6 Warning Signs of Suicidal Thoughts

Apr 03, 2019

Sad teen girl with suicidal thoughts

Being a teen is tough and as a parent, the day to day mood swings, likes, and dislikes of your teen can be dizzying to keep up with. With all this going on, it’s important for parents to keep an eye out for more serious signs that their child may be having suicidal thoughts and are in need of a lifeline.

Whether a parent has heard it before or not, nothing brings about more fear for a family when their child runs off screaming, “I wish I were dead!” Screams that perhaps began in tears or angst over a family argument, relentless bullying from so-called “friends,” or a progressive tumble into a deep depression.

Parents, and others, might be tempted to look the other way, writing off the behavior as “typical teenage rebellion” or as “a kid who just needs attention.” Needing attention is exactly what this child needs and sometimes they don’t know how to best let you know. The warning signs of suicidal risks and what you can do about them are important to understand as dealing with them early on is key to healing.

Learn how Net Nanny can help filter the Internet to keep your teens safe.

What Parents Need to Know About Teen Suicide

The thought of teen suicide is a nightmare for many parents but the reality is that parents need to be thinking about it and paying attention to their teens. According to the Population Reference Bureau, teen suicide is now the second leading cause of deaths in teens, just behind accidents, with 10 out of 100,000 teens dying by suicide each year. This is a scary fact, but parents should know that prevention and intervention are two ways that they can help their teens.

The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System reported that in 2017, 17.2% of high schoolers reported considering suicide, a number that has increased 25% since 2009. Teen suicide is a growing problem and there are numerous reasons that a teen might resort to suicide as an extreme solution. The question that remains however, is what can parents do to prevent teen suicide by identifying and addressing patterns that may indicate suicidal thoughts?

The seriousness of teen suicide can’t be overlooked and here are 6 warning signs that your teen might be having suicidal thoughts:

  1. Withdrawal from Usual ActivitiesWhen kids who have been typically interested in their social life and extracurriculars begin withdrawing from friends, activities and family gatherings, it is important to wonder what might be going on for your child. Sometimes withdrawal is a sign of depression which is a leading cause of suicide.
  2. Depressed MoodSymptoms of depression can include, but is not limited to, fatigue and decreased energy, difficulty concentrating, feelings of guilt, hopelessness and helplessness, notable changes in sleep patterns such as insomnia or excessive sleeping, notable changes in appetite such as overeating or appetite loss, and persistent sadness. It is also not uncommon for those who are depressed or suicidal to ignore hygiene and personal appearance.
  3. Frequent Outbursts of AngerTeenagers typically have mood swings, all of which need to be addressed. Mood swings that may be more concerning are those that seemingly come out of nowhere and without understandable context. Some of these mood swings may come with threats of violence and self-harm, expressing their sense of hopelessness in an aggressive way. Mood fluctuations between extreme anger or manic behavior and irregular or depressed mood may be signs of bipolar disorder or other mental illness.
  4. Current Family Difficulties or Traumatic Life EventsChildren and teens often experience their parents’ marital conflict or divorce as life altering and traumatic. Hopelessness and helplessness often begin within that child when these difficulties go undiscussed. A death of a loved one or even a family move may leave a child feeling lonely and ignored and sometimes their way of coping is to withdraw or to become angry.
  5. School DifficultiesStudents who contemplate suicide sometimes tell a friend or write about it in school essays. Their feelings of hopelessness may come from a variety of school experiences. Academic pressure from parents or from schools may feel insurmountable especially when the message is that the student is not “good enough” unless they have a perfect score.

    Bullying is a pervasive school problem that students often do not disclose because of shame and embarrassment. Adults may minimize the effects of bullying, but students experience the trauma of such harassment on a daily basis. Currently going beyond name calling and shunning, cyber bullying with mobile devices takes the harassment to a viral level. Students are subject to physical and sexual threats, altered Instagram posts, group humiliation and rejection sometimes accompanied with bribes in order for the bullying to stop.

  6. Self-InjurySometimes the cry for help appears in more hidden, but destructive, ways. Self-injury often begins as a way of self-soothing, with some students report that cutting, or self-mutilation, is a way that they still see if they can feel.

    Substance use of alcohol and drugs temporarily numbs the pain. Food binging sometimes begins as a way to “swallow” the pain while purging is a way to “express” it. And sometimes the student feels as if they can “disappear” or stay in control through restricted eating or anorexia. A disregard for one’s own life can also appear in careless behavior such as reckless driving, unsafe sex, or maintaining destructive and abusive relationships.

Depression and Suicide

Untreated depression and anxiety in teens can often to lead to suicide because it’s hard for teens to find the help that they so desperately require. Sometimes depression and anxiety can be difficult to identify for both teens and parents; the teenage years are volatile enough and a serious case of depression could easily be written off as a moody teen. Even more, teens might not be able to accurately vocalize that their mental health is suffering, if they can even identify that that is the source of their unhappiness.

Depression and suicide have a lot of the same symptoms and warning signs such as:

    • Emotional changes
    • Low self-esteem
    • Loss of interest in usual or social activities
    • Changes in appetite and sleep patterns
    • Social isolation
    • Poor academic performance and increase absences from school

Bullying and Suicide

Bullying and cyber bullying can also play a role in suicidal thoughts and suicide. In fact, the link between the two is so strong that Yale University reported victims of bullying in it’s various forms are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide.

Now that so much of our lives are online, kids not only have to worry about bullying at school and social activities but this bullying can continue online, at all times of day, easily broadcast to every person they know. For teens, this means it can feel inescapable and lead to feelings of shame. And according to dosomething.org, only 1 in 10 online bullying victims will report abuse to a parent or trusted adult which is another reason why it’s critical for parents to pay attention to the warning signs.

Social Media and Suicide

Not only is all that time that teens are spending online and on their phones leading to increased cyber bullying, but it’s also leading to teens playing the comparison game and constantly thinking they are not enough. As a teen, everything feels incredibly important and powerful and this really is true for the effects that social media can have on their mental health: cyber bullying, comparison traps, and social isolation can seriously and negatively impact our teens.

Encouraging healthy amounts of screen time, addressing social media FOMO, and reminding your teens that you are available as a resource can help ensure that your teen remains in a healthy headspace.

What Parents Can Do to Prevent Teen Suicide

Knowing tips about how to prevent suicide is the first place parents and others should start if they notice changes in their teen and their behavior. Having this knowledge and the right resources can help you prevent teen suicide.

  • Pay AttentionAs tempting as it is to look the other way, denial will not help your child. Notice the changes in your child’s appearance, mood, and academics. Trust your gut and use a little detective work—talk with their school counselor, network with other parents who might be “in the know,” check their grades and homework, look in their backpacks and room, and use an Internet filter to keep them safe while they’re online.

    Find an opportunity or an open door to talk with them. Try saying something empathetic such as “I’ve noticed you’re not really yourself these days. It seems like something is bothering you. I’d like to talk about it with you if you’d like.” Be prepared for a shrug, an outburst, or getting blown off. At least you’ve said something. Keep saying it with love and without accusation; don’t try and talk them out of their feelings or minimize their experience. As difficult as it may be to understand or comprehend, listen for the message underneath their behavior.

  • Seek HelpIf your child exhibits signs of depression, anxiety or feelings of helplessness, it is important that you seek assistance. Ask your doctor or school for a referral to a good mental health professional to assess the emotional changes. Be open to family therapy and open to what your child is saying about their inability to cope.

    Be courageous in hearing that they may have thought about ending their life. Work together to make small and significant changes in their daily experience to help elevate their mood, keep them safe, and intervene where necessary. Sites like Help Guide are helpful online resources for teens and parents.

  • Create a VillageYou will need support as a parent; spend time with friends who may understand your angst because they have teenagers too. Reach out to school counselors as they may have their pulse on the academic environment and school day. Involve your network who may be connected to your child; perhaps older siblings or family members are connected to them in cyberspace where they may be able to educate you and fill you in regarding your concerns.
  • Talk About ItDon’t be afraid to ask your teen (or anyone else) if they are so hopeless that they feel ending their life is an option. People who receive support from caring friends and family and who have access to mental health services are less likely to act on their suicidal impulses than are those who are socially isolated. Ask your teen what you can do to be helpful.

    Keep your own stressors in check and examine whether or not your expectations are exacerbating your child’s issues and be realistic. One conversation is just a beginning; keep up the conversations as there is no easy fix. It is not helpful to tell your child “why don’t you just find other friends,” or “how about we redecorate your room?” These are not harmful statements, but the conversation cannot end there.

How Parental Control Software Can Prevent Teen Suicide

Parental control software may not immediately come to mind as a tool parents can use in preventing teen suicide, but it can be incredibly valuable.

Teens contemplating suicide often turn to the Internet when they’re not finding support or answers in other areas of their life. It’s a place of anonymity and there are plenty of sites and people that not only provide information on teen suicide, but encourage it. A teen with less than stellar mental health might begin searching things like “I feel so alone” or “am I depressed” and these searches alone should be enough to tip parents off that there is a bigger problem than your teen just being moody. Those searches might later escalate to ones like “ways to self-harm without a knife,” “how to commit suicide,” and “easiest way to commit suicide” all of which provide a staggering number of search results on Google with upwards of hundreds of millions of hits.

Paying attention to changes and serious warning signs of suicidal thoughts in real life is incredibly important but parents shouldn’t overlook the significance of their teen’s online activity.

Teens go through a very turbulent and emotional time in their development but hopefully their difficulties do not emerge as suicidal thoughts. Spending time with them doing things they like to do, talking with them about their day and your day, and encouraging them to find some safe social connection is good for all teen… and it’s good for you too.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, visit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-8255 for more resources.

The Hidden Dangers of Twitch

Mar 18, 2019

A few years ago, if you had asked someone, “what is Twitch?”, they might have broken down the exact definition of a sudden movement, but if you ask someone today who knows even the slightest about video gaming culture, they would explain that it’s a social streaming platform and video gaming community.

Twitch has been around since 2011 and is the world’s leading social video platform and community for video gamers, nerd culture and creative arts. Close to around 10 million people gather every day to just watch and talk about gaming with over 2 million unique live streamers. Twitch is continuing to expand rapidly, even Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook stated, “video gaming is a mega trend, almost as big as mobile” and with gaming still on the rise, this only means more opportunity for video gaming live streamers and their audiences.

Despite it’s growing popularity, Twitch and it’s user-generated content is not always the safest platform for kids. Live streaming is naturally unpredictable, which is part of the appeal for many viewers, but this makes it difficult for parents to monitor what their children are watching. Additionally, some of the features that Twitch offers may also give parents a reason to pause.

Learn more about setting parental controls on your child’s devices.

What is Twitch?

Twitch is an interactive, streaming platform owned by Amazon with its primary focus in video game streaming. In addition to video games, Twitch also features content focusing on music, other creatives, and lifestyle, meaning there is something for everyone on this growing platform. Twitch users can watch anything from video games, to music festivals, professional sports, and tv shows.

Twitch users have the ability to create their own content or they can enjoy Twitch as viewers, tuning into their favorite live streamers and channels. For those interested in live streaming, anyone is able to go live and can start making money from their viewership through Twitch’s affiliate program.

Twitch prides itself on an interactive community which is why it has spent the last few years expanding it’s content and promoting its chat and live streamer support features including Twitch bits, that act as virtual currency and allows users to tip their favorite streamers.

In today’s world, live streaming services like Twitch, Youtube, Facebook, and Periscope are more than just technology, it’s a way to connect and interact. These platforms are all about cultivating and empowering a community of fans and creators, all while making the experience fun and inclusive for participants.

Twitch 1

 

Why are Video Gamers Live Streaming?

We live in an age where social FOMO (fear of missing out) is highly contagious because of today’s technology and our accessibility to see what others are doing, and video games are no exception. People want to be involved and want to keep up with their friends and live streaming platforms, whether you’re watching or live streaming, can be an avenue to doing so. But let’s break down the reasons a little further:

Live Streaming is Recreational

For many, Twitch is recreational and acts as a hobby. Had a long day at work? Hopping on Twitch to watch hilarity ensue as two siblings play a horror video game together is a great way to relax. In this way, Twitch brings value to both the audience and the live streamers as it’s a shared interactive experience. Viewers get to watch something they’re interested in and the live streamers get to create content that they’re passionate about. It’s a win-win for both parties.

Live Streaming is Marketing Friendly

Interested in building your own brand? One way to do that is to start live streaming something that you’re extremely passionate about. After a while, you might have a small following that could expand in no time with the right effort and dedication. Before long, you could have a few thousand followers with advertisers and endorsement deals knocking on your door. This is the business model that many live streamers try to achieve and it’s a growing one at that.

Live Streaming is Trendy

Being “in the moment” seems to be what’s trending as of late, with YouTube, Instagram and even Facebook all integrating live streaming in some way or form. It’s an unedited, authentic look into the live streamer’s daily life – seeing someone in real-time without fancy edits, graphics or post production. As a result, we tune-in to watch, especially if we can relate or connect with the content or live streamer’s personality.

What Does Twitch Offer to Audiences?

It may seem like only the live streamer benefits from using the Twitch platform, but that’s not always the case, as there’s also a lot of hidden values for users from watching live video game streams.

Justifying a Purchase

A lot of video gamers use Twitch to weigh their options before making a purchase. If a popular Twitch live streamer tells their audience that a game is terrible, it is likely that their audience won’t waste their time buying the game. Alternatively, if a live streamer says that a game is amazing, then the audience won’t hesitate to buy. This very powerful influence is the reason why video gaming companies are interested in Twitch, and even offer top Twitch streamers free products to test and show to their audience.

Spectator Sporting

E-sports, also known as Electronic Sports, is a form of competition involving video games and its significance and popularity are growing. Think of it like the Olympics of video gaming, the top rated players all over the world go head to head. It’s nothing to underestimate as companies, CEOs, celebrities, and athletes are getting in on the action by sponsoring these elite video gaming teams.

With the E-sports community in high demand, Twitch offers a way to view the entire experience. Whether it’s a tournament or a gaming convention, viewers will have a way to watch their favorite professional gamers compete.

Experience

Twitch isn’t just limited to video game streaming. Video gaming is the content most associated with the streaming giant, but there are many other uses live streamers and audiences alike use the platform for, such as:

  • Watching User-Generated Programming
    Streamers can program and broadcast their own shows, segments, talk shows, and other unique content. It’s like a network of entertainment, catering to all sorts of interests without the hassle of commercial breaks.
  • Twitch Creative
    Twitch has a dedicated section for all things creative. Remember watching Bob Ross painting happy clouds? Just as many parents and kids grew up watching Bob Ross fill a canvas, Twitch users can watch live tutorials of favorite or new artists at work. This includes a variety of streams involving composing songs, cooking meals, drawing, painting, and more.
  • Events
    Ever wanted to experience Comic Con, the biggest comic book convention, hosted in San Diego, live? Or how about Wizard World, the biggest pop-culture convention in gaming? From press conferences to convention center activities, Twitch allows users to watch major events live, from the comfort of their own home.

Is Twitch Safe for Kids?

Due to it’s exploding popularity among younger audiences and young gamers, Twitch is definitely a platform that parents will want to pay attention to. When it comes to concerns on the streaming platform, there’s a few to consider as it can leave children vulnerable to inappropriate content and online predators.

Live Streaming

Whenever live streaming is involved, parents should be cautious as the content isn’t edited and anything could happen. Unfiltered language, inappropriate imagery and more could be shown as there is no delay between what is happening live and what your child is shown on screen. Spam, scams, violent, obscene, and sexual content are all prohibited in Twitch’s community guidelines but this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen.

On the flip-side, parents should be aware if their child is live streaming or if they wish to. According to Twitch’s terms of service, users must be 13 years of age or older to use and stream on Twitch, but this doesn’t always prevent younger users from using the platform. Live streaming at any age can pose risks that both parents and children should be aware of.

Twitch Chat Moderation

Twitch’s chat feature can become chaotic and almost useless on more popular streams with higher viewership, as everyone is typing at the same time in an effort to interact with their favorite streamers. Because these chats get so out of hand on bigger channels, it often becomes a yelling contest filled with cyberbullying, hate speech, and more.

As a live stream goes on, users are encouraged to comment and interact with streamers, but as an audience grows so does the chat, which quickly becomes inundated with comments. Some users take this as an opportunity to use foul language and harass others. When this happens, the moderators on Twitch can’t keep up with the overloaded chat and many of the commenters go unpunished. Seeing as these chats aren’t perfectly moderated, parents should be able to judge whether their child is ready for this platform or perhaps consider co-viewing with their child.

Twitch also offers direct messaging, a private conversation between two users, and whispers. Twitch whispers are a way for users to interact privately in a public group chat. By typing “/w” into a chat, followed by the username that you want to communicate privately with, only that user will see your message in the group chat.

Twitch 2

Source: Twitch.tv

 

What Parents Need to Know About Twitch

Twitch is a growing platform that isn’t going away anytime soon. Whether your child is live streaming or watching, it’s best to take some precautions to ensure that it is a safe an appropriate experience.

If live streaming, make sure the game your child is streaming is age-appropriate as well as ensuring that your chat is monitored so you don’t invite any unwanted attention.

If your child is mostly watching other gamers live stream, the best thing to do is to research the people and channels that your child watches and ensure that they are watching streams that are age-appropriate. Even then, it is not completely possible to constantly keep an eye on your child’s tech use so it may be helpful to use a parental control software to manage your child’s screen time and limit the amount of time they spend on websites like Twitch.

While Twitch can be risky for younger kids, proper understanding of the platform and some ground rules can allow teens to enjoy live streams from an array of topics. That being said, it’s important for parents to understand that Twitch does encourage users to connect with strangers and that everything on site will not be kid-appropriate.

Keeping your kids safe online is tough, especially with more and more sites incorporating live stream features, but being able to monitor your kids’ online experience as well as having open discussions about internet safety are great first steps towards safe and healthy internet use.

The Importance of Social Media Age Restrictions

The data is in, kids enjoy social media. The studies confirm it.

In fact, 89% of teens ages 13 to 17, according to Pew Research, reported using at least one social media site and 71% reported use of more than one site. Did you know that Just about every social media site allows users to sign up when they reach 13 years of age?.

Your child’s friends are on the websites, talking about media they saw on the websites, sharing their experiences and stories on the websites. The “happening” stuff is happening online, and kids want to be a part of the hub. Naturally, kids under the age of 13 want to engage in this as well. And they are.

A study by knowthenet.org.uk found that about 59% of children have used a social network by the age of 10. Signing up for platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram underage is not difficult. Birthdays are easily faked to inflate ages and companies very rarely monitor this or even do anything about it.

Parents may pause at the thought of their younger children using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and rightly so. A child tapping into a network shared by billions of people worldwide and trying to navigate safely is an intimidating thought.

WHY ARE AGE RESTRICTIONS NEEDED?

There is a biological importance to age restrictions. One could raise the question, are we ever developed enough to have our words and actions cemented into a history book accessible to the whole world? I doubt very many people are. But before the age 13, the implications of being exposed to this, living history book called the internet are amplified. At around age 12, biologically, most kids have not developed robust enough cognitive functions for impulse control or ethical thinking.

Understanding the effect of a post on social media is beyond the cognitive grasp of a young mind, and any mistake or misjudgment cannot be wiped from the online slate thereby potentially effecting their future. Moreover, if a child is targeted by harassers or predators, their limited ability to handle such a situation at a young age may put them in danger, both mentally and physically.

Along with issues of kid’s undeveloped brains and responsibility, there are legal ramifications when kids falsify their age to create a social media account. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is designed to protect the personal information of children under 13 online. Companies are required to notify and receive permission from parents to collect personal information from kids. The act also bars companies from collecting images or video that could identify the child. The protections outlined in COPPA are not extended to children under the age of 13 but claiming they are 13 to open an account. When a child signs up for an account with a falsified birth date, they are outside the reach of protection offered by the act and their personal information is at risk.

KEEPING KIDS SAFE

Age restrictions on social media platforms are in place to keep kids safe. Unfortunately, violating these restrictions is simple and easy. When young kids falsify their age and use social media, they are often too young to understand the implications of their posts or effectively handle dangerous situations, and cannot be protected by laws directed at the safety of youth online. Luckily, parental control software is a proven method to restricting monitor your children’s access to social media until they are responsible and ready.

Most Dangerous Teen Apps of 2019 Parents Should Know

Are you unsure which apps are safe for your kids and teens to use? Screen time can be difficult to manage for families and the biggest question is which apps are appropriate for kids to download onto their smartphones and tablets.

Not to worry –  Take a look at some of the most popular apps that are not recommended for kids:

Dangerous Messaging Apps for Kids

Messaging apps are a good way for kids to stay in contact with friends, families and peers. If there are not strong privacy settings enabled or content moderators, there is a possibility of kids being exposed to strangers and possibly mature content.

  • GroupMe
    GroupMe is a group messaging app where users can chat with large numbers of friends or strangers.
  • Chatous
    The Chatous app randomly matches users to strangers across the world.
  • Oovoo
    Oovoo is a free messaging and video calling for one-on-one chats or group chats with up to 8 users.

Dangerous Live Streaming Apps for Kids

Live streaming can be a fun way for kids to express themselves and see what their friends are doing. However, it can also be intrusive and unsafe for children and teens who may come into contact with online strangers or mature content. Live streaming apps are best used with parental supervision.

  • Tik Tok
    Similar to the popular (and now defunct) Musical.ly and Live.ly apps, Tik Tok has rolled the most popular features from those apps into this new live streaming video app.
  • Live.Me
    The Live.Me app allows users to connect with people all over the world to live stream, watch videos and chat.
  • Bigo
    Bigo is another popular live streaming app where users connect through live video.

Dangerous Hookup Apps for Kids

Dating and hookup apps are not recommended for teenagers or kids. In fact, most dating apps require their users to be 17 years of age or older in order to use their services, however most dating apps have little or no age verification and many rely on location tracking to pair up matches. For kids, this can be dangerous because strangers can easily be aware of your child’s location and can have access to view/share photos and chat with them directly.

  • Down
    Down is a new dating app where users can connect to find romantic matches or hookups. It is not intended to be used by people under the age of 17.
  • Badoo
    Badoo is a chat and dating app where users are connected based on crossed geo-location paths. This app is also not intended for minors, but does not have strict age verification.
  • Tinder
    Tinder is a very popular dating app for adults focused on geo-location and a swipe system to match users. This app is also relatively easy for teens to use even though it is rated for users over 17.

5 Ways to Safeguard Your Tween in the Digital Age

Nov 05, 2018

choice

As our children get older and approach the pre-adolescent age, they begin to interact more with the outside world and societal expectations grow. While this is a very exciting time for our children who want to have access to more opportunities, it’s a scary time for parents who want to keep them safe.

Did you know that 95% of all teens are online?Among children 8 years of age and younger, 21 percent use smartphones*. These stats need to be considered as we teach our tween-agers the most appropriate, safe, and respectful ways to interact with their world as they get older.

The internet offers an array of positive and educational opportunities for our youth. Sadly, it also offers a relatively new threat that we need to safeguard our children against. So Mom and Dad, add this to your list right with “Don’t hitch hike”, “Don’t do drugs”, and “Don’t talk to strangers”…..“Be safe online.” The problem lies in the fact that teaching them to be safe online isn’t easy. When we were having our first child we frantically read every word in the book, “What to expect when you’re expecting”. But now that our kids are older, there isn’t a manual to prepare us for what to expect in the digital age.

stat

Parenting tweens in the digital age requires some education, tools, and a lot of patience. While tweens want to be independent and have choices, they don’t always have the life experiences or impulse control to make the best choices online (or in life). As hard as it is to think about, the realities of online dangers are affecting more and more children every day.

How can we prevent these dangerous situations from happening? Educating ourselves about what kids are doing and how they are interacting online is imperative. We know that our teens use social media platforms to keep in touch with their friends. But did you know that they also use these platforms to make NEW friends. In fact, in a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 57% of all teens have made new friends online. This is a very uncomfortable fact for many parents who did not grow up in the digital age. The image below, from the same study, shows that ⅓ of teens who meet new friends online ultimately meet them in person. This practice has inherent associated risks!

chart

WHAT PRECAUTIONS ARE MOST EFFECTIVE IN SAFEGUARDING OUR CHILDREN IN TODAY’S DIGITAL AGE?

  1. Be aware and stay involved
    Pay attention to the communities your teenager is involved with online. Know what sites he/she visits, what groups or chats he/she may be involved in, and what social media platforms they are using. Browse the internet with them and understand what they find interesting. If a questionable situation arises, attempt to use it as a teachable moment, the same as you would if it occurred in a face to face interaction. No matter how strong and open your communication is with your child, their online activity needs to be monitored. A 14 year old girl may not know she’s talking with an online predator or planning to meet up with an adult who she thinks is another teenager. Often, these “predators” are coaches or teachers at school that friend them online. Bottom line: They need our assistance as parents to help keep them safe.
  2. Safety education
    Educate your child regarding the realities of online dangers. Remind them never to post personal information on public sites or to interact with people they don’t know online. This includes sharing with friends. A recent study shows that up to 50% of teens share their passwords with friends. This practice puts them (and your family) at risk. Consider if they then get into an argument with the friend who has their social media passwords – this opens up strong opportunity for cyber bullying and other problems.
  3. Keep a clean machine
    Protect your whole family by keeping your computers safe and clean. There are many options available (firewall, anti virus, privacy settings, etc) that will update automatically to keep your family safe from viruses
  4. Set clear expectations
    Explain to your children what online behavior is acceptable for your family and what is not acceptable. If you need help with rules, download our digital family contract to make sure everyone is on the same page.
  5. Set limits
    Talk with your children about what appropriate amounts of online time looks like. When possible, keep computers in a centrally located area in the house, such as the kitchen or the family room. This helps to limit overuse, improve supervision, and encourage family interaction.

Don’t be overwhelmed. The fact that you care enough to read this article shows that you’re a caring, thoughtful parent who wants to put your kids in the best possible situations. Fortunately, we have tools today like Net Nanny® which allow us to safeguard our children and give them opportunities for freedom and accessibility while blocking inappropriate content and sending us personalized alerts when something unusual occurs.

Veterans Day

We celebrate our Veterans on November 11.  We show our patriotic pride and promise to remember our hero’s alive and lost.  To thank the men and women for the sacrifices they have made.  We don’t need a calendar date to celebrate brave veterans, we pledge allegiance to the flag letting those colors wave.  It doesn’t matter where they served, what branch of service or which rank.  What matters is remembering them and offering our thanks!!

No matter what political affiliation you have, our service men and women fought for you to be able to have your own beliefs and opinions.  They are asked by us to fight for us and keep America safe.  They are our family, neighbors, and friends.  They don’t boast or brag and we all should be reminded of their love for their home and our flag.

Thank you for your service!!!

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.