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“Give it a ponder.” The catchphrase for a generation?

by Elena on Dec 3rd, 2009

James Lipton, the decidedly odd host of the now defunct Bravo series “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” hardly seems like an ideal spokesman for teen culture. And yet, LG, a large electronics company that produces mobile phones, has developed a series of PSAs targeted at teens centered around Lipton. In each of the flippant, quirky videos, Lipton delivers a short monologue on the dangers of sending belligerent text messages or sexually explicit photos to one’s peers. “Before you text…give it a ponder,” he says, after transferring his signature beard from his own face to the face of the teen in question. The campaign seems potentially effective: Lipton may be just offbeat enough to appeal to teens.

“Sexting,” as it’s somewhat obnoxiously referred to by many, has become a real threat to the health and happiness of adolescents, as have other forms of online harassment. Check out our coverage of this issue from earlier this year to find out how some other non-profits are addressing it, and watch our favorite Lipton bit below.

Give it a Ponder [Official Site]

How “Give it a Ponder” Could Help Teens Think Twice [YPulse, 12/02/2009]

Relationship Abuse: That’s Not Cool [Ed Beat, LMtv, 6/30/09]

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“Don’t worry, you’re not on it.”

by Elena on Sep 29th, 2009

Fans of “My So-Called Life,” the early-nineties high school drama and cult classic, will recognize the scene in the above clip that starts around 3:48. When Angela, Claire Danes’s character and the central figure of the show, finds out that a list has been made of the attractive sophomore girls in her high school, she feels envious and excluded. Her friend Rayanne screams, “Do you love it??” when she finds out she has the “most slut potential,” and although Angela claims to be offended by the list, we know as viewers (who were once teenagers) that her jealousy outweighs her indignation, or at least that the two reactions are profoundly mixed up.

This week, the New York Times’s “Week in Review” featured a piece by Tina Kelley on girl-on-girl bullying in a New Jersey high school, where a “slut list” circulated on Facebook. The article quotes Rosalind Wiseman, author of the 2002 book on adolescent girls, Queen Bees and Wannabes, who has had to write a new edition of her book because “There was not enough information on hazing, technology and the more graphic sexual stuff.” In general, the article makes the argument that bullying among young women is increasingly attached to sexuality, and that a girl’s social status rises in direct proportion to her degree of promiscuity.

Girl-on-girl bullying is quite a hot topic these days, maybe since “Mean Girls” came out, or maybe since “Gossip Girl” took off. And no one would argue that the age at which a girl becomes cognizant of her sexuality and its power has gone way down in the past decade. But it seems silly to act as if women, old and young, haven’t always been forced to see each other through the eyes of their male peers. “So the whiff of sexual prowess actually raises the status of girls on the forbidden list among their high school peers. It’s a celebration of machismo, but for girls only,” says Kelley about the Jersey slut list. Not only is this old news, it isn’t that simple. Angela Chase wanted to make it onto her high school’s list, but she was also outraged that it was allowed to exist in the first place. No doubt a lot of these Jersey girls would identify.

When the Cool Get Hazed [NYT, 9/26/09]

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Interview: Aspiring to Sisterhood

by Elena on Aug 6th, 2009

How do you convince a twelve-year-old girl to question Chris Brown’s character? Earlier this summer, we covered Aspire, an innovative summer program run through Cleveland, Ohio. The program teaches academic subjects to adolescent girls, but it’s also concerned with empowering them in the non-academic areas of their lives.

laurengardnerThis week, we spoke to Lauren Gardner, Aspire’s dean of students, about the discouraging reaction some of her students had to the buzz surrounding Rihanna and Chris Brown.

You told me earlier in the summer that some of your students had been “blaming” Rihanna for what happened between her and Chris Brown in February. Tell me more about that, and about the girls in the program.

Yes! This is crazy. Some of our teachers, early on in the summer, came to some faculty meetings really concerned about how much the girls adored Chris Brown — and how they had this kind of “loyalty” to him.

They aren’t great complex thinkers yet, right, so the issue for them was very Chris Brown vs. Rihanna. And not all, but a lot of them wanted to side with the one who they were putting posters of up all over their lockers.

Our students are all girls, ages 11-13, from the East Cleveland, Cleveland, and Cleveland Heights school districts, which are three of the most underfunded school districts in the Cleveland Metropolitan area. Our mission is not specifically for African-America students, though they make up the majority of the group. There are Hispanic and white girls in the program, too.

Right. When you talked about it in faculty meetings, what were the teachers’ concerns?

Basically that there was some kind of cachet around blaming Rihanna for getting beat up by Chris Brown. And, that the girls could be so misinformed and misguided about this situation, and dating violence in general.

Do your students date?

I don’t know how many of them are really dating, but I believe that the older ones probably do — or are at least at a point where their crushes aren’t just like, famous boys, but boys in their neighborhoods and in their schools who they actually talk to and stuff. So in that sense, yeah, I think many of them do have “relationships.”

I just want to add that, as a personal point of interest, there are a lot of them that don’t, too. That’s one of the crazy things about middle school girls– how developmentally all over the place they can be.

What’s your personal reaction to the idea that adolescent girls would defend someone who abuses his girlfriend?

It’s hard to know what to do. I mean, I don’t like it at all — it’s B-A-D bad for any girl to believe, or even say, that a woman’s being abused by her boyfriend is deserved in some way.

But on the other hand, I’m not terribly shocked. It sort of confirms a lot of what is already out there about the way middle school girls think about relationships with men.

I think a lot of it is typical, middle school development forces. I think that some people would want to show the girls like, a picture of Rihanna’s face and say, “See? This is unacceptable!” and maybe talk it out about domestic violence a little bit further. But I don’t know how much that kind of an approach would faze the girls — that kind of thinking isn’t just something to snap out of. I see it as much more sympotmatic of their developmental stage.

Did you and the rest of the staff decide to “do” anything about it?

Well, we had already had a special “day” programmed into our calendar at this point, called Love Your Body Day. It’s been part of our program for a few years now. We thought that instead of getting into some kind of new and potentially messy “domestic violence” workshops, we’d approach the issue by going on the offensive. We really worked hard to run a variety of workshops that focused on positive body image.

We played up the message that it’s important to treat you and your body right — girls could make healthy smoothies, or make face masks from household ingredients. We had a self-defense class, too, which was really awesome. Also yoga, stretching, and a few discussion groups– about images of women in the media, friendship, etc.

In the end, did you get any of the Rihanna-haters over to the woman-loving side?

At the age that they’re at, I don’t know how possible it would have been to have made the Chris Brown fans fall out of love with him. Personally, I’m more interested in effective ways of teaching the girls how to balance mixed messages — how to like someone’s music or dance without modeling your life after the messages they’re sending– I think that’s huge for so many of these girls, and even adults, too.

And so, while I don’t believe we necessarily disbanded the Chris Brown lovers, or got his posters off their lockers, I do believe that we did as much as we could to give the girls the necessary tools to think about themselves and their world in a critical, intelligent way.

Interview edited by Elena Schilder.

Interview: Summer days, drifting away [Ed Beat 07/08/09]
Relationship Abuse: That’s Not Cool [Ed Beat 07/30/09]
Love is Respect [Teen Dating Abuse Hotline]

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Relationship Abuse: That’s Not Cool

by Elena on Jun 30th, 2009

The subtler gradations of relationship abuse–emotional manipulation and control–have always been somewhat difficult to pinpoint, and thus harder to prevent.

Dating Violence/ HarassmentSocial networking and texting add a new layer of potential abuse, and this kind of technological harassment is on the rise among high school students. By texting their significant others constantly, teens develop destructive and abusive dialogues.  And because they’re often in the midst of their first serious relationships, the victims of this kind of communication overload can rarely recognize it for what it is–abuse.

Interestingly, most recent efforts to combat teen dating abuse seem to involve some kind of technological communication; for example, sites like That’s Not Cool encourage teenagers to send e-cards (provided by the site) to their significant others, saying things like, “Your frequent calls have greatly increased my ability to ignore things,” and “You must be proud to have nothing better to do than IM me all day.”

At Loveisrespect.org, teens can create “mashups”–short movies using software on the site–that send positive messages about dating. In Massachusetts’ Middlesex County, teens submitted short PSAs to a video contest concerned with teen dating violence, the results of which can be viewed here.

Though it’s frustrating that cell phones and the internet have allowed emotional abuse among teens to blossom, it’s encouraging to see teens and adults combat the problem with the tools of its trade.

That’s Not Cool [website]

Love is Respect [website]

Teen Dating Abuse Made Worse By Technology [ABC News]

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Media Monday: The Education of Shelby Knox

by Learning Matters on Jun 22nd, 2009

What does comprehensive sex education look like?  And more importantly, how could it change the way teens think  about sex in their own lives?  These questions are critical at a time when “abstinence-only” education is on the rise and our country is in flux over reproductive choice.

The Education of Shelby Knox is a documentary that confronts these questions head on.  It’s a profile of Shelby Knox, a fifteen year old Christian girl in Lubbock, Texas whose attempts to bring comprehensive sex education to her high school directly challenge the “abstinence-only” rhetoric promoted by her school, her community and her family.

It’s a great documentary that chronicles the difficulties of her campaign and illustrates just how deeply the personal is political and how hard it can be to change beliefs (and curriculum) that is wrapped up in years of personal conviction.

Watch the trailer:

The Education of Shelby Knox [P.O.V website]

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