Sexual Content on Television Linked Teenage Pregnancy

In the world of television programming, sex sells — perhaps a little too well with young viewers, a new study suggests.

The RAND Corp. study is the first of its kind to identify a link between teenagers’ exposure to sexual content on TV and teen pregnancies. The study, released Monday and published in the November edition of the journal Pediatrics, found that teens exposed to high levels of sexual content on television were twice as likely to be involved in a pregnancy in the following three years as teens with limited exposure.

The study’s authors are quick to point out that the factors leading to teen pregnancies are varied and complex — but they say it’s important for parents, teachers and pediatricians to understand that TV can be one of them.

“We were surprised to find this link,” said Anita Chandra, the study’s lead author and a behavioral scientist at RAND, a non-partisan, non-profit research organization. “But teens spend a good amount of their time watching television — an average of three hours a day — and we don’t know a lot about its impact on their health decisions …

“We don’t think that (TV) is necessarily more significant than some of the family and neighborhood factors that can lead to teen pregnancies. But even when we removed all the other factors, we still saw a compelling link between a high exposure to sexual content on television and teen pregnancies.”

How the study worked
Researchers interviewed 2,003 12- to 17-year-olds over the phone in 2001, and then followed up with those same youths in an effort to interview them again in 2002 and 2004.

The interviews focused in detail on teens’ TV viewing habits as well as their sexual attitudes, knowledge and behavior. Participants shared information about how much they watched 23 TV programs that were popular with teens at the time of the survey. The shows included a wide range of animated and live-action programs, reality shows, sitcoms and dramas that aired on broadcast networks and basic and premium cable channels. The programs included “Sex and the City,” “That ‘70s Show” and “Friends.”

“This might surprise people, but sitcoms had the highest sexual content,” Chandra said, noting that such content can include sexual dialogue in addition to actual sexual behavior.

By the third telephone interview, 744 of the youths said they had engaged in sexual intercourse, and 718 of them shared information about their pregnancy histories. Of that group, a total of 91 youths — 58 girls and 33 boys — said they had experienced a pregnancy or had gotten a girl pregnant.

In the final analysis, teens who had watched the most sexual content on television during the three-year study period were twice as likely to have been involved in a pregnancy as teens with the lowest levels of exposure.

Chandra said TV-watching was strongly connected with teen pregnancy even when other factors were considered, including grades, family structure and parents’ education level.

But the study didn’t adequately address other issues, such as self-esteem, family values and income, contends Elizabeth Schroeder, executive director of Answer, a teen sex education program based at Rutgers University.

“The media does have an impact, but we don’t know the full extent of it because there are so many other factors,” Schroeder said.

Bill Albert, chief program officer at the nonprofit National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, praised the study and said it “catches up with common sense.”

“Media helps shape the social script for teenagers. Most parents know that. This is just good research to confirm that,” Albert said.

The study, paid for by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, followed a 2004 study by some of the same scientists that indicated watching sexual content on TV can make teens more likely to have sex at earlier ages.

Chandra said the new findings are significant given the intractable social and public health problems associated with teen pregnancies. While the teen pregnancy rate in the United States has dropped considerably since the early ‘90s, the U.S. rate remains one of the highest among the world’s industrialized nations. Nearly 1 million young women between the ages of 15 and 19 become pregnant each year in the U.S., and they are more likely than other teens to drop out of high school and live in poverty.

The role of parents, others
So what’s a parent to do under these circumstances? Lock up the television set for good and throw away the key?

On the contrary, the study’s authors advise parents to become familiar with the shows their kids watch — and, whenever possible and practical, to watch TV with them.

“By taking the time to watch together, parents can turn these into teachable moments … and opportunities for frank discussions about sex,” Chandra said.

“Parents (also) might want to limit some exposure. But realistically, this kind of content is everywhere. Our study only looks at TV. There’s also the Internet, music, magazines.”

Chandra noted that many TV programs fail to give viewers realistic depictions of the potential consequences of sex, such as pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

“If teens are getting any of their information about sex from TV, they’re very rarely going to get a balanced portrayal,” she said. “When there is a portrayal, how often is it coupled with a discussion of contraception use or safer sex or the consequences of what could happen?”

An ongoing controversy
Of course, parents, religious leaders and politicians have lambasted the broadcasting industry for years and called for curbs on content they consider objectionable. In response to the news of this new study, the National Association of Broadcasting released the following statement:

“Though NAB has not had a chance to review the report, it’s worth noting that broadcasters encourage parents and caregivers to use the V-chip and other program blocking technologies that would screen out shows that are inappropriate for children. We would also point out that broadcast television is generally far less explicit than programming found on cable, satellite and on the Internet.”

The study’s authors insist they aren’t taking aim at any particular television show, channel or network. Instead, they’re calling for more realistic plot lines and discussions of consequences — not a wholesale change in programming from, say, “Sex and the City” to “Sex and the Condom.”

“Right now the message teens are getting is that everything is great, and there really are no consequences to sex,” Chandra said.

“Since the time that we did our data collection, the amount of sexual content on TV has doubled. … It’s important for kids to have the tools to understand what they’re watching.”

Television Can Turn Your Kids To Little Monsters

American research has revealed that too much time in watching TV can cause bad behaviour in early childhood.

Researchers studied the viewing habits of more than 2700 children at age two and again at five.

Five-year-olds who watched TV for two hours or more a day were more likely to develop behavioural problems or have trouble with social skills. Having a TV in their bedroom also increased the risk and often led to sleep difficulties.

But children could be weaned off TV without lasting damage. Those who were heavy viewers at age two but reduced their exposure by the age of five showed no increased risk of problems.

"It is vital for clinicians to emphasise the importance of reducing television viewing in early childhood among those children with early use," said the study's senior author, Dr Cynthia Minkovitz of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

The study, published in the Pediatrics journal, has reignited fierce debate around the influence of TV on the developing child brain. Recent studies have blamed TV for causing ADHD and autism, a claim vigorously contested by some childhood development experts.

Australian specialists told The Age that studies of viewing habits without considering other factors were often flawed.

"Children who are at risk or vulnerable who watch a lot of violent television may be inclined to be more aggressive but that really only applies to a select group of kids," said Professor Margot Prior from Melbourne University, one of Australia's leading experts on child development and behavioural adjustment. "If parents manage television and monitor what their children see and are open to explaining and discussing what's on television then you can identify very few, if any, harmful effects."'

Sixteen per cent of two-year-olds and 15 per cent of five-year-olds watched two hours or more of TV a day. Forty-one per cent of all children had a TV in their bedroom.

Professor Alasdair Vance, head of academic child psychiatry at the Royal Children's Hospital, said the younger the child the less time they should spend watching TV.

But he said many programs such as Play School or Sesame Street had educational benefit and TV could not solely be blamed for bad behaviour. "A given child watching two or more hours of television a day may have little contact with an empathic, nurturing, sensitive and responsive parent who can help them develop those emotion management, anxiety management and aggression management skills," he said.

Australian Childhood Foundation chief executive Joe Tucci said TV was often used as a "babysitter" and parents should act as a filter for preschoolers.

"Kids are like a sponge at that age," he said. "They're taking in what's going on around them and trying to develop rules for how the world works, and if those rules are based on activities that have some violence in it then they're the rules that they'll try to emulate."
Viewing habits

Proportion of children watching two or more hours of TV a day:
* Age 2: 16 per cent
* Age 5: 15 per cent
* Proportion of all children with a television in their bedroom: 41 per cent.

Telling your Child You are in Love with Someone

Be candid with your child
If it’s a nice, feel-good story, don’t be afraid to tell your child how you actually met your lady friend. When you paint a nice romantic picture, you are, in some way, teaching your child that romance is important and something to be treasured. Reciting your story may also cause your child to appreciate your honesty, which is a language that all children speak.

Inquire about your child’s feelings
Ask your child how he/she feels about the fact you’ve met a new “friend.” Chances are they will be happy for you. A well-loved child is an empathetic child. Our children want us be happy and they know better than anyone (hopefully) that being hugged and kissed is something everyone needs -- even dad.

Reassure your child
Remind your child that he/she is, and will always be, the most important person in your life. No one and nothing will ever change that fact.

Propose a potential meeting
Honor your child and show him that you believe that he has the maturity to handle the situation. Make flexible (i.e., no promises) future plans and suggest that “when the time is right, perhaps we can arrange a get-together.” Whatever you do, don’t rush the situation. It’s better to take your time and play it safe. You don’t want to get your child emotionally involved with a good woman only to see the relationship dissolve and watch your child’s heart break when you split up.

Prepare your child for the introduction
If you do plan to introduce your child to someone, reveal what you like about your new friend beforehand. For example, you could show that your new interest has a sense of humor and likes to have fun with a conversation that might go like this: “You know what Alison said to me today? She said something really funny. She said that I walk like a monkey.” Doing so prepares your child and it makes it emotionally easier for the time when they do meet her. They will meet her with a sense of established trust, and children understand the language of laughter.

Maintain family traditions
Don’t start canceling family traditions because you’ve met someone. These traditions are very important to a child, and they are what have the most positive impact in their lives. Not only do children remember these traditions for the rest of their lives, but they are likely to pass on to their children the very same tradition-torch that you or your parents invented. Don’t screw with family traditions, though you can include a new participant.

Ask for permission
If you have teenage children, ask for their permission if you want a “sleepover” at your new friend’s house. Assure them that if you are away from the house, you will have your cell phone with you, and that it will always be turned on should they need to contact you.

The key to a child’s happiness
Clear and consistent communication is so important for our children. To feel safe, loved and appreciated, they need to know that no one is going to come into your life and take you away from them. Give them that respect, and they’ll always be happy that daddy found love again. Isn’t that what you want?

Financial Crisis to Marital Crisis, No Money No Love

Belinda Luscombe
Recession and divorce, it is said, go together like carriage and horse. Those who labor in Splitsville have several explanations for why that might be. There's the lawyer theory, that money provides the soft fatty tissue that insulates the marital skeleton; once it's cut back and people get a good look at the guts of their relationship, they want out. And there's the marriage-counselor theory, that couples who were never quite on the same page in the checkbook finally get pushed off the ledger by endless bickering over their dwindling resources. And the therapist theory, that financial worries cause stress, stress can cause depression, and depression is a total connubial buzz kill.

"Recessions tend to raise divorce rates," says Nobel laureate and University of Chicago Graduate School of Business economist Gary Becker. "But you won't see a pandemic." Census Bureau figures show that over the past 2 1/2 decades, recessions have had only minor effects on divorce rates, which have been slowly waning since the early '80s after 20 years of steadily rising. Those trajectories have been influenced more by the rise of the women's movement and women's earning power, lower fertility and changes in divorce laws than by dour Dows. The only recorded spike in divorces in the past 75 years came right after World War II.

But the trend lines could change, Becker says, depending on the depth of this recession, striking as it does squarely at people's homes. With the financial baggage that many matrimonial vessels are hauling, it's not yet clear whether more spouses will jump ship or start bailing. What is clear is that everybody involved--from the ultra-wealthy to the completely broke, from family-court judges to therapists--has to figure out a new way to navigate.

The Rich, Who Are Different

Steven Eisman helps dissolve the unions of mostly wealthy clients in Nassau County, N.Y. In the traditional thinking about the recession-led split, non--wage earners "who were willing to stay in a less-than-perfect relationship become less willing once the credit cards are taken away," he says. But recently some lawyers have noticed that as stock prices have plunged, they've gotten inquiries from business owners and investors looking to unhitch now, with the idea that being poorer on paper will work to their advantage when dividing assets.

"In most states, the value of a business is part of the matrimonial pot of money that has to be divided up. Often, assets are set at the time of separation," says Neil Stein, partner at Stein & Glazer in Philadelphia. "I've had several clients come to me recently and say, 'I've wanted to get divorced for years but didn't want to give up half of my business. Now that my business is not worth anything, wouldn't it be a good time to do it?'" Conversely, some nonearning spouses of the very wealthy are also trying to game the nuptial market, attempting to lock in a higher rate in case the economy travels further south.

Sumner Redstone filed for divorce on Oct. 17, when his more than 16 million Viacom shares were at $18.85, down from $39.40 six months ago; his CBS shares had dropped about $288 million in value in the same period. Redstone and his wife Paula reportedly have a prenuptial agreement, so it's unlikely the market has much to do with timing, but Mrs. Redstone divorces a poorer man than she would have six weeks ago.

The Stuck-at-Homes

Among the nonwealthy, the two assets that typically need to be divided are 401(k)s and the family residence. But suddenly 401(k)s aren't worth as much, and that home whose mortgage was the mother of all argument starters is not an asset at all. It can't be sold--or at least not for a price that provides money to start over.

Instead of working out who owns what, lawyers and mediators are trying to figure out the fiendishly trickier conundrum of who owes what. "We're negotiating debts--not assets," says Henry Gornbein, a family-law attorney in Oakland County, Mich. "Two, three years ago, I'd be telling you that houses had equity, and you'd either be doing a buying out or selling the house and splitting whatever the proceeds were. Now it's the reverse. You go into court; the judges just don't know what to do."

In the face of this, some couples are attempting to tough it out. "The divorce rate is down in Michigan," says Gornbein. "People have no choice sometimes now except to return to the marriage." Others are choosing to separate or divorce but live together until either the house sells or they go stark raving barmy and will sign anything. A Boston lawyer tells of a woman who had a restraining order against her husband but was forced by economic circumstance to let him move back in. (Eventually they reconciled.)

The ex-as-roommate phenomenon is common enough that Virginia already has case law that governs what couples who are separated but living under the same roof may and may not do if they want the separation to lead to a divorce. Sex is definitely out, as is doing each other's laundry, shopping or cooking for each other and going on a date. Virginia, clearly, is not for ex-lovers.

The Teeterers

And then there are the couples who are contemplating divorce because of the strain the poor economy is putting on their poor marriage but think it's because of something else. John Coates, a Deutsche Bank trader turned Cambridge University researcher, measured the naturally occurring steroids in 17 British male traders over time and found high levels of testosterone during bull markets and of cortisol during volatility. Cortisol helps the body deal with threatening situations. But prolonged exposure to it, as during a lengthy downturn, makes people irrationally fearful, so when confronted with neutral situations--say, that their spouse would like the leaves raked--they react as if threatened. In other words, men can get funny when they're losing money. Even those who aren't traders.

Which brings us to cheating. Since no one has yet figured out how to do a National Infidelity Survey, it's hard to track, but experts warn it becomes more likely under stress. "Study after study shows that men deal with stress through escapism and women deal with it by talking," says Jill Brooke, a divorce expert who helps run "Online porn, massage parlors and escort services are cheaper and quicker than therapy, especially if you lost your health insurance." Often, since the men are operating under stress, they get caught. And often their wives can't bring themselves to take the Silda Spitzer--Elizabeth Edwards high road.

Apart from the ready access to high-speed online porn, what makes this recession different from others is that it's centered on real estate and thus on people's homes, which may explain why women are feeling more anxious about it than men are. In a survey released in October by the American Psychological Association (APA), more women than men reported feeling stress about money (83% vs. 78%) and the economy (84% vs. 75%). And women were more likely than men to say they had symptoms of stress--including irritability and weariness. Plus, their stress levels had risen more sharply over the past six months than men's. So it's harder for women to take up their traditional role as household comforter and easier for the wheels to fall off the whole enterprise.

There is some good news. A study that correlated Playboy centerfolds with market conditions found that men like fuller-figured women more in lean times than in boom times. The APA study showed that when stressed, women liked to eat. Bingo!

But aside from stress-eating, is there anything to be done if you'd rather the market didn't take your marriage down with it? A lot of counselors suggest sitting with your spouse and putting your fears on the table. If partner A does not know the full lay of the dire financial land, partner B should map it out while partner A makes a robust attempt not to scream. Then figure out how to address your liquidity issues as a team. All this honesty might even work as foreplay, suggests New Jersey sex therapist Sandra Leiblum, but if not, she recommends putting down the BlackBerry and reminding your spouse of something that's "free, burns calories, releases tension and creates bonds." Bonds that, luckily, can't be traded.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Still Uses Child Soldiers

Muslim separatist rebels engaged in battle with Philippines troops on Mindanao island since August have continued to use children as combatants, despite international appeals to stop the practice, sources say.

While the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leadership has publicly denied using child combatants, evidence recovered from fallen rebel camps indicates otherwise. Witnesses say the MILF has also conscripted children (younger than 18) into "auxiliary roles", such as cooks, porters and guides.

"We could hear the distinct voices of male children screaming amid the din of gunfire," said an army brigade officer in Mindanao, whose unit is in the frontlines against the MILF near the town of Datu Piang, where some of the heaviest fighting has occurred. "This is a condemnable act. They use children to do the fighting, while the MILF leaders hide in the background."

The 12,000-strong MILF has been waging war for an independent Islamic state since 1978 on Mindanao, the mineral-rich southern island, home to four million Muslims. Since the agreement for an autonomous region failed, two senior MILF rebels have cut a deadly swathe across towns and villages, burning down more than 1,000 houses, raiding businesses and killing more than 60 civilians.

Heavy government reprisals have led to many MILF deaths - nearly 200 since August, based on official statistics. About 100,000 civilians are still in evacuation camps, where food shortages and a threat of disease outbreaks amid the monsoon season are straining government resources.

The military is girding for intensified MILF attacks after the Supreme Court on 14 October ruled the deal was "unconstitutional". The 15 justices of the court blasted the government for offering a peace deal that was not publicly scrutinised.

With civilians in many Christian parts of Mindanao also arming themselves against MILF attacks, aid groups say more bloodshed looks inevitable.

Documentary proof
Evidence gathered at rebel camps and since declassified by the military showed that children were being used in the fighting. A video clip released to the press by the army showed children in rebel military gear conducting drills in what appeared to be ceremonies inducting them into the movement.

A document left in one of the camps showed "child soldiers" being moulded into "tough, self-reliant fighting men".

The recruits are told to "maintain an aggressive spirit [and instill the] will to close and kill, or capture the enemy", one of the training documents, hand-written in Arabic and broken English, stated. It also contained chapters on how to dismantle and hide automatic rifles and make powerful home-made bombs.

Eid Kabalu, a spokesman for the MILF, told IRIN on 19 October it was against the MILF's policy to recruit children as combatants. He said the allegations were fabrications by the army seeking to discredit the group.

"We deny using child soldiers. These allegations have no basis," Kabalu said, but added that he saw nothing wrong with the MILF taking and caring for children of Muslim parents who may have perished in the fighting. "We take them and try to give them a normal life inside the camps. But we acknowledge that they are in an environment where they are exposed to guns."

He said these children were not forced to become combatants, although they had chores to do around the camp. Kabalu admitted, however, there could be cases where a child inside a camp would later become an MILF fighter. "That is their choice. But to say we recruit children to fight is another thing."

He says under Islamic law, a child who has reached puberty is considered an adult who is given the right to sign legally binding documents, theoretically from the age of 15.

Child rights
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said in a statement it was highly concerned about the reports of child soldiers, but noted that the Philippines, apart from its domestic laws, was also signatory to international protocols protecting the rights of the child. It said there were enough laws to "advocate for non-recruitment of minors".

"UNICEF considers any person under the age of 18, whether they are involved in or affected by conflict, to be a child. Utmost care should be taken to protect their rights and to secure their return to civilian life. We are concerned how the conflict in Mindanao is affecting children in many ways, including their health, education and their need to be protected from abuse, violence and exploitation."

In a report issued early this year, the London-based Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers said there were continuing reports that children had joined the MILF in some areas of Mindanao. It said up to 13 percent of MILF fighters in 2005 were children.

"The involvement of children even in auxiliary roles such as cooks, porters, informants and in the case of girl soldiers as sex slaves is a violation of international human rights standards and Philippine laws," Ryan Silverio, the group's Southeast Asia regional coordinator, told IRIN.

Human Rights Watch warned that a sudden escalation of conflict "can lead to a spike in the number of children recruited into armed groups. This is especially a worry when an armed group, like the MILF, is known to use children," said Bedde Sheppard, HRW's Asia researcher on children. Sheppard said the government also needed to "send a strong and clear message to its own armed forces that they too are forbidden from arming, training, or recruiting children".

Who is Stanley Ann Dunham Soetoro (Barack Obama's mother)?

Amanda Ripley

Each of us lives a life of contradictory truths. We are not one thing or another. Barack Obama's mother was at least a dozen things. Stanley Ann Dunham Soetoro was a teen mother who later got a Ph.D. in anthropology; a white woman from the Midwest who was more comfortable in Indonesia; a natural-born mother obsessed with her work; a romantic pragmatist, if such a thing is possible.

"When I think about my mother," Obama told me recently, "I think that there was a certain combination of being very grounded in who she was, what she believed in. But also a certain recklessness. I think she was always searching for something. She wasn't comfortable seeing her life confined to a certain box."

Obama's mother was a dreamer. She made risky bets that paid off only some of the time, choices that her children had to live with. She fell in love—twice—with fellow students from distant countries she knew nothing about. Both marriages failed, and she leaned on her parents and friends to help raise her two children.

"She cried a lot," says her daughter Maya Soetoro-Ng, "if she saw animals being treated cruelly or children in the news or a sad movie—or if she felt like she wasn't being understood in a conversation." And yet she was fearless, says Soetoro-Ng. "She was very capable. She went out on the back of a motorcycle and did rigorous fieldwork. Her research was responsible and penetrating. She saw the heart of a problem, and she knew whom to hold accountable."

Today Obama is partly a product of what his mother was not. Whereas she swept her children off to unfamiliar lands and even lived apart from her son when he was a teenager, Obama has tried to ground his children in the Midwest. "We've created stability for our kids in a way that my mom didn't do for us," he says. "My choosing to put down roots in Chicago and marry a woman who is very rooted in one place probably indicates a desire for stability that maybe I was missing."

Ironically, the person who mattered most in Obama's life is the one we know the least about—maybe because being partly African in America is still seen as being simply black and color is still a preoccupation above almost all else. There is not enough room in the conversation for the rest of a man's story.

But Obama is his mother's son. In his wide-open rhetoric about what can be instead of what was, you see a hint of his mother's credulity. When Obama gets donations from people who have never believed in politics before, they're responding to his ability—passed down from his mother—to make a powerful argument (that happens to be very liberal) without using a trace of ideology. On a good day, when he figures out how to move a crowd of thousands of people very different from himself, it has something to do with having had a parent who gazed at different cultures the way other people study gems.

It turns out that Obama's nascent career peddling hope is a family business. He inherited it. And while it is true that he has not been profoundly tested, he was raised by someone who was.

In most elections, the deceased mother of a candidate in the primaries is not the subject of a magazine profile. But Ann Soetoro was not like most mothers.

Stanley Ann Dunham
Born in 1942, just five years before Hillary Clinton, Obama's mother came into an America constrained by war, segregation and a distrust of difference. Her parents named her Stanley because her father had wanted a boy. She endured the expected teasing over this indignity, but dutifully lugged the name through high school, apologizing for it each time she introduced herself in a new town.

During her life, she was known by four different names, each representing a distinct chapter. In the course of the Stanley period, her family moved more than five times—from Kansas to California to Texas to Washington—before her 18th birthday. Her father, a furniture salesman, had a restlessness that she inherited.

She spent her high school years on a small island in Washington, taking advanced classes in philosophy and visiting coffee shops in Seattle. "She was a very intelligent, quiet girl, interested in her friendships and current events," remembers Maxine Box, a close high school friend. Both girls assumed they would go to college and pursue careers. "She wasn't particularly interested in children or in getting married," Box says. Although Stanley was accepted early by the University of Chicago, her father wouldn't let her go. She was too young to be off on her own, he said, unaware, as fathers tend to be, of what could happen when she lived in his house.

After she finished high school, her father whisked the family away again—this time to Honolulu, after he heard about a big new furniture store there. Hawaii had just become a state, and it was the new frontier. Stanley grudgingly went along yet again, enrolling in the University of Hawaii as a freshman.

Mrs. Barack H. Obama
Shortly before she moved to Hawaii, Stanley saw her first foreign film. Black Orpheus was an award-winning musical retelling of the myth of Orpheus, a tale of doomed love. The movie was considered exotic because it was filmed in Brazil, but it was written and directed by white Frenchmen. The result was sentimental and, to some modern eyes, patronizing. Years later Obama saw the film with his mother and thought about walking out. But looking at her in the theater, he glimpsed her 16-year-old self. "I suddenly realized," he wrote in his memoir, Dreams from My Father, "that the depiction of childlike blacks I was now seeing on the screen ... was what my mother had carried with her to Hawaii all those years before, a reflection of the simple fantasies that had been forbidden to a white middle-class girl from Kansas, the promise of another life, warm, sensual, exotic, different."

By college, Stanley had started introducing herself as Ann. She met Barack Obama Sr. in a Russian-language class. He was one of the first Africans to attend the University of Hawaii and a focus of great curiosity. He spoke at church groups and was interviewed for several local-newspaper stories. "He had this magnetic personality," remembers Neil Abercrombie, a member of Congress from Hawaii who was friends with Obama Sr. in college. "Everything was oratory from him, even the most commonplace observation."

Obama's father quickly drew a crowd of friends at the university. "We would drink beer, eat pizza and play records," Abercrombie says. They talked about Vietnam and politics. "Everyone had an opinion about everything, and everyone was of the opinion that everyone wanted to hear their opinion—no one more so than Barack."

The exception was Ann, the quiet young woman in the corner who began to hang out with Obama and his friends that fall. "She was scarcely out of high school. She was mostly kind of an observer," says Abercrombie. Obama Sr.'s friends knew he was dating a white woman, but they made a point of treating it as a nonissue. This was Hawaii, after all, a place enamored of its reputation as a melting pot.

But when people called Hawaii a "melting pot" in the early 1960s, they meant a place where white people blended with Asians. At the time, 19% of white women in Hawaii married Chinese men, and that was considered radical by the rest of the nation. Black people made up less than 1% of the state's population. And while interracial marriage was legal there, it was banned in half the other states.

When Ann told her parents about the African student at school, they invited him over for dinner. Her father didn't notice when his daughter reached out to hold the man's hand, according to Obama's book. Her mother thought it best not to cause a scene. As Obama would write, "My mother was that girl with the movie of beautiful black people playing in her head."

On Feb. 2, 1961, several months after they met, Obama's parents got married in Maui, according to divorce records. It was a Thursday. At that point, Ann was three months pregnant with Barack Obama II. Friends did not learn of the wedding until afterward. "Nobody was invited," says Abercrombie. The motivations behind the marriage remain a mystery, even to Obama. "I never probed my mother about the details. Did they decide to get married because she was already pregnant? Or did he propose to her in the traditional, formal way?" Obama wonders. "I suppose, had she not passed away, I would have asked more."

Even by the standards of 1961, she was young to be married. At 18, she dropped out of college after one semester, according to University of Hawaii records. When her friends back in Washington heard the news, "we were very shocked," says Box, her high school friend.

Then, when Obama was almost 1, his father left for Harvard to get a Ph.D. in economics. He had also been accepted to the New School in New York City, with a more generous scholarship that would have allowed his family to join him. But he decided to go to Harvard. "How can I refuse the best education?" he told Ann, according to Obama's book.

Obama's father had an agenda: to return to his home country and help reinvent Kenya. He wanted to take his new family with him. But he also had a wife from a previous marriage there—a marriage that may or may not have been legal. In the end, Ann decided not to follow him. "She was under no illusions," says Abercrombie. "He was a man of his time, from a very patriarchal society." Ann filed for divorce in Honolulu in January 1964, citing "grievous mental suffering"—the reason given in most divorces at the time. Obama Sr. signed for the papers in Cambridge, Mass., and did not contest the divorce.

Ann had already done things most women of her generation had not: she had married an African, had their baby and gotten divorced. At this juncture, her life could have become narrower—a young, marginalized woman focused on paying the rent and raising a child on her own. She could have filled her son's head with well-founded resentment for his absent father. But that is not what happened.

S. Ann Dunham Soetoro
When her son was almost 2, Ann returned to college. Money was tight. She collected food stamps and relied on her parents to help take care of young Barack. She would get her bachelor's degree four years later. In the meantime, she met another foreign student, Lolo Soetoro, at the University of Hawaii. ("It's where I send all my single girlfriends," jokes her daughter Soetoro-Ng, who also married a man she met there.) He was easygoing, happily devoting hours to playing chess with Ann's father and wrestling with her young son. Lolo proposed in 1967.

Mother and son spent months preparing to follow him to Indonesia—getting shots, passports and plane tickets. Until then, neither had left the country. After a long journey, they landed in an unrecognizable place. "Walking off the plane, the tarmac rippling with heat, the sun bright as a furnace," Obama later wrote, "I clutched her hand, determined to protect her."

Lolo's house, on the outskirts of Jakarta, was a long way from the high-rises of Honolulu. There was no electricity, and the streets were not paved. The country was transitioning to the rule of General Suharto. Inflation was running at more than 600%, and everything was scarce. Ann and her son were the first foreigners to live in the neighborhood, according to locals who remember them. Two baby crocodiles, along with chickens and birds of paradise, occupied the backyard. To get to know the kids next door, Obama sat on the wall between their houses and flapped his arms like a great, big bird, making cawing noises, remembers Kay Ikranagara, a friend. "That got the kids laughing, and then they all played together," she says.

Obama attended a Catholic school called Franciscus Assisi Primary School. He attracted attention since he was not only a foreigner but also chubbier than the locals. But he seemed to shrug off the teasing, eating tofu and tempeh like all the other kids, playing soccer and picking guavas from the trees. He didn't seem to mind that the other children called him "Negro," remembers Bambang Sukoco, a former neighbor.

At first, Obama's mother gave money to every beggar who stopped at their door. But the caravan of misery—children without limbs, men with leprosy—churned on forever, and she was forced to be more selective. Her husband mocked her calculations of relative suffering. "Your mother has a soft heart," he told Obama.

As Ann became more intrigued by Indonesia, her husband became more Western. He rose through the ranks of an American oil company and moved the family to a nicer neighborhood. She was bored by the dinner parties he took her to, where men boasted about golf scores and wives complained about their Indonesian servants. The couple fought rarely but had less and less in common. "She wasn't prepared for the loneliness," Obama wrote in Dreams. "It was constant, like a shortness of breath."

Ann took a job teaching English at the U.S. embassy. She woke up well before dawn throughout her life. Now she went into her son's room every day at 4 a.m. to give him English lessons from a U.S. correspondence course. She couldn't afford the élite international school and worried he wasn't challenged enough. After two years at the Catholic school, Obama moved to a state-run elementary school closer to the new house. He was the only foreigner, says Ati Kisjanto, a classmate, but he spoke some Indonesian and made new friends.

Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, but Obama's household was not religious. "My mother, whose parents were nonpracticing Baptists and Methodists, was one of the most spiritual souls I ever knew," Obama said in a 2007 speech. "But she had a healthy skepticism of religion as an institution. And as a consequence, so did I."

In her own way, Ann tried to compensate for the absence of black people in her son's life. At night, she came home from work with books on the civil rights movement and recordings of Mahalia Jackson. Her aspirations for racial harmony were simplistic. "She was very much of the early Dr. [Martin Luther] King era," Obama says. "She believed that people were all basically the same under their skin, that bigotry of any sort was wrong and that the goal was then to treat everybody as unique individuals." Ann gave her daughter, who was born in 1970, dolls of every hue: "A pretty black girl with braids, an Inuit, Sacagawea, a little Dutch boy with clogs," says Soetoro-Ng, laughing. "It was like the United Nations."

In 1971, when Obama was 10, Ann sent him back to Hawaii to live with her parents and attend Punahou, an élite prep school that he'd gotten into on a scholarship with his grandparents' help. This wrenching decision seemed to reflect how much she valued education. Ann's friends say it was hard on her, and Obama, in his book, describes an adolescence shadowed by a sense of alienation. "I didn't feel [her absence] as a deprivation," Obama told me. "But when I think about the fact that I was separated from her, I suspect it had more of an impact than I know."

A year later, Ann followed Obama back to Hawaii, as promised, taking her daughter but leaving her husband behind. She enrolled in a master's program at the University of Hawaii to study the anthropology of Indonesia.

Indonesia is an anthropologist's fantasyland. It is made up of 17,500 islands, on which 230 million people speak more than 300 languages. The archipelago's culture is colored by Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Dutch traditions. Indonesia "sucks a lot of us in," says fellow anthropologist and friend Alice Dewey. "It's delightful."

Around this time, Ann began to find her voice. People who knew her before describe her as quiet and smart; those who met her afterward use words like forthright and passionate. The timing of her graduate work was perfect. "The whole face of the earth was changing," Dewey says. "Colonial powers were collapsing, countries needed help, and development work was beginning to interest anthropologists."

Ann's husband visited Hawaii frequently, but they never lived together again. Ann filed for divorce in 1980. As with Obama's father, she kept in regular contact with Lolo and did not pursue alimony or child support, according to divorce records.

"She was no Pollyanna. There have certainly been moments when she complained to us," says her daughter Soetoro-Ng. "But she was not someone who would take the detritus of those divorces and make judgments about men in general or love or allow herself to grow pessimistic." With each failed marriage, Ann gained a child and, in one case, a country as well.

Ann Dunham Sutoro
After three years of living with her children in a small apartment in Honolulu, subsisting on student grants, Ann decided to go back to Indonesia to do fieldwork for her Ph.D. Obama, then about 14, told her he would stay behind. He was tired of being new, and he appreciated the autonomy his grandparents gave him. Ann did not argue with him. "She kept a certain part of herself aloof or removed," says Mary Zurbuchen, a friend from Jakarta. "I think maybe in some way this was how she managed to cross so many boundaries."

In Indonesia, Ann joked to friends that her son seemed interested only in basketball. "She despaired of him ever having a social conscience," remembers Richard Patten, a colleague. After her divorce, Ann started using the more modern spelling of her name, Sutoro. She took a big job as the program officer for women and employment at the Ford Foundation, and she spoke up forcefully at staff meetings. Unlike many other expats, she had spent a lot of time with villagers, learning their priorities and problems, with a special focus on women's work. "She was influenced by hanging out in the Javanese marketplace," Zurbuchen says, "where she would see women with heavy baskets on their backs who got up at 3 in the morning to walk to the market and sell their produce." Ann thought the Ford Foundation should get closer to the people and further from the government, just as she had.

Her home became a gathering spot for the powerful and the marginalized: politicians, filmmakers, musicians and labor organizers. "She had, compared with other foundation colleagues, a much more eclectic circle," Zurbuchen says. "She brought unlikely conversation partners together."

Obama's mother cared deeply about helping poor women, and she had two biracial children. But neither of them remembers her talking about sexism or racism. "She spoke mostly in positive terms: what we are trying to do and what we can do," says Soetoro-Ng, who is now a history teacher at a girls' high school in Honolulu. "She wasn't ideological," notes Obama. "I inherited that, I think, from her. She was suspicious of cant." He remembers her joking that she wanted to get paid as much as a man, but it didn't mean she would stop shaving her legs. In his recent Philadelphia speech on race, in which he acknowledged the grievances of blacks and whites, Obama was consciously channeling his mother. "When I was writing that speech," he told nbc News, "her memory loomed over me. Is this something that she would trust?" When it came to race, Obama told me, "I don't think she was entirely comfortable with the more aggressive or militant approaches to African-American politics."

In the expat community of Asia in the 1980s, single mothers were rare, and Ann stood out. She was by then a rather large woman with frizzy black hair. But Indonesia was an uncommonly tolerant place. "For someone like Ann, who had a big personality and was a big presence," says Zurbuchen, "Indonesia was very accepting. It gave her a sense of fitting in." At home, Ann wore the traditional housecoat, the batik daster. She loved simple, traditional restaurants. Friends remember sharing bakso bola tenis, or noodles with tennis-ball-size meatballs, from a roadside stand.

Today Ann would not be so unusual in the U.S. A single mother of biracial children pursuing a career, she foreshadowed, in some ways, what more of America would look like. But she did so without comment, her friends say. "She wasn't stereotypical at all," says Nancy Peluso, a friend and an environmental sociologist. "But she didn't make a big deal out of it."

Ann's most lasting professional legacy was to help build the microfinance program in Indonesia, which she did from 1988 to '92—before the practice of granting tiny loans to credit-poor entrepreneurs was an established success story. Her anthropological research into how real people worked helped inform the policies set by the Bank Rakyat Indonesia, says Patten, an economist who worked there. "I would say her work had a lot to do with the success of the program," he says. Today Indonesia's microfinance program is No. 1 in the world in terms of savers, with 31 million members, according to Microfinance Information eXchange Inc., a microfinance-tracking outfit.

While his mother was helping poor people in Indonesia, Obama was trying to do something similar 7,000 miles (about 11,300 km) away in Chicago, as a community organizer. Ann's friends say she was delighted by his career move and started every conversation with an update of her children's lives. "All of us knew where Barack was going to school. All of us knew how brilliant he was," remembers Ann's friend Georgia McCauley.

Every so often, Ann would leave Indonesia to live in Hawaii—or New York or even, in the mid-1980s, Pakistan, for a microfinance job. She and her daughter sometimes lived in garage apartments and spare rooms of friends. She collected treasures from her travels—exquisite things with stories she understood. Antique daggers with an odd number of curves, as required by Javanese tradition; unusual batiks; rice-paddy hats. Before returning to Hawaii in 1984, Ann wrote her friend Dewey that she and her daughter would "probably need a camel caravan and an elephant or two to load all our bags on the plane, and I'm sure you don't want to see all those airline agents weeping and rending their garments." At his house in Chicago, Obama says, he has his mother's arrowhead collection from Kansas—along with "trunks full of batiks that we don't really know what to do with."

In 1992, Obama's mother finally finished her Ph.D. dissertation, which she had worked on, between jobs, for almost two decades. The thesis is 1,000 pages, a meticulous analysis of peasant blacksmithing in Indonesia. The glossary, which she describes as "far from complete," is 24 pages. She dedicated the tome to her mother; to Dewey, her adviser; "and to Barack and Maya, who seldom complained when their mother was in the field."

In the fall of 1994, Ann was having dinner at her friend Patten's house in Jakarta when she felt a pain in her stomach. A local doctor diagnosed indigestion. When Ann returned to Hawaii several months later, she learned it was ovarian and uterine cancer. She died on Nov. 7, 1995, at 52.

Before her death, Ann read a draft of her son's memoir, which is almost entirely about his father. Some of her friends were surprised at the focus, but she didn't seem obviously bothered. "She never complained about it," says Peluso. "She just said it was something he had to work out." Neither Ann nor her son knew how little time they had left.

Obama has said his biggest mistake was not being at his mother's side when she died. He went to Hawaii to help the family scatter the ashes over the Pacific. And he carries on her spirit in his campaign. "When Barack smiles," says Peluso, "there's just a certain Ann look. He lights up in a particular way that she did."

After Ann's death, her daughter dug through her artifacts, searching for Ann's story. "She always did want to write a memoir," Soetoro-Ng says. Finally, she discovered the start of a life story, but it was less than two pages. She never found anything more. Maybe Ann had run out of time, or maybe the chemotherapy had worn her out. "I don't know. Maybe she felt overwhelmed," says Soetoro-Ng, "because there was so much to tell."

Why Barack Obama Suspends Campaign to be his with Grandmother

Amanda Ripley
Barack Obama has said that his biggest mistake was not being at his mother's side when she died of cancer in Hawaii in 1995 at the age of 52. His first book, Dreams from My Father, had come out only four months before, and he was starting his first campaign, for the Illinois state senate. Her death came quickly, and he didn't make it back in time.

So it makes sense that now he would do things differently. Just two weeks before Election Day, Obama has decided to leave his campaign to be by his grandmother's side in Honolulu for two days later this week. Madelyn Dunham, 86, is gravely ill, although the campaign has not released details about her condition. Dunham is Obama's last living parental figure, and by his own accounts, she played as big a role in his upbringing as his mother did.

In fact, since Dunham has declined to do interviews since the campaign began, most of what we know about her is from Obama himself, who referenced her in two of the most important speeches of his career.

On March 18 in Philadelphia, Obama attempted to defend his relationship with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, by talking about another complicated relationship: "I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother — a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe."

Then this summer, Obama talked about his grandmother again when he accepted his party's nomination in Denver. "She's the one who taught me about hard work. She's the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me. And although she can no longer travel, I know that she's watching tonight, and that tonight is her night as well.

Obama never really knew his biological father, who died in a car crash in Kenya in 1982, and his grandfather died in 1992, three years before his mother. But Obama's grandmother has always been there. She took care of Obama when he was 10 and returned to Hawaii to attend school while his mother spent a few years continuing her anthropological research in Indonesia. At the time, his grandparents helped Obama get a scholarship to Punahou, an élite prep school on the island. All three of them lived in a small, two-bedroom apartment on Beretania Street in Honolulu.

Dunham's nickname in the family was Toot, short for Tutu, which means "Grandparent" in Hawaiian. Her role as the family rock predated Obama. She had her first and only child, Obama's mother, when she was 20 and living in Kansas. Her husband had wanted a boy, so they named the girl Stanley, after him. Over the next two decades, Dunham moved at least five times — always in pursuit of her husband's next adventure as a salesman. They went to California, Texas, Washington and finally settled in Hawaii.

Obama's birth does not appear to have been planned. His mother and father met at the University of Hawaii and got married when she was already pregnant. To help provide for the new baby, Obama's grandmother, who did not have a college degree, got a job as a secretary at a bank. For more than two decades, she got up at 5 a.m., put on a suit and took the bus to work, arriving first at the office. Eventually — and much more slowly than her male counterparts — she advanced and was promoted to vice president. She earned more money than her husband, and her job became a "source of delicacy and bitterness" for the couple, Obama wrote in Dreams.

Dunham was motivated by "the needs of her grandchildren and the stoicism of her ancestors," he wrote. "So long as you kids do well, Bar," she would tell him, "that's all that really matters."

Since the campaign began, Dunham has watched her grandson on TV from her apartment, avidly following his campaign. This week, for two days at least, the candidate will come to watch her.

57 Armed Groups Or Forces Around The World Use Child Soldiers

Coinciding with the sixth anniversary of the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, the Security Council today held an open debate on the situation of children caught in conflict.

According to the new Secretary General’s annual report on Children and Armed Conflict, the number of armed groups and forces identified as using children has climbed from 40 in 2006 to 57 in 2007.

This increase hides a complex reality. On the one hand it indicates better monitoring and reporting of violations and an improved ability to identify parties responsible for recruiting children. It also places parties who use children in conflicts under tighter international and domestic scrutiny.

On the other hand it also reflects a deterioration of the situations in Chad and Sudan, as well as renewed fighting in Afghanistan and Central African Republic, where children are now being recruited.

The rise in the number of groups identified as using child soldiers has reinforced the importance of the Optional Protocol and having international legal instruments and improved monitoring and reporting mechanisms in place to combat this scourge.

But the news is not all bad. Over the past six years, there have been a number of positive developments in addressing this situation. There are now 119 States parties to the Optional Protocol. Furthermore, since February 2007, 66 Governments have subscribed to the Paris Commitments to protect children from unlawful recruitment or use by armed forces or armed groups.

In addition, at least three peace agreements with armed forces and groups in Chad, the Central African Republic, and Sudan have reiterated the commitments made in Paris, and in one situation, the Ivory Coast, the recruitment of children has ceased.

Her Royal Highness, The Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, issued a statement today noting that, while these developments are encouraging, the reality on the ground for hundreds of thousands of children indicates that collectively we must continue to combat this unacceptable practice.

UNICEF welcomes today’s adoption by the Security Council of the Presidential Statement on children and armed conflict and views it as a further opportunity to reinforce government commitments to protecting children affected by armed conflict.

Parent Enrage Over Kindergarten Sex Lesson

Philippa Duncan
A Parent has complained her five-year-old daughter was taught sex education at a school in Hobart and revealed she was assaulted by two boys in her class just after the visit from Family Planning.

The claims have prompted calls for the course only to be taught with parental consent.

The parent, who did not want to be named, said her kindergarten child had come home and "said the word vagina".

"I was shocked," she said.

"They were taught what a penis and a vagina was, which I don't think they should in kinder.

"I told the principal if I had known anything like that was going to happen, I would have kept my kids at home all week."

The parent said her child told her about the alleged assault when she put her to bed that night.

"That's when she told me that two boys in her class had put their hands down her pants, and she said she bashed them," the mother said.

"She said it happened in the dolly corner.

"There were three adults in the room and 16 kids and no one saw it. She said she did tell the teacher, but the teacher seems to think she did not tell."

Pembroke Labor MLC Allison Ritchie said the allegation would be investigated.

"I have had an undertaking from the Education Minister's office that this incident will be fully investigated," she said.

"The boys putting their hands down her pants."

Ms Ritchie said she had also heard complaints from people delivering the course, who had turned up to a school in the North-West only to find parental consent had not been sought.

She said the children were part of a protective behaviours course.

The complaint parent said her six-year-old and nine-year-old children had all been put through the course.

"I never knew it was happening until they all came home and said," she said.

"I don't think they should do it at that age, maybe Grade 6 or Grade 7, not kinder and prep.

"But the principal said the Government said it was compulsory for kids to learn about their bodies at that age.

"They told me that it was Family Planning, they came in to talk to the kids about their bodies, who could touch them and who could not."

Ms Ritchie said all schools should ensure that parents had the opportunity to give their consent and view the content of such courses.

"Parents should absolutely be able to opt out," she said. "It is not compulsory for every child.

"You might say I am happy for my Grade 7 child to participate, but not my kinder child."

Ms Ritchie said most schools were doing the right thing and gaining consent.

How To Keep The Flame Of Passion Burning In Your Marriage

Pierre Coda
In many cultures love is typically a very complex emotion and love between adults (unless it is a platonic relationship) implies that there will be both romance and (physical) passion to some extent. Without the absence of one, it is not considered to be a wholesome relationship. In fact the concept is so powerful in the western world that it might actually be responsible for the sad state of relationships today. Every one out of two marriages in the United States ends up in divorce. Millions of couples do not wish to marry or delay their marriages for as long as possible. Millions of other couples are leading dull and unexciting lives. Europe is supposedly even worse with fewer couples opting to marry or have children.

While it would be scandalous to say that the institution of marriage may be falling apart (we will be told by advocates of marriage about countless studies suggesting that married people are happier, ride the corporate ladder faster, blah blah...), it is definitely an issue that has gotten the attention of the authorities. Reportedly the US Government is so concerned that it wants to 'promote' marriage. The reason for this sad state of affairs is that the concept of love (with its implications that romance, passion, friendship, emotional support (Emotional intimacy), and of course the role of parents for their children) continues to emphasize that all this has to be achieved through one person. Thus, how many times have we heard that the mother who is taking care of the kids is not the passionate woman she used to be in the bedroom. Or the husband is not your best friend any more. Or the wife is no longer attractive and there is no passion left.

While we do not think that Japan has the solution to all the problems of the world but it is helpful to look at the system in Japan with still a very low rate of divorce (current estimate puts it at half of United States though it has almost doubled during the period 1991-2001). Joint families are very common and there are very few instances of child abuse/foster parents/single parents, etc. However, adultery is far more common, though no one would ever admit it since there are not too many magazines doing surveys on infidelity.

How do the Japanese handle the situation?

The Japanese society understands that romantic and passionate love might not always be provided by the same person. In fact, Japanese language has two separate words to distinguish between passionate love ('seiai') and romantic love ('renai'). For centuries, men and women have had very different ideas of what they want from each other but the American society has refused to accept the reality and instead keeps pushing us to love our partners - get everything that we want from one person even if that is not what the other person really wants. Japan has taken a totally different view - it has clearly recognized the differences between romantic and passionate love and admitted to the possibility that both may not be received from the same person. Thus, for centuries, it has been accepted that in case there is something missing in a couple's life, it is perfectly reasonable to accept that each partner has the right to go seek it elsewhere. This does not mean that the couple's relationship is jeopardized or a divorce needs to be contemplated or the couple should start fighting - something that happens almost immediately in the rest of the world. In fact Japanese have a very mature attitude towards this - they respect the right of the other partner to have a level of privacy that would allow him/her to go seek what is missing without necessarily sharing it with the rest of the world.

The Japanese society has also put a system in place that allows both men and women to indulge in whatever is missing in their lives - there are all kinds of institutions and providers of services and almost all of them have a level of privacy that the rest of the world would envy. More importantly, it is how the overall society treats these institutions and practices.

Are we suggesting that you should adopt these practices wherever you live? Maybe not! But this is what we would say - if there is something missing in your life then you need to have a serious conversation with your partner and let her/him know if the Japanese option is something that can be considered as a solution if she/he is either incapable/unwilling/uncomfortable with the idea.