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02/24/2016 06:00 AM

What’s a Parent To Do? Some Tips from the Experts

Sure, there’s a problem with teens and social media. But what’s a parent to do? Here are some tips from experts along the shoreline, along with their contact information if you want to check with them about specific issues, or to find out about programs and other resources

You Don’t Need Permission From Your Kids

Rev. Bill Keane, the senior minister at the First Baptist Church of Branford, agrees that social media is a powerful force in the lives of teenagers and has organized a panel on it for parents, town officials, and others in town. Because it can be such a powerful force, he says, it’s imperative that parents make sure they are supervising it carefully and making sure that they can intervene if a problem arises.

He says parents can start by insisting that children and teens get off of their cell phones when communicating with others in the family.

“Make sure they know how to have a conversation. Make sure they know how to make eye contact. Make sure they understand about tone of voice, gestures, inflections,” he says, adding that some teens get so wrapped up in texting and messaging and SnapChat pictures that they actually become reluctant to engage in real-life conversations. For young children, Keane recommended parents insist on knowing all of the passwords for the phones and for the different apps, and letting the child know that they will be checking the phone periodically to make sure it is being used appropriately.

Finally, he says, “Be knowledgeable, be conversant, take control,” he says. “And you don’t need permission from your kid to do that. Kids need parents. They don’t need best buddies.”

Keane is the senior minister at The First Baptist Church of Branford, 975 Main Street, Branford and can be reached at 203-488-9777.

Have Conversations, Develop a Rhythm

Allison Abramson, parent resource coordinator at Tri-Town Youth Services, says the effect of social media on girls—and teens in general—is an issue with which parents are slowly coming to grips. She says it’s important for families to make time to have conversations, starting when children are young, so that they can develop a rhythm that “makes time and space for family connection.” She says parents shouldn’t be surprised if teens resist and push back at this. Keep trying, she says.

“Teens can exhibit behaviors that are challenging to us, but it can be a call for us to pay attention and to figure out what is going on,” she says. “When they are pushing you away the hardest, might be when they need you most.”

Abramson says Tri-Town Youth Services, which serves Chester, Deep River, and Essex, is sponsoring a program called Open Up on Wednesday, March 1 designed to help parents communicate better with their children and teens. Tri-Town also has several other programs coming up related to conversations mothers and daughters should be having.

Tri-Town Youth Services Bureau is located at 56 High Street in Deep River and can be reached at 860-526-3600 or

If Necessary, Unplug

Heather McNeil, LMFT, the director of Old Saybrook Youth & Family Services, says minimizing exposure to social media is sometimes easier said than done, but that it’s essential for parents to do so, for the health of their children.

When it comes to middle school children, she says, it’s important for parents to monitor access, while at the same time working with their children to make sure they understand some of the messages they are receiving are not accurate. “And be mindful of any behaviors that might indicate their exposure to social media might be making them depressed,” she says. Those indicators might include a change in eating patterns, becoming more isolated, and wearing long sleeves and becoming shy about revealing their arms. The latter might be an indication they are cutting themselves, she says.

When it comes to limiting access, if a parent has concerns about what’s happening on social media, he or she should act on it. “Unplug,” she says. “I’ve canceled phone contracts myself. I had to live with the aftermath. Life will not end for them. You can put parental controls on it. You can have their passwords. Let them know you are checking.”

McNeil says she made the decision to limit phone use when she found it was distracting her children from “interacting in a real way in life. including activities and dinner table conversation.” “Also there was a general secretiveness I did not care for,” she says. “And for one of them, someone at school was bothering them, I wanted that to end.”

Six months later, her child “earned it back.” Ironically, when this child later went away to college, she decided herself to take a sabbatical from electronics on her own. ““She traveled abroad, and she decided she wanted to see these experiences, she didn’t want to just take pictures and look at them later.”

Old Saybrook Youth & Family Services is located at 322 Main Street, Old Saybrook and can be reached at 860-395-3190.

‘Don’t Do Anything You Wouldn’t Want Me to See’

Scott Cochran, the director of Madison Youth & Family Services, says it’s important for parents to let their children and teens know that, if they come across something on social media that makes them uncomfortable, that they should let their parents know. “Or if they don’t want to share it with a parent, there should be another adult in their life that they can share it with, a relative, a teacher, or a counselor,” he says.

He says it’s also important that parents let their children and teens know that there are problems associated with the use of social media and to discuss in frank terms what is OK, and what is not. “Let them know you are aware this is happening. Tell them it is not OK to share pictures of yourself, intimate pictures, with anyone else, ever,” he says.

“You’re paying for the cell phone, you get to set the rules,” he adds. “But parents need to let children know they don’t have to succumb to social pressures that the kids might feel. And if there is a problem, permission to use the phone or computer can be given in a conditional manner, letting the child build up the ability to use certain aspects of the phone.” How can parents know if a child is old enough to even have a phone? Look for certain markers, Cochran says. “Consider how they handle delayed gratification. If your child is still throwing tantrums in the grocery store, it’s a sign they cannot yet control themselves. Can your child live within rules that are set? Can they exhibit self control? These are aspects you need to consider before you even think about giving a phone to your child,” he says. “You can give your child a phone as part of a transition plan. Allowing certain features sequentially over time as they show their ability to manage it appropriately. And let them know you will be checking as a parent. That it’s conditional. Let them know, ‘Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want me to see.’”

Madison Youth & Family Services is at 10 School Street in Madison and can be reached at 203-245-5645.