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Helping parents raise healthy and responsible kids.

Let’s Talk about Love!

Monday, September 28th, 2015

Sharon: Love, love, love, love! Summer love, first love, true love, endless love. Love plays such an important part in how we think about romantic relationships and make decisions about intimacy, but we rarely, if ever, explore what that feeling really is or discuss how we know if it is real.

Chelsea: It’s so easy to dismiss teen infatuation, but stop to think about your first real crush—your body and mind endlessly preoccupied in daydreams, the intoxicating rush every time you saw that person, the giddy excitement when you finally talked or just made eye contact, the relentless obsessing about whether or not they really liked you. Your body floods with chemicals. Songs become full of meaning and importance—Ahhh, this must be what all those movies and songs are talking about. How easy is it to think that these overwhelming feelings are proof that you are in love? And really, who’s to say this isn’t love? Where do we draw the line between love, crush, lust, and infatuation?

Sharon: We start by first acknowledging the power and beauty of these feelings. But then we have to go further. We need to have conversations about the qualities that make a healthy, loving relationship, and give kids the information they need to sort out their feelings. Most teens say that their decision to have sex for the first time was based on “being in love.”

Chelsea: In our Sexual Health and Responsibility Curriculum, we give a homework assignment for the students to ask their parents, “When do you think it is OK for a person to have sex?” They write up what each parent says and then add a paragraph explaining what they believe. 

Sharon: The most common response from parents is “when you’re in love.” That’s fine but it doesn’t go far enough.

Chelsea: From Cinderella to The Bachelor, from Twilight to One Direction, we are taught from a young age to base some of our most important life decisions on love—an all-encompassing, magical power that captivates our being, mind, body, and soul. But, who is exploring what love actually is? Who is helping teens navigate this new and exciting world of emotions?

Sharon: If we don’t do it, the media will, and does. In our absence, the media is defining love. And we see this influence in our discussions with students.

Chelsea: When students share this answer—when you’re in love—we always follow with: How do you know if you’re in love? How do you know if someone loves you? What does it mean to be in love?

Their answers tell us a lot about the culture we live in:

  • “When you give each other gifts.”
  • “When you are always thinking about the other person.”
  • “When you put the other person’s needs before your own.”

Sharon: It’s so important for students to see how their ideas about romantic love are being shaped by popular culture.

We have the students analyze different forms of popular media and look for messages about what constitutes “love” and a “good relationship.” I’m always excited by how much kids enjoy this part of the curriculum: teens are hungry to analyze and talk about the messages they are receiving every day.

Chelsea: These are some of our most dynamic conversations. Given the prevalence of relationship abuse among teens, it’s particularly important to help students see how our culture supports notions of love that can often lead to unhealthy and even abusive relationships.

Sharon: As parents and educators, we must add our voices to this conversation. We need to begin and sustain a dialogue about love and healthy relationships. “The Talk” is not nearly as simple as providing details on the biology of sexual intercourse. We must explore:

  • What is the relationship between love and sex?
  • How does the media shape our understanding of love?
  • What are the qualities of a healthy romantic relationship?
  • How do the Internet and smart phones complicate relationships and our understanding of intimacy?

Chelsea: And despite what children say, they are interested in hearing what you have to say on these topics. I remember rolling my eyes and telling my mom that I already knew everything she could possibly have to say, while secretly hoping this would not deter her efforts.

Sharon: That is such an important point. As a parent trying to survive the eye-rolling phase, you feel anxious, irritated, and ridiculous all at the same time. It’s exhausting to have to constantly remember that what you say matters, especially when you get absolutely no positive reinforcement.

Chelsea: And, of course, I’d report those totally embarrassing conversations to my friends, knowing that they were as eager to hear about these things as I was.

Sharon: We’re interested to hear what you think about this topic. Add your comments below and let us know what you think. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What have you heard and observed from children/teens about their understanding of love?
  • What do you see as the biggest factors influencing that understanding?
  • Have you brought up the topic of love in the classroom or with your children at home? How did it go?

We look forward to hearing from you soon!

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The Power of Self-Reflection

Friday, May 29th, 2015

Welcome!

Sharon: Throughout my travels over the last few years, I’ve met so many outstanding educators and parents, beautiful human beings, passionate about offering children an environment where they can grow and learn. I have had so many inspiring conversations that ended way too soon.

Now that Chelsea has become my associate, I finally have the time and technical know-how to create a space where we can continue the conversation, share ideas, and inspire each other. Each post will have a topic for discussion. What are your thoughts? How have you explored this topic with children, whether in the classroom or living room? How have they responded? Concrete examples and anecdotal stories give all of us ideas that we can work with.

The topic on the table for this post is self-reflection.

Many of you have heard me speak about the effect of an over stimulating, media-driven culture on the well being of our children. In my presentation iChild or I, child, I speak about how helping kids develop the practice of self-reflection provides an antidote to the barrage of stimulation and information they must navigate every day. By nurturing the capacity to self-reflect, we help the child develop a trusting relationship with their own self. Knowing oneself, trusting oneself, becomes the foundation for healthy, responsible decision-making.

In the last six months Chelsea and I have had the honor of engaging with hundreds of students on the concept of self-reflection, which is the core principle of our Sexual Health and Responsibility Curriculum.

Chelsea: We have been truly inspired by their insights. In the class, we speak about the importance of developing a relationship with yourself, especially as you are going through puberty—as everything else is changing, you can always depend on that relationship. As a homework assignment, we ask the students to engage daily in a self-reflection exercise for one week and to keep a journal of their experiences. We provide them with some exercises to choose from—art, meditation, walking in nature—and we also encourage them to come up with their own ways. At the end of the week they write a letter to themselves, which begins “Dear Best Friend.” Their responses have been so heartfelt and thoughtful. We have paraphrased some below:

  • It was nice to have time alone with myself to know how I feel about things.
  • When I was doing this, I experienced going into this sort of zone where I could go inside myself.
  • When I wrote the letter I could really see how I felt about things, I could see how many responsibilities I have, and it was really nice to get a lot of my feelings out.
  • Journaling was different than just thinking about how I felt. Writing it down gave me a chance to see what I was thinking and feeling, and it mattered.
  • When I meditated it was really nice because it was like this quiet space inside of myself.

Sharon: It’s important to note that the journal and their letters are just for them and we do not collect the assignment. That would have betrayed the point. However, many of the students were eager to share.

Chelsea: Exactly, by asking them to simply talk about what the experience was like, their effort was validated, and they could hear how their classmates had found their own unique ways to reflect. Some felt connected to themselves when they were swimming laps or dribbling a basketball, others stared at the ceiling as they lay in bed at night and reviewed their day.

Sharon: Two things stood out for me. One is the power of journaling—they really saw the value in writing down their experiences. The other is the number of kids that talked about how little time they actually have to themselves. They shared about how busy they were and how little time they had to just daydream or think their own thoughts. Some talked about only having time to think when they were in the car going to their next activity. So many after school activities and opportunities to learn! It’s clear that the parents are working very hard to give children every advantage. All of which is wonderful if it can be balanced with just a little time to reflect on what it all means, what you think and feel about things, how you are making sense of your life.

Chelsea: I’m reminded of a wonderful mother of a five-year-old I met with when I was in college. She wanted to discuss what she could do to best prepare her daughter to get into a good college. The mother wanted the best for her daughter and was hoping to offer her every possibility in a very competitive world—a world where children are often evaluated as a sum of extracurricular activities and grades. It seems ironic that we keep children so busy that they rarely have a quiet moment to sit and reflect on what they think or what interests them until they are asked to write their college application essay and then suddenly they need to find their voice. I shared with the mother how my experience of developing my voice and discovering my passions had always been a balance of stimulating engagement in the world and the space to engage with my own thoughts and opinions. Developing your voice isn’t something that just happens over night, it is a continuous process, a continuous inner dialogue, that can only begin when a child has silent time and space to reflect.

Sharon: I invite each of you to share how in the classroom and at home you support the child’s capacity to self-reflect. Do you meditate? Do you have quiet moments to journal? Is there space in the schedule for children to develop an inner dialogue, to nurture a relationship with themselves? I invite you to share your thoughts, ideas, and concrete ways that you nurture children’s capacity to self-reflect.

 

With great respect and admiration for all you do,

Sharon and Chelsea

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