Understanding A Child's Virtual World


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qwest helps families surf safer and smarter on the internet understanding a child s virtual world a handbook for parents and guardians by dr linda young provided by qwest communications for more information please visit 1 www.incredibleinternet.com


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table of contents about the author 1 letter from paula kruger 2 chapter 1 3 how technology is changing relationships chapter 2 7 7 reasons good kids do bad things on the internet chapter 3 10 communicating with teens in ways that change behavior part 1 chapter 4 13 communicating with teens in ways that change behavior part 2 chapter 5 .17 always-on technology do you have tethered kids resource guide 20


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linda r young ph.d about the author linda young is a senior staff psychologist at seattle university where she provides individual couples and group counseling psychotherapy and crisis intervention for undergraduate and graduate students she also develops and delivers campus outreach programs on a variety of mental health topics and offers organizational consultation to academic departments and student development staff in addition to her university work dr young maintains a private practice in bellevue washington specializing in relationship issues through her work with couples and students she has seen the topic of online safety emerge as a prominent one over the past few years as a public service qwest is making it possible for dr young to provide insight on how the internet is changing the fabric of families the public will be able to learn more from linda at www.incredibleinternet.com dr young has written several publications and has extensive educational research and consulting experience she has been interviewed as a guest psychologist by national public radio nbc and various network affiliates her past experience includes work as a staff psychologist at the university of california san diego assistant professor of psychology at national university and counseling instructor at john jay college of criminal justice of the city of new york her accolades include being the recipient of an outstanding staff award at ucsd a ford foundation predoctoral fellowship in 1993 she graduated magna cum laude in 1974 from hofstra university and in 1996 her dissertation on young adult sexual decision making ranked among the top 10 percent at columbia university 1


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dear parents and guardians these days it s not uncommon for children to be more tech-savvy than the adults in their lives as a result adults often find it difficult to understand or relate to what kids are doing online at qwest we believe informed parents and guardians are better equipped to create a positive online experience for their families that s why qwest s incredible internet program provides upto-date internet safety and security information in an interactive format that s available from any internet connection to deliver these robust resources we ve partnered with the best local and national safety and security experts including the national center for missing exploited children® as well as influential government education and community leaders qwest and these experts agree that parental education is critical to minimize the risks children face online linda r young ph.d a family therapist with more than 15 years of counseling experience is one expert whose work is featured on incredibleinternet.com and in this handbook dr young provides a professional perspective on the ways advancing technology is affecting our daily lives and how adults can better understand a child s virtual world as a parent i found the topics covered to be both relevant and compelling and i hope you will too i invite you to visit incredibleinternet.com to learn more from dr young sincerely paula kruger executive vice president qwest communications 2


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chapter 1 how technology is changing relationships connections that bring you closer using the latest technology can be a double-edged sword for relationships it helps all of us stay more connected but has the potential to isolate us more today s children were born into a digital age and they ve developed the ability to move seamlessly between online and offline environments their online worlds are part of their real lives but it s important to ensure that time on the computer is balanced by offline relationships and activities 3


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good news good connections online often mean good connections offline the vast majority of chatting on social networking sites occurs between young people who already know each other rather than with strangers it is a form of hanging out no more inherently debilitating or dangerous than hanging out at the corner soda fountain of yesteryear or the mall of today in fact the heaviest users of online social networks also tend to be the most socially active offline lenhart madden 2007 introverted kids gain social confidence and support online introverted teens and those who are especially sensitive to other s real or imagined non-verbal signs of rejection find online communication less intimidating for these kids research shows online social networks have aided social confidence and social support ellison et al 2006 valkenburg et al 2006 creative self-expression through posting music graphics videos poetry and blogs on social networking sites can level the social playing field help like-minded individuals get to know each other better and deepen genuine friendships offline wired kids are better-prepared for today s professions in a connected world fluidity between online and offline communications will serve kids well in future careers in which teams of people work together remotely exposure to diversity is easier communicating with peers around the world from different cultures used to be limited to pen-pals who waited weeks for letters now people can communicate in real-time and learn about each other s lives with video audio satellite maps and text an entire classroom can maintain contact with a similar grade in another country facilitated by the teacher or librarian mixed news baring the soul people tend to disclose more personal communication when they can t see each other and when they believe they have a supportive audience kids today have a very different sense of privacy than prior generations because they were born into a culture of public exposure they often don t care who reads the juicy emotional or meaningless ramblings in their blogs like online diaries they may even get a charge out of knowing others are reading their words ­ it makes them feel more important validated and interesting when others comment about their revelations it s good to feel others support and interest but kids face risks from predators who prey on exposed personal vulnerabilities even if posts are limited to online friends too much disclosure can lead to harassment from peers reaching out for emotional support some children with emotional problems have been helped tremendously as a result of reaching out to others on blogs social networks and self-help websites but stigma remains around some mental physical and sexual health issues shame denial or societal prejudices can make it difficult for kids to turn to their families or real-life resources for help 4


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bad news using internet communities to support pathology instead of healing the flip side to online self-help is access to communities that encourage and enable dangerous or unhealthy behaviors the internet has become a haven for these kids who can easily locate special websites dedicated to the encouragement of eating disorders self-mutilation and many other issues compulsive online use overuse of the internet can create serious life imbalance for any child kids with attention deficit disorders may ironically find it easier to focus for long stretches of time on the constantly shifting stimuli provided by computer games and other online activities kids with obsessive-compulsive disorders are very vulnerable to overuse of the internet kids with depression can use the internet to withdraw completely from family online gaming is particularly seductive for overuse status-seeking objectification by ratings and rankings for those with fragile self-esteem who measure their worth by who they know and how they rank the internet offers superficial value through artificial measures such as number of friends on online networks hits on one s profile website or video photo ratings and hot-or-not rankings kids and vulnerable adults can over-rely as parents we need to learn about our child s on superficial connections to feel good cyber world and set up the expectation that we about themselves will be auditing it frequently we have to be informed so we can guide them what parents can do 1 for your child to be able to come to you with their emotional struggles a genuine non-judgmental stance is essential at home your willingness to provide help and support and the best professional resources instead of punishing them for an out-of-control issue they disclose is invaluable many kids shut down or seek help from potentially inappropriate places if they don t feel their parents are really there for them 2 one of the best ways for parents to find out whether their child can relate well to others face-to-face is to spend quality time with their children eating together whenever possible playing games together and checking in with highs and lows or questions of the day provide good opportunities notice changes in your child s mood and behavior and read our two-part download on communicating with teens in ways that change behavior dave deforest-stalls big brothers big sisters 3 if parents are worried that their kids may be losing their ability to read non-verbal cues a fun and interesting test of ability to read the genuineness of smiles can be found at www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/mind/surveys/smiles parents may be surprised at who is better at this 4 use online resources to identify and find help for compulsive computer overuse one good source is the center for internet addiction at http netaddiction.com 5 nurture your kids with values that are unrelated to status and commodities give them kudos for their effort on a challenging task generosity with friends charitable contributions and taking risks that require some messing up before mastery 5


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references ellison n steinfie c lampe c spatially bounded online social networks and social capital the role of facebook paper presented at the annual conference of the international communication associationica june 19-23 2006 dresden germany lenhart a madden m teens privacy online social networks how teens manage their online identities and personal information in the age of myspace pew internet and american life project april 18 2007 valkenburg p peter j schouten a 2006 friend networking sites and their relationship to adolescents well-being and social self-esteem cyberpsychology behavior 9 584-590 6


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chapter 2 7 reasons good kids do bad things on the internet parents often wonder how children who were raised well can end up engaging in hateful illegal sexually provocative bullying or harassing activities on the internet any child may be a victim or perpetrator of bad behavior on the internet it s dangerous to assume that your child is immune just because he or she gets good grades or is polite to adults here are seven factors that can help explain why good kids do bad things online 7


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1 it s easy and fast as a parent you have probably witnessed the strong and changeable emotions of pubescent kids on the internet strong emotions can be released at the speed of a keystroke but the ripple effects can last much longer it s especially common for teens to post whatever they re feeling thinking or doing whenever the impulse comes up because the part of the brain that is in charge of impulse control and long-term consequences is not fully developed until somewhere between 20 and 25 years old teens aren t thinking about the future when they post nasty comments to or about someone online or present themselves in embarrassing degrading or sexually provocative ways 2 the illusion of privacy when kids are on the internet in their own rooms and the audience is invisible they begin to feel like they are in a private space they get bolder because they can t see or hear the people who are reading their messages or viewing their embarrassing or provocative photos they don t pause to realize that even if they only send pictures to a select group of friends they can t control to whom their friends send them or who is downloading them and saving them forever 3 the paradox of parental expectations no one is all good or all bad yet parents teachers and peers often label kids to fit their first impressions and stereotypes e.g the good one the smart one the problem child the shy one the athlete etc living up to being good brings love and attention so kids who have been labeled this way may feel great pressure to conform to these expectations in real life rather than feeling genuine and understood they begin to feel like shiny objects on display for others the good one is the public face while wishes and attitudes that they have been taught are wrong or shameful get buried deep inside resentment and frustration may build up in the child until an opportunity arrives for privacy and anonymity the internet has the potential to become the perfect outlet for the expres kids think the internet is so huge that sion of bad thoughts that have been hidden they can say and do whatever they want away without anyone knowing who they are 4 emotional and physical distance sgt kirk hon the child who bullies or harasses someone denver police department online doesn t witness the emotional and physical reaction of his or her target this makes it much harder to feel compassion and easier to ignore or discount the victim s pain suffering and anger the child who bullies or harasses on the internet is also safer from physical retaliation because of the physical distance from the target a small or fragile child who has been the victim of bullying in real life may then be tempted to become a verbal bully online 5 loss of self-awareness and groupthink an anonymous member of a large group of supporters feels less responsible for his or her actions and less likely to question whether the behavior is getting out of control bad group behavior can seem less bad and even seem like the right thing to do at the time this is true in real life as well as online ­ think about jeering crowds egging on a fight adults and kids who start hate groups on social networking sites and get lots of people to join the group create the impression that they have a lot of support this emboldens them to make increasingly mean-spirited comments about others 8


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6 fallout from super-parenting many kids today are showered with attention and accolades from their parents and guardians often these super-parents run interference for their children as a result some of these kids have a stronger sense of entitlement and weaker sense of personal responsibility which allows them to think they deserve to get away with bad behavior 7 today bad behavior can bring anyone 15 minutes of fame it s normal for adolescents to be self-absorbed as they develop their own identities it s also normal to model behavior that gets attention and peer acknowledgment bad deeds draw big audiences on reality television and a bad deed captured on video can quickly be seen around the world by millions online infamy and tasteless derogatory humor get more attention than acts of kindness sadly bad behavior sells tips for parents and guardians don t label or pigeonhole your kids check your endearing nicknames for them and the ones their siblings use are the names kind or are they embarrassing one-dimensional or demeaning in some way think about how you praise your kids and how you talk about them to others do you brag about their accomplishments but not their character talk with your children about the illusion of privacy on the internet be your child s moral compass don t get caught in do as i say not as i do books that can help · parents do make a difference how to raise kids with solid character strong minds and caring hearts by michele borba for pre-teens · a wonderful one for all ages to read together is internet computer ethics for kids and parents teachers who haven t got a clue by winn schwartau 9


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chapter 3 communicating with teens in ways that change behavior part 1 how to engage a tuned-out teen getting a tuned-out teen to talk do you have an adolescent who talks up a storm with friends on their cell phone or online but barely nods or grunts when you try to find out what s going on do you ask even more questions out of exasperation that get you nowhere if you pressure your child to talk when you are feeling anxious agitated or angry you are most likely to sound accusatory hysterical or like an interrogator as a result your child is even more likely to shut down become evasive or lie to escape you try these four steps if what you ve been doing hasn t been working 10


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step 1 try limiting questions about what your teen is thinking or feeling or how school or social life is going for a full week beware this may be easier said than done unless you have reason to believe there is some immediate threat to your adolescent s safety resist the urge to inquire about their every thought for a few days if you have been pushing your child to talk without realizing it this step will help put things back on the right track step 2 let your child know you are there to support her if she wants to talk instead of asking questions during this time notice when his or her mood or behavior shifts and make simple compassionate observations instead of asking lots of questions for example avoid a barrage of questions like is something bothering you what s going on what happened at school instead say it looks like something s been troubling you lately i m here if you want to talk about it step 3 prioritize time together by finding simple activities to share make something together take a drive share something you know your child already enjoys or that he or she can teach you how to do do a chore together step 4 tell a few stories about times in your own adolescence when you felt confused anxious left out or misunderstood and how you came out of it eventually you might be surprised to find that with patience and persistence your teen will eventually begin to open up to you on his or her own how to listen effectively when your teen is ready to talk listen with full attention stop what you are doing unless it s a simple task you re already doing together and focus on your child this doesn t necessarily mean making eye contact the whole time he s expressing himself it may be easier for him to talk about something embarrassing or disturbing if you simply sit close by with eyes down and ears cocked ­ especially with adolescent boys don t interrupt or start giving advice unless he or she requests it ask short open-ended questions such as can you tell me more or then what happened encourage him or her to continue by nodding saying oooh or uummm or repeating the last bit of what he or she just said and then waiting for more don t become agitated or start yelling even if your heart is pounding as he tells you something that shocks you acknowledge your adolescent s feelings and concerns as valid even if you think he or she is over-reacting to a minor incident nothing feels more invalidating than hearing oh it s not that bad or don t worry you ll be fine when your teen is describing something upsetting 11


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it s not just what you say it s what you do take inventory of your own behavior if you want your child to be ethical polite careful and safe are you modeling these values in your own life · do you use rude or foul language with or around your children · do you break promises · do you gossip about others · do you take dangerous risks · do you drink excessively · are you consistent with family rules and consequences · do you prioritize time with your family · do you explode or shut down when you re upset as parents and guardians you must change your own behavior or seek help for yourself before you can expect your child to be open and responsive to you now that you have the basics for engaging in open dialogue with your teens find out more about how to structure specific conversations about internet safety and netiquette download our free tip sheet on courageous conversations about internet safety and netiquette at incredibleinternet.com reading suggestions how to talk so teens will listen listen so teens will talk 2005 adele faber and elaine mazlish totally wired what teens tweens are really doing online 2007 anastasia goodstein www.incredibleinternet.com www.netsmartz.com 12


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chapter 4 communicating with teens in ways that change behavior part 2 courageous conversations about internet safety and netiquette most of us are familiar with the online activities that are popular with teens and tweens like social networking on myspace or other sites and using cell phones to text message their friends we ve all seen in the news that unwise use of these technologies can compromise kids safety or harm others now comes the harder part how do you connect with adolescents in ways that get them to change an activity that they enjoy and can participate in safely it s common for parents and guardians to struggle to communicate with their teen and with the advent of new communication technologies like text messaging and social networking sites it s equally as important and challenging for adults to try and connect with their children about what s going on in their virtual world 13



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