Breathe & Be

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Breathe & Be

Despite being imperfect parents and teachers, our children transform from tiny beings of dependence and need to mini-adults of empowerment. Littles learn to climb, big ones become masters of the digital age. Amidst this, we tend to measure ourselves and their progress. Are we teaching them to play, run, do, behave, act, think, build, believe the “right” way? It’s exhausting. 

Perhaps there are lessons here amidst the self-analysis and self-doubt. For us and for them.

 

For Us

When it comes to matters of the heart, we as adults are zero or sixty. All in or all out. We crave relationship and progress with our kids and students. We push, pull, or even yank with all our might to achieve perceived precious milestones – to motivate them to achieve. So, we create a maze of do’s and don’ts. We manically control. For their best interest of course. Especially when it comes to sex and relationships. Don’t have sex, don’t get pregnant, don’t be with that boy/girl; don’t go to that party; we’re a collective mommy and daddy law enforcement juggernaut. Sixty.

When met with natural resistance, we pull back. 

How could they challenge me? Why would they want to do something so stupid? Don’t they care about their future? Fine! I’m gonna throw something and rage dial takeout.

Zero.

But amidst this sometimes hellish cycle, are we focusing on the inside or the outside? Are creating hearts that are aware, hearts that care, hearts that know love from lust?

Maybe we need to just be. Scare tactics can instead become avenues for authentic conversation. Avoiding hard topics can become welcomed opportunities for engagement. Sex can become dinner conversation. Being the model can create the model.

Being means deftly initiating, but also means creating space. Let them lead. Doing stuff together creates the space for the hard talks. Talking fears, hopes, dreams, sex!, comes easier when we’re connected. When it isn’t planned or forced. Let them have ownership, a say in the sex and relationships conversation. Maybe they’ll surprise us. Maybe they’ll learn the hard way, but come out better for it.

Just be.

 

For Them

Zealousness is a blessing and a curse. Fearlessly diving into a raging sea is both brave and dumb. Risk-taking meeting skill is a fine balance. They want to have sex because it feels good, makes them feel like adults, feel like they handle it. But that’s the raging sea. Damage can be done. Irreparable damage. 

Maybe we need to teach them to breathe. Modeling joy has power. Enjoying the depth of relationship without the heaviness of sex thrown in is modeled, learned. Being patient and not giving in to sex day one has value. Being empathetic and really knowing people means going slow. Breathe, so they learn to breathe. Relationships require maturity, and maturity means valuing the preciousness of relationship. Taking moments to value your personal worth and the worth of others minimizes the value of sex. Breath gives us that perspective.

Just breathe.

If we be, and if we breathe, maybe then and only then, will the self-judgment wash away.

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The Art of Investing in Youth

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The Art of Investing in Youth

Parents, educators, and community leaders: helping young people make healthy choices when it comes to sex and relationships feels daunting, an issue that’s all to easy too just avoid.

Moreover, the situation is complicated. Teens often make these decisions in a non-linear manner, often they are kneejerk reactions to their situations, and involve complex social variables. Contextual factors, such as socio-economic status, peer group dynamics, family dynamics, and personal outlook or life aspirations, also deeply influence teen’s sexual and relational choices. And let’s not forget about the media.

That said, we believe it’s a worthy investment. A much needed investment.

To do this, we at Reality Check have taken a student-centered approach – taking the time to understand young people’s needs and co-designing solutions that fit their lives. We dive into students' lives to uncover their needs, dreams, and behaviors, but most importantly, we empathetically watch and listen. It's a bit like being a secret agent; it requires a stealthiness to hunt for clues into teens' motivations that might not even be understood by teens themselves and then being cunning enough to be allowed in to co-create solutions. 

Below are three simple aspects of our approach to help you influence healthy choices in your role with youth. Perhaps it is time to focus more on this issue, and it starts with getting equipped with the tools to do so. 

(1) THE POWER OF ACTIVE LISTENING. It all starts by investing time into real conversations. We listen to young people’s stories and repeatedly encourage them to think deeply about their desired outcomes. Communicating their motivations and relational goals out loud to an empathetic mentor alone can create clarity. Moreover, people feel cared for as conversations unfold and accordingly, interact more openly. We lead an in-depth program at schools called The Lunch Club where students reflect on who they are, what influences them, and the choices they can make, which helps students become more invested in their own healthy outcomes.

Youth are constantly being told what they can and cannot do. We are not looking to create robotic rule-following behavior, but rather thoughtful and self-aware individuals full of integrity in their relationships. We find that a genuine, caring relationship has the potential to help youth become more aware of what affects them, which encourages them to take action.

A few tips:

  • Make the time by choosing a few youth to go deep with
  • Environment matters: make sure you’re creating a physical space conducive to sharing and use your body language to establish connection
  • Stay empathetic even if you disagree and invest in what it actually feels like to be that person
  • Ask the hard questions when trust has been established

2) ALLOW THEM TO BE THE HERO. Our role is less of a dictatorial authority and more of a guide and co-creator. Put simply, we are active thought partners who aren’t afraid to get messy. Collaboratively evaluate the pros and cons of sexual and relational choices, identify personal values, and sketch potential solutions – whatever it takes to create a shared plan.

A few tips:

  • Let them take the lead in identifying their values and building a plan. Be flexible
  • Sketch options in real time and let the person decide what to do next
  • Work through decisions slowly, test out solutions, and don’t smother them

3) IT’S AN ON-GOING JOURNEY. True change doesn’t typically occur through one good conversation. Accountability, encouragement, and personal sharing all takes time and follow-up. And really, what else is more important?

A few tips:

  • When you hit a wall to progress, deftly rely on non-verbal cues and indirect questioning
  • Balance your tone between fun, inspiration, sincerity, and seriousness across conversations
  • Collectively acknowledge that it’s an imperfect path and be patient in the journey 

For more information or if you would like us to step into this role with your youth, feel free to contact us here. There truly is power to listening, co-creating solutions, and walking the journey together.

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Dude, You Need to Save That Pillow Too!

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Dude, You Need to Save That Pillow Too!

On numerous occasions I’ve heard a phrase that many men in barbershops, bars, and random dude conversations have said, and it goes something like this:

Having a daughter is God’s way of punishing you for all the bad things you did to women.

Those girls that we hurt, that ‘God will punish us for,’ are the same girls that can identify with the girl in the song. What if we as men held ourselves (and our sons) to a higher standard so that when we have daughters we don’t have to fear that karma is gonna get them—because of us?

But how do we change this? We have to encourage ourselves (men) to Save That Pillow too. It’s not only about not having sex, but it’s about valuing yourself and others too.

This is how it starts. You know those prom pictures, where you see the girl’s dad, uncles, and cousins holding guns to threaten the boy so he doesn’t have sex with the girl on prom night?

Now replace that image of violence with a photo of a man encouraging the boy to respect not only her, but himself…encouraging him to ‘Save That Pillow.’ These won’t just be photos; they’ll be real moments.

Instead of inciting fear and treating boys like animals, we encourage them to be men, and encourage them to respect themselves just like we do with the girls. Because the girls can’t do this alone, it requires both sides!

Men, when we begin to Save That Pillow ourselves and then share it with other young men, we wont need to be afraid of having daughters, and we won’t need to fear for them being taken advantage of.

Caitlyn wrote to “Save That Pillow”, and Lauryn Hill wrote “Guys, you know you better watch out, some girls are only about, that thing, that thing, that thing…” Let’s listen to both of these artists!

Finally, if telling a boy to ‘Save That Pillow” sounds too girly, give him the “Don’t Do It With Just Anybody, and Know Yourself and Your Worth” pillow. HAHA! But seriously.

The Sex Guy

 

 

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Why Your Kid Will Never Fit In

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Why Your Kid Will Never Fit In

A popular song on the radio right now titled "Cool Kids is a catchy song with a nice melodic sound, but the lyrics are the cry of every young person who thinks, “Why can’t I seem to fit in?”                 

The desire to “fit in” can create a strong sense of insecurity. I believe this is the cause of many issues that young people face today.  Many kids deal with eating disorders, practice self-harm and struggle with thoughts of suicide. With the pressures of school, work and everyday life, nothing can distract the overall desire to belong.  

Adults can help teens free themselves of the belief that acceptance is based on others opinions of them. As parents, leaders and mentors of teenagers, it is on us to be that safe place where young people feel free to be who they really are. One of the best ways we can do this is to give our young people the space to be creative and free.  What does that mean?  It means let them color their hair crazy colors, wear the eccentric clothing, and listen to their music a little too loud…as long as it is not immoral or illegal, pick your battles. When your young person is accepted in their own home, and is able to express himself or herself, you have created an environment of freedom within boundaries. Acceptance at home lays the foundation and helps build the confidence for your young person to be who they were meant to be when they are out on their own.  Remember you only get one shot at this life. Life is an adventure, and that is what we need to express to our young people. Take in the beauty of the adventure. We are all on the journey of figuring out our place in this world. 

I remember growing up as a mixed kid, I call myself a swirly - like chocolate and vanilla ice-cream, and being asked:

So… are you more black or white?

As a child who did not understand labels or stereotypes, I would reply, “I’m me!”

I didn’t have to try to be black or white. I was both, and I never felt the need to fit into any stereotypical box. The acceptance I felt at home to be myself, not defined by skin color, helped me to not feel obligated to fit in a box. Insecurity is something I believe everyone struggles with at some point in their life.  I believe insecurity is a temporary feeling that can easily become a mindset if we allow it to. We all have moments of self-doubt, or even experience seasons where we lack a sense of self-confidence, but we cannot let it become permanent. Our young people will never fit in if we can't properly teach them how to overcome their insecurities and confidently stand out!

Whitney was born in New Orleans, LA and currently lives in Tampa, FL where she works for Watoto Childcare Ministries; a holistic care program based out of Uganda, Africa that helps orphans and vulnerable women. She is also on staff at Core Church Tampa working with youth and young adults. She has a love and passion for music, writing, service work.

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What to Tell Your Eight Year-Old About Sex

One of the most frequent questions I get as a parent educator is, "So what age do I need to start talking about this stuff?"  I can feel the sense of hope for an answer something like "Oh, you are YEARS away from ever needing to talk sex with your kids. I mean really -- it might not ever even need to come up!!"  Haha! I can feel the air being sucked out of the room with my actual reply, "This conversation needs to start no later than age 8!"

I understand that this is scary, but here's the thing, your 8+ year old kid is in the real world now. They are spending time at a friend’s house, they are away all day at school, they are in sports programs and community groups.  You are not the only source of information anymore (and that can be even more scary!).  So how do you stay the main source of information in the sea of opinions and jokes and media influence?  Plain and simple: you start talking first.  

Need another reason to talk sex early and often?  Porn.  Yep, that's right, I said porn.  Tragically, the average age of exposure of porn is, eight.  Kids are being exposed quite innocently and accidentally to porn at young ages.  Whether it's those super helpful '"suggested" search's on the internet, a friend's parent's/older sibling's secret collection so easily accidentally found during a game of hide-and-seek, or it's a spam message that pops up, your kids need to know that they will see "naked people" on accident!  It's ok and they are not in trouble!  They should just tell mom and dad right away so they can make sure they protect their heart by trying to help keep that from happening again.  

My nine year-old son has found porn twice on accident already.  We talked to him about the possibility months before; he knew what it was and he told me right away.  Yes, I have his iPad on lock down with every parental control. It doesn't matter!  For the last incident a few months ago, it was a suggested search in his app store, "hot naked girls,” he was curious, so he clicked it.  Even though he didn't have the password to download any apps, he was free to scroll through all the photos of apps for sale.  Nice.  From what I've researched on porn - it's not the accidental exposure that can be damaging - it's when they keep their discovery a secret and start searching it out and getting hooked. 

So what's our hesitation?  I know, talking about sex can be uncomfortable and there's this sense of scarring or damaging our innocent children's minds.  The fear is, once they know about sex, they've lost their innocence.  But guess what??  Your kids are sexual beings.  They were designed to have great sex one day - and isn't that what we want for them?  The honest truth is that, when presented in a safe, healthy way, kids are not scarred or damaged - they are empowered.  Another truth is, someone's going to tell them about it - you want it to be you.

Ok I've convinced you!  Now where do we begin?  Here's what I suggest:

Here's some more details:

  1. Get a book you are comfortable with (I like "Amazing You! Getting Smart about Your Private Parts" by Gail Saltz and Lynne Avril Cravath). Find a good time of the day when you have no distractions and invite your kids to have a seat to read together.
  2. Read the book with your kids and let them react how they want. They may get shy and quiet, they may have some hilarious comments. Just listen, stay calm, answer any questions according to their ability to understand the answers.
  3. Don't explain ahead unless they ask - for example - Amazing You! talks about body parts and mentions sperm and eggs, it doesn't explain how the sperm gets to the egg exactly.  Stick to the book and wait for the follow up questions.  If they ask, "Well, how does the sperm and egg get together?" - that's your cue to explain further.  It took me three times reading the book to my son before he asked the next question.
  4. Bring up the topic whenever it seems fitting.  When kids are talking about "who likes who", when you see a scenario on TV, or when the conversation goes down a similar path, bring up the topic and ask if your kids have any questions or anything they want to talk about.  Do we remind our kids to do their homework because we care about their education?  Do we give them chores because we want to teach them responsibility?  Yes.  Let's also talk about relationships and sex - this is another way to build their healthy future.

When your child hears the word "SEX" from you, you are establishing yourself as the source for all information sex.  Make this statement every now and again:

Mommy and Daddy [Grandma, Aunt Sue, etc...] are always available to talk to you about this. You can always ask us any question and we will always give you an honest answer. This is a personal conversation between kids and parents - it’s not something to talk about with friends. If you ever have any questions about anything you see or hear or think about, you will never be in trouble for bringing it up.

Encourage your kids to come to you if the topic comes up at a friend's house, on the bus, at recess, etc.  Let them know that a lot of kids like to pretend that they know about sex, but they don't always have the right answers.  

 You got this!  I'm here for you - let me know if you have any questions :)

 

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Identity: Who Am I?

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Identity: Who Am I?

The next generation is asking us an important question: Who am I? 

When we are slow to answer, when we are silent or when do not recognize the question, other voices are speaking. Children of all ages are listening, hearing the voice of their caregivers first, and whoever is loudest next.

Media, culture, family, peers, teachers, coaches, even the neighborhoods we live in are sending messages to our children about who they are. In the midst of many voices, young people have trouble discovering the truth about their identity: They are loved; they have value; they matter; they have purpose. In my work with children and family in the community of Los Angeles, I am learning these simple truths empower people to become who they were made to be.

If we don’t help our children establish a solid foundation to stand on, society will. No pressure, right? The good news is, because every individual has the power of choice, no one's whole identity depends on us. That would be an impossible burden, but we can influence and foster a positive self-image through our words and our actions.

Here are some phrases that are staples in our household, as well as the communities we are privileged to love and serve:

I love you. Say, “I love you” often and let your words be felt. Love is measured in time. Your presence matters. Pay attention to what your kids care about, to what influences them, to what hurts them and stirs their passions. Perfect parents don’t raise amazing children, present parents do. Good days and bad days, commit to just being there.

I am safe. I wish there was a mandatory course in every high school and a yearly renewal test (kinda like the DMV, but more often) on safe people. Safe people have boundaries, which just means, they know where they end and others begin. Safe people lift us up, speak the truth gently, are vulnerable with us and honest with us. Neglectful or abusive people (physical, emotional, or substance abuse) are not safe people. If you are struggling with abuse in your home, please reach out to us so that we can offer resources to help. Let’s teach our children that we are safe people who can be trusted with their deepest pain, their greatest joy and all the boring stuff in between. When we communicate, “I am safe” to the young people in our lives, what we’re really saying is “You are safe” in my care.

I provide security. Okay, so my husband and I don’t exactly say this out loud all the time; still, we seek to show that we offer security to those we love, particularly to our rapidly growing baby (who needs something all the time…) Most of the time, we think of security as money. I would like to submit that love is the currency. A roof over their heads, healthy affection, faith that inspires hope, cerebral and emotional connection in a household provides a deep sense of security in our children. Sure, will they complain from time to time about all the “stuff” they don’t have? Yep, but they won’t remember the cool Air Jordan’s they wanted or their house being smaller than classmates homes. Now that I am all grown up, I say with confidence, they will definitely remember the love in their home. (Thanks Mom.)

I believe in you. Sometimes we withhold encouragement because we don’t agree with someone’s behavior. Aren't you glad that we are not what we do? I make mistakes often, but my mistakes don’t define who I am. If you are having a hard time with your kids right now, encourage who they are, in spite of what they do. “I believe in you - you were created for great things.”

I am at peace with my past. This last phrase is about forgiveness. I never really feel like forgiving. Ever. It’s a choice I make because I know if I don’t, my present and my future are held hostage. Like you, I have been hurt, betrayed, disappointed and used by people in my past. I have also made some serious mistakes and the hardest person to forgive is myself. I don’t want to be bitter, critical, and resentful about my past and carry it around with me, because the people in my life will be affected, so I forgive - over and over again if I have to. Can you forgive today and make peace with your past? If you need help, get help. There’s no shame in sharing with a safe friend, seeing a therapist or attending a recovery program. The old saying, “more is caught than taught” is true. Kids will do what we do, not what we say. Let’s offer our children, our home and our legacy the gift of forgiveness. 

I am still learning with you, but I hope these phrases help you as you navigate parenting. It is important that parents, or caregivers, are on the same page. United parenting helps reinforce these principles. Single parents, please know you are not alone and you can raise incredible children, regardless of spousal support. 

Whoever our home is filled with, we’re all in this together, taking each day as it comes, to raise the next generation. We’re proud of you and in case no one has told you lately, you’re doing better than you think you are. Well done, friend.

[Ashley Abercrombie is an Outreach Pastor in Los Angeles, partnering with LAPD, transition homes, teen centers, as well as local and global organizations to battle the issues that rise from poverty and greed through service and compassion. The Outreach Team at Oasis Church is committed to community based, systemic change.

Ashley and her husband Cody are committed to building a strong marriage, loving their son, drinking lots of coffee with friends and doing good wherever they go. Ashley loves to blog about life and love at www.ashabercrombie.wordpress.com. ]

 


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Teens: To Date or Not to Date?

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Teens: To Date or Not to Date?

Dating as a teenager can be fun!  It can boost self-esteem, help develop empathy, and increase maturity.  But dating also has many pitfalls.  How can we help our teens develop healthy dating relationships?  Have you taken the time to talk about dating with your children? Have you made a stance on the issue?  Thought about boundaries you might like to set?  Many parents are wary about allowing their children to date or have a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” but aren’t sure how to set boundaries they are comfortable with.  First, let me assure you - it is up to the parents to decide where they are comfortable – and to start these conversations!  And guess what?  Your kids want to know where you stand. 

You may be happy to hear, in my research, I have seen the value in holding children off as long as possible before allowing them to “one-on-one” date or use the boyfriend/girlfriend word.  Some benefits are:

  1. Allowing children to be friends with a variety of people regardless of gender.  When there is no “commitment”, there is no expectation of exclusivity and there is freedom in making friendships.  This friendship making skill is important to lifelong success in many areas including business and marriage. 
  2. Early coupling can lead to early sexual debut, but also could lead to early dating abuse.  Dating abuse begins as a way to control someone.  When a person feels a sense of “ownership” over another person because they are the person’s “girlfriend” or “boyfriend,” this sense of entitlement to the person is stronger and it opens doors that otherwise wouldn’t be an option.
  3. Children's/teen’s hearts are broken too early and unjustly.  A child who does not yet have responsibility to understand working towards goals for the future or some of the other things I’ve put on the “responsibility list” below, does not have any way of being an emotional support to another person in the way a boyfriend or girlfriend would be expected.  This leads to letting each other down over something they had no way of being able to uphold in the first place. 
  4. Talk to your teen about the reason for one-on-one dating, the reason for having a boyfriend or girlfriend.   Encourage them to get to the point where they are a healthy person with goals who can be an emotional support to someone else before they are ready to have a boyfriend or girlfriend. 

After talking with teens (including my own) and parents and doing additional research, I suggest requiring your teen to show some levels of responsibility before allowing “coupling.”  Some boundaries you might set before a boyfriend or girlfriend is allowed:

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I once met with a parent who was so distraught because her 13-year-old son’s girlfriend had broken up with him for “no reason” and he was just devastated about it.  She wanted advice as to how she could help him through his pain.  I encouraged her to listen to him when he wanted to talk and spend time with him.  As we spoke, I brought up this idea of waiting to allow boyfriends and girlfriends.  I was able to show her that this pressure on a 13-year-old girl to not have other friends who were boys and to spend most of her time with this one boy was a lot to expect.  Now that they were “broken up” they found it awkward to spend time together and remain friends – they even were avoiding each other in school.  We talked about how it would have been different if they were never boyfriend/girlfriend.  They could have hung out with each other, even liked each other.  They would have had other friends who they hung out with, boys and girls.  There never would be a need to break up or stop being friends and there wouldn’t be any pressure to only hang out with each other.  One simple step would have eliminated this heartbreak I’m sure both kids were feeling – the parents could have said, “You’re not allowed to use the term boyfriend/girlfriend until…”

It is the parent who must decide what boundaries they will put in place and at what point they will allow their child to date, but the key for this to work is giving/helping to set boundaries in LOVE.  A teen has to see the benefit for themselves in all of this.  If your child is fighting you on some of these issues and isn’t seeing the benefit to waiting for things to fall into place/work towards the goals you would like to set, then you might need to have a conversation as to why they feel so strongly about having a boyfriend/girlfriend.  Then try to talk out - What needs can you as parents fill instead?  What needs can good friends fill?  What needs can volunteering/extra-curricular activities fill?  And once they are successfully dating, keep the conversation going and help them set boundaries to keep the relationship healthy!

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