Having enough fun?

Experts agree, Ann Hurlbut writes, "that the loss of natural play opportunities in an urbanized world of smaller families and a 'push-button civilization' meant that play, alas, could no longer be left to kids. Read her article and on online discussion about the state of (child's) play.

Hurlbut writes:

Our era of superachievement angst and No Child Left Behind duress is not the first time adults have worried that academic pressures are prematurely crowding out the kind of hands-on playtime that kids love. It will also not be the last time that the crusade to restore the primacy of play runs the risk of eroding the very playfulness the crusaders are eager to see more of. The paradox of the endeavor seems all but unavoidable. Play advocates bolster their case by proclaiming play's social, emotional, and cognitive benefits, as David Elkind has recently done in The Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children. Yet the more successful such advocates are in their instrumental defense of play, the further they stray from an appreciation of play as precisely the opposite—a pursuit that serves children's own (not always obviously constructive) purposes, rather than the didactic designs of their elders.

It is a conversation reminiscent f our earlier item on Boys Gone Mild.

Making Moral Instruction Work

On Friday, David Brooks had a provocative op-ed in the New York Times that made the argument that most efforts to teach moral behavior fail because the instruction is based on a misconception of human nature. Here are highlights:

A little while ago, a national study authorized by Congress found that abstinence education programs don’t work. That gave liberals a chance to feel superior because it turns out that preaching traditional morality to students doesn’t change behavior.

But in this realm, nobody has the right to feel smug. American schools are awash in moral instruction — on sex, multiculturalism, environmental awareness and so on — and basically none of it works. Sex ed doesn’t change behavior. Birth control education doesn’t produce measurable results. The fact is, schools are ineffectual when it comes to values education. You can put an adult in front of a classroom or an assembly, and that adult can emit words, but don’t expect much impact.

That’s because all this is based on a false model of human nature. It’s based on the idea that human beings are primarily deciders. If you pour them full of moral maxims, they will be more likely to decide properly when temptation arises. If you pour them full of information about the consequences of risky behavior, they will decide to exercise prudence and forswear unwise decisions.

That’s the way we’d like to think we are, but that’s not the way we really are, and it’s certainly not the way teenagers are. There is no central executive zone in the brain where all information is gathered and decisions are made. There is no little homunculus up there watching reality on a screen and then deciding how to proceed. In fact, the mind is a series of parallel processes and loops, bidding for urgency.

We’re not primarily deciders. We’re primarily perceivers. The body receives huge amounts of information from the world, and what we primarily do is turn that data into a series of generalizations, stereotypes and theories that we can use to navigate our way through life. Once we’ve perceived a situation and construed it so that it fits one of the patterns we carry in our memory, we’ve pretty much rigged how we’re going to react, even though we haven’t consciously sat down to make a decision.

To make this point more concrete, Brooks gives the example of a teenage couple in a parked car. What will influence their decision to have sex? Is it what the learn in sex education class either at school or church? Brooks says no:

When a teenage couple is in the backseat of a car about to have sex or not, or unprotected sex or not, they are not autonomous creatures making decisions based on classroom maxims or health risk reports. Their behavior is shaped by the subconscious landscapes of reality that have been implanted since birth.

Did they grow up in homes where they felt emotionally secure? Do they often feel socially excluded? Did they grow up in a neighborhood where promiscuity is considered repulsive? Did they grow up in a sex-drenched environment or an environment in which children are buffered from it? (According to a New Zealand study, firstborns are twice as likely to be virgins at 21 than later-born children.)

In other words, the teenagers in that car won’t really be alone. They’ll be in there with a whole web of attitudes from friends, family and the world at large. Some teenagers will derive from those shared patterns a sense of subconscious no-go zones. They’ll regard activities in that no-go zone the way vegetarians regard meat — as a taboo, beyond immediate possibility.

Deciding is conscious and individual, but perceiving is subconscious and communal. The teen sex programs that actually work don’t focus on the sex. They focus on the environment teens live in. They work on the substratum of perceptions students use to orient themselves in the world. They don’t try to lay down universal rules, but apply the particular codes that have power in distinct communities. They understand that changing behavior changes attitudes, not the other way around.

Read the entire column (subscription required).

Does Brooks' argument make sense? If Brooks is correct, doesn't this reinforce the importance of communities (including the faith community) in forming moral attitudes and behavior? Does it suggest that parents and the Church need to rethink how we approach the moral education of our children?

Good news on teen pregnancies

"Teen birthrates continued their 15-year decline in 2005 as adolescents increasingly got into the habit of using condoms during sexual intercourse," writes Marc Kaufman in The Washington Post.

The story includes another bit of good news:

About 47 percent of high school students -- 4.6 million teens -- reported having had sexual intercourse in 2005, down from 54 percent in 1991.

And a bit of bad news:

While teen sexual behavior appeared to be less risky, more young people were arrested for serious violent crime in 2005 than in each of the previous three years. The arrest rate of 17 crimes per 1,000 juveniles, however, remained significantly below the peak rate of 52 per 1,000 in 1993.

Working mothers want part-time

The Pew Research Center has released a new study that shows a marked increase in the desire for part-time work versus full-time work in recent years. The preference for full time work has dropped for both stay-at-home moms and working moms. Fathers, on the the other hand, still prefer full-time work:

In the span of the past decade, full-time work outside the home has lost some of its appeal to mothers. This trend holds both for mothers who have such jobs and those who don't?

Among working mothers with minor children (ages 17 and under), just one-in-five (21%) say full-time work is the ideal situation for them, down from the 32% who said this back in 1997, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Fully six-in-ten (up from 48% in 1997) of today's working mothers say part-time work would be their ideal, and another one-in-five (19%) say she would prefer not working at all outside the home.

There's been a similar shift in preferences among at-home mothers with minor children. Today just 16% of these mothers say their ideal situation would be to work full time outside the home, down from the 24% who felt that way in 1997. Nearly half (48%) of all at-home moms now say that not working at all outside the home is the ideal situation for them, up from the 39% who felt that way in 1997.

The lack of enthusiasm that mothers of all stripes have for full-time work outside the home isn't shared by fathers – more than seven-in-ten (72%) fathers say the ideal situation for them is a full-time job.

. . .

Among women with minor children, views on this question vary little by income or education level. There are minor differences by race. Black mothers are more likely than whites to say full-time work is ideal; both groups are about equally likely to say no outside employment is ideal.2

Married mothers are somewhat more likely than unmarried mothers to consider no or part-time employment ideal; this pattern occurs in both the 1997 and 2007 Pew surveys. However, unmarried mothers are much less likely to prefer full-time work today (26%) than a decade ago (49%). A plurality of today's unmarried mothers now prefer part-time work (46%), while 26% prefer not working outside the home and 26% prefer full-time work.

Mothers with younger children (ages 0 to 4 years) also are less likely to prefer full-time work today (16%) than a decade ago (31%). A narrow plurality (37%) preferred part-time work in 1997; today 48% of mothers with younger children prefer part-time work, while 36% prefer not working outside the home and 16% prefer full-time work. The preferences of mothers with older children (ages 5 to 17) are about the same today as they were a decade ago.

The decline in mothers saying full-time work is ideal for them occurred about equally among mothers with higher and lower education levels.

Among all working mothers, there's a strong disconnect between the kind of job they say would be ideal and the kind of job they actually have. Some 60% of working mothers say they'd prefer to work part-time, but -- according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – only about a quarter (24%) of all working mothers have a part-time job.

Read it all here.

As the father of a toddler, I can certainly understand the desire for part-time work. But, why the large change in attitude? What has happened to increase the desire for part-time work? And what does this say about the lack of interest in fathers in part-time work? Finally, what does this tell the Church about public policy advocacy to support families?

Katerina Ivanovna has a good discussion of these results at the group Catholic blog Vox Nova here.

Responding to objectification

Fuller Seminary's Youth Ministry Resource page has an article that discusses what sort of response Youth Ministers might make to a recent study that shows how profoundly a young girl's internalized decision to see being attractive as more important than being competent can become.

"Researchers studying the influence of self-objectification, meaning the tendency to view our own bodies as ‘objects,’ have found that the way a girl feels about her body predicts how she’ll throw a softball. If she has learned that her body is an object and she needs to be concerned about her appearance at all times, she is far more likely to 'throw like a girl.'

Most of us probably don’t include softball throwing in our list of youth ministry goals. But if it’s true that the way girls feel about their bodies affects the way they toss a ball, then it’s all the more true that the way they feel about their bodies impacts the way they view the One who created them in His image. As youth workers who seek to create space for this Holy One to work, recent research and media reports can help us respond to three ‘mores’ that bring new twists to not-so-new issues for our girls."

Instead of just dismissing this as a funny little bit of news, consider this quote from the article:

Over 77,000 invasive surgical procedures were performed on teens 18 and younger in 2005, representing a 15% increase since 2000. While that in and of itself is shocking, consider this: minors cannot undergo these surgeries unless their parents consent. In most cases, since these procedures are not covered by medical insurance, the parents pay for the surgery as well.

The article goes on to list some action points that Youth leaders and clergy might consider as a way to respond to these pressures.

There's no mention of how the same sorts of societal pressures are affecting young men in this article, though there have been a number of articles and books recently that have pointed out that some young boys are struggling in an "overly-feminized" classroom paradigm.

Read the rest here: Fuller's Center for Youth and Family Ministry | Youth Ministry Resources

Care to share any strategies that have worked for you?

Virgin belles ring at purity dances

In an age of "sex buddies," "friends with benefits" and "sexual friendships," father-daughter purity balls have become an increasingly popular trend among conservative Christians in the campaign for abstinence instead of condoms. Since the first event was held in Colorado Springs in 1998, the concept -- that holding on to one's virginity until marriage is ordered by God -- has spread to 48 states according to the Chicago Tribune.

The debate about this movement is whether it promotes abstinence or gives girls the message that they are property belonging to the male head of household until turned over to a husband. Is this a positive or negative image of female sexuality?

A report commissioned by the Department of Health and Human Services and released this year found that four federally funded abstinence-education programs offered in public schools and by faith-based community groups have had no effect on sexual activity. The study found that youth in the programs were no more likely to abstain from sex in four to six years after they began participating than those who were not in the programs.

But on the other hand,

Studies by sociologists have shown that girls who spend more time with their fathers are more likely to have higher self-esteem, go to college and get better jobs than those who do not. According to Wilson, if a young woman can go to her father to get answers for core questions, such as "Am I beautiful?" she won't need to seek confirmation of her worth from other males.

During some purity balls, fathers present their daughters with gold purity bands. In Peoria, the daughters presented their fathers with gold keys and the fathers signed forms pledging to live a pure life and protect their daughters' purity.

*This is a suggested vow for the girls to say as they hand over a key to their fathers:

Dad, this is the key to my heart. Please hold it for me until my wedding day and give it to my husband.

*Fathers are asked to sign a Purity Covering and Covenant that states:

I (daughter's name) father (or mentor) choose before God to cover her as her authority and protection in the area of purity. I will be pure in my own life as a man, husband and Father. I will be a man of integrity and accountability as I lead, guide and pray over her and my family as the High priest in my home. This covering will be used by God to influence generations to come.

(The daughter then signs it as a witness)

Read the article here.

Juno, Jamie Lynn and the rules of engagement

This item was prompted primarily by a desire to tell as many people as possible what a wonderful movie Juno is, but to give it a little more intellectual respectability, we included a link to Ruth Marcus' recent column on talking to her daughters about sex. And that's when things got complicated.

She writes:

This is the conundrum that modern parents, boomers and beyond, confront when matters of sex arise. The bright-line rules that our parents laid down, with varying degrees of conviction and rather low rates of success, aren't -- for most of us, anyway -- either relevant or plausible. When mommy and daddy didn't get married until they were 35, abstinence until marriage isn't an especially tenable claim.

Nor is it one I'd care to make. Would I prefer -- as if my preference much matters -- that my daughters abstain until marriage? No; in fact, I think that would be a mistake. But I'm not especially comfortable saying that, quite so directly, to my children, partly because that conversation gets so complicated, so quickly.

She moves on to the pregnancy of Jamie Lynn Spears, and then concludes:

And so the message I choose from Spears's pregnancy--and the one, once I recovered my composure, I ultimately delivered, is this: It could happen to you--even if you're the kind of "conscientious" girl who, as Jamie Lynn's mother described her, is never late for curfew. And so, whenever you choose to have sex, unless you are ready to have a baby, don't do it without contraception.

This is not only good advice, but probably all of the good advice one can manage in a 700 word op-ed piece. Still, there is protection and there is protection. Sexual relationship go awry in any number of ways less dire than an unwanted pregnancy, and young people need to be prepared for potential emotional as well as physical reprecussions. Such conversations are even more difficult to conduct with the necessary honesty and delicacy than The Talk. Yet they are so important, so worth having, that parents must be willing to have them badly.

Teens and lying

Dave Munger of Cognitive Daily summarizes some interesting research on teens and lying. The research focused on the issue of when teens thought it was okay to lie to their parents or to their friends. The results are interesting: teens are much more likely to think it is okay to lie to their parents when their parents direct them to do something immoral (such as not to be friends with a person of another race) than other circumstances, but teens are much more likely to lie to their parents than to a friend:

Serena Perkins and Elliot Turiel came up with six situations in which lying might be justified, then asked 64 teens aged 12 to 17 which ones were acceptable and which were not. The situations are below:

Moral:
* Parents don't want their child to befriend another teen because he/she is of a different race
* Parents want their child to fight another teen because he/she had been teased by them

Personal:
* Parents don't want their child dating a teen they don't like
* Parents think the club their child wants to join is a waste of time

Prudential:
* Parents object to their child not wanting to finish her/his homework
* Parents don't want their child to ride a motorcycle

In each case, the participants were asked whether it would be acceptable for a 16-year-old to lie about doing (or not doing) these things despite their parents' objections. . . .

[N]early all teens believe it's okay to lie to your parents when you've defied their expectations to commit an immoral act. A statistically significant portion of older teens (age 15-17) believe lying is okay when the parents have personal objections to their behavior, but significantly fewer younger teens (age 12-14) believe this type of lie is acceptable. When the parents seem to be looking out for the child's best interests (the prudential domain), most teens believe lying is wrong -- though significantly more older teens still believe lying is acceptable in this case as well.

But Perkins and Turiel went further: They asked a separate group of 64 teens the same questions, except the role of parents was completely replaced by the role of a friend. Is it okay to lie to a friend? . . .

Both groups were significantly less likely to say it was okay to lie to friends in the moral and personal domains -- even if a friend asked you to do something immoral, about 50 percent of teens still said it was not okay to lie to them about the fact that you took the moral high ground (of course, telling the truth might be the higher moral course in this situation). In the prudential domain, the pattern was reversed, and lies were seen as more justified by both groups of teens.

In many ways these results aren't especially surprising, but it is interesting to note when the differences in age groups come into play. Younger teens are less likely to believe lying about personal / prudential situations is okay compared to older teens, suggesting that older teens justify their lies based on their sense of autonomy.

But there are limits to this trend: the researchers also asked both groups whether it was acceptable to lie about a misdeed (breaking their parents' / friends' cell phone), and all agreed that this was unacceptable.

Read it all here.

Values and teen violence

Perhaps the result seems obvious, but it is reassuring nonetheless. A Israeli study of both Jewish and Arab teens has found that teens values are a buffer against violence:

The researchers are from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The researchers gave questionnaires to 907 Jewish and Arab teenagers in grades 10 to 12 who attended 33 schools in Israel, where Jewish and Arab children attend two separate public schools systems. The teens answered questions about the importance of 10 different values and about their own violent behavior. Values were defined as goals and ideas the students saw as important and guiding principles in their lives. Violent behavior was defined as actions like hitting and threatening. The prevalence of violence in the schools was estimated by averaging, in each school, adolescents' reports of their own violent behavior, violent behavior by their two best friends, and the violence they had encountered at school.

In both Arab and Jewish schools, adolescents who valued power (trying to attain social status by controlling and dominating others) reported more violent behavior than their peers. Teenagers who valued universalism (promoting understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protecting the welfare of all people and nature) and those who valued conformity (limiting actions and urges that might violate social expectations and norms) reported less violent behavior than their peers. The association of power and universalism with teenagers' behavior was especially strong in schools where children's exposure to violence was relatively common.

According to the researchers, the study's findings highlight the protective role of values, in the same way that personality and family can be protective. In high-risk environments like violent schools, adolescents who place a low value on power and those who place a high value on universalism may be relatively protected against engaging in violent behavior. This could happen, the researchers suggest, because as teenagers become more aware of violence, their values are more likely to guide their behavior.

"It has always been a major goal of developmental research to understand the causes of violence," says Ariel Knafo, assistant professor of psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the lead author of the study. "The current study, focusing on a life period considered crucial to the development of values, shows the importance of values considered in the educational context. The results suggest that programs that promote universalistic values at the expense of power values, if properly implemented, may help reduce adolescents' violent behavior."

Read it all here.

Bowling in the afterlife

David Bartal, writing in Sweden, reflects on the healing power of bowling.

Just a few days before I was to undergo a major life-threatening operation in a Stockholm hospital last year, I did something odd. Together with my sister who was visiting from Los Angeles, a Swedish graphic designer, and a few journalist buddies, I decided to go bowling.

Read more »

Going to church improves GPA

Does going to to church improve kids GPA? A new study shows that children and youth who attend church have higher grades than their peers. The surprise in the study is that it does not matter if they believe what they hear in church, it is attendance that matters.

Researchers found that church attendance has as much effect on a teen's GPA as whether the parents earned a college degree. Students in grades 7 to 12 who went to church weekly also had lower dropout rates and felt more a part of their schools.

..... Students who attend religious services weekly average a GPA .144 higher than those who never attend services, said Jennifer Glanville, a sociologist at the University of Iowa.

The study.....identifies several reasons the students do better:

*They have regular contact with adults from various generations who serve as role models
*Their parents are more likely to communicate with their friends' parents
*They develop friendships with peers who have similar norms and values
*They're more likely to participate in extracurricular activities

"Surprisingly, the importance of religion to teens had very little impact on their educational outcomes," Glanville said. "That suggests that the act of attending church -- the structure and the social aspects associated with it -- could be more important to educational outcomes than the actual religion."

Religious-service attendance had the same effect across all major denominations, the researchers found. The results are detailed in the winter 2008 issue of the Sociological Quarterly.

Read more at Friends of Jake.

Long distance Christmas

Bishop George Packard, the Episcopal Bishop in charge of Chaplaincies, points us to a new resource offered by Episcopal Church to families celebrating Christmas while separated by deployment.

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New survey of teens: clergy not role models

A new survey conducted by Junior Achievement and Deloitte showed that teens only rarely see clergy as role models:

Out of 100 American teens, only three are likely to say they see members of the clergy as role models, according to a survey on teens and ethical decision making.

Scarcely any teens (those under age 18) view their pastors, priests, rabbis or imams as role models. Instead, many reported seeing their parents as role models (54 percent), the survey conducted by Junior Achievement and Deloitte showed.

Friends (13 percent), teachers or coaches (6 percent), and siblings (5 percent) also beat out clergies as role model figures.

Just slightly more than one in ten (11 percent) say they don’t have any role models.

But the poll’s major finding is that although the overwhelming majority of teens (80 percent) believe they are ethically prepared to make moral business decisions, nearly 40 percent believe they need to “break the rules” in order to succeed.

Read it all here.


Fatherlessness

As Father's Day approaches Frank Stasio of WNUC - North Carolina Public Radio and host of The State of Things talks about Fatherlessness. He writes:

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What Horowitz learned about compassion

David Horowitz is the author of Radical Son, his autobiography about his transformation from a 1960s New Left marxist radical, to an equally sharp-elbowed thinker and writer on the right.

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Mpho Tutu: Why I am proud of my father

Mpho Tutu, writing in The Huffington Post, tells why she is proud of her father, Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu:

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What's a family?

A majority of Americans surveyed for the just released book, Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and Americans' Definitions of Family, consider same-sex couples with children to be a family.

Read more.

Can attachment theory explain your relationship with the divine?

The authors of the new book God Attachment: Why You Believe, Act, and Feel the Way You Do About God think the (re)emerging field of attachment theory can help us better understand our expectations about a relationship with God.

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Parenting by gays more common in South

Census Bureau demographers say new data shows that Jacksonville, Fla., is home to one of the biggest populations of gay parents in the country:

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Family values

This is the kind of thing that happens when gays and lesbians are allowed to adopt children.

Some things we know for sure — a little boy dealt a seemingly impossible hand, the two gay men who decided to give him a home and a life, the unlikely spell cast by the only horse in Montclair.

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Larry Summers defends childhood

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, they brought out the heavy artillery to take on Amy Chua, the self-described “tiger mother” -- Larry Summers, self-described "hard ass." (No pun intended.)

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When kids bring up same-sex marriage

Lee Rose Emery writes for CNN about how it's in the car that her children enter the deep conversations:

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Guiding Children Through Religion

Thoughtful dialogue on NPR's Tell Me More

Some parents feel responsible to shape their children's religious foundations while others prefer to let kids explore faith for themselves.

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Slain educator firm believer in doing what is right

Florida Times-Union writer Mark Woods wrote an article some time ago about parents at an Episcopal School losing perspective in undermining a results from a football game. He was surprised when, in response, he received a thank you email from the Head of Scool, Dale Regan. Woods writes on Jacksonville.com:

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Graduates honor slain Episcopal School director

Graduates of Episcopal School of Jacksonville, Florida, paid homage Saturday to Dale Regan, head of the school who was murdered in her office in March.

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Boy preacher

Hamil Harris of The Washington Post tells the story of the Rev. Ezekiel Stoddard, an 11-year-old boy preacher with his own congregation.

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Does social media change the terms of youth pilgrimage?

With summer on, many Episcopal parishes, including mine, have sent or will soon be sending teenagers on “pilgrimage.” Our youth group is in San Francisco for a week, visiting tourist sites and sacred spaces. I’ve been pondering how social media has changed the terms of this rite of passage, in that parents, friends and our entire congregation can keep up with every move these kids make, via Facebook, a blog they’ve created, email, video clips and Twitter.

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Auditor says of gay parenting study: "It's bull___."

An audit of the gay parenting study has concluded the work is seriously flawed. The editor of the journal that published the study requested the audit. The Chronicle of Higher Education has obtained a copy of the audit report and interviewed its author.

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Far from the tree

Minnesota Public Radio interview with Andrew Solomon on his new book Far from the Tree which explores disability and identity:

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The NRA evangelizes the next generation

From The New York Times:

Threatened by long-term declining participation in shooting sports, the firearms industry has poured millions of dollars into a broad campaign to ensure its future by getting guns into the hands of more, and younger, children.

There's a lot more. But just meditate on that sentence for a while before reading the rest.

Katharine Welby talks about depression

Katharine Welby, daughter of the Archbishop of Canterbury, gives her first interview about depression in
The Telegraph:

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On the self-caricaturing concerns of high-flying parents

Did this article in The New York Times Magazine about a new school in New York City for the children of the intellectual elite make anyone else despair for the future of humankind?

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Receiving the Holy Mystery

In Forward Movement's "50 Days of Fabulous" , a celebration of the Easter Season, Susan McDonald reflects on understanding the Eucharist:

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Letters from fathers on Father's Day

Time Magazine has a collection of letters to daughters from famous fathers this week, Letters from Dad:

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"Love and accept your kid...it's not negotiable."

A mother and her gay son tell StoryCorps how they got past the damage done by "reparative therapy" and Exodus International and learned to love and accept each other.

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Tweeting grief

Scott Simon of NPR has been with his mother this past couple of weeks as she journeyed towards death. If you did not follow his tweets on Twitter - here is the story and his words. It was an amazing and touching time:

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The Disgrace of Infertility

Nate Pyle explores "The Disgrace of Infertility" at his blog From One Degree to Another.

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Montana Episcopalians hold summer camp for kids whose parents are in prison

The Episcopal Diocese of Montana offers summer camp to children and teens whose parents are incarcerated: The
Billings Gazette writes:

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