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One of our weekly groups is a year-round group at a local adolescent drug rehab. We have been working at this facility for over four years now, and I can honestly say it can be the most rewarding or frustrating experience of my week. These are young men who are battling addictions at a very young age and are (primarily) court ordered to go through 45-60 days of rehabilitation.
There are 16 boys on the unit at all times, so you can imagine how up and down these boys can get. A few weeks back, I had to completely shut down the group because the boys were not only being disrespectful of me, but also of each other. Nothing was getting done, and it seemed like they had all decided to quit on the group before we ever got started.
I don’t have to shut groups down very often. I try to exhaust all of my options before I make the call, but when I do, I typically do so with something specific in mind:
You see, when I have to come down hard on a group because of behavior or disrespect, I try to do so with a bigger plan in mind. While I hate to boot out a whole group of students from a week of support group that could be potentially helpful, I know the next week when we meet, things will be better.
Things will be better because when we meet again, I don’t hold anything against them. They failed to make the group happen last week. Maybe I failed as a leader. But, what is most important is how we move on. We can make it better together. I’m going to show up with the a positive attitude believing they can fix the problem.
And guess what? They always do. Anytime I’ve had to call out students on their behavior or attitude, they respond when I come back with the expectation that they will make it better and fix the problem.
We can do a great service to teenagers when we believe that they can get better. Adults have incredible power to influence students in a positive way by having hope that they can make positive and meaningful changes.
What can you communicate today to a student that will help them make meaningful change?
Before you freak out about the title of this blog, give me a chance to explain.
I am a hopeless romantic. My favorite movie is still Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I love the stories where the princess falls in love and lives happily ever after. When it comes to books, I read anything and everything with a love story – Nicholas Sparks, The Twilight Saga, The Selection Series, anything by Karen Kingsbury. I have iron-clad opinions on whether Katniss should end up with Gale or Peeta. I cried my way through The Notebook and even read the less-popular sequel.
I admit that I am a faithful watcher of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. I can tell you the names of the couples that are still together, watched all their TV weddings and even follow a few of my favorites on social media. I love the romantic dates, seeing who will get a rose each week, and watching the guys pick out the perfect engagement ring. I live for that final episode when the man gets down on one knee, and you see their love story come together for the perfect finale. Have I mentioned that I love all things romance?
But “porn,” really?? “Porn” can be a taboo word for our culture. Yes, we know it is out there, but we are not always willing to talk about it. Why would we want to bring up such an awkward topic with our teenagers? They don’t struggle with pornography addiction…and especially not my daughter!
Think again. According to research done by Covenant Eyes, 90% of boys and 60% of girls are exposed to pornography before the age of 18. That is your teenager. They are growing up in a culture where they can access pornography 24/7 on their television, laptop, or on the tiny phone that is attached to their hand. Pornography is a problem for adolescents and an issue that we do not ignore, but this blog is not about that type of pornography – naked pictures, sexting, magazines and x-rated movies (we will save that for another day).
For today, I want to speak mainly to the girls out there. Whether or not you connect with my story (or know someone else that does), I believe that our culture encourages girls and women to fall in love with these fictional men and their perfect relationships where arguments and morning breath do not exist.
In their book, Dateable: Are You? Are They?, Justin Lookadoo and Hayley DiMarco write:
“This is the #1 thing that distorts a girl’s view of reality, men and relationships. Maybe you haven’t heard it called female porn. Maybe you know it by the softer, more acceptable terms of “chick flicks” and romance novels…Your porn isn’t sexual, it’s romantic. But it gives you a warped view of men…if you have a man in your life, you begin to look at him in light of Mr. Perfect, and he can’t compare. He’ll never be as beautiful or romantic as the movie star with all the makeup and good lighting…It creates men who rescue you from out-of control buses and shower you with rooms full of roses. They fly you off to Paris for the weekend and save you from the evil villain bent on destroying the world. These men don’t exist…you are imposing an impossible set of demands on your guy.”
I am not saying that we need to ban romance movies or books – what would I do in my free time? But I do have a few suggestions for how we can combat this culture where girls are looking for a Prince Charming who will never come, and where guys feel like they can never live up to the romantic standard set by Hollywood.
1. Discuss realistic expectations.
When you talk to teenagers about the latest romantic comedy, make sure that they know that those are unrealistic expectations. While it is not unrealistic to expect a man to open your car door, hold your hand or treat you like you deserve to be treated, men (just like women) are imperfect. They aren’t going to bring home flowers every day. Their lines aren’t written by a producer who makes a living by making you cry. They probably aren’t going to stand outside of your window with a boombox to win your affection. They sometimes smell, they don’t always enjoy everything you do and they probably don’t have the bank account to support your love of diamonds or to fly you across the world for an exotic date.
It is okay to give a reality check. Encourage them to write down what they are actually looking for in their “perfect mate.” Focus on qualities and characteristics, not necessarily on their physical appearance or ability to give great gifts.
2. Set realistic boundaries.
You know your teenager best. If you see them falling into this romantic porn trap, set a few boundaries. Maybe they need to take a break from Nicholas Sparks. Perhaps you set a boundary where they have to sit down and have a discussion with you after they watch or read anything in that romance genre. Encourage them to find new, age-appropriate TV shows, books, or movies to invest their time in – try watching The Voice or Fixer Upper. Protect their hearts by limiting their exposure to romantically-saturated forms of entertainment. Maybe it is time to start a new hobby, like knitting!
3. Model realistic relationships.
Real relationships exist, so don’t hide the realities of marriage from your teenager. You are doing a disservice to your children if you pretend that your marriage is as perfect as the ones we see on-screen. It’s okay for them to see you argue every now and then. Start bragging about the little things that your spouse does – show that romance can come in the form of a well-timed kiss on the cheek, or coming home to clean dishes, or a text asking how your day was. Surround your teenagers with healthy relationships, in and out of the home, where they can see how marriages work on a day-to-day basis.
What do you think of this idea of female, or romantic, porn? Do you have any other ideas for how we can protect and encourage teenagers?