You, Your Child and Social Media

Teens and smartphones

Technology - and especially social media - has added some new twists and challenges to the already tough job of parenting. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, Twitter: the list is ever-changing. While we may sometimes wish we could just ignore it all, we can't.

The new bottom line is this: as parents, we must be aware of social media, set guidelines for our kids, be aware of their activities, enforce the rules and talk openly with them.

Ongoing communication is crucial. Talk with your child about privacy and safety as soon as they have access to smart phones, computers and other devices. Include the need for balance between their online and offline life - and how rules and limits will help maintain this balance. Early on, cement the idea that while you do respect their privacy, their safety and well-being are your utmost concerns. Therefore, you will be a part of their online life, which might sometimes include checking their text messages and social media accounts.

Be sure your child truly understands that any words or photos they share through social media may be viewed by anyone, and will be "out there" forever. Even one-to-one personal messages may not stay private. Talk in detail about what sorts of things are OK to share online and which are not. Ask them to show you their privacy settings, and talk about what those settings can and can't do. They are no substitute for good judgment. Be sure your child knows that if they ever feel unsafe in any way - either online or offline - to alert you.

As parents, we can expect that our kids will find clever ways to outsmart us in our efforts to monitor them. Make it clear to them that if they break any of the agreed upon rules, there will be consequences. They may lose their phone privileges a few times before they are convinced.

Our homework as parents is to learn the basics of the social media sites our children are using, and to stay up to date. As new sites become popular, trying to keep up can feel overwhelming. So why not ask your child to show you how these sites work? They are probably experts, and they may be flattered you asked!

To learn more, read the transcript from our Facebook chat, Raising Teens in the Digital Age , with Dr. Megan Moreno. Many resources, including links to blog posts addressing cyberbullying, are included at the end of the page.

Magnets Pose Risks for Kids of All Ages

Many people are not aware that magnets can be dangerous. But magnet-related injuries are on the rise among toddlers, kids and teens. When two or more magnets are ingested, they can attach to each other inside the body. This can cause serious injuries and infections.

Keep young children away from magnets, including the very strong types used with refrigerator decorations, jewelry clasps and desktop toys made for adults. Older kids who use magnets to mimic nose or mouth piercings may accidentally inhale or swallow them. And older kids may even swallow magnets on purpose, copying a reckless stunt they saw online.

Warn kids of the risks. If you suspect someone has swallowed or inhaled a magnet, seek medical help right away.

To learn more, read about the magnet ingestion study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Don't Go! Dealing with Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety

Separation anxiety is a common phase. Although kids outgrow it, it can be tough on everyone until then. In a typical case, a child gets very upset at the moment mom or dad leaves, but once the parent is gone the child can often be calmed easily with some soothing attention or an activity. Separation anxiety can start anytime between several months old to preschool-age. It's usually worse if a child is hungry, tired or sick. Don't sneak away or otherwise try to trick your child. Before your goodbye, give them lots of affection and your full attention. For toddlers and preschoolers, be specific about your return in a way they can understand, such as "I'll be back right after your snack." Then, say goodbye quickly and leave without delay. (Don't double back for one last hug. It will only make things worse.) Keep your word and arrive on time, as promised. This builds your child's trust and confidence. If you worry that their separation anxiety is very severe, talk with their doctor.

Seattle Mama Doc, Wendy Sue Swanson, offers more ideas for surviving separation anxiety .

How to Be a Good Sleepover Host

Sleepover girls

Sleepovers are a fun part of growing up, and they are memorable events for your child. When you're the host, you want to be sure it's a safe and comfortable experience for everyone. A few days ahead, call the other parent to confirm, and exchange contact information. Ask about allergies, food preferences and anything else you should know. Get the parent's OK on movies, video games and other media, and agree upon a bedtime. Also make a plan in case the child asks to return home before the night is over.

Talk with your child about being a good host. Review these ideas again just before the friend arrives. Remind your child that all house rules still apply, and ask them to come to you without their friend in tow if there is a problem. When the guest arrives, invite the parent in while the kids get settled. Confirm when and how the child will return home, and don't forget to take their car booster seat, if needed. Give the kids some space, but stay nearby and keep your eyes and ears open. If needed, quietly pull your child aside and remind them how to be a good host. At bedtime, keep a light on in the bathroom and be sure your guest knows where it is.

Consider some extra touches, like setting up a tent and sleeping bags in the family room or doing a crafts project. In the morning, a special breakfast is a great finale. Your young guest will be thrilled, and your child will learn that being a gracious host can be fun.

Explore more Safety and Wellness topics .

Is Your Child Ready to Babysit?

Babysitters and mom

There is no "magic age" at which kids are ready to babysit, but there are some clear signs of readiness, starting with a strong and genuine interest. (Making money cannot be their only motivation.) If your child is kind and calm with younger kids, that's a great sign. Are they mature and responsible? Are they comfortable when home alone? If yes, then a babysitting class is a smart first step; be sure to choose a class offered by a trusted source. Your child can build their confidence and skills by starting as a "parent's helper" for families in the neighborhood. When they do begin babysitting solo, be available by phone for advice. Your support will help ensure their success!

If you think your child might be ready to start babysitting, check out our Better Babysitters class.

Quick and Healthy Breakfasts

Quick healthy breakfast

A healthy breakfast every day helps kids stay focused and energized. Over time, this habit can even help prevent obesity. So be sure your child eats breakfast seven days a week, even if it's quick. Combine items from a few food groups. How about a whole-wheat muffin or toaster waffle with peanut butter and banana slices, plus a glass of low-fat milk? Hot or cold breakfast cereals are fast, and even tastier when you add fresh or dried fruit. Watch out for sugar: choose whole fruit over juice when you can. Avoid sugary cereals, toaster pastries and candy-like breakfast bars. Think beyond traditional breakfast foods: cheese sticks, nuts and even a lean-meat sandwich are all great on-the-go options.

Eating breakfast seven days a week is part of 7-5-2-1-0 (PDF). Learn what the other numbers represent and set goals for your family!

Active Play Helps Kids Learn and Grow

Soccer girl

Keeping young kids moving throughout the day lets them release their wiggles and build muscle strength, develop motor skills, learn about the world and sleep better.

From birth to 2, limit time in devices that don't let your child move. Give 5-to-10-minute spurts of tummy time when you can supervise. Provide toys they can reach for, kick at, push or pull, crawl and walk through. 

From 3 to 5 years, have your child play for 15 minutes every hour, aiming for three hours of active play each day. Any activity that raises their heart rate counts. Encourage running, climbing, throwing and catching, walking and exploring. Get outside every day - playing in the weather can be fun!

Visit Active Play to learn more.