Friday, September 6, 2013

"Google is the New Sex Ed"

Heard of Google glass? The implications are really scary... And no one looks this cool wearing them. 
While I was having a crown redone at my new dentist's office he was telling me about a blog post his wife read about how Google image search is fast becoming the new sex education for kids. I left the office thinking about the implications for today's teenagers. The next day, my friend who used to teach abstinence education here in the county, had posted the same article on her Facebook page. Clearly, I was supposed to read this article and blog about it.

Before I do, please know that I am not endorsing that all children be exposed to sex ed for the first time by just any teacher or speaker. I strongly believe that it's a parent's duty to first and foremost discuss these things with their children before they hear it elsewhere. Otherwise, after the speaker, a child might turn to their buddies who are just as curious, hormone-driven, and ignorant of the subject as he is. Unfortunately, a lot of parents either don't step up to the plate or honestly don't know when to. I also know there are many situations where a student would need to tell an adult outside the home because it's a dangerous or non-receptive situation at home, and I am thankful there are trustworthy adults (like many of my Christian friends who teach abstinence education in schools) that can come alongside them and direct them to help.   

The author of the blog post I'm mentioning, said that when she agrees to speak to children and teens she is assuming the leadership who have hired her have communicated what she will be speaking about to parents so they can make an informed decision about whether or not they want their children to participate. Sex ed programs in the schools are also supposed to follow a curriculum and parents are made aware of what will be taught. Parents can choose to take their children out if they feel it is necessary. Parents have choices (To that end, I recommend this article about how one pastor has outlined his practical plan for keeping his household a porn-free family).             

Anyway, here's the gist of the post

- The Christian author, Anne Marie Miller, is a recovering pornography addict. She was molested by someone in her church which led to her medicating herself by pornography. Once she broke the cycle through a friend opening up to her about her struggles, she dedicated herself to speaking to teens about sexual brokenness. 

- Kids are hesitant to talk to their parents about sexual issues. They may talk to their peers about it, but regardless of whether they do or do not talk to other students they are going to turn to Google. Google will not judge them for asking questions. The problem is (especially with Google Image search) that they will get a lot more than they bargained for -- EXTREMELY GRAPHIC pictures that will continue to haunt them and push their curiosity further. This is how many students are finding the gateway into pornography. Keep in mind, they AREN'T TELLING ANYONE. They are divulging these issues to Anne Marie after dealing with years of shame and guilt.   

Couldn't have found a better picture to illustrate my point.
I think the image and lower righthand button speak for themselves.
- Everyone thinks their kid is special and isn't doing all the things she mentions teens have told her. Anne Marie says that it's very true that some children have been shielded from getting the brunt of culture, but that her experience as a professional speaker on sexual brokenness has shown her that there are MANY MANY more wounds festering than most people would ever imagine. On a personal note, my friends who have counseled teens and taught abstinence education in the schools have told me similar stories (i.e. it really is worse than any parent would want to imagine). 

Here are some things that I started thinking about after I read this article: 

1. How many times as a teacher did I have students Google search things for a project (in class or out)? If I were teaching now, I would completely rethink my projects and give serious warnings to parents and students. Teachers, imagine if a student were caught looking at something pornographic and then blamed it on his/her class project or an "encounter" with their teacher. If you're a teacher, you know that's not a unheard of scenario; teachers have been fired over lesser things. I could easily see a case of he said/she said (whether or not the allegations were entirely false) and the media blowing it out of proportion because of teachers who really have preyed on students. PLEASE be careful, teachers and parents. Talk to your children before they are old enough to start searching for things on the internet!       

2. I can remember a time when dial up internet was the only thing available, but as internet speeds got faster everyone talked about filters for the computer to keep their kids safe from explicit material. Those were the days when families only used desktops or laptops and it seemed like a good thing to hedge your bets on. Guess what? Our kids have iPhones now. They aren't in a place where you can monitor their online behavior quite so thoroughly or so often. The amount of material (texts, pictures, websites, etc.) they can store on their phones now was inconceivable 20 years ago. Camera phones are why now have the word "sexting" as a part of the sex ed vocabulary and why personal liability issues are on the rise. I think having a frank, but loving discussion about phone usage should happen from the first day it goes in their hands.             

3. I can speak from experience in blogging that Google Image Search can be very dangerous. I have tried to find innocent pictures for this blog and my company's insurance blog and have been absolutely horrified at what I have accidentally drudged up. If you can't look up a cartoon about root canal procedures without getting something disturbing, consider what else would your children be able to find? For some people, it's easy to click off the page, grumble about perversion, and move on. Children don't know how to process that information. They can't "un-see" things. We need to be vigilant, build trust with our children, and stay ahead of destructive trends to protect them. 

4. Keep an open relationship with your children. Let them know early on, and as often as appropriate, if they hear about anything or they see anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or a sense of shame they need to talk to you. Let them know that you love them unconditionally as Christ has loved us and that there is nothing they could do to take that away. Fathers, I am going to especially challenge you to talk to your sons. Don't find out your son has been hooked on pornography only when you catch him. Be proactive and be honest about the temptations they will face. I know this will look differently for every family, but it needs to be happening.              

5. I realize a lot of this post is about being proactive -- stopping things before they start -- but if your child does confess something they struggle with or a sin they have committed, you may be extremely frustrated or disappointed, but please show them grace and forgiveness. Nothing drives a child further away than when they are shamed by ones they love and trust. Forgiveness does not take the consequence of the action away, but knowing they are loved as Christ loved us is a powerful thing for someone to experience.
I'll end with Anne Marie's last lines:
"Do the right thing, the hard thing, for the sake of your children. If we don’t do this now, I am terrified of how the enemy will continue stealing hope and joy from our youngest generation and how they’ll be paralyzed to advance the Kingdom of God as they mature." 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Book Reviews: Illustrators Perfect for Toddlers

I know that to many it seems like all kids books are the same when they are geared towards toddlers. I thought the SAME THING until I actually had toddlers. My perspective has been forever changed since discovering some key things that are good to look for in toddler books (which, incidentally, make reading to a busy toddler actually enjoyable!). I am featuring the works of three illustrators to back up my thoughts: Jan Thomas, Mike Austin, and Oriol Vidal.

1. BIG pictures. The font on the front is usually a giveaway. My two year old LOVES looking at the face of a cow that takes up a whole page and says three words. She will look at the Jan Thomas books so much that she anticipates each page. She will try and repeat phrases from the books. She was doing this at 18 months (as much as you can decipher from an 18 month old, but you get the idea), so if you read them enough I think you'll find that they will bring much delight to you and your child. 


2. Creativity mixed with the familiar. Your toddler will know the animal or creature, but the illustrators really make the books pop! Even as an adult, I love poring over the pictures and pointing out what all bunny chowed down on for lunch. With Monsters Love Colors it could be the launching pad for making a short lesson out of colors and the basic elements of art. What two year old doesn't love to scribble?  

Look! An easy way to incorporate the book with kid art!

3. High on the silliness factor. What makes a toddler book creative is because they have to be somewhat grounded in reality, yet distinct enough to compete in the marketplace and make someone really love them. I think the illustrators make this happen! All of Jan Thomas' books have silly plots and Oriol Vidal's books are silly just in the pictures alone. It's a great way to giggle the night away with your toddler! Toddlers love repetition, so they're not hard to please when you have an assortment of short, but silly stories to keep you both entertained. 

Although I think I have mentioned this before, it bears repeating -- I did NOT know anything about children's books whatsoever before I had children. In other words, don't peg me as a long time connoisseur, just peg me as a curious mom. I found all of these illustrators by spending some time walking down the aisles of my local library. Try it! You'll be amazed at what you can find for all ages.

For those interested, here are few of my previous posts that are for different age levels: 

Do any of you have favorite illustrators? I'd love to hear recommendations from you!   

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Talkin' Bout My Education: Part 4 -- Tartans, Anyone?

This is Part 4 of Mary Vance's journey of homeschooling in Europe. If you're just joining this series, it would be helpful to go back to Part 1 and follow through the other 3 parts. 

There are countries in Europe that haven't outlawed homeschooling, but for those countries who have, it can be a very hostile place for those families who respectfully choose to go against the State and educate their children at home.              

It was the summer of 1992, and we were in Barcelona, Spain, during the Olympics. We were part of a team of adults from our YWAM Amsterdam base leading 43 children and teenagers (from 17 nations) on outreach as part of YWAM’s King’s Kids, first in Barcelona, then into Budapest, Hungary. While in Barcelona, Tim & I met a woman who was one of the founders and an international leader in the King’s Kids ministry. She spent some time with us, finally encouraging us to move to Scotland and attend the training for international leadership in King’s Kids. We spent much of the outreach that summer pondering, praying, talking with our Amsterdam leaders, informing our supporters, friends, and our families, and contacting our home church’s pastor and elders about this move and shift in ministry for their input and blessing. (Remember: this was before cell phones, faxes, computers, and email were widely used - we literally were placing overseas calls in phone boxes on street corners!). We grew more and more excited and realized the Lord was definitely setting our path clearly before us. And the “cherry” on top was that the UK allowed homeschooling!
We returned to Amsterdam early August after being in Budapest for over 2 months. Within two weeks, we had packed our entire three storey rowhouse into a storage unit in Rotterdam, purchased airline tickets to the USA, served notice to our housing agency, packed a small amount to be shipped to Scotland, and said goodbye to all our dear friends in Amsterdam! We took advantage of the Delta “Hops,” which allowed us to travel from airport to airport for $50 a piece for each hop. We literally jumped all over the USA to visit family, our home church, supporters, and friends before heading back on a flight to Scotland for the middle of September.
This was our second time to live in Scotland. Tim & I had first moved there in 1985 for my missions schooling, and it was really wonderful to return! We loved the moors, lochs, and crags, loved the architecture, and loved the Scots, and as an added bonus, the Scots loved Americans, which is not the norm in Euro! We arrived at the Stanely House, which was a huge, stately Manor, set atop a hill outside of Glasgow in the town of Paisley, ready to begin our new adventure as students once again in YWAM schooling.
The first encountered adventure we had was our housing. We were given one room for the three of us on the second floor! It was not a large room, but it had two beds, a desk, one small wardrobe (no closets!), and a floor-to-ceiling window with a lovely view of the front gardens. It was a challenge, but we made it work!
Because Tim & I were students in the Principles of Children’s and Youth Ministry (PCYM) school, we would receive the help of some of the full-time YWAM staff for homeschooling our son. All the children of parents in the PCYM were being homeschooled, and the YWAM base had received prior approval by the government officials for this to be in place. The reasoning was due to the nature of the school, which lasted a certain amount of months, followed by outreaches all over the world, and it was easier to keep the children on a homeschool schedule than to disrupt them in a government school; obviously, this was music to my heart!
We knew of this requirement, so while we were in the USA, I made use of a homeschooling convention where I determined to use Calvert to homeschool my son 1st - 3rd grades. I had used a mish-mash of materials for kindergarten; however, with this new ministry, we would be traveling extensively, and I wanted to be able to “prove” to border guards and national officials in every country that our son was indeed receiving instruction (Calvert provided a recording system that legally passed most all the countries’ raised objections. With this in place, we could literally show, and prove!, our son was being monitored by an accredited school in the USA).
Each morning, parents would take their children to the dining hall in Stanely House, and the children were divided into age groups. Depending on the numbers of children and teens, there would be one or two of the YWAM staff who would work with them. We as parents were to provide the materials and instructions, and each child was given a separate table to spread their school work out on to begin their day. They had instruction in this manner all morning, with a few short breaks for tea (sacred ritual in the British culture), while we parents were in our classes. Lunch signaled the end of the homeschooling day and a break in the adult classes. We enjoyed the lunch time in the dining hall, sitting with our children, and hearing about their morning, tweaking paper work, and just in general overseeing what our kids were learning. It was really interesting to hear the various nationalities discussing in their mother tongues their children’s progress, and I was so impressed with how YWAM had provided staff who were fluent in each language represented amongst the children.
The afternoon classes for the adults began after the lunch break, and that’s when the “magic” began for the children! Before heading back to the lecture halls, we parents would stand in the entrance hall to secure our children’s backpacks, and watch them load the base’s pool of Land Rovers and passenger Mercedes vans to head off on wonderful adventures! Sometimes the children were ice skating or swimming; sometimes they were “hill walking” on the moors or rock climbing on crags. They visited various Lochs and studied flowers and fauna native to Scotland. They explored ruins of famous sites and toured historic churches. They built shelters in the forests and learned about survival skills. They visited elderly folk, singing and performing short dramas for them to share their faith. They played and were happily active in the afternoons with the YWAM staff creatively leading them in many of the things we were learning as well. The staff timed their return to the base to coincide with the conclusion of our adult classes. It was truly a precious and wonderful few months.
Stay tuned next month for Part 5!