Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Keeping Your Teen Safe on New Year's Eve

Keeping Your Teen Safe on New Year's Eve
Tips To Make Sure the Big Party is Good For Your Teen
by Brian Housman

Even for teens that typically make good decisions, New Year’s Eve can become a night of bad choices. From party hopping to excess alcohol to poor adult supervision--a New Year’s Eve Party might be a parent’s worst nightmare.

There are several reasons why "good kids" end up doing bad things on New Year's. One is the cultural/social mystique associated with New Year's Eve. Generations of movies, TV shows, and school gossip have built up the New Year Eve party as the end all of parties. It's sort of like the mid-year prom where everyone is expected to hook up with someone, drink lots of alcohol, and dance the night away. All the build up puts pressure on teens, particularly girls, that "I must have a date" or at the very least be kissed. And who cares if you like him or not at least Father Time didn't find you all alone.

The second reason to be careful of New Years is because many teens see it as a release from the norm and excuse to do things out of the ordinary. A teen might think, "I've made great grades this semester. I deserve to live it up for a night," or even "So what if I drink too much. With all my friends around nothing will happen to me." The problem is not one normal kid who ends up doing something foolish. It's the culmination of so many of them at one time acting foolish that causes problems.

Look for a Way to Say "Yes" to Party

Just because it is a potentially dangerous night doesn't mean teens shouldn't be allowed to party. But perhaps you can party in a different way than what we saw in the movies growing up. Or worse, what we did ourselves growing up.

Who your teen parties with and where the party is is not as important to him/her as the fact that they want to party period. So instead of letting them wander out the door with their friends why not keep them at your house. If my son asks me if he can have his own New Years Eve party or go out with his friends to a party, my answer will always be, "Heck yeah, let's have a party here!" I would much rather him play host to a bunch of his friends, and me be the invisible servant, than I would him be anywhere else. I know it will get the house messy and I know I will be up late and I know I won't get as much sleep but believe me it is MUCH BETTER than the alternative.

Another option is to have a multifamily party. The past three years our family has jointed together with a dozen other families to have an incredible New Years Blast. The adults take over the living room for games, food, and conversation while the teens and kids herd themselves off in another part of the house for their own party. It's been so much fun being able to spend the New Years with friends knowing that my kids are having a great time on their own just a few rooms over. This way we all arrive together, we all go home together, they get space to have fun their own way, and EVERYBODY IS SAFE.

If your teen going out to a party without you is the only option, then there are some things you must do to make this as safe as possible. Sit down with them before agreeing to let them go. Explain that him/her having time with friends is important to you as well but you want to make sure it is a positive experience for all. Having him get left at a strange house while his friends moved on to another party is not a positive experience. Nor is you having to sit up until 2AM worried if everything is okay. He has to first agree to some common sense safety tips. Explain that you expect these to be followed not because you are a stick in the mud but because these are things any responsible person would do. Make them look you in the eyes and say with their mouth that they agree to these simple measures. Print these off for your teen. Read over them together. Maybe even have them initial each one as a way I saying, "I agree."

Teen Tips for New Year's Safety

_____ 1. Know Your Destination.
You must know where you are going, how you plan to get there, and when you plan to arrive. Your parent needs a phone call when you arrive so they know you got there.

_____ 2. Stay Off the Road.
Traffic accidents are the #1 cause of death among your peers. We all want you to have a great time and not become a statistic. Even if you are a safe driver, it's not you that is the problem. It's all the other people out there out there who drank a little too much.

_____ 3. Alcohol is Off Limits.
For one it is illegal for you. Two, of all nights for you to possibly drink this is the worst. The pressure for you to fit in, party like there is no tomorrow, and to "hook up" with someone are a bad recipe to add alcohol to. Every year there are more than 50,000 alcohol related sexual assaults toward teens and young adults. We don't want you to be one of them.

_____ 4. Don't Accept Drinks from Others.
This is not about alcohol. It is about any kind of drink. It is now a common practice at large parties for drinks to get "spiked" with everything from alcohol to illegal and prescription drugs. The best bet is to take your own water bottle and only drink from it. If you drink something at the party, pour it yourself. If you put it down for any reason and come back, get a fresh drink.

_____ 5. Leave With Who You Came With
This is a great way for your group to watch out for one another. Get everyone in your group to agree together that you all leave together. This also helps one of your friends from getting talked into "hooking up" with someone, leaving without anyone knowing, and regretting it forever after.

_____ 6. Call If You Change Locations.
Except for an emergency you should stay at the same place. No party hopping. Hopping from party to party only puts you back on the road with the "crazies" and creates an escalation in your mind that the next party has to get bigger and better. This leads to people (or you) creating unsafe scenarios for fun. If for some reason you have to leave for another location, call your parent so they know in case there is an emergency.

_____ 7. Call As You Head Home
Mom and Dad don't care what time it is (even if you missed curfew), they want to know when to be expecting you. If hours go by without a call from you, then they will worry. Remember all of these tips are so this party is a positive experience for everyone

_____ 8. Look Out for the Safety of Your Friends
Even if you are doing everything right doesn't mean all your friends (or other guests) will. Make sure no one is trying to take advantage of your friend or trying to get them to do something stupid. If your friend does drink do not, repeat DO NOT let them leave with keys in their hand. In that moment it's not about you being popular. It's about making sure your friend makes it home.


Here is a recent interview I did on FOX News GMM talking about these safety tips. Feel free to forward this posting to other parents of teens. Let's make sure this New Years is safe and positive for all of our teens.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

When Your Teen Loves a Vampire

When Your Teen Loves a Vampire
Responding to Teen's Attraction to Fang Fiction
by Brian Housman

Vampires are one of the biggest obsessions with teens now--in films, books, teenzines or the internet. The fact that more than 1,000 screens were sold out for the midnight showing debut of The Twilight Saga: New Moon should speak for itself. The film had the highest per-screen sold-out premiere in motion picture history. The popularity of Stephanie Meyer’s books (and movies) have caused a surge in fang fiction, but they are by no means the only example. Three books on the New York Times Best Seller list for young adult fiction are vampire related. In recent years, writers like P.C. Cast (House of Night), Melissa De La Cruz (Blue Bloods), and L. J. Smith
(Vampire Diaries) have experienced unexpected popularity among teens. Vampire Diaries was picked up by The CW and made into a TV series that has been the top rated show among teens this year.

What's Up With all the Darkness?

The question many parents keep emailing me is: Why the attraction with darkness? After all, we are talking about the undead. What could possibly be so appealing about coffins and fangs? If that’s what you’re thinking as well, then you are not alone, but you obviously have not seen or read about these vamps for yourself.

One draw for teens is their ability to relate to the struggles of the characters. In Vampire Diaries, siblings Elena and Jeremy are dealing with the tragic death of their parents. To cope, one turns to drugs and the other become introspective and depressed. Blue Bloods features Schuyler, a nonconformist who is treated liked an outsider at school. In the Twilight series, Bella Swan is a new girl at school trying to figure out life with a single Dad. When she meets the mysterious Edward Cullen (vampire) there is an immediate attraction.

Sexual tension is a common theme in vamp fiction and another reason teens are drawn to the genre. The sexual situation gets more intense depending on the series. The physical attraction in Twilight between Edward and Bella becomes an ongoing conversation between the two and a significant part of their relationship as the story progresses. In the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, deviant sexual practices are a common element. In the Vampire Diaries book series by L.J. Smith, sexual tension is not nearly as intense as it becomes in the TV series. The same is true of Sookie.

A third major theme is the issue of self control. Both Twilight and Vampire Diaries have male leads that attempt to harness their animalistic urges. Edward and Stefan know they must have blood to survive, but they each choose not to become savages prone to murder. Instead, they opt for nonhuman substitutes (deer or other wildlife). They both learn to control their super human strength, choosing to use the ability to protect people rather than exploit them. In the Twilight series, Edward also exercises self-control when he makes it clear to Bella that he will not have sex with her unless they are married. Stefan in the Vampire Diaries does not hold to the same standard, but shows a measure of loyalty to Elena. Another primary character in Twilight: New Moon has to learn to control his temper, strength, and anger as he goes through his own type of puberty. Did I mention he is a werewolf?

The Good With The Bad

This is not to say that all is rosy in the world of the undead. There is plenty of violence, obsession with sex, blurred lines between good and evil, inconsistent moral standards, and the devaluing of human life (unless a vampire happens to be in love with you).

For anyone venturing into the vampire genre, sexual tension is unavoidable. That tension can be more easily felt in reading a book rather than watching a movie because your mind allows you to fill in the blanks and your own imagination takes over. It is imperative that you be a part of that experience with your teen and not set them to figure out those sexual boundaries on their own.

Most teens girls I’ve spoken to have already either seen or read one the Twilight books. Many of the older teens have moved on to other series. My encouragement would be that if your daughter reads any of these, then read them together. It is easy for girls to get lost in the fantasy and romance of the stories. It is not a far stretch to idealize someone like Edward or Stefan into the perfect boyfriend. They are loyal, protective, understanding, masculine, and extremely attractive. There is opportunity to talk about relationships issues such as what to look for in a boyfriend, while maintaining your own identity when dating. Your sixteen year old daughter may look at you with suspicious eyes if you start a random conversation about her boyfriend but you just might get somewhere asking her who would make a better boyfriend Edward or Jacob? Using a little honey could get you the same results.

One overriding principle for parents to remember: just because it’s out doesn’t mean your teen should watch or read it. You and your teen should judge together whether or not the elements in a movie like New Moon could lead them into a productive experience, or if it’s something to avoid altogether.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Book Release - Engaging Your Teens World

It was three years in the making and went through more than six rewrites but it's finally here.
So many of you have been great supporters (and beneficiaries) of Awake to Life. Now I need your help one more time. Go out and get your copy today.
Even if you were one of the lucky ones to get a press copy, go ahead and pick up another for a friend. Once you read it, write a review online for others to know what you thought of the book.

You can find a copy at the following brick and mortar stores:
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Border's
  • Books a Million
  • Lifeway
  • Family Christian Bookstore
  • best of all, try a local independent book seller
Or check online at sites such as:
  • Amazon
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Christianbooks
  • Abesbooks
Click here for a detailed write up of the book.
To schedule a book signing or media interview please call Caitlin Mackenzie at Brazos Press at 616.676.9185 x392

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Moral Superiority of Teens

The Moral Temperament of Teens
Most Teens Feel They are Morally Superior
to Their Peers

by Brian Housman

"Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom."
Proverbs 11.2

The Josephson Institute has released their biannual Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth. It was easy enough to plow through the details not finding the results all that shocking. At least not until I got to the end. Don't worry I'll get to some of the juicy findings every parent hates to hear. But before that let's get back to the finale.
The Nitty Gritty of Teens Choices

After admitting their own ethical shortcomings, teens revealed that on a personal level "when it comes to doing what is right, I believe I am better than most people." This was stated by 93% of teens! Another 77% said they were "satisfied with my personal ethics and character." In short the majority of teenagers believe that they are good enough. What is shocking is comparing this admission of their personal ethical superiority to their own ethical choices.

STEALING - 30% of teens admit to stealing from a store in the past year (35% of boys, 26% of girls). Students involved in service groups and school leadership were less likely to steal but still more than 1 in 4 did so. 1 in 4 also admitted stealing from a parent and 1 in 5 stealing from a friend. There was no significant difference among those who attended private religious schools with 1 in 5 of these students admitting to being thieves as well.

LYING - This year 42% of all teenagers lied in order to save money. Apparently, saving a few dollars was worth more than their own integrity. There is a significant difference between guys and girls when it comes to lying. 49% of guys and 36% lied to save money. When it comes to gaining trust with parents, more than 80% of all public and private school students admit to lying to their parents.

CHEATING - This area of morality suffered the greatest increase from past studies. This can be largely contributed to the number of teens who have cell phones and use them for cheating. 64% of teens admit to cheating on a test in the past year. 38% did so more than once. There was no significant difference among private religious school students with 63% cheating. 35% used their cell phone for cheating. Among those who did 26% stored answers in their phone to use in the class room and another 25% texted answers to friends.

It's All About the Heart

It would be easy as a parent to loose site of the root of this kind of behavior. Sure none of us want our teens stealing, lying, or cheating but the problem is not the stealing, lying, or cheating. That might be what the get punished for is they get caught but there is a much deeper seated issue--the condition of their heart.

Playright Tennessee Williams said, "The human heart is curved like a road through mountains." Proverbs 21.2 says, "All a man's ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs the heart." The heart is at the root of it all.

It's not so much their behavior that alarms me as it is the fact that teens believe they are "better than most people." There is an arrogance, a moral superiority at play in their heart. I know from becoming acutely attuned to my own brokenness and dysfunction that my own unwillingness to see my sin for what it is only lead me to becoming my own demigod. Why would I need God because, hey, I'm good enough. And since I'm better than most, I have the right to stand in judgment over those who are lesser. It produces a haughtiness that leads to rot.

This is the heart posturing of this generation of teens. Those raised from a modern worldview perspective would call this moral decay. Those from a postmodern perspective would likely call it a moral shift or moral clarification. Instead of a moral plum line we now have a curved road to paraphrase T. Williams. As this generation attempts to define what is cheating everything from peers to technology to the situation have a bearing on the definition. The curvier the answer becomes from what God intended the easier it is for me to become morally superior.

My heart hurts for this generation and where I know their choices will lead. Proverbs 11.2 tells us that, "moral pride leads to disgrace." But I choose not to be the judge that tries to bring about that disgrace. That is God's job. Rather I believe our role as pastors, parents, and friends is to model for them a "humility from wisdom." Wisdom that comes from our own experiences of being disciplined by God. Wisdom that allows me to see that apart from God's grace I too easily fall onto the curved road myself.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Abstinence Funding Gets Dumped

Government Cuts Abstinence Funding from Budget
Will We Get Something Better or Worse?

by Brian Housman
President Obama just released his proposed budget for 2010. Much to the disappointment of many parents and educators, he has recommended cutting all federal funding for abstinence education programs in public schools. At $170 million, in terms of federal spending, it was only a small amount to begin with compared to what is spent on other "family planning" programs and sex education initiatives. But small as it might have been, it was still a willingness on the government's part to explore other practices for educating our teens in their sexual options.

Those who are in support of abstinence programs (myself included) are deeply disturbed by the blanket disregard for other options. Jimmy Hester, co-founder of True Love Waits, said via email response, “From a medical standpoint, there is no such thing as safe sex for unmarried young people, so we believe it is a disservice to eliminate opportunities for them to hear a positive message about remaining abstinent until marriage." While I believe abstinence is realistic choice that many teens will honor, I also don't live under a delusion that all (or even most) will. So I don't fault the government for wanting to offer many choices and a variety of programs. What I find alarming is the government's implication by this budget choice that teen sexual abstinence is not doable. Or better than that, that it is not a preferable and honorable standard to live by.

You Did What? Based On What?

The two reasons some in the family planning field have wanted to cut the federal funding for abstinence education is a belief that it just doesn't work. There has been a grand total of one federally funded study done on the effectiveness of abstinence programs. This study only evaluated a few programs used in schools and it evaluated the early phases of the programs. When the programs were only given funding for a few years there is no way this could be consider an accurate longitudinal study especially when other studies have shown just the opposite. Melissa Pardue of the Heritage Foundation sites ten different national studies that have shown abstinence based sex education as being effective in reducing teen pregnancy. Four of the studies were published in peer reviewed journals.

Another reason given for cutting the funding is the recent increase in teen pregnancy. For almost twenty years teen pregnancy and sexual activity trends were going down. Then in 2007 the rates for both went up. Again in 2008 they went up. And I would guess it will go up again in 2009. While this recent uptick is disturbing, no one in their right mind can accurately predict why. Even officials at the CDC have said it is way to early to even know if this is an anomaly or a trend. In the end, if it is shown that the leading factor in causing kids to engage in more sexual activity is abstinence education in public schools, then I for one will agree that we should eliminate those programs. But there has been no known study.

How Now Will We Respond

If the government moves forward with President Obama's recommendation, it will require some serious evaluation from the church and community groups on how to move forward with the message of abstinence. Hester said, "With the potential loss of federal funding, families, churches and other organizations will need to be creative and step up to the challenge of making sure students clearly understand the benefits of choosing abstinence and the risks of premarital sex.” Will need to be creative. That's a great statement those of us in the church need to hear. Not need to be dependent. Not need to expect the government to provide or even agree. Instead it will require us to put our heads together and be willing to think of new ways to communicate what is God's best to a new generation of students.

I believe teens need to know the truth and potential conequences of sexual activity as well as all their options whether that be oral contraceptives, condoms, and yes, abstinence. I don't expect all students to embrace a biblical value system but they should at least be aware of a different option. A better option. An option that if lived by has been proven to eliminate the risk of pregnancy, shame, regret, loss of reputation, and loss of future potential. Whether that option is funded by the government or the shoestring budgets of grassroots organization, it is worth the cost.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Modesty Has Become Hip in Teen Fashions

Slinky Gives Way to Simple
Thanks in large part to influence of conservative clothing choices from teen idols. And shockingly...parents!
by Brian Housman

Teen fashion trends come and go as quickly as American Idol hopefuls. But for some reason the fascination with tight jeans and flashing midriffs seemed to last forever. Worse yet was a new attitude of sexual brazenness that came along with it. Luckily we may be seeing the last days of exposed bellybuttons from low-cut jeans that only got lower the longer the trend lasted.

The current crop of tween culture idols are impacting more than the Nielson ratings on Disney and Nickelodeon. More importantly they are having a positive effect on teen fashions. According to Trend Central, the more modest fashions from characters on Hannah Montana, iCarly, and the High School Musical series are being copied in real life. Not to mention the new teen standards from the White House named Sasha and Malia. Whether it be from TV characters or real life people conservative dress is making a comeback this season.

Both high-end shops as well as chains such as Justice and Limited Too are embracing the trend from slinky to simple. The new lines don't compromise on being hip as each is full of bright colors and eclectic patterns. So girls get to be just as expressive except without all the skin.

Mom and Dad Make a Comeback Too

Of particular interest is a secondary reason for the shift to conservative wear -- Parents. This generation of teens are more emotionally and relationally connected to their parents and therefore more open to their influence and feedback. Parents never liked the "let's all dress up like Britney" look but this generation of tweens are listening to their parents advice when it comes to sexuality and modesty. So take heart Mom, what you say really does matter. Now that you know don't miss the opportunity to lovingly make a difference in your teens clothing choices. That doesn't mean when you demand modesty your daughter will respond. But what you can do is take the time to ask questions that help her compare what might be appropriate or inappropriate. Or what makes her feel beautiful instead of simply "sexy." Use your wisdom and life experience to make a difference. And don't forget Miley Cyrus and Demi Lavoto might be big today, but over the longhaul you'll be the biggest influence in her life.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Teen Phone Flirters Charged with Child Porn

Teens Swapping Nude Pics Lead to Child Pornography Charges
But Who's Really to Blame? Parents? Teens? Phone providers? Or maybe it's all of us.
by Brian Housman

The issue of teens using their cell phones as the latest way to experiment with their sexuality continues to grow. Some of you will remember that I wrote an article last year for Awake to Life entitled Flirting with the Phone that addressed this issue. I which I could say that things have gotten better since last year but that would be asking for a lot. As with most issues in teen culture, the problem is like a snowball tumbling down a hill. It continues to grow, become more intense, and pick up speed. And sadly, we usually ignore it until its about to collide with those below.

Besides sending sexual text messages to one another, it's becoming more common for teens to send sexually oriented photos of themselves to one another. Usually this is done as a form of flirting or foreplay but there have been situations where the photos were send as a form of harassment.

Compound the Problem with More Problems

Law enforcement officials in communities all over are feeling overwhelmed by schools and parents wanting them to do something. The solution they've come up with is to arrest the students on felony charges of distributing or receiving child pornography. Just this week in Greenburg, PA three girls and four boys were charged in conjunction with child pornography after the girls sent the boys semi-nude photos of themselves. Similarly, Newark, OH girl was charged after sending sexual photos of herself to a number of classmates.

Now I'm no expert on the law but surely we can agree that this is a poor way for any authority to handle the matter. Imagine your son getting that familiar ring on his cell phone that tells him he has a text message. Only when he opens it there is a nude picture of a classmate sent by the classmate! The next thing he knows the police are handcuffing him for possession of child pornography. Wouldn't that be like someone sending you a pipe bomb in the mail and getting arrested for possession of explosives?

It's no wonder there is such a distrust from teens toward adults. The people that should be working to protect them only add to the problem (at least in this case).

Addressing the Real Issue

It should break any parents heart to know their teen would find it acceptible and funny to send a flirt photo of themselves to someone else. And that is where the problem lies: with the teen and with the parent. This is not a law enforcement issue. It's a family issue.

According to most recent surveys, more than 70% of all teens own a cell phone. I'm not altogether against the idea of a teen having a cell phone. If used the right way it can be a useful communication tool. Herein lies the other problem. The majority of teen cell phone owners were handed their phone with no strings attached. No stated expectations of etiquette. No time restrictions. No boundaries for usage.

If the parent has to sign a contract with the cell provider, then why don't parents require their teens to sign a contract with them? It doesn't have to be long or too detailed but a Teen Cell Phone Contract can help put reasonable expectations on your teens for how they should and shouldn't use the cell phone. If you as a parent don't pay the bill, you are in breach of contract and your phone is no longer usable. A Teen Cell Contract helps you keep your teen to the same standard. It's no just you mandating behavior. It's your teen signing off that they agree to do "x,y,z" in order to receive the privilege of using a cell phone.

I don't think this is going to solve every case of teens sending flirty messages or sexual pictures. But it does set the bar of what is expected and give you an out as a parent to respond in a calculated way to what was already agreed upon instead of just out of emotion. If you would like to download a sample Teen Cell Phone Contract you can do so at AwaketoLife.org

Monday, January 26, 2009

How Much is Virginity Worth?

Woman to Auction Virginity for 3.6 Million Dollars
But What's the Long-term Price
by Brian Housman
Some people are responding to the state of the economy in unusual ways. Take Natalie Dylan, 22-year-old San Diego woman for instance. She recently placed her virginity up for auction. That's right, her virginity. And so far the bidding stands at 3.6 million dollars.

Here is a gift that God intended to be shared with her future spouse that instead ends up on the auction block. As if this is nothing more than a financial transaction.

A transaction yes, but one of priceless worth. To attempt to put a price on it (even one as high as 3.6M) only serves to demean it. This is a transaction that for a young Jewish couple in biblical days would be years in planning, met with much anticipation, and as evidenced by Song of Solomon, sometimes leave one another speechless. I can't remember ever buying something that left me speechless.

A Gift Only Your Teen Can Give

There has been much talk lately on the news about teens and virginity pledges. Do they work? Do they not? But there is better question to be asked: Does it really matter? As a teen does your virginity have any worth. That's a great question to ask your teen this week. Go to FoxNews and pull up the story. Then ask your teen, "What kind of price should someone pay in order for you to be willing to give them a priceless gift that only you can give?" Look them in the eyes and tell them in your own words about the gift that God has given them to give to their future spouse. And it's okay if you get a little speechless.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

New Slang is "Sooo Obama"

Each year there are new words that quickly find their way into conversations around the locker, in the classroom, or wherever trend setters hang out. Below is a list of new words published by Trend Central that have been heard to start 2009. If you feel brave (or a need to be a hip parent) work one of these into your next conversation with your teen. A word of warning: Use these words sparingly as they will probably by "out" just as quickly as they became "in".

n. Your ex boyfriend/girlfriend who dumped you via Post-it/text/drop-off-the-face-of-the-earth-disappearing-act and who is now flouncing around town with a new love interest.
"I bumped into my ex-hole this morning-she said she was so sorry that she cheated on me, blah blah blah. I wanted to puke."

Hot Room
n. A social setting that involves a mix of people whose relationships to each other are, well, complicated
"I was sitting next to my current flame and then my ex-hole walked in with his current girlfriend, who I had a falling out with in high school-total Hot Room!"

Epic Fail
n. A frequently used term in the video game community that quite simply means you really messed up and/or something/someone is an utter failure
"Dude, your attempt to get that girl's number was an epic fail."

Povo (po-vo)
adj. Spawned from the increasing popularity of new HBO series Summer Heights High, the Aussie slang for poor has infiltrated the vocabulary of recessionistas everywhere
"Caroline, I can't go out to dinner tonight: My pay cut has left me totally povo."

n. Two people who are equal in depth of arcane knowledge
"I knew I had met my geequal when Frank showed me his Star Wars light saber iPhone app."

adj. A term used to describe people's need for recognition and self-fulfillment via the Internet. This is accomplished with incessant Facebook status updates and TMI-Twitter feeds, and serves the purpose of making one feel important and/or noticed
"My friends consider my need to Twitter detailed accounts of my trips to Trader Joe's, the gas station, and my opinions on anything, really, to be annoyingly myselfish. I consider it shameless self-promotion!"

Drum roll please for what will surely be the most over used adjective of the year...

Obama/Not Obama
adj. London street reporters proclaim that our new President has become synonymous with "cool"
"Yeah, that is sooo Obama!"

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Launch of New Parent Network

There is a new parent social networking site that was launched this month called Parent 2 Parent. Its purpose is to provide a place for parents to talk about issues of...well, parenting. Of interest is the ability to sign up for various groups specific to your needs as a parent. For instance, single parent, blended family, home schooling, etc.

It's brand new and still in beta form so you can expect to see some mishaps as they work out the quirks and add features. I have high hopes for the sight as the attempt to connect parents and their needs. You can join the network by clicking on the logo below.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I Pledge to Make a Difference

Promise Rings2
I Pledge to Make a Difference
New Insights Into the Effectiveness of Abstinence Pledges
by Brian Housman

Over the past two weeks there has been a firestorm of stories in the media concerning a newly released study by Janet Rosenbaum on the effectiveness of abstinence pledges among teenagers. Among the students tracked over a ten year period, 289 took a virginity pledge
with the other 645 not taking a pledge but having similar beliefs about sex. The study showed that there was no difference between the two groups in the sexual activities or number of sexual partners and those who had pledged were less likely to use contraceptives once sexually active. All of the students were said to be of similar religious commitment.

Immediately, spokespersons on each side of the sex education debate responded in full force. Proponents of abstinence-only education labeled the study "inconclusive" and "deceptive." Those in the abstinence-plus camp tauted the study as the first irrefutable evidence that school abstinence-only programs don't work. And both sides are accusing the other of a political agenda. As a parent, it can be difficult to wade through the rhetoric, look at the facts, and then know how to respond. As followers of Christ, we are commanded to proclaim truth, but first we must understand what is true. With that said, take a few minutes to look at the some of the findings of the study and what the ramifications are for teenagers--more specifically for your teen.

Standing On Its Own Merits

The headline from many media outlets has been that this study proves that teens who make an abstinence pledge are just as sexually active as their counterparts. An obvious fact of the study which the mainstream media have either ignored or were unable to decipher is that the study is restricted to religious students only. Instead of a cross section of all students, the study takes a slice from the pie and isolates it. That doesn't make the study flawed or any less important but rather more specific than some have reported.

A second observation from the study is that among religious teens there is no difference in their sexual activity. Both groups had the same rate of vaginal, oral, and anal sex, as well as the same STD contraction rate. Also, 82% of all pledgers who later became sexually active denied or forgot they ever made a pledge to purity. In other words, committing to an abstinence pledge does not appear to be a significant factor in curbing or preventing sexual activity.

The most startling evidence in the study is that those pledgers who become sexually active are far less likely to use any form of contraceptive. These religious students put themselves at a greater risk for pregnancy and STDs than their non-religious sexually active peers. Bill Albert, chief program director for The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy said, "What have we gained if we encourage young people only to delay sex until they are older, but when they do become sexually active, they don't protect themselves or their partner?" While the purpose of abstinence programs is not to "only delay sex," Albert's point is well taken.

The last factor of interest in the study is that those who pledged abstinence were about 17 years old when making the pledge and delayed sexual activity until they were on average 20 years old. Since there was no difference between the two groups, the deciding factor in the teens' approach to sexual activity isn't whether or not they made a pledge but rather their faith itself. In the end, it's not about the program but rather how active they are in nurturing their faith. Even the author of the study, Rosenbaum, observed of these religious teens, "They are less sexually experienced to begin with. Their friends are engaging in less risk behavior. Their parents also go to church and they are also choosing to go to church and to stay affiliated with evangelical Christianity."

Problems with the Process

Over the years I've seen a couple of flaws (there are actually more but for today I'm sticking with two) with the way most churches have attempted to teach sexual purity. One is that it is taught in an artificial environment. Many times students are taken away for a weekend retreat or camp or do a special series at youth group. It is like talking about God's design for sex in a vacuum void of real world experiences. Students hear truth but it is presented in an artificial and highly emotionally-charged environment. Many of the commitment ceremonies are done in the style of a public "altar call" where peer pressure and emotions abound. In that kind of environment it is hard to avoid any unintended manipulation. Lastly, students go home and rarely experience followup on the subject. It's as if the church did its job and now we can all move on.

The second problem I see with many of the abstinence programs is they are carried out with little or no involvement from Mom or Dad.Here is one of the most important decisions a teen will ever make--to live out their sexuality according to God's design--and mom and dad are not present. In fifteen years of ministry, I've only had two opportunities to talk to students about sexual purity in which parents were in the audience.

I know of these flaws firsthand because these are mistakes I made myself as a church leader. It's only through years of poorly teaching the subject that I can see that it is time for a new approach. I'm tired of watching our teens make the same mistakes over and over quite possibly because they were not fully equipped to make a choice they could keep.

As parents we must stop relying on any one program or curriculum to be the answer. As good as some programs may be, they were never meant to the sole means of sex education, nor were they meant to silence parents who want to be involved. I've known the creator of True Love Waits for several years. I know Jimmy Hester's heart well enough to say he never set out to create a program that would be a magic bullet. Rather he was trying to help churches begin the process of education, accountability, and commitment--one that supplements a parents job without supplanting it.

Setting A New Course

It's time that we as stop sitting idly by while other handle the uncomfortable work of talking about sex. And it's time the church empowers parents to be the spiritual authorities of their teens. What if we all talked about these issues out in the open--at school, at home, at church? What if the church presented the truth to students but with mom and dad as part of the process? What if we shared the whole story with students, with all the possibilities, and trusted that the same Holy Spirit that is active in us is also active in our teens? What if
parents took an active role in teaching their teens the role of dating and how to have healthy friendships with the opposite sex? There is a role for all of us to play.

None of these things in and of themselves will make a difference. Rather think of each of them as a spoke on a wheel. All of them are required for the tire to be balanced and to function according to its design. Your teen also has a design. One given to them by God. One we help them discover by doing all the right things not just the easy or convenient. I can't tell you what your discussion with your teen should include, how long it should be, or what stories you should tell. But I can tell you that as you share truth with them, from a heart that is overflowing with love and concern, that the right words will come.