Your PTA Can Help With Your Kid’s DIGITAL Life

pic of Erick Lauber
by Dr. Erick Lauber

Have you checked out your local Parent Teacher Association (PTA), or maybe the national PTA website? I recently had the chance to observe an excellent “Digital Families Community Event” held locally by the local PTA president, Kammi Cooper.

Kammi’s PTA Program for Horace Mann Elementary School

The program was provided by the National PTA, but tailored to the local community. It was interactive and fun for the kids and very informative for the parents. The families got to talk about screen time, creating and sharing passwords, favorite apps and social media sites, and what to share and not to share on the Internet.

Kammi was able to put on such an excellent program because she attended a PTA conference and was awarded a small grant to make this program happen. However, you don’t have to wait to benefit from the wonderful resources the National PTA has put together. I went to their website and clicked on the “Family Resources” and then “Digital Safety” buttons.

There I learned that the PTA has multiple programs sponsored by such Internet powerhouses as Google, Facebook, and AT&T.  I particularly liked one called “Smart Talk” put together by LifeLock.

The Smart Talk Program

It is an online learning module you can do with your kid. It helps you answer questions such as:

  • How much screen time is appropriate?
  • How to determine who should “friend” or “follow” your account?
  • When to share photos or videos online?
  • How to respond to negative comments or posts on social media?
  • Whether to use location-based services on apps?

At the end, you can print out the decisions you’ve come to and have it as a record (or kind of contract between you and your kid.) I thought it was excellent!

Go Get More Information

Raising a kid in a digital world is tough. You want them (and you) to be aware of how they spend online. You want them to be mindful of their online presence and footpring.

Check out your local PTA and see if they are hosting any of these programs. If they aren’t, why not initiate one yourself? 

And keep learning. This isn’t the exact same world you grew up in!

Useful Links:

https://www.pta.org/home/programs/connected

https://www.pta.org/home/programs/connected/smart-talk

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I’m scared of my kids getting into marijuana. You should be too.

pic of Erick Lauber
By Erick Lauber

Let me start by saying I’m not a fan of marijuana. If you are, then simply don’t read any further. You don’t need to get yourself upset. And I don’t need your angry posts and emails.

If you’re still here, there are a few points I want to make.

First, “yes” there is such a thing as marijuana addiction. If you’re above 30 yrs of age, perhaps you’ve known someone who’s become addicted to marijuana. They might have any of several symptoms. The two worst, I think, are occasional psychosis (losing touch with reality) and “amotivational” syndrome (not wanting to do anything). These effects have been documented extensively and are accepted by the medical community. A percentage of long-term marijuana (THC) users will get these, but not all users. At least not with the doses that have been researched. We simply don’t know yet what the more potent marijuana available today will do.  (THC is the chemical in marijuana that gets you high. CBD is another chemical in marijuana that supposedly doesn’t get you high.)

Regular users can also find it hard to sleep without taking a “hit”. Sometimes they can’t eat without marijuana (THC). In these cases, the body has simply adapted to the outside chemical and expects (requires) the drug in order to function normally.

If you don’t think there is anything such as “marijuana addiction”, I suggest you check out these sources (NIDA and The Atlantic), or just call any doctor. By the way, the chance for dependence or addiction is much, much higher if you start as a teenager.   

My second point is marijuana (THC) use is far more widespread than when I was a kid – and it was around a lot even back then. This is not the world you grew up in. Maybe you smoked marijuana back then. But things have changed drastically. Oh, and by “spread” I also mean “it is socially accepted”.  May kids today don’t think there’s anything wrong with marijuana. 

And what happens when teenagers do or do not think something is harmful?  Below are two charts from a real, national survey called Monitoring the Future conducted every year. The graph on the left shows that as “perception of harm” from smoking goes up, actual smoking goes down.

pic of 12th grade perception of harm and use patterns

The chart on the right shows that the same relationship exists for marijuana. When perception of harm goes up, smoking marijuana goes down. Except that, for some reason, around 1992, teens turned a corner and started perceiving marijuana as less harmful. Notice how marijuana use jumped up after that? (The two scales do not exactly match, by the way. Marijuana use is generally higher than cigarette smoking through all of these years!)

In my state (PA) we have a survey that students do every two years. Most schools participate. It’s called the Pennsylvania Youth Survey or PaYS.  When I looked at that data, here is what I found…

(You can see some of this data yourself at http://www.bach-harrison.com/payswebtool/Categories.aspx )

This graph shows the percentage of 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th graders who self-reported using these substances sometime in their life. It shows, logically, that usage goes up from 6th to 12th grades. Marijuana use was relatively low, i.e. it was below cigarettes and about where smokeless tobacco was. However, I’m a little suspicious of this self-report data. Marijuana use might be under-reported because it is still illegal in PA, whereas the others are at least legal.

What surprised me about this graph was the height of the vaping bars. They are almost as tall as the alcohol lines. Recently I read that vaping has seen a 900% increase in teens in the last few years.

And then I recalled that my students have told me that you can vape THC. You can buy vape cartridges full of THC. They can be as much as 80%-90% THC. The marijuana you grew up, by the way, was between 1-10% THC.

They’ve also said you can put “dab” in a vaping device. Dab is a very pure form of marijuana (THC) that is in wax form. It will vaporize in the pen, I’m told. (Here is a bit more on dabbing.)

Now, I know the vape shops sell “flavored” juice in their vape cartridges. They also sell nicotine cartridges. (By the way, the amount of nicotine in vape cartridges can be scary high. But that’s for another day. I think we are making another generation addicted to nicotine.) My students tell me it is really easy to get cartridges with THC – even here in Pennsylvania where that is supposedly illegal.

And here’s another scary graph I found.  When do kids start trying illegal substances? 

graph of when kids try illicit drugs

This chart says by age 18 already 24% of students (nearly a quarter!) have already tried an illicit drug. Of course, that doesn’t jive with the PaYS data, where the numbers are even higher.

Ok. So, I don’t have a real answer for this. I think many kids are going to try this stuff and many are going to have a problem with it. My point is THC use is on the rise, and this may partly be because kids don’t see any harm in it.

Well, I can’t solve this, but at least I can sound the alarm. We’re not going to solve this overnight, parents. My message is simply “Stay vigilant! Do you want your teenager getting in to marijuana?”

(By the way, “marijuana” means “THC”. It’s the chemical that does the harm – even if your kid is no rolling a plant into a cigarette or smoking it in a bong.)

If you are a pro-marijuana or pro-vaping advocate, I know you’re all fired up to “set me straight”. But I’m simply trying to reach tween and teen parents. Maybe we need a more in-depth conversation about all this.

I don’t want my kids or ANY KIDS doing this stuff.

And that’s all I’m trying to say.

Other links:

Here’s a reaction to New York State’s push to legalize recreational marijuana  https://ncadd-ra.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Marijuana-Separating-Fact-From-Fiction-in-NYS-SAM-NY.pdf

And for some quick fact sheets about marijuana try “Smart Approaches to Marijuana – preventing another big tobacco” at  https://learnaboutsam.org/toolkit/ 

NIDA

The Atlantic

Is Your Kid Vaping?

by Erick Lauber

Vaping: Part I

Ok. Here’s a startling statistic. Teen vaping increased 80% last year in high schools. Here’s another one. It increased 50% in middle schools. This is according to the U.S. FDA, so I’m going to believe those numbers.

Ironically, those two numbers don’t include my two boys (who are now in their twenties) who also started vaping in the last few years.

What’s going on here?  It’s quite simple. This is a new drug delivery system that has not yet been adequately regulated. By “drug” I don’t necessarily mean illegal drug. Some vaping devices put out something similar to vegetable oil. But that’s not what I’m hearing about. Most kids are not vaping vegetable oil. The ones I know are vaping nicotine and THC, the mood altering chemical from marijuana.

Is it legal to do this? No. Not if you’re under 18. And recreational THC is still illegal in many states.  But that hasn’t stopped anyone. Vaping has come on super-fast and its catching many parents off guard.

In fact, the FDA has gotten so frightened by the numbers that its recently imposed huge new restrictions on many e-cigarette/vaping manufacturers. But in my town, it’s too late. Vaping is everywhere. And though the chart below says 4.7% of teens vape, more recent data says 12% or higher. Oh, and what’s starting? Unlike smoking cigarettes, vaping is done more by the young!

What’s scary is young people are smoking these MORE than older people!

High school and middle school teachers and administrators are telling me they’re confiscating as many as a dozen vaping devices a day.  And they don’t know what’s in them! There is no testing device they can use to determine if their cigarette policy, their marijuana policy, or perhaps neither should apply!

And where are kids getting these devices? Well, until the FDA recently changed the law, they could be bought in gas stations, convenience stores, etc… They’re still available online. And at vape shops. It’s easy to get a vaping device. And also easy to get it with nicotine or THC.

Will you know if your kid is “smoking” one of these in their room? No. Probably not. The devices don’t have to give off a smell. One kid smoked a THC vape right in front of me and I had no idea. No smell whatsoever. And they don’t have to produce a big cloud of vapor either. Some kids can just blow the tiny vapor up their sleeve. In class! I know. I’ve seen it.

So, is it dangerous?

Yup. But I’ll get into that in another blog post. Look up “popcorn lung” while you’re waiting. And don’t get me started on addiction to nicotine or THC.

Hey parents. This was not around when you were growing up. Get informed. Get a household policy in place. Get with your kids.

Don’t let vaping get your kid.

Here’s some links if you want more information:

https://truthinitiative.org/news/e-cigarettes-facts-stats-and-regulations

https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/15/health/fda-vaping-ecigarette-regulation/index.html

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-44295336

Diet Dilemmas: Do I have to have Family Dinners?

 By Lily Whorl and Erick Lauber

Growing up a child of three, it was always hard to get everyone together to eat a family dinner. Whether it was cross country practice or my sister’s dance class, it seemed we could never get together at the same time. However, the rare nights did sit down and eat a meal together are still ingrained in my head. That quality time was and always be important to me.

So, are you having family dinners?

According to the The Family Dinner Project, sitting down together helps children develop in numerous ways, including eating a more balanced and healthy diet. This group belongs strongly in this activity because of research on the physical, mental and emotional benefits of regular family meals. Research suggests the benefits include:

  • Better academic performance
  • Higher self-esteem
  • A greater sense of resilience
  • Lower risk of substance abuse
  • Lower risk of teen pregnancy
  • Lower risk of depression
  • Lower likelihood of developing eating disorders
  • Lower rates of obesity

It can be tough for some parents to get into the swing of family dinners. Fortunately, the Family Dinner Project has many helpful resources, such as recipes and conversation topics.

Maybe you noticed above we wrote that family dinners can help lower the risk of substance abuse.  A report done by CASA Columbia found that “teens who had frequent family dinners (5 to 7 per week) were more likely to report having high-quality relationships with their parents.” Researchers have also found that parental engagement is a key to keeping your child away from tobacco, alcohol and other drugs.

Brian Howard, a fellow parent blogger, has written “Many of our best parenting moments come at the dinner table. At the table, we teach our kids all sorts of things that will help them to be successful adults in society.”

As a 22-yr-old, I still remember those challenging conversations at the dinner table. I realize now they were parenting us without lecturing us. Those casual conversations were actually serious stuff.

There’s lots to talk about when it comes to raising healthy kids. Feel free to post a question. We’d love to hear from you.

 

Helpful links:

Brian Howard’s blog-  http://brianhoward.com/why-family-meals-are-important/

Family Dinner Project – https://thefamilydinnerproject.org/

Parent to Parent website about drugs: http://PtPDrugFree.com 

Adderall: “Poster Child” of Teenage Prescription Drug Abuse

  By Erick Lauber

If you’re like me, a parent over the age of 30, you didn’t grow up with Adderall. If you wanted to stay up late to, say, focus on schoolwork, you were stuck with that old fuddy-duddy of a drug, caffeine.  Mountain Dew was my personal favorite delivery system. Rotted out my gut, but I did pass all of my finals.

Today, Adderall is of the most popular teenage drugs ever created in a lab and it’s only been around since 1996. Research suggests it is the second most popular drug on college campuses, behind only marijuana (we’re not counting alcohol).

What you need to know is it is widely available at your kid’s high school and probably their junior high. How do I know? Because all of the national research suggests it, and my college students convinced me it is everywhere.

For those who don’t know, Adderall is the brand name of a drug that is mostly amphetamine salts. It is from the same family as methamphetamine and is a stimulant or an upper. It has been prescribed for over two decades for ADHD. It has some success in helping with this. But the best research I can find says it doesn’t do much for anyone without ADHD. I don’t take it, but I’m guessing it feels like a super-powerful caffeine pill. My students tell me it makes you feel awake and alert, and maybe just a little bit “invincible”.

What scares me is that, with just a little big of digging, I found out it is highly addictive. Hundreds of thousands of teenagers across this country have physical tolerance to Adderall and “need” it just to get by.  I also found it is considered the “poster child” of teenage prescription drug abuse in America. It’s use, both legal and illegal, has skyrocketed. The number of prescriptions for legal Adderall alone tripled from 2008 to 2012.  The New York Times wrote an article called “Generation Adderall”.

And your kids aren’t scared of it at all. Not even a little.

You see, they’ve been listening to their peers. “Parents” are old fuddy-duddies who think marijuana is bad. Clearly that’s wrong. Do a little research on the states that have legalized marijuana. Then come back and tell me it has done no harm.

Teens think old people are wrong about Adderall, too, or what some kids call “smart pills”, “beans”, “dexies” or “zing”. It can’t be bad for you, they say. “Several of my friends in school are even prescribed it.”

But it is bad for you. Read this article from the New York Times Magazine. Do even a tiny bit of digging on your own.

Adderall is one of the many ways your kid’s world is not like the world you grew up in.

For a bit more about how drugs today are not like what you grew up with, check out our companion website on parenting with today’s drugs. Prepare yourself and stay clear eyed. You’ve got to look forward, not behind, if you want to stay ahead of your kids.

For more information, try these resources:

New York Times Magazine article

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-stimulants

VSCO: Photography App Gone Wrong?

  By Morgan Rihn and Erick Lauber

OK parents. You’re a bit scared of social media, so you’ve been monitoring things. Maybe you’re using your account to “creep” on your kid’s Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest account. But have you tried VSCO?

You haven’t heard of VSCO?

Your children probably have. VSCO is another social media app but it used only for posting photos. Unlike Instagram, VSCO has limited social interaction. There is no commenting or instant messaging. Although you can republish (sharing), favorite (liking), take, import and edit photos, you cannot engage in conversation with your followers. VSCO has gained a tremendous amount in popularity and is used heavily by “artists” seeking to share their photography.

Is VSCO dangerous?

If there is a problem with VSCO, it is that anyone can see your profile and your photos. There are very limited security settings in VSCO. People can search you by your username and they can re-post your pictures very easily. A Google search can also bring up anyone’s VSCO profile (along with all their other social media). Basically, anyone can see anything you post.

One concern is that, unless your kid knows exactly what they are doing and has turned off several buttons, VSCO will share their location (if its generally available on their phone). This I am not happy about. I don’t want my teen or pre-teen letting others know where they are. Particularly if they are sharing photos of themselves.

And even though an initial account is kind of invisible – you’d need to know the account name to find it – kids today are linking their VSCO account to their other profiles. Therefore, their friends and others can go directly to the photos they upload.

VSCO has become very popular with teens.  But because it’s not as popular with parents and other adults, teens are sometimes (often times?)  using this platform to post pictures they don’t want their parents to see. Some of these contain nudity, drugs, and alcohol.

This is the real danger. Just like Snapchat and many other photo-sharing apps/websites, teens and pre-teens may be doing stupid things.

So, the bottom line is VSCO is another app you will have to monitor. Unfortunately, one of its newest security features is the ability to “block”. So… maybe you’ll get blocked.

Of course, the answer is not going to be “continue making fake accounts to monitor your kids’ activity”.  Your kid can just continue to make a new fake account for every account you find.

Instead, talk to your kids. Remind them that their digital footprint is forever.  They always have to be smart about what they are posting.  Explain the danger of posting inappropriate content. Maybe find some stories or examples that will drive the point home.

And, of course, make rules they have to follow. When they violate them, enforce your rules.

A positive perspective.

Of course, not everyone uses VSCO in a bad way. It is very artistic site. Many people use VSCO to practice their photography and editing skills, which is what the app was created for. If your kid seems able to handle themselves and really wants some exposure for their creative photographs, it is a pretty good site.

For more parenting reviews on VSCO, look at:

https://www.saferkid.com/app-reviews-for-parents/vsco-cam

https://www.fosi.org/good-digital-parenting/what-vsco/

For more information about VSCO, check out:

https://www.bewebsmart.com/app-review/what-is-vsco/

https://vsco.co/about/company

Heard of a very similar app, Snapchat? Here’s our post on it.