By Shelbie Fowler // July 13, 2018
Parenting is often described as one of the best and most stressful jobs that a person can take on. Becoming a parent is an incredible responsibility that comes with a new set of rules, and the need to constantly be “on.” So what happens when parents go from being “on” top of things to being distracted and “on” their phone maybe a little too often?
The term for this phenomenon is distracted parenting. You may not have heard this term before, but you’ve likely seen it in action. Here are some examples of distracted parenting:
The dangers of distracted parentingThese distracted parents gave their children the perfect opportunity to take risks that could otherwise be prevented such as throwing sand, climbing up the slide, or jumping from large heights. Over 200,000 children under 14 years of age are treated in emergency rooms for playground-related injuries each year, and children will take risks regardless. While none of the children in this study were seriously injured, researchers noted that children are more likely to take those risks when their parent is distracted.
Not only is there a potential for physical harm when distracted parenting happens, it can also be emotionally damaging if a child or teen feels that their parent is too busy to be attentive or connected to them at the moment. Children may even engage in risky behavior just to attract the attention of distracted parents, and distracted parents are not as responsive to their kids, or as sensitive to their needs.
Parents, instead, might share that perfect Instagram pic of their kid going down the slide rather than going down with them. Parents may be more interested in posting about their family dinner rather than participating in a conversation at the table. These actions in place of making eye contact, engaging in conversation, and actively participating in play can leave a child wondering what they need to do to regain the attention of their parent(s).
Distractions are a part of life, but they can be managedAn article on Psychology Today notes that being distracted as a parent is expected to a degree, especially with multiple children in the home and/or with parents working. It’s part of family life when you have to balance chores, meals, jobs, and a budget.
However, it is the level to which the distraction occurs that matters. Children and teens are aware when the important people in their lives, like their parents, are not paying attention to their needs physically or emotionally. In those moments when a child feels a disconnect from their caregiver, they will test what they can get away with, whether it’s jumping from the highest point of a jungle gym, sneaking out at night, or skipping school, among other risky behaviors in the hopes that someone will notice them.
Make efforts to be intentionally attentiveIf you think you may struggle with being a distracted parent, leader, teacher, or caregiver, think about your habits and ask yourself these questions:
These acts, like The Gottman Institute’s motto of “Small Things Often,” may seem small in nature but they will have long-lasting positive effects on the emotional health of families. To do that, we can focus on creating undistracted time in order to fully engage with the people that we interact with on a daily basis. Try setting aside an hour at home, with your kids, where no phones or screens are allowed, and do something fun with them. Try putting your phone away more often when you’re engaged in conversation with others. Your children, teens, friends, and other family members will notice when you make the effort to give them your attention on a regular basis.
The following article was found on GoodTherapy.org and focuses on co-parenting effectively. Divorce affects more than fifty percent of marriages in the United States and many of these relationships involve children, making co-parenting especially relevant in therapy and day to day life. The following article was written by Andra Brosh, PhD and is an excellent article for co-parenting when parents cannot stand one another.
Five Tips for Co-Parenting When You Can’t Stand Your Ex
April 17, 2013 • By Andra Brosh, PhD, Divorce / Divorce Adjustment Topic Expert Contributor
The process of divorce is hard enough, but when you have to co-parent with an ex who has become the bane of your existence, things can get worse. Some parents become better at being caregivers after divorce because they find their own voice and style outside the relationship. Others transform into an unrecognizable version of themselves, making parenting a horribly intolerable experience. Either way, when you can’t stand the person you are parenting with, life can become a drag, and the battle becomes exhausting.
If you are struggling to co-parent with an ex you despise, here are five tips to help you manage the experience:
Reduce your ex-pectations: Expecting your ex to be the kind of parent you need him or her to be creates frustration and disappointment. While some exes flourish as parents after divorce, others become ornery and annoying. The rule of thumb is to expect no more than the ex was doing in the marriage, and brace for less now that he or she has other priorities. Even if you think he or she should be doing a better job, remember that it’s not up to you to police your ex’s parenting.
Try not to be a hater: Hate is a very strong word, but when it comes to an ex, there may not be a lot of other words (that we can use here, anyway) to describe the level of negative feelings you might have. However, to hate causes YOU stress and makes it hard to parent effectively. Get some professional help to move from hate to tolerance to see if that makes co-parenting any easier.
Look through your child’s eyes: You are most likely making your children the priority when it comes to co-parenting, but sometimes the mind can become clouded with negativity. Empathy is a great stress reducer, and it can really help to shift a detrimental perspective. Try to see your ex through your children’s eyes, a view that is most likely idealized and positive. Children will do anything to maintain an attachment to a parent, even in the face of horrible behavior. You can learn from their innocence.
Let go of control: Co-parenting with an ex is one big lesson in letting go. You may not approve of your ex’s parenting style or what he or she does with the kids during their time, but this is mostly out of your control. If your ex is stonewalling you and refusing to share information about your child’s well-being, you need to manage that anxiety. Your ability to relinquish your illusory power will not only reduce your frustration and stress, it will open space for you to enjoy your time alone. You cannot change your ex with your will and desire to be right. You can only model with the hope of being a positive influence.
Value your influence: Having your kids half the time (or sometimes less) may invoke a feeling of powerlessness with regard to your parental influence. All parents worry about scarring their children emotionally, and divorced parents may fear that the parenting going on in the other home may damage their little ones. If you are a parent who dreads letting your kids go with your ex, or who is concerned about your lack of authority, try to remember that whatever you are doing will be enough. If there is another (or new) partner involved, stay grounded in the fact you are the primary parent and no one can replace you.
Your children love you, are attached to you, and need you to be strong and centered as the “good enough” parent that you are.
Brosh, Andra. "5 Tips for Co-Parenting When You Can't Stand Your Ex." GoodTherapy.org. GoodTherapy.org, 17 Apr. 2013. Web. 28 June 2016.
This article can be found by following this link: http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/co-parenting-tips-when-you-cant-stand-your-ex-0417134
The following article was found on the Huffington Post website. It takes into consideration view points of a few different therapists on staying in a negative marriage for the benefits of children. This article shares an interesting perspective on an issue that many parents face when considering divorce after having children.
7 Ways You Can Damage Your Kids By Staying In A Bad Marriage
Therapists caution against staying together for the kids.
Brittany Wong Divorce Editor, The Huffington Post
When you’re getting a divorce, there’s no real way of knowing to what extent your decision will affect the kids.
Still, if your marriage has created a toxic home environment, they’re probably better off getting some distance from it, said Rosalind Sedacca, a divorce and parenting coach and the author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce?
“Having been raised by parents that chose to stay together in a miserable marriage, I opt in favor of the other side,” Sedacca told The Huffington Post. “For me, divorce is preferable to years of living in a home where the parents fight and disrespect one another.”
Below, Sedacca and other child-centric divorce experts share seven reasons why divorcing is preferable to staying in an unhealthy marriage.
1. You may not be sparing your children emotional and psychological scars by staying together.
It’s confusing for kids when parents are “emotionally divorced but still living together.”
You may live under the same roof, but your nuclear family status means nothing if your kids are only used to seeing you fight, reminded Sedacca.
“Children feel the tension and are confused by it,” she said. “The emotional and mental pain children endure when their parents are a couple in name alone doesn’t get touched on enough; the scars are much the same as for those who experience a poorly handled divorce.”
She added: “Happiness, harmony, cooperation, respect and joy are all absent when parents are emotionally divorced but still living together.”
2. Your kids will feel uneasy in their own home.
Kids thrive on predictability. Chronic marital conflict undermines their sense of safety and sameness at home, said Deborah Mecklinger, a mediator and therapist based in Toronto, Ontario.
“Kids don’t know what to expect in this situation. They walk on eggshells, never knowing where or when the next land mine will explode,” she said. “Divorce, when done right, diminishes the conflict. Children have the opportunity to learn about respect, real cooperation and communication.”
3. It may lead to low self-esteem for your kids.
Children are likely to grow into “adults who have low self-esteem and trust issues” if they’re exposed to parents who are chronically unhappy.
A tension-filled home can leave even the most confident, sure-footed child feeling uncertain and rejected. Indeed, studies have shown that being raised in a high-conflict home can cause children to have feelings of low self-esteem and unworthiness, said Terry Gaspard, a therapist specializing in divorce and the author of Daughters of Divorce.
“Children are like sponges and they will absorb negative emotions and internalize their anger and shame,” she said. “If they’re exposed to parents who are chronically unhappy, kids will grow into adults who have low self-esteem and trust issues. An important question to ask yourself is, would the well-being of the children be enhanced by a move to a divorced, single-parent family? If the answer is yes, then a divorce can be advantageous.”
4. Kids often feel responsible for their parents’ happiness.
It doesn’t matter how much you try to shield your kids from the unhappiness and lack of love between you and your spouse — chances are, they’ll pick up on it, said Betsy Ross, a Massachusetts-based psychotherapist.
“Even the youngest children can sense that you’re suffering and that things are not right,” she said. “Since children are naturally ego-centered and generally have the idea that they are more powerful than they really are, they are likely to think they’ve somehow caused your unhappiness and that it’s really about them.”
This isn’t the message most parents want to convey, of course, but “it’s important to recognize that your child may believe that your anger, disinterest or frustration is their own fault,” said Ross.
5. Unhappy spouses are often less present as parents.
When it’s a struggle to get along with your spouse, you may not be raring to head home to your family every day, said Mecklinger.
“Usually, spouses look to ‘escape’ unhappy marriages and avoid being at home in order to avoid their partners,” she said. “They may work longer hours, spend more time with friends or use alcohol to avoid being present. Sometimes as a result of divorce, kids gain a parent.”
6. You’re showing your kids an unhealthy model for relationships.
Ask yourself if you’re teaching your kids that “it’s OK to settle for less than they deserve in relationships.”
Parents in high-conflict or extremely unhappy marriages tend to provide their children with an unhealthy template for romantic relationships in the future, said Gaspard.
“You’re teaching them that it’s OK to settle for less than they deserve in relationships,” she said. “Children who observe their parents settling for a miserable marriage might become passive, depressed or pessimistic about their ability to love and be loved in a healthy intimate relationship.”
7. Divorce can bring peace to the whole family, if it’s handled correctly.
Co-parenting with an ex may not be how you envisioned raising your kids, but when the alternative is two incredibly unhappy adults parenting under the same roof, it may be your best option, Sedacca said.
“If children are being raised in a war zone or in the silence and apathy of a dead marriage, divorce may open the door to a healthier, happier future for everyone in the family,” she said. “But only –- and this is the key point — only if the parents consciously work on creating a harmonious, child-centered divorce that puts the kids’ well-being first.”
Wong, Brittany. "7 Ways You Can Damage Your Kids By Staying In A Bad Marriage." The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, 17 May 2016. Web. 28 June 201
The following article was found on the GoodTherapy.org website which is an excellent resource for therapists and clients alike. This article talks about signs of depression in teenagers and was written by Angela Avery, MA, LLPC, NCC.
Kids Get Depressed, Too: 8 Signs of Depression in Teens
March 2, 2015 • By Angela Avery, MA, LLPC, NCC
As parents, the one thing we want to do is protect our children. We baby-proof our houses, snap our kids in car seats, and give them helmets to wear while riding their bikes. As they age, though, we find that protecting them from everything becomes impossible. No matter the level of care we show our children, parents generally cannot protect against mental health issues such as depression.
Depression affects about 11% of adolescents by age 18, according to the National Comorbidity Survey-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). The symptoms of depression are sometimes obvious, sometimes not. If you suspect that your child is depressed, schedule an evaluation with a mental health professional. With the help of talk therapy and perhaps other treatments, depression can be managed and teens can flourish.
Depression leaves telltale signs and symptoms along its path. Eight of the most common in teens are:
For teens, management often includes talk therapy with a licensed professional. Often, just the idea of getting help and making an appointment create enough hope that a teen will feel somewhat better quickly. Over time, and with care, the therapist will assess for depression and suicide ideation and provide coping skills and management strategies for dealing with depressive symptoms.
It is not uncommon for parents to wonder about medication for depression. Medication is a private, family decision which should be made with the help of a medical doctor, preferably a psychiatrist who specializes in pediatrics. However, medication is only one part of the puzzle and is not right for every person. That decision should be made on an individual basis and with the help of professionals.
Other tools and management strategies may be helpful in treating depression in teens. In my own work with depressed teens, I often use a strategy of “untangling” problems. This strategy helps us determine what is going well in the teen’s life, what is not going well, and where the weak spots are. After we’ve untangled, we begin to work on tools and skills to handle depressive feelings and dark thoughts. No matter what, the first tool is always exercise. Aside from the physical health benefits, exercise floods the brain with endorphins and feel-good chemicals.
Then we collaborate on behaviors that make the teen feel better. This is an individual preference, but is necessary because teens feel empowered by being part of the process. Once we have a few known “feel-better behaviors,” we start incorporating more and more techniques to manage depressive symptoms.
Often, teens love the creative part of finding what works for them. Does the teen like to bake cupcakes or draw? Does the teen like to watch funny YouTube videos? Enlisting the teen’s preferences gives the teen a sense of control and empowerment over his or her mind.
The process of finding depression coping techniques takes time and effort, but with help, depression can be managed. Teen depression should be taken seriously and cautiously. If your teen has symptoms you believe look like depression, contact a professional for help.
To access the original article on GoodTherapy.org, please click the following link: http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/kids-get-depressed-too-8-signs-of-depression-in-teens-0302154
Avery, Angela. "Kids Get Depressed, Too: 8 Signs of Depression in Teens." GoodTherapy.org. GoodTherapy.org, 2 Mar. 2015. Web. 28 June 2016.
The following article was found on the Child Mind Institute website. This website does a good job of providing factual, research based information for parents to help in raising kids struggling with various mental health concerns. This particular article was written by Caroline Miller, the editorial director for the Child Mind Institute.
Is It ADHD or Immaturity?
How to avoid a misdiagnosis when a child is young for his class
Several studies in recent years have found that children who are among the youngest in their class are diagnosed with ADHD at a much higher rate than their older classmates.
This suggests that a significant percentage of kids with ADHD are being misdiagnosed just because they are less mature. It raises important questions about how kids are being diagnosed, and how to avoid misinterpreting the behavior of children who might be having trouble meeting expectations just because they are younger.
The findings in these studies of large populations of kids — in Michigan, British Columbia and (most recently) Taiwan — are consistent. The youngest children are significantly more likely to be diagnosed than the oldest in the same class: boys as much as 60 percent and girls as much as 70 percent. The Taiwan study even showed the prevalence of kids diagnosed with ADHD decreased month by month from the youngest to the oldest in the class.
What can we do to address this problem while still making sure kids get the help they need?
How to avoid misdiagnosis
Most ADHD diagnoses are the result of children struggling to meet expectations for behavior and performance in school. All young children find it challenging to sit still, pay attention, wait their turn, finish tasks and keep from interrupting. By school age most have developed skills to manage these things as expected. Those who don’t are often flagged by teachers who have a lot of experience with typical behavior and child development.
But the age range of students in a given classroom can span a whole year, which means that the developmental differences between the youngest and the oldest can be substantial. That’s why it’s important that if children are being evaluated for ADHD, their behavior should be compared with that of other children their age, not all the other children in their class.
“If a child is behaving poorly, if he’s inattentive, if he can’t sit still, it may simply be because he’s 5 and the other kids are 6,” explained Todd Elder, lead author of the Michigan study. “There’s a big difference between a 5-year-old and a 6-year-old, and teachers and medical practitioners need to take that into account when evaluating whether children have ADHD.”
Here are other “best practices” that should be followed to avoid misdiagnosis:
A variety of sources: A child shouldn’t get a diagnosis of ADHD based on a teacher’s observations alone. A clinician evaluating a child should collect information from several adults, including teachers, parents and others who spend time with him.
Not just at school: For a child to be properly diagnosed with ADHD, the symptoms that are associated with the disorder — inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity — have to be present in more than one setting. Are they noticeable at home and in social situations, as well as school? Do his parents worry that he’s so impulsive he’s a danger to himself? Does she have trouble keeping friends because she can’t follow rules, can’t wait her turn or has tantrums when she doesn’t get her way?
Rating scales: Scales that are filled out by teachers and parents should be used to collect specific information about the frequency of behaviors we associate with ADHD, and compare them with other children the same age, rather than relying on general impressions.
A thorough history: To get a good, nuanced understanding of a child’s behavior, a clinician needs to know how it’s developed over time, notes Dr. Matthew Rouse, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. “What was she like at two or three or four? Is kindergarten the first time these issues have come up, or was she kicked out of preschool because she couldn’t behave?”
Level of impairment: The biggest difference between kids with ADHD and those who are just immature is likely to be how much their behavior impacts their lives. Are they in a negative spiral at home because they can’t seem to do what they’re asked to do, and parents are very frustrated? Are they unable to participate in sports because they can’t follow rules? Do they get excluded from play dates?
A wait and see approach
If a child is struggling because he’s immature, things could get better over time, as he adjusts to the expectations of a new classroom.
“Some children starting kindergarten might have a difficult time fitting into a new setting, adjusting to new rules,” notes Dr. Rouse. “It might be the first time the child has been in a setting with so many other kids around, and the first time taking direction from people not his parents.”
Giving kids time to adjust is one reason Dr. Rouse says that when a child presents symptoms that look like ADHD in kindergarten, when it’s his first year in school, he’ll make a provisional or “rule out” diagnosis, and reevaluate when the child is 6.
While medication has been shown repeatedly to be the most effective at reducing symptoms of ADHD, it isn’t necessarily the go-to treatment for the youngest kids. The potential for misdiagnosis is one reason why Dr. Rouse recommends behavioral therapy for younger children with ADHD, rather than starting with stimulant medication.
Similarly, the American Association of Pediatricians recommends behavioral therapy administered by parents and teachers as the first line of treatment for children 4 to 5 years old. Stimulant medication is recommended only if the behavioral therapy doesn’t produce results, and the child continues to have moderate to severe symptoms.
Delay in brain development
One reason immaturity might be confused with ADHD is that ADHD itself has been linked to a delay in brain maturation. An older child with ADHD might present behaviors that are typical in a younger child — and the opposite could be true if your frame of reference is older children. Several important neuroimaging studies have shown delays in brain development in kids with ADHD.
In a 2006 study at the National Institutes of Mental Health, the brains of several hundred children were scanned over a 10-year period. As the brain matures, the cortex thickens and then thins again following puberty, when connections are pruned to increase the efficiency of the brain. Researchers found that what they call “cortical maturation” — the point in which the cortex reaches peak thickness — was three years later in kids with ADHD than kids in a control group: 10.5 years old, compared to 7.5. The kids with ADHD also lag behind other kids in the subsequent cortical thinning.
The researchers noted that the most delayed areas of the brain are those that “support the ability to suppress inappropriate actions and thoughts, focus attention, remember things from moment to moment, work for reward and control movement – functions often disturbed in people with ADHD.”
They also added, tantalizingly, that the only area that matured faster than usual in kids with ADHD was the motor cortex. Combine that with the late-maturing frontal cortex areas that direct it, and the mismatch, they suggested, could account for the restlessness associated with the disorder.
Then in 2013, a study using scans of brain functioning, rather than structure, also found a lag in maturity in kids with ADHD. That study, at the University of Michigan, found that children and teens with ADHD are behind others of the same age in how quickly their brains form connections within, and between, key brain networks.
Specifically, they found less-mature connections between what’s called the “default mode network,” which controls internally directed thought, and networks that focus on externally directed tasks. Researchers propose that this lag in connectivity could help explain why children with ADHD find their thoughts wandering and struggle to complete tasks and stay focused.
Maturing out of ADHD symptoms
Finally, we know that some children grow out of ADHD symptoms as they become teenagers and young adults. Hyperactive and impulsive symptoms often wane through adolescence, while inattentive symptoms may continue to be a problem into adulthood.
Regardless of whether or not a child has ADHD, if his behaviors interfere with learning, making friends and being a part of the family, then he needs help. But the behavioral therapies and medications that can work wonders for kids with ADHD aren’t appropriate for children who are struggling to meet expectations just because they are less mature than those they are being compared to.
There are also other problems that can be misread as ADHD. Anxiety and trauma, for instance, can also cause inattention and what looks like impulsivity. That’s why it’s important that kids with behavior issues be evaluated thoroughly; careful and effective diagnosis benefits everyone.
Miller, Caroline. "Is It ADHD or Immaturity?" Child Mind Institute. Child Mind Institute, 2016. Web. 13 Apr. 2016.
The following article comes from the Child Mind Institute website. This site has numerous sources on issues parents face raising children with a variety of concerns. The site does an excellent job of providing factual information as well as interventions and ideas to try as parents.
Managing Problem Behavior at Home
A guide to more confident, consistent and effective parenting
One of the biggest challenges parents face is managing difficult or defiant behavior on the part of children. Whether they’re refusing to put on their shoes, or throwing full-blown tantrums, you can find yourself at a loss for an effective way to respond.
For parents at their wits end, behavioral therapy techniques can provide a roadmap to calmer, more consistent ways to manage problem behaviors and offers a chance to help children develop the skills they need to regulate their own behaviors:
ABC’s of behavior management
To understand and respond effectively to problematic behavior, you have to think about what came before it, as well as what comes after it. There are three important aspects to any given behavior:
The first step in a good behavior management plan is to identify target behaviors. These behaviors should be specific (so everyone is clear on what is expected), observable, and measurable (so everyone can agree whether or not the behavior happened).
An example of poorly defined behavior is “acting up,” or “being good.” A well-defined behavior would be running around the room (bad) or or starting homework on time (good).
Antecedents, the good and the bad
Antecedents come in many forms. Some prop up bad behavior, others are helpful tools that help parents manage potentially problematic behaviors before they begin and bolster good behavior.
Antecedents to AVOID:
Here are some antecedents that can bolster good behavior:
Not all consequences are created equal. Some are an excellent way to create structure and help kids understand the difference between acceptable behaviors and unacceptable behaviors while others have the potential to do more harm than good. As a parent having a strong understanding of how to intelligently and consistently use consequences can make all the difference.
Consequences to AVOID
Consequences that are more effective begin with generous attention to the behaviors you want to encourage.
"Managing Problem Behavior at Home | Child Mind Institute." Child Mind Institute. Child Mind Institute, 2016. Web. 13 Apr. 2016.
The above video was found on YouTube on 5/16/16 and was originally published on October 28, 2015. It is a clip from Psychologist Kristine Turner addressing how parents can learn to effectively co-parent following divorce.
This video was found on youTube and features Dr. Collins Hodges, a child and adolescent psychologist. This video was published by the Best Docs network on May 28th, 2015.
The following article comes from the Mental Health America website. This site has numerous articles on numerous mental health related subjects and provides resources for helping these issues across the country.
Depression In Teens
It’s not unusual for young people to experience "the blues" or feel "down in the dumps" occasionally. Adolescence is always an unsettling time, with the many physical, emotional, psychological and social changes that accompany this stage of life.
Unrealistic academic, social, or family expectations can create a strong sense of rejection and can lead to deep disappointment. When things go wrong at school or at home, teens often overreact. Many young people feel that life is not fair or that things "never go their way." They feel "stressed out" and confused. To make matters worse, teens are bombarded by conflicting messages from parents, friends and society. Today’s teens see more of what life has to offer — both good and bad — on television, at school, in magazines and on the Internet. They are also forced to learn about the threat of AIDS, even if they are not sexually active or using drugs.
Teens need adult guidance more than ever to understand all the emotional and physical changes they are experiencing. When teens’ moods disrupt their ability to function on a day-to-day basis, it may indicate a serious emotional or mental disorder that needs attention — adolescent depression. Parents or caregivers must take action.
Dealing With Adolescent Pressures
When teens feel down, there are ways they can cope with these feelings to avoid serious depression. All of these suggestions help develop a sense of acceptance and belonging that is so important to adolescents.
This article comes from a website called “Empowering Parents: Child Behavior Help.” This is an excellent site with articles from different experts on topics ranging from keeping kids safe, using technology, dealing with different behavioral issues, and general parenting advice.
Keeping Kids Safe from Predators Online and Offline
By Sara Bean, M.Ed.
Jerry Sandusky. Michael Jackson. Mary Kay Letourneau. All of these individuals were accused and/or convicted of committing unspeakable crimes against children. While certainly upsetting, these high profile cases are a good opportunity to spark a conversation with your kids about staying safe, as parents are the first and most powerful line of defense against predators. When parents educate their children, and make home a safe place for kids to ask questions and talk about their experiences, children are less likely to become victims. Having a discussion with your child about online and offline safety isn’t always easy or comfortable, but it is important.
Children need facts and skills to protect themselves. They also need to know that you will calmly listen and understand what is going on, before reacting.
Please note that the information contained in this article is an overview and does not account for every type of predator, every prevention method, or every possible warning sign of abuse. If you suspect that your child may be a victim, or that someone is attempting to victimize them, contact your local law enforcement or child protection agency immediately. ChildHelp, a national child abuse reporting and prevention program, is another option. You can reach ChildHelp 24 hours a day at 1-800-422-4453.
But I Don’t Want to Scare Them
Talking about predators can be scary, especially for younger kids. So before you talk to your child, think about what you want to say, and how you want to say it. What do you want your child to learn? How will you help them learn that? How might your child react?
Let your child know that while most people wouldn’t hurt them, there are some people who do the wrong thing. Tell them that you will always do your best to protect them. Remind them that one of the reasons you have rules and limits is to help keep them safe. Reassurance is key.
Encourage your child not to keep secrets, especially if the secret makes them feel weird, uncomfortable, nervous, or unsafe. Your child needs to know that they can tell you tell you about these things, and that you can handle it calmly. Stress that you will love them, no matter what. The bottom line is that children need facts and skills to protect themselves. But, they also need to know that you will calmly listen and understand what is going on, before reacting.
Be mindful when sharing specific real-world examples. I remember being about 5-years-old and my mother telling me there was a kidnapper going around in a gray van taking children. This was absolutely terrifying! I don’t remember much discussion about what I should do if approached, but I do remember being frightened for years. My point? Giving specific examples and no personal safety skills or reassurance can be very scary. Instead, if your child brings up a question, or if you see something on TV or in a movie, use these examples to talk about how your child can protect himself, how he should react if that happened in real life, and so on.
Teach Age-Appropriate Skills
Teaching your child specific, age-appropriate skills can help them stay safe. As children age, the knowledge and skills they need changes based on the risks they are likely to encounter. Teaching safety is an ongoing process that can start as early as the pre-school years.
For example, young children need to know not to talk to strangers (and really understand what a stranger is). They should be taught not to get in a car with strangers and the tricks strangers might use to lure them, like candy, puppies, or “your mom asked me to come get you.” You can also show them what to do if a stranger approaches them in this manner, like yelling “No!” and trying to run.
Meanwhile, older children need to understand that online, not everyone is who they say they are. Talk with them about how to spot a possible predator (for instance, if someone online is asking for their picture). Explain what they should do if someone is making them uncomfortable (for example, they should always tell you, even if they know how to “block” that person).
Teens need to understand how using alcohol and drugs leave them vulnerable to sexual assault. Talk about how they might prevent someone from putting drugs in their beverages in order to later take advantage of them, like always keeping an eye on their drink.
Addressing the "It Won’t Happen to Me" Syndrome
Some younger children may be so innocent and naïve they have a hard time believing that someone could want to hurt them. Teens, on the other hand, can often feel invincible. While teens know that kids can and do get hurt, they think, “That will never happen to me.” You can’t change your child’s thinking, but you can use your actions to let them know that this is a serious issue.
When talking about serious subjects like safety, remove all distractions—the tone of the conversation should reflect the magnitude of its importance. Have the conversation at a time and place that will allow you to talk face-to- face, rather than in the car or by text. Turn off all electronics during the discussion.
Have clear rules and consequences. Let’s say the kids aren’t following your rules about using the internet; then perhaps they lose their computer privileges until they can show you they can make safe choices in other areas for a couple of days. Or, imagine your child takes off after school and doesn’t tell you where she is going. Maybe she loses her phone until she follows the rules for two days. If you’re uncomfortable about taking the phone away for safety reasons, contact your service provider to find out if “always allowed numbers” or other parental controls are available.Actions speak louder than words; if your words and actions do not match, your child is likely to brush you off.
Online Safety Precautions
Since kids of all ages go online (whether on the computer, through their gaming systems or even your smartphone), education about online safety is as important as safety in the community. Even very young kids need safety rules, such as what sites and apps are okay for them to use. Establish very clear expectations about the use of technology, backed by consistent consequences. Some rules to consider implementing with your kids:
I write articles based on my experience as a therapist or a training or conference attendee. Many of these articles are written by others who are experts in their field and I share their information as resources for others.