FAMILIES, COMMUNICATION AND TECHNOLOGY: DANGERS AND CHALLENGES

Family communication has been forever changed with technology, in both positive and negative ways. Previously, I shared ideas on how to use the technology already in your daily lives to increase and improve communication in your family. This article focuses more on some danger zones and challenges parents are faced with through our children’s access to technology.

Readily available information 24/7 online: This can be a very positive thing if a school report is due tomorrow morning and it is 8:45 pm. However, it can also be dangerous at times. Kid have ready access to lots of information, such as depression symptoms, but when searching for depression symptoms or ways to decrease it they are also likely to come across sites discussing suicide and possibly even ways to commit suicide. Some of the teens I have worked with have regular conversations with other teens across the country who they have never met in person to discuss their depression. If one of the internet friends decides suicide is their best option this could negatively impact your child or lead them in that direction also. If you have no idea what sites your children or teens are accessing, this could be a discussion you want to have to avoid future problems or surprises. On a positive note, you will probably also learn of some interesting websites you might also enjoy on hobbies or interests your child is engaged in.

Increased intimacy of relationships: Teen romantic relationships are getting significantly more intense and intimate than in the past due to technology. If a teenage girl or boy is constantly in contact with their boyfriend/girlfriend all day and all night they feel they know that person well very quickly. Some teens actually use certain apps such as Skype or Facetime to “sleep together.” They fall asleep and wake up with each other and this can quickly lead to sexual intimacy which they wouldn’t jump into as quickly if they only talked to each other at school and after school events. Controlling behavior patterns emerge quickly as well since one partner in the relationship may demand instant response to texts or calls or use these to track where the other person is at all times.

Access to inappropriate material: Everyone is aware that pornography is readily available online. What you may not know is that even kids in elementary school are hearing about this and learn what words to google or what sites to go to through conversations at school or on the bus. I actually worked with a 5th grader who had been watching 5-6 porn videos a day in the afternoons before the parents got home from work. The parents learned of it about 4 months after it started. That is a scary amount of exposure to that type of material. Parents need to be ready to have conversations with your kids about sexual activity and porn earlier than in the past due to this open access to the information online. It is a good idea to randomly ask about conversations at school or on the bus that may have confused or embarrassed them. If you ask them, they will tell you, but be prepared to respond in a calm way with age appropriate answers instead of getting upset or agitated, which they will interpret as getting in trouble. Make sure you have parental controls set to block inappropriate content on any device your child has access to in order to minimize their exposure to these types of websites.

Camera access 24/7: Most parents believe that sexting and inappropriate pictures only happens when kids get to be teenagers. However, on school buses and playgrounds some kids have cell phones and will ask girls to take pictures of themselves in the bathroom or boys will be trying to get pictures under girls’ skirts or dresses with their device. Most of the young teens I have worked with who are coming in after parents learned they are sexting or sending inappropriate pictures have never had a conversation with an adult about that issue. In each situation the parent(s) said “Well, I didn’t think I had to tell her/him not to do that” or “they should have known better.” This leads to huge conflicts and hurt feelings on both sides. If we don’t tell them it is not appropriate and all of their friends seem to think it is normal, why do we think they will know it is wrong? I recommend that parents have discussions with any child who will be independently using a cell phone or device that connects to the internet about appropriate sites; regularly check their history online; and have a technology curfew. The curfew means no phones or devices in the bedrooms after a certain time, usually close to bedtime. For obvious reasons, this is the most common time these types of activities are occurring. (It might be a good idea to implement a technology curfew even in parents’ bedrooms. Think of the increase in communication with your spouse or partner if the phones and iPads were not in the bedroom. Just a thought.)

Perpetrators have ready access to our kids: My daughter is 10 years old and last year during a winter storm I took her to my office since school was closed for the day. She was playing Minecraft online with her cousin and suddenly gasped and said, “I can’t believe he said that to me.” Evidently, when you play Minecraft and have the chat feature turned on, other people online can chat with you. Someone had asked her, “Do you want to have sex?” She was literally 2 feet from me at the time! My niece was totally not surprised and her statement back to my daughter was, “Oh yeah, if you don’t turn off chat they do that all the time.” She was not at all shocked or surprised. I didn’t even know there was a chat feature in Minecraft! Other apps and video games have similar features, such as Xbox online games. Some kids I worked with in the past had gotten in trouble with their parents after gifts started arriving in the mail that were not appropriate and parents’ learned they had given out their address to people they were talking to while playing video games online. If your child is going to have access to these games and apps, you need to be prepared to have a discussion with them about safety, not sharing personal information, and when to seek you out if someone approaches them about inappropriate things such as sex or meeting in person somewhere. It would not be a bad idea to occasionally hang out in the room they are playing in and listen to some of the conversations they are having to make sure they are safe.

Dangerous websites: Some of the websites that teens locally find funny or interesting are treasure troves for sexual perpetrators. Kids go online to look at sexual pictures and content and a lot of them see it as funny or gross rather than inappropriate. I have worked with young teen girls who met people on these websites pretending to be teen boys and asking for inappropriate pictures. This escalates into threats against the girl’s family if they don’t continue the behaviors and follow the offenders directions, only to get into serious trouble with their parents when it is discovered. When the parents have gone to the police to try to press charges on the perpetrator in those instances, they have been told there is no guarantee the girl will not also be charged with distribution of porn so none of the families have moved forward with prosecution because of that. This is emboldening the offenders to reach out even more because there are rarely consequences for them.

In short, technology is advancing quickly and is very useful and make parts of our lives much easier. However, it can also be a dangerous tool in the hands of the wrong people. To protect your kids, you need to be aware of the dangers and prepared to have open conversations with your children about internet safety on a regular basis. There are some programs in the area that go to schools or churches to teach kids about internet safety, such as the Morgan Nick Foundation. Check with your school counselor or google internet safety for kids to find programs to use with your child or just so you can learn the information and then educate your children yourself.

I hope this information is helpful and starts some meaningful discussions in your family that will open communication and keep everyone safely connected to one another at home and online. Please feel free to contact us about an appointment if you learn your child has been involved in some of these activities or even if you just aren’t sure about how to approach the subject with your kids and need some pointers.

By Paula Coleman, LCSW – Pinnacle Counseling NWA
Mental Health and Relationship Counselor

Did you know Pinnacle Counseling serves children and families?

Pinnacle Counseling offers counseling for children, ages 5-17, and their families.  A therapist with advanced training and experience in working with young people will meet with the child in our play room designed specifically to provide a safe environment for children to express themselves.  Play is believed to be the language of children, when they do not have the vocabulary, insight, or courage to process things verbally.  Through carefully selected toys, games, books, activities, art mediums, and purposeful play children can make sense of their lives, heal, and learn new skills.  Counseling for children can address different types of issues including reaction to stressors such as divorce or loss, traumas of all kinds, problems with family bonding and relationships, anxiety and depression, disruptive behavior, aggression, school problems, and ADHD.

How do you know if your child needs counseling?

Children often react physically and behaviorally to stressors rather than just putting their problems into words.  This could because they don’t have the words or don’t have the insight to understand what is happening inside themselves.  Looks for signs like changes in eating habits, changes in sleeping patterns including having nightmares, regression in behaviors (e.g, potty accidents, thumb sucking, baby talk), crying and tearful episodes, “touchy” and short fused moods, and withdrawing from people and activities they used to enjoy.

What is play therapy? How will it help my child?

Play therapy is a specific type of treatment, based on theory and principles.  It is more than just typical play time, although your child may not realize that.  The trained therapist uses different avenues in the session to help the child express themselves and learn new skills for coping.  The therapist can also discuss with parents themes that come up in the child’s play, indicating areas of concern.  As the child plays out things and engages in activities during session, he or she will get similar benefits to an adult spending an hour talking with a therapist.

If you have further questions or feel our services are needed for your child or family, please let us know! Visit our website at www.pinnaclecounselingNWA.com for contact information.

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Rachael Nachtigal, LPC

The Impact of Bullying

Bullying is not only in the school system. It lives on long past the days of homeroom classes and lunch with friends. It lives on in the memory and creates an impact on your self-esteem, self-worth, and how you interact with those around you. Undoubtedly, bullying in some shape or form affects everyone on a variety of levels, whether the victim, perpetrator, or bystander. Employees at Disneyland, known as ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’, shared a video titled “It Gets Better”, about personal stories of bullying and feelings of being alone that were caused by bullying. The video is a tribute to the Trevor project (http://www.thetrevorproject.org/), a national anti-bullying campaign for LGBTQ youth, going strong since its founding in 1998. The strong message of hope after there seemed to be nothing but darkness and depression shines through in the people who bring joy on the job every single day. Each and every person carries their story and truth and no matter the struggle…

 

“No life is a one person show. You need to surround yourself with the people who love you for who you are and encourage you to share with the world the unique gifts that you have to offer.”

 

Next time you are feeling alone, reach out and always remember that it gets better.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCSUfFStTQE

 

Erika McCaghren

Have the Courage to be Your True Self

“Loving ourselves through the process of owning our own story is the bravest thing we will ever do.”

-Brene Brown

Vulnerability is scary.  It is so often avoided.  It means to show the parts of ourselves that we are afraid aren’t “good enough”.  But you know what?  Everyone has the same fear of not being good enough.  When we are held hostage by that fear, we miss out on our true happiness.  You live a life that you think others want you to live.

No one is perfect.  Perfectionism is a cruel joke.  Perfectionism makes us wake up every day feeling like we failed yesterday.  There is no joy in that life.  Dare to practice loving yourself for who you really are.

For more on this, watch this clip of Dr. Brene Brown on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YeulUgWNp8

or the full  TED talk:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o

Rachael Nachtigal, LPC

April is Counseling Awareness Month

April is Counseling Awareness Month! Although many people know generally what counselors do, this is a time for counselors everywhere to stand together to promote the use of counseling services. We do this by reaching out to clients, readers, social media outlets, and through simple word of mouth that “We are here”. Pinnacle Counseling stands in full support of Counseling Awareness Month by showing people that we care and are here to support you. Knowing that there is a group of professionals near you, ready and willing to listen and help you through a particularly hard time or everyday struggles of life is a valuable tool. In any given situation, no matter the cause, difficulty, or time you have been dealing with the issue—we are here. Simply remember…Keep Calm and Call a Counselor!

 

Erika McCaghren

 

Sources: American Counseling Association

 

 

The holiday “blahs”

With the holiday season and winter months fast approaching, feelings and symptoms of depression will often surface or increase. Feeling “down in the dumps” or “blah”, sad, discouraged, hopeless, irritable, cranky, or easily frustrated are typical symptoms of depression. Also feeling withdrawn, a loss of interest or pleasure in activities, changes in appetite, sleep, energy, difficulty concentrating, and making decisions are commonly reported. A sense of feeling worthless or excessive guilt may be experienced. Some of these feelings may actually interfere with our relationships, school, job, social activities, and even day to day functioning. If you experience a few or most of these symptoms it is wise to pay attention to what your body is telling you and to take care of yourself.

Often people minimize or don’t understand depression and the possible effects of going untreated. Working with a mental health professional can help you understand depression and learn multiple ways to manage its symptoms. Regardless of the season, feeling better means living better!

 

Erika McCaghren

Bipolar Disorder in Teens Frequently Misdiagnosed

Teens with disruptive or aggressive behaviors are increasingly diagnosed with bipolar disorder and prescribed psychotropic medications. These young people, according to recent Minneapolis Star Tribune article, are frequently misdiagnosed. Medication seems like an easy answer to a complex set of behavior problems. But the easy solution is not always the best. The root cause of the behaviors needs to be understood and addressed. Aggressive outbursts could be driven by trauma, stress, or other environmental factors.

If trauma is the root of the problem for some children, psychiatrists say, they would be better served by therapy and identifying what’s wrong in their lives, rather than with powerful medications.

“Most of the time there is something that has happened in a child’s life, something that got them stuck developmentally,” said Sue Sexton, a St. Paul psychologist who treats kids with stress-related disorders. If Troubled Kids Aren’t Bipolar, What is Troubling Them?

Monitoring the Future 2011 Results

The Monitoring the Future Survey has been administered to 8th, 10th, 12th grade students annually since 1975. The purpose of the anonymous survey is to establish baseline attitudes and behaviors concerning legal and illegal drugs. The survey seeks to determine how frequently (if at all) young people are using particular drugs and the attitudes about drugs, their perceived ill health impacts, for example, that accompany that use. 46,000 students participated in this year’s survey. Here are a few of the takeaways:

  • 1 in 15 young people smoke marijuana on a near daily basis (a 30-year high)
  • More 10th graders smoke marijuana than cigarettes
  • 1 in 9 students reported using synthetic marijuana in the last year
  • Poison control centers received 5,741 calls about synthetic marijuana last year
  • Teen drinking – including heavy drinking – are now at historically low levels

Online Gaming Addiction

Online gaming addiction is an emerging area of  concern for parents, teachers, and mental health counselors. It is real. And it can have serious mental and physical health consequences for children as young as nine. What can parents do? Parents should know how much time their children spend per day gaming. What games are they playing? They should talk to their children about their experiences gaming. Is it fun? Why is it fun?

Children addicted to computer games show several classic signs of addiction:

1). Intense preoccupation with gaming

2). Lies about amount of time spent gaming

3). Loss of interest in other activities due to gaming

4). Withdrawal from family and friends due to gaming

5). Over use of gaming as a means of psychological escape