Saturday, June 28, 2014

I Want To See You Be Brave

This tumblr post got me riled up today. I couldn't agree with it more.
Open up a child's craft book. They list "an adult to help you" under materials, along with scissors and glue. Commercials for toy websites say to "ask a parent's permission before going online". The teenagers in my church congregation are going on a pioneer trek reenactment this week. Church leaders will take pictures and videos of us for a blog they set up. But only because our parents signed a disclosure saying it's okay to use our "voice, image, and likeliness." Never mind the crap we spew forth on social media every day.
Young children are constantly told they need an adult's help and permission to do anything at all. But when we draw attention to our problems, we're accused of whining.
At thirteen, I had a migraine at least six out of seven days a week. I hate weaklings who whine about their pain instead of swallowing a pill. So I took my Tylenol and shut up about it. But after a few months my mom dragged me to a doctor.
"I can tell you really have migraines," he said.
"What else would it be?" I asked, expecting him to name some weird disease with migraine-like symptoms.
"You're not just faking it for attention."
The key to stopping child abuse (and a whole host of other problems) isn't disclosures and disclaimers. Too often, the trusted adult is the one who signs the form. It's listening to kids when they speak up. It's believing a child's words have merit when those words aren't "Mommy, can you help me with these scissors?"
Screw politeness. Don't sit there like a Victorian china doll and wait to speak until you're spoken to. If you have an issue, speak up, because no one's going to notice otherwise. No one cares about your problems. So you'd better care.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Myths About Child Trafficking

This last week, 168 children were recovered by the FBI in a mass child prostitution sting.
One hundred. And sixty. Eight children. Kids in casinos and truck stops. Kids on street corners. But mostly, kids on the internet. The worst part? Most of these children weren't reported missing by their parents.
Myth #1:  "Meh, it's just a bunch of dirty refugee kids. At least they're in America. They should be grateful."
"These are not faraway kids in faraway lands. These are America's children."
-FBI Director James
Besides, why shouldn't "a bunch of dirty refugee kids" receive the same love and protection as America's children?
Myth #2: "It's consensual and plenty of these so called kids are old teenagers. Nearly adults. What's the problem?"
I present to you Nicole, former seventeen year old human trafficking victim. This video was released by the FBI on Monday.

Myth #3: "Plenty of teenagers are sexually active anyways. What's wrong with them doing it for money?"
Because rape is rape. Because abuse is abuse. Because it's not always consensual, and when it is, it's still a horrible life. Because every child has the right to the childhood. Because adults who try to speak up about sexual abuse that's been going on since their early teens are too often viewed as criminals rather than victims.
Because if I were to take a nude picture of myself right now I could be charged with both possession and production of child pornography. But the 281 pimps caught just now by the FBI have been getting away with it for years.
Let's focus more on tracking down the adults responsible than teaching children they can't speak up about their problems.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Age Based Morality

Why do teenage pregnancy and out of wedlock pregnancy exist as separate terms?
Why does our movie rating system focus more on what's appropriate for children under thirteen and seventeen than what's appropriate?
Why is drinking wrong for me because I'm under 21, smoking because I'm under 19, porn because I'm under 18, and R rated movies okay because I'm 17? Can't they pick one age for everything?
We as a society know that people will always drink and smoke and have sex and watch crappy movies. Instead of tackling those problems in the here and now, we place restrictions on the 'next' generation. Never mind that the average age for a first cigarette is 14.5 and 16.2 for a first drink. Never mind the average for loss of virginity in the US is 16.4. It's not the smoking and drinking and sex that's the problem-it's the age. We like to think that if we can restrict these people of tomorrow instead of changing our habits today the world will somehow, someday become a cleaner place.
Don't tell me something's not right because of my age. Rules shouldn't apply to just one group of people. Either it's wrong for everybody or wrong for nobody.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Caroline Pickersgill: June 12, 1800-April 23, 1884

Happy Flag Day, everybody. Here's to the Star Spangled Banner and the fourteen year old girl who helped sew it!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Things Your Parents Need to Stop Saying

1. "If you want to live in this house..."
Your parent or legal guardian is required by law to provide you with basic needs. This includes clothing, food, medical care, education, and yes, a home. If you've been kicked out of the house over the type of music you listen to or hesitation to do chores, you're not the problem here. There are hotlines you can call. If your parents have never made good on this threat then these mouth-sounds they're making are harmless as baboon grunts.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. Baboons make excellent mothers.

2. "Because I said so."
Really? Really? That's the best justification you can think of to defend your point of view? The only other situation-aside from an abusive marriage-where this could successfully be used to end an argument is a boss/employee dispute. In that case, Because I Said So implies you're not high enough on the corporate ladder to under the reasons behind what you're doing. And they have better things to do than explain to you.
But in a parent/child dispute, this isn't enough. It's in an insult to your capacity to think and weigh and reasons. "Because I said so" is just a harsh way of saying "Because I can't think up a decent argument". You know it. They know it. It's time they knew you know it.
3. "I need someone to clean this thing."
If they want anything to  get done they need to learn how to give specific commands. Say "Someone needs to clean the kitchen before I get home" and it will be messy when you return. "Brien, clean the kitchen is slightly better." That way Brien knows he's expected to do it instead of Gwen. But still, what exactly qualifies as a clean kitchen? "Brien, do the dishes and wipe down the counters" is better. A call for "someone do something" is not a call to action.
4. "I'm not as bad as (neighbor kid you really don't care about)'s parent."
If "not bad" is what they're shooting for they need to aim higher. They shouldn't tell you why they're "not bed", they should show you why they're good.
5. "(Neighbor kid) does this, you should too."
Getting to bed at ten, receiving a 4.0, not watching a certain movie- just because they do it isn't sufficient justification that you should. You need specific reasons on why it's good for you. There's a double standard here since you aren't allowed to compare them to other parents. Why does following the leader mean jumping off a bridge when you do it, but good parenting when they do it?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Our World

Books have always been my safe place. When I turn on the radio, I hear adults singing, and they're singing about "adult" things. Beer and sex and drugs. When I turn on the TV, I see adults act, even if the characters are teenagers. But when I open a YA* book, even though the authors are adults, the characters are always, always teenagers. The authors respect us.
The reader community is another story. I spend a lot of time on book review sites, like goodreads. A while back I noticed a pattern. Almost all reviews that mentioned the character's age right off the bat- "Seventeen year old Princess Rose is cursed" or "Sixteen year old Kyra is on the run" were written by adults.
I have my own book blog, but I don't update it as often as I do this one. I went back and looked over some of my own reviews. I discovered I only mentioned the protagonist's age when it affects the plot, like if they live in a dystopian society where your future is decided at seventeen, or the event that sets off the story happens on their birthday.
I gave myself a pat on the back. But then I looked at some of the younger books. When I reviewed a middle grade book, I'd list "middle grade" as a genre, though I never did that for the young adult books. I'd say the main character's age more often than not.
I've been thinking a lot about the concept of "relating" to fictional characters. People naturally relate to people similar to them. Gender, race, childhood, and yes, age, are all things that prompt us to connect with characters. But I believe the most powerful kind of relating is when you abandon yourself completely and slide into a character's skin. Adults can relate to teenagers. And I can relate to eleven year olds. If we'd just learn to shut off that part of our brain that cries, "I can't enjoy this! It's not about ME!"
A friend of mine posted this review recently. For her privacy, I'll leave out her name.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
I had incredibly high hopes for this book. I read it in a book club and loved the concept of what I THOUGHT it was. It is a murder mystery that takes place in 1950's England with an aspiring chemist as the main character. Sounds pretty great, right? Wrong! Flavia (the main character) is only about 11 or so (I don't remember exactly), and she is so annoying I couldn't finish the book. She was just nosy and needed to be disciplined. If she was my child, I would not allow her act that way. She was self-righteous and disrespectful. Also, I felt as if the author was trying to hard to get across that the setting was 1950's England. A lot of the characters were cliche or stereotypical, and the language used was preposterous.
For a reader who's looking up reviews in order to understand the plot, this is useless. She says nothing about who gets murdered or how Flavia solves it. And, for someone who thinks they're capable of critiquing books for young people, it's pretty anti-youth. If you view a character as a child rather than your equal you will never appreciate the book. Last time I checked, nosy is a necessary quality in a sleuth.
Young adult literature is our world. It is not written with adults in mind at all. They need to understand and respect that. I'm not saying your opinions about YA literature are inferior because you're an adult. I'm saying the don't matter. If a teenager likes a book, that's a plus one. If a teenager hates a book, that's a minus one. An adult is an empty gray zero. If you enjoyed a YA book, goodie for you, but your opinion means absolutely nothing.
Oopsie. I just stepped on some toes, didn't I? Allow me to refine my definition of adult.
By adult, I don't mean librarians.
By adult, I don't mean authors.
By adult, I don't mean aspiring and unpublished authors.
By adult, I mean any person who kick off a review with "Number year old Character Name" when their age is not a plot point. Slapping the age in the first sentence is a sign that you don't read much YA, a young character is something completely foreign to you, and you have no idea what you're talking about. Don't expect anyone who knows anything to take you seriously.

*Young Adult literature. In case you're the type of person I described in this article

Friday, June 6, 2014

Dash Dot Dash

In our Western Expansion unit this year, my history teacher attempted to explain telegrams to us. "It allowed people to communicate over long distances," he said, "Because this was before texting."
Oh, was it?
I actually taught myself Morse code when I was thirteen. It's absolutely useless because in four years I've never met anyone who knows more than SOS.
I've heard Morse explained in worse ways than this. "It allowed people to communicate over long distances-just like texting!"
Actually, telegrams were a precursor to telephones, which were a precursor to texting. I shouldn't have to explain which one is more convenient. Texting is shorthand. Morse is longhand. That last sentence would be -- --- .-. ... ./.. .../..-. --- -. --. .... .- -. -../ See why people did away with it?
Here's an excerpt from an article my local newspaper last Sunday:
"It may be difficult for those born after 1984 to imagine, but there was a time when one could not find out everything about a distant culture with the click of a mouse. No Internet could help because, well, no Internet existed.
Instead, people relied on books, magazines and the still relatively young thing called television to aid in their understanding. The jet aircraft made globe-hopping more possible, not only sending writers and photographers to faraway places but also bringing the results of their searches home much more quickly."
I was born in 1996. I remember rewinding cassettes and learning the proper way to insert a VHS in a VCR. I rolled my eyes when my parents bought our first DVD. "We have all the movies we need on tape, Mom." I didn't use the internet until I was seven and had a hard time figuring out why the toolbar didn't disappear when I scrolled down. I remember when electronic gaming meant tamagatchis and touch screens only responded to a stylus. Yet I've talked to adults who feel they need to explain the basics of tape recording to me.
Just because we have internet in the here and now doesn't mean we're completely ignorant about the existence of history. In fact, we lived through some of it.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Hats Off to Them

It's that time of year again. Time for high school graduates to fling their hats into the air, grab their diplomas, and step into the real world. Except for graduating class of Ridgewood High in suburban Chicago. Superintendent Dr. Robert Lupo banned students from throwing their graduation caps. 
From his blog:
"It is an indoor event. In past ceremonies, people have been hit by flying caps. We'd just as soon not have graduates leaving with cuts and black eyes."
As you might predict, most of the Rebels (Ridgewood's mascot) didn't listen to Lupo. Caps were thrown and the school retaliated by withholding the students' diplomas. Not just for the Rebels who lived up to their name. All of students left diploma-less. They still graduated, they had their transcripts, but not the diplomas. Lupo refused to hand them out unless the senior class president issued a formal apology. 
I'd like to meet this one eyed academic whose spent his post graduate life raising awareness for flying-foamboard-wrapped-in-soft-cloth related injuries. According to the PWATSD*, People Who Actually Track Such Data, the odds of being critically injured by a flying mortarboard are 1 to 947265, which is slightly better than the odds of being impaled by a unicorn, 1 to 978452.
The PWATSD discourages you from looking at this image as the sharp horn may cause some viewers emotional distress
Good start, superintendent. But I don't think you're adequately protecting your student body. Let's ban basketball! It's an indoor event. The team's representing their school. I've personally been hit in the head with a basketball before. Players should show respect for their school by rolling the balls around the floor instead of tossing them around like Frisbees. Their lack of corners doesn't make them that much safer than hats.
Lupo added: "Perhaps it is the final lesson they will take away from high school: there are consequences for behaviors in life."
They bought those hats. They can do whatever they want with them. They've stuck it out through twelve years of public education. They deserve a chance to cast off the chains of high school. This isn't a matter of dignity at all. Just the school being cranky and trying to exercise control over their students one last time. It also punishes students who obeyed the rules in the first place. 
The superintendent has now caved in to logic and popular demand. The students will receive their diplomas, get out of school, and get on with their lives. Next year, I suggest the school order special caps made of bricks rather than flimsy foamboard. Then they'll have a legitimate reason to keep to hold onto their hats. 

As for the dignity of the situation, There's no way to look dignified in a flowing nylon poncho and a square hat. Name one other social situation where you wouldn't look ridiculous in this getup. More essential to the dignity of the school is giving students a chance to participate in a long awaited tradition.

*It's a real organization. Very, very real.