Keeping Kids Safe - 2006

 

I had prepared a good-humored, upbeat article for this issue, but in light of recent headlines concerning school violence, teen suicide, drug overdoses and gang activity I decided at the last moment to address an issue of child safety instead. I wish that concern about these dangers wasn’t necessary when we send our children off to school or out with their friends, but it is, sadly, an absolute necessity. When I began practicing Psychiatry in the late 1970s these were largely big city problems, but they’ve come home to the suburbs and we must now face them here. In my office I hear about many catastrophes that never make the local papers and I’ve concluded that most parents tend to underestimate the dangers to which their children are exposed. Despite vastly increased public awareness our children remain at serious risk. Perhaps it is time to discuss a few practical measures parents can take to reduce the threat of harm to their children.

 

Global communication = global peer pressure.

 

When I was growing up we had a single phone on the kitchen wall. Any friend who called for us kids had to get through mom first. The parents of my circle of friends all knew each other and communicated concerns through their own parental circle.

 

Today, often for “safety” and “educational” reasons we provide our children with a cell phone and essentially free access to a global communications net, only to then leave ourselves in the dark as to how they are utilized. Most of the kids I know freely communicate by cell and cell photo, by instant messenger, through chat rooms, by My Space or Face Book links, blogs and text messages without much, if any, parental supervision. I can assure you that a lot of what gets discussed on this network is extremely worrisome. The content on this communication system is unmonitored, uncensored and frankly unfathomable to most parents. It glamorizes the notorious and the outrageous. Sadly, it exposes our children to and tempts them with dangerous information long before they can handle it, while simultaneously undermining parental authority and control. Your kids, for example, know a lot more about “beating” drug screens than you do. They hear profane language and are exposed to graphic sexuality with such frequency that they consider it normal and may be bewildered by your concerns about it.

 

Kids learn lots of things you don’t want them to know from total strangers who also teach them how to keep you in the dark.

 

Many children now assume a “right” to free, unfettered access to the most sophisticated communication and information system in human history. Their parents, unfortunately, have frequently been left out of the loop. Peer pressure, once a local influence, is now a global influence—and not a particularly healthy one—as our children are now exposed to hyped and glorified versions of the very worst the world has to offer. Kids get too much, too fast, and without supervision. The whole system is designed to be private, secret, unmonitored and ungoverned, and children are much more technically adept at navigating these waters than are their parents.

 

Bottom line: Mom can no longer keep a caring ear tuned to the conversations over the kitchen phone. Parents no longer know who or what is influencing their children or to what ends.

 

So…

 

Be careful about respecting your child’s privacy. Privacy is a privilege that should be granted to children as a reward for honesty and trustworthy behavior. The behavior I look for is the volunteering of information. Most kids believe that they will have more fun if they withhold information from parents. It is up to us to teach them the contrary—that they will prove themselves worthy of privacy only by keeping us informed.

 

The essential first step at dealing with the problem is to know who your children are making contact with. I recommend that parents establish a contract with any child who wants a cell phone or access to the internet. In return for these privileges demand that the child’s  responsibility be to provide a detailed and constantly updated list of their friends and contacts containing names, screen names, email addresses, physical addresses, phone numbers, URLs, My Space information etc.—along with the names addresses and numbers of their parents.

 

I don’t think I know any parents who routinely make this demand, but it is the only way parents can even begin to have even an inkling of exactly who is influencing their children. It is very hard to counter the coercive effects of a peer instructing your child in oral sex techniques via text messages and cell phone photos if he or she is known only as “Luv2_19”.

 

Insist on the detailed contact list from your children, and then explain that you also want them to maintain and save the search engine, internet, text message and AIM histories for your periodic review. Check them frequently. Make sure that all contacts in these histories correspond to those in the list. Ask questions about those that they are communicating with. If your kids can’t answer them they are already in over their heads.

Remember: A child’s social life—including electronic interactions—is a parent’s responsibility to oversee. Talk about it.

 

This proactive effort can be difficult and time-consuming, but it is more than worth it if you save your child from a traumatic or even catastrophic experience.

 

Besides, you may become a little more techno-savvy in the process.

 

 

 

I would be happy to address other issues of child safety in future issues if the interest is there. As usual I hope that you find these suggestions helpful or at least thought-provoking. I invite questions or comments.

 

Graydon G. Goss, MD.

79 Oak Hill Road

Red Bank, NJ 07701

 

Phone (732) 530-1181

Email: Graydon@GGoss.com

Website: http://GGoss.com

 

Dr. Goss is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist practicing in Red Bank

 

 

! Raise

Raising Happy Kids

 

Graydon G. Goss, MD

 

 

Children can sometimes be downright mystifying. Many parents become bewildered and frightened by the seemingly thoughtless, irrational, aggressive, depressive, counterproductive or self-destructive urges and behaviors exhibited by their children. They usually attempt to resolve their concerns by spending a lot of time explaining things to them. Parents talk incessantly to children about the importance of good grades, respect, hard work, sobriety, and a college education. They warn kids about the dangers of drugs, alcohol, and the wide variety of other vices to which children and teens seem mysteriously drawn. Parents worry about things like self-esteem and motivation. They get very upset when it appears that their children seem to lack these qualities, (and worse, don’t seem to mind). They are terrified by their children’s apparent lack of concern about their own safety and security. After a lot of fruitless lecturing they come in and ask me why their kids don’t “get it”.

 

The simple answer is that kids see the world differently than we do. They make decisions based on a distorted and simplistic world view. They see their choices as being solely between things that are comfortable and things that are uncomfortable. Given two options they invariably choose the more comfortable. Immediate gratification is comfortable. Waiting is uncomfortable. Play is comfortable. Work is uncomfortable.

 

A child’s natural objective in making decisions is to seek comfort, which amounts to maximizing immediate fun, freedom, control, possessions and privacy. Usually, this means minimizing work.

 

Parents have a very different objective—they want their children to be hard-working, responsible, honest, sober, conscientious, grateful, trustworthy, courteous and law-abiding, because they know that living that way will most reliably result in success and happiness. These things require work, however, and work is not comfortable.

 

See the conflict here? Children and parents have fundamentally opposite goals.

 

The situation is complicated by the fact that the proper role of a parent also changes over time. When our kids are really little we want to provide things for them and make them comfortable. As they approach adulthood, however, we need to instead help them become self-sufficient and independent. These are opposites, too. Unless we are careful we are likely to get so used to making our kids comfortable—providing  them with fun, freedom, control, possessions and privacy—that we forget to teach them how to become successful and  happy.

 

Happiness, like self-esteem, self confidence and success is the result of work – the very thing children try to avoid.

 

As our children grow older our primary role as parents needs to shift from providing them with comfort to providing them with motivation to do the work of becoming successful.  This is a difficult transition, and one that is complicated by the fact that our children will resist us. They want us to continue to provide them with effortless comfort. If we do so, however, they develop feelings of entitlement. Children who feel entitled have come to believe that the world owes them the fun, freedom, control, privacy and possessions that they crave without them having to earn it. Unfortunately, this “illusion of entitlement” has become increasingly pervasive in our community.

 

The solution to these problems is simple in theory, but difficult to put into consistent practice. Here are some basic guidelines for introducing children to the real world:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our job as parents is to motivate our kids to look beyond comfort and to excel at the work that ultimately will earn them success and happiness. We will succeed only if we first make a conscious decision to undermine their notions of entitlement and deny them unconditional comfort. This is a very difficult, very important thing to do—possibly the most challenging task of childrearing.

 

We owe it to them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope that you find these ideas and suggestions helpful - or at least thought-provoking. I invite questions or comments.

 

Graydon G. Goss, MD.

79 Oak Hill Road

Red Bank, NJ 07701

 

Phone (732) 530-1181

Email: Graydon@GGoss.com

Website: http://GGoss.com

 

Dr. Goss is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist practicing in Red Bank

 

 

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