Beyond High School: Answering Questions about the SAT and ACT

It’s that time of year again! High school students across the nation are preparing for the SAT and ACT, fueled by steaming cups of pumpkin-flavored lattes. As stressful as test preparation is for students, it can be just as stressful for you, the parent, as you guide your child through the process. In this post, I answer four common questions about standardized tests.

Should my child take both the SAT and the ACT? Colleges and universities accept scores from either test, so strictly speaking, your child does not need to take both tests. The tests differ in several ways, and some students score much better on one test than the other. If you decide to focus on one test, take a look at the differences so you can choose the one that complements your child’s strengths.

How should he prepare?

SAT. Khan Academy is the best option for SAT prep. Their partnership with the creators of the SAT means that their videos, practice tests, timelines, and tips offer an insider’s view of the test. Also, Khan analyzes your child’s PSAT and SAT scores and uses them to create a personalized study plan. Even better: all of Khan’s services are free!



ACT. To prepare for the ACT, the ACT Online Prep and the ACT Prep Coach & Practice Test are excellent options. The first program was developed by ACT itself, so it offers reliable information about the in’s and out’s of the test. For $39.95, you get the online program—with practice tests, flashcards, personalized study goals, daily reminders, and more—and an app containing the same materials.



Image Courtesy of ACT at

The ACT Prep Coach & Practice Test is an online program that’s available in a free version and a paid premium version. The free version includes some video lessons and practice questions, while the paid version includes access to the full video lesson library and all practice questions, plus customized options for test practice. The cost of the premium plan is $79 for one month, $89 for three months, or $99 for 12 months.

Both the free and premium versions include a companion ACT Test Prep app, ideal for on-the-go study. (Speaking of apps, they also have a free ACT Flashcard app, which gives definitions and examples for concepts in English, math, and science.) I encourage you to keep it simple: choose one program, and put as many miles on it as you can!

Should my child retake the test? Whether he retakes one or both tests depends on whether his scores are competitive at the schools he plans to apply to. To find out if they’re competitive, search “average SAT score at [name of school].” As you compare those scores to your child’s, keep in mind that on average, students’ SAT scores improve 60-70 points the second time they take it. For the ACT, the average improvement is less than three points.

My child retested and his scores aren’t competitive. What now? For many students (and parents), it’s crushing to realize that their dream school is not an option. The future suddenly seems very unstable. Help your child focus on the facts: many people have successful careers and wonderful lives without attending a fancy university—even without a college degree! Hard work and determination open many doors. As you and your child make a new plan, consider non-traditional options, such as community college, vocational-technical schools, and apprenticeship programs. The next post in the “Beyond High School” series will take a closer look at these non-traditional educational options.

Until then, I wish you and your child optimism and determination as you tackle standardized testing! – Bethany


Dr. Bethany Bowen-Wefuan (Ph.D. in German Studies from Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill) is a teacher, writer, wife, and mom. She has taught German language and literature at Duke University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Wilmington, and the University of Missouri. As an educator, she loves helping students become more curious about words (German and English!) and the world.

Beyond High School: 4 Reasons Parents Make Great Guidance Counselors

“What is your daughter (or son) doing after she graduates?”

“How many campuses has she visited?”

“What is she using for SAT/ACT prep?”

“Has she applied for any scholarships?”

“Does she plan to live at home after graduation?”

“What are her top schools?”

“Is she doing an internship this summer?”

“How are the college applications going?”


If questions like these have become a routine part of your life, you must be in the guidance counselor phase of parenthood. This blog series is for you!


Over the next few weeks, our “Beyond High School” series will offer practical advice about preparing for life after high school. Topics include: SAT and ACT preparation, the advantages of community college, alternatives to college, tips for minimizing college debt, and more. But first, I want to encourage you: even if you feel like you’re trekking through unmapped territory, you have four tools that make you a better guidance counselor than you might realize:

Fuschia 1


You have a Ph.D. in your child. 

You probably know your child’s personality, talents, limitations, and fears better than anyone. You’ve seen her areas of unusual strength, and weakness. Celebrate her natural abilities, and encourage her to cultivate them—to use, explore, and strengthen them. The insight you can offer her about herself is priceless. The better she knows herself, the easier it will be for her to make wise decisions about her future.


Fuschia 2


You have Google.

How many colleges should your child apply to? Can she get into her dream school with her SAT score? How much will her dream school cost? Google has the answers! If you have a few minutes and an internet connection, you can shrink a mountain of ignorance down to the size of an anthill. Here are a few examples of searches to inspire your own research:


–   “Average GPA of students at UNC-Chapel Hill”

–   “Do I have to take the SAT to go to community college?”

–   “Best SAT online prep services”

–   “Average SAT improvement”

–   “Most affordable colleges in North Carolina”

–   “Where can I go to college with a 20 ACT score?”

–   “How many colleges should I apply to?”


By setting aside 15-30 minutes per day to research your college-related questions, you will quickly have a realistic picture of your child’s options.


Fuschia 3


You have a larger perspective about the future than your child has.

Your child needs assurance that life is more than test scores, GPA, admissions letters, or scholarships. She may believe that her SAT score quantifies her identity, or that the prestige of her college determines who she is. She may think that her chances of a successful life depend on attending her dream school.

Remind her often that her identity and future are more than scores and schools. Encourage her to enjoy her family and friends, serve others, and pursue her interests, even if they won’t bolster her resume.


Fuschia 4


You have a base of operations.

High school is a pressure-cooker of test scores, GPA’s, and college plans. Comparison and competition among classmates make it even harder. Often, home is no better than school. But your home doesn’t have to be a source of pressure. It can be a refuge from comparison, where acceptance has nothing to do with performance. It can also be a base of operations, where you and your child work side by side to move towards her next phase.


So put on your guidance counselor hat, pull up a chair next to your child, and start researching, strategizing, and dreaming together! I wish you and your child perseverance, wisdom, and success as you blaze a trail to her life beyond high school.

–  Bethany


If you have a question you’d like us to answer in the “Beyond High School” series, we would love to hear from you! Email your questions to us at



Dr. Bethany Bowen-Wefuan (Ph.D. in German Studies from Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill) is a teacher, writer, wife, and mom. She has taught German language and literature at Duke University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Wilmington, and the University of Missouri. As an educator, she loves helping students become more curious about words (German and English!) and the world.




Your Living Room Needs a Makeover: How to Increase Family Time and Decrease Screen Time

I recently looked up from my phone after a quick cruise through Facebook, Goodreads, my email accounts, and a couple of websites. My baby son was watching me from across the living room in silence. When our eyes met he smiled, and I smiled back. But my heart stung a little because I realized that as soon as I’d latched onto my phone, I forgot about him. My body was there in the room with him, but my attention had wandered far away. Sure, it was only for a few seconds—or was it minutes?—but I forgot him.

Time at home sometimes feels slow and monotonous, and a smartphone takes the edge off of the boredom. But what’s the cost of using technology to escape—especially to escape from home? And who pays the price?

Like trading diamonds for gravel, we’re trading thousands of interactions with our little ones, teens, spouses, parents, etc. for time on our devices. Our homes fill with the beeps, buzzes, blare, and glare of multiple screens, replacing conversations, eye contact, creativity, and play—the warmth of really being together. If we allow it, technology will weaken our family relationships, one swipe at a time. We need some alternatives to those glowing escape hatches.


Becoming a Tech-Wise Family

In his book The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, Andy Crouch offers this advice for families who want to spend less time on their devices and more time together:

“Fill the center of your life together—the literal center, the heart of your home, the place where you spend the most time together—with the things that reward creativity, relationship, and engagement. Push technology and cheap thrills to the edges; move deeper and more lasting things to the core.”1

When TVs and smartphones are the most visible and accessible “activities” in your home, it’s unlikely you or your children will choose anything else. So what changes can you make to “the heart of your home”—for most families, that’s the living room—that will encourage meaningful connection rather than mindless scrolling? Here are a few ideas:


  • Put a box of board games and playing cards in your living room. Don’t let the game box go stale—stoke your children’s interest by buying new games every now and then.
  • Start a challenging jigsaw puzzle that will take several days or weeks to complete. Puzzles provide wonderful opportunities for family teamwork and conversation. But beware: puzzles can be as addicting as Candy Crush!
  • Do you own musical instruments? Display them so your kids will reach for them instead of the TV remote. If you don’t have instruments, consider buying recorders, a harmonica, guitar, ukulele, or some simple percussion instruments. With a little searching, you can often find old pianos for under $100.
  • Collect coloring books, sketch pads, and craft supplies and store them in a handy spot. Many children also enjoy books with step-by-step instructions for drawing simple pictures.
  • Set out family photo albums from your childhood, youth, wedding, etc. Your kids will study them with amazement. Get ready: they will bombard you with questions that will lead to wonderful conversations!
  • Showcase eye-catching picture books in strategic places (i.e. where your children are sure to find them!).
  • If you have a young reader, try setting out children’s joke books on your coffee tables. Author Rob Elliott has written a series of joke books that will transform couch potatoes into comedians in no time!


Like any change, shifting your family’s focus away from screens will take time. It may require drastic measures: for example, requiring a daily break from all screens to encourage you and your kids to explore other ways to spend your time. I wish you and your family many happy hours of screen-free fun, conversation, and creativity!



1. Crouch, Andy, The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017): 71.

Dr. Bethany Bowen-Wefuan (Ph.D., Carolina-Duke Graduate Program in German Studies) is a teacher, writer, wife, and mom. She has taught German language and literature at Duke University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Wilmington, and the University of Missouri. As an educator, one of her greatest pleasures is seeing students cultivate a joyful curiosity in words (German and English!) and the world.


The Family That Reads Together

I can see them in the distance. They’re coming for us. If my calculations are correct, they will arrive in four to five years.

Their target? My family.

Their goal? Complete annihilation of our family time.

They are an army of activities: school, piano lessons, video games, after-school jobs, choir, soccer practice, friends, homework, TV, social media, etc. They flood calendars, drowning family dinners, conversations, and togetherness.

I know, I know—I’m being melodramatic. But it’s true: in a few short years, the simple schedule my family enjoys will be a fading memory. As my baby son grows older, his opportunities and obligations (and devices!) will increase, and without a plan, our family time will be the first casualty of busyness and screen time.

So I’m strategizing. Books are a key part of my strategy to preserve our family time and strengthen our relationships. That may seem odd, so let me explain. Massive doses of two ingredients are vital for parent-child relationships: conversation and togetherness. You need to talk about anything and everything, and similarly, you need both quality and quantity time with them. Reading is a fun, easy, and cheap way to get more conversation and togetherness with your children.



You’ve probably seen the commercials that encourage parents to discuss the dangers of drug and alcohol use with their children. Those ads assume you’re delaying difficult conversations. After all, it’s hard to move from, “How was your math test?” to “Have you ever felt pressure to try drugs?”

Discussing books regularly with your kids normalizes conversations about serious topics. Books portray many of the challenges that kids encounter at school, with friends, and in their families. Peer pressure, bullying, learning disabilities, death, loneliness—these issues are common in novels and even in books for younger children. I’d encourage you to craft several open-ended questions that will jump-start conversations with your child about the book she is reading. Here are a few ideas:

  • What places in this book do you wish you could visit?
  • Which character would you most like to meet in real life?
  • Which character do you wish you could be like?
  • Is there anything in the story that you would change?
  • Would you call the ending a “happy ending”?
  • What do you think would happen if the main character came to your school?

In your conversations about books, be aware of what your child’s observations reveal about her own ideas, desires, and insecurities. Be ready to lead the conversation in a more personal direction. Your goal is to know your child more deeply and give her space to open up to you.



Have you noticed how cooking with someone creates a sense of camaraderie? Or how sharing a meal can turn a co-worker into a friend? Or how supporting a friend as she grieves strengthens your relationship with her? Sharing experiences draws us closer to each other. In a small way, books offer many opportunities to share experiences with your children. Here are a few ideas for sharing experiences through reading:



Read a novel aloud together. Choose a novel and schedule a weekly family reading time (put it on your calendar!). Your family will feel a sense of accomplishment when you finally read the last page.

If you’d like more information about the benefits of reading aloud, check out the delightful podcast Read-Aloud Revival. Sarah Mackenzie, who hosts the podcast, is also the author of The Read-Aloud Family, a guidebook for connecting with your children through books.



Tackle a family reading challenge. This is another way you can work together through reading. Set a goal for the number of books your family will read, both individually and together. Decide on a reward you’ll enjoy as a family if you meet your goal, such as a special meal, a trip to the movies, or an evening at the bowling alley. Your kids will be so proud of their efforts towards meeting the challenge!



Travel together through books. Maybe you can’t travel to India as a family, but you can do the next best thing—read a story that takes place there! Once you’ve finished the book, eat at an Indian restaurant or prepare an Indian meal to crown your literary journey.

If you want help finding books that will transport your family to foreign destinations, Jamie C. Martin’s book Give Your Child the World: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time offers extensive lists of books set in many countries and tips for your global reading adventures.

Maybe you’re thinking, Family reading might work for some kids, but mine would never go for it! You’re not alone. Many children won’t be thrilled to put down their cell phone or leave their Netflix show to listen to a novel. Some kids might be weirded out when you suddenly show interest in what they’re reading. Don’t give up! Spending time with your kids is worth whatever eye-rolling and grumbling you have to endure. With persistence, I think your kids will come to enjoy connecting with you over books. I wish you and your family many bookish adventures together!

~ Bethany

Bethany Bowen-Wefuan is a wife, mom, and teacher. After receiving her PhD in German Studies, she began teaching German at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She loves teaching in the college classroom and loves being home with her son Simeon. When he’s napping, she’s either writing or reading.

Eight Strategies for Turning Reluctant Readers into Bookworms

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who hated reading. One sunny afternoon, when she was five years old, the girl approached her mother, who was vacuuming the carpet, with some news:

“Mommy, guess what?” Her mother switched off the vacuum.


“I like reading!”

A smile spread across the mother’s face. “You do?!”

She had labored, day after day, teaching her little daughter to read. This news was the encouragement she needed.

“Nope. Just joking!” Ha ha. Good one.

I was that little girl. As you might suspect, I never became a comedian. But eventually, I became an avid reader. Now thirty years later, I don’t like reading, I love it! It was my parents’ efforts to make reading a fun, consistent part of my childhood that made the difference.

Maybe your child is like I was: he doesn’t naturally enjoy reading. Not to worry! With some strategic planning and persistence, reading can become enjoyable for him—maybe even delightful! Here are eight strategies for turning reluctant readers into happy readers:



Turn off the screens and read.

Given a choice, most kids will spend hours on their devices, not in a book. Screens are so accessible, so enticing, so addictive—they’re almost impossible to resist. Your child needs your help: Carve out time every day for him to unplug, and read a fun book.




Allow your child to choose fun books.

Don’t worry if your child chooses The Hardy Boys and Jedi Academy over something more challenging or sophisticated. Remember: the goal is joy and pleasure. If the Hardy Boys make reading more exciting, they are your new best friends.

If your child needs book recommendations, the children’s librarian at your local library will be a wonderful resource. Also, the Read-Aloud Revival has many recommendations for kids of all ages, including several lists of titles geared towards boys.



Allow your child to read “below” his reading level.

Maybe your child often chooses books below his grade level. That’s okay! Reading below his grade level will teach him that reading isn’t always hard work. Especially for the struggling reader, easy books build confidence.




Reward your child with books.

Use books to reward or surprise your child. Take him to a bookstore and let him choose a book on his birthday. Or take him to a library book sale and let him fill up a bag of books. Offering books as gifts and rewards will train him to treasure them.




Make the library a home-away-from-home.

While books from the bookstore are like a delightful delicacy, books from the library are like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—a yummy part of everyday life. Taking a weekly trip to the library weaves pleasure reading into your child’s routine.

Bonus idea! Pair your library trips with a special treat, like ice cream or a tasty drink. (I am completely serious—pull out all the stops to help your child associate fun, joy, and pleasure with reading!)



Let your child stay up late—to read.

I heard this idea from another parent, and I think it’s brilliant: Allow your child to stay up 15-20 minutes past his bedtime, but only if he’s reading. Otherwise, it’s off to bed as usual.

Bonus idea! Buy your child a “reading flashlight” to keep next to his bed for late-night reading.





Read aloud and listen to audiobooks.

Reading aloud and listening to audiobooks are additional ways to offer your child the pleasures of reading without the hard work of reading. Listen to Harry Potter as you drive your kids to their extra-curricular activities. Have a family read-aloud night regularly, kind of like a movie night. Pop some popcorn, fix your favorite snacks, and enjoy a good novel together.




Become a reader.

If our children are going to believe that reading is worthwhile, they must see us reading. My dad’s example was significant in my development as a reader. The set of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings that my dad grew up reading sat on our bookshelves, shrouded in tales of how he read them every summer as a teenager and young adult. It was a ritual that earned him the nickname Gandalf in college. Such stories fueled my desire to be a reader like my dad. (Sad to say, no one ever gave me a cool literary nickname.) Do you need book recommendations? Check out Modern Mrs. Darcy.

Bonus idea! Get book recommendations from your child. He will be thrilled to see you enjoying his favorite titles!


If this sounds like a lot of planning and effort—and it is effort!—read “Six Reasons to Prioritize your Child’s Reading Life.” A robust reading life will enrich your child now and for the rest of his life. And as you can see, it’s a journey the whole family can enjoy together.

Do you have suggestions for making reading more enjoyable? Please post them in the comments section below!


About Our Guest Expert:

Bethany Bowen-Wefuan is a wife, mom, and teacher. After receiving her PhD in German Studies, she began teaching German at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She loves teaching in the college classroom and loves being home with her son Simeon. When he’s napping, she’s either writing or reading.

Six Reasons to Prioritize your Child’s Reading Life

What if I offered you a magical potion that would transform your child’s education? What if it could boost her standardized test scores, sharpen her critical thinking, raise her grades in every class, cultivate her character, and even strengthen your relationship with her? But wait, it gets even better: This magic potion is absolutely free.

You’d probably laugh! It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But it’s true!

Reading—lots and lots of reading—is the magic that can revolutionize your child’s education. Whether your child is an infant or a high-school senior, whether she is in public, private, or home school, increasing her exposure to books will have long-lasting benefits. Consider these six benefits:


Reading to young children gives them a head-start in school.

Reading aloud to your child is a delightful, relational activity that yields concrete academic benefits. In fact, reading to her at home is the best way for you to prepare her to read independently.1 And interacting with your child as you read to her—pointing to the words and letters, asking questions about the story and pictures—prepares her for the learning that takes place in a school setting.

So grab a picture book, snuggle up with your little one, enjoy a story together, and—voila!—she’s well on her way to thriving at school!



Read-aloud time in grade school makes a big difference in standardized test scores.

Research suggests that when you add just one more read-aloud session per week to your child’s routine, her standardized test scores improve significantly—as much as 15-30 percent.2 So as you laugh together over Roald Dahl’s Matilda, and cheer together for the little mouse in Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux, and explore the magical world of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia together, you’re also strengthening her mind.



Reading for 30 minutes per day builds a massive vocabulary.

Students who read more than 30 minutes per day will learn almost 14,000 words by the time they graduate high school, while students who read less than 15 minutes per day will learn about 2,000.3 Yes, you read that correctly: a difference of about 12,000 words.

Although those numbers are impressive, this is not about your child knowing a bunch of big words. It’s so much more than that: a large vocabulary will bolster her reading comprehension, and as her reading comprehension improves, so will her critical thinking skills—and everything requires critical thinking. From science to math to history, her reading creates a ripple effect that will touch every subject she studies.



Reading enriches background knowledge, and background knowledge is necessary for learning.

Students who have exposure to many books—through read-alouds and personal reading—have a deep pool of knowledge about all kinds of things: the ocean, birds, Nigeria, the Civil War, cooking, tornados, Greek mythology, etc. Whatever they encounter in books adds to their growing collection of background knowledge.

If a child’s background knowledge is rich, she will be able to comprehend what her teachers and textbooks communicate—her background knowledge enables her to make sense of classroom material. If her background knowledge is shallow, learning will be much more challenging.4



Reading stories strengthens character.

Beyond good grades or stronger standardized test scores, we want our children to become caring adults who live with integrity and kindness. In good stories, your child will meet characters who exemplify courage, compassion, loyalty, love, sacrifice, to name only a few.

These characters will act as her guide through imaginary adventures, challenges, and choices. She will tag along as they fail and succeed, and their paths will shape her understanding of how the world works, and what her place in it might be.5 Of course, not all books provide positive role models. I’ll make a suggestion for how to approach this in the next point.



Reading can open up deep conversations with your child.

For every book that offers your child models of virtue, there are many that don’t. This is particularly relevant for kids old enough to read chapter books on their own. As you seek to discern how to protect and nurture your child’s mind and heart, there will surely be books you restrict.

But your child can benefit from reading books that don’t mirror your values if you are intentional about discussing those books with her. Help her think through the situations, choices, and characters in the stories she’s reading by asking open-ended questions: Which characters remind her of people she knows? Are there any characters she wants to be like? Did anything in the book make her scared? Nervous? Excited? Confused? Such questions offer glimpses into your child’s thoughts and a segue way into meaningful conversations.


I hope these six benefits of reading ignite your enthusiasm for your child’s reading life! Maybe you’re convinced about the benefits of reading, but your child approaches books like a plate of broccoli. If so, stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll offer practical tips for helping your child enjoy reading. Let’s try to turn that plate of broccoli into chocolate chip cookies!

~ Bethany

Bethany Bowen-Wefuan is a wife, mom, and teacher. After receiving her PhD in German Studies, she began teaching German at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She loves teaching in the college classroom and loves being home with her son Simeon. When he’s napping, she’s either writing or reading.



1. Anderson, Richard C., Elfrieda H. Hiebert, Judith A. Scott, and Ian A. G. Wilkinson, Becoming a Nation of Readers: The Report of the Commission on Reading, (Champaign-Urbana, IL: Center for the Study of Reading, 1985): 23.

2. Mackenzie, Sarah, The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with your Kids, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018): 63-64.

3. Renaissance Learning, What kids are reading: World’s largest annual study of K–12 reading habits: 2019 edition, (Wisconsin Rapids, WI): 23.

4. Trelease, Jim, The Read-Aloud Handbook, (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2001) 10-11.

5. Prior, Karen Swallow, On Reading Well: Find the Good Life through Great Books, (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2018): 22.

Social Media, Pornography, and Our Kid’s “Need to Connect”

It is safe to say everyone has heard–“screens are addictive.”

It wasn’t that many years ago we read about the big tech guys like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates admit to their strict policy of limited to no personal screen use in their own homes, by their own children. One article presents saddening statistics:

“Research has found that an eighth-grader’s risk for depression jumps 27% when he or she frequently uses social media. Kids who use their phones for at least three hours a day are much more likely to be suicidal. And recent research has found the teen suicide rate in the US now eclipses the homicide rate, with smartphones as the driving force.”

And suicide is just one piece of the problem pie. Add to that the apps allowing our children access to people all over the world, the ones designed to automatically delete messages within 24 hours or less, and those which allow children to secretly have conversations–it is no wonder Mr. Gates didn’t allow his own children to get a smartphone until the ripe old age of fourteen, compared to the average age of children now, ten.

So what does all of this have to do with awareness and prevention of child sexual abuse and assault in terms of social media, pornography, and the need our kids most certainly have to connect?

Let’s consider a few ponder-worthy thoughts:

  • Research shows the human brain does not complete development until between our twenties to thirties. About the age of twenty-five. Yet we hand over access to the entire world to our children, on average, at the age of ten.
  • ‘Stranger Danger’ is truly more of an issue on the internet. Social media opens up a plethora of ways for predators to access information about our children in order to more easily locate them. You do not have to look far to see it could, in fact, happen to us. And it can begin simply with a friendly conversation between young ladies, leading to a nightmare written for movies, as you see in this article.
  • 94% of ALL CHILDREN will see porn by the time they hit their fourteenth birthday. Here we read the average age for first-time porn exposure is reported as early as eight and as “old” as eleven. Pornography today is more violent and more accessible than ever. The XXX video stores from decades ago are in the palm of our kids’ hands, and the material would make porn stars of old blush. It is now one of the most reported addictions. Imagine what an addiction fed from the age of eight creates in a someday grown man–the unrealistic expectations, the pressure on his wife, the dangers of him becoming a sexual offender, to name a few.
  • Sexting has become a joke, and videoing sexual assaults has become the norm. The common message told to our young ladies from the get-go is that sexy is the only beautiful. When sexy is the only beautiful, sexting becomes the obvious expectation. Sexual innuendos and soft porn, really, are on many ads including the ones trying to sell our daughters panties and bras–and their young minds store away the image of the 20-something airbrushed, provocatively-posed model as a reference to whom they should emulate, arched-back in barely anything, because THAT is what they’re being told is beautiful. And our young men who see it? What will they expect from our daughters? Nothing less. And the pressure is on–to communicate through sexting. Or to make little of a violent crime that follows a young person all the days of their lives. No more are the days of sex being sacred–it’s a game where they all become pawns and the cost is dissociating from the reality of human relationships. Empathy is lost.
  • The comparison game is non-stop and more fierce than ever because of social media. Our children’s need for acceptance can easily spin out of control when they’re always connected to seeing the highlight reels of their friends who seem to have the perfect body, perfect family, perfect boyfriend–and this makes them vulnerable to posting, sending, and sharing photos and videos that could follow them the rest of their lives, but even worse, cause them to be exploited or sexually assaulted, or even become a victim of human trafficking. Even here, in this town.
  • We were ALL made for human connection–in all areas of life you will find humans connecting with humans–which makes us relational beings. But what if all this technology has become just a cheap substitute, and what if us parents are really the ones who have set the precedent? We are from the generations who remember life before the internet, before smartphones, before social media–and while all three of these offer wonderful benefits, I often ponder if those benefits outweigh the risks. Among the risks: a loss of intimate and meaningful relationships for the trade-out of generic, instant-gratification connections. And in turn, we lose the connections with those closest to us.

What if our kids’ addictions, or propensity for such addictions, to their devices is really because they just want to be closer and better known by whom they would be closest–their parents?

So what can we do to fight the war for our kids’ minds and hearts?

First, decide to do something. As always, start somewhere. One small change to start can fuel a fire to bring major change in the way your family views and behaves with technology. Again, I highly recommend purchasing for less than $10 the Teacher Kit from which contains an array of helpful resources. The Conversations That Matter card for teens is one of the items included in the Teacher Kit and is a super simple way to sit down and chat, allowing it to help you lead the conversation or ask questions.

(image courtesy of

Here are some things I sometimes forget (especially when I am tired of parenting):

  • We as parents do not need permission from our children to be parents.
  • Our children actually thrive within boundaries, and it is never too late (though they may push against them).
  • It is absolutely okay if our children get mad at us (if they don’t at some point, are we even really parenting? HA!).
  • We survived many years without the use of smartphones, many of us EVEN DUMBPHONES, and they will too. Delayed gratification will serve them well.
  • It is not our job to make our kids’ lives easy. What does that teach them? If they lose their phone for a week as punishment or because it fell in a toilet, they can figure out how to improvise in order to communicate and receive information.
  • It is totally acceptable for us as parents to have a reason or a rule our children do not understand (remember the brain completes development about the age of 25).
  • Those with whom they connect on their phones will never be as important as the relationships they experience in their own home, and none of those on their phone will keep their safety and best interest at front and center.
  • It is perfectly fine for our children to accuse us of being overprotective–if you are acting within reason, you are not required to justify your efforts to protect.

(image courtesy of


Social Media Help Ideas:

  • Do not be afraid to set boundaries, such as no devices in the bedroom or bathroom, only in common areas.
  • Use a parental monitoring-friendly app. You can tell them you are doing so, but again, you are not required to–it is YOUR job as a parent to keep them safe, even from themselves.
  • Set app timers with password protections so their time on social media is limited. This should encourage them to spend their time on there wisely.
  • Talk to them about the quality of their posting and interactions–have conversations about some standard questions they should ask themselves before posting or sharing. For example: Is this post encouraging, educational, inspiring, or helpful? Does this picture capture true beauty, or is it sexy, flaunting, or foolish–would my parents approve? Would I be embarrassed if my teacher saw this? Is my comment or message meant to build someone else up, or are my motives to tear them down or elevate myself? Is this a conversation that would be best had OFF of social media, face to face or over the phone, to prevent misunderstandings? Is this post or picture really just an effort to get attention or is it to brag or boast?
  • Talk to your kids about how often they check the LIKES or VIEWS on their posts–and help them to understand their value is not found in how many likes or views they get.
  • Help your children and teens understand appropriate messaging on social media–never the self-deleting type (what good are they, NONE); establish what expectations you have for messaging with the opposite sex; discuss the dangers of sending nude, provocative, or even just inappropriate pictures and videos. Make sure they understand ANY photos or videos sent, received, or distributed of minors that are explicit (make sure they know the definition of explicit) in any nature IS AGAINST THE LAW, and at this point in the justice system, more easily and seriously punishable.


Pornography Help Ideas:

  • Have the conversation with your older kids about sex (more about that in another post), which should help to lay a firm foundation for being able to discuss pornography. Make sure they understand the definition of addiction, and that pornography can most certainly become an addiction. Here are some helpful resources.
  • Not only can pornography become a severe and life-dominating addiction, but it also will absolutely affect their relationships. Help them to understand the negative impact these images and videos will have on their expectations of their future significant other or spouse.
  • Help them to understand most pornographic material is violent, and not a true reflection of a loving relationship like marriage, where sex is to be a gift. Pornography takes what was created for good between husband and wife, and makes it evil, sick, and even dangerous.
  • The three points above are geared more towards older children and teens, but that doesn’t mean our younger children cannot learn about pornography in an age-appropriate way. And as studies have shown, if YOU aren’t teaching them about pornography and sex, pornography most likely is. There is a great book called Good Pictures, Bad Pictures for older children, and they even have a Junior Version for ages 3-6. These are important regardless, but especially if you have older children as well. It is not uncommon for a teen to have a porn attraction or addiction and the younger sibling be exposed to it, either on purpose to harm them or inadvertently.


The Need to Connect:

It is hard enough these days to truly connect, even with those living under the same roof because of how full we tend to pack our schedules. Weeks will pass before we even consider the last time we really had a meaningful conversation. I feel the weight of it like every parent.

I have read so many articles about the time spent with screens in our faces and the negative impact it has on our relationships. The message it delivers to the average person we are face to face with (like our friend or co-worker) is that of distraction, disinterest, and disengagement. If it sends that message to our peers, imagine the message it sends to those looking to us for leadership, example, acceptance, and engagement.

When we as parents numb ourselves in our weary hours of the day with a screen as we scroll and like and comment, we cannot expect our children to do any differently. The danger there is that while emulating you, they lack the ability to make as wise of choices as the parent. They see you “connecting” on social media and their natural understanding is that they too can connect. Can they foster meaningful relationships on social media? YES! But they are at a much higher risk to fall into the trap of unhealthy, dangerous, and even illegal activity that can lead them to deal with issues their brains developmentally are not capable of handling. Face to face relationships for youth and teens are hard enough, putting a screen between them creates such barriers they do not even understand.

As we connect more with our children, we can have meaningful and necessary conversations that not only prepare them for dealing with the issues they may face, but also build a relationship of trust. We want them to understand:

  • nothing they could ever do would ever cause us to love them less, no matter how angry they may believe we will get
  • we will fight for them, even if it means we have to fight THEM for them
  • we will believe them if someone harms them or threatens to cause them harm
  • there is always room for forgiveness and grace, even if they have to endure consequences for poor choices
  • no matter what, nothing is worth hiding and truth always equals freedom

Let us ALL be the main connection our children experience– if we press in now, chances are that they will lean in later.


As always, I am happy to help you feel more comfortable having these conversations. Feel free to contact me with any questions!


Emily is a wife, a homeschooling mama bear of two, Board Secretary and Events Coordinator for Journey to Heal Ministries, and an advocate for complete health–mind, body, and spirit. Emily is a survivor of child sexual abuse, but has also walked the journey of parent of a young survivor, which has helped her to find her passion in leading others to hope and healing from past sexual trauma, as well as educate and equip families and the community to raise awareness and prevention. On most days, when not taxiing children to homeschool classes, you’ll find Emily in workout clothes with dirty hair and no make-up, creating all things healthy in her kitchen. You can find her on Facebook at Emily-Carl Parker and Instagram at @homeschoolplexusmama and @thewholewellnesscommunity

Teaching Body Safety to Children, Teens, and the Community that Surrounds

A Note From Our Founder: Firm Foundations Tutoring seeks to educate, encourage, and equip whole families and communities. Our Parent Resource Blog helps us fulfill that intention as we seek to help parents make informed, wise decisions on their parenting journey. For our current Guest Expert series, we have partnered with Journey to Heal Ministries and the #End1in10 Campaign to spread awareness and help prevent child sexual abuse. Let’s get the word out and #End1in10!

–  Tatum Smith, Founder of Firm Foundations Tutoring


Body Safety. What a seemingly silly phrase. As adults, we know what is safe for our bodies. As children, we must be taught. But as parents, we may rarely consider this. And there is a story to accompany this truth…

My daughter was almost eleven when she disclosed her sexual abuse. I knew for many years something just wasn’t “right,” but I never suspected it would be THAT, especially by THOSE people. All those years of teaching stranger danger! Nevertheless, it most definitely WAS THAT by THOSE people, and our world came caving in around us.

In hindsight, I should have seen it. Always, right? As I replayed the years of caring for my daughter, I realized I had asked the wrong questions and taught the “wrong” simple lessons.

“Be sweet,” I would say, directing her to behave, anytime I left her in someone else’s care.

A better way to depart wisdom to her would have been, “Be sweet, but remember, YOU are the boss of your body.” And that statement should have been a follow-up reminder to the conversations we had prior, regarding private parts and body safety, appropriate and inappropriate touch, and expectations of adults to protect, not cause harm or “uh-oh” feelings.

“Has anyone ever touched you inappropriately?,” I remember asking her on multiple occasions, actually, when I noticed a shift in her behavior possibly alerting me to something deeper.

But her response, “no,” made me question myself and lay those concerns aside, assuming I was just being too sensitive or worried.

A better question to ask when my fears were heightened would have been, “Has ANYONE, EVER, touched you in ANY of these private places? Have you ever felt UNSAFE?”

As I have learned in the years since, sexual perpetrators do not usually indicate behavior as inappropriate to the child, because the child in most cases knows their perpetrator, and this person is someone with whom they have a trusting relationship: a family member, a family friend or neighbor, coach, church friend, or even another child or teen. I have also learned, my questions and directions to my child should have been with more thought and attention to her safety.



So how can we all “do better,” as I like to say?

What’s next?

First, TEACH the children in YOUR home and educate yourself. When your children are educated and equipped, they can more easily identify abuse and protect themselves, and know how to respond to a friend in the event one comes forward about sexual abuse. Here are a few ways to begin:

(Photo courtesy of

Second, TAKE ACTION and bring awareness to your circle of influence and community. When your circle of influence is aware of your vigilance, they too will be made aware of the importance of protecting our children. When your community or neighborhood is aware, you can help create an environment where a network of safe adults is working together to raise prevention. Not many perpetrators are going to want to mess with that! Here are some ideas to get started:

  • The Mama Bear Effect recommends us to Build a Body Safety Circle™ by educating the adults in closest contact with your child, in multiple areas of their life: Home, Non-Family, School, Camps, Childcare. This helps to reduce the opportunity for abuse, but also gives your child a net of safe individuals they can disclose abuse to if they are not comfortable disclosing to you as the parent. More on how to Build a Body Safety Circle™ can be found in the Rock the Talk™ Parent Pack.
  • Set up a neighborhood “Keeping Kids Safe” gathering and share information. A friend of mine thought of this idea during the launch of our #End1in10 Campaign and I LOVE IT! Most neighborhoods have a Facebook page or Nextdoor site where communication happens. Pick a date, invite your neighbors either through your neighborhood communication page or simply delivering paper invites door-to-door, prepare a presentation with resources available, and share why you are starting and inviting them into the conversation. You may be surprised at how many parents have never considered the danger and how many of you can come together to make your neighborhood a safer place for everyone. For more ideas on how to facilitate such an event, feel free to contact me and I will be happy to sit down with you.
  • Keep a Five Body Safety Rules poster (available for free download) in a high traffic area of your home where neighbor kids may see it, and don’t be afraid to introduce them to it upon their first visit. {I recommend printing a copy for all the parents of your children’s friends/neighbor kids to notify them of your effort to keep this in plain view in your home, in order to build a safer community for them all. This will not only open conversations, but it will ensure you don’t have any parents knocking on your door, totally blind-sided!}

(photo courtesy of

  • Memorize The Mama Bear Effect’s “Mama Bear Mantras” found in the Rock the Talk™ Parent Pack to help you and your children remember:
    • It is your job to protect them.
    • Their body is special + they are the boss of it.
    • If a big person breaks the rules about privates, it’s never the child’s fault and it’s never too late to tell.
  • In the event your child discloses abuse, be prepared and do YOUR job as the parent to love on them, care for their heart, and say, “I believe you,” and “It’s not your fault,” until they believe it. {More on this in a later post.}

When navigating Teaching Body Safety, we do not have to be afraid. Will some conversations be uncomfortable, yes. But any time you hesitate because of discomfort, consider how uncomfortable your child would be if abused and the discomfort your child would feel carrying the weight of that secret, the burden of shame, then you both navigating the justice system while processing trauma and entering into a journey of healing. I promise you, that is far more uncomfortable than having these conversations. Don’t feel as though you have to reinvent the wheel either. The links provided throughout this post are rich with information and provide even more options to further your education to be equipped, so take advantage of what already exists. Your efforts will plant seeds in your children they can carry well into adulthood, and hopefully create a cycle of teaching body safety to the generations to come.

We have an opportunity to affect change. It is our responsibility as adults. And we have all the tools available to us to do it. I am more than happy to help you. Will you make it a priority in your home and community?


Emily is a wife, a homeschooling mama bear of two, Board Secretary and Events Coordinator for Journey to Heal Ministries, and an advocate for complete health–mind, body, and spirit. Emily is a survivor of child sexual abuse, but has also walked the journey of parent of a young survivor, which has helped her to find her passion in leading others to hope and healing from past sexual trauma, as well as educate and equip families and the community to raise awareness and prevention. On most days, when not taxiing children to homeschool classes, you’ll find Emily in workout clothes with dirty hair and no make-up, creating all things healthy in her kitchen. You can find her on Facebook at Emily-Carl Parker and Instagram at @homeschoolplexusmama and @thewholewellnesscommunity

Understanding the Danger of Child Sexual Abuse + Teen Sexual Assault

We all want to say or believe, “It couldn’t happen to OUR child, or in OUR family, or on MY watch.” And we are really good at convincing ourselves of such. Especially when we are caught up in the busyness of life and we exist in this space where it is hard enough to keep our kids from becoming addicted to screens, interested in the “bad-boy/girl,” or simply arguing with their siblings all the time. Can I get an amen?

How could we possibly add such a giant undertaking like being vigilant for grooming and sexual abuse or assault, when everyone we and our children spend time with is so trustworthy, so kind, so…normal?

THAT is the danger. We get comfortable in our circles, lazy in our vigilance of many things (parenting is exhausting, I get that!), and never want to assume anyone we could ever “know” would harm a child or teen. Especially MY child. Nor the kids who spend every weekend at my home– they couldn’t possibly be victims or survivors, either. We are all so normal. It is hard to believe because we don’t want to believe it. Because our minds weren’t meant to carry such weighty and dark truths.

According to The Mama Bear Effect, “95% of offenders are people known, trusted, and often related to the child, many who are juveniles themselves.” Does this mean there is a child perpetrator lurking in your circle of influence? No. Does this mean one of your children’s friends is or has been a victim of sexual abuse? Not necessarily. Does this mean your teen will definitely be sexually assaulted if allowed out of your sight? Of course not. What this DOES mean is, if your child or teen has been or ever is sexually abused/assaulted, the perpetrator is most likely or will be someone they already know.

A common statistic, also stated by The Mama Bear Effect, is “1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are estimated to have been sexually abused during childhood.” Ruminate on that for a minute. Think of the hundreds of women and men you know, visualize them in a room, and do the math. This is not an uncommon issue, this is a widespread epidemic, and it happens most often in the silence and secrecy of families, communities, churches, and schools. In OUR city, maybe even on your street.

“In many cases, youth don’t understand the implications of what they’re doing. That is why it is up to us as adults to educate them on what is right,” the organization Darkness to Light warns us about the rape culture in which we live, where our teens are just as vulnerable as our younger children. I highly recommend reading THIS article for a story of reference. Another dependable resource, states, “On average, there are 321,500 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States.” That number seems out of this world large, and maybe like it doesn’t affect us personally, but when we break it down, we see our teens, especially our females, are at a much higher risk than we want to believe. And as someone who works for a local organization with women and young ladies who come to find hope and healing from past sexual trauma, I can confirm, it is happening in our high schools, our colleges, in OUR city.

Look at the numbers from

  • 82% of all juvenile victims are female. 90% of adult rape victims are female.
  • Females ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
  • Women ages 18-24 who are college students are 3 times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence. Females of the same age who are not enrolled in college are 4 times more likely.

Here are some other common statistics, from, the, and

  • Every 98 seconds someone is being sexually assaulted in America, and every 8 minutes that someone is a child.
  • Less than 1/2 of the estimated cases of sexual abuse are ever reported.
  • There are over 42 million adult survivors of child sexual abuse in America today.
  • It’s common for victims and survivors to keep silent, minimize what happened, and not tell anyone for years after the abuse or assault.

So what does this tell us as parents? We can do better, always.

Can we be so proactive to become 100% certain our children are never sexually abused?

No. But we CAN educate and equip ourselves, our children, and our community to be aware of the epidemic, not be afraid to discuss the epidemic, and accept the reality of the issue. Turning a blind eye, burying our heads in the sand, and refusing to prioritize understanding the danger is where we fail not only our children, but we essentially reveal to watching perpetrators that we are vulnerable, and we represent a people not willing to believe or stand by survivors brave enough to finally come forward about their own abuse. The impact we have in both INACTION and ACTION is more far-reaching than we can understand.

So what can we do? What are simple steps we can take to not be part of the problem?

We will dig deeper into these questions over the course of a series of short posts, but the first step is to START.

Start reading, learning, equipping, and teaching. Learn the statistics. Equip yourself and your children with the information you both need. Teach your children about body safety, and age-appropriately, SEX. Yep. Not understanding the correct context for sex can allow children to be in a sexually abusive environment and believe it is completely normal because the perpetrator is someone they trust. But if they KNOW the proper context for sex, for husband and wife, then any attempt of a sexual act will raise a red flag to them.

As we unpack the epidemic of sexual abuse and assault and what we all should be doing to raise awareness and prevention, my intent is to give you simple and effective action steps so you can move from a place of possibly feeling powerLESS, to feeling empowered and equipped.


What’s next?

  • Watch this short video:
  • Familiarize yourself with helpful resources. Many can be found online, such as:
    • where you will find information, support, online and local groups available, mentoring, and other helpful resources. There, you can also learn more about our #End1in10 campaign, an effort to reduce the statistics of child sexual abuse and sexual assault.
    • where you will find a plethora of printable and for-purchase material to assist in learning/teaching body safety, age-appropriate talks about sex, both for use in educating yourself and your children, as well as in a classroom setting for groups, etc.
    • where you will find easy to understand and share statistics
    • where you will find information to help you learn the facts and access various training opportunities
  • Locate a local self-defense class or ask your local mixed martial arts facility to offer self-defense classes for younger children and teens. Many places will offer a short weekend session and teach basic self-defense moves in a few hours. Invite your friends to bring their children and teens.
  • Ask questions. The purpose of this series is to engage our community in order to educate and equip, so I would love to hear your questions and will do my best to answer them effectively.

As we uncover truths, expose reality, and refuse to shrink back, we are building a defense for our children and generations to come. As a survivor myself AND a parent of a survivor, I have seen the dangers of not knowing and the deep pain of the trauma, but I have also seen the great hope and healing available to us, and part of that is doing our part to break the cycle. Together, we can #End1in10, and I am honored to be a voice to help assist you in joining the movement.


Emily is a wife, a homeschooling mama bear of two, Board Secretary and Events Coordinator for Journey to Heal Ministries, and an advocate for complete health–mind, body, and spirit. Emily is a survivor of child sexual abuse, but has also walked the journey of parent of a young survivor, which has helped her to find her passion in leading others to hope and healing from past sexual trauma, as well as educate and equip families and the community to raise awareness and prevention. On most days, when not taxiing children to homeschool classes, you’ll find Emily in workout clothes with dirty hair and no make-up, creating all things healthy in her kitchen. You can find her on Facebook at Emily-Carl Parker and Instagram at @homeschoolplexusmama and @thewholewellnesscommunity