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The children confused by love

Image caption Diane says her daughter “can’t cope if she’s not the centre of my world”

Children who have suffered abuse and neglect can often become violent and distressed at the thought of being loved, developing attachment issues. Some adoptive parents say they are left unprepared and unsupported when trying to care for them.

“Her anxiety level can go through the roof,” Diane tells the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme. “Trying to go through the school door into the classroom she can have a panic attack.”

Diane and her partner Adrian adopted their daughter, along with her brother, two years ago.

Both had been neglected by their birth parents, which is thought to have led to their daughter having severe attachment issues.

“She can’t cope if she’s not the centre of my world,” explains Diane – whose full name we are not using for safeguarding reasons.

“She either has a hissy fit or will do something like put a finger up her nose and make it bleed, so I have to stop what I’m doing and attend to her.”

There are different forms of attachment issues, often down to trauma experienced during childhood.

Many children are at first afraid of being loved, but then once shown affection, they are fearful of it going away.

Diane’s daughter has now been diagnosed as having “anxious-ambivalent attachment”, which sees children become distressed when separated from their carer but also resist contact when the carer returns.

On some days, Diane says, her daughter can be “clinging to the school railings sobbing her heart out, refusing to leave the school grounds” when she picks her up at home time.

“So I end up sitting in the middle of the school driveway rocking her, with her sucking my finger like a dummy, me singing a lullaby, and all the other parents walking round me wondering what on earth I’m doing.”

Image caption Adrian says they were given “limited” background information about the children when they adopted them

It is estimated that three-quarters of the 70,000 children in the UK care system have suffered abuse or neglect.

This leaves them more likely to develop behavioural problems, fall behind at school, and in later life become alcohol or drug-dependent and go to prison.

Adoptive parents, teachers and charities have all told the Victoria Derbyshire programme they believe many of the reasons these problems develop is because the children have attachment issues and their behaviour is misunderstood.

They also say parents are not being prepared for this when they adopt.

Adrian says that with their two children, “the background information we had was quite limited – it was more about the birth family than the children themselves”.

It was a year before they were able to get the children assessed and for them to be seen by a therapist.

“The only advice we were given was to go to parenting classes. But they’re for bad parents, not for parents who’ve adopted children with complex emotional needs.”


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  • Forty per cent of children have some form of attachment issue, it’s estimated.
  • More than 10% of children have an avoidant attachment, because their parents were dismissive of them. They can be clingy but also avoid physical contact by appearing to deal with their own distress.
  • Another 10% have an ambivalent attachment, which develops as a result of inconsistent parenting. These children become distressed when separated but also resist contact when a care-giver returns.
  • About 15% have a disorganised attachment, mainly resulting from abusive parents. They seek physical contact but approach it looking fearful. They often appear dazed or can completely freeze.
  • Attachment issues can also arise if a parent or young child becomes ill, such as through postnatal depression, or if a child’s parent dies.

Another adoptive parent who felt “very let down by the system” was Daniela Shanly.

She says that while her son’s mainstream school tried as hard as it could to support him, teachers did not have the training, resources or the time needed.

“The first time teachers hear about [issues surrounding] attachment is when they have a child in their class whose needs they can’t understand,” she says.

The Department for Education says schools “receive £2,300 of funding for each child adopted from care, to make sure they get the support from their education that they deserve”.

“From September, schools will be required to appoint a designated teacher for children adopted from care to help them at school,” it adds.

Image caption Daniela Shanly says mainstream teachers are not prepared for children with attachment issues

Ms Shanly has now set up Beech Lodge School in Maidenhead, Berkshire, which is one of only a few schools in the UK that specialises in children with attachment issues.

One of the school’s pupils is Mary. She was put into care at just three years old, and had two different foster families before being adopted.

She is now 16 and recognises she had severe problems with attachment.

Mary says her birth mother was violent towards her – an experience that left her “scared of the outside world”.

“I didn’t want to be by myself – I was afraid something was going to happen to me. I just played up all the time.”

Image caption Mary says she always feared she was going to be left alone

Mary went to mainstream school but says she hated it.

“Lots of people were being naughty, and I was naughty with them,” she explains, regretting her time there.

“I always thought I was going to be left alone, so I just went against everyone’s idea to get me happy.”

Now at Beech Lodge, she says she likes to go out and explore life – and even wants to begin travelling.

‘Unable to sleep’

The charity Adoption UK says that while all adoptive families have the right to an assessment of their child’s needs, “this is often not happening, and where assessments are made, appropriate support is not always readily available”.

“Adoptive families are passionate advocates for adoption, and are experts in parenting some of the UK’s most vulnerable children. We need to listen carefully to the things they tell us they need,” it adds.

Diane and Adrian hope change will come soon.

They say adopting their children was the best thing they have ever done but the experience has affected Diane’s mental health.

“I’ve been put on anti-depressants for the first time ever in my life,” she says.

It has also left her unable to sleep and she has quit her job.

“Parents need respite, first and foremost,” she says. “This is an extremely difficult job.

“But we also need access to proper funding so we can send our children to get proper therapy.”

Watch the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News channel.

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Fixing the leaky pipeline for women in tech starts with those who left the workforce

Image: Vicky Leta / Mashable

This column is part of a series called “Voices of Women in Tech,” created in collaboration with, a global enterprise that supports women in technical fields, as well as the organizations that employ them and the academic institutions training the next generation.

I could always pinpoint the exact moment of disappointment in the middle of a job interview, when the interviewer would discover the gap in my resume. “Oh,” they would say, “how are you going to get back up to speed?” The change in tone was palpable. I was no longer a candidate; I was a liability.

Four years prior, I had made the decision to leave my technical project manager position in order to better support my family. As my 3-year-old son grew, he required more care than he had when he was baby, when his needs were met by simple acts of feeding, bathing, and snuggling. I knew I didn’t want to lose the best years with my child, who now needed me to be present in the moment, to be engaged, to have energy. But when I made the difficult decision to take a break, I never imagined that my career wouldn’t be waiting for me when I was ready to return.

As I hit the pause button on my professional life, I planned to return to work when the time was right. But once I started my job hunt, I realized I had a harder road ahead of me. Interviewers would dwell on the skill sets they imagined I had lost, or the challenges they feared I would face when reintegrating into the workforce. It felt as though my past experience was deemed obsolete, even when I met all of the stated qualifications. My career pause had turned into my resume’s black eye.

“My career pause had turned into my resume’s black eye.”

Many working parents face re-entry issues, but the challenge can be more pronounced in the tech industry. According to research by and the Michelle R. Clayman Institute, “the mid-level is perhaps the most critical juncture for women on the technical career ladder, because it is here that a complex set of gender barriers converge.” Indeed, 56 percent of women at high-tech companies leave their organizations at this point. According to Harvard Business Review, of the women who voluntarily leave work, only 40 percent return to full-time professional jobs.

With women leaving organizations at the mid-career level, it is no surprise that we have a shortage of women in senior positions. Only 5 percent of leadership positions in the technology industry are held by women. The pipeline for women in technology to senior-level roles has a leak. Many companies are taking an innovative approach to supporting women in the workplace, especially women in the technology industry, through a new kind of initiative: “returnships.”

Returnships are a type of internship program that provide a way for organizations to recruit and on-board mid-career men and women who have taken a break in their careers and want to re-enter the workforce. Most returnships include technical training, with some providing soft skill trainings and mentorship to help increase the returnees’ confidence. The nice part of returnships? You’re not starting at the bottom of your career all over again; instead, your skills and past experience are recognized as a part of the program for you to build from.

More than 160 companies worldwide are investing in these types of programs as a way to meet the demands of this workforce. Nonprofit organizations like Path Forward partner with a variety of companies to offer mid-career paid programs to companies, which can provide resources and tools to help companies create their own returnship program.

“Returnship programs let highly skilled workers rejoin the workforce — a critical benefit to companies looking to close the leaky pipeline and hiring gaps.”

As a member of the first cohort of the Intuit Again program — the returnship program at Intuit, which led me to my current position of senior technical program manager at the company — I wasn’t sure what to expect. Having been a working professional before, I wasn’t looking to start all over, but I also recognized I could take the chance to upgrade my technical skills. When I started the program, I was surprised to further hone my skills in agile methodologies and be paired with a mentor who offered me guidance and coaching on re-entering the workforce. Oftentimes, it can be an isolating experience to start a new role, so the support from my mentor and manager made the transition easier. And even if I didn’t take a job at Intuit, the new technical and soft skills I learned gave me the confidence that I was still marketable. 

Returnship programs let highly skilled workers rejoin the workforce — a critical benefit to companies looking to close the leaky pipeline and hiring gaps. By returning to work at similar levels to the roles they occupied before putting their careers on hold, these women technologists are able to continue up the career ladder and thrive in a supportive and inclusive environment. 

There are early indicators that these programs are successful. Goldman Sachs, for example, stated that about half of its returnship participants now work full-time. At Intuit Again, about three-quarters of participants join Intuit full-time.

As more organizations adapt to workforce changes, I’m encouraged to see more opportunities than ever before for those returning to work. For me, the sense of fulfillment and pride I receive from my career bleeds positively into all aspects of my life, including as a mother. 

Asha Vade

Asha Vade is a Senior Technical Program Manager for Intuit India, where she works with Java, Spring Boot, and AWS. Asha feels strongly about working on applications that drive…More

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Dad Of 4 Girls Tweets Conversations With His Daughters, And Its Impossible Not To Laugh At Them (Part 2)

Most parents photograph or film their children growing up, but James Breakwell (previously here and here) has another way of documenting the precious moments he shares with his 4 daughters. Since April 2016, the comedy writer and family man from Indianapolis uses Twitter to share the daily conversations he has with his girls.

With over 1M followers and counting, James claims that his little ones love the attention. “They like what I do on Twitter mainly because it’s all about them,” Breakwell told Buzzfeed. “On one hand, Twitter makes me a better father because I spend more time with my kids. On the other hand, Twitter makes me a much worse father because I only do it to get more material.” Scroll down to check out why there’s so much buzz around the Breakwells and upvote your favorite tweets.

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Does vaginal seeding boost health?

Should Caesarean-section babies be smeared with a sample of their mother’s vaginal fluids as soon as they are born?

“Vaginal seeding” is not mainstream medicine, but it is growing in popularity.

The idea is to give these newborns something they missed when they emerged into the world – the good bacteria that live in their mother’s vagina.

A swab is taken of mum’s vaginal fluid, which is then rubbed on to her child’s skin and mouth.

The hope is this microbial gift will boost their child’s long-term health – particularly by reducing their risk of immune disorders.

It is a crucial time.

We might have been sterile in the womb, but in our first few moments of life an invisible bond is being established between baby and bacteria.

It’s a relationship that will last a lifetime, and the first contact is as important as a first date.

“The first time a baby’s own immune system has to respond are to those first few bacteria,” says Prof Peter Brocklehurst, from the University of Birmingham.

“That we believe is important for, in some way, setting the baby’s immune system.”

There is a noticeable difference between the microbiomes – the collection of bacteria, viruses, fungi and archaea – of babies born vaginally and by Caesarean section.

It lasts for about the first year of life.

A baby born vaginally is first exposed and colonised by microbes from their mother’s vagina and gut.

But for Caesarean-section babies, the first exposure “if they’re lucky”, says Prof Brocklehurst, comes from the very different organisms on their mother’s skin.

He is running the Baby Biome Study to see if these different microbial colonists on Caesarean-section babies explain why they have higher rates of diseases such as asthma and allergies later in life.

The microbiome

  • You’re more microbe than human – if you count all the cells in your body, only 43% are human
  • The rest is our microbiome and includes bacteria, viruses, fungi and single-celled archaea
  • The human genome – the full set of genetic instructions for a human being – is made up of 20,000 instructions called genes
  • But add all the genes in our microbiome together and the figure comes out at between two million and 20 million microbial genes
  • It’s known as the second genome and is linked to diseases including allergy, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, Parkinson’s, whether cancer drugs work and even depression and autism

More than half your body is not human

Gut Instinct: Why I put my poo in the post

The early interaction between the immune system and microbes appears crucial.

Obviously our bodies do attack the dangerous ones – but the overall relationship between microbial and immune cells is about more than conflict, it’s a far deeper dynamic.

Graham Rook, a professor of medical microbiology at University College London, says the microbiome is the immune system’s teacher.

“This is a learning system, it is like the brain. Now, the thing about the adaptive immune system is it needs data, just like the brain needs data.”

Listen to The Second Genome on BBC Radio 4.

The next episode airs 11:00 BST Tuesday April 17, repeated 21:00 BST Monday April 23 and on the BBC iPlayer

And that “data” is coming from microbes and the chemicals they produce. They provoke a reaction in the immune system that can last a lifetime.

Prof Rook says: “The initial setting up of the immune system occurs during the first weeks and months of life.

“We know that because there’s a window of opportunity during those first months of life when if you give antibiotics you can disrupt the microbiota and then in adulthood those individuals are more likely to have immunological problems and are more likely to put on weight.”

This is the idea that some parents are buying into when they perform vaginal seeding.

Do dogs boost a baby’s microbiome?

Even the type of home you bring your baby back to may affect their long-term health.

Research has shown households with dogs have lower rates of asthma.

The idea is they help us swim against the hygiene tide by traipsing their muddy paws round the house and sticking their noses into everything.

“The speculation has always been that the dog brings, from the outside, microbes that are helpful in stimulating the infant’s immune system,” says Prof Anita Kozyrskyj, from the University of Alberta.

She is analysing data on about 3,500 families in the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development Study.

One of its findings is that the microbiomes of three-month-olds is far richer and more diverse (a good sign) if there is a pet in the house.

Two types of beneficial bacteria seemed to be more common.

“The Oscillospira have been associated with leanness and the Ruminococcus have been associated with reduced risk of allergic disease.”

Breastfeeding or formula, antibiotics and method of delivery all affect the microbiome.

But studies into the microbiome and long-term health have often been too small to be definitive.

The Baby Biome study is aiming to collect faecal samples from 80,000 babies.

That will be a lot of soiled nappies to analyse, but it will be an unparalleled resource for interrogating the impact of decisions made around birth.

Many of those will be out of parents’ hands.

No doctor or parent would hold back on life-saving antibiotics because of an uncertain long-term impact.

Breast milk feeds gut bacteria

This study will let scientists see which microbes the body first hooks up, what that means years later and, tantalisingly, whether damaging relationships with the wrong bacteria can be repaired.

The faecal samples will end up at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge and in the hands of microbial enthusiasts such as Dr Trevor Lawley.

“My latest favourite microorganism is Bifidobacterium,” he says.

“It is one of the first bugs to colonise humans early in life, and we believe they feed off sugars in the breast milk.

“So, there’s a very sophisticated evolutionary set-up where the bugs are passed from the mother to child and the mother nurtures that bug to establish the early microbiome.”

Dr Lawley’s lab will be trying to uncover every microbe that colonises a newborn and what that means later in life.

He thinks the end result of the project will be to change policy around avoidable antibiotic use and Caesarean sections.

Or, alternatively, “maybe we could culture the bugs from the mums to purposefully colonise the babies to allow their microbiome to mature and develop properly” – in other words, a scientifically controlled version of vaginal seeding.

So are some parents just ahead of the game?

Prof Brocklehurst says: “At the moment some parents believe this hypothesis enough that they are doing their own vaginal seeding.

“Now, there could be real downsides to that.”

One concern is dangerous bugs could be transferred.

Up to a quarter of women are thought to carry group-B strep in their vagina, and exposing babies to this bacterium could be fatal.

Prof Brocklehurst says: “It too early to start introducing bacteria artificially into the baby until we’ve got a good handle on how likely this is to be the mechanism or not.”

Follow James on Twitter.

Illustrations: Katie Horwich

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Parents in Utah can no longer be prosecuted for ‘free range’ kids

(CNN)Helicopter parents are taking a hit in Utah.

It’s believed to be the first state in the nation to pass such a law.
The measure essentially changes the state’s legal definition of neglect, meaning parents won’t be prosecuted for letting their children (of appropriate age) do things like walk to school by themselves, go to the store alone, play outside unsupervised, sit in a vehicle alone or stay at home by themselves.
    The lawmaker who sponsored the legislation, Republican state Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, said he wanted to keep police and state agencies from arresting parents for things like letting their kids walk to school unaccompanied.
    “It’s not neglect if you let your child experience childhood,” Fillmore told CNN affiliate KUTV last month. “The message is you need to protect your kids but we are not doing kids any favors if we shelter them to the point where they are not learning how to function.”
    The bill does not define what the appropriate age is to allow children to be on their own, KUTV said.
    (CNN has reached out to Fillmore for comment but hasn’t heard back.)
    The free-range movement is considered a pushback on helicopter parenting — the idea that kids need to be supervised all the time.
    Free-range parenting gained steam about a decade ago with the publication of the book, “Free-Range Kids,” by Lenore Skenazy, a New York mom, television host and author. Skenazy was called the worst mother on the planet after she wrote a story in 2008 on why she let her then-9-year-old son take the subway by himself.

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    Reading is fundamental — to the family’s happiness

    (CNN)A couple of years ago, when my older daughter was 8, she gently told my wife and me that she’d gotten too old for us to read her books anymore. We didn’t try to talk her out of it or numerate the many benefits of reading aloud to a child (even after they can do so themselves). We were disappointed but respected her agency.

    When she was a toddler, we began a nearly daily ritual called Milk & Books. It quickly became the best part of any ordinary day as we devoured picture and chapter books that ranged from hilarious Shel Silverstein poetry to the dramatic prairie recollections of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Some titles came from authors prevalent in our own childhoods (E.B. White, Roald Dahl, Virginia Lee Burton, Dr. Seuss, Kay Thompson), and more came from the ever-growing list of contemporary greats (Mo Willems, Jon Muth, Kate DiCamillo, Andrew Clements).

    Go Ask Your Dad is parenting advice with a philosophical bent as one dad explores what we want out of life, for ourselves and our children, through useful paradigms and best practices. It considers old problems in new ways, and new problems that previous generations didn’t face.

    When our daughter declared that she’d outgrown our family ritual, I suspected that a classmate made her self-conscious about it, perhaps one whose parents had done away with reading books to them. But I didn’t ask her why she wanted to stop or reveal my sadness. She loves reading, so maybe our work was done, I thought. And I consoled myself with the notion that I had years of happy memories with her and more good years of M&B left with her little sister.
      Two weeks after stopping our bedtime readings, though, my older daughter asked whether we could start again. She simply enjoyed the ritual too much to let it go yet. As she later explained, “Everyone likes to be read to, even adults.” We’ve continued uninterrupted since. Right now, we’re deep into Philip Pullman’s “The Golden Compass.”
      The value of reading to our kids — for them and us — is reinforced by the growing body of research on the topic. Just last week, a meta-analysis of 19 studies published in the journal Pediatrics found that reading aloud was significantly beneficial to children and their parents.
      In most of the studies — which involved more than 3,000 families — the parents were assessed as well as their kids, and reading aloud appeared to strengthen parents’ feelings of competence, improve the quality of their relationships with their children and even reduce parental stress or depression.
      Reading aloud to children improves a young mind’s cognitive development (thinking, problem-solving, decision-making) and reduces behavior problems, research shows. As with playing board games, reading to them increases concentration and attention spans. Reading aloud even outperforms conversation when it comes to exposure to vocabulary and advancing a child’s literacy.
      And yet, too many of us stop before the kids want us to. In Australia, more than a third of children aged 6 to 11 whose parents had stopped reading to them wanted to continue.
      Improving a child’s reading skills and cognitive ability is important to their success in school, work and life. “If you are going to get anywhere in life,” Roald Dahl is credited with saying, “you have to read a lot of books.”
      The conversations children have around themes and ideas in books help them make sense of the world. And it’s a joyful way to connect and be close with your kid. While reading in bed, my daughters and I lie next to each other, sometimes leaning into one other. We laugh and are surprised together and have deep conversations sparked by the novels. It’s as high a quality as quality time gets.
      And because reading aloud is pleasurable, parents and teachers reinforce a child’s habit of reading because they create a positive association with it. It’s one of the most virtuous circles of parenting and teaching.
      My first job out of college was as a middle school reading teacher through the public service program Teach For America. In the first week of school, students told me how pointless my job was, since they could already read. I was inexperienced and underprepared and frequently believed they were right about my pointlessness. But one ritual my students grew to love — even those who derided it at first — was how I spent the first 15 minutes of each class reading aloud to them. I read Stephen King short stories, S.E. Hinton, J.D. Salinger. Unlike in math, science and English, rarely were students late to my class. I’m not sure how much I did right, but reading to them was a slam dunk.

      Ritualizing book reading, or even bringing it back

      Turning book reading into a ritual is as simple as repetition paired with a certain time or situation. Reading to kids just before bed is popular because routine makes for easier bedtimes as well — a twofer!
      Once they’re hooked, however, don’t threaten to take it away as a punishment. There was a brief time where my wife and I would leverage the loss of reading time as a way to cajole cooperation with bedtime routines. We threatened it because we knew they cared about it. But it always felt wrong and counterproductive to us, like punishing them by not serving a favorite vegetable at dinner. We want to read to them as much as they want to be read to. So we knocked it off.
      If you’ve stopped reading to your kids and it feels like that era is over, don’t close the book on it forever. Try to bring it back. Maybe don’t make it a ritual, in this case. Ask whether you can read them something short (maybe funny too) as one-offs. Try to sneak it in. Maybe wait until they’re sick and read them the book they’re reading to themselves for pleasure or school.
      Or model reading to your partner and point out that, as my daughter put it, “Everyone likes to be read to.” Reading aloud to another is like a personal audiobook! Nothing baby-ish about that. In fact, it’s how my wife falls asleep many nights.
      Or ask for a single exception — one book you have your heart set on reading to them above all others. I have a couple of these, including Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Betty Smith’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” For my wife, it was Scott O’Dell’s “Island of the Blue Dolphins” and Elizabeth George Speare’s “The Witch of Blackbird Pond.”

      See the latest news and share your comments with CNN Parenting on Facebook.

      When my daughter asked to stop being read to two years ago, I asked whether we could make one exception for a book I wanted to read to her if she ever got sick enough to miss a couple of days of school. The book was William Goldman’s “The Princess Bride,” and we read it last year, starting when she was down with a 24-hour bug. Sharing the book was as magical as I’d hoped.
      When my daughters tell me it’s time to really stop reading to them, I will be sad that chapter has ended. But I won’t regret that I didn’t get as much quality time as I could with them and the books we collectively love.

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      A mom’s dark discovery in a popular app makes parents rethink their kids’ online access.

      Being a smart and caring parent in the age of the internet is complicated.

      Most of us who are parenting school-aged kids today didn’t grow up with the internet. Cyberbullying didn’t happen to us. Porn at the push of a button didn’t exist for us. Social media wasn’t a thing we had to figure out until we were well into adulthood.

      Still, when Anastasia Basil’s 10-year-old daughter asked if she could get the app so she could make fun lip sync videos on her phone, Basil told her she had to check it out first, just in case.

      Basil dove in headfirst and what she found was a dark and disturbing reminder of what children can trip into on the internet. She’d recently read Nancy Jo Sales’ “American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagersand followed Sales’ advice to explore the app like a kid would, not like a mildly interested, impatient adult. basically looks like a bunch of short selfie videos, like the good old days of Vine but with users all lip-syncing to song excerpts. Like other social apps, users can like and comment on videos and use hashtags to categorize. There are stars in the platform, known as “musers,” and the user base is extraordinarily young.

      After exploring the app for about 15 minutes, however, Basil encountered her first pornographic livestream. She also found children making pro-anorexia, self-harm, and #killingstalking videos (in which a young boy holds a knife up to a young girl’s throat), and she soon learned about the constantly changing hashtags that get around the filters designed to keep exactly this kind of stuff off the app.

      Screen images via Anastasia Basil (left) and Annie Reneau (right).

      Basil was so shocked by what she encountered from kids on the platform — hashtags like #suicide, #cutting, #selfhate, and more — that it took her months to write about it.

      I checked out the app myself, and at first glance, it looked fairly benign. But it didn’t take long to see what Basil was talking about. Within minutes, I’d seen enough pre-teen girls making cunnilingus gestures with their mouths and fingers to make me want to move my family to Amish country.

      How do we protect our kids from the pitfalls of the internet while also preparing them for the eventuality of unlimited access to it?

      In this brave new world, even the experts have a hard time figuring out the best ways to balance being internet-savvy with being internet-safe. As internet safety expert Frank Gallagher points out, “Multiple studies have shown that children often won’t go to parents and caregivers when something bad happens online. That’s because they think mom or dad won’t understand, will take away their phone or computer, or will intervene but only make things worse. It’s hard to keep kids safe when they’re not letting you into their digital life.”  

      With our own children, my spouse and I feel conflicted about this stuff every day. We try to take the approach of honesty combined with age-appropriate limitations — as much as we can anyway.

      We held off on portable internet devices for as long as possible. Our kids are 17, 13, and 9. Our 17-year-old has had her own smartphone since she was 15, but we have to approve apps before she can download them.

      We own tablets for the other two, but they only use them at home when we’re around to monitor what’s happening on them. We’ve always conveyed to our kids that we trust them, but we don’t trust the internet — and neither should they.

      Just a few months ago, my 13-year-old daughter came to me with a spam email she’d received from an online hook-up site with a photo of an erect penis in it. (Spam filter fail — big time. And mom fail, for not setting up her email account to not have images autoload. Seriously, being internet-savvy is hard.)

      Ideally, I want my kids to not be exposed to horrible things online, but that’s not always going to be realistic. They’re going to have full access at some point.

      Ultimately, I hope they’ll feel secure enough in who they are and wise enough about what’s out there to consciously avoid being sucked into the unsavory and unsafe corners of the internet. Most importantly, I want them to feel comfortable talking to me about all of it. One thing internet safety experts agree on is the importance of communication with our kids when it comes to the realities of the internet.

      After she got that terrible email, my daughter showed it to me. I told her I was proud of her for sharing it with me, even though she felt embarrassed. We discussed how important it is to stay on top of filters and controls to keep out most of the stuff you don’t want invading your space or your psyche.

      So far, this approach seems to be working about as well as it can. My eldest avoids most social media of her own accord, which has saved a great deal of drama for everyone.

      Basil says her approach of keeping her kids off the internet — and deeply exploring any apps they want to use — is working well for her kids, who are in the third and fifth grade. My oldest two are entering and exiting high school. Our kids are only a handful of years apart, but that difference is vast. As Basil tells me, “If you read books on child brain development, you’ll see that each year is distinctly different, distinctly its own in terms of development. I don’t have to prepare my 10-year-old for being 13. I’m just going to let her be 10.”

      She has a point.  But those few years go by fast, and I think the more we communicate with our kids and prepare them — in age-appropriate ways — for what they might encounter, the more savvy and safe they will be in the online world when they enter it.

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      12 Ways to Parent Differently in 2017

      Another year ends and a new one begins. This is the time of the year that brings so much opportunity for change. A new year for many means a new start. The slate is wiped clean. We won’t repeat the bad habits of the past. Plans are made to save more, eat less and put some balance into our lives. At least these are the plans I hear from people around me.

      But, if you have children then ask yourself, “What will be different this year?

      Will this year bring more of the same for you and your brood, or will you take the opportunity to do some things differently, or even take your parenting up a notch or two this year?” If improvement as a parent is important then consider these 12 ideas that are guaranteed to have you parenting differently in 2017.

      1. Let kids out of your sight

      Okay, I thought I’d kick off with something controversial. In this current age of anxiety and fear, effective parenting is equated with the constant monitoring of kids behaviour and whereabouts. It starts with parents as a preventative measure for SIDS monitoring babies as they sleep. But the monitoring and supervision of kids intensifies as they get older, with technology (mobile phones and tracking devices) making it almost impossible for kids to fall off their parents’ radar. This constant monitoring coincides with unprecedented high levels of childhood anxiety, which many experts agree, is fed by parents worrying for their children’s safety. Contrary to popular belief Australia is no more dangerous a place than it was when you were growing up, yet we don’t allow kids the same freedoms to explore and wander that we enjoyed as kids. This year free yourself from always knowing what your child is doing. Give them some space to play on their own, explore their neighbourhood and visit friends without you knowing every move they make.

      2. Expect them to earn the right

      Do your kids constantly remind you that they have rights? Do they tell you that they have right to (pick any of the following and feel free to add to the list): go where they want/use their mobile phone whenever they want/play in the living room without cleaning up? If so, your kids may be growing up with a false sense of entitlement, which is fast becoming a marker of this generation. Make this a year where kids earn the rights that they previously took for granted through hard work, responsible behaviour and being cooperative. Let them earn the right to have something by saving, working for it or simply waiting until they are old enough to appreciate it.

      3. Be less worried about what others think of you

      It’s human nature to be mindful about what others think of you. Worrying about what others think of our parenting is a massive driver of parenting behaviours. Few parents I know would even countenance taking their young children to pre-school school in a half-dressed state, even though said children were dragging the chain at home, for fear of what other parents would think of them. More’s the pity because in the quest to be perceived as being a ‘good (coping, calm, cool) parent’ in the eyes of others we run the risk of being doormats to our kids. Add to this the fact that many modern parents are quick to judge others, negotiating the politics of parenting can be a nightmare. Best this year to worry less what others think and pursue your own parenting path.

      4. Praise effort over results

      If comments such as ‘good boy’ and ‘good girl’ trip of your tongue like a nervous tic and your child is over the age of five then I suggest you change parenting tapes and focus more on children’s effort than their results this year. While children under the age of five have difficulty differentiating between who they are and what they do – so if in effect you praise what they do, you also praise them – school-aged kids can differentiate between the two and show a clear preference for effort praise over result praise. “Always do your best” is a great turn of phrase as it focuses your child’s attention on what they do rather than who they are (“You’re clever”) as a strategy for success. So this year your kids should hear less “Good boy/girl” type comments and more “You’re working hard/putting in the effort” type comments from you so they are free to take more risks and they learn that success is more due to effort and strategy than ability alone.

      5. Defer more to your partner

      If you are in a two parent arrangement then you’ll know only too well that there’s usually tension when two people raise their kids. We come to the task with different parenting experiences and differing expectations. That’s before we factor in how our birth order impacts on how we raise kids. These differences can be draining particularly when one parent is forever saying “Yes” to everything a child asks, while the other always says “No”. You can prevent this by habitually deferring to your partner, particularly when your kids put pester power to the test. Rather than continually responding to children’s requests, say something like, “I’m not sure about that. I’ll check with your father/mother and get back to you.” This year work hard to give your kids the consistency of two partners working from the same songsheet.

      6. Set the rules first

      Tired of feeling like the family killjoy because you’re always taking kids’ freedoms away? If so, here’s a strategy you’ll love. When you give kids something new (e.g. a mobile phone), or allow them to do new activity (e.g. go to a friend’s house) always put a rule or restriction in place. “You can only use the phone in the living room or kitchen.” “You can go to your friend’s place after school but you need to stay there and don’t go anywhere else.” When kids show they can act responsibly then reward their responsible behaviour by removing the restrictions thereby granting them greater freedom. So this year make sure you put a rule or two in place when kids get or do anything new and be ready to remove them when they do the right thing. Far smarter than taking away freedoms when kids act irresponsibly or excessively because there were no rules in the first place.

      7. Ditch the digital (when you are with kids)

      If you’re concerned about the amount of time your child spends in front of a media screen then it may be a good idea to look at your own screen habits. A recent US study into technology habits found that on average parents spent half an hour more each day on screen media than their tween or teen children. And perversely, these same parents expressed concerns about their children’s screen use. While most parents are aware of the power of role modelling to influence kids’ behaviour, it appears to be blind spot when it comes to digital media. If you want kids to reduce, or at least bring some balance to their media screen time this year, then consider swapping “Do as I say” with “Do as I do.”

      8. Give kids new challenges

      Nine-year-old Ella wanted some spending money for her summer holidays. Her parents suggested she think of a way to earn some extra money rather than simply receive a handout. She rose to the challenge, selling plant cuttings taken from her parents garden at a stall outside her home one weekend. She made enough money to supplement her bank account as well as fund her summer spending. It’s easy sometimes to give kids what they want. Better to challenge them to solve their own problems. So this year do more for your kids by doing less and start posing their request as problems for them to solve. Confidence comes from meeting new challenges.

      9. When kids can let them do

      Do you wake your kids up each morning even though they are capable of telling the time and setting their own alarm? Perhaps you think that getting kids out of bed is a parent’s job. Maybe you think your child couldn’t organise themselves in the morning let alone get themselves out of bed without you reminding them? You may be right. Only you can judge that. This year adopt the “when kids can let them do” principle. Identify the key responsibilities that you are taking away from kids, then gradually hand them over to your kids. I bet they’ll surprise you with how capable they really are.

      10. Praise your kids for managing adversity

      It’s a parenting truism that what you give attention to expands. Keeping giving attention to kids’ poor behaviour and all you seem to get is poor behaviour. Here’s a challenge. This year set your antennae to notice when kids’ cope with adversity and start praising their factors that contribute to their resilience.

      11. Create a fight list

      If you always fight with a child or teen over seemingly minor matters then it’s time for a change of strategy. Here’s what to do. Create two lists. One consisting of the issues worth fighting with kids over (e.g you need to be home when you say you will) and the second of things that aren’t worth fighting over (e.g spotless bedrooms). Then over the coming year aim to transfer all the items on the ‘worth fighting over’ list to the ‘not worth fighting over.’

      12. Teach them what you know

      The art of parenting has its roots in teaching. Mothers and fathers have always passed on their knowledge and skills to their children so that they can learn to function independently in the world. These days kids get skills and knowledge from many sources including teachers, coaches, peers and good old Dr. Google, so much so that a parent can feel redundant. It’s little wonder we do so much for kids. It’s the only way to feel like a parent. This year don’t leave your teaching to chance. Whether it’s cooking a meal; sharing your family’s history or to hammering a nail, look for practical ways rekindle the teacher within. By doing so you’ll be developing kids’ independence and building a stronger relationship as well.

      Okay, so how did you go? You may be already doing some of these; some you might have turned your nose up at; and with a bit of luck there would have been some ideas that interested you. Now your challenge is to put two or three of these ideas into practice. Stick at them for at least a month, which is how long it takes for most new behaviours to become habitual. It’s in our habits, not our one-off ideas and strategies, where our real effectiveness as parents lay.

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      Posted in Education

      4 Essential Life Skills for High Schoolers to Build Before College

      It’s finally happening. The moment most parents both dread and look forward to. Their kid is moving out of the house for the first time and heading off to college. You have high hopes for their future (or maybe you don’t). Empty nest syndrome is a powerful thing. Did you raise them well enough? Are they going to starve to death? Eat nothing but pizza? Wear the same pair of underwear for a week straight?

      You raised them to the best of your ability and now they will have a chance to get their first taste of life on their own. There are still several key lessons to teach them before they leave to help prepare them for everyday life. As an educator I see students from the beginning of their educational lives all the way up through college. Here are some of the most important tips students need to learn before leaving the nest.

      Lesson #1: Taking Care of Money

      This is a huge one. Up until now, most teenagers got to spend their money on pretty much whatever they wanted. Whether or not they earned an allowance or worked a part-time job, they still might not grasp the value of a dollar or the importance of saving. Do they know how to maintain a budget? Make sure the bills are paid on time and some put away into savings?

      Even more so, do they understand that going to college isn’t free (unless it is) and how they will spend the next ten years of their lives paying back a student loan? The state of the economy? How well their degree will translate to real-world jobs? Do they know how to pinch pennies, like making coffee from home versus that $5 diabetic coma they serve elsewhere?

      Life lessons and good management of money now will lead to a more prepared adult by the time they graduate college.

      Lesson #2: Staying Safe

      Whether we’re willing to accept it or not, college campuses can be rife with negative influences. College rape culture is a real thing. Underage drinking and partying WILL happen. You’ve done your best to protect your child while living under your roof, but now they will have to make their own decisions and peer pressure will be tough to overcome.

      Before sending your kids away to college, make sure they know about the dangers of partying, where the security offices are, and a plan of action for any scenario that might pop up.

      Lesson #3: Getting Around

      There are a few basic essentials that everyone needs to know. This is especially true with life on a college campus. Does your child know how to change a tire? This is a simple lesson they should know the moment they get a set of wheels, yet, a lot of today’s teens and young adults have never changed one.

      Is there public or college-sponsored transportation they can take? Do they know where the parking lots are in relation to their classes? Where to shop for food? The sooner they become familiar with these basics, the easier life on their own will be.

      The Groza Learning Center is outside Los Angeles and many of our students are familiar with local transportation, including riding public buses. If your child is going to college in a city with a different type of public transportation, take a trip with them and learn which lines go to and from the college.

      Lesson #4: Shopping and Cooking

      Living on fast food and take-out is EXPENSIVE, and can be bad for your health. One of the top skills everyone should know is how to cook for themselves. Kids can be too used to home-cooked meals, but once they move out, family meals will be few and far between. The basics will do, but while you’re showing them, keep in mind the types of food they’ll most likely be eating while in a dorm.

      Alternatively, teach them how to follow sales, clip coupons, and the basics of shopping for their own food. They’ll thank you for it later in life.

      At the end of the day, it’s our responsibility to ensure our kids are fully prepared for life on their own. It will be a difficult adjustment for a lot of them, but that’s okay. The more prepared they are, the easier it will be.

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      Posted in Games and Activities

      How Children Can Benefit Greatly From Video Games

      Giving your child the tools they need to succeed in life can sometimes be a daunting ask. With an abundance of options, and technology changing the way in which we navigate through life, children have an overwhelm array of options to help them grow and learn. In fact, one of the most prevalent forms of entertainment and education for children is video games. Unlike other tactics that might take time to integrate with your children, or that they may simply dislike, video games pair the entertainment factor with the benefits of learning perfectly. Find out more about how video games can be beneficial for kids and see how this often negatively-viewed form of entertainment can actually improve your child’s life.

      Inspire Healthy Competition

      The truth is that not every child is athletic. As a result, those that aren’t particularly good at sports don’t have the same opportunity to express their competitive urges in the same way. Video games give these children an outlet to enjoy the competitive side of sportsmanship in a way that is comfortable for them. They can learn to win and lose, all while striving to do better. Competing is an important part of adulthood, and knowing how to navigate competition is an important facet of everyday life.

      Helps Them Make Friends

      A common misconception about video games is that they provoke antisocial lifestyles and behaviors. In fact, the opposite is true, especially for children. Video games give children the opportunity to spend time with friends and mingle with like-minded kids. Just like great bingo sites such as,, which provide fans of bingo with communities where they can socialize and play the game they love, children too can mimic this kind of dynamic by gathering groups of friends for a fun night of video game playing.

      Improves Problem-Solving Skills

      Video games have become sophisticated, both in storylines and in gameplay. This requires a keen ability to problem solve and navigate one’s way around the intricacies of elaborate worlds. Playing video games can improve a child’s ability to assess problems and come up with efficient plans-of-action. Essentially, video games help children make decisions and encourage them to take responsibility for their actions, which is a useful skill to have well into adulthood. It also improves the rate at which they can assess a problem, as video games move quickly and decisions need to be made fast.

      Encourages Healthy Parent-Child Relationships

      Today’s video games have evolved greatly from some of the earlier games of decades ago. These games entail elaborate stories, advanced graphics and gameplays which test the mind and challenge the player. As a result, most of these games are appropriate for both children and adults. In fact, when engaging with their parents over a session of video game playing, children will experience the necessary bonding to ensure healthy relationships. Video games can bridge the gap between old and young seamlessly, so that both can relate on common grounds and enjoy each other’s company.

      Video games can be used for good when it comes to improving the way today’s youth grows and learns. Unlike popular belief, which often paints a negative picture for video games and those that play them, we find that the results of playing these games can provide children with the skills they need to lead healthy lives. Consider these benefits when allowing your children to enjoy a leisurely night of playing video games. You might find that the skills they acquire will help them with their studies, improve their social lives and, enhance how you enjoy your free-time with them.

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