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Monitor, Monitor, Monitor – And Here’s Why

Have you heard about the latest app – The Blue Whale Challenge? If you haven’t, you need to read this.

The Internet and related tech, especially apps and gaming, are dangerous, and sometimes potentially lethal, for children when not fully monitored. I tell parents in my office, put this largely unknown, fast-moving world of the information age into context. Would you put your twelve year-old behind the wheel of a car and let them drive on the highway? A parent I know put it this way: It’s like an unchartered forrest. I wouldn’t let my child wander around in there unsupervised, let alone without a compass and the tools to survive should something bad happen! 

So, monitor screens at all times. Know what apps are on your child’s devices. Snoop at will on your young teen’s social media as a reasonable condition for them having the privilege of such powerful technology. Tell them up front, for a while until I know you can handle it, I’ll be needing full access to what you’re doing. I’ll back off in time, but only if you show you can manage this responsibly. If you comply, great, if not, the devices and data plan gets stopped.

When your kids complain that they are the only kids in the universe who don’t have a game, app, or device, just smile, never explain yourself or justify what you have to do to be the best parent you can be. They know deep down you have their back and are doing right by them. And when other parents suggest it’s the norm to have phones or a necessity to keep up a “normal” or “healthy” social, smile again, and politely ignore these ridiculous, follow-the-herd statements.

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Tired Hearing Your Own Voice? Change Your Parenting Strategy

Sound like a broken record? Being ignored? It may be that you are using outdated techniques to raise your children.

Kids change. So should your parenting approach.

By seven or eight, switch from what I call an Outside-In Approach to an Inside-Out Approach. In other words, move from purely environmental management where parents/teachers impose external directions and behavior techniques (such as time-outs and sticker charts), to a more internal approach. This capitalizes on the amazing developmental changes emerging in the brains of kids around puberty. Built into your developing teen is the software to think for themselves. We need to seize that opportunity. And stop reminding, worrying, hovering.

Put it on them. Ask them to help you solve the problems you are seeing.

Step 1: Start with the setup.

“I need some help. You’re getting older and smarter. Don’t think of me as your mom or dad right now (or as your teacher or coach) but lets talk more as equals. It’s been a long time since I’ve been your age. I forget what it’s like. Tell me what it’s like for you – I promise I won’t lecture or disapprove or criticize. I need to hear what you think.”

Step 2: Ask them to think through hypotheticals.

“What would say if a friend needed and asked for your help to stay focused on their work, how could they get along better with their parents, learn to wait on screens until after things got done? How can you encourage other kids to try and think more for themselves and not follow the crowd?”

It may not work the first time, maybe not the second, but keep trying this Inside-Out Approach. Another trick is to move these discussions outdoors, take a walk, shoot hoops while talking, or get someplace that feels more neutral and where you’re less likely to fall into older parenting habits.

The goal is to promote more accurate self-awareness, independence, motivation to move oneself into better situations, and to start using one’s own decision-making skills effectively. These are the hallmarks off what we strive for as mature, independent adults. They are the higher cortical strengths that are available to all, but can’t fully develop unless nurtured through the teens and early twenties.


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Choose play over flashcards and drills

Don’t be fooled by studies telling you to push your preschooler too fast and early. We’ve seen these studies before. They don’t tell the whole story.

Play is the vehicle for development of the brain. It’s natural learning, and built into the neurological software of all children. We know from years of studies that rushing kids makes them peak early and turns them into performers who only look good – maybe test good – but don’t think for themselves and aren’t as self-motivated. Worse, many develop symptoms of stressed.

We need to prepare children to be creative, fluid, and invested problem-solvers and to love learning for what it really is: an exhilarating exploration of the mind.

Let very young young kids start on the road to knowledge through play!

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Do you have a Digital Disease?

Fatigue, stress, and anxiety are related to heavy screen exposure. Screens grab our thoughts and pump up our emotions. There’s nonstop social media, advertisements, 24/7 news, higher expectations to work at home on mobile devices, and binging on endless entertainment. These digital demands compete for our precious, limited brain space. They mess with our emotions. The fix is to take a moment or two and rest your brain. Shut down the screens and practice mindfulness. Think of only one thing and stay in the now. Mindfulness helps you focus, become better at tuning out unwanted distractions, improves memory, lowers blood pressure, it may even boost your immune system. And get moving, outdoors preferable, even for a few minutes through out they day!

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Should your teen watch the controversial Netflix series 13 Reasons Why?

Even if you aren’t a Netflix subscriber, you have probably heard about the new series 13 Reasons Why. The series concerns a teenage girl who is raped and commits suicide. As a mental health expert, I have significant concerns about the popularity of this show among teens.

Artistic license aside, from a teenage brain perspective, here are two main problems I have with the show as a psychologist.

First, most Netflix shows are binge-watched because all shows are available at once. Most teens will watch one episode right after the other. Why does this matter?  Without a week (or even a few days) between episodes, there’s less opportunity for the adolescent brain to digest the graphic content of suicide, to discuss the content with others, or allow ample time for their more logical brain centers to dive in and put the highly charged emotional material into context. To me, this is the equivalent of an overdose of highly disturbing material. I sincerely hope this series does not nudge kids on the edge of suicide to take that horrific step, which is happening with greater frequency these days across the nation.

Second, there’s no post-episode service message and hotline (at least several teens have reported to me they haven’t seen one). Something has to be addressed at each episode and be conspicuous.

If the series makes people more aware of suicide among our young children and teens, that would have great benefit. But without some structure in place for this to happen, I fear kids will be left to their own devices to make sense of this. Keep in mind, the majority of young people watch these shows alone on laptops.

A deeper discussion among parents, teachers, educational leaders, politicians and clergy is required to ensure that teenage suicide remains in the realm of fiction instead of the all too common occurrence that it has become.

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