Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Last week I wrote about cyberbullying, never realizing how popular the subject would be. It's sad to think cyber bullying is the new form of passing notes yet on a scale larger than we can't even measure. The door the internet world has opened to our children far exceeds a parent's worst nightmares and here is why:

1. The door can never truly be shut. Unless you live in a secluded environment without any connection to electronics, your child will be exposed to the internet.

2. There are so many apps and internet sites that, no matter how vigilant you are, kids will find them.

3. Even if you think you know what your kids are up to, chances are they have found other ways to get around your diligent surveillance (chances are, there's an app for that!). Some kids will download an app on the way to school and delete it before they get home.

4. NOTHING is anonymous, and pretty much everything goes up into the cloud and can be retrieved.

5. Chances are, if your child has a phone or has social media accounts, they have already committed a crime they never knew was considered a crime.

6. Anything they do on social media can follow them for the rest of their lives.

7. Social media has been the cause of extreme emotional trauma, suicide, and murder.

Today I attended a wellness coffee chat about cyber safety at my daughter's high school. I had dismissed other presentations just like this one in the past because I thought it didn't apply to me - to my kids. My kids are good kids - they would never get wrapped up in inappropriate cyber use. Ha! De-Nile is not just a river in Egypt (as my husband would say). Never say never and don't assume your child is protected or too smart for such things. We can continually reinforce the appropriate use of the phone and internet until we are out of breath, but let's face it - kids want to fit in and belonging to groups whether on the internet or via apps, allows them to feel included.

I get it. Kids need social outlets, and being in physical proximity of others is not always an option. Apps and internet programs allow for them to "hang out" even if they are sitting in the comforts of their own homes or being transported from one activity to another. There is nothing wrong with keeping connected - it's their new "normal" and the wave of the future. But how they use this technology is what we need to be concerned about.

I can give you statistics on phone and internet use and you would nod your head in agreement with the high percentage of time kids spend on social media. You see it with your own kids, eyes glued to their phones, rarely coming up for air. You may check to see what apps they are on, ask who they are texting, scroll through their chat feeds and feel pretty confident you have a handle on what they are being exposed to, but did you know that many, if not most, kids have secret accounts you don't even know about? They keep the account you look at fairly clean while the secret account may be used to hide things they don't want you to see. Now, you may be asking: "What's the difference between the secret account and confiding in friends - either way I wouldn't know?" And here's the simple answer: their audience.

Instead of sharing photos or thoughts with a few (hopefully) trusted friends, they are sharing content to the masses allowing anyone to use the material in a positive or negative way. Make a comment about poor behavior at a school rally on your class Facebook page could (and did in my daughter's case) earn you the comment, "You're a Bitch." Post a picture of yourself on a site where anyone, not just your friends, can comment could earn you the comment "You're ugly, go kill yourself." Most apps and sites today allow for anonymous participation which only welcomes an opportunity for destructive play.

Is your child aware that anything they put on the internet or text on their phones can be retrieved? Just because they deleted something, or the app claims it disappears after a certain amount of time, doesn't mean it's really gone. They might not have the chat or picture on their phone but someone does, or it's in the cloud and can be retrieved. Years down the road, when they are applying for college or a job, these poor judgments can come back to haunt them and prevent them from getting into the college of their choice or landing that perfect job. Schools and employers look for people's footprints on the internet.

Here's another scary fact. If your child posts a picture of someone else without the person's consent, especially if it's used in a negative way, they can face severe consequences - something I didn't know. How many times have you seen pictures of people on Facebook who you don't know with some negative caption on it? We might find it extremely amusing, but it's criminal if the subject did not give consent to share the picture. Also, if your child is involved in a chat where negative, hurtful things are being said, they can get in serious trouble if they don't report it, even if your child didn't engage in the conversation. Simply being a bystander and not taking action, puts your child at risk. And if an inappropriate photo is sent to your child, even if they didn't ask for it, and it's not reported, they could face legal action because they are now in possession of illegal material, even if they delete it.

Another thing to worry about is what information apps share with others. Some apps will disclose your child's location (super scary huh?!) putting them at risk for crimes against them. Pedophiles and other opportunists use some of these apps to find their next fix. Kids tend to be too trusting and give out more information than they should, giving predators an open door to enter.

Now that I have scared the crap out of you, here's the good news: open communication with your child, a knowledge of the apps and websites kids use and an understanding of the laws and school policies can help protect your child. The internet has created a new age of parenting - both good and bad. It's great to be able to be able to reach our children when they are away from home, but it's much more difficult to protect them from a world they are not equipted to navigate quite yet. Kids are bound to do stupid things, but educating them on the consequences of the negative use of apps and the internet will help curb bad outcomes. If you can attend a local presentation on this topic, I highly encourage you to do so. If you can't or one is not offered, find reliable websites that update information frequently on apps and sites to watch for. In addition, go over your child's school policy and see if your local police department has a list of internet sites to flag as well as the laws regarding the illegal use of the internet and phone content. Seriously, it's eye opening at what has been deemed as illegal.

Here are apps and social media sites you should be aware of. Not all of these apps are bad but you should be aware of how they work and what information they share. The list will always be changing, but for now, this is what tweens/teens are using.

1. Instagram: a picture and messaging app. I believe this is the most popular app for kids right now and is not really flagged as a bad app but it can get your child into trouble if they post inappropriate pictures or engage in inappropriate chats.

2.Twitter: allows a short blurb or picture.

3. Snapchat: allows you to send pictures and short videos that "disappear" shortly after they are viewed. I am told this is pure evil because it gives the kids a sense that whatever they post will be gone forever giving them an opportunity to post inappropriate content.

4. Facebook: this seems to be waning with kids and is considered the social media site for old people.

5. Periscope: allows for live streaming right from their phone. When they begin recording, anyone with the app can watch it live. It also gives your child's location.

6. a question & answer service allowing kids to ask and answer controversial questions anonymously. This has been linked to several incidents of suicide.

7. Tinder: a photo and messaging dating app. Some kids join it just for the entertainment value, but it does open up the potential for inappropriate meetups.

8. Vine: allows the creation and posting of short looping videos and can contain mature content. This is rated 17+

9.Tumblr: another app to post things anonymously.

10. Oovoo: can access from computer or smartphone and allows them to chat with up to 12 friends or STRANGERS. Can send videos, messages, record, upload videos to YouTube and has an instant messaging feature.

11. Streetchat: formerly called Gaggle - offers free, live, anonymous photo messaging board for schools and colleges. Anyone can post whatever they want, and anyone within a two-mile radius can see it.

12.Tango: offers free video, phone calls, messaging and group chats up to 50 people. Has a history of being hacked.

13. uMentioned: posts juicy stories, dark secrets and funny moments by students on their campus.

14. Voxer: walkie talkie app that shares a user's current location.

15. WhatsApp: smartphone messaging app allowing users to create groups, send unlimited images, video & audio messages, and basic texting. Shares user's current location.

16. an iPhone app allowing users to share their "deepest, darkest secrets" anonymously through pictures & text. Content does not disappear like Snapchat and does not guarantee confidentiality.

17.Yik Yak: allows anyone to connect & share info with other users without having to know them. Can send anonymous messages within a 1.5-mile radius.

18. Burn note: messaging app that erases after a set period of time.

19. Skout: a flirting app that allows users to sign up as teens & adults. They are placed in appropriate peer groups & can post to a feed & comment on other's posts as well as add pictures and chat. The app will send notifications when other users near them join. Also sends notifications if someone "checks" them out.

20. Omegle: instant message app that allows chats with strangers. Available as an app or can use on their website.

Some others to be aware of:,, AfterSchool, Badoo, Best Secret Folder, Burnbook,, Creepypasta, Dropbox, FireChat, Fling, SuperFling, Gallery Lock. There are just too many to list!

It's amazing how many apps and sites there are that allow the user to be anonymous and not be held accountable for how they behave on the site. Not being held accountable welcomes bad behavior or allows material to be posted that is too mature for our kids. Worse are the sites sharing your child's location, allowing for an open invitation to cause not just emotional harm but physical harm as well.

I haven't personally checked out all of the listed sites or apps in this blog. This information was found online on various sites as well as from my daughter's high school. Some of the above information may not be correct or may have changed, so I urge you to do your own research, especially if your child is using any of the above social media apps or sites or if they are using something that you are not familiar with.

Some companies will allow parents to monitor their kid's electronics such as While this seems like a perfect solution to keeping your child safe, there are drawbacks since you must give passcodes and important information which may open you up to identity theft or misuse of your information. The first steps you can take to protect your child is to go on their electronics and use the parent restrictions feature and adjust the settings to keep them from installing anything without your permission. Go through each app and check subfolders where they may be hiding other apps so you can't see them. You can also adjust the settings on your home router and even set specific times your child has internet access within your home. The local police said that a large percentage of the inappropriate behavior on these devices happens between 9 pm to 11 pm. Many wireless phone companies offer programs to further protect your child from apps and websites as well as allow you to monitor their texting.

I can't stress enough how important it is for you, as a parent or as a professional who works with kids, to educate yourself on a regular basis with what is out there as well as monitoring your child's electronics. Times have changed, and although the internet has made our lives easier in many ways, it has also opened up a much easier path to being severely hurt emotionally, physically and professionally. Talk with your kids about how they use their phone and devices and make sure they know what's appropriate and what's not. Let them know you are a safe place they can report inappropriate use and advise them not to allow anyone to use their phone or device on their behalf. And, if they can't use their device responsibly, be strong and take it away. You're not being "the worst parent ever!" but rather showing them how much you care and will do whatever it takes to protect them.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

How To Get Rid of Solicitors and Religious Zealots

Did you naively buy a sticker that reads, NO SOLICITORS! in ominous red letters? Did you affix said sticker to your storm door and nod in smug satisfaction? Or is that just me? Nevertheless, the solicitors who troll my neighborhood either don't see the sign or interpret it as some form of reverse psychology.

"Miss, do you want to switch to AT&T?"

"No, thank you!" *Smiles sweetly

"Oh.... can I ask why not?" *Raises eyebrows and gives an exaggerated frown.

"Well, if you must know, we had AT&T and it sucked."

"Uh, well, um well it's improved since then."

Now, I'm not unfriendly. Okay, maybe I am. I used to work in sales in college. I was horrible at it. It went something like this.

"Hello, Miss, can I interest you in a pair of kitchen scissors that can cut a penny? Allow me to demonstra-"


"Okay, bye then!"

I get it. People have to make a living. Here's the thing, I spend enough of my days answering "Why not?" with my kids. I spend at least 75% of my day arguing about why we are or are not going to do something. People who want me to buy something that I can't afford and well meaning well dressed people who want me to change my religion are going to have to get in line. By default I've come up with a list of fool proof ways to send unwanted visitors for a hike. If you want to take the full Getting Solicitors off of your porch" course, just pay a fully refundable $99 -  No? Hey, it was worth a try.

1. Rescue several large dogs with intimidating barks. My friend assured me that visitors will jump backward off the front stoop in their haste to escape.

2. When the doorbell rings, drop and hide. Make sure to keep your kids away from the windows. After ringing the doorbell 12 times and knocking another 14 times, they'll get bored and go away. The downside to this method is if they see you ducking out of site or hear you telling your kids to "stay away from the windows" they might conclude that you are paranoid. On second thought, this notion might deter them from returning.

3. Passive aggressively stare st the NO SOLICITORS! sign the entire time the person is talking. If they persist, squint at the sign and say, "My contacts are giving me trouble today. Can you read that for me?"

4. When Jehovah's Witnesses come to your door and begin a monologue about all the negative influences on children today, have your cute precious blessing turn the CD player on and play Taylor Swift's Bad Blood at 850,000 decibels. This is good if rehearsed before hand. Awesome if it happens organically.

5. When Mormon Elders come to your door and ask what you know about the Church of Mormom and if you want to join, be overly friendly. Say ridiculous things like, "Is that like The Book of Mormon?" and "How can you guys be elders! You're so young!" Before they can answer, invite them in for a tequila sunrise, never mind that it is 9:00 A.M. When their mouths drop open in shock and disgust, clap your hand over your own mouth and say, "I am so sorry! How inappropriate! You guys probably aren't old enough to drink!" As they run screaming to their car, yell after them, "I'm free next Wednesday to talk more!" They won't be back. Ever. They'll pray for you.

6. When the (insert cable company here) guy comes over to ask if you've changed your mind about switching services, tell him you have given up TV altogether. Tell him you spend your evenings reading. Then ask him a lot of personal questions about his home life, his tattoos, and his favorite books.

7. When unwanted guests ask when you are free to discuss this further, say, "Next Wednesday at 4:32 AM or every third Saturday between 11:59 PM and 12;00 AM.

8. Tell them your spouse makes all of the decisions. Keep repeating, "I'll have to talk to my spouse about that." The downside to this method is they'll probably come back.

9. Launch into a detailed synopsis of your own religion/belief system and ask if they'd like to convert.

10. Say, "No, I don't need a lawn care service, but do you babysit?" with glazed eyes as your kids run behind you screaming and throwing toys at each other.

Now let me be clear: I am all about sharing faith and I completely respect others' religions. I also respect a person's right to make a living. But no means no. If you want to sell me a roof inspection or a Bible study stay home. If you want a tequila sunrise to bitch about your kids on the other hand, my door is open!

Friday, February 12, 2016

When You're Called Into the Principal's Office...

My kids have never had a detention. (Okay, wait, I take that back. My son was given a detention for not wearing a belt to school - harmless). I have never been pulled into a meeting to be told anything but positive affirmations about my kids; it's one of the things I pride myself on - my kids are good kids. They may struggle with grades from time to time, and they may have a disagreement with a friend or their parents (totally normal), but they have never been zeroed out for doing anything horribly wrong, until today.

Yesterday, a letter was sent home to the parents of my daughter's middle school about a bullying incident the school was investigating. My middle school child read the letter to me in the car on our way home from ice skating and even had a conversation about what it might be about, who might be involved. We discussed how unacceptable it is to say hurtful things, and she was in complete agreement. Today, I received an email from the school asking my husband and me to come in for a meeting. I knew my daughter was getting bullied by some boys at school, but she told me the boys wrote apology notes, and I assumed (stupid me) that all was better.

Let's back up a little here. My daughter has an Instagram, Snapchat and email account. She just got a phone for Christmas, but she has to pay for the minutes she uses, so it's not a device she uses often. She does, however, have an iPad (supplied by the school), an iTouch and a hand-me-down computer from her brother. I have been quite resistant to her having a phone with complete access to the world without my supervision. I thought I had my bases covered and her protected, but I was so, incredibly, stupidly, and regrettably wrong.

It started with her telling a boy in school that she liked him. This one confession spurred an avalanche she never saw coming. The confession was shared with the other boys, and soon, hateful words were thrown at her. Trying to understand the negative reaction, she asked the boy, on Instagram chat, and more hate and an encouragement to kill herself was thrown at her. I won't disclose what was said, but it escalated, causing my daughter to eventually lash out, making a threat that has now caught the attention of her school. You have to know my daughter to understand why she would say the things she did. She's a kind, loving person who desires to be accepted and is hurt when she's not. She also doesn't understand that kids, at her age, cannot keep secrets nor can they be mature when handling uncomfortable things - especially boys. She's still naive in thinking she can trust everyone. When someone, or worse, multiple people back someone into a dark corner of hateful words, there comes a time when the victim will either allow them to continue hurting or, in her case, lash out to save herself. I don't condone her behavior, but I am trying to understand it as her mother and as someone who hurts so deeply that she was pushed to fight back with such heightened emotion.

My daughter has been bullied multiple times by some seemingly ruthless children at two separate schools. She knows what it's like to be hurt day after day. At her old school, she was bullied for three years by the same girl. Parents even got involved and spoke to the administration yet nothing was ever done. It was just recently that the bully finally got expelled for making threats. It's unfortunate, but I think at some point, those who are bullied get tired of being beaten down, and that's when they either retaliate or contemplate a much more severe outcome for themselves.

With so much education on bullying out there, it's shocking that it still exists so heavily. The consequences of today are much more severe than in the past as a hopeful deterrent of the behavior, yet kids still push each other's buttons with the idea that they will obtain power over the victim. If you google Bullying, there seems to be an infinite amount of information at our fingertips. How to spot it, how to avoid it, how to handle it. Kids are bombarded with antibullying campaigns on a continual basis, perhaps so much so that they are now desensitized to the message. So what do we do to make it soak in? Huh, that is the fifty-million-dollar question, isn't it? It's almost as daunting as finding that miracle drug to cure all cancer. While we don't have the cure, we do have treatments and the earlier it's treated, the better chance to wipe it out.

As parents, we have a responsibility to guide our children through the best and worst times of their adolescence. We don't get to pick and choose what we want to face - we must face it all. At first, when I was confronted with what my daughter had done, I was mortified, sick and deeply sad. My thoughts ran rampant, wondering what went wrong, how could I have prevented it? What does this mean? But then, I took a step back and analyzed everything - the cause and effect from both sides as well as checking my emotions at the door. Once I got a handle on myself, I realized these things:

1. This isn't about me.
2. I can't change what has already happened.
3. I have an opportunity to turn this into a teaching tool.
4. I was lucky to find out about this early - no major damage was done.
5. I will now be more vigilant about my children's use of electronics as well as with their interactions with others.
6. I will do what my girlfriend calls a "heart check" to see how my child is feeling on a regular basis.
7. I will not brush over what appears to be general tween/teen issues or problems. Instead, I will ask questions and wade through the muck of over-exaggerations and secretive language to get to the bottom of an issue.
8. I will commit to continually educating myself about the dangers and pitfalls children can become victims to.
9. How I react will make the difference between a positive or negative outcome.
10. No matter what, I will have my child's back and always have their best interests at heart.

Education starts at home and that is where we need to tackle this issue. Don't think that if your child is attending a private school, he or she will be protected - it happens everywhere. It happens at the playground, in your neighborhood, at church and pretty much anywhere people gather either physically or in the cyber world. Talk to your children and find situations that open the dialogue about tough topics when they feel safe. We are our children's best defense. I know we often tell our children to not let hurtful words affect them, but it's not a realistic solution. The saying "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" is a ridiculous notion because, in actuality, words can hurt worse than a physical blow. Words hurt no matter how hard we try to deflect them. Instead, validate their feelings and help your child work through them.

I'm going to leave you with one more bit of advice: Don't be afraid to monitor your children. It's not a sign that you don't trust them, but rather, that you love them.