youth

When and How to Have Tough Conversations with Your Kids

 
 
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I had a proud mama moment this week. My youngest, a budding activist who happens to be a 5th grader, declared she was one of a few kids who raised their hands when the teacher asked who knew of Malala. She then apparently took over the discussion about girls’ education and Malala’s efforts, having not only read the book, but watched the documentary, He Named Me Malala.

Malala is her hero.

She knows about the youngest Nobel Peace Prize recipient because I bought her the Junior edition in 3rd grade. In 4th grade, I pulled her out of school when limited viewing of the film came to town. And, we’ve continued to discuss global inequity, girls there vs. here, how education decreases terrorism, and the overall privilege she enjoys. She stayed up late the night CNN aired Michelle Obama’s We Will Rise, celebrated Advent with the family at the After Spring Syrian Refugee documentary, and cried with me over Hidden Figures last week.

She’s an activist because of me. She’s a little women’s rights campaigner because of me.

And I’m proud.

A friend asked how to have tough conversations with kids and I knew, he was referencing porn, sex and sexuality, online safety, suicide… all the things we parents muster up the courage to address. We look for books and ask our elders, hoping for an easy, miraculously “safe” way to handle these sensitive topics. And then, if we’re intentional, we schedule a night, a breakfast, a weekend to convey the information, breathing a sigh of relief. We expect behavioral adaptations will follow.

What if they don’t?

Are my kids the only ones who have a short attention span? Is my son the only teen who says “got it” ten billion times a week as the most obvious attempt at covering up a blow off? Surely, I’m not the only parent who repeats herself.

I think osmosis is more effective than a fire hose. Hanging truth upon experience is what makes meaning. Slow parenting looks like repetition over time plus example. And this? This is not accomplished in a singular event.

We cannot teach our kids media literacy over dinner. We won’t raise sexually pure kids as a result of one special weekend. We will not inoculate them from peer pressure after one bullying presentation.

How do parents have tough conversations with their kids? Start young. Don’t stop.

My 10-year old can handle watching a film about Syrian refugees because we’ve talked extensively about global issues. She could read about Malala’s volatile and dangerous life at age 8 because I didn’t shield her from the world’s pain. She wears a “People Don’t Buy People” sweatshirt to school because she gets modern day slavery. Even if she doesn’t fully understand it or picture what it entails, she gets people being forced to do something they never wanted to do.

Raising children to engage the brokenness and darkness and glories of the world as adults requires exposing them to the brokenness and darkness and glories of the world as kids (in age appropriate chunks). As Kate Conner, author of Enough, writes, “Crack the door and let all of the broken, beautiful humanity flood in like a sunbeam. Let it in; let it move her. Let it inspire her, wreck her, challenge her. Let it change her. If you want her to catch the fire, you’re going to have to put her near a flame.”

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If you want to have tough conversations with your kids, you’re going to have to get them near the flame. And of course, you’re going to have get near the flame too.

 

She started selling herself at 14, but her journey is amazing

I'm pleased to have Sheli Massie guest post today. Her transparent and raw story informs so much of what I see in the youth for whom I give sex trafficking prevention trainings. Having a hopeful journey as an example is invaluable. Thanks Sheli for sharing! ***********************************************************

SHE SOLD

I started selling myself when I was 14. Not the on the corner selling. Not online selling. But the please pay attention to me and love me kind of selling. Please tell me I am enough selling. My mother did not drop me at a brothel in order for my siblings to survive. I did it to myself. Some choices I made. Some were made for me.

Me in my skin-tight jeans. Me in my overalls. Me in my long skirts. Me in my short skirts. It had nothing to do with what I was wearing or who I was. It had to do with who I wasn’t. I don’t ever dare compare myself to the millions of children each year that are forced into sex work. Or the girls who are walking the red light districts in their villages to survive. Never. I would never even think that the horror that they experience every day is in any way comparable to my mid-western western choices. But one thing I thing I can relate to is the shell of the person that I became. When you give yourself away and are left with just a shell of disconnect.

I turn forty next month. If I think about it long enough I can get anxious and start thinking of all of the things I have yet to accomplish and the things I never became or missed. Having lived forty years I have to say that the last five have been the hardest and yet produced most growth. Through being stuck in Uganda and not knowing when I would see my whole family again. To suffering from PTSD, depression, anxiety, and attachment issues when I returned. And then to be hit with more news of another child who had been suffering all along. And to watch as she went through years of testing and evaluation in order to receive a diagnosis that is lifelong. I have walked through grief and relief all on the same breath.

But nothing can compare to knowing that I more fully myself than I have ever been. I am confident that I am stronger and braver than I ever thought I could be. I am more confident that my experiences in the past are ONLY used for good. And thank you Jesus that he is letting me see the fruit of that pain today.

But me taking off my clothes for years did more damage than anyone could see. It left me lonely for the next 25. I know that others argue when you give yourself away it won’t affect you. God forgives you and you are fully redeemed. Yes. Yes to all of that. But it does not take away the reality that you are not all of who you were supposed to be. There was so much of me missing. So many parts of me still lay in back seats, parks, beaches, hotels, and beds. So much of me lingered there for years waiting for my soul to collect me. Waiting for me to forgive.

And I think all the time of the sweet angels all over the world tonight that are asking others to love them. To buy them. To sell them. I want to scream and plead. I want to hold them and love them and tell them “you are already enough."

I want to tell them it will take years for the pieces of you to fully return to a new healed soul. But this is not my job. My job is to be their voice. I can. You can. I now work for an organization called Trades of Hope. We partner with marginalized women all over the world. We sell jewelry that is ethically produced by using Fair Trade principle. By marketing their creations we offer artisans a way to provide for their families without entering into slavery, a way to keep their children rather than giving them to orphanages or to the sex trade. I love everything about this company. But the thing I love the most is that 25 years ago God saw the mess that I was making of my life and continued to make for years and whispered gently “I will make all things new.”

Yet it wasn’t until now I that I hear Him.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

************************************************************ Sheli MassieSheli is a writer on good days when a child isn’t puking or screaming or the dog hasn’t run away for the zillionth time or when the house doesn’t look like a Hoarders episode or she didn’t forget to pick up one of the five children from school. She lives in the western suburbs of Chicago with her husband who has pushed her to be a better version of herself for sixteen years. She adore my best friends and she gets anxiety attacks around anyone pretty or skinny, so she stays in her yoga pants and writes about her redemptive story as a proud member of Redbud Writers Guild. You can find Sheli at http://shelimassie.com/

The One Book to Read to Learn More about Child Sex Trafficking

Having bombarded you this month with various posts regarding human trafficking awareness, I want to close out January's National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month with a book recommendation for you to read and learn more. Of the many excellent primers and memoirs out there, my most recent favorite is a combination of the two. Walking-Prey-Cover2

Survivor and activist, Smith weaves her personal story into an analysis of the cultural constructs that form the backdrop and path to trafficking. Unlike most books on this subject, Walking Prey thoroughly addresses the negative influence of media including the early consumerism of children, sexually explicit music lyrics and videos and television and movie industries.

The sexualization of idols in teen-driven media adds to a teen's self-objectification and self-sexualization.

Smith describes in vivid detail (readers beware) the compounding vulnerabilities she experienced before the age of 14. Media is merely one, but it fed into her low self-esteem brought on by substance abuse in the home, childhood sexual abuse, parental denial of abuse, and lack of mental health interventions. For various reasons, by the time she was trafficked, prostitution didn't seem so preposterous. "I already saw my body as a form of currency even before I arrived at that motel room."

I cringe when people refer to me as a former sex slave because if I was a sex slave to anyone, it was to popular culture. Advertisers, entertainment producers, and other moguls of the media were the ones who seasoned me to accept sexual exploitation and prostitution. My body was an object: its sole purpose, I believed by that point, was for sex.

For all the research I do and conferences and trainings I attend on this subject, Walking Prey is the first book that has really challenged me as a mother and trainer of youth. I thought I had crafted an awesome hour-long presentation to high school students. I thought I had all the right components in the arts prevention curriculum I wrote last year. Now I am seriously considering how to add media literacy to my training.

And then there's my home... The Disney Channel regularly promotes "dating" among younger and younger kids and yet before we got rid of cable, was often on in our living room. What is the message that our adolescents are receiving about needing to have a boyfriend/ girlfriend? What about the lyrics to the songs they listen to? One Direction has many catchy songs, but it took us really listening to realize almost every one was about relationships and sex... and our 7-year-old was memorizing them. These popular cultural messages which slip into our kids souls through Disney (at first) feed into an over-sexualized culture which lays the groundwork for exploitation.

Smith lists some interesting documentaries to watch and learn more. Some of the trailers can be viewed for free:

1. Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood

2. Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex, and Power in Music Videos

3. Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising's Image of Women

I appreciate Holly Smith sharing her story and offering the anti-trafficking movement such a thorough resource. Right now, if you are a parent, I want to encourage you to take whatever seeds of guilt or condemnation you might be feeling (I don't intend that!) and turn it into prevention education. Would you at least consider the role of media and the over-sexualization of our kids... your kids... And consider the role it plays in allowing sex trafficking to prosper in our society.