Child Online Safety: Where Does Your State Rank (and what can you do about it)?

It’s no surprise that as social media use and online gaming continue to skyrocket in popularity among teens and kids, so do cyberbullying and online crimes. CNN recently stated that teens are spending an average of nine hours a day using media and that children younger than nine are averaging two hours a day online.

This isn’t to suggest that the digital world is inevitably going to harm our youth, but rather to raise awareness about how prepared our states really are for the digital world that our youth are pioneering.

According to a recent report from Internet Service Partners, some states are certainly doing a better job than others. South Dakota ranked as the safest state for kids online, while Arizona fell in dead last due to consistently ranking low among all factors considered. The factors that the report considered were:

  • Malware infection rates

  • Youth victims of internet crime

  • Education rank

  • Cyberbullying laws

  • Youth mental illness

Some states that ranked highly in terms of having cyberbullying laws in place still ranked low for overall safety. The report says,“While every US state has an anti-bullying law, not every state includes cyberbullying and electronic harassment as part of that law. Similarly, not every state imposes criminal or school sanctions for students charged with cyberbullying or harassment.”

This could partially be due to the fact that while cyberbullying is a very real and growing problem, it’s not necessarily as common as the media has painted it out to be.

Common Sense Media reports that about 15.5% of high schoolers experience cyberbullying, while 20% experience in-person bullying. Some media have suggested that if your child is online, they will inevitably experience some form of bullying. But while being online does subject them to the possibility, it’s not necessarily going to happen to them.

Youth mental illness could be both a cause, and effect, of cyberbullying. Children with already-existing mental health issues could be more likely to engage in cyberbullying behavior, or also more likely to be victims of it. In turn, children could develop mental health issues if they are being cyberbullied.

The ten safest states ranked (in order) were:

  1. South Dakota

  2. Vermont

  3. North Dakota

  4. Iowa

  5. Connecticut

  6. Rhode Island

  7. Minnesota

  8. Kansas

  9. Maine

  10. Massachusetts

The ten most dangerous (in order) were:

  1. Arizona

  2. Colorado

  3. Virginia

  4. Texas

  5. Indiana

  6. Alabama

  7. Georgia

  8. Maryland

  9. Wisconsin

  10. Oregon

A state’s overall education ranking was considered as a factor in this report because part of a solid education in today’s world includes learning how to safely navigate the internet. It’s also becoming more popular to embrace e-learning in schools.

The majority of a child’s safety online starts within their home. Especially with summer around the corner and children spending more time at home, their online activities are likely going to increase.

Here are a few tips for parents to help their children stay safe online:

  • Walk through basic internet activities with your children to show them how to properly:

    •     Login to a social media platform

    •     Check email

    •     Google questions

  • Answer their internet questions, judgment-free

  • Keep tabs on their cellphone and online activity, but avoid being intrusive

  • Encourage iPad, computer, or cellphone use in shared family spaces

If parents treat a child’s “digital life” as an extension of their “real” one, rather than trying to combat it, they’ll most likely help their child learn how to safely use the internet.

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. hilarybird.contently.com

Sleep: A Vital Partner in Your Child’s Learning

Young man sleeping.jpeg

guest post by Sarah Johnson of Tuck Sleep

In a busy, over-scheduled world it might be easy to forget that more than your child’s study schedule affects his academic performance. As a necessary biological function, sleep plays a pivotal role in your child’s mood, ability to recall information, and academic success. However, two out of three high school students regularly get less than eight hours of sleep at night.

Sleep deprivation puts kids at risk for far more than poor grades. Kids that don’t get enough sleep are at higher risk a number of physical problems including obesity. During sleep deprivation, the brain releases the hormones that control hunger in different amounts than it would with enough sleep. The result is that kids feel hungrier when sleepy. Lack of sleep also causes cravings for high-fat, sugary snack foods full of empty calories, which leads to unwanted weight gain.

Lack of sleep makes it more difficult for teens to deal with the stress in their lives. Academics, part-time jobs, extracurricular activities, and social media can all put extra stress on your teen. Inadequate sleep increases feelings of stress and puts teens at higher risk for anxiety and depression.

Sleep deprivation also impacts thinking abilities. Reasoning and decision-making skills decrease with sleep loss. Of course, that affects academic performance, but it also has an influences safety. Teens are already at risk of making poor driving decisions when they’ve gotten enough sleep. Studies have shown that teens who attended schools with later start times had fewer incidences of vehicle accidents. Students who get more sleep are better able to respond to problems on the road.

Along with the other changes in thinking and reasoning ability, memory takes a hit with sleep loss. Short-term memory suffers first, which can make it difficult for kids to recall information on a test or quiz. Not only that, but the ability to stay focused and pay attention goes down without enough rest.

So how do you help your teen get better sleep?

It starts with your child’s bedroom. The room should be devoted to better rest. At night it needs to be quiet, dark, and cool with the temperature somewhere between 60-68 degrees. Check the bed to be sure it’s not lumpy or sagging. A comfortable mattress can combat night waking and help your child avoid stiffness in the morning.

Teen Studying.jpg

  

A few other ways you can encourage more sleep include:

  • Turn Off the Screens: The bright light from laptops, televisions, and smartphones can trigger the brain to stay awake. Encourage your child to shut off her screen an hour before bed. If possible, remove any devices from her bedroom to prevent the temptation once she’s in bed.

  • Avoid Stimulants: The caffeine found in coffee and energy drinks temporarily blocks sleep-inducing hormones. If avoided for four hours before bed, the effects should have worn off enough to fall asleep on time.

  • Keep a Consistent Bedtime: A teen with a busy schedule may have a hard time with this one, but it can make all the difference for getting a full nine hours of sleep. The sleep-wake cycle thrives off of consistency. When your child keeps a regular sleep schedule, the brain automatically starts releasing sleep hormones at the same time every day, making it easier to fall asleep.

  • Regular Exercise: It’s easier for your teen to fall asleep if she’s more tired at night. Not to mention the way exercise improves heart health, lowers blood pressure, and strengthens the body.

  

Tuck Sleep is a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free web-based resources. Tuck has been featured on NPR, Lifehacker, Radiolab and is referenced by many colleges/universities and sleep organizations across the web.

Nurture your child's interests without forcing them

 Image courtesy of Pexels and Skitter photo

Image courtesy of Pexels and Skitter photo

We love and adore our children. As parents, we soon realize that their personal success is more important to us than our own. We naturally want that will live happy and fulfilling lives, and often we think that they will achieve this by excelling in an activity they themselves are passionate about.

But are passions something we instill or are they already there?

If there are hobbies, interests, or activities that have enriched our own lives, then it's natural for us to want to pass this on to our children. Perhaps these will bring joy, meaning, or even professional success to their lives too. There are also opportunities and experiences that we never had but wish we did. We may want our children to have the chance that we never did.

But how can we do this? And should we even try?

Some parents opt to enroll their kids in classes as soon possible in order to 'grow' a passion and get ahead of the competition? Others expose their children to lots of 'preferable' activities in the hope that something will stick.

Whatever your parenting approach, here is the thing: Your child's love for an activity is at least as important as the teaching or training they receive.

To flourish at anything, children need to connect with an inner feeling that makes them want to love it, do it, and own it. This can't be forced. Just like making a fire, you can provide the kindling and gently blow, but if you blow too hard, the flame will go out.

As a professional musician, I wanted to pass on a love for music to my kids; and yet, I'd seen far too many people forced into it. They just got burnt. Either grew to dislike it or they simply never felt it was theirs. In both cases, it didn't nourish or enrich their lives.

Passion has to come from within, it's not something that can be manufactured. Yes, we can expose our kids to the right experiences and find a great teacher, but we must accept that we'll never be able to make a child love something.

At home I play music, I listen to it, I enjoy it. It's there for my children if they want to explore it. Similarly, I try to expose them to a diversity of life experiences. What's important is coming at it with a mood of wonder and joy, never with an agenda of "manufacturing passion".

These external inputs can be enriching, but learning happens both from outside in and inside out. So while we can gently provide experiential inputs, it is just as important that we listen intently to our children. What is true for them? What moves and drives them? What is inside them? If we can identify this, then both they and us can learn from it and give it space and nourishment to grow.

My daughter seems to have a natural desire and affinity for music, she sings to herself almost constantly. My son, well, at the moment he doesn't express a particular interest, and that's fine. I can't wait to learn (from him) what kindles his fire of inspiration.

I don't believe there is a formula for getting kids to love something. And so, let's not focus too hard on feeding things into our children, such that we miss the precious qualities, drives, and passions that are already there.

Go ahead, provide your children with a variety of physical, cultural, educational experiences, but just remember: their enjoyment of the activity is every bit as important as honing their skill. Nurture the joy and the wonder, and trust that everything else will fall into place.

 

Neve Spicer blogs together with husband, Keane, at WeTheParents.org. There she seeks to empower parents, while he gets nerdy researching and reviewing the gear that moms and dads (apparently) need. You can also catch them on Facebook and Twitter.

 

How to Help Your Child Overcome Cyberbullying by Noah Smith

 Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

If your child is the new kid at school, chances are they already feel alone and alienated, making them an easy target for online bullies. With today’s technology, hurtful comments and photos can be quickly uploaded and spread like wildfire. According to Kids Health, recent studies show about 1 in 4 teens have been the victims of cyberbullying. This can be a difficult thing for your child to work through on their own. Here’s how you can help as a parent if your child is dealing with cyber bullies while acclimating to their new school. 

Think before you act. 

Educate yourself on the many social media platforms your child may use so you can understand how they work without rushing to judgement. Try and put yourself in their shoes and understand the situation instead of overreacting in an effort to protect them. For example, threatening to take away their devices may cause them to retreat. Instead, build trust and communicate with your child. Create an environment where they feel they can be open and honest with you so that you are aware of any problems that arise online and are then able to help them. Additionally, allow them to dictate to you what they think is acceptable online behavior. Discuss with them how they would like to approach the situation and consider playing out scenarios so your child feels comfortable handling the bully in real life. 

Set boundaries with technology. 

If their only access to the online world is your family computer, keep it in a central location in the house so you can monitor their usage. However, if they have a mobile phone, tablet, or online gaming device, it can be harder to determine how much time they are spending on the internet.

“Technology is a great tool for children, but like everything else, moderation is key,” says Net Nanny. Instilling healthy habits such as being offline right before bed, as well as during dinner or family time, will help set boundaries and determine how big of a role the online world factors into their everyday life. Chances are, if they’re not overusing social media and technology, they’ll be more able to gain some much needed perspective.

Ask for help.

Make sure their school counselor is aware of the situation so they can keep an eye out for any bullying during school. Even if the bullying isn’t taking place at school, the administrators should still be made aware of the situation so they can monitor it and enforce any anti bullying policies they may have. Their school may also have a program for new students that could help make school a more inviting place. If your child continues to struggle with the aftermath of cyberbullying, consider getting help from a personal therapist. If the situation seems to be getting out of hand and threats of physical violence are made, be careful to document the evidence and contact the proper authorities. 

Care.com asserts that “a parent's positive attitude can go a long way in increasing his or her child's ability to handle this changing, challenging time.” As such, it’s important that you stand by them and maintain a positive outlook. Make your home a safe haven for them by creating spaces they enjoy being in and that grant them the opportunity to pursue their hobbies. Encourage positive choices that do not allow toxic behavior or relationships to manifest. As the new kid, it’s important they choose the right friends and get involved in clubs or activities that interest them. This will help them feel more confident in the wake of cyberbullying.

Tips for Teens on How to Deal with Their Anxiety in a Healthy Way: guest post by Noah Smith

Your adolescent years are some of the most stressful years of your life (they're certainly the most stressful years you’ve lived through yet). Your body is changing, as is your brain. The pressures of school, sports, and social interactions can lead some teens to develop anxiety. While some people turn to drugs and/or alcohol to help themselves cope with their anxiety, it’s important to know that this is not a tenable strategy. In the end, it will just make things worse. Here are some tips for dealing with your anxiety in a healthy way.

 

Think of the big three: diet, exercise, and sleep

 

The three things that have the biggest effect on your mental health are your diet, physical activity level, and sleep. Eating an unhealthy diet, not getting enough exercise, or getting too little or low-quality sleep can make your anxiety much worse.

 

When it comes to what you put in your body, the advice is similar for almost everyone - eat whole foods, mostly vegetables and fruit, and lean proteins. Try to reduce your intake of caffeine, refined carbs, sugar, and red meat if you can. Exercise is vital because it actually modifies your brain chemistry to product feel-good hormones. Not only that, but being a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do to bring down your stress levels.

 

As far as sleep goes, it’s a tricky one. People can become locked in vicious sleep cycles where they can’t sleep because they are anxious and they are anxious because they can’t sleep. If you’re having trouble sleeping, exercise will help. You should also rework your bedroom time to only be about sleep. Don’t check Facebook or watch TV in bed. Teach your brain that when it hits the pillow, it’s sleep time and only sleep time.

 

Focus on the present

 

Much of teen anxiety is caused by worrying about something that happened in the past or being apprehensive about something that’s going to happen in the future. You can’t change the past and you should worry about the future when you get to it. You’re living in the present, and that’s what truly matters.

 

“Focus on the present moment rather than worrying about what you’re going to say next, or beating yourself up for saying something slightly weird a few minutes ago. Remember that the most important thing to the other person is the interest that you show in them,” says HelpGuide.org.

 

Why it’s important to learn healthy coping mechanisms early on

 

Some people never “cure” themselves of their anxiety - whether it be general anxiety, social anxiety, or a more specific phobia or trigger. What they do, however, is learn how to minimize it to a workable level. Even if you aren’t a heavy drug or alcohol user now, the opportunities and temptations to use substances to help you deal with anxiety will only increase as you age.

 

Alcohol (and some drugs) that have sedating effects appear to temporarily reduce anxiety. While it’s true that having a beer or two will make you feel more socially outgoing at a party, for instance, prolonged substance use tends to have a negative effect on people with anxiety issues.

 

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), anxiety is a mental health disorder that can be caused by prolonged drinking in some instances. Substance-induced anxiety can occur in those who have another anxiety disorder, such as GAD, and adding this additional anxiety issue only exacerbates the effects of the initial disorder,” notes AmericanAddictionCenters.org.

 

If you suffer from anxiety problems as a teen, there’s a chance they will lessen naturally as you age. Some people struggle with anxiety for many years, however. As a teen, you must learn how to cope with it in healthy ways. You may not be able to fully rid yourself of its effects, but you can make sure it’s only a minor, not major, part of your daily life.

 

Photo Credit: Pixabay.com

Smart Parenting Revolution-new products for summer

It’s an exciting time for us at SmartWired and Smart Parenting Revolution: months (well, years really) of planning, work, and development is finally culminating into a new slate of products we can put out into the world to help parents and their children. We just released the book I AM Smart: a Guide to Recognizing and Developing Your Child’s Natural Strengths by our own Dawna Markova, Ph.D. and Angie McArthur. This is a usable guidebook version of the time-tested book Dawna wrote for Ballantine in 2005, The Smart Parenting Revolution, and is updated for today’s busy parents who need immediate tools and processes they can employ to help their children understand how they best learn and communicate. It’s available on our web store and on Amazon, with a Kindle and iBooks version coming soon.

Next up is our new parenting app Smart Spark: Ignite Your Child’s Learning Potential, due in the iOS app store in early July. We’re “stoked” to get this in the hands of parents, since it’s a fun, engaging experience for them and their children to learn together how they learn, and to share everything they know about what brings out their child’s best with teachers, tutors, coaches, and family members. It will also allow parents to receive outside observations about what helps their child, and store it in a permanent record we call the “Smart Passport.” This is supported by all the research that focusing on what a child does well, rather than trying to “fix” his or her weaknesses, will result not only in excellence and achievement in school and all aspects of life, but a greater sense of engagement, purpose, and happiness.

Finally, Angie has been incredibly busy the past two-plus years writing two books with Dawna for Random House, the first of which, Collaborative Intelligence: Thinking with People Who Think Differently, gets released on August 11th, with corresponding publicity and media. And her Ted talk about Collaborative Intelligence at TedX Traverse City, for which she gave her 18 minutes in mid-May (but really about 200 hours of writing, refining, and practice), will be online soon on their web site. We’ll share it on our site and with our Facebook fans when it’s available.

Finally (really this time), we just participated in a summit hosted by Central Michigan University with 200+ experts in early childhood development concerned with improving all aspects of life for children, including health, brain science/learning, policy, and poverty. It was eye-opening for sure, and hopefully our contribution of asset-focused learning techniques can help the youth and parent populations in general.

We hope summer treats you and your children well, and look forward to hearing how our offerings can help you in your parenting journey!

--David Peck, SmartWired co-founder (and Angie’s husband)

If you give a girl a different toy, she ‘ll tell a different story.

by Angie McArthur

“Today, I am the super heroes Honesty and Bravery,” said my 8-year-old niece Elspeth, age 8. Her younger sister Gracie, age 6, quickly followed and declared “And I am Energy!” Dressed in a pink ski jacket she rolled her shoulders back, puffed out her chest and sang out “I’m gonna ski this black diamond run with my superpowers!” before dropping fearlessly over the steep edge. They each continued to ski with joy, vigor and courage all afternoon.

 

I smiled to myself thinking Barbie would never ski like that. I recalled the words of Dawn Nadeau, who had recently given me these new female super heroes: “If you give a girl a different toy, she’ll tell a different story.” Dawn and her company I am Elemental http://www.iamelemental.com/ have created a new line of action figures just for girls.  Each superhero actually reflects characters that will make girls successful. In their first series, Courage, the action figures are: Bravery, Industry, Persistence, Fear, Enthusiasm, Honesty and Energy.  

 

Thank you Dawn and everyone at I am Elemental for creating a female figure that enables a new story to emerge for young girls. Now as my nieces play and dream up adventurous narratives about these seven characters, they are empowering themselves in ways that Barbie can’t even dream of…even from her dream house.

 

See the action figure story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uyvOfHEq9I

“We’re Moving? Again?” Small Ways to Ease Your Child's Anxiety During Relocation

by Megan McArthur

Meganandkids.jpg

Megan, Ayla and Kai McArthur after a successful relocation


Parents always want what is best for their children and their children’s futures. At times this involves careers that involve frequently moving, or simply being away due to meetings, or in my family’s case, military deployments. The impact of these events on our children can include depression, loss of interest in activities, high anxiety, and problems at school both socially and educationally. Realizing the negative implications and finding solutions that will help ease our children's minds can turn many of those negative aspects into positive ones.

When my husband received his first set of orders that would relocate our family to a different post, my initial reaction was excitement, until I saw the look of anxiety on my daughter's face. We were at dinner and she became very quiet, sullenly pushing food around her plate. I could literally see her mind processing the information into all the negative stories instead of excitement at a new adventure. I had not thought through how all the changes would affect her life. Later after putting her to bed, I found myself on the Internet researching how often we might move throughout my husband's career. How many times would my kids be switching schools? How many times would they have to start over with new friendships and leave behind old ones? Most importantly, how can I help them cope and feel secure within themselves and learn to adapt within their environment?

After some research on the subject, I found that the average American family moves about twelve times during his/her lifetime. Approximately 33% of military families relocate each year. Many times, it is in a civilian populated area where the child might not have the same amount of support and similarities with others that they would being on a military post. Relocations are happening exponentially more than in previous generations.

There is also the question of the emotional stress put on the family by these moves. Emotional exhaustion, financial expenses increasing while trying to adapt in the new location, and the physical work involved in moving may cause parents to show poor and negative behavior as well.  In turn, this will put more stress on the child. It may cause them to become more susceptible to peer pressures, and experience physical and emotional turmoil within themselves.

These were all things that I was loathe to have my own daughter struggle with as we moved from place to place. Researching what others experienced with frequent moves, I found that there are plenty of ways to lessen the stress and make the transitions into a new area and new schools easier for the children. Following are a few of my key ingredients to making the next adventure in our lives a successful one instead of a stressful one.

“Read All About It!”

Looking up our “New location” online and viewing pictures with kids is always a great way to get excited about a move. It allows everyone to see what activities are available in the area and get a glimpse of what to expect. My daughter Ayla loves horses above all else. She spent countless hours looking up all the different ranches in the areas we would be moving to and narrow down her “Top 10” choices. It got her excited about the move and reduced some of the anxiety over leaving good friends behind. Reading upcoming events in the local paper also offered a snapshot into the type of community we were headed to. I was able to immediately locate programs for the kids and sports offered in the area.

“What About School?”

Show the kids their new school's web site! Most schools these days have an online presence that you can review and see what is offered. Both of my kids love doing this–It gives them a chance to see what classes are offered, what clubs to join, and the sports they can try out for. Some even have a virtual walk through displaying the actual classrooms and other students. This allows the kids to have a better idea about what they will be walking into once they start school. It also lists school supplies needed and any additional helpful information. Again, this helps lesson the anxiety and gives them that extra confidence they need their first day of school.

“Will I fit in?”

This is a concern for many kids moving to a new area, especially the older ones. Try to find out if there are any clubs in the area that offer things your child is interested in so that they have a community upon moving there. For myself, it was important to find out if there were any clubs in the area designed for military children. My kids’ school had a program called Club USA. It was led by the school's counselor, taking place once a week during school hours. The kids with active duty military parents would come together and have the opportunity to talk with each other about how they were feeling over issues such as a parent’s deployment, a recent PCS (move) or any other related stressors they were dealing with. The kids would also put together care packages to send to the troops as a group. They would write Christmas cards and create drawings to send out, and they would make awards for themselves celebrating and recognizing all of the strengths they had within themselves during these hard times. It was a great way for the kids to feel like they were playing an active role in honoring and representing their families.  I’ll never forget how proud my son was to wear the star he made that read, “I am a Military Child. I am a Hero.”

“You’re Leaving again?”

Communication is key in these situations. Letting the staff/teacher know when one parent is away helps the teacher to be prepared for any behavioral changes and be able to assist the child emotionally as best they can. My son has a tendency to “act out” the first few days his Dad is gone. He takes the “I’m the man of the house now” saying to a whole new level! At times, it can be very frustrating, and at others, very sweet. His teachers had the same response. Sometimes his behavior would be very disruptive to his fellow students while on other occasions, he would retreat within himself, not wanting to engage in the activities. Writing a note to the teacher or calling or texting to let them know his father was gone for a period of time helped them realize that it was a time that Kai needed that little extra encouragement in positive behavior. They were very patient, understanding and appreciative for the heads up.

In our eight years in the Military, my daughter has attended five different schools, my son has attended three and we have moved four times. Amazingly, this is much less than an average Military family.

With a little research and the right tools, you can turn a stressful depleting move into a somewhat smoother transition for both parent and child. Communicate with your kids. Allow them to tell you their fears about changes and have them engage in creating solutions. For instance, my daughter did not want to leave her friends. Together, we came up with the idea of getting a special book in which she could write down her friends' phone numbers and addresses and even tape in pictures or things that reminded her of them. This helped ease her sadness about having to leave them. Allow your kids to pack their own things. For my son Kai, it was very important that he knew exactly which boxes held which toys. Having him label them and see that they were "safe" eased his mind. No Transformer left behind! These two small gestures gave them a feeling of control in their lives and allowed them to feel more a part of the situation. It allowed my kids to appreciate their experiences and look forward to the adventure our family was about to embark on without any extra baggage and anxiety.