Instagram, commonly referred to “the social network of tweens” is one of the newest social trends. An application for iPhone and iTouch that allows users to upload, edit, enhance, and post pictures, it was used by one million teens in July alone. Studies show that more teens and tweens are using this platform to post pictures than Facebook, so it is certainly important to monitor their usage. Furthermore, a reported 45 percent of 12-year-olds use social networking sites whereas 82 percent of 13-year-olds do. One of the most alarming things about the application is the explicit photos that other users upload that any user can see. The Huffington Post reported that if you search the term “latte” 135,000 hits come up but when you search for pictures containing the tag “Instasex” 201,000 results are returned. With 80 million Instagram users uploading five million pictures a day, it is impossible for their staff to monitor every picture to ensure that no explicit pictures containing nudity or other inappropriate content go live. However, they have recently added the useful feature of being able to “flag” photos that are inappropriate.

Another danger your children face is online predators. The best way to avoid this is to set your teen or tween’s account to “private,” so that only users that they accept can view their uploaded photos. To do this, go to the Profile tab, scroll to the bottom of the page and find the “Photos are private” switch and toggle it to say ON. Be advised that when one signs up for this app, by default they will be a public account and must be changed over manually to private.

One of the more damaging social problems that Instagram presents is the issue of cyber bullying. Users can comment on photos, which makes it easy for “frenemies” to post snide or offensive comments. And nothing can start a round of tween drama like seeing photos posted of some party that your child wasn’t invited to. I recently saw a picture a tween posted where people commented about how sweaty and fat she looked Cyberbullying is certainly an Instagram danger to watch out for.

Be sure to monitor your child’s use of this innocent seeming app, because, underneath it all, it might not be so innocent.

While most people may assume that teens driving in the thick of winter – when it’s dark, cold and wet – would be more dangerous than driving on sunny, warm days, a recent study from AAA states it is actually the summer months that are the most dangerous. In fact, the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is considered the 100 deadliest days for teen drivers.

“Teens are spending much more time in the car during June, July and August – since they’re out of school and traveling with friends more often,” said Shannon Lara, senior manager, marketing communications for Honeywell Friction Materials. “Sadly – on July 4 alone – an average of 28 teenagers die in motor vehicle crashes.”

Bendix Brakes for Teen Safety, a campaign aimed at educating parents and teens on safe driving and vehicle care, is launching its third video to help bring attention to this dangerous driving season, and alleviate potential problems by making parents and teens aware of three key risk factors that could affect their summer driving.

  • Teens are more likely to speed and tailgate, yet they do not react as quickly as a more experienced driver. A Honeywell Friction Materialsstudy also suggests teens are driving vehicles that average at least 10 years or older and may have a badly worn braking system if not properly maintained. That means new drivers are potentially relying on outdated brakes, along with inexperienced skills, to stop their vehicles.
  • Teens are less likely to wear their seatbelts. According to Honeywell’s survey, even though 90 percent of parents have talked to their teens about the importance of wearing a seatbelt, these young drivers are not following through. Yet having to stop suddenly at 30 miles per hour would have the same impact as if a teen fell three stories out of a building.
  • Teens admit to doing multiple tasks while driving. Distractions – in the form of both mobile devices and other passengers – are probably the most dangerous risk factor as they account for more than 80 percent of all crashes, according to AAA. During summer, there is no shortage of teens driving together – but Bendix Brakes for Teen Safety suggests parents limit the number of passengers in their teen’s vehicle, as data from AAA reveals that having one teen passenger could double a young driver’s risk of getting into a fatal crash, while having three or more quadruples their risk.

Visit Bendix Brakes for Teen Safety on Facebook or YouTube for the latest educational video and for more useful tips and information on being a safe teen driver.

So much focus is put on teens and the issues they’re dealing with that the impressionable ‘tweens are often overlooked. Too many parents think that their nine, ten and eleven year olds are too young to know about many of these issues. Don’t fool yourself – they’re hearing about them in school and in the media.  Now is the time to start having open and honest conversations with your kids.

Dating – Parents don’t want to hear about this – dads especially – but ‘tweens are starting to notice the opposite sex and even think about dating. True, it’s probably not what we consider dating but it’s starting to get discussed on the playground. No matter what it really entails, kids as young as nine will start talking about sex amongst themselves. Now’s the time you need to initiate conversations about sex and relationships with your child so that they have the real facts, not whispered rumors from their friends.

Peer Pressure (Fighting conformity) – The ‘tween years are the time that they’re trying to figure out who they are and where they belong. Unfortunately too much of these thoughts are shaped by the media. From the lyrics in Katy Perry and Rihanna’s songs to the inappropriate behavior of former Disney stars such as Miley Cyrus and shows like The Secret Life of the American Teenager and Pretty Little Liars, the messages and images our kids are getting don’t necessarily promote the values we want them to embrace. And, as they see friends in school dressing in a certain way and behaving in a certain manner, the need to conform and fit in is tremendous. This peer pressure will only continue to get worse as they get older with sex, drinking and drugs. Talk to them about being a leader, having the courage to make the right choices and be their own person. Leading by example and discussing times when you needed to do what’s right rather than what was popular will go a long way.

Bullying (Becoming the Intervener) – The peer pressure can quickly move into bullying and having a strong level of self-confidence is undoubtedly the best weapon your child can possess to prevent it. But, not only can this help them to become “bully resistant,” it can make them a powerful intervener to stop someone else from being bullied. Numerous studies on bullying have now concluded that a peer intervener, more so than even a teacher or parent, can be the most effective ally for a bullying victim. Having conversations with your child about not succumbing to peer pressure and being their own person is the first step. Teaching them to get involved and stand up for someone else who’s being bullied is the next step. Once again, we need to lead by example. They need to see us standing up for injustice and helping others who cannot advocate for themselves.

Drugs and Alcohol – According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that 51% of 8th graders have tried alcohol. The rate of prescription drug abuse is increasing as well with “pharm parties” becoming popular. These are parties where teens bring any prescription drugs they can find in their parent’s medicine cabinet, mix them up in a big bowl and take a bunch. My 9 year-old recently came home from school and informed me she had heard about this from her friend’s older sister. There’s something to be said for the “scared straight” method of communication here. Your tween needs to understand in very graphic detail the dangers of drugs and alcohol. There are great websites such as Students Against Destructive Decisions

When is the right time to talk? Let them guide you – pick up on cues and see what’s concerning them. This is not dinner conversation but quiet time like when you’re alone in the car or before bed.

The greatest compliment my daughter has ever given me was when she let me know that she’s happy she can talk to me about anything. I know that won’t be entirely true and there will be some things she keeps from me, but the important stuff – the dangerous and life altering things – those she knows she can tell me.

A word of warning – if you have a child that still believes in Santa Claus, The Tooth Fairy and The Easter Bunny, be sure they’re not reading over your shoulder!

The other night my pre-teen daughter and I had one of “the talks.” I have to admit, I’m a bit surprised at how much she already knows about sex but I guess I shouldn’t be when she’s constantly exposed to older kids at school, tabloids at the supermarket check-out line and commercials on TV.

So, I’d have to say she pretty much knows all of the facts about the birds and the bees, a big milestone in my opinion. She knows what’s going on and she’s not going to be naïve enough to believe wives tales and myths that she might hear from her friends. But, no sooner did I dry a tear over her lost innocence, than she threw me for a loop. She reminded me that she was close to losing another tooth and she needed to find her tooth fairy pillow.

Her tooth fairy pillow – was she kidding me!?!?!? She just learned how babies are made and she really thinks that little people are flying through her window at night?

On the one hand, I was sad my little girl was growing up but on the other, I was thinking about all the money I could save on teeth, chocolate bunnies and the extra present from Santa Claus every year. These fictional characters have really started putting a dent in my wallet. Last year I wanted to curse some girl in school who told my daughter about the Christmas Elf. This shouldn’t be confused with the dreaded Elf on the Shelf who just causes mischief. No, this blasted elf would grant a wish every night leading up to Christmas if the child left a note in one of her shoes. Apparently this little girl got diamond earrings. Seriously??

My husband’s ex-wife started a tradition of the Lucky Leprechaun who brings gifts at St. Patrick’s Day. I’m not Irish so I felt I had an excuse. Of course it didn’t help when my step kids showed off all the loot they received.
Of course if said pre-teen is not the youngest in the family that’s bound to cause problems for the little ones. I’m sure there will be a time when my daughter’s angry at her little sister and will spill the beans on all of these treasured beliefs and then I’ll be paying off her therapy bills for the rest of her childhood.

But really, I was sitting there the other day just itching to say – THEY’RE NOT REAL!! I just have a hard time talking about sex and Santa in the same conversation. I mean can’t we save the money that I need to dole out at all these holidays and take a nice family vacation?

Let me hear your thoughts – how did you break the news to your kids and when?

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, an issue most parents think will never effect their son or daughter.  But, unfortunately, that’s not the case.  Most parents don’t realize the extent of date violence and abuse among teens.  According to a study conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU):

 

  • 1 in 5 teens that have been in a serious relationship report being hit, slapped or pushed by a partner.
  • 1 in 3 girls who have been in a serious relationship say they’ve been concerned about being physically hurt by their partner.
  • 1 in 4 teens who have been in a serious relationship say their boyfriend or girlfriend has tried to prevent them from spending time with friends or family; the same number have been pressured to only spend time with their partner.
  • 1 in 3 girls between the ages of 16 and 18 say sex is expected for people their age if they’re in a relationship; half of teen girls who have experienced sexual pressure report they are afraid the relationship would break up if they did not give in.

Not only is dating abuse and violence escalating, but verbal abuse through texting, Facebook and chat rooms is on the rise and not being fully reported.  For my upcoming book on teen safety I’ve spoken to numerous teen girls in Wilton as well as the surrounding towns.  Many told me about the emotional abuse they withstood from boyfriends who attempted to control them both during the relationship and even after it ended.  Their boyfriends would text them incessantly demanding to know where they were and who they were with.  They were demeaned and told that they’d never find another boyfriend and how they were expected to act.  When the girls tried to break up, the abuser would begin spreading rumors about them through school and sending direct messages to any unsuspecting new boyfriend. 

Many of these girls were afraid to tell their parents as they saw it as a mistake they had made.  Only when the abuse escalated did they finally reach out to their parents for help.  Sadly, many girls also mistake this sort of behavior as romantic – that their boyfriend loves them so much that he wants to be with them constantly.  But this is typical behavior of an abuser, isolate the other person from everyone else so their opinions of themselves are solely formed based on what the abuser tells them.

 

The result is a widening gap between what’s happening to teens and what their parents are aware of.  It’s vital that parents recognize the signs of teen dating abuse:

  • Isolation – has your daughter stopped hanging out with her friends and family to exclusively be with her boyfriend?
  • Emotional Changes – has she become withdrawn or sad? 
  • Jealousy Issues – does her boyfriend flying into jealous rages if she speaks to another boy?
  • Making Excuses for Him – does she make excuses and blame herself if they have an argument and he verbally abuses her?

If your daughter is exhibiting any one of these behaviors it’s important to start a conversation and let her know you’re there to help.  Many times she might be afraid to tell you what’s going on.  Her boyfriend might be threatening to expose nude photos of her or in some other way blackmail her.  She needs to know that you love her unconditionally.  Talk to her about the specific issues that you’ve noticed and give her guidelines on how to end the relationship.  Explain to her that abuse usually begins with taunting, teasing and put downs but usually escalates to physical violence.  Enlist the support of psychologists and school administrators and make sure she knows that you will intervene on her behalf.

Please also look for support and information at www.LoveIsRespect.org

 

The Associated Press released a story this morning announcing the findings from their joint MTVonline bullying survey.  Below are some of the highlights from the poll. 

  • Fifty-six percent of respondents say they’ve been electronically bullied in some way or another, up from 50 percent in 2009, with the most frequent forms of bullying including people writing things online that aren’t true (26 percent) and people writing things online that are mean (24 percent).
  • Young adults are a bit more apt to have been electronically bullied at some point than teens (59 percent of young adults vs. 51 percent among teens), but for teens, electronic bullying is more recent. Just over three in 10 say they’ve been bullied at some point in the last six months, compared with 24 percent among those ages 18-24.
  • Young women (82 percent) and non-whites (80 percent) are more apt to see bullying as a problem than are men or whites. And those 14-17 are more apt to call it a problem (80 percent) than their older peers (73 percent).
  • Asking the person who did it to stop was effective for 47 percent who tried it, 14 percent said it made things worse and 27 percent said it had no effect.
  • In terms of effectiveness, a few techniques stand out as being particularly helpful, all of which had to do with limiting access: 80 percent said changing their passwords made the situation better, 67 percent reported that changing their email address, screen name or cell phone number made things better and 59 percent said deleting their social networking profile ameliorated the situation.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens.  In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the scary statistic is one in three teen deaths.  Toyota has taken notice of this and wants to help parents make their young drivers better drivers.  In October, Toyota will once again be offering, free of charge, its safe teen driving program, Toyota Driving Expectations, in hopes of reducing the death rate of young drivers.

Toyota Driving Expectations puts newly licensed or permitted teen drivers behind the wheel to face real-world driving scenarios so they learn critical defensive driving skills and crash avoidance techniques, as well as experience the dangers of distracted driving.  A unique element of the program is the required attendance of a parent or guardian with teen participants. While teens gain valuable experience behind the wheel, parents learn how to be strong driving role models and coaches for their children. 

To learn more and register, visit their website Toyota Driving Expectations.