Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sue Scheff: Pumping Up The Teen Brain - SPARK

Researchers are finding that exercise can not only keep you fit, but make you smarter. A school in Illinois has developed a program that gets students moving and learning. Debbye Turner Bell reports.

Visit for more great information.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sue Scheff: Parenting Your Teens Online

This is a very interesting article that will make parents think when safety trumps privacy - do you suspect your teen or tween is posting disturbing photos or communicating with questionable others? As a parent is is our responsibility to help keep our kids safe online. Having open lines of communication can help tremendously and helping them to understand the consequences of unflattering posts is critical.

We will spy on your teen’s website for you

More and more worried parents are resorting to using data-tracking services to keep up with what their teenagers are doing on the internet, writes Siobhan Cronin

Irish parents are the best in Europe at monitoring their kids on the internet. However, their kids are the least likely of all European children to turn to mum or dad for advice when something happens to them online.
These were the results of a recent survey by the European Commission into internet supervision by parents.
While our parents might be good at keeping tabs on their kids, cyber bullying is still on the increase, sometimes with tragic results.
Cork girl Leanne Wolfe’s horrific tales of bullying were revealed in her diary, days after her death by suicide last year.
Her sister later told of the nasty text messages and vicious internet entries which led Leanne to take her own life.
It is real-life stories like Leanne’s which have led thousands of American parents — and now a few hundred Irish ones — to resort to using a service that will keep tabs on what their children are reading, and uploading, on the web.
But it’s not just bullying that worries parents. Unfettered access to the web for our kids has also meant open access to them from anyone who is ‘roaming’ around in cyberspace.
This has led some parents to take the ultimate action — spying on their own children.
The founder of Reputation Defender, Michael Fertik, has been called to justify his online service: “Would you like to know your 16-year-old daughter is putting pictures of herself wearing only a bra on the web? Yes. People are not born with good judgment and it rarely develops by 15,” he says.
But another defence of Fertik’s service is, he claims, the prevalence of web bullying.
“When we were at school, we wrote mean notes to each other but you threw the piece of paper out the next day — now it’s on the internet wall forever,” he says.
Fertik’s solution, MyChild, scours the internet for all references to your child — by name, photography, screen name, or social network profiles.
For about €9.95 per month, the ‘online spy’ will send you a report of what your child has posted on the worldwide web.
Its approach is unashamedly tapping into parents’ paranoia: “Worried about bullies? Concerned that your teens’ friends and peers are posting inappropriate materials online,” the site asks.
Fertik, who says he has a “few hundred” Irish customers already, says his company grew out of a need to protect online privacy.
“Young people do the same things that they always did,” he points out. But now it’s on a wall on a web page. The internet is like a tattoo parlour.”
The firm, which started in his apartment in Kentucky, and now employs 65 staff servicing 35 countries, brought in revenues of $5.5m (€4.3m) this year.
He insists there is no “hacking” involved. His staff go through legitimate channels, but are simply better trained in the ways of teenage internet usage than most parents.
“We always encourage the parent to get the password — we don’t want to be spying on kids,” he adds.
One of the things that often causes concern among parents is the practice of their own lives being discussed on a website. “These things have always been discussed by children, but now it’s up there for everyone to see. Things like: ‘My parents are fighting’ or ‘I think they are going to get a divorce’.”
In pre-web days, we all had very intimate conversations with our peers about our home lives — either in person, or on the phone. Now it’s all on the internet, Fertik notes.
Once the offending material is identified, Reputation Defender can delete it, on the instructions of the parent, whether it involves comments, photographs or videos posted on social-networking sites, or on chat rooms or forums.
The service has become so popular that the company now offers packages to adults to manage search engine results, ‘reputation’ for career purposes, and general ‘privacy’ — so that you can stop sites selling your personal information to others.
But that very privacy is the reason that children’s rights organisations around the world have come out strongly against the practice.
Michael McLoughlin of Youthwork Ireland, which provides support and youth services for over 40,000 young people, says that while there may be some justification of the service for younger teens, this could become somewhat blurred when dealing with children of 16 or 17 years of age.
“At that stage in their lives they should really know what they are doing themselves,” he says. Youthwork Ireland is currently preparing guidelines for youth workers dealing with online bullying. “We try to tool them up on social networking, and try to improve the safety aspects.”
The ISPCC agrees that children need to be made aware of the risks of online networking. However, National Childline Manager Margie Roe says that while parents need to respect privacy and maintain trust, they also need to police their children if they think they might be in any danger.
“If a parent is concerned about their child, they have a right to protect them,” she says.
“They need to be careful they don’t damage the trust between them and their child, but if they feel their behaviour is in anyway unusual, or their child is disappearing a lot, then it could be justified.”
This would be particularly relevant if parents are concerned their children might be making plans to hook up with people they have only met online, says Margie.
Michael Fertik is adamant that he is not doing anything ethically wrong.
“If a kid is 18 or older, we won’t do it. Parents who are signing up for this feel they don’t know how to keep up with their kids and they don’t understand Facebook or Bebo.”
He says the children themselves have mastered the art of ‘multiple’ personalities, in order to make discovery of their sites more difficult, but Reputation Defender is on their case.
However, even Fertik’s own ’solution’ can be subject to unsavoury interference. The system flags a query when the last name of the parent does not match the child’s, prompting further requests from the applicant, before they are given information on the child’s use of the web.
Fertik’s attitude appears to be that online surveillance is now a necessary evil in our modern world.
“There is no medical privacy for kids, no legal privacy. We are not suggesting they shouldn’t be allowed use the internet, but it’s like driving a car — you want to make sure they know how to drive first.
“We are not spying on someone else’s kid. It’s a new day, the internet brings new threats, and we need new armour.”
- Siobhan Cronin

Friday, January 23, 2009

Depressed Teens and New Years Resolution by Gary Nelson

Teens suffering from depression and related illnesses like anxiety and bipolar disorder find it very difficult to even make New Year's resolutions, let alone keep them. Depression and its relatives very quickly tend to overwhelm teens. When faced with the idea of change depressed teens often see a mountain so huge that it seemingly can never be climbed or chiseled slowly into a molehill. They quickly feel overwhelmed and often respond with some thought or statement like, "It's too big. I'll never be able to do it... so why bother to even try." The teen then falls deeper into their pit of despair. One of the first things that the depression "steals" from the depressed teen is their ability to take large, seemingly impossible tasks and break them into smaller, manageable pieces. Most of us take this ability for granted and practice this making of mountains into manageable molehills everyday. Depressed teens want to change. They want healing. They just don't see a way over the mountain. The depression has them hog-tied, leaving the teens looking like they're just lazy and don't "want" to try. These depressed teens need help, not judgement. They need hope. For more information on this and other aspects of teen depression check out my new book, A Relentless Hope: Surviving the Storm of Teen Depression. If you have a teen who is struggling you might also want to check out Sue Scheff's new book, Wit's End.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sue Scheff: Challenging High School Dropouts

Years ago, most of us would never consider dropping out of high school. Today more and more teens are anxious to reach 16 years old (age of majority in most states to withdraw from high school). Parents should be concerned about this, many more teens are getting GED’s and diploma’s are not their priority. Years ago, GED’s were frowned upon - and only those with extreme exceptions would get a GED. Now it seems more and more are falling back on this option. Take a moment to read this article with parenting tips to help your teen graduate from High School with a diploma.

Source: Connect with Kids

Expectations are a very important tool in trying to improve performance. If you don’t set goals, you won’t feel bad, but neither will you achieve high goals.”

– Randall Flanery, Ph.D., psychologist

Nationally, 70 percent of students graduate on time with a high school diploma. That leaves 30 percent struggling to finish and often dropping out of school. Many school districts have found innovative ways to keep these kids in class.

Kids fall behind in school for lots of reasons.

“I was never paying attention in class because I was just distracted, hanging around with friends,” says Jose, 17.

“More than half the time I’d still be stuck, like ‘wait a minute, I still don’t’ understand this.’ And when I’d go home and do the homework I couldn’t do it because I couldn’t understand the material,” says Jennifer Smith, 18.

If they fall too far behind, some kids will just give up.

“I was just waiting to turn 16, get out of high school, and I don’t know from there,” says Jose.

A study from Columbia University has confirmed an idea that many school districts have been experimenting with for years: if you challenge potential dropouts with tougher class work, they’re not only more likely to graduate, but to go on to college as well. Experts say it’s all about setting expectations.

“Expectations are a very important tool in trying to improve performance. If you don’t set goals, you won’t feel bad, but neither will you achieve high goals,” says Randall Flanery, Ph.D., psychologist.

“It does not take a long time before these kids see they are making good grades, they’re going on college field trips. You see a lot of incentives there. They are doing fun things so it is okay to be smart. They have the potential and they just really need that boost,” says Barbara Smith, eastern division director, AVID Program.

Expectations and incentives give students who really want it a second chance.

“Now I’m actually trying to graduate, to go to college — at least a technical school … and get a little degree in something,” says Jose.

“Just keep at it. Like the old saying, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,’” says Smith.

Tips for Parents

Schools need to establish relationships with various health and social agencies in their communities so students with disciplinary problems who require assistance are readily referred and communication lines between these agencies and schools are established. (The American Academy of Pediatrics, AAP)

Students and their families should be encouraged by school staff members to access health care and social services.

A full assessment for social, medical, and mental health problems by a pediatrician (or other providers of care for children and youth) is recommended for all school-referred students who have been suspended or expelled. The evaluation should be designed to ascertain factors that may underlie the student’s behaviors and health risks and to provide a recommendation on how a child may better adapt to his or her school environment. (AAP)

Matters related to safety and supervision should be explored with parents whenever their child is barred from attending school. This includes but is not limited to screening parents by history for presence of household guns. (AAP)

Pediatricians should advocate to the local school district on behalf of the child so that he or she is reintroduced into a supportive and supervised school environment. (AAP)

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

Friday, January 9, 2009

Sue Scheff: Teens Smoking - Anti Smoking Advocacy

“It’s bad for your health and if you smoke, you’re going to get lung cancer. I doubt that there’s 5 percent of kids out there who haven’t already heard that message. That in and of itself is not enough to influence or change their behavior.”

– Andy Lord, American Cancer Society

Two years ago, when Ashley was 17, her mother discovered cigarettes in her daughter’s coat pocket.

“My reaction of course was total shock,” says Ashley’s mother, Sylvia Haney.

Ashley recalls, “And she’s like, ‘What is this? Cigarettes!’ And she’s like, ‘Why are you smoking?’”

But instead of giving her daughter a long lecture, Haney had her join an anti-smoking program called “Youth in Charge.”

“It’s a youth empowerment group [that] lets other youth know the dangers of big tobacco companies, and the manipulation and lies of the big tobacco companies,” says Ashley.

Research has shown that teen smokers who get involved in an anti-smoking program like the one Ashley joined are nearly 40 percent more likely to quit, compared to teens who only received lectures.

“You can lecture, but I can guarantee you it’s going to go in one ear and out the other,” says Ashley.

Experts say the key is to have kids do their own research, find out on their own about the dangers of tobacco, so they learn it firsthand and can tell other kids.

And when they do that, “they draw their own conclusions,” says Andy Lord, with the American Cancer Society. “And at the end of the day when kids draw their own conclusions, they do have ownership of that information. They do feel a revelation, and they do in turn want to go and share that with other folks.”

Ashley adds, “Smoking or using tobacco can kill more than AIDS and HIV, auto accidents, illicit drugs, murders, rapes and suicides combined. I don’t know why you’d want to do it.”

Experts say parents can contact their branch of the American Cancer Society to find a youth anti-tobacco program in their area. For many teens, it is worth discovering. The group’s effect on Ashley was profound.

“Most definitely I will not pick up another cigarette,” she says.

Tips for Parents

Research shows that a vast majority of smokers began when they were children or teenagers. While recent legislation has helped reduce smoking, it still remains an important health concern. Consider the following statistics from the U.S. Surgeon General:

Approximately 80 percent of adult smokers started smoking before the age of 18.

More than 5 million children living today will die prematurely because of a decision they make as adolescents – the decision to smoke cigarettes.

An estimated 2.1 million people began smoking on a daily basis in 1997. More than half of these new smokers were younger than 18. This boils down to every day, 3,000 young people under the age of 18 becoming regular smokers.

Nearly all first uses of tobacco occur before high school graduation.

Most young people who smoke are addicted to nicotine and report that they want to quit but are unable to do so.

Tobacco is often the first drug used by young people who use alcohol and illegal drugs.
Among young people, those with poorer grades and lower self-image are most likely to begin using tobacco.

Over the past decade, there has been virtually no decline in smoking rates among the general teen population. Among black adolescents, however, smoking has declined dramatically.
Young people who come from low-income families and have fewer than two adults living in their household are especially at risk for becoming smokers.

Encourage your child to join an anti-smoking group and support him/her in kicking the habit. If you are currently a smoker, you should also try to stop. Children look to their parents for support and strength; taking the anti-smoking journey alongside your child can be a huge benefit. In addition to attending the meetings, The Foundation for a Smoke-Free America offers these suggestions:

Develop deep-breathing techniques. Every time you want a cigarette, do the following three times: Inhale the deepest breath of air you can and then, very slowly, exhale. Purse your lips so that the air must come out slowly. As you exhale, close your eyes, and let your chin gradually drop to your chest. Visualize all the tension leaving your body, slowly draining out of your fingers and toes -- just flowing on out. This technique will be your greatest weapon during the strong cravings smokers feel during the first few days of quitting.

During the first week, drink lots of water and healthy fluids to flush out the nicotine and other toxins from your body.

Remember that the urge to smoke only lasts a few minutes, and then it will pass. The urges gradually become further and further apart as the days go by.

Do your very best to stay away from alcohol, sugar and coffee the first week (or longer) as these tend to stimulate the desire for a cigarette. Also, avoid fatty foods, as your metabolism may slow down a bit without the nicotine, and you may gain weight even if you eat the same amount as before quitting. Discipline regarding your diet is extra important now.

Nibble on low calorie foods like celery, apples and carrots. Chew gum or suck on cinnamon sticks.
Stretch out your meals. Eat slowly and pause between bites.

After dinner, instead of a cigarette, treat yourself to a cup of mint tea or a peppermint candy. Keep in mind, however, that in one study, while 25 percent of quitters found that an oral substitute was helpful, another 25 percent didn't like the idea at all – they wanted a clean break with cigarettes. Find what works for you.

Go to a gym, exercise, and/or sit in the steam of a hot shower. Change your normal routine – take a walk or even jog around the block or in a local park. Get a massage. Pamper yourself.
Ask for support from coworkers, friends and family members. Ask for their tolerance. Let them know you're quitting, and that you might be edgy or grumpy for a few days. If you don't ask for support, you certainly won't get any. If you do, you'll be surprised how much it can help.
Ask friends and family members not to smoke in your presence. Don't be afraid to ask. This is more important than you may realize.

On your “quit day,” remove all ashtrays and destroy all your cigarettes, so you have nothing to smoke.

If you need someone to talk to, call the National Cancer Institute's Smoking Quitline at 1-877-44U-Quit. Proactive counseling services by trained personnel are provided in sessions both before and after quitting smoking.

Find a chat room online, with people trying to quit smoking. It can be a great source of support, much like a Nicotine Anonymous meeting, but online.

Attend your anti-smoking meetings. If there are no meetings in your city, try calling (800) 642-0666, or check the Nicotine Anonymous website link below. There you can also find out how to start your own meeting. It's truly therapeutic to see how other quitters are doing as they strive to stop smoking.

Write down ten good things about being a nonsmoker and ten bad things about smoking.
Don't pretend smoking wasn't enjoyable. Quitting smoking can be like losing a good friend – and it's okay to grieve the loss. Feel that grief.

Several times a day, quietly repeat to yourself the affirmation, "I am a nonsmoker." Many quitters see themselves as smokers who are just not smoking for the moment. They have a self-image as smokers who still want a cigarette. Silently repeating the affirmation "I am a nonsmoker" will help you change your view of yourself. Even if it seems silly to you, this is actually useful.

Here is perhaps the most valuable information among these points: During the period that begins a few weeks after quitting, the urge to smoke will subside considerably. However, it's vital to understand that from time to time, you will still be suddenly overwhelmed with a desire for "just one cigarette." This will happen unexpectedly, during moments of stress, whether negative stress or positive (at a party, or on vacation). Be prepared to resist this unexpected urge, because succumbing to that "one cigarette" will lead you directly back to smoking. Remember the following secret: during these surprise attacks, do your deep breathing and hold on for five minutes; the urge will pass.

Do not try to go it alone. Get help, and plenty of it.

American Cancer Society
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Foundation for a Smoke-Free America
Nicotine Anonymous

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Sue Scheff The Value of the Internet

Source: Connect with Kids

“I wasn’t like other kids, you know, they had the Internet at home and I didn’t, so I felt like I was being deprived of something.”

– Ashley, 16 years old

Sixteen-year-old Ashley has always been a good student, but two years ago, she became a better student.

“In my history class, where we had to do a lot of research, I went from a B to an A,” she says.

What made the difference? Ashley believes it was her increased use of the Internet. She always had Web access at school but not at home.

“I wasn’t like other kids, you know, they had the Internet at home and I didn’t, so I felt like I was being deprived of something,” Ashley says.

Researchers, funded by the MacArthur Foundation, observed over 800 teens and their parents. The study found that, sure enough, parents think that spending hours online is unproductive for kids. But, the study also found that online teenagers are learning- socially, technologically … and academically.

“They are spending more time looking at text, so certainly they are going to be exposed to more reading opportunities,“ says Christine Colborne, an English teacher.

“You have to read through the websites,” Ashley says. “You have to read through the links and everything like that. So it does improve reading skills. And I think it improves vocabulary.”

But some experts warn parents to be cautious. Simply having online access is not a guarantee your child is learning.

“Many students are on the Internet simply in chat rooms. They are on the Internet looking up graphical material. They are looking up websites that are not text intensive where they are purchasing things or they are looking up pictures or downloading pictures,” Colborne says.

Ashley’s parents have set up filters on her computer that limit her access to inappropriate sites. Still, she says having the Internet at her fingertips at school and at home has opened a world of opportunities.

“I’m able to meet new friends, new people … to explore new subjects that I never knew about,” she says.

Tips for Parents

Another study by Michigan State University found that contrary to popular belief, spending time surfing the Internet can actually be beneficial to children. The study, which analyzed the Internet use of 120 parents and 140 children, found no negative effect on users’ social involvement or psychological well-being. In fact, researchers say that Internet use actually increased the children’s grade-point averages and standardized test scores.

As a parent, you are faced with the monumental task of monitoring the activities of your child in a world of virtually unlimited sources of information. One of the most expansive, confusing and frightening sources of information available to children today is the Internet.

You can take a number of steps to communicate the appropriate use of the Internet and other technologies to your child. The Cyber Citizen Partnership offers these tips for setting Internet limits for your child:

Be aware of your child’s computer skills and interests. Remember that it takes only a little knowledge to wreak a lot of havoc. Often, kids will develop technical skills and look for ways to challenge themselves.

Focus your child’s interests. If you recognize that your child is interested in exploring computer technology, you can reinforce positive behavior and encourage positive applications of this interest. Ideas include encouraging emailing with friends and family to become comfortable with appropriate and respectful online communication; recommending that your child adopt a position of responsibility in school as a computer monitor to assist classmates with computer use; fostering creative computer use by developing a personal or family website; or suggesting participation in school or community programs that teach in-depth technological skills or offer challenging technical opportunities.

Explore the Internet together. Ask your child to teach you about the Internet, visit educational sites, email questions and participate in online discussions together.

Take advantage of teachable moments. ­ When events or activities arise that provide the right time and place to do so, take advantage of these moments to help your child understand the issues involved in good cyber citizenship. For example, take time to read news articles about hacking or cyber crime incidents to your child and discuss the impact it has had on those involved. Use personal situations to frame the context of these discussions (e.g., ask your child how cyber crimes or irresponsible online behavior could affect friends and family). Address cyber ethics messages as your child conducts research online or shares his experiences on computers at school.

Cyber Citizen Partnership
Michigan State University
University of California-Irvine