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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Understanding the Dangers of Social Media Apps
June 28, 2016 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Technology, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off on Understanding the Dangers of Social Media Apps

By Hilary Smith

As our young girls and boys enter the tween and teen years, it is essential that we empower them with skills and strategies to safely navigate the digital world. It’s no secret that texting and social media have drastically changed the way our kids and society communicates. We need to try to stay a few steps ahead of our kids as they enter the world of social media.

Our little digital natives adapt to devices with relative ease, often mastering the technology before we can figure out the volume and power buttons. Social media is no exception. Today 71 percent of teens are already using more than one social media site and 70 percent of our children will take measures to hide their online activity.

Given this secrecy and the potential danger online we can help prepare our children for living in a digital environment by familiarizing ourselves with popular apps and the dangers associated with them.

Start with these 4 apps

Line. Line offers a wide range of services including voice chat and the ability to create short videos. Children like this app, because it has a lot of features that works across all types of devices. One area of concern is “Hidden Chats”, that allows users to send disappearing messages that automatically delete after being read. While this fleeting quality can promote authentic communication, it can be a playground for cyberbullying and other undesirable behaviors. This is a popular “anonymous” app that hides users’ identities while allowing them to ask and answer questions. At first glance, this app offers a unique way for people to interact. However, in recent years this site has been associated with multiple cyberbullying cases.

Tinder. This very adult dating app admits that 7 percent of the users on the site are between 13 and 17 years old! In the sites defense, they have created a teen section, using filters to sort users by age groups. Unfortunately, many children use false birthdates to register for social media apps that can inadvertently expose them to much older and experienced individuals who are looking for a good time.

Burn Note. This app strives to maintain a user’s privacy by using self-destructing messages and a spotlight feature that only allows a section of the message to be read at a time. Burn Note was created to protect users from prying eyes, screenshots, and forwarding messages making it difficult for parents to catch cyberbullying or inappropriate conduct if a child utilizes this app.

For a better detailed explanation of Burn Note, please check out this video produced from TeenSafe:


Hilary Smith has parlayed her love of technology and parenting into a freelance writing career. As a journalist, she specializes in covering the challenges of parenting in the digital age. She loves all things tech and hasn’t met a gadget that didn’t peek her interest. The Texas native currently resides in Chicago, IL and braves the winters with her two children, ages 4 and 7. 

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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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Emergency! Get the iPad
July 28, 2011 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Technology, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments Off on Emergency! Get the iPad
With all the worry about the negative effects of “screen time”, finally a study that supports the use of the iPad for children. A recent post in Behavioral Medicine Report speaks of the positive effects of iPad use for children in hospital emergency rooms. These devices helped manage pain and fear in relation to medical procedures. “Whether a child comes to us with a broken arm, severe asthma or any medical emergency, we need to do all we can to eliminate the pain they are feeling and get them the care they need,” says Bernadette O’Brien, R.N., vice president of operations at NewYork-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. “This program has been very successful, with positive feedback from parents and improvements in Press Ganey surveys of pain management.”

The anxiety that children experience in anticipation of a procedure can both worsen their hospital experience and make it more difficult to complete the procedure. We all know how engrossing an iPad can be–great to put it to good use to lessen trauma for children in a scary situation.

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An Apple (iPhone) A Day for Your Toddler?
October 26, 2010 · Posted in Parenting, Preschoolers, Technology, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments (3)
My favorite toy is my iPad. My second favorite toy is my iphone. I have a hard time not playing with them – even when in a conversation with someone. I am 50. So what about little kids playing with their parents iPhones? In Toddlers Favorite Toy: The iPhone, Hilary Stout takes on the pros and cons of allowing young children to use these amazing gizmos. I have a lot of sympathy for parents today. When I was at the park with my young children, I didn’t even have a cell phone! I had no choice but to settle in and be there. Had I been able to whip out my iPad or make a call I am sure I would have. I feel thankful that wasn’t an option- it pushed me to either pay attention or at the very least use my imagination to occupy myself if I felt bored, annoyed or uncomfortable.
If grown ups have such a hard time limiting themselves, we have to acknowledge how addictive these devices really are. So the idea of toddlers playing with these “toys” is giving crack to a baby. Here’s some information and strategies to help you either prohibit or limit your young child’s time on an iPhone.
1. There is no way this is good for a kid’s brain. No child development expert, unless on Apple’s payroll will say that this is good use of a child’s time.
Jane M. Healy, an educational psychologist in Vail, Colo. said: “Any parent who thinks a spelling program is educational for that age is missing the whole idea of how the preschool brain grows. What children need at that age is whole body movement, the manipulation of lots of objects and not some opaque technology. You’re not learning to read by lining up the letters in the word ‘cat.’ You’re learning to read by understanding language, by listening. Here’s the parent busily doing something and the kid is playing with the electronic device. Where is the language? There is none.”
2. Imagine your parent saying, “Ok cutie, you play with the 500 dollar Tiffany vase. If it breaks we can just get a new one!” These are very expensive items! Use common sense.
3. Screens are so rivieting we can’t help looking at them. Consider what your child will miss out on if constantly glued to the phone.
Tovah P. Klein, the director of Columbia University’s Barnard College Center for Toddler Development (where signs forbid the use of cellphones and other wireless devices) worries that fixation on the iPhone screen every time a child is out and about with parents will limit the child’s ability to experience the wider world.
4. Your children will have their whole lives to use computers, phones and screens of all kind. They don’t need to have them as their little brains are developing.
Again, I have trouble limiting myself on these toys, so all power to you if you can not allow your children to use them. It is probably a healthier choice.
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Down Time For Brains
October 19, 2010 · Posted in Parenting, Technology, Work/Family Balance · Permalink · Comments Off on Down Time For Brains

Like a great meal, it makes sense that in order to process information or experiences you need time digest. Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime, New York Times, August 24, 2010 explains that rats need time free from stimulation to process their last periods of experience. If those periods are interrupted, the integration of the information is impaired. Now of course, humans aren’t rats, but we all know that it is getting harder and harder to just be without our iphones, blackberries, laptops and games (me included). For ourselves, and for our children, it is important to have enforced unplugged times so that we can develop our intellectual abilities, memory and the digestion of material or experience. I may have to go on a “stimulation diet” to aid my brain digestion. Doesn’t sound too appealing but like all healthful activity we are glad we did it in the end.

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Should We Cut The i-Embilical Cord?
September 23, 2010 · Posted in Adult Children, Communication, Mental Health, Parenting, Technology, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off on Should We Cut The i-Embilical Cord?

Technology has given us many ways to stay connected to our children: text, ichat, skype, email and cell phone. They keep us feeling in touch even when kids are off to summer camp or college. A new book entitled The iConnected Parent: Staying Close to Your Kids in College (and Beyond) While Letting Them Grow Up by Barbara K. Hofer and Abigail Sullivan Moore challenges parents to think carefully about the benefits of  pulling the plug on these means of communication. The book looks at the downside of parents being over involved in the day to day, or many times a day, lives of their college age children. Children who were in such close contact were less able to problem solve on their own and were less competent in caring for themselves.

Hofer is not suggesting that parents cut contact with their kids but she does illustrate the benefit of the kind of independence and separateness we had from parents when we were in college.  She points out that less contact does not mean less close and that sometimes we can inadvertently undermine the young adult development that is so important by being overly connected.

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Caution: Smart Phones
June 15, 2010 · Posted in Adult Children, Communication, Parenting, Technology · Permalink · Comments (1)

“Get off the iPad! Come hang out with me!!”

Not me to my daughter, mind you–my daughter to me.

It’s true. I am in love with my iPad. It is hard for me to put it down. It calls to me. Even my adult children who are quite the techno-wizards themselves feel they sometimes have to pry me away from my iPad. They think I escaped a terrible fate by not having a cell phone or computer when I had small children. I cannot imagine I would have been good at setting it aside when bored at the park, or while bathing them or sorting Barbie clothes.

Thursday’s New York Times article “The Risks of Parenting While Plugged In” was upsetting. Not only because I meet with kids who by age 8 report that their parents love their blackberry more than them, but because I know full and well how hard it is to focus on relationships with children when the call of the responsive, neat and fast smart phone asks you to just take one more “hit”. The lures of technology are like quicksand–before you know it you are buried under cravings and habits and it feels impossible to get yourself out.

I feel for parents. It seems like an unavoidable addiction. Take out calls and texts while at the park and you too would shovel sand, push on the swing or pretend to be captain hook. I think my kids lucked out on having an unplugged mother and I hope parents can sometimes fight the urge to put it away.

Here is a challenge–for one entire day pretend it is 1987 and ban yourself from all modes of technology other than a land line. You will walk away with a clear understanding of the difference technology makes in the quantity and quality of time spent with children. It is unrealistic to cut everything out on a daily basis, but if you can follow any or all of these guidelines you are guaranteed to have a richer relationship with your child:

  • No phone, computer, etc from the time you come home from work until the kids go to bed
  • No phone/text usage during meals
  • No talking or texting while you take your children to school

And for myself. When I have the gift of a daughter home from college who wants me to hang out with her, I better let go of my beloved iPad. I am going to make sure she holds me to it.

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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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