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Tips To Keep Your Teen Safe Online without Being Intrusive

Posted by Sue Scheff on April 30, 2018  /   Posted in Cyberbullying, Digital Parenting, Featured Article, Internet Safety

Can You Monitor Your Teen’s Internet Use without Being Intrusive?

The internet is a great source of information and entertainment. It’s how we shop, how we research, and how we connect with other people. Adults aren’t the only ones spending time online, though — pre-teens and teens use the internet and online apps to communicate with others online, and they use them a lot.

According to a 2015 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 92% of teens report going online daily, and even pre-teens and younger kids have started using connected devices in higher numbers. So as your kids spend more time on the internet, how do you make sure they stay safe online without overstepping healthy boundaries?

The four tips below can help you teach your children how to use the internet safely and responsibly.

  1. Create a Family Media Plan

Talk with your teens and tweens about setting up a family media plan. This includes discussing screen-free areas in your home, acceptable screen time and unacceptable screen time, and appropriate online behaviors. Here are a few examples of common family rules:

  • Phones are turned in at night
  • Screen time isn’t allowed past a certain time
  • Phones aren’t allowed at the kitchen table
  • Computer time is allowed only after homework is completed
  • Certain information shouldn’t be shared online
  • Apps should be downloaded only with a parent’s permission

These rules can not only help your tween or teen be safer online, but give you a great opportunity to model good online behavior. By showing your kids that good online safety practices apply at all ages, you can make it clear that you aren’t enforcing unreasonable or overbearing rules.

  1. Teach Responsibility and Good Judgement

Teach your children to set limits and create boundaries for themselves on the internet. If kids are taught early on that internet use should come secondary to family time and school time, they will be less likely to abuse the web as they approach their teen years.

Remind your teen that using the internet responsibly means thinking before you post — they shouldn’t post their location, address, money information, or any other personal information. Teach them that quizzes and giveaways are often used to capture personal info, for instance, so they should never click on those types of pop-ups or ads.

Also, be clear about what appropriate online time looks like and how they should manage their online time. If your child has a test coming up the next week, help them plan their prep time and internet time so they can work hard and have some screen time during their downtime.

  1. Install and Use a Monitoring App or Filter

If you’ve decided that an internet monitoring app or a web filter is the best way to track what your teen or tween is posting to social accounts or texting their friends, it’s important to follow a few basic guidelines when you start:

  • Inform your teen or tween that you’ll be using a monitoring app or internet filter, and explain how it works. Being honest with your child from the start will help them avoid any feelings of you going behind their back.
  • Install a parental control program that is only as strict as is necessary. The program should run in the background on your child’s phone or computer, and your child can use their device as they normally would.
  • Review habits and behaviors with your kids. Taking time to review messages or internet use with your teen can help you identify how your child is spending time online and make sure they’re not receiving any dangerous messages or being bullied.
  1. Help Them Set Social Media Preferences

If your kids share pictures, videos or messages on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, or other social media platforms, they may be unclear about who can see their posts. Take a moment to help your tween or teen set their privacy settings so they can easily restrict who they let see their information.

This simple step will help your child establish who can contact them, who can view their info and photos and who can see the messages and posts they publish.

Most tweens and young adults use social media and technology responsibly. They’ve grown up surrounded by the internet, but often, their technical knowledge can far exceed their judgement. By following these tips, you can help your children be better educated on how to conduct themselves online and you can keep a watchful eye on them without being too intrusive.

Contributor: Hilary Bird is a digital journalist who writes about the things that fascinate her the most: relationships, technology, and how they impact each other. As more and more people become more and more reliant on their tech devices, Hilary wants to help them stay safe and understand how these devices will reshape the way we communicate. 

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5 Ways to Combat Cyberbullying for Teens

Posted by Sue Scheff on March 28, 2018  /   Posted in Cyberbullying, Digital Parenting, Featured Article, Teen Help

In 2017 we heard a lot about digital resilience, but do we understand what it is?

Helping our teens be ready for online hate and digital discourse offline can better prepare them when they are faced with it. Reality is that incivility exists – sadly this is a human behavior that we don’t have control over, but we can choose how we handle it.

Today our kids consider their digital life as important as their lives offline, so it’s important to give them as much knowledge and encouragement to know they are not alone when they are faced with cyber-hate.

Cyberbullying is not only impacting our teen’s emotionally – it causes them to miss school, become withdrawn, drop out of sports or other activities they once enjoyed, failing when they were once good students, changing peer groups or becoming isolated and more. Teens can experience a higher level of stress and anxiety when they are struggling with online bullying.

The most troubling outcome of cyberbullying and online harassment is the rise in bullycide. Too many young lives have already been taken — parents need to educate themselves to better protect their kids offline to handle online issues.

5 ways to build digital resilience

  1. Prepare them for the ugly side of the Internet or possibly being upset by what people say. Remind them it could be inappropriate content that slips through filters. Being forewarned is being forearmed.
  2. Show them how to block individuals, flag and report abusive content, and when to report incidents. Emphasize the importance of telling someone “in real life.”
  3. Show your teen how easily digital pictures can be manipulated. The realization that not everything is what it seems is a useful first step – understanding that life is not as perfect as it may seem virtually. Teens may be familiar with the digital world but less familiar with the motivations for creating ‘fake’ images.
  4. Help them to think through the possible consequences of what they post online. Remind them that there is no rewind, once it’s posted it’s nearly impossible to take back. Fifteen minutes of humor is not worth a lifetime of humiliation.
  5. Encourage your teen to socialize in person with their friends. Communicating solely behind a screen can be isolating. Socializing in person builds more face-to-face contact in helping your child have empathy and compassion towards people.

As we know communication is key with your teenager, yet can also be challenging. Have you considered book chats? My latest book, Shame Nation: Choosing Kindness and Compassion in an Age of Cruelty and Trolling (Sourcebooks, October 2017) was written for both teens and parents and perfect for discussions on digital wisdom, cyberbullying and making good cyber-decisions.

Amazon has a special offer on Shame Nation – buy a few copies, we have a book discussion guide to help you get started.

Together we can start curbing this culture of cruelty and bring it to a civil nation.

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The Truth About Teen Vaping

Posted by Sue Scheff on March 13, 2018  /   Posted in Featured Article, Parenting Teens, Residential Therapy, Teen Depression, Teen Drug Use, Teen Help

More and more parents are contacting us about their teenager vaping.

Is Vaporizing Safer Than Smoking?  Why Vaping Isn’t Healthy for Teens?

Vaping is less harmful than smoking, but it’s still bad for teens according to Sandra Gordon in her article for YourTeenMag.

First, the good news: Teen smoking isn’t as cool as it once was. Over the past 40 years, smoking rates among teens have fallen nearly 23 percent.

The not-so-great news? More than two million middle and high school students use e-cigarettes (vape). E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid (“juice”), turning it into an aerosol that the user inhales. E-cigarettes don’t produce the same mix of tar and carcinogens as conventional cigarettes, but they’re far from harmless, says Steven Schroeder, M.D., director of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center in San Francisco.

The juice in e-cigarettes is available in enticing flavors like mint, mango, tobacco, or crème brûlée. Most of the time, it also contains nicotine, but research shows that only a quarter of high schoolers know this. Juice may also contain other chemicals known to be toxic to humans, such as ethylene glycol, a chemical used in antifreeze; formaldehyde; volatile organic compounds; and heavy metals, like lead and diacetyl.

First, the good news: Teen smoking isn’t as cool as it once was. Over the past 40 years, smoking rates among teens have fallen nearly 23 percent.

The not-so-great news? More than two million middle and high school students use e-cigarettes (vape). E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid (“juice”), turning it into an aerosol that the user inhales. E-cigarettes don’t produce the same mix of tar and carcinogens as conventional cigarettes, but they’re far from harmless, says Steven Schroeder, M.D., director of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center in San Francisco.

The juice in e-cigarettes is available in enticing flavors like mint, mango, tobacco, or crème brûlée. Most of the time, it also contains nicotine, but research shows that only a quarter of high schoolers know this. Juice may also contain other chemicals known to be toxic to humans, such as ethylene glycol, a chemical used in antifreeze; formaldehyde; volatile organic compounds; and heavy metals, like lead and diacetyl.

Is Vaporizing Safer Than Smoking?

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, six out of 10 teens believe that using e-cigarettes causes only “a little” or “some” harm, as long as they don’t vape daily. But that’s not true, and the risks range from the physical to the psychological. Nicotine in any form isn’t healthy for a teen’s lungs or brain, which is still growing until around age 25. According to a recent study in the Journal of Physiology, nicotine exposure in adolescence can make the brain sensitive to other drugs and prime it for future substance abuse.

Just as with regular cigarette smoking, the nicotine from vaping gets into the lungs and bloodstream, and keeps the smoker coming back for more. “You can get addicted to an e-cigarette,” says Bill Blatt, director of Tobacco Programs for the American Lung Association. In teens, nicotine is more addictive and can mess with the brain’s hardwiring, leading to mood disorders and permanent impulse control. Plus, e-cigarette smokers are four times more likely to become traditional cigarette smokers. On top of these concerns, e-cigarettes can also be used as a delivery system for marijuana and other drugs.

The FDA has banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, but teens still find ways to get them. Even if you don’t think they are vaping, it’s worth discussing—e-cigarettes are easy to hide. Because the smoke isn’t as noticeable as it is with regular cigarettes, a teen can take a draw from a vaping pen and put it in their pocket without an adult seeing it. “They can even smoke in class,” Blatt says.

How to Convey to Your Teen That Vaping Isn’t Healthy

Initiate an ongoing conversation instead of a lecture.

Start casual conversations about the dangers of e-cigarettes, such as when you see an ad on TV or come across an e-cigarette shop while driving together. (E-cigarette stores are fairly common now, and usually have some form of the word “vape” or “vapor” in their names.) Or, to get your teen talking, ask them what they think about e-cigarettes. As the conversation gets going, mention that vaping can be as addictive as smoking regular cigarettes and that it’s bad for your brain, making it harder to concentrate and control your impulses. Texting is another great way to communicate your message. Your teen can read the info at the timing of their choice without feeling lectured.

Read the full article on YourTeenMag.

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Bullycide: Understanding Cyberbullying

Posted by Sue Scheff on March 06, 2018  /   Posted in Bullying, Cyberbullying, Digital Parenting, Featured Article, Parenting Books, Parenting Teens

We’re barely into 2018 when we’ve already have had several headlines of youth taking their lives from cyber-humiliation – across the country and the globe:

Dolly Everett of Australia, Sarah Ullman of California and Gabriella Green of Florida.

Young girls that were bullied online and didn’t feel they had a way out. The term bullycide has now been defined to describe these young people that become so emotionally distressed by (online and offline) harassment/bullying that they commit suicide.

Are girls getting meaner?

One parent who knew Dolly Everett and her family shared how his daughter was also victim of online bullying. According to Daily Telegraph, this father said his 15-year-old daughter Katelyn had been bullied relentlessly via Snapchat for years.

He posted a photo on Facebook of one of the horrible messages he said Katelyn regularly receives.

“Why don’t you just go cut your wrist until you bleed out,” the message said.

“You’ll do everyone a favour. Go do what dolly did it should’ve been you not her”.

Katie Hurley, author of the new bestselling book, No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong Confident and Compassion Girls (Penguin, January 2018) encourages parents to talk to their daughter’s about relational aggression.

In No More Mean Girls, Katie Hurley stresses the importance of starting these conversations early:

“Define words like gossip, teasing, taunting, public humiliation, excluding, cliques or groups, and cyberbullying (yes, even if your child “never has screen time” and “has no chance of getting a phone anytime soon.”) Avoiding these topics will only keep your daughter in the dark and render her powerless when she does confront them. Educating her and talking about positive alternatives empowers her and prepares her.” – Katie Hurley, No More Mean Girls (Penguin, January 2018)

Short chats are better than long chats

As a family cyber-advocate for over a decade, I’ve encouraged parents to talk to their kids offline about online safety. This is not the sex talk, this is the tech chat. In reality, these are so much easier and can be fun. The one hiccup is — they have to be as regular as, how was your day at school.

We all know that communication is key to help keep our kids safe, both online and off — but at the same time, we understand that talking to our teens (especially) can be a struggle. Maybe we can only squeeze in five – ten minutes at a time, which is better than nothing, especially if it’s on a regular basis.

  • Driving to school, a sporting event, dropping them off at a friend’s house etc. Anytime your “side-by-side” with your child in a car is a great time to connect with them.
  • Coffee shops, ice cream parlors (or smoothies) – Enjoy a treat with them – and talk tech. Teens love their technology – and in reality, they do want you to be interested in their online life.
  • Family dinners – We know parents try, but even if you can do this once or twice a week, make it a habit to ask about everyone’s cyber-life. Any new apps? Websites or virtual friends? Most importantly – have they witnessed any online hate – and what do they do about it?

Yes – talk about what to do when they read people being hurt online. Recently a young teen won a contest for his video on helping bystanders become upstanders. In my interview with him, he shared how he was once a victim of bullying — and didn’t share it with with parents, but wished he had. His video, Leave A Message, is an empowering three minutes you need to share with your child.

Parents, you need to be more involved and interested in your teen’s cyber-life. It truly matters.

Learn more about how to help your child build digital resilience.

Understand why some kids aren’t talking to their parents when they are suffering with digital hate, and try to reassure your teen that no matter what, you are there for them without judgement.

Book chats with teens can truly open up dialogue. My recent book, Shame Nation: Choosing Kindness and Compassion In An Age of Cruelty and Trolling (Sourcebooks, Oct 2017) offers a discussion guide that can help you start a conversation with your teenager. Shame Nation is for teens and parents alike to read.

Let’s not wait for your name or a friend or family to become a headline – start your chats today.

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Talking To Teens About Tragedy

Posted by Sue Scheff on February 16, 2018  /   Posted in Featured Article, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Parenting Teens, Residential Therapy, Struggling Teen Help, Teen Depression, Teen Help

Many of us remember Columbine as if it was yesterday.

Today, shootings, especially school shootings, are not any easier to hear.

How do we talk to our teens about these tragedies?

It’s time to turn to the experts.

Dr. Michele Borba, a leading educational psychologist shares her 10 Tips to Talk to Kids About Tragedy including her T.A.L.K. model.

T – Talk about the event.

Ensure that your child has accurate information that come from you so as not to develop unfounded fears.

A – Assess how your child is coping.

Every child handles a tragedy differently. There is no predicting. Tune into your child’s feelings and behavior. Watch and listen how he deals with the event so you’ll know how to help him cope and build resilience.

L – Listen to your child’s concerns and questions.

Use the “Talk. Stop. Listen. Talk. Stop. Listen” model as your discuss a tragedy. Listen more than your talk. Follow your child’s lead.

K – Kindle hope that the world will go on despite the horror


Dr. Robyn Silverman is a child and teen development specialist wrote an informative blog post on helping direct parents in try to make sense of this senseless act.

  • Get children mental help when they need it.
  • Do social skills training with kids who are lacking in empathy.
  • Be a mentor or help find a mentor for children who can use some guidance.
  • See children for their strengths, not simply for what they lack.

Read Dr. Robyn’s full post here.


Melissa Fenton, a former librarian, who brought us the compelling essay about parent shaming, “Put Down Your Pitchforks,” nails it again, when she pens on the website Grown and Flown, “Trying to be ‘Perfect’ is Killing Our Teens and We’re to Blame.

Teenagers are suffering from depression and anxiety in record-setting numbers. Stumped researchers, social scientists,  and psychologists have only begun to investigate the causes, many of which they have linked to smart phone and social media use, but is that really it? Could be, seeing as how they’re growing up under a selfie spotlight – with images of perfection constantly loading in their devices – perpetuating the great lie that everyone else has it more together and better than they do.

And we got here when we opened every conversation with our high schoolers about futures, goals, and achievements with the words, “I just want you to succeed,” instead of the words, “I just want you to be happy.”

Take time to read this entire essay. It’s a must read and share it with every parent of a teenager.


Do you believe you’re teen needs outside help?  Have you exhausted your local resources?

Contact us for information about residential therapy. Don’t be a parent in denial.

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The Link Between Bullying and Teen Suicide

Posted by Sue Scheff on May 03, 2016  /   Posted in Digital Parenting, Featured Article, Parenting Teens, Struggling Teen Help

TeenBullyingSuicideExamining the Link Between Bullying and Suicide (and What to Do if Someone You Know is in Danger)

Bullying is a significant and complex problem in our society. We used to worry about in-person bullying — physical injuries, theft, and even vandalism. Today, in addition to bullying we also must be concerned about cyberbullying, which can be just as harmful. In 2013 the Urban Institute’s study on bullying revealed that “17% [of] students reported being victims of cyberbullying, 41% reported being victims of physical bullying, and 45% reported being victims of psychological bullying.”

In 2014 JAMA Pediatrics reported that “cyberbullying was strongly related [to] suicidal ideation in comparison with traditional bullying.” Most kids spend a lot of time online, talking to friends, but also gossiping at times. Because they see the Internet as anonymous, kids feel as though they can pretend to be someone else online (known as catfishing), and bully people in this way. This can be immensely harmful to others, as well as themselves, and can have devastating consequences.

Who, Where, Why?

Like other forms of bullying, cyberbullying can occur anywhere, by anyone. All that’s required is a device with Internet access, which is incredibly common anymore.

People from all different backgrounds are bullied. Some groups are unfortunately more likely to be bullied, such as LGBTQ youth, young people with disabilities, and individuals who tend to isolate themselves from others. Basically anyone who is different from the accepted norm in their respective community or peer group is at a higher risk of being bullied.

A bully can pick on anyone about anything. They can target those they deem to be too “weird” or different from themselves, or even someone they’re secretly jealous of. Children and young adults have been bullied for myriad reasons, from weight, to wearing the “wrong” clothing, to merely being outside a clique. Some of the warning signs that may indicate that someone is being bullied include:

  • Unexplained physical injuries
  • Items missing that the victim states are “lost”
  • Feeling or faking illnesses, often headaches or stomach problems
  • Different eating habits, whether overeating or undereating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Loss of interest in school and having trouble with schoolwork
  • Not wanting to be in social situations or a loss of friends
  • Low self-esteem and hopelessness
  • Hurting themselves, speaking of suicide, and leaving home without notice

The Link Between Bullying and Suicide

Children who are bullied may be at an increased risk of suicide. However, most bullying victims do not think about suicide. Bullying itself is seldom the single cause of suicide; it’s typically a combination of issues, illnesses, or situations in the individual’s history combined with bullying that leads to suicidal thoughts. Some issues of concern include mental illness, traumas, and bad home situations. In addition, there are different groups who may have an increased risk of suicide including:

  • American Indian and Alaskan Native
  • Asian American
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth
  • Kids [who] are not supported by parents, peers, and schools

How to Help With Bullying

There are many ways to help someone you know if they’re being bullied, including:

  • Really listen to the individual, show that you care by paying attention.
  • Let the child know that being targeted by bullies is not their fault.
  • Realize that bullied children might have trouble talking about it with you. You may want to have them talk with a psychologist, psychiatrist or even a counselor at their school.
  • Give them some good advice as to what to do. You may want to partake in role-playing in this situation.
  • Work together with the victim, the victim’s parent(s), school, or an organization to come up with a fair solution. The child being bullied should not have to have their schedules or routines changed; they are not at fault.

How to Help With Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is new to our society and is becoming more and more common. Some children have taken their lives as a result. There are some ways you can help your child or friend prevent cyberbullying, such as cutting off communication with the bully, blocking the bully on social media sites (so they do not have any access to your postings or phone number), or complaining anonymously to the social media sites where cyberbullying is taking place — they have strict rules and will keep evidence of bullying interactions.

If you’re a parent, ways to help your child include supporting them mentally and emotionally and not forcing them to end online communications with others. When a child is the victim, being banned from participating on social media may be perceived as punishment. It’s not their fault, though, that they are being victimized. Consider speaking with the other child’s parent(s) or even the police (if the situation is serious enough). Bullying is a serious problem and can lead to many terrible events, including violence and suicide. Remember that there is always someone out there to listen and support you.

*****

Contributor: Steve Johnson co-created PublicHealthLibrary.org with a fellow pre-med student.The availability of accurate health facts, advice, and general answers is something Steve wants for all people, not just those in the health and medical field. He continues to spread trustworthy information and resources through the website, but also enjoys tennis and adding to his record collection in his spare time.

(Image via Pixabay by Jedidja)

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