Parents reading about sexting scandals in our nation's high schools, with one in Colorado involving hundreds of inappropriate photos of students as young as eighth grade, and one in Long Island resulting in two arrests and about 20 suspensions, should use these cases as examples to teach their children about the dangers of social media and technology.
I invited Dr. Jennifer Wider, co-author of Got Teens: The Doctor Moms’ Guide to Sexuality, Social Media and Other Adolescent Realities, on for a Health Talk to revisit some tricky parenting areas, and offer tips on how to have a “modern sex talk” with your children.
Here’s what she had to say:
In our book, Got Teens: The Doctor Moms’ Guide to Sexuality, Social Media and Other Adolescent Realities, Dr. Logan Levkoff and I address a common trend in parenting: Today, parents often feel such a strong need to be their child’s best friend that they forget how to parent.
We interviewed a group of parents who were reluctant to make unpopular decisions because they were worried that their children would get upset or wouldn’t like them as much. A few moms had reluctantly purchased very short shorts for their daughters or even push-up bras for their tweens, because, “That’s what everyone else was wearing,” and they wanted their daughters to fit in.
Instead of trusting their instincts or expressing their own values to their kids, they let trends dictate the way they parented. In the book, we try to empower parents to trust their instincts and to use their own value system when making decisions with their children.
One of the more common questions we received from parents was about when to have the 'sex talk.’ In fact, there shouldn’t be just one ‘sex talk’ between parents and children – it should be an ongoing dialogue that starts early. All too often, parents freak out about having to discuss sex and sexuality with their kids. They get nervous, embarrassed and caught between the emotional reality that their babies are growing up and the fact that their child simultaneously craves privacy while needing information.
Parental anxiety can lead to inaction, but it shouldn’t. Study after study has suggested that good, honest, open communication between parents and children positively influences a child’s ability to make responsible choices.
Social media is probably the biggest parenting challenge we face today for many reasons. We didn’t have anything like Facebook when we were growing up – and our kids know so much more about social media than we do. Between Instagram, Twitter, Askfm.com, Kik and Vine, social media apps are evolving at light speed, and it’s almost impossible to keep up. What’s a poor parent to do?
Owning a smart phone or gaining access to social media is a tremendous responsibility – one we don’t think you or your child should take lightly. As parents, we want to make sure our children are safe and making good decisions. While deciding when or if to let your child have a phone or gain access to social media is a personal decision, we believe two things need to happen:
1.) You need to have their password
2.) You should draw up a social contract, like the one we've created in our book, that you should print and sign together. The social contract should delineate all of the rules surrounding the use of the phone and apps. For example, “Never take compromising pictures of yourself or your friends,” or, “Never use the phone at the dinner table,” etc. By doing this, you are outlining your expectations and instilling your values in your child at the same time.
Another trend we noticed while writing this book is that there seems to be a lack of interpersonal skills in this generation of children. They spend endless hours texting, using emoticons and staring at screens. And if you examine your own behavior, you may notice a similar trend. We need to model good behavior for our kids. We actually need to show them how to listen, give eye contact and offer proper body language.
Their relationships have to consist of more than a ‘like’ on a screen, they need fewer texts and smiley faces and more real emotions and face to face contact. Unfortunately, this isn’t a given anymore and it’s our job to deal with it.
And finally, drugs, alcohol and tobacco continue to be a problem. This isn’t a new conversation. Parents have always struggled with the challenge of addressing these issues. During adolescence, kids are experiencing fluctuating hormones while also grappling with a need to assert their independence and a desire to experiment. Parents need to teach responsible behavior when it comes to drugs and alcohol.
Kids should understand that even if they experiment, they shouldn’t put themselves into a situation where they are unaware of their actions or too impaired to make good decisions. There are dangers involved here, and it’s important that we discuss them openly with our kids. You want them to know they can come to you or reach you at any time. While we can’t control everything during adolescence, we can certainly help our kids make better decisions and minimize risk.
Jennifer Wider, M.D., is a nationally renowned women’s health expert, author and radio host. She recently co-authored Got Teens: The Doctor Moms’ Guide to Sexuality, Social Media and Other Adolescent Realities with Dr. Logan Levkoff. Dr. Wider is a medical adviser to Cosmopolitan magazine and hosts a weekly radio segment on Sirius XM Stars called “Am I Normal?” For more information go to DrWider.com.
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.