Sleep: The Best Medicine

Some school districts, according to one article on teens and the neuroscience of risky behavior, have taken to heart studies that connect sleep deprivation to teen risk-taking–such as drug and alcohol use, and risky sexual behaviors: “Dozens of studies on the effects of increasing sleep by delaying school start times—a move endorsed by bodies such as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics—suggest that many of these problems, including risky behaviors, improve when schools start later.” But even if you’re lucky enough to live in such a district, that that still doesn’t mean your child is getting enough sleep…they may just be staying up later.  Many of us are worried about the late night Netflix binging, the social media surfing, and the general tendency of teens to stay up too late.  And there’s reason to worry! This article on sleep-deprived teens (those who don’t get the recommended 8-10 hours), states that “researchers found that adolescents who were short weekday and short weekend sleepers (i.e., those who consistently did not get enough sleep) were nearly two times more likely to engage in unsafe sex than those who slept in, on average, an extra 3.5 hours on weekends.” Said the researchers: “Our recommendation is for parents and teens to find a middle ground, which allows for some weekend catch-up sleep, while maintaining some level of consistency in sleep-wake patterns.” 

Besides letting them catch up on the weekends, wouldn’t it be better to send your child to school well-rested every day? Why not have some parental backbone, set some bedtime rules, and stick to them. In my home, I’ve for 6 years filled my empty nest with foreign students going to high school in America. This year I have four of them! The international program at the school has rules that I’m expected to enforce as a host parent. One of them is that studying happens in a study area downstairs, and bedrooms are device free. If that seems impossible to imagine implementing without all-out mutity, what about “Devices on the hall table by 10:30.” If you’re tech savvy you can do what my husband did…turn off the wifi at a certain hour at night, and don’t get an unlimited data plan for the cell phone.

If you need fortification to be tough…remember, it’s for their own good!

Summer Ideas for Teens

Boredom can drive a teen to creativity…or to his or her devices for countless hours of mindless (or, worse, mind-polluting) media. Why not post on the refrigerator, or inside of a door, a list of ideas for teens to have on hand to fill their empty summer hours? Here’s a ready list of activities that can be not only fun, but also character-building, or mind-growing!

Videos by teens, for teens

I recently came across the OK, Inc. YouTube channel, with dozens of videos on topics teens say they want addressed…things such as date rape, bullying, sexting, abusive relationships, substance abuse, etc. These videos use high school students as actors and portray realistic scenarios. I watched several that have been viewed by millions, and can recommend them as excellent tools for parents and teachers.

These short story videos help teens recognize risky situations, make good choices, deal with consequences, and see a way forward even after making a poor choice. Every video has an example of friends who help their friends along the way.  Parents, don’t we want to see our child learn now how to have good relationships, choose well when faced with negative pressures, and to BE a good, supportive friend to others who are caught in bad decisions, or bad relationships? Sometimes, all the good advice we know we could give is better received coming from peers. These videos provide a creative way to open conversations with our children about the pressures and problems they face in everyday life, without coming across as too “preachy.” I urge you to watch and discuss as many of these videos with your teens as possible.

Apple’s Controls Help You Limit Teen’s Phone Use

I don’t have an iPhone, but almost all the teens I know do…as do many parents. Did you know Apple has made it possible for you to do all sorts of things to limit your teen’s use of their phone? And with the IOS 12 update coming in about 10 days, there are some exciting enhancements and new parental control features. According to Apple, these new features “include Activity Reports, App Limits and new Do Not Disturb and Notifications controls designed to help customers reduce interruptions and manage screen time for themselves and their families.” Here are a couple of articles that can guide you, including one where an adult reviewer borrowed a teen to try it out on…with success: Teen learns limits and Features overview

So what can do though your own iPhone (or directly on theirs) to help your teen get some of his/her life back that has been sucked into the vortex of social media? Here are some examples:

  • Do Not Disturb during Bedtime mode dims the display and hides notifications on the lock screen until prompted in the morning.
  • Do Not Disturb during family dinner (that means you too, Mom or Dad)
  • Through Screen Time view daily and weekly activity reports to see where all those hours are going, and where limits need to be set.
  • Set time limits for apps (Snapchat, Instagram, Fortnite Mobile and YouTube are obvious candidates for this).

I hear it’s easy to set up, so once IOS 12 comes out…go to it! If you have an Android phone, there are parental control apps (cost from $30 up per year) HERE.

What did you say? I’m phubbing you?

Words make their way into common use because teens come up with new ways to describe their reality. “Phubbing” is one such word. It means phone snubbing…as in when you are with someone and instead of giving you their attention, they allow their phone to distract them. We all know that feeling of taking a back seat to someone’s phone.

 The word may have come from teens, but the concept…well…you know you who you are if YOU do this! I confess, I have.  The last time I was the “phubbee,” on a date with my husband, I said we needed a no phone rule when we’re on a date. After all, if it’s really an emergency, we’ll get a call, not a text. I’m sure you have had countless times where dear old mom and dad don’t get the time of day when your child’s phone pings the next social media “happening.”

Teen have lost their manners when they phub, and so have we. Maybe, tonight, at the dinner table, you can involve the family in deciding on no phubbing zones. Like the dinner table.  Or the weekly car ride to soccer practice. I host international students every year, and on the way to the airport to send my student back home to her country for the summer, I had THE best conversation I’d ever had with her. It reminded me how valuable car conversation time is! If you’re missing out on conversation time with your teen…try involving them in changing habits. Yours AND theirs!

Should I be concerned about Fortnite?

Fortnite is the game every teen is talking about. It’s a multi-player shooter survival game (Mac, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One, IOS app, and soon on Android), with free and paid versions.  The obvious violence (it’s about killing with weapons after all) is not graphic–no blood or gore. It is “cartoonish” rather than realistic. No sex, no nudity, although the bodies of the female characters are exaggeratedly curvy. One article explains why it’s so popular with kids: “Well, it’s free, it’s fun and it has a very silly, offbeat sense of humour. While PUGB has a serious, realistic visual style, Fortnite: Battle Royale has very bright, almost cartoon-like graphics as well as loads of ridiculous items and costumes, such as space suits and dinosaur outfits. You can also pull a variety of dance moves during the game, and some of these have taken on a cult appeal in schoolyards around the globe.”

I always urge parents to check out games, videos, etc. on Commonsense Media, and I also found a Good Morning America video discussing the game, its addictive qualities and how to set limits…things most parents are concerned about.

Talking to Teens about Sexual Harassment

A couple of years ago, a student in an all-girl classroom I was speaking to shared that boys were grabbing their butts during passing periods. A show of hands indicated 29 out of 30 had experienced this! After hearing from them that if they protested “it would get worse,” I spoke to them clearly about what they were allowing, and why they should stand up to it, then put them in groups and tasked them with deciding what to do the next time it happened. One girl wrote me afterwards that the next time it happened, she slapped the guy.  I’m not sure I intended to incent violence, but it WAS assault (let’s be clear!), and she finally treated it as such. She said she was treated with respect after that. Every year since, as I kept hammering home that “your body belongs to YOU,” the numbers came down…and this year only 3 in a class of 30 had been groped! It makes a difference when we talk to our teens and prepare them to stand up to seSilent No Morexual harassment. This is just one of the things Teen Decision does, as we talk to teens about sex, and dating.

According to a Washington Post article, in a national study on sexual harassment, “87 percent of respondents [ages 18-24] reported they had been the victim of at least one form of sexual harassment,” and “72 percent of men and 80 percent of women reported that they never had a conversation with parents about how to avoid sexually harassing others.”  Parents, we have to do better! We’ve all seen the news about politicians and Hollywood celebrities getting away with sexual misbehavior for decades. Now is a great time to take advantage of the public conversation, and expose these boorish (often criminal) behaviors for what they are.  The Post article has GREAT suggestions for how to talk to your teen. Take a moment to read the article, and have that conversation…NOW.

If you like the work Teen Decision does, and how we help boys AND girls advocate for themselves and stand strong for their right to “SAY NO” to sex…consider a donation! If you’re on our blog page now, look for the green “Donate” button. Or go to teendecision.org.  People like you, who love and care about teens, are the ones who keep us going, and we need your help to finish 2017, as we stay on track to serve 8,000 students this school year. 

Be THAT parent…

Teen computerControlling and/or monitoring your teen’s internet use is not an intrusion into your child’s privacy.

Wait…yes it is!  But it’s NECESSARY.  As parents, we’d throw ourselves in front of a speeding car to push our precious child out of the path of harm. In the same way, it’s our job, even duty, to both warn and protect our children from the darker things they can be exposed to on their phones, tablets and laptops. Even if it’s just making sure that gaming doesn’t chew up too much family or homework time, we have an interest in keeping track of what our teens are doing on the internet. There’s no one-size-fits-all software solution. But pcmag.org does have an up-to-date resource page with alternatives for monitoring and/or controlling internet use by your child.

Helping Kids Spot Fake News

Are you like me?  Have you been sent/forwarded something that caused your “skeptical” alarms to go off?  I graduated with a degree in Journalism, and I just can’t help myself from being a skeptic when faced with some wild and (truly) unbelievable story that is spreading like wildfire.  If adults can be fooled, how about kids, whLies Trutho often don’t have a clue where to go for “real” news.  Growing up in an age of newspapers, where journalistic integrity was at least held up as the standard (whether always followed or not), older generations are more used to researching, asking questions, and challenging a source when something seems “off.” But our kids are getting most of their news from their feeds, and who knows what they are hearing and believing?  In fact, Common Sense Media in an online report (with great infographics) found that “less than half of kids agree that they know how to tell fake news stories from real ones.”

One encouraging item in the above-linked report is that kids tend to trust news from family more than any other source.  If you want to help your teen become a THINKING consumer of news media, there are some things you can do.  Commonsensemedia.org has some great resources and ideas.  I usually go there for analysis of TV shows, and movies from a parent’s perspective (you’ll find out in detail why a movie is PG-13, or R-rated for instance).  But they also have a lot of insightful articles about how we as parents can help our kids use media wisely and well.  Two articles there that will give you some ideas on how to talk to your kids are:  “How to Spot Fake News,” and “Teaching Kids Media Smarts During Breaking News.”

Fifty Shades of Unhealthy

Ball and chainWith the arrival in theaters this month of Fifty Shades Darker, it’s time to get a sensible look at the messages of this book and movie series. With regard to teens, there’s nothing gray about this…it’s pretty black and white. Dr. Miriam Grossman wrote about the messages in this movie HERE, but I want to concentrate on a particularly persistent myth that I see not just in this movie series, but in the psyches of too many girls (and grown women). Dr. Grossman states the myth this way:  “Christian’s emotional problems are cured by Anastasia’s love.”  Haven’t we all seen the “bad boy” syndrome? I’ve been asked by decent, honorable, respectful guys: “Why do the girls seem to go for the bad boys?”  I have two theories.  One is that they are so deeply bonded to the guy (usually because they’ve gone pretty far sexually), that they ignore/excuse/tolerate what they would normally recognize as abominable behavior and an unhealthy relationship. It’s not glamorous, loving or healthy to accept abuse (emotional and/or physical), humiliation, manipulation, control or force.  My second theory is that there is a powerful fantasy in thinking that MY love, MY attractiveness (a bit of narcissism?) can cure a seriously sick and unhealthy person.  How many times have you (or your teen) talked yourself blue in the face trying to help someone see that their partner is a jerk, only to watch the train hurtle toward the inevitable crash.  As Grossman points out: “Only in a movie. In the real world, Christian wouldn’t change to any significant degree.” And further, “In the real world, this story would end badly, with Christian in jail,  and Ana in a shelter – or morgue. Or maybe Christian would continue beating Ana, and she’d stay and suffer. Either way, their lives would most definitely not be a fairy tale.”  Please discuss these ideas with your sons and daughters, so they are reminded that unhealthy people make for unhealthy relationships, and your child deserves to be treated with caring, respect, empathy, and consideration. Toxic relationships are not handcuffs that are part of sex play like in the Fifty Shades story, they are chains and bonds that can drag a person under for years, even decades.