Saturday, November 7, 2009

This week, Dr. Dana is asking a question. How do you teach your children to navigate the social networking world?

 I am worried about my kids navigating the social networking world. Not so much because of predators or overtly hurtful bullies, but more because there are far-reaching, obscure consequences of electronic messaging that youngsters have trouble comprehending. I won’t try to stop the inevitable but it increases my parenting responsibilities exponentially. When I really think about teaching my daughters’ to navigate the virtual world in addition to the real world, I feel overwhelmed and vulnerable. Social networking sites make my already big job, bigger.
Before they embark on virtual relationships I have to teach my daughters’ about sharing private family information. I have read about children who unknowingly posted messages about their family’s financial situation or other sensitive issues that got them in hot water. What they didn’t realize was that, any and all, of this information can be spread rapidly in ways they haven’t considered. A friend who sees your child’s post tells another friend and away it goes. Instant communication is great and exciting except when it gets you in trouble.

What about when your child’s friend posts pictures from a sleepover or party that your child wasn’t invited to? What are the rules for that situation? What about when your child starts dating and the “break up” happens electronically and perhaps publically? What about when your child is eager to have the most “friends” and so they accept friends they have never met? Now these strangers have access to all of your child’s information.

What about when your child goes on-line to play games and a virtual player starts befriending your child and asking for, at first innocent and then, private information? I was shocked to hear this even happens on Webkinz and Club Penguins’ sites. Is that friendly penguin really an 8 year-old child?

As parents do we sit down with our children and go through every possible virtual scenario in an effort to prevent dangerous or hurtful situations? Can we possibly cover them all when they evolve and change on a weekly basis?

The answer has to involve interactive, daily communication or “checking in” with your child. When I suggest this, a common parental response is, “but my child won’t talk to me—all she wants to do is go to her room and text!” Try an active listening approach and bite your tongue when you get the urge to ask too many questions. Teens tend to interpret these types of conversations as interrogations.

Instead, I try to capitalize on those brief, daily chances to really listen even when my daughter is talking about something I don’t care much about (i.e., how Suzie wore the same jeans as Maddie). The content of the conversation doesn’t matter as much as the fact that we are engaging.

Here is some great advice I have gotten from talking to other parents:

1) Require your child to “friend” you but agree not to comment on their site—be a passive observer, don’t intrude unless you have to (i.e., you read something potentially dangerous or hurtful). This is much easier if you require this before they start using social networking sites.

2) Use others’ social networking mistakes as teaching opportunities. Instead of instantly de-friending someone, use the opportunity to teach your child how the situation could have been handled differently. Explicitly explain what you expect your child to do in this situation and why? Emphasize your values and expectations.

3) Apply virtual situations (i.e., social excluding via Facebook) to the playground (i.e., being teased at school) so that your child can clearly see how they relate and what is unique about a virtual environment. This can start a conversation about social networking “do’s and don’ts” and your expectations.

My oldest is only 9 so I will let you know if any of this actually works when she becomes a hormone-ridden teen.

Ask Dr. Dana: Why does it seem like many children I know who excel in elementary school do not excel when they get to Middle and High School?

While there could be many reasons for some children’s decline in success as they transition to Middle and High School, one theory in particular rings true for me.

A Psychology professor at Stanford University, Dr. Carol Dweck has tested her theory that students who believe they were born with all the smarts they’re ever going to have approach life with what she calls a “fixed mind-set.” In contrast, those who believe that their own abilities can expand over time, approach life with a “growth mind-set.”

Dr. Dweck’s extensive research suggests that the students who believed that intelligence and ability can grow (i.e., seeing the brain as a muscle that can be strengthened and understanding that neurons in the brain continue to make new connections) received higher grades than those who believed that intelligence is a fixed trait. Students with a fixed mindset believe that if you have to work hard it means that you don’t have the ability, and that you are just not smart enough. These kids are more likely to give up when they make mistakes and face challenges, believing they just don’t have what it takes to be successful.

This research drives one of Dr. Dweck’s main messages to parents, “If you really want smart kids, start by not telling them they’re smart”. Instead, praise their effort. Students who believe that the harder they work, the better their grades will be are more likely to persist, and therefore succeed, in the face of difficulties.

The idea of a growth mindset motivates teacher, parents, and students to hold a more optimistic, elastic attitude toward learning and intelligence.

My take away—praise specific instances in which your child demonstrates tenacity. Being smart will only get him/her so far.

Ask Dr. Dana: One of my friend’s daughters is gossiping about and excluding my daughter at school. What should I do? Should I confront her?

This type of bulling is called Relational Aggression. Relational aggression encompasses behaviors that harm others by damaging, threatening to damage, or manipulating one's relationships with his/her peers, or by injuring one's feelings of social acceptance (the Ophelia Project).

The most important thing to do is strengthen your daughter’s self-confidence by putting her in situations that accentuate her talents and strengths. Providing your daughter with concrete ways to deal with the bullying is more important than confronting your friend or her daughter. Attempts at changing another’s behavior (friend or no friend) are unlikely to be successful.  Focus on your daughter and what she can do to end her victimization.

What you can do?
• Don’t dismiss your daughter's stories as "drama", her perception is her reality. Actively listen to her thoughts, feelings, and concerns.

• If the relational aggression is not stopping, a quick tip is W T T: Walk away from the situation, Talk to someone and process, and Tell someone who can do something about it. Failure to report repeated relational aggression can lead to depression and other mental health problems.

• Practice (or role play) specific phrases/words she can use in specific situations to stand up to the bully

• If your child is lacking certain social skills or has difficulty reading subtle social clues, it is important that you give your child concrete, specific advice on peer interactions. Inviting friends over to your home affords you the opportunity to watch your daughter’s social interactions and provide supportive suggestions after her friend leaves.

Ask Dr. Dana: My child’s best friend dumped her. She is heartbroken, what can I do?

Most parents can relate. Your child comes home, sullen and slumped over. “Sarah doesn’t want to hang out with me anymore; she only wants to be with Lia!”

When this happens your heart will break right along with your child’s. It is very important to remain calm and not add your anger and hurt to your child’s. Chances are this is a bump in the road instead of a long-term break up. Below are some things you can do to help your child bounce back quickly.

• Your role is to listen and empathize with your kid’s feelings

• Help your child come up with his/her own game plan for situations that may be hurtful (i.e., lunch, recess, etc.) Even if you don’t like the plan, your child will be more confident if he/she comes up with their own.

• A common reason for friendship-dumping is when one child becomes too dependent on another child, making the friendship feel burdensome. If this applies, help your child to branch out and make new friends.

Most importantly, remember that over the course of a friendship your child will inevitably face conflict. As in adulthood, overcoming conflicts can make relationships even stronger. Directly dealing with conflict is a difficult but critical skill, for both children and adults.

Ask Dr. Dana: Why is family mealtime so important? What are the benefits?

September 28th is National Family Day – A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children
This is a national movement launched by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University to remind parents that frequent family Dinners Make A Difference!

Parental engagement fostered at the dinner table can be a simple, effective tool to help prevent substance abuse in kids.

Frequent Family Dinners are Linked to Better Grades for Teens and Reduced Risk for Substance Abuse

More than a decade of research has consistently found that the more often kids eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs and the better they perform in school.

CASA’s most recent study compared two specific groups: teenagers who have two or less family dinners per week and those who have five or more per week.

Those Who Ate Two or Less Family Dinners Were:
• Three times more likely to try marijuana
• Two-and-a-half times more likely to smoke cigarettes
• One-and-a-half times more likely to drink alcohol

Ten Benefits of Family Dinners
Teens that have frequent family dinners are:
1. At half the risk for substance abuse compared to teens who eat with their families less frequently

2. More likely to get better grades

3. Less likely to have friends who use illicit drugs

4. More likely to have lower levels of tension and stress

5. More likely to say that their parents were proud of them

6. More emotionally stable

7. More likely to have positive relationships

8. More likely to have healthier eating habits

9. Less likely to contemplate suicide

10. Less likely to try marijuana or have friends who do

The Challenge for Busy Families!

We know that that shared dinners make for stronger families. The problem is that between after-school activity schedules and parents’ busy work schedules, making connections within the family requires a concerted effort.

Tips for Making the Most Out of Family Dinners:
1. Make family dinners a requirement

2. Involve your teenagers in all phases of the meal

3. Go around the table and take turns starting a topic or asking a silly question

4. Take turns expressing “highs and lows” of the day

5. Ask open-ended questions to get your teens talking

Additional Facts from CASA:

• Kids are particularly vulnerable to substance use during transitions from elementary to middle school, middle to high school, and from high school to college.
• More than forty percent of America’s teens – some 10 million – can buy marijuana within a day and 20 percent—some 5 million—can get it in an hour or less.
• Each day more than 13,000 children and teens take their first drink.
• Children and teens that begin drinking before age 15 are four times likelier to become alcohol dependent than those who do not drink before age 21.
• More than five million high school students, almost a third, admit binge drinking at least once a month.
• On average, teenagers who use alcohol, tobacco and marijuana begin using them between 12 and 14 years of age, with some of the highest risk kids starting to use even earlier.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ask Dr. Dana

Why does my 13 year old get so emotional and overwhelmed about everything? She’s only in middle school.

The number one complaint we hear from kids is that parents pooh-pooh their fears, concerns, and stressors. Many parents’ think that since they survived middle and high school unscathed, so can their kids. They also compare all of the stress and responsibility they face in their adult lives with their children’s stress and come to the conclusion that their children don’t have anything to be stressed about. In other words, their children’s lives are simple compared to their own (what does Billy really have to worry about?)

What these well meaning parents fail to take into consideration is that stress is relative and feels real and overwhelming to their child. Adolescents don’t “experience” their situation from an adults’ perspective or by comparing their level of stress to an adult’s. They can’t.

Cognitively speaking, children’s frontal cortex isn’t fully developed until age 23. So, your 13 year olds’ brain is only half as developed as an adult brain. They can’t see solutions or manage their emotions the way an adult can.

Although their objective degree of stress may be less than an adult’s, they don’t experience their situation as less stressful. They feel the pressure to achieve, perform, fit-in, and form connections with others, as strongly, if not more strongly than adults.

They need help; your help. If you aren’t willing to really listen to and validate their concerns and stressors, guess what? They will turn away from you and towards their friends who are going through similar emotions. The problem here is that other teens are as emotionally ill-equipped to deal with their stress as your child.

To teach your children how to manage stress start by listening and validating their specific concerns, struggles, and fears. Teaching them how to prioritize, manage their time, and confront peer conflicts will reduce their level of stress. Similarly, role playing peer conflict situations with your children can provide the self-confidence they need to stand up for themselves or begin a difficult emotional conversation.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Ask Dr. Dana

Scottsdale Prevention Institute Phone: 480-443-3100
6908 E. Thomas Rd. Fax: 480-443-3272
Scottsdale, AZ 85251 United Way # 0077

Ask Dr. Dana:

What are the most commonly used drugs for middle and high school students?

· OxyCotin
--Individuals abuse OxyCotin for the euphoric effect it produces--an effect similar to that associated with heroin use. Street names include: Cotton, Hillbilly Heroin, Kicker, OCs, Ox, Os, Oxy, Pills, 40 (a 40 milligram tablet), 80 (an 80 milligram tablet)

· Soma--Soma causes drowsiness, giddiness, and relaxation. Street names include: Ds, Dance, Las Vegas Cocktail (combination of Soma and Vicodin), Soma Coma (combination of Soma and codeine)

· Ecstasy—Ecstasy has stimulant properties, enabling kids to dance for hours at all-night parties and nightclubs. It also has hallucinogenic effects. Street names include: MDMA, Ecstasy, XTC, E, X, Beans, Adams, Hug Drug, Disco Biscuit, Go, Adam, hug, love drug)

**Kids tell our Prevention Specialists that they can “order” any kind of pill at school and get it by the end of the school day.

What can you do?
1) Monitor your kids’ whereabouts (i.e., where they are, who they are with, what they are doing);

2) Take time to communicate with and validate your kids’ stressors;

3) Give kids practical, realistic coping skills to deal with pressure.

If you have a parenting or social/coping skills questions for Dr. Dana send questions to

Dana Sherman, Ph.D.
School Program Director
Scottsdale Prevention Institute
480-443-3100 x 222