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Archive for September, 2011

Kids: Healthier, Wealthier, and yet Worse Off

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Report Highlights Increased Dangers Facing Children
By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, SEPT. 11, 2011 ( A report on the welfare of Australian children, released this week, found that while today’s generation is growing up in a healthier and wealthier society there are a number of serious problems affecting some groups of kids.

The report, “For Kid’s Sake: Repairing the Social Environment for Australian Children and Young People,” was commissioned by the Australian Christian Lobby. The author, Patrick Parkinson, is a law professor at Sydney University and has written books on family law and child abuse.

The report started by noting that Australia ranks highly on indices of social development, levels of education and economic well-being. Yet, the overall levels conceal what are increasingly serious problems for many children.

There has been what the report terms “a dramatic increase” in reports of child abuse and neglect, together with a substantial increase in the numbers of children placed in child protection under the care of the state during the last 15 years. Population growth and an increased reporting of abuse are not sufficient to explain the growth in these reports.

The higher levels of abuse and neglect affect all socio-economic levels, but are particularly evident in the Indigenous population with the rate of children in care being almost 10 times that of non-Indigenous children.

Mental health disorders in children have also increased notably, with a large increase in the number of children on anti-depressant drugs. “The speed of the deterioration in the mental health of children and young people is very concerning,” the report commented.

Self-harm, binge drinking, juvenile crime, risky sexual behavior and teen pregnancy are additional areas where children today are worse off compared to the mid-90s.

Mental health

The report observed that these problems with today’s children are far from being confined to Australia. International studies show a serious deterioration in the mental health of young people in Western countries.

One study cited by the report came out in the United States in 2010. It compared college students between 1938 and 2007. The researchers found that each generation experienced poorer mental health than the previous one. By 2007 students were five times as likely to suffer problems than in 1938. According to the study the greater willingness to acknowledge mental health problems in recent times is not sufficient to explain the dramatic increase.

How can we explain this deterioration in well-being? The report acknowledged that finding the causes in such events is problematic and that correlation is not causation. Other studies on this trend have pointed to changes in family structures, youth unemployment, and greater materialism and individualism.

Parkinson, however, pointed to one factor, that of family conflict and breakdown, as being a particularly important cause. Living in a family other than that of the two biological parents before the age of 16 is well-documented as being associated with a wide range of adverse results for children’s well-being.

Some people consider that the reason for this is that the adults who form stable marriages tend to be more well-adjusted and better off economically, so it is not so much the question of family structures but rather the personal characteristics of the parents that is the deciding factor.

Although this might be true to some extent the report quoted research that said studies using sophisticated statistical controls, including genetic factors, point in the direction of family breakdown being a significant cause of problems for children, rather than it just being the quality of the adults.

Negative impact

In Scotland a study found that young people in 2006 reported poorer family relationships compared to 1987. It was carried out to find the cause of a substantial increase in psychological distress by 15-year-olds.

Another study, in the United States, followed the experiences of 2,000 married people over 15 years. It found that in marriages with high levels of conflict there were more problems in the relations between parents and children. Marital unhappiness had a negative impact of the children’s well-being. Divorce also had a deleterious effect.

Other studies show that divorce is a significant risk factor for children’s emotional state and academic performance. One American study also found a connection between parental divorce and the life span of their children. Children from divorced families died almost five years earlier than those from intact marriages.

Moreover, Parkinson pointed out, parental conflict and tensions don’t necessarily end with separation and can sometimes even increase, with arguments about the dividing of assets, parenting arrangements and child support.

When it comes to lone-parent families Parkinson referred to a large Australian study that found higher levels of conflict in step-families and single parent families than in intact ones. Step-families in particular stood out for being a source of tension.

Another Australian study looked at the results of divorce on the adult lives of the children whose parents had separated. On all measures of adverse outcomes the children who had experienced divorce had worse outcomes. These ranged from precocious sexual activity, cohabitation and childbirth before the age of 20, and educational results.

One of the results of divorce that has a big impact on children is that many of them have little contact with their father following the separation. One study carried out in 2001 reported that 36% of fathers had not seen their youngest child in the last 12 months.

Depression and poor results at school are associated in adolescents who have infrequent contact with their divorced father, independently of how close they are to their mothers.


Multiple international studies have demonstrated that child abuse and neglect is much more common in children whose parents have separated. According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies child abuse in lone-parent families is about two and half times than would be usual. Only a quarter of all child abuse occurs to children in intact families, a much lower proportion than would be expected, given that three-quarters of children live in intact families.

When new male partners come into the household of lone-parent children, particularly girls are at a much greater risk of sexual abuse. One study in San Francisco found that one in six girls who had grown up with a stepfather was abused, compared to one in 40 girls abused by their biological father.

Even if the mother remains single, her children still suffer. Often the economic situation is difficult, and the family will have to move to a poorer neighborhood. Changing schools and losing friends puts a big strain on children.

“Efforts at preventing child abuse and neglect, and tackling the growing problem of adolescent mental health, are likely to be of limited effectiveness unless, as a society, we can reverse the deterioration in the social environment in which children grow up,” Parkinson concluded.

He is hardly alone in pointing to problems due to family instability. Just after his report was published, the London School of Economics announced the results of a study of 9,500 men born in 1958. Boys who grew up without a father were 4% to 5% more likely to father a child before the age of 23 than those who continued to live with a male parent, the Telegraph newspaper reported Sept. 7.

Parkinson’s report included a number of recommendations to strengthen families. They included better marriage preparation, programs to help parents care for their children better, and greater support for community groups that aid families. It can only be hoped that attention will be paid to this report, and the many like it, that show how vital it is for society to work on helping families.

Living a Life of Purity as Catholic Men

Friday, September 16th, 2011

by Maurice BlumbergThen Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?(Matthew 16:24-26).Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Like obedient children, do not act in compliance with the desires of your former ignorance but, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, “Be holy because I [am] holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16).God did not call us to impurity but to holiness (1 Thessalonians 4:7).I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).It is important for us as Catholic men to not lose sight of the fact that the Gospel message of salvation carries with it practical implications for everyday life, including such matters as sexual conduct and purity. When we are being tempted by a sexual sin, it can be difficult to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24). We need to be continually reminded of God’s design for human sexuality and be continually challenged to avoid immoral behavior. God is holy, and he wants his people to be holy too (1 Peter 1:16). This is our call as Catholic men, whether we are single or married,  for “God did not call us to impurity but to holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:7).This call isn’t always easy. Every day we face temptations against the purity and holiness God has called us to. Sex outside of marriage is widely accepted. Pornography has become commonplace and an addiction for many men. Contraceptive “medicine” that causes abortions is gaining acceptance. The media continually bombards us with sexual images –even when watching a sporting event on television. In such an environment, we can find it very challenging to remain pure and chaste.All is not lost. God has given us his Spirit to empower us against sin and safeguard our purity. And even if we should fall, we can receive mercy and healing, as well as the grace we need to overcome our weaknesses, through repentance and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.It can be so tempting to give in to the culture and dismiss sexual sin as “not so bad.” But God knows that such sins can strike at the heart of who we are as Catholic men, whittling away at our self-worth and self-esteem. So never stop fighting the good fight. Continually “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1).  Brothers, if we do this, it really is possible to live in the freedom and dignity of a pure and chaste life.“Holy Spirit, purify my heart so that I can live a life pleasing to God. Help me to turn aside from sexual sin, and strengthen all that is good in me. Lord Jesus, I ask for the grace to live a life of purity. Heavenly Father, I want to be holy as you are holy.”Many thanks to The Word Among Us ( for allowing me to adapt meditations in their monthly devotional magazine. Used with permission.Questions for Reflection/Discussion by Catholic Men

  1. Take some time to meditate and reflect on the Scriptures at the beginning of the article. What do you think God is trying to reveal to you through them?
  2. The article states that the call to holiness and purity is not always easy, especially in light of “temptations against the purity and holiness” we face every day. How would you describe these temptations in your life? How do you handle them?
  3. How often do you allow the graces of the Sacrament of Reconciliation to strengthen you in your  battle against sexual sin and impurity? Do you think more frequent reception would have an impact on this battle? Why or why not?
  4. The last paragraph states that giving into sexual sin “can strike at the heart of who we are as Catholic men, whittling away at our self-worth and self-esteem.”  Why is this so?
  5. The last paragraph also tells us to continually “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1)?  What does this mean to you? Why do you think it is an important element of our battle against sexual sin?
  6. Take some time now to pray and ask God for the graces you need to overcome sexual temptations and live a life pleasing to the Lord. Use the prayer at the end of the article as the starting point.
Why This Trend Threatens Society

Friday, September 16th, 2011

MARGINALIZING MARRIAGEBy Father John Flynn, LCROME, SEPT. 4, 2011 ( One of the factors behind the recent riots in England, according to a number of commentators, is the breakdown of marriage and family life. If this is so then the conclusions of a recent report on marriage present a worrying situation.Last month the Washington D.C.-based Brookings Institute published a study titled, “The Marginalization of Marriage in Middle America.” It examined the marital status of the 51% of young adults – aged 25 to 34 – who have completed high school but don’t have college degrees.Marriage is going well in the group of wealthier college-educated Americans, who generally marry before the birth of their first child. In fact, the report pointed out the divorce levels in this sector have fallen to a level comparable to the early 70s.According to the authors of the report, W. Bradford Wilcox and Andrew J. Cherlin, it is a different story for the less well-educated who have high levels of cohabitation and divorce. “The nation’s retreat from marriage, which started in low-income communities in the 1960s and 1970s, has now moved into Middle America,” the report stated.In recent years moderately educated American women were more than seven times as likely to have a child outside of marriage compared to college educated women. Overall, 44% of births to high school educated women are out of wedlock. This compares to 54% for women who did not finish high school and 6% for women with a degree.The increase in births outside marriage is due to the higher levels of cohabitation and there has been little change in the number of births to women living alone. The increase is a cause for concern as children are best off in a stable married family, the report said.According to recent data cohabitating couples are inherently unstable and 65% of children in these situations will see the relationship break up by the time they are twelve years old. This compares to just 24% for children born in marriages.CausesThe report cited both cultural and economic factors as being behind the changed situation. The job market for moderately educated men has deteriorated considerably leaving them with less stable jobs and lower real wages than a generation ago.At the same time there is the general expectation that a good job and income is needed in order to commit to marriage, so cohabitation is taken up as the alternative, while they wait for the right job to occur.Still, this alone is not a complete explanation. The report observed that in the past, for example in the Great Depression, economic hardship did not lead to major changes in family life.The report singled out three major cultural shifts that have played a crucial role in changing the situation.Firstly, attitudes towards sexual activity and childbearing outside marriage have changed. There is much more acceptance these days of such behavior and this, combined with the introduction of contraception, has greatly weakened the traditional family values that once reigned in this sector of society.Low-income unmarried women often go ahead and have children, rather than wait for a better situation as this involves the risk of remaining childless. This mentality has now spread to the moderately educated women.Secondly, there has been a significant decline in religious participation among people in Middle America. Compared with the 70s weekly religious attendance dropped from 40 to 28%.Thirdly, the legal framework affecting family life has undergone a major re-orientation. With the introduction of no-fault divorce it changed from being supportive of the marriage bond to emphasizing individual rights.ChangeBringing about a change in the trend to cohabitation and high divorce levels is no easy task, the report admitted. Among the measures suggested were the following.- Provide improved training for jobs that are in the middle range of skills which will enable the moderately educated to find better and stable jobs.- Change the way welfare payments are calculated from a situation where marriage is penalized due to cohabitating couples losing financial support once they marry. Child tax credits should also be augmented.- Try to change cultural attitudes in the same way that campaigns are carried out against smoking and drunk driving.- Invest in educational programs for disadvantaged pre-school children as a way to boost the employment prospects of future generations.- Reform divorce laws to mitigate the consequences of no-fault divorce. This could include educational programs and also mandatory waiting periods for couples with children.Coincidentally one of the authors of the Brookings report was involved in another publication regarding marriage and cohabitation that was published a bit later on in August. The director of the National Marriage Project, W. Bradford Wilcox, along with 18 other family scholars, issued the third edition of the report “Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences.”According to the report the intact, biological married family is still the “gold standard” when it comes for what is best for children. In addition, marriage is a major contributor to the common good, with benefits for the economy, health and education.After analyzing hundreds of reports on marriage and family life the authors had both good and bad news.The good news is that divorce has declined, almost to the level it was at before the 70s. The bad news is that this improvement has been more than offset due to the increase in cohabitation. This means that nowadays children are more likely to experience cohabitation than be affected to a divorce.Only 55% of 16-year-olds were living with both parents in the early 2000s, compared with 66% twenty years previously.The instability of cohabitation has a negative impact on children, according to the report. Children are three times more likely to be abused in cohabitating households thatn those in intact, biological-married parent homes. Drup use, problems at school and bad behavior are also more common.AsiaThese changes in family life are far from being limited to the United States. The cover story of the Aug. 20 edition of The Economist magazine looked at what it titled “The flight from marriage” in Asia.In Japan, for example, while 20 years ago the percentage of women who cohabited was in the single digits it is now up to 20%. The average age at marriage is now much higher. In the richer Asian countries it is now 29-30 for women, and 31-33 for men. The mean average at marriage has risen by five years in the last three decades in some countries.Moreover, more women are not marrying. In 2010 one-third of Japanese women entering their 30s were single. In the same year 37% of Taiwanese women aged 30-34 were single, along with 21% of those in the bracket of 35-39. This is a striking change, the article pointed out, considering that only a few decades ago only 2% of women in this age group were single in most Asian countries.Divorce rates, while still considerably lower than in the West, have doubled since the 80s.Family life has traditionally been very important in Asia. As recently as 1994 Lee Kuan Yew, formerly prime minister of Singapore, attributed Asia’s economic success to the strength of family ties and the virtues learnt in family life.With marriage in trouble in both the West and Asia the cost of not doing anything to remedy this is simply too high to allow this trend to continue.

Children, Sex, and the Media: 3 Ways for Parents to Gain Control

Friday, September 9th, 2011

By Nancy Shute Nancy Shute – Thu Sep 2, 10:35 am ETKids get more sex education from TV, music videos, and the Internet–let’s make that Jersey Shore, 50 Cent, and XXX-rated websites–than they do from their parents and teachers, and that’s not a good thing, according to the nation’s pediatricians. They’re calling on parents to step up and help children learn how to become responsible sexual human beings.[Teens and Sex: How to Help Your Kids Dodge Pregnancy and STDs]Clearly we parents aren’t doing a very good job of that now. The United States boasts the highest rate of teen pregnancies in the developed world, and 25 percent of American teenagers have a sexually transmitted disease (STD). But we parents could really use some help. Many moms and dads shy away from talking about sex with their children. So instead, teenagers learn about sex from TV, where 70 percent of teen shows contain sexual content, and less than 10 percent of those shows give examples of responsible sexual behavior, such as delaying sexual activity or reducing the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, according to a new report on teens, sex, and the media from the American Academy of Pediatrics.[Why Teen Pregnancies Are on the Rise]The AAP is encouraging pediatricians to ask two questions at every well-child visit in order to judge how a child’s media use may be affecting his or her health: whether a child has a TV or computer in the bedroom and the amount of screen time a child takes in daily.[5 Ways to Make Kids’ Media Use Safe and Healthy]Although those questions may help identify when a child has a problem with media use, dealing with it will be up to the parents. Parents have the most control over their child’s media use, and the biggest potential for positive impact. Here are three recommendations for parents on how to handle sex and the media from Victor Strasburger, lead author of the new report and chief of adolescent medicine at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine:Limit all screen media time to a maximum of two hours a day. This not only reduces the dose of sexually inappropriate content a child gets daily, but leaves time for other things, like homework, sports, friends, and family.Get the TV and computer out of children’s bedrooms. Parents can’t know what media children are consuming if their kids are holed up in their rooms. Having a TV in the bedroom is linked to lower grades and higher rates of obesity, too.Use sex in the media to do on-the-spot sexual education on a regular basis, rather than having one big talk. A parent can watch TV with a teenager and note that sexual relationships don’t work that way in real life, or that the reason the girl with the tight T-shirt is in the commercial is to sell more beer.That last point may sound terrifying, but Diane Levin, coauthor of the book So Sexy So Soon, says that asking teenagers why they like certain shows or songs can provide a great opportunity to talk about sexual issues in a way that’s fairly comfortable. Parents can watch with a child and point out specific images or acts, and explain why they find those sexual or violent images disturbing or inappropriate. As a result, teenagers gain a better understanding of sex in the real world, as well as of their parent’s ethical and moral standards.The pediatricians also put in a plea for less sexual imagery on TV, and a ban on ads for erectile dysfunction drugs until after 10 p.m. Good luck on that one, doctors. But it would be nice to not have to try and explain to children why the gray-haired people get all cuddly after popping blue pills.

Garbarge in, Garbage out

Friday, September 9th, 2011

by Vicki ThornBetween today’s mass media and the virtual world we now inhabit, our popular culture exudes a sense of pseudo-intimacy. We follow the lives of famous people with fanatic interest, seeing or reading about every little detail of their lives. Twitter lets us know what celebrities are thinking or doing at this very moment. There is a certain magnetism that draws us to do this. We feel like we are somehow privy to some special knowledge, and that makes us feel special.Hero worship has always existed. Think of young boys collecting baseball cards, hoping to be lucky enough to get a signed baseball, program or even a photo of a sports hero. These memorabilia hang on their walls as these boys move through adulthood and into retirement. They continue to gather at sports events, hoping to see the current heroes and the possible new ones. Just this morning one of the sports commentators on a radio station spoke about the desire of “being near greatness.”I recently picked up People and US magazines. When many print media are losing ground, these are thriving. Magazines are powerful media. Media research has found that magazines are the most credible source of information for teen girls: more so than family, newspapers and other media. What are they saying?As I looked at these magazines, which have a huge market share, I was confronted with voyeuristic stories. This in itself didn’t surprise me – but what did surprise me was the lack of positive stories about human greatness. What was there in excess was human depravity!That week both magazines had stories about Tiger Woods and the effect of his multitude of affairs on his family. In one issue of US, 10 stories had the words “sexy,” “sexier” or “sexiest” in the titles. There were reports of infidelities and love affairs; who is currently being seen with or bedding whom and who is jilted or jealous; who lost how much weight and now looks wonderful in the bikini and who followed what diet; who is currently very depressed or addicted even though famous; who has a “baby daddy” who is basically unfaithful, but still sees his child. The covers scream “How I Got Thin,” “Too Fat to Fly,” “Dark Secrets,” “Is Fame Hurting Her?” “Headed to Rehab” and “Jake’s Mistake.”There seem to be no stories about regular people. The “feel good” stories are about unusual people for the most part: the boy born with his heart outside his body or the couple who are “little people” and are considering surrogacy and genetic screening in case their child would inherit their genetic condition.If magazines are seen as credible sources, what are they teaching us? The media is a teacher, and media research has long pointed to our susceptibility to messages that are presented to us. The message from these publications is that this is how life should be lived.People have always longed for heroes and have recognized throughout the ages those who give scandal and those who live with dignity. Today, our culture’s “heroes” are certainly not holding up noble principles. I believe that this type of print media is having the same effect as TV and film, in lowering the moral standard. Yet our desire to “be near greatness” and to imitate the rich and famous sets us up to believe that this is acceptable behavior.In the past, holiness was recognized, as was sinfulness. Today we do not hear much about the holy and noble people. They don’t sell magazines. With the death of Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul II, there is a void of stories about those who live good lives and do good deeds in the popular media.There was a time when parents, educators and books acquainted us with the lives of the saints, and as children and teens we absorbed these stories which gave us examples of moral fortitude in the face of physical and spiritual adversity. Guys had role models like Frances Xavier and Issac Jogues, who went into the unknown to bring the Word of God and message of redemption. These were brave men! They captured the imagination. Girls had role models like St. Frances of Rome, a wife and mother, who responded with heroic generosity to challenges of plague and famine; or St. Frances Cabrini, who wanted to be a missionary to China but was sent to America where she established institutions of learning and hospitals.The list of models for Catholic Christians is long, but so many people have not encountered them. Our challenge is how do we tell the stories of courage, moral fortitude and true greatness in this media age that is driven by money and promotes those things that reflect the worst of human spirit? Where are the real heroes?pastedGraphic.pdf(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Headline Bistro or the Knights of Columbus.)

Parents, do you know what these texts mean?

Friday, September 9th, 2011

By Elizabeth Cohen, CNN Senior Medical CorrespondentAugust 26, 2010 — Updated 1557 GMT (2357 HKT)STORY HIGHLIGHTSWebsites translating teens’ texts are an educational tool for parentsThere’s a huge disconnect between parents and kids, expert says (CNN) — Do you know what this means: %*@:-( ?Or this: ~~#ZZZZZZ ?If the answers are no, you’re not a teenager who uses alcohol or drugs.‘Boy am I old’Six years ago, Ryan Jones didn’t know what the above terms meant either — but that was before he became an expert in the shorthand teens use to communicate about their illicit activities.It all began in 2004, when Jones, a software engineer, received some odd instant messages at work, using terms such as “idk” and “lyk.” It was all Greek to Jones.Jones, a computer programmer in Allen Park, Michigan, quickly realized the messages weren’t from his boss — they were from his boss’ children who were hanging out at the office with their father for the day. As a joke, they’d gone into their dad’s AOL account and sent silly, innocent instant messages to everyone in the office, and none of the adults could understand the shortcuts and slang.He later learned “idk” means “I don’t know” and “lyk” means “like.””It was a real ‘boy am I old’ moment,” Jones remembers. “But then it occurred to me the slang was actually really creative and saved time and keystrokes. I was talking to some of the other programmers, and we thought it would be a cool idea to start a website that had translations of the slang that kids use.”Jones created in 2005, and as more readers have submitted terms related to drugs and sex, what started out as a fun little lexicon of innocuous shortcuts has become a valuable educational tool for parents to learn about what their children are up to.Hate letters from teensChildren across the country are heading back to school, and new research from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America shows that a third of parents are concerned computers and texting make it harder to communicate with media-engrossed teens about sex, drugs, alcohol and other risky behaviors. This is a particular concern for many parents, especially considering another new report, from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, finds 5.7 million public school students attend gang and drug-infected schools.Jones has now made it his mission to help parents detect when their children are discussing dangerous activities online.In his online dictionary, there are thousands of slang terms related to drugs and sex (there are 88 drug shortcuts beginning with the letter “a” alone). “A- boot,” for example, means someone is under the influence of drugs, “cu46” means “see you for sex,” and “gnoc” means “get naked on cam,” meaning a webcam.”Whether you’re a parent, teacher, law enforcement officer or simply a concerned friend — it’s important to stay up to date on the latest drug-related slang terms,” Jones writes on the website.You won’t find every drug- and sex-related term on Jones’ website. While readers have submitted thousands of examples of slang, he refuses to include ones that are just too disgusting.”You should see the things I reject on a daily basis,” he says. “Some of this stuff is pretty vulgar.”After they read through his dictionary, parents appreciate the education, Jones says. “Parents write me thank you notes all the time, and I occasionally get hate letters from teens,” he says.Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden agrees that parents need to wise up to what their kids are saying to each other online. His office has made more than 100 presentations about understanding teen online communications.‘A huge disconnect’“There’s a huge disconnect between parents and kids,” says Wasden, who makes presentations to parents and teens about how to communicate safely online. “For parents, there is a mystique about technology, but texting is the standard way [teens] communicate with one another.”To demystify electronic communications among teens, Wasden suggests keeping an eye on your child’s texts and online communications, whether it’s via instant messages or Facebook.You’ll be in good company if you do. According to a recent study from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 64 percent of parents look at the contents of their child’s cell phone.This may seem overbearing, but remember: Looking at what your child says online could keep your child out of a dangerous situation.”I’m the parent,” Wasden says. “If I have to choose between having my child upset with me or having them be victimized, I’m going to chose for them to be upset with me every time.”Of course, it doesn’t help to read what they write if you can’t understand it.”There’s a broad range of terms that even vigilantly monitoring parents may not recognize,” says Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “Kids are developing their own language and don’t want anyone to know what it is.”If you see terms that are unfamiliar to you, go to one of several translators and dictionaries that help parents decipher the terms that teens use in chat rooms, text messages and instant messaging boards.You can find teen lingo translators from the state of Idaho,,, and such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Parents. The Anti-Drug, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America and the Office of National Drug Control Policy have lists of street terms and slang, including those specific to drug or sexual activity.Once you get the hang of the language, you can try your hand at translating a real message found by Susan Shankle and Barbara Melton, co-authors of the book “What in the World Are Your Kids Doing Online?”The message reads:”1 w45 50 j4ck3d up |457 n16h7. 1 5c0r3d 50m3 cr4ck 47 7h3 p4r7y 50 1’d h4v3 17 f0r 70n16h7 4nd 70m0rr0w, 4nd 7h3n J1mmy 700k 0ff w17h 17, 7h3 455h0|3! 1 4m 4|| j1773ry 4nd n33d 70 m337 up w17h y0u 70n16h7 4f73r my p4r3n75 7h1nk 1 4m 45|33p. c4n y0u m337 m3 47 b0j4n6|3’5 47 m1dn16h7 ju57 f0r 4 f3w m1nu735? 1 ju57 n33d 4 |177|3 4nd 1 c4n p4y y0u b4ck 0n m0nd4y, 1 pr0m153.”Translation:”I was so jacked up last night. I scored some crack at the party so I’d have it for tonight and tomorrow, and then Jimmy took off with it, the [expletive]! I am all jittery and need to meet up with you tonight after my parents think i am asleep. Can you meet me at Bojangle’s at midnight just for a few minutes? I just need a little and I can pay you back on Monday, I promise.”CNN’s Sabriya Rice contributed to this report.

Why So Disillusioned About Marriage?

Friday, September 9th, 2011

by Vicki ThornWhat has happened to marriage? Everywhere we look these days, marriage seems maligned. A recently published Pew Study does not paint a pleasant picture for the future of marriage, and the Nov. 18 issue of TIME Magazine has a major story on the supposed demise of the institution.According to the study, nearly 40% of us think marriage is obsolete. Pew reported that 44% of those under 30 believe marriage is heading the road of the dinosaurs – extinction! And slightly more than half of the respondents said marriage was not relevant to achieving respect, happiness, career goals, financial security or a fulfilling sex life.And yet, we Americans have one of the highest rates of marriage, and remarriage in the world. 70% of respondents thought marriage was worth trying, with only 5% of them saying they didn’t want to get married. When it came to raising children, more than 75% said “it’s best done married.”Another article in TIME last year described the situation this way:An increasingly fragile construct depending less and less on notions of sacrifice and obligation than on the ephemera of romance and happiness as defined by and for its adult principals, the intact, two-parent family remains our cultural ideal, but it exists under constant assault. It is buffeted by affairs and ennui, subject to the eternal American hope for greater happiness, for changing the hand you dealt yourself. Getting married for life, having children and raising them with your partner — this is still the way most Americans are conducting adult life..” This was said in an article in TIME in 2009.All this came to mind when a close friend with a wedding approaching shared deep distress at the experience of a marriage preparation event.  While the communications techniques that were taught in the weekend event were very helpful to her and her fiancé, the couples presenting the seminar caused disillusionment. To quote my friend, the message she took away was, “Marriage sucks, and somehow you have to survive it!” Even the clergyman involved was not helpful. There was no joy, no hope, no blessing discussed – just soldier on and be brave, and you’ll get through it.I Googled “marriage is wonderful” and mostly found programs and books devoted to improving marriage. Then there was the H. L. Menken quote: “Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who would want to live in an institution.”  I found a question –  “My marriage is wonderful but I am thinking about cheating. “ It was a ways in before I found a couple of personal blogs about the gift of marriage. I searched for “marriage is terrible” and quickly plunged into personal accounts and struggles. I searched “marriage sucks,” and page after page of angst poured out!What has changed in our culture to cause such an impact on our experience of marriage?For one, media has shaped our expectations in very real ways, as we’ve gone from early TV programming that depicted married couples to broken families, step families and “alternative” families. On one hand, we’ve been set up to have unrealistic expectations of a partner and of a marriage that will all be endless romance – a message pragmatically countered by people like Lori Gottlieb, who in her book Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,  counsels women to lay aside their dreams of Prince Charming. On the other end of the spectrum, we are inundated by the message of disillusionment in marriage, such as in the show “Desperate Housewives.”We have treated our children as little prince and princesses, as is detailed by Jean Twenge in her books  Me Generation  and The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement.  If it’s all about me, trying to live a married life becomes impossible.We have many young adults who are the adult children of divorce, and in spite of all the hype about children being remarkably resilient, they are now telling their stories. They don’t trust marriage. They are ill equipped to make a partner choice and are predisposed to have a marriage fail. Having not seen a marriage thrive, they are often cynical about the institution itself.Cohabitation has exploded, with some referring to it as trial marriage, and if it falls apart, the heartache lingers even without the marriage license. In the meantime, partners are more likely to experience partner abuse, infidelity, less satisfying sexual intimacy and have less family support.  A negative experience of cohabitation, then, can sour a future marriage.And where are the extended families who gave us support in the past – those couples who grew old together with grace, and would take a younger, struggling couple aside to offer advice and love? We have a shortage of examples to look to in understanding “in good times and in bad.” It’s lonely as a married couple in today’s world.Perhaps we should begin to speak about marriage as an adventure; not something for the faint of heart. Such an image may capture a deeper sense of what marriage is really about and call us to a higher good. An adventure is defined as a wild and risky undertaking, filled with dangerous yet exciting experiences. Certainly all of those can describe the phases of marriage, which require courage, sacrifice and even suffering.  It’s an adventure undertaken by two people joined by love, supported by grace and journeying together.  Enough of the warm, fuzzy, romantic image. Marriage is for those who are brave and willing to engage life and love with another person, until death do they part. That sounds exciting to me! And I’ve lived it for almost 40 years. pastedGraphic.pdf(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Headline Bistro or the Knights of Columbus.)

Marriage Revisited

Friday, September 9th, 2011

by Vicki ThornHaving just celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary, marriage is on my mind. Some of the people celebrating with us were old friends also married for many years who, through trials and tribulations, had found joy in their unions.We were all in our early 20s when we got married. There are those today who would say, “Ah, but that was another time.” And there are those who observe how difficult it is to forge a marriage when you have been single and independent for many years. (Yet learning to share a life is always a challenge!) The definition of early marriage is unclear. What’s early? 18, 22, 27, 32? There seems to be no agreement. But perhaps research can shed some surprising light on this.The current issue of Psychology Today (July 5, 2011) has an article called “Marriage with a Twist,” by Amy Rosenburg.  One of the couples featured in the article married young by today’s standards, after he proposed their final year of college. Unsurprisingly, they got many comments about being too young. They are now 23 and 24; he is a teacher, and she works in public relations.Yet, Diane Sollee, founder and director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education, believes that “the best way to ensure a passionate marriage is, in fact, to marry young.”  She adds that some sociologists who are looking at marriage statistics say the optimal age to marry is 22 to 25. Sollee says, “When you’re still growing and you can grow with another person, you get to have experiences together that will bring you closer. You can travel the world together when you’re still impressionable, you can find out who you are within the context of your relationship. That creates a very powerful attachment that aids long term stability. It’s a myth that you have to find yourself first, or establish a career first, before you marry.”Later I stumbled on another piece of fascinating research in a book called Premarital Sex in America, by Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker, which reinforces what is said in the Psychology Today article. The authors cite research from the 2002 National Study of Family Growth, which turns contemporary wisdom on the ideal age for marriage on its head. On one end of the spectrum, they do note that marrying at too young an age can be detrimental:Men and women who marry at or before age 20 are by far the worst bets for long-term success. The likelihood of a marriage (either a man’s or a woman’s) lasting 10 years stably exceeds 60 percent beginning at age 21. Starting around age 23 (until at least 29), the likelihood of a woman’s marriage lasting 10 years improves by about three percent with each added year of waiting. However, no such linear “improvement” pattern appears among men.Addressing the question, though, of whether it’s better to delay marriage until after your 20s, the authors quote Tim Heaton, a sociologist who notes that “increasing the age at marriage from 22 to 30 would not have much effect on marital stability.” They continue a discussion of what they call a “good marriage” and say that women who marry “at ages 20-27 report higher levels of marital success” than those marrying before 20 and after 27:Men who marry before 20 appear to have only a small chance at a successful marriage, while those who  marry between age 20 and 22, or after age 27 face less daunting—but still acute—challenges for a successful marriage. The best odds of men are in the middle, at ages 23-27.The myth that 50% of marriages end in divorce gets dragged out. We’ve all heard it, and yet surveys indicate that 63% of those who are married have never been divorced. The chapter “Beyond Mythology: The Statistics of Marriage in the book Beyond A House Divided: The Moral Consensus Ignored by Washington, Wall Street and the Media by Carl Anderson paints a very different picture of marriage statistics and the state of marital unions in America. According to Anderson, polling that was done in July 2010 “found that 91% or married Americans were either very happy (58 percent) or happy (33 percent) with their marriages.”Another new book entitled The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin may shed some light on why the vast majority of married couples are happy. Having found in her research that a good marriage is one of the factors most strongly associated with happiness, she decided to work on hers. Realizing that she was hardest on the person she loved the most – her husband – she gave up expecting praise, quit nagging and focused on love. She began showing more affection towards her husband even in little ways, such as telling her husband she loved him often, sending him emails with the same message at the end, and hugging him more often, as well as her children. “Happiness has a particularly strong influence in marriage, because spouses pick up each other’s moods to easily,” Rubin writer. “A 30 per cent increase in on spouse’s happiness boosts the others spouse’s happiness, while a drop in one spouse’s happiness drags the other down.” This certainly seems like wise advice.No matter at what age you enter into it, marriage is hard. But it’s also an adventure, with challenges, tragedies and joy. Working to make our marriages happier is a gift we give to ourselves and each other. And as they walk this path together, young married couples especially need to have our encouragement and support.pastedGraphic.pdf(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Headline Bistro or the Knights of Columbus.)

Forgiveness: A Different Question

Friday, September 9th, 2011

by Vicki ThornI’ve been speaking recently at several retreats for women, which have prompted a lot of thinking on my part about the issue of forgiveness. As we grow older, how do we deal with the terrible hurts that have happened in and still haunt our lives? How do we learn to forgive – a choice, which, done with the help of God’s grace, sets us free?Undoubtedly we are wounded, and too often by circumstances beyond our control. We think: My mother was inattentive and emotionally absent. My father abandoned our family. Our family shattered during a divorce. I was sexually abused. I got pregnant. My boyfriend forced me to have an abortion. My spouse didn’t understand me, and so we had to get divorced. The list is endless, and many times there are multiple offenses we suffer.It is clear that forgiveness is what sets us free, and that when are able to forgive those who have offended against us, they no longer hold power over us. There is a process that needs to happen, and we need to ask for God’s grace to forgive. We humans do this poorly.But what dawned on me this time is how, in our woundedness, we also hurt others and cause the cycle to continue. Granted, this is often unintentional, as we are so absorbed by our own pain and struggles.   Yet when the unhealed pain in our life spills over, the wounds repeat themselves into the next generation.For example, the daughters of teenage mothers are likely to become teen mothers as well, as Maggie Gallagher notes in her book The Abolition of Marriage.Divorce also tends to perpetuate itself from generation to generation. Surveys from the National Opinion Research Center, for example, found that white male children whose parents divorced had a divorce or separation rate in adulthood that was 35 percent higher than for white male children who grew up in intact families. Daughters fared even worse: White female children whose parents divorced were 60 percent more likely to experience their own divorce or separation than a similar population whose families stayed together.The list goes on. Pedophiles are often victims of sexual abuse. One researcher of the origins of pedophilia found that nearly a third of pedophiles were sexually abused as children. Another pair of researchers came up with an even higher percentage – 60 percent. Lisa Cohen, Ph.D., who studies pedophiles and treats victims of child molestation, adds, “Of those who had been sexually abused as children, 30 percent reported having been sexually abused by women, which was interesting.”  Indeed, a friend of mine was sexually abused by her mother, who had been abused as well.It is my lived experience that abortion also runs in families.  So often I have heard the story of multigenerational abortion. One woman, while seeking healing after an abortion, told her mom what she did – only to discover that her mother had also had an abortion. When they went to speak to her grandmother about this, Grandma’s response was, “I hope you two know how lucky you were, because that right was denied me.” One can only wonder who Grandma didn’t want.In another event, a woman I know well was forced to have an abortion by her father, who he didn’t want their outstanding Christian family to be embarrassed by a wayward daughter. Some years later, that still-unhealed woman tried to insist that her daughter, who had struggled with infertility, abort her third child. The daughter did not follow her mother’s wishes, and perhaps the circle of woundedness ended through her courage!We don’t like to think about the fallout of our actions or ask ourselves how it is that the people around me may have been wounded. Yet I believe we need to take responsibility for the pain we have caused others and ask forgiveness of them. The children of divorce are hurt by the breakup of their family. The children abused by those who were abused are forever wounded. The mother who didn’t learn to mother from her mother may have left wounds in her children. Do you know anyone who has asked forgiveness of their former spouse for the role they played in the breakup?What would happen if we took stock of our life and asked forgiveness of those we have hurt? “I’m so sorry about how the divorce may have hurt you! Please forgive me!” “I’m so sorry I was an unavailable mother! I love you dearly. Please forgive me.” “I’m sorry I forced you to have that abortion. I had no idea what it would do to you. Please forgive me!”The man who forced his daughter to have the abortion died recently. I think she had forgiven him, but her father never asked of that forgiveness for himself. Instead, she had spent her life trying to please him and to be the “good daughter.” If only he had said “I’m sorry,” and allowed her to be set free!Who are we called to set free? Do it now before it is too late.pastedGraphic.pdf(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Headline Bistro or the Knights of Columbus.)

For Keeps? Are we married to marriage?

Friday, September 9th, 2011

by Kathryn Jean LopezThere she was. Don Quixote, otherwise known as Maggie Gallagher, testifying before a committee in the Maryland House of Delegates in defense of marriage.Gallagher, the chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, had been there before – defending marriage even as conventional wisdom portrayed gay marriage as inevitable, both in the immediate fight and the long run. Listening to activists and local and national media, the likes of the National Organization for Marriage seem like they’re clinging to a bygone age.But there she was, trying, bless her heart.Bless her heart, because it seems a somewhat lonely, thankless job. Those who would seem like natural allies frequently don’t want to join in the defense of marriage. It looks intolerant. It looks like a losing battle. And what’s so special about marriage anyway?That last question is at the heart of why so many Catholics, why most conservatives, aren’t politically active on this issue. We’ve been seen to cringe, dismiss, or otherwise walk away from the conversation for a combination of reasons. But that question hits at our greatest liability: Marriage in our culture. Activists will point to potential Republican presidential candidates. A party of hypocrites, they’ll say, singling out the imperfect personal lives of one or another or yet another. And, in some way, it resonates – or, at the least it does what it intended to do: Dull the opposition. Curb the enthusiasm for anything like a confident defense of the institution of marriage.That we can point to these people – and that we do – has everything to do with the nature of sin and evil and our fallenness. But it is in the truth of the Cross and its mercy that we can and must be missionaries to a culture that has in some very public ways lost its way on marriage.And it’s why, in some ways, we ought to be grateful that this is the contentious issue that it is. Campaigns for gay marriage locally and nationally can serve as a wake-up call. The reticence of many likely defenders of the very definition of marriage as between a man and a woman stands as a mirror on our culture – a culture for which we could all afford to do more to make better. Not in rhetoric or political activism, necessarily, but in our lives.We may go to weddings and be faithful, but are we faithful in encouragement and friendship and fellowship? Are we being pro-marriage in our lives? Are we making choices about what we read and watch and create that reflects what we believe to be true about marriage? Are we showing people that there is, in fact, something special about the marriage of a man and a woman, something to preserve and protect, to want, to expect, to live? Are we being honest about our struggles and helping others as they fall or fail or seek? At home, at Church, in school in every aspect of our lives? That doesn’t mean dishing the intimate details of our lives at every opportunity, but it means demonstrating everything we say we believe when we take or witness sacred wedding vows in our daily living.Gallagher, God bless her, was actually on the winning side of the marriage debate this month in Maryland. That’s because “gay marriage” is not inevitable, just as the sexual revolution did not irreversibly cast asunder what is true.Despite the conventional expectation that she was on the losing side, black churches in particular raised their voices in opposition to the bill seeking to legalize same-sex marriage. Two of the bill’s cosponsors jumped ship in response to the citizen lobbying against it.“Truth matters,” Gallagher said, reflecting on the win. “Same-sex unions are not marriages, and the American people are proving remarkably stubborn in refusing to pretend otherwise.” In over thirty states and counting.Reflecting on the politics of marriage, Gallagher added: “They keep saying, ‘It’s a done deal.’ Then it turns out we win.  As my favorite political consultant says, ‘It’s not a done deal. If it were, it would be done already.’”Truth not only matters, it is the reality of our lives, the reality we seek to live and spend eternity with. This is why marriage continues to be a success story, even in the midst of original sin. Carl Anderson points out in his recent book, Beyond a House Divided, that 90 percent of married Americans report themselves as happily married, and nine in 10 would marry their spouses again if given the choice. He writes, based on Marist polling for the Knights of Columbus, that: “Most first marriages do not end in divorce, contrary to the myth that half do. Americans see marriage as undervalued by society and see it as one of the top priorities in their own lives. There is little doubt that the good of marriage is well understood by Americans and will continue to be so.”But we can be a people of little faith, believing the headlines we frequently read and the media spin of the inevitability of something else we are fed. Yet there is every reason to have some confidence and to live that confidence – to live lives that celebrate and witness to what marriage actually is and should and can be. The president of the United States may not want to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, but we can do it in how we live our lives, how we raise our voices civically, in our prayers and in being good neighbors to those who are and want to be married.They’ll know we are Christians by our love, we pray. And in the blessed sacrament of marriage, with a community of supportive witnesses, in Christ, that love has a prayer of being a civilization’s renewal.Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. She speaks frequently on faith and public life.pastedGraphic.pdf(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Headline Bistro or the Knights of Columbus.)