Questions From You

Parenting questions submitted by our community members and answered by a YOU Program facilitator.
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Fun and Safe Websites for Kids

August 16, 2016

By Jessica Vician

Fun and Safe Websites for Kids | How do we allow our toddlers, our kids under 12, and our teenagers to use the internet for all of its benefits while keeping them away from its dangers? | A laptop sits on a table with the article title, "Fun + Safe Websites for Kids" on the screen.

Your kids are digital natives, which means they have always lived with the internet and digital devices. For those of us who remember the exciting yet frustrating sound of AOL connecting to the phone line, it’s a part of parenting that we don’t have our own stories to model after.

How do we allow our toddlers, our kids under 12, and our teenagers to use the internet for all of its benefits while keeping them away from its dangers?

There are fun and safe websites out there for kids of all ages. When in doubt, I recommend checking Common Sense Media, as they are constantly rating and evaluating various media to give parents the information they need to determine if the TV show, app, or movie is appropriate for their kids.

Toddlers
If you’re going to give your toddlers screen time, limit them to TV cartoons, movies, and apps made for their age range. Most of the apps designed for toddlers focus on learning in a fun way, so try some of these.

Elementary School
For younger elementary school kids (grades K–3), focus on their favorite TV shows and topics they’re interested in. PBS Kids has great options that include cartoons and learning activities for varied interests, including science, engineering, and nature.

For older elementary school kids (grades 4–6), games that reinforce the learning they’re doing in school, like Minecraft, can be great opportunities to keep learning at home. As a parent, you need to enforce playing in moderation and not physically meeting up with people your kids might meet online in the game.

Use game time as a reward for completing homework. You could even use coding games and apps to teach your kids how to code.

Preteens and Teenagers
It’s important to know what apps and sites your teens are on so that you can set guidelines for safe usage. Again, Common Sense Media has a great breakdown of the apps your teens are using now and what you need to know about them.

The good news? The most popular sites and apps that teens are using are pretty safe. As with all screen time, it’s important to enforce using it in moderation and after homework is done. And make sure you require these privacy tips on your teen’s social networks.

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How to Emotionally Prepare Your Teen for High School

July 26, 2016

By Jessica Vician

How to Emotionally Prepare Your Teen for High School | How your teen handles this new adventure will have a big impact on his or her academic success, so use these five points to guide your support. | A group of teens preparing for high school pose in front of their lockers.

When it comes to preparing for high school, academics seem like the easy part. After all, starting high school means multiple middle schools merging, old friends meeting new friends, teenage emotions and hormones clashing, navigating the delicate dance of high school dating, and finding out what makes everyone tick.

While you will want to establish academic expectations, study habits, and routines with your teenager before high school starts, you will also want to help him or her prepare emotionally and socially. How your teen handles this new adventure will have a big impact on his or her academic success, so use these five points to guide your support.

Encourage them to find themselves.
Your teen can get a sense of the school before he or she starts by attending plays, concerts, and sports games at the high school. He or she can evaluate which of these activities, if any, interests him or her and can plan to audition, try out, or join clubs or groups associated with the activities.

In addition to finding his or her interests, your teenager should prioritize finding friends who promote happiness and even some who challenge your teen to be a better person. Encourage your teen to make friends who make him or her happy instead of being popular. While popularity is usually important to teenagers, his or her happiness is more important.

Use orientation to reduce first-day jitters.
Your teenager should attend orientation to get a better understanding of his or her new school in preparation for a smooth first day.

To make it more fun, encourage your teen to attend with a good friend from middle school. Let them figure out their locker combinations, find the fastest route from class to class, and learn where their friends’ lockers are.

Be friendly and avoid gossip.
PBS Kids has a great explanation of rumors and gossip and how both can be used to hurt others. Familiarize yourself with these scenarios so you can discourage your teen from gossiping.

At the same time, you can encourage your child to look at high school as a fresh start. While he or she will keep some or many friends from middle school, eliminating previous animosities toward other classmates and giving everyone a clean slate will help your teen make new friends and stay on good terms with as many people as possible.

Give them more independence.
As teens form stronger friendships, start dating, and move into adulthood, they will distance themselves from their parents and families. That’s okay in moderation. Just as you let your child start feeding him or herself as a toddler, you can let your teenager work out problems and manage his or her life with little guidance.

Ensure your teen knows you are always available to talk, and make sure he or she spends enough time on homework, eats healthy when at home, etc., but give your teen time to spend with friends, join clubs and sports teams, and more. Part of high school is preparing to live independently in college, so teens need to earn gradual independence from their families at this time.

Pay attention to their friends.
Just because you encourage your teenager to spend time with his or her friends doesn’t mean that you don’t have to keep an eye on those friends. Invite them over for pizza and offer to drive them to the movies or the mall. By spending even a little bit of time with your teen’s friends, you will learn more about them and identify potential bad influences. You will also be relieved if your teen’s friends are great kids who make your teen happy.

Starting high school can be stressful for teenagers and their parents, but by practicing these support tips, you both will be better prepared.

Has your teenager already entered high school? How did you help him or her prepare? Share in the comments below.

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How to Teach Your Kids and Teens Gratitude

July 12, 2016

By Nikki Cecala

How to Teach Your Kids and Teens Gratitude | Gratitude is a learned behavior. If your children are grateful for what they have, they are more likely to be happy now and later in life. | A child holds a chalkboard sign that says, "Thank you."

Have you ever heard the phrase, “No one is born grateful?”

Gratitude is a learned behavior, which can be tricky with toddlers as they are a bit selfish by nature. Instilling gratitude in young children will help them remain grateful as they age, but it’s not too late to influence your teenagers, too.

If your children are grateful for what they have, they are more likely to be happy now and later in life. In fact, according to a Harvard Health Publication study, “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

So, how can you teach your children gratitude?

In Early Childhood and Elementary School
Children model their behavior after their parents’ actions, so it is important to lead by example. 

  • Are you are saying please and thank you when you are around your child?
  • Are you reminding your child to say please and thank you to others?

The earlier you model gratitude with your child, the more successful your child will be at both demonstrating and feeling it.

  • Practice daily.
    To teach my son the concept of gratitude, I started asking my son what he was thankful for before we went to bed every night. He won’t necessarily say, “I am thankful for blah blah blah” because he is young, but he will express what made him happy that day. For example, he will say, “I liked my popsicle,” or “My cousin came over to play,” or “Mommy made pizza for dinner!”
  • Point out gratitude in action.
    When your child is watching a TV show or reading a book, point out when the characters show gratitude. “Did you see how Big Bird said, ‘thank you?’ He is grateful to Elmo for helping him.”
  • Include in playtime.
    Another great way to get children to acknowledge gratitude is to include it in their role-playing or imagination time.

In Middle School and High School
Teaching a teenager gratitude can be a bit more difficult. As teens embrace their individuality, they also distance themselves from their parents. Sit down with your teenager and discuss the difference between a person’s rights and privileges. It’s easy to forget how lucky we are to have what we do.

For example, you can explain that in our country, your child has a right to a public education, but it’s a privilege for him or her to participate in afterschool programs, events, and social functions.

Here are some other ways to introduce gratitude to your teenager:

  • Encourage volunteer work.
    Whether it is participating in community service through the school or volunteering through a local church or community center, the opportunity can teach your teenager to be thankful for what he or she has and to give back to the community and help others who are less fortunate.
  • Thank their teachers.
    Is there a teacher who goes the extra mile for your child? Ask your teen to write his or her teacher a thank you note. Explain to your teenager that the extra effort the teacher put in was out of the kindness of his or her heart to see your child succeed.

Regardless of the age of your child, be patient. Children are constantly growing and changing, but the investment you make now will be worth it in the future.

Do you have a routine, approach, activity, or conversation topic that has helped instill gratitude in your child? Please share what has worked for you in the comments below.

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What questions should I be asking on college visits?

June 21, 2016

By YOU Program Facilitator

What questions should I be asking on college visits? | A group of parents and students gather during a college tour to listen to the tour guide speak.

Question: My daughter will be going to college next fall, so we’re visiting schools this summer. What questions should we be asking during these college visits so that she makes the right choice?

Answer: First, your daughter should make a list of schools she would like to attend and discuss these choices with her guidance counselor. The counselor may help her narrow down her choices based on which schools offer strong programs relevant to her intended career choice, offer potential scholarships for her academic and/or extracurricular strengths, etc.

Class Size
As you research the schools, including asking questions during a visit, find out the average class size for incoming undergraduates. Think about your daughter’s learning style and evaluate whether she will succeed in that size of a class. For example, if she needs extra attention from the teacher, a large school with classes of 300 students might not be the best fit for her.

Financing
If you are concerned about financing college, meet with a financial aid counselor during your visit. Discuss work-study programs, potential scholarships, and funding options for your family.

Living Arrangements
Ask about typical living arrangements for an incoming freshman, including meal packages. Do freshman usually live in residence halls? Does the school have requirements for students to live on campus? If so, for how many years?

Visit some of the dormitories so that your daughter can see what her living situation will be like. Is it clean? Is it safe and well lit at night?

Safety
Ask about the safety measures the campus takes to protect students both during class times and after class. Your daughter needs to be safe walking to and from class and on nights and weekends when living in the dorms.

Create an agenda for your visits with a list of questions you need answered, people with whom you’d like to meet (schedule those appointments in advance), and places on and off campus you would like to see. With that agenda, you can ensure you hit all the important points while still having time for fun together as a family.

For more information on choosing a college, college admissions, and preparing for college, see the third book in the YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher 3-book set.

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3 Sex and Pregnancy Topics You Must Cover with Your Teenager

May 10, 2016

By Jessica Vician

Prep Teens For the Future | 3 Sex and Pregnancy Topics You Must Cover with Your Teenager

It’s the part of parenting you dread: the sex talk. Yes, you have to do it. No, sex ed at school is not enough.

Your teenager needs to know your expectations of them regarding sex. Even if they disagree with your stance, they need to know it. Do you discourage sex at a certain age or life stage? Will you help your daughter get on birth control if she asks?

They especially need to know how to protect themselves and their partners. Because if we know anything about teenagers, we know they don’t always listen to their parents, but they care about themselves a lot.

Appeal to those selfish qualities as you educate your teen about:

  • Respect for themselves and for their partners, both in body and mind.
  • Protection for themselves and for their partners
  • Myths about sex and protection.

Respect.
When it comes to any kind of sexual activity, from kissing to intercourse, your teen needs to respect themself and their partner. That means not doing anything they’re uncomfortable with and not doing anything their partner is uncomfortable with.

How can you encourage this respectful behavior in your teenager? Talk to them about what they want in life. What kind of job or home do they want? Do they want a family? Then talk to them about how they can achieve those goals.

They’ll need an education and to work hard to have the career and home they want. And they’ll need to wait to start a family until they have reached certain milestones in getting those other things. Putting life in perspective may help them shift their priorities.

Protection.
Waiting to start a family leads us to protection. Birth control and condoms are critical when anyone is engaging in sexual activities; birth control helps prevent pregnancy and condoms help prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy.

While it may be uncomfortable talking about protection with your teenager, it’s important to teach them the importance of protecting themselves and their partners. That protection is part of respecting themselves and their partners. Talk to your daughter about protecting herself from pregnancy and STIs and talk to your son about protecting himself from STIs and getting a female partner pregnant.

Myths.
While teenagers have access to more information via the internet than their parents ever did, rumors still hold strong. Here are some popular myths that have stood the test of time:

When you talk to your teenager about the myths of protection and sex, present the facts so they are properly educated. If they won’t listen to you, you can always share the above links and ask them to research these facts on their own.

While an uncomfortable conversation, educating your teen on respect, protection, and sexual myths is an important parenting step. After all, it will greatly impact their present and their future.

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