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I Can’t Wait to Hold Your Hand

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

Photo Credit: Licensed under the Public Domain by the National Cancer Institute.

Photo Credit: Licensed under the Public Domain by the National Cancer Institute.

Ah, sweet summertime… those lazy, hazy days. The days are lighter and brighter, the pace of life seems to slow down, and families get to spend more time together. And that’s what all moms and dads look forward to, right? Time spent with their children.

Funny, though, I don’t always hear that from parents. In fact, many times I hear quite the opposite. In May, I attended a fellowship dinner for my church. The conversation soon turned to children—about how fast kids grow and about the many changes they go through.

I sensed where all this was going because many times while talking with a friend or family member, at some point during the conversation they begin complaining about their children. Now, I do realize that this is likely not ever meant in a derogatory way; nor is it an expression of these parents’ true feelings for their kids. They probably just feel comfortable venting their frustrations to me, and unloading their feelings about their children’s antics and behaviors. Sometimes, these parents may even use humor in their ranting in order to defuse conflicts with their children when they later interact. That is actually a positive approach to dealing with many family situations.

Honestly, though, I have never really known how to respond to this manner of complaining simply because I don’t share these feelings about my son. My husband and I were no less than tortured for years by the many circumstances, and seemingly unending losses, surrounding the building our family. When our child was finally born and ready for us to adopt him, we were so overcome with emotion and filled with joy that we didn’t even have words. Although perhaps it will be hard for some to believe this, my husband and I used to “argue” over which of us wanted to get up with our son for the next middle of the night feeding. No, I am not kidding!

Sometimes, we would resolve to getting up together and sharing in this late-night ritual because we knew it was a special, treasured time that would all-too-soon be gone. And, it was. For our son began growing—sometimes in faster spurts than others—and never stopped. He has continued to grow up and fill out. We also know that once he reaches his destined height, he will continue his growth emotionally and spiritually.

We never can turn back the hands of time.

Speaking of hands… In reference to her children’s rapidly growing bodies over the years, one woman in our fellowship group said:

“One day you go to hold their hand and you see that it is actually—a hand!”

The talk continued, round the dinner table, with every member contributing toward the “kids these days” conversation. It seems that at every stage of my child’s life, I hear something from someone about how I should prepare for what lies ahead – what lies “in wait” (cue the Evil laugh–heh heh heh–here). I have already passed many of these supposedly dreaded stages – the terrible two’s, which is the year of public meltdowns and tantrums; the threshold three’s, which is when your child is older yet not old enough; the ferocious four’s, which is the year of independence wars; and the stage I’m in now ….. the fighting five’s, which is a year that will bring more I-can-do-it-myself battles. And through this all I wonder: Just when will these behaviors drive me to the brink of, well—complaining?

I do recognize that all of the behaviors observed and described by child development experts, and many parents, are categorized as general attitudes and behaviors that will likely be seen at some point during a child’s second year of life, third year of life, etc.; as well as in varying degrees of frequency and intensity, within that given year. However, I truly do feel as though my son and I do not fit in with the: My-Kids-Drive-Me-Nutty Club simply because… well, he doesn’t.

From the moment I brought my son home, and as I have watched him grow, I can honestly say I have enjoyed every age/stage/phase/and “fad” that has shown itself in his development. Initially, I did think I would have a hard time “Saying Goodbye to the Baby Years,” especially since my son is an only child.

Yet, it seems that as he grows, my son only becomes more wonderful—more adorable and fun to spend time with; more intuitive and sensitive; more curious and inquisitive; and more helpful and loving. So, I honestly can’t complain when the complaining wheel begins turning around my social and professional circles.

As I wake up each day to my beautiful little boy, growing big... I look at him, grin, and think:

I can’t wait to hold his great BIG hand!

We're "keeping it under our hats"... truth is, we have no complaints!

We’re “keeping it under our hats”… truth is, we have no complaints!

How do you handle being on the receiving end of parents’ complaints about their children? Do you perceive these “vent sessions” as a healthy, positive coping strategy? Or as having a negative effect on one’s parenting? Do you participate in, or even initiate, these kinds of discussions? Also, do you have tips for dealing with the inevitable growth and moving on of our children? How can we keep our relationships with our kids warm, loving, and strong – without causing them to feel “smothered?” 

We look forward to reading your thoughts!

 

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Saying Goodbye to the Baby Years

Final school concerts, awards assemblies, graduation ceremonies… chances are your family calendar is dotted with these events over the next week or so (maybe longer, if you’re making up lots of snow days, ugh!). Along with these milestones and rites of passage, come lots of welcome changes but also bittersweet moments for us as parents. We thought it was the perfect time to revisit Jennifer (Smith) Schuler’s blog post “Saying Goodbye to the Baby Years.” Sniff….

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

If You Have to Say Goodbye

When you are only able to have one child (for whatever reason), simply put–you treasure him extra much. It’s not that I love my child more than anyone else loves theirs, it’s just that there is no little one coming behind him as a distraction from my sadness at seeing him grow up and move forward in his life. I think I just hold him a little tighter sometimes because of that.

I have always relished snuggle time with my little boy.

I have always relished snuggle time with my little boy.

This fall is going to be so incredibly difficult for me because I do not want to let my “baby” go. Although I was able to stay home with him and have a lot of quality time together, I don’t think parents ever feel as though they have had enough time for that. And no matter how hard you try to slow time down, it still won’t stop.

Kalli Dakos’ “goodbye poems” can bring comfort to children and their parents during difficult times of loss and change. Still, I can’t freeze my son in time. This fall, he is beginning a Pre-K program at a private school where he will attend through 12th grade. Don’t get me wrong – we found an amazing school that incorporates all the educational and personal philosophies we want for our little boy. Once we looked at the benefits to our son having a whole-child education in a smaller classroom and campus environment, it was a no-brainer.

My son’s new school also offered a 5 full day summer camp program with different weekly themes. What a great way for him to adjust to his new school in such a fun way! Perhaps the fall, then, would be less of a shock. We chose two sessions separated by a week between. The beginning of the first week was somewhat hard for my son to acclimate to, especially the first day. He was in a new environment and experiencing a rather long day even though rest and quiet time was built in. After a couple of days, he adjusted fine yet every once in awhile he would fuss at morning drop off–wanting me to walk him to his group’s classroom meeting place instead of going through the carpool line.

I was so torn in these situations. I knew that having him become comfortable with this drop off routine would benefit him for the fall, yet he is still so young and I didn’t want to force him nor upset the start of his day. I decided to go easy and help him adjust slowly over a two week camp experience. After the two weeks we had an opportunity to enroll him in the final two weeks of camp, and he was very excited! He had done it. He had successfully adjusted, and enjoyed his time at camp and on the school campus! This Monday, drop off was a snap…for my son.

It was me who did not fair so well. Sigharen’t you going to miss me? Luckily my fellow blogger, Chris, wrote a wonderful piece on adjusting to the “emptying nest” and I found her tips applicable to my situation too. Her blog also offered fresh perspective on what these early years have really been about – and they weren’t always easy for sure!

Let me add a few suggestions for those of us sending young children off to Pre-K or kindergarten this fall. We can do this!

Saying “Goodbye” with Grace

* Pack plenty of tissues! Don’t leave home for that first day of school without them, or walk your child to the bus stop without a wad stuffed in your pocket.

* Try hard to wait to cry when your child is out of sight. This is something I likely will not achieve, yet it is a noble goal. I am pro showing-your-feelings-in-front-of your-children (within reason), yet at such a young age kids sometimes still confuse emotions. And, you really can’t explain “bittersweet” to them. The more cheerful, upbeat and excited you are, the more likely they will follow suit in their responses to going off to school.

* Establish sacred alone time. Carve out time for just you and your child amidst the busy school week in any way you can. Sneak in a moment of reading time cuddled up on the couch, sing songs while your child sits in the bathtub, listen to their school experiences while you’re cooking dinner. You don’t have to spend large blocks of time staring into your child’s eyes to have spent quality time together.

* Use weekends for “regrouping.” Spend some quality family time together – better if it doesn’t involve big plans or a lot of running around since the school week will have held plenty of that. Just be together.

* Make your child’s bedroom a haven. No matter how much money you have to spend on your child’s bedroom design, there are many things you can do inexpensively to keep their room current to their age-specific interests. It also doesn’t take a lot of effort to keep it organized and clutter-free. If your child has a clean, calm place to retreat to for quiet rest, reading and play he will know where he can go to relax and recharge his energy.

My son is relaxed and comfortable in "outer space!"

My son is relaxed and comfortable in “outer space!”

* Get involved in your child’s education. There are many ways to do this, even for busy working parents. If you can’t volunteer in your child’s classroom or serve on the PTA, you may be able to take off a day from work to go on a field trip or offer to prepare learning materials at home. You are supporting your child’s learning experience as you sit down together to review homework assignments and prepare for the next school day.

* No matter how many children you have…You’ll always be sad when they leave the “nest.” There are many phases of your child’s life. You will say goodbye to them all.

One morning, I went into my son’s room to make up his bed with clean sheets. As I smoothed out the covers and neatly arranged his soft pillows, I realized that although he seems to be growing up more every day he still needs me. And in one respect or another he always will. So I might be saying goodbye to my son’s “baby” years, yet he will always be my baby.

No matter how old my son gets, I will never stop holding him and rejoicing in who he is becoming.

No matter how old my son gets, I will never stop holding him and rejoicing in who he is becoming.

What was it like for you saying goodbye to the baby years? Did you find some ways of coping that we can all benefit from? If so, please share them with our OTMGR community!

Addicted to Technology?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Karen Hendricks

We use the word “addicted” in association with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, coffee (caffeine) and—sometimes in a teasing way—decadent foods like chocolate. But do you think it’s possible to become addicted to technology?

More and more research is pointing in that direction, saying that we are impulsively checking our phones and other devices as soon as emails “ping” into our inboxes or texts light up our screens. What do you think? Are there times when you feel addicted? Do you ever feel as though your children or spouse are “too connected?” Do you have rules or boundaries set for phone usage in your house?

I brought up this topic over the dinner table a few nights ago. Yes, we try to have dinner together as a family every night… it’s not always possible with sports schedules and other activities, but the majority of the time, we are successful! I think it’s one of the keys to family communication and connectedness. It’s also a sacred time, meaning that devices are not allowed at the dinner table. Rarely, there are exceptions, such as when my husband gets an emergency call from his phone service… or when we’re expecting a call from our college age daughter… but face-to-face dinner conversation is more important.

So, over dinner, we talked about Sundays and how they are probably the day when we use phones and devices (iPods, Kindles, etc.) the least. Sundays have a family feel to them, with our day typically beginning at church, progressing into our Sunday noontime tradition—brunch—usually with pancakes or waffles, and always bacon. Always. Afternoons are spent getting together with friends, watching sports together on TV, catching up on homework, doing fun projects around the house, taking walks or bike rides around our neighborhood, cooking Sunday dinners or baking special treats. It’s a day to recharge our batteries, but unplug from devices.

We don’t have a strict rule about phone or device use on Sundays, but we talked about how it’s just kind of evolved that way. And for that I am grateful. I cherish Sundays for their enriching family moments and want to preserve and protect these special days. Being unplugged allows us to unwind and reconnect with each other in some of the most binding ways: talking, sharing, laughing, touching, hugging and… loving each other.

Tell me what you think… I’d love to hear about your strategies and tips for keeping phone/device use in check. Feel free to leave a comment below!

You’d Better Watch Out, You’d Better Not Cry, Your College Kid is Coming (Back) to Town!

SONY DSC

Tomorrow I’ll head out to pick up my freshman for winter break. On the one hand of course I’ll be thrilled to have him home for almost a month. On the other hand I confess I’m a little apprehensive: Will he fit in to our new household routine? Will he be bored by our life, which is considerably quieter than a freshman dorm? And perhaps the biggest unknown: How will we adjust to his new independence, in light of his younger sister’s routines and rules, not to mention our own sanity?

I’ve prepared myself to not see him much—I know he’ll want to sleep late into the morning and visit with his old buddies late into the night. To help me prepare for other changes, I’ve been doing some reading, hunting for tips for making this vacation a good one. Here are some suggestions I’ve gleaned on the subject of adjusting to a college kid’s return to the fold for the holidays:

Manage your expectations. Along with those visions of sugarplums dancing in my head, I know I’ve got fantasies of joyous reunions and laughter and togetherness, along with hot cocoa and roasting chestnuts—the works! Reality is bound to be different, and if I’m not careful—disappointing. So I’m trying to be aware of my hidden agendas—trying to let them go so I can simply be open to whatever is actually happening, rather than holding on to what I think should be happening.

Keep connected to the younger sibs. My younger daughter has gotten used to being the center of parental attention (for better or worse)—and she’s definitely gotten used to having a bathroom to herself! Having her older brother home may take some getting used to. Other younger sibs may have to adjust to having to share access to the car. I want to check in with my daughter from time to time to see how it’s going for her to have her brother around.

Same with the college kid. I expect mine to be exhausted from a long semester, topped off by a week or two of exams. And I know from his previous trips home that it can take him a while to settle in, to feel like home is actually home. I expect our little town to feel a lot smaller to him on this extended break—and a lot less interesting than the city where he now lives. And I wonder how it’ll be when his little sister is busy with her school activities and sports, and he has less contact with her than maybe he thought he would…

Plan a few family activities, but not too many. To make sure we do spend some fun time together, we bought tickets to a hockey game and a concert we know we’ll all enjoy. And we have some family gatherings lined up right around Christmas. Otherwise, we’re trying to keep things loose, partly because I know my freshman likes his down time, but also because I know it’s going to be important for him to reconnect with his old high school friends. Which leads me to:

Be ready to renegotiate rules and expectations. My son is used to staying out pretty late when he’s on campus, and that’s largely fine with me, since I don’t know when he’s coming or going. But it’s going to be a challenge for me when he’s heading out for the night as I’m heading up to bed. We’re going to have to talk that out: I don’t want to give him a hard-and-fast curfew, but letting his housemates (i.e., his family) know where he’s going and when he’ll be home is common courtesy, right? That’s how I plan to approach it.

Enjoy your young adult! In her book Letting Go: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the College Years, Karen Coburn suggests asking your college kid to take some inventory now that the first big semester is over. “Winter break is an opportunity for students to reflect on the semester—on ways they have changed, on what they have learned and on how their goals are evolving,” she writes. “Conversations between parents and their college age children about these topics can be extremely rewarding for both parties.” Coburn adds, “Parents who engage in conversations of this sort with their children, rather than just asking them about grades and professional goals, are likely to find this a very rich experience. It’s a great feeling to have your child open up new worlds for you. Listen to their excitement over new ideas without judgment. Ask your child to recommend a favorite book to you.” That sounds like fun, right? After all the work we put into raising our kids, here’s our chance to enjoy the young adults they’re becoming. I hope I remember to slow down and do just that!

Okay experienced empty nesters: What else do we need to know to prepare for this upcoming winter break?

That beautiful image? Some rights reserved by Bert Kaufmann.

Dinner Dilemma: Kids or No Kids?

Kids & restaurants: a good combo?

Kids and restaurants: a good combo? / Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Karen Hendricks

Have you heard about the recent controversy caused by a number of restaurants establishing “no kids” policies?

Some have outright banned kids, saying they want to establish a place for parents or couples to “escape,” while other restaurants have declared a “no kids under 7 after 7 pm” zone.

People have come out in favor of each side, with some of the points being:

  • There are too many parents bringing their kids to restaurants without expectations of appropriate behavior, leaving other diners disturbed by tantrums, screaming, etc.
  • All patrons deserve an enjoyable night out.
  • Not all families should be “punished” by these policies, as some parents truly do set rules and expectations for their kids.
  • Many family-friendly restaurants still do exist.
  • There are plenty of restaurants that don’t come out and say “no kids allowed” but if they don’t have high chairs or a child-friendly menu, the writing is on the wall. Some restaurants are simply geared towards adults.

I had mixed reactions as some of these news stories broke over the past few months. As the mother of three teens, our kids are beyond the tantrum stage (thank goodness!) but when they were younger, we truly limited our visits to restaurants because it often felt like more of a hassle than what it was worth. Our two youngest children are only a year apart, so I do remember getting “looks” several times when we dined out and needed two high chairs. We were always on edge, aware of every sound they made, in tune with their moods, and if they started to shift… it was time to ask the waiter, “Check, please?!”

We never wanted to upset other diners around us, especially those who didn’t have children. When we were younger (PC… “pre-children”), I have to admit, we were often disturbed by crying babies or toddler tantrums. Let’s just say they didn’t help set the tone for romantic candlelight dinners. But, in those PC days, does anyone truly understand what it’s like to be a parent? I know now… children are unpredictable, even for those of us who try our best to parent, establish rules, etc. Our tolerance levels shift, our understanding deepens, as we become parents ourselves.

Part of me wants to stand up for the idea of families doing something as basic as eating a meal, together. As a society, I feel as though we should support families more. We need all the help we can get!

On the other hand, we are so very blessed in America to have the ability to start up any type of business we’d like—law-abiding, of course. And if we wanted to open a restaurant geared towards adult clientele, or pint-sized patrons, then that’s our right. It’s the American dream, right?

So after chewing on this issue for a while (bad pun alert)… here’s how it all shakes out for me. I think the real issue is with the segment of parents who simply don’t parent. Maybe they don’t like to tell their children “no.” So for that reason, I’m going to say “yes,” I’m completely in favor of restaurant owners who decide to establish a no-kids policy. There are still plenty of other dining options on the menu for patrons of all ages.

Do you agree? Do you eat out with your family? What have your experiences been like? Feel free to join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

Background:

Texas restaurant bans kids under 7 after 7 pm 

New sushi bar bans those under 18 

Café owner shames moms and kids on Facebook 

Food & Wine lists a number of restaurants with no-kids policies 

The Washington Post follows-up and reports the no-kids sushi bar is doing just fine

Waiting for Wisdom

From MetroParent

Image courtesy: MetroParent

By Chris Little

One of the things I’m learning about having a college student for a kid: My role as his parent demands quite new behaviors from me. When something happens to him–let’s say the end of a relationship, an untimely migraine headache, or even just a hassle with a class schedule–where I once might have swooped in with advice or a cup of tea, I’m learning that my role now is to, well, just kind of sit still. Preferably in silence. It’s been… let’s just say, it’s been a learning experience—and this from someone who was never one of those helicopter moms who made a life out of rescuing her kids.

The wonderful writer Anne Lamott became a grandmother not too long ago, an experience she learned provided a whole new opportunity to sit still and let her adult son, now a parent himself, learn his own lessons. She came up with an acronym to help her remember that it’s no longer her role to step in and run the show: W.A.I.T., which stands for Why Am I Talking? You can read about it here and here.

It’s hard for us parents, and maybe especially for us often hyper-communicative mothers, to opt for silence sometimes. At least in my house, my husband is much better about giving the kids space to work things out on their own without the benefit of his talking. So as I’ve been adjusting to having one kid living halfway across the state, I’ve been thinking a lot about Lamott’s handy mnemonic. I like to take each word in turn:

Why am I talking? What purpose do I wish my words to serve? All too often, I can talk for unhelpful reasons, like wanting to keep my kids engaged with me, wanting to protect them (or myself) from uncomfortable feelings—or thinking my words can serve as a kind of talisman to protect them in unsafe situations. One day I heard a radio show about the drug MDMA, and I commented to my high-school daughter that I thought I’d give the freshman a call, you know, just to remind him to steer clear of parties where kids might be trying it. “Don’t,” she suggested, kindly hiding her impulse to roll her eyes. “He’s already learned all that, and at this point, your telling him isn’t going to do anything but irritate him.” She had a point. Still, I had this feeling that if I could just warn him against the drug (again), I could protect him. I know I’m not the only mom who’s wanted to dole out desperate little pieces of advice out of a deeply engrained instinct to protect my kids. “Don’t climb too high!” “Hold on tight!” “Be careful!” Now, that’s not to say I’m never going to give my freshman a nugget of advice—but I suppose I should start by knowing why I want to do it in the first place, and follow up by asking myself whether it’s something the kid really doesn’t already know.

Why am I talking? If I’m the one doing the talking, what’s my kid doing? Is he listening? Is he tuning out? Is he wishing he could get out of the room? And what about me? Am I thinking about the kid at all—or am I just satisfying my desire to control him? In other words, are he and I actually communicating, or am I just lecturing, or worse, filling space? Have I asked him his point of view? Am I letting it be as real as mine feels to me?

Why am I talking? Because most of the time, listening is better. And if you’re so inclined, prayer is too (as long as we’re talking about private, silent, open-hearted prayer, not the spoken kind that seeks to guilt-trip the kid, which is really just another form of exerting control).

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not giving my college kid the silent treatment, not by any stretch of the imagination! But now that my freshman is more on his own, I’m trying to be more aware of what I’m saying to him and why, so that I give him the space to grow into a healthy adult (and not coincidentally, hopefully one who wants to spend time with me!).

Kat B. said it very well over at Travel Garden Eat when she quoted Robert Brault: “It is one thing to show your child the way, and a harder thing to then stand out of it.”

 

Cyberbullying: How Teens and Parents Can Stop Hate from Going Viral

Cyberbullying

By Karen Hendricks

I can’t stop thinking about the Florida teen who recently committed suicide, after being the target of cyberbullying. (Click here for the backstory from CNN News. ) There are several details about Rebecca Sedwick’s death that strike me as especially poignant.

She was apparently the victim of cyberbullying for as long as a year… this breaks my heart. The two girls arrested in the case and charged with “aggravated stalking” apparently were just the ringleaders. Police say these two girls encouraged as many as 15 additional girls to cyberbully Rebecca. This too breaks my heart and makes me wonder if things would have turned out differently if at least one of those girl’s parents had caught on to the plot. The fact that all of this happened over a boy… that too breaks my heart.

On the surface, Rebecca’s mom did all the right things: She cancelled her daughter’s Facebook account and moved her to a different middle school. According to recent news stories, the majority of the cyberbulling in this case happened, not on “mainstream” social media like Facebook and Twitter, but on other sites such as ask.fm and Kik. More about that in a second.

Social media plays a huge role in my professional life, as I work in marketing, public relations and the media. For the past year, I’ve especially enjoyed teaching “Social Media 101” classes through my local arts council. It’s always fascinating to hear what motivates people to take my classes—a four-session series. The two main reasons? Parents/grandparents want to learn how to communicate with their children/grand-children (and be educated) and small business owners see the value of navigating social media channels to promote their businesses. For the most part, we focus on all of the good that can come out of social media. It’s a joy to see parents/grandparents return to class and happily report that they’re now successfully Tweeting or exchanging Facebook messages with their loved ones. There are many positive aspects of social media.

The dark side of social media cannot be ignored, however, and I always review privacy controls and “best practices” with all social media channels, in my classes. Many schools provide seminars and speakers about bullying in general, or cyberbullying/computer safety issues. I know many parents who do their best to monitor and/or limit their teens’ social media use. But with the Rebecca Sedwick case in the news, I feel as though we need to continue to talk and raise awareness in the hopes of stopping hate from going viral and hurting one more teen.

Here are a few pieces of advice I have picked up – but please feel free to share your stories and tips below as well:

Set e-rules

Social media can be accessed on cell phones, computers, ipods, Kindles, etc. While it’s best to set limits when these items are first introduced to your teens, it’s never too late. Set limits and make sure your teens are maintaining a healthy balance of “real life,” studying, sports/activities, family time, and socializing with friends vs. “screen time.”

Be e-safe

Teens need help setting boundaries. Talk to your teens about what they should and should not be sharing via social media, to protect their privacy and safety. For example, I often see teens posting photos on Instagram, able to be viewed by the public, which reveal their home’s location, school name, etc. Help them set “internal privacy controls,” as well as actual privacy controls on their social media accounts. Insist on it. Again, this is best done together at the time they establish their Facebook account, for example. But it’s never too late to become tech-savvy and begin monitoring your teen later in the game.

Talk about e-language

Talk to your teen about his/her social media messages. What messages are appropriate? What type of language is appropriate? How often should he/she communicate via social media (or texting)? Does every detail of his/her life need to be shared? How do friends’ messages affect them? Is he/she offended or hurt by friends’ behavior on social media? My daughter seems to maintain a healthy perspective by saying “There’s too much drama” and “over-sharing” on most social media sites, but she focuses on the positive aspects of keeping in touch with friends by visiting them a few times a week.

Limit e-photos

Photo-sharing can be a wonderful aspect of social media, especially for your teen’s relatives and friends in far-away places. It’s a great way to stay connected. However, as previously mentioned, make sure your teen is being careful about details such as house numbers that may show up in photos. Also, stay on top of a trend that spirals out of control for many teens: posting “selfies” or self-portraits. If you see your teen posting selfies every day… talk to them and lovingly help them try to regain a healthy perspective. Actually, the over-posting of selfies isn’t a problem limited to teens… I see a lot of adults with this issue as well! One more word of caution about photos: Sometimes teens need to be more careful and vigilant about being/not being in their friends’ photos. Once a friend posts a photo, your teen has little control over it. If he/she doesn’t like the photo, your teen can “untag” him/herself. Also, group photos often hurt other teens who later see they weren’t invited or included.

Be e-friends

Know who your teen’s “friends” are. In fact, YOU should be one of their friends at all times. My feeling is, if your teen doesn’t want to agree to this, then he/she shouldn’t be on social media. As a compromise, there could be another adult in your teen’s life that you might entrust to “keep an eye” on his/her social media use. Additionally, look out for your teen’s friends if they connect with you via social media. Be eyes and ears for their parents and let them know if you see anything suspicious.

Be e-savvy

Talk to your teen up front about cyberbullying, which is  defined as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.” It’s hatred that goes viral. (And it’s not limited to teens. Sadly, there are many adults who model this atrocious behavior on-line as well.) Encourage your teens to tell you, or a trusted adult, teacher, pastor, etc, about anything suspicious.

Keep an e-list

Know which social media channels your teen is using. As in the Rebecca Sedwick case, there are many other forms of social media other than Facebook or Twitter. Learn about Snapchat, ask.fm, Kik and other ways your teen is communicating. Help them keep a healthy balance by perhaps limiting their social media chatter to two or three sites that they truly use in positive ways, to keep in touch with friends. Personally, I would discourage my teens from using Ask.fm—it’s is a site that encourages teens to be anonymous and ask questions in a truth-or-dare type of format. I know it’s tedious, I know teens are resistant, and I know it’s a time-consuming task for parents, but… keep a list of social media sites your teen is on and know their passwords. Monitor their messages as often as you feel necessary—once a day, once a week, once a month—depending on their useage.

Look at the big e-picture

It’s so hard for our teens to see past their teenage years. But help them understand that their actions, online or otherwise, have consequences. This includes the spreading of negative or hateful messages, and every photo that they post. Their future is precious, their lives are precious.

For more information, here are some helpful resources:

StopBullying.gov – a website maintained by the federal government (Health & Human Services) that includes risk factors and warning signs of cyberbullying

Cyberbullying Research Center – including tips for parents – a site maintained by two educators/researchers/authors

Setting Limits on TV and Video Games (or How NOT to Win Mother-of- the Year) – a helpful post by fellow blogger Jen Ashenfelter