Tag Archives: emotions

How to Track Your Teen on Social Media (Ethically)

We all worry about the amount of time our kids spend on social media, how much of their energy it consumes, and how it effects our their behavior and emotions. Typically, a parent’s go-to is to fear the worst. When fear gets in the way, we go into control mode. We are constantly chasing the answer to, How much is too much? When and how do I put a stop to this madness?

When your kids reach the teen years, you have much less say over how they spend their time, and you worry and fear more than ever. Yet at the same time, having a connected relationship with your teen is paramount.

Andy Earle (https://talkingtoteens.com/), a researcher into teen life, has written this piece for me on how to stay aware and in charge of your teen’s social media time while maintaining trust and that all-important connected relationship.

How to Track Your Teen on Social Media (Ethically)

Losing track of what your teen is into online? Here are three ways to (ethically) track what your teen is doing. Parents today need to get more sophisticated on social media because teens are getting very savvy. We have to go beyond basic tools like SafeSearch and iPhone parental controls.

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Hugs Reduce Stress

Toxic stress in early childhood can harm children for life, warns the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Don’t think your children have experienced toxic stress? All children do to differing degrees. Whoever said childhood is bliss didn’t know what he was talking about. Children experience stress just by being a child. From nightmares, worry about transitions, being afraid of the dark or thunder storms, social fears, children have a hard lot. And that doesn’t cover huge emotions and dysregulation that they cannot possibly understand when asked, “What’s wrong?” Then being punished, criticized, or threatened for behavior they can’t control…. You name it, a day rarely goes by when a child doesn’t experience stress.

Stress arises for a child when sensing a threat with no one to protect him from that threat. Children who experience this kind of stress in the early years, even prenatally through mother’s hormones, “…are more likely to suffer heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other physical ailments…also more likely to struggle in school, have short tempers and tangle with the law.”

A now more than two decade long scientific study by the Academy and the CDC shows the long term, harmful effects on society when we turn a blind eye on the problems faced by young children. From the stress children experience when their parents abuse alcohol or drugs, emotional or physical abuse or neglect, emotional or physical treatment between parents, mental illness, separation or divorce, to a child crying out and not being comforted and feeling unloved — stress comes in all shapes and sizes.

The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, originally conducted from 1995-1997, is one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being. We now have research showing the connection between disrupted neurodevelopment, social, emotional and cognitive impairment, risky behaviors, disease, disability and even early death to Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Now that I have thoroughly depressed you, let’s look at what we can do about it.

The Academy has issued a policy statement that includes, “Protecting young children from adversity is a promising, science-based strategy to address many of the most persistent and costly problems facing contemporary society, including limited educational achievement, diminished economic productivity, criminality, and disparities in health.”


Prevention Strategies

The study outlines extensive strategies to turn the horrendous statistics around — strengthening economic supports to families, changing social norms to promote positive parenting, quality care and education, better parenting skills training, and intervention methods.

We can’t always control the environment for our children. Death and loss, natural disasters, accidents, an ex-spouse’s choices, disciplinary measures at school, hurtful remarks and bullying are all beyond our control. Nor should we hover and protect our children from growing up and experiencing the world we live in. Many circumstances children find themselves in can be toxic and traumatic, but when they have a protective factor to turn to safely, namely a parent or caring adult who understands, listens, accepts, and connects, a child can deal with and learn to make sense of most experiences. Ignoring, sweeping problems or sensitive issues under the carpet, screaming at and punishing big emotions that parents don’t want or know how to deal with undermine the protection you can provide.

Your connection to your children is the protective factor they need most. But connection is harder than we think, as most parents know. It often requires a mindset shift away from traditional parenting methods.


How you can provide that protective factor:

Stop threatening and punishing — the #1 tactic used by parents to coerce children’s behavior. In order to be the grounding force your children feel safe to come to no matter what, they must trust that you will never pose a threat to them. If they have nowhere to turn for an understanding ear, they will turn exactly where you fear most. This usually means

When we remain stuck in the mindset that punishments and consequences for inappropriate behavior are the way to get appropriate behavior, we forfeit our child’s trust. Mostly what the child learns is “you don’t understand me”, because behavior is provoked by emotions that parents typically pay no attention to. It is the emotional state that needs connection. When that is ignored and parents focus on behavior, the primary link to the protective factors parents provide is broken.

Habitual tactics are easy to fall back on when a child’s behavior gets tough. It is so tempting to pull computer time and cell phones, put kids in time out or send them to their rooms. These tactics miss the mark and only make kids mad. And if they “work”, it is only to get that cell phone back. Sneaky, conniving strategies result, and that all-important connection is risked.


What to do instead – Problem Solving promotes connection:

  • Do nothing in the heat of the moment. When emotions are calm and the prefrontal cortex is back online, work on the situation. This is where parents stumble. We want to forget about it and move on.
  • Resist the temptation to blame. Own and acknowledge your feelings.
  • Look to your child’s need or emotions that provoked the behavior and connect with that need. “You must have been furious with your sister to hit her. Tell me what got you so angry.”
  • Discuss the problem without blame. Own what part of it is yours, “I’m really concerned that you don’t consider my feelings. It is not okay with me when you call me names.”
  • Acknowledge that your child was having a problem that provoked the behavior. It was a mistake, not a crime. Trust your child’s desire to be successful. We all say and do things we don’t mean.
  • Engage your child to come up with a solution that all can agree on.
  • Don’t expect the agreement to work. It’s a process. Keep refining until the behavior stops.
  • Do focus on acceptance, listening, predictability, playtime.
  • Take your focus off behavior and onto what could be going on with your child to get back to compassion. All connection requires compassion.
  • Hug a lot.
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    Dec. ’18 Q&A – Big Emotions, Angry Outbursts and a Must Read

    Handling Big Emotions and Understanding the Behavior

    Q. We had an episode with our 5 1/2 yr. old son. For the past 2 years, we have tried every approach. Our son is smart but immature. We feel he lacks confidence and tends to hold things in rather than talk. I tried to get to the root cause but he still won’t budge (one might say stubborn). Tonight he was off the wall jumping on chairs, interrupting when I had someone over and had to help them work. No matter how many times my husband or I ask him to stop jumping on chairs, he would say “no never”. He has a temper – will hit, throw, slam doors, spit and call us “stupid” or say “never” when we’re explaining how we want him to stop hitting and start listening. However, his tantrums have become less frequent and recovering has become quicker except tonight. Usually he’ll go through the tantrum and then start crying. If we try to challenge him and he’s in the mood, he’ll do it.  But most of the time, he’ll say, no let’s do something totally different or I can’t or don’t know how. If I say I’ll show you, then he’ll whine and say he’s a baby. He always has a comeback. What do you think?

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    When Your Kids Push Your Buttons

    We all know the feeling. Our child says or does that certain something, we see red and react in ways we regret. We feel out of control, blame the child, and set up our next power struggle. We “go on automatic” and lose our maturity and authority. But we have a choice. We can either punish our child for pushing our buttons or take a look at what our buttons are, why we react the way we do, and take responsibility for our behavior—like an adult.

    You know your button has been pushed when:

    • You engage in the “Road Rage of Parenting”
    • You hear your mother or father saying those words you swore you never would
    • You feel enraged, hopeless, guilty, resentful, etc.
    • You catastrophize and project your child into the future
    • You know you could never have gotten away with what your child just did

    Our child’s behavior triggers an old wound. Our buttons were planted long ago from messages we took in from our parents’ reactions to us. Those old painful emotions get tapped, it hurts, and we retaliate—but we don’t realize what’s happening. To stop this automatic reaction, first we must recognize that our reactions are caused by our own perceptions.

    We believe that our child’s behavior causes our feelings and reactions. “You make me so mad. How many times do I have to yell before you’ll listen?” The unintended message sent is you are responsible for my emotions and my behavior. We leave out a critical piece—the assumptions we make.

    The assumptions—perceptions, thoughts, and judgments—we make about ourselves or our children (He never listens, She’s so mean, I’m a terrible mother) are the culprits that provoke our emotions. We feel mad because we have fears and thoughts that hijack our emotions. Reactions inevitably follow.     


    Your behavior makes me THINK you are being mean

    and AFRAID I have not taught you how to behave properly.

    It is this PERCEPTION that causes me to FEEL angry and then to REACT.


    Reframing our Assumptions:

    We can’t change our feelings, but we can change our thoughts—the assumptions that provoke our emotions and reactions. No one can “make” us mad. We can reframe our assumption from my child is being a problem, to my child is having a problem. The result is a 180 degree switch in perception, a shift from anger to compassion.

    If a child yells, “You’re so stupid”, it’s because the child feels frustrated by something. If it pushes a button, the adult may react with, “Don’t you ever talk to me like that! Who do you think you are?!” The parent feels threatened and has taken it personally. She may have experienced a parent, sibling, or teacher making remarks like, “What are you stupid or something?” or “That’s not a very smart thing to say” enough times that the message sticks—I’m stupid, I’m not good enough. If no button gets pushed, the parent can acknowledge, “You wish I would say something different. You don’t like it when I ask you to do something you don’t want to do” and then redirect the child appropriately. This parent is not taking the child’s remark personally and can remain objective. She sees it as it is—an expression of frustration or powerlessness and deals with it maturely.


    When your button gets pushed:

    1. Stop, walk away, do nothing (yet)
    2. Breathe deeply at least 3 times
    3. Wait until both you and your child are calm
    4. Go back over the situation and problem solve (do a “do-over”)

    To defuse your button:

  • Name your feelings
  • Identify the assumption you made to cause those feelings
  • Reframe your assumption from a judgment to an observation
  • Your reframed assumption should prompt compassion instead of anger
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    Emotional Roller Coasters: The Human Condition

    Did you ever have something really good happen that you had mixed emotions about? Ever dip into a panic right before you got married or had a baby?
    Have you ever been offered a job you sought only to wish you hadn’t gotten it?
    Have you ever had times when you are very emotional but couldn’t describe what you were feeling or why?
    Did you ever think you were just plain crazy?

    Of course you did.

    Now imagine being two. Or four, or six, or twelve. In an immature stage of development, confused, overwhelming emotions spin around inside a child’s head like a tornado, the child doesn’t know what is happening, and the result is unwanted, inappropriate, out-of-control behavior.

    If you were not experienced enough to know that this is only temporary, you’d probably think, “Is this how I’m going to feel forever?” Face it. At age forty or fifty you think that.

    So when a young child is up and down emotionally, he understands his feelings a lot less than you do and has no way of explaining himself. So, “What’s wrong? How do you feel about that? Why are you so upset/angry/sad?” are the worst possible things you can say to an upset child.

    My two year old grandson has just become the big brother to twins. He shows genuine affection towards them, is playful with them and seems proud to be a big brother. At the same time, he has fallen a lot, gotten bruises and scraps and 8 stitches. He has screamed, “No babies” and “I want to punch the babies.” And he’s having a very hard time sharing any of his toys with any other child. To ask him why he is saying and doing what he is would be pointless. So why do we do it?

    I often ask parents how much of the time they spend at their personal best. As you can imagine, I get a lot of laughs and self-deprecating remarks. So then, why do we expect our children to be at their best? We learn what they are capable of and then expect that all the time. If someone expected that of us (other than at work), we would probably not be friends.

    We need to give our kids a break, allow them to make mistakes—a lot of mistakes—and never label them as failures. Our children need to know that we understand their crazy emotions, we understand when they just feel like vegging, we understand when they don’t want to talk and when they want their sibling to disappear.

    When you tell your kids you get it, it doesn’t mean you allow it. It means that you can understand why they feel/think/wish for what they do. That doesn’t mean you’re going to fulfill their every wish or condone their desire to punch out their brother. We all just want to feel understood.

    If you came home and told your partner about something hurtful someone said to you, you would want your partner to acknowledge your hurt feelings—even validate you by saying he would have felt hurt too. You do not want your partner to tell you what you should have said or that you shouldn’t let such a stupid remark get to you.

    In the same way, young children who don’t yet trust their feelings want to know that you understand so they learn their feelings are always okay and we all have them. When big emotions feel overwhelming, it is very validating to hear a parent say, “You were really angry when I said you couldn’t have ice cream. You wanted to hit me and I stopped you, which made you even angrier. Then you cried really hard, and I got mad too. We both got really mad, didn’t we?” In this way, you mirror what happened for your child so he feels understood and accepted. In this regulated state, he can think clearly and learns to trust.

    When someone names what is going on for us, it feels extremely soothing (that’s why people pay big bucks for therapy). I once had my favorite car stolen in NYC. One of my friends said, “It’s only a car.” I felt wrong for feeling upset and certainly unwilling to share anymore with her. I wanted and even needed to hear, “Oh how awful. You really loved that car.“

    Have you ever said or done something you didn’t mean? And then later apologized and felt better when you were forgiven? Why don’t we give our children the benefit of the doubt, know that they reacted impulsively, and give them time to take it in—experience natural consequences. Instead we jump down their throats, treat them like budding criminals, punish and force phony apologies. That’s what brings on defensiveness. When we feel understood, we are in a much better place to solve problems and make amends.

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