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Editor’s note: This is the first in a four-part series about teens, sex, and social media. Read the entire series here


Remember the thrill you felt when you passed a note in junior high math class?

The anticipation of getting a response to that note was almost too much to bear. Would the recipient of your rule-breaking correspondence reply positively? Or… oh no! What if he or she didn’t like you the way you liked him or her?

What if the person you thought you could trust with this most intimate glimpse into your heart’s desires took that carefully crafted note and taped it to the bathroom door – laying bare your soul for all the school to see. That would be the worst!

Yes, in 1989, that would be the worst. In 2016, that note would be a naked photo of you, snapped in a moment that felt brave and daring, and then sent with a light touch of a little circle on a screen.

And if things got really bad, that bathroom wall would be a Facebook wall, viewable by not only your entire school, but any of the three billion people worldwide with access to the internet.

Now that would be the worst.

According to a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center, 88% of teenagers in the U.S. have a cell phone, and 90% of them use their phone for texting.

Nearly three-quarters of teens (ages 13-17) visit various social media sites multiple times a day, and 33% use messaging apps like Kik, WhatsApp, or SnapChat.

This is all to say that a lot of your teen’s life happens through his or her phone. It’s very likely that most of what they’re writing, doing, and seeing on their phones is not concerning.

But it’s that relatively small percentage of highly inappropriate or downright scary-as-shit happenings – sexting rings, porn addiction, cyberbullying – that catch our attention and receive hours or pages of media coverage.

I’m generally of the mind that our fear-based mainstream media be taken with a hundred grains of salt or ignored altogether, but in the case of teens, sex, and social media, there’s a lot worth looking into.

Mainly because you – the parent – can help. The key is to approach these topics with an open mind and a little bit of context.

Sexting

A 2014 study out of Drexel University found that 28% of college students had sent a sext containing a nude or semi-nude photo before they were 18.

The same study also revealed that the average age of first sext was just under 16 years old, though some respondents were as young as 12 when they first sexted.

Kids who are busted for sending or receiving sexual or naked photos can face major criminal charges. Case law hasn’t caught up with this relatively new adolescent behavior, and so the criminal justice system does the best it can with the laws already on the books.

Some states rely on child pornography laws to prosecute such cases, which – in extreme examples – can lead to a 12-year-old being labeled a sex offender for the rest of his or her life.

Stephen LaTulippe is the director of the Community Justice Center in Williston, Vermont. He says Vermont tends to be more “forward-thinking” than some states, often referring first offenders to restorative justice programs like his.

But even in a more lenient state, the consensual sharing of nude photos is illegal for people under the age of majority.

If a minor receives a sext “and sends it on, without the sender’s consent, to a third party, it automatically becomes a felony,” explains LaTulippe. Sending that same image across state lines “really ups the ante. It becomes a federal issue: dissemination of pornographic material of an underage person across state lines. It becomes much more problematic,” he says.

Illustration: Katrina Weigand

It’s easy to see how an unwitting teen could excitedly or nefariously blast a nude photo out to friends in other states or broadcast the prurient material on a social media site.

The potential legal ramifications of their actions are truly terrifying, but the likelihood that your child would face these dire consequences is quite slim.

Social repercussions, like shame and humiliation, are more common, as is a general feeling of regret. There’s also a high percentage chance that your teen will feel none of these things and fail to understand what the “big deal” is. (If this is the case, recall yourself as a teen and remember the things you did and said that your parents found shocking.)

Though it may sound crazy that almost a third of teenagers engage in sexting, psychologist Eileen Kennedy Moore points out in Psychology Today that this means more than 70 percent of teens DO NOT sext.

It’s not exactly the widespread phenomenon that many news outlets would have us believe, but it is absolutely a thing that sometimes happens among young people who may not fully comprehend what they’re doing, may be doing it for the wrong reasons, and have no idea of the potential long-range effects.

Porn

Speaking of long-range effects, Time magazine recently ran a cover story about young men who were teens just a few years ago, when online porn was so readily available to them that it turned out to be harmful.

There is now a (predictably debatable) condition called porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED) afflicting a subset of male 20-somethings who say that, due to the unchecked hours of time they spent watching online porn and then masturbating, they were only able to become aroused by porn. Real girls were not enough.

Researchers say this could be the result of unintentional conditioning. Cognitive neuroscientist Brian Anderson explains in the Time story that the visual nature of porn may make it particularly habit-forming. “There probably comes a point in time where you open up your browser and you just start thinking about porn,” says Anderson. 

The fact that viewers receive this form of stimulus through a computer, and that computers are essentially everywhere, compounds the problem yet again. 

Connect this neuroscience with the simple fact that the brain of a teenager is still deeply involved in the business of developing, and it’s easy to understand why some boys can’t stop watching porn, and then cannot achieve an erection without it.

Illustration: Katrina Weigand

Another important factor left out of the science is the fact that porn is overwhelmingly misogynistic. Peggy Orenstein, in her book “Girls and Sex,” refers to a study that found almost 90% of 304 randomly selected porn scenes “contained physical aggression toward women, who nearly always responded neutrally or with pleasure.” Orenstein goes on to say that some scenes also depicted women who beg “their partners to stop, then acquiesce and begin to enjoy the activity, regardless of how painful or debasing.”

While all this porn is doing some measure of damage to the brains of young men, it is simultaneously harming girls by presenting women as tools for male enjoyment versus wholly formed people with thoughts, standards, and desires of their own.

The subversive cruelty of porn is that it tricks both boys and girls (who aren’t legally meant to be viewing it anyway) into thinking that men are supposed to dominate, women are supposed to give in, and both parties should look a certain brand of ridiculous while doing it.

Okay, so, big picture, why is this an issue? Because in the absence of useful, honest, age-appropriate sex education in schools and homes, many teens turn to porn to learn about way more than the birds and the bees.

You cannot wait for institutionalized sex ed to step up and deliver the kind of knowledge your kids are looking for. It’s one of your responsibilities, as a parent, to teach your children about healthy relationships, open communication, and good sex.

Cyberbullying

While researching this story, the idea that struck me as most alarming is that any boy would think it’s okay to harass a girl for nude photos.

The slope from that point to rape seems far too steep. Research by the Urban Institute found that “96% of (dating) teens experiencing digital abuse and harassment also experience other forms of violence or abuse from their partners.”

Janine Zweig, Senior Fellow at the Urban Institute, explains that these other forms of abuse included psychological and physical abuse, as well as sexual coercion experiences. “The way we defined sexual coercion experience in this study was completed acts. So, not just the pressuring behaviors, but (teens) reporting that they were having sexual experiences that they didn’t want,” says Zwieg.

About one-third of teen victims of digital abuse reported being sexually coerced, a rate that is five times higher than dating teens who are not experiencing digital abuse.

This confirmed my fear that someone who feels okay about pressuring another person to send a nude photo or sharing that photo, without consent, might feel less inhibited when it comes to pressuring offline, too.

Information of this kind – the kind that feels scary and overwhelming at first – often presents a gift when you sit with it for a few minutes. The numbers and faces appearing in your mind’s eye will coalesce into a clear picture of empowerment. You have people to care for! And now you have a little more information to help you do just that!

Because you see, there are red flags, and if you’re paying attention, you’ll spot them. If your teen is on his or her phone late at night, behind a closed bedroom or bathroom door, she or he might be doing something unsafe. If their online behavior seems unsafe to you, there’s good reason for you to ask a few questions about their offline experiences.

While there’s no guarantee that your teen will immediately engage with you on the level you’re hoping for, a compassionate, curious, understanding approach will help make it clear that you’re available to them.

Put down your own phone, close the laptop, and reach out.

Our kids are not lost

The idea of speaking openly with your child about sexuality is scary to a lot of people. That’s okay.

Illustration: Katrina Weigand

There’s a very good chance that nobody covered the topic with you in a blunt and honest manner when you were a kid – especially if you live in the United States.

Our country came out of its great sexual revolution with very little lasting change to show for it. Conversely, the Netherlands experienced a similar renaissance in the 1960s and emerged with vastly different attitudes towards sex and sex ed.

PBS NewsHour reported last year that Dutch teen pregnancy rates are now five times lower than in the U.S., and rates of sexually transmitted infections are markedly lower, too.

Dutch schools utilize a comprehensive sexual education curriculum that begins in kindergarten; a program that’s supported in homes by parents who understand that their children are best served when sexuality is treated as the natural, normal, healthy part of living that it is.

And that’s the thing – your child will become a sexual being. It’s going to happen. It may be happening now. We went through it, as did every single generation of human beings before us. Curiosity led you to sneak a peak at your dad’s stack of Playboys hidden under the bed. Pubescent inklings led me to surreptitiously marvel at the illustrations in “The Joy of Sex.”

What’s different is that our kids have the internet, in all its stakes-raising glory. A whole lot of their life is lived inside the pages of that virtual world, so attempting to ban its use altogether, or to severely restrict their access, would be tone-deaf at best and destructive at worst.

This confluence of online access – to other people, to information and mis-information, to words and images that teen brains are not ready to adequately process – and a naturally budding sexuality creates the conditions under which sexting, youth porn addiction, and cyberbullying can prosper.

But the super important, often overlooked, third contributing factor is the dearth of actual human resources available to kids who genuinely want to talk about this stuff. That’s YOU.

You are the human resource your kid needs.

Compassionate parents provide a counterweight to the inherent pressures of adolescence. Our kids may not always feel the balancing power of our love on a conscious level, but maybe that’s the point. It’s just there – they don’t have to think about it.

By opening up to your children about sex, desire, relationships, and young love, you’re creating the space into which they will move when they need it most.

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We spend a lot of time prepping for the arrival of a baby. But when it comes to the arrival of our breast milk (and all the massive adjustments that come with it), it's easy to be caught off guard. Stocking up on a few breastfeeding essentials can make the transition to breastfeeding a lot less stressful, which means more time and energy focusing on what's most important: Your recovery and your brand new baby.

Here are the essential breastfeeding tools you'll need, mama:

1. For covering up: A cute nursing cover

First and foremost, please know that all 50 states in the United States have laws that allow women to breastfeed in public. You do not have to cover yourself if you don't want to—and many mamas choose not to—and we are all for it.

That said, if you do anticipate wanting to take a more modest approach to breastfeeding, a nursing cover is a must. You will find an array of styles to choose from, but we love an infinity scarf, like the LK Baby Infinity Nursing Scarf Nursing Cover. You'll be able to wear the nursing cover instead of stuffing it in your already brimming diaper bag—and it's nice to have it right there when the baby is ready to eat.

Also, in the inevitable event that your baby spits-up on you or you leak some milk through your shirt, having a quick and stylish way to cover up is a total #momwin.

2. For getting comfortable: A cozy glider

Having a comfy spot to nurse can make a huge difference. Bonus points if that comfy place totally brings a room together, like the Delta Children Paris Upholstered Glider!

Get your cozy space ready to go, and when your baby is here, you can retreat from the world and just nurse, bond, and love.

3. For unmatched support: A wire-free nursing bra

It may take trying on several brands to find the perfect match, but finding a nursing bra that you love is 100% worth the effort. Your breasts will be changing and working in ways that are hard to imagine. An excellent supportive bra will make this so much more comfortable.

It is crucial to choose a wireless bra for the first weeks of nursing since underwire can increase the risk of clogged ducts (ouch).The Playtex Maternity Shaping Foam Wirefree Nursing Bra is an awesome pick for this reason, and because it is designed to flex and fit your breasts as they go through all those changes.

4. For maximum hydration: A large reusable water bottle

Nothing can prepare you for the intense thirst that hits when breastfeeding. Quench that thirst (and help keep your milk supply up in the process) by always having a water bottle with a straw nearby, like this Exquis Large Outdoor Water Bottle.

5. For feeding convenience: A supportive nursing tank

Experts recommend that during the first weeks of your baby's life, you breastfeed on-demand, meaning that any time your tiny boss demands milk, you feed them. This will help establish your milk supply and get everything off to a good start.

What does this mean for your life? You will be breastfeeding A LOT. Nursing tanks, like the Loving Moments by Leading Lady, make this so much easier. They have built-in support to keep you comfy, and you can totally wear them around the house, or even out and about. When your baby wants to eat, you'll be able to quickly "pop out" a breast and feed them.

6. For pain prevention: A quality nipple ointment

Breastfeeding shouldn't hurt, but the truth is those first days can be uncomfortable. Your nipples will likely feel raw as they adjust to their new job. This will get better! But until it does, nipple ointment is amazing.

My favorite is the Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter. We love that it's organic, and it is oh-so-soothing on your hard-at-work nipples.

Psst: If it actually hurts when your baby latches on, something may be up, so call your provider or a lactation consultant for help.

7. For uncomfortable moments: A dual breast therapy pack

As your breasts adjust to their new role, you may experience a few discomforts—applying warmth or cold can help make them feel so much better. The Lansinoh TheraPearl 3-in-1 Breast Therapy Pack is awesome because you can microwave the pads or put them in the freezer, giving you a lot of options when your breasts need some TLC.

Again, if you have any concerns about something being wrong (pain, a bump that may be red or hot, fever, or anything else), call a professional right away.

8. For inevitable leaks: An absorbing breast pad

In today's episode of, "Oh come on, really?" you are going to leak breastmilk. Now, this is entirely natural and you are certainly not required to do anything about this. Still, many moms choose to wear breast pads in their bras to avoid leaking through to their shirts.

You can go the convenient and disposable route with Lansinoh Disposable Stay Dry Nursing Pads, or for a more environmentally friendly option, you can choose washable pads, like these Organic Bamboo Nursing Breast Pads.

9. For flexibility: A breast pump

Many women find that a breast pump becomes one of their most essential mom-tools. The ability to provide breast milk when you are away from your baby (and relieve uncomfortable engorged breasts) will add so much flexibility into your new-mom life.

For quick trips out and super-easy in-your-bag transport, opt for a manual pump like the Lansinoh Manual Breast Pump .

If you will be away from your baby for longer periods of time (traveling or working outside the home, for example) an electric pump is your most efficient bet. The Medela Pump In Style Advanced Double Electric Breast Pump is a classic go-to that will absolutely get the job done, and then some.

10. For quality storage: Breast milk bags

Once you pump your liquid gold, aka breast milk, you'll need a place to store it. The Kiinde Twist Pouches allow you to pump directly into the bags which means one less step (and way less to clean).

11. For keeping cool: A freezer bag

Transport your pumped milk back home to your baby safely in a cooler like the Mommy Knows Best Breast Milk Baby Bottle Cooler Bag. Remember to put the milk in a fridge or freezer as soon as you can to optimize how long it stays usable for.

12. For continued nourishment: Bottles

Nothing beats the peace of mind you get when you know that your baby is being well-taken of care—and well fed—until you can be together again. The Philips Avent Natural Baby Bottle Newborn Starter Gift Set is a fan favorite (mama and baby fans alike).

This article is sponsored by Walmart. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country.

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A viral video about car seat safety has parents everywhere cracking up and humming Sir-Mix-A-Lot.

"I like safe kids and I cannot lie," raps Norman Regional Health System pediatric hospitalist Dr. Kate Cook (after prefacing her music video with an apology to her children."I'm a doctor tryin' warn you that recs have changed," she continues.

Dr. Cook's rap video is all about the importance of keeping babies facing backward. It's aptly called "Babies Face Back," and uses humor and parody to drive home car seat recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

"Switching from rear-facing to forward-facing is a milestone many parents can't wait to reach," Dr. Cook said in a news release about her hilarious video. "But this is one area where you want to delay the transition as long as possible because each one actually reduces the protection to the child."

Last summer the AAP updated its official stance on car seat safety to be more in line with what so many parents were already doing and recommended that kids stay rear-facing for as long as possible. But with so many things to keep track of in life, it is understandable that some parents still don't know about the change. Dr. Cook wants to change that with some cringe-worthy rapping.

The AAP recommends:

  • Babies and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat.
  • Once they are facing forward, children should use a forward-facing car safety seat with a harness for as long as possible. Many seats are good up to 65 pounds.
  • When children outgrow their car seat they should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle's lap and shoulder seat belt fits properly, between 8 and 12 years old.

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[Editor's note: Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country.]

Suicide rates for girls and women in the United States have increased 50% since 2000, according to the CDC and new research indicates a growing number of pregnant and postpartum women are dying by suicide and overdose. Suicide rates for boys and men are up, too.

It's clear there is a mental health crisis in America and it is robbing children of their mothers and mothers of their children.

Medical professionals urge people to get help early, but sometimes getting help is not so simple. For many Americans, the life preserver that is mental health care is out of reach when they are drowning.

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg just released a plan he hopes could change that and says the neglect of mental health in the United States must end. "Our plan breaks down the barriers around mental health and builds up a sense of belonging that will help millions of suffering Americans heal," says Buttigieg.

He thinks he can "prevent 1 million deaths of despair by 2028" by giving Americans more access to mental health and addictions services.

In a country where giving birth can put a mother in debt, it's not surprising that while as many as 1 in 5 new moms suffers from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, more than half of new moms who need mental health treatment don't get it. Stigma, childcare and of course costs are factors in why women aren't seeking help when they are struggling.

Buttigieg's plan is interesting because it could remove some of these barriers. He wants to make mental health care more affordable by ensuring everyone has comprehensive coverage for mental health care and by ensuring that everyone can access a free yearly mental health check-up.

That could make getting help more affordable for some moms, and by increasing reimbursement rates for mental health care delivered through telehealth, this plan could help moms get face time with a medical professional without having to deal with finding childcare first.

Estimates from new research suggest that in some parts of America as many as 14% or 30% of maternal deaths are caused by addiction or suicide. Buttigieg's plan aims to reduce those estimates by fighting the addiction and opioid crisis and increasing access to mental health services in underserved communities and for people of color. He also wants to reduce the stigma and increase support for the next generation by requiring "every school across the country to teach Mental Health First Aid courses."

These are lofty goals with a lofty price tag. It would cost about $300 billion to do what Buttigieg sets out in his plan and the specifics of how the plan would be funded aren't yet known. Neither is how voters will react to this 18-page plan and whether it will help Buttigieg stand out in a crowded field of Democratic candidates.

What we do know is that right now, America is talking about mental health and whether or not that benefits Buttigieg's campaign it will certainly benefit America.

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[Editor's Note: Welcome to It's Science, a Motherly column focusing on evidence-based explanations for the important moments, milestones, and phenomena of motherhood. Because it's not just you—#itsscience.]

If you breastfeed, you know just how magical (and trying) it is, but it has numerous benefits for mama and baby. It is known to reduce the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis, and cuts the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by half.

If this wasn't powerful enough, scientists have discovered that babies who are fed breast milk have a stomach pH that promotes the formation of HAMLET (Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumor cells). HAMLET was discovered by chance when researchers were studying the antibacterial properties of breast milk. This is a combination of proteins and lipids found in breast milk that can work together to kill cancer cells, causing them to pull away from healthy cells, shrink and die, leaving the healthy cells unaffected.

According to researchers at Lund University in Sweden, this mechanism may contribute to the protective effect breast milk has against pediatric tumors and leukemia, which accounts for about 30% of all childhood cancer. Other researchers analyzed 18 different studies, finding that "14% to 19% of all childhood leukemia cases may be prevented by breastfeeding for six months or more."

And recently, doctors in Sweden collaborated with scientists in Prague to find yet another amazing benefit to breast milk. Their research demonstrated that a certain milk sugar called Alpha1H, found only in breast milk, helps in the production of lactose and can transform into a different form that helps break up tumors into microscopic fragments in the body.

Patients who were given a drug based on this milk sugar, rather than a placebo, passed whole tumor fragments in their urine. And there is more laboratory evidence to support that the drug can kill more than 40 different types of cancer cells in animal trials, including brain tumors and colon cancer. These results are inspiring scientists to continue to explore HAMLET as a novel approach to tumor therapy and make Alpha1H available to cancer patients.

Bottom line: If you choose to breastfeed, the breast milk your baby gets from your hard work can be worth every drop of effort.

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