Computer Safety for Kids from Toddler to Teen

June is a great month, offering a sense of relief at being beyond the reach of any further cold weather. The last snowstorm is a distant memory, the last day of school has been celebrated. Everything is all smiles. Of course, all of that celebration is often followed by an unending chorus from kids, who, after five seconds of being out of school, are boooooored with far too much free time on their hands. While summer vacations are being planned and we can hopefully encourage our kids to spend more time in the fresh air, the reality is that kids end up having more time online. This isn’t always a bad thing – in our home, we have embraced the idea that technology is something our kids will live with, so the more comfortable they get with it now, the better.

Our daughter has her own blog, and she’s learning how to manage Twitter and a Facebook page. Our son has multiple YouTube channels that he runs, as well as associated social media pages for each. They’re also both on Facebook with personal accounts. We’d rather have the kids making mistakes now, when we can guide them, than have them experience the horrors of an improper post or tweet when there’s no one there to help them learn the etiquette and safety tools they need.

But because they’re online more, it’s even more crucial that you know what they are doing online, what sites they are visiting and who they are talking with online. Have regular conversations with your kids about the risks, reminding them not to share their personal information.

It’s so ingrained in our son, who is now 15, that even when we’ve given him permission to create an online profile for some project he is doing, he will still come and check with us before giving out his name, let alone more detailed information. And to this day, we know the passwords for all of our kids’ online accounts.

Online Safety with Your Kids from Toddlers to Teens

Since there is no way to avoid exposure to the internet for your kids, the best thing you can do as a parent is be proactive. Schools introduce kids to computers in kindergarten, and most kids older than age 5 are more tech savvy than their parents! It’s better, we think, to expose your kids to technology and teach them how to safely use the internet than to simply hope they won’t go there. They will.

To keep your kids safe, remind them:

  • Never to give out personal information
  • Never to open emails or files from people they don’t know
  • Never to agree to meet with someone in person that they’ve met online
  • To always tell you if there is anything that happens online that makes them uncomfortable, nervous, or upset

The FBI offers great tips to help you keep your kids safe online. For more information, visit their website.

As a reminder for all of us who spend time online, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Be wary of pop-up ads, as clicking on them may make you vulnerable to malware.
  2. Never click on links from emails that come from unrecognized sources (and definitely do NOT open attachments, especially .exe attachments, that are sent to you by email).
  3. Always update your virus definitions regularly.

If the worst happens and you believe your system has been compromised, turn it off and disconnect it until you can obtain help removing the virus or malware.

Depression in Children

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Truth: Children get depressed.

Depression is not just an adult problem. People of any age are susceptible to depression. But the signs in children may be different.

Depression in children is not always apparent. In fact, one of the main signs of depression in a child is something that can easily be mistook for a behavior issue: irritability. Children often do not have the cognitive skills necessary to articulate how they are feeling.  A child who is extremely irritable on a regular basis could be showing symptoms of depression. And children do face pressures that can cause stress.

It’s not always easy to diagnose depression in a child, but it’s something to be aware of. Treatment is available. If you’re concerned your child could be depressed, talk to your pediatrician or family doctor, especially if there is a history of depression in your family. Depression can run in families, and children are particularly susceptible to depression if a parent is depressed as well.

You know your child better than anyone. If something is off, it’s a good idea to take a closer look.

Encouraging Individuality

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

There are things that your child might do and wear that make you cringe. For example, Kira got her tongue pierced a few years back and all I could think was, “Ouch!” (And, “Stop lisping!”) Yet she was happy, and who were we to tell her who to be? Admittedly, she was over 18 and could make her own decisions, but she still lived with us and I suppose we could have “laid down the law”. But that would have only bred frustration and animosity. [Fast-forward a few years and she figured out on her own that the tongue piercing made it difficult to get the jobs she wanted – and there is a hole in her tongue that remains to this day].

It can be even harder when your child is not 18 yet but still desiring the freedom to express themselves. We certainly put limits on it, such as restricting piercings to ears only and forbidding tattoos before 18, because we do feel the kids need to be emotionally mature enough to make permanent or semi-permanent decisions about their bodies. But if the kids want to dye her hair random colors, or wear crazy outfits that don’t suit my OCD-inspired need to match from head to toe, so what? Hair grows out. Styles change.

All of our children have their own personal style which they embrace and love. As long as it is appropriate and they have good behavior, to us there isn’t a problem.

The thing is, looks are definitely deceiving. Some of the nicest people we have ever known have been covered from head to toe in tattoos and piercings. As children we have to restrict their expression to some extent but parents need to remember that outside appearances don’t tell the whole story – and teach our kids tolerance and appreciation for difference.

A teenager who likes the gothic style is not guaranteed to be depressed. Listening to heavy metal music, as Parker does, does not make him an angry person. Being blonde does not make you unintelligent.

Perhaps if we all celebrated our own unique and wonderful selves a little more we’d be less inclined to judge.

Fighting the Zs with Better Habits

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Plenty of SleepSometimes that morning coffee just doesn’t do it for you. We’ve all had days where we are just dragging, whether we are low on sleep, overworked, or just plain worn out. But if you’re having a hard time shaking sluggishness in general you might need to make some changes.

Some people can’t recall the last time they didn’t feel somewhat tired, which may be a sign that something is a little off. Chronic sleep problems could be a symptom of something other than stress. Constant fatigue is also a potential sign of depression. These are things to look into if you think there may be a serious cause.

But before you go running off to the doctor you might want to try out some simple fixes. Your diet can have a major impact on your energy levels as well as your level of activity. Incorporating exercise and healthy eating could not only boost energy but help you sleep better. Also, some people react differently to caffeine. That soda with dinner may not be much but it could be keeping you up at night.

If you find yourself fighting exhaustion all the time try to figure out why. A few changes to your day could have you feeling healthy, energized and ready when the sun rises.

United You Stand

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

parenting togetherWhen there is more than one person caring for a child there are bound to be disagreements. It can come down to personal preference or may actually be differing values based on how your were raised. But the disagreement itself is rarely the problem; it is how that disagreement is dealt with.

Communication is key when raising a child, and can perhaps be even more crucial when in a blended family. When Dave and I first married, Kira was norotrious for asking first me, then her dad about doing something and then taking whichever answer she liked best. It left us wondering what happened, and often frustrated with each other because we each thought the other had undermined our authority. Yeah, Kira was a sneaky one, but it taught us a lot about having a united front.

We started to realize that we had to talk to each other when the question was asked. We would tell each other, Kira just asked me about going to the park, but I said no because she hasn’t finished her homework. Then, when she went to the other parent to ask the same question, she’d get the same answer – and we were able to address with her the innapropriateness of trying to pull a fast one by being so sneaky.

Before we worked out the need to have such open communication, we would end up frustrated with each other in front of the kids. The disagreements only fueled the motivation of the kids to take advantage. They weren’t being bad; they were just being kids. It wasn’t their fault; it was our need to improve. We learned quickly how unpleasant it is to have your opinion undermined in front of a child, even if the other person does have a point. It doesn’t encourage respect and breeds dissatisfaction in relationships.

Dave and I learned to talk about our disagreements about discipline in private. It gave us time to listen to and respect what the other was saying without an audience. We could work out differences and come to a consensus and feel good about it, while also demonstrating to our kids that we were a team.

It didn’t take long for Kira to realize her approach would no longer work, and it forced Dave and I to confront and overcome some of the differences in our parenting styles. As we realized that we were both operating from a place of love and concern, disagreements about what to let the kids do or what kind of house rules we would have became minimal.

Should Your Kids Have Facebook?

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

social mediaSocial media is everywhere.

And especially in our house, where my husband and I run a niche marketing firm that focuses in part on social media strategy and content marketing, social media is prolific.

But does your child need to have Facebook? As a parent, letting your kids venture into the world of social media can be a little scary. How do you protect your child from the entire world that they now have access too? Where do you draw the line? (We draw the line at snapchat).

We’ve allowed the kids their Facebook pages on a few conditions:

  1. We get to be friends. There is no way they get an online profile without our ability to monitor it.
  2. They are not allowed to accept friends without our approval first.
  3. We know the password.

And of course this privilege comes with a talk about safety, privacy, and a touch of common sense that we hope to instill.

You’ll be able to decide at what point you think your child is mature enough for a social media profile. Just remember that it might be better to allow controlled access with your approval and guidance than to refuse completely. The internet can be accessed anywhere and your child might create an account secretly (something Kira pulled when MySpace was popular), so keep an eye out.

We also allow our kids to have their own webpages and manage their own Facebook pages and Twitter accounts (following the same rules).

We have found that it is better to educate our kids about online behavior and etiquette than shield them from it completely.

 

#BacktoSchool: The Battle of Homework Hill

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Back_to_SchoolSchool will be back in session here soon, and once again we’ll begin the battle of homework hill. You know, the part where teachers assign huge projects, send them home for the kids to do, and leave unsuspecting parents to pick up the pieces the night before the project is due.

The thing is, kids need parents to be part of their success academically. They need you to teach them how to prioritize homework over video games; they need you to teach them how to break a big project down into manageable steps.

Doing homework at the end of a long work day, which usually means sitting at the computer for even longer than we already have isn’t always what we want to do. But as parents, it is certainly something our kids count on us to do.

It’s worse when our kids are not enthused about the assignment. It’s worse when our kids forget to tell us they need posterboard (by tomorrow). But it is part of the back to school process.

We also understand that many times our supervision is necessary, which is not really what we want to do at the end of the day, but it is what it is. What makes this experience even more tedious is when the child is downright unhappy with the task of completing their assignments.

In our house, we require homework to be done before anything else. No computer time, no video games, no friend time, no iPods, no dance lessons, no guitar lessons until homework is done. We aren’t ogres. We let them go to the bathroom and get a snack.

[Tweet “Make homework the first priority after school to keep your kids on task. #backtoschool”]

Because our kids have had this expectation from the start, we no longer have to wrestle with them. They simply know it has to be done. It saves us the enormous stress of bedtime homework and the even lovelier early morning oops homework.

It’s not a perfect system, and there are times when we just can’t get all the math problems done before we have to head out the door for dance class. But for the most part, we’ve solved the battle of homework hill by making it the top priority – the JOB – for our kids after school.

When other activities are not allowed until after homework is done, kids often find a motivation to complete assignments that wasn’t there before. It sets a standard of good priorities and gives your child time to complete everything. They may not be in love with the task but homework (done well) is non-negotiable.

Healthy Snacking

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

healthy grocery shoppingFrom fruit snacks and juices to crackers and cookies, there are a lot of snack choices in the grocery store isles. If your kids are like mine, they are begging for all o them.  What’s worse is that every single one of these potential snacks is likely to have some label boasting about its nutritional value. It’s tot that they are lying. There really are essential nutrients buried somewhere beneath the sugar.

It’s frustrating to navigate, because even the snacks you thought were healthy probably aren’t. Fruit snacks are loaded with sugar and other go-to snack choices have high sodium levels and trans-fats. You also have to watch out for organic products, because the label for organic by itself does not guarantee healthy eating, as organic products can have just as much sugar and calories as a non-organic snack.

When it comes to snacking for both you and your child, try to shop fresh produce as much as possible. Vegetables and hummus make for a delicious snack and  a piece of fresh fruit satisfies the sweet tooth. It’s pretty easy to pack a small bag with an ice pack to keep snacks cool, and if you do really need a portable snack, consider a handful of nuts (for those without food allergies) or a string cheese.

Making smarter snack choices is good for your kids and teaches them better eating habits, but it’s good for you, too.

Time-Out Doesn’t Work: Now What?

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

tantrumYour child has earned time in the corner again, like every child is bound to do. Problem is, your child doesn’t quite mind time-out. They practically mock you as they smile and sing in the corner as if nothing was amiss. Clearly you need a new tactic.

Each child is going to react to rewards and punishments differently. If the traditional methods aren’t working, you need to assess the situation and decide what would really send the message home to your child. You may have to restrict privileges such as a favorite toy or television show, or even go as far as keeping your child home from something they were really looking forward to. One missed bowling party will show that you mean business.

It might feel a little cruel to go beyond time-out and no, this isn’t going to be fun for you, either. But if your child isn’t getting the message, you have to let them know that poor behavior is not acceptable. They will get the hint eventually. Just remember to start small and escalate only as needed (and always add a touch of love). Most importantly, you have to be able to follow through.

They will call you bluff, and that’s not a position you want to be in. Rules are in place for a reason; it’s out of love, not dominance.

[Tweet “Rules are in place for a reason; it’s out of love, not dominance.#parenting”]

Play Dates for Adults

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

1509319_10203647724500798_8824631631744993255_nIt’s all too easy to get wrapped up in the social life of your child. Even when you do spend time interacting with adults, it’s often still child-related as if your life was nothing more than birthday parties, teacher conferences, and extracurriculars. You had a social circle before children, and the same circle can easily exist when you have kids.

The benefit of having adults-only time is that you can discuss things other than your child. It may seem obvious and even a little callous, but it’s reality. Sometimes you want to talk about yourself as a person and not as a mother, which is easier to do when your kids aren’t there. It can be a time to stimulate yourself intellectually with those you met in college or just catch up and have a good time with a lifelong friend.

If you have to schedule your own play date then by all means, make it happen. Life gets busy and it’s so easy to say to someone that you’ll catch up later. Make definite plans and schedule something fun to do with other adults in your circle. You might even be able to have beverages that you don’t find at children’s parties.