Tag Archive | screen time

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


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

“Lose the ‘Boob Tube:’ Alternative Activities to Engage Your Children”

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

Photo Credit: Chris Stein, Getty Images

Photo Credit: Chris Stein, Getty Images

When it comes to television, I’ve gotten the ‘eye rolls,’ the “Oh, come on’s,” and just about every comment in the ‘pro-television’ corner … yet not from my son. Rather, these comments have come from other parents I know. Most people find a hard time believing that my son will be 4 years old soon and he still has not watched a television program or a DVD, nor seen a movie. That’s why, while discussing this with a mother at church this Sunday, I was shocked when she responded, “Good for you! I wish I’d done it.”

Although I have run into some like-minded moms, in general most parents I know have set their children in front of the television before the age of 2 – some as early as 1 year old or younger. Some have rationalized their decision with, “But it’s Sesame Street!” Others with, “Yes, but my baby is learning so much from those Baby Einstein DVDs!”

Now don’t get me wrong, I have my favorite Sesame Street character, and I think that the developers of Baby Einstein had a great concept. However, when interviewed about why they are making DVDs for such young children, even though developmentally it has been proven to be inappropriate before the age of 2, the creators of Baby Einstein had a ready response. Since they know parents are going to let their children watch anyway, they wanted to create something that (and this is a real big paraphrase here) wouldn’t be too bad. Huh…

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children under 2 years old not be exposed to media of any kind, and screen time for children older than that should be limited – kids 2 and older should watch no more than one to two hours daily. Despite that recommendation, the average American child watches three to four hours a day.

Very few children’s television programs are interactive. In fact, they can actually delay a child’s development in some areas. Think about it: most television programs flash rapid-fire images and concepts at a child to the point where their mind has no time to process what is happening – let alone respond appropriately.

I subscribe to Baby Center and in their “TV-watching guidelines” web article, they state: “The best way to approach television is to think of it as refined sugar. You want your kids to enjoy the seductive stuff without consuming it to excess.” This makes sense, and my little boy will certainly soon get to enjoy TV time. However, as I think about how much time he will spend watching television, and how I will keep his viewing time and content under control, I believe it is best to start out “tough” from day one. It will be much easier to relax my standards later on than to tighten the reins.

Baby Center has several excellent ideas for monitoring your child’s TV viewing, including choosing what to watch and your role.  They also have two other articles I highly recommend reading: TV for Kids Filled with Social Bullying, Study Finds” and “What to Watch: The Best Children’s Television.”

Here are several alternative activities you can use to engage your children and keep them busy in another way – even if you really just ‘need a moment!’

1)      Put the focus on reading ~ Most little ones I know enjoy story time. You can read to them, together, or have them read to you. Even if they are too young to be reading other than from memory, change the words around, or vary the story line – remember this is creating a strong foundation and enjoyment for reading. The myth that you must be sitting next to your child listening and watching as he or she experiences a book is not true! It is perfectly fine for you to ask your child to read to you while you are preparing dinner. No direct eye contact necessary!

Little Drummer Boy

Little Drummer Boy

2)      Invest in upbeat, interactive children’s music or story CDs ~ This develops their auditory learning, and gives them freedom to create images in their mind. Some come with a book and your child gets to hear someone else read to them besides you. These also tend to be slower paced, allowing more response time for your child.

3)      Invest in a child-friendly musical instrument kit (Target has some good ones) ~ Even if you have to “grin and bear” the noise for a bit, your child will love ‘playing along’ to a favorite CD or just making up their own tunes. Add a ‘marching band’ stroll around the house!

4)      Lay out miscellaneous craft supplies ~ Construction paper; small pieces of thin cardboard; fun little bits and pieces for gluing (buttons, felt pieces, googly eyes, stickers); scissors; glue and paste – let your child have an unbridled craft fest (parental involvement not necessary)! It doesn’t matter what they create, just that they are being creative!

Making Christmas Cookies

Making Christmas Cookies

5)      Venture into the great outdoors ~ Your backyard is fine and if you don’t have one, the nearest local park is great too. Children need to expend (lots of) energy and what better place to do that than outside. I have to force myself to do this on days when I am not up for a trek in a light drizzle, getting bundled up against the cold air, or am just plain tired. Yet when I see the joy all over my son’s face once we’ve stepped outside (in all kinds of weather), I remember what it was like to be a kid again.

6)      Cook or bake something together ~ Believe me, this is certainly my greatest weakness, yet I have found that simply letting my little guy stir up some powdered muffin mix in a bowl, and help me add a splash of milk and crack an egg is all he needs (besides to taste one when it’s finished) to feel like a real chef!

7)      Play a game, put a puzzle together, or build something ~ There is so much your child (and you!) will learn – about social skills and about each other, when you take time to play together.

Helping Mommy Houseclean

Helping Mommy Houseclean

These are just a few ideas, and of course you likely have many more to add. Let us know what you do when it is time to turn off the ‘boob tube’ – we would love to hear your activity suggestions!

And – for another perspective, check out fellow blogger Jen’s post: Setting Limits on TV and Video Games (or How NOT to Win Mother of the Year).

Setting Limits on TV and Video Games (or How NOT to Win Mother-of-the Year)

By Jen Ashenfelter 

There are a lot of distractions for children today: Wii, PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo DS, iPod, iPad, cell phones, Angry Birds and, oh yeah, that old favorite, the television. It’s hard to believe but when I grew up—not only did I walk to school uphill both ways…I’m not kidding—video games were played on an Atari system, the phone was tethered to the wall, a television was controlled by two legs and five fingers, and an apple was something you ate with lunch. Consider me ancient.

If the scientists and experts thought television and video games were bad for the healthy development of children back then, what’s a parent to do today? Times and technology may have changed but the answer remains the same: Turn it all off. Keep it off. It’s that easy. Ok, well sometimes it’s not that easy but we’ll get to that later. 

Long, long ago…

During the school year, I was not allowed to watch television during the week. Friday evening through Sunday evening was it—Love Boat, American Bandstand and the Sunday Disney movie totally rocked. And we never owned an Atari—a game of Monopoly could last 1 ½ days if we played it right. A focus on homework and school activities were my responsibility and high grades were expected.

I hated the rule. I will never win a contest about 80’s TV trivia, but I’m happy to report that I survived, graduated ranked 12th in my class, used the “therapy fund” to pay for college, and today I’m a fairly well-adjusted adult.

The circle of life goes on…

Yes, the most hated, evil rule ever devised in the history of parenting lives on—in my house. But it’s bigger and more evil than ever before: the weekday ban not only includes TV but all gaming systems of any size, type or style. Same reasons. Same expectations. Hopefully the same results—so far, so good.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s not always easy. My two boys are very good at reasoning and, in some cases, argument and debate. Future lawyers, perhaps. However, I prefer a more scientific approach to the laws of rule bending. When the well-read ‘A’ student asks for slight change, the experiment begins. When the quiz, test and project grades start to drop, or an inch becomes a mile, the experiment ends and the theory is successfully proven.

And it’s not always perfect. The real work begins on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons when both boys have to be pried away from sets and systems for a seat at the dining room table or an extended break outside for sunshine, fresh air and, oh yeah, actual physical, sweat-inducing exercise.

I will never win a Mother of the Year contest either.  

All kidding and “mean, strict mommy” stuff aside…

There are plenty of studies and reports available that provide serious statistics for why time spent in front of the television, gaming devices and other electronic toys should be limited. As well, there are plenty of resources—including our family oriented blog posts chock full of great ideas and first-hand experiences—that suggest better ways for young minds and bodies to spend their free time.

May I also suggest reading this linked post from the Becoming Minimalist blog.  Eye-opening statistics! You’ve got the resources, now it’s time to create the plan. Here are a few ideas:

Set rules and expectations early. If you have preschool aged children, then now is the time to set the rules. As the years progress, they won’t know any differently. Setting a new rule with older children will be more challenging—be strong.

Define your rule and any exceptions. For us, it’s basic: No television or gaming systems Mondays – Thursdays during the school year but they’re allowed Friday after school through Sunday evening.

Be consistent. There are always exceptions and small battles to be fought, but the boys know where I stand and what the absolute limit is.

Make it your lifestyle. It’s the same concept as dieting. To completely deny chocolate cake is to want chocolate cake. So, limit the amount, fill the time with other meaningful activities, remain steadfast, praise the effort, and celebrate the results! Stick with it week after month after year…you’ll be glad you did.

Thank you Mom and Dad! I hated the rule then, but I appreciate its value now. You were right! (Yup, that just happened.…) 

Did you grow up with a limit on television and video games? As a parent, what rules or expectations do you have during the school year? How has it worked for your family? Join the conversation and share your thoughts and ideas on this subject.