Tag Archives: Common Sense Media

Talking to Your Kids About the Events at the Capitol

By Tracey Dowdy

Regardless of where on the political spectrum you fall, I think we can all agree that the events in Washington D.C. yesterday may be disturbing to our children. Seeing or hearing about a mob of violent protesters storming the U.S. Capitol Building coupled with the stress of a global pandemic and the challenges it has created for families may generate fears and questions you’re unsure how to address. It’s perfectly normal for children to have difficulty processing these events – it’s difficult for us as adults. 

Honesty is crucial. Don’t be tempted to gloss over or lie about what has occurred. Deception leads to distrust, and your children need to know that above all else, they are safe with you. Cassidy O’Brien, a family therapist at San Diego Kids First says, “Parents are often tempted to lie as a first response, because they don’t want their child to worry or that they shouldn’t be burdened with this, and that’s a bad approach. It’s bad to overwhelm children with too much information, but you can tell them the truth in simple ways and use their questions to guide you on how much to share.” 

Remind your children that as a parent, your primary job is to protect them and that you will always look out for them. Validate their feelings by sharing your own. Let them know you too were unsettled by yesterday’s events but that these feelings are normal. 

Open the conversation by asking them what they’ve heard. Though your children may not have sat down to watch the news with you, there’s every possibility they’ve overheard your conversation or heard about it from classmates or older siblings. Be calm, approachable, and open-minded. And because you’re trying to frame the discussion by considering their maturity level and what information they may have, let them take the lead. Clear up misconceptions or misinformation, and if you don’t know the answer, simply say, “That’s a good question. Let’s figure it out together.” Refer to Common Sense Media’s list of age-based news resources for kids that puts current events in language and context that is appropriate for them. 

Because children’s lives are rule-based and directed at learning what’s right and wrong, seeing adults behave as we observed yesterday might be confusing for your children. Part of becoming a mature adult is learning how to manage our emotions – the good ones and the bad ones. Explain that sometimes adults have feelings that they allow to spin out of control, and when that happens, bad things can happen, and poor choices are made. Remind them that good people sometimes make bad choices, and who we choose to associate with can get us into trouble as well. This is an excellent time to discuss accountability for one’s actions and the consequences of breaking the law. Do try to avoid editorializing unless your children are old enough to have a more in-depth discussion. Your goal is to inform and reassure, not persuade and recruit. 

Be aware some children are reluctant to acknowledge negative emotions. “A lot of kids are growing up thinking anxiety, anger, sadness are bad emotions,” says Stephanie Samar, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. But naming and accepting these emotions is “a foundation to problem-solving how to manage them. For younger children, describing your own feelings and modeling how you manage them is useful. They hear you strategizing about your own feelings, when you’re nervous or frustrated, and how you’re going to handle it, and they can use these words,” she says. Beyond conversation, help them identify events or conversations that spike their anxiety. Be mindful of what you say in front of them and be vigilant about what they see online. “It’s not keeping it from them but making sure you’re part of it,” Cassidy O’Brien, a family therapist at San Diego Kids First says. “That way, you can keep control of the conversation and be aware of what they’re getting.” 

Finally, remember this isn’t a one and done conversation. 2020 was a year that seemingly moved from one disaster to the next. Your child’s emotions may already be running high, so stay in tune with changes in mood and behavior and be willing to unpack current events and their impact on your children again and again. If you feel their struggle is more than you can manage together, reach out, and have them talk to a trained child therapist. Their mental health is no less important than physical health. If you’re not sure where to begin, Psychology Today allows you to search for a therapist or psychiatrist in your area, and Mental Health America has resources to ensure both you and your child can move forward unafraid. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Talking to Your Kids About Politics

By Tracey Dowdy 

For better, for worse, in richer and poorer, Election Day 2020 is here. This has been one of the most contentious races in recent history, and no matter who sits in the Oval Office for the next four years, many Americans will be unhappy and feel uneasy. If that sounds familiar and you’ve been stressed about where the country is headed, there’s a good chance your children have noticed and are uneasy too. 

Opening a political conversation with your kids may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Your politics represent your values, and you want to instill them in your children so they’ll make wise decisions as they grow up. Think of it this way; you’re not raising children; you’re raising future voters. 

Instead of talking about political parties, talk about the policies and issues that matter to you most. Health care, immigration, the environment, and Black Lives Matter have played significant roles in this year’s presidential race. As a parent, you can say, “In this family, access to health care is important to us. Here’s what both candidates believe about that issue.”  

You may think your children are uninterested in politics, but a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development says otherwise. Researchers interviewed 187 kids ages 5 to 11 who lived in Kentucky, Kansas, Washington State, and Texas before and after the 2016 election. Twenty-three percent said they cared “somewhat,” and 58% of respondents said that they cared “a lot” about the election. Yet, of those polled, 68% said their parents hadn’t discussed the election with them. Their primary sources were peers and social media. As a result, much of the information they had about candidates was skewed and inaccurate. 

Christia Spears Brown, a developmental psychologist at the University of Kentucky, says, “In the same way that we talk about other complex issues, we need to help kids understand the messages and the sound bites that they’re hearing. They’re interested, but yet there’s gaps in knowledge, and they’re using their own inferences to fill in those gaps.”

Try to avoid demonizing the other side. It’s important to teach our children that civil discourse and disagreement are not equivalent to hate speech. Ashley Berner, a professor at Johns Hopkins who studies how schools teach civics, says, “It’s so important for young people to be engaged in conversations about meaning and purpose and different political viewpoints.” She says, historically, “civic formation is the prime reason why modern democracy started funding education in the first place.”

Though they may not keep up with current events as often as you do, introduce your kids to credible websites targeted at them. Common Sense Media has a great list of news sources for kids categorized by age group. 

Since today is election day, check-in with your kids and see if they’re interested in following election results. Any other year, you could have them go to the polls with you and watch you vote, but that may not be feasible this year. 

If you’re concerned about the impact a particular candidate may have on your demographic, work together to create a Family Safety Plan and emphasize that their safety is of the utmost importance to you. Reassure them that you will always do everything to protect them physically and emotionally and let you know any time they feel threatened or unsafe. 

And, if the candidate you support loses, remind your child that this is one man in one office. Local and state elections impact our country too, and many offices have term limits. There’s always hope for change in the next election. In the meantime, look for ways to engage in the issues that your family values. If the environment is a priority, look for opportunities to engage in projects like community clean-ups or recycling initiatives. If caring for immigrants and the disenfranchised resonates with you, look for local food pantries or shelters you can support. 

Hasan Kwame Jeffries, a history professor at Ohio State University, says, “We’re afraid to talk about politics … As my 5-year-old says, ‘That don’t make no sense!’ You got to let people know where you stand. Provide children evidence. Provide them with stories.”

Why? Because we don’t want to raise voters, we want to raise informed voters. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

little girl online

Managing Screen Time During Virtual Learning

By Tracey Dowdy

While some school districts have opted or moved to in-person learning for the 2020-2021 school year, others have chosen to go virtual or have been forced to backtrack, scrapping plans to be in the classroom. 

For years, parents have wrestled with “how much is too much” when it comes to screen time, but there’s nothing like a global pandemic and forced quarantining to toss those guidelines out the window. Our screens have not only been tools for virtual learning, but they’ve also kept us connected to friends and family,  a welcome de-stressor, and a source of distraction.  

While the balancing act of managing screen time may seem pointless right now, there are steps you can set to help set reasonable boundaries for both you and your children. Caroline KnorrCommon Sense Media’s parenting editor, suggests parents label the day’s activities for what they are. “When you have a common vocabulary for their daily activities, such as ‘playtime,’ ‘work time,’ ‘friend time,’ ‘family time,’ and ‘downtime,’ you can communicate a lot more clearly – and honestly – about what your kid is doing, what they should be doing, and what they want to be doing. This reframes the ‘screen time’ conversation into which elements make up a healthy life — one that balances learning with play, exercise with relaxation, and responsibilities with social time.” 

Start by creating a Family Technology Contract to set everyone up for success instead of frustration and tears. It’s going to look different in this season rather than what it would have looked like this time last year, but by establishing reasonable boundaries you both agree on, you can guide them to set their targets for the day. For example, if they want to hop online and play Fortnite with friends after dinner, ask them, “How much time do you need for homework? Two hours? Okay, then you need to start now so you’ll be done in time to play.” By including them in the discussion, you’ve made them accountable for their choices and help them to understand the importance of setting priorities to accomplish their goals.

Set aside no-tech times or locations within your home. Now that school is online – even if you’re in-person, some learning elements are internet-based – if you aren’t intentional, it’s easy for technology to take over every aspect of your home life. Set boundaries like no devices at the dinner tabletime limits for gaming or streaming entertainment, and remember to set parental controls

Interestingly, for years we’ve been wary of building relationships over social media, yet in 2020 those online relationships have been a lifeline for students who desperately miss their friends. Yet, those same risks – bullying, online predators, and risky behaviors – are still reasons to monitor their online activity. There are plenty of resources to help you safeguard your children and give you peace of mind. 

Above all, set a good example. Your children may do what you say now, but long term, they’ll do what you do. Put your devices aside and go play. Build Legos, play in the leaves in the backyard, kick a soccer ball around, or have them teach you the latest TikTok dance craze. Create together – bake some cookies, paint, play with Play-Doh, or have puzzle races and see who can put theirs together the fastest. In a season when we’re immersed in technology, it’s essential to teach your children to value human connection and real-world relationships, and there’s none more important than family. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Supporting Your Child’s Mental Health 

By Tracey Dowdy

Parents trying to work from home, teach their children, referee disputes, and keep everyone fed aren’t the only ones stressed out during this quarantined season. 

Common Sense Media and Survey Monkey polled over 800 U.S. teens, trying to get a sense of how they’re coping with the multitude of ways the coronavirus has impacted their lives, and how they’re staying connected. The results aren’t surprising – tweens and teens are stressed out and relying heavily on social media and texting to try to fill the gap that social distancing is having on us all. 

According to their poll: 

  • Ninety-five percent of 13- to 17-year-olds have had their classes canceled, 41% have had no school at all, and more than a quarter say it’s hard to find a place to study at home.
  • Teens not only fear that a loved one will become infected, but they also worry about the family’s finances, particularly Black and Latinx teens.
  • Roughly 40% feel “more lonely than usual” and bout the same number say they feel “about as lonely as usual” during this season. Parents may be surprised to hear these same teens say that social media and texting can’t replace close association and face to face interaction with friends.
  • One significant shift is that when compared to pre-pandemic times, more teens are going directly to news organizations for information rather than getting it second hand through family and friends. 
  • Unsurprisingly, tweens also report feeling stressed about school, family and friend’s wellbeing, and understanding what’s happening. 
  • Individuals who struggle with mental health report that their negative feelings are particularly heightened right now. 

So what’s a weary parent to do? Don’t despair – there are ways that you can support your child’s mental health that will provide them with the tools they need today, and that will equip them for challenges they face as they mature and become independent. 

  • One benefit that’s come from being quarantined is that teens report feeling more connected to family than ever. Read the hints they drop and invite them to watch a movie together, play a game, or play in the backyard. It doesn’t need to be structured or planned – look for spontaneous moments to connect. 
  • Right now, texting and social media are hyper-important to teens who’ve grown up with devices in the palm of their hands. If the need for discipline arises and reduced screen time was your go-to pre-quarantine, consider choosing another way to address the issue. With the level of isolation, your teen is already feeling, cutting off what social connection they have may exacerbate the problem.  
  • Because many of the teens report that social media and texting are a large part of their coping mechanism, consider allowing them to use your phone, tablet, or computer if the family is used to sharing. There are simple, secure, and effective ways to set parental controls, so you don’t need to worry about them changing settings or accessing private information. 
  • Create new routines to find your new normal. It’s unlikely that we’ll be back to normal soon, so build some structure into your days and nights. It can be as simple as setting up mealtimes, “packing” snacks for the day, scheduling FaceTime chats with grandparents, or determining “from nine to noon we do school work.” 
  • MyFridgeFood lets you plan a menu based on the foods you have on hand, so let your kids take over dinner one or two nights a week. If they’re little, allow them to look through the pantry and fridge for what’s available and help them search for a recipe. If they’re older, go one step further and have them cook. This isn’t just busy work – these are life skills that will take them far.
  • Anyone else celebrate a milestone during this quarantine? I had a birthday and my friend Leah had a baby. Students are missing their graduation, prom, recitals, and a myriad of other events. Reassure them you’ll celebrate once we get the all-clear – put a date on the calendar if that helps. Remind them this will end – countries who were impacted first are transitioning out of quarantine and someday soon-ish, we will too. 
  • Remind them of all the good that’s happening. Many people are recovering, charities are still being supported, and researchers around the world are working on a vaccine. Some of their favorite celebrities are doing what they can to encourage us. Some are reading bedtime stories on Instagram (@savewithstories), releasing new music, or just sending some positive vibes out there – check out Some Good News by John Krasinski, complete with a logo and background that was drawn by his daughters.

 The most important thing is to keep those lines of communication open. You know your child better than anyone and recognize when a meltdown is coming. Validate their feelings of unease and frustration – we all feel that way sometimes. Be open, be compassionate, and let them vent. You don’t have to solve the problem – you need to ride out the storm alongside them and reassure them you’ll be there, supporting them in any way you can.   

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Teach Your Children Media Literacy

By Tracey Dowdy

At least once a day, I see something shared by one of my social media connections – Facebook friends, an Instagram account I follow – that is clearly fake news, fake science, or pure parody they’ve taken seriously. In a time when widespread misinformation is a real concern, one would think adults would be more media savvy, but alas, satirical sites like The Onion, Babylon Bee, and The National Report have links to their content reposted as though it were real news, not parody at its finest.

But media literacy is more than being able to spot fake news. True media literacy means evaluating what you see online and understanding that everything needs to be filtered through the lens of what we know to be true. We need to teach our children to ask insightful questions like, “Who said this? Why would they say this? What do they stand to gain?’ With virtually the limitless information available with just a few keystrokes and clicks, teaching critical thinking skills and media literacy is essential.

Back in 1988, when the internet was new, before Google and Snopes let us fact check anything we cared to, author John Naisbitt, cautioned us, “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.”  Could there be a better description of what litters our online experience today?

Teaching media literacy enables our kids to be discerning consumers of media, able to establish values based on facts and information – not feelings, opinions, and perceptions.

It takes more than a single lesson. It’s an ongoing conversation from the time they’re old enough to sit through a YouTube ad while they wait to watch an episode of Shaun the Sheep. Common Sense Media suggests asking these questions when teaching media literacy:

  • Who created this?Was it a company? Was it an individual? (If so, who?) Was it a comedian? Was it an artist? Was it an anonymous source? Why do you think that?
  • Why did they make it? Was it to inform you of something that happened in the world (for example, a news story)? Was it to change your mind or behavior (an opinion essay or a how-to)? Was it to make you laugh (a funny meme)? Was it to get you to buy something (an ad)? Why do you think that?
  • Who is the message for? Is it for kids? Grown-ups? Girls? Boys? People who share a particular interest? Why do you think that?
  • What techniques are being used to make this message credible or believable?Does it have statistics from a reputable source? Does it contain quotes from a subject expert? Does it have an authoritative-sounding voice-over? Is there direct evidence of the assertions it’s making? Why do you think that?
  • What details were left out, and why? Is the information balanced with different views — or does it present only one side? Do you need more information to fully understand the message? Why do you think that?
  • How did the message make you feel? Do you think others might feel the same way? Would everyone feel the same, or would certain people disagree with you? Why do you think that?

By starting the conversation when they’re young, your children will develop lifelong habits based on the key concepts of media literacy, so they’re able to all evaluate all media through the filter of fable or fact.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.