My daughter is graduating high school this year and for her, like so many other kids, it’s a far cry from what they imagined their senior year would look like.  Let’s face it – it sucks!  My heart breaks for the memorable events she’s missing, and I would do anything to make it better.

But as I was talking to a friend the other day, I realized a few things.  This group of seniors, whether they realize it or not,  have learned some incredibly important life lessons that will carry them far. They will be different that the Classes before them and will ultimately shape the future.  And I believe that these life lessons are way more important than any lessons they would have learned in school these past few months.

They’ve learned resiliency.  They’ve had to deal with disappointment and adapt to uncertainty.  For years now we’ve been bemoaning the generation of entitled kids, those who receive a trophy win or lose and are sheltered from setbacks. Not this group.

They’ve learned to enjoy the present moment. They didn’t know that the last day they were in school might be the final time they’re all together as a class. They will appreciate every game, competition and even party because it truly might be the last.

They’ve learned that social connections in real life are important.  For a group that spends hours Facetiming, texting, Snapchatting and living online the thing our Seniors are missing the most is spending time with their friends.  Sure, missing prom or the last day BBQ is disappointing but more than anything they simply want to be with their group of friends before they head off to college.

They’ve learned self-discipline.  Distance learning has forced kids to focus on their assignments in ways they never had to before. Without a teacher standing in front of them distractions are plenty. They will most likely be the pioneers of a generation that has less face time with supervisors and can work more productively and efficiently virtually.

They’ve learned to not take things for granted.  Just a few months ago they were shopping at the mall with their friends, going to a movie and hanging out at Starbucks and didn’t give it a second thought.  Yes, we’re a privileged society and the  Class of 2020 will recognize that more than most.  They’ve also spent more time with their siblings and parents playing games, walking the dog, making cookies and just sitting outside than most kids.  And they’ll probably tell you it’s not that bad.

This is most certainly a year they’ll be telling their kids about.  There will be stories of missed events and disappointments but hopefully there will also be stories of life lessons that changed them forever.

sextortationI frequently blog about cyberbullying and most parents now have a pretty good understanding of that threat.  But when I mention “sextortion” they have no idea what I’m talking about.  No, this is not some new sex position to try out.  This is the latest very real and growing threat to our kids online.

Sextortion is a form of online sexual exploitation in which non-physical forms of coercion are utilized, such as blackmail, to acquire sexual content (photos/videos) of the child, obtain money from the child or engage in sex with the child.

Unlike situations where a teen chooses to send nude pictures of her/himself to a boyfriend or a girlfriend, in these instances the victim send pics out of fear that the perpetrator will harm a member of the family or has embarrassing information that he threatens to reveal.  Unfortunately, once the photos are sent, the victim is trapped in a cycle of abuse and blackmail.

Usually the victim is a girl (78% of the time) between the ages of 8 and 17.  Yes, I said 8!!!!  And oftentimes the perpetrator is targeting numerous girls.

The Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, has released a series of PSA’s that show how a teen was blackmailed into sending more and more explicit images and video to someone online who she thought she knew.

While this might be an uncomfortable topic to bring up with your child it’s important.  Too often I hear parents say that since their child doesn’t know about sex or would never post a photo of herself it’s not worth discussing.  WRONG!!!!!  Even if your daughter doesn’t have a SnapChat, Instagram, Kik, YikYak or some other social media account chances are one of her friends does.  Does she have a phone? Does she know how to text? Then the possibility exists of her being a victim of sextortion.

As per the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, here are several ways in which sextortion can occur:

  • Threatening to post previously acquired sexual content online (71%); and
  • Threatening to post previously acquired sexual content online specifically for family and friends to see (29%).
  • Some other tactics include:
    • Reciprocation, whereby the offender coerced the child into providing sexual content by promising reciprocity
    • Developing a bond with the child through flattery and praise
    • Secretly recording sexually explicit videos of the child during video chats
    • Using multiple online identities against a given child, such as being the person blackmailing for sexual content as well as pretending to be a supportive friend to the child or a sympathetic victim of the same offender
    • Pretending to be younger and/or a female
    • Threatening to physically hurt or sexually assault the child or their family
    • Threatening to create sexual content of the child using digital-editing tools
    • Accessing the child’s account without authorization and stealing sexual content of the child
    • Threatening to commit suicide if the child does not provide sexual content
    • Creating a fake profile as the child and posting sexual content of the child
    • Pretending to be a modeling agent to obtain sexual content of the child
    • Threatening to post sexually explicit conversations with the child online

Be sure that you are constantly monitoring your child’s social media accounts and texts.  Install monitoring software to receive alerts for select content or images.  Watch for changes in your child’s behavior and talk to her friends – chances are if there’s a problem they know about it.

If you find text threads or posts, do not delete them! Immediately contact law enforcement.

 

 

snapchatSafety experts will tell you that it’s important to be on the social media channels that your teen is using.  But what if you have no clue what they’re about?  New ones pop up regularly and most parents simply can’t keep up with which ones are safer than others or even how to use them.  So, I decided to enlist my daughter to help parents get a better understanding of the more popular apps that teens use.  The first she covered is Snapchat.

Q: What is Snapchat?

A: Snapchat is an app that lets you share images with your friends but they can only be viewed for a few seconds. 

Q: Can you put videos on Snapchat?

A: Yes, you can. You can send directly to someone and put them on your story.

Q: What is a Snapchat story?

A: A Snapchat Story is a series of photos or videos that all your friends will see. They can go back to look at it for up to 24 hours.

Q: Can people save your Snapchats?

A: Yes, somebody can screenshot a photo of yours to save it, but they cannot save videos. You can save your own videos and photos, though.

Q: Can anybody randomly start following you on Snapchat?

A: On Snapchat, there is a search option to find people to add. Anyone can follow you, but you will be notified.

Q: Can you see who has added you on Snapchat?

A: When someone adds you on Snapchat, you will, again, be notified. However; you can’t always go back and see everybody who had added you.

Q: Can you block people on Snapchat?

A: Like many other social media sites/apps, you can block someone so that they no longer can add you or see your Snapchats.

Q: Can you add special effects to photos?

A: Yes, you can add filters and write on your photo as well as a few other effects.

Q: Do you feel there is more opportunity for bullying on Snapchat as opposed to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.? Why?

A: Unfortunately, bullying can happen on social media. If you send your boyfriend a photo or another friend they can screenshot it and save it.  Then if you break up or they get angry with you they can share it online and it could be embarrassing.

Q: How can parents stay on top of what’s happening on their child’s Snapchat?

A: Check what your child is sending and who is sending them Snapchats. See if they have saved any Snapchats by screenshotting them. 

love-is-not-abuseSexting, sexual harassment and domestic violence are all, in one form or another abuse.  It cuts across all demographics and, when it comes to prominent figures, can be shrugged off as an “addiction.”  What’s most troubling is, in the era of public apologies and subsequent forgiveness, the victims also seem to forgive and forget too quickly.  It’s all too common for abuse victims to return to the relationship several times before they finally break the cycle.

Yesterday I read that former TV Anchor Rob Morrison and his wife Ashley are back together.  This comes only a few months after a domestic violence incident where Rob allegedly choked Ashley while he was intoxicated.   Rob is participating in court-mandated therapy and Ashley is apparently telling some friends “the incident never happened.”  While this very well may be the case, it’s extremely common for abuse victims to recant their stories and even defend the abuser.

Coincidentally a survey also was released yesterday about the prevalence of teen dating abuse.  The findings were pretty incredible – more than a third of teen guys and girls say they’ve been physically, emotionally or sexually abused in their dating relationships, according to new, unpublished data from a nationwide survey. Similar numbers of both sexes say they’ve been abusers. Also, the teens who abuse their girlfriends and boyfriends often share a past as middle-school bullies.  What I found most surprising was that the group of people who contact the National Dating Abuse Helpline the most are 13-16 year olds.  Through this research, it is becoming increasingly clear that dating violence is occurring at a younger age than most people think.

Break the Cycle is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to ending dating abuse and engaging everyone in promoting health relationships.  Their website offers an abundance of information regarding dating violence:

There are many warning signs of dating violence that are important to keep in mind for yourself or a family member or friend.  If you notice any of these warning signs in your relationship or in someone else’s, be aware that these may lead to dating violence:

  1. Checking your cell phone or email without permission.
  2. Constant put-downs.
  3. Extreme jealousy or insecurity.
  4. Explosive temper.
  5. Isolating you from family or friends.
  6. Making false accusations.
  7. Mood swings.
  8. Physically hurting you in any way.
  9. Possessiveness.
  10. Telling you what to do.

 

It is important to constantly promote safe and healthy relationships at any age. Break The Cycle lists five things that YOU can do to help:

One: Get the Facts 

Do you know the warning signs of dating violence and the legal rights available to young people in your state? Well — find out!

Two: Start Talking About Healthy Relationships

Talk with your kids. Your family. Your friends. Your neighbors and your schools.
Because it’s never too late to talk about dating abuse.

Three: Speak Out

Use our Valentine’s Anytime Kit to raise awareness in your community. Ask your local media to cover your efforts!

Four: Share Your Status

Join us on Facebook and Twitter and help promote our message that “love has many definitions — but abuse isn’t one of them!”

Five: Be an Advocate

Visit your local school and urge them to implement prevention programs and school policies vital to the positive growth of their students. Write to your elected officials to support VAWA!

If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-866-331-9474.  You can also contact 24-hour help by online chat (at loveisrespect.org), or text (text “loveis” to 22522)

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Disclaimer – I have a material connection because I received a gift or sample of a product for consideration in preparing to write this content. All opinions stated within are my own.

Memorial Day marks the beginning of the 100 deadliest days of summer so AT&T’s It Can Wait campaign is doing a major social media push to get teens to take the pledge not to text and drive.  I’ve been involved with the It Can Wait campaign since last summer and it’s made me increasingly aware of how many people still text and drive – it’s crazy!  Many corporations are now tackling the issue as well and, in fact, more than 200 organizations including Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile US, Inc are getting involved in the It Can Wait campaign this summer.

Beginning May 26 and continuing through the 100 Deadliest Days for Teen Drivers ending Sept. 3, It Can Wait advocates will contribute to a social media campaign delivering daily reasons why texting and driving can wait.  The messages with pictures and personal accounts will be shared on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and ItCanWait.com.

Along with the social media campaign, there will be TV and radio PSA’s featuring real stories of distracted driving tragedies. The first story, which I heard on the radio last week, was about Xzavier Davis-Bilbo, who in 2010 at five-years-old, was struck while crossing the street by a young woman texting while driving—leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.   The mother says “I can never again say what most moms say to their kids, ‘Go out and play..’” It brought tears to my eyes and made me stop and think even more about the senseless tragedies caused by texting and driving.  Not only is that little boy’s life changed forever but that young girl will have to always live with the knowledge of what she did, all because of a text she sent that simply said “On my way.”  Was it really that important to text that she was on her way somewhere?!

My kids aren’t driving yet but I worry every day when they’re outside riding their bicycles or we’re taking a walk after dinner.  In a split second lives can be changed forever.


I implore everyone to take the pledge and view these videos as a family.  It’s not just teens who are texting and driving.  Parents, look in the mirror before you get in the car and think whether sending that text is worth the devastation it could cause your family as well as someone else’s.

 

 

Next week marks the beginning of the 100 deadliest days for teen distracted driving.  Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of car crashes, especially among high school and college students who are glued to their cell phones.  In fact in a national survey 40% of teens said they were in a car when the driver used a cell phone. Given the number of deaths and injuries attributed to distracted driving, teens still aren’t getting the message.  That’s why I love the Project Yellow Light video contest which invites teens themselves to create videos about the dangers of distracted driving.  Students across the country were invited to submit a video designed to motivate, persuade and encourage high school and college students to not drive distracted.  Three winners were chosen from both high school and college submissions and received a college scholarship while the first place winning videos from each competition were turned into official Ad Council PSAs.

Here’s one of the videos that I thought was incredibly impactful:

Now, you can vote for your favorite video to further spread the word about the risks of distracted driving.  Vote now until June 4th on the competition’s Facebook page for your favorite video and share with as many people as you know to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving.

“This post was written as part of my association with Toyota for Arrive in Style. The prize was provided and may be shipped by Toyota. Toyota is not a sponsor, administrator or connected in any other way with this giveaway.”

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Some of the great make-up in my Beauty Box

As my loyal readers know, one of the issues that I frequently blog about is distracted driving and teen driving safety.  You’d think by now that most teens…and parents!… are getting the message that texting and driving can kill you, a passenger or an innocent bystander.  Sadly, this isn’t the case.  In fact, according to research conducted by Toyota, 62% of teenage girls report using a cell phone while driving.  While my daughter isn’t driving yet, I know that she watches my every move and she’ll model my behavior.  And even though I don’t text and drive, I do have a tendency to try and reach in my purse for gum or mints as I’m driving or glance at her in the rear-view mirror as she’s talking to me.  Even these seemingly insignificant moves can cause a crash and I’m pledging here and now to stop.

In order to help get the word out about the danger of all sorts of distracted driving, and especially texting and driving, Toyota has teamed up with Teen Vogue for the “Arrive in Style” initiative.  This is a great opportunity for mothers and daughters to pledge to each other that they won’t text and drive and at the same time, win a chance to receive a monthly beauty box from Teen Vogue.  Simply visit the Arrive in Style site before 12/20/13 and take the safe driving pledge.  What’s more, if you post an “air driving” photo on the site before 9/3/13, you’ll be entered to win a trip to New York City to be featured in Teen  Vogue!  In addition to posting the “air driving” photo on the site, share it on Instagram, Pinterest and other sites along with the hashtag #arriveinstyle.  Every time you share the pledge on Facebook, you’ll win additional entries for the monthly beauty box giveaway.

My daughter and I were fighting over some of the great products that came in the beauty box but she agreed that I needed the Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Moisturizer more than her!

Also, for every mom and daughter that “Likes” the Safety Mom page and leaves a comment on this blog post that they took the pledge, they’ll be entered to win a beauty box.  We’ll randomly select one winner from all the entries but you’ll need to enter by 10/1/13.

What You Need to Know Before Your Teen Goes to the Party

Vodka Eyeballing…Purple Drink…Skittles Parties..Huffing.  Are these familiar phrases to you?  If not, you’re probably not aware of some of the
incredibly stupid – and dangerous things your teens are either doing or witnessing at parties they’re going to.

Most parents probably wish they could lock their kids in their room until college but unfortunately it’s not possible.  The reality is that they’re teens – they’re going to lie, experiment and get into unsafe situations that they can’t handle.  And some of the things they’re doing could actually kill them.  The trick is how to keep them safe before a tragedy occurs.

Join us to learn some tips on how to protect your teens when they find themselves in situations they can’t handle and sometimes when they don’t even realize they need help.

When – Wednesday, October 24th    2:00 – 3:00 ET

Our Sponsor –  FamZee, a new app for managing your teen’s mobile activity, including tracking their whereabouts and allowing them to discretely call for help in an emergency situation.

Hashtag – #PartySafety411

Prizes – Three lucky winners will receive a $50 Amazon card & a year subscription to FamZee!  Be sure to be a FamZee FaceBook fan to be eligible to win.

RSVP – Not necessary, just come and join!