Should parents monitor their kids social media?

blond brother and sister at Laguna Beach.
My children before there was a thing called social media.

Social media is not going away anytime soon. I’ve read articles where 95% of kids from age 12 to young adults use Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat. Those are the preferred apps. In an article called Are you OK? | Teens and social media posted on KING TV5 in Seattle, there’s lots of good advice for parents .

By now we all know that social media can cause depression, anxiety in kids as well as adults. What’s really scary is not only cyber bullying but this shocking statistic: 90% of human trafficking begins on social media.

I discovered that in an article called Mesa-based company creates app to monitor children’s social media in simple format by Georgann Yara on the website AZCentral.

There’s an app developed by two men in Arizona that allows parents to monitor their kids social media sites. Here’s a bit of the article:

Years before they met and launched Cyber Dive, a social media monitoring tech company geared toward parents, Jeff Gottfurcht and Derek Jackson were well aware of social media’s powerful and dangerous side.

Gottfurcht is the first person in the world to summit Mt. Everest with Rheumatoid Arthritis. When he returned home from that trip in 2011, he saw a news story about a young girl who was humiliated and bullied on social media after word got out about her being sexually assaulted.

Around the same time, Jackson was across the globe in the Army 1st Special Forces Group, where he spent time in Kuwait, Jordan and Syria. He was an intelligence officer looking into how U.S. adversaries and radical insurgents used social media to recruit members to their cause and perpetuate propaganda.

In 2019, the two got together and formed Cyber Drive because of that story about the girl who was victimized on social media. They created an app to help parents get meaningful information about their kids online activity, while still allowing children independence.

Here’s how it works:

The software covers all platforms and the free membership option includes monitoring on indicators like recurring themes in language, dangerous or suspicious online activity and emotions indicated by analysis of their data. The $5 monthly premium membership allows greater access to features like friends lists, posts and Google searches. ‍

When parents sign up for either membership, they must enter their child’s email address. Then, their child receives a message explaining that someone will use Cyber Dive to monitor their accounts. Parents are encouraged to discuss this with their child before signing up, Gottfurcht said.

Parents use the app for different reasons. Some for safety concerns while others want to have a closer relationship with their children. You can visit Cyber Dive’s website HERE to find out more.

It sounds like a great idea to me. But do you think teens would figure out away around it? Do you think it’s a good idea to keep tabs on teens social media and why or why not?

The Power of “Not Yet”

charlift rides in the summer
Hanging out with my daughter in Deer Valley, UT.

My daughter shared a TED Talk with me yesterday about “The power of believing you can improve” by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. I’ve read Dweck’s book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” and am a fan.

In the seven-minute Ted Talk, Dweck explains the word “Yet.” At a high school in Chicago, if kids failed a class, instead of getting an “F” they got a grade of “Not Yet.” Instead of feeling like they were a failure and shutting down, they learned they could improve and they tried harder. Dweck explained, “Not yet opens up a path into the future that creates greater persistence.”

Dweck said people with growth mindsets are open to challenges, they learn from their mistakes and they can actually get smarter. In contrast, those with a fixed mindset are influenced by judgement of the moment. They are stuck in the tyranny of “now.” They tend to run from difficulties.

In studies, she offered tests that were above the children’s level of ability. The kids with a growth mindset were up to the challenge and excited, even when they did poorly. After failing the test, the fixed mindset kids said next time they would cheat or they looked for someone who did worse than they did.

My daughter thought I’d find this Ted Talk useful for writing a SwimSwam parenting tip. Dweck offered one gem to parents on how to raise kids with a growth mindset. She said to “Praise wisely.” Never compliment our children on their natural talent or intelligence. Instead, praise their effort, hard work, perseverance, etc. Don’t praise the outcome. Dweck called it “Process Praise.”

Every time our kids push out of their comfort zones to try something new and hard, the neurons in their brains form new and stronger connections. I think this is true for us older people, too. It’s important to stretch and do something new and challenging.

What have you done to push out of your routines and take on a new challenge? How did it make you feel afterwards?

Parent tip about the college essay

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I wrote this six years ago today. It’s a tip that I believe is valuable enough to share again. It’s directed to parents of incoming high school seniors and the students themselves. I wish someone would have shared this with me: get that college essay written, now. Over the summer, while you have time. I definitely don’t mean for the parent to write it of course! But, if you have any sway over your teen, get them started on it.

I’ll never forget the agony my son went through trying to write his essays close to the deadline. He suffered from so much anxiety and went through days of writer’s block. He said the essays were the most important thing he had to write in his life.

My son and friend at high school graduation.
My son and friend at high school graduation.

By procrastinating and putting it off until the end–into a busy time when he also had a half dozen AP classes and swim practice to worry about–“THE MOST IMPORTANT THING I’VE WRITTEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE” was too big a burden to deal with!

My son told me—during the summer when I suggested he get started—that the questions weren’t out yet. That’s what he said.

I have good news to share with you. The essay prompts for the Common App ARE out in the summer. You can take a look at them, and get some guidance here.  

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If you can “suggest,” “encourage” or “force” your high school senior to get started on writing essays for their college apps, it may be the best thing you do for them all year. Tell them to get a rough draft done. Put it away for a week or two, dust it off and have them do a rewrite. Repeat this process during the summer. Then put it away until it’s time to fill out the college applications.

You should take a look at it, too. If they let you. If not, have them find a teacher or adult friend to review it. My son wouldn’t let me review his essays. Not that as a writer with a degree in editorial journalism and a 20-plus-year career in writing could I have offered him a bit of help. But, no. He had to do it the hard way. He did get one of his English Lit teachers to review his work, though.

Top-5-College-Application-Essay-Cliches

Maybe your kids will take your advice and get the writing started early. They’ll also practice good habits which will serve them well when they are in college!

Writing the essays and taking time for revisions over the summer will definitely lift
a lot of senior pressure in the fall.

If your kids are older, how did they do with college essays? Was it difficult for them or easy? Did they procrastinate until the last minute like my son?

Speaking of parenting advice…

black and white photo from 1960s of siblings
Me and my big brother in the 1960s.

I ran across a fascinating article today filled with more than 20 parenting tips from the 19th century. I’m researching what daily life was like for women in the late 1800s and early 1900s for my great-grandmother Nellie’s cookbook project and I ran across 24 Puzzling Parenting Tips From the 1800s by Ellen Gutoskey on Mental Floss.

From lancing gums to hanging babies in cages out the window, there were many bizarre parenting tips. Their idea of what was safe wouldn’t fly today. Many of their kitchen cures included alcohol and opium laced concoctions to soothe stomachaches and crankiness. Also, the article references many parenting books, so they were a thing back then as they are now.

Here’s an excerpt:

A lot has changed between the 19th century and today, but one thing that hasn’t is the plethora of available parenting advice—though the following tips would likely make today’s parents scratch their chins. From giving a single slice of bread as a snack to lancing gums, here are a few puzzling parenting tips from the 1800s, adapted from an episode of The List Show on YouTube.

1. Put babies in cages hanging outside of windows to get them fresh air. In his 1894 book The Care and Feeding of Children, Dr. Luther Emmett Holt introduced the concept of “airing,” or exposing infants to cold temperatures in order to improve their immune systems and overall health. Though Holt didn’t necessarily tell people to attach cages to their windows, products like the Boggins’ Window Crib soon cropped up for city-dwellers who were short on yard space (although it should be noted that a 1916 ad for the Window-Crib appealed to city-folk and country-dwellers alike, even claiming that the grandchild of President Woodrow Wilson was a happy window baby). The cages were especially popular in smoggy London, and they didn’t fall out of fashion until well into the 20th century.

2. Instill obedience by never giving kids what they want.

Many parenting books from the 1800s held that obedience was the first and most important quality to instill in young children. People thought it was the best way to ensure that kids didn’t grow up to be greedy, capricious, or self-absorbed adults

To teach obedience, Cassell’s Household Guide from 1869 outright forbade parents from giving children—babies included—what they wanted. Ever. According to the guide, “It is commonly believed that no harm can come of letting a child have its own way, so long as it is a mere babe. But this is a serious delusion.”

What if your 2-year-old pleads for a few measly grapes between breakfast and lunch, you ask? According to Cassell and company, the answer is a resounding “Absolutely not!” Giving snacks to a hungry child still counts as giving in, and it encourages them to expect food at “unsuitable times.”

To the authors’ credit, they do say that “No harsh words, no impatient gestures, need be added to enforce the rule,” but it’s still probably a stricter snack time policy than most parents would enforce today.

A lot has changed since the late 1800s and early 1900s. When I young in the 60s and 70s, it was acceptable to spank children. Teachers had paddles hung up threateningly above their desks. I remember the great show one teacher would have of paddling a rowdy boy in front of the entire class. Can you imagine that happening today?

Our eating has changed, too. My mom, who was a home-ec major mind you, believed that canned foods like Chef Boyardee or fruits and vegetables were just as healthy as fresh foods. She said they tested the vitamin levels and there was no difference.

We rode our bikes without helmets, rode buses on our own throughout downtown Seattle, and walked to school alone beginning in kindergarten. Yes, the world has changed.

Parents didn’t believe in praising children when I was a kid. That would lead to big heads.

BW photo of toddlers in the 1960s

What parenting practices do you remember from your childhood that are now out-dated?

Parenting tip: When to keep your mouth shut

freestyle stroke in pool
My daughter swimming on her own during vacation.

I read a great article, “The first rule of sports (and all) parenting: Don’t speak,” in the Washington Post by Nancy Star:

Your child doesn’t have to play in the Super Bowl for you to know the feeling. Their team was supposed to win and then they didn’t. What do you do? Being the mother of two girls who played soccer and ran track, I thought I knew the answer: Talk it through. Tell them you love them. Say it’s just a game. Remind them there’s always a next time. Isn’t that what good parenting is all about? Keeping channels of communication open even in tough moments?

Turns out the answer is no. I learned this when I had a “don’t speak” moment.

I understand this all too well. After my kids would have a disappointing swim, I’d try to reassure them. I wanted to take away their hurt and make them feel better. Most often after I’d say, “That wasn’t so bad,” or “You have another swim ahead.” I’d be met with negativity and a statement like “I sucked!”

I’d get a barrage of negativity that would take me by surprise. I never figured out that by trying to protect them from their upset feelings, I wasn’t making it better for my kids, but was making them feel worse. They weren’t ready to talk about a bad swim with me and “hash and rehash,” as my daughter would say. I read in a David Benzel sports parenting book, “From Chump to Champ,” that we should wait for our kids to talk to us. We need to be there and listen. But, if we start the conversation first, even with the best intentions, they’ll probably pull away and stay quiet. They want to please us so much and may take any little thing we say personally, as though they’ve let us down. It’s best to be quiet and listen. They may surprise us and open up more than ever if we let them take the lead.

Here’s more from the Washington Post article with the mom watching her daughter’s varsity soccer team lose their final meet. She received advice from a dad, Peter, who had more experience with soccer parenting and she followed it.

“Their lead slipped to a tie toward the end of the second half. In the last minute of play there was a stumble, scrambling and a goal for the other team.

Parents supplied transportation for home games, so we waited while our daughters gave sullen high-fives to the winners and then huddled with their coach, listening as he shared his disappointment. When he was done they separated and, backpacks slung over shoulders, trudged across the field toward where we stood.

Watching their grim faces approach I wished a meteorologist were present to confirm my suspicion that 22 high school girls who’ve just lost a chance at a state title can change the atmosphere, collectively sucking the light out of the sky. Their fury was frightening.

But Peter had been through this before. “Don’t speak,” he said. As I started to turn my head he added, “Don’t look. Just walk. Go to your car. She’ll find you.”

I tried not to move my lips as I objected. “All I want to say is I’m sorry.”

“Don’t,” he advised. “Don’t speak. Not until she talks to you.”

Because he had been through this before, I listened and walked to my car alone. I felt her before I saw her, walking silently beside me. Reassuring phrases immediately formed in my brain but, channeling Peter, I said nothing.

A moment later I noticed her teammates walking with their parents, mothers mostly, who offered words of consolation. “Are you okay?” and “You played well,” and “There’s always next time.” To me the words sounded gentle and kind.

The girls did not agree. “No,” they snapped, and “I sucked,” and “There won’t be a next time.”

By the time we reached the car, every daughter except mine was crying and the moms were, understandably, annoyed and lashing back. “Why are you yelling at me?” and “Being upset is no excuse for being rude.”

We were silent on the ride home, silent as I turned on to our street. It was when I pulled into the driveway that my daughter finally spoke. “That was such a bad game.”

I nodded.”

How do you handle your children’s athletic or academic disappointment?

PAC 12 swimmers cheering on teammates
My daughter on the blocks cheering with teammates.

Tips for Parents of Teens During COVID-19

Prom photos in backyard

My daughter’s senior prom night a few years ago when things were normal.

I’ve been thinking about how teens are feeling — stuck at home with mom and dad. Normally, they’d be seeking independence from their parents and are ready to fly from the nest — which usually means college. But with COVID-19, some universities haven’t opened in close to a year and are offering online classes only. There may be no end in sight for these teens that they will ever leave the nest. Top that off with missing milestones like graduation and prom, the normal every day social life with their friends — I wonder how the kids are surviving? They have been away from their peers for close to a year. I remember how important friends were to me at this age — friends were my world.

In the Los Angeles Times, I read an article called Teens are feeling lonely and anxious in isolation. Here’s how parents can help by Lisa Boone. It offered advice from several mental health experts with tips of how parents can make their kids feel less anxiety during these crazy days of shelter in place. I suggest you read the entire article here.

When my son was a senior in high school, we really had a rough year. He was desperately wanting to be an adult, live his own life, and I was hanging on to motherhood and wanting him to be the child I had loved and known for 18 years. Of course we clashed. I can’t imagine what that year would have been like for us to be stuck at home with each other day and night!

Valedictorian speech

My son at the podium giving his graduation speech.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

As tens of millions of us continue to shelter in place, the most tractable of teens are feeling frustrated and anxious. They miss their former lives. They are uninterested in online classes and don’t want to follow quarantine guidelines anymore. And who can blame them?

Living in seclusion can produce quarantine fatigue, according to South Pasadena-based psychotherapist Noelle Wittliff, a licensed marriage and family therapist who works with children, families and adolescents. “Many of the teens at my practice are hitting a wall,” Wittliff said. “They are over it. They want to go outside and connect with their friends. The online connection is just not cutting it.”

Normally adolescence, a developmental period marked by impulsivity and feelings of invincibility, is a time in which teenagers separate from their parents and bond with their peers. Now that families are confined at home, parents are in a peculiar position in which they have to balance the seriousness of the novel coronavirus with their teen’s desire for social interaction.

“Many of our teens are experiencing tremendous loss, and grief is an appropriate response to loss,” Wittliff said. “Depending on the age and school year of the teen, these losses can include proms, graduation ceremonies, end-of-year sports events, dances, parties, school activities, yearbook signings and simple proximity to beloved friends, teachers or significant others. The school shutdowns happened so abruptly that many of the teens that I work with did not have the opportunity to gather belongings from their lockers or classrooms, let alone say meaningful goodbyes to teachers and classmates.

“As parents, it’s important to hold space for all of these feelings and to recognize that teens don’t always communicate sadness in expected ways,” she said. “Sadness is often masked by frustration, irritability, anger or disconnection. These are protective reactions that mask vulnerability. The goal isn’t to take these defense strategies away but rather to be curious about what other feelings might be hiding underneath.”

For teens struggling with maintaining distance from their friends, Wittliff encourages parents to validate those feelings with empathy while reminding them this quarantine is temporary. Also, as a parent or guardian, manage your teenager’s expectations and don’t make promises that won’t come true.

Wittliff offers this advice: “Tell them, ‘I hear you and I know how hard this is. I know how much you miss your boyfriend or girlfriend and your friends but this is what is going on. The entire world is going through this. We are all taking precautions to stay safe.’”

Among the advice offered by experts in this article is to establish a routine — that you let your teen help develop. Try to have a fun activity every day plus get exercise outside. There’s many more tips in the article that are so helpful like practicing mindfulness, cooking, drawing, etc.

Although my daughter has left her teen years behind, she came home to shelter in place and work remotely rather than being in a tiny apartment with two other people.  For the four months she was home, I learned to give her space. I no longer walk into her room unannounced like I would have when she was a five-year-old. I let her come to me instead. We enjoyed an outdoor activity each day like tennis, a walk or smashball in the backyard pool. She rode bikes with her dad in the evenings. We had some great memories, but enough was enough of her life with mom and dad. She moved back to the Bay Area where she could hang out with our son and girlfriends family. Back to life with peers, although still isolated from the life she was used to.

Structure and predictability will help with the passing of time and give teens something to look forward to. “Every day and week that they get through sheltering in place brings them that much closer to getting back to their lives,” Wittliff said. “This is hard, but our kids are resilient. And they will get through it.”

Backyard prom photos by pool

My son’s senior prom. They had a catered dinner in our back yard before the dance.

How are you helping your kids with COVID-19 fears and isolation from friends? What are they missing the most during shelter in place?

 

How to not quite ruin your child

racing dive into pool

A swim meet where my daughter met with college coaches, including the one who would be her college coach.

I read an interesting book about how to parent without really trying. Called Bare Minimum Parenting: The Ultimate Guide to Not Quite Ruining Your Child,  it was written by James Breakwell. He is a popular author and humorist who can be found on Twitter. His theory is the opposite of helicopter parenting. He believes that all children will turn about the same — mediocre — regardless of parenting techniques. So why knock yourself out with trying to be a perfect parent, raising perfectionist children? He believes in a hands off, bare minimum approach.

As a relentless, overachieving swim mom, I especially enjoyed Chapter 11 “The Path to Athletic Glory” which he crossed out and renamed “Benched.” Breakwell’s advice on sports parenting is to sign your kids up for sports and let it go at that. At some point, they’ll tire of it and you can all move onto something else.

Here are a few excerpts from his sports parenting chapter that gave me a chuckle or belly laugh:

“The real danger sports pose is to you, the parent on the sideline. Kids will damage their bodies and minds. You could lose your immortal soul.”

“The competitive pull of youth sports is hard to resist. Deep down, we all have a primal urge to see our child do better than other people’s kids. It’s the ultimate secondhand validation. If your kid wins, that means you’re better than those other parents, or at least that you passed on better genes. Whatever it was, your kid triumphed because of you. Brag about it to everyone you know. That never gets old.” 

“But while sports parents know everything there is to know about succeeding as an athlete, none of them agree on how to pull it off. There’s more than one way to ruin a childhood. To sports parents, steamrolling their child’s youth will be worth it when their kid hoists whatever arbitrary medal or trophy now defines that kid’s entire existence. Ultimately, sports parents just want their kid to have fun — as long as they win or die trying.”

On Breakwell’s section about parents’ dreams of Olympic glory, he writes that the dream is out of reach. 

“Parents of top gymnasts and swimmers enroll their kids in Soviet-style sports gulags the second they leave the womb….The bottom line is kids don’t just roll out of bed and pull off world-record swimming times or gymnastics scores. Instead they give up their entire childhoods to achieve greatness at those arbitrary scoring metrics.”

If you’re a bare minimum parent, you shouldn’t touch Olympic training with a ten-foot pole. Unless you use that pole to pull your kid out of the training pool. If they swim like me, they could use the help.

So what should you do if your child says they want to be an Olympic athlete? Here’s a sample conversation:

Kid: I want to be an Olympic swimmer.

Parent: No.

Then buy them ice cream. Ice cream fixes everything. Note: This also works on adults.

young kids in the pool

My kids playing in the pool.

Our own family pursued swimming for years — literally from the time my kids were six months old in “Mommy and Me” swim lessons to my daughter’s senior year of college. It took up an enormous amount of our family life, but I believe it was worth it. All children want to be Olympians when they’re young. It’s a great dream and worth encouraging. At some point, they understand that only a few, and I mean two people in the United States, per event, every four years, actually make the Olympic team. With 400,000 swimmers registered in USA Swimming, two per event really is out of reach. But the kids do figure it out on their own.

Not being an Olympian doesn’t mean that swimming isn’t a valuable experience and worth every minute. I guess the point is we didn’t go into the deal — as parents — with any illusion of our kids being Olympians. Funny thing though, one of of their teammates from their age group club team made it to the Beijing and London Olympics, and a college teammate of our daughter has two Olympic medalists for sisters. It can happen, but it’s not the point of enrolling and being in a sport.

Later in the chapter, Breakwell talks about how college scholarships is making your kids work for their college educations. He doesn’t think it’s such a good deal after all. “The problem with college scholarships is that otherwise intelligent people forget that nothing is really free.” I’ll save my thoughts on college scholarships for another day.

college swimmers cheering at swim meet

My daughter and fellow swimmers cheering for a teammate at PAC 12’s.

What are your thoughts about bare minimum parenting as an approach to parenting?