his personal sphere of influence to bring light to the problem.

    What will you do?