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Adults are working from home. Students are learning from home. We’re Zooming and following IG stories to keep up with our friends and family. We have become more reliant on technology to earn a living, get an education, and stay connected to loved ones than ever before. 

Even in the midst of our dependence on WiFi, apps, smartphones, and social media, we look around at our family from time to time and say, “We’re texting each other from the next room. If we don’t get control of all this screen time, our family isn’t going to know each other.”

There are studies linking technology to mental health problems like loneliness, anxiety, and depression. People are suffering from issues such as video game addictions. Divorce filings are citing inappropriate online behavior as factors leading to marital collapse. 

Technology is often dictating how we spend our time instead of the other way around. As parents, part of wrestling control away from the screens working on releasing as many dopamine squirts in your brain to get you hooked means setting boundaries with your family.

Here are eight tips for setting boundaries in your family so technology can increase family togetherness and not cause a disconnect.

Set boundaries so technology serves a positive purpose in your family.

Technology can educate, connect, and entertain us in healthy ways. Boundaries help ensure that technology doesn’t take away from any of those positive things. Make sure a screen is never the only source for educating, connecting, and entertaining.

Be a good role model.

Boundaries can’t be one-sided. “Do as I say and not as I do” doesn’t work. Yes, there are some perks to being an adult; being a technology-distracted parent isn’t one of them. Telling your kids not to bring phones to the dinner table while you sit at the dinner table and text is not a good plan. As a leader in your home, you must first lead by example

Protect your family.

Setting technology boundaries helps protect your family’s connection, safety, and both mental and physical health. Whether it’s cyberbullying or anxiety, establishing boundaries can work to safeguard your family’s wellbeing.

Make a plan.

Create a family technology plan which includes the purpose, boundaries, and consequences. Enforce consequences unapologetically. This can be as simple as taking away their game controllers or reducing their allotted tech-time.

Incentivize technological responsibility.

Encourage your family to make good decisions through rewards that are meaningful. Trips to the ice cream shop, extra tech-time on the weekend, choosing the movie on family movie night—anything that brings attention to good decision-making regarding technology usage reinforces the behavior you want to see. 

Designate tech-free time.

When possible, replace tech-time with family time. Make space for family movies, game nights, and family meals. Setting aside time before bedtime, when devices are off, will help the family connect and increase everyone’s chances of getting a good night’s sleep.

Don’t compare.

Focus on what’s best for your family. Don’t compare yourself to other families. No two homes are alike. It’s one thing to seek advice from other families, but keep your family values front and center.

Educate your family.

Invite your children to learn what you’re learning about the pros and cons of technology. Our family has watched documentaries, television specials and read information together. Being informed has helped our family understand the potential effects of technology on our mental health, relationships, and even our brains. This helps us hold each other accountable and helps us stay focused on the most important thing—our relationships.

Boundaries don’t have to be restrictive. Good boundaries will help your family enjoy relationships with each other by protecting you from potential distractions. Setting boundaries in your family is your way of putting technology in its place. Gadgets are not more important than your relationships with the people you love. Messing with those relationships is a boundary that you can’t give technology the freedom to cross.

(Part 2) – Check out Part 1, How to Talk to Your Teen About Sexting

In part one, we talked about giving your child a smartphone and what they need to know about sexting to protect themselves. Now, regardless of how you found out, you know your teenage son or daughter is sexting. Step #1, get a hold of your own emotions—embarrassment, guilt, disappointment, shock, anger—so you can have a productive conversation with your teen. If you need to go for a walk, phone a friend, talk to your spouse—whatever. It’s completely okay to tell your teen, “We’ll discuss this tomorrow.It’s not only okay, but it is also very wise. You have thoughts to get together.

Thought #1: What do I want to accomplish with this conversation—for my teen and for myself as a parent? Don’t rush thinking this through. Have goals.

Thought #2: This isn’t going to be a one-time talk. You want to open the door for an ongoing conversation about sexting as well as other difficult teen conversations—pornography, sex, drugs, alcohol, dating violence, etc. You want to be an empathetic, askable parent who your teen feels comfortable talking to about anything.

Thought #3: Try to find a time and place that allows for private undistracted, uninterrupted conversation. 

[Here’s an example of a real conversation about pornography. Notice the parent doesn’t lecture, doesn’t ask a million questions, doesn’t guilt-trip their child. The parent clearly doesn’t condone pornography but is more interested in gently probing their teen’s thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. This doesn’t mean there will be no consequences. But the parent is trying to build a relationship to keep these kinds of talks going.]

Step 1

In a calm, direct voice, ask your teen about the circumstances around the sexting. Then wait and really listen to them without judgmental faces or tones. Keep your mind and your body language open. You can disapprove of what your teen did but still be deeply concerned about them, validate their feelings, and the fallout of their choices. 

✦A word about punishments for sexting. The normal, obvious go-to is to take their phone away. Maybe you need to in their situation. This might be their 5th offense. They may not be ready for the responsibility that comes with a smartphone. Maybe they need an off-the-shelf phone that just allows them to talk and text. 

I don’t usually dabble in how parents punish their kids. Every kid and every family is different. I will say this: I’m a big fan of letting the universe handle some of the disciplining of my kids. I’m referring to natural and logical consequences. Sometimes the punishment is built into the poor choice. The choice to sext often has some built-in consequences like guilt, humiliation, a destroyed reputation, being bullied online and in real life, getting in trouble at school, the law getting involved, and on and on. You know your child better than anyone. How are they navigating these consequences? Do you need to drop the hammer on them or help them up? We’ve all done something we regretted. Making mistakes is a normal part of growing up. The important thing is to learn from it.

Step 2

Ask probing questions. NOTE: This is different than an interrogation. As you have a conversation, try to work in some of these questions.

  • What do you get out of sexting? How does it make you feel?
  • Did you feel pressured to do it?
  • Did the recipient promise not to show anyone?
  • What is considered “normal” about sexting among your peers?
  • Have you received sexts? What did you do with them?
  • Are there things on your phone you wouldn’t want me to see?
  • What has been the fallout of your sexting?
  • Do you think sexting is wrong? Why or why not?

Resist the urge to lecture or ask a million follow-up questions. Act comfortable and be direct. Show you’re really listening and trying to understand your teen and let them feel heard. You may not get to all this in one conversation. That’s okay. Know when to stop the conversation. You can always pick it back up. Let your teen know you love them no matter what.

Step 3

There are some things your teen needs to know about sexting. (They will roll their eyes. Ignore it.) You have a responsibility as a parent to make sure they know and understand certain things. So what are you supposed to do, whether you think your teen is sexting already or whether you’re worried they might start in the future? Believe it or not, you’re not completely powerless. So what can you do? Sheknows.com breaks it down.

  • Talk to your teen. A scary thought for many of us, but one of those unavoidable responsibilities of parenting. Talk to them about the possible long-term consequences of getting involved in sexting. Like the fact that nude images of kids under age 18 are child pornography, which is illegal. Talk about the short-term consequences, like the whole school getting a hold of a “private” photo shared with a former boyfriend or girlfriend. Talk about self-esteem and self-respect. Consider how you might be setting yourself up for a lot of drama.
  • Set rules. Do you let your kids drive drunk? Do you let them ride in the car with no seat belts? So why give them something as dangerous as a cell phone and not establish rules? Start random phone checks, and go through everything on it regularly.
  • Take away the cell phone. Drastic, yes, but sometimes necessary when nothing else is working. If you truly don’t trust your child, why would you trust them with a tool they can use to bully others? 

Resources:

Common Sense Media: Sexting Handbook

Amanda Todd Legacy Society

Amanda Todd YouTube Video (Some might find content disturbing.)

6 Things Every Teen Needs to Know About Sexting

Why Is Sexting a Problem for Teens?

The Consequences of Sexting for Teens

If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

(Part 1), Check out Part 2, What to Do If When Your Teen is Sexting

Maybe one of the biggest generational divides today is digital. Parents think it’s just a mobile phone that you can check email on and get driving directions. They can listen to music, shop, and keep up with friends on Facebook. For a parent, usually, their phone is just a part of their life.

But to kids, a smartphone IS their life. Online is where the action’s at—at least the action that matters. It’s where they “hang out” with their friends and flirt and gossip. It’s where they carry on their romantic relationships. It is also where they stand up for beliefs and express opinions. It’s not just a phone for them. It’s a passport to a world where their identity is fluid, time and space are more than relative, there are very few rules and often very little parental supervision.

So, it shouldn’t be surprising that parents often seem in the dark about sexting. This is why so many parents can’t believe their shy, introverted, reserved daughter is sending nude pictures of herself to classmates or her boyfriend. “She’s not that kind of girl!” She probably isn’t—in the real world.

But it’s a whole different world online.

Get past the parental, “Why would they do that?

Keep in mind that to most teens, sexting has been normalized. Sexting is a “normal” way to interact with their peers. Many young people see nothing wrong with sexting, especially if “everyone is doing it,” or they are in a “committed” relationship. Meanwhile, some teens sext because they’ve been dared or they’re trying to entice someone. Some view it as a joke, and sadly, teens often feel pressured to sext. 

Think of the combination of being at an age when you are already curious about sex and also have all this technology at your disposal. Some teens find the combination irresistible.

1. What is “sexting?”

Sexting involves the exchange of sexually suggestive or explicit content, such as messages or photographs, between mobile devices. Interestingly enough, the word was first listed in the dictionary in 2012—around the time smartphones were gaining popularity among teens. (The good news is that actual sex among teens has been going down for the last 10 years according to the CDC. But the bad news is, many attribute this decrease in actual sex to increases in the use of pornography and sexting.)

A study in JAMA Pediatrics published in 2009 found that about 15% of those between the ages of 12 and 17 had sent sexts. And approximately, over 25% have received them. 

Almost 10 years later, according to research by JAMA in 2018, as many as 1 in 8 youth send or forward sexts without permission, which can devastate the subject or recipient of such messages. One report uncovered that some children as young as 10 years old are exposed to sexting. Unfortunately, 54% of teens under the age of 18 admit to having sent sexually-tinged messages or inappropriate pictures. 

So, sexting is on the rise.

We know that 53% of teens who sext are girls while 47% are boys. 1 in 5 teens has sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves. Almost 20% of teens have reported being forwarded a picture or video that was not intended for them, with over half of those teens admitting to forwarding it to more than one other person

As we try to get accurate information on a subject that depends on self-reporting, the bottom line is that sexting is a growing teen reality that’s here to stay.

2. When should I talk to my child about it?

As soon as they get a cellphone or smartphone. Don’t wait until there’s an issue or you find something on their phone. This is a conversation that comes with receiving a phone. HERE is a great article about when and how you should give your child a phone.

All they might need to know is that some people use their phones for inappropriate things. If they receive a text, a request, or a picture that makes them feel uncomfortable, they need to bring it to Mommy or Daddy right away. They aren’t in trouble, Mommy and Daddy just want to talk to them about how to handle it. Remember, your child can do NOTHING wrong and still accidentally come across inappropriate content or have it sent to them.

3. How do I talk with my child about sexting?

Don’t lecture. Do not freak out if you’ve found something on your teen’s phone or you hear what some of their friends are doing. ASK QUESTIONS—compassionately and empathetically. Be a good active listener. HERE is a great blog about talking to your teen in general. HERE & HERE are great blogs about talking to your teen about sensitive topics like pornography and sex. They have great principles that apply to talks with your teen about sexting, too.

Remember—this is an opportunity. You can have a tone and approach that opens the door for future conversations and draws your teen toward you OR you can have a tone and approach that slams this important door shut and pushes your teen away. (And they won’t be talking to you about anything personal for a long, long time.)

4. What topics should I cover?

  • When nude pictures or partially nude pictures involve minors, many states consider this child pornography. Although state laws vary, in some states exchanging nude photos of minors also is considered a felony—even when the photos taken and shared are consensual. (These are the sexting laws from state to state.)
  • Remind your kids that once an image is sent, it can never be retrieved and they will lose control of it—even if they “delete” it. The image is out there forever. Ask teens how they would feel if their teachers, parents, or the entire school saw the picture because that happens all the time. (Remember, the part of their brain that takes long-term consequences into account when decision-making, literally has not fully developed yet. Teens are stuck in a moment and they can’t get out of it.)
  • Talk about pressures to send revealing photos. Let teens know that you understand how they can be pushed or dared into sending something. Tell them that no matter how big the social pressure is, the potential social humiliation from the spread of the picture can be hundreds of times worse. Remind them that they are opening themselves up to blackmail or “sextortion.” (Someone with a picture of them may threaten to post it all over their social media if they don’t send more.) It’s a big deal. A number of teens have committed suicide because their picture went around school with the sexual bullying that goes with it. Over half of the kids who experience online bullying also experience bullying in the real world. 
  • Teach them that we live in a world where getting a scholarship, a job, or into the school of their choice, often depends on what comes up when someone Googles their name. They need to know that the internet is forever.
  •  Empower them. If someone sends them a photo, they should delete it immediately. It’s better to be part of the solution than the problem. Besides, if they do send it on, they’re distributing pornography—and again, that’s against the law. They should know they can say no.

Even if your teen decides they totally trust the person, or they’re dating the person, it’s worth it to think about a few “what ifs” before sexting.

What if…

  • The recipient loses his or her phone?
  • A friend scrolls through his or her messages and sees it?
  • A parent checks the recipient’s phone and sees it?
  • The recipient changes his or her mind about not sharing it?
  • The relationship circumstances change? (They break up. Photo(s) goes EVERYWHERE, even to sweet Nana. This is called revenge porn.)

Is your teen willing to take ALL those risks?

Talking to your teen about sexting can be awkward and uncomfortable (for both of you), but it also has the potential to strengthen the bond between you and your teen. Just like other uncomfortable topics, probe gently, be a good listener, be an “askable” parent, and remember these aren’t one-time talks; these are ongoing conversations. You can do it!


If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

You’ve just spent 30 minutes scrolling through social media. Everyone looks happy outside having fun. Due to our current uncertainty, you aren’t ready to head out to a restaurant or go on summer vacation. How do you feel right now? Envious? Frustrated? Down? You need to remember four important things about what you see on social media to keep things in perspective in your life.

We used to keep diaries or maybe a journal. Now we post. What was once an act of private, intimate self-reflection has become, for many, a project involving not only mutual inspection but judgment, but has our perception of ourselves been clarified or just twisted and quantified by social media?

Instead of a diary or journal being used to provide insights into ourselves, social media has provided us with an avenue to peek into other people’s lives while it affords about 250 million other Americans and 3.5 billion people worldwide the same opportunity to see our own life, share opinions on it, and “rate” our life via Likes, Shares, Friends, Followers, and Retweets.

That’s a big stage to put your life on. And research shows we have a natural inclination to compare.

You should try not to compare yourself or your life to what you see on social media

(I get it—it’s so hard…)

Here’s why you shouldn’t play the comparison game… 

1. What you see on social media isn’t reality. 

Whether you are looking at Kim Kardashian West with 181M followers on Insta or your friend with 81, there are definite degrees of unreality you need to remember. From filters and retouching apps to lighting and staging to the fact that you are seeing a snapshot of a moment in time and not a “video” of someone’s real-life—PLEASE remind yourself not to compare yourself, your family, and your quality of life to what you see on social media. You are comparing someone’s “highlight reel” to your own “behind the scenes footage.” It’s just not a fair comparison. It’s also a comparison that depressed individuals are about 3 times more likely to make. 

Dr. Brian Primack, the Director of the Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health at the University of Pittsburgh put it best: “People who engage in a lot of social media use may feel they are not living up to the idealized portraits of life that other people tend to present in their profiles. This phenomenon has sometimes been called ‘Facebook depression.’” Instagram has been found by a number of studies to be the worst social media platform for your mental health.

Reality Check:

Instagram.com/exposingcelebphotoshop

2. Social media is a rigged game. 

This is why you should never compare Likes, Followers, Shares, or Retweets. Social media platforms exist to make money. They want you to come back for more. Just like Vegas. The House always wins.

Brain science has shown that we get little dopamine squirts when we hop on social media. Feels good for a few seconds. Each platform is created to maximize that effect. (They know their brain research.) So, Instagram not showing you all your Likes right away is an effective way to keep you coming back to see how your post is doing. Twitter doesn’t take a few seconds to load new tweets because your connection is slow. It’s intentional. In casinos it’s called a “variable ratio schedule” or “the slot machine effect.” The idea is that an action is rewarded, but at various times. We get a little dopamine hit anticipating what content we will see. (Other social media apps do this, too.) Don’t let social media Vegas you. Don’t slide into addiction. (Check out this Business Insider article on how social media is rigged.) You are comparing yourself to “gamed” numbers.

With bots, fake accounts, people buying followers, and algorithms set against you, why would you compare your Followers, Likes, Shares, and Retweets with those of anybody else? Please don’t allow those numbers to make you feel bad about yourself or your life. Ignore ‘em and just see what your cousin is up to on social.

Reality Check: 

If you or your family had a great experience, took a pic, posted it, and it didn’t get “the response” you hoped for, YOU STILL HAD A GREAT EXPERIENCE. That’s what’s important.

3. Nobody has changed someone’s mind on social media.

Actually, this isn’t exactly true. Among men and women 30 years and older, 12% and 11% respectively reported changing their mind on a political or social issue because of something they saw on social media in the past year. But you get the point. You have about a 1 in 10 chance to change a mind with your flaming post. Is comparing your beliefs worth the stress and anxiety? People have different opinions. Keep moving.

So, when you compare your beliefs and opinions to other people on social media, what does it make you feel? Anger? Stress? Frustration? Anxiety? Bitterness? About half of U.S. adults say talking about politics with people they disagree with on social media is “stressful and frustrating.”

You investing time, energy, and emotions into a debate that isn’t going to change anyone’s mind is just setting you up to be aggravated. This didn’t dawn on me until the time my wife asked me why I was still awake and I quipped, “Because someone is wrong on the internet!” Hearing myself say those words out loud made me realize that not only was I on a fool’s errand, but I was losing precious sleep. Comparing your political beliefs and stances on social or religious issues to other people’s is just not the best use of your time. Arguing about them with people is an even worse use of your time. Time to put the phone down.

Reality Check:

A study of Twitter use in America found that between 90-97% of political tweets were made by only 3-10% of Twitter users. That’s a handful of people with an ax to grind. Not letting them affect my day.

4. Because stress, anger, anxiety, depression, and loneliness are killers. 

There is a debate raging in research about social media: Does social media use cause stress, anxiety, and depression OR do stressed, anxious, depressed people use social media more?

While the eggheads research what comes first, the chicken or the egg, what is not open for debate is the correlation between social media use and negative mental health. Whether you feel like social media use causes you to feel negative things like anger, loneliness, stress, anxiety, and depression or you turn to social media as a coping mechanism for those kinds of feelings, you should be concerned. Your mental health should be priority #1. 

If you suspect that your mental health is suffering because of your time spent online, 

DO SOMETHING.

Reality Check:

  • Unplug for a designated amount of time.
  • Set time limits on your phone for social media sites.
  • Suspend your social media accounts for a specific amount of time.
  • Challenge a friend to unplug with you and be each other’s support.
  • Keep your phone out of arm’s reach when possible.
  • Turn notifications off on your social media accounts.
  • Stop using your phone in bed. 
  • Try the 50/50 rule: No social media the last/first 50 minutes of your day.
  • Get professional help if necessary.

Questions To Ask Yourself About Your Social Media Use:

  • What need does my use of social media meet?
  • Do I catch myself comparing myself to what I see on social media?
  • How does my time on social media make me feel about myself?
  • How does my time on social media make me feel about my life, family, and friends?
  • Have I trained my brain to question statements and pics on social media?
  • Does it bother me when a post I make doesn’t get many Likes or Shares?
  • Can I recognize when I need to take a break from social media?

There is a lot for you to like and enjoy about social media—It is so important for you to stay in touch with family, friends, and co-workers who may be spread out across the country and the world. It’s cool for you to get a “peek” into the lives of some of your favorite personalities and potentially even interact with them. You can be inspired and encouraged by stories and pictures that people have shared on social media. You can spot the positives and the negatives!

But the only person you need to compare yourself to is your best self.

Image from Unsplash.com

I miss my friends. I really do. Though overall, I have to admit I have enjoyed what quarantine has done for my relationship with my husband. (Check out my blog here.) I don’t like that keeping up with my friends on social media looks like scrolling through Instagram rather than making plans to hang out in person. 

As much as you love seeing what’s going on in your friends’ lives, it can become a little overwhelming. When someone is on social media, they aren’t just seeing friends’ posts. They are also exposing themselves to the negativity filling the spaces amidst the photos and posts from friends. Time spent on social media has increased by 20% during COVID-19 lockdowns, according to SocialMediaToday. Forbes also confirms that social media is full of misinformation.

It’s been rock bottom for a lot of people and an uphill battle for the world. Thousands of people are heartbroken over the deaths from COVID-19, hardships, job losses, divorces, families separated from loved ones in the hospitals, and the list goes on.

However, I really do believe there are silver linings for every dark cloud. We have seen the world set aside its differences and make trade agreements. People are sharing intellectual property for the good of humanity, not just the people in their country. We’ve seen volunteers come out of the woodwork to help deliver food to students and families who needed it. Artists share their skill and their specialty and teach people online. Musicians do in-home concerts and athletes provide free at-home training. 

I think we want to see the good—to keep up with what’s happening in our friends’ lives nearby and around the world. We also want to filter out the negative.

Here are some ways to help you keep up and stay positive:

  1. Limit your time on social media. As soon as you feel yourself start to scroll for the habit of it or because you’re bored, find something else to do. Once you’ve seen your friends’ posts and gone through their stories, shut the app. It’s when we get through the relevant posts that we start seeing the suggested videos, photos, or news.
  1. If you know someone or an entity you follow is negative each time you come across them, unfollow or block them for a bit. On Facebook, you can prioritize who you see when you click News Feed Preferences. Put your close friends and family as a priority. Help yourself keep tabs only on who you want to keep up with right now.
  1. If you have an iPhone, you can set daily limits on social networking in your settings or download an app to help you monitor your time. Android phones have apps that do this as well. Not only does putting a cap on your time help you create boundaries, but you are taking a step to protect your mental health. Substantial amounts of research from The US National Library of Medicine—National Institutes of Health have found associations between heavy technology use and poor mental health outcomes among adolescents and young adults.  
  1. If keeping up with your friends is your main concern, try setting aside time to FaceTime or have a Zoom call with them instead.

This will take keeping up with each other up to a more personal level. It’s way more personal than a text or even a phone call.

It’s been a time of transition for everyone. Be patient with yourself as you adjust and be patient with your friends as they navigate their new normal. Some people use the comment section on social media to vent, but that doesn’t mean you have to engage with it. Hopefully, this helps you to keep up with your friends more and negativity less!

Image from Unsplash.com

It feels like there are so many rules and none at the same time. You can’t go anywhere, but you still want to be doing everything. It feels like a vacation, but there are still expectations and responsibilities. Nothing is stopping you from talking to anyone in any way. No one telling you to put your phone up during class. No dress code and no set start or end times to your day. Just a lot of talk about COVID-19 and quarantine. So now what? What can you do when COVID-19 disrupts everything?

Ask yourself these questions before you do something you’re not sure about: 

  • Is this something I would normally do or say?
  • Am I letting the circumstances influence a change in my morals?
  • Will I regret this in a month or feel guilty about it?
  • Is this me being my best self?
  • Will this show my parents I am trustworthy?

If you’re only doing “this” because you’re bored, your parents aren’t home, you’re spending more time behind your closed bedroom door, or whatever… then I think it’s fair to recognize that some choices can be really tempting during this time.

  • You’re waiting on your friend to reply and it’s been a while so you text your ex. If it’s over, then why go back to them now?
  • You know your parents won’t be home for a while so you sneak something to drink or invite someone over. Don’t give your parents the satisfaction of being right.
  • What’s sending a nude picture to one person going to hurt? Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually stay with that one person. 🙁
  • I won’t see them for a while, so I can comment/text this snark, and they’ll get over it. But what if they don’t? What if they did the same, would you get over it?

However, even though everything around you may feel out of your control and uncertain, how you carry yourself and your morals can stay consistent

You can be the one constant in your own life. 

During this strange time, you have to remember you are responsible for the things you can control. Your actions, choices, outlook, mindset, how you treat others, (parents/siblings included) and how you respond to your emotions—that’s all you

You also have the opportunity to rise above the expectations that often come with being a teenager. I’ll be honest, some adults are quick to assume the worst—that you’re not responsible, you’re already going to break the rules, or that you’ll slack off

You’ve got the chance to be better than others expect, to prove the haters wrong. 

  • You can be a more intentional friend.
  • Be a more thoughtful daughter or son.
  • You can be a productive student.
  • Be your best self during the worst times.

I want to encourage you to not change who you are because it feels like no one is watching. You are watching you. At the end of all of this, my hope for you is that you would be proud of yourself for the hard decisions you made, the things you learned about yourself, the time you took to do something you’ve not had time for, and the ways you helped others. 

We will all get through this together and have the opportunity to come out better than we went into it if we own our actions and make wise decisions. Enjoy this time away from the normal fast-paced weeks and stay well.

You all are going through something really challenging. The whole world is. I know going from seeing your friends or having an escape from home five days a week to nothing is a lot to take in.

Stay Safe

Here are some helpful tips to keep you safe and make wise decisions!

  1. With all of this downtime, it’s easy to spend time on social media and post more than usual. What you have to be careful of is not sharing your location publicly or saying that you are home alone. Accounts are easy to hack and predators know that everyone is stuck quarantined. Make sure your social accounts are set to “private,” especially at a time like this.
  2. If you are playing video games, only letting people you know in your Chat is so important. If someone starts asking how old you are, what city you live in, what grade and what school you go to, what your real name is, DO NOT ANSWER. You need to kick them out of the party and tell an adult. This is how predators can catfish young people into giving them enough personal information to find where you live.
  3. Try your best not to spend all day on your phone. “Cell phone usage has been associated with sleep deficit, depression, anxiety, and stress” according to the US National Library of Medicine/National Institute of Health. There is already a big sense of anxiety around COVID-19 and we don’t want to make it harder on ourselves!
  4. If your parents didn’t tell you someone was coming over or about a grocery delivery, don’t answer the door if you’re alone or it’s just you and your siblings.
  5. Don’t send it if you wouldn’t normally send it. If you’re under the impression it disappears when deleted, it doesn’t. The internet is forever. 

According to Business Insider’s interview with Richard Hickman, a digital forensics examiner, “There are many ways to save snaps that you receive—the easiest way is to take a screenshot or take a photo with another camera. Snaps are deleted from our servers after they have been viewed by the recipient.

Note that while it says photos are deleted from Snapchat’s servers, it doesn’t say photos are deleted from the devices.” What this means is that the image can be found on the phone. In fact, there are numerous free apps in the app store.

When COVID-19 Disrupts Everything, Here’s How to Spend All That Time

If you are struggling with filling your time in a way you won’t regret, here are some ideas!

  1. Learn new dances on Tik Tok.
  2. Practice your language skills on Babbel or Duo Lingo.
  3. Workout alongside celebrities and athletes on FitOn (variety for everyone)!
  4. Build a fort.
  5. Group Video Chat.
  6. Learn something new on Youtube.
  7. Watch movies.
  8. Craft with things you have.
  9. Draw.
  10. Work out! Here are some free apps that have home workouts! FitOn, Peloton (for 90 days), Nike Training Club—to name a few! Not to mention YouTube has so many and even some Zumba classes, too.
  11. Go on a walk or a hike.
  12. Write a song, rap, play, poems, short story, etc.
  13. Go outside and find a 4-leaf clover; make it a competition of who can find it the fastest.
  14. If you have siblings, play hide and seek For real, tap in to your inner kid!
  15. There are tons of free games in the app store and some you can invite your friends to play with you, like virtual Uno or cards. If you have an iPhone, Game Pigeon in the text message thread can allow you to play games with your friends!

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Panicking About Your Kids’ Phones? New Research Says Don’t is the title of an article in the New York Times. 

The writer says a growing number of academicians are challenging the true impact of social media and smartphones, questioning whether too much time on devices is actually the culprit for the dramatic increase in anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, especially in teens.

Before you jump on that bandwagon, believing the claims, you might want to hear what psychologist Jean Twenge has to say. Twenge is a professor of psychology at San Diego State and author of numerous books including Generation Me and her most recent release, iGen: Why Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.

In a blog for the Institute for Family Studies, Twenge calls out the NYT writer on six facts that, she claims, he ignores. 

Twenge contends that the NYT article grossly misrepresents the research consensus on technology and mental health because the article makes it sound as if the majority of researchers have concluded that technology use isn’t related to mental health. Twenge says that is not the case. 

“The article also misrepresents findings from a recent review of screen time and mental health studies,” writes Twenge. “The article does mention a recent review of studies on screen time and mental health by Amy Orben, who concluded that the average correlation between social media use and depressive symptoms is between .11 and .17.”

It cites this study as evidence that the link is small, but Twenge argues these are not small effects. Data from the CDC’s Youth Risk Survey of US High School students indicates that twice as many heavy users of electronic devices (5+ hours a day) compared to light users (1 hour a day) have attempted suicide (12% vs. 6%).

Twenge states that the NYT article quotes experts who, without plausible evidence, dismiss the possibility that the rise of social media and smartphones might be behind the marked rise in teen depression, self-harm and suicide in recent years. 

The article quotes Jeff Hancock of the Stanford Social Media Lab as saying, “Why else might American kids be anxious other than telephones? How about climate change? Income inequality? More student debt?”

“The problem with this argument is that none of these factors can explain the increase in teen mental health issues that began in 2012,” Twenge writes. “First, they didn’t happen at the same time. The largest increases in income inequality occurred between 1980 and 2000… Student loan debt has been stable since 2012. The number of Americans worried a fair amount or a great deal about climate change went from 73% in 2012 to 74% in 2019.”

Twenge contrasts this with 2013, the first year the majority of Americans owned a smartphone. By 2018, 95% of teens had access to a smartphone and 45% of them said they were online “almost constantly.”

“The largest increase in self-harm, self-poisoning and suicide occurred among 10- to 14-year-old girls,” Twenge writes. “Hancock would have us believe that 10- to 14-year-olds are harming themselves because they are upset over income inequality or possibly someday having to pay off student loans after college – not because they are bullied online, not because they feel constant pressure to look perfect on social media, not because they can access online sites instructing them in self-harm, and not because electronic communication has replaced in-person interaction, a basic human need.”

While Twenge does state that concern about climate change seems plausible, she asks, “How many 12-year-old-girls do you know who are cutting themselves because the planet is warming? It is much more likely they are concerned about self-image, social status, friendships and family relationships – all issues that have become fraught in the age of social media.” 

Twenge also notes that the rise in depression, self-harm and suicide has been considerably larger among girls than boys.

She contends that all of the issues listed above should impact boys and girls equally. Thus, they do not explain why the rise would be larger for girls.

Technology use, however, does differ by gender. Girls spend more time on social media. This may be more toxic than the gaming, which is more popular among boys.

Twenge calls out the author for combining two completely separate questions – whether technology use is related to depression among individuals and whether the increase in smartphone and social media use is related to the generational increase in teen depression.

“Even teens who don’t use technology have been affected by the shift in teen social life from in-person get-togethers to online interactions,” Twenge says. “Consider a teen who doesn’t use social media and would prefer to go out with her friend, but who will she go out with when everyone else is at home on Instagram?”

The NYT article also points to Europe as proof that smartphones are not behind the increase in teen depression. Yet the evidence shows otherwise. The study used to make the case examines adults, not teens. The World Health Organization reports increases in suicide rates around the world, with the largest increases among youth.

Here is the last point that Twenge makes. That while the researchers claiming that technology use is unrelated to well-being said they had not taken any funding from the tech industry, one of them is currently employed and one was previously employed by the Oxford Internet Institute, which is funded by Facebook, Google and Microsoft. 

“Parents can rest assured that their instincts to protect their kids from too much screen time are not wrong,” Twenge writes.

“If kids who ate five apples a day versus one were twice as likely to attempt suicide, parents would make extremely sure their kids didn’t eat too many apples. Why should our response to technology time be any different?”

The moral of this story is – don’t believe everything you read. Check the facts for yourself. What you don’t know can hurt you and the ones you love.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 1, 2020.

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Christmas and Back to School are the two hot times for parents to purchase cell phones for their kids, but what’s the right age and the right kind of phone for your child and how do you keep them safe in this Digital Age?

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A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics indicates that the suicide rate among 10- to 24-year-olds has increased a startling 56% over the last decade. Preventing depression in teens is more needed than ever.

Suicide has become the second-most common cause of death among teenagers and young adults. 

“Pediatricians have indeed seen a huge increase in depression and anxiety in adolescents over the last few years,” says Dr. Nita Shumaker, pediatrician. “I spend a lot of time talking to parents about lifestyle choices affecting mental health.”

While no one knows for sure what is causing this dramatic increase in teen suicide, the trend is extremely disturbing. Some experts are referring to this as a public health crisis and wondering why there is not more of an outcry for something to be done.

Part of the problem may be that no one is clear about what is causing this uptick. It could be technology, violent video games, television shows, bullying, not enough likes on Instagram posts, the ease in which someone can compare their life to their friend’s highlight reel or who knows what else.  

“It is clear that there are a lot of factors at play when it comes to teens and their mental health,” Shumaker says. “I start early talking about letting electronics into the home. It is a portal for both good and evil to enter into children’s lives. And electronics are really not the problem, it’s the all-access pass that so many children have to technology that is the problem.”

Another issue Shumaker notes is sleep deprivation. 

“Sleep deprivation is a torture technique and a well-documented trigger for anxiety and depression,” Shumaker says. “Not getting enough sleep leads to more impulsive behavior as well as poor performance in school.”

The current recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is that children and adolescents have no electronics in the bedroom.

“Allowing electronics in the bedroom means that adolescents spend an enormous amount of time alone, unsupervised and on the internet,” Shumaker says. “This means that fundamentally they are separated from the family, which I believe is another potential cause of depression and anxiety. Having electronics in the bedroom means parents don’t put their kids to bed anymore – their electronics do.

“We are missing such valuable time with our children and their mental health is suffering from it. We as a culture are abandoning our children to the internet and it is literally killing them.”

What can we do to help our kids?

  • Your presence matters. Practice what you are trying to teach. Be intentional about disconnecting from your phone and other technology and actively engage with your kids.
  • Set limits with technology use, including amount of time on screens and where technology lives in your home. (And don’t expect your children to thank you for setting boundaries!)
  • Be vigilant about making sure they get enough rest and seriously limit distractions that could keep them awake. Help them make healthy food and exercise choices, as these can impact other areas of life.
  • Talk with them about the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety and discuss ways to manage them so they are educated not only for themselves, but also for their friends. Contrary to what some believe, talking about these symptoms or the topic of suicide does not increase the risk of suicide.
  • Make them aware of helpful resources both locally and nationally. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) 
  • Suicide Resource CenterThe American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has a whole host of resources for teens and families.
  • Give your teen household responsibilities. You may think your teen already has so much on their plate. But including teens in household chores helps them feel connected. It also teaches them responsibility, as well as how to manage their time.
  • Create space for your family to do things together on a regular basis. Make sure they are getting helpful information from you, and not just taking their cues from their friends.

Our children are living in a complicated world for sure.

Although no one can definitively say why there is such an increase in suicide among our young people, we cannot afford to sacrifice the mental health or lives of our children. We must be intentional in our efforts to help them. Whether they will admit it or not, they are counting on our guidance to navigate this time in their lives.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 3, 2019.

Looking for more parenting resources? Click here!

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Not long ago, I wrote a provocative column concerning men and marriageability. At the end I asked, “What will we do to help our boys succeed in life and relationships?” The good news is, we can do all kinds of things to ensure that boys and girls have the same opportunities in education, earning potential and life in general.  

Many researchers believe that the educational system itself plays a large role in how well boys do or don’t fare. Others cite technology and video games, the breakdown of the family, the focus on women’s equality or the lack of positive male role models as reasons – just to name a few. The reality is that ALL of these things contribute to whether boys succeed or fail. 

Will Honeycutt, assistant director of counseling at The McCallie School for Boys, believes that technology plays a role in disconnecting boys from real life. Whether it’s binge-watching episodes of Game of Thrones over a weekend, playing video games or being entrenched in social media, technology is isolating boys from valuable experiences, interacting with others, engaging in conversation, learning emotional regulation and figuring out who they are as a person.

So, how can we help boys thrive in an ever-changing culture? 

Troy Kemp, executive director for The National Center for the Development of Boys in Chattanooga, Tenn., has some ideas we can use, whether at home or in the community. 

BOYS AND GIRLS ARE NOT THE SAME

Boys are different than girls – not better than – but different. Their bodies and brains mature differently, and they take in and process information differently. Boys and girls have varying strengths and weaknesses. 

Research shows that teaching in educational settings leans heavily toward the strengths of the female brain, so actively addressing variety in learning styles and responses is a great place to start. Teachers can choose reading materials to reflect the interests of boys. Boys need to be surrounded by positive influences that will help them break through the popular culture’s narrow definition of manhood, and having more male teachers in the classroom would be a step in the right direction. 

WHAT ABOUT AT HOME?

Kemp feels that parents need to educate themselves about how boys (and others who wiggle) learn best and what intrinsically motivates them. Boys need examples of excellence, and using words and visuals can help them see things more fully and hold their attention. It is important that we don’t automatically assume boys aren’t trying if they don’t respond the way we want or expect. It may be possible that we didn’t clearly express our expectations, which may be very different from theirs.

According to Kemp, boys also need to develop a proper vision for manhood and masculinity. In order to achieve that vision, they need to be exposed to male mentors who are balanced in their approach to life, learning, unconditional love and emotions. Having a community of men who are behind them makes a great impact and prepares them to mentor others. 

“Boys need a crew and a cause,” says Kemp. “They need to know someone is counting on them and they can count on others. Boys need to know what is important to them is also important to parents…especially their fathers.”

If you’re a father, get on your son’s level and don’t discount what is important to him. Give him choices within the choices you approve.

Parents can model responsibility and healthy relationships with technology and everything else. 

  • Count the number of hours boys are in front of screens. Excessive amounts of screen time for children, especially boys, can be detrimental to healthy brain development. 
  • Make sure they are getting at least two hours of physical exercise every day. Don’t pull your son from a team or group if his grades drop. Work with the coach or group leader and use their power and influence.
  • Be intentional about teaching and modeling the qualities of healthy relationships and don’t assume they know what unhealthy looks like. 
  • Drive-time is a great time for conversation about what a lot of teens consider awkward topics. That way, nobody is looking at facial expressions. You can make it a media-free moment, too.
  • Take advantage of current situations. Talk about accountability and responsibility. Include healthy ways to handle anger or disappointment and treating people with respect who are disrespectful to you. 
  • Point them toward healthy role models beyond Mom and Dad – coaches, trusted friends and relatives – so they have more than their parents speaking into their lives and encouraging them on their journey into adulthood.
  • Spend one-on-one time with your child. Let them set the agenda for your time together. Fathers, try reading to and with your children. 
  • Volunteer together as a family. Go on a mission trip, help out at a local nonprofit or do something that involves giving to others. There is a real chemical reaction in the brain when we help others in need. It makes us feel good and makes us want to do more acts of kindness.

All of these things combined can help boys thrive in school and in life.

Boys with a strong support system have a foundation to build upon as they enter manhood and make wise decisions about their future.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on October 5, 2019.

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