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.

Something to Fear

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

pebThere are rational and irrational fears. Children especially can be fearful because there is so much they don’t know. As a parent it can seem silly, but not taking a child’s fear seriously can make things much worse.

Your child might be scared of the dark, a stuffed animal, loud noises, swimming, or the color of peanut butter. As a parent, you don’t want your child to be upset or scared. Your first instinct might be to turn the lights off or toss them into a pool to show them that nothing’s wrong. Well-meaning, but forcing your child into an uncomfortable situation can potentially be traumatic.

Solving a problem always starts with a conversation. Find out why your child is frightened and discuss ways to either lessen their fear or at least work around it. A nightlight could make a huge difference and “special” goggles might make the pool approachable. See what your child is willing to try and the problem might fix itself. You are their safety net and you always them to think of you that way. If that means an extra check under the bed every night, then why not. There’s no harm in it.

Stress Management for Kids

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

parkerI have a confession. Every weekend, Dave and I play Mario Kart on our Wii. It’s more than just a video game. It’s a way to recognize that it is the weekend, that the work week is over. And it’s a way to relieve stress. During the game as we race, we get wildly competitive, scream and yell, and really let loose. It’s a wonderful stress release, much like our morning walks during the week.

When your children get upset, regardless of age, they feel many of the emotions that adults do, including anger and stress. Things get messy (sometimes literally) when your child has all of these emotions flying around but doesn’t know how to handle them yet. Younger children especially might throw toys or lash out physically.

Teach Your Child to Manage Stress

Even when a child is too young for critical thinking, there are better ways to handle a tough situation besides kicking mom in the shin and throwing legos. Expose your child to some harmless forms of stress relief.

  • Engage your child in physical activity. Run around outside, crank the music and dance, or jump up and down to release stress in a healthy way.
  • If screaming tends to be the release your child turns to, give them a safe outlet to get it out. Teach them how to scream into a pillow when frustrated, or have a 2-minute yell zone that helps them get the stress out.
  • If your child is prone to throwing things when frustrated, take them out and throw a ball with them or even let them throw clods of dirt at a tree or something.

Finding safe outlets for your child will give them relief and the ability to understand that their anger and stress is ok. How they handle it is what is important and soon they will hopefully be able to use more words than actions.

Discipline and Your Kids: Always Follow Through

tantrum

It doesn’t seem to matter if your kids are 2 or 12 or 17 and 3/4. All kids know exactly how to push buttons and they are completely ok with pressing every one of them (as if it were their full time job). Sometimes, it feels like my buttons are big and red and say “PRESS ME NOW.” The thing is, when kids are misbehaving, you can’t ignore it and you can’t dismiss it (even if you’re tired, at the end of your rope, or are on your last button). You know you have to dole out some sort of consequence, but wow, parenting is exhausting.

It’s when they’ve worn you out the most that you have to be committed to following through.

If you tell your that Action A will lead to Consequence B and Action A has been set in motion, you have two choices: You give the kid the promised consequence, or you don’t. If you do, your child learns that every choice has a consequence and that the boundaries you promise exist really do.

If you don’t, chaos ensues.

No, really. Maybe not all at once. But if your kids learn that their bad choices or poor behaviors don’t have the consequences they thought (and they will test) then they’ll assume that you’ve lost control, that they are in control, and that they can get away with that behavior and more.

It multiplies exponentially, too, so that if you aren’t following through when your kids are young, it will be even harder to regain control when they get older. Many parents make the mistake of threatening with something that they either can’t deliver or don’t feel comfortable doing, so keeping your consequences enforceable helps.

Our son would occasionally throw a very embarrassing and loud temper tantrum in restaurants. The first time it happened, we were embarrassed but tried to quickl quiet him. The next time we went out, we told him before we ever got out of the car that if he didn’t behave, we would leave. We didn’t even get a chance to finish reading the menu and he was throwing a tantrum. Dave and looked at each other and made a critical choice that has paid off since: we took him out of the high chair, thanked the waitress, left her a tip anyway, and walked out.

DId it suck that the one time we finally managed to have money, time, and energy to go to a restaurant we’d been dying to try that we couldn’t stay? Oh yeah. Would it have sucked more if we’d have coddled our son through his tantrum and not followed through on our consequence? I’m certain of it.

As much as it sucks being the bad guy, sometimes you have to. Kids need boundaries. It’s not always pleasant but it’s better than the disrespect you’ll earn later.

Disclaimer: the son mentioned above is child #4. We had a lot of practice getting here and still aren’t perfect at it. But we keep trying!

How do you handle these kind of discpline issues with your kids?

 

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.

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”]

Breed Curiosity and Adventure in Your Kids

20130908_135630Everyone has their comfort zone, no matter the age. We all have a preferred activity or lifestyle, and it is hard to stray into the unknown. But we are probably born with a passion for curiosity. What changes?  Maybe we become complacent or simply learn to fear what we don’t know. But you have to think about your reaction to life in general, because that is what you’ll be passing on to your kids.

Children take on the qualities of those who surround them, which is most often the parents. Therefore, a parent who encourages a child to try new things most likely does so themselves. And whether you realize it or not, you’re teaching your child about the world indirectly. Anxiety especially is easy to pick up on. Children can sense if you’re nervous about something and will copy your behavior. Just like that, your child can learn to fear something even if they haven’t experienced it.

[Tweet “#Parents easily pass along fears and anxieties to their kids. Let them try new things.”]

This is not to say you should fake it for your child. But when you take an opportunity to broaden your own horizons and set an example, your child may benefit. No one’s asking you to start mountain climbing to face your fear of heights. It could be something as small as trying a new food. You may have fears that your child does not. Be proud that your child can do things you can’t and support them the best you can. Pushing the limits is not a bad thing, and teaching your child that everyone’s limits are different is not a bad lesson either.