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Internet Safety

Teens Use Burner Phones To Hide Online Behavior From Parents

Posted by Sue Scheff on July 12, 2019  /   Posted in Digital Parenting

How Your Teen Uses Burner Phones to Hide Online Behavior

Are you a parent that believes taking your teen’s device is a punishment?

Think again! This is one of the reasons burner phones are on the rise among young people.

As a tech-savvy parent, you’ve established rules with your teens about responsible cell phone usage and drawn up a detailed family contract. And by all accounts it seems to be working.

But teenagers can be ingenious about getting around the rules, and many of today’s teens turn to burner phones as a workaround to parental limitations. Here’s how to discover if your child has found this alternative, plus some tips on curbing the habit.

What Is a Burner Phone?

Burner phones are cheap, prepaid mobile phones you can discard once you’re done using them. They offer access to Wi-Fi and a phone number that can’t be traced to the individual using the device.

There are a few good reasons to use a burner phone. If you’re buying or selling something on Craigslist, for instance, having an untraceable number offers a degree of safety when communicating with strangers.

However, their anonymity and low cost make burner phones ideal for teenagers looking for a way to sneak around behind their parents’ backs. And that anonymity can get kids into problematic situations where they don’t have a parental lifeline to keep them safe.

Why Do Teens Turn to These Disposable Devices?

Teens consider cell phones a virtual lifeline, and many experience fear of missing out (FOMO) without them. A 2018 Pew Research Center survey found some eye-opening stats about teens and social media:

  • 81% say social media makes them feel more connected.
  • Approximately 2/3 of teens say online friends give them support in difficult times.

 Losing cell phone access as a punishment—and effectively losing access to their online networks—is one reason why teens may acquire a burner phone. But they might also buy second phones to maintain secret social media accounts. A finsta (fake Instagram), for example, is a private account where kids post content that only certain people have access to.

Teens may also turn to burners if they’re engaging in activities they think parents won’t approve of—getting involved in drugs or alcohol, or pursuing romantic relationships.

Some of these habits can be dangerous, putting kids in a place where they can be taken advantage of. Burner phones can also create a space for cyberbullying to go unnoticed, and thus unchecked. 

How Can You Know Your Child Is Using a Burner Phone?

If you’ve ever taken away your teen’s phone, you’re familiar with them pleading to get it back. If they suddenly stop doing so, that’s a hint they may be using a burner phone. Here are a few other ways to discover they’ve gotten a second phone:

  • Look for a dip in data use. Check your wireless carrier for overall data usage and details about specific applications. A decrease in visits to your teen’s favorite social media site may point to use of a burner phone.
  • Monitor your network. Learn how to check your router’s activity log, which shows browser histories and IP addresses that have accessed the internet via your network.
  • Check your child’s other apps. Burner phones aren’t the only way to communicate anonymously; there are multiple apps that let you set up a temporary number. If your child has an app like Burner or Hushed, it’s possible they’re doing something that requires anonymity—which could be a red flag. 

What Can You Do to Manage the Behavior?

  1. Maintain consistent rules of use. If you’ve gone to the trouble of setting ground rules, then stick with them and make sure the consequences for breaking them are fair and applicable to everyone in the family. Consistency equals credibility. 
  1. Help your teen set boundaries. Encourage your child to understand and embrace core values that will drive healthy online interactions. If your child can feel okay about posting online because they always consider how it will reflect upon them first, they’ll have less interest in setting up secret accounts.
  1. Reward honesty. Let your kids know they can come to you when they’ve made a mistake online, such as going to an inappropriate website. Being able to do so without risking punishment will maintain the level of communication that pays dividends in all kinds of parent-child interactions—not just those related to cell phones.

At the end of the day, this burner phone trend is more about behaviors than devices. If you can set clear expectations and have open conversations about smart phone conduct, you’ll see a lot more progress than if you focus solely on managing your kids’ access to a phone.

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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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Teens Are Live Streaming More Than Ever: The Security Risks

Posted by Sue Scheff on October 14, 2016  /   Posted in Digital Parenting, Internet Safety, Parenting Teens

teenlivestream

Livestreaming allows the world to be everyone’s stage. Events can be watched in real-time as the action unfolds. From a baby’s first crawl to a violent police arrest, the world watches and waits for more.

The danger, however, is that once an event is streamed live for the public, there is no going back. Adults understand the boundaries, but teens—with their brains still developing—struggle to always understand the harmful repercussions of the live stream.

Teens and tweens live online. Their world is posted on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter…all the social media forums. Today’s generation of e-centric kids don’t know the meaning of true privacy. They share. Too much and too often.

The harm of livestreaming is numerous. Not only are kids and teens putting their image out for the world to see, but they also document moments that should remain private. Secrets that friends disclose might find a way online. Fights at school, also are popular via livestream.

The cell phone is Pandora’s Box. Capable of shooting pictures, capturing video and posting everything online. The boundaries blur. Teens don’t know when not to hit send.

teenlivestream2In June 2015, two teens from Utah were arrested for burglary and theft. They decided to break into an ice-cream truck and steal the ice-cream. Of course, they taped their shenanigans and livestreamed the whole crime.

A few months ago, three teens allegedly live streamed intimate acts on Facebook. In another twisted case, a girl was accused of livestreaming her friend’s rape. Both cases resulted in police investigations.

For parents, the trouble with technology and live streaming lies in the naivete of kids. Teens, tweens and younger kids do not have the capacity to always make great decisions. Their minds are in the midst of developing…they are in a mental war about right and wrong. Impulse, unfortunately, usually wins out in the fight.

Parents must talk to their kids about personal boundaries, private information and what can and should be shared online. A teen might think that a fight is cool, and because it seems cool then it should be shared. Parents need to be prepared for their kids to be in these situations…with their cell phones.

Fights, abuse and crazy things have always happened. Today, the issue is that these things are easily documented, and teens are often the ones documenting them. Fifteen years ago, teens were not all armed with individual recording devices. Now they are, and parents must prepare them for the responsibilities that go hand-in-hand with technology.

Role playing is a great way to teach kids responsibility and help them understand how to respond in a tough situation. Parents should make up cards with scenarios on them depicting scenes that a teen might see at school or in the world. Have the teen choose a card and then act it out.

When role playing, discuss how technology plays a unique role and how the consequences of an action can magnify online. Discuss with teens what is the right and wrong action according to laws in the state. Always educate teens on the laws; they must abide by them, and they can absolutely be prosecuted under them.

Use the controversy and the popularity of live streaming to also discuss personal and private information. Set boundaries as a family about what information can and cannot be shared online. Talk about oversharing. Discuss respect and what it means in friendships and families.

Teens and tweens are very much guided by their peers. However, they look to their parents for support and security. Many teens have found legal troubles from live streaming. Be open with kids about the dangers and harm of sharing too much and using the world as a stage.

Once a video live streams online, it can never be taken back. The internet is forever, and the results can be life changing in the worst ways.

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amywilliamsContributor:  Amy Williams, a journalist and former social worker passionate about parenting and education.

Follow her on Twitter.

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Teens Ordering Drugs Online: Don’t Be A Parent In Denial

Posted by Sue Scheff on January 24, 2016  /   Posted in Digital Parenting, Internet Safety, Residential Therapy, Struggling Teen Help, Teen Help, Troubled Teens

onlinepharmacyThe Internet is today’s new playground for today’s youth. From Club Penguin to Instagram to Snapchat to our teen’s looking for more ways to have excitement offline.

Prescription drug use isn’t just in your medicine cabinet or street drugs…. teens are ordering drugs online.

Researchers from Columbia University spent five years searching the Internet for websites that advertise and sell prescription drugs. They found 365. Eighty-five percent of them did not require a doctor’s prescription or proof of age, even though people were buying powerful narcotics. (CRC Health)

Psychology Today reported that kids as young as sixth graders were ordering drugs online.

What can parents do to help prevent this behavior?

  • Talk to your kids. Explain what’s wrong with buying medications illegally, in terms they can understand. Tell them in no uncertain terms that you strictly forbid them to buy drugs on the Internet. Be specific about the consequences (your choice here), and make it clear that disciplinary actions will be enforced on the very first violation.
  •  If you suspect or find out that option 1 isn’t working, move the computer out of the kids’ bedrooms and into common spaces (living room, kitchen, etc.). Tell them that the computer will remain in a common area for a set period of time, so that you can monitor their Web use.
  • If options 1 and 2 aren’t working, check the computer’s browser history. Yes, this is spying. But if you believe your child is really involved in an illegal activity, you have an obligation to investigate.  (Keep in mind, safety trumps privacy. This is about your child’s welfare). This shouldn’t be used because you are simply snooping for no reason – you are rising losing your child’s trust.

(Source – Psychology Today)

If you find that you have exhausted your local resources, including therapy, or your teen is simply out-of-control, you may want to consider residential therapy. Contact us for a free consultation to determine if this is an option for your family.

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5 Ways to Protect Your Teenager Online

Posted by Sue Scheff on November 14, 2015  /   Posted in Digital Parenting, Internet Safety, Parenting Teens, Teen Help

TeenOnlineSafetyAn astonishing 75 percent of teenagers have access to smartphones and 24 percent of teens go online “almost constantly.” As a parent of a teenager in this constantly evolving cyber world, it’s overwhelming and frightening thinking of all the potential threats compromising your teens digital and physical security. A Pew Research study found that 90 percent of children have witnessed or experienced cyber bullying within the last year and a study by Drexel University found that 54 percent of minors have reported sexting.

Here are five ways to protect your teenager online:

Take Advantage of Smartphone Applications

There are a variety of free and paid applications that provide parents with a wide range of access to their teenager’s mobile phone activity.

If you’re concerned about your teen stumbling upon adult content, K9 Browser is a free application that blocks adult content and is available for smartphones, tablets and desktop computers. For more thorough access to your teen’s activity, the Norton Family Parental Control application’s paid version allows parents to see the sites their teen is visiting from the computer or mobile device but also allows you to block sites and see text messages.

Create a Contract

Before your teenager receives their first mobile device or personal computer, create a contract spelling out each of your expectations. According to the Family Online Safety Institute, almost 50 percent of teenagers are not concerned that their online reputation today will hurt future goals and 58 percent feel it is safe to post photos or intimate details online. A written and signed contract makes it very clear to your teenager what your expectations are in regard to online activity.

Stay Informed & Up-to-date

Setting up guidelines, boundaries and privacy software is not enough. The Internet and cyber criminals are changing so fast that as soon as you have a grasp on the newest social media or application and its potential threats or privacy terms, it has already evolved. To stay up-to-date on the latest cyber security news and tips, bookmark LifeLock Unlocked.

Mark All Profiles as Private

The most important takeaway for your teenager, is that nothing is temporary online. Even if they delete a post, a photo or an account, it can be easily retrieved and anyone can copy or save it. Besides filtering what he or she posts, ensure your teenager’s online profiles are private. Do not rely on the site’s default settings and adjust settings accordingly. Stress to your teen that this does not mean what he or she posts is now “safe” but it does make it more difficult for individuals to access.

Safeguards Passwords & Change Them Frequently

Identity theft is just as much of a threat for your teenager as it is for adults. Teach your teen how to choose safe and secure passwords that are changed every three to six months to ensure maximum security. Advise your teen not to share passwords with anyone besides parents or guardians.

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Should You Read Your Teen’s Text Messages or Emails?

Posted by Sue Scheff on June 25, 2015  /   Posted in Parenting Teens, Struggling Teen Help

TeenWritingGenerations earlier the question would be, should you read your teen’s diary or journal?

In today’s digital lifestyle, some may not even know what a diary looks like.  This is sad since a diary has many benefits for youth.  There was recently an article about why all children should keep a journal, and most importantly, it does take them offline and keep their information private.

Either way, the question is the same, when is it appropriate to invade your child’s private space?

It always comes back to when safety trumps privacy.

Our teens deserve to be trusted unless they give us reason to suspect something is wrong.

Here is a review of some warning signs.

  • Is your teen becoming very secretive? Sure, teens do like their privacy, however if you have a gut feeling something is deeper than a secret and you are not satisfied with the answers they are giving you, trust your gut.  A parent’s intuition is usually pretty good.
  • Is your teen becoming withdrawn? Teens will develop some attitudes of not wanting to be with adults, however if it becomes extreme, it might be time to dig deeper if they are not opening up to you.
  • Is your teen changing peer groups? Is your once goal oriented good kid now gravitating to a negative peer group? You will again attempt to talk to your teen and find out why and what happened to the other friends.
  • Is your teens eating habits changing?  Not eating with the family or barely eating?
  • Is your teen sleeping a lot? Or rarely sleeping?  Spending a lot of time – connected digitally?  Bloodshot eyes?
  • Do you suspect drug use?  Maybe drinking?  Is there an odor on their clothes or them?
  • Is your teen sneaking out? Becoming extremely defiant? Not respecting your boundaries?
  • Are they overly protective of their cell phones or computer?  Always covering their screens when you are around, or clicking out?
  • Do they hide their cell phones? Or completely attached to them?
  • Are they anxious when at their computer, seem fearful, attempt to hide their incoming emails?
  • Overall, is your teen slowly becoming a child you don’t recognize?

TeenTexting5Like with determining if you should invade their privacy with their journals or diary, unless your teen or tween gives you good reason to read their text messages and emails, as parents, you should respect their privacy.

When it comes to younger children, especially under 10 years old, parents should always be allowed to see what they are doing.  Most younger children are usually not as protective as teens or tweens.  As a responsible parent, you will know when there are red flags or warning signs and you need to step in.

Keeping an open dialog with your tweens and teens is critical.  Letting them know you are there for them as well as talking to them about the issues of sexting, cyberbullying, predators and other areas of concern.

Be sure you are updated with the secret language of texting!

Should you read your child’s emails or text messages?  Only you can answer that.

Be an educated parent, you will have safer children.

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    Helpful Tips for Research Teen Help ProgramsMost of us never expect to land in a spot where we are searching for teen help outside our local area. It’s really hard to swallow that we have exhausted our resources, our teen is out-of-control, we’re constantly walking on eggshells or feeling like we’re hostage in our own home to their explosive and defiant behavior.

    Turning to the internet can be daunting and downright confusing! You start reading terminology you never thought about or heard of -- wilderness programs, therapeutic boarding schools, residential treatment centers and more. How do you know who is qualified and who isn’t? More importantly, how do you know what your individual child needs?

    Years ago this happened to me when I had a good teen that started making bad choices. The internet, which can be a wealth of information, can also be extremely deceptive. It’s one of the reasons why I created Parents Universal Resource Experts. To help educate parents about the big business of teen help programs.



    HELPFUL TIPS: FINDING THE RIGHT TEEN HELP PROGRAM

    When searching for a therapeutic boarding school (TBS) or residential treatment centers (RTC), keep these tips in mind:

    -Internet deception

    Be cautious of the internet: Today we turn to the internet for almost everything we do, but how do we know what is internet fact, fiction, or somewhere in between? This is why doing your due diligence, especially in this big business of teen help programs, is imperative.

    -Fear-mongering sites

    You will find some websites and forums that will criticize families for seeking outside help for their teens. They may lead you to believe that all programs and schools are bad or abusive. In reality, not all schools and programs are who they say they are– which is why are you here, doing your research.

    You are taking your time to investigate what will be best for your individual child’s needs and learning from the mistakes I made so you don’t have to. It’s exactly why I created P.U.R.E.

    If you find negative complaints about a school/program you are considering – take the time to ask us about it. We never diminish a person’s experience, however we have also realized that some people are there to make it harder for parents to get help. Again, we have walked your shoes and have taken time to dig deep into this industry.

    -Beware of the Placement Specialist

    Are you talking to a placement specialist? What exactly is this? Today these are people that are paid to place your troubled teen in a program. This is not in the best interest of your child. In some cases these are programs that have less than desirable reputations – however the placement specialist is making a commission. Typically what they are good at – is marketing. You may have just become bait and will become inundated with emails from different programs. They will be sending your name and email to many programs without qualifying your child as an appropriate fit for their school.

    If you’re a parent at your wit’s end, be sure you’re always speaking to an owner or director of a program. Someone that has a vested interest in your child’s recovery. These marketing arms aka placement specialists, can be deceptive. Read “A Parent’s True Story.”

    -Placing Abroad

    Be very cautious if sending your child out of the country. Laws are different and cannot protect your child out of the country. Many parents are misled by the lower tuition–don’t be one of them. We recommend keeping your child in the United States. If you are a resident outside of the United States, this may not affect you.

    -Behind the Screen

    Don’t allow fancy websites, emotional online videos determine your decision for your child. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. If a program is advertising a very high success rate, please ask them what third party organization did their statistical studies.

    In-house surveys are prejudiced and not always a good source of reliability. Keep in mind, this a major emotional and financial decision you will be making.

    Don’t judge a program by their website. You never know what is behind a screen. We have visited programs that have less than attractive websites with amazing facilities and staff. On the contrary – you will find polished websites with programs that wouldn’t leave your pets at.

    -Myths of Wilderness

    Your teen does not need to complete a wilderness program before they attend a residential treatment program (RTC or TBS). In many cases families today cannot afford that extra step of a wilderness program; however we hear over and over that parents are talked into breaking a child down before sending them to a therapeutic boarding program. Isn’t your teen already broken down? Isn’t that why you are reaching out for help?

    This is why you are looking for programs that will help stimulate your teen back on to a positive road– making good choices and creating a bright future that you had planned for them.

    -Finding the right program

    You are not choosing a program to “teach your child a lesson.” This is a common mistake many parents make. Many times, these are good children making bad choices. Harsh treatment and environment can enhance their anger as well as build resentment.

    -Accredited programs

    Don’t accept a program that is not accredited to educate your child, provides scant food and/or clothing, and has unsanitary living conditions. A visit to the program prior enrollment, if possible, is recommended.

    It is understandable that not every family has the finances or the time for the extra trip. With this, please be sure your research is thorough. Below – the importance of calling parent references can be helpful with this.

    As far as education, ask the program for a copy of their accreditation for their academics. With that you can contact your local school to be sure the transcripts will be transferable.

    -Basic human rights

    It is normal for parents to want their child to appreciate what they have at home; however deprivation of food, sanitation, and clothing should not be accepted. These are basic human rights.

    Many of these teens are suffering from low self-esteem, depression, peer pressure, etc. Taking away their basic needs may escalate these negative feelings.

    -Communication

    Asking the program about their communication with parents and visitation schedule is imperative. Another helpful tip – is to verify it through asking parent references when you call them.

    Don’t enroll any child in a program that refuses to allow parents to speak with their child within a reasonable amount of time, usually no longer than 30 days.

    Visitation in many programs begins at three months. This is your child, and family counseling is just as important as your child’s recovery.

    -Ask questions

    If you feel you have valid concerns and do not understand something, do not allow the program director to overlook your questions. Keep asking until you receive an appropriate response. This is your right as a parent. You are your child’s advocate.

    Ask for the staff’s education, training, and experience. Credentials of those working with your child are vital. Ask if they have background checks for all employees.

    -Age of consent

    Know what the age of majority (consent) is in the state of the program. Be sure children cannot sign themselves out of the program at their current age. You will see that many programs are located in the western part of the U.S. (especially Utah ) due to the age of majority of 18. This ensures your child cannot leave without your consent.

    -Choosing a program in the best interest of your teen

    Do not limit your decision on geographical location. The fact is this is the most important 6-9-12 months of your child’s life to date, it has to be the best placement/program/school that fits their emotional needs — not your travel plans.

    In reality, family visits are never more than every 4-6 weeks (depending on the program) after your teen has completely the initial ninety days.

    We remind parents – this is only a snapshot of their entire life – yet will have such an impact on their future. Let’s not limit it for geographical reasons.

    You won’t be making daily or weekend visits. This is about your teen’s healing, recovery and what is best for him/her. If it means you need to take an extra plane ride or few hours by car, remember — it’s only several months out of their entire life.

    Most programs are very similar in tuition fees, using credit cards as tuition can build frequent flyer miles. (If you are able to do this – with paying it off either with your funds or a loan you have received, can be a good option).

    There are many excellent programs in our country, find the one that is best fitted for your child, not your airport. The other important fact is – if you have a teen that is a flight risk, they are more likely (or tempted) to leave a program (runaway) and call one of their new less-than-desirable friends to pick them up.

    Choosing a program that is in an unfamiliar area is in the best interest of your teenager. Remember this is about your teen’s emotional wellness and recovery, not about geographically convenience.

    -Background check

    Check with the local sheriff department or the state office of the Attorney General or Department of Social Services (DSS) or Department of Children and Families – for reports of neglect or abuse as well as their current licensing.

    With this, understand that there are no perfect programs. Some may have had issues which have since been rectified or are not related to the students. However, others, with constant complaints, should be crossed off you list. Investigation is your best solution in finding a good program.

    When you contact the local sheriff department, ask them how many times a month they are called out to the program – how many runaways they have – and your final question should be, is if it were their child, would they send them there?

    With licensing, you want to be sure they are licensed as a residential treatment centers and not a daycare center or foster care home. You will be paying a significant amount of tuition, be an educated parent.

    -Consequences

    Find out what the program’s use of restraints is. If they have “isolation,” inquire about the length of time that is normally spent there and what this entails. Ask what the program does if your child runs away.

    -Fees

    Ask if the person who is marketing the information receives any kind of direct, or indirect referral fee or compensation (i.e. A month’s free tuition, gifts, certificates, dinners, etc.). P.U.R.E.™ discloses on our FAQ page that we do receive fees from some schools and programs.

    -Ask for and call parent references.

    If a school/program won’t give you parents references, it’s a red flag. It might be time to consider another program.

    Hopefully you have time to ask for at least 3-5 parent references. In some situation you can also speak with the teen that graduated the program too. This should be a call for information, guidance, and support. Did their child have the same issues as yours?

    If you are considering transport and apprehensive about it, ask the parent reference how they got their teen to the program. It’s a great way to gain more insights on residential therapy.

    Parent tip: Ask for families from your own geographical area, as well as parents that have the same gender and age as your child. You want to try to talk to parents as similar to your own situation as well as possibly near where you live. Maybe you could have an opportunity to meet with them in person. Keep in mind, first hand experiences are priceless.

    One question to ask the reference parent is if they could change one thing about the program, what would it be? Though it may not be a major concern, it may be another question you can ask the owner or director of the program.

    -Inside a program

    Look for programs that offer an ACE factor:

    A=Accredited Academics
    C=Clinical with credentialed therapists
    E=Enrichment Programs such as music, sports, animal assisted therapy, horticulture, art therapy, fine arts, drama, or whatever your teen may be passionate about. It is about stimulating your teen in a positive direction by encouraging them to build self-confidence and want to be their best.

    -Family decision

    Most Importantly, placement needs to be a family decision. Trust your gut and your heart.

    If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Keep searching. It is time to bring the family back together. If possible – do this research before you’re in crisis.

    Many parents call us with that gut feeling, than things go well for awhile and they don’t do anything. Suddenly they’re in crisis-mode and have 24-hours to select a program. Don’t be that parent.

    -Free consultation

    Parents’ Universal Resource Experts is about helping educate parents about residential therapeutic schools and programs. We offer free consultations.

    These tips are not to frighten anyone, it is to make parents aware of an industry that has little to no guidelines or regulations to follow.

    It is a fact, some of our kids need help. Let’s get them the right help with an educated and researched decision.

    Many parents contact us about the fear-mongering websites that are up. These sites are usually created by former students and they have listed just about every program in the country.

    Sadly, what they are doing is preventing families from getting the potential help they may need for their child. There is always good and bad in every field/industry — this is why it is imperative you do your due diligence when researching programs.

    We have personally visited, researched and spoken with many parents, students and former employees of programs since 2001. Feel free to contact us if you are considering a program and you find it on one of those fear-based websites.

    One of their issues is that they don’t believe in level systems. Keep in mind – in life, we all work our way up. Whether you start as a clerk and work your way to judge, or start in the mail room and work your way up to an executive. It’s part of the way life is. As long as it is not done in a degrading way.

    Are your considering Wilderness programs? Learn more about them.

    Understand there are some teen behavioral issues that require more intensive therapy. Read more.

    Be an educated parent, this is a major financial and emotional decision for your family.

    P.U.R.E.™ is part of bringing families back together…

    Click here for questions to ask schools and programs.
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