A father's journey with his wordless daughter
Despite the fact that definitions of the "average" family proliferate, the average family in fact does not exist.
If it did it would spend roughly 1,400 USD (1,040 EUR) on its yearly electric bill, would drive a Volkswagen Beetle or Toyota Corolla (purportedly the best-selling cars in history) each family member would live to be 67 years old and would have less than two (but more than one) equally average children.
As Robert and Julie Rummel-Hudson and their daughter Schuyler (Sky-ler) are aware, however, there is as little chance that any child is "average" as there is that any parent is.
Because we all lead complex lives, we may each find something with which to identify in Schuyler's Monster: A Father's Journey with his Wordless Daughter.
Rummel-Hudson is very frank about the struggles of learning about and dealing with the special needs of his daughter. But even as he shares his inner conflicts, the love he feels for this special child reaches out and draws the reader in to share in the developing bond.
Boston's teen victims triple in five years
The Boston Globe's Milton J. Valencia notes that Boston has seen a significant increase in teen violence in the past half-decade. But the trend isn't confined to Valencia's beat. In fact, the problem is a global one.
Valencia writes that "the brazen shootings Boston is seeing are part of an ugly trend occurring in cities throughout the country." One could substitute "the world." He continues, "This summer, a 6-year-old was caught in gunfire while he played with friends in Baltimore and the spraying of bullets at a parade in Connecticut hit a 7-year-old. Last month, a 14-year-old was killed and a 13-year-old injured when someone opened fire in a crowd in Buffalo."
Why? According to Valencia, "in Boston, teenagers are getting shot for things as petty as looking at someone's girlfriend, crossing the wrong street, or glancing at someone the wrong way, any type of perceived disrespect."
Who is doing the shooting? According to Glenn Pierce, a professor at the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University who is researching gun trafficking and gun violence, the perpetrators are other teens.
"You have kids that actually have access to guns," says Pierce, adding that along with the lack of maturity comes a corresponding lack of responsibility and sensitivity for violence.
But what is the "situation" behind the problem of teen violence? Few problems have simple causes or simple solutions. But as the American Psychological Association (APA) puts it, “the home is the most fertile breeding place for this situation." What a child hears and sees in the home is of critical importance.
Teen violence then, like so many other problems that plague communities worldwide, would seem to beg us to take a closer look at the attitudes of adults and the state of family relationships.
Restoring relationships through forgiveness-promoting techniques
The August 2008 issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships presents a study (part of an earlier doctoral dissertation) by psychiatrist Catherine Romero on the subject of promoting forgiveness through expressive writing.
While this is not the first study to indicate that writing about an emotionally stressful event can help in processing the related emotions, the interesting thing in this case was that a comparison was made between subjects who simply wrote down their thoughts and feelings, and those who were asked to focus on positives: identifying potential benefits that forgiveness might have both to the victim and to the offender and empathizing.
As expected, those who focused their writing in this positive fashion decreased their negative response (avoidance behavior) scores and increased scores in perspective-taking. It didn’t matter how many different positives the writer could identify; even one positive aspect seemed to be enough to make the difference in processing the event more successfully.
One doesn’t necessarily need to write about an event to experience the benefits of positive framing. But writing can be a useful exercise in training oneself to think through events to a positive outcome.
Of course, thinking about forgiveness is one thing. Before acting on interpersonal forgiveness, however, there must be an understanding of what “forgiveness” would mean. The current issue of the journal Vision tackles this topic in a group of articles that includes an interview with Dr. Charles Griswold of Boston University, who has written extensively on the subject of forgiveness.
The connection between sexual abuse and promiscuity
Most public discussion about teen pregnancy centers on how to approach sex education in schools. Should it be abstinence only, or comprehensive; and should it include the distribution of contraceptives? The debate unfortunately ignores a vital but significant factor that underlies more of the problem than may be apparent at first glance: teen pregnancy isn’t always the result of poor access to contraceptives or of simple promiscuity.
Too often the problem can be traced to the failure of society’s adults to take responsibility for the safety of its children.
In a 1999 study published in the journal Adolescence, researchers Nance D. Kellogg, Thomas J. Hoffman and Elizabeth R. Taylor examined the connection between childhood sexual abuse and teenage pregnancy among a diverse group of teen mothers enrolled in a school-age parenting program in Texas. More than half of the girls had experienced an unwanted sexual experience prior to their first pregnancy.
For 13 percent of the abused teens, the pregnancy was a direct result of the violation. But there were also indirect results among the rest. The researchers found that the earlier an unwanted experience occurred, the earlier the teen sought an intentional experience. Some responded to the misuse by running away, or trying to obliterate the experience through self-medicating with alcohol or drugs. All of these high-risk behaviors increase the likelihood that girls may end up exploited and pregnant.
Girls in the study who had been sexually abused often suffered physical violence as well. Other family dysfunctions such as alcohol and drug abuse often (but not always) coexisted with the sexual abuse. Worse, a large number of the girls (60%) went to adults for help, but only half of these adults intervened.
From the point of view of the researchers, “the results suggest that preventive efforts should be initiated within the family, targeting systemic functioning, drug and alcohol problems, and violent behaviors.”
And it's not a political one . . .
Sometimes issues such as unmarried teen pregnancy are used as political weapons when they are actually problems that belong to society as a whole. Teen pregnancy in particular isn't a problem that occurs in one political camp, or that can be traced to a single party, class, race or nation.
Prominent teens like Americans Jamie Lynn Spears and Bristol Palin find themselves sparking political and religious debates on issues that may never have crossed mind of either girl. Nevertheless, they are used as pudding proof against varying agendas that have little to nothing in common.
These two premature mothers may live thousands of miles apart, but to all intents and purposes they live in the same society with the same influences. In all likelihood they're exposed to the same media, the same role models, the same curricula in school. It matters not a whit what their political views are, or what the views of their parents are.
The point remains the same: study after study underscores the fact that it's not ideal for unmarried teens to risk pregnancy. Even if a young mother plans to eventually marry the child's father, there are associated difficulties: does a child exert unnecessary pressure on an otherwise promising relationship? Will the grandparents ensure that the young couple has the required help to overcome the demands of a new baby on young parents and a young marriage?
Obviously there are situations where a normally responsible young girl with high aspirations drops the ball. How does one know whether anyone fits that description? One doesn't. From outside the situation one can only hope the young mother, the young father and their families turn their collective attention to providing adequately for the physical and emotional needs of the newest family member.