Thursday, June 24, 2010

Three for Thursday (The Crazy Edition): Condoms for 1st Graders, Facebook for 11-year-olds & 'Friendship Coaches' for Kids

Item #1: Condoms for 1st Graders

When I read this story out of Provincetown, Mass. a few weeks ago I thought, surely, there must be some kind of mistake. It couldn’t really be true that school officials had authorized the in-school distribution of condoms to students, to children as young as first graders, could it?

As I read the quotes in the news article from educational officials saying that parents could do nothing to stop this, that the school staff would hand out condoms to students even if their parents had requested that they not get them, I hoped that this had been taken out of context, perhaps misinterpreted somehow.

After all, schools won’t do the following without first obtaining parental permission: Let an elementary school student go home with a friend’s parent for a playdate without prior notification, take medicine in school (anything from Tylenol to cough drops, usually the school nurse has to hold onto medicine) and go on field trips.

In Massachusetts, children under the age of 18 cannot get body piercings, obtain a tattoo or patronize a commercial tanning booth without parental permission. This state law says that “inducing” someone under age 18 to engage in sexual intercourse faces potential fines and/or imprisonment.

So surely this story about condoms for grade schoolers must be a mistake.

Only it's not.

Earlier this month, the Provincetown School Board approved such a policy, according to media reports. Here's an excerpt from the Boston Globe:

"Students in Provincetown — from elementary school to high school — will be able to get free condoms at school under a recently approved policy that takes effect this fall. The rule also requires school officials to keep student requests secret, and ignore parents’ objections.

'The intent is to protect kids,' said School Superintendent Beth Singer, who wrote the policy that the Cape Cod town’s School Committee unanimously passed two weeks ago. 'We know that sexual experimentation is not limited to an age, so how does one put an age on it?'

The policy, first reported in the Provincetown Banner, keeps parents from knowing if their children receive condoms, and mandates that school officials can choose to supply them even if parents object."

What say you, Picket Fence Post readers?

Item #2: Facebook for 11-Year-Olds

A British mom recently wrote a column in the Daily Mail, “The horrifying week I spent spying on my 11-year-old daughter’s Facebook page,” and confirmed for me that children at this age -- with little to no impulse control, with few to no executive decision-making skills -- shouldn’t be afforded unfettered access to something like Facebook. They're not mature enough to handle it.

No matter how many ground rules they agree to in order to get their parents to agree to allow them to have a Facebook account (like not having strangers as friends, informing your parents if you're bullied on Facebook, etc.), as the author of the Daily Mail article said she did, it's highly likely that the kids are going to mix it up online anyway. And you, the parent, will have no clue about what’s going on.

The author -- who realized her daughter’s Facebook page had been accidentally left logged on after her daughter used Mom's mobile phone -- spent a week “spying” on her daughter’s activities and was astonished by what she saw. There were physical threats leveled at her 11-year-old, who engaged in verbal sparring while liberally using obscenities and casually directing and receiving words like “whore” and “slut.”  The writer’s daughter also referred to her mother as a “f***ing cow,” and broke most of her parents’ initial rules about using Facebook. In the end, the mother who wrote the column didn’t make her daughter delete the Facebook account, but insisted that she be her daughter's Facebook friend and know her daughter’s Facebook password.

At what age do you think it's appropriate for a child to have a Facebook account, given that Facebook itself says users must be 13 or older?

Item #3: ‘Friendship Coach’ for Kids

Free-Range Kids Queen Lenore Skenazy has challenged a notion advanced in a recent New York Times article: That children should be discouraged from having a best friend and that “friendship coaches” can help children engage in healthy social interactions with their peers.

No I am not joking.

First the New York Times piece. An excerpt:

“ . . . [T]he classic best-friend bond — the two special pals who share secrets and exploits, who gravitate to each other on the playground and who head out the door together every day after school — signals potential trouble for school officials intent on discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity, in part because of concerns about cliques and bullying.

'I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults — teachers and counselors — we try to encourage them not to do that,' said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. 'We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.'"

The article then highlighted a New York co-ed sleep-away camp where “friendship coaches” have been hired “to work with campers to help every child become friends with everyone else.”

Here’s where Skenazy’s common sense irritation comes in. Writing on the ParentDish blog, Skenazy said:

“Friendship makes us better, not worse. But like everything worthwhile in life, it is not always perfect. And now the professional fretters have decided kids can't handle a friend who turns on them (I had two of those!), or the pain of being rejected by a pair of friends who don't want a third wheel. I dealt with that, too! I cried. I raged. I used a lot of exclamation points in my diary! What I did not do was end up emotionally crippled for life!!

These 'friendship coaches' buy into the current belief that kids can't handle any adversity. Kid loses a soccer game? Give 'em a trophy anyway. Kid's friend says, 'You're not my friend anymore?' Send in the grief counselors with a five-part friendship plan.”

Do you share the concern of the folks in the NYT article that having a "best friend" is bad for kid?


  1. The condoms thing sounded pretty wild. Frankly, I think it's a smart--or at least pragmatic--choice for high schools, and perhaps middle schools, but elementary schools seems excessive. I don't think we even watched "the video" (about puberty and sex) until 7th grade, which was middle school. If anything, having condoms in an elementary school and making them part of the environment is going to introduce themes and issues that many parents might not have wanted to discuss with their kids yet.

    As for the Facebook issue, I'm convinced that the internet is the worst thing that can ever happen to teens and kids. Kids have been unfiltered jerks for centuries, even face to face on the playground, so the notion of putting a child on the internet, where most conversations are not face-to-face and anonymity is part of the package, is beyond me. For years I sighed over parents making a big to-do about their kids online. I figured, "I had a computer in my room in middle school and high school, and my parents never monitored my web activities, and I turned out fine." Still, the internet is a very different place now than it was 10 years ago, and I don't think it's a place for kids. I'd say 13 or 14, as per Facebook's recommendations, is the earliest you should let a kid be on the site. I'm always wary about parents asking for their kids' passwords; if there's ever a way to set yourself up in an "us versus them" situation, it's by demanding for passwords, and I don't think kids should perceive their parents as their prison guards. Still, with bullying and situations like the family in Britain, I can understand it. As someone who doesn't have kids, I suppose I'm speaking with very little authority here, but I'd hope a parent could establish an open conversation about Facebook with their child and talk about it without having the password. I do think kids should be their parents' friends, though. That's a given.

    Hoping I haven't displayed my parenting naivete too much,

  2. I'll keep this brief, mostly because this stuff makes my blood boil:

    Condoms for 1st graders? Those school officials should be charged with attempted solicitation of minors.

    Facebooks for youngsters who violate the parents' and Facebook's rules? Um, I pay for the internet access and the computer in the house, and the mortgage on the house, so it's my rules. My boys know they don't get to have Facebook pages or web accounts without 1) my permission, and 2) my having the password. Violate the rules? You will have no access. Period. The Oldest (the only one with a FB) has defriended some per my request for inappropriate language/slurs/cyberbullying. He also had to name each "friend", tell me where they live, and we sorted them into their grades.

    A parent at a Middle School Open House whined about not wanting his daughter exposed to FB, while another was upset that she had discovered her son had a FB without her knowledge, wouldn't give her the password, and wouldn't friend her. Finally, one dad spoke up, pointing out that social media is the norm, and part of the new employment picture - as parents, it is another area that we must teach our children how to handle it and be responsible citizens, not stick our heads in the sand. I couldn't agree more.

    I LOVE Lenore! As for the folks at NYT - another reason I don't read or subscribe to the rag. "Friendship coaches"?!?! Parents who buy into this are the same ones that teachers dread, who baby their children all the way through college, and now are calling in sick to their adult children's jobs for them. Does anyone know if garlic or crosses work on these morons?!?

  3. Cooley and Working Mom -- Thank you for your passionate and intriguing comments. I don't think there's necessarily a "right" answer out there for every kid in every situation on the internet/social media issue and that eventually my children need to be able to fend for themselves on the internet, but I'm just going to attempt to keep social media at bay for a tad bit more if I can possibly help it.

  4. Item 1- I guess my view is that they're not "targeting" first graders, they are just making it available to anyone who has need or interest. My first grader for example would never ask or need it because he wouldn't know about it anyway. We also have a policy in our house of answering all questions as openly and honestly as possible, so if he asked? I would tell him about it and explain what they were.
    Unfortunately we live in a day and age where it is not unusual for younger and younger children to be having sex. I'm okay with them having the option of protection if they are going to go down that road. God help me if my child is that one.
    Issue #2: The internet is such a frightening place now. We haven't had to deal with this yet (my kids are too young yet) but I think the idea that you have their password and are able to constantly monitor what they're doing is the right road to go down. Again, they need these skills for life.
    Issue #3: These type of people drive me batty. I'm all for my kid being friends with everyone but seriously our entire lives we tend to pair up in clumps of people that travel together. Cliques can be mean and exclusive, they also can just be groups of like minded people with similar interests.
    I still have a "best friend". We've been hanging out together since college. We've had fights, we didn't speak for years and then fell back together. Kids need to learn to handle achievement and adversity.