Saturday, June 30, 2012

Online Predators: Is Your Tween or Teen Safe?

There’s one thing that all tweens have in common: They try to act like grownups. That means that they want to go to sleepovers, talk to their friends on the phone, and stay out as long as they can get away with. Another way they attempt to mirror adult behavior is to chat with people using social media.

But here’s the problem: The people that your pre-teen son or daughter may be chatting with may not be one of his or her peers at all. It could actually be an adult posing as a kid online. These individuals may be sitting at home, in their cars, or in cubicles alone somewhere. Sadly, some of these grownups are sexual predators.
It’s natural for a parent to want to protect their children from dangers in cyberspace by banning them from using computers or social media. But kids (especially tweens) will probably find a way to engage in that activity anyway. So the best strategy is to teach them about the hazards of the Internet – so they can have the tools to navigate the Web safely.

The first step for parents is to sit down with their tweens and educate them about what can happen if they aren’t careful. Tell the youngsters that they shouldn’t chat with anyone online that they don’t know in real life. That’s because many people pretend to be someone else while in a chat room (even their profile photo may be a fake). To prevent unwanted conversation, teens should only enter chat rooms that are private and populated by their friends and peers – and should always log off before leaving the website.

Furthermore, parents should spell out for their tweens what types of information should remain private. This includes their home address, phone numbers, and social security number. Criminals can use this information against the tweens and their families, so it should never be given out over the Web – especially in a chat room.

It’s also important for parents to train their tween to look for warning signs of inappropriate activity. This includes overly personal or even obscene language, an offer of expensive gifts, or a request to meet in person. It’s not a bad idea to tell the tween to trust his or her gut; if something feels a little off, then it probably isn’t what it appears to be.

Finally, if this inappropriate chatting occurs when the parent is at home, the tween should leave the screen open and go get the parent immediately. Then the parent should contact the police and give them as much information as possible about the suspicious behavior, chat room participant, or messages.
Statistically speaking, the chances of any given child being victimized by a sexual predator are quite low. But online chat rooms are still a common tactic used by these deviants to lure unsuspecting tweens into their clutches. Protecting your tweens against these monsters requires vigilance and education on your part.

Contributor:  Chris Martin is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites and is also a ghostwriter for several blogs. In addition, he is an accomplished voice actor and an experienced sportscaster. Martin has also worked as a radio DJ, a traffic reporter, and a public address announcer for sporting events.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Teen Dating: Establishing Healthy Relationships in the Technology Age

When your teen starts dating it can be a time of added stress.

Now this part of life is compounded with the use of the digital world.

Skout, a mobile flirting application that uses GPS technology has been linked to three instances of sexual assault in recent weeks. In response, the under-18 portion of the community has been shut down as its organizers work to develop better safeguards.

The mobile dating site, which was originally created for adults, uses GPS technology that allows users to see nearby singles. In a safety precaution, the app does not reveal street addresses.

However, if you were at your neighborhood grocery store, you would be able to check your phone to see if another single was in the area, check the profile and then send an IM or text if you were interested in meeting that person.

In the teen version of Skout, the app pinpointed other users’ locations within a half-mile radius, and though it was supposed to be a safeguard, it proved to be the perfect tool for predators to scout their victims. In all three instances, adults took advantage of underage teens; but GPS is also a tool that can be used in teenaged dating abuse.

A technologically savvy teen can use GPS to monitor a dating partner, either through cell phones or other devices. Often, GPS isn’t needed to monitor a teenager’s location.
With the ability to update a Facebook status, Tweet or even “Check-in” via Facebook, teenagers are revealing their locations all the time.

In the past, teen dating abuse was more easily identified. Ten years ago, when landlines were the norm and phone bills had limited minutes, abusive behavior like excessive phone calls would have been easy to identify. Today, teens can put their cell phones on silent and receive unlimited texts, masking abusive behavior from parents.

"I call it an electronic leash," said psychotherapist Dr. Jill Murray in an interview with ABC News. "I've had girls come into my office with cell phone bills showing 9,000 text messages and calls in a month. This is all hours of the day and night. And it's threatening.'Hi. How are you? Where are you? Who are you with? Who are you talking to?'"  Considering a teen’s constant attachment to his or her cell phone, the potential control for the abuser is virtually unlimited.

In addition to the private world of text messaging, the world of social media offers abusive teens a public platform to humiliate and degrade their partners.

Teens can use Facebook or Twitter to insult their partners or reveal embarrassing, false or intimate information about the victim. Abusive partners can even use this potential public humiliation as a form of blackmail.

You might be surprised to learn just how common it is for teens to develop an abusive relationship. The National Center for Victims of Crime cites that over 40 percent of both genders report having been involved in some form of dating violence at least once during high school.

If you recognize that your teen is in an abusive relationship, your first reaction may be to begin limiting freedoms such as Internet and cell phone use, but often teens in an abusive relationship don’t confide in their parents for fear of such restrictions.

Remember, the victim in an abusive relationship is often made to feel as though he or she has done something wrong. A reaction that could be seen as a “punishment” could only increase feelings of low self-esteem and could further alienate your teen from you and other positive support groups – while the abuser will see the opportunity to slip into the position of the ally.

Instead of revoking mobile access, you could recommend this app for your teen. It was made for college students, as a peer-based support system to help escape social situations, but it can easily apply to the teen dating world. In this app, GPS is used to empower the victim, proving that technology can be a helpful tool in avoiding abuse.

The app is called “Circle of 6” and it allows users to easily contact 6 people with discreet SOS messages:
"Come and get me. I need help getting home safely. My GPS coordinates are..." and "Call and pretend you need me. I need an interruption."

If you notice that your teen’s partner is becoming too controlling, a good strategy is to engage in a project or take more trips together. You can also offer to facilitate outings for your teen and his or her friends. You can also go on trips and invite your teen and his or her significant other. The goal is to offer your teen examples of healthy, positive relationships that will contrast the negative emotions spurred by the abusive one.

Contributor: Amelia Wood is a blogger and freelance writer who often writes to explain medical billing and coding online. She welcomes your questions and comments at

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Teen Summer Job Tips

Summer is here and school is out. But it can't be all vacations and barbecues. It's time to get to work!

If you've got kids in high school, or even home from college, you may be thinking: how do I make my son or daughter get off the couch and go get a summer job?

Summer employment, besides subsidizing your child's own expenses, can teach him or her about work ethic, social skills, discipline, financial management, and generally help prepare the way for a long and happy career in "the real world."

Below are some pointers to help you get the ball rolling:

1. Set the expectations. The first thing you need to consider is the rationale. Is it generically good for your teen to have a job? Why, yes. But it's important to establish your priorities for why this is important. Make sure your teen understands that this is not optional, or they may be inclined to put off the job-seeking until it's too late. Set specific targets (3 applications a day, or a hard deadline after which you can go with a sure thing, even if it's not the first choice).
2. Start the search early. It's already June, so it's time to move. Chances are with your teen's school schedule, starting now will leave only 2-2½ months to work, which is about as short a span as anyone wants to hire for.
3. Apply gentle pressure. If there's any foot-dragging going on, some of it may be genuine nervousness; this stuff is still new and unfamiliar, after all. Talk about it on a daily basis, but try not to nag.
4. Help put together a resume. In all likelihood your teen's resume is thin. Think outside the box and include academic achievements, community service, and extracurricular activities. Show them how best to emphasize the desired aspects of each activity.
5. Use your own network. Don't feel bad about asking around with your own contacts. Part of what you aim to achieve may be some self-sufficiency on your youngster's part, but it may be more important just to get something started, and as you've surely learned as an adult, who you know counts as much as anything. Nepotism is underrated: being on familiar terms with your child's boss can be reassuring, and it may actually make your child a better worker if they know your reputation's tied up in it a little.
6. Look online. and Craigslist are two of the most popular job-search sites for adults, but you'll have to filter results (and be particularly cautious with the latter) to make sure the environment is suitable for a minor to work in.  Never give your personal information such as your social security number online to people on Craigslists especially.  You need to be very careful there.  Be sure they are legitimate.
7. Meet the employer. If your child's working for a stranger, don't let it stay that way. Make sure that some time (preferably before the start date, but certainly during the first week), you find an excuse to stop by and shake hands with the boss.
8. Consider volunteering. If money is not the primary goal for you or your teen, volunteer work can be a great way to keep busy, build a resume, and help the world. It's a tough job market out there, too, and it may be a good year not to sweat the whole summer-job thing too much. Plus, community service opportunities are naturally more likely to be flexible with granting time off for summer trips!

This guest post comes courtesy of Susan Wells. Susan is a freelance blogger who enjoys writing about automotive and health news, technology, lifestyle and personal finance. She often researches and writes about automobile, property and health insurance, providing consumers with access to a trustworthy insurance quote guide and unbiased advice on purchasing. Susan welcomes comments.

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Friday, June 8, 2012

Managing Peer Pressure: 4 Steps to Help Your Teen Cope

There is no denying how awkward the teenage years are. Surging hormones, increasing responsibility, and feeling a lack of control over their lives have long caused stress among teens. Parents might struggle to find sympathy when their teenager moans how hard their life is but it is true more than ever for today's teens. A parent's job is to help guide their child through this time, hopefully having them emerge from the chrysalis as a competent adult.

One problem teens struggle to deal with is pressure. Non-stop access to social media has made it difficult for them to learn to switch off. As their parent, you can help them develop the skills they need to manage pressure in a positive way, without turning to damaging alternatives like alcohol or drugs.

1. Switching Off

Put your teen in an environment where there are no distractions like television, computers or phones. A weekend's camping, or even a short hike, can help them to learn that there won't be a disaster if they don't reply to that text straight away. Living in a world where immediate responses are possible, doesn't mean they are always necessary. Time away will help your teen develop confidence in the knowledge that they can step back now and then, without losing social status.

2. Taking Control

So many aspects of a teen's life are outside of their control. They may be nearly adults, but they are still dependent on their parents for basic needs. It is important that they still have restrictions and guidelines around their activities - most teens have not yet developed the emotional maturity to always act in their best interests. Work with your teen to help them learn to make the right decisions. Just as you would have done when they were toddlers, give them several suitable options and let them choose, such as about curfew punishments. Give them a safe environment for them to feel the repercussions of being irresponsible. If you always make the right decision for them, they won't learn to make decisions for themselves.

3. Keeping Healthy

Teaching your teens the benefits of eating well and being active will benefit them all their lives. A good diet, regular exercise, and enough sleep all help prevent depression and mood swings. Likewise, food stuffed with additives and chemicals, and poor sleeping habits can exacerbate a bad mood. Get your teen involved with planning and cooking family meals. Encourage them to be active by walking to school if it is close enough, and not taking the car or bus everywhere. For some teens, just being outside is a step in the right direction.

4. Building Confidence

Pressure usually comes from the fear of failure. Help your teen build their confidence so that they not only learn to trust themselves and their ability; they learn that it is ok to make mistakes. Encourage them to try new things. Show them by example that the learning process doesn't stop once you leave school. Don't hide your own mistakes, but talk to them about what you have tried and what you have learned. In a world of instant gratification, it may seem to them success should be immediate too. Help them see alternative ways of achieving their goals.

The teenage years are the last phase of intensive parenting before your child heads into the world as an adult. Pressure in life is inevitable, but giving your teen the tools to manage it will help them cope without feeling overwhelmed.

Kirsty Smith is a parent of 3 teenage boys. She is an experienced writer and blogger, covering a wide range of subjects including food, parenting, travel, and education. She also contributes to Degree Jungle a resource for students.