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Child and Adolescent Counseling Blog for Lisa Klipfel, MFT
What #AlexFromTarget Has Taught Us.

This week a photo that a 15 year old teen took of a cashier at Target went viral, tagged #Alexfromtarget. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, I know that you are not on social media. The back story is two girls, Alyssa and Alanna, having a discussion about how there is a cute guy that works at Target, but they don't know his name. It's a typical discussion that happens between many teens at lunch, after school, everywhere. But where did this story become all the talk? Enter social media. 

Alyssa was dragged to Target for errands with her parent, and when she saw Alex bagging, she snapped a picture and posted to her friend on twitter to let her friend know his name. That is the post that changed her life and his life forever. Can I say it changed in a bad way? That is for these young people to determine.

"In the olden days" Alyssa would have just texted the photo directly to her friend with a note that says, "his name is Alex." Then nobody today but Alyssa and Alanna would really know who Alex is. It would be private between those two and whoever else she shows her phone photos to. 

In this case, she tweeted her friend on twitter the photo with his name in twitter hashtag language #AlexFromTarget. Anyone on twitter was able to see the post, the photo and choose to respond, retweet or ignore and keep scrolling. For whatever possessed those in Alyssa's feed at that moment, her followers commented and retweeted the photo. The choice to post on social media is an invitation for comments, retweets and feedback. People think they are talking to their friends, which they are, but it's like there is a microphone for the whole stadium to hear. And, everyone in the stadium has a microphone to talk, simultaneously with their opinion, good or bad with no filtering.

People talk about how "big brother is watching". The thing is that with the use of social media, we are shouting at big brother to "watch us." Yet they don't really understand what that means, until a viral event like this happens. 

The girl who posted the original photo was interviewed. She had no intent to become famous or have a photo go viral. What she expressed at the end of the interview is the horror that one social media sentence can change your life forever. 

Alex was also shocked at how fame can occur instantaneously. He has has got caught up with false stories and photos that have been created about him, while having to fend off female fans he doesn't know. He now lives with unintended fame with over 63 thousand followers, having to start a new twitter account after his original one was locked. Her original tweet with his photo was retweeted 1.5 million times.

So, what has #AlexFromTarget taught us?

1. Your photo can be taken by anyone anytime.
2. There may be a photo of you somewhere, anywhere. Perhaps a server in Yakutsk.
3. You should probably just make good choices because of #1 and #2
4. Do your job well. You never know where praise will come from
5. Like where you work. You may be linked to it forever without knowing.
6. Be kind to everyone. You never know who is watching.
7. Be nice on social media, because everyone or anyone could read your post, including your boss, your parents, your teachers, Ellen DeGeneres.
8. If you want to talk with your BFF privately, do it privately, like not on twitter, instagram, vine, youtube, etc.  
9. Random hashtags are not silly.
10. Replicating and predicting what will go viral is not possible. People are trying to get their favorite cashier famous...but it just isn't working, despite their equal dedication to their job.

5 Instagram Tips for the Technically Challenged Parent

Instagram is a photo sharing site. It is social media. People create an account and "people" follow accounts that they like and they are "followed" by other people. You cannot approve who follows you and who does not, like in Facebook, unless their account is private.

1. Set Account to Private
When a child sets up an instagram account it defaults to "public". That means that every photo they post is available to anyone who wants to see it. That includes adults, children, people out of state, out of country and so on. I always recommend that accounts utilized by those under 18 have their setting set to "private" photos. There are pluses and minuses to this. The plus is that not just "anyone" can "follow" them to see their photos. The user can pick and choose who can follow them. The downside is that a child needs to learn how to discern who is okay to allow them to be followed. If a child just says "yes" to ANY follow request, the option to having your account set to "private" is fairly useless. It is your job as a parent to teach them how to evaluate if a request to be "followed" is worthy of acceptance - despite not really knowing what that means yourself. Secondly, when your photos are set to private, you are typically not eligible for entry into "contests" because the contest organizer cannot necessarily pull up your photos to see if you have promoted them. Another downside, is the general feeling of wanting unlimited followers. It is a sign of our generation. When someone has "lots" of followers, it is equivalent to being popular or a validation of worth. It's important to teach your kids that number of followers does not define them.

2. Turn off Photo Geotagging
When you take a photo on a smart phone, it will save lots of bits of information: date, time, location. When the photo is posted on instagram, you can turn on the "map" that allows the photos to report the location of where it was taken. If you have a 10 year old posting a photo from a smart phone, it's possible that he/she is telling everyone in the world where they are at that moment in time, or where they live without actually posting an actual address. My recommendation is that you go into your settings and turn of geotagging on your photos. You may want to turn it on when you go on vacation, but then turn it off again when you are home.

3. Comments can be Deleted
There will be times when peers or unknown persons make a comment on your child's photo that is inappropriate. This can be a simple as a derogatory statement, to name calling to flat out cyberbullying. Know that the user can simply swipe to delete the comment. Also know that deleting comments can create an uproar and that sometimes commenting that a comment is inappropriate is more of an educational tool than deleting. Let your child know that they are in control of their account and not their friends.

4. Followers can be Blocked
If you have a follower that is consistently making inappropriate comments or cyberbullying. That user can be blocked by hitting the button on the top left that looks like a share button. You would only want to block an individual that is being inappropriate or consistently a problem. This is for a specific person or account.

5. Posts can be Flagged as Inappropriate
If you find a post that seems inappropriate, such as nudity, bullying, etc. That particular post can be flagged, with that same button in the upper right corner - "report inappropriate". If a user has too many posts that are inappropriate, the user may have to deal with instagram directly, but that is not your issue to concern yourself with.

Remember that instagram can also be a source of inspiration. Kids can follow their favorite athlete, mentor or hero. They can follow companies in their area of interest. It's important to look at social media as a teaching tool for your child and also a connection with the world. Although you may not understand the ins and outs of instagram, it's important to learn with your child and guide them along their journey.

Dyslexia can be identified before kindergarten

Dyslexia is a learning disability that is neurological in nature effecting the phonologic process, the ability to translate the written word when reading and writing. Dyslexia runs in families and can be identified even before kindergarten, although this rarely happens.

Most people associate dyslexia with mixing up b,p,d,q in writing, but it is a much more complicated and insidious language issue. Although dyslexia shows it's self mostly in reading and writing, there are some dyslexics (but not all) who have a specific speech difficulty. The symptom that I want to share with you today is that of mixing up syllables when talking. This is seen when a child says, "aminal" instead of "animal".  It is very cute when they are in preschool. Many children mix up syllables in this way, but most are able to correct themselves. Those who are unable to correct their syllables are sharing a big red flag for dyslexia. Additionally, the child insists that they have said the word correctly.

This last weekend was one of the largest watched TV shows, the Oscars 2014. Actor John Travolta misread the teleprompter when introducing the singer, Indina Menzel. There has been speculation that Travolta has dyslexia. Actor Whoopi Goldberg who identifies herself as dyslexic, comments on Travolta's mishap stating that she has practiced names, attempted to memorize names and there were some she just can't get the name correct despite countless tries. Her example shares how she mixes up the syllables of the person's name, just as Travolta did at the Oscars.

I mention this misread, because it is the exact phenomena that can be heard with young pre-kindergarten children. They mix up the syllables in a word, "ocifer" instead of "officer". If as a society we take this public mockery of Travolta as a lesson to teach our preschool teachers, our kindergarten teachers, and our parents the early indicators of dyslexia, then perhaps Travolta has provided us with a great public service announcement.

We could really help so many more children if key people were provided with information, looked for red flags and took action when they were alerted to those flags.

Snapchat: What's It's Purpose?

Social media is all the rage for adults, teens and now tweens. The question is whether it should include Snapchat. Let me explain what Snapchat is first. It is a picture messaging app that where your photos disappear in a few seconds defined by the user. So, you take a selfie then send it to your friend. When they receive it, it disappears off their device in 10 seconds. The Snapchat developers indicate they wanted a way for people to not have to "manage" their online profile of photos. Photos transmitted are erased from the recipients device and off the snapchat's server.

Disappearing images sounds great, doesn't it? No online embarrassing hairdo photos to deal with. Let's start with the concept of Snapchat. Although the original intent may have been genuine, what it has become and what it stands for needs to be examined. Snapchat is an app where the photos disappear. Why would you need photos to disappear? Are they blurry photos? Are they selfies? Are they embarrassing? Are they images of risks you are taking? Are they brags of something you did? Did you do something bad you want to share? Are they things you wouldn't want your parents to see? The concept of taking and sending photos that you don't want anyone else to see is not a value that many families would agree with. Do you want to teach your children that they need to hide their images? Do you want to teach your children that it's ok to take photos of yourself that might be embarrassing, showing risk, etc? Moreso, share them?

Although many photos are very innocent, the idea is that it is okay to take photos of yourself to share so that no one else with see them. If you knew the receiving individual was malicious, would you want your child to engage in that interchange? Granted most of the time, Snapchat photos are fun and silly. You never really know when something may go awry, and when it does, it turns down hill very quickly.

The second idea is anonymity. While the photo does indeed disappear off the recipients device and the server, sometimes those photos do last forever. Law enforcement hate Snapchat because the photos really are difficulty to track if not impossible. There is a feature within the app where recipients can take a screenshot of the image and sender is notified, but even if that feature is turned off there are other ways that recipients can retain a photo of the disappearing image. If a child believes their image is truly anonymous, they may take more risks within the image. If they knew it was possible that image could end up on the web, they may not ever have taken or sent such an image.

So, what are the options as a parent? It is important to remember that you are their teacher, including technology where they may know more than you do. I recommend that you are the gatekeeper for all apps, downloads, etc for any device that your child uses. This may sound "helicopterish" but it allows you to remain as the parent. You are the authority in the household, despite your teen's growing independence. I definitely do not recommend Snapchat for anyone under the age of 13. Snapchat created SnapKidz for kids under 13, removing the "sending" feature. This allows parents to view the image and removes the anonymity feature. For teens 13-17, the parents must really evaluate what function snapchat would serve in their child's life. If you choose to allow your child to use Snapchat, it's imparitive that teens know never to send any photo of themselves that they wouldn't want their parent, teacher, religious leader, mentor or worst enemy to see; likewise to imagine how they would feel if any of these photos were posted on the internet. It's important that they know that it may feel anonymous, but anyone can snap an image for permanent record. Teens must also know that they must come to you if any image they have created is being held against them, even if they didn't follow the rules. Sometimes when you tell a child they can't have something, it makes that item all the more desirable. Each family must weigh the pros and cons on how to handle the request of, "Can I get Snapchat?".

I'm so done with technology: Taming the electronic giant

Many parents ask me about taming the electronic giant, because they are "so done with technology that they just want to throw all the electronics away." After attending the Southern California Regional Play Therapy conference this weekend, I've realized the electronic giant has spread everywhere. The electronics include cell phones, smart phones, ipods, ipads, ereaders, computers, TVs, hand held gaming units and TV gaming units. Essentially anything with a screen is included. Parents are asking how it got out of control, while kids are asking for more.

The first step is to realize how many devices that you have, who is using them and for what purpose. You will find that it is not only children who are using them and some kids will even complain about their parent's use of electronics. Kids as young as 17 months can swipe on an ipad and find their favorite game. In this day and age, the WHO probably consist of most people in the family.

The next question is what are the devices being used for...really. I recently did a personal evaluation with an app to time each activity I did for a week. It was an interesting personal experience, as there were many electronic activities such as responding to emails that I thought was just taking a few minutes, actually took 3X as long as I estimated. So, we really have to evaluate how much time we are spending on a device for what purpose. Evaluate for yourself on how much you think you spend on your devices, then log it for a week, or even a day. You'll be surprised between what you think and what you actually do. Have each family member do the same.

After determining the amount of time and activity, it's time to really evaluate if you want to reallocate the time and activity. This gives parents and kids the opportunity to see how much time they really are using their electronics for educational purposes. There are other positive things your children are doing on their devices, like communicating with you or other members of the family which you wouldn't want to discourage. As you look at the specific activities, it's important to really evaluate the positive aspects of some activities such as education, interacting with positive role models, family communication, etc. It is like taking a look at someone's diet and seeing if they are getting enough fruits, vegetables, protein and carbs. After looking at the ratio, parents should first discuss the time and activities with each other. They should come up with expectations together.

Then meet together as a family to discus the amount of time spent on electronics and the expectations. Making changes in this area may be difficult. For young child, the parents should set the rules without child input, while tween and teen input would be expected for better compliance.

If you are uncomfortable about limiting your child's electronic device usage, think about some of the rules you may have had using the phone, or even playing with other kids when you were growing up. "Land line" phone rules may have included time limitations as no call waiting existed, limiting the number of calls per day, limiting where the phone could be used, and a certain phone answering ettiquette. As the parent, you are in control of all the electronic devices. They are privileges. They are not rights, despite what your child may demand. It is not that you are trying to deprive them of their best electronic friend, but that you are trying to teach them to be kind, responsible adults.

For so many parents, attempting to train the electronic giant seems impossible. One of the things that I work with many parents on is how to set boundaries around electronics and not feel guilty about it. You are not alone. The giant can be tamed.

Teen Talk: What Prescription Drugs are Teens Taking These Days?

Parents should be concerned about prescription drug use, as it is on the rise, especially in Orange County. The most common prescription pill usage is pain relievers, (CNS) depressants, sleeping pills and stimulants. They are widely prescribed to adults for a multitude of reasons and teens can easily get a hold of them when adults don't use all of their prescription.

Prescription pain relievers from Vicodin to Oxycontin are in the opioid category. The purpose after a surgery is to make it so you don't feel physical pain. It can cause drowsiness, nausea and slowed breathing. They are highly addictive.

Depressants depress the central nervous system, with the goal to calm people down. Barbituates and benzodiazapines (valium, xanax, ativan) are strong medication. Sleep aides such as Lunesta and Ambien also depress the nervous system. All of this class of medicines are highly addictive.

Lastly, is the prescription stimulants, such as Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, typically prescribed for ADHD. There have been a shortage of some of these medications, because there has been more regulation for MDs in prescribing these medications. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon for a child with ADHD to be prescribed one and then switched to another, leaving a supply available from the unsuspecting parent. These medications speed up the body. Some kids choose them because they think it will help them to concentrate better, while others feel it will help them to lose weight. It is important that if your child has any of these concerns that they discuss them with their doctor.

It's important that kids know that these medications became prescription strength, because they need to be monitored by a MD. The wrong medications together, or specific medications along with specific medical conditions can create permanent damage and/or death. It is important that just because they are prescription, doesn't necessarily mean they are any safer than street drugs.

As a parent, you can help by disposing of unused medicines, or locking them up. Even if your child may not take those medications, one of their friends may consider it if it is out in the open. Keeping those medications unavailable to teen helps reduce prescription drug use overall.

In summary, here are 3 things you can do as a parent of a teen to reduce underage prescription pill consumption.

1. Talk with your kids about not taking pills that you are not prescribed.
2. Explain the health or medical consequences of taking pills you are not prescribed.
3. Dispose of or lock up unused medicine.

If you would like to talk further about these issues with a therapist, contact Lisa Klipfel at (949) 891-2127.

My Child Gets Stickers and Pencil Rewards Everywhere. Is It Working?

When I was young and went to the doctor to get shots, I was so excited when we left because I got a lollipop. It is a reward for getting through a difficult situation, shots. This concept spread to the dentist. Then to the schools. Now it seems, kids are being rewarded for every action in their life despite the amount of difficulty of the activity. To take this further, our community is concerned about kids feeling excluded. So, now when kids are on teams, everyone gets a ribbon or trophy so no kids feel badly.

The concept of a reward system, or a token economy, is to give a reward or token for desirable behavior. The first question is to ask is what behavior do I want to reward? The answers can range anywhere from receiving a shot, to not hitting a sibling. The behavior needs to be specific, or the child will not be able to identify what specific behavior needs to be repeated.

Rewards need to be motivating, desirable, or the system fails. If the reward is a basketball, it will motivate kids who love basketball, but will not motivate kids who have no interest in basketball. It needs to be affordable and feasible for the person or agency giving the reward. That is why doctor's offices don't give away basketballs, as it would get to be too expensive for every child to get a basketball and where would they store them? That is why often small inexpensive toys are used.

So where has society failed? I believe society really tried to harness this great technique to create a better, more kind, compliant society, but it hasn't worked for several reasons. The first is that the behavior doesn't always need to be rewarded. When my child gets his teeth cleaned, he doesn't need a reward for going to the dentist. I want him to learn that getting your teeth cleaned is just something humans need to do to keep their teeth for a long time. Now if he has to have a filling, or something painful, then getting a reward for enduring the pain could be helpful. Why? Because the 2nd time he has to have a planned painful event at the dentist, he is going to be reluctant to go. If the reward was not just for "attending" the visit, but enduring pain, it would make more of an impact. So, in my opinion, the wrong behavior is being rewarded.

The other aspect as a society is the reward. Most schools and office have very similar rewards, such as stickers, pencils, erasers, etc. When was the last time your child begged and pleaded with you at the store because they wanted a specific pencil? These rewards are not motivating, except for just a few. You know this to be true when a child spends a long time at the box digging and digging for something, anything. The truth is that they already got a pencil at school, a sticker at the dentist, and now can't find anything of value in the current box.

What about the rewards of playing on a team? The idea behind all players getting a ribbon or trophy came about when some kids were feeling excluded. The new system was created for a sense of inclusion. Teams are a little bit different system. The reward is for an achievement, basically a behavior that is very good based on a specific skill. As we watched the Super Bowl this weekend. One team won and one team lost. The team that won felt good, ecstatic. The team that lost were sad, angry and disappointed. The team that won got a huge trophy, gave speeches, and recapped their success. They were the focus. Why? Because they achieved a skill, a success, and a reward for their success. It is normal for the other team to not feel good, which is the basis of competition. Both teams were very good, but one was better and only one could win.

When children are young, all children getting a ribbon makes sense, because the reward of such a ribbon is exciting, i.e. the reward is motivating. Around the age of 7 or 8, children can differentiate between merit rewards and participation rewards. Although the exclusion issue was resolved, it created a new problem, the lack of desire to reach for a merit reward. Would we have any Olympians if they did not strive for a larger reward? In life there are so many things that need to be strived for from grades to job placements to financial goals.

Another issue this global reward system has created is the concept that all rewards are external (a physical item). Internal rewards are those that satisfy the soul. The internal satisfaction that a behavior is good or right is a much longer lasting effect than any external reward. When a child says, "I'm not doing X, because I'm not getting Y." that tells you his motivation is external. He does not have the internal motivation to perform that behavior. That is where we have failed. We had good intentions, but need a different approach.

So, what do we do now? If you have a reward system in your family or at your office. Evaluate the use of it. Ask yourself what specific behavior am I rewarding? What rewards do I use? Am I getting the results that I need? You might want to call a family meeting to explain the changes to your system. You may need to redefine rewards at your office, so one basket is for large procedures, or another basket is for older children. Or, you may decide not to give rewards at all. I used to have a treasure box that kids would get something when they left, but when I evaluated what I was rewarding I determined to do away with the chest. I donated the items to the school.

Remember that rewards need to be for specific behaviors and motivating. Remember that you are not alone if you have misused a reward system, even I have failed. Try to teach and instill intrinsic rewards any time you can. Each time you can encourage intrinsic rewards, you are building that child's self esteem and self efficacy. Have faith that kids can do it. They are stronger than we we think.

What Can We Do To Help The Families Of Newtown?

When I talk with families about the tragic shooting in Newtown, many feel so much pain for the families that they want to do something...anything. I have seen many homages set up to the memory of the young kids and teachers who are no longer on this earth. Yet the question remains, what can we do to help the families of Newtown.

While a foundation is sure to surface shortly, in the meantime, you can channel your desire to help to your local community. Newtown has an outpouring of assistance across the nation. What is needed is for your heart and generosity to be felt locally, to those children in need here in your own community. I've compiled a list of things you can do to help others on a local level.

1. Give blood. In the holiday season, people are so busy that blood bank levels often drop to critical levels. You may be able to help a child, a mother who endure a car accident here in your own backyard. Reach the donation center for CHOC here.
2. Donate to a local group home. Group homes are designed for foster kids who cannot return to their families. These local children need our support. They need to know they are not forgotten. They house the next generation of children who have had their hearts broken. Here is a list of some agencies that run group homes in Orange County: Rite of Passage, Olive Crest, South Coast Children's Society
3. Become Involved. Orangewood Foundation assists children who have been removed from the home due to abuse, or where children have been abandoned. Many of them struggle with their identity following their own life traumas. The foundation fills request from kids all year. Orangewood Foundation runs a mentoring program where you can assist a youth who has come from a troubled home and needs some extra guidance.
4. Contribute to NAMI. The National Association of Mentally Ill (NAMI) offers help to the mentally ill and to their families at a local level. The families need our support and our understanding. You can contribute your time by educating yourself about mental illness, volunteering your time to supporting/education others, or contribute resources you might have.
5. Be Prepared. Know how to help your family, your neighbors in an emergency. Get to know your neighbors. They may be your lifeline in case of an emergency, or more so, you may be theirs. Consider taking a disaster preparedness class, first aid or CPR class. You just never know if you will be a first responder.

Although this is a very short list, if I made it as long I wanted you would be quite lost and overwhelmed. The important thing is to take action to help someone who is suffering a loss, a family who is struggling with someone with mental illness, or to assist your own family in being ready for any disaster that is unexpected (as a fire, or earthquake is much more probable).

I thank you for opening your hearts today and choosing to make our world a better place. It is only with this compassion can we make changes in this world.

What Do You Say To Your Kids When Tragedy Occurs: Explaining the Newtown Shooting

As the story of the Newtown Shooting unfolded, the hearts of mothers and fathers ached for their children. Even living on the opposite coast of where the Newtown Shooting occurred, knowing logically that our children were physically safe from said shooter, it weighed heavily upon the safety of our children. When it was learned that most of the victims were kindergarteners, I swear I could hear the cry of mothers, fathers, grandparents audibly in the gray skies. Even the address by our commander in chief could not deliver a note of condolences without shedding a tear.

As mothers, and other caretakers, prepare to drive up to their local school in the next few minutes or hours, it is a wonder of how to talk with your children about the horrible news. Is it even necessary that they know? Children will learn of this tragedy no matter where they live. There will be discussions that may be small and quick, while others may be long and inquisitive. How many people in America have never heard of the 9/11 attacks?

The question is what do I say? This will depend on the age of your child and their life experiences. Here is a quick guide.

1. Just the Facts: Just report the facts simply. The rest of the conversation will be dictated by your child. For some, those fact will be enough, while others will be more curious. Likewise, if your child has experienced any sort of trauma, there is a higher likelihood that he/she will be more effected by this.
2. They are safe: Reassure kids that they are currently safe and that they will be safe at school. If a child still feels anxious about school, remind them of any disaster drills they have had at school. Remind them that despite the tragedy, 570 kids followed the instruction of their teachers, remembered their disaster drill tasks and were just fine. Remind them to listen to the adult they have been entrusted to.
3. Teaching moment: By you telling your child about the Newtown Shooting, it gives you the opportunity to open a discussion about a variety of topics: compassion, frustration tolerance, disaster preparedness, safety, faith, and reaching out. For some children who are more sensitive, they may want to do something to help which can be as simple as a card. The teaching moment may be a point you want to make, but it will be more impactful if it is derived from their line of questions.
4. Don't watch: Don't watch or listen to media about the Newtown Shooting with your children. If they are able to watch TV, they will see news clips. Shield them from those images, if at all possible. Kids that watched 9/11 news didn't realize the video clips were replays and thought the event was occurring over and over again. If for whatever reason, you can not, or could not shield them from the images and other media, process what they heard and saw, reminding them about their own safety.

In the end, you don't want to scare them and you want them to know that they are safe. Contemplative child thinkers may not say much today, but may bring up the subject at Christmas dinner when you least expect it. These sort of topics have a way of cycling in and out of our discussions. So be prepared that just because you think the conversation is over, it may not be for them. Likewise, don't expect that they will want to have any discussion about the incident. If they don't care to discuss it, drop it. Children under 6 are less likely to want to have a discussion.

With that said, it will likely take much longer for us, as parents to heal, from the vicarious tragedy we can imagine that has occurred to another family.  Allow yourself the grieving of the incident and process it with other parents, as the kids may have moved on. They have not been flooded with the images. They have not lived through other disasters to know the depth of this. Allow them to be a kid, yet be open for their questions.

My Child Wants an Ipad for Christmas. Are They Ready?

One of the most asked questions by parents this holiday season is, "My child wants an iPad, or Ipod Touch for Christmas. Are they ready?". There are many questions to consider when contemplating giving your child a mobile device, such as an iPad, iPod touch, but could also include a Nook, or or other tablet. These questions relate to content, time, privacy and security.

The first question is about content. Will the iPad, iTouch or other device have appropriate content for my child. Most parents who have these the iPad/iTouch have found numerous age appropriate apps that entertain their child. Some are educational as well. It's important to consider what content DO you want your child to be exposed to and in what manner. What will be the primary function of the device? Waiting in line entertainment? At home entertainment? Educational enhancement? Game alternative? Movie watching? Just as there are many appropriate apps, there are far more inappropriate apps. Yet, as the parent you can control which apps are downloaded. It is advisable that the parent control the "apple ID" which is connected to your credit card. This will allow you to control the content and financial impact of such a device.

Another comment regarding content is that most of these devices, including some nook and most tablets is that they have wifi access to the internet. Is your child of the age that you would allow them on your computer surfing the internet without supervision? If your answer is no, then you need to give the same consideration to the mobile device. This dove tails into security. There are apps that are available that will tell you what sites the device is surfing, as well as downloads and time on apps. Depending on the age of your child, it may give the opportunity to have some breathing room. Remember, it only takes one click on youtube while you've taken a second to head to the bathroom for a 4 year old to see an inappropriate video and start repeating words you've never said in your home.

Along with security is privacy. It's important to teach your children about what they can and can't share when they are online. This starts with setting up profile names and accounts for games, but continues on when they start utilizing social media. Most social media sites don't allow children under 13 to have accounts, but I'm finding kids are entering social media such as instagram or youtube at a younger age because of the photo and video nature of the sites. They don't focus on words as in facebook or twitter that younger children don't feel the need to follow, but there is a draw to the visual sites. It is important that you are aware what your children are interested in and learn together. If a child wants one of these accounts, consider a family account that allows you, the parent the ability to post the photos, which also teaches children by example what photos or videos are appropriate and why. It will be a chance to share with your child, and also see what his/her friends are doing.

Lastly, is the issue of time. I hear so many complaints from parents that their child spends too much time on their electronic devices. Remember that you can set the parameters for this. If it's not set when they are young, it will be even harder when they are a teenager. Large amounts of screen time (TV, video, mobile devices) are correlated with obesity, irregular sleep, behavioral problems, impaired academic performance, and violence. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time to no more than 2 hours per day. Many parents don't allow devices to be used on school days, so that it doesn't impair homework.

With all those cautionary tales, an iPad or iPod touch can be a fun device for children as long as you teach children how to use them to ensure their safety, limit usage so they continue to play with other age appropriate toys, and monitor the content. There are many useful and educational programs, even some fun family games. The key to the success of having the iPad in your home is moderation and knowledge.

My Child is So Angry! What Do I Do?

Parents often feel so helpless when their children get so angry. As parents we want the best for them and we try to help them through the rough stuff in life. When a child is so angry it is scary in some way, then often turn to me. When I mean scary, it doesn't necessarily mean violent, but it could. It could be that they can just see their children feeling out of control and the parent is feeling unable to help them.

So, what is a parent to do? The first step is to realize that anger is an emotion. That may sound simple enough, but anger is often a secondary emotion. Let me explain.  In therapy, I talk with kids and families about the anger funnel. As humans, we experience a lot of feelings: happy, sad, disappointed, fear, jealousy, etc. With the anger funnel, all the emotion fall into the funnel, but the only emotion that comes out the bottom is anger. So, sadness turns to anger. Disappointment turns to anger. Fear turns to anger. This is what is meant by a secondary emotion. First it was one feeling, then it turned to anger. When a child and a parent can understand this concept, it helps both of them to reflect more when an anger episode occurs.

In addition to educating about anger, it's important to learn coping skills. There are a range of coping skills that we learn in our lives to calm us down when we are angry, sad, and anxious. Some of us have a big range of coping skills and some have a small range. Some people choose effective methods and some people use destructive methods. My goal is to help kids expand their range of constructive coping skills. Sometimes there are differences between what a child or teen thinks is appropriate and what parents think are appropriate. This is also my task to help the family come to an agreement and also to learn to respect each other's coping mechanisms.

If you feel that you need some peace in the house, call for a consultation today.

RED RIBBON WEEK: What is Your School Doing?

Red Ribbon Week is the week of October 22, 2012 and some schools will extend it until Halloween. Red Ribbon Week is drug and alcohol awareness week. Most school's celebrate it in some form or another. If you have not heard your school participating in Red Ribbon Week, then inquire about it.

Drug and alcohol usage can really pop it's head at any age. It is estimated that experimentation can begin as early as 4th and 5th grade, while some kids experiment in middle or high school. Early education is important, as well as early intervention. Schools need your help in making Red Ribbon Week a success. Your inquiry helps them realize that it is important to parents and families.

If you want to be involved with your school's Red Ribbon Week, or just want to learn more about how you can teach your kids about drug awareness, here are some websites with some great activities for many ages.

I'm Drug Free
National Family Partnerships Red Ribbon Week
Red Ribbon Resources
Red Ribbon Lesson Plans
Orange County Red Ribbon Week Planner
DARE kid's games
Drug Facts 4 Young People
NIDA Resources for Parents

New Age Parenting: Helicopter Parenting or a Free-Range Parenting?

I was recently forwarded an article on Free-Range Parenting. Intrigued by a title that appears to reference chickens and the strong reaction from the sender, I read it right away. Before I tell you about the article, let me explain these two terms.

Helicopter parenting describes parents that hover, like a helicopter. The concept is that are many evils that can intrude upon the child's life and the parent needs to protect them from them. They are involved in every aspect of their child's life, and make their input known in every area as well. They are often highly scheduled, and many times over scheduled children with no free time. It is often referenced in educational settings.

Free-range parenting as described in this article is the concept of letting children play unsupervised. The concept is that the kids are overprotected and live in a bubble wrap society. By this over protection, fear and dependence is instilled. The idea is for kids to learn how navigate things on their own, really on their own.

So the question begs asking: Which is better helicopter parenting or free-range parenting? Each have serious and significant pros and cons. When I first came into this field, more supervision of children was the rant of society. Many evils seemed to permeate society: kidnappings, teen drug usage, bullying. So parents took a tighter rein on their children. There is still philosophical debates whether rates have increased in some of these areas, or just media coverage.

The good thing that came from more supervision of children is kids knowing that their parent cared about them. The increased supervision created more dialogue between kids and their parents. It gave kids alternative activities to choose than using drugs. Parents got educated in the information age, but then they got too educated leading to fear and worry. Kids started having less and less time to get into trouble, or be snatched up by a stranger. The result was over scheduled children. Some of these children have not had much or any unstructured time with friends to learn how to handle things independently. Some of them are burnt out emotionally, academically or even physically from the sporting or other activities they are involved in. Teachers started worrying less about inspiring children to learn and more how they were going to explain their teaching method or subject matter to parents. There is an aspect of helicopter parenting that is beneficial. I call it black ops helicopter parenting when it becomes unhealthy.

But what about free-range parenting? I can see the eyes rolling now. There really is some benefit to that as well. When I read the article there were parts of me that were cheering for the writer, as she describes the need for unstructured play. There is so much for kids to learn from unstructured play with peers from pre-school all the way to adolescents. It teaches them about social roles, social rules, imagination, problem solving, and so much more. It allows them to learn what is expected and accepted by peers, beyond what a parent teaches. I have always been an advocate of unstructured play, but where I think the line is crossed is supervision. There is a difference between unstructured play and unsupervised unstructured play. There is a difference between saying no to a child because you don't want them to do something, and saying no because they might lose a limb or cause death. But the question to evaluate is when will a child learn that something is hot by a parent saying so and when will they learn by touching it. That is the basis of free-range supervision.

Lastly, I will say that your choice of parenting will range depending on your values and your experiences. I have found that some children respond better to helicopter parenting while others respond better to free-range. Let's complicate matters if both those children live in the same household, then what do you do? It may seem easy to condemn one style or the other, but with anything the answer really is in the balance of the two.

If you are struggling with your child and would like some direction, contact Lisa for a consultation at (949) 891-2127.

Reference articles:

Grounding the Helicopter Parent - Washington Post
Why Free Range Kids? - Lenore Skenazy

The psychology of friends

One of the great concerns of parents is whether their child has friends, getting along with friends, or hanging around friends. How people choose friends seems to change throughout the lifespan. I recently read an article that discussed 3 aspects - proximity, frequent interactions, and feeling comfortable. Although the article was about adults, it got me thinking about children.

When a child is in preschool, their friendships are primarily dictated by their caregivers. Whomever the parents hang out with is whom the child will see. It may be friends, or a play group, or a "mommy and me class". The child has little control over his choice of friends at this age. Some parents do make changes, if two kids are not getting along well, but that decision is still primarily the parents.

When children enter elementary school, this is the start of independent choice of friends. In the lower grades, the caregivers still have great influence as "playdates" are still often monitored with lengthy reports to the other parent as to what the kids did. Parents can easily choose to have more playdates with one child, or less with another depending on their feelings about how they got along, mutual interests, etc.

In the upper grades of elementary grades is when independent friends are developed without much influence by the parents. There is more choice on the playground. There are more requests to play with kids outside of school, with kids the parents haven't met before. This is a crucial time for social development. It is the time when kids really solidify how to interact with others. Not that it can't be changed, but is the ground work. This is the time where parental influence is most important. Talk with your children about why one child seems like a better playmate than another. If he/she is drawn to a child that they are getting in trouble together, try to figure out what he/she is getting out of the relationship. Likewise, if you have a child that is withdrawn, this is the time to encourage them to come out of their shell. Perhaps they will do best to find other introvert like them. Encouraging them to find friends who are extroverts to change your introvert to an extrovert doesn't work. Remember, they must feel comfortable to open up.

In middle school starts the testing of limits and independence. This is where trust really begins. It is starting to let go just a tiny bit. As a parent, you really learn other parent's parenting style and chances are they will not match yours. Understand that your child will be disappointed by your rules, and let you know all his friends are allowed to do everything else he/she can't. Friendships shift at this point to be highly important in their life. They will often have friends that you may not know the parents. It is a time that your "broken record" will begin and will keep playing until they graduate high school.

In high school they are preparing to "leave the nest", but remember they are still kids. They still need your advise about friends. They will come to you will problems with their friends, but will seemingly not take your advice. This is the way they learn. Be honest despite whether or not you think they will listen to your advice. Just remember to "talk" and not "lecture" about their choices with friends.

It is said that the choice of friends made in high school and in college are the ones they will keep through most of their lives. Why? It goes back to proximity, seeing each other often, and feeling comfortable opening up. As a parent, you don't have control who they feel comfortable with. You don't have much control about who lives close by, unless you move and there is no guarantee that will change things. Through out their lives, you have some control of who they "can" see. In elementary you have some control and the least control as a teen, but remember to set the expectations when they are young of who is a good friends.

Tips for guiding kids in choosing their friends:
1. Friends should treat you with respect.
2. You should be genuinely interested in what your friends talk about.
3. Friends should make you smile when you are with them.
4. Friends develop a cooperative rhythm of give and take: a sharing of turns, ideas, etc.
5. Friends care about each other and are concerned when their friends are hurt.

If you have questions about your child's social life and want to discuss how to intervene, give me a call at (949) 891-2127.

Surviving Separation Anxiety

Generally separation anxiety is a natural event that occurs when children start exploring their world. They gain some courage to explore without their parent or caregiver and then wander back to the parent for security. The length of time away from their parent gets longer in time and distance, until they feel comfortable with the separation.

Most parents that come into to see me about separation anxiety are not talking about this natural event, but when their child refuses to separate, the anxiety is extreme when they are separated, or when there is a regression from non-anxious separation to highly anxious separation. Severe separation anxiety is heart breaking for not only the kids but for the parents, caregivers and teachers who are receiving the children. It is important to address separation anxiety as quickly as possible. Without intervention, the anxiety can intensify.

What is a parent to do? There are several things that you will want to do before, after and between episodes. Before a planned separation, give the child notice of when the separation will occur if at all possible. This may be as simple as, "Mom need to leave for an appointment every Wed at 3 pm and will return at 5 pm." For reoccurring appointment, they can be marked on a calendar. For appointment that are time limited, a timer can be set for when the caregiver is gone. Open ended time away and for unexpected events, these will be more difficult.

After returning from a separation, reassure child that the disaster that he/she worried about did not occur. This helps to confront irrational fears. In between episodes, consider setting aside specific one to one time with that child to increase bonding in a non-stressful time period. This will help the child to become stronger when separation occurs.

Therapy is indicated when the separation anxiety interferes with your daily routine, involves missing school, somatic complaints (such as stomach aches, or headaches) start developing, or when the anxiety seems more than what seems natural for your child. If you are not sure if therapy is a good idea, contact me today for a consultation. Childhood should be a fun time for your child. Let's what we can do to make it so.

Is attachment parenting helpful or harmful?

Attachment parenting attention has gone through the roof with the release of Time magazine's article and cover today. The cover shows a 3 year old standing up breastfeeding, and the country is all a buzz about the implications of breastfeeding for such a long period of time. Attachment parenting, also called responsive parenting, advocates breastfeeding, "baby wearing", co-sleeping, and bonding.

The concept of attachment parenting whereby the relationship of parent and child is getting close and bonding reaches most parents as a good idea, but how to do that is where the controversy begins, and very heated at that. Let's look at each area of attachment parenting.

Responsiveness to baby is the concept that when a baby cries they need to be attended to. A baby's way of communicating is through cries. It is logical that a parent wants to know what a baby wants or needs when they cry. Where things diverge is when the baby gets older and during the middle of the night. A baby does need a lot of attention, as well as lots of feeding, changes and holding. For some reason the word attention has become a bad word. There is positive attention and there is negative attention. A baby has not had enough experiences in their life to demand negative attention. Their attention is mostly need based, and the need to be close is a human social need.

Baby wearing is the concept of holding a baby close to a parent's body. It is the idea of slings, baby bjorns, and mayan wraps. A baby does not have a separate sense of self until about 3 months old. Holding a baby close to the parent helps the child feel protected and increases bonding. Granted this option really can only go on until it's physically healthy for the parent.

Co-sleeping is another highly controversial area in our society. There is a lot of anxiety for children and parents around sleeping. For babies and children it is a time of separation from their parents, while parents are dreaming of the night they themselves can sleep through the night. There are also medical concerns of SIDS, babies sleeping on their backs, bed coverings, and so much more. The idea behind co-sleeping, or sleeping in the same bed, is that it eliminates the night time anxiety for the children, and increases bonding. The opposing view is the "crying it out" method advocated by Dr. Richard Ferber, advising to let the child cry themselves to sleep so to speak. The Ferber method teaches a child (and the parent) to ignore the natural cues of anxiety, and puts a wedge in the parent-child trust at such a very early age. Is it possible to regain this trust? Perhaps, but it is the complete opposite to responsive parenting.

Lastly, is the ever so controversial breastfeeding. The American Pediatric Association recommends breastfeeding to mothers who are able to breastfeed. Breastfeeding has long been touted for increasing immunity and bonding. I don't think that is ever in dispute. The area of dispute and discomfort is the age to cease breastfeeding. After one year of age, the nutritional value of the breast milk is no longer necessary. After one year of age, breastfeeding is essentially a connection, bonding, and soothing between mother and child. The APA does not recommend an age in which breastfeeding should cease, and the general public seems to start shaming mothers who breastfeed beyond about 18 months old. A mother who has made that personal choice often avoids the public when breastfeeding, or connects with other mother's through attachment parenting groups.

Attachment parenting can be done with just one of these aspects, or partially with all of these concepts. It is possible to utilize the concepts of responsive parenting in many ways. The benefits of attachment parenting is absolutely phenomenal. It increases independence, decreases behavioral problems, improves development, increases self esteem and develops intuitiveness. I believe that attachment parenting can guard against some mental health stumbling blocks later in life, because the bonding that is created in the first 5 years of life is just so important.

If you would like more information about attachment parenting, here are some internet resources.
Attachment Parenting Basics by Dr. Sears
Benefits of Attachment Parenting by Dr. Sears
Attachment Parenting International
Are You Mom Enough? Times article on attachment parenting

If you would like to learn how you can adopt some attachment parenting techniques into your parenting, call me to make an appointment at (949) 891-2127.

Lisa Klipfel, MFT

Gifted Children in Therapy

This weekend I attended the CAMFT conference, a conference for Marriage and Family Therapist to learn from some of the current greatest leaders in the field of therapy. I met Mika Gutavson, an expert who works with gifted children in therapy. It was apparent from the beginning of her presentation that it would not be the usual presentation, with her frank opinions and unfiltered explanation of experiences. I learned quite a bit about gifted children in therapy and how to connect with them.

Mika started with a definition of gifted that you would think would be quite simple but it was not. Clearly there are those children who have been tested and placed in the gate classes, but there are many gifted children who are not placed in gifted classes due to a co-existing condition. She calls them, the twice-exceptional child. These include children who have a higher intelligence and ADHD, Dyslexia, Aspergers, Anxiety, Depression, Sensory Processing Disorder and a multitude of other conditions that seem to be the main area of focus. There was much discussion about how gifted children in therapy can have their intellectual abilities or "special abilities" overlooked.

Perfectionism was a classic example of a trait that can be seen in gifted children that in and of itself is not classifiable, but indicates a clear vision from their more developed mind to create things one way, but with a struggle in the gifted child's physical development that is incapable of matching their vision. This perfectionism can create, or show itself as rigidity. It can be frustrating to teachers, to parents and to the gifted child.

I believe that I have seen many, many gifted children in therapy that have never been identified as such. In fact, most children and parents struggle when their child is twice-exceptionally gifted. There is this innate feeling that their child is smart. Maybe it is their creative problem solving, or their extreme artistic talent, but at school they can't sit still, getting in trouble all the time, or maybe they can't read due to their Dyslexia. The sad part of this is that it chips away at the child's self esteem, which then effects their motivation either in school, with peers, or even at home. Some families home school because there just is not a match between the school setting, and the child's twice-exceptional needs.

This is only a scratch on the surface about the issues facing the gifted child in therapy, but I hope it will shed some light on the idea that sometimes, many times, a child has more complex things going on with them, like an onion. It's not that they have many "problems", but they are multifaceted, making a single "diagnosis" or cause inaccurate.

If you have struggled with your child and have always thought, "Y'know, I've always known my child is smart, but this other issue is getting in the way." contact me so we can discuss how to determine if your child is twice-exceptional, and what would be the best steps on getting him/her some help.

The New Year: Changing Habits

When the New Year rolls around, we all make resolutions on what we will change. It may be to lose weight, to spend more time with our kids, to clean up the garage. There is a theory floating around that states that it takes 21 days to develop a new habit, but the truth of the matter is much different.

As we are on day 17 of the New Year, many of your are still gung-ho on your new changes, some of you are waivering, while some have already given up.

Habits form over weeks, and sometimes years. Some habits are rote and we give no thought to their creation. Some habits have an emotional attachment to them. Some habits require prior education before they can be altered.

The truth is a habit is multi-faceted, and the length of time it takes to change it will really depend on your commitment to the change, and taking the appropriate steps to make that change so. The first step is to create a replacement action or behavior that is reasonable. If you've chosen to run and have never done so- replacing sitting on the couch with a 26 mile run is an unreasonable replacement behavior.

Next you must be conscious of the action to stop it and then replace it. It becomes habit to automatically drive yourself home without thought. You've missed the gym, so you forego it for the day. Until you are conscious enough to stop the habit, you cannot replace it with a new one.

Lastly is the emotional connection to the habit. It is the piece of the puzzle that gets forgotten. What is the emotional attachment to sitting on the couch, or running, or getting home asap, or being at the gym. You will be drawn to the comfort habits, and pulled away from that of discomfort. Until something has become habit, it may not be comfortable. Consciousness will assist you in making it more comfortable, and therefore more likely to be repeated.

This very behavioral post is simplistic, but also applies to parenting.  When you want to make changes in that area, most likely you have to get into an uncomfortable zone to lay the law down how you would like.  Letting things go can be more comfortable at the moment, but not when discipline is laid out. It's important to speak up for what you believe and talk with your spouse about the same.  Being on different pages makes parenting even more difficult.

Changing habits are possible with the right mindset, motivation and consciousness.

Lisa Klipfel, MA, MFT

Related article
Happiness Project Article

Threatening Coal in Your Stocking as a Holiday Parenting Technique

During this time of year, it is easy to get stressed out as a parent. There is so much to do: buying presents, holiday celebrations, wrapping presenting, decorating, baking, etc. It is easy to come to the end of your rope much more quickly than at other times of the year. I find many parent use the threat of Santa, or the “elf on a shelf” as a way to keep their children in check.

There are pros and cons to this way of holiday parenting. The pros are that many children feel that if the elf sees them misbehaving, then they won’t get the presents they really want. It is a reminder to children that there is a consequence for their misbehavior. It is also very convenient when your energy is only a thread left.

The cons of using Santa and the elves is that it is an external magical force. There will come a day when the children no longer believe and you will want them to behave because it’s just the right thing to do. If they feel there is no external reinforcer, then they have no “reason” to follow the rules or behave unless they believe it is right. Likewise, when December 26 rolls around, you have no external force to assist you until November or December rolls around.

I suggest that you reinforce good behaviors in the manner that you do all year round, and not change just in the month of December. This helps kids internalize a sense of right and wrong, even if it’s a slight bit harder.

Sensory Processing Issues - What to do?

We have 5 commonly talked about senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell.  There are two additional senses that occupational therapists will tell you about: proprioceptive and vestibular.

The proprioceptive sense is the sense of knowing where your body is in space.  What? You say.  This sense helps us to motor plan, know how much physical pressure to use, and how to position our body.  Someone with proprioceptive difficulties may run into things, may be unaware that they are squeezing someone's hand too hard, or difficulty remembering their batting stance. 

The vestibular sense is that of motion.  Some kids seek motion, while others avoid it.  Each can be a sign of a dysfunction in the vestibular sense.  Those that seek it, will crave amusement rides, rock, swing, spin and love trampolines.  Those that avoid it may avoid rides, lose balance often, and may have a low muscle tone. There is a range of difficulties in this area, but just to give you an idea.

I recently met with Betsy Aasland, MS, OTR/L who is the owner and founder of Beach Kids Therapy Center.  We discussed the many issues that come through her center from autism to developmental delays.  She works with kids with all kinds of sensory issues.  Some may have a sensitivity to hearing, always covering their ears, while another may have an aversion to lots of different foods (olfactory sense). 

She sees kids along the autism spectrum, offering a interesting philosophy.  Often times a child is seen by one specialist for one thing, and another specialist for another thing.  Her belief is that all the disciplines must work together to treat the child as a whole.  Although this concept is not new, in practice it can be difficult to find someone who follows this theory.  Their team evaluates each child individually, and develops a treatment plan that is specific and concise to their needs.  She believes that in some cases children with autism can recover with properly identified treatment.

In addition to working with kids on the autism spectrum, she also sees young children under 5, kids diagnosed with ADHD, and other developmental delays.  She takes most insurances, including tricare.  She also offers a free screening, if you are wondering if your child could use some help.

I will be touching upon sensory processing in future posts because I feel that this is an area where education is still behind the times and many children are in need of OT services that can assist them in the areas of social skills, education and attention.

Beach Kids Therapy offers two locations.  For a consultation, call (949) 498-5100, or visit their website at www.beachkidstherapy.com.


Saying good-bye to indulgences

My summer Wee Peats parenting tip blog post on indulgences and how to reduce them as we enter the school year.

Choosing Consequences Wisely

Wee Peats Parenting Tip Blog post on choosing consequences wisely.

Water Helps the Brain Function

I am writing a serious of parenting tips on the Wee Peat BlogWee Peats is a local children's resale shop in San Clemente and Mission Viejo.  Joanne has helped hundred of moms save thousands of dollars by passing on great products from other parents.  It is a great place to get clothes, toys, baby equipment, developmental learning toys, blocks, trains, books, videos, and even shoes. 

Here is my latest blog post on the importance of water!