Beyond ‘no means no’: What most parents aren’t teaching their sons about sexual consent

October 4

A mile east from the U.S. ­Capitol, on the eve of the hearing that would transfix a nation, ­17-year-old Hollis Howe sliced his steak as he listened to his mother talk about sexual assault.

Holly Howe, 45, told him about a young patient who recently came into the emergency room where she works as a nurse. The woman had been found outside her apartment door, wearing a dress but no underwear, recalling nothing from the night. Hours later, after sobering up, “she looks at me and she goes, ‘I think something happened,’ ” Howe recalled to her son and husband, Gerred Howe, at the dinner table.

“Do not ever, ever think that because you’re both drinking, and you both think that it’s consensual, that it’s necessarily okay,” Howe told her son.

“Because what if she wakes up and decides that it wasn’t consensual?” replied Hollis, a senior at the all-boys St. Anselm’s Abbey School in Washington. “Exactly,” his mother nodded.

As the son of an emergency room nurse, Hollis has heard these stories time and time again from his parents, perhaps more than the typical high school boy. The Howes have drilled into his brain the importance of consent, which was almost a foreign concept when they were teenagers. They talk openly about sex and teach him to never combine it with alcohol.

In the age of #MeToo, and in the wake of the Brett M. Kavanaugh hearings, parents across the country have been wrestling with the anxieties of raising teenage boys to understand consent. How does a parent bring clarity to an issue that is too complex even for the country’s political leaders to navigate? How can a mother or father prevent their teenage son from someday being accused of sexual assault?

Perhaps nowhere are these worries more palpable than in the homes of students in Washington’s all-male private preparatory schools, the backdrop to Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegation against Kavanaugh. Some parents from these schools, particularly Kavanaugh’s alma mater, Georgetown Preparatory School, feel that their sons are being unfairly stereotyped as misogynistic, privileged party boys. They have taken to forcefully defending their sons, who they say are raised in a culture of respect, dignity and brotherhood.

Indeed, sexual assault takes place in schools all over the country, public and private, single-gender and co-ed. Even in the D.C. area, the all-boys prep schools vary widely in size, culture and religious affiliation.

But it is especially important that parents of students from all-boys schools are having these conversations at home, experts in adolescent development say. One 2013 study from Arizona State University found that single-gender schools reinforce and increase gender stereotypes.

“If you are separating the boys and the girls, it is all the less likely that the boys know how to relate to the girls,” said Campbell Leaper, a developmental psychologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

If boys and girls only socialize at parties, and if there is drinking involved, Leaper said, “that’s just a prescription for disaster.”

A new kind of sex education

Teaching consent to teenagers is still a relatively new concept. In previous decades, conversations about the “birds and the bees” focused on abstinence or, at most, using protection.

Today, only 24 states and the District of Columbia require sex education in public schools, and fewer than a dozen states mention the terms “healthy relationships,” “sexual assault” or “consent” in their sex-education programs, according to a report in May by the liberal Center for American Progress.

Maryland passed legislation this year mandating consent education. It is less clear to what extent these lessons are taught in private schools.

Similar gaps persist in conversations about sex between parents and their sons. Many adults do not know how to teach consent, said Andrew Smiler, a licensed psychologist who specializes in masculinity. Talks are often overly simplistic, focusing on “no means no.”

“At the nuts-and-bolts level, what does that mean?” Smiler said.

And the way parents talk about sex often varies depending on whether they are talking to a son or a daughter, said Charlie Kuhn, a co-founder of Cultures of Dignity, which provides training and curriculum on the physical and emotional well-being of young people. Parents are more likely to explain in detail to teenage girls the need to be careful at parties, to avoid walking on dark streets and to stay with close friends.

“Part of the difference comes from, we have bought into this stereotype that boys are inherently promiscuous and are not into relationships,” Smiler said. “Then really the only thing you need to tell them is to be safe. Because what more would they need to know?”

As devout Baptists, Vince and Kathy Mathis teach their two children that the decision to have sex is serious and that it is best to wait until they are married.

“They usually say, ‘Don’t be in such a rush so early,’ ” said their 16-year-old son Ryan, who is dating a girl from Holton-Arms, the high school attended by Ford. “ ‘Be a kid right now and worry about those kinds of things later.’ ”

While they have talked about “no means no,” Vince and Kathy Mathis say they do not feel the need to lay out scenarios or explain how to move from one step to the next. They focus instead on bigger-picture values, including respecting others and “controlling your own destiny,” Vince Mathis said.

In their minds, Ryan’s Catholic education at Georgetown Prep reinforces those values. Despite going to an all-boys school, Ryan has had no shortage of interactions with girls, as a member of a co-ed swim team who attended a co-ed school through eighth grade.

“He has a sister, he knows what that’s like,” Vince Mathis said.

Rosalind Wiseman, a co-founder of Cultures of Dignity, says she has noticed a tendency among some parents to assume their sons are incapable of treating anyone with disrespect, because that is the way they raised them.

“What I hear is, ‘You know that you should be treating these girls like your mother or your sister,’ ” Wiseman said. “And that is not helpful, because those boys don’t see those girls like their mother or their sister.”

False accusations

Wiseman has sensed a growing fear among parents that a young woman might someday falsely accuse their son of sexual assault or “change her mind” after a sexual encounter that at first seemed consensual. This mentality puts the burden on girls, Wiseman said, because it assumes that if something were to go wrong, it would be the girl’s fault, not the boy’s.

The Kavanaugh hearings seem to have brought that fear — of miscommunication, blurred lines or even false accusations — to the forefront for many ­families.

“I want every female to be able to say, ‘This is not okay with me,’ ” Holly Howe said. “At the same time I have three sons that I am worried about getting in a pickle because they think they’re having consensual sex with someone and it turns out that later this person thinks that it wasn’t consensual sex.”

At the dinner table, she recounted how, as the designated driver for his fraternity one night, one of her older sons drove home a heavily intoxicated girl from a party.

“I got so angry with him,” Howe said. What he should have done was call an ambulance immediately, she said. “Don’t pick up a drunk, unresponsive girl who later may or may not wake up and say, ‘Oh, the last thing I remember, I was in Harrison’s car. I don’t know what happened to me.’ ”

“Bad idea,” she told her ­17-year-old son. “These are the things that could happen to you.”

“Don’t take a girl home because she’s drunk?” Hollis said. “See, that is a good deed that you can no longer do.”

The teenager, who has read at length about the #MeToo movement, worries that there might be an overcorrection happening. One of his older brothers, talking to their father over the phone earlier that day, said that “any interaction with a girl is scary as hell now. But it probably should be.”

Their father, Gerred Howe, agreed — to an extent. To give an example, he turned to his wife, touching her hand, then her elbow and then her shoulder. “How romantic is it if I’m sitting there asking, ‘Is this okay?’ ” he said. “It becomes a little bit ridiculous.”

Smiler, the psychologist, agrees that it is unrealistic to require teenage couples to ask for a yes or no each time they progress a step. “The vast majority of the time, consent is nonverbal,” he said.

Smiler urges teenagers to move slowly. He tells teenage boys: When you’re with a girl, wait three seconds after you place your hand somewhere. See if she reciprocates. If she brushes it off, you stop. If she says no, you stop. If you get no response, or if the girl freezes up, then you need to stop and ask her directly if it’s what she wants.

That sort of detailed guidance is essential to teaching a teenage boy about consent, he said. It is not unlike the definition of consent ingrained in Hollis Howe’s memory from a video he watched about three years ago. Holly Howe sent a link to the viral video to all three of her sons, telling them they had to watch it and talk about it as a family.

Hollis can still summarize it, step by step, years later.

It begins with someone asking for a cup of tea.

“Now that you’ve started the stove, warmed up the water, poured it into the glass and presented it to them, they don’t want tea,” Hollis explained. What do you do? It’s common sense for the 17-year-old.

“Don’t try to pour tea down their mouth!” he said.

Internet Safety Checklist for Families

Kids today are lucky enough to grow up with the internet. It’s a valuable resource that is full of information and activities. But the internet isn’t always as safe for kids as we wish it would be.

By speaking openly with kids about the dangers of social mediasexting, and online predators, parents can better prepare children for the dangers of online activity.

Kids need to know that everything put online can be accessed by others, even when only shared with people they know. Our Internet Safety Checklist will help you keep your family safe while they use apps and browse the internet.

10 Internet Safety Tips for Parents

  1. Talk About Online Strangers
    Making your children aware of stranger danger and online predators is important for their safety. Let them know what’s appropriate and that they can come to you if anyone makes them feel uncomfortable.
  2. Review Internet Safety Rules
    Download our checklist to review the internet safety guidelines for your family.
  3. Open the Lines of Communication
    Create a safe space with your children where they will feel comfortable to bring up issues, like cyberbullying, that may arise during their time spent online.
  4. Share an Email Account
    This is a great way to have visibility into your child’s communication, while still granting them the necessary access for their digital use.
  5. Be Your Child’s Friend
    In this instance, having a friendly relationship with your child can ensure that they’re willing to approach you in confidence, especially if a sensitive issue arises online.
  6. Stay on Top of Digital Trends
    Staying up-to-date with the newest apps and online trends is important for parents. Kids are usually on the forefront of using the hottest apps & parents should be fully informed of where their kids are spending their time.
  7. Keep the Computer in Central Location
    By keeping computers, tablets and phones in a shared location, kids will be discouraged from risky online behavior.
  8. Collect Devices at Night
    Round up all phones, tablets and other connected devices each night. Have a central charging station in a shared location in your house for further safety.

  9. Set Time Limits
    Institute limitations for your child’s internet use by using a Family Media Contract.

  10. Monitor Online Activity
    Keep an eye on how long and where your child spends their time online.

Why Unplugged Parenting is Important

May 28, 2018

“Unplugged parenting” is a parenting term coined in response to the ever-growing presence of technology in our world. There’s a good bit of information out there regarding the importance of balancing our kids’ “online” connections and “real life” connections. We talk with them on the potential dangers of an online addiction and how we want them to have positive and interpersonal relationships with their family members, peers, and teachers.

WHAT ABOUT OUR OWN USE OF TECHNOLOGY?

Who are our kids’ first teachers? Their parents. Who are our kids’ first role models? Their parents. Who sets the first and ongoing example for our kids – good or bad? You guessed it, their parents! So why do we sometimes hold ourselves to a different expectation than our children? Do all those studies of the negative impact of excessive screen time use only apply to children? We’re much too smart of a society and too invested in the wellbeing of our families, I think, for that to be true.

Parents now, more than ever, are juggling so many things in a day. Between the family responsibilities in the house, the children, work responsibilities and trying to squeeze in some leisure time too, there often feels like there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Technology has created a new solution for this problem. At-home access on the laptop has helped with a more flexible working environment. Mobile apps have made it possible to do banking, grocery shopping and scheduling from essentially anywhere as long as you have your smartphone with you. In these ways, technology has made it possible to being closer to answering that questions many parents ask – How can I be in more than one place at a single time?!

So, just as we ask our children, we must ask ourselves, where is the balance?

Smartphones and tablets have blurred a boundary between work and family life. While it’s convenient to be able to work from home occasionally, we must recognize when that boundary has been crossed. Our children also have very busy lives with school and extracurricular activities. They look to us to set a healthy example of how to balance pressures coming from different angles.

A recent study by the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics addressed this idea of blurred lines. One of the child behavioral experts, Jenny Radesky M.D., stated

“It’s much harder to toggle between mom or dad brain and other aspects of life because the boundaries have all blurred together. We wanted to understand how this was affecting parents emotionally. We found that parents are struggling to balance family time and the desire to be present at home with technology-based expectations like responding to work and other demands.”

Their results suggest the type of material a parent is viewing at home significantly influences family interactions and can make it more challenging to be present at home. Furthermore, they found parents to be feeling exhausted and overwhelmed more with increased use of technology in conjunction with parenting.

Consider these few tips when looking at your own use of technology and how it relates to your parenting:

SET YOUR OWN BOUNDARIES.

Just because you can be on your laptop for hours at home, doesn’t mean you should. If you need to work from home, hold yourself accountable to setting a start and end time and stick to those as best you can.

TRACK YOUR USAGE.

Once you start tracking, most parents are surprised to learn the number of hours they’re on their devices. Knowledge is key here – once you know, you can make adjustments.

WHAT ARE YOUR DISTRACTIONS?

Know your patterns. What is most distracting to you on your phone or your laptop. For example, if you need to check email in the evening, set designated times to do that instead of having your laptop open for hours at a time.

CONSIDER WHAT YOU WOULD WANT TO SEE FOR YOUR CHILD.

Remember you were their first role model and you continue to be someone your child looks up to.

6 Most Dangerous Messaging Apps for Kids

May 14, 2018

Kidnapping, rape, child pornography, murder; these are the stories we see, all too frequently, involving our children. Even more alarming is that our kids’ smartphones, and more specifically the apps on their phones, are the gateway through which child predators get into their lives. The best way to protect your children is to arm yourself with information, so let’s take a look at some of the most dangerous apps for kids.

kik
One of the most dangerous apps for teens, and one continually making headlines, is kik. Messaging app kik allows your kids to send messages that you can’t see, and verifying the identity of both sender and receiver is very difficult. A popular app for kids under age 18, kik’s also very popular with sexual predators; this app should be deleted from your child’s phone.

Snapchat
Many adults are already using Snapchat, so you may already know the basics of using the app. Snapchat allows you to send a photo or video from your phone and determine how long the person on the other end can see the image until it self-destructs. What you may not realize is that teen users are bypassing the “self-destruct” aspect by capturing screenshots of interactions. This can be potentially devastating, as well as fuel for cyberbullying, should your teen share intimate information about themselves with friends. For this reason alone, Snapchat makes our list of the most dangerous apps for kids.

Ask.fm
A social networking site in question and answer format, Ask.fm caused enough problems in the U.K. for former Prime Minister, David Cameron, to urge parents not to let their children use the app. Seemingly innocuous, Ask.fm is being used by teens to abuse and bully others, made easier by the fact that there is no third party moderation of the content posted. Without adequate privacy settings, the absence of content moderations, and the ability to be used anonymously, Ask.fm has been linked to teen suicides around the globe.

Whisper
Another anonymous messaging app, Whisper allows users to connect in groups based upon their interests and location, and is used for “telling secrets”. While the app is rated 17+, the application allows 15-17 year olds to use the platform. Posts are “whispers” and users can search under topics and then reply publicly or open a personal chat. What makes Whisper one of the most dangerous apps for kids is that the anonymous aspect of the platform, paired with the location-based grouping, can easily connect your child with a predator.

Blendr
On Blendr, kids can message, exchange photos and videos, and rate the “hotness” of other users, based upon GPS location — this, alone, poses an obvious issue with teens and tweens who are basing their identity and self-esteem on the feedback they receive from their peers. There is no age restriction, so your children can potentially be having exchanges with adults through this app.

WhatsApp
WhatsApp is a messaging service that lets users exchange unlimited text, audio, photo and video messages over the Internet. What makes WhatsApp one of the most dangerous apps for teens is that interactions and exchanges are on a platform other than their phone, meaning teens can have messaging interactions and exchanges that are not saved on their phones (and reviewed by parents). WhatsApp appeals to teens for the privacy and freedom to exchange any messages they want, with whomever they want.

While you may consider yourself a pro at navigating Facebook, Twitter, and even Instagram, these are relatively safe places for your children to spend time, as attested by this list of dangerous apps for kids. Again, arm yourself with information to stay “in-the-know” with the apps your child may be drawn to, but can very well be harmful to them. Install a parental control software that includes a report when new apps are downloaded by anyone in your family.

New Dangerous Teen Vaping Trend – Juul E-Cigarettes

Have you heard about this dangerous new teen vaping trend?

If it’s been awhile since you’ve been cutting class and hanging out in a high school bathroom, you might not be aware that there is a new trend popular with teens — using JUUL e-cigarettes.

Vapes, or e-cigarettes, are battery operated devices that heat up liquid nicotine that is then inhaled. JUUL is the bestselling e-cigarette on the market with 32% of the market share, according to Nielsen Data.

And don’t get it wrong, most teens will quickly correct you that they are “JUULing”, not vaping.

Those same kids may not be aware that if they are JUULing, they are still inhaling a significant amount of nicotine. According to JUUL’s website, “One JUULpod is approximately equivalent to 1 pack of cigarettes or 200 puffs. Each JUULpod contains 0.7mL with 5% nicotine by weight.”

If a teen smokes one pod a week, “in five weeks that is like 100 cigarettes” said Pamela Ling, a professor at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine. “By that point, you’re considered an established smoker.”

Read GroupMe & Other Dangerous Apps Parents Should Know.

Why are JUUL e-cigarettes so popular?

Here is the attraction (and the problem) – JUUL’s don’t look or taste anything like a standard e-cigarette.

The JUUL device is built into a USB stick that has three purposes:

  • Can be easily charged on a laptop
  • Hard to detect from a standard memory stick USB
  • JUUL devices can be customized with colorful skins or decals

JUUL comes in sweet, candy-like flavors that are appealing to a younger palate, offering such flavors like Virginia tobacco, cool mint, fruit medley, creme brulee & mango. These flavors are dangerous because as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports, “flavorings in tobacco products can make them more appealing to youth.”

The flavors also have another selling point for kids – the odor produced from a JUUL has a similar sweet scent of body lotion or spray versus stale smoke, thus making it more difficult for parents or teachers to detect. At least now the high school bathrooms smell more like Juicy Fruit gum than gym socks or stale smoke, but at what cost?

While the FDA has banned most flavored cigarettes and tobacco products, they have not banned flavored vapes. Since 2016, the FDA does have authority to regulate e-cigarette products, claims Matthew Myers, the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free kids in an interview with NPR. “However, the FDA delayed key provisions for an additional four years. That means highly flavored e-cigarettes will go unregulated essentially for years to come,” he says.

The postponed regulation would require all e-cigarettes, including flavors, to have FDA approval before going to market.

Unlike last year’s fidget spinners, JUULs are more than just the latest teen fad –their “cool factor” does not outweigh the health concerns involved. In fact, the CDC states that e-cigarettes are the most common form of tobacco use among tween and teens in both middle school and high schools.

Is JUULing more addictive than other e-cigarettes?

To date, no studies have shown if JUUL is more addictive that other e-cigarettes, in fact, there has been very little long-term data on how any e-cigarettes affect health.

What is known is that each JUUL pod contains nicotine equivalent to a pack of cigarettes. That alone is a fact that should concern parents since research has indicated that nicotine is highly addictive.

JUUL was specifically created to mimic the experience and satisfaction of smoking a regular cigarette, but unlike most e-cigarettes, they don’t use the type of nicotine called “free-base” that when inhaled pass quickly into the blood stream. Instead, the JUUL pods are a proprietary mixture of flavors, salts and organic acids found in tobacco leaves.

The brand boasts, “The JUUL vaporizer has regulated temperature control and uses nicotine salts as found in the tobacco leaf rather than free-base nicotine, unlike standard e-cigarettes. These qualities are unique to JUUL. By accommodating cigarette-like nicotine levels, JUUL provides satisfaction to meet the standards of smokers looking to switch from smoking cigarettes.”

What Parents Need to Know

Over one million JUUL systems have been sold to date and the product is currently available at 12,000 convenient stores across the US, as well as online. Purchasers must be over 21 to purchase legally, but unfortunately many minors have figured out alternate ways to purchase JUULs.

If you’re worried about what your kids are searching for and purchasing online, try Zift to monitor your child’s online and in-app activity.

It’s essential for parents to have a conversation with your kids about e-cigarettes and make sure they’re aware that even if they taste sweet like a gummy bear, they are inhaling dangerous nicotine. Parents can also partner with schools to help establish further awareness about e-cigarettes and nicotine addiction.

For more information about e-cigarettes and the health risks involved, visit Kids Health.

Remember, keeping our kids safe is a shared responsibility, especially with products on the market that can be appealing and dangerous to our youth.

Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About SnapChat

Mar 10, 2018

Snapchat. It is the one social media app that makes most adults, and parents cringe (or at least roll their eyes). While Facebook still dominates the social media space among teens (71% of teens still use Facebook, Snapchat is part of the top five chasing these numbers), Snapchat is making a serious run as top contender. As parents, we need to be very careful if and when we expose our children to snapchat and much like any other social media platform, parents need to make sure kids are safe and responsible on Snapchat. Here are some of the key items to remember about current Snapchat features:

  • Snaps posted to public stores are gone after 24 hours
  • When you send a video or photo snap privately to someone it is gone whenever they open it; text snaps can be saved within the conversation
  • There is limited discovery within the Snapchat application itself. There are third party apps that allow this feature, but from within the app, it is very limiting, so everyone is actively adding and trying to find other people which they can connect
  • The new Memories feature allows you to be able to create an album from your snaps, and also allow you to upload saved photos and videos to your story

How does this information help parents educating themselves and their kids on Snapchat? Well, keep these numbers in mind:

  • 60% of 13 to 34-year old smartphone owners are using Snapchat
  • 13 years old is the minimum age requirements not just for Snapchat but for all social media accounts

These are just some of the statistics to keep in mind. While these are definitely important things to know and consider, just as important is how to keep your child safe if they use SnapChat.

Five things every parent need to know if you let your child use SnapChat:

  1. Help your kids setup their security on snapchat. There are two options in the Settings for “Contact Me” and “View My Story.” It is highly recommended that both should be set to My Friends and not Everyone so that way only their friends can interact and view their stories. This will keep the strangers at bay since users have to manually add each other (remember, no discovery within Snapchat)
  2. Have a conversation about screengrabs. Even though snaps posted to stories disappear after 24 hours, that won’t stop someone from taking a screenshot of the snap. The screenshots save to the user’s camera roll.
  3. Encourage comments to be PG. Screen grabs are not just images but conversations as well. Same thing goes for private communication, screenshots are possible even if the snaps delete after viewing; this is a good way to encourage appropriate conversations and “keeping it PG”.
  4. It is ok to monitor your kids Snapchat activities. Monitoring activities includes account passwords, private messages, memories, and posts to stories.
  5. Even SnapChat needs a tech time out. This one is a little tougher, you can encourage your kids to have fun with Snapchat, but do not let it take over their lives. Set some personal “offline” boundaries with it. For example, do not allow smartphone usage during family time, or when eating together. Keep the distractions to a minimum.

Snapchat is becoming one of the most popular, trending social media platforms currently with no sign of slowing down. Parents, if you decide to allow your child to use Snapchat, I would suggest you sign up for an account and make sure you are connected with them so you can keep tabs on their stories and also encourage an open door policy. Remind your kids that trust is earned and can be taken away. Make it ok for them to show you their snaps because if they have nothing to hide, this won’t be an issue.

Monitoring your child’s online activity can be overwhelming at times, which is why as a parent it is important to use a parental control software, so you can block, filter or be sent alerts to inappropriate activities.

7 Tax Breaks Every Parent Should Know About

Mar 05, 2018

Raising a child is without question the most important and rewarding role in life, but it can also get expensive. Families are estimated to spend between $12,350 – $14,000 a year per child (birth to 17 years old), on average, per the Department of Agriculture.

But there’s good news for parents! You can take advantage of the different tax breaks available – and there are quite a few. Read below for our list of popular tax credits (subtracted from the amount you owe) or tax exemptions (decrease the amount of the income upon which you are taxed) to increase your return.

TIPS FOR TAX BREAKS

1. Adoption Credit
If you’ve recently adopted a child or multiple children under the age of 18, check out Form 8839 to receive a credit up to $13,570  per child. Qualified adoption expenses include: court costs, attorney fees, travel expenses and other expenses (including meals) that are directly related to the legal adoption of a child. Like most credits, there are income limits to be eligible.

Note: The adoption credits begin to phase out when modified adjusted gross incomes reach $203,540, and phase out completely above $243,540.

2. Dependent Exemption
Most parents can qualify for a $4,050 per dependent exemption as long as their child is under the age 19 (24 if they are a full-time student), and they live with you at least half of the year if you financially qualify. Exemptions begin to phase out after you reach certain income levels:

  • $261,500 for a single individual
  • $313,800 for married filing jointly

Tip:The IRS has an Interactive Tax Assistant tool on their site you can use to help determine who can be claimed as a dependent.

3. Child Tax Credit
Unlike the exemption above, tax credits lower your tax bill dollar-for-dollar. Most parents are eligible for a Child Tax Credit for each qualifying child under the age of 17 if:

  • they are considered a dependent
  • you pay for at least half of their expenses
  • they live with you for at least half of the year

The maximum credit is $1,000 per child, if your income is less than $75,000 for a single individual filer or $110,000 for a married couple filing jointly, and $55,000 for a married individual filing a separate return. . For higher-income earners, you may still be eligible for a partial credit, use of the IRS Interactive Tax Assistant tool to determine if a child qualifies for the Child Tax Credit.

4. Child and Dependent Care Credit
You should consider this credit if you paid someone to take care of your child (13 and under) in order to work or to find a job. The credit is capped at $3,000 for one qualified child or $6,000 for two or more qualified individuals. Like most credits, your actual adjusted gross income will have some limitations on how much of a credit you’ll receive. This credit can also be used toward care for a disabled adult in the family. For more information on this credit use the IRS Interactive Tax Assistant tool to determine if your family qualifies for this credit.

Note: If your employer makes any contributions towards your qualified child expenses, you must subtract them from your own qualifying expenses.

5. American Opportunity Tax Credit
This credit can be used for your child, your spouse or yourself, up to $2,500 per year per student for the first four years of college education – however, room and board expenses don’t qualify. Qualified expenses include:

  • tuition
  • enrollment fees
  • some school expenses

To be eligible for the full credit, your adjusted gross income must be $160,000 or less if married filing jointly; $80,00 or less if filling single. Parents can get a reduced credit with adjusted gross incomes up to $180,000 married filing jointly or $90,000 filing as a single filer.

6. Home Office Deduction
If you work from home, or as a freelancer, this is a deduction you’ll want to explore – but only if you have a dedicated space in your home where you work. Common deductions often include:

  • a portion of mortgage interest
  • property taxes
  • some household expenses (such as a phone line, computer, car mileage, office supplies and equipment)

Always be sure to keep records and save receipts, including proof of payment for any tax-related expenditures. IRS has a booklet on guidelines for home office deductions that you will want to check out.

Note:Be careful what you declare as an “office”, working at the kitchen table does not count nor does an office that also converts to a playroom after 5 PM.

7. Employ Your Kids
If you own a small business, you can hire your child for age-appropriate tasks such as: filing, providing computer tech support, or even posting on a company social media account. Children under the age of 18 who work for their parent’s business are not subject to social security or Medicare taxes – if the business is sole proprietorship or a partnership in which each partner is a parent of the child.

The first $6,350 earned by each child is tax-free (known as the standard deduction) and any additional income is taxed at the child’s tax rate (which is usually lower than the parents’ rate). You, as the business owner, meanwhile, can declare that amount fully deductible as a business expense.

Tip:The IRS has a guideline that you should read before hiring any family member.

Are Smartphones Fueling Your Teen’s Insomnia?

Feb 18, 2018

Morning after morning I try to rouse my teen for his early morning class; I’ve used blaring alarms, sweet reminders, tearing off blankets and even spray bottles that spritz water. Slumber continues despite my earnest attempts. Then the “ding” of a new message or sports alert arrives on his phone and he’s up!

Social media connections have power, not all of which are bad. But social media has the power to interrupt a good night’s rest requiring us to discipline ourselves in getting to bed and turning it off for the night.

5 WAYS SOCIAL MEDIA IMPACTS SLEEP

Here are five things to consider when thinking about intervening with your teens (and for yourselves) regarding how social media impacts sleep:

1)  THE SLEEPY ADOLESCENT:

Sleep researchers don’t have to tell parents that the adolescent brain is a little different! Moodiness, puberty, monosyllabic utterances and strange sleep patterns take over that cute little one once known as their child.

It is common to see teenagers with schedules that demand an early morning for school and a late night with homework or extra-curricular activities. What complicates this further is that the adolescent brain requires more sleep but at different times than a typical schedule allows. Teens are tired during the day, more awake as the rest of us are heading to bed and almost impossible to rouse in the morning.

Although we may be unsuccessful at getting them to fall asleep earlier during this stage of development, we can be more mindful of some of the typical social interruptions that make falling (and staying) asleep more difficult.

2)  SOCIAL MEDIA AS “ROOMMATE”:

Almost half of teens admit to sleeping with their smart phone, says a recent study. And these smart phones are not always silent; some students report checking their messages 10 times during the night.

In addition to texting about homework, others admit to watching movies, or fall asleep to music. Also concerning is the amount of online bullying that occurs in the wee hours of the night. Such interruptions shorten the amount of sleep a teen gets and robs them of good deep sleep. Moodiness and those monosyllabic utterances increase with fatigue!

3)  GIVING SOCIAL MEDIA DEVICES THEIR “OWN ROOM”:

Although your teen will resist this, insist that phones, internet, social media and music are turned off at an agreeable time and at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Find a neutral space in your home for overnight device charging. Discuss the difficulties of interrupted sleep and how it impacts their favorite activities.

Assuming they are not agreeable to your suggestion, try running an experiment in your household to see how everyone does without being tied to their devices overnight. In the meantime, consider putting a “do not disturb” on your phone, place it in airplane mode, put it in another room, turn it off, and communicate with your friends that you are unable to return texts for the rest of the evening.

4)  PLACING BOUNDARIES AROUND TIME AND PERSONAL SPACE:

Kids are not very good at setting limits or boundaries. Their prefrontal lobe, still developing within their brain, has a lot to do with their inability to have impulse control or reason. This is why they text their friends at 2 AM and this why their friends respond.

Help your kids do the same with their devices as it will help their sleep. Even though their developing circadian rhythm is a bit out of their hands, they can do something to balance their internal body clock. This is where an evening bedtime routine and eliminating late night use of devices is helpful. I regularly help parents and teens consider the concept of “structure without rigidity.”

A general predictable routine may have to vary in the case of homework, sports, or family commitments. Talk about these needs one day at a time, resetting bedtime every now and again, but aiming to help the devices get to bed at a reasonable hour.

5)  MAKING A COMMITMENT AS A FAMILY TO CURB DEVICES:

You’ve heard the saying and have probably said it yourself—“do as I say; don’t do as I do!” Curbing device use is important for the whole family. Devices have become so popular and influential that they are just about another member of the family. A text comes in at dinner and that text gets addressed and even answered. Couples and families spend together time texting their friends and even each other from across the table.

What is important for teens to hear is important for parents to hear: Setting limits is difficult but texts, news reports, and online games can wait.

Hopefully implementing these ideas and conversations will ultimately give your household more rest and make morning rousing a little easier. If it doesn’t work in my house, maybe I should just text my son….”it’s time to get up for school!” Unfortunately, I’m bound to get a response. LOL

Setting Boundaries for Tech Addicted Kids (and Parents)

Feb 11, 2018

You’ve tried your best but no matter what you do, your child’s favorite activity is to spend all day on their smart phone or tablet. If bribery, discipline, and intervention has not worked, it’s time for you to face the truth: your child may have a tech addiction.

Like most parents, I struggle with setting boundaries with technology that my family will respect. Before setting boundaries, though, it’s important to understand why our kids are on their devices so much. Unfortunately, the truth is that we, as parents, are partly responsible.

THINGS TO CONSIDER ABOUT TECH ADDICTION

Here are a few things you should think about before limiting your family’s screen time:

Examine Your Own Tech Usage
I never used to be a big TV person, but my husband was used to turn the TV on when he woke up each morning and kept it on until bedtime. I broke him of this habit because I find background noise terribly distracting. I’m guilty too, though. Games like Candy Crush relax me and I can easily overindulge. Additionally, I’ve exchanged books for Kindle downloads. While I know I’m reading a book, to my children it looks like screen time.

How much time do you use screens and tech devices around your children? They will learn from what they see, not just what you tell them to do. Breaking your child’s tech habit begins with working on your own.

OVERUSE OF SMART PHONES

With so many families exchanging landlines for smart phones, many of us now feel we need 24/7 access to our phones. We use them for so many of life’s details too: car navigation, camera at events, scheduling our days.

Even though such phone use is practical and handy, many of us have lost the ability to leave home without it. Take stock of how often you use and rely on your phone and other devices and think about which are not necessary.

THE MYTH OF BOREDOM

We live in a day and age where boredom is intolerable and we’ve taught that to our children too. Most people don’t know what to do if they have five minutes of free time.

However, research has shown that boredom is linked to creativity. If you or your children are struggling to be creative, to solve problems and to think outside the box, you may be spending too much of your downtime on your devices.

THE LIES WE TELL OURSELVES

I have a secret. I’m actually thrilled when my learning-disabled daughter is playing an age-appropriate video game. She struggled for years with these games, but almost overnight, seemed to have mastered one her dad likes. Pretty cool, right?

The downside is that, like most kids, she would rather play lots of games than read a single chapter in a book. I’m still happy with her accomplishment but it must be balanced with other offline activities. What lies are you telling yourself that encourages your child to spend more time on tech?

HOUSE RULES FOR SETTING BOUNDARIES

Once you’ve taken a good look at those very difficult questions and answered them honestly, you can begin creating boundaries for your child. Tech addiction often takes place among all family members, so make sure that you and your children abide by these rules.

  1. Create places and times that are tech free in your home.
    We have one big rule: NO phones or tablets while you’re eating. That includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Instead, after dinner snacks in our home are also a time to turn off the TV and read together. We also keep all our devices on the first floor – except for my Kindle – to make sure the kids don’t go to sleep with our phones.
  2. Turn Wi-Fi Off.
    This is an easy way to create “tech-free” times in your home. You can also limit your phone’s data plan rather than having an unlimited package, but keep in mind that overage charges are possible and can be expensive. Using a parental control solution, gives parents the option to “pause the internet” on any mobile or electronic device – at home and remotely.
  3. Optimize their screen time.
    Your family members are going to be on their devices, so do your best to encourage educational activities that engage the whole family or boosts a skill. For example, my daughter loves photos so I’m teaching her to take pictures with her tablet and using apps to hone that skill.
  4. Create tech-free family activities to do regularly.
    While it’s fun to play a video game or watch a movie together, it’s better yet if you can come up with activities that involve zero screen time. For example, a daily walk after dinner is something we do together whenever the weather is nice. Sunshine and fresh air can positively counteract too much screen time. Playgrounds, swimming, hiking, bowling, laser tag, trampolines, library/book store events, seasonal activities, sports events, etc. are all good ideas. Check out local events to see what’s happening around you that is age appropriate for your children.
  5. Leave the phone behind.
    For any trip that’s under an hour, just leave the phone at home if you can, or leave it in your car. Don’t give it to the kids while you’re waiting for food to arrive at a restaurant, are waiting in line at the grocery checkout, or other “wait” times for activities. You’ll create a bad habit that is very difficult to break down the road. Make sure you keep this rule for date night too! Even though you’ll need your phone for babysitter emergencies, resist the temptation to use it at all while you’re connecting with your significant other.
  6. Create boundaries for using devices.
    Create a list of what your children must do before they turn on the TV, gaming device, tablet or phone. This can include crafts, chores, play time and time outside. Perhaps you can integrate a time for helping others, like volunteering at a soup kitchen or organizing a clothing donation field trip.

Technology is a great tool for children, but like everything else, moderation is key. Don’t let them spend their whole lives in front of the screen when a whole world of activity awaits them.

4 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About YouTube

Jan 22, 2017

Need to know how to French Braid, tie your shoes or speak a different language? How about some entertainment like adorable animal videos or music videos? You can find all this and SO much more on YouTube!

It’s that SO much more that every parent needs to know about! While YouTube can be a wonderful wealth of knowledge and entertainment, it can also be a wealth of inappropriate content as well for your child.

Here are 4 things every parent needs to know about YouTube

  1. Their own YouTube channel – your child may be interested in opening their own YouTube channel to upload videos. When deciding whether to allow this or not, consider whether the channel would be public or private and what videos would be permitted to be uploaded.
  2. There is inappropriate content on YouTube – just like they may inadvertently stumble across internet porn or other inappropriate content on an internet search, you child could come across that on YouTube as well.
  3. Most YouTube videos allow comments – when you have the conversation with your child about how to behave on social media, be sure to also include YouTube and incorporate some “best practices”.
  4. YouTube Kids – YouTube has become so popular among children and teenagers that Google came out with a kid friendly version geared towards those ages 13 and under. This site is designed to censor any inappropriate content.

The popularity of YouTube is undeniable and can offer some exciting, educational and entertaining options for children, teens and adults! Like most things in today’s technology driven culture, it needs to be used responsibly, with discretion and parental supervision. Parental control software allows your child to have independence as they explore YouTube but with boundaries parents set to block or warn of inappropriate content. Our children and teens are exposed to a lot today and with this exposure also comes the opportunity and parental responsibility to teach them how to manage it appropriately.