“Want to be an activist?  Start with your toys.”

By Judy Szeg, Educator, Safeline

All too often, adults seem to think that youth should be followers, not leaders.  That they should not challenge the status quo, if for no other reasons than that challenging the status quo is difficult and we adults feel that those efforts are not likely to be successful.

Thirteen year old McKenna Pope proved us wrong several years ago when she took on an issue, gender stereotype toys, which was important to her.  Her younger brother was interested in cooking but the conventional cooking toy, the Easy-Bake Oven, was designed in “girly” colors and only featured girls in its advertisements.  So, McKenna began a Change.org petition to request that toy giant Hasbro change the design of the oven and the way it is advertised.  She raised over 45,000 signatures and Hasbro agreed to make the changes she suggested.

Hear what she has to say about her endeavor in the following TED talk and, adults, take note!

Students and Gender Norms

By Megan Fariel, Hartford High School Alum

Guest Youth Writer and former Intern at WISE

In high school, I have noticed more gender-based traditions than in elementary and middle school. Prom, football culture, and dating in high school all seem to have some pretty clear gender expectations: The guy has to ask the girl to prom, girls wear their boyfriend’s jerseys, and so on.

Why doesn’t this happen before middle school?  While there surely is a biological change associated with puberty and development, I think a lot if it must be due to environment. Students may not realize that media consumption, role models, and exposure to new ideas can shape how they think. For example, a younger student might be more inclined to the views of his or her parents than an older student, because the younger student has not been exposed to new ideas yet.

Last fall, I decided to test this idea out with a survey of students in my school district to see how gender norms may affect us differently as we get older. I surveyed fourth, seventh, and tenth graders, for a total of ninety-five usable surveys. I asked questions that Continue reading

Naming Trauma

By a guest Youth writer from Outright Vermont

Content warning:  This post is a very honest, up front account of surviving sibling abuse.  The content may be difficult to read.

When we are constantly told that our family is supposed to be the ones closest to us, the ones to shield us from harm, to care for us, to help us grow, it can be difficult to recognize and name when they become our abusers. We can minimize our own struggles with domestic violence, especially since it can seem so unreal when it’s happening.

Growing up, my brother was always the one that assaulted me physically. He had a powerful temper, like an orchestra reaching crescendo repeatedly. He has 3 years, just over a foot in height, and about 100 pounds on me. If something didn’t go his way, he would quickly let it be known; first with his words, then with his fists.

I often wore scarves throughout high school. Part of it was a fashion statement, but they were such a convenient accessory because they hid the thick, finger-shaped bruises he left on my neck when he throttled me. I always covered myself up fully, for fear of showing Continue reading

Remember When They Said “Suck It Up, Buttercup?”

by Laura Young, Youth Advocate at Umbrella in St. Johnsbury

Adultism. Do you know what that word means or have you heard it used before? I did not before I became an advocate. See, adultism is a form of ageism (ageism is defined as a discrimination against a specific age group). More often than not, ageism is talked about in terms of discrimination against the elderly. In fact, the dictionary makes no mention of the word “adultism”. However, unlike racism, homophobia, gender or disability discrimination (etc.), adultism is a discrimination we all have experienced at some point, and sadly, we all have probably unknowingly acted on this discrimination.

Do you remember what it was like to feel little? To feel ignored? To feel like your opinion wasn’t valued or that you, as a child were of lesser value then an adult? Honestly, I would be surprised if you did not remember that feeling. Adultism is so engrained in our culture it is second nature and pervasive in so many areas of life. Adultism influences even how our bathrooms are constructed (children often can’t reach the sink, nor can they get on the toilet without assistance!)

Do you remember a time you wanted to talk about something that mattered to you and you were told “children are to be seen, not heard?” Do you remember getting hurt-really hurt Continue reading

What Teens Really Need from Us

By Amy Torchia, Children’s Advocacy Coordinator, Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

My personal lesson this month has been about adolescent development and the responsibilities that adults have in the lives of teens.

At a training this week, I heard a scenario of a middle school relationship.  The boy sent abusive accusing jealous texts to his girlfriend.  The boy had lots of unhealthy relationships to watch and model, transition and trauma to contend with – not to mention the experience of racism and a culture dominated by male privilege telling him that he had the right to exert this kind of control over his partner.  The girl was from a home with lots of healthy models but nonetheless a girl hearing from the larger world to be strong and stand up for herself and, at the same time, take care of her boyfriend’s needs and watch the length of her shorts.  How confusing is all that to figure out?  We adults want them both to succeed, be safe and happy, and learn about and engage in healthy relationships.  But, they can’t do it without us.  They are only 14.

We lost a teen boy in our community last night.  He was swimming with friends in the pond, went under and didn’t resurface.  We don’t know what happened yet.  Most likely he was dehydrated or had a cramp.  This beautiful young man’s life was cut short and his family, friends and community are devastated.  He was only 17.

I have been watching his friends on facebook.  They are sharing stories, expressing their love for him, their love for each other and offering to spend time together and talk.  They have created a beautiful safe forum to grieve together and support one another.  I have a worry, though.  I have seen a few invitations to go out and get blasted together in honor of him and a few stories of reckless and unsafe behavior.  In the wake of the death of a friend, Continue reading