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  • My young daughter has discovered the Internet and now spends a lot of time browsing websites and social media networks. How can I monitor her online activity and ensure that she remains safe?

    Protecting our kids from the darker side of the Internet has never been more important or more difficult. Dealing with this problem is an evolving process. For kids younger than 10, you can set and impose limits on the amount of time spent online. You can also restrict access to mobile devices connected to the Internet and only allow your child to use them in the family room where you can supervise rather than in the privacy of their bedroom. Explain to your child that she should not give out personal identifying information (real name, home address, school name and address, parents’ names, pictures) to anyone she does not personally know. Repeat this lesson until your child can recite it in her sleep. You also have options that allow you to control for the most part what your child can see online. For example, iPads have parental controls and content filtering software that you can enable. Browsers also allow you to block certain websites. You have to make the constant effort to familiarize yourself with those options or enlist the help of a proficient friend or family member. It’s also preferable not to allow your children to register for social media accounts until they reach the age of 13.

    For teenagers, however, open and honest communication is the key to ensuring online safety. At this age, kids are Internet veterans and will often know the Internet much better than you do. Yet, they don’t have your caution or experience. It’s more effective to discuss potential scenarios with your child. Explain that anything he or she posts online will stay online forever and can impact her future choice of university or career. Explain that the internet does NOT give anonymity. Discuss online bullying and posting hurtful comments (remember that your teen may be encouraged to bully others online). Explain the dangers of speaking to and sharing personal information with strangers. It’s never too late to enforce boundaries. If you are worried, you can ask your teenager for access to their social media accounts and inform them that you will be checking in. Do not do this behind their backs. There are many resources online that can help you keep your kid safe. 

  • I read a lot about the benefits of learning how to play a musical instrument. But how can I pick an instrument for my kid to start playing?

    A child will reap the benefits of musical training regardless of what musical instrument he or she is playing. However, choosing the right instrument for your child and for your family environment remains important. Forcing children to learn instruments they have no interest in will not foster a love of music and might cause the child to resent having to practice. However, you also don’t want him or her to choose an instrument that does not suit your family. For example, if as a parent you do not like the sound of the electric guitar, you will not be able to support your child or endure the hours of practice he or she needs to put in. Parents also need to like the sound of the instrument their child is playing. Take into account your child’s body type and make sure he picks an instrument he is comfortable holding and carrying. Also, make sure your child’s choice is not affected by any perceived “social value” of an instrument. For younger kids (4-6) you can’t go wrong with the keyboard or piano as those instruments provide a great foundation and children can easily transition to other instruments later if they would like to. Violin is also a good option as it comes in scaled sizes, but it requires more patience and persistence. Another thing to take into account is your child’s personality type. High energy kids can get great stress relief from playing the drums, and outgoing personalities may prefer instruments such as the saxophone or trumpet. The most important consideration, however, remains your child’s personal preference and passion as those are the biggest guarantees that he or she will stick with the instrument long enough to earn the life-long benefits. 

  • My kid is sometimes having temper tantrums and complaining of headaches to avoid going to school. How do I know if he needs help or therapy?

    It’s important to note, before jumping to conclusions, that this could just be a phase or something that will pass. Children change a lot. Things happen in their lives that might make them vulnerable for a certain period of time. They can become more resilient when it passes. So you always want to think of the whole picture. When parents come to me and ask how they can tell if their kid needs help or therapy, I usually tell them to ask themselves those questions:

    1- Is the kid physically sick all of the time? (Migraines, headaches, stomach problems, etc…?)
    2- Does the kid look happy or miserable all the time? Do they consistently nag or cry or are they generally in a good mood?
    3- Do they have friends at school? Do they communicate well with other kids their age? ( for example, do they get invited to birthday parties?)
    4- How are their grades? How is their performance at school?

    If the answers to all of those questions are positive, then it is probably transitory. There will of course be problems but after all kids are kids.  Let the child be, let them live, and don’t make a big deal out of something small. However, if the answers to all of those questions are negative, then they do need help. 

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