Social Media and Body Image Issues Among Teens

Written by: Hilary Smith, Freelance Journalist

Social Media addiction. young beautiful woman holding a smartpho
Just by scrolling through countless celebrities’ social media accounts, we can see that our society is obsessed with beauty. Everywhere our sons and daughters look they are viewing toned, tanned, and tight bodies. However, what caught me and countless other parents off guard, is the fact that our smart and beautiful children succumb to these impossible body ideals.

As my sons and daughter struggle with molding themselves to meet the physical ideals society deems desirable, it makes me wonder how I can help them see the truth that they are valuable without doing countless “curls for the girls” in the gym or looking up weight loss secrets on pro-anorexia sites. With all this focus on ideal bodies, I want to challenge parents everywhere to help our children understand social media and decode the truth behind body image issues.

Teens, Body Image, And Social Media

Teenager using Smartphone at Home

Body image is often defined as how a person views their appearance and physical features and how they perceive others see them. While the definition appears pretty straightforward, it’s important to realize that body image can be complicated to understand. It’s all about perception and when it is combined with the awkward teen years, many of our children begin to agonize over their changing bodies and each child deals with this in different ways.

It’s no secret that the telly and mags often promote body types and faces that portray an ideal body type, but today’s hyper connected children are living in a culture that is focused on social media and this driving force has considerable influence on our kids.

These images often cause feelings of insecurity to manifest leading to poor body images and self concepts. Numerous apps and social media hangouts rely on profile pics, likes, and comments to function; which place a lot of importance on a child’s physical attributes. This need to project the ideal social media image can lead our children to fixate on their bodies and their inadequacies.

Talking Body Image And Social Media: 4 Tips For Parents

Realizing social media can be connecting children to dangerous sites that fuel and magnify their insecurities is frightening for parents to realize. This is only compounded when experts warn that 70 percent of our sons and daughters will regularly hide their online activity by dimming screens, deleting messages, and closing windows when we walk into a room. A little privacy is understandable, but we need to consider the fact that our teenagers’ brains are still maturing which makes it easier for eating disorder habits to become hardwired leading to a life of addictive habits that are almost impossible to break.

It is heart wrenching to watch a child deal with body image issues and develop unhealthy habits. It is essential that we parents begin a conversation about healthy body images and take measures to reduce the impact social media has on our children before an issue develops.

Listed below are four ways we can help our children look beyond social media to see their true self worth:

  • Teach children that images of celebrities and other media have been changed to project perfection. Look online for some before and after pics of magazine covers to illustrate your point. Remind them that celebrities are human and have flaws, they just have hired professionals to maintain their image.
  • Encourage healthy habits and lifestyles. Provide access to nutritional foods, encourage physical activity, and promote personal hygiene to empower children and give them some control.
  • Lead by example. Be mindful of the things we say about ourselves, others, and even our children. Display a healthy and realistic view of our bodies.
  • Monitor a child’s online activity. Know the sites they frequent, who their friends are, what apps they download, and how they behave online or on their Smartphone. Being in the know can help alert you to any potential problems developing.

In our family, we are taking it one day at a time. Things in our house are improving as we focus on trying to be healthy, rather than achieving a certain size or body fat percentage. How does your family help children keep body images at bay in the social media age?

About the author:
Born and raised in Austin, Texas, Hilary Smith is a freelance journalist whose love of gadgets, technology and business has no bounds. After becoming a parent, she now enjoys writing about family and parenting-related topics.

Safe Place – What Are the Benefits?

Written by: Susan Harmon, Director of Safe Place National Operations, National Safe Place Network

Safe Place logo

Safe Place® is a nationally recognized outreach and prevention program for youth in crisis. As the only nationwide safety net initiative implemented on a local level, Safe Place unites social service agencies, corporations, civic organizations, government entities, volunteers, educators, and law enforcement in an effort to increase the number of access points through which young people can connect for assistance. More than 20,000 locations across the country display the yellow-and-black diamond-shaped Safe Place sign, the universal symbol for youth safety. Safe Place locations include: libraries, fire stations, YMCAs, grocery and convenience stores, public transportation vehicles, social service facilities, and more.

Safe Place provides a variety of benefits to youth, families, and communities. Here are some of the reasons why Safe Place is a vital community program:

Youth get help when and where they need it.

  • Neighborhood Safe Place locations offer help and safety
  • Youth can get help before their problem escalates to a crisis
  • Safe Place connects youth and families to supportive services

Schools collaborate with youth service agencies.

  • This important collaboration helps raise awareness about Safe Place as an immediate connection to help.
  • Safe Place is a resource for schools when a student needs assistance.
  • Students learn about Safe Place through presentations, information cards, and public service announcements.

Law enforcement connects with youth and offers assistance.

  • Safe Place helps reduce unnecessary placement in juvenile facilities.
  • School-based officers provide Safe Place information to students.
  • Safe Place agencies serve as a resource for law enforcement when they encounter a youth in crisis.

Youth service agencies develop unique collaborations.

  • Collaboration opportunities increase as a result of new or enhanced community partnerships.
  • Safe Place connects agencies to a national, well-recognized brand resulting in increased visibility.

Businesses and community locations displaying the Safe Place sign show a commitment to youth safety.

  • Safe Place becomes a resource for local sites.
  • Safe Place offers a standard procedure to follow when a youth is in need of help.
  • Employees are encouraged to engage in volunteer opportunities
  • Business leaders and employees learn about current youth issues.

To learn more about Safe Place and the many benefits associated with the program, please contact National Safe Place Network at info@nationalsafeplace.org or 502-635-3660.

Staying Connected and Reaching Out During Summer

Written by: Karen Sieve, Regional Safe Place Manager, Youth in Need

Summer is around the corner.  Memorial Day means public pools are opening, and temperatures are warming up.  Summer is an important time for youth outreach.  Schools, which provide structure and additional supports throughout the fall, winter and spring, are not in session.  Children, teens and those who care about them are looking for fun activities to keep them occupied and out of trouble.  As temperatures heat up, however, many young people opt to stay indoors and find themselves home alone.  This can make outreach a challenge.

During this tricky time, what does Youth In Need’s Street Outreach team do?  Here are few tips to get you started.

Go to where the youth are.  Reach out to YMCAs, scouting groups, churches, community parks and other organizations that offer summer camps and other organized activities.  They may be looking for fun and educational activities to keep youth engaged.  Community parks and rec centers provide space and a variety of opportunities for young people to swim, jump rope, and play basketball, soccer, baseball, ping pong and pool.  They may have areas designated for teens to hang out and watch movies or use the Internet.  Parks and other public venues often offer summer concerts where youth tend to mingle.  Most parks provide plenty of shade, so youth can hang out under pavilions or trees to keep cool.  Be sure to have plenty of outreach cards and resource information on hand for distribution.  Bring along hygiene kits (with small bottles of sunscreen) and bottled water as well. Indoor skating rinks offer an additional fun option for young people to gather, listen to music, hang out, and stay cool. Most libraries provide a cool place to read and offer free computer access.  Introduce yourself to library staff.  Let them know how you can help young people so they can refer youth and turn to your agency as a resource.

Now is also a good time to check community calendars for upcoming festivals and fairs.  If possible, team up with another youth program within your agency so your agency is not only represented at a booth, but also available to walk around and meet youth, families and other participants.  Distribute outreach cards and resource information, and have hygiene kits (with small bottles of sunscreen) and bottled water available as well.

Bring the youth to you.  Consider teaming up with your Safe Place partners to offer fun events that will bring youth to you.  For example, ask your local fire departments to turn on water hydrants for a quick and fun cool down on hot summer days.

Team up with community partners.  In previous years, Youth In Need’s Street Outreach team hosted a free back-to-school barbeque and grilled hotdogs and burgers.  Ask your community partners to co-sponsor the event and provide donations of chips, sports drinks, soft drinks, bottled water, ice cream and school supplies.  Ask your local radio station to broadcast, or if they are not available, bring your Bluetooth speaker and play some tunes.

Utilize social media.  Promote these events and your agency’s whereabouts on social media.  Youth In Need’s Street Outreach team has a Facebook page that is popular among youth in our community.  Additionally, Facebook Live can be a fun way to inform and engage youth in what your team is doing and how you can help.  Facebook offers some great tips to get you started, https://live.fb.com/tips/.

Summer presents a unique set of challenges for outreach staff.  The key to reaching youth is creativity, flexibility and utilizing existing partnerships and social media to stay connected.

Getting to Know Your NSPN Family: Summer Love

Written by Elizabeth Smith Miller, Director of Marketing and Events, National Safe Place Network

Salty sea air . . . the wind blowing in your face . . . aah, there’s nothing like summer. Summertime is like a rite of passage for sun, fun, and relaxation. There are lots of reasons summertime is the best—including:

  • Beach time
  • Pool parties
  • Grilling and picnics
  • Outdoor gardening and greenery
  • Walking/running weather
  • Ice tea—and other cold beverages
  • Longer days
  • Summer clothes
  • And MORE!

We talked to your family at NSPN and here are what summer loves were shared:

  • Laurie Jackson, President/Chief Executive Officer: “Grilling out and pool or lake time.”
  • Tammy Hopper, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer: “Summer breezes.”
  • Shauna Brooks, Principal Investigator: “What I most enjoy about summer is gently floating in an inner tube on the lake with a lemon shandy until the sun beats down with such heat that I have to slip in the water to cool off.”
  • April Carthorn, General Specialist: “What I love most about summer is the full bloom of trees as they sway in the wind, colorful fragranced flowers, and beautiful butterflies.”
  • Sherry Casey, Operations and Administration Manager: “Flip-flops.”
  • Lindsey Collier, Human Trafficking Specialist: “The heat!”
  • Zach Elmore, Operations Specialist: “The long days, sitting outside and watching the sunset after working all day on the farm.”
  • Kim Frierson, Training Specialist: “The days are longer.”
  • Susan Harmon, Director of Safe Place National Operations: “I love the long, warm days and being able to sit out on my porch enjoying the day.”
  • Rachel Hurst, Development Associate: “I love that the hours of daylight are so much longer and the sun is brighter. It makes me so much happier. I really love going to the best beach in the world, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.”
  • Hillary Ladig, Communications Coordinator: “Spending time outdoors—especially, on the water somewhere. During my childhood, I spent many summer weekends boating on Lake Cumberland. I have and always will be a water child!”
  • Elizabeth Smith Miller, Director of Marketing and Events: “Watermelon, swimming, and the Florida heat. Call me crazy, but when I go to my car from being in a cold store, I love getting in my car and just sitting there for a moment. I eventually have to turn the AC on, but I ‘soak up’ the heat when I can.”
  • Eric Tadatada, Technical Assistance Specialist: “Long and sunny days.”

Learn more about your NSPN family at https://nspn.memberclicks.net/our-team.

What do you love most about summer? Feel free to let us know by commenting below.

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5 Art Therapy Facts + 3 Ways to Use Art in Your Therapy Practice Now

Written by Ginny Gaulin, Clnician & Art Therapist at RefugeeOne

You can’t walk into a bookstore without spotting several art therapy coloring books on the “What’s Hot Now” table.  The coloring books are trending, but art itself has been used as a tool for communication for thousands of years.  Art therapy as a health services profession has been official since the 1970’s, with founding figures utilizing art therapy starting in the early 1900’s.  Today, more people than ever are engaging in and benefiting from art therapy.

Here are 5 important facts about to know about art therapy plus 3 ways to start successfully incorporating art into your therapeutic practice right now:

5 Important Art Therapy Facts:

  • Art therapy is a masters-level mental health profession.

Using art for combating stress and facilitating relaxation is so beneficial, but it is not art therapy.  Art therapists have specific national credentialing and licensure, and ethical art therapy can really only be practiced when facilitated by an art therapist.  Learn more here and here.

  • Art therapy is not only for young children.

As we mature, we quickly learn how to mask our emotions verbally.  However, we are unpracticed at hiding emotions that are revealed in our artwork, making art therapy especially beneficial for clients of any age who are resistant to treatment or not used to talking about their feelings. Often the children that we see have learned early to build these defenses.  Art therapy is for everyone.

  • Artwork should be treated with confidentiality, like other clinical documentation.

Art therapists will not display artwork in hallways like art teachers in schools. If you treat the artwork and processes with clinical respect and power, the client will too.  During final termination sessions, I will often display client’s artwork on my office wall like a gallery and the client can invite family members or teachers to view the work, but only with the client present.

  • Self-discoveries through art are always more powerful than a therapist pointing out interpretations or observations.

Art therapy combines process, product, verbalizations, and interpretations of artwork. Yes, art therapists have clinical training in diagnostic art indicators, but no, we do not solely rely on them for diagnosing clients. Encouraging clients to make their own observations about their artwork is the goal.

  • Artistic skill is not a requirement for treatment.

With the focus both on product and process, art therapists cannot say enough that we are not looking for artistic skill.  Art therapists pick processes and materials intentionally to meet specific goals, which can range from reducing intimidation about art making to challenging clients artistically.

3 Ways to Use Art Right Now:

While practicing art therapy for healing is outside of a clinical counselor’s scope of practice, using art, or creative counseling, in treatment is highly impactful and encouraged!

  • Use art to aid in communication – “Can you try to draw it instead?” is a great way break the ice when clients begin to show resistance to talk therapy. Keep materials within arms reach so it takes minimal effort to participate.  If a client is immediately resistant, ask them to scribble on the page and use that to talk about their current experience. Avoid asking “what” or “why” questions, and try not to make guesses at what people have drawn, which can be unintentionally insulting and minimizing.  Ask instead: What can you tell me about your drawing? How does looking at this make you feel? Where would you be if you were in this drawing?
  • Use art as a ritual – Effective closure when ending sessions is healthy and important, and art can be a great way for clients to self-soothe. When short on time, be mindful of material choices, such as providing a smaller paper size and limiting options for drawing materials. This can keep things moving but also allows for the drawing to feel completed before leaving the session. Ask if there is anything the client would like to share about the image, but avoid diving deeper or asking specifics when seeking closure.  Resist pulling these images out to finish up next time, and instead keep them in a folder for review later.  Those external, tangible images can help document time spent in treatment and the progress made.
  • Use art to build awareness – Create a handmade art journal with your client and encourage frequent entries. Ask them to take it home and draw when they experience a specific emotion they are working on in treatment. (This can become part of a therapy check-in process if you think your client will never touch the journal at home.)  Later, encourage describing the artwork with words in the journal, which helps build mind-body connection and improve emotional identity skill.

Interested in going to school for art therapy?   Learn more here.

Want to find a credentialed art therapist?   Learn more here.

PI SM - Jan 9 - Youth Art Request

Healthy Relationships – What do They Really Take?

Written by: Kim Frierson, Training Specialist, RHYTTAC / NSPN

Healthy relationships – the goal for the relationships we want for ourselves and the young people we work with. However, a healthy relationship is hard to create and maintain. How do we teach healthy relationships to youth? Do we model them? Is there a book to read?

What gets in the way of our young people forming and preserving appropriate relationships?

  • Trauma and its impact – Many youth have experienced traumatic events that make forming genuine relationships difficult, frightening, and unsafe. Past relationships may have been volatile and inconsistent, and it can be a daunting to initiate a relationship where one is vulnerable.
  • Lack of role models – Young folks do not model what they do not see, and some young people have not seen healthy relationships modeled. Their models may have been problematic, dysfunctional, or downright abusive. Offering examples of healthy friendships, romantic relationships, co-worker relationships, etc., gives young people a different perspective on how to operate in their personal and professional interactions
  • Lack of exposure to relationship skills – Communication skills, empathy, conflict resolution, listening. These skills and many others are not innate; they must be learned. Psycho-educational groups and information sharing with youth is another means to improve their relationship IQ.
  • Opportunities for practice – Practice makes perfect. For young people to master any skill, they must be opportunities to succeed and/or fail. As practitioners, creating safe environments for youth to “try on” new skills is invaluable.

As we move through Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, keep in mind that young people (and adults – hello!) need the skills and opportunities to forge and maintain healthy relationships. These social and emotional competencies will give young people a foundation to be a successful adult; a self-sufficient citizen that thrives in today’s world.

Here are some healthy relationship resources to brighten your day!

Love is respect – http://www.loveisrespect.org/

The Dibble Institute – https://www.dibbleinstitute.org/

Office of Adolescent Health – https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-development/healthy-relationships/index.html

Futures Without Violence – https://www.futureswithoutviolence.org/

Tips for Hosting a Tweet Chat

Written by Katie Carter, Associate for Research, Policy, and Information; Presbyterian Church (USA)

Want to share information and answer questions about a new program your agency is offering? Want to generate ideas for getting local entities interested in your organization? Want to provide a fun venue for connecting with your current followers and gain new ones? A tweet chat is a great, low-cost way to do this. All you need is a little prep work, a Twitter account and an hour in your day to make it happen.

A tweet chat is like a virtual meet-up connected by a common hashtag that happens during a specified time. For example, a group used  to convene on Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m. CST to discuss small business issues and network on Twitter. They used the hashtag #SmallBizChat.

If you decide to host a tweet chat, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t forget to include a hashtag. This is the way people will find your tweet chat. It is important you create a unique hashtag that is relevant to what you want to discuss. It should be simple, short, unique, and easy to remember.
  • Know why you want to start a tweet chat and have a plan. There are as many different reasons for hosting a tweet chat as there are organizations and people hosting them. Think about your target audience – local agencies? Donors? Kids on social media? Policymakers? Then cater to that audience.
  • Become familiar with tweet chats. Reading this is a good place to start. You might join in a tweet chat, or observe ones taking place. Get comfortable retweeting and using @mentions and @replies before hosting a chat.
  • Promote, promote, promote. No one will participate in your tweet chat if they don’t know it’s happening. Make sure you promote it on Twitter and other social media platforms at least a week in advance so people can plan ahead and participate. If you have a listserve, you might share the information that way. This also requires nailing down a time that will work for your target audience. Want to target school-age kids? You might plan a chat in the summer or after school hours. Targeting working parents? Think about what hours they will be available.
  • Actively manage the chat. It’s a good idea to do some planning ahead by preparing tweets in advance. Maybe you want to do a live question and answer session, in which case create a list of questions first that take into account the 140 character limit on Twitter and include the hashtag you are using. Be flexible in case you run out of time to ask or answer all of your questions. And respond to things other people ask.
  • Measure your impact and tell your story. So you’ve hosted your first tweet chat, but what did you accomplish? It’s a good idea to go back and see how many followers you gained during the chat and how many people participated by either retweeting or posting new content. Also, using websites like Storify is an easy, free way to share a summary of your tweet chat, or turn it into a story to share with donors, board members, staff and your social media networks.

Additional Resources:

Best Practices Guide: http://www.hashtags.org/business/management/best-practices-guide-for-tweet-chats/

Best Practices: http://www.slideshare.net/WCGWorld/twitter-chat-best-practices

How Not to Host a Twitter Chat: http://socialmediatoday.com/laurenbubble/1954471/how-not-host-twitter-chat

5 Common Sense Tips: http://blog.wcgworld.com/2012/01/five-tips-for-a-successful-twitter-chat

The Ultimate Guide to Hosting a Tweet Chat: http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevecooper/2013/09/30/the-ultimate-guide-to-hosting-a-tweet-chat/

Getting to Know Your NSPN Family: Geek Pride

Written by Elizabeth Smith Miller, Director of Marketing and Events, National Safe Place Network

What’s a geek to you? According to Wikipedia, “the word geek is a slang term originally used to describe eccentric or non-mainstream people; in current use, the word typically connotes an expert or enthusiast or a person obsessed with a hobby or intellectual pursuit . . .” Yada yada yada . . . There it is! “A geek is an enthusiast or person obsessed with a hobby or intellectual pursuit!” So, wouldn’t that make all of us geeks? I mean, we’re all obsessed with something. In case you’re stuck on the word obsessed—To obsess about something is to “preoccupy or fill the mind of (someone) continually . . .” Yada yada yada. So who doesn’t have something that preoccupies our minds—continually? Now that it’s settled—we’re all geeks, and it’s time to let our geek flags fly!

Did you know there’s actually a day for geeks to unite and celebrate geekiness? This day is known as Geek Pride Day and it’s held on May 25. There are lots of ways to celebrate Geek Pride Day. For instance:

  • Have a themed party.
  • If it’s a movie or television show that you are interested in—plan a marathon—live tweet it if you’re really proud!
  • Throw a game night—in costume.
  • Join a meetup and get together with like-minded geeks.
  • Share some fun photos of your obsession on social media—make sure to use the hashtag #GeekPrideDay.

Now that you’re up to speed about Geek Pride Day, take a look at what your NSPN family geeks out about.

  • Laurie Jackson, President/Chief Executive Officer: “Accounting—if that is possible.”
  • Tammy Hopper, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer: “Office supplies—the dream of being organized is fantastic.”
  • Shauna Brooks, Principal Investigator: “I LOVE data analysis!!!”
  • April Carthorn, General Specialist: “I’m easily entertained; however, I geek out about animals in the wild, fun childhood memories, and Las Vegas partying.”
  • Lindsey Collier, Human Trafficking Specialist: “Horses . . . and dogs and cats too!” I also geek out about preparing and enjoying delicious food (gluten-free of course!).”
  • Zach Elmore, Operations Specialist: “I’m a sucker for time-travel books/movies. Watching Primer with someone who has never seen it before is great fun.”
  • Kim Frierson, Training Specialist: “Movies, cooking, and social justice.”
  • Susan Harmon, Director of Safe Place National Operations: “I geek out on old houses and buildings that have been preserved and/or repurposed. I also geek out on people saving materials out of buildings that are being torn down—as opposed to sending it all to the landfill.”
  • Rachel Hurst, Development Associate: “Science fiction anything—TV shows, movies, books.”
  • Hillary Ladig, Communications Coordinator: “Live music. My dad has been performing in a rock band since I was a little girl (sometimes even in my house). There’s nothing better than listening to great live music and watching the performance unfold right before my eyes.”
  • Elizabeth Smith Miller, Director of Marketing and Events: “I geek out about a lot of things, but I think I geek out the most about planning and being organized. My favorite time of the year is November and December—not because of the holidays (although I like them), but mostly because it’s time to get a NEW planner for the next year!”
  • Eric Tadatada, Technical Assistance Specialist: “Softball.”

Learn more about your NSPN family at https://nspn.memberclicks.net/our-team.

Feel free to leave a comment below and share what makes you a geek.

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Earth Day: Observations from an Amateur Environmentalist

Written by: Susan Harmon, Director of Safe Place National Operations for National Safe Place Network

I’m an environmentalist, a lover of nature and someone that wants to see our planet beautiful and appropriately protected.  I’m on my patio in an older neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky as I write these words, keenly aware of nature around me. The senses of touch, sight, hearing and smell are stirred as I sit, think, and write.

The sun shines brightly and I feel the warmth of its rays. Scattered clouds float by and I’m suddenly cooled in their shadows and reminded of the great energy available through the sun. Solar power is becoming more common and affordable for individuals and should be a consideration of property owners when appropriate. On a recent vacation to the Caribbean I noticed how many homes and businesses had solar panels on their roofs, and a solar farm in a large open area with rows of solar panels undoubtedly provide power for the town. This is important there and in other places where fuel and resources have to be brought in to provide utilities. Maybe that’s something to work toward in your home and community, but if not, there are some simple things we can do to harness the sun’s power.

So what can an average person do to harness the sun’s energy? Have you ever made sun tea? If you like iced tea you can fill a clear, glass jar with water and tea bags and place it in the sun until the water is warm and the tea brews to whatever strength you like. In a short amount of time you can enjoy a glass of iced tea. And yes, you do need a freezer to make the ice – unless you have a natural source.

On clear days in the winter you can also harness the sun’s warmth by opening the blinds or curtains in sunny windows to let the rays shine through, enjoy the bright light and warm your space. In the summer, reverse that and close curtains and blinds to keep the warmth out, cool your space and reduce the energy used in air conditioning.

If you have a home with a yard and space for planting, consider planting shade trees to block the summer sun. Deciduous trees (those that loose leaves in the winter) are helpful because they let the sun in during the winter when you want the sun’s energy to warm your home. There is great value in having trees. They provide a cooling effect not only for your home but in mass they help overall heating in the environment. This is especially true in urban areas with large amounts of paving and hard surfaces that heat up in the daytime and hold that warmth at night. (You may have heard of “heat islands”.)  Undoubtedly you’ve experienced the noticeable temperature difference while driving on a summer night in a city and then passing into the country or a part of town such as a park.

As I sit, other senses are stimulated – the sense of hearing and smell. The wind is blowing through the neighbors’ trees. One is very large and the leaves have not yet come out, but you can clearly see them as they bud. The wind starts subtly and builds to a loud, rushing sound and soon quiets again to nothing. This wind cools my skin as I sit in the sun. As clouds pass I suddenly get chilly – oh the joy of spring time. My sense of hearing is also thrilled as I listen to the birds that have been awakened by spring and are singing to attract their mates. Soon nests will be filled with eggs and baby birds will hatch. I can only identify some of the birds by their song but they’re all beautiful to hear after the silence of winter.

I also distinctly recognize the smell of freshly cut grass and the faint fragrance of plant blossoms and trees nearby. All of these smells bring happiness, relaxation and memories of times gone by.

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Finally, the most obvious sense that I experience is that of sight. I’m surrounded by color – the bright green grass, new foliage on shrubbery and tiny leaves beginning to come out on the trees. Pansies in pots on the patio display vivid yellow, blue, purple, orange and rust. Some of the blooms are two-toned with light and dark in a pattern that reminds me of a monkey’s face – bringing a smile to my face. Looking across my yard I see white dogwood blossoms, bright purple azaleas and a red bud tree – all sights familiar to me since childhood. There are pink tulips, red and yellow columbine, yellow and white daffodils – so much color. I look up and marvel at the blue sky and white puffy clouds floating by.

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There in so much to take in – sound, smell, touch, and sight – all wonderful on a spring day. How does this connect to being an environmentalist? How can one experience all the beauty and not want to protect it? That is the connection. So in conclusion, here are a few things you can do to protect and preserve the beauty around you:

  1. Plant flowers, bushes, trees – whatever is appropriate for your space. It can even be a small pot of herbs, vegetables, flowers or a maple tree that will grow to shade your house. Do some research to find the appropriate plants.
  2. Put out a bird feeder or bird bath and keep it filled and cleaned to satisfy our feathered friends.
  3. If you have space, create a place to sit to take it all in, think, contemplate, and talk with a neighbor or loved one. It is amazing when you can admire nature and unplug from the unnatural.

Now, I think I’ll just sit here and take all this in just a little longer before I have to take on the tasks of the day. Happy Earth Day. Enjoy!

Anti-Trafficking’s Sensational Misinformation – Part II

Written by Laura Murphy, Loyola University New Orleans, Modern Slavery Research Project

Are America’s homeless youth targeted by human traffickers?  Yes.  But not in the sensational way we always hear about.

What we read about sex slavery today is alarming, sensationalized, and often perverse. Tracking down one of the most frequently reported statistics in today’s anti-slavery movement – that runaways are at high risk of sex trafficking – paints a very clear portrait of the unnecessarily exaggerated appeals that are widely-disseminated and oft-repeated.

So what do we know about the fate of runaways in the US? The Department of Health and Human Services reports that “Children, both boys and girls, are solicited for sex, on average, within 72 hours of being on the street.  The National Center for Homeless Education shortens the time window and increases the risk by saying “As many as one third of teen runaway or thrown away youth will become involved in prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home.” Fox News Milwaukee recently increased the number of victims to say that “90% of runaways become part of the sex trade business — and most are coerced within 72 hours of running away.”

So are runaways solicited for sex or are they recruited by pimps or are they forced into the sex trade?  Does this happen to runaway children or all homeless youth?  Does it take 48 or 72 hours for them to be trapped?

I enlisted the students in my freshman seminar on 21st Century Slavery and Abolition at Loyola University New Orleans to search for the origin of this human trafficking factoid, and they easily discovered how tangled the web of misinformation is. A 2009 Department of Health and Human Services report indicates, “Experts have reported that within 48 hours of running away, an adolescent is likely to be approached to participate in prostitution or another form of commercial sexual exploitation; however, no definitive published research substantiates this claim.”  They cite a 2001 report by Mia Spangenburg that suggests “After only an average of thirty-six to forty-eight hours on the streets, young people are solicited for sex in exchange for money, food or shelter.” Spangenburg’s source?  A 1996 Christian Science Monitor article by Mark Clayton titled “Sex Trade Lures Kids from Burbs,” in which we learn that “within 48 hours of hitting the streets, a juvenile will be approached with an offer of money, food, or shelter in exchange for sex.” And Clayton’s source?  There is none. Clayton mentions the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), which has referred to the trafficking terror faced by runaways for years. As late as 2010, NCMEC’s president and CEO Ernie Allen could only vaguely attribute the factoid to estimates made by “some runaway groups,” and NCMEC has since stopped using the stat. It is impossible to find any credible source for this claim.

This rampant misinformation and fear mongering persistently threaten to undermine the credibility of the anti-trafficking movement.

The Modern Slavery Research Project at Loyola recent performed a study titled “Sex and Labor Trafficking Among Homeless Youth: A Ten City Study (full report).”  For this study, we interviewed 641 homeless residents and clients of Covenant House International’s network and unsurprisingly found that there is indeed real reason to be concerned about trafficking among homeless youth, though there remains no evidence to substantiate any of these exaggerated claims.

Among the homeless and runaway youth aged 18-24 that we interviewed, 19% of them had been trafficked for either sex or labor in their lifetimes. Furthermore, 91% of them indicated that strangers had approached them while they were homeless or otherwise financially struggling, offering suspiciously lucrative job offers. They described being approached on the street, at bus-stops and train stations, on social media.  They told stories of being approached in or directly outside homeless shelters and government assistance offices. They were offered jobs selling stolen goods, distributing cell phones, working in landscaping, in magazine sales; others were offered jobs as models, in film, or even pornography. Many of those approached assumed or were told explicitly that they were being offered an opportunity to work in the sex trade.

One young woman said that she had been offered several escort jobs by strangers who “made it seem like it was something simple, legal.” Another pimp encouraged a young woman by insisting, “Y’all are missing out on money. Y’all are young and don’t know no better. This is good money that y’all could be having.”

One woman was approached at the shelter by a young man who wanted to take her out of town with him. She told us that the young man was trying to recruit women into the sex trade right under the noses of the shelter’s watchful staff.

When asked what the strangers offer her, one woman said “They say they will take care of me and my baby” – certainly a difficult offer to turn down.

One young man reported that men would try to tempt him by offering him jobs in modeling or manual labor. He told us that a “dude asked me about a job. I was like, yeah. He heard about a warehouse and they start you off at $15, so I said cool. Then he asked me if I wanted to fuck him. Nigger, you serious? I was asking about a job!”

Taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of young people who are down on their luck and are searching for work, recruiters try to lure homeless youth with lucrative opportunities to work in the sex trade. As a result of the persistent predatory behaviors they encountered while walking around alone, residents at Covenant House expressed a great deal of anxiety about the risks involved in sleeping outside.

As researchers, we want our work to be of use to others, but because we have seen “statistics” like the 72-hour myth, we worry that our findings will be misconstrued to provide salacious headlines. We were unable to confirm or deny such exaggerated claims because youth felt like they were being approached constantly by people who were targeting their vulnerabilities, and they were unable to put a timeline on when they were approached, nor could those who did not fall for the too-good-to-be-true offers confirm their suspicions of the people who approached them.

What our research does indeed tell us is that people are targeting vulnerable homeless youth in New Orleans to offer them seemingly lucrative work opportunities that young people find dangerous or suspicious.  And we know, from the reports of the youth themselves, that some young people are indeed accepting those offers.

There is no doubt what this finding does indeed suggest: we need to rely more on valid research on the vulnerability of young and homeless people to traffickers. From that work, we can equip organizations and agencies with knowledge that will assist them in responding appropriately to the frightening realities that young people are experiencing. We hope that our new study, as well as those we’ve produced in the past, will fill some of that gap.  The research also suggests that we need more youth programs that involve resilience strategies, self-esteem, and self-empowerment that can bolster young people’s resistance if they do find themselves on the streets or otherwise vulnerable to predatory offers.

If nothing else, we hope to suggest that we can stop using sensational headlines, based in exaggeration and misinformation, to promote a cause that needs no added drama to engage us.  We should avoid all of the sensational misinformation that has dominated this issue and focus on the voices of the young people who live this reality every day.

Laura T. Murphy is an Associate Professor of English at Loyola University New Orleans and Director of the Modern Slavery Research Project. She believes that community-based research is at the heart of social change. She provides research services, training, and education on modern slavery and human trafficking throughout the US as well as internationally. Her books include “Survivors of Slavery: Modern Day Slave Narratives” and “Metaphor and the Slave Trade in West African Literature.” She is currently working on a new book titled “The New Slave Narrative.”

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