TIME Living

Why Teens Are Turning to Human Growth Hormones for the ‘Perfect’ Body

A generation aware of the risks of eating disorders now has performance-enhancing drugs available at a click--but not much information on their possible side effects.

A new survey from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids found that 11% of the 3,705 high-schoolers surveyed reported “having used” synthetic human growth hormones without a prescription. This reflects that use may have more than doubled from when a similar survey was conducted four years ago. One in five teens even reported knowing at least one friend who uses a performance-enhancing drug (PEDs).

As an educator who works with children and teens around the country and a high school senior, we believe that more young people are turning to steroids and other PEDs for one reason: the constant pressure for both boys and girls to have a “perfect” body.

It’s common knowledge that girls are under tremendous pressure to conform to an unhealthy and unrealistically thin body image. It may seem odd that some girls would look to PEDs to achieve this “perfect” body, but a quick internet search reveals thousands of advertisements for steroids promising weight loss specifically for women. This generation of girls has grown up knowing about eating disorders and their potential health dangers. Is it possible that girls today are now seeking out drugs (that they can instantly buy online) because they think it will give them the edge to achieve the ideal body—without knowing their possible side affects?

For boys, the common assumption is that steroid use is associated with athletes. But there’s increased cultural pressure for all boys, not just athletes, to fit a hyper masculine body image. It begins early (for example, 6-year-old boys commonly believe they should have a six pack) and then intensifies as the boys get older. Combine that with our collective inability or unwillingness to give boys a language, and therefore permission, to talk about the pressure boys feel to conform to an unrealistic image of masculinity (as we regularly do for girls with cultural messages of femininity) and it’s almost impossible for boys to admit their shame and inadequacy. Consequently, they’re driven to solve the “problem” privately, however they can. In that light, taking PEDs for purely aesthetic reasons becomes a logical decision.

For high school athletes, it’s all about getting bigger and better. Almost every guy wants to gain weight and muscle. Even among non-athletes, many boys get teased for being skinny and small or having “moobs (“man boobs”). But just as constant is boys’ insistence that they can never share these humiliations publicly. In the rare times they do complain, adults hardly give it the serious consideration they do when girls are targeted in the same way.

In the January issue of JAMA Pediatrics, a study (Prospective Associations of Concerns About Physique and the Development of Obesity, Binge Drinking, and Drug Use Among Adolescent Boys and Young Adult Men) reported that 18% of boys are highly concerned about their weight and physique. They’re also at increased risk for a variety of negative outcomes: Boys in the study who were extremely concerned about weight were more likely to be depressed, and more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors such as binge drinking and drug use. Though 18% might be on the low side, between 28% and 68% of young men at a normal weight perceive themselves to be underweight, according to the .

What’s the cost? The common assumption is that boys don’t care about being teased about body image the way girls do. We challenge that assumption and want to shift the conversation about PEDs and body image so we all believe boys have the right to receive the same empowering messages that girls get. We live in a culture that can undermine your sense of self by giving you one, almost impossible, image of an “acceptable” body. Boys, just like girls, have the right to know that. Boys, just like girls, have the right to acknowledge that it affects your sense of self and you have the right to talk about it without being dismissed or ridiculed. And finally, boys, just like girls, have the right to be educated about these issues so they don’t risk their physical health and emotional well being to chase an impossible ideal.

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of Masterminds &Wingmen and Queen Bees & Wannabes. Keo Jamieson is a senior at Boulder High School in Boulder, Colorado.

TIME Sex

Losing Your Virginity Is Better Than Ever

New study shows that the "first time" is more enjoyable for this generation than for previous ones

If you’re a young virgin, you’re in luck! According to a new study from the Journal of Sex Research, losing your virginity these days is more enjoyable than it’s been in 20 years, at least if you’re a woman.

Researchers found overall gender differences in male and female approaches to virginity loss, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Men are much more likely to have a “pleasurable experience” than women (a truth universally acknowledged) but also reported more anxiety surrounding the act. Women were much more likely to feel guilty after having sex for the first time.

But the good news is that those differences have changed significantly since the research started in 1980. While men reported the same amount of “pleasure” from their first sexual experience across three decades, women have reported a significant increase in first-time-fun-times since the study began. Men also reported less anxiety over the three decades, and women reported less guilt. Which means losing your virginity now is probably going to be a better experience now than ever before.

The researchers also point out that the findings are consistent with the theory of erotic plasticity, which states that female sexuality is more likely to change with social and cultural norms.

But if women are reporting more pleasure and less guilt from their first time, and men are reporting less anxiety, that’s good news for everyone!

 

MONEY Shopping

WATCH: Why You’re Spending More on School Supplies This Summer

Families are spending $75 billion this summer on pencils, electronics, clothing, and more.

TIME justice

Police Say They Won’t Take Explicit Photos of Teen in Sexting Case

Following a wave of backlash.

Police in Virginia have backed away from a controversial plan to take sexually explicit photos of a 17-year-old to corroborate the images with evidence in a sexting case, the Associated Press reports.

The teen in question faces two felony charges in juvenile court for manufacturing and distributing child pornography after exchanging sexts with his then-15-year-old girlfriend. Police and prosecutors received a warrant to take the sexually explicit photos to compare against photos he allegedly sent.

But amid a wave of backlash, Manassas Police Lt. Brian Larkin told the AP Thursday that his department would not move forward with the plan and will let the search warrant expire. He did not give a specific reason.

A day earlier, the Manassas Police Department issued a statement saying it was not their policy to “authorize invasive search procedures of suspects in cases of this nature.” That statement did not elaborate on whether the images would be taken.

[AP]

TIME justice

Virginia Police Issued Search Warrant For Photos of Sexting Teen’s Genitals, Lawyer Says

For evidence in a sexting investigation

Local police have issued a search warrant for explicit photos of a Virginia teenager accused of sexting his former girlfriend, lawyers for the teen said.

The Manassas City Police and Prince William County prosecutor are seeking pictures of the teen’s genitals, lawyer Jessica H. Foster told the Washington Post.

The teen faces two felony charges for manufacturing and distributing child pornography after exchanging sexts with his then-15-year-old girlfriend, whose mother filed the initial complaint with authorities. The case was dismissed in juvenile court in June, because prosecutors neglected to certify the teen’s juvenile status, the Post reports, but new charges were filed by the police.

The teen’s aunt told NBC Washington last week that local officers have already taken photos of her nephew’s genitals, but now want photos of an erection, too, to compare with evidence. The police reportedly told the teen that, if necessary, they would take him to a hospital for an injection that induces an erection.

“The prosecutor’s job is to seek justice,” Foster told the Post. “What is just about this? How does this advance the interest of the Commonwealth?”

If charged, the teen could face incarceration and would be forced to register as a sex offender.

Foster added, “I don’t mind trying the case. My goal is to stop the search warrant. I don’t want him to go through that. Taking him down to the hospital so he can get an erection in front of all those cops, that’s traumatizing.”

Carlos Flores Laboy, the teen’s appointed guardian ad litem told the Post that he found authorities’ desire to create more sexually explicit photos of a teenager, in the name of an investigation into child pornography allegations, both ironic and troubling.

“They’re using a statute that was designed to protect children from being exploited in a sexual manner to take a picture of this young man in a sexually explicit manner, said Flores Laboy. “The irony is incredible.”

He added, “As a parent myself, I was floored. It’s child abuse. We’re wasting thousands of dollars and resources and man hours on a sexting case. That’s what we’re doing.”

Calls to the Manassas City Police Department and the Prince William County prosecutor’s office were not immediately returned to TIME.

[Washington Post]

TIME Parenting

Study Finds Most Teens Sext Before They’re 18

A new study reveals that a far greater percentage of teens are sending explicit photos and texts at younger ages than previously thought. Here are tips for talking to your child about the consequences

If you’re a mom or dad and you learn that your child is sexting, that’s bound to set off alarms. But a new study reveals that the practice is quite common among teenagers, most of whom who think it’s no big deal. And that sets up an interesting dynamic in terms of how parents should handle the situation.

Researchers from Drexel University surveyed college students, asking them if they had ever sent or received “sexually explicit text messages or images” when they were under age 18. Fifty-four percent said yes—almost all of it in the context of a romantic relationship or as a means of flirting.

“We were shocked by the prevalence and the frequency of sexting among minors,” says David DeMatteo, an associate professor of psychology and law at Drexel and one of the study’s authors. He notes that previous studies have indicated the pervasiveness of sexting was much lower—around 20%.

DeMatteo believes that participants in the study may have been more honest because they were allowed to remain anonymous and were reporting on past behavior.

What’s more, while the authors defined sexting as sending or receiving “sexually explicit text messages with or without photographic images,” they allowed participants to define what “sexually explicit” meant to them. “A 13-year-old might consider a sext to be ‘I think your body is hot,’” DeMatteo explains. “Other messages were likely less gray, talking about sexual desire or activities and everything in between.”

Participants acknowledged sexting as young as 13, but the vast majority were 16 and 17 when they sexted. And very few reported negative consequences from their actions. Only 8%, for instance, said they endured humiliation or a tarnished reputation. To be sure, sexting can be used to exploit or intimidate—and there have been cases were teens have committed suicide as a result of such cyber-bullying. But fewer than 1% of respondents in the Drexel study reported being bullied as a result of sexting.

“We were struck by how many of those surveyed seem to think of sexting as a normal, standard way of interacting with their peers,” DeMatteo says.

All of which can make things tricky for parents, most of whom probably wish they simply didn’t have to deal with such an uncomfortable topic. Yet they should—ideally, as soon as a kid gets his or her first cellphone.

So, what do you say?

For younger teens, set a bright line. Tell them sexting is off limits—period. (For some families, this might be a real challenge, as indicated by another new study on the link between sexting and sex among middle schoolers.) Most of the time, those who are in middle school or even in ninth or 10th grade don’t have the experience to comprehend the impact that sexting can have.

“They do not understand how powerful it is—how other people might be aroused by seeing a provocative photo of them,” says Barbara Greenberg, a clinical psychologist in Fairfield County, Conn., with a focus on adolescents and families.

When it comes to older teens, however, recognize that sexting is often just a digital form of flirting. “It is the 2014 version of teens experimenting with their sexuality,” Greenberg says. “They are testing their level of appeal—something we have been doing for centuries.”

That said, you should make clear to your older kids that dangers exist. Remind them that anything they do online leaves a permanent record—one that may come back to haunt them later. What may seem funny or flirtatious in the moment may not feel the same way a few months down the road.

Remind them, too, that once they hit the send button, their words and images are out of their control. They can’t be confident that any sext will stay with the intended recipient. The Drexel study found that 26% of respondents reported that, as a minor, they had forwarded or shared a sext they’d received with a good friend, and 3% reported sharing it with a mere acquaintance.

It’s also important to tell your older kids that not all sexting is equal. If they’re going to insist on engaging in this activity, they should at least reserve their most explicit messages for those with whom they’re in a real relationship. Casual sexting, just like casual sex, is not a good idea.

Finally, be sure to tell your kids—younger or older—that sexting can have serious legal ramifications.

Most states do not have laws that govern sexting, so if a minor sends a nude or sexually explicit image to another minor, he or she can be charged under child pornography laws. (The Drexel study found that girls, in particular, are likely to sext photographs.) These statues typically carry severe punishments, including jail time and having to register as a sex offender. In the Drexel study, nearly two-thirds of respondents were not aware of this risk.

But many of those who were aware of the potential legal consequences modified their behavior. Indeed, one of the study’s central findings is that only 42% of those who were familiar with this threat had sexted as a minor, compared with 61% of their peers who weren’t clued in to the legal implications.

“Young people need to be educated about the consequences of sexting—legal, social and psychological,” DeMatteo says. “The more they hear the message, the more likely it will be to sink in.”

TIME Parenting

5 Things Parents Should Tell Kids About Anonymous Apps

Woman using a smartphone
Getty Images

Looking for privacy, teens turn to secret or ephemeral mobile messaging apps—here is what you need to know to keep them safe

Whenever I read a story about a teen who has committed suicide, egged on by anonymous online taunts from other adolescents, my heart sinks.

No doubt, in most cases the reasons for the child’s death are complex, and the blame cannot be laid solely on an app or website that was home to the bullying, or even on the awful youngsters who participated in it. And studies show that most kids who are bullied online are bullied off line as well.

As the father of a 14-year-old boy who killed himself earlier this year told TIME in this week’s feature about the site Ask.fm, a place where users can post questions and answers anonymously, his son didn’t commit suicide because of social media. But, he added, “it didn’t help.”

Here are a handful of things for parents to keep in mind as they try to navigate this difficult terrain:

First, understand that even “good” teenagers can succumb to peer pressure. Parents can’t assume their kind, sweet kids won’t participate in teenage meanness—especially if they think they can hide behind anonymous talk or ephemeral social network or mobile messaging sites and apps such as Ask.fm, Yik Yak, Secret, Backchat, Whisper or Burn Note.

And it’s important to note that almost any social media outlet or app can be made anonymous. Nameless bullying takes place on most of the sites that are popular among teens—all a user needs to do is create a profile on hugely popular platforms like Instagram or Tumblr with a username or handle that doesn’t ID the owner of the account. And because apps like Instagram are more ubiquitous than many of the other anonymous sites, they may be just as likely to host bullying. So it’s essential to make it clear that talking about someone else anonymously online in any form is gutless—and violates the fundamental value of standing firmly behind what you say.

“Anonymity poses specific problems because there is no accountability,” says Emily Bazelon, whose book Sticks and Stones explores bullying in the digital age. “No one knows who you are. It is an excuse to be mean without considering the consequences.”

Second, parents should tell their kids that their actions (or those of their friends) can have unintended consequences—sometimes with devastating results.

When you read about a teen who committed suicide after being bullied via social media, seize the opportunity to talk with your son or daughter about it. Explain that sometimes schoolmates can have serious issues that no one knows about—like depression or some other form of mental illness—and that these problems can be exacerbated in unexpected ways by bullying or even just joking around.

MORE: Read TIME’s special report on everything you need to know about bullying.

Third, parents need to make plain to their children that certain actions can have unintended consequences for them, as well. Tell them that “anonymous” does not mean untraceable; data never really disappear. Explain to your teen that if he or she does something “anonymously” that leads to harm for someone else, there could be a terrible cost, including legal actions.

Fourth, parents should remember that their children could also wind up on the other side of the equation—as victims. Let them know that if they become a target of cyber-bullying, they should talk to you or another trusted adult about it. Bringing the subject up before something bad happens will make them more likely to come to you when and if it does.

And finally, don’t be afraid to set rules—based on your teenager’s age, personality and level of maturity—about which apps they can download and which ones they cannot. Kids need guidance, and as the parent you get to make those calls. “My house, my rules” is perfectly OK.

As you set those rules, however, don’t completely dismiss the idea that anonymous apps and sites, used in certain ways, may actually have some benefit. Indeed, some experts maintain that teens are attracted to them precisely because they’re an antidote to the more public hyper-curated social networks such as Facebook, where they feel relentless pressure to put their best self forward—to always look good and to be smart, clever, funny and popular. And sometimes they’re a way to get support for problems that a kid might be too embarrassed to ask about using their name.

“Kids are gravitating to these apps because they are fun, fast, fleeting and a more casual way to communicate,” says Caroline Knorr, who writes about technology for Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that educates kids and families about media use. “And for most kids, it is harmless.”

At the same time, Knorr acknowledges that the anonymous nature of these apps enables some kids to act on their worse instincts. “But we don’t think that the technology is bad, or that parents should ban it,” she says. “Instead, we think parents should engage with the social media their children are using and teach them to use it in a responsible way.”

In other words, handling the latest technology comes back to one of the oldest rules of good parenting: Sit down and talk to your kid.

 

TIME Internet

Study: Teens Aren’t Fleeing Facebook After All

US-FACEBOOK-MENLO PARK
A thumbs up or "Like" icon at the Facebook main campus ROBYN BECK—AFP/Getty Images

Kids are actually using the social network more than they did a year ago

Facebook isn’t dead yet. Far from it, in fact.

In October 2013, Facebook’s CFO admitted that young teens were visiting the social network less frequently. Following that announcement, anecdotal reports and a few different studies suggested that teens—the arbiters of cool—were fleeing Facebook en masse. Even if they kept an account, it wasn’t their primary social network. Teens in the U.S. especially were supposedly opting out of Facebook and into networks like Twitter and Tumblr.

But Facebook is making a comeback. Nearly 80% of U.S. teens still use Facebook and are more active on the social networking site than any other, according to a Forrester Research report. The survey, which polled 4,517 U.S. teens and tweens, found that almost half of the respondents (aged 12 to 17) said they use Facebook more than they did a year ago. And 28% of respondents say they’re on Facebook “all the time” (as opposed to “about once a day” or “at least a few times a day”), a higher percentage than any other service.

The results are actually consistent with a comScore report from earlier this year that found even though there was a three-percentage-point drop in Facebook usage among college-aged adults, 89% of those college kids still use the site. That is, again, better than any other social network is doing in that demographic.

Instagram was runner-up to Facebook in terms of time spent on the network, followed by Snapchat, Twitter, Vine and WhatsApp. That’s great news for Facebook: the company owns Instagram and is in the process of acquiring WhatsApp.

TIME Education

Why Parents Shouldn’t Fear Teacher-Student Texting

Never mind those scary headlines, with safeguards in place, texting can foster student learning and success

Updated 8:11 a.m. ET Friday

In case you missed it, a Baltimore dad struck his 15-year-old daughter’s teacher with a baseball bat last week. The teacher’s offense? Texting the daughter in what the father deemed was an inappropriate exchange.

The baseball bat notwithstanding, it’s easy to understand why many parents have a strong reaction to a teacher texting their kid. After all, creepy adults abound, and teens can be vulnerable prey. So, by extension, it’s tempting to want school districts to ban all such communication between teachers and students.

Even relationships that start out as innocent can take a bad turn. Better safe than sorry seems, on its face, the wisest course.

But research suggests it’s not that simple.

While certain safeguards that ensure texting can be monitored should undoubtedly be in place, the easy back-and-forth between teachers and students can create important bonds, especially for young people who are in need of extra help.

“Teachers are the first to spot trouble for kids who are at risk—kids with mental health issues, sexuality issues, problems at home,” says Danah Boyd, whose book, It’s Complicated is an anti-alarmist polemic that examines the social lives of networked teens. “These are kids who need more positive adult relationships, not less.”

Others who’ve looked deeply into the issue—the possible dangers weighed against the likely benefits—have reached the same conclusion. Mica Pollock, an education professor at the University of California, San Diego, found in a study published last year that texting “increased personalized student support by enabling, then strengthening, teacher-student relationships.” Pollock and her co-author, Uche Amaechi, a doctoral candidate at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, spent a year following two teachers who texted with 40 at-risk high school students from Somerville, Mass.

Still, among parents, the most common reaction to teacher-student texting is fear. “I know teachers who are afraid to even give kids a hug because they are afraid to be sued,” Pollock says. “There is a lot of anxiety on all sides about the appropriate way to interact. But there is no teaching without teacher-student bonds, so the question is how do we form those bonds safely and effectively.”

This is a question all schools are facing—not just those with large at-risk student populations—given that texting is the primary way teens communicate.

Many school districts have created guidelines that allow teacher-student texting, but limit exchanges to school-related topics or confine them to group texts that would, for example, allow a coach to tell his team that practice has been cancelled or a teacher to direct a group of students to be prepared to answer a particular prompt during the next day’s English class.

But in their texting pilot, Pollock and Amaechi, along with the teachers and students they followed, came up with ground rules of their own—mostly to foster one-on-one exchanges, respect and to set some limits on encroaching on the teachers’ personal time: “Do not expect a text back before 8 a.m. and after 10 p.m.; no inappropriate language; and no sharing of anyone else’s business.”

They did not, however, set any limits on content, maintaining that the mix of personal and school-related messages were key to forging genuine trust and caring.

Texts were about school “mixed with lighthearted communication about life events and student needs,” Pollock and Amaechi found in their study.

Perhaps most important, the teachers in the texting pilot used technology that allowed them to use non-personal phone numbers and enabled texting over the computer on school accounts—providing both the transparency needed for safety, and the feeling of privacy that texting affords.

Most experts agree that this kind of balance is ideal.

“We should not ban the technology,” says Charol Shakeshaft, a professor at the department of educational leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University, who has studied sexual misconduct by teachers for 17 years. “It is here to stay, and it can be useful in education. But we can create guidelines that allow teachers to use it without blurring or crossing any lines. It has to be open and transparent, where everyone knows that it can be monitored.”

Indeed, it is fairly common for schools to insist that teachers and students communicate via email using open school accounts. In part that’s because adults are comfortable with the idea of using multiple email addresses—one for their work life and another for their personal life.

But they have a harder time thinking of texting in the same way—something that needs to change. According to a Pew Research Center study on teenage use of mobile phones, the percentage of all teens that used text messaging doubled from 27% to 54% between 2006 and 2010. More importantly, the study found that 70% of teens use texting to do “things related to school work.”

“Kids use text the way we use email,” says Amaechi who is working on a dissertation that examines how students and teachers use mobile devices in the classroom for academic purposes and to communicate. “We have built the rules and polices around the technologies that adults use most—and not what kids use.”

“For kids, their phone is the most important thing,” he adds. “The first thing is to accept that as the reality. Kids want to interact not just with each other, but also with adults through texting. If you limit their ability to text, you are limiting their interactions with adults in ways that could be beneficial to them.”

 

TIME human behavior

4 in 10 Teens Admit Texting While Driving

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found kids are still engaging in a range of risky behaviors, despite a reported drop in cigarette use.

Today’s teens are distracted behind the wheel, according to a new survey. Though they aren’t smoking cigarettes in high rates, or regularly driving drunk, about 41% of America’s driving teens reported that they had texted or emailed while driving.

This is in spite of the often horrifying commercials and campaigns aimed at keeping teen drivers’ eyes on the road while behind the wheel. The findings, published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey, are especially daunting given the fact that the bulk of teen deaths are the result of motor vehicle crashes.

But texting and driving isn’t the only risky business teens are engaging in. Though teens aren’t watching as much TV as they were in 1999, more are using the computer for longer periods of time. About 41.3% said they’re using computers for more than 3 hours a day, up from 31.1% in 2011. About 14.8% of students said they had been bullied online, compared to 19.8% who had been bullied at school.

And sitting in front of screen does little to help the nearly 21% of adolescents considered obese.

Another risk that should have parents worried: sexually active teens are using condoms a bit less than they have in the past. About 47% of students said they had ever had sex, but of the 34% of teens that are sexually active, only about 59% are using condoms, down from 63% in 2003.

The annual survey of a nationally representative sample of ninth through 12th graders in the U.S. examines the unhealthy behaviors teens have engaged in over the past 12 months to gage what leads to the unintentional injury, obesity, and unplanned pregnancy within the group. About 13,500 surveys, which were administered at public and private high schools, were examined to determine results.

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