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Ellen Pober Rittberg is the mother of three. She had three children in three years and she spent 13 years representing young people as an attorney. Both of these experiences have given her insight into the lives of young people which led to writing 35 Things Your Teen Won’t Tell You, So I Will.

“I wrote this book as a message to parents that you can do this,” says Rittberg. “I think that it is probably the hardest time to be raising a teen. There are threats to their safety, head-spinning technological advances, they are encouraged to dress provocatively by celebrities who they see dressing provocatively, and peers are more important to them than family. The book is really a form of cheerleading in an informed, honest and positive way.”

Rittberg believes the biggest mistake parents can make is to trust their teen all the time.

She cautions parents that in spite of the fact that their young person seems really smart, their judgment is defective. Shes says they will make poor decisions because they are adults in the making.

35 Things Your Teen Won’t Tell You, So I Will is the manual I wish I had had when I was raising my teens,” Rittberg says. “I didn’t want to be preached to and I didn’t want to read clinical pieces written by educators, psychologists or medical doctors. I wanted to know the practical do’s and don’ts, the big mistakes to avoid, what to do when you are at the end of your rope and ways to enjoy the challenge of raising teens.”

Rittberg encourages parents to be open to the fact that they can learn to be a better parent.

“When I was pregnant with my first child, I read a ton of books because I didn’t know how to parent,” Rittberg recalls. “We need to continue exposing ourselves to information that will help us be better parents. Parents also need to consider the values they want to impart to their children and how they will be intentional about doing it.”

Here are a few of the 35 things Rittberg wants you to know about when your kids won’t tell you things:

  • You shouldn’t be your child’s best friend. We have a role as parents to be responsible and reliable. If you act like a teenager, your teen won’t respect you.
  • Your child needs meaningful work. Anything that encourages a healthy work ethic and sense of family duty is a good thing.
  • To know your teen’s friends is to know your teen. If you want to know what your teen is up to, get to know their friends. Make your house a welcoming place. You have to be there when they are there.
  • A parent should not buy a child a car. There are large consequences to buying your child a car. The largest is that the child who doesn’t earn a significant portion of the car will likely total it soon after getting it. When they have worked for it they will take better care of it.
  • Know your child’s school. School officials should know your face, what you do and that you want to help.
  • Curfews are good. As the old saying goes, nothing good happens after midnight!

“Parenting teens is challenging, but you can do it and be good at it,” Rittberg says.

I can always tell when my kids are in a Fortnite Battle Royale match by the cheering or jeering I hear blaring from their rooms. I might be hearing the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat, but it is loud and enthusiastic. If you have a child who plays video games, they are probably playing Fortnite, too, (or soon will be) as the Fortnite craze shows no signs of slowing down.

When it comes to video games I typically have two concerns.

Is this particular game and its content something I want my child playing, and then more generally, how much time (and money) should my child spend playing video games? It’s worth noting that good, caring, involved parents can come to different conclusions – and that’s okay.

As far as content goes, Fortnite, put out by Epic Games, has been rated for 11 year olds and up. The most popular game mode is Battle Royale, which involves up to 100 online players fighting to the death to be the last player standing on an island with various structures and topography. Eliminating the other 99 players involves weapons and violence, but I would describe it as cartoon violence as opposed to bloody, realistic violence.

One thing I really like about Fortnite is that it requires creativity to be successful, not just a trigger finger. Quickly building and manipulating the environment to gain an advantage is an essential part of gameplay. Fortnite is a combination of Minecraft and shooter games with several clever twists thrown in that are genuinely fun.

(If you are concerned about the content of any video game, head to YouTube and watch a few gameplay videos that players have uploaded.)

This brings us back to the general question of how much time we want our kids spending with video games – especially since games like Fortnite can quickly become obsessions.

Parents approach this in a variety of ways. During the school year, some parents allow a set amount of time each week and/or only allow gaming on weekends. Hopefully your family has some tech-free times set aside for reading and playing outside, not to mention structured time set aside for homework and chores. Gaming time might vary during holiday and summer breaks.

Make whatever the latest video game craze is work for you! Parents can leverage video games in many creative ways. For example, I try to get a ton of extra work done around my house so the kids can earn money for in-game purchases. My child’s behavior and attitude may earn them more or less playing time. And here’s one of my personal favorites as a former English teacher: “I’ll match your reading time with Fortnite time minute for minute!

Perhaps the absolute best leveraging of your child’s Fortnite obsession is to use it to spend time together, either joining in or watching them play. Game on!

Image from Unsplash.com

Should your parent check your phone?

When you sit down to a family meal, are people on their devices?

Do your parents follow you on social media?

These are just a few of the questions from an informal survey of more than 1,000 middle and high schoolers during March and April of 2018. The responses might surprise you.

When students were asked if their parents ever checked their phones, 82 percent said their parents never checked or only checked it once or twice a year. Forty-five percent of respondents said they are not on their phones or watching television during family meals, and 22 percent said they don’t eat meals together as a family.

When it comes to social media, 45 percent of the teens said their parents follow them on some apps while 28 percent said their parents do not follow them on any social media apps. Only 27 percent said their parents follow them on all their social media apps.

Overwhelmingly, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, iMessage, FaceTime, Facebook and Twitter were the most popular apps, used by 60 percent or more. Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube were all above 80 percent.

Here’s where things really get interesting. 

When asked about negative experiences on social media:

  • 56 percent of respondents said they had been contacted or messaged by a complete stranger. 
  • Over 46 percent said they have been unfriended, unfollowed or deleted from someone’s account. 
  • More than 39 percent said someone had asked them for inappropriate/sexual pictures. 

And when it comes to breaking up, 36 percent said someone had broken up with them by text or another form of social media.

The final question, “Has social media ever made you feel stress, anxiety or depressed?” had some very interesting results. Overarchingly, 45 percent of respondents said social media never makes them feel stress, anxiety or depression. However, in unpacking the data, 62 percent of middle-schoolers said social media never makes them feel this way. Conversely, by 12th grade, 60 percent of teens say it has contributed to stress, anxiety and depression.

Another aspect of this involves structure and parental engagement in the home. Teens who say their parents are actively involved in overseeing their social media engagement reported significantly less stress, anxiety and depression than teens who reported less parental involvement. Teens who reported the least amount of structure and parental engagement also reported the highest levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

Before you convince yourself that technology is the problem, breathe. The truth is, technology will only continue to evolve and move faster as time goes by. Being tuned in to your child is their best hope for navigating those changes in a healthy manner. In a previous survey, teens were asked what helped them make good choices with social media and phone usage. The number one answer was “knowing that my parents check my phone.”

It may be tiring and frustrating, but you are the best app for your child’s phone.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV!

We’ve all been there. We watch parents cave to a child’s demands and think, “I would never let that happen with my child. I have no intention of raising an entitled kid.” But right now, we live in a “me” generation.

How many times have I been “that” parent, who after a long day, just wants to get home? Even after being so proud of myself for saying no, I eventually give because I just want it to be over. I beat myself up a bit and tell myself I’ll do better next time.

Honestly, most parents don’t set out to raise self-centered children. However, as we try to give our kids what we didn’t have or to ensure their success, we spend an inordinate amount of time, energy and brainpower focused on them. Unfortunately, this leads our kids to believe they are and should be the center of attention everywhere.

In my head, I know this is not a good thing. My professional training shows me this is not conducive to good outcomes for young adults. And research tells me this kind of parenting is not ultimately helpful to my child or any other child. BUT, how do we as parents put the brakes on and change our ways? And why would we want to stop doing things that we believe will ultimately make our children successful adults?

It’s helpful to begin with the end in mind. I don’t know about you, but outside of extenuating circumstances, I am not interested in having my child dependent on her parents for the rest of her life. I want to see her spread her wings and realize all she can do without our direct assistance.

What does it take to raise a child in a “me” generation?

  • Avoid leading your child to believe he/she is the center of your universe. In real life, your child will not always be the center of attention. Avoid putting this belief in his head – don’t make him the focal point in your home.
  • Teach your child what it means to be accountable and responsible for his/her own behavior. While this one can be painful, it is super-powerful and important. Instead of saving the day when your child encounters a difficult person or a problem, allow your child to problem-solve, figure something out and actually deal with it. This will help build self-confidence. When parents take responsibility for a child’s behavior and removes the consequences (good or bad), kids miss opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Help them understand that just because you want something badly doesn’t mean you automatically get it. People tend to be less appreciative when they get things without earning them. Teach your children that anything worth having is worth working for. It’s a lesson that will serve them well throughout their life. Also, avoid the trap of believing it’s about the stuff.
  • Teach them the importance of giving. Whether helping with chores (without getting paid) or serving in the community, teach children how to be givers. Giving can help guard against a sense of entitlement.

In an interview about hiring practices, Schwab CEO Walt Bettinger, shared that he intentionally takes interviewees out for a meal. He always arrives early and requests that the wait staff intentionally mess up the person’s order. Why? Because he wants to see how they will handle the situation. Through the years he has learned that a person’s heart and their character matter as much – if not more than – what’s in their head.

Looking for more resources? Watch this episode of JulieB TV for an in-depth look on this topic!

5 Parenting Tips for Media Use in Your Home

Knowing these 4 things about brain development and screens are critical.

As a parent, how can you control media use in your home? At the beginning of middle school, Melanie Hempe’s oldest son, Adam, started trading his outdoor time for playing video games inside and she became a Game-Cop Mom. Since Adam was a straight-A student, Hempe let his bad habit slide. 

“But his ninth grade school laptop proved to be too much to manage,” says Hempe, mom of four. “When he graduated from high school I thought he would outgrow his gaming. I did not realize that little kid hobbies become big kid hobbies.”

At the end of his freshman year, Adam dropped out of college due to his gaming. On the trip home, he said, “Mom, ‘World of Warcraft’ did something to me. I’ve been in bed for the last week, depressed.” Knowing that she did not want to have a gamer in her house for the next five years, she asked an Army recruiter to visit. Adam joined the U.S. Army where he could learn to shoot real guns instead of virtual ones.

Her son’s experience set Hempe on a quest to understand gaming and screen addictions.

“As a nurse, I felt like there had to be a scientific explanation for what happened to my son,” Hempe recalls. “I learned that gaming addiction is the number one reason boys drop out of college their freshman year.” 

Like gambling, this addiction can be hard to spot. “After a great deal of research, I decided to present my findings to parents at our school. I was shocked when over 100 parents showed up to that first meeting.” Families Managing Media was founded as an effort to help families prevent childhood screen addictions.

Think about your child’s relationship with their screen:

  • Is it the only thing that puts them in a good mood?
  • Are they unhappy when you take it away?
  • Do they sneak around hiding screens?
  • Is their usage increasing over time?
  • Do you know what they are doing on their screens; do you have all their passwords?
  • Does their screen time interfere with family time and their in-person friendships?

If you answered yes to most of these, your child may be headed for trouble.  

Hempe believes parents need to know at least four things about brain development and media use to help with screen management.

For starters, the prefrontal cortex (the reasoning center) is the last part of the brain to mature and it is impossible to accelerate this maturity.

Even the most intelligent child can have issues managing time or paying attention. 

“Because Adam was smart, I expected him to be able to control his screen use,” Hempe says. “I now understand that this is a task kids are unable to do. Children are not little adults.”

Second, it’s helpful to know that your child’s brain development is based on the activities they are doing.

Like dirt roads being paved, neuronal connections get stronger with use. The connections not being used get pruned away at puberty.  

“Practice typically makes things better, but unfortunately, with things like social media, practice makes it worse,” Hempe shares. “The longer a child is exposed to one type of experience, the harder it is to reverse that effect.” 

Video games and smartphones stimulate one area of the brain: the pleasure center.

Unfortunately, if the whole brain is not stimulated early, it’s a complicated fix in adulthood.  

Thirdly, screen time is not a neutral activity.

Dopamine controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. When kids are on their screens, they get an instant dopamine rush from likes on social media, gaming, etc. The “dopamine feedback loop” becomes activated and a craving sets in. The bad news is that school and other “less-exciting” things can’t compete with the novelty offered by screens 24/7.

Fourth, screens replace many activities that are foundational to healthy brain development. 

Handwriting, real play and playing music are very important for a young brain. 

“Movement is absent when your child is on a screen,” Hempe says. “Without enough movement, children have a hard time maintaining focus and dealing with distractions. Even 30 minutes a day makes a huge difference.” 

Reading is the first activity to go when screens are present, and it is the number one predictor of academic success. Sleep is another critical piece. Screen habits make it hard for teens to get the required 9.25 hours of sleep each night.

With this in mind, Hempe encourages parents to do the following to limit media use:

  • Delay access to smartphones and video games. This allows more time for a child to mature so that he or she can use technology wisely. “No” for now doesn’t mean “no” forever. Social media and today’s video games are very addictive.
  • Follow your family’s accounts and co-view their screen activities. Nothing is private in the digital world, so your child/teen’s digital activity should not be private to you. Know exactly what they are doing on their screens.
  • Foster face-to-face social interactions. Social media is not designed for kids. Try a family social media account managed by you on a home laptop in plain view. They do not need six years of social media “training” to learn how to use it, but they do need face-to-face interactions with friends to learn critical social skills.
  • Spend more non-tech time together. Teens with strong family attachments show more overall happiness and success.
  • Help your kids choose and plan healthier forms of entertainment – they need your help. Don’t give the smartphone and video games all the power in your home.

“Our teens need us now more than ever,” Hempe asserts. “It is easy to detach from them when they are on their screens. They want you to help them say no to screen overuse. After all, the only thing they really want more than their virtual world is more real time with you.”

For more information on screen addiction, reclaiming your kids and reconnecting your family, visit Families Managing Media.

Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic, too!

Sexting And Your Teen

These tips can help you talk to your teen about sexting.

Dr. Sheri Madigan and her research team wanted to know the prevalence of sexting behavior (sharing of sexually explicit images and videos through technological means) among teens. Between 2006 and 2016, they conducted a meta-analysis, looking at 39 different studies about sexting that included 110,380 young people from all over the world, including the United States.

Studies indicate that sexting has been on the rise among teens while teen sex has declined. Findings from the meta-analysis indicate that:

  • 1 in 7 teens sends sexts, 
  • 1 in 4 receives sext messages, and 
  • 41 percent of teens are having sex according to a 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 
  • Additionally, older teens are sexting more often than younger teens.

While boys are often portrayed as the requestors of nude images, studies show that girls and boys are equally as likely to participate in sexting. Plus, most of them use their smartphones versus a computer when they sext.

Compared to boys, girls report feeling more pressure to sext and worry they will be judged harshly whether they sext or not. If they do, there is slut-shaming. If they don’t, they are considered a prude. Boys, however, may see sexting as a way to showcase their social status.  

Many teen sexters assume the images will remain private, but the research indicates that:

  • 12.5 percent of teens are forwarding intimate photos without the sender’s consent. 
  • Another 8.4 percent of teens had one of their own sexts forwarded without their consent.

According to the research team, these findings raise some concerns and challenges. Teens may feel that sexting is an expectation if everybody else is doing it. When sexting is coerced and images are used as a form of blackmail or a threat, the combination of digital insecurity and the teen brain processes could lead to compromised safety. Since teens’ brains are still developing, their capacity to critically analyze digital tools and apps may not be enough to keep them safe. So, what can parents do to help?

If you’re a parent, Madigan encourages you to talk with your teens about healthy dating relationships, peer pressure, digital security, sexuality and citizenship. Make it an ongoing conversation where you’re being proactive instead of reactive.

Also, discuss strategies for dealing with peer pressure surrounding sexting and the potential consequences of sending sexts. Once someone sends an image or video, there is no control over who sees it. 

Family Zone offers these 10 tips to help you and your teen deal with sexting:

  • Have open and honest conversations with your children.
  • Don’t abstain from educating your own children about sex and sexualized behaviors. If you don’t educate them, somebody else will.
  • Do not assume that your child will not pass on a nude photo or take one of themselves and share it.
  • Discuss the risks of sexting, including how they would feel if their photos were shared.
  • Be very clear about the law and criminal consequences with your children.
  • Discuss their digital footprint and what that means.
  • Explain their digital citizenship responsibilities.
  • Warn your children to never share photos with people they don’t physically know offline. Consider providing examples of grooming and pedophilia.
  • Attempt to explore if these behaviors are part of a bigger problem with self-esteem and confidence. Like everyone, children like attention and reassurance, but as parents we need to help our kids find healthier ways to feel good about themselves.
  • Ensure they know who they can talk to and where they can get help if needed. They may not want that to be you, so ensure they have a safe person to confide in.

If you’d like additional resources to help guide these conversations, here are some good ones: Common Sense Media’s Sexting Handbook, Common Sense Media, Connect Safely, Social LEADia: Moving Students from Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership.

Activist, educator and author Dr. Warren Farrell is at it again. He co-authored The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys Are Struggling and What We can Do About It, with Dr. John Gray. For many years, Farrell has been concerned for the welfare of boys. He believes that fatherlessness is at the very heart of the issue.

In an Institute for Family Studies interview, Farrell asserts that today’s boys often struggle with a sense of hopelessness and a lack of purpose linked in part to family breakdown and father deprivation. He also believes that boys’ and men’s weakness is their facade of strength. 

A United Nations study found boys lagging behind girls in all the developed nations. The women’s movement has really helped young girls recognize that girls can take many paths and be successful. However, while girls’ sense of purpose has grown, boys’ sense of purpose has not. Boys seem to hear either that it’s all about earning money or being a loser. Farrell wonders what would happen if we told boys that being a full-time caregiver is a worthy option?

Boys with little to no father involvement often look to their dads as role models. But without much time with their dads, their role models are more “straw men” or “straw dads,” says Farrell. 

“These boys don’t benefit from overnights, hang-out time, and the many hours it takes for boys to bond with their dads and trust that their feelings won’t be dismissed. Dads tend to build bonds with their sons by, for example, playing games and rough-housing, and then use the resulting bond as leverage for their sons to ‘get to bed on time’ lest there be ‘no playing tomorrow night.’” 

This boundary enforcement teaches boys postponed gratification, whereas boys with minimal or no father involvement are more frequently addicted to immediate gratification. Additionally, having minimal or no father involvement increases the chances of video game addiction, ADHD, bad grades, less empathy, less assertiveness and more aggression. It also leads to fewer social skills, more alienation and loneliness, more obesity, rudderlessness, anger, drugs, drinking, delinquency, disobedience, depression and suicide. Fatherless boys are more likely to serve time in prison, too. 

In a TEdx Talk on “The Boy Crisis,” Farrell cites that since 1980 in California, 18 new prisons have been built, but only one new university. There’s been a 700 percent increase in the prison population and it’s mostly a dad-deprived male population. 

As an example of the pain of fatherlessness, Farrell mentioned Anthony Sims. Sims is known as the Oakland Killer. His last Facebook post was this:  “I wish I had a father.”

Many see guns as the problem. However, Farrell contends that school shootings are mostly white boys’ method of acting out their hopelessness. He says guns are also white boys’ method of committing suicide, and serve as a reflection of our inability to help constructively track boys to manhood. He points out that girls living in those same homes with the same family values and issues are not killing people at school.

Farrell speaks of attending a party once where he learned that a men’s group formed by Farrell had impacted a man named John more than any other thing in his life. When group members asked the man, “What is the biggest hole in your heart?” he blurted out, “I was so involved in my career, I neglected my wife and my son. That’s the biggest hole and a deeper hole because I ended up divorced. I remarried and the group knew that my wife was pregnant with our son.” The group then asked, “If you could do anything you wanted, what would you like to do?” He said he would take five years off and help raise his son. Then he talked with his wife, who told him to go for it. He shared that it had been two years.

Farrell asked John if it was a good decision.“No,” he replied. “The best decision of my life. Up until I took care of my son, my whole life was about me, me, me. Suddenly it was about my son. I suddenly learned to love and be loved.” 

As they were wrapping up their conversation, someone asked for an autograph. Farrell thought it was for him, but it was for John. Farrell said, “I guess you’re famous. What’s your last name, John?” 

“Lennon,” he said. John Lennon had discovered he was not giving love by earning money as a human doing, but by being love. 

Many boys are struggling, wandering aimlessly, and looking for their purpose. Farrell and many others believe one way to end the boy crisis is for fathers, uncles, grandfathers and other male role models to step up and stand in the gap. They also want women to encourage men in their efforts to raise men of purpose.

For more information on the importance of fathers, download our E-book “Why Being a dad is a BIG Deal.”

What’s True and False about Cyberbullying?

  • Cyberbullying victims are at increased risk for traditional bullying victimization, substance use and school problems.
  • Victims of cyberbullying suffer from anger, frustration and sadness.
  • Most victims of cyberbullying tell an adult about their experience.
  • Victims report that they are primarily cyberbullied by strangers.

If you answered “true” for the first two statements and “false” for the last two, you are correct.

News stories abound about young people and bullying. One of the most widely-known incidents is about Megan Meier, a then 13-year-old from Missouri. She became online friends with a person she thought was a new boy in town. The “friend” was actually a group of young people and adults who plotted to humiliate Megan because of a broken friendship with another girl. When Megan discovered the truth, she became distraught and later committed suicide.

Cyberbullying is defined as using the computer or other electronic devices to intimidate, threaten or humiliate another. It most commonly takes place on the Internet among students from a given school or neighborhood.

Researchers and co-directors of the Cyberbullying Research Center, Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja, collected data from more than 15,000 youth regarding their personal cyberbullying experiences.

They found that:

  • Five percent of the youth they interviewed claimed to be scared for their own safety.
  • On average, 25 percent of youth have been a victim of cyberbullying.
  • Among this percentage, mean or hurtful comments, and spreading rumors were the most common forms of cyberbullying.
  • More than half of study participants feel that cyberbullying is as bad as, or worse than bullying in real life.
  • 41 percent of victims do not tell anyone in their off-screen lives about their abuse, but 38 percent told an online friend.
  • 16 percent admitted to bullying another individual online.
  • Most of the bullying offenders said they consider bullying to be fun or instructive; such as a way to strengthen their victims.

Your child uses cell phones, emails, instant messaging, websites, blogs, text messages and other methods to communicate electronically. All of them present a potential cyberbullying risk to your child.

What Do Parents Need to Know?

The impact of cyberbullying can be devastating. Cyber victimization can cause poor grades, emotional spirals, poor self-esteem, repeated school absences, depression and in some cases, suicide. These outcomes are similar to those of real-life bullying, except with cyberbullying there is often no escape.

Young people used to be able to avoid the “bully” once school was out. Today’s technology now makes it almost impossible to escape. Since few parents closely monitor their child’s digital use, it is far easier for bullies to get away with bullying online than in person. And as the quiz pointed out, kids rarely tell their parents about the bullying.

What Can Parents Do?

  • Establish that all rules for interacting appropriately with people in real life apply online.
  • Explain what cyberbullying is and why it is unacceptable to bully or to allow bullying to continue.
  • Talk with your teen about the nature of REAL friendships.
  • Encourage your child to talk with you any time they believe they or someone they know is dealing with a bully.
  • Model appropriate technology use.
  • Write a technology contract that includes any form of technology used in your home.

Cyberbullying can be a serious threat to the well-being of your child, but the best plan of attack is to be proactive. Being ignorant about technology in this day and age won’t cut it, so you’ll want to educate yourself as well as your children. As the saying goes, information is power.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV for more on this topic!