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We know parents struggle with how to monitor their children’s use of technology. Limit screen time? Require shared passwords? Make some apps and games off-limits?

Cropped man and woman using electronic device free imageAnd it’s about so much more than rules—how parents handle technology can affect everything from family communication to personal trust to physical safety. It’s a lot to think about!

We often recommend parents post this Family Tech Checklist at home, and then start the discussion by asking their kids these five questions:

  1. “What technology/tools/apps do you know how to use?”
    The amount of technology—and access it provides to your kids—is astounding. And it changes every day. Do a regular check-in of your kids’ phones and gaming devices. Have them “show off ” what they can do.
  2. “Let’s check in on our security settings and passwords, okay?”
    Model safe behavior and reinforce the importance of privacy. Agree as a family to share all passwords in one place (excluding, of course, financial or other parent-only sites and tools.)
  3. “Have you seen anything online that’s made you uncomfortable or hurt your feelings?”
    This is an opportunity to listen (not to judge or yell). Cyber bullying is more common than you might think, and your kids should feel safe talking to you about it.
  4. “Can we talk? I’m uncomfortable with ______________ because _______________.”
    Rather than ban their use of Facebook, for example (which might result in secrecy or lying) explain why a certain photo or post is upsetting (use of foul language, inappropriate image, sharing of a location, etc.). Kids should know they will be held accountable for behavior online just as they are at school and home.
  5. “I need a break from my phone/web/email. Will you go___________with me?”
    Take a walk together, eat a meal, get outside and spend quality time together as a family. Model how helpful it can be to take a break from screen time.

(One app we DO recommend is our free Parent Resource Center app! You can download it on iTunes and Google Play HERE.)

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For many parents, talking about race with children is a difficult concept. Adults often question how much children already know and how much information is appropriate to share, while balancing a need to protect children from the United States’ complicated (and often violent) racial history.

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We recently taped a Parenting Today segment on this topic with guest Natalie Bailey from the Department of Family Services in Fairfax County through out partnership with iHeartRadio. LISTEN HERE!

It is important to note that children are perceptive, and often pick up the nuances of race even without direct commentary. Adults need to realize there may be awkward moments, but by engaging children in conversations about race at an early age and continuing to do so throughout adolescence, parents have an opportunity to shape children’s self-esteem as well as perspectives in regards to race. Each moment is a learning opportunity to affirm children’s questions, challenge stereotypes, and teach children how to navigate an increasingly racially diverse community in positive, productive ways.

In the radio show linked above, Sonia and Natalie also mention three books that may be a good starting point for families:

How are families in your community talking about race and racism?

– Today’s blog post was written by SCAN MSW Intern Chamone Marshall

SCAN is pleased to be partnering with Smart Beginnings Prince William County to offer valuable Workshops on Safe Sleep to the Greater Prince William community.  The first workshop will be offered on Tuesday, February 21st at 4 pm at the Hylton Education Center at Sentara Hospital.

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The FREE workshop is ideal for service providers, health care providers, parents, expecting parents, caregivers, childcare providers and anyone interested in helping spread awareness and information about safe sleep.

Tracy Leonard, SCAN’s Public Education Manager, will present the workshops using materials and information we have compiled through our Operation Safe Babies Program.  Those attending will:

  • Learn about the American Academy of Pediatrics New Safe Sleep Guidelines
  • Learn how to Reduce the Risk of SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Causes of Infant Death
  • Discuss barriers to safe sleep

If you’re interested in learning more about the trainings (or want to register), the following links will be helpful:

 

parentconnection_winterspring2017We know how critical it is that parents stay connected with their communities, especially when they are isolating themselves out of fear or frustration.

Please share our newest Parent Connection Resource Guide with parents in your network. With more than 80 parenting classes, support groups, workshops and more for parents across Northern Virginia, it also includes a key to find programs offered in Spanish and other languages, as well as those that provide childcare.

How are you keeping parents connected in your community? We’d love to include your programs in our next issue–let us know!

Ready to read in 2017? SCAN staff members are!

We’ve come up with a fresh list of books to recommend for child welfare professionals, advocates and parents you know. What are you reading this winter? We’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below!

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  • “The Resilient Parent” by Mantu Joshi is a collection of essays meant to provide emotional, spiritual and practical guidance for parents of differently-abled children. Using his own experience as a parent of children with special needs, Joshi offers short chapters that can be read in under 5 minutes, each ending with reflectiosn for parents to think about in their own life and family.
  • “Socially Strong, Emotionally Secure” by Nefertiti Bruce and Karen B. Cairone, was published in 2011 but is worth a permanent spot on your bookshelf! It provides 50 activities to help kids age 3-8 build resiliency, and is useful for professionals and parents alike.
  • “A Volcano in My Tummy” by Eliane Whitehouse and Warwick Pudney, offers excellent, easy-to-understand skills for adults when helping children (age 6-13) deal with anger management. From teaching them how to communicate their anger to addressing violent behaviors, it can help build awareness, creativity and hands-on tools for kids to manage anger issues.
  • “I Am Jazz” by Jessica Herthel explores the experience of Jazz Jennings, a real-life transgender child. We talk a lot at SCAN about books that build resiliency for children, and what a great tool this book can be for kids and adults a like, exploring a challenging subject in a way that builds understanding and connection.
Although the exact cause of SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, is unknown, we do know what risk factors can contribute to SIDS.
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The following may increase the risk of SIDS:
• Sleeping on the stomach
• Being around cigarette smoke while in the womb or after being born
• Sleeping in the same bed as parents (co-sleeping)
• Soft bedding in the crib
• Multiple birth babies (being a twin, triplet, etc.)
• Premature birth
• Having a brother or sister who had SIDS
• Mothers who smoke or use illegal drugs
• Being born to a teen mother
• Short time period between pregnancies
• Late or no prenatal care
• Living in poverty situations
As human service providers, we do what we can to spread safe sleep education and bring awareness to some of these other risk factors.  Some may be beyond our control or the mother’s control, but it is important to look at the ones we can control.
Another risk factor that can be controlled, or even eliminated, is December 31 and January 1.  Why dates?  “After examining 129,090 SIDS cases from 1973 to 2006, researchers found that on Jan. 1, the number of babies who die of SIDS jumps up by 33 percent.” (www.sheknows.com)  Even parents who practice safe sleep may be impaired as they celebrate the arrival of the new year and are not as careful with baby on this night.  Parents can remove the risk by making sure that just as they would assign a designated driver, they assign a designated “caretaker” – someone who will not be impaired and someone who knows about safe sleep practices so that baby is never in jeopardy.  This practice should also be in play on other days when there are celebrations, date nights, or parties.  Help parents remember to always put baby first.
– Tracy Leonard, Public Education Manager, tleonard@scanva.org
(Learn more about SCAN’s Operation Safe Babies here.)

It’s December — are parents around you looking a little more frazzled? Stress is an issue for families all year long, but during the holidays it can reach a fevered pitch. Here are some of our favorite tips and resources to share with the families in your community:

  1. Make smart decisions about what you say “yes” to as a family during this very busy time of year. If something doesn’t bring your family joy, consider saying no. Learn more about tackling Holiday Stress here.
  2. Talk about stress with your kids. Kids and adults might worry about different things, but the affects of that stress can be very similar. Parents can ask – and LISTEN to kids answer – questions about friends and family, activities and feelings. Explore some tips for understanding and addressing “Kid Stress” vs “Adult Stress” here.

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  3. Remember that resilient families are better able to handle stress and other challenges that come their way. Choose a couple of resilience-builders to try this month when many of us need our resilience the most! Create a “Strengths Family Tree” or spend time before bed talking about one positive thing that happened during the day. Get more Resiliency tips here.
  1. Parents, take care of yourself this season! Your kids are watching you and will follow your lead when it comes to things like sleep, healthy eating and busy schedules. Choose some Self Care steps here.
  1. Recognizing, understanding and reacting to stress is not an easy job! If parents need some help on-the-go, download SCAN’s Parent Resource Center App. They can access all of the content above no matter where they are in their holiday travels! Download the App on iTunes or GooglePlay.

 

 

This week we once again welcome Gretchen E. Downey, Prevention Expert and Best-Selling Author, as she shares her expertise on preventing suicide in – and strengthening our communication with – the teenagers in our lives. This is the second post in a two-part series:

Ruling out genetics and specific pathologies related to mental health and suicide, there still remains something incredibly wrong with the picture and we need to take a closer environmental and internal look at what might be the cause – because the two are closely linked.

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The first thing we need to get familiar with is how the brain and mind operate. It’s hard to develop assets when we don’t know how our internal technologies or assets actually work. You can’t fly a plane if you don’t know how the equipment functions. You’ll crash and burn…and that’s what we’re seeing with our young people.

Education about how the brain and mind work shouldn’t be dreaded or feared. This is the very attitude that pushed us away from the golden key of our own empowerment. Our brain and mind belong to us and it’s high time we learn how to use it, regulate it and build it for our advantage… rather than letting our environment craft it for us.

The mind is one of our virtual technologies, so to speak. You can’t touch it, yet there’s something within you doing the thinking and imagining. It can be focused and directed, it can wander off, or it can work on autopilot i.e., think in a reactive and unregulated way. The brain is the organ that simply responds to what your mind is thinking. It computes the information and programs itself, the nervous system and the body according to the quality of the data it receives – good or bad.

If children learned at an early age some basics about how to regulate their own mind and how to build healthier neuro patterns in their brain, they’d develop greater abilities in self-regulation, reflection (instead of reactivity), healing, discernment and even…. emotional regulation. Shouldn’t this be part of our fundamental human education?

To gain a better understanding, here are some simple basics about how the brain works.

Amygdala
One of its major functions is the flight or flight response, meaning it perceives threat. It protected us from lions, tigers and bears. However, we don’t have these primitive challenges anymore. So what did we do? We made a habit of inventing all sorts of harmful fear-based and stress-filled thoughts that cause a vicious cycle of unnecessary revving up and over stimulation of the amygdala! This part of our brain is very important and necessary when we have a true emergency. However, a majority of the time we aren’t in a life or death threat….and our amygdala doesn’t know the difference. You see, it can’t distinguish what is a real threat and what is not! It just fires regardless.

Any time you build neural pathways in the brain you are “imprinting,which is like programming or hardwiring the brain to think, react and believe in a certain way. The brain then directs the body to react, feel, and heal or breakdown according to the input. And worst of all, when over-stimulated and unregulated the amygdala (in a metaphorical sense) hijacks the electrical activity of the rest of the brain which keeps you from more effectively accessing the highest “thinking centers” of the brain (prefrontal cortex) responsible for reflection, integration and…. higher happier emotions. When a person is chronically thinking and feeling fear, powerlessness, self-hate and despair, these trigger the amygdala.

Hippocampus
The hippocampus is located deep in the center of the brain near the amygdala. It’s the part of the brain that is responsible for holding and storing long-term information. You don’t relearn how to walk and talk each day, or ride a bike or drive a car. It’s “automatic” and the hippocampus is responsible for this programming function and storage. Think of it as the region of the brain that turns everything on “auto pilot. If you had to relearn everything every day, life would be impossible. You can also think of it like the hard drive on your computer. It simply stores information and waits for commands from YOU to perform a specific function or task without thinking about it. Sometimes this is beneficial and sometimes not. In regards to our less desirable or fear-based stress-filled behavior patterns and programmed thoughts, it is not.

Most people are unaware of stored familial or other learning patterns that they were taught. Have you ever noticed how some families are really happy, forgiving or funny and others are pessimistic, stubborn or easily angered? More often than not, these patterns were shown to them between 0-7 years and then stored in the hippocampus as automatic “reactions.”

When a person is chronically thinking about and feeling fear, powerlessness, self-hate and/or despair, the brain builds the neuro circuitry to match the input…and these become the automatic “auto pilot” behaviors and emotions. The more you think it, the more you build it.

The good news is, our brain has “neuroplasticity”, meaning we can reshape it’s neuro-programming at any time.

Prefrontal Cortex (PFC)
The PFC, located in the top forehead region of the brain, is the highest thinking center of the brain responsible for some of the highest human emotions and abilities such as inspiration, compassion, joy, love and play. This is the area of the brain that you want to activate, stimulate (light-up the electrical flow) and build up neuroplasticity in as much as possible! This brain center is responsible for creativity, problem solving, discernment and inspiration. When the amygdala is over stimulated, electrical flow to this area is impeded – which is the exact opposite of what you need to calmly create solutions and regulate your emotional responses. Teen PFCs are most electrically stimulated when they are engaged in meaningful, inspiring work…or when they are feeling gratitude and compassion.

We all have a responsibility to use this information to correct the way we parent, educate our kids in schools and choose the things we give our attention to within our environments. Whether it’s domestic violence within the home or the aggression, fear and violence we see on drama/reality shows, movies, TV, video games and the evening news, each of these are over stimulating the reactivity of the human amygdala in unhelpful ways, while at the same time shutting off access to the PFC.

Many children do not have a stable home environment, but if caregivers and teachers readily taught this information, kids would be greater equipped with tools and the ability to regulate their own emotions and outcomes to a greater degree than what is currently happening.

Things you can do to promote daily stability, feelings of happiness and well-being and PFC access (while quieting the amygdala):

  1. Deep purposeful breathing – Quiet the amygdala and open the pathways to the PFC.
  2. Nourishing your physical body – Engage in regular physical activity and healthy eating; stimulants, sugar, refined products, alcohol, preservatives and artificial colors can affect emotional and behavioural stability.
  3. Understand the basics about your own brain – How does it work? How can you train and build it to perform the functions that you want?
  4. Practice mindful awareness techniques or MBSR (mindful based stress reduction) – Help calm the mind and build positive neuro patterns within the brain.
  5. Practice saying, feeling and expressing love and gratitude to yourself and the world around you – Science has proven that expressing gratitude lights up the PFC to a high degree, while building positive neuro patterns within the brain.

We can be successful at building our brain to express habitual joy, gratitude, optimism and love, just as certain as we can build it to be successful at fear, powerlessness and unworthiness.

Resources:

Learn more about guest auhthor Gretchen E. Downey here. Read Part 1 of 2 here.

 

This week we welcome Gretchen E. Downey, Prevention Expert and Best-Selling Author, as she shares her expertise on preventing suicide in – and strengthening our communication with – the teenagers in our lives. This is the first post in a two-part series:

Our hearts ache when the tragedy of teen suicide occurs in our community. Is it preventable?

The American Psychological Association states that, although it’s difficult to predict, there are warning signals to watch for – and one should always seek professional or medical help when a child is suspected of being in danger:

  • Talking about dying – any mention of dying, disappearing, jumping, shooting oneself, or other types of self harm
  • Recent loss – through death, divorce, separation, broken relationship, self-confidence, self-esteem, loss of interest in friends, hobbies, activities previously enjoyed
  • Change in personality – sad, withdrawn, irritable, anxious, tired, indecisive, apathetic
  • Change in behavior – can’t concentrate on school, work, routine tasks
  • Change in sleep patterns – insomnia, often with early waking or oversleeping, nightmares
  • Change in eating habits – loss of appetite and weight, or overeating
  • Fear of losing control – acting erratically, harming self or others
  • Low self esteem – feeling worthless, shame, overwhelming guilt, self-hatred, “everyone would be better off without me”
  • No hope for the future – believing things will never get better; that nothing will ever change

So the million dollar question… “What’s going on – why the low emotions and why are they so prevalent causing 1 in 5 US teens to seriously consider suicide and 8% of teens to attempt suicide annually? That’s nearly one tenth of our young people feeling helpless, hopeless and like life has no meaning.

For over 50 years the internationally acclaimed Search Institute has conducted research on what kids and teens need to thrive and succeed in life. They report that well over 50 million of our young people are feeling helpless, hopeless and not connected to their inner “spark,” or what gives their life meaning, connection and fulfillment. According to the Search Institute the more developmental assets a person builds, the more likely they are to succeed in school and become happy, healthy and contributing members of their community and society.

Next week, we’ll explore the teenage brain and tangible steps adults can take to help the teenagers in our lives.

– Gretchen E. Downey, Prevention Expert and Best-Selling Author

[PLEASE NOTE: It’s not uncommon for a large life event, such as the election of a new national leader, to force those who have had traumatic experiences to relive them all at once, said John Draper, Program Director with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. (Read more of John’s interview in the Washington Post article, At Suicide Hotlines, the First 24 Hours of Trump’s America Have Been Full of Fear,” November 10, 2016, here.)

Now more than ever, we need to make sure that the teens in our lives feel supported and heard. Fear of the unknown and no hope for the future, as Gretchen points out, can lead teens to suicide. We must help them find their “spark” even during a time when we struggle ourselves. Intervening is important, but modeling self care and emotional regulation are also important. –  Tracy Leonard, SCAN Public Education Coordinator]

Children of parents who talk to their children regularly about drugs are 42% LESS LIKELY to use drugs than those who won’t; yet, only a quarter of teens report having these conversations.

On October 24, Red Ribbon Week begins. An annual alcohol, tobacco and other drug prevention awareness campaign, it’s the oldest and largest drug prevention campaign in the nation. And this year—with the theme YOLO: Be Drug Free—it’s providing SCAN, Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) and other partners in Alexandria with an exciting new way to spark conversations in families:

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  • SCAN and ACPS’ Family and Community Engagement (FACE) are providing Strengthening Families Parenting Classes, a series that helps build and strengthen the parent-child relationships and support families as they begin conversations around substance abuse prevention.
  • FACE has distributed original posters designed by ACPS’ very own students in Elementary, Middle and High Schools in Alexandria. (The poster creators are the winners of last years’ Red Ribbon Week poster contest.) Look for the posters in your schools or get a sneak peek of a winning poster here!
  • Our partners will also offer a series of parent/child forums in the fall and spring for ACPS families. Stay tuned!

So, what does Red Ribbon Week mean for the children and families in YOUR network? We hope you will:

  1. Empower families to discuss this message at home, at the dinner table, at family outings, and with friends and extended family. Explore the resources at healthieralexandria.org and redribbon.org to get started.
  2. If you’re in Alexandria, encourage kids and teens to enter the poster and video contests being sponsored by FACE, SCAN and its partners. Learn more about details and deadlines on FACE Center’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/acpsface/.
  3. Encourage kids and parents to follow the theme on social media using #youonlyliveonce and @redribbonweek. For information on the other program events mentioned here, please contact the ACPS FACE Center at face@acps.k12.va.us or 703-619-8055.

 

 

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SCAN works to build hope for children and families in Northern Virginia. This blog brings child welfare professionals the current trends and valuable resources that will support their work to prevent child abuse and strengthen families in Northern Virginia and beyond.

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