By Katie Omohundro, LCSW- January 27, 2021-

The World Wide Web (WWW) sounds like a place I’m not sure I want my kids to visit. It makes me think of a spider using her web to catch the day’s lunch.

As usage of online platforms has become a necessity in today’s society, how do we protect our children from the dangers lurking around the corners of the internet? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my fair share of Facebook (Okay, Boomer), using Google, etc. But what impact do these habits have on our children?

Unfortunately, there are some negatives to doing everything online. There can definitely be feelings of FOMO. Fear of missing out, or FOMO, is a feeling our children can have, especially when seeing their friends on a variety of social media sites.

People are quick to post their best days and don’t often show their worst. This can make it seem as though friends never have a bad day, which of course is not true. This can cause comparisons that are often unrealistic. Children simply feel left out of all the fun.

Another negative aspect to the World Wide Web includes children being exposed to predators. This can be easy to forget, but when children have access to the internet or even those apps that seem like they’re “for kids,” we are giving complete strangers the ability to communicate with our children day and night. Increased access to inappropriate content becomes a concern as well.

Sleep disturbances are another major issue with social media use. Sleep problems can lead to failing grades, moodiness, irritability, unhappiness, overeating, and an increased risk of getting sick due to a poor immune system. Teens, for example, need more sleep than adults as their brains are still developing.

Communication can also be challenging in an increasingly digital world. So much of communication is lost when we sit behind a computer screen. Body language cannot be gauged through an email. Misinterpreting a text can increase the likelihood of miscommunication and hurt feelings.

This is especially detrimental for kids who are in the process of developing important communication skills. The internet can easily muddy those waters. These instances of miscommunication can lead to feelings of isolation and an increase in anxiety and depression.

Thinking of the topics mentioned thus far, one can guess how increased internet usage can negatively impact the mental health of today’s youth. Effects of social isolation can heighten children’s concern for their friends.

As a school social worker, I have spoken with a number of kids who have stayed up all night communicating online with a friend considering suicide. How frightening! Imagine being young (or any age, for that matter) and feeling it is up to you to keep another person alive.

After considering the harmful effects of too much time online, I believe one of the most straightforward ways to help children find balance is to set boundaries. You don’t even have to be a tech savvy computer programmer to implement them!

Have your child leave all electronics in your bedroom to charge at night. That’s it!  Set a time for devices to be turned in. This helps you ensure that electronics are not only getting charged but also that your child is not up at all hours of the night texting with friends.

Not all things online are bad. It is important to be mindful of how often we are online in front of our children so we can be good models of appropriate online use. Keeping ourselves in check with how often we are on the World Wide Web also keeps us accountable and enables us to be more actively involved with our growing children.

By Mary Haas, LSW -January 20, 2021-

Have you ever been nervous going into a job interview? What about paying bills on time, meeting goals at work, or questioning whether we are doing this whole parenting thing right?

Being an adult is hard! Trying to raise kids and do this whole “life thing” can feel overwhelming at times. It can be hard to imagine that our kids might be having worries of their own.

Sometimes even the best parents can overlook a child’s anxieties and fears. However, their little worries are just as real as our adult worries! It is important that we take a closer look into these worries and how to respond to them.

Although we can’t go back in time and feel every anxious moment or overwhelming feeling that came with our childhood, we can acknowledge that throughout our life anxiety can be a steady constant for many of us.

So, what exactly does anxiety look like for a child? How do we respond?

It is important to realize that anxiety can look different for each child; however, there are many common stressors that children experience. Three common worries found in children are the pressures of school, family, and peers. Children may worry about tests, grades, or being called on in class. They might worry about a parent working themselves too hard, a separation within the family, or not getting their needs met. These worries can stem from feeling like they don’t fit in with others to bullying or not having a friend they can trust.

Whatever these fears may look like, you can help! Find out what is on your child’s mind. By being available and expressing interest in your kids’ day-to-day lives, you give them the opportunity to share how they think and feel. If your child seems to be worried about something, ask them about it! Encourage your child to put what is bothering them into words. This helps them verbalize specific details about their feelings, which can help you pinpoint the source of the anxiety they are experiencing.

Another way to help children feel supported and understood is by keeping things in perspective. Sometimes kids worry about big life stuff such as war, famine, and diseases. This is where parents can assure children that what they are feeling is very real while also expressing that adults are working to solve these big issues. Without minimizing feelings, point out that many problems are temporary and solvable. Remind your child there will be better days and opportunities ahead. By teaching children to keep problems in perspective, we can help lessen their worry. This helps strengthen our children with resilience and optimism.

Perhaps one of the best ways we can relieve our children’s anxiety is by being positive role models. The most influential lessons we teach our kids are the ones we demonstrate. Our responses to our own worries, stressors, and frustrations can provide an opportunity to teach our kids how to deal with everyday challenges.

If we practice looking on the bright side of our own situations and voice optimistic thoughts, our children can learn to follow suit. When our adult life worries come into play, we can work on remaining positive and having confidence that these problems are temporary and tomorrow is another day.

By Danielle Tessier, Communications & Development Assistant- January 14, 2021-

It’s finally 2021. We can relish our goodbyes to a year that brought more strife and challenges than any of us bargained for. Although 2020 is over, all of the problems we’ve faced will not miraculously disappear.

With a coronavirus vaccine already in distribution across the country, we are beginning to see a light amidst the darkness that this pandemic has cast over our everyday lives. Unfortunately, a vaccine cannot eliminate political divisions and address racial inequality. This is a problem we must solve together.

Systemic racism was googled more in 2020 than in any previous year. “Black Lives Matter” was amongst “election results” and “coronavirus” in the top ten search terms of 2020. It’s evident that all of us have questions about racial justice, even our children. How do we provide answers to their questions when we still have unanswered questions ourselves?

First, strive to create an environment where everyone in the family feels comfortable asking about topics that may be controversial or even frightening. The best way to perpetuate fear and uneasiness around discussing race is not talking about it at all.

Ignoring the issue minimizes its importance and leaves children without a way to process information they hear at school or from friends. Not addressing racial issues also takes away our opportunities to learn how to celebrate and appreciate the diversity around us.

Even if children are young, they notice when those around them are feeling angry or conflicted. Framing the way we are feeling about an event or topic surrounding race in an age- appropriate way is essential to helping children develop a basic understanding of racial justice. You can’t explain the history of racism to an elementary school student, but you can help them use their compassion and emotional intelligence to understand unfairness and place themselves in someone else’s shoes.

As children grow older, their understanding of race will become more complex. Encourage your whole family to listen to the voices of people of color through art, music, and writing. This is a perfect way to instill recognition of the inherent value of narratives that aren’t our own. Regardless of where we fall on the political spectrum, the need and importance of diverse voices in culture cannot be dismissed.   

Listening to thoughts and concepts that challenge our own perspectives is the best way to cultivate an awareness of how we each play a role in molding a society that belongs to everyone. Acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers and leaning into our uncertainty and discomfort surrounding race is something we should all make a point to accomplish this year.

This will allow us to have more honest and open conversations with the ones we love. It will also help us be better prepared to provide answers to the tough questions our children will inevitably ask us.

By Jessie Laughlin, LSW -January 6, 2021-

“New normal” is a phrase we’ve heard a lot of lately. Staying in for dinner, wearing masks, keeping six feet of distance, and using lots of hand sanitizer are all commonplace in our lives. While these new elements in our routines can be inconvenient, all have become part of our “new normal.”

Virtual learning is also a “new normal,” with 65 percent of households involved in online learning of some capacity, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. However, many students and families are struggling to adapt as easily to e-learning as they are adapting to wearing a mask every day. Academic, social, and mental health challenges can arise from virtual school, but committing to these recommendations may help while learning from home.

1. Create a Workspace. Set up a space that is calm, quiet, and feels similar to a school setting. A desk and chair are great, but if not available, try the kitchen table. If your student’s bed is the quietest place at home, make it a desk, but be watchful for napping.

2. Establish a Routine. Decide when learning hours will be and stick to it. Get up at the same time every day, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, and set up learning spaces. Check email and learning platforms daily. Predictability encourages motivation, allows fewer distractions, and eases stress.

3. Set Goals. Set measurable, realistic goals regarding schoolwork. Incentivize those goals, since a reward for work may increase motivation. Rewards may include privileges, allowance, special treats, and should always include verbal encouragement.

4. Be Flexible. Learning at home is not the same as learning at school. Tricky factors come to play in virtual learning, like guardian work hours and computer availability. Make a school work plan that fits both your family’s needs and the school’s requirements. Be careful not to compare previous functioning to COVID-era functioning.

5. Get Organized. Incorporate tools like a planner and folders for each class. Keep supplies (pencils, earbuds, paper, books, computer) nearby and within reach. Keep login information written down just in case your student forgets.

6. Practice Time Management. Teach your student to start paying attention to how long assignments take to complete. Help them plan ahead, including when they’re going to complete assignments. If you’re unsure how long an assignment will take, double the estimated time. A timer is a great tool to help students learn to keep track of time.

7. Manage Distractions. Avoid learning around distractions like video games, phones, and TV. Family can also be distracting. Find a quiet place in your home so they can give schoolwork full attention.

8. Take “Brain Breaks.” Brain breaks allow our brain to process and relax from continuous learning. A child’s attention span is about two minutes per year of age. Allow “brain breaks” when their attention span decreases. A National Academy of Medicine study found that physical activity changes the structure of our brain and encourages learning and memory. Movement throughout the day may improve academic achievement, along with physical and emotional health.

9. Stay in Touch. Students are missing out on day-to-day interaction with teachers and peers. To foster those relationships, students should check in with their teachers by email and attend all virtual class sessions. Before small problems escalate, encourage your student to email their teacher about struggles. Help your student remain social with peers by setting up Zoom friend meets.

These tips and tricks aren’t difficult to implement and will work wonders if you are struggling to make e-learning work for your family. Learning should be functional and fun, no matter the setting. Even the smallest adjustments in our daily routines can ultimately make a big difference.