Posts Tagged ‘communication’

Teen Mom: Maturity = talking about sex, not just having it

December 28, 2011

New Year’s resolution: Start blogging again! It’s not January yet, but I did just watch an episode of Teen Mom 2 that caught my attention. Nothing like getting a head-start on my resolution!

So, this week Kailyn decided to get an IUD, an intrauterine device, which is T-shaped and can stay in the uterus for as long as five years. It works to prevent egg fertilization, and it’s something Kailyn decided to try because she had trouble remembering to take her pill every day. Though she is using protection when having sex with her boyfriend, Jordan, she makes the decision to further prevent any possibility of pregnancy with the Mirena IUD.

What gets me is that Jordan was extremely squeamish when Kailyn told him about the IUD. She admitted beforehand that they never really talk about sex — they just have sex — and her prediction that Jordan would be awkward was right. She wanted to let him know about her decision, and he looked uncomfortable, remarked that it was embarrassing, and later apologized for his awkward reaction.

My theory is that if you’re mature enough to have sex, then you need to be mature enough to talk about it. Talking about sex can be awkward, especially when you haven’t brought up the topic with a partner before. But this lack of communication has a significant affect on the lack of contraceptive use, whether it’s people feeling awkward about mentioning using protection during the act or one partner assuming the other has the birth control covered without any verbal confirmation.

So you have to weigh — is this awkward moment more difficult to deal with than an unplanned pregnancy? And if you’re afraid of what your partner will say, is that a red flag regarding your relationship? If you take contraception seriously but you’re afraid your partner won’t agree to use any, is that really something to compromise about? But all these questions assume a certain outcome — you won’t actually know your partner’s response until you talk about it.

According to one study, kids whose parents talked to them about sex as a teenager were more likely to delay sex and practice safe sex than kids whose parents did not talk to them about sex. And it’s important to start those conversations early, for the air of shame and humiliation to be taken away from sex — because yeah, it’s awkward as a parent to talk to your kid about sex. But if you set the example that talking about sex is taboo, then an unhealthy cycle of silence begins — then young people think it’s unacceptable to talk about sex, and they feel uneasy about voicing concerns and asking questions.

It’s obvious I haven’t blogged in a while, as I’m just being long-winded here for the sake of hearing myself type. Anyway, it was an interesting scene — two adults who have no qualms about having sex with each other, having difficulty actually talking about something they do regularly. This communication problem is something adults of all ages experience, and addressing it begins with removing the stigma about admitting out loud that, yes, you’re having sex and there’s nothing to be ashamed about.


Sexual histories: Is it lying if you don’t talk about them?

June 16, 2011

Unless you haven’t dated or ever been physical with anyone before, you undoubtedly enter new relationships with a history. Past flings, past relationships, past experiences — everyone’s history is different, from the number of people in your relation Rolodex to the extent of your relationships with those past people. But if you don’t share this history with your partner(s), are you lying to them?

That was the claim made on the reunion special of The Real Housewives of Orange County. Here’s the rundown: Alexis and Jim have been married for seven years, and Alexis and Peggy have been friends for four years. About 15 or so years ago, Jim and Peggy “hung out” (Peggy’s euphemism) but then decided they’d be better off as friends. When Peggy asked Jim if Alexis knew about their past, he said Alexis didn’t know and “would never know.” A few months ago, Alexis found out about Jim and Peggy’s fling.

The other housewives said they thought Jim had lied to Alexis, and Tamra was insistent that this constituted Jim keeping secrets from her. But Alexis said they agreed at the beginning of their relationship not to discuss their histories. They were starting a new chapter together, and they weren’t interested in the previous ones.

Rarely do I agree with anything Alexis says, but in this case, she’s right. It’s important for partners to create those boundaries when it comes to discussing their past relations, so that both parties are clear about what they do and don’t want to know. There is value to knowing — and it’s essential to ask about — whether that person is free of sexually transmitted infections in every case; the value of knowing how many partners someone has had and the explicit details of what they’ve done is on a case-by-case basis, depending on the person receiving the info.

So Jim and Alexis decide and agree that they don’t want to know about each other’s past. When Jim doesn’t tell Alexis about his fling with Peggy, that isn’t lying or keeping secrets — it’s simply keeping to the agreement because Alexis doesn’t want to know about Jim’s past. I also agree with Alexis that if Peggy thought it was important to tell, Peggy should’ve mentioned it to Alexis — Jim has no obligation to disclose that information because of the no-info-sharing agreement, but Peggy isn’t under any such contractual constraints.

Sharing info can be a slippery slope. My boyfriend and I have discussed, in relation to Real World‘s Dustin not telling Heather about his porn star past, how the line is blurry when it comes to what you have an obligation to tell your partner. Questions like, “Have you been tested for STIs?” or “How many sexual partners have you had?” or “How many long-term relationships have you had?” are easy to think of and might even come up in casual conversation. “Have you ever done gay porn?” probably isn’t.

But here, the line was drawn firmly in the sand — they don’t want to know anything, so Jim isn’t a liar. This would be much more complicated if there was no agreement in place — should Jim warn Alexis about his fling with Peggy? Is it up to Alexis to ask Jim if he’s slept with every new woman they meet? Is he a liar for not disclosing at all, even if she never asks? “Liar” isn’t accurate unless he denies a fling with Peggy, but withholding information you think your partner should or would want to know is deceptive — not to mention it puts that person in the sucky everyone-knows-about-this-but-you position.

(On a sidenote, hearing Peggy’s side of the story and how determined Jim sounded not to let Alexis find out makes me curious whether they actually did have such an agreement and/or whether he had lied about it to Alexis in the past.)

Teen Mom: Is it wrong to date while still living with an ex?

January 21, 2011

Living with an ex isn’t easy, as Kailyn discovered this week on Teen Mom 2. She lives with her ex Jo and his family, shares a car with her ex, and relies so much on his family that she is constantly walking on eggshells when in comes to her personal life. When Jo found out she had a new boyfriend, he was furious, and his family followed suit — and from the looks of the previews for next week, they are kicking Kailyn out. But is this fair?

You can read Kailyn and Jo’s back story here. Obviously they are in a predicament, because Kailyn has nowhere else to live, Jo is the father of their baby, and Jo’s family has established that they think of Kailyn as family. His parents seem to be mad because they considered the break-up something temporary — Jo seems to be mad for other reasons, particularly that he thinks Kailyn is disrespecting him by dating someone else while living under his (parents’) roof.

But Jo broke up with Kailyn, which makes a big difference when it comes to the question of whether it is disrespectful or inappropriate for her to be dating while living with him in his parents’ house. Kailyn shouldn’t feel so reliant on his family that she remains in an unhealthy relationship for fear of retribution, but it would be presumptuous for her to break things off with Jo and then expect his family to babysit every night of the week while she hangs with her new beau.

Because Jo ended things, his parents really shouldn’t have so much animosity toward Kailyn — they are mad at her for moving on, but shouldn’t they focus more of that disappointment toward Jo? Also, when you end a relationship, you can’t be mad when your ex starts dating other people. Should Kailyn be forced to stay in relationship limbo, with Jo basically controlling every aspect of her love life because (1) he doesn’t want to date her but (2) doesn’t want her dating other people? Definitely not. Jo’s parents are the ones who truly have the last say because they own the house, but their son broke up with Kailyn — why punish her for it?

Things get messy when you are living with an ex, but when you are the dumper, you need to have some sympathy for the dumpee and even make some sacrifices (e.g. give up the bed and sleep on the couch for a while …) — as long as the dumpee wasn’t cheating or abusive, in which case, go ahead and have no sympathy. You also need to communicate and create ground rules — e.g. no bringing significant others back to the house — that allow for civility and respect, and you can’t assume one of those rules is going to be “no dating other people.” If you both agree on that rule, then great, but you can’t expect to break up with someone and then also prevent them from dating other people.

And, even though Jo’s parents think them being together is best for the child, they can’t force the relationship to work (definitely not by kicking Kailyn out for dating other people, at least). I’m sure they think they know best, but a child having two parents together is great in theory — not so great in practice when those parents do nothing but fight and yell at each other all the time, teaching the child that that is how a healthy relationship functions.

10 lessons I learned from having my purse stolen

January 6, 2011

Last weekend, just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, someone stole my purse. When I told my mom this the next day, she said, “Well, I hope you learned something from all this.” At first, that really pissed me off — someone had stolen my stuff, and she was chiding me. After I simmered down, however, I realized she was right — this whole experience has taught me quite a bit, and maybe some of this information can help other people prevent a theft or be better prepared if they experience a theft (or just lose their wallet/purse).

1. Watch. Your. Stuff.

This was the obvious lesson my mom was hoping I learned, as the thief didn’t directly steal the purse from me, but snatched it from the table I set it on when I wasn’t looking. This seems like an obvious lesson to already know, but people grow a little too trusting. And people grow not very observant — my friends and I were at a bar, which wasn’t very crowded, and the purse was on a table right next to us. Between the five or six of us there, no one saw anyone come by and take it.

And this kind of theft — the kind where you don’t see someone take anything or it wasn’t physically taken from you — is classified as “lost property” to the police, which makes it even lower on the rung of priorities. It also makes it much more frustrating as the owner of said property, because I know that I didn’t “lose” anything, but I also know that in the eyes of the law, I lost it because I put it in an “insecure” location. Holding onto your stuff is a preventative measure that’s easy to take — I looked away for five or 10 minutes at the most, and it was gone. This goes for coats, too, if you put important stuff in the pockets when you go out.

2. Cancel your cards — immediately

I sent a very colorful and anxiety-ridden e-mail to my older brother as soon as I got to a computer, and he immediately responded that I needed to “calm down” and that cancelling my credit cards was a little bit drastic. I’m sure that this was because he didn’t know the situation, but it turned out that immediately canceling those cards was the right choice — someone tried to use my credit card that very night, but it was declined because I’d already canceled it.

3. File a police report

I was really hedging on filing a police report — I knew that the police wouldn’t be able to do anything, as the purse was long gone and it wasn’t physically taken from me, but snatched indirectly. It seemed like a lot of hassle for nothing, and I was already stressed out enough being without my ID, cash, and any access to my finances. But it was actually my boyfriend who convinced me to do it, and I’m glad he did.

He made a good argument — sure, they probably wouldn’t be able to do anything with this case, but simply letting them know there was a theft means that it’s on the books. If no one filed police reports, the statistics would falsely show that the city is without crime, and problems wouldn’t be known about or addressed. It serves a community purpose to report crimes, and it could add to highlighting a specific crime that is increasingly common or crime in a certain area that is growing.

You should cover all your bases to track down your stuff, and you’ll also feel better knowing there’s an official record of the theft.

4. Keep some spare cash or a credit card at home

One of the worst things about someone stealing my purse is that I lost the cash I had with me, all my debit/credit cards, and my ID — I had no way to pay for anything. What I should’ve always had was a rainy day envelope of money in my house, so that if something like this did happen, I’d have the spare stash to use until the ID, debit, and credit card were replaced. Even a spare credit card would work — just something to tide me over.

Also, some banks will issue temporary debit cards from the actual branch locations (Chase does this) to tide you over til the new one comes in the mail, which would be extremely helpful, and other banks don’t issue temporary debit cards from the actual branch locations (Bank of America mails temporary debit cards — that is extremely dumb and counterintuitive, since they are mailing the regular debit card, too), which would not be very helpful at all. Anyway, that’s another path you could try if you lose your card or it’s stolen.

5. Debit gift cards — write that number down

If you’ve ever gotten a debit gift card and thrown away the receipt, think twice next time — there was a debit gift card in that wallet, which came with a card holder from the bank listing instructions on what to do if the card was lost or stolen. I actually had to dig through some garbage to even find that card holder (don’t throw those things away!), and when I did find it, it only had the last four digits of the card number on it.

Luckily, my dad — the one who got it for me — was able to go to his bank and track down the card number and have it canceled with only the last four digits. But I could’ve easily done it myself had I written down the full 16-digit number and the security code on the back of the card.

6. Temporary phone — very helpful

So another reason that spare cash under your mattress or emergency credit card is important is because, aside from buying you food or possibly paying your bills, it can get you a temporary, prepaid phone. As someone who doesn’t have a landline and only uses a cell phone, you don’t realize how important a phone is until it’s gone. And not because I can’t text or play Angry Birds, but because I simply can’t accomplish tasks that would help me toward restoring my stuff.

I used my boyfriend’s phone to cancel my cards and talk to the police (and he was kind enough to get me a phone with some prepaid minutes for emergencies), but there are other tasks that I can’t do without a phone, all of which revolve around replacing my stuff or dealing with the stolen purse. This becomes very frustrating. On the plus side, my mom is now using gchat to talk to me, and that can be pretty hilarious. (My mom, on gchatting:  “This is pretty good. Just like texting!”)

7. Keep your social security card at home

I used to carry my Social Security card around with me. I needed it for some job in college, and just kept it in my purse. I randomly needed it a few other times since then, and I thought it was nice to know where it was. Then last year, I took it out of my purse and put it somewhere safe, which I am glad I did — that thief could’ve done a lot of damage knowing my Social Security number, and I’m sure replacing a Social Security card is quite annoying. So — best to lock it somewhere safe, except the few times you actually need it.

8. Password protect your phone (if possible)/iPhone users — get the Find my iPhone app

Just before going out on New Year’s Eve, I put my passcode on (it was off so my mom could play Scrabble on my phone, obviously), and I’m glad I did. I didn’t even use the passcode before my older brother’s iPhone was stolen (actually stolen, like, “Here’s my gun, hand over that iPhone,” stolen), and I almost didn’t have it on the night it was taken. I don’t need some stranger having access to my e-mails, contacts, etc.

But the really nice thing was the Find my iPhone app that I had installed just a week before. This free version of the MobileMe app allows you to track your phone remotely, lock your phone remotely, wipe all your data from the phone remotely, and send messages/sounds to your phone remotely. Though the tracking only works if the phone is on, I was able to remotely lock the phone and display a message (OK, my brother was able to, as I was in a state of panic and was dealing with canceling cards) that the phone was lost/stolen and a number to call.

Though it was obvious the thief wasn’t going to return the phone, the app was helpful in two other ways. By tracking the few times the phone was on, I could make better decisions about how to proceed. The first time, it was very close to the bar where it was stolen, so I wasn’t sure if it was still there or not — the second time, it was in a completely different location, so I knew it wasn’t just sitting somewhere or ditched. And I knew it wasn’t coming back.

Which brings me to point number two — being able to remotely wipe your data. I should’ve wiped the data when it was obvious that the phone wasn’t coming back. I knew the thief wasn’t using it much and figured s/he couldn’t get through the lock, and it was my pride that was keeping me from just erasing everything. Once I erased everything, the thief would have full access to the phone in factory-sent format, and I thought that’d be letting him/her win.

In retrospect, I had to cut off service eventually anyway and get a new phone, so I should’ve just wiped the data when I had the chance. The Find my iPhone app is really helpful, especially if you just lose it in your house and can’t find it (you can remotely have it make a sound for two minutes to help find it), but it’s addicting if the phone is gone because it leaves you with this sense that you can still find it — it also leaves you feeling especially frustrated, because you can see where the phone is, but you can’t just drive over and pick it up. So, install the app, but don’t get carried away.

9. Documents — keep them all somewhere

This theft has also brought to my attention that I really do not keep track of important documents very well. Instead of having a filing system or one place for everything, I have folders, bags, and boxes each containing random pieces of mail or important documents — this is not very helpful when you know the document exists, just have no idea where it is. Especially if you’ve recently moved — keeping everything together will save a lot of hassle.

10. Don’t shy away from help — take it

I hate asking for help and have hated feeling so dependent on other people this week, but I’m glad to have those people to depend on, because otherwise I probably would have had three anxiety attacks simply from worrying about how to replace things and how to go about my daily routine without any money whatsoever. I acknowledge that it could have been much worse and that people go without money and other necessities everyday, but these were my personal circumstances, and I want the people who have been helping me out to know that I really, really appreciate it.

Is extreme attachment/unattachment healthy in relationships?

December 30, 2010

This recent article in Scientific American discusses Attachment Theory and how it applies to relationships, and it’s pretty interesting. The authors take the categories of attachment used in child psychology — secure, anxious, and avoidant — and apply them to relationships, eventually reasoning that combining different attachment types generally leads to unhappy (and unhealthy) relationships. For me, the bigger question is this: Is an anxious or avoidant relationship healthy?

In the version of the article online (I can’t access the full article), the authors conclude with this statement:

The most important take-home message is that relationships should not be left to chance. Mismatched attachment styles can lead to a great deal of unhappiness in a relationship, even for people who love each other greatly. But even those with mismatched attachment styles can find more security in their relationships by tapping into the secure mind-set and finding secure role models.

Here, it seems the authors are simultaneously saying that (1) love cannot triumph over differences in how people approach relationships and (2) if people do want to try to make these mismatched relationships work, the best model is the secure attachment model. I agree with these two sentiments, but I’m curious if the article addresses the dynamics of how healthy two avoidant or anxious people in a relationship would be. It addressed the two parties being mismatched — what if they are matched but not of the “secure” type?

Take the anxious attachment approach — here, I think of people who are very dependent on their significant others, to the point where they push other people away and only want to be with the significant other. As the authors explain, people of the anxious attachment persuasion constantly are worried about their relationships, being abandoned, and not being loved by the significant other.

Would two people really be a “match” if they were both anxious attachment types? I’m sure they could better understand each other’s fears and worries when communicating their anxiety about abandonment, feelings not being reciprocated, and dependency, but my fear is that two anxious types would also enable each other without working on developing a more secure relationship.

From personal experience and the experience of friends, I agree with the authors that a dependent person and an independent person or a commitment-phobic simply can’t sustain any kind of healthy relationship because both parties will be left unsatisfied as one party will not be getting enough attention and reassurance and the other party will feel suffocated or inadequate because they can’t provide the appropriate level of security (more so for the avoidant-type person).

The authors point out that these polar opposites exacerbate the insecurities each feels in relationships, though again I’d say that those with the same — whether they be anxious or avoidant (unable to get close to others, trust people, or be as intimate as people would like; generally feel nervous when people get too close) — would be at risk of enabling them. What immediately comes to mind are couples that constantly want to be with each other, who lose friendships because of this — though I don’t hear as much of the double avoidant relationships, where seemingly both parties wouldn’t be very intimate with each other and would have a lot of difficulty developing trust.

I suppose defining what constitutes a “secure” relationship is pretty subjective, and people could make the argument that it’s unfair to characterize as “unhealthy” someone’s natural tendency to be distrusting or worrisome. I just see so many anxious-anxious pairings that it’s hard to believe that simply mismatched styles are to blame. Trust issues and commitment issues run deeper than just genetics or personality, and they need to be addressed — as the authors at one point suggest — through effective communication.

The main points here are that (1) love doesn’t conquer all, and subsequently “but we love each other” is not an excuse for staying in an unhealthy relationship; (2) the best model is the secure model, whereby you don’t worry or have issues with dependency or trust; and (3) the best way to get there is through effective communication, because attachment styles are developed and dynamic (not genetic or static), and more security will only be found by addressing and examining the reasons you feel anxious or avoidant in relationships.

I still think these extremes, even if both people in a couple have the same attachment style, are unhealthy, but my views are based more on anecdotal evidence than science. Also, I generally dislike strict categories, but I do like the online questionnaire for attachment type because it has several axes and gives a more multidimensional view of attachment.

Survey sheds light on attitudes toward teen pregnancy

December 29, 2010

A recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics found that the teen birth rate declined by 6 percent, and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy also recently released a survey (not to be confused with the NCHS study) regarding attitudes toward teen pregnancy. Instead of discussing the study, I’d like to address the teen responses to the survey.

The survey found that 82 percent of teens “think [16 and Pregnant] helps teens better understand the challenges of teen pregnancy and parenthood and how to avoid it,” which isn’t a surprise. It’s like the slides of sexually transmitted infections they show you in health class — that lesson about herpes has much more of an impact when you see it rather than just hearing about it.

I agree that 16 and Pregnant can definitely have a positive effect on teens, but some of the other survey results show that there’s still a long way to go when it comes to education about sex and pregnancy. Of those surveyed, 78 percent said they had all the information they needed to know to avoid an unplanned pregnancy — though 49 percent knew little or nothing about condoms and 34 percent agreed that birth control didn’t matter — pregnancy would just happen if “it is your time to get pregnant.”

These results indicate a serious lack of comprehensive sex education — if someone thinks that they know the only way to prevent pregnancy, and thinks the only way is abstinence, then yeah, they aren’t going to search for condoms or consider birth control. This is the danger of abstinence-only sex education — abstinence is undoubtedly the best way to prevent pregnancy, but it isn’t the only way. Teens need to know that it’s not divine will or fate that gets people pregnant — unprotected sex is what leads to pregnancy, and teens have the choice to use protection to prevent pregnancy.

Interestingly enough, 80 percent said it would be easier to delay having sex if they had a more open, honest relationship with their parents — with about two-thirds of both teens and adults agreeing that teens don’t use contraception primarily out of fear of parents finding out about it. And about the same number of parents said they’d be happy to find out their kids were using protection if they were having sex.

I find this statistic particularly interesting because this season on 16 and Pregnant, so many more of the teens had an open relationship with their parents regarding sex. The moms were constantly questioning their teenage kids, asking them why they had unprotected sex when they’d been taught about condoms and safe sex. One mom even put condoms under the bathroom sink for her daughter to use if necessary. I agree that open communication is definitely a good thing, but I don’t think it’s extremely far ahead of other reasons teens might not use protection, such as lack of sex education or pressure from a significant other.

The survey also addressed sexting, with 71 percent of teens and 81 percent of adults agreeing that “sharing nude or semi-nude images of themselves or other teens electronically (through cell phones, websites, and/or social media networks) leads to more sex in real life.” That is extremely concerning, considering how the “typical” age for people to get cell phones is getting younger and younger, and the expectation of sex adds pressure and danger to people who send pictures of themselves perhaps not with sex in mind (both teens and adults).

The survey results are very interesting, but they don’t lead to a definitive answer on what could be responsible for the drop in teen pregnancy. For adults the drop could definitely be related to the economy, but teens aren’t worrying about the economy when they are having sex. Both abstinence and comprehensive sex ed groups could try to claim victory. Regardless of MTV’s influence, the survey highlights that teens are still very under-educated about sex, and nearly three-quarters of adults said they’d want their kids to learn both about abstinence and contraception.

16&P: Abortion, uneven sacrifices, distance, disappointment

November 10, 2010

This week on 16 and Pregnant we met Emily, a 16 year old who was kicked out of her mom’s house when she wouldn’t agree to get an abortion. Emily was living with her dad and stepmom and also dating Daniel, an easygoing guy — well, easygoing as long as he was getting his way and not having to take care of baby Liam.

1. What the teen wants vs. what the parents want

It’s not uncommon for the teen moms of 16 and Pregnant to disagree with their parents concerning their teen pregnancy — Farrah wanted an abortion and her mom was against it; Lori wanted to keep the baby and her parents wanted her to put it up for adoption; but this episode, both of Emily’s parents wanted her to get an abortion and Emily was against it. In fact, her mom was so against the pregnancy that she kicked Emily out when Emily refused to get an abortion. Emily’s parents are divorced, so — despite his objection to her keeping the baby — her dad agreed to let her stay with him.

Emily’s dad asked her if she thought that she was qualified to make such a decision, and she simply replied that there was “no turning back now.” But who is more qualified to make the right decision — the teen or the parents? The parents obviously are more aware of the stresses and sacrifices involved in parenthood, and perhaps Emily’s mom saw Emily’s refusing to get an abortion not only as a statement of Emily’s personal beliefs, but as a direct act of defiance against her. Although I don’t have a problem with people getting abortions, there is a problem with forcing someone to get an abortion, or using threats or coercion to get that person to agree to an abortion.

2. An unbalanced sacrifice

Emily put it best when she said, “I hate the fact that I’ve given up way more than [Daniel] has.” Not only did she lose her relationship with her mom because of her pregnancy, but she was on the verge of failing her classes because she was missing school because of morning sickness. Eventually she left her high school and enrolled in home schooling, but keeping up with her homework and graduating high school proved difficult once Liam was born.

Because Emily’s mom kicked her out, she moved in with her dad, who lived about an hour from Daniel. Daniel would come and visit, but he didn’t have nearly the responsibility of taking care of Liam that Emily did, and Emily told her friends that Daniel hadn’t spent more than two hours alone with Liam because Daniel got bored and tired of taking care of him. It also didn’t help that Daniel also told Emily that taking care of Liam wasn’t that hard, hence why she shouldn’t complain about having to do it all the time.

“What you do isn’t 24/7, you have a break,” Emily told Daniel, when she was telling him that though school and work is hard, they eventually end — taking care of Liam was round-the-clock, and she didn’t have his support to make it easier on her. She sacrificed her homework and graduating on time in order to take care of Liam — Daniel worked, but he admitted that he didn’t visit Emily as much because he was trying to enjoy his “freedom” before they moved in together.

It takes two people to make a baby, yet Emily doesn’t get an opportunity to “enjoy her freedom.” Because she has a uterus, the responsibility falls on her to take care of the baby and sacrifice her education, though Daniel played an equal part in making the baby and thinks he has a right to take advantage of his free time and tell Emily that what she does isn’t that hard … despite the fact he avoids doing it.

And Emily’s dad made a good point that, when discussing their plans with Daniel’s parents, it seemed like the plans revolved around Daniel furthering his education and Emily simply taking care of the baby. Her dad said he didn’t want to see her at the Piggly-Wiggly as a cashier because she had sacrificed everything so that Daniel could go to college and graduate. Eventually, Emily confronted Daniel about she was prioritizing her own education and future — Daniel wasn’t pleased about that.

In many of these episodes, the teen moms take on far more responsibility than the teen dads — if the teen dads even stay involved — and they sacrifice so much more than the dads do. It pains me every time one of the teen dads brushes off the teen mom when she explains how exhausting it is to care of the baby, though the dad is never jumping to prove his point that taking care of the baby isn’t hard. Both parents need to take responsibility and shouldn’t be expected that the mom will make all the sacrifices.

3. Absence … doesn’t make the heart grow fonder

Emily seemed to insinuate throughout the episode that things would be easier if they lived together — they were getting on each other’s nerves, but living together and being married would change all that. The problem there is that the fights they have are not solely related to distance — Daniel doesn’t have the attention span to take care of Liam, Emily needs support in order to graduate, and Daniel thinks they should be married solely because they have a child. It’s not the distance that is preventing Daniel from being more involved — it’s his own attitude.

Emily might be falling into the trap of, “It will be better when …” and might make some decisions she later regrets if she banks on living together or marriage fixing their problems. Of course having Daniel there to help her is going to be better, but only if he takes the initiative to help her. By the end of the episode she was realizing that it was probably too soon to be married, but the idea that huge steps like cohabitation, marriage, or even having a baby will fix a problematic relationship is common but misguided — and it avoids actually addressing the problems at hand.

4. Where did I go wrong?

I don’t recall an episode yet where a parent candidly asked, “Where did I go wrong?” and expressed disappointment not only in the teen for getting pregnant, but in themselves for not communicating an abstinence or safe sex message better. I’ve heard some parents say it in a more accusatory way, e.g. reminding the teen that s/he was told about the consequences of unprotected sex — but Emily’s dad genuinely looked distraught about his own message of abstinence being ineffective.

I’m curious, though, what his message was — from what he said, I inferred that his message to her was simply, “Don’t have sex.” That’s not a very effective way to prevent pregnancy — it’s basically a command, which like any other parental command, teens are apt to shrug off. It offers no explanation of why the teen shouldn’t have sex, and no explanation of contraception should the teen go against the parent’s wishes and choose to have sex. It’s quite a gamble to just assume that a command alone, without explanation, will prevent your teen from having sex.

This also brings up how children are taught about sex when they grow up with divorced parents. I’m curious if the dad expected the mom to more closely discuss sex with their daughter, and I’m curious what exactly the mom did tell Emily about sex. If there isn’t communication between the parents about what message is being sent about sex, the teen might get mixed messages — or no messages at all.

Teen Mom: A hodgepodge of highlights from the finale special

October 20, 2010

The second season of Teen Mom wrapped this week with the “Check-in with Dr. Drew” finale episode, when Dr. Drew makes the teen moms feel uncomfortable and typically tries to get them to admit they regret having their children — though last night, Dr. Drew did a lot more counseling and offered a lot more sound advice than usual. Of course, he still made all the teen moms cry.

Most of the topics that the finale show covered are topics that I’ve discussed before, so I think instead I’ll highlight in snippets the good advice that Dr. Drew had and the telling statements that the teen moms made.

Idealizing a relationship

People often romanticize relationships that are or were not exactly great — the memories are skewed or selective, and this romanticizing keeps people connected to or in unhealthy relationships — but Farrah’s relationship with her ex, Derrick, is a lot more complicated than the typical scenario because Derrick passed away. Those memories are all she has left of Derrick, and it seems both her and her mom have different memories of their relationship.

Dr. Drew point blank asked if she was romanticizing the relationship, and she denied that, saying, “I’m not painting a picture that’s rosy, I know what the realistic picture was.” Obviously losing him, especially with his being the father of Sophia, has left her devastated and she only wants to remember him in a positive light — but perhaps being more open and willing to deal with all the aspects of their relationship might help her grieving process.

The art of mind reading

Dr. Drew asked Maci and Kyle to talk about why they liked each other, and he said they could either tell him directly or they could tell each other. Both agreed to tell Dr. Drew instead of each other, which prompted the obvious question of why they couldn’t just look at each other and say those things. “We like show each other how we feel, but we don’t talk about it,” Maci told Dr. Drew.

Having mushy discussions all the time about why you like each other is understandably something many couples avoid — but you can’t avoid it all the time. A lot of people in relationships expect that their partner will know they appreciate, care about, enjoy the company of the other person — but actually verbalizing those things can make a world of difference. Showing rather than telling is important, but if you assume the other person always knows how you feel, it can transcend to topics beyond just lovey-dovey things — you start to assume the other person knew you wanted them to clean the bathroom; you assume the other person knew you didn’t want to go to that restaurant, etc. Being able to verbalize feelings to the other person is essential in any relationship.

Abuse doesn’t have to be physical

Something Dr. Drew highlighted that I really liked was when Catelynn’s mom, April, was reacting to Catelynn saying she would treat Carly different than her mom treats her. Upon hearing Catelynn say this stuff, April started clapping for her and mimed a halo being over Catelynn’s head. “When you call somebody a bitch and it’s your daughter, or you demean them with the halo stuff, that’s called abuse — it’s emotional abuse,” Dr Drew told April.

I’m glad he pointed this out, because abuse so often is only taken seriously if it’s physical or extremely offensive verbally. People pay attention when April is calling her own daughter a bitch — they might not even flinch at April putting a halo over Catelynn’s head, though it’s still April trying to break down her daughter. This kind of bullying, the little comments and jabs that are often overlooked because they aren’t overt and obvious, might seem harmless, but enough of it can really take a toll on someone.

Like mother, like daughter

A few times, Dr. Drew brought up that the way parents act directly influences how their children act. “[April’s] aggression is damaging, and if Catelynn had become a mom, she wouldn’t have really known any other way of dealing with those feelings,” Dr. Drew said. Catelynn might’ve taken out her frustration on Carly just like April makes a habit of using Catelynn as her own personal verbal punching bag.

He said the same thing to Amber, when he discussed how Leah will be affected by her domestic violence. He reminded both Gary and Amber that they came from violent homes and that Amber likely learned this behavior growing up, and then discussed how Amber had to take care of herself growing up (was “paternalized”) because of the fighting. “Her seeing you guys fighting, feeling the chaos — is that what you were exposed to as a kid?” Dr. Drew asked Amber. “It’s like the cycle repeating itself, right?”

He reminded them that kids are perceptive, and they know what is going on. Leah even tries to separate Gary and Amber if she sees them hugging, because she has learned that as parents, they are not meant to be affectionate — they are meant to fight with each other. If the violence continues, she could easily be conditioned to think that Moms just hit Dads — that it’s normal and it’s perfectly acceptable to do.

Calling the cops on a companion

Dr. Drew brought up a very good point — why didn’t Gary ever call the police after Amber would hit him? “I don’t call the police because I don’t want to — I don’t want to get [Amber] in trouble,” Gary replied. Dr. Drew made one of the best points of the night when he explained that, even though you don’t want to get them in trouble, you need to change the behavior somehow — the person won’t change unless there are serious consequences to certain behaviors.

He likened it to drug addiction and when family and friends enable behavior by giving the addict a place to stay, giving the addict money, etc., and never going through with threats, e.g. to cut the person off financially if they don’t get clean. In much the same way, Amber will not be motivated to change her behavior unless there are serious consequences otherwise — Gary tries to use taking the baby or calling social services as a threat, but if Amber knows he won’t ever do those things, she is less likely to actually change her abusive behavior. Some might argue that you don’t do those things to someone you love, but doing those things will ideally help that person improve their quality of life — how is letting that person spiral out of control a better way to show your love?

Struggling with self-worth

Amber brought up an interesting point when it comes to her love life — which is that dating other people makes her feel less guilty about the way she treats Gary as long as those other people match her own view of herself — she thinks she is a bad person, therefore she dates not-so-great people. This self-image is something a lot of people struggle with, and it leaves people in unhealthy relationships because they convince themselves they don’t deserve any better. Perhaps this is why Amber is so degrading to Gary — she doesn’t want him to feel like he deserves any better, either.

“You’re a good guy so she feels bad, they are bad guys so she feels better,” Dr. Drew told Gary. But this mentality also keeps Amber from making any real efforts at changing — if she surrounds herself with people who aren’t great people, who is there to inspire or motivate or support her growth from an abusive and angry person into a nonabusive and calmer person? Who you surround yourself with really does have an effect on the choices you make.

Thank you for being a friend — NOT

There’s a time and a place for parents and their kids to be friends, and during their high school years is not the time for that. Catelynn and Tyler somehow got to be extremely mature growing up with April and Butch (Tyler’s dad and April’s husband) — likely forced to by the circumstances of their upbringing (Catelynn’s mom is an alcoholic, Tyler’s dad is a cocaine addict who has been in jail most of Tyler’s life). Last night Catelynn and Tyler both expressed concern over how April didn’t have many friends and how sad it made them.

“They’re kids, they need a mom — they can’t be your friends,” Dr. Drew told April. Going along with the previous entry about how you are motivated by the people you surround yourself with, Dr. Drew suggested she go to treatment or a 12-step program where she could meet friends who understand the struggles April is facing in fighting alcoholism and who will support her, not enable her. Kids can’t offer adults that kind of support, especially when they are equally in need of support and guidance from their parents.

Teen Mom: Season 2 recaps, wrap-ups, and lessons learned

October 13, 2010

This week marked the final episode of this season of Teen Mom — let’s see what everyone’s actions in this episode say about what they’ve learned/how they’ve grown since the beginning of the season, shall we?

1. Farrah

The season began with Farrah calling the cops on her mother, who had hit Farrah in the face after a verbal altercation. Farrah moved into the guest house, then into an apartment, and she was struggling to pay bills, got scammed out of $3,000, and was finally dealing with and grieving the death of Sophia’s father with the help of a therapist. She also had therapy sessions with her mom, which was helping them communicate better.

And then, this week, old Farrah was back! Snotty, demanding, and completely hypocritical, Farrah was back to argue with her mom — who also is now her landlord. Farrah lamented that she wanted to sign a contract with her mom so her mom would respect her privacy and treat her like any other tenant — except she also wants special treatment in the form of moving in early, not paying prorated rent, and getting discounted rent because she wanted to move in early and the place wasn’t move-in ready yet.

Her mom tries going over the procedure with Farrah and tries to treat her like a normal tenant, but Farrah only wants to be a tenant on her own terms — she wants the huge house (for which she pays only $500 rent) and privacy, but she also wants her mom to discount her rent even further because Farrah is struggling and, as a mom, she wants her empathy and she wants to be taken care of. Suddenly, when her mom agrees to knock $100 off that month’s rent, Farrah is super happy with her mom again!

Farrah has definitely progressed, as she isn’t as outlandishly ridiculous toward her mom, but I think she could very easily devolve into her immature self if enabled by her parents. This week’s episode was one example of how far Farrah still has to go — you can’t ask to be treated like an adult while simultaneously demanding the perks you’d get as a kid.

2. Catelynn and Tyler

Catelynn and Tyler went through a lot this season — Tyler was still very distraught about the adoption, they nearly broke up because of Catelynn’s lying about her past with an ex, Tyler’s dad went back to jail, and Catelynn’s relationship with her mom continued to be rocky because of the adoption. Neither had enough credits to graduate with their high school class, but both remained positive about their futures and their decision to put Carly up for adoption.

This episode, they got to see Carly for the first time in a year. They were actually very calm and mature about the entire thing — no tears, no resentment, only happiness to see Carly and the realization that they were not and still are not ready to raise a child. It was great that the meeting didn’t bring any negative feelings back to the surface, and the positive experience is a sign that the open adoption can work for both Catelynn and Tyler and Brandon and Teresa.

Catelynn discussed her mom issues with Teresa, saying, “I think she wanted [the adoption] to rip me apart.” As Catelynn has said many times before, she wanted Catelynn to agree with her, and when Catelynn decided to do the adoption against her mom’s advice, she felt slighted and wanted Catelynn to see that not listening to her was a mistake. Rather, she sees that Catelynn is happy with her decision, and it only makes her mom more frustrated and angry.

Catelynn and Tyler are more mature than both their parents, and it’s shocking to see how clearly they think considering how irrational their parents are. It really comes down to wanting Carly to have better than they had, as Tyler summarized best when he talked about how happy he was that Carly had a father like Brandon. “I wish I could have a dad that would take me to the park when I was a little kid,” he said in regard to seeing Brandon push Carly on the swings. Their unstable parents are a constant reminder that they made the right decision.

3. Amber and Gary

Amber and Gary have had quite the roller coaster of a relationship this season — they exemplified the “on again, off again” relationship, with Gary moving in and out of the apartment and the two of them getting back together, breaking up, getting engaged, and breaking up again. Plus, Amber took her aggression to the new level by punching Gary in the face. Gary moved out, Amber met someone new, and they were trying to take care of Leah while dealing with their own problems with each other.

This week though, I actually felt a little bad for Amber.  Generally I think she is abusive and needs help beyond antidepressants, but Gary is being overly possessive of Leah and using her way too much to threaten Amber and get what he wants. Whereas Amber uses verbal and physical abuse, Gary is mastering psychological abuse.

When trying to discuss the schedule for taking care of Leah, first Gary and Amber were fighting on the phone, then Amber drove to his mom’s house to find him and talk in person, and then Gary sped off in his car when he saw Amber pulling up. This is interesting because at this time, he didn’t have any leverage — he already had Leah, so how could he further threaten to take her away? Even he laughed about it when he recalled the story to a friend — it made no sense, and it illustrated either 1) how afraid he is of Amber or 2) how he can’t communicate with Amber unless he has something to threaten her with, e.g. “If you don’t let me talk, I’m leaving and taking Leah with me.”

Then he found out that Amber’s new boyfriend changed Leah’s diaper, and he was enraged. “No guy is going to change my daughter. That’s your responsibility,” Gary said. “If you let him change her one more time, I’m going to take her away.” This is a ridiculous request. If you, as parents, are separated, you have to accept the fact that someone else might change that baby’s diaper. Is Gary feeling resentful about being replaced as a boyfriend? Yep. Does he need to learn to separate those feelings from parenting? Yep. These two could really benefit from counseling — I’m not sure they learned anything this season.

4. Maci

Maci’s had an interesting season, too — she started dating Kyle, she had to learn to co-parent with Ryan, she moved to Nashville to be closer to Kyle, and then her and Kyle broke up after dating for a few months. She resolved to stay in Nashville because she enjoyed the independence and not relying on her family so much for support.

I’ve talked at length about Maci and she wasn’t featured much in the finale episode, but custody was again a hot topic this week. It seems that Ryan only saw Bentley four days every two weeks, and he wanted one more day with him, which would bump the total to five days every two weeks. They met with a mediator, and Maci had a breakdown when Ryan asked for the extra day.

This is a normal setup. For parents who don’t live near each other, the nonprimary parent seeing the child on weekends is the rule, not the exception. So it’s not unusual for the nonprimary parent to see the child four, five, or even six days every two weeks. Regardless of his intentions (Maci thinks his parents, rather than Ryan, want to see Bentley more), the fact is that Ryan is not asking for an extraordinary amount of visitation.

Ryan asked Maci at the end of the episode if he thought they should be together for Bentley, and they both agreed they shouldn’t because they wouldn’t be happy. This is a very mature response, and one that I have wholeheartedly agreed with in the past — the convenience you gain by living in the same house and not needing to develop a visitation schedule is not worth the happiness and quality of life you and the child lose by choosing a living situation in which the parents can’t stand each other.


Don’t forget, next week is my favorite episode of all — the reunion special with Dr. Drew! Will he finally get the teen moms to admit their children are mistakes and they wish they’d never been born?! We shall see!

Texting provides dangerous outlet for dating violence

June 22, 2010

After reading this article in The Washington Post about text message dating violence, I was immediately reminded of an episode of 16 and Pregnant in which Chelsea received the following text message from Adam, her on-again-off-again boyfriend and the father of her baby:

no i want u to feel like the most worthless stupid **** in the world u better beleive [sic] its so over for the rest of ourlives ya fat stretch mark bitch tell me where and wen [sic] to sign the papers over for that mistake

Despite the fact that Adam called her various obscene names and even called their child a mistake, she still got back together with him after this text message. On the reunion show, her dad mentioned that a few million people would be disappointed if they got back together again (by that time they were again broken up), referencing that the world knew of the text message abuse and would be judging her if she went back with him.

Unfortunately, most teenagers and young people don’t have the looming eyes of MTV’s viewers to keep them in check when it comes to texting. Without a camera to document and reveal the terrible text messages Adam sent Chelsea (her dad said on the reunion that the one shown on MTV wasn’t even the worst), who knows how much further their violent relationship would have escalated.

The fact that text messages are nonverbal and therefore can be kept private and hidden is just one reason they are so dangerous when it comes to dating violence. At least if a friend is talking to a significant other on the phone, you can listen and gage whether the conversation is escalating into dangerous territory. It’s a lot more difficult to do that when your friend is silently texting.

Texting also is a breeding ground for miscommunication — if you don’t answer your phone, you are suspect of ignoring or avoiding calls, because today’s youth expects your phone to be attached to your side at all times. Texts don’t have inflection or tone, so jokes can be misinterpreted or the wrong word might be typed into your T-9 before you realize you hit send. The smiley face turns to a winky face just by hitting the wrong button.

But beside the facts that texting allows for miscommunication and secretive communication, it allows for a whole new level of emotional abuse because, unlike the phone call that can be ignored, the text messages get to your phone regardless of whether you want to receive them or not.

I know on my phone, there is no option of “Do you want to see this text message or delete it immediately?” On my old phone, there was an option to read it immediately, but even saying “no” still meant that to delete it, you’d have to look at it. And, as the Post article says, many people feel obligated to reply — in today’s world of constantly being connected, it’s as if young people think ignoring the text is useless because it’s a given that you have your phone. Or perhaps it’s just difficult for some young people not to reply.

What also scares me is the potential for some significant others to use cell phones as monitoring devices — not just constantly texting to find your whereabouts and who you’re with, but enabling GPS tracking that is available on many new cell phones. Although “typically, the subscriber must give permission and the cell phone must be enabled for tracking,” I’m curious how easy it would be for someone to track a significant other’s location via cell phone.

Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about this technology. But if the plan is shared, and the person could gain access to the phone and turn on the GPS without the other party knowing, where does the “staying connected” aspect end? The dating violence brought about by cell phones only escalates, because instead of threatening text messages, the other party can also pinpoint your location using the cell phone that you likely keep by your side at all times.

In an abusive relationship, the abuser often becomes relentless about trying to stay in control — texting relentlessly is one way that abusers try to regain or maintain control, and the danger of texting shouldn’t be underestimated. Constantly being connected and endless texting are commonplace for young people today, which make the line between normal and excessive even blurrier to young people.

Some warning signs of dating violence that can be seen in text messages include extreme jealousy, controlling behavior, explosive anger, hypersensitivity, threats of violence, and the abuser trying to keep you isolated from friends and family. Click here for list of questions regarding dating violence, to which any answer of “yes” indicates abuse.