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Serious and productive conversation with a teenager is hard to come by. Most parents find their son or daughter an illusive prey not easily cornered and not easily impressed.

This resistant attitude has a history, of course. “We need to talk” has not been an introduction to, “I really like the clever way you criticize your brother!” Teens learn the signals and parents have reputations.

In the rushed schedule we all have these days, it’s easy to send the message, “And while I’m thinking about you, another thing I don’t like is …”

The hard fact is: it takes time to do more than list complaints and give instructions.

Here’s one strategy that may allow a more two-way conversation. Adults are very good talkers. We have decades of practice translating thoughts, feelings, and reactions quickly into words. Children, even smart-mouth teenagers, are less practiced and, in fast conversation, they often lose out. So first of all, deliberately slow your pace so they can slow their’s. Moments of silence are not bad, and, anyway, family conversation is not a good competitive sport.

Watch your signals: folding your arms, getting louder, and turning away all have their messages.

Avoid the “Always the Critic” habit and make sure your “liking” shows through. Many parents have told me, “As far as my own parents are concerned, I always felt I was never quite good enough.”

Here are some cautions parents have taught me.

  1. Children and teens look first for what the conversation says about them personally. We parents thought the subject was the important part. “He always takes things so personally.” is the common complaint. Keep the subject on a third person basis as much as possible as you would with an adult. Use “it” and “what” instead of “you.”
  2. Avoid the “quick fix” temptation, the real subject may not have come up yet. “Why don’t you…” “You should try…” “Don’t be so…” all have the potential of closing a conversation. They also indicate a superior position and may be offensive. If you tell me you had trouble getting to work, and I tell you to try another route and  start earlier, you think, “What nerve!” You just wanted to gripe a little and I turned it into a driving lesson! A real conversation stopper.
  3. Use reflective statements occasionally. Often a teen’s first remarks are only an expression of feelings and may be short on facts. A reflective reaction is sympathetic and says you’re listening.

Teen: “What a crummy math teacher.”

Mom: “Hard to get that stuff if it’s not clear.” Mom sides with her son by not falling into an argument (you shouldn’t talk about your teachers that way). She just agrees with the feeling, but says nothing new while waiting for more information.

Parents and their sons and daughters should be friends. Not equals, of course,  parents have to set the limits. And they won’t enjoy the same music or have all friends in common. But friends should bring out the best in us. When we meet, their attention sweeps the common ground between us looking for highlights. I return the compliment like a friendly searchlight; I seek the best in them.

Some have another focus. They overlook the good and zero in on the vulnerable spots. Teens will pull back, risk very little, and cover up.

Aim your searchlight carefully. What are you looking for?

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Ashley is 11. Brad is 12. Both started Middle School this year. Both are worried and stressed with school and their parents try to understand and help as much as they can.

Mom says, “Middle school should be a great time in childhood. But today, TV shows play too many grown-up commercials and the stuff some of their friends put on their cell phones can add to the stress and the worry.”

Change comes fast after fifth grade. Brad and Ashley have new responsibilities for doing homework and scheduling their time. Less than a year ago they had one primary teacher and they were the oldest ones in their grade school. Suddenly they are the youngest, have many teachers, they worry about school, about homework, friends, clothes, and being cool.

They worry about themselves and, most of all, about being embarrassed–a worry that might have even occurred to them before.

Through the internet, CDs, internet, and TV, Ashley and Brad are learning about a bigger world of action, love, money, sex and world terrorists.

To help with such a confusion of ideas and values, a parent needs to understand what priorities their pre-teen might have at any moment. For instance, when going off to school, their biggest fear is likely to be that they’ll be embarrassed. They’re wondering: “Do I look OK? Am I cool? Am I liked?”

Here’s a good time for, “You look great. I like the way you are.”

It is not a good time for, “You look sloppy. You had better start acting differently.” bad messages at this moment can mean, “You are just not good enough.”

One of the great disadvantages of Middle School is that all of your friends are 11 to 13-year-olds! That could stress even the most level headed person. Parents can balance the impact of young and selfish friends by providing the positive support their school friends seldom give.

Brad and Ashley can feel self-conscious with friends or even with loving relatives. “Do I look good (my body is so funny)? What should I say (people never understand what I mean; will they laugh at me)? How should I react to a compliment (they may think I’m conceited or not cool) or a criticism (they may think I’m not tough)?”

Parents will need all their listening skills for these hectic years. That’s next week’s topic:

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Physical punishment like spanking or slapping is only an option if the person is small enough. As the child gets older and bigger, parents who spank their children have to look for alternatives and by then the disadvantages have accumulated – the worst being that the child imitates the parent!

“Get Tough” advocates are on the wrong track for several reasons. First, a child faced with physical punishment becomes afraid. Learning slows and creativity stops because it’s too risky to stick your creative neck out if your mistakes will be punished!

Second, the hard-line approach will be, must be, inconsistent. A parent cannot, and should not, be consistent with punishment. Without the inconsistencies of warnings, threats and postponements, the rules are too inhuman. Yet with the “verbal decorations” the game and the power struggle begin.

Third, punishment is, of course, insulting. It belittles the child and lowers his value of himself. That’s why adults are so insulted if you try punishment on them! The child defends himself, attempts to escape, or tries to “win” the game. Parents can “win” the power struggle, but for every winner a loser is made! And losers eventually call in absent.

Other side effects may include anxious nail-biting, hair-twirling, and distractions that allow children to ignore parents such as video games and TV.

The adult alternatives are much better. For example, if you come to my house for dinner tonight and spill your drink at the table, you don’t expect me to say: “Hey! What do you think you’re doing? You’re so clumsy! Now pay attention to what you’re doing or I’ll send you home!”

What nerve! Treating a guest like a child! What happened to “making amends?” “The benefit of the doubt?” You expect me to belittle the problem.
“I’m sorry, do you have a towel?”
“No problem, I’ll take care of it…”
We deal with the mistake together as a third thing, not you, not me.

Ignoring is also an adult strategy, but it has to be used carefully. If a parent plans to ignore the bad behavior, the usual amount of acting up will no longer get the attention the child seeks, and he may escalate the volume! Parents may revert to punishment for this higher level and then return to the ignoring rule only to go back to punishment when the volume again reaches pain threshold.

We all know families where this power struggle is out of hand. To make the ignoring plan work, you need to emphasize the positive, giving praise when your child behaves well. Considering all the possible mistakes, a child isn’t much closer to good behavior by just being told, “Wrong!”

When bad behavior can’t be ignored, and making amends and hoping for opportunities for encouragement are not enough, try a time out. Most parents are familiar with the drill of putting the child on a chair or in his/her room for a little cooling off and isolation. This can work well if the time out is short so that threats, arguments, and other verbal decorations that often precede it can be kept to a minimum.

Many parents have found the act of starting the time-out, putting the child in the chair or room, is the effective part. Ten or 15 seconds is enough for two-year-olds, and one minute is enough for four, five, and six-year-olds. The message was sent when the prompt decision was made and we are more likely to act promptly and consistently when our consequence is moderate.

The best parental strategy will include praising the good behavior, ignoring the tolerable, and reacting with logical, mild, and consistent reprimands to the bad.

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What is the top priority of most teenagers? Adults would put family, security and friends near the top, but most teens I know also assign high priorities to being liked, competent, and “cool.”

As for the greatest fears, teens usually put fear of embarrassment at the top of the list. Memories of our own teenage experiences include these same concerns – yearning to be liked and worried about embarrassment.

Look for chances to ease the fear and bolster the confidence. Even though you may find plenty to fix and teach your teen, keep to the positive and avoid the reputation of “picky, picky”.

Many parents have sadly told me: “As far as my own parents are concerned, I always felt I was never quite good enough.”

Positive comments to your teen will be your most effective influence. Let it never be said by your son or daughter, “I always felt I was never quite good enough.”

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Our teens are forever following the latest news about their celebrities and the glamorous lives they lead. Surely success and money would lead to lifelong happiness. But as the biographies come rolling out, we learn success and money just didn’t do it.

The great and near great often trip over their own egos and bad habits. They dabble in drugs or alcohol, and then get stuck in these very sticky habits.

Children start with things, “Mom, if I could just have that toy, I would be happy! It was on TV; everybody’s got one.”

Parents of teenagers will recognize this routine. There’s just one more thing and then…there’s just one more thing.

First it’s toys and things, then quickly it’s the money that would bring us the things. I suppose none of us ever completely leaves this “Money and Things Could Make Me Happy” stage, but by the time we reach our teens, our experience with the celebrity stories has added Stage Two: “If I Could Just Meet Mr. (or Ms.) Right, I Would Be Happy.”

But even when Mr. or Ms. Right comes along, he or she usually comes up short on making us completely happy. Most teens are infatuated with an idol for stage two but remain well-attached to the toys-and-money view of stage one.

Or, with the help of parents, they may discover Stage Three: Happiness is a do-it-yourself job. The control, in the end, belongs only to you. And it’s not the destination that brings happiness; it’s how you handle the trip. What priority do you give to things, people, and your own inner talents today?

Here’s where parents, grandparents, and other adults in the family can help by helping a son, daughter or grandchild in conversation that takes inventory of a child-teen’s successes and strengths: “What a talent you have for understanding these computers. Your mom and I need you around just to keep us out of trouble!” Or, “I heard the way you helped your friend Lisa with her homework. You are a good friend.”

Happiness is not achieved by more shopping or even by the right companion. It comes from satisfaction with what you are and what you are doing. Parents can help their children with this growth by reminding them of their talents, their good points and satisfying moments.

Dr. McIntire is the author of Teenagers and Parents: 12 Steps to a Better Relationship and Raising Good Kids in Tough Times. Comment here or go to http://www.ParentSuccess.com.

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A short excerpt from chapter one

In this book, “Grandma, Can We Talk?,  I offer some advice for Grandparents experiencing those awkward moments with their grandchild when the topic of conversation has run dry. Strategies for dealing with topics from sex to friends, school, and dangerous habits can help Grampa or Grandma encourage reasonable conversation and a comfortable relationship.

The first chapter, “Listen Well’” presents the important point that children are especially sensitive to personal comments, “What Are You Saying About Me?”

Suggestion 1:  Listen Well

…When your grandchild asks, “Grandma (or Grampa), can we talk?” your answer needs to be a careful one. If you have this part right, your adult experience will be available to your grandkids at a low price. Go slowly here and review your conversational habits when talking with your grandchildren.

  1. “What are You Saying About Me?”

Your pet dog will perk up his ears whenever his name is mentioned. Most children beyond the toddler stage have the same interest. They “tune in” to the parts of conversations that are about them, and they are a little less interested in the rest. The most important part of the conversation will be, “What are you saying about me?” Talks with grandchildren can go sour immediately when we think their mistakes are the most important topics, while the children, first of all, pay attention to the implied personal evaluation!

“You should have seen what happened in school today, Grandma.”

“What, Donald?”

“Keith got in an argument with Mr. Effort, and they ended up in a real fight!”

“I’m sure it wasn’t much of a fight.”

“Yes, it was. They were wrestling!”

“I hope you didn’t have anything to do with it.”

“Naw, all I did was cheer.”

“Cheer? Listen, Donald, you’ll end up in trouble right along with Keith! Don’t you have any more sense than to…”

Let’s interrupt Grandma here for a moment. She criticized Donald’s story: (1) she thinks Donald exaggerated because it wasn’t much of a fight, (2) she thinks Donald might have had something to do with it, and (3) she thinks Donald should not have cheered.

Grandma centered the conversation on what she disliked about Donald’s behavior instead of the story. All this happened in a 20-second talk. Donald, like most children, will resent the way his Grandma turned his story into a talk about his mistakes. In the future, Donald will drift further away, and Grandma will get fewer chances to talk.

Grandma’s style of continual correction puts Donald on the defensive. Donald only wanted to tell his story for the joy of it, without corrections that lead in other directions. Here’s the first point of possible misunderstanding and conflict. A child may extract a signal of personal evaluation in less than a sentence. If the signals are negative, up come the defensive reactions before any useful exchange begins.

Let’s back up and give Grandma a second chance with Donald’s story and see how she can steer clear of making it all about Donald.

“You should have seen what happened in gym today, Grandma.”

“What, Donald?”

“Keith got in an argument with Mr. Effort, and they ended up in a real fight!”

“How did it all start?” (Grandma ignores the possible exaggeration, doesn’t express doubt, and shows interest instead.)

“They just started arguing about the exercises, and Keith wouldn’t give in.”

“Hard to win against the teacher.” (Grandma’s comment is a general remark about teacher-student relationships, and it’s not critical of Donald.)

“Yeah, Keith is in big trouble.”

“Did they ever get around to the exercises?” (Grandma is interested in the story, not just in making points and giving advice.)

“Keith was sent to the office, and then we tried these safety belts for the flips. Do you know about those?”

“I don’t think we had them in my school.”

“Well, they have these ropes…”

Donald may have a clearer view of the incident now, and he may understand the hopelessness of Keith’s argumentative attitude. He wasn’t distracted by having to defend himself when he told Grandma the story. And now he’s explaining something to his Grandmother. Grandma wants to hear Donald’s story, not give him a lesson about his behavior and possible mistakes.

Children are forever on guard to protect their fragile self-confidence. Donald is on the lookout for Grandma’s opinion of him. We grandparents sometimes concentrate our efforts on their childish mistakes, but the kids give the lessons a low rating, at best.

  1. Slow Down, Use “It” Not “You.”

Deliberately slow your pace of conversation so your child-teen can slow his. Even a sassy teenager is not likely to have your way with building thoughts into words and will become defensive when he’s rushed or runs out of vocabulary.

Ten-year-old Marie: “This terrorism business is awful.”

Grandma: “Well, you just have to learn to live with it. The world is dangerous.”

An argument has already started. Of course, Grandma didn’t mean that terrorism is not awful, she just moved on (too quickly) and made Marie the topic instead of terrorism (You just have to learn…) and missed her opportunity to agree with her granddaughter.

Grandma is next in line for a “Yes, but…,” an exchange leading to a louder argument because her pace is too fast. Now the focus has changed to Marie winning the argument. Grandma will make her points, and Marie will struggle to stay even. Distracted now by the argument, there will be little help with anxieties about terrorism. Grandkids in this situation copy the adult’s argumentative style of looking for mistakes to correct. A simple conversation has turned into a competition.

Eleven-year-old grandson, Joey: “I’ve got so much homework.”

Grandma: “Sounds like…they gave you…a lot.” (Good remark. with a slow pace, and Grandma only repeats what her grandchild said.)

Joey: “How can I do all of this?”

Grandma: “Well, why not start with…” (Grandma stops and remembers to avoid jumping in with advice.)

Joey: “I’m not going to do any of it!”

Grandma starts to remind her grandson he’s likely to be grounded for the week if homework is not done, but Grandma remembers to avoid punishment and instead says, “You’re really good at math, maybe you could start there.” (Grandma risks a quick-fix mistake, but mixed with the compliment about math, it’s likely to be taken positively.)

Learning the “it-habit” instead of the “you-habit” can also reduce the stress of conversation by allowing her youngster to stay on his topic. When Grandma got her second chance with Donald, she said, “How did it all start?” Using “it” helped avoid the instant-evaluation-of-Donald pitfall, it also helps Grandma avoid taking over the topic.

When a conversation seems threatening to your grandson or daughter, keep your conversation slow and look at the subject as an “it” instead of “you.” This tactic avoids the trap of “attack, defense, counter-attack, and counter-defense.” Conversation doesn’t make a good competitive sport.

Let’s give Grampa a chance.

Grampa: Leave your baby brother alone, Justin.

Five-year-old Justin: I was just going to pat him.

Grampa’s first impulse may be to say, “I know what you were going to do, just stay away, you’ll wake him!” His second impulse might be, “I like to pat him, too. But it might wake him, and he’s tired.”

Justin drops some crumbs from his potato chip bag.

Now Grampa’s first impulse might be to say, “You are so messy! Look what you did!”

But his second impulse might be, “Oh, look what happened. Better pick those up before they get trampled into the carpet.”

If Grampa chooses his first impulse in these examples, he emphasizes Justin, the person. You will wake him, you are messy. If he chooses his second reaction to each event, he emphasizes a situation he and Justin are dealing with together: It will wake him. Look what happened. It won’t make a lot of difference to Justin on these two occasions. But over the long haul, Justin will end up with a very different message about himself and a very different relationship with Grampa.

To learn more go to Amazon,com and search “Grandma, Can We Talk?

 

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This morning, Attorney General Hector Balderas launched a new ad campaign targeting New Mexico teenagers and parents with children under eighteen in an effort to combat sexual predators.

The ad, titled “Monsters”, reminds New Mexicans that monsters behind their computer, tablet or phone screen really do exist in the form of sexual predators seeking to abuse children and teens. The ad can be found at http://www.facebook.com

This blog is a shortened chapter on Attorney General Balderas’s concern from Teenagers and Parents: 12 steps to a better relationship. See https://rogermcintire.wordpress.com  

Computer Companions

Anyone (even parents) can see any note a child-teen gets or sends on a computer device. Geeks with a little computer savvy can copy them, use them, anywhere. You might as well spray-paint them on a fence downtown or, if they go even a little viral, then on the town water tower. Parents need to see what the kids type and read what comes back.

Teenagers average almost nine hours each day using online music, games, videos, TV, or “chatting” according to a 2015 report by Common Sense Media. Tweens, ages 8 to 12, average six hours reports Jim Steyer, the director of the study. Over 2600 teens were interviewed. Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2010 study said the average then was five and a half hours for tweens, over eight hours for the 11 to 14 group and nine for the 15 to 18 year olds—more than the daily hours of school. The trend is definitely up.

On the positive side, schoolwork online is a growing demand for a teenager’s digital attention. Yet 25 percent say their parents know little of what they watch on TV or do on social media.

Mom:   “Jason, are you still on that cell phone of yours?”

Jason:   “Yeah, I’m talking to Mark.”

Mom:   “Mark, who?”

Jason:   “He’s my fellow fullback on the J-V soccer team.”

Mom:   “Well. get off and come to lunch.”

Jason:   “Just a second.”

Mom:   (A minute later) “Jason, come now!”

      Jason muttered “gotta go” while texting, then he shoved his phone in his pocket and went into the kitchen.

Mom: “I’m starting to think that phone was a big mistake.”

Jason: “Mom, Mark’s a friend. We were just talking over the game.”

Friends are an important part of life and social media has become the connection of choice for teenagers. Parents need to be careful in setting limits because many teens “talk” with friends a lot more since the social media has become so popular. Time spent socializing has gone way up. But Mom is right to worry about how much time is OK, yet the time chatting with friends is not a waste.

A study by the Pew Research Center reported a lot of flirting on the net by teens but three-quarters said they never dated someone they only met online. However, of those who had a steady friend or partner, 38 percent expected to “hear” from their partner every day. Eleven percent expected hourly check-ins. Forty-eight percent had resolved arguments online and 70 percent had conversations that made them feel closer.

Among 12 to 17-year-olds in the U.S., 95 percent are online. Three out of four access the internet by cell phone or other mobile device and 20 percent say they have received unwanted sexual solicitations.

In 2016 we had over 800,000 registered sex offenders in the United States. Of course, most of them are online. Seventy percent of our teens will accept “friends” regardless of whether they know the person making the request. Only 25 percent of 12 to 17-year-old victims told their parents of the sexual predators they met on line. Only 10 percent of victims of cyber bullying told their parents.

Girls are more likely to be harassed online with unwelcome flirting and 69 percent said that social media gives too many people a window into their private lives.

 

  1. Use and Abuse of the Electric Window.

Computer and handhelds have become the gadget of choice and sometimes trouble for teens socializing with friends, surfing for informative sites, doing school work or playing games.

Socializing. In my childhood, the family telephone was just off the living room. No one in my neighborhood had a phone of their own unless they lived alone. My end of the conversation could be (and was) heard by all. If Mom answered the phone and it was my girl friend she handed me the phone while holding up five fingers. I had five minutes to talk. Everyone listened, it cost money not to be squandered and “time online” was a continual subject of argument.

Thankfully, the good old days are gone and now we all have phones that can do almost anything. Yet they can also be very private and time limits remain a problem. Children and parents have to learn when to turn off the gadget.

The internet may establish a fear of missing out that keeps a teenager up to the wee hours. He might not only fear missing out but he might also fear missing anything, says Sherry Turkie in her review of high-tech gadgets in the lives of teenagers. Her book is Reclaiming Conversation. The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.

But something is missed, Turkie says, phones may also separate people. One dad reported his time with his seven-year-old on a school field trip He realized that while texting and sending photos to friends, he had ignored the opportunities to talk with his son.

Surfing. The library and encyclopedia have been replaced for many students with a handheld that can search quickly through many sources. But while a trusted librarian can keep a student on track, a search engine can go in many directions and the sources presented are not always friendly or in the best interests of the student. The trust a young student has in a discovered site may be greater than his trust of parents and teachers It is important too keep the lines of communication busy with discussions of the latest discoveries of your student’s surfing.

School Work. Most schools now presume students have a computer device on hand and assignments often require some surfing. It’s an opportunity for parents to stay up-to-date with their son or daughter’s work.  

Games. The nature of games has become so mesmerizing that walking into traffic or a construction site is becoming a danger.

           

2,   Does He (or She) Have an Electronic Addiction?

Is addiction the right word here? Alcohol addictions will be defined elsewhere in this book as persons whose drinking habits produce excessive absenteeism from work or school and complaints from friends and family.

How does an electronic addiction measure up to that definition? Excessive absenteeism could extend to times when your teen is at school but mentally absent because he is texting friends or surfing the web. Complaints from family and friends would include times when a teenager is absorbed in his computer or mobile device and paying no attention to present friends and family. I think the definition of addiction fits.

We already know alcohol-related car accidents will still be the biggest killer of our teens until they pass college age. Now we can add multi-tasking to the reasons for the fatal crash.

 Who is Tweeting You Now? The Dangers of Facebook, Emails, Tweets and Texts.

 Ninety-five percent of teens in the U.S. are online. Also, 3 out of 4 access the internet by cell phone or other mobile device.

  Teenagers who fear being embarrassed often feel safe when tweeting, texting, or posting on Facebook. It allows more time to think over a potentially embarrassing faux pas and it also allows them to be unidentified.

 Nevertheless, it is also a danger to your teenager because unidentified people could be sending your off-spring scams or worse. How old is the author of the next email exchange with your teen?

Friends, Bullies and Meanies All Chime In on the Net

            Bullies often prefer social media because they not only have a victim but also an audience. Not just to admire them, but to add to the victim’s embarrassment. Be a frequent companion when your son or daughter is on the net.

 Scanning the Internet for Fun, for School and for Trouble   

 “Let’s look it up on google,” your teenager may say. Stay well informed with what your son or daughter is looking up on the internet by working with your teen on one screen. Make a habit of asking them to show you what was interesting, frightening or violent. Let your child-teen have the computer seat while you watch and the two of you talk over what is presented. Of course, you can’t always watch but, as a frequent visitor, you will be more informed.

At some family times, the social media should be off limits. For example, dinner times should not be times when one person is staring into his or her lap at a little window. Keep the family table clear of these distractions.

Blocking some sites as off-limits can help, but how do you block the sites she or he will hear about tomorrow. Time limits can be useful, but at sometimes, to stay up-to-date, you need to sit next to your teen to learn what is going on.

Mom:   “What are you doing on your cell phone?”

Fifteen-year-old, Marie:  “Just texting a…friend.”

Mom:   “Who’s the friend?”

Marie:  “Mom, do you have to know everything? Just a friend.”

Mom:   “I just wondered.”

Marie:  “Don’t I get any privacy? Do you need to know everything?”

Mom:   “No, but the net is used by dangerous people. I don’t want you to get into trouble.”

Marie:  “I’m doing my own private texting—it’s nobody else’s business.”

Mom:   “Nothing is private on the net, it’s the business of anybody savvy enough to cut in and read your stuff.”

Marie:  “Oh, Mom, nobody cares. I’m just talking to Jim somebody. He’s not even in our school.”

Mom:   “Wait, where does this friend live?”

Marie:  “Mom, I don’t know. Around here somewhere, I guess. Leave me alone.”

Mom:   “How old is he?”

Marie:  “How should I know? Stay out of my private life.”

Mom:   “This is on the internet, so it’s not your private life.”

Marie:  “What’s the big deal? We met in this chat room I follow.”

Mom:   “The big deal is you’re talking to some boy (or man) you met in a chat room, you don’t know his name, his age, or where he lives.”

Marie:  “Just bug out.”

Mom:   “No, I can’t bug out. Don’t text this person again. And if he sends you a text, please show it to me.”

Of course this is not the end of this problem. Mom needs to stay up-to-date on this conversation.  If Marie remains cagey and secretive about “Jim Somebody,” Mom should be nosy until she’s satisfied that Jim is a legitimate friend. Minors shouldn’t have privacy on the public internet, there are too many predators.

Marie needs to learn that social media is not private. There is a record of everything. This is not a diary. Online, it is always possible to keep records and they can be reviewed for any purpose. Marie’s access to the net should remain limited until she is mature enough to be careful.

The most important part of managing your high-tech teenager is to be available–available to talk and listen to your teen, to discuss his or her concerns, and to provide your adult perspective.

The Consequences of Being Busted!

Caught shop-lifting or driving under the influence, very few people, even adults, would understand the circumstances, the lawyers, and a lot of other details you don’t see in TV shows. Because of these vague aspects, your teenager might not have a clear understanding of the likely consequences for not-quite-innocent internet behavior. This lack of understanding can keep the deterrent aspect of our justice system from having its best effect on your teen.

Teens are likely to belittle a parent’s warnings of consequences, and they may be partly right that they will get off easy that first time. So if short-term consequences are mild, emphasizing the long term ones may sound pretty weak to the young and short-sighted.

Unfortunately, many of the consequences require long-term thinking – not a familiar task for a teenager. The shadow of a conviction lasts a long time in these days of high-tech data banks. The system never really forgives you. Everyone gets to know and your teen gets to keep no secrets. The information given on job, school, and loan applications is easily checked and you can’t just “not tell them” anymore!

Parents should do their best to dispel the magical thinking and the self-serving delusions that are short on facts. Internet “friends” who may tempt your teen into trouble will always be short on facts.

For example, if your daughter or son were arrested for some internet activity, would he or she know the possibility of waiting in jail? Would he know who is responsible for fines and expenses? How much do lawyers cost?  Who has to pay?

In the long term, a conviction can also limit your future opportunities – job and credit applications will explore your record and financial institutions will bring it up. Will a conviction jeopardize a college loan or a job application at a computer programming company? Teens need to know what they have to lose.

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