Raising Teens

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What exactly is cyber bullying?

Today, I read that cyber bullying is an epidemic.

An epidemic? Is it really an epidemic? Don’t get me wrong. I’m completely against taunting on social media sites. And, I agree that teens sometimes are cruel on social media and it leads to horrible consequences. But is it really an epidemic? My problem with this intense attention on cyber bullying is that I’m not sure any of us know what that word really means. It’s really hard to know when teens online are crossing the line because it seems to me they are always crossing the line. 

Today, most teens aren’t reluctant to post anything on social media. They play out their entire lives online. One girl posted horrible things on my son’s Facebook page because he wouldn’t help her jump a fence and cut class. He just wrote her back an equally obnoxious post. I forced him to take the entire conversation off Facebook. He told me I was making a big deal out of nothing.

It’s pretty clear that social media is transforming the teen experience. It has provided a platform  for practices that are good, bad, and ugly. What’s really different today is that those practices are far more visible because they leave traces and more people see them. But when you look at what teens are doing online, they’re doing what they’ve always done at this stage – socialize, gossip, flirt, joke around. Sometimes, what I think is bullying or offensive, my kids just view as normal teen interaction. I’m always asking questions, trying to figure out this “connected” generation and their different way of thinking.

I just learned what a subtweet was on Twitter. It’s directly referring to a particular person without mentioning their name or directly mentioning them. Basically, it’s talking about someone behind their back but sort of in their face on Twitter!  Example, “wearing mini skirts is so geeky #dressbetter.”  Would you consider that cyberbullying? I find it cruel but teens find it normal online conversation.

 A new survey from FindLaw.com says nearly one out of twelve parents report their child has been a victim of cyberbullying.  FindLaw defines cyberbullying  as threatening, harassing, hateful, hostile or reputation-damaging messages or photos that are sent though text messages, social networks and emails.  According to FindLaw.com, 7 percent of parents surveyed say that their child has experienced cyberbullying. 

Danah Boyd, author of The Social Lives of Networked Teens has studied teen online interaction and said, “I expected bullying to be much worse because of the Internet but I’m confident in the data that shows that it’s not.”

There’s a chorus of adult voices — online and off — who are scared by teen’s heavy use of technology. So, I say, parents: don’t be frightened, be involved. Let your teen teach you how and why they’re using social media, ask a LOT of questions, even if they are annoyed by it. When you get a glimpse into the complex teenage online world, you can make your own mind up about cyberbullying. Yes, it definitely exists and if you suspect your kid is involved, you definitely should step in. But I think we all need to try harder to figure out exactly what cyberbullying is today before we call it an epidemic. 

Parents, what are your thoughts on cyberbullying? When do you thinking normal teen online interaction crosses the line into cyberbullying? Have you ever asked your teen to remove something from his or her social media sites?

 

 

Why mothers of teenagers worry so much

 

I am on the phone with the mother of a three-year-old when she tells me that her son wants to play with her keys all the time. “I’m worried that maybe he doesn’t have enough toys,” she says. I suppress a laugh when she tells me this because I’m quite sure her toddler has plenty of toys but prefers the keys. I’m also quite sure that worrying over his play choices is the beginning of a long list of things this mother will fret about.

In most households, mom is the designated worrier. From the day a mother holds her little bundle of joy, the worrying begins, as does the expenditure of emotional energy on concerns that will seem both deranged and justified.

The worrying manifests in ways unimaginable to our former selves, and turn us into people we don’t recognize.  As our children grow, so does the list of things we moms obsess about. When are children are young, we  worry about school. Is my child making friends? Does he have a learning disability? Is he reading on grade level? These questions become the topic of conversation with friends, family and other mothers. Each Facebook post by another parent raises questions about our own child’s progress.

But it’s the tween and teen years that send our anxiety into overdrive. Along with adolescence comes drama. As mothers, we must decipher between real problems and normal teenage behavior. We worry about our teenagers’ choice of friends, whether they are lying about their whereabouts, whether their grades are good enough to get into college, whether mental health issues are a concern or just normal teenage moodiness. Of course, we worry about the mundane behavior too — boys spending too much time playing video games and girls being left out.

As the new school year kicks in, the typical threats that our parents agonized about — sex, drugs and alcohol — still are top of mind, but now there are additional concerns because of technology, higher academic pressures and gun violence. Each time we listen to the news, we learn more about cyberbullying, distracted driving, sexting and sex offenders using social networking sites — contemporary risks that scare the heck out of us. Social media posts about teen suicide or young drivers killed while texting and driving send our anxiety soaring. For some of us, high school is as nerve wracking for us as it is for our teens.

Now as Labor Day approaches, many moms are confronting the college drop off, an experience fraught with panic. Our minds are racing with questions such as …Will my teen ever wash his bedsheets or do his laundry? We also wonder about bigger concerns such as…Does my teen understand the risks of binge drinking or the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases? Does my teen know the difference between consensual sex and assault?

Social media feeds our natural inclination to fret.  As one mom said to me: “You go on the Internet, and it fuels your fears when you see images and read posts of all the stuff that is happening.”

In his book Worried All the Time: Overparenting in an Age of Anxiety and How to Stop It, child and family therapist David Anderegg makes the case that today’s parents are taking worrying to an unhealthy extreme. He argues that they worry too much about the everyday aspects of parenting, and says good parenting is about moderation and empathy.

To be fair, it is not just mothers who worry about their kids. Of course, fathers worry too. However, mothers seem to carry more of the emotional burden. In most households, we still are the primary caregiver, the parent who stresses about the logistics and the gender that most often gets judged over our parental decisions.

As my two older children leave for college, I want them  to be independent, to make wise decisions and to function on their own without my help.  I know as a parent, I can try to keep my teenagers safe, healthy and on a path toward total independence.  But it’s really in their hands. At some point, I will have to stop worrying,  but for now, I just don’t think I can. I have gotten pretty darn comfortable with being mom the worrier.

 

How to know if your teenager needs a life coach?

Over the years, when one of my three teens has driven me crazy, I have wondered if he or she could benefit from a life coach. Plenty of adults are hiring  life coaches, but I have never really been certain  what a life coach could do for a teenager. So when Dr. Jaime Kulaga, a licensed mental health counselor and certified life coach, offered to write a guest blog, I thought it was a great idea

First, let’s get to know Dr. Kulaga. She is  an  undergraduate psychology degree from The University of Tampa and a doctorate from Capella University. She also is the author of The SuperWomans Guide to Super Fulfillment .  Dr. Kulaga has  two boys,  7 and 10 (not teens yet, but she’s getting close). She works with many teens in her coaching practice.

Here are Dr. Kulaga’s tips to help you know if a life coach would be helpful for your teen:

4 Reasons Your Teen Could Benefit from a Life Coach

  1.  A Coach gives teens someone to talk to.

Teens are going through so many changes. They are finding their unique identities, trying to fit in, all while the hormones are going crazy and they are dealing with the balance of parents and friends. Even the best of the best teens need an outlet other than friends to talk to.

The Fix

A Life Coach can help you to be preventative with your teen. Don’t wait until your teen starts acting out, becomes rebellious, or depressed before sending them to a professional. Instead, recognize that this is a tough time in a child’s life.  A Life Coach can be an outlet for the teen to talk about goals, friends and even run ideas by someone professional, yet unbiased. However, if an area of concern does come up, it will be caught quickly, talked through and worked on before it gets too overwhelming or out of control.

  1. A Coach teaches teens to set goals.

Giving teens direction, goals and visualizations about their future can empower them during a time in life where they can easily lose focus and get distracted. During this time in life, adolescents can be very self-centered and place a major focus on friends. While teens should focus on growing their identities and maintaining a social life, they also need to be able to understand the importance of their future selves.

The Fix

A Life Coach will heighten a teen’s awareness of his  future, discuss goals, plans for work/college and dreams. A coach will also help set smaller goals and SMART goals. These are goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time bound. Often, teens set very basic goals that are not specific and measureable and are less likely to achieve them. A Life Coach will make sure that your teen has specific goals with a plan.

 

  1. A Coach teaches teens accountability.

Teens must understand the importance of responsibility in the real world. Accountability also teaches integrity, or doing what you say you will do. Being responsible, accountable to your actions and having integrity can open an adolescent’s mind, doors to more opportunity and overall success.

The Fix

A Life Coach is all about holding people accountable. A Life Coach sets goals with your teen during each session. The next time the teen meets with the coach, he does a complete run down of the goals set the session before. Together, they discuss why certain goals were and were not met. There needs to be an explanation for why goals were not met. Excuses are acknowledged, but not supported. Instead, the Life Coach will help analyze what the teen could have done differently to reach the goal. This process builds up basic skills like comprehension and application as well as more advanced skills like analysis, synthesis and evaluation. This analysis can help highlight procrastination issues, confidence problems, barriers with willpower, toxic relationships and other issues.

  1. A Coach instills confidence.

It is no secret that in any decade of life, confidence is an asset that can increase opportunity, ability and desire to take leaps and achieve success. During the adolescent years, confidence is being built and is at a very fragile stage. A teen who is constantly taking a beating emotionally in this stage in their lives, may have poor self-confidence that runs far into adulthood.

The Fix

A Life Coach works with teens to highlight their strengths and challenge them to play off these strengths in order to achieve goals. The more a teen can see his strengths, the more confidence he will have in his abilities. This confidence often impacts the colleges choices, friends choices and  relationships  with their parents. Teens are also taught how to build confidence without it being at the expense of others, which reduces bullying. A Life Coach educates teens on how to be confident in saying no to people and activities that are not in line with their bigger vision and goals. Adolescents learn valuable tools for building confidence, like time management, increasing willpower, how to have an open and positive mindset, having a healthy self-image, and setting boundaries.

 

If you have more questions about how a life coach could help your teen, feel free to reach out to Dr. Jaime Kaluga.

Dr. Jaime Kulaga, PhD, LMHC, Life Coach
Dr. Jaime (www.drjaimek.com)

A Teen’s Perspective: What Your Teen Is Doing On Social Media

Today, fellow parents, we are extremely fortunate. A teen is going to give us some insight into how  we can keep up with our teens on social media. She has lots of great suggestions for  how to help  your kids with problems they  may encounter online.

Let me introduce you to Lauren Ofman. If you have questions or comments for Lauren, please weigh in below!

Lauren Ofman is a high school student in California who loves spending time with her family, learning sign language, and helping teens and parents communicate! She blogs about her perspective and answers requests for advice at, http://ateensperspectiveblog.weebly.com/.

I’m a junior in high school, so I can tell you one thing for sure – your teen’s phone and computer are essential to his or her life. For school, social life, and sometimes even breathing, I need my phone and my computer.

It’s not surprising that it’s difficult for most parents to understand the role technology plays in almost everything their kids do. For most teenagers that I know, interactions with online content and social media are complex, inescapable, and require constant management in order to protect or maintain an image- even if your goal is to not have an image.

I’m a big fan of the 90s and even the 80s a little. My understanding of high school for the generations before mine is derived mostly from movies and stories I hear from my parents. In my admittedly limited view, it seems to me that not much has changed. The struggles of a teenager in high school today are still basically the same as they were decades ago. We’re all still very concerned about our image and the way we’re perceived by others.

The big difference is that, in today’s world, many of us, whether we admit it or not, are managing two separate personas. Yes, you read that right; we’re leading double lives. There’s our IRL (“in real life”) persona, which everyone has and does their best to maintain, but, for most teenagers today, there also exists a funnier, sexier, wittier, and even more daring alter ego. And it’s this second persona that’s in charge of making sure that, no matter what, the Instagram and Snapchat content coming out of the camp is sensational, sexy, and stage ready.

The priorities of the alter ego and the IRL persona are sometimes different and the two are rarely on the same page. This is usually okay, since for the most part the IRL persona makes rational decisions and is ultimately the one in charge. Trouble arises when the alter ego takes over and clouds the judgment. When this happens the Instagram and Snapchat posts get racier or otherwise worse in judgement while at the same time the social circle expands beyond friends to include more random, anonymous internet alter egos with bad intentions. It’s at this point that your teenager is most likely to encounter issues like cyberbullying and blackmail.

Here’s what to watch for:

New Followers: As a parent you should have the Instagram and Snapchat apps on your phone and learn to use them. You should also do your best to know your teen’s Instagram and Snapchat handles. For Instagram and Snapchat, even if the account is private, you can see the number of followers your teen has. A few of my friends with dominant alter egos have multiple Instagram and Snapchat accounts, so this may take some digging. Once you find the account(s), keep an eye on the number of people following that page. If you notice more than 5,000 followers and the account is private, this could be a sign that the alter ego is in command. Also, if you notice a large and sudden uptick in followers, this would be a point of concern.  I suggest that even though you’re keeping an eye out, you focus on protecting against real danger, not policing every move your teen makes and trying to be too controlling. A post that makes you roll your eyes, has typos, sounds dumb to you, or uses slightly off-color language? Let them be.

 

Cyberbullying: According to Antibullyingpro.com, 7 in 10 people aged between 13 and 22 have been a victim of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying has become one of the most frequent types of bullying in society today. It’s happened at my school. It’s even occurred within my social circle.

For many alter egos, the feeling that they can say what they want anonymously or without the pressure of speaking face-to-face is too strong to resist; however, cyberbullying is a very serious offense. It comes in many forms: texting, sending incriminating pictures, or even sharing confidential information can all be examples of cyberbullying.

The best way for your teen to avoid cyberbullying is to limit your teen’s followers and social media friends to those they actually know in real life. In my experience, cyberbullying usually doesn’t come from someone you’re going to see at school or camp the next day. It’s almost always some random troll from the internet. I only accept friend requests or approve followers from people I know.

You might let your teen know that cyberbullying is a crime and that if it happens to them, you are happy to help. They will roll their eyes, but if things get bad, they might remember they can come to you.

Blackmail: Limiting social media interactions to people your teen knows  also helps limit opportunities for blackmail. All of the blackmail I’ve heard about, however, has taken place when a relationship ends badly. Relationships in high school are by nature shaky and uncertain and always have the potential to end badly, so that means lots of us are at risk of being blackmailed.

Whenever I send a photo or video, I assume it’s going to go public, and if I’m not comfortable with my grandmother seeing it, I simply don’t send it. My recommendation to you is simple; tell your kids to assume that everything they send out will be seen by everyone they know, including their grandmother.

But also make sure your teen knows that if someone is blackmailing them with a text or photo, there are legal actions he or she can take, and you’re able to help them if they get in a tough situation. The idea that an indecent picture of you may be on everyone’s phone within the hour can be terrifying for a teen (or anyone).  So, it’s good that they know ahead of time to come to you immediately for help if the situation arises, and that you’ll help them without being angry.

They should also know, if they’re under 18, that sending risque photos of themselves, even to a friend or boyfriend, could land them in legal trouble. It’s pretty common for teens to send photos to their boyfriends and girlfriends, and although you may not want to think about it, you should be sure your teen understands that it could end in not only embarrassment, but legal trouble.

Most people I know who’ve been embarrassed by a photo getting shared trusted the person they sent it to, and thought “He would never do that!” Your teen will probably think the same. So instead of focusing on what that significant other might do if they break up, point out that accounts get hacked all the time, phones get lost, laptops get stolen, and all sorts of unpredictable things happen. Those scenarios may be easier for your teen to think about happening to them.

TALK TO YOUR TEEN! These are just some suggestions, but overall the important thing is to start a dialogue with your teens and share information without attacking or accusing them. You should also always be on the lookout for signs that the alter ego has taken over.

How Instagram Became Home to Mean Girls

Today, I asked my son how he did on his history test. No response.

I asked again. No response.

Then, I noticed the reason. Buried in his lap was his cell phone. He was glued to his Instagram feed.

If you have a teen, you probably know that Instagram rules. It takes priority over homework, conversation with mom and sometimes even over TV. It’s a world our teens live in, for better or worse.

When I saw this article from Time Magazine, I had to share it with you…

 

The Secret Language of Girls on Instagram

Close up of teenage girl texting on mobile in bedroom
Getty Images

Girls have quietly repurposed the photo-sharing app into a barometer for popularity, friendship status and self-worth. Here’s how they’re using it.

Secrecy is hardly new on Planet Girl: as many an eye-rolling boy will tell you, girls excel at eluding the prying questions of grown ups. And who can blame them? From an early age, young women learn that to be a “good girl” they must be nice, avoid conflict and make friends with everyone. It’s an impossible ask (and one I’ve studied for over a decade) – so girls respond by taking their true feelings underground.

Enter the Internet, and Instagram: a platform where emotions can run wild – and where insecurities run wilder. The photo-sharing app is social media’s current queen bee: In a survey released earlier this month, three quarters of teens said they were using Instagram as their go-to app.

But Instagram’s simplicity is also deceiving: look more closely, and you find the Rosetta Stone of girl angst: a way for tweens and teens to find out what their peers really think of them (Was that comment about my dress a joke or did she mean it?), who likes you (Why wasn’t I included in that picture?), even how many people like them (if you post and get too few likes, you might feel “Instashame,” as one young woman calls it). They can obsess over their friendships, monitoring social ups and downs in extreme detail. They can strategically post at high traffic hours when they know peers are killing time between homework assignments. “Likes,” after all, feel like a public, tangible, reassuring statement of a girl’s social status.

That’s not what the app creators intended, of course, but it does make psychological sense: as they become preteens, research shows that girls’ confidence takes a nosedive. Instagram, then, is a new way for girls to chase the feeling of being liked that eludes so many of them. Instagram becomes an popularity meter and teens learn to manipulate the levers of success.

Here are a few of the ways that girls are leveraging Instagram to do much more than just share photos:

To Know What Friends Really Think Of Them

In the spot where adults tag a photo’s location, girls will barter “likes” in exchange for other things peers desperately want: a “TBH” (or “to be honest”). Translation? If you like a girl’s photo, she’ll leave you a TBH comment. For example: “TBH, ILYSM,” meaning, “To be honest I love you so much.” Or, the more ambivalent: “TBH, We don’t hang out that much.

To Measure How Much a Friend Likes You

In this case, a girl may trade a “like” — meaning, a friend will like her photo — in exchange for another tidbit of honesty: a 1-10 rating, of how much she likes you, your best physical feature, and a numerical scale that answers the question of “are we friends?” and many others. Girls hope for a “BMS,” or break my scale, the ultimate show of affection.

As a Public Barometer of Popularity

Instagram lets you tag your friends to announce that you’ve posted a new photo of them. Girls do the app one better: they take photos of scenes where no person is present – say, a sunset — but still tag people they love and add gushing comments. It’s a kind of social media mating call for BFFs. But girls also do it because the number of tags you get is a public sign of your popularity. “How many photos you’re tagged in is important,” says Charlotte, 12. “No one can see the actual number but you can sort of just tell because you keep seeing their name pop up.”

To Show BFF PDA

That broken heart necklace you gave your bestie? It’s gone the way of dial up. Now, girls use Instagram biographies – a few lines at the top of their page — to trumpet their inner circle. It’s a thrill to be featured on the banner that any visitor to the page will see — but not unusual to get deleted after a fight or bad day, in plain, humiliating sight of all your friends.

A Way to Retaliate

Angry at someone? Don’t tag the girl who is obviously in a picture, crop her out of it entirely, refuse to follow back the one who just tried to follow you, or simply post a photo a girl is not in. These are cryptic messages adults miss but which girls hear loud and clear. A girl may post an image of a party a friend wasn’t invited to, an intimate sleepover or night out at a concert. She never even has to mention the absent girl’s name. She knows the other girl saw it. That’s the beauty of Instagram: it’s the homework you know girls always do.

A Personal Branding Machine

Girls face increasing pressure not only to be smart and accomplished, but girly, sexy and social. In a 2011 survey, 74% of teen girls told the Girl Scout Research Institute that girls were living quasi-double lives online, where they intentionally downplayed their intelligence, kindness and good influence – and played up qualities like fun, funny and social. On Instagram, girls can project a persona they may not have time, or permission, to show off in the classroom: popular, social, sexy. Cultivating a certain look is so important that it’s common for girls to stage ‘photo shoots’ with each other as photographers to produce shots that stand out visually. (Plus a joint photo shoot is more evidence of friendship.)

A Place For Elaborate Birthday Collages

Remember coming to school on your big day, excited to see what you’d find plastered to your locker? Now girls can see who’s celebrating them hours before they get off the bus. Birthday collages on Instagram are elaborate public tributes, filled with inside jokes, short videos, and pictures of memories you may not have been a part of. “There is definitely a ‘I love you the most. I’ve loved you the longest edge to these birthday posts,” one parent told me. Collages that document the intensity or length of a relationship are a chance to celebrate a friend – or prove just how close you are to the birthday girl. Although most girls know to expect something from their closest friends, not getting one is seen as a direct diss, a parent told me. And it can be competitive: another parent told me her daughter’s friend stayed up until midnight just so she could be the first to post.

While girls may seem addicted to their online social lives, it’s not all bad — and they still prefer the company of an offline friend to any love they have to click for. (In a surveyt hat would surely surprise some parents, 92% of teen girls said they would give up all of their social media friends if it meant keeping their best friend.) And, of course, likes aren’t everything. As 13 year-old Leah told me, “Just because people don’t write me a paragraph on Instagram doesn’t mean they don’t like me.”

Rachel Simmons is the co-founder of Girls Leadership Institute and the author of the New York Times bestselling book, “Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls” and “The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls With Courage and Confidence.” 

Parenting Openly Gay Teens

My friend Robin is one of the most amazing parents I know. When her daughter told her she was a lesbian, Robin showed her support in every way possible, even encouraging her daughter to publish a blog called Oy Vey, I’m Gay.

Ours is the first generation to really parent openly gay teens because in past generations, teens were much more secretive. I had a close friend in high school who didn’t want to be secretive. He told his Cuban-born parents he was gay. His macho dad went nuts and through him out of the house. I don’t think that would happen today. Or, would it?

I was excited to see that Nick News With Linda Ellerbee will feature a half-hour special, “Coming Out,” premiering Tuesday, Oct. 7, at 8:00 p.m. (ET/PT) on Nickelodeon.  The special follows the everyday lives of gay kids as they face fear, acceptance, bullying, isolation, encouragement and ignorance, and shows how straight and non-straight teens can come together to triumph over bullying.

Here’s what the press release says:

“It takes bravery for a kid to come out,” says Ellerbee. “Being accepted by straight people is not a given.  Being young and ‘different’ is not easy. This may be tough to talk about, or hear about, but this is important stuff.  Not addressing it doesn’t make it go away.”

“In elementary school, I knew I was different from the other guys,” says Bradley, 16.  “When I realized I was gay, the biggest problem I faced was wondering if my family would accept me or not.  I’d heard stereotypes about families kicking their kids out and I was wondering, ‘Oh gosh that might be me.’”

“I’ll take a chance. With one heart-wrenching throwback out of this closet, I’ll say the words I’ve been meaning to say my whole life. I’m lesbian,” says Christine, 14.

“Coming out isn’t going to be a one-time thing.  You’re going to meet new people every day, says Lia, 16.  “You’re going to always have that burning question in the back of your head: Am I going to come out today? Am I going to come out tomorrow?”

“I’m not a special case,” Marcel, 13, said.  “There are many people who are my age, and are gay. And you (kids) can say, ‘Well, I don’t know any gay people.’ You probably do, but they’re probably not out to you.”

My daughter has a handful of friends — male and female — who have discussed with her their struggle with sexuality and their conversations with their parents.  She’s convinced that parents who react like idiots mess their kids up.

Here’s what my friend Robin wrote to me: When my daughter came out to me, it was a relief in a way because I knew she was struggling with something, I just didn’t know what. I was not at all upset or disappointed. I was thankful that she felt close enough to me to share. My advice to her was not tho let that one part of her define her. I told her I’m a mom, wife, flight attendant, volunteer…but not one of those things defines who I am.

Robin also says: I try to empower my daughter in every way as I do my other two daughters. I set the same boundaries for her in any relationships.

Robin is awesome, but not all parents are as comfortable with the news.

I’m sure that having a child who is gay is scary and emotional. I’m sure it takes some self-introspection.  Still, I can’t see myself rejecting my own child for who he or she loves — could you? If you’re parenting an openly gay teen, what are the emotions you went through and what advice was most helpful to you?

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