5 Questions Teachers Wish You Would Ask Them About Screen Time, Tech, and Internet Privacy



9/05/17 - "No TV until your homework is finished" used to be the easiest way to separate school work from screen time. Today, with IMs, YouTube, texting, and social media, that boundary is super blurry. And because middle and high schoolers often have media and technology as part of their lessons and take-home assignments, it's tough for parents to know where to draw the line. Fortunately, the folks whose job it is to prepare kids to take on the world (including the digital one) know all about managing screen time, multitasking, online privacy, and even using tech tools at home. And they know your tweens and teens pretty well, too. Teachers -- who are on the front lines of the tech-infused school day -- are experts at helping families manage this stuff so that kids can learn. Here are the questions teachers wish you'd ask about the issues that affect students the most.

How much non-school-related screen time should I allow on a school night?

Rather than allotting a certain amount, first list out everything your kid needs to do in a 24-hour period. Assign a time limit for each activity -- for example, 30 minutes for chores, one hour for physical activity, 45 minutes for reading, 20 minutes for dinner, etc. Don't forget to add 9 to 12 hours for sleep! In the remaining time, figure out how much can be used for screen-based entertainment. It will probably vary throughout the week. Try the American Academy of Pediatrics Family Media Plan to calculate a schedule that works for your family.

How can I curb my kid's multitasking during homework?

In the classroom, teachers who use tech often have to personally monitor students to make sure they're focusing on work, not fooling around on their devices. At home, it's a good idea to reduce or eliminate multitasking because it really takes a toll on learning -- and and drags out homework duties. Set up a homework zone in a common area where you can keep an eye on their activities. Make it device-free if possible -- although sometimes kids legitimately need them for study apps or for checking assignments. Keep devices out of the bedroom, because texting and sleeping is about the worst multitasking kids can do. If they have to use devices and you can't closely supervise, consider downloading a parental control app that limits access to entertainment during homework, such as unGlue. You can also enable Restrictions or Guided Access on iPhones or use Google's Family Link on Android devices to help keep kids on task. But you'll probably still need to spot check.

What do I need to know if my kid has to download an app or register for a site for homework?

Teachers who use technology or expect students to use it at home generally have a plan for keeping you in the loop. They should supply a list of the tools that kids will need access to at home and a process for notifying you if anything changes during the year. One of the most important issues with kids using technology at home is student privacy. Your kid's school ideally vets third-party vendors to ensure that they're not taking advantage of your kid's information. If your kid has to register for anything, read the privacy policy on the company's website and provide only the most basic information required.

What should I do if I find out about cyberbullying by kids in your class?

Teachers definitely want to know if there is cyberbullying happening. Ideally, kids are learning about digital citizenship either on its own or in the context of their instruction (for example, a team project using Google Docs that students have to collaborate on), so it should be something that is discussed and dealt with. Tell the teacher -- or have your kid report it -- so it can be worked out using the school community's conflict resolution methods, just like any other problem affecting students. Teachers can keep an eye out for more of this behavior in school. They should also have clear systems in place to monitor and moderate any class activity online for inappropriate behavior or bullying.

How can I use technology at home to support in-class learning?

Nearly every app for kids in the app stores is labeled "educational," but not all of them are really good for learning. If you're looking for tech tools that you can use to support your kid's in-class learning at home, think of three broad categories: instructional tools that teach academic subjects; creation tools that let kids express themselves; and communities that offer a supportive, collaborative sharing space. These can be apps, websites, games, design programs, and social worlds. Here are some to try:


Khan Academy
PBS Kids
Google Art Project
One Globe Kids Friends Around the World


Explain Everything Classic
Animoto Video Maker


LittleBigPlanet 2
Project Noah

The secret Instagram accounts teens use to share their realest, most intimate moments

Mic | Taylor Lorenz

May 3, 2017 - If you ask anyone under the age of 21 where they post most frequently on Instagram, chances are they'll tell you it's to their finsta.

Finsta stands for "fake instagram." It's a separate, locked account with a nonsensical name that teens use to share everything from bad selfies, emotional rants, funny memes, screenshots of texts, homework help and more to a small, select group of friends.

Unlike a teen's "real instagram" or "rinsta," where their image is carefully curated for public consumption, finsta is intimate and messy and, according to every teen we spoke to, way more authentic than their main profile.

A finsta vs a rinsta profile

Source: Erica Snow

The good, the bad and the ugly

Esther Choi, a 17-year-old in Suwanee, Georgia, says that she only posts "the best parts and the big, good parts of my life," on her rinsta. "It's not the full picture."

Finsta is where she gets real.

"On my finsta, it's the good, the bad and the ugly. It's a more multifaceted version of me," she says.

For instance, Choi says that when she goes to a concert she'll generally post a single photo of the show to her rinsta, but finsta is where she posts screenshots of the song lyrics with deep analysis of what they mean to her in the caption.

A rinsta and a finsta

Source: Andy Wang/Instagram

"It's almost like, if you're a political candidate, your rinsta would be your platform page, where you post the best version of yourself," she said. "But your finsta would be your secret real account where you let your closest friends and family follow."

"You're the same person on both, just one is way more personal than the other," she said.

Two apps in one

Why did these accounts start cropping up? Most teens we spoke to said finsta was a backlash against the overly curated image you're expected to portray on social media.

They said that they wanted to keep their main insta accounts for casual followers, teachers or parents who like to keep up with their life, but they also wanted a space to vent and chat and get real with their friends. 

Group chats and Instagram Direct don't work for this because everyone would have to be following each other.

"My main account is what I use when I meet new people," said Isabel Mitchell, a 17-year-old in Belmont, California. "Like if I meet someone at a friend's house and I'm like, 'Oh what's your Insta?' That's where you keep acquaintances, mutual friends and general friends. My finsta I only allow really close friends to follow."

A rinsta photo vs finsta

Source: Mic/Instagram

Size matters

Most of the people we spoke to had around 1,000 followers on their main Instagram accounts, but only between 20 and 100 on their finsta.

"My rule of thumb is if I would have a convo about something serious in real life, I'd let them follow my finsta," said Andy Wang, a 16-year-old from Naperville, Illinois. 

"I think the reason it's popular is because most people are thinking about applying to college and jobs," Mitchell said. "Parents always say, 'Watch what you're posting.' Finsta is kind of like a loophole."

"I think nowadays students and teens have become so aware that what they're posting publicly on social media is going to be viewed by colleges and employers. So that's why they keep a finsta," said Chaze Vinci, a 16-year-old from Franklin, Kentucky.

Alice Wilder's rinsta vs finsta

Source: Mic/Instagram

Vinci says that he keeps an unofficial ranking of social networks in his head. "Facebook is for people who are like, professional contacts. Your main Insta is for people who you know pretty well. Snapchat is for people you know closely and chat with all day, but finsta is for your real closest friends. Only the people you trust. "

Yet that trust can sometimes be betrayed.

"One of my friends started complaining about her orchestra director on finsta," Vinci said. "She started talking about how that class sucked the life out of her and how she hated it so much. Someone who was following her screenshotted and sent to the school's administration. She ended up getting suspended from orchestra for a week."

However, betrayal of trust is rare. Most teens keep a tight lid on who is allowed to follow them and cull their numbers regularly.

A 21st-century scrapbook

When asked why they didn't post rants or more sensitive emotional content to more ephemeral platforms like Snapchat or Instagram Stories, many said that they wanted the intimate record of their life that finsta provides.  

"I think young people have a need to journal and want to document parts of their life that isn't always for public view," said Maris Bock, a 19-year-old from Viroqua, Wisconsin. "You want to be able to look back on that stuff." 

"I like finsta because I still want a record of the funny stuff that happened to me, or even just a great dog I saw on campus, without it like, contributing to the 'vision' of Alice Wilder that exists on the internet in a public way," said Alice Wilder, a 21-year-old from Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

"Even now, I look through my finsta from when I was a senior in high school, and I'm like, 'Oh, this is selfie I took before I had a college interview. I remember picking out that outfit.' It's nice to have those little moments captured. I want to have that so I can remember," she said.

Rinsta is the real finsta

The terms rinsta and finsta are both sort of misnomers. Finsta pics are a lot more "real" than anything posted on people's rinsta or "real" Instagram.

Hannah Hooper, a 19-year-old from Little Rock, Arkansas, is leading the charge to swap the two terms or at least merge more finsta into Insta. "I actually made the hashtag #BringFinstaToRinsta," she said.

"It's just all backward because we call our 'fake Instagram' our finsta, but in reality the finsta is a more real representation of who we are," she said. 

Hooper says that she's made a concerted effort to post more finsta-type content to her rinsta and has, so far, seen a positive return. "I've gotten way more likes than I expected," she said.

But while likes matter a lot on a rinsta, part of what is so freeing about finsta is that it's not a numbers game. You know your best friends are all there and they'll always come through.

Andre Sebastian, a 23-year-old in Palo Alto, California, doesn't see the finsta phenomenon fading anytime soon.

"I don't think finstas will go away," he said. "It's not a hard thing to maintain. I have a Facebook, Twitter, main Instagram account, Snapchat and finsta. I have them all for different reasons. I think finsta is useful because it separates Instagram into two very useful social networks in one app."

"It's like a journal entry," Wilder said. "I know old people had LiveJournals, so maybe it's like that."

Your brain is particularly vulnerable to trauma at two distinct ages

Quartz | Vivian Giang

Our brain’s ability to process information and adapt effectively is dependent on a number of factors, including genes, nutrition, and life experiences. These life experiences wield particular influence over the brain during a few sensitive periods when our most important muscle is most likely to undergo physical, chemical, and functional remodeling.

According to Tara Swart, a neuroscientist and senior lecturer at MIT, your “terrible twos” and those turbulent teen years are when the brain’s wiring is most malleable. As a result, traumatic experiences that occur during these time periods can alter brain activity and ultimately change gene expressions—sometimes for good.

The “terrible twos”

Throughout the first two years of life, the brain develops at a rapid pace. However, around the second year, something important happens—babies begin to speak.

“We start to understand speech first, then we start to articulate speech ourselves and that’s a really complex thing that goes on in the brain,” Swart, who conducts ongoing research on the brain and how it affects how we become leaders, told Quartz. “Additionally, children start to walk—so from a physical point of view, that’s also a huge achievement for the brain.

Learning and understanding a new language forces your brain to work in new ways, connecting neurons and forming new pathways. This is a mentally taxing process, which is why learning a new language or musical instrument often feels exhausting.

 “We start to understand speech first then we start to articulate speech ourselves and that’s a really complex thing that goes on in the brain.” With so many important changes happening to the brain in such a short period of time, physical or emotional trauma can cause potentially momentous interruptions to neurological development. Even though you won’t have any memories of the interruptions (most people can’t remember much before age five), any kind of traumatic event—whether it’s abuse, neglect, ill health, or separation from your loved ones—can lead to lasting behavioral and cognitive deficits later in life, warns Swart.

To make her point, Swart points to numerous studies on orphans in Romania during the 1980s and 1990s. After the nation’s communist regime collapsed, an economic decline swept throughout the region and 100,000 children found themselves in harsh, overcrowded government institutions.

“[The children] were perfectly well fed, clothed, washed, but for several reasons—one being that people didn’t want to spread germs—they were never cuddled or played with,” explains Swart. “There was a lot of evidence that these children grew up with some mental health problems and difficulty holding down jobs and staying in relationships.”

Swart continues: “When brain scanning became possible, they scanned the brains of these children who had grown up into adults and showed that they had issues in the limbic system, the part of the brain [that controls basic emotions].”

In short, your ability to maintain proper social skills and develop a sense of empathy is largely dependent on the physical affection, eye contact, and playtime of those early years. Even something as simple as observing facial expressions and understanding what those expressions mean is tied to your wellbeing as a toddler.

The research also found that the brains of the Romanian orphans had lower observable brain activity and were physically smaller than average. As a result, researchers concluded that children adopted into loving homes by age two have a much better chance of recovering from severe emotional trauma or disturbances.

The teenage years

By the time you hit your teenage years, the brain has typically reached its adult weight of about three pounds. Around this same time, the brain is starting to eliminate, or “prune” fragile connections and unused neural pathways. The process is similar to how one would prune a garden—cutting back the deadwood allows other plants to thrive.

 “At that age, they’re starting to become more understanding of social relationships and politics. It’s really sophisticated.” During this period, the brain’s frontal lobes, especially the prefrontal cortex, experience increased activity and, for the first time, the brain is capable of comparing and analyzing several complex concepts at once. Similar to a baby learning how to speak, this period in an adolescent’s life is marked by a need for increasingly advanced communication skills and emotional maturity.

“At that age, they’re starting to become more understanding of social relationships and politics. It’s really sophisticated,” Swart noted. All of this brain activity is also a major reason why teenagers need so much sleep.

Swart’s research dovetails with the efforts of many other scientists who have spent decades attempting to understand how the brain develops, and when. The advent of MRIs and other brain-scanning technology has helped speed along this research, but scientists are still working to figure out what exactly the different parts of the brain do.

What is becoming more certain, however, is the importance of stability and safety in human development, and that such stability is tied to cognitive function. At any point in time, a single major interruption has the ability to throw off the intricate workings of our brain. We may not really understand how these events affect our lives until much later—which is why efforts to unlock the secrets of the brain’s inner workings remain so vital.

Protecting Our Children: What Delaware Can Do To Stop Child Abuse

The News Journal

“Imagine Delaware” is a recurring effort by The News Journal designed to create a dialogue about the future of Delaware. The March 31 discussion will focus on child abuse, including neglect, physical and sexual abuse. While sex abuse cases get a lot of public attention, the vast majority of abuse cases fall into the neglect realm of not properly feeding, clothing, housing and schooling children, as well as not seeing to their medical needs. The day after the panel discussion and vendor fair, our partners will sponsor several tracks of workshops, some devoted to training people to spot child abuse and know what to do, and some to general information about protecting children. If you are interested in registering for any of those programs, please sign up here.

The Imagine Delaware series involves both deep reporting and storytelling followed by a public forum that brings together state and national leaders to discuss these major issues affecting the state. Past Imagine Delaware efforts have included Delaware's deadly heroin crisis, aging in Delaware, climate change threatening our coast, improving performance in education and the growth of Delawareans suffering from diabetes.

Protecting Our Children: What Delaware Can Do to Stop Child Abuse

Friday March 31, 2017

Time:Vendor exhibition 5:00 – 7:00 PM, panel discussion 7:00 – 8:30 PM

Venue:Cab Calloway School of the Arts

Key Partners:Red Clay Consolidated School District

 Beau Biden Foundation

 Prevent Child Abuse Delaware


Opening remarks by Dr. Jill Biden


Dr. Lyndon Haviland - international expert on public health issues

Josette Manning - Delaware Secretary of the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families

Dr. David Paul - Chair of the Department of Pediatrics, Christiana Care Health System 

Kellie Turner - Director of Programs for Prevent Child Abuse Delaware

Teri Lawler - psychologist for the Red Clay Consolidated School District 


Parking:  Parking will be available in the lot adjacent to the school, as well in the long upper lot which overlooks the baseball field and track. In the event that both lots are filled, overflow parking will be available at The Cannery Shopping Center across N. DuPont Rd in the spaces behind Walgreens (see photo below for designated spaces).

Delaware council: Human sex trafficking '2nd largest' criminal enterprise

WDEL | Amy Cherry

January, 9 2017 - For the entire month of January, Delaware officials will attempt to raise awareness about a little-known, but wide-spread issue of epidemic proportions happening closer to home than many would ever guess: human trafficking.

"These are children who are 'throwaways in our society,' who are runaways," said Nancy McGee, a member of the Human Trafficking Coordinating Council.

Those children are being targeted and becoming victims of human trafficking, she said 

"Children who come up out of the foster care system and are not feeling connected, and therefore, are very vulnerable to being approached as somebody who can offer them a quasi-family or financial support," explained McGee.

The council calls it the "least recognized epidemic in the country."

"There's children being trafficked within their own families," said council member Yolanda Schlabach. "There are women that are in prison that have been arrested for prostitution that are actually trafficking victims."

Delaware's location along Interstate 95, which helps to fuel Wilmington's heroin epidemic, only adds to the trafficking problem.

"We know that they're here, and the I-95 corridor is a vessel that traffickers use throughout Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania--that whole Eastern Shore, the I-95 corridor Washington D.C. and Baltimore, that's often the interstate that they use to travel," she said.

"You can kind of tell which massage parlors--they maybe look like homes that maybe look a little 'sketchy' on the outside or they will advertise or Chinese or foot massage, or they're open with a red flashing neon light at 10:30 at night when everything else is closed," she said.

Tuesday, Governor Markell will declare January "Human Trafficking Awareness Month" in an effort to end the crisis, which the council claims has become the second-largest criminal enterprise in the United States.

"[It's] surpassed weapons, and part of the reason for that is because you can sell weapons one time," said McGee. "But a human body you can sell over and over and over again, until they discarded or they die--and then they're easily replaced."

My Worst Nightmare: What If I Raised The Bully?

Today | Leslie Blanchard

April 18, 2016 - I will never forget the day my daughter told me that Bethany, a girl in her 4th grade class, was annoying her.

“What is she doing to you?” I questioned, instinctively protective.

“She’s following me around on the playground and sitting by me at lunch!” she quipped, as if that would sum things right up and get me squarely on her side of the matter. “You mean she’s trying to be friends with you?” I asked incredulously.

I realized immediately that I had a problem on my hands. I was raising my own worst nightmare. Smack dab in the middle of my brood of five kids, was a charismatic, sassy, leggy, blonde, dance-y, athletic girl oozing confidence ... and apparently annoyance, directed towards another little girl that wasn’t lucky enough to be her. Inconveniently for my daughter, her own mother WAS Bethany in grade school. Freckled of face and frizzy of hair, I was an Army brat, always the new girl clamoring for a friend, drawn to the natural confidence of girls like my daughter. This conversation found me vacillating between heartache and fury, but one thing I knew for sure: Mama was about to put her money where her mouth had been all these years.

The battle of two very strong wills ensued at my home the next morning. It wasn’t pretty, but I prevailed. My daughter attended a private Catholic grade school, where on any given day, she and a handful of her cohorts ruled the roost. One quick phone call to Bethany’s mother that same evening confirmed my worst fears. My daughter and her posse were using everything short of a can of “Cling Free” to rid themselves of the annoying Bethany.

I’m sure there are parents out there who will say I overreacted. But, I firmly believe we’ve got to start to address our country’s bullying epidemic right at the heart; by re-defining bullying at its very core. To me, the rejection and complete lack of interest my daughter and her “clique” displayed toward Bethany was the beginning of a subtle type of bullying. It is true, (confirmed to me by Bethany’s mom and teachers), that there was no overt unkindness or name-calling etc., just rejection; a complete lack of interest in someone they wrongly concluded had nothing to offer them. After experiencing childhood myself and raising five of my own, I’ve been on every side of the bullying social dynamic, and I am convinced this is where it begins. A casual assessment and quick dismissal of an outsider.

We would serve our children well, in my opinion, if we had a frank conversation with them about Social Darwinism and what motivates human beings to accept and reject others. It happens at every age and stage of life, race, creed and religion. It has its roots in our own fears of rejection and lack of confidence. Everyone is jockeying for their own spot on the Social Food Chain. I feel like I have experienced demonstrable success with my children by tabling this dynamic right out in the open. Parents need to call it by name, speak it out loud, shine a bright light in its ugly face. We need to admit to our children that we too experience this, even as adults. Of course it’s tempting to ‘curry favor’ and ‘suck-up’ to the individual a rung of two above you on the Social Ladder, but every single human being deserves our attention and utmost respect. In spite of this, we have to constantly remind our children and ourselves that everyone can bring unexpected and unanticipated value to our lives. But we have to let them.

It’s simply not enough to instruct your children to, “Be Nice!” You’ve got to be more specific than that. Kids think if they aren’t being outright unkind, they are being nice. We know better. Connect the ugly dots. Explain the Darwinistic social survival instinct that’s often motivating and guiding their impulses. I promise you, they can handle it. They already see it on some level anyway. They just need YOU to give it a voice and re-direction.

As for my girl, I instructed her that she was going to invest some time and energy getting to know Bethany. I assigned her to come home from school the next day and report three cool things she found out about Bethany, that she didn’t previously know. My strong-willed child dug in. She did not want to do that. I dug in deeper. I refused to drive her to school the next morning, until she agreed. It seemed that, at least until now, I had the car keys and the power. Her resistance gave us time to have the Social Darwinism conversation. I walked her through my “ATM Machine Analogy.” I explained to her that she had social bank to spare. She could easily make a withdrawal on behalf of this little girl, risking very little.

“Let’s invest!” I enthused and encouraged.

She got dressed reluctantly and I drove her to school. She had a good day — what was left of it. But, she was still buggy with me when I picked her up, telling me that her friends’ mothers, “stay out of such matters” and let their daughters, “choose their own friends!” (Such wise women.) And then she told me three cool things about Bethany that she didn’t previously know.

I checked back in with Bethany’s mother by phone two weeks later. It’s called follow through. (I don’t think enough of us are doing that. We “helicopter” over our kids’ wardrobes, nutrition, sleep schedules, hygiene, science fair projects and then pride ourselves on how “hands off” we are on social issues. If I had a dollar for every time I wanted to say, “Seriously? You micro-manage the literal crap out of every thing your child does from his gluten intake to his soccer cleats, but THIS you stay out of?” No wonder there’s zero accountability and a bullying culture!) Bethany’s mother assured me that she had been welcomed into the fold of friendship and was doing well.

Bethany’s family moved to another state a few years later. My daughter cried when they parted ways. They still keep in touch through all their social media channels. She was and is a really cool girl, with a lot to offer her peers. But the real value was to my daughter, obviously. She gained so much through that experience. She is now a 20-year-old college sophomore, with a widely diverse group of friends. She is kind, inclusive and open to all types of people. When she was malleable, impressionable and mine to guide:

— She learned her initial instinct about people isn’t always correctly motivated.

— She learned you can be friends with the least likely people; the best friendships aren’t people that are your “type!” In the world of friendship, contrast is a plus.

— She learned that there are times, within a given social framework, that you are in a position to make a withdrawal on behalf of someone else. Be generous, invest! It pays dividends.

But, most importantly, she learned that, while I may not be overly-interested in what she gets on her Science Fair project, couldn’t care less if she’s Lactose Intolerant or whether her long blonde hair is snarled, she’s going to damn well treat people right.

Parents — your kids are going to eventually develop the good sense to wear a jacket and eat vegetables, invest your energy in how they interact within society. If we insist on being the hovering Helicopter Parent Generation, let’s at least hover over the right areas.

Five things that can make you a better parent right now

Washington Post | Meagan Leahy

July 20, 2016 - Since 1998, I have worked with hundreds of parents. As a teacher, school counselor, parent educator and currently a parent coach, I have taken note of what makes some parents more effective than others.

Effective parents are not measured by any of the cultural standards that we seem to be working toward these days. They come from all walks of life and have followed many paths to parenthood.

I know parents who underwent severe trauma as children, yet consciously created families to reflect values that were born out of ideas, not experience.

I know parents who have children with serious physical and emotional needs, and these parents seem to have cultivated a life of hope and joy.

I know parents who are introverted but have a brood of wild extroverts, and they manage their own needs while allowing the children to bloom.

A tween’s mood swings and tantrums are driving mom crazy ]

All of these parents offer the same things to their children: safety (emotional and physical), connection, boundaries and patience. They are not perfect, nor are they effective all of the time. They keep going, even in the face of confusion, doubt, egregious mistakes and fear. They may give up for the night, but they get up the next day ready to begin again.

Here are five ways that you, too, can be a more effective parent.


1. Cultivate a family value system. “Well, jeez, who doesn’t have values?” you may ask, and the answer is that yes, when asked, all parents profess to having strong values. But Americans don’t have a common parenting culture that has been passed down to us. Our wonderful mix of religions, ethnicities, worldviews and customs means that we are able to create our own parenting and family mores.

This is both freeing and problematic. How do we feel about faith, busyness, education, puberty, sex, romantic love, marriage? The questions can go on and on. But rather than seeing this as a problem, parents have the power to create their own family values, and that’s spectacular.

You wanted more faith growing up in a family that didn’t practice anything? You can choose a religion for yourself and your children. You feel that travel is an important way to understand the world and how others live? You can hit the road with your family at every opportunity. You grew up volunteering and giving to others, and you loved it? You can continue it in your family.

But it’s not enough to just say something is important, or to do something without thinking about or explaining your choices. Effective parents consciously choose their value systems, talk about those choices and make sure that they are practicing them in their everyday lives. Parents know that if they don’t create a value system for their family, our society will, and, frankly, we don’t want society raising our children.


2. Prioritize self-care. I have met parents over the years who are facing incredibly hard situations: terribly sick children; an unexpectedly ill spouse; career, home and money hardships; and other challenges. Yet they bear their problems with hope, an honest acknowledgment of the difficulties and (this is important) a surprising lack of self-pity. What is the common thread among these parents? Self-care.

Take your notion that self-care is nothing more than a trip to the spa and chuck it. True self-care means not only placing your physical and emotional needs on your list of things to do, but also using them as a compass for your life. Without self-care, you are a martyr, living from moment to moment. You are bouncing through life like a pinball, sometimes a winner, often a loser. You feel as though life is hurting you, and you don’t feel empowered to make decisions. This can cause you to resent your children and your partner. You resent work when you are there and home when you are there. Your future is bleak, and you may be perpetually tired.

An introverted mom struggles to deal with her kids’ nonstop chatter]

Self-care is the glue that keeps you together. I know a mom who always has a wedding anniversary dinner with her spouse, and who will go for a run by herself, even though she has sick children. Another mom, going through a terrible divorce, turned to her friends for help and graciously received it. When parents are in the weeds with their first baby, they should allow neighbors to cook, clean and bounce the baby, ignoring that inner pride screaming, “No, do it yourself.”

It’s okay for busy, hardworking parents to go away for a week of sun and rest or to wake up at 5 a.m. to walk the dog by themselves for a moment of peace and exercise. Or to sacrifice some of their family’s time and money so they can finish a degree.

Effective parents place their own needs high on their list of priorities. When these needs are met, the parents feel fulfilled. And when parents feel fulfilled, they can calmly turn to their family with renewed energy, feeling deeply grounded and ready for whatever comes their way. Balanced parents create balance in their families.


3. Create strong but kind boundaries and routines. This is, hands down, the most powerful strategy for raising young children. Effective parents know that the younger the child, the more boundaries and routines are needed. Whether it be waking up, meals, napping or bathing, a young child feels safe when the same thing happens over and over. Yet effective parents also know that there needs to be room for flexibility within that structure. Why? Life happens. Constantly. Wise parents know that a boundary held too tightly and a routine that does not allow a child to grow will create tension, struggle and misery.

It is better for children to struggle against a boundary or routine than to struggle against their parents. It is responding to “Mom, why do I have to do my homework now?” with “Because this is the time homework gets done” instead of “Because I said so.” It is not that one response will make the child adore homework; it is that one response is rooted in control, while the other is a matter-of-fact statement of routine.

As the child matures, the boundaries and routines may endure some debate, but it is still important to keep them up. Despite how they may act, tweens and teens do not want their parents to let go of the reins; they just want a voice in how much slack there is.

My parents weren’t affectionate, so I had to teach myself how to be]

Strong and kind boundaries and routines can almost eliminate the need for punishments, bribes, threats, rewards, nagging and yelling. Almost.


4. Don’t take your child’s behavior personally. Let’s get real here. Are you really going to go through life not taking any of your children’s behavior personally? No. The beautiful and complicating factor of parenthood is that you love your children, and this love makes everything personal. It is your job, however, to gather all of your maturity and understand that children are immature. They are reacting to deep impulses coming from within them, both lovely and tough.

If you fall into the trap of taking your children’s behavior personally, you cannot clearly see your children. You are too busy reacting to your own junk. You explode or you waver in indecision. When you buckle down and realize it’s really not about you, you will be free to parent. And when you do occasionally explode, forgive yourself and move on.

As you are growing as an adult, you will also become more comfortable with the expression of emotion, in all its messy forms. Will you enjoy your child’s tantrum? Will you relish the hitting? Will you celebrate the rudeness? No. But you will understand that the human experience involves feeling emotions and letting them out. And young children do this frequently and poorly. We guide, we hug, we create boundaries, and we help them move through the emotions and move on.

Effective parents acknowledge that there is no workaround for this. Big emotions are inconvenient, but they are appropriate — and the alternative (keeping emotions in) makes children angry, violent and withdrawn.


5. Take the time to connect, and know how to laugh, play and not take yourself (or your children) too seriously. The most effective parents I have witnessed take the smallest moments with their children and create intimacy. My grandmother was an expert at this. When she turned her gaze to me, her eyes sparkled, she smiled, and she gave me all of her attention. She may have been simply handing me a mint, but it was still a moment of connection. Our culture is distracting us more and more (smartphones, right?), but it is critical to remember to give your children your full attention.

Connection with our children comes in car rides and silent cuddles, reading books and shopping, shooting hoops and learning about video games. Effective parents don’t let moments slip away, and when they realize they are becoming distracted, they get back in there.

And whether they are introverts, extroverts, sporty, artsy, silly or serious, effective parents recognize play as key to development. Make room for and encourage imaginative play. This will vary from family to family and parent to parent, but the beauty is that there is room for all types of play and silliness.

And perhaps most important: Play doesn’t end as children mature. One of the reasons so many parents are miserable is that they live in an endless loop and forget to enjoy the ride. Effective parents make time, among their daily duties, to have joy, laughter and play. Make it a priority, and you, too, will be an effective parent — and an effective human being. Now that’s worth repeating.

The Prevention of Violence Against Children: A Global Effort


November 19th is the International Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse. Learn more about how CDC is protecting the futures of children all around the world with the Violence Against Children Survey.

On September 25th, the United Nations released a comprehensive list of Sustainable Development Goals designed to improve global inequalities by 2030. These goals, ranging from improvements in economic growth and clean energy to ending world hunger, require that all people from all parts of the world join together for the common good of humanity. They ask that we recognize each of the goals as imperative to the well-being of future generations, which is a timely reminder as we approach the International Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse on November 19th.

To advance the United Nations call-to-action, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has collaborated with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and other key members of the Together for Girls public-private partnership to provide technical assistance to host country governments in the implementation of national Violence Against Children Surveys (VACS).

Children who experience violence are at a greater risk for long-lasting consequences, including, but not limited to:

  • Infectious diseases such as HIV
  • Chronic diseases
  • Reproductive health problems
  • Crime and drug abuse
  • Social and developmental difficulties
  • Serious mental health problems

More than 1 billion children—half of all the children in the world—are victims of violence every year.

These consequences are costly, pervasive, and preventable. CDC's Violence Against Children Surveys (VACS) seek to understand the breadth of the problem of violence against children, which enables countries to better allocate limited resources to prevention programs. VACS are unique, national household surveys that measure physical, emotional, and sexual violence against children in order to inspire action and save lives. VACS data have been released in eight countries in Eastern and Southern Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, with growing demand for VACS implementation in Central America, Eastern Europe, and West Africa. The VACS findings show an urgent need for violence prevention measures.

VACS data released earlier this year focused on lifetime childhood sexual violence (before age 18 years) among females and males aged 18-24 in seven countries (Swaziland, Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Haiti, and Cambodia) between 2007 and 2013. The data showed that:

  • At least 1 in 4 females and 1 in 10 males have experienced some form of childhood sexual violence in the majority of countries surveyed.
  • Among victims of childhood sexual violence, few received healthcare, legal/security aid, or counseling support.

Further, HIV is an epidemic in many of the VACS countries. Sadly, the VACS data show that most children who have experienced sexual abuse have never been tested for HIV. Adding HIV testing to the VACS will allow HIV positive children to receive life-saving care, treatment, and support.

The most recent VACS data[16.7 MB] were released in Nigeria on September 15th. This data release was accompanied by a year-long action plan dedicated to reducing violence against children. The Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, showed his full support by saying, "This is a historic day. A day when Nigeria stands up and says to our children—we commit to protecting you from violence." The United Nations Secretary General commended Nigeria for being the first country in West Africa to complete the survey.


The VACS data draw attention to the tragic realities of violence against children, but the story doesn't end there. As an offered solution linking VACS data to sustainable action, CDC has published a technical package of core prevention strategies called THRIVES. THRIVES strategies cross health, social services, education finance, and justice sectors to provide the best available evidence to prevent violence against children:

  • Training in parenting,
  • Household economic strengthening,
  • Reduced violence through protective policies,
  • Improved services,
  • Values and norms that protect children,
  • Education and life skills, and
  • Surveillance and evaluation.

THRIVES will require coordination and cooperation from everyone. The International Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse provides a time for people all over the world to join together to advance the call-to-action proposed in the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals—to end all forms of violence against children.

CDC's Division of Violence Prevention works to prevent violence and its adverse health consequences. For more information about the Violence Against Children Survey, please visit Towards a Violence-Free Generation.

For more information on THRIVES, visit VACS Reports and Publications.

Teens: This is how social media affects your brain

CNN | By Susie East

August 1, 2016 - Whether you're on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, What's App or Twitter, the way you communicate with friends today is changing.

Keeping in touch is no longer about face to face, but instead screen to screen, highlighted by the fact that more than 1 billion people are using Facebook every day.

    Social media has become second nature -- but what impact is this having on our brain?

    Reward circuitry

    In a recent study, researchers at the UCLA brain mapping center used an fMRI scanner to image the brains of 32 teenagers as they used a bespoke social media app resembling Instagram. By watching the activity inside different regions of the brain as the teens used the app, the team found certain regions became activated by "likes", with the brain's reward center becoming especially active.

    "When teens learn that their own pictures have supposedly received a lot of likes, they show significantly greater activation in parts of the brain's reward circuitry," says lead author Lauren Sherman. "This is the same group of regions responding when we see pictures of a person we love or when we win money."

    The teenagers were shown more than 140 images where 'likes' were believed to from their peers, but were in fact assigned by the research team.

    Scans revealed that the nucleus accumbens, a part of the brain's reward circuitry, was especially active when teens saw a large number of likes on their own photos, which could inspire them to use social media more often.

    Peer influence

    As part of the experiment, participants were also shown a range of "neutral" photos showing things like food and friends, and "risky" photos depicting cigarettes and alcohol. But the type of image had no impact on the number of "likes" given by the teens. they were instead more likely to 'like' the more popular photos, regardless of what they showed. This could lead to both a positive and negative influence from peers online.

    Sherman believes these results could have important implications among this age group.

    "Reward circuitry is thought to be particularly sensitive in adolescence," says Sherman, "It could be explaining, at least in part, why teens are such avid social media users."

    Read: What parents need to know when kids are on social media

    Social learning

    Adolescence is a period that is very important for social learning, which could explain why teens are often more tuned in to what's going on in their respective cultures. With the rise of social media, Sherman thinks we may even be learning to read likes and shares instead of facial expressions.

    "Before, if you were having a face to face interaction everything is qualitative. You use someone's gestures or facial expressions, that sort of thing, to see how effective your message is," she says.

    "Now if you go online, one of the ways that you gauge the effectiveness of your message is in the number of likes, favorites or retweets, and this is something that's really different and unique about online interaction."

    However, the study may not be applicable to everyone, according to Dr. Iroise Dumontheil, at Birkbeck University.

    "[The study] only has adolescents and so they can't really claim anything specific about whether it's adolescents who react to this differently compared to adults."

    Read: Teens spend nine hours a day using media, report says

    Changing the brain

    Dumontheil does, however, concur that social media is affecting our brain, particularly its plasticity, which is the way the brain grows and changes after experiencing different things.

    "Whenever you learn something new or you experience something, it's encoded in your brain, and it's encoded by subtle changes in the strength of connections between neurons," says Dumontheil.

    For example, one study showed that the white matter in an adults' brains changed as they learned how to juggle over a period of several months. "They found that if you scan [the brains of] adults before they learn how to juggle, and then three months later, you can see changes in the brain structure," says Dumontheil.

    Time spent on social media could, therefore, also cause the brain to change and grow.

    "We might be a bit less good at reading subtle expressions on faces that are moving, but we might be much quicker at monitoring what's going on in a whole group of our friends," says Dumontheil.

    So are these new skills a good or a bad thing? Neither, she says. "It's just a way we have of adapting to our environment."

    To Help Kids Thrive, Coach Their Parents


    IN 1986, in a few of the poorest neighborhoods in Kingston, Jamaica, a team of researchers from the University of the West Indies embarked on an experiment that has done a great deal, over time, to change our thinking about how to help children succeed, especially those living in poverty. Its message: Help children by supporting and coaching their parents.

    The researchers divided the families of 129 infants and toddlers into groups. The first group received hour long home visits once a week from a trained researcher who encouraged the parents to spend more time playing actively with their children: reading picture books, singing songs, playing peekaboo. A second group of children received a kilogram of a milk-based nutritional supplement each week. A control group received nothing. The interventions themselves ended after two years, but the researchers have followed the children ever since.

    The intervention that made the big difference in the children’s lives, as it turned out, wasn’t the added nutrition; it was the encouragement to the parents to play. The children whose parents were counseled to play more with them did better, throughout childhood, on tests of I.Q., aggressive behavior and self-control. Today, as adults, they earn an average of 25 percent more per year than the subjects whose parents didn’t receive home visits.

    The Jamaica experiment helps make the case that if we want to improve children’s opportunities for success, one of the most powerful potential levers for change is not the children themselves, but rather the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of the adults who surround them.

    More recent research has helped to uncover exactly how that change can take place. Psychologists including Mary Dozier at the University of Delaware and Philip Fisher at the University of Oregon have studied home-visiting interventions in which parents of infants and young children are provided with supportive, personalized coaching that identifies and reinforces the small moments — such as the face-to-face exchanges sometimes called “serve and return” interactions — that encourage attachment, warmth and trust between parent and child.

    The impact of this coaching can be powerful. In one series of experiments, infants and toddlers whose foster parents received just 10 home visits showed fewer behavior problems than a control group and significantly higher rates of “secure attachment” (a close, stable connection with the adults in their lives). The children’s ability to process stress improved, too. In fact, the daily patterns in their levels of cortisol, a key stress hormone, came to resemble those of typical, well-functioning, non-foster-care children.

    These positive influences in children’s early lives can have a profound effect on the development of what are sometimes called non-cognitive skills. In our current education debates, these skills are often talked about in morally freighted terms: as expressions of deep-rooted character, of grit and fortitude. But in practice, non-cognitive capacities are simply a set of emotional and psychological habits and mind-sets that enable children to negotiate life effectively inside and outside of school: the ability to understand and follow directions; to focus on a single activity for an extended period; to interact calmly with other students; to cope with disappointment and persevere through frustration.

    These capacities may be harder to measure on tests of kindergarten readiness than skills like number and letter recognition, but they are inordinately valuable in school, beginning on the first day of kindergarten. Unlike reading and math skills, though, they aren’t primarily developed through deliberate practice and explicit training. Instead, researchers have found, they are mostly shaped by children’s daily experience of their environment. And they have their roots in the first few years of life. When children spend their early years in communities and homes where life is unstable and chaotic — which is true of a disproportionate number of children growing up in poverty — the intense and chronic stress they often experience as a result can seriously disrupt, on a neurobiological level, their development of these important capacities.

    This is why interventions such as home visits with parents can be so effective. When parents get the support they need to create a warm, stable, nurturing environment at home, their children’s stress levels often go down, while their emotional stability and psychological resilience improve.

    Though interventions in the homes of infants and toddlers are especially effective, the principle that intervening with adults can help children seems to hold true in schools, as well. The Chicago School Readiness Project, a program developed by Cybele Raver, a psychologist at New York University, trains prekindergarten teachers in high-poverty neighborhoods in techniques intended to create a calm, consistent classroom experience for children: setting clear routines, redirecting negative behavior, helping students manage strong emotions. Mental-health professionals are also assigned to work in each classroom, but they are concerned as much with the mental health of the teacher as with that of the students.

    Dr. Raver calls this approach “the bidirectional model of self-regulation,” by which she means a kind of virtuous cycle. If from the beginning of the year the classroom is stable and reliable, with clear rules, consistent discipline, and greater emphasis on recognizing good behavior than on punishing bad, Dr. Raver believes that stressed-out students will be less likely to feel threatened and better able to regulate their less constructive impulses. That improved behavior, combined with the support and counsel of the mental-health professional assigned to the class, helps teachers stay calm and balanced in the face of the inevitable frustrations of teaching a group of high-energy 4-year-olds.

    The evidence from Dr. Raver’s experiments indicates that the program’s effects go well beyond classroom climate. The results of a recent randomized trial showed that children who spent their prekindergarten year in a Head Start classroom of the Chicago School Readiness Project had, at the end of the school year, substantially better attention skills, impulse control and performance on memory tasks than did children in a control group. They also had stronger vocabulary, letter-naming and math skills, despite the fact that the training provided to teachers included no academic content at all.

    The students improved academically for the simple reason that they were able to concentrate on what was being taught, without their attention being swept away by conflicts and anxieties. Changing the environment in the classroom made it easier for them to learn. Nurturing the healthy development of infants and children, whether in the home or in the classroom, is hard and often stressful work. What we now understand is that the stress that parents and teachers feel can in turn elevate the stress levels of the children in their care, in ways that can undermine the children’s mental health and intellectual development. The good news is that the process can be reversed, often with relatively simple and low-cost interventions. To help children living in poverty succeed, our best strategy may be to first help the adults in their lives.