Christians should live as ambassadors for Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:20 says, “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.”
Christians should live to glorify God. 1 Corinthians 10:31-33 says, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.”
Christians should love God and avoid the lusts of the flesh. 1 John 2:15-16 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.”
Christians should live completely for God, not patterning their lives after the world. Romans 12:1-2 says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
Christians should think about things that are pure and holy. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”
Christians are changed by what they see. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with temptation, He will also provide a way of escape. -1 Corinthians 10:13
More than 100 years ago a man was converted to Christ and became a pastor of a church in the slums of London. He went to the poor and the down-and-out and the oppressed. He formed a little group called the Hallelujah Band, and he would stand on street corners and preach the Gospel.
Many of the clergies who knew him were embarrassed by it all. When he was called before a conference of religious leaders, they said, “William Booth, will you go where we tell you to go? If not, you will be defrocked.” In the balcony, his wife, Catherine, stood. She said, “William, say, ‘No, never!’” And he said “no.” That “no” changed history in Great Britain and in many other parts of the world. Booth did not give up and founded a new organization. Whenever The Salvation Army has gone, it has given help for the body and for the soul.
Vashti was the queen of Persia and the wife of Xerxes (Ahasuerus), who reigned over territory from India to Ethiopia (see Esther 1:3-9). Xerxes gave a feast for the various princes and governors and leaders of the entire country. Toward the end of the feast, as Xerxes became drunk, he ordered Vashti, his wife, to come to the feast. She sent word back and said, “No, I will not come.”
Vashti was ready to give up the luxury that she had to keep herself pure. She would not expose her body, would not degrade her character.
When we say “no,” God will help us stand by it. He will give us courage. You say, “But the temptations are so great. I can’t resist them.” Of course, you can’t. In my own strength, I can’t either. We cannot live pure lives without the help of God. We need to let Jesus Christ help us to resist temptation.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY: Dear Jesus, be my strength when I am tempted. Help me to say “no” to the allures of the world and say “yes” to Your will for my life.
From “Where the Savior Leads: 31 Daily Meditations on Following Jesus” by Billy Graham
Whether we are playing a game, driving a car, or baking a cake, there are certain rules that must be followed for our safety as well as our success.
The Bible teaches that the Christian life is one of constant growth. When you were born again, you were born into God’s family. It is God’s purpose that you will grow into fill stature and become mature in Christ. It would be against the law of God and nature if you were to remain a baby and thus become a spiritual dwarf. In 2 Peter 3:18, the Bible says that we are to grow. It implies steady development, constant enlargement, increasing wisdom.
For one to grow properly certain rules must be observed for good spiritual health.
Read your Bible daily. Do not be content to skim through a chapter merely to satisfy your conscience. Hide the Word of God in your heart. It comforts, guides, corrects, encourages – all we need is there.
Learn the secret of prayer. Prayer is communicating. Every prayer that you pray will be answered. Sometimes that answer may be “Yes” and sometimes “No,” and sometimes it is “Wait,” but nevertheless it will be answered.
Rely constantly on the Holy Spirit. We know that the Holy Spirit prays for us (Romans 8), and what a comfort that should be to the weakest of us. Stand aside and let Him take over all the choices and decisions of your life.
Attend church regularly. The visible church is Christ’s organization upon earth. Christians need one another, we need to gather together to worship God and nothing can take the place of church attendance.
Be a witnessing Christian. We witness in two ways: by life and by word – and the two, where possible, should go hand in hand.
Let love be the ruling principle of your life. Jesus said to those who followed Him, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). The greatest demonstration of the fact that we are Christians is that we love one another.
Be an obedient Christian. Let Christ have first place in all the choices of your life.
Learn how to meet temptation. Temptation is not sin. It is yielding that is sin. Let Christ through the Holy Spirit do the fighting for you.
Be a wholesome Christian. Our lives and appearance should commend the Gospel and make it attractive to others.
Live above your circumstances. Don’t let your circumstances get you down. Learn to live graciously within them, realizing the Lord Himself is with you.
Guidelines for Christian Living is excerpted from “Peace with God” by Billy Graham, published in 1953, revised and expanded in 1984.
In recent years, more and more research has been published showing the importance of parent-child connectedness as a protective factor related to several youth health outcomes including pregnancy, HIV/STD, drug abuse, tobacco use, and delinquency. In fact, at a recent World Health Organization (WHO) meeting in Geneva, family connectedness was identified as one of the top five protective factors related to youth well-being.
Parent-child connectedness can be defined as the degree of closeness/warmth experienced in the relationship that children have with their parents. According to research, how children experience the connection with their parents seems to be more important than how the parent reports or perceives the level of connection.
The concept of “parent-child connectedness” takes traditional parent-child communication strategies a step further. Although parent-child communication is certainly part of “connection,” it is not the only factor that supports closeness in a relationship. In fact, in the recently released report titled “Mothers’ Influence on Teen Sex: Connections that Promote Postponing Sexual Intercourse” (Blum, 2002), the author states, “Simply encouraging parents to talk more to their teens about the risks of early sex without being more involved in their lives is unlikely to have much impact.”
An Overview of Parent-Child Connectedness Research
Recent reports from the University of Minnesota, Child Trends, and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy describe the important role that parent-child connectedness plays in the health and well-being of young people. For example, in 1997 researchers from the University of Minnesota analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) and found parent-family connectedness to be protective against early initiation of sex, as well as cigarette use and alcohol use (Resnick M., Bearman P., Blum R., et. Al. 1997).
Seven months later, the role of parent-child connectedness in preventing adolescent risk behaviour figured prominently in “Families Matter: A Research Synthesis of Family Influences on Adolescent Pregnancy” (Miller, 1998). In this research review, author Brent C. Miller, PhD states that “while parents cannot determine whether their children have sex, use contraception, or become pregnant, the quality of their relationships with their children can make a real difference.” (Miller, 1998)
In terms of influences on adolescent sexual behaviour, Miller puts parent-child connectedness on an equal footing with other parental influences, such as supervision and communication, with regards to its influence on adolescent sexual behaviour. Miller goes on to say, “The overwhelming majority of studies indicate that parent/child closeness is associated with reduced teen pregnancy risk.”
The current research literature suggests that parent-child connectedness plays a protective role in relation to a wide spectrum of risk behaviours beyond teen pregnancy. The above-mentioned “Families Matter” report demonstrates the protective value of parent-child connectedness in relation to cigarette and alcohol use.
The conclusions from this report have been supported more recently in Positive Parenting of Teens, a University of Minnesota Extension Service quarterly publication. In the Winter 2002 edition of this publication, in her article titled “A Happy, Healthy Home Life Helps Prevent Teen Drinking and Smoking,” author Laurie L. Meschke, PhD identifies aspects of parent-child connectedness such as “parents provide lots of support” and “teens feel connected to family” as factors associated with preventing adolescent substance abuse. Such parent-child connectedness factors are as important as factors such as “parents don’t use substances” and “communication.”
In April 1999, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) recognized the importance of parent-child connectedness for preventing juvenile crime and delinquency when it identified and promoted the use of effective family interventions under its Strengthening America’s Families Programs.
Evidence provided by the most recent research continues the trend of identifying the importance of parent-child connectedness. Family Strengths: Often Overlooked, But Real (Moore, K.A., Chalk, R., Scarpa, J., & Vandivere, S., 2002), published as a Child Trends Research Brief, lists “parent-child warmth and supportiveness” as one of six “family strengths” that significantly influence positive outcomes for youth. The authors of Family Strengths point out that: “Parent-child interactions can affect children’s behaviour over and above the influence of socioeconomic and demographic factors, such as income, family structure and parent education. High parental warmth and supportiveness contribute to healthy development.”
A conclusion of “Mothers’ Influences on Teen Sex: Connections that Promote Postponing Sexual Intercourse” (Blum, R.W., 2002) is that aspects of parent-child connectedness, such as “parents knowing their children’s friends and their friends’ parents” are likely to be among the greatest influences affecting children’s sexual behaviour.
A distinguishing feature of this recent research is how emphatically it underscores the need to translate research findings into interventions. In its “Implications” section, this report asserts that: “Youth-serving agencies need to develop strategies that promote high levels of parent-child connectedness, encourage parent-child relationships that may help delay early sexual intercourse, protect teens against a variety of other adverse outcomes and promote healthy adolescent development.”
Family Behaviors Leading to Family Connection
Below is a list of family behaviours that may lead to an increased sense of connection between parents and their children. Following is a possible list of determinants of those behaviours — an important list to consider in developing interventions designed to increase parent-child connection.
Provide appropriate monitoring and supervision of teen
Participate or “be involved” in teen’s activities (e.g., school, sports, play, music, etc.)
Use active listening
Ask questions about teen’s activities, interests, concerns (e.g., friends, teachers, where teen spends time)
Show interest in child’s opinion
Provide encouragement and praise to child
Establish structure and predictability in home (e.g. chores, meal times, errands)
Create opportunity for quality time and follow through on plans
Use constructive discipline; avoid use of unreasonable discipline
Communicate high expectations for school performance
Clarify and communicate personal values, especially those related to health
Communicate information related to healthy and unhealthy behaviors
Model healthy behaviors
Inform and invite parent participation in activities
Participate in the decision-making regarding family’s structure and rules
Abide by family rules and structure
Use active listening
Provide suggestions and planning for quality family time activities
Participate in quality family time activities
Determinants of Family Behaviors:
Employment responsibilities of parents
Skills for monitoring and supervising, active listening, giving praise, constructive discipline, etc.
Perception of need for monitoring, active listening, praise, etc.
Knowledge of child’s activities, friends, interests
Personality characteristics of parent and child
Parents’ mental health
Parent upbringing, values, beliefs about connectedness behaviors
Clear values around health behaviors on the part of parents and skill to express them
Parent knowledge of information related to healthy behaviors
Skills for communicating healthy behaviors messages
Parent and teen motivation
Available financial resources
Number of parents and number of children in the family
There are complicated, even dangerous, connections between the use of drugs and alcohol and sexual behaviours. Yet the effects of most drug prevention efforts have been modest at best. Risky behaviours are not going away, and neither is our responsibility to face them squarely. Perhaps now is the time for educators to try new strategies to counter the ever-increasing challenges of teen alcohol and drug abuse and the impact on their sexual risk-taking behaviour. Some experts advocate programs that offer comprehensive and realistic information about the effects of alcohol and other drugs … along with the assumption that young people can be trusted to make responsible decisions to stay safe.
Drugs are chemical substances that have a direct effect on the structure or function of the body. A drug is any substance that causes a physical or mental change in the body. Some of the common types of drugs and their effects are listed below:
Type of Drug
Opium, Heroin, Morphine
Pain relief, euphoria, drowsiness
Valium, Quaaludes, Alcohol, Rohypnol
Reduced pain and anxiety; feeling of well-being; lowered inhibitions; slowed pulse and breathing; lowered blood pressure; poor concentration
Sexual activity can be risky behaviour for teens. Unintended pregnancy, STIs including HIV, non-consensual sex, and the potentially negative emotional consequences are a few of the risky outcomes teens experience when they become sexually active. However, sexual activity under the influence of drugs, including alcohol, can raise the stakes even higher. Consider the following:
Teens often drink or use other drugs when they engage in sexual activity. So perhaps it’s not surprising that many young people lose their virginity while drunk. Unfortunately, many teens who get drunk and have sex also become pregnant because they aren’t thinking about or able to use protection at the time. (National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy’s “Fact Sheet: Sobering Facts on Alcohol and Teen Pregnancy,” April, 2000)
Thirteen percent of teens say they’ve done something sexual while using alcohol and other drugs that they might not have done if they had been sober. (“National survey of teens: Teens talk about dating, intimacy, and their sexual experiences,” Kaiser Family Foundation and YM Magazine, 1998)
Teens who drink and smoke are more likely to hang out with teens they perceive to be sexually “advanced” — which usually results in a higher level of sexual activity among those teens themselves. (Whitbeck, et al., 1993)
What Educators Can Do
Drug and alcohol education has been practised by educators in schools and other youth settings for decades. However, despite the $2.1 billion spent on “prevention,” (abstinence from drugs) in 1999, government surveys indicate that many teenagers still experiment with drugs.
Marsha Rosenbaum, PhD, of the Drug Policy Alliance — an institute dedicated to broadening the debate and advancing a harm reduction perspective regarding drugs, drug abuse, and drug policy — believes that abstinence-only drug education is unrealistic. She and others fear an abstinence-only approach leaves teachers and parents with little to say to the 50% of teens who, despite admonitions, have tried marijuana, and the 80% of teens who use alcohol by the time they graduate from high school.
Rosenbaum offers an alternative, a safety-first approach to drug education, which requires reality-based assumptions about drug use. Safety-first drug education stresses abstinence from drugs, but it doesn’t stop there. It also includes a fallback strategy for risk reduction. This strategy consists of providing students with information and resources so they do the least possible harm to themselves and others.
Safety-first drug education assumes that teenagers can make responsible decisions if given honest, science-based drug education. Another assumption of safety-first drug education is that total abstinence may not be a realistic alternative for all teenagers. One more assumption of safety-first drug education is that the use of mind-altering substances does not necessarily constitute abuse. With sexual activity and alcohol use, for example, teenagers must understand the importance of context so that they can make wise decisions, control their use, and stay safe and healthy.
Rosenbaum’s “How To’s” of safety-first drug education include the following:
Communication is key in safety-first drug education. The channels of communication must be open, and listening to what teens have to say is crucial. Rosenbaum is insistent in her belief that, if adults become indignant and punitive, teenagers will stop talking.
Discussions of drugs in safety-first drug education must include observations and experience of the teens themselves if the program is to be credible. Teens should feel safe from negative repercussions for their input and honesty.
Safety-first drug education should be age-specific, beginning in middle- school, when teens are actually confronted with drugs. It should engage students in the broad study of how drugs affect the body and mind. They should also learn about the social context of drugs in America.
Safety-first drug education teaches students the legal consequences of drug use in America, acknowledging illegality as a risk factor in and of itself. There are real, lasting consequences of using drugs and being caught, including expulsion from school, denial of college loans, a criminal record, and lasting stigma.
The goals of realistic drug education focus on safety. Safety-first education separates the real from the imagined dangers of substance use.
A comprehensive, reality-based drug education curriculum will equip students with information they trust, which is the basis for making responsible decisions.
As the demand for reality-based drug education grows, programs are being developed in the U.S. and abroad. A listing of such programs can be found at the website of the Drug Policy Alliance: www.drugpolicy.org.
According to Rosenbaum, it’s our responsibility as parents and teachers to engage students and provide them with credible information so they can make responsible decisions, avoid drug abuse, and stay safe. To download pdf versions of Safety First: A Reality-Based Approach to Teens, Drugs, and Drug Education, in four different languages or order up to 50 copies in English or Spanish, go to: safety1st.org/.
Social norms are an important topic in adolescent reproductive and sexual health because adolescents tend to match their own attitudes and behaviour to what they perceive to be the norm among their peers. Since norms are often misperceived as being riskier than they really are, correcting misperceptions may be a powerful new tool for helping adolescents avoid risky behaviour
Definitions of Terms Related to Social Norms
Social norms are standards of acceptable behaviour or attitudes within a community or peer group. Social norms come in two varieties — actual norms and perceived norms.
Actual norms are the true social norms for a particular attitude or behaviour. For example, if the majority of a group of sexually active individuals use some form of birth control, then the actual norm for the group is to use birth control. Going without birth control is “non-normative” in that group.
Perceived norms are what someone believes to be the social norm for a group. If, for example, a young man believes that most of his peers do not use condoms, for that young man the perceived norm is for non-use of condoms.
Misperceptions of norms occur when there is a discrepancy between the actual norm and the perceived norm. For example, adolescents typically have misperceptions about the normative age of sexual initiation, believing that it is earlier than it actually is.
Social Marketing is the application of commercial marketing techniques to programs designed to influence the behaviour of people in order to improve their personal welfare and that of their society. (Andreason, 1995)
Social norms prevention strategies are any of a variety of approaches designed to decrease risky behaviour or increase protective behaviour by reducing misperceptions of healthy norms. Among these strategies are social norms marketing campaigns, which publicize actual norms through messages disseminated on posters or other media.
Overview of the Issues
The social norms model represents a positive new approach to reducing risky behaviour and increasing protective behaviour. In this overview, we will explain the logic and theory behind the model, describe how it was first successfully applied in the area of alcohol abuse prevention, and finally discuss how it relates to promoting adolescent sexual health.
The Logic of Social Norms
The principles behind the social norms approach are simple. The first principle is that all communities, even those frequently labelled as “at risk,” have largely protective and healthy social norms. “Problem” behaviour and attitudes within a community, even if common enough to be of great concern, are nevertheless almost always non-normative. That is, they are associated with a part of the community, not the whole. This has implications that we’ll get to in a moment.
The second principle of social norms theory is that these positive, healthy norms are frequently misperceived. For a variety of reasons, people tend to overestimate the amount of negative or unhealthy behaviour that is going on in their own (and others) communities and underestimate the number of positive, healthy decisions and actions that their peers take every day. For example, young people tend to greatly overestimate the number of their peers who engage in risky behaviour like smoking, drinking, or having sex at an early age. Why? Partly, these misperceptions are a result of the way our attention and memory works. We tend to notice and remember exciting things (like peers bragging about a risky thing they did last weekend) rather than the mundane things that most peers are involved in. This bias in what we remember creates a bias in our beliefs about what is “typical” among our peers.
Misperceptions of actual, healthy norms are common, but they are also harmful, for a simple reason — people, especially adolescents and young adults, tend to match their own attitudes and behaviour to what they perceive to be the norm in their peers community. Thus, misperceptions set up a dangerous situation in which individuals are making unhealthy choices in order to conform to an incorrectly perceived norm. This situation can create a “reign of terror,” in which misperceptions contribute to increased risky behaviour, which further shifts the perceived norm.
The implication for programs is that we may be able to do enormous good by reducing misperceptions through feeding back information to young people about the actual, healthy norms of their peer group. This has been the approach taken successfully in the field of alcohol abuse prevention, described next.
The social norms approach had its beginnings almost 20 years ago with a study finding that college students misperceived the norms related to drinking on their campus (Perkins and Berkowitz, 1986). A few years later, college health officials at Northern Illinois University (NIU) began using social marketing methods to attempt to reduce problem drinking by publicizing the actual drinking norms. Student surveys indicated that most NIU students consumed five or fewer drinks when they went out drinking, but many students thought the norm was much higher. To correct this misperception, buttons and posters were developed conveying the message, “Most of us drink five or fewer when we party.”
Many other messages were developed in subsequent years, some of which combined a statement of the norm with other helpful information about protective behaviours. The campaigns achieved dramatic success reducing misperceptions as well as reducing heavy drinking and drinking-related injuries (Haines & Barker, 2003).
The idea of reducing heavy drinking by publicizing social norms spread to many college campuses, and more recently the approach has been used in high schools and in statewide media campaigns. The targets of the campaigns have grown from alcohol issues to smoking, drug use, and sexual assault. Along with campaigns attempting to reduce a particular risk behaviour, the approach has also been used to promote protective behaviours, such as safe drinking practices (e.g., using designated drivers), condom use, and seat belt use. Many of these campaigns are described in a recent book on the approach, The Social Norms Approach to Preventing School and College Age Substance Abuse: A Handbook for Educators, Counselors, and Clinicians (Perkins, 2003).
As reports of success have emerged, the ideas behind social norms have taken hold as a potentially powerful force for positive social change. For example, a recent editorial article in the New York Times suggested that the approach might be used to encourage people to increase their donations to charity, by having the IRS publicize the actual norms for donations by people at varying income levels (Ayres & Nalebuff, 2003).
Social Norms and Sexual Health
Although relatively little social norms work has been conducted to date in the area of sexual health, there is reason to believe that the approach has great promise in this area. Indeed, sexual risk-taking would appear to be an ideal case for the application of social norms theory. By its nature, sexual behaviour usually occurs in private. Adolescents generally don’t learn about their peers’ sexual behaviour by observation, but indirectly, from their peers’ own reports or boasts. Thus, perhaps more than any other risk behaviour, sexual risk-taking is susceptible to distortions of reality and misperceptions of peer norms.
Previous research bears this premise out. In studies of urban 6th graders, Robinson and colleagues (1999) found that young people generally overestimated the proportion of their peers having sex. More importantly, the youth whose misperceptions were the largest were much more likely to initiate sex themselves over the next year (see also Kinsman et al., 1998). Another study found that whether or not a young person used condoms consistently was related to their perception of whether their peers did so (Romer et al., 1994).
Planned Parenthood of New York City (PPNYC) conducted research with middle school students and identified large discrepancies between what young adolescents actually believe and what they think the norm is for their peers (Bacon, Cleland & Kantor, 2002). PPNYC found, for example, that most participants in its urban, public middle school programs believed that this is not the time in their lives for them to be having sex. Clear majorities said that they thought sex was not okay at their age and that they don’t intend to have sex in the near future. However, these same young people reported that they thought “most kids” in their grade were much different from themselves — that they believed sex was fine at their age and were likely to be having sex currently or in the near future.
Thus, there is good evidence both that substantial misperceptions exist in the area of adolescent sexual health and that these misperceptions can have negative consequences. PPNYC has begun implementing programs — both classroom-based activities and social marketing campaigns — designed to reduce these misperceptions and thereby promote healthier behaviour. The success of these efforts is by no means assured, but the effectiveness of similar programs in other areas of health promotion is encouraging.
Tips for Educators
The application of social norms theory to teen pregnancy prevention efforts is a new and evolving approach. Most social norms interventions have relied on poster campaigns and traditional prevention education. However, it is possible to incorporate social norms theory into existing curricula so that healthy normative messages are infused holistically into a program. In order for educators to successfully utilize this approach in their programs, they will need to be well-versed in the following five areas:
Social Norms Theory, Terms, and Application
Educators will need to be able to identify the relationship between actual norms, perceived norms, and misperceptions. Social norms theory states that adolescents will tend to match their own behaviours to what they perceive to be the norm among their peers. Since adolescents, like adults, tend to overestimate unhealthy behaviours and underestimate protective behaviours, they may tend to be negatively influenced by their misperceptions of the behavioural norms and engage in risky activities.
For example, a group of middle-school-aged participants are administered a survey asking them to respond yes or no to the statement: “It’s okay for kids my age to have sex.” To get at a misperception, the survey would have to ask the participants for both their own opinions (“What I Think”) and for their perceptions of how they think others might respond (“What I Think My Friends Would Say”).
In this example, with only 25% responding yes, the norm is it’s not okay for kids to have sex. However, since 75% of the respondents thought that their friends would say it was okay for kids to have sex, there is a large misperception. In this case, educators would let participants know that “while it may seem that everyone else thinks it’s okay to have sex, most of you actually believe you should wait until you are older.” In theory, the promotion of the actual norm of delaying the onset of sexual activity would work toward “normalizing” the belief among young people that sex should wait, while reducing the pressure some young people may be feeling based on the misperception or mistaken belief that others think it’s okay to have sex now.
Collecting Social Norms Data
The promotion of healthy norms about young people’s behavior relies on collecting data both on actual norms and perceived norms. Three ways to do this include collecting data through formal evaluation, through “in-class” paper surveys (or on-line surveys), and on the spot, in-class voting surveys. Audio-CASI (computer assisted self interview), a computer and voice assisted methodology to collect data, has also been used to collect social norms data. This method can help with participants who have low literacy.
Focus groups are not a traditional way at getting at norms, especially if other participants can hear responses — part of the methodology relies on respondents not being biased by other people’s choices — and interviews might also jeopardize the confidentiality of responses, making it more likely that there would be respondent-bias toward providing “right answers.”
One strategic approach to collecting data on norms is through administering surveys prior to a program. A pre-test survey can provide useful baseline information about adolescent normative attitudes and/or behaviors related to pregnancy prevention.
Norms-related questions can be written to reveal misperceptions about sexual activity, sexual behavior, dating, harassment in schools, or any other issue that may be addressed in the program. The results could then be incorporated into the program lessons through key messages or in a social norms marketing campaign.
At the end of the program, a post-test could reveal if program participants’ misperceptions were reduced, a possible indication that the program successfully worked toward generating awareness about young people’s healthy attitudes and/or behaviors.
If time or resource constraints are an issue, data can be collected and processed during program session time, either through paper surveys or through informal voting surveys. Simple anonymous surveys could be designed to ask participants how their own attitudes and behaviors compare to how they perceive their peers’ attitudes or behaviors (like the “what I think”/”what my friends think” question above). These surveys could either be tabulated and discussed during the session or tabulated later to be processed at a future session.
Educators could also conduct an anonymous survey on the spot through a “heads down, hands up” voting activity. For example, the educator can ask participants to put their heads down and close their eyes. Next, the educator would ask participants to raise their hand if they thought it was okay for kids their age to have sex. The educator would tally the votes and then ask participants to raise their hands if they thought their friends or peers would say it was okay for kids their age to have sex. Results would then be presented to the participants and misperceptions would be discussed.
Interpreting Social Norms Data
Once data has been collected, educators will need to accurately interpret the numbers in order to make assessments about how to incorporate the data into the program.
When interpreting data it is important to remember the following:
Actual norm = Self reported attitudes or behaviors
Perceived norm = Perceptions of others’ attitudes or behaviors (what people think the norm is)
When there is a difference between the actual norm and the perceived norm, a misperception exists.
The more respondents who misperceive the norm, the more likely people will be influenced by the misperception.
When looking at a risky attitude or behaviour, if more people perceive others engaging in a risk, even if they are not engaging in the risky activity themselves, they are more likely to feel pressure to engage in the risky activity.
Here is an example of how this might play out in a sample survey question for adolescents:
In this example, the risky attitude = Sex is okay for kids my age.
The norm in this example is “sex is for adults.” Seventy-five percent of adolescents self-reported that they personally believed that it is okay to have sexual intercourse “when you are an adult.” Yet these same adolescents perceive that 60% of their friends would say sex is okay at their age. So while the reality is that most adolescents believe sex is for adults, the misperception is that “most kids my age think it is okay.” Since perceived norms influence behaviour, pressure exists to engage in sexual intercourse.
The goal of the social norm approach, in this case, would be to reduce this misperception. And of course, the ultimate goal of any pregnancy prevention program will be to reduce adolescent sexual risk-taking.
Social norms data may also be presented in as a pie chart in order to help facilitate interpretation.
In the example above, the blue colour represents protective attitudes (sex okay for adults) and the tan colour represents riskier attitudes (sex okay for kids my age). The chart on the left represents perceived attitudes of friends; the chart on the right represents self-reported attitudes. With tan representing the riskier “sex is okay for kids my age” attitude, it is clear that the tan area on the perceived attitudes pie (60%) represents a large number of young people who misperceive the norm. Conversely, the good news in the pie chart on the right in the self-report is that most kids (75%), represented by the large blue slice, actually believe (actual norm) that sex is for adults.
It should be noted that adolescents might misperceive the extent to how their own unhealthy behaviour does not match the norm of their peers’ healthy behaviour. For example, a norm might be most adolescents use condoms. An adolescent who doesn’t use condoms and misperceives this norm, believing that most of his/her peers do not use condoms, may be positively influenced or pressured to use condoms when awareness is generated about the norm that most adolescents do use condoms.
Translating Norms Data into Concrete Concepts
One of the biggest challenges to incorporating social norms theory into sexuality education lies in translating terms, concepts, and data into a digestible form for an audience. The theory, terms, and data are abstract, making it difficult for younger audiences to comprehend.
One way to try to make the terms more concrete for an audience is by translating the definitions into terms more accessible for an audience. Examples include:
“Actual norms” are what’s really going on around us, the reality.
“Perceived norms” are what we think is going on around us.
“Misperceptions” are when we make mistakes about what we think is going on around us.
A concrete example of translating terms for adolescents might be disseminating the message, “While most of you thought your friends would say it’s okay to have sex, we can see that this belief is a mistake. In reality, most of you believe that it is best to wait until you are an adult.”
When literacy is an issue, using photos or cartoons can help bring clarity to the issue. For example, to help clarify the concept of the impact misperceptions have on decision-making, here is a smoking example:
When trying to translate norms and data, it is best to try to utilize language, images, and concepts that are culturally and linguistically appropriate for your audience. Testing the messages and receiving feedback from your audience is imperative for both educational lessons or social marketing campaigns.
Promoting Healthy Social Norms
Once the data has been collected and interpreted, and key messages have been abstracted, the most important step is to promote the healthy normative message to the audience.
As mentioned earlier, traditionally this is accomplished through social norms marketing campaign posters. While poster campaigns can be quite effective and reach large audiences, healthy normative messages can also be promoted through classroom activities and through reinforcement of social norm key messages. Reinforcement may occur in the processing of activities or informally by key staff members’ interactions with program participants.
Ways to incorporate and promote your social norms data into pregnancy prevention curricula might include voicing the healthy norms within activities on sexual decision-making, abstinence, contraception, STDs/HIV/AIDS, etc. Healthy norms might include:
Delaying the onset of sexual activity until you are an adult, i.e. “Most of you think you should wait until you are an adult before having sex…”
Motivation to use condoms and another method of contraception if sexually active, i.e., “Most of you know that you should use a condom if you decide to be sexually active…”
Accurate perception of risk for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, i.e. “Most of you know that you cannot tell if someone might have an STD by looking at them…”
Desire to seek out a parent, caregiver, or trusted adult to ask questions about sex, i.e. “Most of you said you have talked to your parents or another trusted adult when you had a question about sex…”
Additionally, educators might spark discussion and confirm understanding by asking processing questions such as:
If a teen believes that it is best to wait until he is an adult before having sex, but thinks everyone else believes it’s okay to have sex now, how might that affect his decision to be sexually active?
What happens when we make mistakes about what we think our friends or peers are doing?
How are misperceptions harmful?
Some sample key messages that may be infused within a curriculum and voiced throughout a program include:
“When we misperceive or make a mistake about what we believe our peers are doing, we may feel pressure to do things that go against our values or beliefs.”
“Knowing the reality of what our peers really do or believe helps us to make good decisions about dating, relationships, and sex.”
“Most of you think that it is best to wait until you are an adult before having sexual intercourse.”
And finally, educators and key program staff can reinforce healthy normative messages by borrowing a page from media training. As program participants ask questions during an activity or in an interaction with a program staff member, key healthy normative messages can always be delivered. “I’m glad you asked about when’s the right time to have sex. It is best to wait until you are an adult. And the good news is that when we asked you on the surveys, most of you agreed that sex is for adults.”
About the Authors William F. Bacon, PhD, is Associate Vice President for Planning, Research and Evaluation at Planned Parenthood of New York City (PPNYC). He is responsible for designing and conducting evaluations of the teen pregnancy prevention programs in the Education and Training Department and also leads research and evaluation efforts across the agency.
Robert M. Becker, M.S., is the Associate Vice President of Education and Training at PPNYC. He has been involved in the field of sexuality and sexual health for more than 10 years and has helped write curricula that address the sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescents.
But for a man, the expectation and the pressure to be the provider is overwhelming. The concept of financial security is inextricably tied to manhood adds to the pressure to be a financially successful man. No wonder men either abuse the system or feel like a failure for not being able to live up to society’s expectations of them.
With COVID-19 disrupting almost every aspect of our lives, job and income losses have further compounded the plight of men. There are fewer career jobs or “side hustles” that have built-in financial security, yet the expectation on men to provide against all odds is unrelenting. Religion and culture are invoked as the premise upon which man’s duty to provide is non-negotiable.
That man is the head and the woman his helper/assistant, is a privilege that comes with the burden to be financially successful. In churches, the message is that whatever contribution a woman can make, the duty of a man to provide cannot be abdicated. It is such ideas and their implications of gender relations that this article seeks to explore. Specifically, how does the tying of money and being a man affect relationships between men and women?
A Man and Money
In a world where the push for equality is seeing more women having access to education and employment opportunities, the concept of a man being the provider is being challenged. Women are increasingly competing with men and in some cases outshining them. For men who view it as their religious and moral duty to be the “providers”, the idea of a woman taking over this role is discomforting.
Coupled with societal pressures, it threatens their whole concept of manhood as they see that one thing they regarded as definitive to who they are being taken away. For men whose perception of masculinity is tied to how much they provide financially such an arrangement is damaging in many ways. Not only does it create insecurity, but it also becomes a source of conflict in relationships for men socialized to always be ahead. Disagreements and conflicts that could have been resolved amicably result in a breakdown of relationships. Allegations of disrespect and arrogance are associated with a woman’s financial independence.
For many, a man, relating to a woman who does not look to them financially is a huge ask. It is money that is accused of influencing her questions, her decisions, and her behaviour towards the man. On the other hand, family and friends in subtle ways question his manhood which further damages his ego.
The new dilemma for men is how to relate to a woman who is financially successful and independent. When the very thing that was definitive to us as men has been taken away, when that which empowered us and gave us control no longer exists, the question “What does it mean to be a man?”, requires fresh thinking.
The Woman’s Dilemma
On the other hand, for the woman who also grew up looking at a man as the provider, there is the struggle with how to manage the freedom that comes with financial security outside a man. How should she relate to a man who depends on her or a man who she doesn’t depend on financially? How can a man who is her dependant, be her head at the same time? How does she assert her individuality without being misconstrued as disrespectful? Shall she pander to his ego and insecurity by handing over the money to him?
The advent of “stay-at-home” fathers also compounds the situation as men are being pushed into nurturing roles which traditionally were left to women. As she comes back home, religion and culture dictate that she treats her husband as the “head” but on the other hand he is dependent on her. To retain some semblance of control, he will expect her to “serve him” in ways that reaffirm his headship. If that does not happen, aggressive or subliminal messages on disrespect often lead to toxicity as a submission is coerced.
Christianity has not been helpful; instead of preparing young men and women for this new reality, it has, in denial of the new reality, further entrenched concepts of manhood that fuel abuse and a toxic form of submission. Stay-at-home fathers or unemployed men that are dependent on their partners and spouses are looked down upon instead of being celebrated. Messages that portray such a man as a failure further confuse the woman on how to deal with the dependent man she loves.
A man is called upon to see a woman as competition and his success is confirmed by the extent to which she submits to his leadership and consequently depends on him. This obsession with the submission will see a man being uncomfortable with women who excel and are intellectually gifted. Instead of harnessing her gifts and energy, she is forced into silence and passivity so that the man does not feel disrespected or his position threatened in any way.
That women are worthy of God’s trust on an equal basis with men is indisputable but this is not to say they are the same – they are equal but different. However, since the Bible is largely limited on particular duties or roles prescribed for men and women because they are either male or female, father or mother, the differences between men and women should be less limiting.
In some churches, while preaching equality there is a suggestion that Eve was given to Adam as his assistant and subordinate and not his equal. Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to co-create a future, insecure men see the elevation of women as a threat and source of instability. They would rather perpetuate notions of male headship that imply that a woman cannot or should not be anything more, anything else, or anything other than a bearer and nurturer of children. Such views make a woman a slave of her anatomy – not a human being created in the image of God, with infinite possibilities. Unfortunately, the obsession around the provider role of men and the dependent role of women instead of inculcating a sense of partnership has reinforced sex packaged roles with an assumption that both men and women are prisoners of their sexes.
Our pulpits are replete with toxic sermons that portray men as sources of wisdom, faith, and strength while degenerating women as sin agents, victims, dependants, and temptresses. Women of valour are ignored as messages reduce them to junior partners whose role is to assist men rather than excel themselves. The woman in Proverbs 31 is seen as an exception with meekness and patience being extolled as virtues for a godly woman. In fact, Adam never felt threatened when Eve picked fruit or trained the vines nor did he regard Eve as unfeminine when she was roaming about the garden and studying biology with him.
It is surprising that some men refer to home duties and child care duties by women as nobler but they shy away from the same as if they are demeaning. If indeed men think of women as capable, or at least equal in possibility as men in intelligence, ambition, or ability, then their perceptions of manhood should not be tied to money or certain duties in the home. Unless of course, they see her dependence on a man as weakness and inferiority which explains the discomfort and insecurity that erupts when roles are reversed.
Whenever equality is discussed with women being elevated, there is a fear inherent in many cultures that this will lead to emasculation. Men feel that this is a move towards disempowering them from their “God-given position”. Equality is seen as a threat to men and society instead of a mutually beneficial arrangement where both parties thrive without hindrance.
As long as there is an emphasis and expectation on men to provide financial security in a relationship, all forms of abuse will find expression. No wonder the “sugar daddy” phenomenon continues to be pervasive in our societies with young ladies being taken advantage of by richer men. On the other hand, men use the same financial power to manipulate and coerce women for selfish ends. I have seen some men associating arrogance and disrespect in a woman to her financial independence. Not only does it expose their inability to use money as a tool to control women, but it also reveals a notion of masculinity that thrives on manipulation through money. They would rather have the money themselves and keep the woman in a continuous dependent and helpless state.
If both men and women are equal, no one has the sole responsibility of “providing” or is mandated to stay at home and take care of the children. If circumstances dictate that the man earns less or stays at home, this should not take away his sense of being a man. Rigidity to societal expectations and compliance with outdated cultural practices are the greatest obstacle to progress. Candid conversations are needed on degenderizing money and exploring opportunities to elevate our sisters, mothers, and daughters to fulfil their God-given potential.
It is high time that money is disentangled from manhood, accepting that times have changed. Let our thinking and attitudes evolve to place emphasis on male and female being one flesh – a team in the truest sense. In the cooperative venture, who brings in money should cease to be a preoccupation but a shared responsibility with both co-creating financial security. As equals, women should move away from looking at men as custodians of their financial security but with boldness to pursue lofty ambitions that include making money. If indeed the spirit of the often-quoted Ephesians 5 is upheld, money will not be used to entrench despotic authority, ego trips, or last words. Both men and women will be guided by the underlying principle in Ephesians 5:21, “Be subject to one another in reverence to Christ.”
Dr. Admiral Ncube encourages us to think more deeply about issues impacting the relationships between men and women. He is a Zimbabwean Development Professional based in Gaborone, Botswana. He is married to Margaret and is a father of 3 boys. Dr. Ncube has had the privilege of working in the development sector in Asia, Middle East and Africa, with over 15 years of experience.
The battle between flesh and the Spirit, a more general description to this battle is temptation… Definition: Biblically, the temptation is a physical and/or mental desire to sin – a deep craving for something that stands in direct contrast to the Word of God. As Christians, we live in a broken world. We still face difficult situations and pain that appears to have no answers. Still, we can rest on God’s Word and the firm truths within.
There is something that all of us have in common, no matter who you are or what you are or what your position in life is, how educated you are or how uneducated you are, how spiritual you are, there is one experience that all of us have in common. And that is the experience of temptation. The Bible makes it truly clear in several passages that temptation is the appointed lot of all of us. Temptation begins in your mind. It starts with desire; temptation usually starts in a small way – it’s just that ”one little area.” Temptation arises from three major sources. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life: “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father but from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” (1 John 2:15-17 NLT) Everyone experiences temptation. No one is exempt. Even Jesus experienced temptation when He was in the flesh, but He did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15). Temptation is not sinning. Being tempted is not sin but acting upon it, is sin. One purpose of resisting temptation is to glorify God. “These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So, when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honour on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” (1 Peter 1:7 NLT). There is always a way of escape. You do not have to act upon temptation. In every temptation, God provides a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). Jesus Christ suffered and died to provide a way for people to be reconciled with God. We as humans now have two choices: we can come to Jesus for forgiveness and cleansing from our sinful hearts. It gives us the right to enter into the kingdom of God. Or we can reject Jesus’ offer and stay out of the kingdom of God….
When Christ died, he was resurrected and ascended to heaven, he began what I would call the “new age,” by which I simply mean that to some extent, God’s kingdom has already begun. For example, Paul says in Ephesians 2:6 (NLT): “For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.”
In other words, Christians are already with Christ in heaven! However, we are clearly still living life here and now on this earth – we are still members of this ‘present world’ (Titus 2:12). There is an “overlap” between these two periods. As a result, we experience a tension between what we were (and to some extent still are), and what we are going to be (and to some extent already are). This is the reality of the Christian life: we are not what we once were, but we are not yet exactly what we will be. Therefore, on the one hand, we are free from sin – righteous, but on the other hand, we sin and fight against it daily. Martin Luther put it as follows, ‘simul iustus et peccator, both righteous and a sinner. This is exactly what Paul says in Galatians 5:17 NLT: “The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.”
If you know your Bible, you are probably not surprised that Paul spoke so frankly about his struggles with temptation and sin. Paul’s consistent appeal is that Christians live out who they are now in Christ (read Colossians 3). Paul explains this further in Romans 6: “For we know that the sinful man that we were was crucified with Christ, that our sinful existence might be ended. So, we are no longer slaves to sin.” Also “We know that the sinful man that we were was crucified with Christ, that our sinful existence might be ended. So, we are no longer slaves to sin.” In other words, Christians are at war: The war between the desires of the flesh and the Spirit. Therefore, when you fight sin, you must be courageous it is a sign of a truly spiritual life! Journal Writing: • Mantra: The devil whispers, “You are a sinner and you have failed God. You are not worthy.” But you boldly say what God says about you, “I am the righteousness of God.” • Memorize and meditate on 1 Corinthians 10:13. • Declare John 3:17 is true: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” • Pray a daily prayer: Jesus, Your Word states, “the Grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness.” By Your Grace, Jesus, empower me to reject sin. Fill me with Your Spirit and remind me that I am a new creation in You. Although I once walked in sin and darkness, by the salvation I now possess, I no longer am bound to walk in those former ways. To You, who gives the power to be witnesses in our lives, and by Your Son’s name, I pray. Amen. • Reprogram your mind: Your life will always move in the direction of your strongest thoughts. Temptation starts with desire, stop tempting thoughts the minute they enter your mind. Write the thoughts down, reframe the thought. (Reframing: creating a different way of looking at a situation, person, or relationship by changing meaning. Reinterpreting the meaning of our lives based on God’s truth.) • Read the Bible; Bible studies are essential to living a life of victory over temptation. Meet temptation with the Word of God. Study the temptation of Jesus recorded in Matthew 4:1-11. He met every temptation with the Word of God. You can do likewise even David declared that he has hidden God’s Word in his heart to keep him from sin (Psalm 119:11).
The Bible says that in every temptation there is a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). Look for the alternative and use it! Follow these ways to deal with temptation: • Remove yourself from the situation – You know what they say: out of sight, out of mind. When temptations are at their worst, it is best to avoid putting yourself in a troubling situation. • Distract yourself- When you feel a temptation coming over you, do your best to distract yourself. Take your mind somewhere else, do something else. • Predict and prioritize the outcome – predict the outcome of giving in to your temptation and ask yourself if it is worth it. If you focus more so on the aftermath, you are more likely to resist your temptation.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3: 5-6 “Darkness comes. In the middle of it, the future looks blank. The temptation to quit is huge. Do not. You are in good company… You will argue with yourself that there is no way forward. But with God, nothing is impossible. He has more ropes and ladders and tunnels out of pits than you can conceive. Wait. Pray without ceasing. Hope.” – John Piper Ask God to lead the way, and He will direct your path.
We must keep ourselves reminded of diverse kingdom principles that influence our faith. Among these kingdom principles lies ‘Unity’. That isn’t a new word in Christendom. In other words, we’re cognizant of the word ‘Unity.
Therefore, unity means oneness. Oneness of heart as Christian women. Where we get to a point of agreement with each other.
The point where the welfare of others become a priority to us. Subsequently, Unity in the body of Christ grows us to the point where we can be our sister’s keepers genuinely.
The Christian race isn’t a puzzle where we have to guess our way through to win. Instead, it’s a race in which we thrive together to obtain the heavenly prize. Therefore, I need you, you need me, and we all need one another to grow in faith.
Why crave to pull down a sister in the faith? How about the attitude of envy and jealousy towards another in the body of Christ? Or the unhealthy competition we engage in to showcase how good we’re at certain times areas of life and make others feel less about themselves.
I tell you, if we must win the race, then we must set aside every weight of disunity, hatred, malice, and strive to relate with one another with the love of Christ bestowed upon us. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”(John 13:35)
We must not let the enemy (devil) create enmity among us Christians. The end time is here. Hence, it’s time to work together as we await the return of our saviour. We must realize that united we stand as Christians.
Furthermore, there are still certain women in the body of Christ who think less of themselves and believe they have nothing to contribute. Hence, they prefer to stay inactive or fight others who are succeeding.
However, If you’re among these categories of women, I have glad tidings for you; God has never created anyone without a virtue. Therefore, we need to come to the point of alignment with God’s plans for us to experience the manifestation of those virtues deposited in us.
I need you to think about how your body system functions—all parts working together to stay alive. The eyes are not more important than the legs or any other part of the body. Similarly, the body of Christ works this way.
Brace up sis and play your role in the body of Christ. This is important because when we grow weary along the way, there is a stronger hand from a loving sister to lift us.
In other words, we shouldn’t despise another sister. We need the oneness of the heart to finish strong.
God has a reason for placing you in whatever group or fellowship you belong to right now. He desires you to stand up and encourage others. Cultivate the lifestyle of drawing closer to other sisters within your local church, offices, and neighbourhood. Learn to inquire about their struggles and see how you can be of help to them.
Happiness Hassan is obsessed with a godly lifestyle and loves sharing her faith with other women unashamedly.
According to a new report, 1.5 million children lost at least one primary caregiver to COVID-19 by the end of April 2021.
Children: The Hidden Pandemic 2021 — a joint report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States Agency for International Development, and World Without Orphans, in conjunction with other global child welfare experts — stated that, without immediate action, “the COVID-19 pandemic is destined to leave millions more children orphaned.”
In response to the findings, the Faith to Action Initiative, a child welfare nonprofit that provides resources to Christian churches and faith-based organizations, along with several of its coalition members, encouraged a shift away from orphanages and toward family-based care.
Now is the time to “prevent the COVID-19-associated death of caregivers by accelerating equitable access to vaccines,” the statement reads. In cases where a caregiver has died of COVID-19, the statement emphasized that children should not be consigned to orphanages or children’s homes but rather continue to live within family units. It also noted that extended families and faith communities have an opportunity to care for children who have lost a caregiver to the virus but will need additional resources to do so.
“Now is the time to invest in strengthening families and developing family care, not orphanages,” Karmen Friesen, principal coordinator for World Without Orphans, said in the statement. “And around the world, it is churches that are ideally placed to provide the wrap-around support that families in crisis urgently need.”
According to a 2017 estimate from UNICEF, there are at least 2.7 million children in orphanages and institutionalized care around the world. The actual number is likely far higher, UNICEF says, because many countries don’t include children living in privately run facilities in their tallies.
Child rights experts say that most children in orphanages aren’t actually parent-less: At least four out of five children in institutional care have one or both parents alive. Elli Oswald, executive director of Faith to Action Initiative, said that it’s “important to recognize that the term ‘orphan’ doesn’t mean what we think it means.” UNICEF defines an orphan as a child who has lost one or both parents.
“These aren’t children who are wandering the streets all alone with flies on their eyes,” Oswald said. “These are children who are in families and in communities. They’re still extremely vulnerable, and their families need support. But if we don’t understand who these children are, it can mislead us and lead us to wrong solutions.”
Children are often placed in orphanages not because they’re orphans but because they’re disabled or ill, female, or even because poor parents were offered money to give up their children — a form of child trafficking.
Once they’re put in orphanages, children are susceptible to illness, abuse, and developmental delays. Studies show that orphanage placement increases the risk of serious infectious illness, as well as significant developmental delays that can affect cognitive, language, gross and fine motor, personal and social skills in young children.
The Faith to Action Initiative suggests that the best way to care for children who have lost a caregiver is not to send them to an orphanage, but instead to combine equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and income-strengthening, parenting support programs. Also known as cash and care programs, these services provide material and psychosocial support so that extended family, friends, church communities, or adoptive or foster homes can care for children.
This approach, which allows children to remain within a family structure and still access education and healthcare, has been shown to improve children’s health, nutrition, cognitive development, and in reducing risks of violence.
Oswald said that Christian churches and communities are “best placed” to provide this kind of life-changing care.
“The opposite of an orphan is a family, and the solution to orphaned children is family. My hope is to see Christians leading this effort in seeing children cared for in safe and loving families,” Oswald told Sojourners.
Jedd Medefind, president of Christian Alliance for Orphans, said that while COVID-19 has harmed families worldwide, it also “brings an immense challenge and an immense opportunity.”
“Scripture and social science consistently affirm that the very best place for a child to thrive is a safe, permanent, nurturing family,” Medefind said in the news release. “The local church in every nation has both the calling and the community capable of making a world of difference — restoring broken families, strengthening struggling families, and welcoming children into new families whenever needed.”
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
It is likely that the apostle Paul wrote this greeting (Phillippians 1:2) in a prison cell — a reminder that letters to and from prisoners are foundational to the establishment of Christian communities.
Today, for “free” Christians interested in following the gospel commandment to “visit prisoners” (Matthew 25:39-40), corresponding by mail is often a starting point; as a Christian abolitionist, I understand mail correspondence to be one element of revolutionary solidarity with those who are incarcerated. Given the difficulties visitors and chaplains have entering prisons — especially with restrictions on visitations due to COVID-19 — mail is a lifeline for incarcerated people.
But despite the importance of these letters, the Federal Bureau of Prisons is piloting a program to replace physical mail to prisoners with scanned copies, a program I believe is extremely unjust and has urgent implications for the practice of our faith, both for Christians who are incarcerated and Christians on the outside.
As the Prison Policy Initiative reported, the BOP has contracted with the service MailGuard, which will provide incarcerated people with a scanned copy of their correspondence, instead of physical mail. Prison Policy Initiative and Just Detention International have written a detailed report that gives multiple reasons for why this program will be harmful, including adverse effects on incarcerated people’s mental wellbeing and its potential to undermine confidential communications between incarcerated survivors of abuse and their advocates.
Christians should be especially concerned that the program will create a barrier for the most vulnerable incarcerated people, such as individuals with disabilities and those in solitary confinement. Furthermore, The Orlando Sentinel reported that Florida’s Department of Corrections is planning to charge prisoners for access to their mail, raising the possibility that other prisons may do the same. Obviously, adding a fee for incarcerated individuals to receive these scanned copies places a grievous burden on the poorest prisoners.
Programs like MailGuard, which make it harder for incarcerated individuals to stay in touch with loved ones, increase isolation and suffering. These programs also deny incarcerated individuals of an essential element of rehabilitation: relationships with family and loved ones in the community — the kinds of communal relationships that make us want to do better and be better. When policies impede this crucial communication, they make rehabilitation that much more difficult.
The physicality of mail matters, too. For those subjected to the hell of incarceration, receiving a piece of mail can feel sacramental, a tactile reminder of the presence of loved ones and hope beyond the present reality, glimpses of divine grace and presence mediated by the physical object.
When I started writing to incarcerated people, I was encouraged to send greeting cards with beautiful images that they could hang up on cell walls. I nearly always send cards now — everything from free greeting cards sent by charitable organizations, to cards that I’ve purchased for holiday occasions. I’ve learned that dollar stores are the best place to buy cards for incarcerated people, as their cards typically avoid wishes for special foods or time with families, and instead lean on the religious imagery of thanksgiving, blessing, and resurrection. Another abolitionist suggested sending postcards of places I’d visited or anything interesting from the outside world. So, I began sending postcards as well as liturgies for morning and nighttime prayers, and the people I correspond with have told me they’ve hung those pages by their bunks to pray every day.
And I’ve received material items in return that I cherish: a beautiful Mother’s Day card sent by someone I met in jail, a hand-drawn Christmas card, multiple pages of poems written by one of my long-time pen pals. These letters live directly below the shelf of icons in my dining room; both the icons and the letters act as sacramental objects that point to the divine.
Throughout the letter to the Philippians, Paul writes again and again, “I rejoice,” despite writing from a prison cell. Paul also commands the Philippians to “rejoice” in all circumstances, despite the persecution they were facing. Correspondence with incarcerated people is a joyful, sacramental act of communion as it reminds us that we can draw near to one another when state forces of violence, made concrete in the literal walls of the prison, separate us. Our faith, grounded in Christ’s incarnation, looks to concrete objects as symbols of the divine. The letters written to prisoners become sacramental objects and — much like in the sacraments of communion, baptism, or anointing — this sacramental character has a physical component. Policies that deny prisoners access to their physical mail ignore this sacred reality.
As people of faith, we can oppose this policy by signing on to Just Detention International’s campaign asking U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to end MailGuard and other restrictive prison mail practices. We can also respond by recommitting ourselves to corresponding with people who are incarcerated. Corresponding with those in prison is sacramental. When we write to those in prison, we are writing to Jesus. In doing so, we impart and experience the joy that comes with sacramental realities, those concrete actions by which God becomes visible among us.
Hannah Bowman is a graduate student in religious studies at Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles, a literary agent, and a prison abolitionist. She is the founder and director of Christians for the Abolition of Prisons. You can follow her on Twitter @hannahnpbowman.
The disease may damage cardiac muscle even in those who never displayed symptoms.
Cardiologist Nisha Parikh, MD, MPH, discusses what we know so far about COVID-19’s impact on the body’s cardiovascular system, from affecting the heart’s rhythm to impairing its ability to pump blood throughout the body.
We used to think of COVID-19 as just a lung disease. What were the first signs that this view wasn’t quite accurate?
One of the first indications that this virus affected the cardiovascular system was an early report about how SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, enters a cell using the receptor involved in the system that regulates the body’s blood pressure and level of water and salts, which is known as the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system. That article definitely got my attention and the attention of my colleagues. This receptor is called the ACE2 receptor, and its involvement might be behind why people with obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure tend to get more severe forms of COVID-19.
Although we haven’t quite unravelled that story, I think we are going to learn more.
What do we know so far about how COVID-19 affects the heart in the short term?
There are many ways COVID-19 can affect the heart during the initial period when someone gets the infection, particularly in the first few weeks. These effects can include new or worsened problems pumping blood effectively, inflammation of the heart muscle, and inflammation of the membrane around the heart. It should be noted that other viruses also can cause these conditions.
We determined this based on deaths from COVID-19 that we know about. But there’s also been a spike in deaths occurring outside the hospital nationwide since this spring, including people being found dead at home from unknown causes. It makes you wonder how many of these out-of-hospital deaths were really COVID-19-related cardiovascular deaths.
It makes you wonder how many of these out-of-hospital deaths were really COVID-19-related cardiovascular deaths.”
NISHA PARIKH, MD
Finally, we are also seeing effects from COVID-19 that may not be directly due to the virus but are related to people not obtaining appropriate medical treatment for a heart problem, often because they have delayed seeking medical care for hours, days, or even weeks after potential heart attack symptoms began. This has led to some really serious complications we hadn’t seen in some time because we now have such good treatments for heart attacks that are detected early enough. These issues include potentially deadly problems such as holes in the heart muscle and tears in the heart valves.
The other thing my colleagues and I have seen when caring for patients admitted to the hospital is a higher incidence of a condition called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, which is heart dysfunction that occurs when someone is under tremendous stress. These days, that stress might be from social isolation, from having loved ones fall ill, or from having lost loved ones. But that trend is anecdotal; we don’t really know the scope of the problem yet.
What symptoms are you seeing among people who had COVID-19 in the past?
We are starting to see more patients with cardiovascular symptoms ranging from chest pain to palpitations to presyncope or syncope – which is feeling lightheaded, like you’re going to faint – that are often accompanied by neurologic symptoms such as brain fogginess, headaches, numbness, or other sensations in various parts of the body. These are part of a constellation of symptoms that folks in this so-called COVID-19 long-hauler category are experiencing.
Many of the symptoms seem to be tied to the nervous system and in many ways may share similarities with cardiovascular diseases we have known about for some time, such as postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. POTS, as it’s known, is characterized by an abnormal increase in heart rate when standing up and can lead to dizziness, fainting, and other debilitating symptoms. We would like to look further into whether this collection of COVID symptoms we are seeing is POTS.
Are signs of heart problems showing up in people of all ages?
Yes, we have seen young, middle-aged, and older adults develop heart issues. Of the two main studies of heart function among patients who’d had COVID-19 – including infections that were asymptomatic – the average age of participants in one was 49 years old; the other was a study of competitive college athletes who were an average of 19.5 years old. Everyone working to answer questions related to heart function and COVID-19 agrees that we should be taking these studies as preliminary and certainly not definitive; more work needs to be done.
What initial testing do you perform on patients whose hearts may have been harmed?
The tests I start with are an ultrasound of the heart, known as an echocardiogram, as well as some sort of heart rhythm monitoring to look for concerning rhythm issues, especially if a patient is experiencing palpitations or lightheadedness. What we are looking for on the heart ultrasound is whether the heart’s pumping function has been damaged. One of the things we noticed early in the pandemic was the presence of inflammation of the heart muscle, which could even progress to problems with the heart muscle’s function, so we keep an eye out for those types of issues. We are also looking for any evidence of an abnormality of the right side of the heart, which can happen if you have a lung injury or a blood clot in the lungs, both of which people with COVID-19 often have.
What have these tests revealed?
Many of the echocardiograms – the heart ultrasounds – have been normal, but some have shown that the heart is having problems pumping blood to the rest of the body, compared to what a normal heart can do. Studies have shown a decreased degree of what is called global longitudinal strain, which can be an early warning sign of an impending issue with the heart’s pumping ability.
Another concerning thing we have noticed in many patients who have recovered from the infection is inflammation or scarring in the heart muscle. A recent study, for example, showed that patients who had recently recovered from COVID-19 – even if it was an infection without symptoms – were significantly more likely to have evidence of heart muscle damage than people who hadn’t had COVID-19.
How does COVID-19 cause long-term effects on the heart?
COVID-19 probably directly or indirectly affects heart muscle cells and other heart tissue, even among patients who did not have signs or symptoms of COVID-19. What that means over the long term is not clear. These effects may continue to be subtle – maybe they’ll never lead to symptoms or problems – or they could lead to a change in the way the heart muscle functions.
A recent study from the Gladstone Institutes, one of UCSF’s partners, showed that infecting heart cells with COVID-19 caused the building blocks of muscles to appear splayed every which way, rather than arranged in an organized line as they are in healthy muscle. These findings could explain some of the issues we are seeing in the heart long after a person recovers from COVID-19. But it’s important to note that one would have to translate those results into a human model, since the study was in cell culture.
What has emerged about how COVID-19 might attack the body’s circulatory system beyond the heart?
It seems the virus directly infects the lining of blood vessels, known as the endothelium, which may be why there are really high rates of clots, such as in the lungs and legs, among patients hospitalized with COVID-19. It’s not clear what physiologic process is driving the clots – whether it’s a direct effect of the virus or whether being sick and immobilized contributes to it as well. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere are studying how to prevent blood clots among patients with COVID-19.
What should we do next to learn more about the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the heart?
There is pretty compelling evidence that we should be conducting studies to systematically follow patients who have had COVID-19. Unfortunately, we will likely have plenty of potential research subjects.