Dealing with what children watch online

Parents are often caught in a dilemma over how much time their child should spend on computer and mobile. ‘What are they doing for so many hours?’ ‘Are they really studying or browsing the net?’  ‘What are they browsing?’ These and many more questions arise in your mind when you see your child shifting from one screen to another throughout the day. With the Corona pandemic and class room teaching shifting to virtual mode as well as children’s play time being taken away, the worries and apprehensions have multiplied. Neither can you check on your child all the time nor can you leave them to their devices in an uncontrolled manner. So how do you ensure that your child is not watching what is not age appropriate? How do you broach the subject in a manner that is unobtrusive?

The Internet can be wonderful for kids. They can use it to research school reports, communicate with teachers and other kids, and play interactive games. But online access also comes with risks, like inappropriate content, cyber bullying and online predators.

Kids’ online time can be monitored by parents and guidelines can be set. If you set rules at a young age it becomes easy to follow them even as they grow older. So start early.

Basic guidelines for parental supervision:

  • Spend time online together to teach your kids appropriate online behavior.
  • Keep the computer in a common area where you can watch and monitor its use, not in individual bedrooms. Monitor any time spent on smartphones or tablets.
  • Bookmark kids’ favorite sites for easy access.

The Internet and Teens

As kids get older, it gets a little trickier to monitor their time spent online. They may carry a smartphone with them at all times. They probably want — and need — some privacy. This is healthy and normal, as they’re becoming more independent from their parents. The Internet can provide a safe “virtual” environment for exploring some newfound freedom if precautions are taken. However seeing inappropriate content at a young age can leave children feeling confused and unable to process what they have seen or experienced.

If your child does stumble across something inappropriate online, there are a few things that you can do to deal with it:

Establish whether if they stumbled onto the content accidentally or were simply curious and went looking for it. If it an accident, reassure them that is not a bad thing and show understanding.

  • If they went looking for it, have an honest conversation about why they felt the need to, to understand and help them take a more critical view of their actions.
  • Stay calm and discuss what they have seen and how it has made them feel to assess what emotional support they may need.
  • If they can’t talk to you, you could take the help of professional counselors with whom they can talk about what they may be feeling.
  • Review settings and control on the platforms they use to ensure that these are set to the right levels.

My child has seen inappropriate contents. What do I do?

If your child has accidentally come across pornography or actively sought it out by searching for it, it is only natural that questions about what they have seen is going to eat you up. Best way to deal with it is to talk it out.

  • Have an age appropriate conversation and explain that there are some things online that are for adults only and if they see something that upsets them, they should always come and tell you.
  • It may be a good time to help your child think critically about the images they see online and offline.
  • Try and give them coping strategies to help them deal with any online content that they are uncomfortable with like closing the laptop lid or turning off the screen.
  • Reassure them that they can always come to you if they feel they have seen something online that has worried them.
  • Set your expectations. Tell them that you expect them to be forth right and honest. If they are confident that you are empathetic and won’t judge them then they will not want to lie to you.
  • Appreciate them for telling the truth.
  • Be prepared that they may have questions about sex and relationships. Keep age appropriate answers ready.

Block Inappropriate content in anticipation

  • Make sure the devices are used in a shared room, like living room.
  • Limit the chances of exposure to inappropriate content by setting up filters and parental controls on devices – i.e. filters on your home internet, and YouTube, Restricted Mode and Google Safe Search.

 

 

 

Handling Stress in Adolescents

Stress has significant negative effects on the physical and mental health of people, irrespective of gender, race, and age.Stress occurs when mental, emotional, and/or physical demands increase beyond the regulatory capacity of a person, and the impact may differ depending on the frequency, magnitude, and duration of the stress. While moderate levels of stress can be adaptive, in fact I would even say required for us to push our limits, stress persisting for long periods can have negative consequences on the well-being of a person.

When Akarsh reached class eight his parents started planning his future course of action. Coming from a family of high achievers his father was very clear that his son would go only to IIT and then to IIM or go abroad for a Master’s in Business Administration. School had also scheduled a counseling session for the 13 year olds where they went through an aptitude test to decide on their career goals. Now Akarsh came under tremendous pressure to fulfill the prophesies of the parents and the school counselor! Akarsh wants to be a kid, but he has to think about what he’s going to do 4 years from now.

Shreya’s social life was adding pressure to her. She would see pictures on Facebook and Instagram of her friends all out partying and she was not included and it waspainful. Before all the social media, we didn’t see pictures of everything people were doing without us. This left the once happy-go-lucky Shreya frequently in tears. She would say over and over, ‘I just feel so much pressure! I can’t be myself because I have to act mature.’ She won’t sleep at night because she’s worried about what someone will think of how she acted, and if it will wind up on Facebook.

 

Stress in Adolescents:-

Adolescence is defined as the period between childhood and adulthood, beginning with the onset of puberty and characterized by changes in hormonal levels and consequent physical, psychological, and social changes. Adolescence roughly corresponds to the period between 10 and 19 years though adolescence may extend up to 25 years of age in some cases.Adolescence is a unique and formative time. Multiple physical, emotional and social changes can make adolescents vulnerable to mental health problems. Promoting psychological well-being and protecting adolescents from adverse experiences and risk factors that may impact their potential to thrive are critical for their well-being during adolescence and for their physical and mental health in adulthood.

Adolescence is a crucial period for developing and maintaining social and emotional habits important for mental well-being. These include adopting healthy sleep patterns,taking regular exercise, developing interpersonal skills, problem solving and learning to manage emotions. Supportive environments in the family, at school and in the society are all very important. According to WHO an estimated 1020% of adolescents globally experience mental health conditions, yet these remain underdiagnosed and undertreated.

There is a strong association between chronic stress and psychopathology in adolescence, with stress linked to depression, anxiety and other problems.

Akarsh and Shreya are just two examples of how our children are getting stressed out every day. There are many reasons for stress in in children, and pressure to perform academically and social media are two main reasons.

 

Reasons for Stress:-

Academic Performance: This is a major cause of stress among children. Coupled with high stake testing system it is a potent cocktail for stress among school goers. Children as young as 7-8 years old are seeing therapists with sleep and anxiety issues.

Over Stuffed Schedules: Activities like sports or art or music should help relieve stress, not add to it. Understand your child and take your cues from him. If your child starts a new sport or music lesson and starts becoming overwhelmed and stressed, it may be too much.

Fewer Healthy outlets for stress: Schools have slashed games periodsand they hardly have two classes in a week. As children go to higher classes those periods are also taken up for completing syllabus or revision work.

Media saturation and viewing adult content: Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle and constant connectivity, kids are exposed at a much younger age to terrifying news stories. And today’s young people see more than their share of violence and adult sexuality packaged as entertainment, often without their parents present, thanks to smartphones and tablets. And the use of electronic devices is skyrocketing.

Bullying and Teasing: As in the case of Shreya, social media plays a major role in this. Putting up messages and comments on social media platform goes viral with one click and stays on with the child for a long time to come.

Faster child development: Kindergarten is the new first grade. Till 30 years back kindergarten was for finger painting and blocks, making friends and sharing food. Today, kindergartners average 25 minutes of homework a day, while first and second graders spend more than an hour in doing home works.

Sleep deprivation: School pressures, after school activity and social mediaaffect the sleep pattern of children. Most children these days have at least one electronic device in the bedroom, which can cut a night’s sleep down by almost an hour. Even slight sleep loss affects memory, judgment, and mood.

Chronic illness: Asthma, obesity and behavioral and learning problems have increased over the years. According to one study ADHD among primary school children in India is 11.36%. We are seeing an increase in the number of ADHD and Autism cases.  Missing school and play activities for doctor’s appointments, side effects from treatment, and not being able to do some things that other children do can be very stressful.

Family disruption: Family issues like parental illness, fight among parents or divorce can really stress out kids.

Parental stress: The family is a child’s stress buffer. But when a family struggles and can’t play that role, a child feels even more tension.

 

How can you tell if your child struggles with stress? You may think you’d know, but that’s not always the case. It often goes unnoticed.

 

Watch for these signs:

  • Acting unusually irritable or moody
  • Unexplained changes in school performance
  • Withdrawing from friends
  • Not participating in activities that he or she used to enjoy
  • Unexplained physical symptoms, like frequent stomachaches or headaches.
  • Sleeping much more or much less than usual
  • Eating much more or less than usual

Everyone experiences stress and anxiety. It’s common, especially in childhood. But is the stress causing disruption in your child’s life? Is it lasting? … If your child has a stressful week, and the anxiety goes away once things have calmed down, that’s normal. But if the stress is significant and frequent or doesn’t go away, that’s when it’s time to seek help.

 

How to Help Your Child De-stress:

  • Keep connected: The greatest way to increase resilience in kids is to stay connected with them. Make sure you have time every day when you put your phones and your devices away, and you’re talking to your kids and your kids are talking to you. While staying connected observe the following:
  • Just be there: Kids don’t always feel like talking about what’s bothering them. Sometimes that’s OK. Let your kids know you’ll be there when they do feel like talking. Even when kids don’t want to talk, they usually don’t want parents to leave them alone. You can help your child feel better just by being there — keeping him or her company, spending time together. So if you notice that your child seems to be down in the dumps, stressed, or having a bad day — but doesn’t feel like talking — initiate something you can do together. Take a walk, watch a movie, kick around a ball, or bake some cookies. Isn’t it nice to know that your presence really counts?
  • Notice out loud: Tell your child when you notice that something’s bothering him or her. If you can, name the feeling you think your child is experiencing. (“It seems like you’re still mad about what happened at the playground.”) This shouldn’t sound like an accusation (as in, “OK, what happened now? Are you still mad about that?”)  It’s just a casual observation that you’re interested in hearing more about your child’s concern. Be sympathetic and show you care and want to understand.
  • Listen to your child: Ask your child to tell you what’s wrong. Listen attentively and calmly — with interest, patience, openness, and caring. Avoid any urge to judge, blame, lecture, or say what you think your child should have done instead. The idea is to let your child’s concerns (and feelings) be heard. Try to get the whole story by asking questions like “And then what happened?” Take your time. And let your child take his or her time, too.
  • Comment briefly on the feelings you think your child was experiencing: For example, you might say “That must have been upsetting,” “No wonder you felt mad when they wouldn’t let you in the game,” or “That must have seemed unfair to you.” Doing this shows that you understand what your child felt, why, and that you care. Feeling understood and listened to helps your child feel supported by you, and that is especially important in times of stress.
  • Help your child think of things to do: If there’s a specific problem that’s causing stress, talk together about what to do. Encourage your child to think of a couple of ideas. You can start the brainstorming if necessary, but don’t do all the work. Your child’s active participation will build confidence. Support the good ideas and add to them as needed. Ask, “How do you think this will work?”
  • Listen and move on: Sometimes talking and listening and feeling understood is all that’s needed to help a child’s frustrations begin to melt away. Afterward, try changing the subject and moving on to something more positive and relaxing. Help your child think of something to do to feel better. Don’t give the problem more attention than it deserves.
  • Take it easy: Families are always running from one thing to another. Make sure your kids get regular, unstructured time at home when they can play, rest, read, or do whatever they feel like doing which is fun and stress free. All kids need breaks.
  • Name stress and normalize it: Many younger kids do not yet have words for their feelings. If your child seems angry or frustrated, use those words to help him or her learn to identify the emotions by name. Putting feelings into words helps kids communicate and develop emotional awareness — the ability to recognize their own emotional states. Kids who can do so are less likely to reach the behavioral boiling point where strong emotions come out through behaviors rather than communicated with words.Tell them it’s ok to feel stressed and their body is reacting to it. Give them the reassurance.
  • Stick to healthy routines: Like good nutrition and regular bedtimes. Stress busting food include Greens, Fish, Egg, Carrot, Milk,Yogurt, Soya bean, Nuts and whole grain. Avoid or restrict food like Caffeinated drinks, refined carbs like maida, processed food and sugar .
  • Limit stress where possible: If certain situations are causing stress, see if there are ways to change things. For instance, if too many after-school activities consistently cause homework stress, it might be necessary to limit activities to leave time and energy for homework.
  • Ask your pediatrician: For guidance or a referral for counseling if your child’s stress seems to be persistent and overwhelming.
  • Take care of yourself and Model healthy coping strategies: Get yourself in check emotionally before you take care of your kids. When you ease your own stress, you boost your connection to your children.As parents, you are your children’s first teachers. They watch your behaviors and see what you do when you are stressed out. What are your go-to coping strategies? – Do you like to go to the gym? Knit? Do a crossword puzzle?The next time you use a coping skill, share that information with your child. Say it out loud. “I’m so stressed right now, and I just need a quick break. I’m going to knit for 10 minutes.”

 

There will always be stress, but it’s all about how you manage it. Parents can’t solve every problem as kids go through life. But by teaching healthy coping strategies, you’ll prepare your kids to manage the stresses that come in the future. The earlier your child can learn healthy coping skills, the bigger their repertoire of coping skills will be. With a good set of coping strategies, they can tackle stressful situations successfully.

 

 

Type Casting Children

I remember the moment my son Shaurya was born. He was bawling and it was the cry of a healthy baby announcing his arrival! The nurse commented ‘your son is going to get his way just howling’. When I came home and had more time to reflect on the whole thing, I put her comment aside as foolish.

And yet, in the coming months, when he kept on crying for everything, refusing to sleep no matter how much I rocked him, refusing to eat, refusing to go to school, refusing to leave me even for a few seconds, I couldn’t help thinking he is a cry baby.

Such self – fulfilling prophesies are dangerous. If we label a child as uncooperative, he would start showing how uncooperative he is. If you labelled a child as dumb he starts believing he is dumb.

Have you heard your friends say “My elder one is very sociable, the younger one just keeps to his books.”

“It’s a waste of money to buy anything for Aditya, he just breaks everything”

“Ankita should always have the last word. She is so argumentative”

Have you ever wondered how such a labeling occurred in the first place? After years of hearing what goes on inside families, I can safely say, often times such typecasting happens innocently at home. For instance when Rhea doesn’t like to wear the dress her mother chose for her,she comments, “You are stubborn like a mule.” Another day the father comes home tired and Rhea insists on him going out with her to the mall because she needs a new dress for the dance next day. He in an exasperated tone complains “You are so stubborn”.Yet another time her brother yells at her “Stop being such a pig head” for not handing him the remote because she is watching her favourite cartoon and he wants to watch his favourite show.

Little by little Rhea begins to act ‘stubborn’ and ’pig headed’. If everyone is calling her stubborn, surely that is what she must be.

You may be wondering “Is it OK to think of my child as this or that as long as I don’t call her by that name?” Can the way a parent think about his child even affect the way the child feels about himself?

The answer is yes. Body language is a powerful medium of communication. Sometimes a look or a tone of voice is enough to tell you that you are stupid, clumsy or smart. How a parent thinks of his child has a deeper impact because it’s simple math. Multiply these few seconds by the number of hours, days and years a child spends with his parents.

Is it OK then to over emphasize on the positive qualities? As long as parents are not trying to project their expectations on the child it is OK. If I’m not an assertive person and allow people to run over me but tell my child ‘You are very assertive’ it’s not likely to work. Modeling is an important aspect of parenting.

How do I undo this typecasting of my child? For whatever reason I’ve cast my child in a role, does it mean for the rest of his life he is stuck with it? No. Not necessarily. If you have realized your role in type casting your child then you have already started the process of undoing it. Here is what you can do.

  1. Model the behavior you would like to see

Dad: I dread cleaning the garden after the storm. But I guess I’ll get started from the front and do one area at a time. By evening I can finish the entire garden this way.

  • Be there for your child when he/she feels they have failed. Give them the reassurance, if possible with a previous instance when they performed a similar task successfully.

Mira: Mom I have to submit this article for my school magazine by tomorrow and I can’t seem to go beyond the first line.

Mom: I can understand your frustration. But I do remember instances when you were able to rise up to the occasion. I remember when you were five and you had to make chart for your KG school project. You came out with such beautiful drawings. And the time when you were seven, how your class teacher made you recite the poem you wrote in the assembly. You were quick to think differently in both occasions.

  • Grab every opportunity to show them a new picture of themselves.
  • Let them overhear you saying something nice about themselves. But before that make sure you resist the temptation to type caste them. Otherwise it will send a confusing message to your child.
  • If your child behaves according to the old type casting simply state your feelings. For instance

My daughter was a picky eater as a child and I couldn’t help feeling responsible for it because that’s what I went around telling everyone who cared to listen. So I just decided to tell her that her habit of wasting food was upsetting me. I was upset because so much food was getting wasted and my effort into making it was not appreciated by her.

  • Avoid using ‘always’ and ‘every time’ while you are pointing out an undesirable behavior. When you say “You are always back answering” you are not only role casting your child but also come across as a whiner yourself. It’s enough to say “Don’t back answer.” You are not only avoiding type casting, but also stating clearly what you want.

Bullying

Little Rohan came home crying because someone in the swimming pool locker room had broken his glasses into pieces and thrown it away.

Aman came out of the pool and when he went to change, his clothes were missing from the locker. They were found in the toilet.

Instances such as these are alarming and on the rise in schools and play areas. They leave the parents anxious and worried all the time. Can parents be around all the time guarding their little ones against lurking bullies? Somewhere one has to let go and trust that their child is able to handle the bully on his own.

According to a survey conducted in 2013, in 150 schools in Mumbai and Thane by the Parents Teachers Association United Forum (PTAUF), 70 percent of students experience bullying in school, but only 20 to 40 per cent report it. Seventy percent even admitted to bullying being their pastime.*

What is Bullying

According to Cambridge dictionary “to hurt or frighten someone, often over a period of time, and often forcing that person to do something they do not want to do”

Types of Bullying

  • Direct: This can be physical like pushing, hitting, kicking or taking away things. Verbal like name calling, threatening, psychological intimidation.
  • Indirect: Gossiping, sabotaging, excluding from groups and convincing others to do the same.
  • Cyber Bullying: Threatening, harassing, intimidating using electronic medium

Bullying consists of three main participants:

1. Raja is youngest in a family of six and throws tantrums if his needs are not met. He has a short attention span and gets angry and irritated easily. His mother loses her temper easily and whenever there is a conflict with the adult members at home, she takes it out on Raja more than his brother. Raja’s parents are busy and don’t have much time for the children. What more they complain to everyone about their children. Presence of grandparents doesn’t help the cause as they also complain to the parents about Raja’s behavior. Raja likes to torment his classmates and younger children whenever he finds an opportunity. He verbally abuses them and sometimes snatches their lunch and eats it.

 Raja is a Bully

2. Ankur was a premature baby and was prone to frequent colds. He is small for his age and very sensitive. He is soft spoken and shy and doesn’t make too many friends. He tends to internalize everything and gets upset easily. His mother is over protective of him and his father believes that this molly coddling is only making him weak and wants to toughen him up. Nothing he does seem to please his father. In school, he is run over by everyone practically, but Ankur doesn’t complain for the fear of antagonizing his tormentors.

 Ankur is a victim

3. Sahil is one of many children in his extended family. His older cousins have always teased him and made him do errands. If he goes complaining to his mother, they threaten to never ever include him in their activities. Sometimes he even gets pushed around or hit by his elder brother who is a part of the “grown up gang”. Sahil resents all this and takes out his frustration on his classmates in the school. His teacher keeps complaining to his parents which in turn triggers another round of humiliation in front of his older brother and cousins at home.

 Sahil is a bully victim

Dr Arundhati Chavan, professor at SNDT College and president of PTAUF who led the survey, says, “Bullying leaves a lasting mark. Victims may shy away from the crowd and develop an inferiority complex. Repeated bullying may also make them aggressive and prone to lashing out.”**

What makes a bully?

  • Emotional/developmental/behavioral problems
  • Low academic achievement
  • Negative peer influence
  • Unsafe neighborhood
  • Lack of parental monitoring
  • Corporal punishments by parents, excessive criticism or control
  • Substance use
  • High levels of anger in the child

Who is the potential victim for bullying

  • Being physically weaker
  • Poor social skills
  • Low self-esteem
  • Prone to low moods/depression
  • Maternal over-protectiveness
  • Intrusive or coercive parenting
  • Child abuse

How do I find out if my child is a ‘Bully’

Parents would like to believe that their child can never be a bully. This kind of ostrich behavior only aggravates the situation. It’s important to interact with your children and find out more about their life outside home. If there are indications in your child’s behavior that make you uncomfortable like being defiant, bossing over younger sibling or temper tantrums it’s better to ask the following questions. Not all boys are bullies, but bullying is more common among boys. 🙁

Questions you need to ask to identify if your child is involved in bullying

  • How are things going at school?
  • Does your child enjoy school?
  • Does he have friends at school or in the neighborhood? You can ask for the friends’ names.
  • Has anyone been mean to your child at school or outside of school? On the Internet/your computer or your cell phone?
  • Has he/she shown mean behavior towards anyone?
  • Has he ever been in any fight?

How do I find out if my child is a victim?

  • Look out for physical bruises or torn clothes.
  • Has your child’s need for money suddenly increased?
  • Look out also for psychosomatic complaints such as:
  • Headaches
  • Stomach aches
  • Enuresis
  • Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
  • Feeling sad
  • Is she/he refusing to go to school or is their academic performance going south

Pay special attention if your child has

  • Chronic medical problems
  • Emotional, developmental, or behavioral problems (e.g. ADHD, learning disabilities)

We all have been victims of some amount of bullying in our growing up years. Most of us managed well and left the troubling experiences behind. Bullying need not be a cause of stress for parents. Here is what you can do.

  • Schools can conduct activities to build confidence and self-esteem, practicing scenarios on how to respond in assertive, non-violent ways to bullying, and promoting friendships with protective peers.
  • Parents should establish healthy communication channels with children and watch out for any change in their behavior or routine. A word of caution. Too much fussing can lead to the children shutting you out. Exercise restraint.
  • Parents should be vigilant and supervise and monitor children’s cell phone and Internet use.
  • Parents should be aware of their child’s school’s policy on technology use and schools can provide information and hold workshops for parents about cyber bullying.

Images courtesy: Pixabay.com

*, **Times of India April 13, 2013