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Girls and magazines – why Teen Breathe is a breath of fresh air

Our children are exposed to advertising from early childhood, and it comes full force from multiple outlets, including television, social media, and magazines. Some of the messages contained within contribute to negative self-concept. The ultimate goal of advertisers is to turn our children into lifelong spenders who will buy all the products that will mitigate the insecurity created by this bombardment of false images and ideals. In a nutshell:

  • Many young children believe that if they don’t have certain brand name clothes, they will be ‘losers’ who can’t join the ranks of successful adults in the future
  • Children are exposed to products that are age-inappropriate – items that are linked to body image and adult ideas
  • Some television shows and magazines market ‘sexiness’ to sell their products to children, which puts pressure on them to dress or act in ways that may be inappropriate

I found great discussion of research on this topic in Consuming Innocence by Dr. Karen Brooks. You can buy it here or borrow it from the State Library of Queensland here.

Exposure to toxic ideas about body image have a cumulative effect on young girls, particularly in the way that they view their worthiness in relation to what they own and how they look. A lot of people will say, “Oh well, that is just the world. advertising is ubiquitous, there is nothing we can do.” It is not about shielding our kids; far from it. It is about educating ourselves to understand what we are saying yes (or no) to, helping our children to become savvier consumers, and selecting more resources that provide positive images. It is about taking responsibility for being smarter consumers of media. 

Image may contain: 5 people, people smilingAfter reading this book, I went to my local news agent to observe the situation that was being described. I was shocked to see these images, marketed to tweens (7-12 year olds!!) The magazine covers were thick with heavily made-up celebrities and products related to body image.

With that in mind, I did a little bit of research and came across a gem called Teen Breathe. This publication provides an excellent array of content for girls, aimed towards the late tween and teen age group. Many of the articles are about emotional awareness, self-confidence, dealing with social issues positively, stories from around the world, and craft ideas.

IMG_0270

The whole publication contains modern designs that are appealing to look at, with a glaring absence of heavily made-up, photoshopped models. The magazine encourages girls to be happy, be brave, be kind, and be themselves. You can buy the magazine here and at selected news agents.

I know that the constant barrage of advertising is overwhelming and it’s impossible to drown out completely, but the children we work with and love deserve messages that go against the toxic grain of mass media. The buck stops with us – we can encourage positivity and self-care through what we put on our bookshelves or give as gifts. 

A child holds a picture of puckered lips in front of her face in Sliedrecht

I think the confidence and strength of our girls is worth standing up for – and voting for with our wallets – don’t you think? If we know better, we can do better.

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Getting smart about private parts

A little kid splashing water on his face in Koper

Growing up, I remember hearing other kids talk about their genitals with strange euphemisms like doodle, willy, front-bum, and cookie. Although these names seem cute and less confronting for parents, they pose problems.

  1. They make normal body parts and functions shameful
  2. They can create confusion, particularly if children need to report situations that make them uncomfortable with a trusted adult
  3. They are, well, a little bit silly.

Imagine if another child at school had touched your child’s “cookie” and they reported it to the teacher – this would create confusion and take away from the seriousness of actually dealing with the problem. So, how do you teach children the correct names for their body parts?

Hang on… let me just…

These beautiful diagrams come from The Amazing True Story of How Babies are Made by Fiona Katauskas, which I reviewed here. 

It is really important to ensure that our own understanding of private parts is correct. You may giggle, but the amount of times I have heard an adult telling me about how they need to shave their vagina demonstrates the confusion some people still have about the different body parts (note – vagina is internal, vulva is external). Even though I understand the reproductive anatomy, I always do a quick brush-up before I teach sex education every year at school – you just never know which questions will come up.

The best and least confronting way to teach children about their private parts is through picture books. Here are some of the best ones I have seen for getting started on this topic:

Who Has What? All About Girls’ and Boys’ Bodies by Robie H Harris 

This is an early-childhood book that introduces some of the differences between boys’ and girls’ bodies, a nice introduction to private parts and body differences. Buy here. 

Amazing You! by Dr. Gail Saltz 

Definitely appropriate for preschoolers and early childhood, simple and well-illustrated. This book also talks about conception (how a sperm and egg are made, released and then join together from the male/female bodies respectively), but sex is not mentioned. Buy here.

Everyone’s Got a Bottom by Tess Rowley

This book provides a simple introduction about private parts, and also touches on consent and keeping your body safe with rules and privacy. The rhyme that runs through the whole book is, “From my head to my toes, I can say what goes.” The illustrations of body parts are very simple and appropriate for early childhood. Buy here. 

I’m a Boy/I’m a Girl – Special Me by Shelley Metten 

These two books provide anatomical details of boys’ and girls’ bodies, without going into sex. They are aimed towards 5-7 year olds. There are also books that follow on in this series that explore puberty and sex. Have a look at these books here and here. 

It is so important to get these conversations started, using the correct language and without pet names. That way, children won’t feel ashamed to ask questions or report concerns when they need to. Happy reading…. and talking! 

 

 

 

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Book review: Safe4Kids book series

One of the most challenging aspects of working with young people is acknowledging the reality that we have the responsibility to protect them from potential harm. It is sometimes hard to do this without terrifying them or preventing them from doing anything out of fear. Protective education aims to equip children with knowledge of their feelings and the language to set appropriate boundaries with others around relationships and touch. This aims to help keep children safe as well as to help them understand they have a network of people who can help them if they feel their trust or personal boundaries have been violated. These measures can help children to protect themselves and feel comfortable in everyday situations.

Safe 4 Kids have released a number of books alongside their protective education program to support parents and educators in starting these crucial discussions with children. Their guidebook introduces the language children can use to assertively set boundaries, and also how to identify a network of safe people. It also includes worksheets for children to draw what their early warning signs look like. The other books in the series cover different situations that can occur in childhood and ways of dealing with them, all linking back to the same key ideas of having a safety team, using the 5 private rules, and identifying safe/unsafe feelings.

Matilda Learns a Valuable Lesson

This book is about safe and unsafe feelings – how to identify them, which situations may lead to different feelings, and how to articulate boundaries to others, including adults. The illustrations show different situations, such as having an adult try to kiss a child who doesn’t want it. It introduces the idea of ‘early warning signs’ and the safety team (a network of trusted people a child can go to when they need help with situations that make them uncomfortable).

Hayden-Reece Learns What To Do if Children See Private Pictures or Private Movies

Because mobile devices are so ubiquitous in our modern age, it is important to start the discussion about pornography early. It can be confronting to use this word, but this book introduces the topic in a child-friendly way by talking about private pictures and private movies, without any graphic images. It talks about where a child might see them, what they are, and how to exit the browser, then talk to a trusted adult. The book reinforces that a child won’t get into trouble by telling someone.

 

Gary Just Didn’t Know the Rules

 This book addresses peer-to-peer sexual behaviour in a non-threatening and non-judgmental way. It introduces the 5 private rules for staying safe. This reinforces that nobody – including other children their age – can touch a child’s private parts or create private images of their body.

 


Hayden-Reece Learns a Valuable Lesson that Private Means ‘Just For You’

Using a playground scenario of a student who tries to go into the girl’s toilets to look over the stalls, this book talks about what private parts and clothing items are, their correct names, and how to respect the privacy of others at school and elsewhere. It  reinforces safe/unsafe feelings and the use of a safety team if these boundaries are violated.

More information

These books are an excellent resource, particularly for educators who are delivering protective education programs or bodies and relationships lessons as part of the health curriculum. They are non-confronting, child-friendly, and use the same consistent language and ideas around protective behaviours, which benefits children in their learning process. If you need more advice or resources about protective education, make sure to check out the the Safe4Kids Facebook page here and their website here to browse the full range of resources and training for protective education.

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The importance of bodily autonomy – and resources you can use to start the conversation

Imagine if you didn’t have control over what others could do to your body. Imagine if someone else got to call the shots – they chose haircuts for you, forced you to hug and kiss them for their own satisfaction, and wouldn’t even let you choose your own clothing. Most people would be uncomfortable with this situation, but this is the reality for most children – that their bodies are not theirs to have control over. The idea that a child can and should assert boundaries about their body is one that is gaining awareness in early childhood educational settings. It responds to the need for children to learn protective behaviours that aim to keep them safe for life – not just from sexual abuse, but situations where someone is not being respectful of personal space.

A person's hands are visible, operating a mechanical remote controller in Putten

Like adults, children possess intuition and comfort levels around physical touch that need to be acknowledged and treated with respect. Communicating personal boundaries confidently is a skill that children can use to own their bodies and to interact in ways that support their innate tendencies. For some children, particularly ones who are naturally introverted or slow-to-warm, it can be distressing when a person encroaches on their physical space. It isn’t about teaching a child that every adult is a predator, but that they are the boss of their own body and they control how others interact with it. Even the most extroverted, cuddly child will need space at times – and that is completely okay.

When developing these assertive capabilities in children, it is important to present the conversation at their level. The following resources are a good starting point for these discussions.

NO MEANS NO!

Click here to buy the book 

This is a book I have personally used within the classroom with middle-to-upper primary school students, but it is suitable for younger students as well. My favourite part of this book is that the adult characters are portrayed as well-meaning, close people who just want to hug or wrestle with the child characters. They respond positively when the main character politely declines. The story also provides language for children to use in creating respectful boundaries – for instance, firmly saying no and offering a high-five instead. This equips children with a polite ‘out’ to boundary-pushing situations, without it seeming as if every person who wants a cuddle has an ulterior motive. The author, Jayneen Sanders, has another book called ‘My Body! What I Say, Goes!’ which has a similar theme.

Your Body Belongs to You

 

Click here to buy the book 

This book is another one that explains the idea of bodily autonomy with simple language. It conveys the idea that you can still form a friendship with someone, even if you politely decline a hug or physical touch when you’re getting to know someone. It is a dated book (1997), but reassuring and appropriate.

Do You Have a Secret? 

Click here to buy the book 

Although the previous titles are more about helping children to set comfortable boundaries, this book also encourages children to talk to adults about situations that have made them feel uncomfortable. It acknowledges that worrying is normal when something isn’t right and that trusting your instinct is a valuable thing to do. It also differentiates between secrets to be kept and secrets that need to be shared with a trusted adult.

I Said No!

 

Click here to buy the book 

This simple and direct book is more aimed towards situations that could be predatory. It contains simple language for children to use when they are in situations that make them feel uncomfortable. Although it is important to teach children about the value of their bodily autonomy, this needs to be supported by giving children appropriate responses to these situations. Like with anything, children need to practice these short statements in verbal role-plays so that it becomes memorable.

It really is important for us to start these conversations. Although some people may be taken aback when a child asserts themselves to decline physical touch, what we ultimately want is to equip children to be firm in protecting their personal safety. 

 

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Secret Boys’ Business and Secret Girls’ Business!

It has been a short while since my last book review, so I thought I would present my thoughts about a sex and puberty education series I bought recently. As a primary classroom teacher, I deliver a program called Bodies and Relationships. All of the resources I use are provided, but having a quick and colourful reference helped me with nailing the terminology in a child-friendly, succinct manner when I was planning ahead for my lessons. That is why I purchased these two books originally.

The entire collection is called the Secret Business series and contains titles such as Secret Boys’ Business, Secret Girls’ Business, The Secret Business of Relationships, Love and Sex, and two titles for boys and girls with special learning needs.

I only bought Secret Boys’ Business and Secret Girls’ Business to start with. When I first opened both of these books, the first thing I noticed was the body positive language used to describe changes and the differences between individuals. Each book contains a few simple sentences with the message that every body changes differently and that each person should feel proud of their body as it changes. The girls’ book contains a range of illustrations that present some different-shaped bodies, but the boys’ book contains illustrations that portray boys’ bodies as fit and slim. Possibly, this could have been considered when creating the storyboard, but otherwise, these are two excellent books that I would recommend.

Title: Secret Boys’ Business and Secret Girls’ Business

Authors: Rose Stewart, Fay Angelo, Heather Anderson

Illustrators: Jeff Taylor, Julie Davey

Age range: 8 and older

Themes/genre: Puberty, sex education

Click here to purchase copies of the Secret Business books

BoysGirlsBusiness

Even though children are beginning puberty at younger ages in our modern time, adults still seem to find it an awkward topic. The fact that children’s hormones are starting to shift as early as Year 3 to prepare their bodies for change means that the outward markers of puberty are often occurring between the ages of 8-10. This trend demonstrates that the start of adolescence is encroaching further into childhood than it did in previous generations. An earlier start is a big deal – it means that educating children about what is going on with their bodies can no longer wait until the last year of primary school. Whether we like it or not, it is undeniable that the ‘tween’ age category (8-12 year olds) needs simple, positive, age-appropriate information about what is happening to them.

The girls’ book contains simple, illustrated information about body changes for both sexes. It also provides information that is intended to dispel common fears about development. For instance, that it is normal for one breast may develop earlier. I can remember wondering if that was normal when it happened to me (it’s totally normal!)

The girls’ book is mostly dedicated to puberty and periods, which reflects the fact that this change is the most overwhelming for girls to deal with. It is an ideal resource for girls in middle primary school to prepare for body changes. Seperate books titled More Secret Girls’ Business, and The Secret Business of Relationships, Love, and Sex are targeted towards older girls and contain more detailed information about sexuality and feelings.

Secret Boys’ Business contains more information by comparison, with double the pages and added information about masturbation, sex and fertilisation, which isn’t presented in the first girls’ book. There are many logical explanations for this, but above anything else, the girls’ edition contains a lot of information about periods, because this event can be overwhelming on its own. The other books in the series cover these topics in more detail for girls.

same sex

The boys’ edition acknowledges the idea that boys can be attracted to either sex and presents it as a normal reality of how people can be different. It also talks about consent, personal hygiene, emotional intelligence, and how to take care of testicles.

Although the boys’ edition contains lots of information, I would suggest that it is the kind of resource that needs to be explored with a growing boy, and probably in bite-sized sessions, as there are more topics than the girls’ version. The amount of information available, while comprehensive, could be overwhelming to a young boy, especially if he is adverse to reading – or prefers to avoid topics he finds embarrassing!

The other noteworthy feature of both of these books is the Hints for Mums, Dads and other Significant Adults section in the back. In the past, many parents would provide their children with books about puberty to avoid talking about it. However, it is far more beneficial for this to be an ongoing conversation between parents and children. The guide in the back provides succinct dot points about vocabulary, forward-planning, age-appropriateness, privacy, feelings and how to have open conversations that don’t harm a developing child’s self-esteem. Same-sex attraction is also approached in this section, and the authors suggest that parents respond positively to this topic to ensure their child doesn’t receive negative messages about sexual orientation

Overall, I would recommend purchasing the whole series (including the sequels) and reading the books first to familiarise yourself with the content. That will make it easy to determine which topics need to be discussed first and how much you will share at each stage. Everyone is different and the approach you take will depend on the age and development of the individual child. These books are not resources to be given to a child without discussion, rather they serve to provide an excellent, positive introduction to body changes and sexuality that is easy to read and age-appropriate.

Happy reading!

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Review: I am EXTRA Special. An IVF Story.

My apologies that this post has taken so long. I was out of action for most of this weekend with an ovarian cyst rupture. The upside is that I got to go out for sushi afterwards. Turns out that sitting in hospital on a weekend afternoon makes you rather hungry… hmmm.

SushiToday’s reviewed book is one that I happened upon in my IVF clinic – how very fitting when you consider the theme. This particular title has been self-published by two Brisbane authors, Belinda Messer and Rosie Luik. Both of these authors have published numerous books on similar topics and I would encourage you to explore the resources on their websites. Belinda’s can be found here and Rosie’s can be found here. You can also buy a copy here. 

For those of you who have started on the journey of fertility treatment, you would understand how confronting it can be. For my partner and I, walking into a clinic for the first time and seeing folders filled with reams of research about infertility was…. well, rather upsetting, especially because I had issues with how IVF was going to fit into my working situation when we first started the process. I used to worry about how I could time appointments around limited leave time was hard. Additionally, knowing that needles, scans and the ‘waiting game’ were all on the other side of that clinic door was another level of tough. Rather than flicking through the asinine magazines or the clinic statistics, I found great comfort in noticing this beautiful book on the bench….

An IVF Story

Title: I am EXTRA Special! An IVF Story

Author/Illustrator: Belinda Messer and Rosie Luik, illustrated by Jessica Smith

Age range: 5 and older

Themes/genre: Fiction narrative, IVF conception

From the very start of this process, my partner and I were always of the opinion that full disclosure to our child about their origins was really important to us. Not only is this recommended by research, but trust and truth are two of our family values. We both wanted our future child to not only be given their truth from day one, but to feel proud and strong in it. We were a little bit lost about how we would actually achieve this, but figured we wouldn’t need to think about it for a little while. Actually getting pregnant was the first obstacle.

IVF Baby Soccer

Nonetheless, this book was a timely gift for our future. It uses simple sentences and accurate illustrations to explain, step by step, how IVF can help people become parents. There is only one sentence per page with a focus on illustration, so it is most suited towards parents who are ready to have the first conversation with their child about their conception. It also doesn’t completely explore sex, which may suit a younger audience. Overall, it is an easy read that is not overwhelming.

The two parents featured in the book are heterosexual, but it is still a story I will read to my child because it focuses on how this process can give two loving people the chance to be parents. It is presented in a very positive light which I believe is important for a child in developing a confident self-concept. I would highly recommend this book as a starting point for the important conversation about the extra special way some babies are made.

 

 

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Review: The Amazing True Story of How Babies are Made by Fiona Katauskas

When I first started to consider having a family of my own, the obvious question was, ‘How will I answer the inventible question…. where did I come from?’ It is a question that any parent ponders at the appropriate time (usually closer to puberty), but in the lead up to that, it is standard to use an age-appropriate explanation… you know, when a man a woman love each other, he will share his seed with her egg… At least, that is how my parents kept my questions at bay before I was mature enough to understand this combination of relationship and biology. When a child is IVF and donor-conceived in a same-sex relationship, it adds a whole other layer of creative explanation. I understood this from the moment I knew I would have a family and I made it my business to find out how I could go about it.

One of the first ‘birds and bees’ books I came across whilst I pondered this conversation wasn’t found in a boutique book store or in some obscure place – I came across it at a regular Australian retailer in the suburbs. At the time I saw it, I thought it was quite progressive that this sort of book could be found in a forward-facing bookshelf alongside The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Possum Magic (great books, by the way). It covers a lot of the standard topics, as well as some of the not-so-standard topics, and is beautifully illustrated to book.

Click the picture to buy a copy from the publisher, Harper Collins

You should also check out Fiona’s website here. Her art and writing is definitely worth a look.

HowBabiesAreMade

Title: The Amazing True Story of How Babies are Made

Author/Illustrator: Fiona Katauskas

Age range: 8 and older

Themes/genre: Non-fiction without narrative, puberty, early sex education, anatomy

Review: 

This beautifully illustrated book is intended as a child’s first exploration into body changes and how babies are made – it is a great bridging piece that is appropriate for children who are approaching the age of the tween, where they may be craving to take their first steps into understanding their body, but not quite ready for a textbook style education. The first pages of the book presents the varied myths about where babies come from, but implores the young reader to consider that the true story of how babies are made is much more interesting… 

 

The first few pages of the book explore anatomical differences between boys and girls. The joy of this is that a parent could elect to share just these pages, and share the rest of the book as their child is ready to grasp the various concepts.

The next part of the book explores puberty and how each sex plays a role in making a baby. The book initially acknowledges the trick language that is often used to name these parts and processes which helps to familiarise the young reader, but it introduces correct scientific language to clarify the appropriate terminology. What really stands out about this book is that the illustrations are beautiful, clear, concise, and accurate.

Eggs-

The author throws in a few jokes that appeal to the young reader (as pictured above), but  these clever puns don’t take away from the accuracy of the book, nor do they cast the topics as ‘taboo’, which is a balanced approach to a topic that can be tough to get right. It is certainly a challenge to appeal to a young audience through their sense of humour, while still using scientifically accurate language, and without instilling shame about the human body.

Throughout the book, it presents the differences between boys’ and girls’ bodies, the process of puberty, fertilisation (including male-female sex), gestation, birth (including caesarean section), breastfeeding, and IVF (including sperm and egg donation). The illustrations detail these concepts, but are very age-appropriate.

What sets this book apart from other early sex education picture books is that it is written for the modern age. It acknowledges that children are made in different ways, and normalises this process alongside all of the usual routes to conception. There isn’t necessarily a mention of same-sex conception and relationships, but it is still a progressive step towards comprehensive and age-appropriate sex and puberty education that is well-written, accurate, and helpful for parents.

 

 

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Review: And Tango Makes Three – By Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

As well as being an avid reader, I am also a lover of animals – all sorts of animals! Last Christmas, I was fortunate enough to travel in various African countries and I spent many a day on safari, taking in the sight of animals in their natural environment. I spent an afternoon in Capetown, viewing the penguins at a beach and was captivated by the way they congregate and spend time together.

When I found And Tango Makes Three, I simply had to order a copy for my home bookshelf. This book is the true story of Roy and Silo, two chinstrap penguins who live in the zoo at Central Park in New York City (a place currently untapped by my travels). These two penguins fell in love and were given an egg that belonged to a male and female penguin, who were having trouble hatching it. Roy and Silo then raised the baby penguin, called Tango. The practice of two same-sex penguins raising a baby is apparently not uncommon and it has occurred a number of times. The way this book presents the story is sweet, normalised and heart-warming. It introduces the idea of having two fathers within the context of a real-life animal story.

Click the picture to buy a copy from the publisher, Little Simon (Simon & Schuster)

Tango

Title: And Tango Makes Three

Authors: Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

Illustrator: Henry Cole

Age Range: Suitable for 3 and older – comes in board book and eBook format

Themes/Genre: Short story, narrative non-fiction, board book, fathers, families, diversity, same-sex parents, zoos, wildlife

Review: 

I have always been fascinated by how animals in the natural world form family and kinship groups, especially in ways that challenge the idea that certain roles or family structures are ‘not natural.’ The diversity of the animal world is a lesson to humanity in many ways, that we can thrive under a range of circumstances and one type of family unit is not necessarily superior to the other.

The two main animal characters, Silo and Roy, start off with a friendship that is illustrated by natural behaviours (bowing, swimming together, and singing to each other).

Bowing

The two penguins then build a nest, but are dismayed when they realise they cannot hatch a rock inside it. Although they are two male penguins, they still have a strong and natural desire to do what the other penguins are doing. They are given an egg by the zookeeper that cannot be hatched through the usual means, and the rest of the story follows the process of keeping the egg warm, watching it hatch, feeding the baby penguin, and teaching it penguin behaviours.

The book describes how Roy and Silo, as two male penguins, do the same things as the other families in the zoo and in the city around them. Tango grows up in the same way as her other penguin peers and all is well. At no point in the book is their family structure made into a big deal by the penguins, the zoo visitors, or the zookeeper – which is really how it should be. The book as a whole successfully portrays a same-sex family with two fathers within a real-life narrative context, and it is a story that I connect with as someone who desires for all family structures, including my own, to be viewed as no different.

My favourite part in the story is the final page; ‘At night, the three penguins returned to their nest. There, they snuggled together and, like all the other penguins in the penguin house, and all the other animals in the zoo, and all the families in the big city around them, they went to sleep.’ 

Isn’t that the sweetest?

RJ Miles