Common Digital Challenges Facing Parents Today
March 6, 2017 · Posted in Media, Parenting, Technology · Permalink · Comments Off on Common Digital Challenges Facing Parents Today


By Hilary Smith

What was one of the biggest obstacles your parents faced raising you as a child?

For many of us, we answer with the typical struggles of late “Gen X’ers”. Our parents might have limited our consumption of sodas, flavored lip gloss, MTV, or time spent talking on the home phone. During our youth, we could only dream of brick cell phones and high speed Internet that didn’t require a dial-up modem. However, today we are faced with new parenting challenges that our mothers and fathers never had to encounter: digital technology.

Common Digital Challenges Facing Parents Today

The digital era has ushered in a variety of modern conveniences. Our homes are filled with cell phones, tablets, laptops, and other smart devices that promote easier communication and access to information. In fact, we are the first parents to raise digital natives, children who are growing up in a technology driven society who can’t remember a time without the Internet or wireless capabilities.

Unfortunately, this access comes with a potential cost to our children’s well being. With a swipe of a finger, our sons and daughters are facing cyberbullying, insecurities, predators, and addiction to the fast paced world of the Internet. To put this into perspective, we have compiled the following data:

  • 9 hours is the average time teens spend online everyday.
  • 87 percent of our kids have encountered cyberbullying!
  • 750,000 predators are estimated to be online everyday grooming victims.
  • 54 percent of teens under 18 admit to sexting.
  • 56 percent of people admit to suffering from a “fear of missing out” (FOMO) when unable to access social media.

Parenting Do’s and Don’ts for Living in the Digital Era

Reading the above numbers can be frightening, but thankfully we have the ability to intervene and help prevent our kids from becoming just another statistic. Listed below are some tips to help us navigate these common digital challenges facing our children:

Do understand the adolescent brain is undergoing major brain growth. Surprisingly, our children’s brains aren’t fully mature until they reach their mid-20’s. This development is creating connections deep inside the prefrontal cortex and affects everything from decision making to assessing risks. We need to remind ourselves that even though our kids act and talk like mini-adults, they are still growing.

Do keep all digital devices in common living areas. This allows kids freedom to enjoy technology, but reduces the chances they will take part in risky online behaviors. By keeping devices in open areas, we have the opportunity to see what our kids are doing online and can step in if we witness questionable choices. As an added bonus, this keeps devices out of the bedrooms to safeguard our children’s quality of sleep.

Don’t forget to design a family technology contract. As a family unit, take a few minutes to list all of expectations for proper device usage. Next, make sure to outline the consequences if someone doesn’t uphold their end of the contract. This will allow children and parents to clearly know what is expected and prevent future disagreements.

Do begin an ongoing conversation about social media etiquette. We need to empower our sons and daughters with the skills needed to protect themselves online. Talk about ways to handle cyberbullying, sexting requests, or avoid sharing personal information.

Do encourage children to notify you if they encounter cyberbullying. This will allow you to document cruel messages and offer a shoulder to cry on. If cyberbullying continues, seek help from school personnel or authorities.

Don’t forget about the Internet’s permanence. It’s vital kids realize everything they post could be uncovered years down the road. The Internet never forgets and future colleges, employers, and scholarship boards might look online to glimpse how a child represents themselves.

Do help kids set their privacy settings. This is important, because social media sites and our devices constantly update their privacy settings and add-on services often leaving us vulnerable.

blog2Do stress that it’s okay not to sext. Today’s teens view sexting as normal and often think it is a safe alternative to physical activity. However, similar to STD’s, sexting carries lifelong consequences. Sending or receiving a sext among children is considered a felony.

Never friend people you don’t know in real life. “Catfishing” or using fake profiles is common among child predators and cyberbullies looking for victims. They create identities that make our kids feel comfortable and lure them into sharing photos, addresses, and personal information.

Do use technology to stay in touch with kids. Technology isn’t terrible, in fact it can benefit our families in a variety of ways. Take advantage of social media, games, monitoring software, and texting features to communicate with your kids throughout the day.


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Media in Moderation
June 1, 2014 · Posted in Infant Development, Media, Parenting, Technology, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments (1)


Media and Children– From The American Academy Of Pediatrics


Media is everywhere. TV, Internet, computer and video games all vie for our children’s attention. Information on this page can help parents understand the impact media has in our children’s lives, while offering tips on managing time spent with various media. The AAP has recommendations for parents and pediatricians.

Today’s children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices. To help kids make wise media choices, parents should monitor their media diet. Parents can make use of established ratings systems for shows, movies and games to avoid inappropriate content, such as violence, explicit sexual content or glorified tobacco and alcohol use.

Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. In addition, the Internet and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviors.

By limiting screen time and offering educational media and non-electronic formats such as books, newspapers and board games, and watching television with their children, parents can help guide their children’s media experience. Putting questionable content into context and teaching kids about advertising contributes to their media literacy.

The AAP recommends that parents establish “screen-free” zones at home by making sure there are no televisions, computers or video games in children’s bedrooms, and by turning off the TV during dinner. Children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day, and that should be high-quality content. It is important for kids to spend time on outdoor play, reading, hobbies, and using their imaginations in free play.

Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.


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Spillover Between Teens’ Conflict with Family and Friends
October 6, 2011 · Posted in Communication, Media, Parenting, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off on Spillover Between Teens’ Conflict with Family and Friends
The July issue of Child Development highlights the impact of conflict at home for teens. It highlights the spill over on their peer relationships and vice versa.
“Adolescents experienced more peer conflict on days in which they argued with parents or other family members, and vice versa. Effect of family conflict further spilled over into peer relationships the next day and 2 days later, whereas peer conflict predicted only the following day family conflict. Adolescents’ emotional distress partially explained these short-term spillovers between family and peer conflict.”
Given the impact of teen-parent conflict, here is a script that, if used regularly, is guaranteed to reduce unhealthy communication between parents and children. Below is an example of a parent and child initiated conversation using the Conflict Script. It may seem contrived initially, but overtime it becomes the default of how to handle disagreements. This communication tool will have positive spillover into your teens relationships outside the home.
The conflict script has rules for the speaker and listener. Both parties have to commit to calm talk and careful listening.
Rules for the Speaker:
1. Permission to speak
2. Objective description
3. Primary Feelings
4. Internal Interpretation
5. Request for the future
Rules for the Listener:
1. Cop to what you did do
2. Apologize
3. Reassure
4. Commit to change
Part 1: Mom is the speaker, daughter listener
Mother: Can I talk to you about what happened this morning? (1. Permission to speak)
Daughter: Sure.
Mother: This morning, when I asked you what your plans were for after school, you didn’t answer me and walked out of the apartment. (2. Objective description)
Mother: I felt anger, shame  and sadness. (3. Primary feelings)
Mother:What I made up in my head is that you don’t respect me and don’t see that I am trying to care for you. (4. Internal interpretation)
Mother:What I would like in the future is for you to answer me when I ask a question or tell me you don’t know if you are not sure of your plans. (5. Request for the future)
Daughter: I did walk out of the house without answering. (1. Cop to what you did)
I am really sorry for doing that. (2. Apologize)
I do respect you even if I don’t show it all the time and I do know that you want what is best for me. (3. Reassure)
I will answer you when you ask me a question. I know how annoying that can be.(4. Commit to change)
Part 2: Daughter is the speaker, mom the listener
Daughter: Is now a good time to talk about our fight last night? (1. Permission to speak)
Mother: Let me glass of water and we can sit down on the couch and talk.
Daughter: Last night you into my room without knocking, snuck up behind me and read my Facebook chat out loud.  (2. Objective description)
Daughter: I felt angry and scared. (3. Primary feelings)
Daughter: What I made up in my head was that you don’t respect my boundaries and don’t trust me. (4. internal Interpretation)
Daughter: I really want you to knock before you come in my room and if you are worried abut something going on just ask me. (5. Request for the future)
Mother: I did sneak up on you and read your Facebook. (1. Cop to what you did)
And I apologize for not knocking. (2. Apologize)
I do understand your need for privacy. (3. Reassure)
And I will be more direct about questions that I have about what is going on with you and your friends. (4. Commit to change)
Guaranteed results!

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June 16, 2011 · Posted in Infant Development, Media, Parenting, Sleep · Permalink · Comments Off on #!*+!%!&$@!*
“The windows are dark in the town, child/The whales
huddle down in the deep/I’ll read you one very last book if you
swear/You’ll go the —- to sleep.”
Yay! A sense of humor about parenting! I haven’t come across a parent who hasn’t thought a variation of “Go The #!+%! to Sleep”, let alone said it out loud. Not that I am condoning it, of course! The immediate buzz about the picture book by Adam Mansbach was like a collective laughing sigh of relief.
In Pamela Paul’s article about the book, Raising Children is Heck in the NYT, she writes that
“Barbara Jones, director of the office of intellectual freedom at the American Library Association, reminds us that parents have long appreciated that message, even in (somewhat) child-friendly formats. “Down will come cradle, baby and all?” Ms. Jones said pointedly. “That’s for parents. That’s about please — go to sleep already!”

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The Sperminator, Etc.
May 26, 2011 · Posted in Fatherhood, Media, Parenting, Relationships · Permalink · Comments Off on The Sperminator, Etc.

Now let’s make a prediction. Arnold Schwarzenegger will go on to make many movies, millions of dollars and maul more women. Maria Shriver will grieve and comfort her children and learn deep lessons about herself and move on to a new more fulfilling chapter in her life. Any dissenters out there? It is embarrassing that time after time, our culture continues to not only disregard men’s bad behavior but even reward it with more money and more celebrity. The culture is so out of control that we really have to rely on ourselves as parents to teach our children, and in this case, boys, how to be respectful and loving people.

Sexual harassment, inappropriate uses of power positions, and betrayal in relationships are happening all around us. From Arnold Schwarzenegger to male students at Yale, from the head of the International Monetary Fund, to soldiers using rape as a widespread war weapon in the Congo. The truth is that the objectification of women is alive and well in 2011.

I look back at the hopeful naïveté I had in college that rights for women and equality and safety would just keep increasing and increasing. In many arenas of life for women there have been tremendous gains. In the realm of safety and respect for the physical and emotional life of girls and women, unfortunately, things have not changed much and are actually exacerbated by our culture.

As parents, we need to remember that respect for women and girls needs to be a primary lesson to boys. We need to model as mothers the self respect and intolerance for even benign “boys will be boys” behavior, and fathers have a tremendous responsibility to teach their sons what is really means to be a man. To embody the bravery it takes not sink down to lowest common denominator of human behavior.

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It’s That Time Of Year Again!
August 31, 2010 · Posted in Discipline, Education, K-5 Kids, Media, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments (2)

As August light fades and the end of summer coolness sets in, we all, no matter how old, still get that back to school feeling.  The combination of sadness at the summer slipping away mixes with the anxiety tinged excitement at the thought of a whole new year. Remember that great feeling of a new back pack, lunch boxes, and pencils? It’s time for a fresh start!

To capitalize on this feeling have one or two family meetings before school starts. Get a big calendar to go over the general schedule. Who has what when. Visual reminders are helpful for childrenKids like to see things concretely and it helps them organize in their mind to see it on paper.

Make a list of what needs to happen in the mornings before school and before bed. You can use words or pictures depending on the age of your children. Kids love lists and charts!

It is also a good time to go over any chores you want the kids to have and put it on a chore list.

This is an important time to reiterate rules about behavior. Get your kids involved by thinking about their goals for the year. What do they want to work on?

This is the perfect time to make new paramaters about “screen- time”.  TV, computer, PSP, vand the Wii are all the same activity, besides using the computer for homework. If your kids are moving into school age many families make rules about no screens in the morning, or only after all homework is done, or only computer during the week and TV and video games on the weekend. Think about what works for your family and then tell the kids the new rules at the family meeting.  “Screen-time” is also a priviledge that can be revoked as a consequence for negative behaviors.

Adults also need limits on screen-time. Many families have instituted a “no screen zone” from say 6 PM-bedtime for EVERY member of the family! No email checking and Blackberry texting.

You can also set goals for the year–ask your children what they want this new year to be like–what would they like to add or subtract. Set goals for yourselves as well – less yelling, more individual time with each child, making evening family time a priority.

Again, the back to school month of September is a great time to rededicate yourselves as a family to the coming year with goals and rules and an empowered start to a new year!

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Alcohol and Relationships
June 24, 2010 · Posted in Communication, Media, Mental Health, Parenting, Relationships · Permalink · Comments Off on Alcohol and Relationships

This post from Straight Talk On Relationships helps you recognize whether alcohol is playing too big a role in your life.


by Lisa Merlo Booth

Too many couples have a third party creating problems in their relationship. That third party is alcohol. When alcohol is a source of stress in a relationship, it is typically because one partner thinks the other partner either drinks too much or is no fun to be around when they drink. The other partner, of course, does not think this is the case.

For those of you who struggle with this issue in your own relationship, let me help you out. Below are several warning signs that your drinking is, minimally, a problem and possibly alcohol abuse or alcoholism.
• You’ve ever been worried about your drinking and tried to stop or cut back as a result.
• You’ve experienced blackouts due to drinking.
• You become mean-spirited and nasty when you drink.
• Your drinking has resulted in your missing work, losing your job or not being able to perform your job as expected.
• Your partner, friends, children or co-workers have commented on your drinking.
• Your drinking is a source of tension between you and your partner (and not because your partner is opposed to drinking).
• You “have to” have a drink to calm down or relax.
• You often drink to get buzzed or drunk.
• You seldom, if ever, stop at just one drink.
• You use alcohol to loosen up and give you social confidence.
• You drink alone or hide your alcohol use.

There are several signs that your drinking has moved beyond social drinking to problem drinking, but the best indicator I know is: if your drinking is creating problems in your relationship or your life—your drinking is a problem. The problem is not your partner’s thinking it’s a problem.

If you’re not sure whether or not you have a drinking problem — chances are you drink too much. If people in your life think you have a problem and you get defensive when they say this — chances are you drink too much. If either of these two circumstances is present and you have a family history of alcoholism — you’re playing with fire. If you don’t control it, you will get burned.

Alcoholism has an uncanny way of getting passed from one generation to the next. If there is any question that your drinking is a problem, then deal with the issue NOW. Stop the toxic legacy of addiction. You, your marriage and your children deserve to have a safe, sober environment in which to thrive.

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Will Your Kid Be An Outcast If They Don’t Watch TV?
June 10, 2010 · Posted in Media, Parenting, Preschoolers, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments (1)

dora_the_explorer-5238Dora Who?: On Raising a Weirdo

by Bethany Saltman

I was listening to the radio the other day and the uber intellectual Susan Jacoby was being interviewed about her new book, The Age of American Unreason, which is essentially yet another book outlining how Americans have become so illiterate. She was discussing the section of her book which dealt with the so-called educational toys and videos for babies and toddlers and how they are being so overused and abused that research has shown that children who are overexposed to these forms of “entertainment” actually develop vocabulary less readily than other children. This is not particularly new or noteworthy. What I found surprising was how she then commented breezily that people may assume she is some kind of weirdo who thinks children shouldn’t watch any television or videos. And of course, she laughed, she doesn’t believe that. She then went on to describe her own personal TV usage and how difficult it was for her to experiment not watching any during National Turn off the TV Week.

As I listened to her talk, I thought of the last time I visited the doctor with Azzie. As usual, Shirley, the super-friendly receptionist, offered her a sticker for being such a trooper. “Do you want Dora?” she asked. Azalea was blank. She nodded politely. Whatever you think about TV, cartoons and consumerism, can’t we at least give our kids a little breathing room? Can’t we at least ask if kids know who Dora is? For some reason, the idea of questioning the assumption of media-generated childhood connections is very disturbing to even the most educated  and well-intentioned people. Take my in-laws, for instance. When I was pregnant, we told them we were quite happy to remain tv-less, and they reacted as though we were planning on getting rid of our indoor plumbing. Both of my in-laws are hyper-smart Ivy-league trained physicians. These are not media-junkies! But something about the idea of keeping children away from mass-culture makes people uncomfortable. Last time we left Azalea with said in-laws for the day, a Sesame Street DVD was placed, front and center, on their agenda. What is this? Of course we didn’t say anything. We may be OK with raising a weirdo, but we want her to be a well-adjusted weirdo, and arguing over a couple of hours of Big Bird is just silly.

Of course there is no escape from pop culture — and, alright already, it’s not all bad! —  just as there is no escape from cancer-causing chemicals and artificial growth hormones. But that’s no reason to hook the kids up to pesticide pumps and say, well, this is how I was raised, and I turned out ok (and who do we know is really, by the way, ok?).

The truth of the matter is this: we don’t have a TV. I guess this really does make us strange. We live in the woods and go throw rocks into the river for fun. Literally. But Thayer and I love to download LOST episodes and watch them on Friday nights. And we work out to Tony Horton DVDs as often as possible (AB Ripper, Yeaahh!!!). And a couple weeks ago, Azalea was the sickest she’s ever been with a super-high fever and no interest in anything but lying on my lap. So what did I do? I called my friend and asked to borrow some DVDs. We watched those. Then I found Harold and The Purple Crayon on You Tube, and we watched that. Then we sat through Malti Malti from the Dan Zanes website at least 20 times. And I offered poor little Azzie ginger ale and nilla wafers, wanting her to eat something, anything!  She slept on the couch for the first time ever. It was all, actually, really sweet, a kind of nostalgic reenactment of what was tender in my own childhood.

Then the fever broke.

For a couple days after the sick-spell, Azalea asked to watch “bideos,” and I just no. “But we can listen to music,” I said.

“Ok,” she said. And now she doesn’t even ask.

Checking out of TV land is really not a big deal. But it sure does make a difference.

This article first appeared online in Chronogram Magazine, April 25, 2008.

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Phoebe Prince’s Death: A New Look At Bullying
April 8, 2010 · Posted in Bullying, Child Abuse, Communication, Discipline, K-5 Kids, Media, Mental Health, Parenting, Pressure on Children, Relationships, Social Action, Technology, Teens · Permalink · Comments (1)

bullyingPhoebe Prince, the high school girl who hung herself last week, was purportedly “bullied” to death. Tortured is more like it. Hounded, cursed, humiliated in school and on-line. Defining bullying clearly is critical. Many adults think of bullying as a rite of passage in childhood. Clearly there is a difference between being picked last in gym class and being targeted by an individual or group of kids whose aim is to intimidate and shame.  Today’s landscape for children is also markedly different in that Facebook and email amplifies and exacerbates the intensity of peer relationships.We need to take a fresh look at bullying.

“Peer Abuse” is a phrase that more clearly defines the difference between teasing and belittling. “Peer Abuse” includes not only the physical aggression most associate with bullying, but also the verbal and emotional abuse that are a part of situations like Phoebe’s.

“Peer Abuse” are repeated acts over time of physical assault, psychological manipulation, name calling and using social power to ostracize an individual or group. This goes against our commonly held belief that bullies are loners, having been rejected socially. New research shows that it is often popular kids that use subtly abusive tactics to put down others to maintain their social status. Becoming the victim of malicious bullying can happen for a variety of reasons.

The message here for parents is that any of our children can, and most likely will be aggressive or cruel to other children at some point. Make this an open discussion in your family: Model respectful behavior, take seriously claims that your child is being bullied, talk about the pressure and responsibilities that come with popularity. Teach your child to speak up and stand up if someone is being abused. Adults need to do the same. The stakes are too high to be complacent.

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Tweens, Teens and Technology
February 2, 2010 · Posted in Communication, Discipline, Media, Parenting, Technology, Teens · Permalink · Comments (2)

TextMessageA recent article in The New York Times, If Your Kids Are Awake They’re Probably Online, reported powerful data regarding children and their “screen time”.

“The average young American now spends practically every waking minute — except for the time in school — using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device, according to a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Those ages 8 to 18 spend more than seven and a half hours a day with such devices, compared with less than six and a half hours five years ago, when the study was last conducted. And that does not count the hour and a half that youths spend texting, or the half-hour they talk on their cellphones.”

While technology is here to stay –for good or bad– parents should not give up their role in limiting media use and monitoring what is going on online.

Here are some basic tips for keeping tabs and limits on your children’s “screen time”:

  • Know how to use all technology. Stay current and educated about how to text, use Facebook, ichat and skype. Stay in the loop on the kinds of communication systems your child and their friends are using. One way to get closer to teens is to have them teach you — let them be the expert and you be the student.
  • All teens are on Facebook and many adults are as well. Starting your own Facebook page and being “friends” with your teen — even if they block you from seeing some information, will keep you tuned in to what is going on with them. Even if they resist and think you are “creepy and old”, it will become commonplace and accepted after a while.
  • Make sure your kids are not sleeping with their phones. Texting becomes addictive and kids are often texting late into the night long after you are sound asleep. Maybe make a family charging station where all phones are charged at night and retrieved in the morning. Protect your child’s sleep!
  • Set time limits for TV, computer and video game use. You do not have to allow your child to use media eight hours a day!
  • Make rules that children and adults adhere to at home. No texts, email, phone or TV at dinner, or when you are walking children to school. Set a good example.
  • Have a healthy distrust for new technology but embrace it as well. It is here to stay and if you can’t beat ’em-join ’em with care!
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