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Editor’s note: This is the final post in a series about teens, sex, and social media. The first three posts were: The Urgent Role of Parents in the Age of Sexting and Cyberbullying, Boys Will Be the Boys We Teach Them to Be, and 4 Behaviors to Model That Make the World Better for Your Daughter.



It’s tempting to depict the internet as inherently evil.

We hear so much about the social ills to which it has been a party: sexting, porn addiction, bullying. But like any gigantic entity, the internet is all things at once, which is to say, it is also a force for good in our culture. Yes, even for adolescents.

A 2011 study in Pediatrics found that “22% of teens log on to their favorite social media site more than 10 times a day.” As I mentioned in my first post in this series, the bulk of what your teenager is doing or seeing through the use of technology is likely innocuous.

What’s more, it’s important to understand that some of what your teen is doing on social media or through technology is actually good for them. The constant connection to friends and school may seem exhausting to us, but it can “also offer adolescents deeper benefits that extend into their view of self, community, and the world,” according to the study published in Pediatrics.

It stands to reason, then, that your teen (and you, for that matter) could turn to technology for a little help when navigating the sometime rough waters of teenage sexuality.

Here’s a shortlist of technology-based resources to share with your teen. * 

1 | Crisis Text Line

According to the Urban Institute, 1 in 10 high school students has been physically abused by a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Only 9% of those students sought help, and “rarely from a parent or teacher.”

Would more kids seek help if they knew they could reach out anonymously and receive skilled, caring counsel via text message?

Since 2013, the Crisis Text Line has exchanged more than 17 million text messages with people in crisis. The non-profit’s founder and CEO, Nancy Lublin, says about 65% of texters to the crisis line are school age kids.

The idea of meeting kids where they are – on their phones texting – in order to help them, has proven to be highly effective.

“It’s really private,” says Lublin. “We actually tend to spike every day around lunchtime because (students) are sitting at the lunch table and people think that they’re texting somebody else in the cafeteria and they’re really texting us.”

On the day we spoke – around school lunch time – Lublin said there were 24 active conversations on the Crisis Text Line, and that six of them were flagged as suicidal. “So right now, in the middle of the school day, there are some pretty serious conversations going on,” she said.

It’s the kind of help that any person – teen or adult – can use in the heat of the moment in order to move to a better decision-making place.

The privacy and the immediacy of the Crisis Text Line are what make it such an effective tool. Texts are generally responded to in under five minutes, and if your first text is found to contain words suggesting imminent danger, the response will likely come in less than two minutes.

“And that means a human response,” Lublin said. “We think humans display empathy better than computers.”

There is no intake survey or personally identifying information required. When the call is over, texters can request that their conversation be “scrubbed” from the record by texting the safe word “loofah.”

To take privacy one step further, the Crisis Text Line has a deal with all major mobile carriers that messages to the CTL short code (741-741) are free of charge and will not appear on mobile phone bills. 

So what sort of things do the trained counselors say? “It’s not therapy,” said Lublin. “We’re really helping you help yourself. We’re asking you questions, validating your feelings, helping you shift to a calm place.”

Counselors might also provide practical information, like the nearest place to obtain a rape kit, or links to breathing exercises to help a person literally calm down. 

It’s the kind of help that any person – teen or adult – can use in the heat of the moment in order to move to a better decision-making place.

2 | Juicebox app

Who doesn’t want a sex ed app with the tagline, “Avoid all the Awkward?”

In an attempt to eschew the typical gym-teacher-as-sex-ed-teacher vibe, Brianna Rader, 24, developed an app that’s more akin to Tinder.

The beauty of this tool is its recognition of humor.

With a swipe to the left (“Snoop”) teens can ask a question that will then be answered by a sex ed professional. A swipe to the right (“Spill”) gives teens an opportunity to share their own stories, which can be up voted by users with a tap of condom icon.

The beauty of this tool is its obvious effort to recognize the humor that so many teens think is inherent to sex and questions about the topic, while still providing valid information from qualified individuals.

You want your kids to bring their questions to you first, but if it’s easier or more comfortable for them to turn to an app, Juicebox seems like a worthy parental stand-in.

3 | Amy Hasinoff’s website

While researching this series I came across a variety of proposed methods for the handling of teen sexting.

Hasinoff’s was, to my mind, the most comprehensive and compassionate. It also read as the most based in the reality of adolescent life today, rather than being based on a desire to scare kids straight, so to speak.

Her site contains detailed information for parents and educators about how to discuss sexting with teens, as well as resources and – importantly – understanding for teens who have been victims of a privacy violation.

4 | Advocates for Youth

Another site that I referenced often to keep my research grounded and unbiased was the Advocates for Youth website.

It is a seemingly endless treasure trove of everything from government facts and figures to full-on comprehensive sex ed curricula.

Their mission says it all:

“Advocates for Youth partners with youth leaders, adult allies, and youth-serving organizations to advocate for policies and champion programs that recognize young people’s rights to honest sexual health information; accessible, confidential, and affordable sexual health services; and the resources and opportunities necessary to create sexual health equity for all youth.”

If you’ve read the other posts in this series (and even if you haven’t) then thought to yourself, “Great, I’m ready to open the lines of communication with my teen. I want to talk about sex, love, and relationships!” but then realized, “I have no idea what to say…” then this is a wonderful first stop for you. Take some time to browse the site and educate yourself so that you feel empowered to approach the topic fearlessly.

Look, none of this is easy. But it doesn’t have to be hard. You have more information than you realize, and the parts that you do actually lack can be acquired. Just like we tell our kids, find an adult that you trust – your therapist, your best friend, your child’s school counselor – and have a conversation. Then figure out what you need to learn, and start learning it. You can do this. 

MORE IN THIS SERIES 

The Urgent Role of Parents in the Age of Sexting and CyberbullyingBoys Will Be the Boys We Teach Them to Be, and 4 Behaviors to Model That Make the World Better for Your Daughter.

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I had big plans to be a "good mom" this summer. There were going to be chore charts, reading goals, daily letter writing practice, and cursive classes. There would be no screen time until the beds were made, and planned activities for each day of the week.

Today was the first day of summer vacation and our scheduled beach day. But here's what we did instead: Lounged in our pj's until 11 am, baked the girl's pick, chocolate chip cookie brownies, started an art project we never finished, then moved to the pool.

It's so easy to be pressured by things we see on social. Ways to challenge our kids and enrich their summer. But let's be real—we're all tired. Tired of chores, tired of schedules and places to be, tired of pressure, and tired of unrealistic expectations.

So instead of a schedule, we're doing nothing this summer. Literally NOTHING.

No camps. No classes, and no curriculums.

Instead, we're going to see where each day takes us. I've dubbed this the "Summer of Me," so workouts and clean eating are a priority for me. And also giving our girls the freedom to pick what they want to do.

We may go to a local pool and check out the swimming programs. And we join the local YMCA. But whatever we do—it will be low key.

It will include family time, too much TV, a few trips, lots of sunshine, some new roller skates, water balloons, plenty of boredom, rest, relaxation, and reading. (Because mama likes to read!)

So if you haven't figured out what you're doing this summer, you're not alone. And guess what? It's OKAY! Your kids will be fine and so will you.

Originally posted on Kristen Hewitt's blog. Check out her post on 30 ways to have fun doing almost nothing this summer.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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When we consider all the skills our kids will need to succeed in the future, what comes to mind? Perhaps creativity, tech skills, or an excellent understanding of math might be at the top of many parents' lists. Social-emotional skills, like empathy, compassion, or the ability to understand another person's viewpoint may not be the ones you thought of right away, but deep down you know they matter.

We've all had those co-workers who didn't know how to listen to our ideas or friends who couldn't compromise with others. We know that in the work world and in our personal life, emotional skills are key to developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

If you are the parent of a toddler, you know that young children are inherently self-centered. It's not some faulty aspect of their character or a misstep of parenting skills. Young children simply do not have the brain maturity to consider another person's perspective or needs just yet—their brain physically is not ready to handle that kind of mental work.

However, child development research shows us that we can do a few things along the developmental path to help foster social-emotional skills in our kids. With a little help from us, our kids' brains can develop with meaningful connections that tune them into the feelings of others.

Here's how:

1. Treat others how you want your kids to treat others.

How we talk to our kids becomes their internal dialogue. We know from research that this goes for emotional skills as well. A recent study showed that when parents talk to their kids more about how other people might be feeling, the kids had better perspective-taking abilities—the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view.

This, of course, is the basis of many emotional skills, especially empathy. Just by talking about another person's feelings, kids begin to develop those crucial brain connections that help them develop empathy.

It's worth pointing out that very young children under ages 3-4 do not have the brain maturity to really understand another person's perspective. They lack a crucial skill that psychologists call Theory of Mind, meaning they can't understand the mind of another person.

However, our urgings and thoughtful phrasing to point out how another person might be feeling can only help them down this developmental path. Then, once their little brain matures, they will be in the habit of hearing and understanding the feelings of others.

2. Model positive emotional behavior in daily life.

It's probably not surprising to learn that how we react to our kids' feelings influences their emotional development. When your child gets upset, do you get angry or ruffled by their big emotions? We are all human, of course, so sometimes our kids' emotions are the exact triggers that fuel our big feelings, too. However, if we can remain the calm in the emotional storm for our kids, their development will benefit. Through modeling emotional regulation, over time our kids will learn how to self-regulate as well.

One study, in fact, showed that toddlers whose parents exhibited anger or over-reacted to tantrums were likely to have more tantrums and negative emotionality by the end of the study. However, the opposite dynamic can happen, too. Parents who model firm, but calm emotional regulation help their kids learn these skills as well.

3. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions.

Many times, we feel that one of our main jobs as a parent is to protect our children from the big, often overwhelming emotions of adults. For instance, we try not to break down crying or become red-faced with anger in front of our kids. It just feels too big for them to handle and perhaps not developmentally appropriate.

As they mature, however, older kids are able to handle a bit more discussion and expression of honest emotions. Have you noticed that kids usually pick up on the fact that you are upset even if you try to hide it? Kids are naturally curious and, many times, very sensitive to the emotional tenor at home. If they are developmentally ready, this can be a good time to have more discussions about emotions and how to handle them.

For example, my 9-year-old is playing a lot of baseball this summer and always wants me to pitch to him so he can practice batting. Now, I am not a very skilled player so my pitches often go off course or are too weak. He had gotten in the habit of correcting my pitching or (more likely) complaining about it every time we played.

After repeated experiences with this, I was not only annoyed but it also sort of hurt my feelings—so I finally told him how I felt. Guess what? His behavior at practice time changed dramatically! The mere fact of him realizing that his mom has feelings too really made him think about his words more carefully.

These types of interaction can become part of your "emotion coaching." It may sound silly but it can make a big impact for kids, especially as they grow older and are more able to really understand the emotional lesson. On some level, it's nice that our kids think we are superheroes, but it's also crucial that they understand that we are still human, with real feelings.

The magic of helping our kids develop empathy doesn't happen in well-planned lessons or elaborate activities. The real magic happens in the small, simple interactions and discussions we have with our kids each day.

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Sometimes it can feel like you never get a minute to even finish a thought—let alone a to-do list. When your day is packed with caretaking, your own needs get pushed back. So when you finally get to lie down at the end of the day, all those thoughts are waiting for you. While we haven't figured out the secret to keeping you from over-analyzing every.single.thing. (sorry, mama!), we do believe you must carve out time for you. Because that rest is just as important—and you've certainly earned it.

XO,

#TeamMotherly

PS: We spoke to Jessica Alba and she gave us the lowdown on why she stopped breastfeeding, and Nordstrom is having their anniversary sale until August 5th. Here's everything we want!

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