Co-sleeping and the Older Child – A Family Controversy

We’ve had an ongoing controversy in our family the past few years….all about “sleepovers”. In our house “sleepovers” have been defined not as kids in sleeping bags, junk food, and late night silliness, but as an occasional night in bed with either mom or dad – though usually with mom. Our son has always had challenges going to sleep and staying asleep – and really likes company….human company. So an occasional parental “sleepover” is a real treat for him.

So where is the controversy? Although our sleepovers are totally innocent and just give the opportunity for extra time together – including chats, silliness and cuddles – there’s frequently a negative view in the US about kids sleeping with their parents – also known as “co-sleeping”. At a minimum people generally have strong opinions on the subject. My husband frowned on this occasional sleeping arrangement, seeing it as undermining our son’s independence – especially given that he turned 9 this year. And a couple of psychologists I know said that co-sleeping, particularly with one parent, could affect his emotional development.

Why did we do “sleepovers”? My work over the past 5 years was very intense and involved significant overseas travel. So every few weeks I would be gone for a week or two – and when I got back I would be jet-lagged. My son missed me and I missed him – but I didn’t always have the energy or the patience to really be there for him when I got home. So sleepovers were a way for us to get more time together – either before or after a trip. And we had developed some fun rituals for the events – like staging a stuffed animal fight (think snowball fight – but with stuffed animals), drinking hot cocoa before bed, and him telling me original stories as I rubbed his back and head. The arrangement also meant I could just settle in for the night and get a good sleep uninterrupted by his frequent night-time visits. Plus don’t underestimate the power of the mommy guilt when he said he missed me and begged for a sleepover.

What are the potential issues? Most co-sleeping literature focuses on infants – and in this situation the biggest concern is safety; generally regarding suffocation from bedclothes or a parent or sibling rolling onto the baby. In fact, both the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warn against having infants sleep in adult beds. But co-sleeping advocates, such as Dr. William Sears, say these warnings go too far – that with proper consideration for safety, the benefits of the family bed outweigh any risks (click here for a good Parenthood.com article about co-sleeping risks and rewards – also see these articles for a perspective from Confessions of a Dr. Mom).

As children age, concern shifts to the development of their independence – will they be too clingy with parents or not be able to eventually transition to sleeping on their own? Psychologists also highlight potential effects on emotional and gender-role development from blurred child-parent boundaries and seeming to come between the mother and father when co-sleeping with just one parent. Finally, issues can be more about the parents – the desire for privacy or couple time – or opposing views on co-sleeping, which can create marital discord.

Different perspectives. Given what I’d been told about the potential negatives, I became worried that we’d done this so long. However, in researching the issue I’ve learned that other cultures see things differently. A friend in England with twin 7-year old girls has regular pint-sized bed-mates and was horrified to hear that I’d been counseled against a bonding opportunity with my son. And I spoke with a colleague from Asia who slept in the parental bed most of the time through age 12. In fact, co-sleeping, even at older ages, is quite common in other parts of the world. This was borne out by a 2006 study in Singapore where over 70% of the children participating slept with parents or another adult. While the co-sleeping children were younger than those who slept alone, the mean age of the co-sleepers was nine years. Even here in the US views are shifting, though many proponents of co-sleeping aren’t comfortable admitting the practice – even to close friends and family. A lot of advice on the topic concludes with the recommendation to do what feels right for your family.

So what did we decide? We didn’t eliminate “sleepovers” entirely – but we have scaled them back considerably, using the occasion of our son’s ninth birthday as the trigger (”you’re getting too old for so many sleepovers”). The practice was becoming too much a norm or expectation for the little guy – and I realized that I was also doing it for my own needs. But I feel reassured from what I’ve read that it hasn’t created an issue for him. He’s extremely independent – able to handle away-camp and visits on his own to grandparents; he only wants hugs and cuddles from mom in private (“no hugs or kisses in front of my friends Mom!!”), and is exhibiting a healthy developing curiosity about girls and relationships. And he’s much better now about sleeping on his own through the night. Who knows, maybe our past co-sleeping helped him better deal with his sleep challenges. Either way, I”m just glad we’re all getting a decent night’s sleep!

What are your family’s sleeping arrangements? Do you admit to co-sleeping or a family bed?

Our Miracle Baby: Aidan’s Story of Surviving CDH

When I was asked to write a post about my son and the life-threatening birth defect he was diagnosed with at 37 weeks…I jumped at the opportunity. My son is a survivor but many are not, and I have been doing everything I can to help spread the word and try to increase awareness. The birth defect is called congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH). It’s definitely a mouthful but in layman’s terms, it means a hole in the diaphragm. I’ll get into more detail later, but even though the diaphragm is kind of a forgotten muscle (especially when the baby is still in the womb), suffice it to say that when there is a hole…the survival rate is only 50%.

The diaphragm’s main purpose when the baby is in the womb is to separate the abdominal organs from the chest organs. When there is a hole in the diaphragm, the abdominal organs can pass through that hole. At the very least, the extra organs in the chest cause the lungs to be underdeveloped (due to the extra organs taking up the space the lungs need to develop properly). However, when organs don’t develop in their proper location it can lead to all kinds of other issues such as heart defects, chromosomal abnormalities, premature labor, etc.

We found out after 37 weeks of what we thought was a perfect pregnancy that our son’s stomach had passed through a hole in his diaphragm and caused his heart to be pushed to the wrong side of his chest.

As I mentioned earlier, CDH has a mortality rate of 50%. It occurs in 1600 babies per year in the US and is just as common as spina bifida and cystic fibrosis. However, there is very little research on the cause and there is no known cure other than treating the symptoms with surgery and/or medicine. So basically we went from what we thought was a picture perfect pregnancy to being told our son had only a 50% chance of survival due to some birth defect we had never even heard of. We were devastated! I can honestly say that Monday, 5/24/2010 was the worst day of our lives. We felt lost, alone, blindsided, and had no idea where to turn.

If there was any good news from the events of 5/24, it was that we had (hopefully) enough time to make arrangements to prepare for Baby R’s arrival. We wanted to make sure that we were comfortable with all the doctors that would be taking care of our son as it could mean life or death. In fact, the first surgeon assigned to us could not find the time to meet with us for at least a couple weeks. A couple weeks, I didn’t think we had. Since my wife’s fluid levels were elevated, there was a high likelihood that she could go into labor early which meant at any moment.

At this point, I started researching alternative hospitals and doctors. After visiting two hospitals in Chicago, we settled on staying in Chicago and having our son delivered at one hospital and transferred to Children’s Memorial after being stabilized. We were extremely pleased to learn that the head of pediatric surgery at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago was extremely knowledgeable about CDH which calmed us down as much as possible That is to say…just a little bit.

Fast forward to June 17, we got to the hospital around 7:15 on 6/17/10 for the scheduled c-section. Things were going really well from the start. As always, Amy’s vitals were great and so were Baby R’s / Aidan’s. At around 10 am, Amy was brought to the OR to give her the spinal anesthesia, etc. I had to go to the adjoining recovery room until they were ready for me.

That was probably the longest 25 minutes of my life. I was in my scrubs, pacing back and forth just waiting for them to come get me. I had nowhere to go, was nervous for our son, and anxious for Amy.

I was finally brought into the OR to see Amy. There were 2-3 OB’s, 3 neonatologists, a couple anesthesiologists, and I think a couple other doctors there for support. The main OB (who happened to be the one who diagnosed the CDH in the first place) was great at giving us as much play by play as we wanted.

And then all of a sudden, we heard a little cry. I have never been so happy to hear a baby cry in my life. Many CDH babies don’t have enough lung capacity to even cry at all. That fact that Aidan gave out a little cry was a great sign (we hoped), and Amy and I both let out a collective sigh of relief.

I could see Aidan struggling and catch a glimpse of a finger or toe periodically. The doctors said he looked great, great color, and the fact that he was fighting the doctors was another good sign. He wanted to breathe on his own. Finally they called me over to cut the cord, and I was able to get my first good look at him. He looked amazing…my face, Amy’s nose and hopefully someone else’s height…

I went into overdrive at this point to ensure Amy got a chance to see Aidan. I snapped a quick picture on my phone so Amy could at least see what he looked like. Then suddenly it was time to wheel him away to the NICU.

In route to Amy’s room, we stopped by the NICU, and we were able to spend 15-20 minutes with Aidan. He looked great but was fighting with the doctors big time. We found out that the transport service was already on the way.

Aidan was doing so well after being transported to Children’s Memorial, that the surgery to fix his hernia (the hole in his diaphragm) was scheduled for 6/21 (when he was 4 days old). Typically surgeons do not rush to fix the hernia through surgery. Current research has shown that it’s actually more beneficial in the long-run to stabilize the baby and allow him/her to get as strong as possible before doing surgery. This can mean days or months before some CDH babies are ready for surgery.

After 2.5 hours of surgery, the surgeon came out to the waiting room to talk to us. Her first words were, “he’s a miracle baby—with a great name”. She told us that the surgery went really well but that he was actually in much worse shape (before surgery) than everyone thought. Since he had been so stable since birth, everyone thought that his lungs would be in great shape and that only his stomach and some of his intestines would be in his chest (at the very worst).

The reality was that everything was in his chest…his stomach, small & large intestines, spleens (yes he has two), etc. Basically everything but his liver was in his chest. All those organs in his chest caused his left lung to be moderately underdeveloped and his right one to be slightly underdeveloped.

In addition, he had no diaphragm at all. This was all a shock to the surgeon since Aidan was basically stable from the minute he was born. His breathing, oxygen levels, blood pressure, etc. were so strong and stable that is was a bit of a surprise that he was actually in such bad shape technically. But his right lung was relatively well developed which obviously was able to compensate for the weak left one.

The doctor had to move his organs to their proper places and then make a new diaphragm using Gortex. It is very common for surgeons to patch the existing diaphragm but Aidan didn’t have enough muscle tissue to do that. The surgeon also had to create a new hernia or hole in his abdomen. This is sometimes done when there isn’t enough room for all the organs once they are moved back to their proper locations. Basically Aidan’s abdomen is not used to having so many organs in it, so they created a little extra room for his stomach to grow for the time being. He will need to have another surgery on 7/21/11 to close this hernia (and put his stomach back in its proper location), but it will be “minor” surgery compared to what Aidan has already been through.

Once Aidan was moved back to the NICU, we got to see the incision and see how he was doing. The incision was about 4-5 inches across his stomach area. But the neonatologist made a point to tell us that she rarely sees a baby come out of such major surgery and need so little oxygen. He was completely sedated (and was using a ventilator to help him breathe 100%) but his oxygen level was almost already back to normal. I got another update from Aidan’s nurse that evening. He was barely awake; however, he was already starting to breathe on his own in addition to the ventilator.

We had our ups and down post surgery. Aidan was extubated, weaned off all medications, etc. only be re-intubated less than 24 hours later and put back on all medicines (with methadone added to the mix). But in the end, Aidan came home after only 29 days in the NICU. We were pretty naïve to what other CDH families went through at the time, but I had a feeling that 29 days was a short time to be in the NICU. I now know that with such a severe defect, we were extremely lucky that Aidan was able to graduate from the NICU after such a short period of time (or even survive past the first day for that matter). Aidan was able to come home with basically no signs of CDH other than a large scar on his abdomen.

Aidan had no reflux (a very common side effect of CDH that can last for years) and no other chromosomal abnormalities or heart defects. He was basically a normal 1 month old. However, Aidan would still need to have a hearing test every 6 months for the next 5 years. His surgeon has seen some high frequency hearing loss in CDH babies up to the age of 5.

My wife and I went through a lot to educate ourselves on this defect that we had never heard of in order to prepare for our first born. But this entire ordeal has definitely made us stronger, and we appreciate life, love and our son more as a result.

In hindsight, I feel ignorance was actually bliss to a point. I am almost glad I didn’t know as much about CDH (before Aidan was born) as I do now. If I had been as informed, and realized that of the 1600 cases per year in the US only 50% of the children survive once diagnosed with a hole in their diaphragm and that children without a diaphragm at all are even less likely to survive…if I had realized that there was no known cause or cure and that very little research has been done to try to find the cause…if I had known that often CDH babies have to endure multiple surgeries throughout their lives (which sometimes are cut prematurely short), I think I might have actually been even more scared than I was. For a child with such a severe defect (no diaphragm at all), Aidan blew away the odds which was more than anyone could have every anticipated.

In the end, Aidan was 1 of 800 babies to survive in 2010 after being diagnosed with CDH – a defect virtually no one has ever heard of.

Kids Flying Alone: Make it Safe, Hassle-free and Fun

My son achieved a big milestone in 2011 – his first solo flight – at the tender age of eight! Not that he flew a plane by himself, but he joined the ranks of what airlines call “unaccompanied minors”; a kid at least 5-years old flying without an accompanying adult. Considering we don’t even let him ride his bike to the other end of the neighborhood unaccompanied, this was a pretty big deal.

Sending your children on a flight on their own can feel risky, but the airlines all have secure procedures for handling solo minors, and the benefits for far-flung extended or divorced families can be significant. While airlines levy charges for minding your kids, it’s easier and generally cheaper than flying with them. But despite the benefits, the process isn’t entirely straightforward. I didn’t have much of a clue what to expect the first time we took advantage of this service, and having just recently done it a second time – on a different airline – I’ve realized that parents need to be well informed before preparing to send their kids into the great blue yonder.

Overview of the Basics

There are no federal government regulations for travel by unaccompanied minors (UM), so airline policies vary on several dimensions (e.g. booking process, age requirements, fees, eligible schedules, etc). Unaccompanied minor service gets your children safely boarded and deplaned, alerts gate staff and flight attendants to their status, and provides oversight during connections. It does NOT include constant monitoring throughout the flights. For a good summary of airline policies and more helpful advice, see this US Department of Transportation brochure.

Generally carriers allow children to fly alone on direct and non-stop flights at the age of five; however, many will only allow journeys on connecting flights for kids at least age 8. Several airlines require UM procedures/fees through age 11, though some require this through age 14. Most airlines make the process optional for older kids and teens, though I have to say I don’t think I would feel comfortable letting my son travel alone at age 12 or 13 without the UM procedures. Some airlines allow travel on international flights, but others do not. Fees for unaccompanied travel are typically $50-$150 EACH way – so it pays to shop around. Thankfully, airlines only charge the one fee even if you have multiple minors flying.

Despite all the procedures, being eligible to fly alone is different than being ready to do so. How do you determine whether this is a good idea for your children? In our case, our son, Elliott, had flown with us many times and had become a pro at the process. He knew about seat belt lights, staying in his seat for extended periods during take-off and landing, and that electronics can only be used once up in the air. What clinched our decision is that on a family trip earlier in the year we couldn’t get seats all together. A passenger offered to move for us, but Elliott was adamant he wanted to sit by himself. He ended up having a merry time – as did his adult seatmates who told me afterwards that he really kept them entertained. He even got them playing a board game with him!

Booking Flights

Unaccompanied minor flights must be booked directly with the relevant airline. Travel sites such as Expedia and Orbitz won’t accept these reservations however it can help to check them first to determine who has the best routes and fares. Once you’ve chosen a flight/airline, MAKE SURE to visit that airline’s website and review their rules for unaccompanied minors – your choices may not fit their requirements. For example, many carriers prohibit UM kids from traveling on or connecting to the last flight of the day. Problems can arise if a child is stranded overnight as most hotels will not accept minors age 17 or younger to register.

You can often book the flights on the airline’s site – some require that you do – but you will then need to call and speak to an agent to finalize the paperwork and extra fees (some airlines allow you to pay the UM fee when booking, others will only take payment at check in….go figure?!). If you are booking with an agent via the phone, have your flight choices and prices at hand – they may not offer the cheapest or connecting flights even when allowed (and they may not be familiar with the airline’s unaccompanied minor policies).

This process requires a lot of information and documentation – both at booking and on the actual day of flight. Be sure to gather all the requirements BEFORE making the reservations – and ensure the designated adults have copies of the information and documents with them at departure and arrival.

Information Requirements:

  • Full name, address and home/daytime contact numbers for adults responsible for BOTH drop off and pick-up
  • Be sure the designated adult’s name is EXACTLY as listed on their government-issued photo ID – the address on the ID should also match (our son’s grandfather was picking him up at arrival so we had him send us a scanned picture of his license to be sure we had the correct details)
  • Proof of age – several airlines want to ensure your children have reached the age requirements for the journey, so you should plan to bring copies of their birth certificates – and include copies in their baggage for the return flight

Departure and Arrival

Be sure to arrive at the airport with your children in plenty of time for the extended check-in procedures for unaccompanied minors (about 90 minutes prior to departure). You will have to complete and sign paperwork regarding your kids’ travel and the person designated to meet them at arrival. You will be given an official envelope containing this documentation, all boarding passes and baggage claim tags – which you will hand over to the airline representative at the departure gate. A flight attendant will keep this envelope safe during the flight.

Your kids will be fitted with wristbands or other type of badges indicating they are UMs and the airline they are flying. You will receive a gate pass so you can escort them to the flight. Make sure you have your ID with you and be prepared to go through airport security just as if you were traveling – no banned items in your pockets or purse…and make sure you wear no-hassle shoes. I’m speaking from experience here! Once past security you might want to buy your kids something to eat and take care of bathroom breaks.

Alert airline gate staff that you have minors traveling alone – they should be expecting them. Staff will take the travel envelope and accompany your children and any other minors onto the flight. If you’re like me, be careful to limit excessive motherly PDA when saying goodbye! Then settle down for a significant wait. Airlines require you to stay at the gate until the plane has taxied away – or even taken off – which can take considerable time. Keep this in mind when traveling to the airport. Anyone with you will need to wait in the terminal since only one adult will be allowed through to the gate. Like I said, the process isn’t exactly straightforward.

At the arrival airport, again only ONE person will be given a gate pass to meet the incoming flight. This person must be the adult designated on your children’s travel form – no last minute changes are allowed. And be sure the person meeting your kids arrives at the airport well ahead of the scheduled arrival time. There are no electronic terminals for gate passes so they’ll have to wait in line to see an agent. I was almost late meeting my son’s plane last time as it landed 20 minutes earlier than scheduled. But despite the challenges, some advance planning and research will ensure a big adventure for your kids and low stress for you.

Flying on My Own – A Kid’s-eye View

 

Hi. My name is Elliott and I’m 9 years old. I have flown by myself twice. Although I’ve been on planes many times with my parents, it’s cool when I fly alone. I feel so independent, with no one to tell me what to do. I played with toys and read on my first flight, but I just slept the second time because I had to get up so early that morning.

 

You get a wristband on your arm to show you’re unaccompanied (I kept mine on for 2 months after my trip!). Then you get on the plane first and the flight attendant tells you to push the HELP button if you need anything, and to fasten your seat belt and stay seated while the seat belt sign is on. People always talk to you – they ask your name, how old you are, and if you’ve ever done this before. Some flights give the kids traveling alone a special treat – but not all.

 

You’ll really love flying on your own. You’ll miss your parents a little – I wonder what mine are doing while I’m on the plane…whether they’re having fun or bored – but you’ll get over it. And some flights take a long time, so it’s hard to sit still. Take lots of activities with you – I recommend small board games or portable video games, a notebook/pencil to draw or write with, and lots of Pokémon cards! And try to get a window seat – it’s very entertaining to look out. If you’re going somewhere warm you can count how many yards have pools!

 

There’s not much to worry about – but I got scared once when I read the safety manual and thought about us landing in an ocean and being surrounded by great white sharks. But then I just went back to what I was doing before and forgot about it. The End.

How to Avoid Taking Your Stress Out On Your Kids

As mothers, we are constantly trying to juggle responsibilities. With these responsibilities comes stress, a lot of stress. Add children, and before we know it, we are taking our stress out on them. In fact, we might find ourselves treating friends and coworkers better than our own children and families.

We don’t want to dump our stress on our children. We don’t need to tell them all our woes. They can’t fix it, they don’t understand it, and at their age they don’t need to be stressed and worried about grown up problems.

We do need to take a few minutes to figure out what is causing our stress. Are we tired, overwhelmed, money trouble, marriage stress or work stress? Maybe we have just had a long day juggling the laundry, cleaning, playing Candy Land, and chauffeuring kids. After a little introspection we need to realize that stress is going to happen and we should do all we can to avoid taking it out on our children.

So.. What can we do?

Don’t Multitask – Focus on our Children When we have a lot to do, and a lot on our minds, it is easy to think that multitasking is the answer. As women we seem to take pride in our multitasking abilities. When we are trying to make dinner, help kids with homework, fold laundry, AND listen to our 5 year old talk about their day, everything else will be more important than what happened at recess. We take our frustrations and stress out on our children because they are making it hard for us to get EVERYTHING ELSE done. The laundry can wait, and so can dinner. Sit down with your child. Give them your undivided attention and focus on their words and their facial expressions. Not only will it bring you closer, but we won’t see them as a stress, we will see them as the children we love more than anything. Remember LOVE is spelled T-I-M-E.

Establish a Routine We need to put our families and children on a routine. With a routine, we will know what to expect and so will our children. This will eliminate a lot of stress that comes from the unknown and from struggles with bed time and mealtime. Our children will be better behaved when things are predictable. This mean less stress triggers for us as mothers.

Have Realistic Expectations We don’t have to be super women. And, we SHOULD NOT COMPARE OURSELVES TO OTHER MOMS. We need to be realistic about what we can tackle and undertake. When we start comparing we tend to see everyone else’s strengths and our weaknesses. It is never a fair comparison. We should surround ourselves with people and things that are supportive and uplifting. Not things that make us feel inadequate.

Put Ourselves in our Children’s Shoes As mothers, we need to take a minute to see things from our children’s perspectives. Have empathy. Realize they don’t mean to upset us. They are young, learning, and inquisitive. They don’t know rush, hurry, or quick. If we can take just a second and see things from their eyes, we will not be so quick to take our frustrations out on them.

See our Children as People When we are stressed, it is easy to see our children as objects. Objects that are keeping us from what we are trying to do. We are trying to make dinner, or answer the phone, or fold the laundry and their need for help or attention is getting in the way. We need to see them as people. Little people. They have thoughts and hopes and dreams and good days and bad days just like us. It is the laundry that is actually getting in the way of us being with our kids, Right?

Play Together as a Family We have to find time to recreate and relax together as a family. Life needs to be filled with work and play. When families play together they grow closer, develop stronger relationships, and have more patience for one another. Plus it is a needed diversion from the stress we deal with each day. Find time at least once a week to do something fun together (this doesn’t mean it has to cost money).

Have a Sense of Humor Laugh. When you are ready to loose your temper with your children because you are stressed, laugh first. Even if you have to force yourself. You will find it fixes a lot of things.

Minimize Minimize the stuff in our homes. When we have more than we can maintain, even if it is just too many clothes, everything becomes overwhelming and stressful. We will quickly take our stress out on our children. Work to make the spaces in our lives manageable. Give away, throw out, and get rid of. The clutter in our homes and cars becomes overwhelming and makes the other stresses seem even worse.

Don’t Over Schedule We shouldn’t over schedule our children or ourselves. To many things on our family plates will always bring stress. Our kids don’t need to be involved in a million extra curricular activities, and we don’t have to say yes to every play date and activity. We need to PROTECT our family’s time. This protection will bring peace and time together. Plus there will be less rushing. Rushing compounds stress.

Manage our Time Cliche, I know, but vital. Time management is so important to our lives. We do need to stay organized and manage our responsibilities and the time it takes to get things done.

Plan Ahead This goes right along with managing our time. Being prepared and planning ahead will help eliminate a lot of our family stress. Make lunches for school the night before, lay out clothes the night before, even set the breakfast table before you go to bed each night. Round up backpacks and school work, shoes and socks before everyone goes to sleep. Make reasonable preparations to eliminate having to rush. Rushing brings stress, especially with children.

Find Time For Yourself As mother’s we are always taking care of other people. We forget to take care of ourselves. We should pick one or two things we would like to learn or get better at, hobbies or interest, and find time for them. Along with this, we need to eat right, exercise, even if it is just a walk around the block, and get enough sleep. When we are hungry and tired we loose our temper and take our frustrations out on our kids.

Stress is part of life. Taking it out on our kids doesn’t have to be.

5 Ways to Cultivate Your Kids’ Online Reputation

In our digitized lives nowadays, everything we say and do is captured, uploaded and archived across a number of connected devices.

That means that the video of you doing the electric slide in a banana suit at Aunt Marie’s 50th birthday party has a potential shelf life of forever once it has been posted to the Web. And by the time your aunt eventually deletes the embarrassing video per your request, it may have already been picked up by someone else who has now posted it on countless other sites.

With this inability to ultimately govern our data files, we need to embrace the importance of a positive online reputation — and more important, communicate that message to our youth. Here’s how to do it best.

1. Talk openly with your child

Having a conversation with your kids about creating a positive online reputation is critical to teaching them to manage their personal standing across digital devices. Help your kids understand by getting them to think of it as building their own personal brand. Ask them to consider questions like these: What type of impression do they want to leave with others? What type of feelings do they want others to experience when engaging with them via a social networking site, blog, email or text?

2. Monitor online activity

Ask your kids about their online habits. Join the social networking sites they belong to — see how they work, find out who else has joined and even “friend” your children. You may be worried about cyberstalking your kids on Facebook or MySpace and invading their privacy. But don’t feel guilty about staying on top of their networking: You’d be giving them a false sense of security if you were leading them to believe that privacy exists on the Internet.

3. Lead by (scary) example

Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, a counselor or an administrator, engage kids in discussions on how reputations have been created and destroyed by something as simple as an email or photo taken by a mobile phone. Highlight how celebrities, sports figures, beauty queens and politicians have all experienced the fallout from bad decisions that now exist on the Web for eternity.

4. Connect the present to the future

Kids may be familiar with the immediate consequences of social media mishaps, but it’s vital that they grasp how their behavior across all digital devices strongly affects future opportunities as well, like admission to college, scholarships and employment. Show them that if you use it right, the Internet is a tool that offers boundless opportunities: By posting positive images, videos, comments, etc., they can get recognized in ways that open doors to a brilliant future. With the appropriate supervision, your kids can be seen as thought leaders, community participants, innovators and humanitarians. They can be recognized for their ideas and their ability to reach out globally.

5. Proactively maintain your kids’ online image

Cultivating a successful online reputation is an ongoing process. Make these steps a weekly custom:

  • Create and update a site, blog or digital portfolio with your child. Use these digital vehicles to document accomplishments, community service and concern for current events taking place across the street and around the world. It will help your child create a positive brand.
  • Scan your child’s online reputation. With your child, search what has been written about him or her online. This can be done on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis — whatever is manageable for both of you.
  • Take action to remove damaging information. If your child has uploaded or texted damaging information, act immediately to pull what has been posted. Contact your Internet service provider, cell phone company, the website, etc., and walk through the process of how to remove the information.

Remember: Children don’t yet fully understand the complexity of the advantages and pitfalls that arise from social navigation. Adult supervision is crucial if they are to make sound digital communication decisions.



Is Your Family Sleep Deprived?

Research has long shown that lack of sleep can lead to long-term health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes. But here’s a new finding to add to the heap: Kids who don’t get enough sleep are at higher risk for obesity, according to a 2011 study by the University of Chicago and the University of Louisville.

Sleep loss has damaging short-term consequences too: impaired memory, trouble focusing, slower response time, emotional instability and poorer judgment. In teens, it also raises the likelihood of risky behavior and accidents.

Think your family gets enough sleep? Consider these sleep requirement guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation:

  • Preschoolers: 11 to 13 hours a night
  • School-aged kids: 10 to 11 hours
  • Teens: 8.5 to 9.5 hours
  • Adults: 7 to 8 hours

If you’re reconsidering whether your family gets enough sleep after all, these healthy and simple sleep habits will help:

Pick a bedtime

Not everyone in the family goes to bed at the same time, but everyone should have a set bedtime that’s the same every night. You need set wake-up times as well. (Sleeping in to make up for lost sleep during the week only perpetuates the problem, and it doesn’t even work.) Setting your body’s clock trains it to get just the right amount of sleep.

Switch to night mode

We’re so used to running at full steam that we continue our daytime activities right up to bedtime. Kids keep playing or watching TV, teens keep talking on Facebook, and adults sit up answering email, paying bills or finishing work. In order to transition from wakefulness to sleepiness, you need to pull the plug on all engaging activity at least 30 minutes before bedtime. After washing up, get into bed, dim the lights and spend a little quiet time reading, talking or listening to music. But at the designated time, it’s lights out and eyes shut.

Create the right conditions

In order to sleep well, the body needs to be in a certain environment: dark, quiet and cool. Nightlights may comfort young children, but they also make it harder to sleep. Hearing the TV or the clicking of computer keys in the next room doesn’t help either. When your child is in bed, keep the light, noise and activity level outside the room as low as possible. And keep the room temperature comfortably cool.

Close the kitchen

Eating too much too close to bedtime interferes with good sleep. Schedule dinner for at least two hours before bedtime, and watch the portion size. Also, limit dessert and snacks to one hour before bedtime, stop having caffeine in the afternoon (that also goes for decaf beverages, which still contain small amounts of caffeine) and don’t serve soda at dinner. Alcohol interferes with sleep as well, so limit your intake in the evening.

Change isn’t easy, but adopting healthy habits at night will keep your family healthy and functioning at full capacity every day.