Mar 16, 2011

Porn and Our Boys

A few years ago I asked my twentysomething son why he avoided attending my public lectures on the effects of porn on our culture. He looked me in the eye and responded “mom, nobody wants to have the word mom, and the word porn in the same sentence.” He was right. And this makes it especially difficult for mothers – and indeed fathers also – to bring up the topic of porn with our sons, but if we avoid this discussion then we leave our boys vulnerable to a predatory industry that spends millions of dollars on researching how to attract younger and younger consumers. The average age of first viewing porn is 11, and given that the majority of boys at this age have little prior experience of sex, porn is most likely the first time boys get to see what “sex” actually looks like.

But sex in porn is not about making love. The feelings and emotions we normally associate with such an act – connection, empathy, tenderness, caring, affection – are missing, and in their place are those we normally associate with hate – fear, disgust, anger, loathing, and contempt. In porn, the man “makes hate” to the woman, as each sex act is designed to deliver the maximum amount of degradation.  Slapping, spitting, choking, and vile name calling are commonplace in porn today, and no act is too painful or demeaning for women, since according to porn, the greater the abuse, the hotter the sex.

Defenders of porn say that it is just harmless fantasy and anyone who criticizes porn is an anti-sex prude. The reality is that porn, like all media images, has an effect on the way we think about the world, and while it won’t turn the average boy or man into a rapist, it will help shape the way he thinks about women, sexuality and intimacy. Indeed, it will impact on how he thinks about his own sexuality. To think for a moment that boys can masturbate to these images and not be affected is to ignore how we, as social beings, learn what it means to be human from the cultural messages that surround us.

From an early age boys are bombarded with messages about what it means to be a “real man,” and any deviation from this leaves a boy open to humiliation and ridicule. As boys get older, there is tremendous peer pressure to look at porn since this is seen as a rite of passage into manhood. Just take a quick look at the enormously popular adolescent boy movies of Judd Apatow, or listen to Howard Stern, or play any bestselling video games, to see how porn use is seamlessly packaged as an integral part of being a man.  The end result is that rather than developing a sexual identity that is authentic, affirming, and in keeping with their own developmental time clock, boys are bullied into a sexuality that is created by a bunch of predatory businessmen whose goal is to maximize profits, not nurture the wellbeing of our sons.

After twenty years of traveling the country giving lectures on porn, I have spoken to thousands of men and while it is clear that not all are affected in the same way, affected they are. Remember, this is the generation that grew up with Internet porn, and unlike previous generations these boys and men have an unlimited supply to hardcore porn 24 hours a day.

These young men have become so accustomed to porn sex that some are disappointed by their own sexual performance. When they compare themselves to the male porn actors, who can sustain Viagra-fortified erections for long periods of time, the guys I talk to often admit to feeling like sexual losers, and worry that something is wrong with them. Adam grew up watching his father’s porn and felt that “porn taught me all I know about sex. My parents never mentioned the word sex at home, and sex ed in school was a … joke. I had this image of how great sex would be, both of us going at it for hours. So it was kind of a shock the way the real thing turned out…”

What troubles many of these young men most is that they need to pull up the porn images in their head in order to have an orgasm with their partner. They replay porn scenes in their minds, or think about having sex with their favorite porn star when they are with their partners.  Dan was concerned about his sexual performance with women. He told me that “I can’t get the pictures … out of my head when having sex, and I am not really focusing on the girl but on the last scene I watched.” I asked him if he thought porn had in any way affected his sexuality. He said, “I don’t know. I started looking at porn before I had sex, so porn is pretty much how I learned about sex. It can be a kind of problem to think about porn as much as I do, especially when I’m with my girlfriend. It means I’m not really present with her. My head is somewhere else.”

What is new over the last five years or so is college-age men admitting their addiction to pornography, and I am not the only one to hear this.  Sex and relationship therapists Wendy Maltz and Larry Maltz discuss in their book “The Porn Trap” how therapists are seeing a rising wave of porn addicts looking for help. They found both in their practice and from interviewing other therapists that “what used to be a small problem for relatively few people had grown to a societal issue that was spilling over and causing problems in the lives of countless everyday people.”

The men at colleges I speak to who are addicted do indeed end up in serious trouble; they neglect their school work, spend huge amounts of money they don’t have, they become isolated from others and often suffer depression. They know that something is wrong, feel out of control and don’t know how to stop. While men may share their favorite porn stories, they don’t tend to talk to each other about their addictive behavior, which further adds to their feelings of isolation. Ted described his addiction in this way: “I never thought I would become so dependent on porn for sex. I can’t get away from it, even though I know that this is no longer just a phase in my life. I don’t know how to stop it.”

Never before have we brought up a generation of boys on hardcore porn so we are actually in the midst of a massive social experiment. The only problem here is that most of us did not sign up to be participants. What can we do about this? Unfortunately, there are no silver bullets. Education can help people open their eyes to the issue, and can move people to start taking control of their lives. I recommend that parents read all they can about porn so they feel comfortable about opening up a dialogue with their children.

I have been on many talk shows where someone invariably says that it is up to the parents to keep their kids away from porn. Certainly we have a part to play but the reality is that the culture should be helping us to raise our kids, not undermining us at every turn. The pornographers have done a stealth attack and it is now time to fight back. We can’t do this only on an individual level so we need to build a movement that empowers parents and children to resist the porn culture. The first step is a grass roots education campaign aimed at raising consciousness to the harms of porn as a way to build a community of like-minded people.

One tool in this battle is an anti-porn slide show developed by the founders (including me) of the activist group called Stop Porn Culture (stoppornculture.org). This show is now being given in homes, community centers, colleges, schools and anti-violence organizations across the country. It is a way to start the discussion and to encourage people to become active. It is important to build a network in your area because your children need the support of a peer group if they are to stand outside the porn culture. Ultimately this movement is based on the belief that the culture belongs to us, not the pornographers, and they have no right to rob our children of an authentic and life-loving sexuality that is based on connection, intimacy and equality.

Feb 21, 2011

Helping Your Tween Through Body Morph

The events that signal the transition from childhood to the tween years might be pleasant, like your daughter being asked to babysit, or your son no longer needing constant supervision and direction with his bedtime routine. But for most of us, there are other, more dubious events that signal tweendom. Think sudden modesty, boys traveling in packs, newfound arguing skills, eyerolls, attitude, and diminished interest in family time.
Welcome to tweenhood, where bodies and brains are under major construction. And while construction zones can be pretty hazardous places, understanding what’s going on in their heads and their bodies can help you (and your child) face it with a little more confidence, a lot less drama, and a focus on safety.

Part I: The Body Morph

For a lot of adults, thoughts of puberty bring back nothing but memories of awkwardness and insecurity. Most of us want our children to have a better experience than we had, and that means our children need two things in particular: a better understanding of what to expect before it happens, and a go-to adult (preferably a parent) that will answer questions honestly and without judgment.

The conversations are made a little easier by understanding that during the late-elementary to early-middle school years, the primary developmental task for your tween is answering the internal question, “Am I normal?” A focus on pre-emptive discussions and simple reassurances can go a long way to ease body anxiety and replace it with acceptance.
To make is easier for you and your tween, here’s a timeline of the pubertal happenings for girl and for boys. Having honest conversations that address their body-questions (both asked and anticipated) in these early years will do wonders for your connection with your child. It will also firmly establish you as their trusted go-to for future confusing, awkward, and private matters.

GIRLS:

Puberty usually begins with growth of her feet and hands!

Breast buds (caused by circulating estrogens) are next for 85% of girls. One side will typically bud first and show up as a hard, sometimes tender knot under the areola. The other breast will bud within a few months (although maybe up to 6 months later).

Vaginal discharge (also an estrogen effect) will begin shortly after breasts bud. The discharge has an acid pH that can be irritating to the sensitive skin on the vulva. As hair grows in, it pulls the discharge away from the skin and the irritation resolves. Until then, a mini-pad or a barrier cream containing zinc oxide (diaper rash cream) can be helpful.

Body odor (the result of circulating androgen hormones like testosterone) kicks in around this time. Soap becomes a necessity.

Pubic hair (another androgen related effect) follows for most girls, but may show up before breast buds for 10-15%. It starts as a few straight, darker hairs, then as more hair grows in, it begins to curl. If it grows “out of bounds” and pokes out of bathing suits, she’ll need guidance with hair management or choosing a different bathing suit. Don’t forget to mention that you can help.

Once she’s sprouting pubic hair, she will likely have oily skin, blackheads or acne (androgens, again!). Gentle facial cleansers and over the counter acne treatments, if used consistently, work for most girls.

She’s been growing taller, but suddenly, there’s a very rapid growth spurt, sometimes 2-3 inches in a matter of months.

About 6 months after her fastest growth spurt, she will probably start her period. Most girls have visions of menstruation that are entirely wrong. Make sure you share your first period story with her, and explain what she can expect. She wants to know how much it will be, how long it will last, what color it is, if it hurts, and how to manage it. Again, reassurance goes a long way to reducing anxiety.

Once the period begins, her feet should be finished growing, but she will continue to grow in her trunk, and there may still be some lengthening in her legs. Her growth slows down significantly after her period starts, but most girls will continue to grow at least 1-2 inches over the next few years.

Help her understand and accept that her growth will occur both up and out, and that getting new curves is the norm.

For most girls, breasts are not finished developing (shape more than size) until around age 17 or 18.

Brains are changing too! Through all this time, there are major changes going on in the way her brain functions and grows. Check back in next week for details on the Brain Morph.

BOYS

Puberty usually begins with growth of his feet and hands as well as an increase in height and weight.

As feet grow, they tend to take on a stronger odor, as does the rest of his body. Soap, deodorant, clean socks, and new shoes are welcome during this phase!

Testicles become larger and the scrotum hangs lower and darkens in color. For most boys, that means nobody knows they’re hitting puberty except them!

Hair growth increases on the legs and begins in the armpits.

The penis grows and then begins to take on a mind of its own with respect to erections. Erections occur more frequently and at unusual times, not just in response to physical stimulation or sexual thoughts. Make sure he knows this is normal.

Pubic hair will darken and become coarse.

Male breast development (gynecomastia) affects about 60% of boys at some point, most commonly between the ages of 12 and 14. It may cause tenderness, but it is rarely a problem and will resolve on its own.

Sperm production results in ejaculation either through wet dreams, masturbation, or other physical stimulation. Again, make sure he knows what to expect, and that it’s normal!

Voice cracks begin as the vocal cords change and the voice deepens.

Facial hair, oily skin and acne may show up around the same time.

A rapid growth spurt is common, but overall, boys also gain height over a longer time than girls, so their ultimate height is taller than most girls.

Muscle mass increases significantly and shoulders broaden

Chest hair may begin, but not all boys get chest hair

Final height is achieved usually in late teens.
Brains are changing too! Through all this time, there are major changes going on in the way his brain functions and grows. Check back in next week for details on the Brain Morph.

Feb 16, 2011

Sleep, Tween, Sleep!

It’s not surprising that parents’ child-related focus and concerns evolve in fairly typical ways as their children grow. Remember the early days of parenthood when conversations included commentary about newborn eating, sleeping and other bodily functions? Then, there was a natural progression into the toddler years, with the advent of first movements, first words and first social interactions. Fast-forward to the tween years.  Since recent data suggests that the majority of parents would like to change their preteen’s sleep habits and studies show that the majority of children get less sleep than they actually need, the tween years are a perfect time to circle back and take a look at the important topic of sleeping habits and patterns.
How Much Sleep Do Tweens Need?

The easy answer is enough rest to maintain good physical and mental health. But, many influences, including age, stress, physical activity and growth phase affect how much sleep an individual preteen actually requires to function well. Experts suggest that, on average, tweens should sleep 9.5 to 10 hours per night. As a frame of reference, teenagers need about 9 hours and adults can function with 8 hours.

During puberty, tween sleep needs actually increase. The value aspects of sleep change by age, according to James B. Mass, Ph.D, Cornell, sleep researcher and author of Power Sleep. In contrast to babies who spend at least half of their sleep time in a “deep sleep” state, by the age of 7 or 8, children spend more time in a light sleep phase and, as a result, are more likely to be awakened by noises, light, even stress.

A number of sleep-related studies have found that children, from elementary school through high school, get about an hour less sleep each night than they did 30 years ago.


Why Aren’t Tweens Sleeping Enough?

There are many potential causes for reduced sleep among preteens, including:

  • Bedtime Schedules — not having a standard bedtime schedule can inhibit the amount of sleep, based on wake-up time needs.
  • Non-Conducive Sleep Environments — televisions, cell phones, other media and stimulating activities in bedrooms can offset the benefits of a quiet, soothing sleeping environment.
  • Daily Schedule Demands — many schools have early start times (some kids need to catch their bus well before 7:00 am). On top of that, homework, after-school activities and socializing can impact a tween’s time during the day.
  • Family Needs — working parents may wish to spend time with their children at the end of the day.
  • Sleep Challenges/Disorders — issues such as: insomnia, nightmares, sleep apnea, and others can affect the quality of sleep a preteen gets.

What Is The Impact Of A Lack Of Sleep?

Among other symptoms, a lack of sleep can appear in the form of moodiness, difficulty, forgetfulness, irritability and/or poor judgment.

As important, “Sleep-deprived kids are unable to learn,” says Maas. “Memory, concentration, communication skills as well as critical and creative thinking are all adversely affected.” The brain needs to sleep so that it can process all that was learned during the day and be prepared to absorb new information the next day.  Since children’s brains aren’t fully developed until after their teen years, and because a good deal of that work is done while a child is asleep, this daily lost hour (which amounts to nearly one full night’s sleep each week) appears to have a significant impact on children.

On top of that, many experts agree that sleep deprivation at this age can mirror the symptoms associated with attention problems and hyperactivity.  And, sleep deprivation also lowers children’s immune systems, so they may be more prone to illness.

Conclusion:  Sleep needs to be a priority!
What Can We Do To Help Tweens Get More Sleep?

As children grow, it’s important to help them understand the value of getting good sleep and developing positive sleep habits. Here’s how parents can help.

  • Keep your tween’s room a sanctuary, so that it can be associated with comfort. Try to keep the bedroom conducive to sleep by keeping the light out, keeping it at a moderate temperature and ensuring peace and quiet.
  • Keep the bedroom media-free to avoid interference with the primary purpose of sleep!
  • Set an agreed upon bedtime (i.e., in bed by a certain time, lights out at a certain time) and try to limit drastic changes in bedtimes, even on weekends.
  • Reinforce a soothing bedtime routine, much like was done in the early stages, only evolved to include tween needs  (i.e., warm bath/shower, quiet reading, audio book, quiet music, even a favorite comfort object!).
  • Limit media involvement (i.e., television, computer, hand-held games, etc.) and any form of rough housing at least 30 minutes before bedtime to allow for a wind down period.
  • Eliminate caffeine after 2:00 pm; soft drinks and energy drinks offer stimulation that can inhibit sleep.
  • Review after-school activities if they’re pushing back your tween’s bedtime. Work together to achieve a reasonable solution.
  • Ensure that your preteen eats a healthy diet, cutting back on snacking and junk food, especially before bedtime. And, be aware of what your tween’s healthy weight should be; being overweight can affect your child’s sleep. Studies show that children who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight, and that being overweight can make sleep problems more likely (around two thirds of children diagnosed with sleep apnea are overweight).
  • Encourage physical activity, but not too close to bedtime.
  • Teach time-management skills; the use of a planner can help your preteen to be prepared to better manage exceptionally active periods.
  • Speak with your tween’s doctor about sleep issues that seem persistent, since most sleep problems are easily treated.

Maybe Benjamin Franklin, in 1758, stated it succinctly and best when he said, “Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

Feb 11, 2011

Helping Your Tween Through Brain Morph

As if body changes aren’t enough, the tween years also bring major changes in thinking, behaviors, interests, and moods. Suddenly, your child can sling some attitude, text without looking, and argue you to death-all at once! Many of these new “skills” are blamed on raging hormones, but the truth is that most of them are actually caused by all the shiny new thought pathways and hardwiring going on in your child’s noggin.

When you (and they) understand and acknowledge all the happenings in their head, it can improve your parenting efficiency and effectiveness, and it can help you guide your child into their teen years with a sense of safety and improved self-confidence. Oh, and it will definitely decrease the drama!

PART II: The Brain Morph
As recently as a few decades ago, scientists thought the brain was finished growing around age two, and “data entry” was all that happened after that. Today, through advanced medical imaging techniques, we know that the brain begins a second, large growth spurt around age twelve and finishes up In the early to mid twenties (yes, twenties—can you say “parental stamina”?). Understanding three important happenings in the adolescent brain can help you mitigate the transition and help your child develop useful skills and habits.

First of all, the part of the brain responsible for abstract thinking, impulse control, and understanding consequences (the prefrontal cortex) does not start developing until around age 12. And it takes a full eight to ten years to complete the process. During this time, your child needs practice and guidance developing strong decision making skills and socially appropriate behavior. Helping your child stop and think through decisions will help him become a better decision maker. Helping your child “take a minute” to process how she might handle a risky or dangerous situation can help her make better decisions in the future. Just because they lack their own “brain filter” doesn’t give them an excuse for bad behavior. It just reinforces the importance of parental guidance and setting limits for them.

Secondly, the part of the brain that serves as the emotional center (the amygdala) is amped up and in overdrive. Studies of the adolescent brain in action reveal that pretty much every thought, every statement, every action passes through this area and gets an extra helping of emotion. And the emotions are often misread and misfired. That means your tween is not very adept at interpreting facial expression or body language: a headache is anger, confusion is anger, a sideways glance is anger, and a sad event can be uncontrollably funny. Did you notice anger shows up more than most other emotions? It’s the most common emotion they “read,” and it’s the easiest emotion for them to “access.”

You can strengthen your child’s emotional intelligence by pointing out emotional misinterpretations. Teach your child to pause before assuming that actions or words are meant as aggression. Tweens need help thinking about the possibilities other than their first defensive impression. It’s also important for parents to model healthy expression of their own emotions. That means not jumping to conclusions emotionally, controlling the way you express your anger and frustration, and avoiding yelling matches with your adolescent. On the other hand, it also means openly and sincerely expressing your happiness, love and gratitude as another example to follow.

Additionally, this emotional center, as such a dominant part of the brain, needs to be “fed” regularly with things that give your child “emotional highs.” Tweens and teens crave excitement and thrills, therefore risk taking is a big part of their lives. The good news is that healthy risks (sports, live performance, trying new things) feed that center just as well as the risks we don’t want our kids to take (drugs, sex, dangerous behaviors). As a parent, encourage your child to take healthy risks. Allow them to become experts in their areas of interest or skill. As your child takes risks and masters new skills, you will see their confidence growing.

Finally, the third brain change that deserves attention is likened to pruning trees to allow for new growth. The adolescent brain actually goes through a pruning phase as it lays down new neural pathways and becomes faster and more efficient. The thoughts and actions that are no longer used get pruned back (think abandoned music lessons) and the brain begins hardwiring the pathways that continue to be used regularly.

As your tween’s brain is making new connections, it’s important to make sure they remain physically active and practice decision making skills, communication skills, and healthy behaviors like setting goals and establishing personal values. These are the things that they will carry with them into adulthood. Repetition is key to hardwiring. That means whatever they do repetitively will be with them for the long haul. That also means you can be repetitive. That’s right, it’s not only ok, it’s important to repeat your messages to get them hardwired over the course of your child’s adolescence. But be creative with your repetition so it doesn’t turn into nagging. Find different ways to get your same message across. Use examples from school, the news, music lyrics. The more your child hears the same message from you in different ways and contexts, the better that message will be hardwired into their consciousness.

Unfortunately, too many tweens are hardwiring less useful skills. Hours spent in isolation with a computer, or in front of a TV, or watching violent video games can have long term effects on brain development and behaviors.
So, just as your child’s body is changing rapidly and developing characteristics that will persist into adulthood, so is your child’s brain. Modern science has made it clear that there is no time more important than the tween and teen years for establishing healthy habits and spending time honing the skills they will carry into adulthood.

 

Feb 5, 2011

Puppy Love: Preteens and Crushes

Madeline Gerris, of Westfield NJ, initially noticed her son’s first crush when he started talking about the same girl all the time. “By mid year (of 5th grade), the kids were telling him that his crush liked him. He admitted liking her and that was the extent of the crush.”  Kathy Arky, from West Hartford CT, noticed that her daughter was texting more than usual, took a real interest in how she looked and was consistently in a good mood. “These are pretty good signs that love is in the air,” says Kathy.

What to Expect

Having a crush in late elementary school and early middle school is one of the cornerstones of growing up. Before we can see the physical changes of adolescence, preteens experience a rise in hormones resulting in romantic feelings. “The first phase of a crush is really a visceral attraction that involves a lot of fantasy,” explains Sari Cooper, a NYC Family Therapist. “The next phase is the evolution from fantasy to friendship. Throughout both these phases kids are becoming aware of who they are attracted to. It is important for parents to support those wonderful feelings,” advises Sari.

Preteen girls are usually much more interested in becoming a “couple” than boys. “There were girls calling my son in 5th grade,” remembers Madeline. For girls at this age, a major topic of conversation is their crush. Boys may think that having a “girlfriend” is cool, but are just as interested in talking about sports with their friends. If boys do have a crush, they are more inclined to suffer in silence. Madeline adds, “Boys usually keep it very quiet from everyone in school except their closest friends. Girls have no problem telling everyone that they like someone.”

Technology

Texting and IMing have replaced passing notes and talking on the phone. “Technology makes the crush experience very different from our experiences since our kids never have to make a phone call,” says Madeline. A major difference for preteens today is that not only do they “date” by texting, but they also break up this way. Kathy laments the lack of face-to-face time. “I feel that talking in person is very important. When you read an email or text you don’t get any cues – does your friend feel bad, are they mad?”

As well as being concerned about communication, parents worry about monitoring their kid’s activities. “I think it is a little scary for parents because it is much easier for kids to hide things when they are texting or emailing,” says Madeline. Kathy says that on occasion she will check her daughter’s texts to make sure that they are appropriate. In the age of technology, it is important for parents to be linked into their child’s cyber world. “Knowing your kid’s passwords is part of being a responsible parent,” explains Sari Cooper.

Being There

The most important thing you can do for your preteen during this phase is to listen carefully to what he or she is telling you and acknowledge their feelings. A crush involves an intense set of emotions and it is often difficult for children to express themselves. If your child chooses not to share their feelings with you, it is important to respect their wishes. Sometimes listening involves hearing what is not being said.

It is also important to avoid talking about a crush as if it is a relationship. In truth, a crush is just a glimpse of the deeper romantic feelings that your preteen will feel later in life. “To help your kids develop the capacity for emotional intimacy, it is important to talk to them about creating a foundation of friendship,” recommends Sari Cooper. Seventh grade mom, Madeline says, “I always encourage kindness during and after a crush. These are classmates that they will have for many years to come and they do not want to lose a long term friendship.”

The end goal, for parents, is to protect their child’s self-esteem. Sari recommends that parents watch for a reaction if their child’s feelings are not reciprocated. Preteens are developing their identity and may internalize rejection as “I’m not good enough”, “I need to go on a diet” or in the case of boys, “I need to beef up”. Since not everyone’s feelings get returned, it is important to remind your child that it is not necessarily a reflection on them. Sari suggests emphasizing the importance of finding friends that you really connect with; friends that are authentic and appreciate the gifts you have.

The Future

Crushes for most 8 – 12 year olds are quite innocent. However, there is a big developmental jump when kids turn 13 or 14. The teenage years are important, as it is a critical time in the development of their identity. During these years, without a firm sense of self, kids are most at risk for being overly influenced by peers. Dating early often causes teenagers to compromise who they are in order to make themselves more acceptable. Studies have shown that early romantic relationships are connected with low grades, drug and alcohol use, depression and sexual activity. Sari Cooper recommends that parents don’t wait until the teenage years to share their values with their kids. “It is better to have many conversations over time about relationships, creating intimacy, family values, religion, sexual health and protection.” By starting these dialogues during the preteen years, parents give their children the road map they will need as teenagers.

Jan 1, 2011

Homework Involvement or Over-Involvement?

One of the many tightropes we walk as parents of preteens is determining where to draw the line to encourage independence and how much independence to encourage. This challenge can apply to many situations including parental involvement in homework. We can all conjure up the picture of the frantic parent racing to school to bring some coveted item that was inadvertently left at home. Or, taking too key a role in getting a project completed. We might have even embraced an excuse to ensure that our tween wasn’t penalized for an assignment that never quite got finished.

Some would point out that this is giving our tween “too soft of a landing;” others would submit that giving their child every chance to succeed models resourcefulness. Like many choices, it’s personal and likely to be loaded with judgment on all fronts! With even the best of intentions, taken to extremes, involvement can become a hindrance. At what point is that line crossed?

Homework involvement on a parent’s part can vary in scope considerably, ranging from guidance, to co-authoring, to ownership! In the long run, most experts agree that rather than doing their homework for your tween or even over-guiding them, the emphasis should be placed on parents helping children do their own homework. When you think about it, taking over the task and over-directing homework activities may send the wrong message — that getting to the “correct” result is more important than the learning experienced along the way; or more significant, that you don’t have confidence in your preteen.

How Parents Can Be Involved (In a Supporting Role!)

1.  Have a conversation with your tween about the importance of homework. Emphasize the purpose – that it’s not just a way of making them miserable! You can point out the value of homework as a means of reviewing what they learned in class; helping them prepare for the next day’s class; learning to use resources, like the internet, to research topics. They might even want to learn more about a topic they didn’t have time to fully engage with at school.
2.  Make it relevant. Compare the homework process to work that we do as adults; for instance, “Mom goes to work each day and….” If your child is a sports fan, highlight the amount of practice that goes into becoming a sports success. Point out that few of us have a gift to be good at an endeavor without practice. And the truth is, like some aspects of life, we have to commit to certain activities that aren’t always fun. As we know, cultivating perseverance is a wonderful attribute that will pay off in many of life’s circumstances.
3.  Review their assignment(s) with them. Try to resist the temptation to share your strategy, but instead pose the question, “How do you think you’d like to approach this?” Hear what they have to say and make use of the word “Why?” to get at their thinking. If you believe their logic is unfounded, you might pose a possible strategy at that point, “Do you think it would help if you…?” In general, get them on board with the expectation.
4.  Make sure to give your tween a great starting point by establishing a homework routine and a distraction-free setting. Set a regular time, have an agreed upon location and have supplies easily accessible. Once they get started, unless you’re staying with them while they complete the assignment, have an agreed upon check-in procedure to monitor progress and offer guidance. Timed right, the payoff of free time can be a nice “carrot”!
5.  Speak with your child’s teacher to determine school expectations. Some teachers will appreciate parental involvement; others will want to get a full understanding of where your tween needs help by seeing their independent work. Either way, develop an open discussion with your child’s teacher; determine his/her preferred communication method (i.e., email, phone call, note, etc.) and make use of it.
6.  Speak with other parents to get a sense of how involved they are in the homework process. You can exchange points of view and tips to see if there’s something you’ve overlooked. Like many topics, hearing divergent points of view can help us sort out what we believe to be important. You might even suggest a meeting with fellow parents and your child’s teacher to be more efficient in the overall information sharing process.
7.  Reinforce school learning by getting a preview of topics to be studied at school. With this information you might dig deeper into the subject matter by pursuing extra-curricular learning activities (e.g., educational games, dvd rentals, book reading, books on tape, trips to the zoo or museum, family excursions, etc.).
8.  Make a Homework Calendar available to your preteen to record and structure more comprehensive assignments, especially as their homework encompasses a need for planning (i.e., there might be assignments that are broken into phases with different parts due on different dates). The value of organization can’t be underestimated.
9.  Get involved at school to the degree you can by showing an interest in schoolwork, attending school functions and even volunteering on a project. Make a point to ask your tween about school each day and what he/she’s learning and studying.  Connecting within the school will help build an informal support network that you can turn to when you need help figuring out a learning dilemma.
10. Set a good example. If you can, join in the homework process by engaging in a quiet activity nearby. That way, you can model the need for focus while your tween is busy with schoolwork. And, you can be available for help when your preteen needs assistance.

On top of everything, be sure to praise your tween’s efforts in getting their homework completed and ready for school!

Dec 28, 2010

Backpack Safety Tips For Your Tween

By the time kids reach their pre-teen years, they’re most likely quite used to carrying a backpack to school, sleepovers, camp, etc. In fact, the backpack they choose is often an opportunity for them to express their personal style. There’s a reason that backpacks are so popular as a means to transport books, homework, school supplies and personal belongings: they’re practical — they ensure an equal weight distribution across the body, enabling kids to use strong back and abdominal muscles. The downside is that because they can accommodate so much inside, they can become overloaded and enormously heavy. Under those conditions, backpacks can compromise a tween’s posture and lead to future back, neck and spine issues. Doctors and physical therapists recommend that kids carry no more than 10-20% of their body (less is better, of course). Easier said than done, since far too many students carry significantly more than they should!
Consequences of Heavy Backpacks

  • A too-heavy backpack can pull backward, resulting in the need to compensate by bending forward, which can cause shoulder, neck and back pain in addition to the possibility of unnatural spine compression.
  • Improper backpack use (including a too-heavy backpack or the use of only one shoulder strap) can lead to poor posture, especially among girls and younger tweens, because they’re likely smaller and may carry loads that are heavier in proportion to their body size.
  • Backpacks with tight, narrow straps can dig into the shoulders and interfere with circulation and nerves, contributing to tingling and numbness.
  • Large backpacks can be a nuisance to others when they protrude in a tight space or can be tripped over.
  • Large backpacks can cause a student to be off-balance and increase the risk of falling, especially on stairs.

How To Choose a Safe Backpack

Despite their potential problems, backpacks can be an ideal carryall for tweens to use to tote school and/or personal items around. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the following tips be considered when selecting a backpack:

  • Look for a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back (to cushion heavy items and prevent poking by sharp objects/edges).
  • Choose a lightweight version, which most kids’ packs are, and talk your tween out of sporting the enormous quantity of key chains that some like to attach!
  • Though stylistically this will be a tough sell, encourage the use of a waist belt that would help take some of the pressure directly off the back.
  • Make sure the backpack has multiple compartments to help spread the weight out.
  • Consider a rolling backpack, though it can be challenging to maneuver stairs and inclement weather.

How to Safely Use a Backpack

  • Pack lightly and organize the backpack to use all of its compartments.
  • Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back.
  • Ensure that it never weighs more than 10-20 percent of the tween’s body weight (measure if you have to).
  • Use both shoulder straps (slinging over one shoulder can strain muscles).
  • Tighten the shoulder straps to fit closely to the body and just above the waist.
  • Suggest that unnecessary items (e.g., diaries, ipods, personal books, etc.) be left home.
  • Reinforce proper lifting technique to avoid back injuries (i.e., bend at the knees and grab the pack with both hands when lifting a backpack to their shoulders).

Consider Getting The School Involved

Just as many parents (and trees!) have benefited from the curtailing of paper overload (thanks to emails and access to important school information online), involving other parents and your tween’s school in solving students’ backpack burdens might help to lessen kids’ loads. Some ways the school can get involved include:

  • Utilizing paperback books.
  • Implementing school education about safe backpack use.
  • Putting some curriculum and assignments on the school’s website, when possible.
  • Encouraging children to remove old items from their folders and backpacks once the subject is complete.
  • Providing a locker or cubby for students to leave material that can remain at school.
Dec 17, 2010

Bringing Up Kids in a Porn Culture

Parents are in an impossible position today thanks to the increasingly pornographic and hypersexualized culture. One of the major jobs of a parent is to socialize children into the culture. But what do you do if the culture is toxic? Children and adolescents are being exposed to a heavy diet of soft core porn and these images are now so commonplace that they are almost impossible to avoid. If you think I’m exaggerating, then flip through a magazine at the supermarket checkout, channel surf, take a drive to look at billboards, or watch TV ads, and you will be bombarded with images that a decade ago would have been considered soft-core porn.

If you want an example of just how hypersexualized our culture has become, then look no further than the rebranding of Miley Cyrus. It seems like just yesterday she was a squeaky clean Disney icon who was loved by millions of girls around the globe. Well, she is still loved, but now she looks just like all the other young female celebrities who are competing for stardom in a culture that increasingly hypersexualizes young women. From her photo shoot in Vanity Fair, where she wore bed-head hair and not much else, to her pole dancing at the Teen Choice Awards, Cyrus has been forced by the dictates of the market to conform to an increasingly narrow image of what it means to be female in today’s culture.

These images have a profound effect on both girls and boys because they provide them cultural cues on what it means to be a woman or a man. As children begin to develop their gender and sexual identities, they become especially reliant on media images to figure out what is cool, hot and most importantly, valued by their peer group. So what does it mean for a girl to mature in a culture where Miley Cyrus, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears are role models?

People not immersed in pop culture tend to assume that what we see today is just more of the same stuff that previous generations grew up on. But what is different today is not only the hypersexualization of the image, but also the degree to which such images have overwhelmed and crowded out any alternative images of being female. Today’s tidal wave of soft-core porn has normalized the porn-star look in everyday culture to such a degree that anything less looks dowdy, prim, and downright boring. Today a girl or young woman looking for an alternative to the hypersexualized look will quickly come to the grim realization that the only alternative to looking hot is to be invisible.

And what girl wants to be invisible? Adolescence is about being noticed and the desire for visibility among one’s peer group too often means conforming to the plasticized, formulaic and generic images that bombard us daily. We should see the porn culture as a bully that manipulates, coerces, and grooms girls into conformity by providing them with limited choices. This culture is slowly chipping away at girls’ self-esteem, stripping them of a sense of themselves as whole human beings, and providing them with an identity that glorifies sex and trivializes every other human attribute.

An American Psychological Association study on the sexualization of girls found that there was ample evidence to conclude that sexualizing girls “has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, sexuality, and attitudes and beliefs.” Some of these effects include risky sexual behavior; higher rates of eating disorders, depression, and low self-esteem; and reduced academic performance.

There are, of course, girls who successfully resist this culture, but they pay a price by having to embrace an identity that is at odds with mainstream culture. What I find from my interviews is that these young women and girls tend to have someone in their life–a mother, an older woman mentor, or a coach–who provides some form of immunization to the cultural messages. But often this immunization is short-lived.

Every summer I co-teach an institute in media literacy at Wheelock College, and many of the participants are parents or teachers. Year after year we hear the same story: they are working hard to provide their daughters or students with ways to resist the culture, and for the early years the girls seem to be internalizing these counter messages. However, at some point–usually around puberty but increasingly earlier–the girls begin to adopt more conventional feminine behavior as their peer group becomes the most salient socializing force.

While girls are being trained by the pop culture, our boys are being seduced and manipulated by a multi-billion dollar a year porn industry. Studies show that the average age of first viewing porn is 11, and porn today looks nothing like your father’s Playboy. Type porn into Google and you won’t see anything that looks like the old pinups; instead, you will be catapulted into a world of sexual cruelty and brutality where women are subject to body-punishing sex as they are being choked, spat upon and verbally abused.

I regularly lecture to parents groups and they are appalled by the images that any 11 year old can freely access by typing PORN into Google. What often shocks them is the sheer level of brutality where sex is used to make hate, not love, to a woman’s body. The feelings and emotions we normally associate with love – connection, empathy, tenderness, caring, affection – are missing, and in their place are those we normally associate with hate – fear, disgust, anger, loathing, and contempt. It is images like these that are now commonplace all over the Internet and are shaping the way boys and men think about sex, relationships and intimacy.

I have a son and I am outraged that the pornographers spend millions of dollars on research trying to figure out how to turn him into a porn user. My son, and indeed all children, have the right to develop their sexual identity in a way that is authentic, affirming and in keeping with their own developmental time clock. Porn today is the major form of sex education for boys and cultural education for girls.

This predatory industry even has its own lobbying organization called The Free Speech Coalition. One of their big successes was in the case of Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the coalition in declaring the 1996 Child Porn Prevention Act unconstitutional. Its definition of child pornography (any visual depiction that appears to be a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct) was ruled to be overly broad. The law was narrowed to cover only those images where an actual person (rather than one that appears to be) under the age of 18 was involved in the making of the porn, thus opening the way for the porn industry to use either computer-generated images of children or real porn performers who, although eighteen and over, are “childified” to look much younger.

Following the court’s decision, there has been an explosion in the number of sites that childify women, as well as those that use computer-generated imagery. Young women are made to look like children by dressing them in school uniform, putting braces on their teeth and making them act like pre-pubescent girls. Websites with names such as First Time With Daddy, Exploited Teen and First Time Sex legitimize and normalize the sexual abuse of girls.

I have been on many talk shows where someone invariably says that it is up to the parents to keep their kids away from the porn culture. Certainly we have a part to play, but the reality is that the culture should be helping us to raise our kids, not undermining us at every turn. The pornographers have done a stealth attack and it is now time to fight back. We can’t do this on an individual level, so we need to build a movement that empowers parents and children to resist the porn culture. The first step is a grass roots education campaign aimed at raising consciousness to the harms of porn as a way to build a community of like-minded people.

One tool in this battle is an anti-porn slide show developed by the founders (including myself) of the activist group Stop Porn Culture. This show is now being given in homes, community centers, colleges, schools and anti-violence organizations across the country. It is a way to start the discussion and to encourage people to become active. It is important to build a network in your area because your children need the support of a peer group if they are to stand outside the porn culture. Ultimately this movement is based on the belief that the culture belongs to us, not the pornographers, and they have no right to rob our children of an authentic and life-loving sexuality that is based on connection, intimacy and equality.

Dec 10, 2010

Helping Kids Cope With The Loss Of A Parent

Recently the news has been all about the death of Michael Jackson. Millions watched his memorial service and our hearts went out to Paris-Michael when she told the world how much she loved her dad. Now, we wonder what can be done to help the Jackson children, and others who have also lost a parent, come to terms with their grief.

What Death Means to Kids
For kids, how they perceive death depends on their age and cognitive development. Preschool aged kids believe death is temporary. Five to nine year olds start to realize that death is irreversible and that all living things die, but think that they are somehow immune to it. Preteens, however, fully comprehend death. “Between 9 and 12, children understand that death is inevitable and affects everyone,” explains Dr. Jessica Lippman, author of Helping Children Cope With the Death of a Parent.

What to Expect
Immediately after the death of a close family member, most people experience a period of intense upheaval and a sense of unreality, which can last a few months. “Gradually the real meaning of the loss takes shape, not just in how the person’s absence is felt, but also in the many ways life has changed,” says Dr. Robin Goodman, Director of A Caring Hand. “Grief for children is about the everyday changes and reminders – who read you a story at night or an empty chair at the dinner table.”

These reminders can provoke different reactions in different kids. Their behavior may range from regression, which could include acting out, to anger, separation anxiety, or needing to control everything. Kids sometimes try to regain the feeling of control in their lives by taking on more responsibility than is age appropriate. Often, the oldest child will try to take on the role of family caretaker. “It’s very important that this behavior is not accentuated or encouraged, because if the older child is taking care of the family, he can’t take care of himself and fully mourn,” explains Dr. Cara Gardenswartz, a psychologist with expertise in grieving.

It is crucial to watch for signs that your child needs help coping with their grief. Most behavior, under these circumstances, is considered normal. However, Suzy Yehl Marta, author of Healing the Hurt, Restoring the Hope advises finding a counselor who specializes in grief and loss if a child’s response is extreme, protracted, or the caregiver is concerned.

Supporting Your Kids
“As a first priority, the adults in the child’s world need to reestablish a sense of stability and predictability for their youngster,” recommends Dr. Lippman. The death of a parent can trigger fear of the unknown in a seemingly volatile world. “The circumstances of a death address how we see the safety and stability of our world. As adults, we have to help our children sort out the reasons and circumstances of the death,” continues Lippman. Helping your child put the death in perspective and assuring that they will be cared for goes a long way in helping them through the grieving process.

“Listen, listen, listen,” is the advice of Deidre Lewin, Director of the Den for Grieving Kids.  The best way to help a child through the trauma of the death of a loved one is to be there while they sort through their feelings, but not tell them what they should feel. “Accept their feelings,” says Lewin, “even though those feelings may be very intense.”

Lewin also recommends being honest with your kids, but sharing information in an age appropriate way. When answering your child’s questions remember to consider: what the child wants to know, what the child needs to know, and what the child can understand.

Death is tragic and kids need to know that it is okay to express emotions and be sad. Modeling grief is good for your kids. “Children benefit from seeing adults cry. Tears validate the deep emotions the child has and gives them permission to cry too,” explains Suzy Yehl Marta.

Grieving is hard on the surviving parent and tough to manage without the help of family, friends and outside resources. Reaching out to school counselors, teachers, and support groups will help you and your child feel that you are not alone. “A tween needs trusted adults to teach them how to grieve and provide them with compassionate companions that offer them the opportunities to mourn out loud,” says Yehl Marta

Creating a New Normal
Although life will never be the same, if children are allowed to fully mourn their loss, they can experience a positive childhood and even find deeper meaning in life. Unlike grownups, kids’ feelings of grief are intense and sporadic. At each stage of development, kids will revisit their loss and take new meaning from it. ” They will miss their parent in different ways and for different reasons as they grow up,” explains Jennifer Edwards, an expert in stress management.

While important for most children, it is crucial for preteens to meet and socialize with other kids going through a similar experience. Preteens need to feel “normal” and that they “fit in”. “This loss makes them different and sets them apart from their peers,” says Dr. Lippman. Preteens often have the sense that none of their friends understand what they are going through, which can make them feel intensely lonely. Jana Glass, Program Director of Kate’s Club, adds, “Socializing with other kids in similar situations is critical. Sharing feelings with peers breaks down the sense of isolation.”

It is important to integrate memories of the deceased parent into daily life. “Talking about the dead person may be painful at times, but is also a crucial part of the mourning and healing process,” says Deirdre Lewin. Roberta Temes, author of Solace: Finding Your Way Through Grief, suggests engaging in family projects, such as making a slideshow of photographs or collage, or writing a song, story or poem. Temes advises, “Don’t pretend the person never existed. State that you are sad when you are sad, and that you are thinking of the deceased when you are thinking of the deceased.  Admit your distress and then demonstrate that you are going on with your life even though you feel so sad.”

Signs of Healthy Grieving
Dr. Robin Goodman considers it important for children to engage in different grief-related tasks. Over time, you should expect your child to:

  • Accept the reality and permanence of death.
  • Experience and cope with difficult emotional reactions.
  • Adjust to changes in their lives and changes in their identity that result from the death.
  • Develop new relationships or deepen existing ones.
  • Maintain a continuing, healthy attachment to the deceased person through remembrance activities.
  • Find some meaning in the death and learn about life or oneself.
  • Continue through the normal developmental stages.
Dec 7, 2010

Beyond the Basics: Facebook and Your Tween

As parents of a tween, it’s always helpful to try to stay ahead of the curve so that you can understand what your child is getting involved in and be prepared to determine it’s appropriateness. If you’re like many, your pre-teen probably knows more about social networking than you do (the first clue to the technology fast track was when your tween changed your settings on your cell phone). If you already have a Facebook account and want to get a better understanding of how to use Facebook effectively (and how your tween might use Facebook), an important step is to gain a solid understanding of the various settings you can choose as a part of your profile. The settings are, in essence, the boundaries that you choose to define your “appearance” on Facebook. If you don’t already have a Facebook account and would like to see what the buzz is about, check outFacebook 101 for Parents of Tweens for information on how to get started.

One of the best pieces of advice we can offer to a new Facebook user is to test the waters (once you’ve friended someone who will act as your guinea pig!). Get a good sense of what happens when you take certain actions. As long as you’re interacting with a trusted friend, you’ll begin to see how the communications flow works. This kind of understanding will give you some good information to make informed settings decisions that will meet your needs.
Privacy Decisions

Not surprising, the most often cited reason for people not participating inFacebook is that they have privacy concerns. When it comes to privacy, you have a few philosophical decisions to make. Either you limit the information you post, or you include a good amount of information and utilize Facebook’s privacy preferences. Or you could do some of both. Not unlike getting comfortable paying your bills online, there’s a leap of faith to entrust Facebook with your personal information. Since trust and integrity are integral to Facebook’s reputation, the company puts a lot of emphasis on the importance of both.
Privacy Settings

Once signed in, click Settings in the upper right hand corner and select Privacy Settings. Virtually every aspect of the information you provided about yourself and what you post becomes your choice of whether it can be viewed by others. This includes: Profile, Basic Info, Personal Info, Status and Links, Photos Tagged of You, Videos Tagged of You, Walls Posts, Education Info and Work Info. You can also select who gets to view any of this information from your profile, including: Everyone, My Network and Friends, Friends of Friends, and Only Friends. Further, you can customize your profile to exclude specific people (this is the setting you don’t want your tween to select, i.e., excluding you!) from various aspects of your profile and postings. While making a determination of who sees what, think about all of the potential viewers before selecting “everyone” from the menu (i.e., child, spouse, employer, potential friends, search engines…literally, everyone!).

The more information you include in your public profile, the greater the chance of being “found” (great if you’re trying to connect with old friends, not-so-great if you want to stay incognito!). It’s helpful that you can check to see how you appear to others by typing in a friend’s name in the indicated box on the same page; you’ll then be able to view what they see about you.

It’s important to note that you have, through the Settings and Privacy path, the ability to block specific people from finding/seeing you on Facebook. When someone is on your Block list, they can’t search for you on Facebook (and therefore can’t friend you); they can’t write on your wall and they can’t write a message to you. And, they won’t be able to see what you’ve written on someone’s wall or anywhere else on the site.
Setting Tween Boundaries

Once you’re up-to-speed, in thinking through your comfort level with your tween’s use of Facebook, there are several factors that you’ll want to consider and be prepared to address with your pre-teen, such as:

  • If your pre-teen is under 13, he/she will have to falsely claim to be at least 13 to get an account. This is important because, if you’re OK with letting your tween confirm an older age during the sign-up process, it’s worth a discussion about when it’s OK and when it’s not OK to falsely state information (which, of course, opens up a whole can of worms, doesn’t it?!?)
  • Will you require your pre-teen to friend you so that you can see the type of communication taking place among his/her friends? If you believe this is important, and many people do, you need to decide how firm you’ll be with your “request.” Friending your tween will enable you to access their profile, photo albums and wall (where others post comments). Some parents require being friended as a quid pro quo for their pre-teen’s opportunity to have a Facebook account. Your tween may heartily resist friending you, claiming that other kids don’t need to. Be prepared. FYI, once your tween becomes proficient on Facebook, they’ll likely discover that they can limit the data you see from their profile (just as you can limit theirs); hopefully they won’t figure this part out too soon. By the way, you should also know that you can be “un-friended” without notification. All you need to do is: click on the person’s profile, go toward the bottom of the page (left column) and click “Remove from Friends.” If you are friended with your tween, you might want to check periodically to make sure you haven’t been un-friended!
  • Will you allow your tween to post (and tag) photos? Putting a name with a picture is a scary idea for many parents. All you need is an address or a commonplace location and there could be an element of familiarity that makes someone seem harmless to an unsuspecting tween. In actuality, however, privacy settings can ensure that only friends can see the details of yours/their tagged photos. It depends on your level of comfort.
  • How much time will you allow your pre-teen to spend on Facebook each day/week? This can be tricky. Some pre-teens have to carefully manage overall technology screen time. Others have a brief fascination and move on. It’s an individual tween/family decision of course, but might be addressed under the broader consideration that includes all technology. As one parent pointed out, “I don’t mind that my tween has a DS, a Wii, and participates in social networking…at least I have a carrot or stick to get them to follow the rules!”
  • Who will you friend among your tween’s peers? The expert consensus is to let your tween’s friends and children of your friends send you the “friending” invitations. That way, except for your own child, you won’t be interfering (and heaven forbid, cause your tween embarrassment!). Also, of note, once you have your tween and his/her friends in your circle, you can no longer “speak” without a filter. So, keep that in mind as you post your quips!

Features and Jargon

Newsfeed – the Newsfeed is located on the home page of your profile. It updates you about your friends‘ activities via their postings and profile changes. You can also have a chance to comment on your friends‘ activities. Others can comment on your comments, and so on! There are several settings options related to the Newsfeed that can again be accessed through Settings and Privacy Settings.

Wall Posting – think of wall posting as the sharing of public comments that you might post on a bulletin board. They’re also helpful for sharing links and videos appropriate for a broad audience. Many of us have experienced the misfortune of sending an email that was misinterpreted; perhaps something you thought was funny was interpreted as angry or your wording was too bossy or worse! The same can happen with Facebook. Keep in mind that changes to your profile picture, edits to your information and uploaded pictures, links and videos will often prompt comments to your wall from your friends. Generally, in your communications, be careful about how you “sound” and, whatever you do, don’t write anything that would embarrass your tween!

Sending Messages and Chat – the Message and Chat features functions much the same way as email and instant messaging in general. It’s between you and yourfriend.

Groups – Facebook users can choose to join any number of Facebook groups. Some may choose groups that are silly (fans of a YouTube Video), others may chose groups based upon an affiliation (fans of Abercrombie). Some may be chosen based on reality and others may be chosen based on aspiration. If you don’t like the group your tween has chosen to be a part of, it might be worth a conversation to understand his/her interest that particular group.

Pokes – “You’ve been poked. Do you want to poke back?” Pokes are silly gestures that really do nothing except point out to the Pokee that you’re connecting.

Quizzes – some people are prolific quiz takers. Are you really interested to share, “What famous literary character are you most like?” or “Which college stereotype are you”? If you like the quizzes, just be sure that you don’t include a quiz like “What’s Your Kissing Style”? It’s probably too much information and will surely embarrass your tween!

Don’t Wave Your “Freak Flag”

A big parent no-no is to express too much on Facebook! For example, photos of yourself or embarrassing photos of your tween (at any point in his/her life!) will likely put your pre-teen over the top. If you do choose to let photos be tagged, your tween’s friends will get notice that there’s a new photo of him/her online. Likewise, too much information on walls and other postings could not only cause your pre-teen to shudder, you may have professional connections that would be awkward!

One way to stay abreast of issues that arise and new updates on Facebook is to periodically search on Google or another search engine if you have any questions. You’d be surprised what a search such as “Facebook privacy” can reveal. Or if you have a concern about an issue in the news, just search it online and get some more information. Also, the Help Center along the bottom of the page is a great tool to learn more about functionality.

And, don’t forget to enjoy the fun part of social networking!

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