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.




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




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



! Back to School

Going Back to School – Planning for Success


Graydon G. Goss, MD



Every September I am delighted to see many students and their parents looking forward to a new school year. By and large, the students express optimism and good intentions. Parents express hope for academic success, or at least improvement over last year. Unfortunately, within several months—usually by the end of the first marking period—old patterns frequently re-emerge. Promising early quiz scores begin to decline. Students respond to lackluster grades by expressing dissatisfaction and complaining of boredom. Parents feel helpless and frustrated.


This scenario can be avoided with a few preventative methods that I have been prescribing to families for years. Be proactive. Don’t wait for problems in school to arise. For many parents, the first substantive feedback they receive from teachers is a midterm or first marking period report. Children can get into significant academic trouble long before this information is made available.


Sit down with your kids now and discuss the upcoming year. Make it clear that your goal is to help them be academically successful and to enjoy school. At the same time, emphasize that excelling in school is their job—their responsibility. You expect them to do their best in order to earn the lifestyle you’d like to provide them. Discuss the following ideas and then implement them.


1.       Establish schoolwork as priority one. Children and teens naturally attempt to put the things they enjoy ahead of homework. Make it clear that their participation in extracurricular activities, after-school jobs and the like will be contingent on meeting academic expectations.


2.       Arrange to meet with teachers or guidance counselors early in the year. Make it clear that you will make sure that your children do their best work. In return, ask for regular, weekly feedback. Each Friday, send the student to school with a simple, two item, Yes or No checklist. A) Does each teacher believe the student is doing his or her best work? B) Is each teacher happy with the student’s attitude and performance on assignments? Request that the teacher check and initial the two items—a task that requires just a few seconds and explain that it will be the student’s responsibility to bring the note home.


3.       Make clear to your children that their weekend fun will be essentially contingent on bringing home Friday progress notes reflecting teacher satisfaction.


4.       Re-define the word “homework”. Children tend to define it as “the work that teachers tell them to do each night.” A better definition—and one that will lead to much better grades, is, “whatever work needs to be done each night in order to maintain exemplary grades.” Studying for exams and putting in time on long-term projects are responsibilities teachers don’t mention every day. This step also eliminates the age old “I don’t have any” answer to “Do you have homework?” The new definition establishes a routine that, except for students maintaining A’s, there is homework every night.


5.       Set up a study schedule and demand that children do homework first—immediately upon getting home and before beginning after school activities or play. Putting play down to go back to work is very difficult for most children, (and many adults.) Children frequently insist that they need “a break” before beginning the evening’s assignments, but experience demonstrates that these breathers lead to hastily prepared work completed when the student is exhausted—often right before, (or after) bedtime.


6.       Set a minimum time for homework unless you are delighted with the grades your child is earning. The minimum may be excused when grades are consistently excellent.


7.      Raise the bar. Most children can and will do a lot better then they have been doing once you implement these guidelines. Most children I see professionally are limited more by low expectations than by any real disability. The principle determinant of the grades most children receive is their understanding of the minimum grade their parents will accept.


8.       Understand, and explain to your children that motivation and self-esteem are not requirements for good school performance—they are the result of it. Students who are doing their best tend to really enjoy school. Children are not, in most cases, self-motivated to excel. It is the role of the parent to provide motivation.


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


Have a great school year!


Graydon G. Goss, MD.

79 Oak Hill Road

Red Bank, NJ 07701


Phone (732) 530-1181




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


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