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Parents’ Biggest Enemies – Technology

Parents’ Biggest Enemies – Technology

Would you drive down the interstate at 90 mph with your toddler and baby in the front seat, with no car seats, and unbuckled? Of course not. Parents need to look at the real dangers of the internet in the same way. The dangers of the internet and technology with our kids are not as physical as much as they are mental and emotional. We need to take precautions, much like we would with car seats in the vehicle, to ensure that our children are safe on the web. We are as much responsible for our children’s’ emotional and mental well being as we are their physical well being. Technology poses risks that are not necessarily brand new to us, but they weren’t around when most of us were kids.

Most of us raising kids today did not grow up in this era of advanced technology. Our version of technology was a digital watch or the original Nintendo. With the internet being at the tips of our fingertips at any moment of the day, our children are also growing up in this new era of being connected to the web and other people all the time. This can be a scary thought, because there are some frightening people in this world and dangers on the internet that we don’t want our children to be exposed to or involved. There are some practical ways that you can protect your child, as well as some conversation points you need to have with your children in regard to technology. Below are those tips.

Limiting Time To Prevent the Disintegration of Family

Technology is a real force in the home. If you don’t set reasonable limits, it will naturally take over your family time. Whether it is television, video games, or surfing the web, it all takes time away from the family. When time with the family becomes scarce, there become a distance between parent and child. Children need quality time as well as quantity time. If technology, whether by use of parent or by child, takes priority over family relationships there is a problem.

The Huffington Post reported on this issue of family being disrupted and even destroyed by the overuse of technology in the home. The following was stated in their article:[1]

Rather than hugging, playing, rough housing, and conversing with children, parents are increasingly resorting to providing their children with more TV, video games, and the latest iPads and cell phone devices, creating a deep and irreversible chasm between parent and child.

Set limits that are appropriate

There should be limits set in every household for technology usage. If anything goes policy, then technology will likely win. There are risks to overuse of technology including sleep problems, interference with homework being completed, taking time away from family interactions, reduced physical activity (which can lead to obesity), and even potential addiction to technology. Here are some tips on how to set limits:

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  • No technology in bedrooms. Tech including smart phones, televisions, or game consoles is not allowed in bedrooms of anyone who is not an adult.
  • No technology at meal time. This includes both parents and children. Set your phones in a basket it another room, so that they are not even visible. Allow for meal time to be a time to connect with one another and not to be a time when everyone is continually checking their smart phone or glancing at a television in the background.
  • Set screen time limits. Set specific daily or weekly limits for your children. This is easier with some devices (such as the Kindle Fire for kids which I use for my own children), as parents can set the time limit on the device. When they reach the screen time limit the device locks.
  • Have specific rules that are written for your children regarding technology. These become your house rules for technology. Once they are able to read, the rules should be written and posted. Kids of all ages need structure and they appreciate knowing the do’s and the don’ts of the household. Technology is no exception, so make your household rules clear in this area.
  • Have consequences for breaking the house rules regarding technology. Most often the easiest and most effective punishment is taking away time and/or access to a device.

Keep Monitor of the Content

The internet is knowledge at your fingertips, but it can also be a cesspool of illegal, illicit, and immoral activity if you go to the wrong sites or engage with the wrong people. If you can get it on the internet, then just think, your kids can get access to it too. There are some ways you can prevent your child from being exposed to bad content. You can also help reduce their likelihood to be exposed to or influenced by people that pose an emotional, mental, or physical threat to your child.

Devices that can help filter content

There are a variety of devices that parents can utilize to filter content for kids in their home. One of the more popular choices is the Disney Circle. There are other software and hardware options on the market. Do your research and find one that best fits your family and your needs.

Don’t expect a filter device to do your job. You still need to monitor what your children are viewing online. You need to go to the websites that they go to, so you can check it out for yourself. No filtering device is foolproof. They can still get access to things you would not like them to view, so you have to be an aware parent even while utilizing a filtering agent.

Sex trafficking can start online

One of the real dangers for teens online is the exposure to people that mean to use them and harm them, especially for monetary or sexual gain. Internet Safety 101 discussed this topic and explained how teens can be lured into a sex trafficking situation:[2]

Much like the grooming tactics employed by sexual predators, sex traffickers lure their target into an online relationship, with the ultimate goal of meeting in person. Traffickers use a deliberate process to identify and recruit their victims. It happens in three main phases: Scouting, manipulating and trapping. Victims are often showered with love, romance and promises of a better life. Others are lured in with false promises of a job, or given expensive gifts. The end game of the trafficker (or pimp) however, is to force or manipulate their target into prostitution.

Sex trafficking is a real problem here in the United States. It is now the second fastest growing criminal industry. Drugs is still at the top of the list, but sex trafficking is now in second place. The need for parents to protect their teens is real. Prevention starts first at home, by having good relationships with your kids and teens so they can talk to you about what is happening in their life. The second component of that protection is to monitor their internet usage.

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A transparent view of the kid’s devices

The policy with a child in your home, of any age, whether they are 6 or 16 is that they allow parents to have all passwords and view-ability of their electronic devices. This means that if a child in your home has a smart phone, you as a parent, have the right to commandeer that device and look into their activity at any given moment of time. Does it mean you need to be jerky about it? No, of course not, as it will hinder your relationship. You do however, need to make it known before the device is even purchased, that you, as the parent, have the responsibility to check up on the activities that your child is engaged in online for their own protection.

For children in the household who do not yet have smart phones a good policy for online usage is to have it only allowed in a certain area of the home such as the living room or kitchen. Set up the laptop or computer so that it is visible as you walk by the child when they are online. This way you know what they are looking at while online and can glance over and monitor their activity at anytime.

A conversation could save their life

Kids and teens lack real world experience and they are naïve. They often feel invincible. Most honestly believe that they can handle any situation that can come their way. If they meet up with the wrong person in an abandoned parking lot and they have a gun to their head, they won’t be able to “handle” that situation. They will be in a world of hurt and in way over their head.

Parents need to sit down and have a chat with their pre-teens and teens to discuss the potential dangers that are on the internet to prevent their child from meeting the wrong people online and getting in over their head. It is appropriate to explain to them that there are bad people out there who mean to harm. These strangers can portray themselves online as a potential friend, using fake photos and aliases, to lure teens into trusting them. Your job as a parent is to monitor their devices to help prevent contact with the wrong people.

As a parent, you should also set rules about which apps and social media sites they are allowed to be on. The goal is to protect your child and get them through their youth as unscathed as possible. It doesn’t mean you bury your head in the sand and ban all technology, because that’s not a logical solution and it does not help prepare them to be young adults who can function in today’s world. You do need to help prepare them to protect themselves online and use technology in a safe and emotionally healthy manner.

Here are some things you should discuss with your pre-teen and teens in regard to technology:

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  • What you put out on the internet is out there forever.  This is especially important to recognize with photos. Things can be deleted, but they cannot be taken back. They are out there in cyber world.
  • The portrayal of lives on social media makes everyone look happy, fun, and successful. People, in general, only put the good parts of their life on social media. It can make teens and young adults feel like they don’t measure up to the lives of others. They need to understand that what they are seeing on social media is only a small sliver of the lives of others and it is almost always the best sliver.
  • Typing things into a screen makes it easier to say things you wouldn’t say in person. In heated moments of anger or passion people can type things that they soon deeply regret. Teach your child to set the device aside if they feel like saying or typing something that they may regret. If it needs to be said, it can wait a few minutes or a few hours for the emotions to calm, so that rational and logical thought can lead the way rather than emotions.
  • Friendships online do not replace real life relationships. They needs to have real, face-to-face interactions with their friends in order to have meaningful relationships.
  • Talk about reputation and privacy. Just because something is happening in their life does not mean the entire world or all of their social media friends need to know about it.
  • Stranger danger is real online. Not all profiles are legit. In addition to the dangerous people entangled in the world of sex trafficking there are also people out there who are known as Catfish.  A Catfish is a person who is pretending to be someone online who they are not.

A contract

Once you have established rules that you want your teen to follow in regard to their technology usage, in particular with a smart phone, you can develop a contract.

Before you let your child or teen take ownership of the phone under your watchful care, you write up a contract with the rules for usage. If you don’t want them to use snap chat or other specific apps, then put that in the contract. Keep in mind that new apps are always being released, so any apps that they want to download need to be approved by you, as the parent, first. Go over the contract and before they sign they must be in agreement with following these rules, or the device is taken away.

It is about protecting them emotionally, mentally, and physically. Present the contract in a way that helps them see you are being their protector, not the enemy. Treat the contract and conversations about their technology usage in a kind, open, sincere, and heartfelt manner. Don’t approach the topic with an iron fist, or you are more likely find yourself up against a rebellious teen.

Common Sense Media

A great resource for parents on age appropriateness of apps, media, technology, and more is Common Sense Media. Here is the mission statement from their website:

Common Sense is the leading independent nonprofit organization dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology. We empower parents, teachers, and policymakers by providing unbiased information, trusted advice, and innovative tools to help them harness the power of media and technology as a positive force in all kids’ lives.

You can go to their free website and find a plethora of information on technology and media as it pertains to kids. For example, if you are unsure about whether a particular app is appropriate for your teen you can enter the name of the app in their search bar. Go to the page for the app and you can find reviews from both parents and teens. Even more helpful is the “what parents need to know” segment on the page for each app. This helps parents make informed decisions about apps that they may otherwise know nothing about.

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You Can Just Say No

Your kid does not need all the newest technology, games, phones, or devices. When it comes to smart phones, the longer you can hold out the better. It is like opening Pandora’s box once they get a smart phone and there is no turning back.

The pressure to fit in is real though, and it becomes more difficult for parents to say no to the smart phone the older their teens become. There is a campaign called Wait Until 8th that is encouraging all parents to sign a pledge to wait until their child is in 8th grade or age 14 to get a smart phone. This campaign outlines great reasons for holding off on the smart phone purchase including smart phones being a distraction from academics, they are addiction, they impair sleep, they interfere with relationships, and more. Check out their website above to learn more about the campaign and why you should consider holding off on a smart phone for your teen until they are in 8th grade.

Teach Them to Be Smart Online

Even with all the precautions such as filters, time limits, and monitoring apps, the best way to keep your child safe online is to teach them to actively think critically about their choices and how to be safe online. They should be aware of the do’s and don’t and your household policies regarding technology.

Teaching responsibility with technology is of great importance and will help them make better choices in the long run. Making responsible choices with technology and the internet should not be a one time conversation in your household. It needs to be an on going conversation, as technology is always changing.

Featured photo credit: Picjumbo via picjumbo.com

Reference

[1] Huffington Post: The Impact of Technology on the Developing Child
[2] Internet Safety 101: Sex Trafficking

More by this author

Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

Signs of Depression in Children (And How to Help Them to Overcome It)

Signs of Depression in Children (And How to Help Them to Overcome It)

Children, just like adults, can be depressed. Sometimes seemingly normal children with no major life issues can become depressed. It is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes clinical depression to occur. There are specific signs that you should recognize in your child if they are depressed. Getting them help and treatment is crucial to their mental wellness.

In this article, we will look into the signs of depression in children and how parents can help them to overcome it.

Signs of depression in children

The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder) is the widely accepted instruction guide that professionals utilize for diagnosing mental disorders. The DSM characterizes a Major Depressive Episode as depressed behaviors that consistently last for two weeks or longer. Therefore, if your child has been “down in the dumps”, feeling hopeless or having sadness for more than two weeks, it should be cause for concern and investigated.

Below are signs of depression according to the DSM manual. The individual must have at least five of these behaviors present for a period of two weeks or longer to be officially diagnosed as having MDD (Major Depressive Disorder). Below is a summary/generalization from the DSM manual:

  • Feelings of deep sadness or depressed mood that last most of the day (for two weeks or more). For children they can present as irritable rather than sad.
  • Diminished interest in activities (again majority of the day or all the time).
  • Significant weight loss (not through dieting), or a decrease in appetite. In children, they fail to make expected weight gains while growing.
  • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia).
  • Either a slowing of psychomotor abilities/actions or an apparent agitation of these psychomotor abilities. This means that they either have moments that lack purpose and seem to be done because of agitation and tension or there is a significant slowness/retardation of their speech and physical actions.
  • Fatigue and loss of energy.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt every day.
  • Difficulty thinking, making decisions, or concentrating every day. This may be reflected in their grades.
  • Preoccupation with death and dying or suicidal thoughts.

Please note that if your child is suffering from the loss of a loved one and is processing through the stages of grief, it is normal to have these signs of depression. If they seem to be stuck in the depression stage, then it is time to pursue grief counseling to help them along in the grieving process.

However, if they are not suffering from a bereavement or a medical condition that would cause the above symptoms, then they should be taken to a professional for possible diagnosis and treatment of MDD (Major Depressive Disorder).

How to help your child with depression

Depression is not to be taken lightly. Especially if suicidal thoughts are present. The child’s feelings and emotions are real and must be taken seriously. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), suicide is the number two cause of death for individuals between the ages of 10 and 34.[1]

Professional help is recommended if you believe your child fits the criterion for MDD (Major Depressive Disorder). You can take your child to their paediatrician for an evaluation and referral. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, they may benefit from medication such as anti-depressants.

Most professionals do not dispense medication as the first remedy for depression. Instead therapy is the first line of defense against depression, with medication being paired with therapy if the therapy is not enough or the symptoms are severe enough.

Testing

There are assessment tools that professionals can utilize to help in properly determining whether your child is depressed. The three tools used in assessing depression in children are:

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  • The Children’s Depression Rating Scale (CDRS)
  • Children’s Depression Inventory (CDI)
  • Clinical Global Impression (CGI)

Taking your child to a professional mental health counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist can help ensure proper testing and assessment occurs.

Therapy

There are many types of therapy available today. It is important to find a professional that specializes in childhood depression and the treatment of such.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the leading therapy methods in treating childhood depression. For younger children, play therapy is useful in treating childhood depression as children are often able to better communicate through play than conversation alone.

What parents can do at home to help their depressed child

Besides seeking for professional help, there are a couple of things that parents can do at home to help their depressed child:

1. Talk with your child about their feelings in a compassionate and empathetic manner.

It can feel high pressure to sit face to face and ask your child about their feelings. However, going on a walk, playing a board game or playing alongside your child (chose whichever is age appropriate for your child) can allow them to relax and open up about their feelings.

Ask your child open ended questions that require more than a simple yes or no to engage in more meaningful conversations. Never judge while they are being open and honest with you because it will inevitably cause them to shut down and move away from being open with you.

It is okay to allow for periods of silence during the conversations because sometimes the child is processing their thoughts and emotions during your time together. You don’t have to fill the space and entire time with talking as silence at times is helpful.

2. Provide activities that help them relax and de-stress.

For smaller children, there are simple ways to help them relax.

Provide play opportunities that they find relaxing such as coloring, painting, working with Play-do or clay, or playing with sand and sand toys. Again, find activities that interest your child and are age appropriate are helpful in making them relaxed.

3. Limit screen time.

Technology is not helpful in making your child less depressed. It can often be an escape that keeps them from further opening up about their feelings and emotions.

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Limit time in front of the TV, laptop, smart phone, video games and tablets, etc. Any electronics that seem to prevent your child from face to face interactions should be limited. Ask Dr. Sears cites that researchers have found kids who have higher levels of screen time are at greater risk for anxiety and depression.[2]

Provide alternate activities to replace the screen time such as hiking, crafting, drawing, constructing, biking and playing outside, etc. Some children may be so dependent on their screen time as their source for entertainment that they may need you to participate in alternate activities alongside them in order to get engaged in the activities.

You can’t simply tell your child to go outside to play if they are suffering from depression, lack friends and are used to sitting down and playing video games each day after school. Go outside with your child and do a nature hike or take your child to a playground and have fun together to get them engaged in these alternate activities.

4. Promote outdoor time and physical activities.

Encourage your children to take part in activities that especially involve nature such as nature hikes. Do these activities with them to help them engage in the activities. Again this is an opportunity for open conversations to occur and quality time to take place.

5. Help your child when problems and difficult tasks arise.

Assist them by helping them break down the task into smaller and more manageable parts. Children with depression often have difficulty taking on large problems and tasks and find them overwhelming. Helping them by breaking down the task into smaller and more manageable tasks will assist in helping raise their confidence when the small tasks are mastered.

Small tasks mastered lead to bigger tasks being mastered over time. It is a process over time, patience and a willingness to work alongside your child. This does not mean doing the task or taking on the problem solely yourself. Many times all the child needs is for you to break down the larger task into smaller more manageable tasks and for you to patiently talk your child through the completion of these smaller tasks.

6. Help your child reduce life stress.

When children are depressed, they have greater difficulty handling life activities in general. Cut back on activities that cause stress to increase and look for ways to help reduce stress in your child’s life.

7. Foster a positive home atmosphere.

Reduce or eliminate negative attitudes, language and conversations. Also avoid raised voices, passive aggressive behaviors and any form of physical violence in the home.

Make your home a safe haven for your child instead of an atmosphere that is ever volatile (in words, emotions or physically). Make it a calm environment that makes your child feel safe and secure mentally, emotionally and physically.

8. Help your child see the positive in life situations.

Point out the positives in a situation rather than the negatives. Help them see the bright side of any situation.

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Be a model of seeing the positive in life by speaking words that are uplifting, encouraging and positive. Resist the temptation to voice negative thoughts that come to mind as your child can feed off your emotions and words.

9. Believe your child when they talk about how they are feeling.

Listen to them patiently and take their words seriously. Do not discount or minimize their feelings. Express empathy and compassion when they do open up about their feelings. Help them utilize “I feel” statements in expressing their emotions.

10. Keep watch for suicidal behaviors.

Such behaviors include your child/teen researching this topic online, them giving away their possessions and a preoccupation with death.

Seek professional help immediately with the presentation of suicidal behaviors or thoughts. Keep this number on hand and use it when in doubt: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Phone Number 1-800-273-8255.

11. Keep all prescriptions, alcohol, drugs and weapons locked and away from children and teens.

This is a given for all children, but even more imperative for children who are depressed as they have an increased likelihood to abuse drugs and alcohol. They also have an increased likelihood to attempt suicide. So keep weapons and tools such as ropes and knives that can used for suicide out of the child’s ability to use.

12. Spend quality one-on-one time with your child.

Make the time during your day, every day, to spend quality time with your child. You may have limited time and cannot provide an hour or more a day to dedicate to one-on-one time with your child, but you should provide a minimum of 20 minutes a day with your child spending quality one-on-one time together. Try the suggested activities listed in point #3.

13. Be an encouragement and supporter of your child.

Show love and not frustration or anger because of the situation and your child’s condition. Help keep your attitude positive so your child can also see the positive.

Provide daily words of affirmation that are not based on end results (such as a grade or a win) but instead praise the effort they put forth. If you praise the outcome, they will be disappointed when their efforts don’t pan out. If they are praised for their efforts regardless of the outcome, their confidence is built based upon something that they can control (the effort they put into things).

14. Help your child to live a healthy lifestyle.

Sleep is a very important factor in your child’s mood. Not getting enough sleep can cause an entire day to be upset. According to Sleep Aid Resource, children between the ages of 3 and 18 need between 8 and 12 hours of sleep each night:[3]

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    Ensure your child is eating a healthy and balanced diet, getting physical activity/exercise daily and plenty of sleep time.

    15. Help your child foster positive relationships and friendships with their peers.

    Set up play dates for your younger child and encourage older children to invite friends over to your home.

    16. Talk about bullying.

    It can be one of the causes of your child’s depression, so discuss their life outside of home and their interactions with their peers. Help them recognize bullying and discuss how to handle bullying properly.

    17. Help your child follow the treatment plan outlined by their doctor, counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

    Make sure you know the treatment plan that your child’s health care professional has outlined for child. This may include counseling session recommendations, medications and recommendations to follow through with in the home. Completing the plan will help provide optimal results for your child in the long run. A plan doesn’t work unless it is followed.

    18. Recognize that professional treatment takes time to show results.

    Don’t expect results for the first few weeks. It may take a month or longer, so be patient and understanding with your child.

    Depression in children is curable

    Depression in children can happen for a variety of reasons. It is quite treatable.

    Professional help is recommended if your child can possibly be diagnosed with a depressive episode. There are interventions that can be implemented in a professional setting, at home and at school. The key is having a plan of action to help your child.

    Ignoring the problem or hoping the depression will just go away is not a good plan. Treatment is imperative to curing depression in children.

    The first step is talking to your child’s paediatrician to get the ball rolling. He or she will refer you to specialists in your area that can help your child overcome and conquer their depression one day at a time. With you by their side, each step of the way you will get through it together and it is quite possible for your relationship with your child to be strengthened in the process as well. That can be your silver lining or positive outlook on the situation at hand.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] National Institute of Mental Health: Suicide
    [2] Ask Dr. Sears: It’s a Virtual World: Setting Practical Screen Time Limits
    [3] Sleep Aid Resource: Sleep Chart

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