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A cache of all that is relevant to middle school counseling, adolescent development and parenting.

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Raising Online Children

In a society where most of our us, adults and children alike, own more than two handheld devices, technology is making an enormous impact on the way we interact and communicate. For families, the impact is felt most profoundly in the home. While one family could be physically together in one room, each member could be in different cyber worlds due to their devices. As a result, this shift of how we socialize and communicate has prompted significant changes in the ways we monitor children’s behavior. Last Thursday, our Middle School was very fortunate to host speaker Dr. Tracy Navon Pinshow who addressed this very issue of how to raise online children.


Dr. Pinshow Navon promotes the establishment of parental presence as authority. She defines authority not as a totalitarian dictatorship, yet authority whereby children feel safe and secure with “soft, empathetic boundaries.” She recognizes how difficult it is for parents to fully gauge what kids are doing on the internet, and the struggle to keep up with the “media tsunami” of new sites and gadgets. Considering such challenges, it is important for parents to find the middle ground – to set boundaries which will enable safe use and exploration. Dr. Pinshow Navon uses the metaphor of parents being the anchor in the midst of the media tsunami. Children want to know their parents are in control. While the key to parental empowerment is self control – the choice to be a controlled, non-escalatory presence in our children’s lives.

Dr. Pinshow Navon reviewed three important keys to establishing parental authority: awareness, knowledge and vigilant care. In terms of awareness, it is important that parents keep abreast of technologies available and what children are currently using. The easiest way to know what kids are talking about is by simply asking them to show you what their using. Knowledge involves understanding your child’s usage and determining whether a serious problem exists. Key factors of which to be vigilant are mood changes in your teen, change in sleep patterns, lack of family contact and participation in activities. The third and most important way to establish parental authority is by parental presence and vigilant care which can be enabled through open dialogue and focussed questioning. It is important for parents to express to children your parental responsibility and obligation to intervene and monitor. Prior to meeting with your child, Dr. Pinshow Navon suggests that parents plan questions, consider the time and place of the meeting, create scripts for the child’s different responses and consider one’s reactions to each response. In this way, parents can preempt their reactions and avoid escalation.

In establishing parental presence, Dr. Pinshow Navon emphasizes the difference between monitoring and spying. Traditional monitoring includes questioning, having an open bedroom door policy and screen “peaks” or shoulder-surfing, while digital forms of monitoring include establishing an online presence (i.e. by “friending” your child), and regularly reviewing your child’s browser capabilities and history. Spying, on the other hand, is secretive. In order to maintain trust with your adolescent it is essential to inform them of the fact you are monitoring their online behaviour.

Many parents struggle with the question of whether or not they are invading their child’s privacy. Dr. Pinshow Navon makes the point that privacy is not a supreme right. It is a parental obligation to be present and monitor our children’s activities. As we wouldn’t let our children loose in the streets of Wanchai, nor should we let them loose on the internet. We need to provide guidance and boundaries. She advocates that knowing children’s passwords should be simple parental protocol. While some children will be resistant, we need to express how it is our parental obligation to monitor their use. In recent cyber-bullying cases, parents have been legally liable for their child’s actions on the internet. By informing children that you require passwords and that you will be monitoring, parents can avoid escalation when issues arise.

Dr. Pinshow Navon reminded us of the importance of modeling no-screen behaviour to encourage interaction within the family. Establishing a family “no screen time” will pave the way for alternative forms of entertainment such as sports, board games, music and reading. In this age where we all suffer from some symptoms of digital ADD, now, more than ever, there is a strong need for parental awareness, knowledge and most importantly, presence.


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Should Handheld Devices Be Banned for All Children Under the Age of 12?

Here’s an article which will be of interest to many of you, and will certainly spark some controversy,  10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12.

Recent statements from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics proclaim that children aged 6 – 18 should be restricted to two hours of exposure of technology per day.

Pediatric occupational therapist Cris Rowan is appealing governments, schools and parents to ban the use of devices for children under twelve years of age.  In her plea, she cites ten researched-based reasons for the ban which include brain growth, delayed development, epidemic obesity, sleep deprivation and mental illness.  (Visit to view the Zone’in Fact Sheet for referenced research).

While such findings will certainly give us pause, we must also acknowledge that the figures do not apply in all cases.  The key is balance.  As parents and educators we need to ensure that devices and computers are not the only tools for recreation and learning.  parents should engage children in outdoor sports, clubs and activities which promote social interaction and exercise.  While educators should encourage other methods of research and project completion which do not require technology.  Technology is here to stay and has many benefits, yet as in many things in life, moderation is key.

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Happy Families – Happy Holidays

Here’s a post written by my colleague and friend, Lisa Acker.  A great reminder of how to strengthen the bonds of family.  Could there be more perfect a time than during the holidays to simply enjoy each other’s presence?   (As opposed to presents – pardon the pun!)  

Thanks for sharing Lisa!  And happy holidays to all families everywhere!

I recently read a book by Bruce Feiler, The Secrets of Happy Families, as well as an article titled 7 Scientific Tips for Having a Happier Family by Eric Barker. Just in time for the holidays, I’d like to summarize a few of the relevant highlights for you:

1. Eating Together Matters – But It Doesn’t Have To Be Dinner!
Kids who have dinner with their families perform better academically and behaviorally. The book highlights research that shows children are less likely to engage in risky behavior (including drinking and smoking) as well as have larger vocabularies, better manners, healthier diets, and higher self-esteem.

A comprehensive study discovered that the amount of time children spent eating meals at home was the single biggest predictor of better academic achievement and fewer behavioral problems. The GOOD NEWS for busy Hong Kong families (like ours): It doesn’t have to be dinner, and it doesn’t have to be every night! If you can commit to a couple times of week, including breakfast or desert together, many benefits can be enjoyed even if your family is not complete at dinner time.

2. Share Your Family History
Children who know the stories of those who came before them have higher self-esteem and a greater sense of control over their lives. Children who know their families history have a strong “inter-generational self”; They know they belong to something bigger than themselves. Winter break begins next week, and will hopefully give you ample opportunities to share some family history.

3.Empowering Your Children
Kids in general, but especially pre-teens and teens, do better when they are included in making plans and family decisions. Kids who plan their own time, set weekly goals, and assess their own performance strengthen their prefrontal cortex, which contributes to them exerting greater cognitive control over their lives.These executive skills aid children with self-discipline, avoiding distractions, and generally increase their locus of control.

Wishing all your families a wonderful break together, and to those of you who celebrate Christmas, a very merry Christmas to you!

Lisa Acker