Social media can lower self-esteem

Does social media effect our kids’ self esteem?

Everyday after school, Sarah checks her Instagram account. She likes to see what her friends are doing, but often feels worse after reading their status updates. What they post always looks so much better than whatever she is doing. She sees friends at the beach, drinking Starbucks and having a GREAT time. She also notices how pretty, photogenic and happy they appear. By the time she sets her phone down, she feels terrible. She believes her life is not nearly as exciting. She is not as pretty or popular or amazing. Sarah is suffering from a classic case of Social Media Hangover.

This phenomenon is extremely common for both kids and grown-ups. We often compare our lives to what we see posted on social media and most of us feel worse after perusing our friends’ accounts. The reality is that Social Media profiles are an illusion. They are carefully crafted. People don’t typically post terrible pictures of themselves. They don’t create updates of the boring, mundane tasks of their day. Instead, most people create an enviable social media image.

Social media can be a lot of fun. It helps up stay in touch with people we wouldn’t otherwise. However, often times our kids feel badly about themselves when they compare their real lives to their friends social media profiles.

One teen girl told me, “I usually take 200+ selfies before choosing one to post. I always edit it too so I look my best.” Another teen admitted that she purposely posts pictures showing how much fun she’s having, and who she’s with, so people will think she’s really popular.

It is really important to talk to our kids about the fantasy aspect of social media. Just as models are highly edited and airbrushed, most of us create Social Media accounts that show an ideal life that doesn’t truly reflect reality.

I encourage you to talk to your child about the Social Media Hangover phenomenon. You can start the conversation with the following questions:

  • Do you think Social Media is real?
  • Why do people edit photos of themselves before posting?
  • Do you ever feel badly when you compare yourself to your friends’ profiles?
  • Would you say you feel better or worse after being on Social Media?
  • Do you think someone is more popular than you if they have more followers on Instagram?
  • Have you ever seen a profile of someone you know well that doesn’t seem like an accurate reflection of his or her life?

Because our digital footprints are permanent, I always encourage kids to post updates that show themselves in a positive light. However, it’s really important for kids to understand that social media is not real. It can be damaging to kids’ self-esteems when they compare themselves to others’ “exciting and perfect lives.”

One fun exercise is for kids to look over their own profile. Usually they see how great their Social Media lives look too and it can help them to remember not to take other profiles too seriously.

Hidden Calculator App

Have you heard about the hidden calculator app?

*Stacey regularly checks her son’s phone to make sure he doesn’t have any inappropriate photos. She was surprised to discover that the calculator on his phone was actually a new secrecy app used for hiding images and videos.

Unfortunately, there has been a big increase in apps like Calculator % that are designed to hide pictures and files behind a password protected calculator. Many teens feel they can safely store pornography or sexting messages.

This is dangerous for several reasons.  As with any digital program, nothing is truly private. These messages and photos can be discovered and potentially become public. There are cases of high school “pornography rings” where teens have circulated nude images and hidden them behind these secret photo vault apps.  Another problem is that these types of images and videos are potentially damaging to both the sender and receiver. Teens need to think about why they want this content on their phones in the first place. Sexting is illegal and has lead to hurt feelings, extreme regret, public embarrassment, lowered self-esteem and suicide.

If you discover your child is using a secrecy app or hidden photo vault, it’s a great opportunity to discuss the risks.

Ask them:

  • Why do they want these images?


  • Do they understand the danger of having inappropriate information on their phones?


  • Discuss the risks of sexting and how it can be damaging to both the sender and receiver.

If you would like to monitor which apps your son or daughter download, you can set-up your parental controls so that you are notified.

The goal is not to police your child. However, problems with digital technology are so prevalent that it’s crucial you stay involved. Keep the conversations going and help your child use technology in a healthy, safe way.

Rethink: Cyberbullying Prevention

Finally an app that helps kids make good choices: ReThink-A Cyberbullying Prevention App.

Everyday it seems we hear about apps that are dangerous for our kids. Not only can it be hard to keep up, but it can feel overwhelming and scary.

There is a new app that help kids make good choices and keep them safe.

ReThink is a free app that helps kids and teens pause before sending or posting messages that might be hurtful.

When a message has certain warning words (embarrassing, hate, hurt, etc.) a pop-up message appears that says:

“Are you sure you want to say that?” (or a similar sentiment).

It was designed to reduce Cyberbullying, and is surprisingly effective.

According to their website,

“When teens are alerted to ReThink their decision, they change their minds 93% of the time.”

I installed it on my phone to see how it works and it’s great. Just the other day I was sending a message where I said something about being embarrassed and I got an alert:

“Is this the type of person you are?”

I chuckled because it was not a hateful message; however if it had been mean-spirited it would have helped me re-evaluate my message.

Rethink helps kids and teens think through what they are saying before hitting send.

You can download it for free on itunes.

Teaching young kids to use technology safely

I had two experiences last week that helped me realize how early we need to start teaching our kids to use technology safely.

My youngest daughter Meadow is 8. She does not have a cellphone, text or use social media. She does have an ipad though, which I had set up as securely as possible, and thought we were all good. (Click here to read how you can do that on your devices too.)

However, as often happens to me as a parent, something eye-opening happened and I realized she was more than ready.

First, Meadow came home from a play date and told me she was excited because she and her friend talked to “Batman” while playing Minecraft. I was busy cooking dinner so my first impulse was to say, “Oh, that’s nice.” But I made myself stop what I was doing to find out more. When I dug a little deeper, I realized she and her friend were chatting with a stranger. Even though she reassured me that he was not a “Bad Guy,” I asked her to show me her ipad so I could see how the chat feature works. I discovered she was free to type anything she pleased. (Lots of kids games have limited chat features, with pre-written choices for conversation.) This sparked a conversation on why it’s not safe to talk to strangers online and how the internet is not a safe place to make friends. At 8, she was just excited to have the honor of talking to “Batman.” However, she didn’t realize he could be someone else (which call me crazy, I’m guessing he was).

The second incident happened a couple of days later. Even though Meadow doesn’t have a cellphone, she has recently started using Facetime and imessage with a good friend on her ipad. Since this is her buddy, it didn’t occur to me to talk to her about cyberbullying or the public nature of messaging.  Once again it was a lesson for good ole’ mom on the importance of talking about these issues before they become a problem.

Meadow is an animal lover and she and her friend got the idea it would be great fun to have pet pigs.  Meadow mentioned that her friend was mad at her because she wanted to be the only one to have a pig. Again, my impulse was to say “Oh that’s too bad.” But instead, I asked to see her ipad. I was pretty shocked when I saw the nature of their messages. What started out as a fun time chatting about pigs quickly turned into a mean-spirited conversation. Her friend was REALLY mad at her and was letting her know it! Meadow actually handled it very well, and didn’t get nasty back.  I quickly realized though that she was more than ready for training on texting safety.

I was waiting to teach her once she had a cell phone and a digital social life, but this was a mistake. She is ready now.

If your child is online or has any kind of digital life, I highly encourage you to talk about the following:

  • Don’t chat with strangers online.  It’s too risky and just not safe. Instead of trying to figure out whether or not someone is who he or she claims to be, a blanket rule is safest. (Let’s face it; chatting with Batman is pretty appealing to an 8 year old!)
  • Handle conflicts in-person. Even after I called Meadow’s friend’s mom to talk about the upsetting messages, the girls wanted to Facetime to talk about it. Instead we had them wait and talk in-person. This situation was the perfect example of how kids say things digitally that they would never in person.
  • Discuss how digital conversations are public. When I first asked to see her messages Meadow said, “No, they’re private.” It was the perfect time to sit down and explain that actually no, they aren’t. The messages could be copied and forwarded to anyone. She hadn’t realized this (and I hadn’t taught her.)
  • Stay in the loop. As parents, we are busy. However, it really doesn’t take very long to sit down and check-in with our kids. In both of these situations I was focused on something else and my initial impulse was to brush it off. However, I am SO glad I didn’t. I would have missed  discussing both a safety issue and a really important teachable moment, that sparked some great conversations.

It can be a challenge to realize when our young kids are ready for this type of training. I felt relieved that Meadow’s first problem happened with a good friend. They both learned a lot, on a small scale. However, it did surprise me that she needed these lessons already. I encourage you to get these conversations started.

At 8, Meadow doesn’t need to know everything a preteen or teen would about technology. However, she’s definitely ready for the basics.

Have you had similar situations with your younger kids? How have you handled them and what have you learned? I’d love to hear your stories. In this ever-changing digital world, we can all learn from each other.

Child Cell Phone Contract

Are you thinking of getting your child a cell phone for Christmas or Hannukah? Do they already use one but you’d like to establish some concrete rules and guidelines with them? I have a great tool for you: my free Cell phone contract

It’s really important that we talk with our kids about our expectations for their digital lives. Clear rules can help them make good choices when using their devices.

My holiday gift to you is the attached cell phone contract. I encourage you to go over it with your child and answer their questions.  (Of course feel free to adjust it to your own personal rules.)

It’s important to realize that our kids are still learning and will make mistakes with their devices. The good news is that by keeping the lines of communication open and being clear on your expectations you can help them navigate their new responsibility smoothly.

Do you use a cell phone contract? Has it been helpful? Hop on over to my Facebook page and let me know what’s worked for you.
Feel free to share the contract with your friends. We can all use help with keeping our kids safe.

Protecting kids from strangers online

Does your child talk to strangers online? You might be surprised by the answer.

In July, I spent a few days in Southern California filming new footage for my online program. I always love working with kids and hearing their stories about their experiences using technology. I was really encouraged that many of them seemed to really understand the concept that everything they do in the digital world is public and to be careful about what they post.

I was pretty shocked though when I asked how many of them have chatted with strangers online. They all had! Even though they seemed to logically understand that this wasn’t a good idea, they did it anyway.

I decided to do a little detective work and looked-up some of the tweens I know on Instagram, to see how many people on average they were following and being followed by. It was pretty alarming. Some of them had as many as 500 followers! It’s true that these are sweet kids, but they do not have that many friends.

Part of the problem is that kids feel popular with lots of followers. They also often feel like they know the other person since he or she is a friend-of-a-friend or they’ve seen them around. However, this just isn’t safe.

Kids often post personal information, including where they go to school, live and other details that could make it easy for someone to find them in-person. Kids have been hurt by grown-ups, pretending to be kids and then luring them into a meeting.

Another risk with befriending strangers has to do with the much-loved selfie. Everyday I see tweens posting selfies, oftentimes from their bedrooms. This is especially dangerous if they have a public account and/or use the “Map my photo” feature since with just one click people can see where they live. Kids should never post anything that would make it possible for someone to find them in-person.

During our taping session, I asked the kids what questions they get asked the most by strangers. Here are some of the most popular answers:

You can watch the clip (and a sneak peak from Cyberstrong Kids 2015) here:

Strangers wanted to know:

-Where do you live?

-What’s your name?

-What school do you go to?

-How old are you?

They realized that strangers could figure out how to find them by asking enough personal questions and that this is dangerous.

We had a great conversation about how anyone can pretend to be someone they aren’t in the cyberworld and that it’s really important to only make friends or accept follow requests from people they actually know.

If you haven’t talked with your child about using caution when interacting with strangers online, I highly encourage you to take a few minutes to make sure they understand the risks. Also, if your child uses Social Media sit down with them and look over their friend and followers lists and make sure they personally know everyone on their lists. Encourage your children to make as many friends as they like in person, but the cyberworld is not a safe place to make new friends.

Some questions that can help you get the conversation started:

-Has a stranger ever tried to talk to you online? What happened? What did you do?

-Do you personally know all of your friends/followers on your Social Media accounts?

-What would you do if you met someone online who wanted to meet you in-person?

-How do you know the person you are chatting with is who they say they are?

Talking with your child about the risks of interacting with strangers online is a conversation that is too important not to have.

Watch your inbox for my soon-to-be-released Cyberstrong Kids 2015 program, which covers this topic as well as much more.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Has your child had any problems with strangers online? How do you help your child limit the number of friends and followers they have on Social Media sites?

Hop on over to my Facebook page and share your experiences.

We can all learn from each other.










Is YouTube safe for kids?

Does your child watch a lot of YouTube shows? If you answered “yes” you are not alone. You may wonder: Is YouTube safe for kids?

When I was 13, I spent many hours watching my favorite tv shows. I can remember cuddling with my sister, watching Threes Company and The Facts of Life after school.

Kids today are growing up watching huge amounts of shows too. However, they aren’t glued to the tv. Instead, they are on their devices watching their favorite YouTube stars. Awesomeness TV, PewDiePie, Bethany Mota and Smosh may be unfamiliar names to you, but chances are they are familiar to your child. In fact, a recent study in Variety Magazine found that the top 5 most influential people amongst US Teens are YouTube celebrities.

The problem with YouTube is that videos are not monitored or controlled the way tv shows were when we were growing up. It’s ridiculously easy to click on something inappropriate and can be a challenge to monitor what your child is exposed to.

Furthermore, many kids want their own YouTube channels. My daughter and her friends talk about wanting to make and upload their own videos. Although fun, this poses risks as well.

The good news is there is something you can do.

5 Steps To Use Youtube Safely:

1.  Monitor your child’s viewing:

I know as parents we are all super busy, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to take the time to check in with your kids’ digital lives. A good starting place is with what they are watching on YouTube. Since a Google Account is required to watch and post to Youtube, it is a good idea to either have your child use your account or to create a family account that notifies you of activity.

Take time to talk with your child about their favorite YouTube channels. Sit down and have them show you some of their favorites so you can get an idea of what they’re watching .

Once you have a feel for a channel, subscribe to it and receive notifications of new videos. This is much safer than allowing your child to use the search feature to find things to watch.

Teach your child to be careful about clicking on “Up Next” videos as they aren’t always as appropriate.

You can also click on “History” at the bottom of the YouTube Home Page to see recently viewed videos and make sure they are suitable for your child.

2.  Enable Safety Features:

YouTube has an option to turn on “Safety Mode” at the bottom of the screen. This helps block inappropriate information. It isn’t foolproof. It’s still a great idea to talk to your child about how easy it is to stumble across inappropriate videos and to share with you if they see stumble across something upsetting. Unfortunately there is a phenomenon called “YouTube Poop” where videos start off innocently enough but switch to inappropriate content mid-way. (My daughter and I experienced this first-hand years ago when her beloved Barney blew up mid-video!)

 3.  Protect Personal Information:

Kids are supposed to be at least 13 years old to have a YouTube account. However, many younger children create them anyway. If your child is dying to create his or her own YouTube Channel, make sure their personal information is protected. They should never post information that would allow someone to find them in real life. This means they shouldn’t say their full name, where they live, go to school, play sports, etc.

Also, talk about the danger of posting videos such as: Do You Think I’m Cute? (Pretty, Fat, etc.) It’s shocking how many tweens and teens post these videos on YouTube. As you can imagine, they are a breeding ground for hurt feelings.

4.  Post Privately

When your child uploads a video, they can choose whether it is public (meaning anyone can watch it) or private (where they have to give the link to their viewers.) The second option is much safer since they control who views their posts. Again, this isn’t always fool proof since kids can share links or show them to people who haven’t been approved. This is the perfect opportunity to remind our kids that ANYTHING they post in the cyberworld has the potential to become public information. If they wouldn’t want it on a billboard in front of their school, they shouldn’t post it.

5.  Disable Comments:

There are a lot of people who post mean comments after watching YouTube videos. This can cause a lot of hurt feelings. It is very easy to turn the comments off, eliminating communication from strangers or people with cruel things to say.

Just like with most technology, YouTube can be great fun but needs to be used responsibly. Talking to our kids about how to make safe choices and explaining why it’s necessary goes a long way with keeping them safe.

Now I’d love to hear from you!

Do your kids watch YouTube videos?

What challenges have they experienced?

Hop on over to my Facebook page and share your stories.


Like what I have to say? Please share with your friends.

We can all learn from each other.




Texting Etiquette

Does your child understand texting etiquette?

  • Jenny sleeps with her phone next to her bed. It buzzes all night long as her friends send text messages into the wee hours of the night.
  •  Sarah is offended by a text from her BFF so she unfollows her on Instagram, starting a chain of nasty messages and hurt feelings.
  • Sam is ready to throw out his cell phone. He’s at his wits end about the number of group texts his friends have included him in and the volume of messages he receives.
  • Matt is fed up with the number of texts he receives as well. Several girls from school text him repeatedly before he even has a chance to respond and he is frustrated!
  • Krissy, Macy and Angela start a private group text at a slumber party that sparks hurt feelings amongst the girls who are excluded.
  • Alisha never puts her cell phone away. At restaurants, family get-togethers and while hanging out with her friends, it’s always out and she’s always quick to respond to her incoming texts.
  • Johnny is surprised and embarrassed when his girlfriend takes a screen shot of his romantic text and posts it to her Instagram account.

Do these situations sound familiar?

One of our challenges as parents is helping our kids develop what I like to call: Texting Etiquette. (Which of course applies to emails, posts and all forms of digital communication.)

As parents, it’s important to take the time to talk to our kids about social etiquette when using technology and how to handle it when they feel offended or upset by messages they receive.

  1. Just like they shouldn’t call someone on the phone repeatedly, kids need to learn that they shouldn’t text repeatedly without receiving a response. I’ve heard from many kids who feel annoyed by the volume of messages they receive.
  1. Kids also need guidance with how to handle arguments that develop via text or posts. Often times they fire back right away or “unfriend” or “unfollow” the person they are upset with. This typically escalates the tension. Instead, talk to your child about coming to you if they are upset about messages they’ve received. Encourage them to take time to “cool off” before responding, since often times they handle these situations much better after a breather. Also encourage them to handle disagreements in-person, instead of via text.
  1. Avoid creating group texts. Once kids add their friends to group messages, they cannot remove themselves. This can be very frustrating since the number of texts can be high and the interruptions excessive. If parents are monitoring their child’s text messages via the cloud, they can be flooded with messages as well.
  1. Have a bedtime for devices. Allowing kids to have their devices in their bedrooms can create lots of problems. They often text late into the night or are disturbed by incoming messages. Just like it’s impolite to phone someone late at night, the same rules should apply to text messages.
  1. Encourage your kids to talk face-to-face for lengthy conversations. If the message is longer than a few words a phone call is more effective.
  1. Set guidelines about texting when they are with other people. Encourage them to put their phones away and enjoy being with their friends. Just because their phone dings, they don’t have to interrupt what they are doing to respond.
  1. Create situations where your kids are device-free. Since texting is now the number one way young people communicate outside of the classroom, many kids are not learning good social skills. Kids need time together without technology, so they can develop strong interpersonal skills.
  1. Since nonverbal communication is eliminated with text messages (expression, tone, etc.) kids need our guidance looking at their messages and talking about whether or not they could be misinterpreted. By using emoticons, and adding “pleases” and “thank yous”, many messages are received as intended.
  1. Even though text messages are not truly private (they can so easily be shared and forwarded) teach kids to treat their messages as private and not share them without permission from the sender.

Just like kids need guidance learning how to be polite and respectful in-person they need our help learning how to communicate responsibly electronically.

What challenges have you seen with kids and their “Texting Etiquette?” What’s worked for you? I’d love to hear from you! Comment below and share your stories. We can all learn from each other.

Keep Your Child Safe On Any App

Do you want to learn ways to keep your child safe on any app? Most parents do but feel overwhelmed about keeping up.

The other day I received a phone call from Tracy.*  She was reviewing her daughter Ashley’s* texts and posts (which is their agreement) and became quite concerned about some of her conversations.

Ashley and her friends have been getting follower requests on Instagram from men they don’t know, and some of Ashley’s friends have been accepting them. Tracy was quite concerned since she thought Ashley’s privacy settings protected her from strangers.

After digging further into Ashley’s texts, Tracy discovered that Ashley has several new apps (Vine, Followers +, Ask.FM) she doesn’t understand. She was feeling really overwhelmed and wondered how she could possibly protect her daughter in such a fast moving and ever-changing cyberworld.

As a parent, you can probably relate. It is virtually impossible to keep up with all of the apps and programs kids use, since they are typically one step ahead of us. This can feel very scary.

The good news is you don’t have to understand them all. There are 5 cybersafety steps that can keep your child safe on any app. It doesn’t matter if you don’t fully understand the app (although I encourage you to take the time to understand as many as you can).

5 Strategies to Keep Kids Safe:

1. Always think about your digital footprint.

Everything we do in the digital world, whether it’s an email, text or post, leaves behind a permanent record. It’s important for kids to understand that even if it feels like a private conversation, it has the potential to become public. Would they want their post on a billboard in front of their school? If not, then don’t hit send. Period.

2. The cyberworld is NOT a safe place to make friends.

Even though kids like to collect followers, they should never accept requests from people they don’t know in real life. People can pose as anyone they like in the virtual world and it can be dangerous. Encourage them to make friends in-person but not online.

3. Trust your instincts.

Explain to your child that we all have instincts that are designed to protect us. If they are doing something online that they wouldn’t want you to see, or feel “funny” about, those are their instincts and they are trying to protect them. Listen.

4. Remember the Golden Rule.

Kids are much crueler in the digital world then in person. With anonymity (especially on sites like Ask.Fm) and the lack of face-to-face feedback, kids are much more likely to say and post things that they would never say in person. Talk to your child about the importance of treating others the way they would want to be treated and never forwarding or reposting embarrassing, mean or unkind posts or pictures. Not only will it be on their digital footprint, they could potentially cause someone else a lot of pain.

5. Get help.

Encourage your child to come to you if they see something they are concerned about. Even though Ashley texted her friend not to talk to a guy she doesn’t know (As she put it, “He could be a murderer!”), she didn’t talk to her mom about it. The good news is her mom was monitoring her activity and was able to intervene. Remember: everything is public in the cyber world. It is not an invasion of your child’s privacy to review his or her texts and posts since they are public.

It is a great idea to have clear rules and consequences with your child about what you expect from them when using technology. Some parents approve all social apps before their child signs-up or deletes an account. Others make it clear that they will be monitoring their activity at regular intervals. I also recommend that you have your child put away their devices before bed since lots of problems occur late at night when they feel unsupervised. Kids love their devices and clear rules and consequences can help them make better choices.

I know it can feel scary to think about how to best protect our kids. The good news is that these 5 strategies can help kids make good choices and stay safe, no matter what program they are using.

I love to hear from you! Do you have any problems that you need help with? What’s worked for you? Please comment below.

*Names have been changed