Bringing Up the Next Generation “Are you raising a 'sun' or a 'moon'?”

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Bringing Up the Next Generation   Jan ’16                                        

Are you raising a ‘sun’ or a ‘moon’?                                                             

By Tricia Ferrara, MA


Sun v moon


If you stop and listen closely, you can hear the first stirrings of Generation Z. Right now it’s barely audible, but give it a couple of years and this generation will be the equivalent of a sonic boom.

Sometimes called post-Millennials, an official name for this group has yet to emerge, but their impact is starting to be felt. These are children who are digital natives, born into a world that already had smart gadgets and Google. They are weaned on self-selected input—from their iPads, not their parents—and they’ll change the nature of just about everything.

Many of today’s parents came of age in a patient, linear story, relating to promotions, marriage and family in order to measure personal markers. Baby boomers learned from their parents, absorbing input and information, then shaped it into their own visions. Generation Z doesn’t need input from parents; they are getting it from technology. This self-selecting input will influence a generation that builds its own structures, and doesn’t integrate into existing ones. It will turn the stalemates of religion, politics and sexuality upside down. We are already seeing this with sexuality: kids today fall in love with personality, not body parts. They have homosexual relationships without even classifying them that way.
Rising Sun

As youngsters, previous generations were positioned like the moon, a celestial body wholly dependent on the sun for its ability to shine. They could wait inside the box for dependable outcomes that would occur simply by following the prescribed social, educational and cultural rules. Social structure and basic skill sets naturally propelled them forward to earn degrees, get promotions and reach retirement.

Today, societal structures that supported that forward motion are in decline. Jaded by broken institutional promises and blindsided by the acceleration of change, the children we know today will grow up to thrive on structure they’ve created, not one created for them. The most prepared and adept in the crowd will become their own sources of light-giving sun. Armed with information and tools at their fingertips, digital natives will not wait for the sunlight to shine on them. They will be able to generate their own energy.
This demographic will be far different than the current crop of energized young adults who are still willing to join the corporate ranks , even as they’re busily branding, bending rules and building bios on social media. Generation Z has no intention of joining that workforce. Instead, they will create a force that we will need to learn to work with.

Who will tell the children?
While technological advances are creating a tide that will lift many boats in our society, it won’t lift all of them. Many of our children will feel lost in this unstructured environment where they must create their own paradigm. They will need help learning how to swim in order to keep up and thrive alongside their peers. The waters will be rough. Without a personal vision, freedom can be a prison. Many will be faced with pursuing virtual happiness and status while struggling with actual stressors, disappointments, depression, anxiety and isolation. Their snarky, fragmented digital world will offer little or no respite from their internal demons.
Helping our kids remain energized and moving forward is more than a goal in this environment. It is a moral imperative.
Caretakers must build a robust mental template for their children. In other words, bolster their capacity to integrate their life experiences and constructively adapt. The ability to conserve emotional energy and create mental stamina for the next encounter will be key to stay on track and thrive.
Raising a child who intends to be energized and shine on his or her own terms, there are numerous meaningful opportunities in our daily interactions to help children on their way.

Here are three key areas to consider as we prepare our little stars for the journey:
Dependable, Nourishing Relationships: Social experiences play a critically important role in physically shaping children’s brains and, in turn, their minds. Healthy relationships provide the necessary comfort and connection we all need during our journeys through childhood and adolescence, and they provide a window into the emotional experience of others. While fostering empathy, relationships make us visible to the world and therefore less vulnerable. Being in a relationship says, “I’m alive, I have value and I matter.”

Language of Connection: Language is the key to a child’s ability to share internal experiences, describe emerging personal needs and thus create a meaningful identity. The ability to communicate a vision for the future builds a bridge to that future. Move with your child beyond pop language. Develop, model and encourage language that captures the nuances of their experiences.

Emotional Regulation: Emotion is the raw material of life and can be jarring to children of all ages. Emotional energy puts us in motion and fuels our growth through everyday ups and downs. But getting beyond the surge of feelings that fuel “fight or flight” mechanisms requires skill and reinforcement. The hallmark of a resilient person is the ability to summon positive energy in the face of emotional stress. Kids are learning all the time. Be mindful of how you handle your own stress, as kids will pick up your lead automatically unless otherwise directed.

Effective relationships, communication and emotional regulation are a revelation to children whose instinct is to turn to technology before human beings. The children who can maintain their humanity in an age where technology comes first will come in first, too.

Tricia Ferrara is the author of Parenting 2.0; Think in the Future, Act in the Now. A licensed Professional Counselor and Behavioral Health Specialist, she holds a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology, lectures and writes widely, and has a private practice in Chester County, Pennsylvania. She is the parent of teen twins.

Local Parenting Therapist and Author Joins CNN Segments

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Bb Chandler Dunn, Main Line Today

Main Line resident Tricia Ferrara recently became a correspondent on Parent Acts.Main Line resident Tricia Ferrara recently became a correspondent on ‘Parent Acts.’

There is a stark divide between the world that now exists under the age of digital information and the world that existed before. Unprecedented shifts and ceaseless innovation have begun to shift the ways in which we act, think and communicate. Over the past few decades, as technology has pushed the boundaries, 21st century parenting has been forced to adapt. Chester Springs therapist and author ofParenting 2.0: Think in the Future, Act in the Now, Tricia Ferrarahelps guide local parents, and now, parents across the nation, through her private practice and as a correspondent on CNN’s segment “Parent Acts.”

This model of change not only challenges us, but also requires that we take control of such changes, constantly assessing and rethinking how we engage with the social structures in our lives. This is the foundation for Ferrara, a local, licensed professional counselor and parenting strategist, who challenges the status quo of parenting and offers new strategies for fostering healthy relationships.

In her appearances on CNN, which began airing recently, Ferrara discusses childhood development, education and tapping into the struggles for the common parent, and providing developmental expertise that parents can relate to.

We sat down with Ferrara, who offers three key points for modern parents.

MLT: What is it about modern relationships between parents and children that you think parents are missing or don’t quite understand?

TF: I think one of the most significant factors, with regard to the family in the 21st century, is that this age of information we live in has flattened the family hierarchy. A very common challenge for parents today is that, the way that they were raised does not work for kids today. That’s because, a generation back, parents were keepers of information; kids didn’t know a lot about the world and they really relied on adults—caregivers, teachers, any kind of educator—to be the source for that information. There was kind of a default of power and authority. Today with kids having as much, if not more, access to information, parents have to redefine who they are in the lives of kids, and a lot of that depends on relationship skill.

MLT: What are the biggest challenges towards building a healthy relationship with your child?

TF: My question to parents is: are you doing things in the formative years that are going to later on define you as a resource or the enemy? When kids are in adolescence, they’re entering into that stage where they’re turning away from the parents, which is healthy. But kids still need access to resources that are in their best interest, and parents should be number one. More than likely, that decision will be made based on previous experiences with the parents, particularly during difficult moments. When I ask many of the kids or young adults who find themselves confused, overwhelmed, or maybe in trouble of some sort, why they didn’t reach out to their parents earlier in the process, I always get a variation on, ‘I would have been punished’ or ‘They wouldn’t understand because they never listen to me.’ Many adults want to be seen as resources, yet the behaviors and attitudes they bring to the table are completely counterproductive. Instead of providing stress relief, they add stress, and then young adults end up not having great mentorship in problem solving, and therefor some problems that should be hiccups end up being full-blown crises.

MLT: What are some of the best thing parents can do to a foster an open and comforting relationship?

TF: There are two things: number one, stress relief. It has to be part of “the three R’s”—reading, writing, arithmetic and stress relief. Second: the ability to ask for help. Most kids and young adults, have been trained to be wrapped up in the identity of achievement and they lose their capacity to be vulnerable and ask for help. They’re afraid that they won’t be seen as a winner anymore. What we know about resilient people and resilient kids is that when they are under stress or they find themselves in need of resources, they are very comfortable and familiar with reaching out for help. Parents and educators are the first line of defense to ensure that kids can thrive. Relationships that share power and provide perspective are critical. Emotional regulation and the ability to self-reflect will be life saving in 21st century life.

See Tricia’s most recent parenting segment on CNN, which aired on June 21 and catch future segments on Tuesdays throughout the summer.

Parent Acts: How to, like, get our kids to stop saying 'like'

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By Kelly Wallace, CNN

How to, like. get our kids to stop saying 'like'(CNN) I think I noticed it when my daughter, now 10, was giving a presentation to her class. Suddenly, I heard the word “like” come out of her mouth after every few words.

I cringed, but also knew there was nobody to blame but myself.

You see, I too have struggled with saying “like” much more than is necessary. You can also add “you know” to my list of verbal fillers that offer no benefits to my speech, nor my sense of confidence and authority.

Now I was faced with my daughter having picked up my bad habit, and I didn’t know what to do about it.

But I knew I wasn’t alone.

In the seventh installment of our CNN Digital Video series “Parent Acts,” we asked parents and their kids to act out how they use the word “like.” We then had a parenting expert listen to their role-play and weigh in with advice.

10-year-old Keira Kiley in New York City, and a classmate of my daughter’s, said that when she uses the word, her father is quick to point it out to her.

“If someone asks how my day was, I’d say, ‘Well, my day was, ‘like,’ and he’d be like, ‘like’.”

Tricia Ferrara is a licensed family therapist and parenting strategist who has been in private practice in the Philadelphia area for more than a decade. She says that parents probably can’t prevent their kids using “like” and other words that are “part of the culture,” but says being attuned to how our children are conveying themselves to others through language is extremely important.

“This default to pop language, if kids say ‘whatever’ or they are inserting ‘like’ in several times, it diminishes the message. It diminishes what it is that they want to say,” said Ferrara, author of “Parenting 2.0: Think in the Future, Act in the Now,” a guidebook for parents with step-by-step advice on how to strengthen their relationships with their children.

“When I have a teen that I’m working with and I hear them using ‘like’ a lot, I’ll show them the comparison of saying something that’s meaningful and inserting ‘like’ 15 times,” said Ferrara. “[I] then recast the same statement without it and say to them, ‘Which one is more powerful? Which one do you actually hear?’ And they’re stunned at the difference.”

When she had pulled out the “likes” from the dialogue, the teens could see how much clearer the message was and that’s exactly the lesson Ferrara showed Kiley, demonstrating two ways Kiley might convey how much she loved her younger sister.

“I like my sister because I kind of like that we love each other and, like, and I like that and it’s, like, we fight and, like, we make up, and I really, like, love her,” Ferrara said. Then she offered Kiley a version without any extra “likes.”

“I care about my sister. I love my sister. She’s important to me, and even though we fight, she is a very dear person in my life,” she said. When Ferrara asked Kiley which statement she thought was clearer, she picked the one without all the likes.
“That’s what’s going to help the situation, because they see the value in it, and not because Mom or Dad said so,” said Ferrara, herself a mom of twin teenagers.

A ‘FitBit for your speech’

Audrey Mann Cronin has spent her career in the communications business, media training countless executives not only to convey a message, but to do so in an articulate and conversational way.

The way people speak has always been on her radar, she said, so two and a half years ago, when she noticed her teenage daughter — who was always very well-spoken and poised — starting to use “like” between every other word, she freaked out.

“I thought, ‘Oh, no, not her. Has she now fallen into this verbal trap, and how do I pull her out?'” said Mann Cronin, a mom of two. “She’s such a good girl and I didn’t want to pick on her, and I have a son, who’s younger, and I thought I want to pull her out of this trap before my son falls in.”

Mann Cronin, who founded the site Our Digital Daughters to focus on the impact of the digital culture on young women, decided she wanted to do something about all the “likes” and “you knows” and “whatevers” that girls and boys are using in their conversation.

As a communications consultant in the consumer technology space, she set out to create an app that might help. The result was mobile app LikeSo, which officially launched in March this year and can be downloaded from the App store for 99 cents.

A teenager (or an adult with a problem like this correspondent!) can talk into the app and then receive feedback, such as a list of which fillers — such as “like,” “actually” and “you know” — they used. They can also get a score, such as 92% articulate, with a total for how many fillers were used as well as the pace of their speech.

The app also contains conversation starters in which teens can pick categories such as “Pop Culture Favorites,” “On the Menu” or “Speed Dating.” The teens then speak for 30 or 60-second intervals and pass the phone around, getting feedback on how many fillers they did, or did not, use.

“We call it speech fitness,” said Mann Cronin. “This is your personal speech coach. We’re thinking about it as being like a FitBit for your speech, and so it’s about speech fitness and being aware and practice.”

We may urge our kids to practice soccer, their spelling, or the violin, but we don’t spend much time getting them to practice having a conversation without saying “like” five times, Mann Cronin said. “The single most pivotal thing we can do in life to get us ahead is to be an inspired, confident, articulate speaker to compel other people to want to listen to us.”
Language plays a role in how we are perceived, and that starts at a really young age, she said.

Mann Cronin describes one incident during an election to be class president at her daughter’s school. One girl whom her daughter really liked got up to speak, but then ended up saying “like” so many times that Mann Cronin’s daughter whispered to a friend that she didn’t think she could actually vote for the girl.

The app is now being incorporated into the syllabus for oral communications programs at a number of colleges and universities across the U.S., said Mann Cronin. Career centers on college campuses have also expressed interest in offering the app as a tool for students as they prepare to be interviewed and network.

After all, think about two students who may have the same exact qualifications for a position and formally interview with the company.

“When you’re face-to-face or even on Skype, or whatever it is, and you don’t speak confidently and articulately and the other person does, who’s going to get the job?” Mann Cronin asked. “It matters.”

What do you think is the best way to try to get kids from using ‘”like” all the time? Share your thoughts with Kelly Wallace on Twitter @kellywallacetv.


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lighten bag

“Shut Up!! ” “You’re a jerk” “Whatever” “I hate you” “You’re a loser”

Any of these comments sound familiar? They represent the #1 parental complaint: “My kids don’t respect me!” It baffles most of us that kids today have become so brazen in how they respond to a parent’s request. We would never speak to our parents this way, is a common refrain.

But times have changed. We are not our parents. Our children are not us. They are pressured by our culture to be grown up, smart, sexual, and independent all before they leave the halls of middle school. It’s a tall order, and they do everything to make sure they don’t fail — even if that means using Mom and Dad as a verbal punching bag for a few years.

Parents get stuck when they are unsure of where to draw the line. Feeling disrespected, most of us respond with thoughtless comments and end up looking every bit like the moody, stubborn teen we are trying to control.

So what’s a self-respecting parent to do? Change it up.
We all think respect is the holy grail of parenting — the ultimate validation that you have done a good job. It’s not. We use “respect” as a catch phrase for a lot of things: compliance, efficiency, agreement. In others words, if my child doesn’t agree and efficiently comply with my request, they are disrespectful.

Really? I think respect is much bigger than how you feel about verbal jousting with your teen. It’s about valuing your relationship as a whole.

–Recognize that Friction Precedes Growth
If your child is pushing back, that means they see you as an authority figure, and you have been successful at establishing that role in their life. That’s a good foundation. Now we need to help them build their life by coaching and encouraging them as they grow a sense of self-respect, not just compliance. Kids need self-respect before they can give it to you or anybody else.

–Teach Clarity & Connection
Confusion about who’s in charge and the ensuing disconnection are what make us panic and demand respect in the first place. What kids really need to learn is how to be clear about their needs and stay connected even when they disagree with you. Clarity and connection during an argument trumps respect over the long haul every time.

–Control Your Own Emotions
Just as we allow toddlers to be clumsy as they coordinate their limbs and develop language, we must exercise patience when our teenagers stumble emotionally. If you become easily agitated and snarky, so will they. Adolescents need clear expectations and a focused parent who does not get distracted by taking things personally.

Overall, I’m not sure that adolescent brains are capable of the “respect” we hope to secure for ourselves. It’s in their DNA to minimize us so they can successfully leave the nest. If you remain their everything, they will stay there always.

Single Point of Light

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amazing,beautiful,blue,clouds,color,creative-b0edbee2e1313ad51e4d6b99d98a4996_hMost of us are aware of the two local girls who ended their young lives on a Philadelphia train track last week. As spectators, we have the grace of an internal circuit breaker. Its’ purpose is to save us from the unspeakable pain devouring the family and friends of these girls.

Tragic events always put us at a crossroads. We can ignore this topic, keep it in the shadows and feed the terror it triggers in all of us….or we can find the courage to dig deeper and not let the deaths of these two girls be in vain.

Starting the conversation is the most difficult part….so I will give you some help on how to talk about such a scary/taboo topic.

Here are some important points:

Teens are especially vulnerable to suicidal impulse. They do not see suicide as hurting themselves. They see it as a way to stop hurt.

A sense of “pseudo adulthood” can create a barrier to acknowledging they are in trouble. Any previous trauma can make the adolescent far more vulnerable.

What to do: Be mindful about how you respond to difficult moments, whether it is spilled milk or a fender bender. It will sway your child in the future about your ability to handle heavy emotional stuff.

Negative emotions are very strong. Be sure your child has a way to process them. Many of us are uncomfortable with anger or deep sadness and are relieved to avoid them. Teens don’t always have that luxury.

If your child expresses a wish to end their life, take it very seriously. Seek out professional help. It could not only save their life, but the life of a friend.

It has been said that all of the darkness in the universe cannot extinguish the light of a single candle. Suicide occurs in that darkness. We need to our courage to keep our children in the light……. so they can find their way.

The Power of Play

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The Power play

“He can’t swim!”

Those are the last words a parent wants to hear while enjoying a lazy poolside afternoon. And when it happened to me, it struck terror in my heart.

In less than a heartbeat, my fully-clothed husband launched himself into the pool for the rescue. He grabbed hold of a neighbor’s child who had slipped in without his floatation device, and was flailing in the water as the other kids shrieked for help. Finally safe on dry land, the boy was stunned but fine. The afternoon continued, with the kids appearing unphased as they returned to Marco Polo and cannon balls.

I can’t say the same for myself. Rattled by how easily my sense of security could be ripped away, I did what many people do: I talked about it. Casually telling my sister and friends about the near catastrophe over the next few days, I reduced my underlying anxiety. It was a way for me to solidify the notion that all was well after all.

A Child’s Appearance Can Be Deceiving

At the same time, the kids, who I thought were all right — were not. They were still frightened and needed to restore their sense of safety in some way. They did it through PLAY. In a complete departure from their usual roster of unstructured summertime activity, my 6-year-old twins and their friends took to the pool and invented “The Saving Game.” Each took a turn falling off the raft and then being saved by a playmate. A casual observer might ask, “Why are they re-enacting such an upsetting event?” I knew: They needed to work out and restore a sense of safety on their terms. They needed play. It was no different than what I needed and resolved by talking.

Play is Cutting Edge

Many of our children are bogged down with schedules filled with organized sports, music lessons and other activities that are valuable but controlled by adults. In those settings, kids are subject to adult expectations and measures. They miss the vital sense of security and mastery that unstructured play provides.

Far from old fashioned or quaint, ample unstructured play is the most cutting-edge opportunity you can provide for a developing mind. Crucial for mental health, children left to play on their terms can cultivate stress reduction, anxiety management and resilience. The mental health trifecta for a developing mind.

During unstructured play, children learn to harness their energy and make something happen through tapping into their own creative forces. It provides them with the space to work out fears and other elements of life that confuse and overwhelm them. They get to feel power, and gain the confidence to use it.

So what happened to “The Saving Game?” It continued for a day or two, then the kids were back to their regular play. Mission accomplished. Life situation mastered.

Parents: Let the games begin!

Reason to Believe

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lighten bag

As the Christmas crazy starts to take hold, many parents risk their sanity by encouraging their kids to believe in Santa Claus. A jolly old guy with the magical power to travel the globe in an effort to bring good cheer. All of this, of course, with the help of eight tiny reindeer!

It’s a delightful story that comes with a price. Parents keep Santa’s cover in whatever way they can; languishing in long line lines for a meet and greet or staying alert for the perfect present. All the while never letting their children mix up naughty or nice!

This myth can seem odd at a time when fact checking and Google searches could easily reveal the “truth”. How does the folklore of Santa continue to survive and thrive in the age of science and scrutiny?  

Easy. Parents know it strikes at the heart and mind of their little children. Fostering a sense of wonder and magic in a child is as vital to their future as the air they breathe. Encouraging the young to engage in make believe doesn’t betray their mind… it broadens it.

Remember believing in Santa and all of his magic is about more than just toys. It is about the early strands of resilience.

Every great mind has had to conjure up illogical strands of hope that persist even in the face of despair. Being resilient is about calling on that state of mental magic needed in the absence of proof . The ability to really believe in a story despite the facts, frustrations or failures.

It is the first step in our children believing in who they are capable of being.

It is why we all still have a reason to believe.


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Every year my sister prompts our family to declare a word for the coming new year. We’re never really ready for her challenge. So the usual, hopeful suspects always fill the void : trust, creativity, inspired , playful….winning. You get the gist.
This year is going to be different . This year I’m going to be ready. This year my word is : DONE..
I’ll elaborate. There are few things about electronic communication that make me smile more than when a request is returned with the crystal clarity of ” Done.” For 2015, I’ve decided to put this word to work in a few more areas and see if I can’t get a little more satisfaction.
Done with mind reading and mental noise. Only dealing in clear signals.
Done with crap that doesn’t help and the people who dole it out.
Done with waiting to get a “round-to- it” .
Done with explaining……t here fore, done with complaining.
Done with worry about the future. Dealing strictly in what I can do in the now.
Done with blame. Getting my skin in the game to make the difference.
You get the idea… get out there this year and get things done.
Happy and Safe new Year to all!

whats the Word

Brutally Honest: When is it OK to leave your teen home alone overnight?

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When is it OK to leave your teen home alone overnight

(CNN)I can’t remember exactly how old I was when my mom went away for a night and left my older sister and me home alone.

What I remember clearly though is the “talking to” I received when my mom returned and learned from our next-door neighbor that my sister and I had a party, which involved alcohol.

“I’m so disappointed in you,” my mother would say over and over again, which were crushing words for a perfectionist straight-A student, who vowed never to let that happen again.

And it didn’t.

But the story illustrates two challenges for parents: 1) What age is OK to leave your teens home alone overnight? and 2) What if something goes wrong when you do?

Read: ‘Brutally Honest’: What if you don’t like your kids’ friends?

Parents can’t really rely on the law for answers, especially since only a few states set a minimum age that a child can be left home alone.

Louise Sattler, a mom of two grown children in Los Angeles, said she never left her kids alone overnight until they were college age because of something that happened to a former colleague.

That colleague left her high school son home alone and had the neighbors check up on him. “Well, lo and behold, kids in the neighborhood found out there was a ‘parent-free zone’ and it all ended up in disaster,” said Sattler, a psychologist, educational consultant and owner of a business providing sign language instruction.

The night resulted in drunken teens, unruly arguments, even a pregnancy, according to Sattler. Some parents also considered suing the teen and his family, she added.

So, to Sattler, the answer was saying no, until college, to any requests from her children to stay home alone overnight and even then, she said she begged them not to advertise their home as “parent-free.”Read: ‘Brutally Honest’: Mean girls are getting younger

“You may trust your kid, but in this digital age this is a recipe for chaos and trouble,” she said.

‘Trust and verify’

Tricia Ferrara, a Philadelphia-area licensed family therapist and parenting strategist who has been in private practice for more than a decade, agrees. She said that even if you have done everything right to prepare your child, “a predatory peer” could well pounce on the opportunity to take advantage of you being away.

Her advice is to “trust and verify,” she said. “Kids with a solid track record of good, independent decisions should be given latitude and a long leash but not complete freedom,” added Ferrara, author of the recently released “Parenting 2.0: Think in the Future, Act in the Now.

Some measure of adult oversight, such as neighbors or a family friend repeatedly checking in, is recommended, she said.

Ferrara also stressed that every child is different in terms of when he or she can be alone, for how long and under what circumstances.

Janis Brett Elspas said the maturity level of each of her kids is one of the main factors in deciding whether they can be left home alone.

She said her oldest was 17 when he was left home alone while the rest of the family went on vacation in a foreign country.

Read: Teen ‘like’ and ‘FOMO’ anxiety 

“We really didn’t worry that something would go wrong … because he has proven how responsible he is,” said Brett Elspas, founder of Mommy Blog Expert. “Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about our triplets, now 17, who we have deemed not to be mature enough to be left alone overnight, much less for a week while we travel abroad because they tend to be unintentionally careless.”

Knowing your child can definitely help guide the decision on when it’s OK to leave them alone for the weekend, said Julie Cole, a mother of six and a co-founder of Mabel’s Labels, which provides labels for children’s products and clothing.

“If your kid is a strong, independent older teen who does not get swayed by peers, chances are they are going to respect the family home, and it won’t get destroyed in a house party,” said Cole, who also blogs regularly about parenting.

“If your teenager has friends who are a bit on the cheeky side, and your child seems to be a bit of a follower, I would be reluctant to leave them alone.”

‘He blew it in spades’

Being home alone can be teenagers’ first chance to experience what it feels like to be grown up, but if they make a misstep, it can hurt them for years to come.

That is what Terry Greenwald, a divorced father of three in Alaska, said happened to his then-17-year-old son.

Read: Chances are, your teen has sexted

Greenwald worked at a lodge and had an apartment below the lodge, and decided, after much discussion, that he could leave his son alone.

“I found out when I got home that before my plane even left the ground on my departure, he was sneaking his girlfriend through the trees and into the apartment,” Greenwald said. “To this day, it’s something that comes up now and then as it was his first big chance to be grown up, and he blew it in spades.”

Ferrara, the family therapist, said allowing children to stay home alone overnight is a process, not a decision. “Good habits build a capable child,” she said, so preparing them at younger ages by leaving them alone during short, planned outings or errands can help and watching how they respond to minor emergencies can give you a sense of their ability to handle a challenging situation of their own.

Kelli Arena, a mom of three in Houston, has yet to leave her daughter, who just turned 17, alone for a night. Because she has younger kids also (a 13- and 14-year-old), she always felt that it would be too much to expect her daughter to take care of herself and her siblings if she and her husband went away.

“But with the college acceptances pouring on, reality has struck,” said Arena, executive director of the Global Center for Journalism and Democracy at Sam Houston State University. “We need to leave her on her own in a place she is comfortable to help ease the transition.”

Arena said she’s now looking at a time early in the new year she can leave her daughter alone for a weekend.

“We figure it’s a good way for her to be on her own in a familiar environment. Of course, I’ll make sure there is food!”

Brutally Honest: Is it OK to spy on your kids?

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kids spy

(CNN)Whether you think spying on your kids is acceptable in today’s digital age or a breach of trust seems to really depend on how you define “spying” in the first place.

In conversations over email with parents across the country, it’s clear that people have dramatically different views about the definition and whether it’s an appropriate behavior to help keep children safe.

“I don’t call it spying. I call it parenting,” said Amanda Rodriguez, a mom of three boys in Frederick, Maryland, which is pretty much how I feel as well.

Rodriguez says her sons know she will have the passwords to all their social media and email accounts until they’re 18 and that she regularly reads the texts of her oldest son, who’s now 13.

“I’m not sitting around listening on the other handset when he’s on the phone or wearing a disguise to the school dance, but … were I to become suspicious about his actions or fearful of his safety, I would totally get out my fake mustache and crash a dance,” said Rodriguez, founder of the blog Dude Mom.

John Furjanic, who has a 7-year-old daughter, says spying may sound bad, but it can save a child’s life.

“When Elsa was an infant, I spied on her all the time. She had no choice in the matter. We even had a baby monitor,” said Furjanic. “As children get older, the risks they will run into grow.”

On the other side are parents such as Lori Day, an educational psychologist and mom of a daughter in graduate school, who considers spying “an invasion of privacy and a violation of trust.”

“I think spying on kids is wrong,” said Day, author of “Her Next Chapter,” a book about mother-daughter book clubs. “It’s a good way of sabotaging your relationship with your child if you get caught.”

That is along the lines of what happened to another mom, who didn’t want to give her name for fear of throwing her own mother under the bus by talking publicly about an incident when she was younger.

“When I was a young teen, I caught my mother reading my diary, and to this day, I haven’t forgiven her for it. I don’t want my children to feel the same way about me,” she said, adding that she will try her hardest to respect her children’s privacy when they get older.

‘Brutally Honest’: What if you don’t like your kids’ friends?

Change the word “spy” to “monitor with a child’s knowledge” and you get more agreement on the part of parents that it’s an entirely appropriate thing to do when kids are spending much of their free time on social media.

Some 43% of parents with children younger than 18 who have smartphones said their kids know they monitor their phone activity, according a poll conducted near the end of 2013.

Cherylyn Harley LeBon, a mother of two, said she reads her children’s texts and has controls on their computer so she knows what sites they are visiting.

“I would prefer to call it ‘oversight,’ which is what my parents employed when my siblings and I were growing up in our small town in western New York when there were fewer issues requiring oversight, namely no Internet, no texting, no issues with young girls meeting young boys/men online and then meeting them in person,” said Harley LeBon, a writer, strategist and former senior counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Janeane Davis also says she checks her children’s text messages and Internet history and even reviews criminal records to keep tabs on her daughter who goes to college out of state.

“I have not found problems yet, but I plan to continue to spy on them as long as I am responsible for them,” said Davis, a mom of four who blogs at Janeane’s World. “Just as it is my duty to feed, clothe and shelter them, it is my duty to monitor their behavior and protect them from potential harm.”

The rule in Rhonda Woods’ house is that all passwords and login codes for all apps and devices must be known by her and her husband, or the devices are taken away.

“I will periodically ask my kids to unlock their devices and walk me through their apps, etc. I always explain why I want to see their devices and if I’m looking for something in particular,” said Woods, a real estate agent in New Milford, Connecticut, and mother of three, ages 20, 13 and 13.

Amy Tara Koch also believes in monitoring her 12-year-old daughter’s social media accounts but decided to let texts remain private.

“I really believe in establishing a high level of trust,” said Koch, an author, journalist and style expert. “In order to have access to a phone … my daughter had to prove that she could follow rules (my husband had her write an essay!) and commit to limits on phone/social media use. She has really followed through, so I do not read her texts.”

The key to keeping kids safe and keeping their trust at the same time is making sure your children are aware you are monitoring them, says family therapist and parenting strategist Tricia Ferrara.

“Be clear and candid that you will have access to any and all accounts until the child has been consistent with accountability and judgment offline as well as online,” said Ferrara, author of“Parenting 2.0: Think in the Future, Act in the Now.”

‘Brutally Honest’: Mean girls are getting younger

For parents such as Jennifer Alsip, a mom of two girls, 18 and 22, it was the threat alone of spying that eliminated the need to ever snoop on her children.

“I never spied on my two daughters, but I always threatened them that I would if they ever gave me reason to not trust them,” said Alsip, of Robinson, Texas. “I think the threat and them knowing I would actually do it if I needed to kept them honest.”

Terry Greenwald, a father of three grown children, also never spied on his kids when they were growing up. He recalls one incident where spying might have changed the outcome but said it would have altered the trust between him and his kids.

“I believe mistakes are one way children learn to listen to parents and a part of growing up,” said Greenwald. “I realize that allowing them the room to make mistakes is becoming more and more dangerous, but this is the world we live in.”

But it is precisely the new world we live, where everything you say online could be used against you at some point, that makes parents such as Nancy Friedman, founder of the video sharing site for tweens KidzVuz, believe it is important for parents to spy on their children’s online lives.

Chances are, your teen has sexted

“If you want privacy, the Internet is not the place to find it,” said Friedman, who has twins in middle school. “Better for kids to find that out from their parents learning something about them the kid didn’t want them to know than for it to be a college admission officer, potential employer or some ill-intentioned stranger getting closer than they’d like.”

Sharon Kennedy, a mom of two girls near Denver, has mixed feelings about the issue and probably sums up how a lot of parents reading this might feel.

Sure, there are probably instances where some form of spying or monitoring is warranted, she says, especially when technology is such a huge part of everyday life, but aren’t there other steps parents can put in place, she asks, such as banning computers and phones from the bedroom during evenings and trying to have family dinners together when possible?

“I truly believe that being present has the most positive effect on our kids,” said Kennedy. “More presence = the need for less spying (hopefully!)”

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