Keeping Teens Safe on New Year’s Eve

Do you know what your teenager’s plans are for celebrating New Year’s Eve? Will he be going out with friends or attending a party? Will she be driving or riding with other teenagers? Have you made a plan for keeping your teenager safe during and after the festivities?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day two-day holiday is the most deadly and dangerous time to be on the road, with a startling increase in drunk driving deaths over any other time of year. And even though teenagers are under the legal drinking age, unfortunately there will be many of them drinking as part of their celebrations. For these reasons, it is vitally important to know your teenager’s plans and to make a plan for his or her safety.

Talk with your teen about the dangers of drinking and driving and make it clear that underage drinking is not only dangerous, it is illegal. If he is not driving and ends up in a situation where others are drinking, tell your child to call you and you will pick him, no questions asked. If your child is the driver, talk about the importance of staying focused on the road, avoiding distractions such as texting or talking on the phone and defensive driving since other drivers may be impaired.

Find out who your teen will be with and where they will be spending the evening. If possible, they should stay in one location for the majority of the evening and not travel throughout the night. Establish check in times for your teenager to call or text you and set a curfew for when she must home. If she’s spending the night at a friend’s house, call and verify with the friend’s parents.

If you are concerned about letting your teenager go out for the evening, consider hosting a party for him and his friends at your home. Keep in mind that you will need to check to make sure no one brings in alcohol or is/has been/will be drinking or you could be held liable if they have an accident after leaving your home. If you suspect a teen has been drinking, take their car keys and call their parents to come get them.

If you don’t want to host a party, there are other safe alternatives in many communities that can provide fun ways for teens to ring in the New Year. Check local businesses such as skating rinks, amusement parks, laser tag centers, movie theaters and other teen-oriented places to see if they are offering a “lock-in” party or event that teens can attend. Some churches host New Year’s Eve celebration parties for teens and/or families too.

Of course, staying home and celebrating together as a family is also an alternative. If your teenager is open to the idea and you do not have other plans, consider staying off the road and just having a fun family night with movies, board games, video games, or other activities. My family has a tradition of celebrating at home and inviting friends over so we all stay safe and have fun together.

Wishing you all a very Happy (& Safe) New Year!

How to Talk to Your Kids About…Divorce

Divorce is a very sensitive subject. One that is hard for all parties involved. It can be especially difficult for parents to know how to talk to their children about such an adult subject.

Adults need to realize that the way they talk about divorce will set the tone for how their children view, and handle the situation.


  • If possible, talk to your children about the divorce together as a family, with both parents present.
  • Talk to your children as soon as you have decided to get a divorce. Don’t put it off. Hiding it from your children will not make it easier.
  • Make sure you and your spouse agree before hand on what you are going to tell your children.
  • Assure your children that they are not responsible for the divorce.
  • Tell them why you are getting a divorce, but keep it age appropriate. (Your father and I don’t get along anymore, and living together has become awkward.)
  • Talk to them about the most important details, how the divorce will affect them. (Include, where the children will live, who they will live with, where the other parent will live, when the other parent is leaving, how visitations will work, etc…)
  • Assure them repeatedly that they are loved.
  • Assure them that you have tried to work things out.
  • Talk about how things are going to stay the same. Remember children like predictability because it makes them feel safe and secure.

Key phrases that you might consider including.

  • “You haven’t done anything to cause the divorce; this is between me and your father.“
  • “Just because your mother and I won’t be living together anymore, it doesn’t mean we don’t want to be with you.”
  • “Just because I won’t be living here, doesn’t mean you can’t talk to me whenever you want. You can always call me on the phone, anytime. You can always reach me.”
  • “Even though your mother and I won’t be living in the same house, we will always be here for you. We both love you very much.”
  • “Your dad and I understand that you might be feeling lots of different things. We are always here to talk about how you feel and answer any questions you have..”


  • Don’t try to buy your child’s love to make the divorce more manageable for them. Kids don’t want gifts; they want you and your spouse. They want security and to feel loved. They want honesty and loyalty.
  • Don’t talk negative about your spouse.
  • Don’t talk to your children when you are angry
  • Don’t talk about the details of the divorce such as financial matters and custody issues.
  • Don’t blow off your children’s questions.
  • Don’t rush your children into adulthood. Let them be children. Keep them protected from adult details and adult decisions.
  • Don’t take your resentment or frustrations for your spouse, out on your children.

Divorce is difficult for all families, but with patience and preparations, talking to your children about divorce can be a positive experience that assures them that above all things, they are loved, and always will be.

The Toughest Talk You’ll Ever Have with Your Child

For a few years – OK, maybe more than a few – I worried that my daughter Samantha was getting fat. After all, she was consistently in the 95th percentile for her weight, and I knew that a BMI (body mass index) between the 85th and 95th percentile meant a child was at risk for being too heavy.

It’s easy for women to get a little crazy about their weight, so it’s no wonder that we become a bit unhinged when it comes to our kids. Our pediatrician reassured me that she was fine because she’d been in the 95th percentile since she was a toddler and had a naturally muscular build. And today, at 14, her BMI is normal, so perhaps he was right.

Still, I couldn’t help but be concerned – especially when I saw her chomping down her fourth slice of pizza or noshing on candy with reckless abandon. Telling her I was worried about her weight felt cruel, a remark that could spawn body image issues and trigger an eating disorder. But staying silent seemed equally wrong, as if I were giving her permission to pack on the pounds.

Clearly, being appropriately concerned yet not overly neurotic was going to take some restraint. Turns out I’m not the only parent who feels uncomfortable discussing these matters. A recent survey found that most parents would prefer to talk about sex, drugs and alcohol than chat up their kids about weight.

So rather than get embroiled in a complicated conversation about BMI and calories, I chose to keep it simple and focus on one thing: good health. And rather than zero in on Samantha, I made these weighty discussions a family affair that included her thin-as-a-rail sister, Annie. We talked about trying to log an hour of exercise every day, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and limiting – but not necessarily omitting – junk food from our diets. My friend did the same thing with her three boys.

Teaching my kids portion control was a little trickier. To rein in their temptation to overeat – the root of the nation’s weight problem, I think – I told them to try putting off until tomorrow the second helping you want today. “After all,” I said, borrowing a line from Scarlett O’Hara, “Tomorrow is another day.”

It was a simple lesson – one that my kids got right away. “Guess what, Mom?” Samantha said to me one day. “I didn’t take the second cupcake today because I remembered what you said about there always being another time.”

Inside I cheered. But will these lessons stick? Will they succumb to the freshman 15? Will they keep it off as adults? Only time will tell.

Child Health & Safety News Roundup: 12-17-2012 to 12-23-2012

Welcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world.

Each day we use Twitter to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and other caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we may miss something, but we think overall we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. But for our friends and colleagues who are not on Twitter (or who are but may have missed something), we offer you a recap of the past week’s top 10 events & stories.

PedSafe Headline of the Week:

How to Keep Kids Safe During The Travel Season

Recent Study Highlights Importance of a Digitally Educated Parent

A recent study conducted by the Hart Research Associates for the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) found that when teens look to seek out information about how to stay safe online, nearly three in four (74%) turn to their parents. The study also found that parents and teens indicate similar levels of concern for a number of negative potential outcomes of teens’ online behaviors and activities.

In an ever-changing digital world where our children are more immersed than we’ll ever be, these findings are very heartening to read. What it essentially means is that the research we do as parents to stay on top of digital trends and safety issues is not fruitless. It means we can work more closely with our children to help them learn what it means to be safe online, and that our input holds some weight. Looking at this data, it becomes apparent that there really isn’t a better time to get involved in what’s going on in your child’s digital life.

All of that being said, however, in order to educate our children effectively we need to educate ourselves effectively, too. We all know how a person’s credibility can change dramatically when they give bad or outdated advice—this same rule applies to the way we converse with our children about digital safety. Reading articles and brushing up on statistics is only half the battle. As parents in the 21st century, we need to immerse ourselves in the technology and social media as much as possible. This means keeping up-to-date on the latest technologies and online trends by either using the services and products yourself, or by relying on information resources (like Yoursphere for Parents and Common Sense Media) to keep you in the loop on a daily or weekly basis.

Understandably, it can be difficult to keep up with the latest developments in technology and social media when you have to balance several plates in your life, and sometimes the idea of doing so can be overwhelming, but it’s absolutely necessary. As a starting point, I’ve provided a few general Internet-safety concerns below, along with the solutions that you can teach to your teen or child.

1. Social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram were created for adults.

  • The content, culture and people on these networks pose very real safety and privacy issues for our children. Profiles are automatically set to public, personal information is requested and sometimes required to sign up, and very little to zero content moderation takes place. Images including nudity and porn, and violent/sexual games are pervasive. Social media is clearly here to stay, yet our children and young teens deserve an age-appropriate and healthier experience. This is why I founded It was time to create a network created with the best interests of our children in mind, to give kids the best of social media, minus these pitfalls.

2. Privacy.

  • First, know that it’s against a federal law called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) for any child under the age of 13 to be a member of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and any other social network or website that requests personal information from their users.
  • Too many Facebook users rely on the social network’s default privacy settings, believing that they are sufficient enough to protect their privacy. The reality is, the out-of-the-box privacy settings give you very little control over who sees the content you post, the people you’re friends with and the personal information you entered when you signed up. Ultimately, Facebook doesn’t want your profile to be private; they want it to be as open as possible because it’s beneficial to their partners and business model. Guide to Facebook’s Timeline Privacy Settings.
  • This is why we comply with COPPA at Yoursphere. Children under the age of 13 are able to join Yoursphere because of our compliance. In addition, user profiles at Yoursphere are always set to private, and we don’t provide an option to make them public.

3. Cyberbullying

  • Cyberbullying can come from anyone; it isn’t limited to the scowling angry kids on the playground like typical bullying is. David Greenwood, a writer for the Huffington Post, defined bullying as “when a child repeatedly uses threats to control another child’s behavior”.
  • We recently published a comprehensive cyberbullying guide which gives parents a five-step plan for combating and documenting online bullying. It also outlines the methods children use to bully their peers.
  • Cyberbullying is a perfect example of why education about citizenship is key. As we teach in Yoursphere, children need to learn why treating others with kindness and respect is important.

4. Sexting

  • If you think your child may be sexting, try opening up a dialogue with them and keep it going on a regular basis. During your conversations, discuss the repercussions of sexting, the fact that once their photo is on the Internet it becomes public and permanent, and how these consequences could ruin their future plans to attend college or start their career.
  • If your child doesn’t have a smartphone yet, consider holding off until you feel they’re mature enough to handle the responsibility. Bear in mind, a smartphone is a handheld computer that’s connected to a satellite in outer space!
  • Lastly, take advantage of the cell phone monitoring tools available to you through your service provider. There are several good options that can give your family peace of mind and cost next to nothing.

Remember, FOSI’s research proves that your children are counting on you to help them navigate the digital world. It’s up to you to familiarize yourself with the issues and solutions, steer them in a healthy direction and to pass that information onto your children when the time is right.

Holiday Magic – The Will of Children to Believe

Last Christmas it was apparent that our then-9-year-old son still believed in Santa. I wondered if it could still be the case, but he was completely into our usual tradition of leaving cookies and milk for Santa. And at bedtime he once again set up his iPod in the family room – video running – to try to catch Santa coming down the chimney! Now I thought this was cute, but my husband was kind of done with the whole Santa-thing (we call him Scrooge) since, admittedly, pulling off the whole illusion is a lot of work:

  • Keeping the presents hidden until Christmas
  • Segregating the Santa-designated wrapping paper (don’t want to have to explain why we have the same paper and gift bags as Santa!)
  • Getting the presents wrapped surreptitiously, and sneaking them under the tree after kiddo bedtime…while trying to avoid the “candid camera.” Thankfully the battery on his iPod proved not to last that long!

And, of course, there was the time a couple years ago when we first left carrots outside for the reindeer. Since it’s important to show that the reindeer enjoyed these treats (and we all know reindeer are messy eaters!) it was incumbent upon me to gather up the carrots strewn on the back patio and chew up several so that only a few carrot bits would be left behind. But who knew that the carrots would freeze so quickly out back? Pulling them off the frozen stone patio was hard enough…but chewing bits of frozen carrot was not appetizing! Since that year I’ve made sure to have extra carrots on hand to use as replacements for the orange icicles. So, the Santa-thing is a lot of work. But clearly I love it all!

As Elliott approached 10 in the spring I wondered how much longer this Christmas/holiday magic could last. But I didn’t have long to wait for an answer. Easter was my undoing. With a later Spring Break, our family was only getting back home the night of Easter Bunny’s visit. Despite my best intentions, I didn’t manage to do the Easter basket shopping before our vacation. So, while away, I texted a shopping list to our trusty local college student, Emily, part-time nanny and family helper extraordinaire, and told her where in the house to hide the loot. The whole process worked perfectly with Mom Bunny putting together a basket during the wee hours of Easter Sunday morning. That is until Elliott was playing a game on my phone and happened to see my Easter text exchanges with Emily.

The jig was up! I learned what had transpired through a series of very angry but hilarious post-it notes left outside my study where I was doing some work that evening. These included some angry drawings and a terse message:

“Just found out you are the Easter Bunny. I suppose this means Santa and the Toothfairy aren’t real either. You’ve been lying to me my whole life!”

What’s a parent to do?

Well this seemed to call for a good heart-to-heart conversation, so I sat down on his bed and – through tears on both sides – I had to admit that we really had been lying to him all these years. But as I said to Elliott, it didn’t seem like a lie when he was little…and there’s really a whole lot of love behind these particular parent lies when you think about it – what with all that we do to make the magic real for the little ones. Surprisingly, my 10-year old boy agreed with this perspective and seemed comforted to a degree. And then I learned just how strong and enduring is the will of children to believe. “Mom, can we just pretend this never happened?” he asked. “Of course,” I said. So we haven’t discussed it since. And as we get nearer to Christmas Eve, I know I need to have cookies and carrots in stock once again.