Sunday, June 23, 2013

Teen Cyber Sex: What's a Parent to Do?

Below is an excerpt from a blog by Rob Weiss - former director of the Sexual Recovery Institute and expert on sexual behavior and sexual addiction.

Many parents also worry that their kids will be exposed to online pornography. This, too, is a legitimate concern. In today’s world if a boy (or girl) is curious about sex all he or she needs to do is find a porn site and click a button that says “Yes, I’m 18.” There is no need to display a driver’s license as proof of age, and no need to borrow a parent’s credit card to pay. Simply put, pornography of every ilk imaginable is now ubiquitous, available to anyone, anytime, on almost any digital device, and more often than not it’s free. Even kids who aren’t actively seeking porn can easily be exposed to inappropriate content. Frankly, the number of seemingly innocuous words that bring up porn sites when typed into an Internet search engine is shocking.
The undeniable fact is nowadays children encountering pornography is extremely common. In one 2008 survey of 594 college students (median age 19 years), 93 percent of male students and 62 percent of female students said they’d seen online pornography prior to age 18. Typically the age of first exposure was reported to be between the ages of 14 and 17.[ii] Keep in mind, this study was conducted in 2008,before the current online porn explosion. More recent research suggests the average age of first exposure to Internet porn is now 11.[iii] Again, next week’s blog will discuss ways to shield your kids from online porn exposure (and other inappropriate content and contact).

Now that computers and smartphones have built-in digital cameras and webcams, it is incredibly easy for a kid to impulsively take a provocative self-photo and send it to another person. Unfortunately, once that image is sent the child loses all control over it; the recipient may keep it private, forward it to others, or post it online for public viewing. For many teens, sexted images are redefining what it means to have a bad break-up, as resentful former boyfriends or girlfriends can send and/or post an ex’s nude image pretty much anywhere, anytime.
Of further concern is the fact that when minors sext a photo, even to other teens, they are (usually unwittingly) violating laws that prohibit the making and dissemination of child pornography. Numerous teens have been arrested and charged with this offense. In one particularly nasty incident a 16-year old girl accidentally uploaded a nude photo of herself to a social networking site. Although she quickly deleted the image, another teen from her school had already seen and downloaded it. He then threatened to distribute it if she didn’t send him more pictures. When she refused, he forwarded the photo to about 100 other people at their school. This boy was later arrested and charged with a felony. Eventually he pled guilty and was placed on probation.
Although teen sexting has received a lot of media attention because of its shock value, it is actually somewhat uncommon. Only about 1 percent of kids say they have knowingly created, sent, or appeared in sexually explicit imagery. So, media fear-mongering aside, it appears that only a small minority of teens actually sext. Those who do engage in experimental sexting may face school expulsion or even arrest as a consequence, though most do not. That said, for a teenaged girl or boy, having one’s nude picture passed around one’s high-school or posted online can be a far worse (and longer lasting) punishment than anything the legal system might dish out.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Reflections on Growing Up Connected to Nature

Reflections on growing up connected to nature:

During the late 1960s and early 1970s I had the great fortune of growing up in the Santa Monica Mountains that surround the western side of Los Angeles. My backyard didn't have a fence line, but rather opened up on to the terrain of the mountains. I spent so much time outdoors that I have very few memories of recreating and playing indoors.

In a typical week my friends and I climbed trees, swam in the Pacific Ocean, hiked, ran and jumped as we raced from the top of a mountain peak, dug trenches and tunnels, built forts, and road our bicycles. We engaged in imaginary play, taking on the roles of heroes and villains, as we explored our natural surroundings.
As we spent time playing outdoors, we shared our physical space with animals that were indigenous to the Santa Monica Mountain: birds, rabbits, squirrels, snakes, insects, deer, and the occasional sighting of a coyote.

What is extraordinary about this period of time is that we were given the opportunity to negotiate our relationship to nature and to each other without constant adult supervision. In fact, I can hardly remember a time when an adult intervened in our explorations and play. Instead, we were allowed to figure out our relationship to nature and to each other and, in so doing, we developed a wide variety of abilities and skills.
What were the benefits and lessons of growing up connected to nature? We developed coordination and confidence in our bodies. Given the amount of aerobic exercise we engaged in, we developed stamina and strength. We were fit and lean and able to handle bumps, bruises, and cuts.

As would follow, we developed safety skills. We knew how far to hike, how fast to run, and where we could ride our bikes. We also developed our conflict resolution skills, our imagination, and our ability to innovate and improvise. And, above all, we all developed a respect for and recognition of the importance of nature.

Over the past quarter-century I have worked with children, teens, and families as an educator and a mental health professional. Sadly, during this period I have seen a steady decline in outdoor physical activity and an increasing disconnection from nature -- especially over the past decade.

There are many reasons for this unfortunate change, including the expansion of suburbs into green spaces, parks that are configured to exclude nature, schools that do not take advantage of nearby natural resources, fear on the part of parents that play in nature will result in injury and, most of all, the expansion of home based recreational technology: multiple televisions hooked up to cable networks with hundreds of channels, handheld devices like the Nintendo DS, laptop computers, and most recently, smart phones and tablets.

According to research conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 8 to 18-year-olds are spending 7.5 hours per day connected to some form of technology. When switch tasking is included, which simply means jumping from one form of technology to another, the actual number spent in front of a screen increases to 10.5 hours per day.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the consequences of excessive screen time are pervasive and serious. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting the use of TV, movies, video and computer games to no more than one or two hours per day. When children spend three or four times this amount connected to screen, the Mayo Clinic reports that they are more likely to experience physical and mental health problems. Excessive screen time has been linked to childhood obesity, irregular sleep, impaired academic performance, and a wide variety of behavioral problems.

The Mayo Clinic reports that elementary students who spend more than 2 hours per day in front of screens are likely to have emotional, social, and attention problems. Exposure to video games increases the risk of attention problems and children who watch excessive amounts of TV are more likely to bully children than children who do not. The Mayo Clinic also reports that consistent exposure to media violence can desensitize children to violence. As a result, some children accept violent behavior as a normal part of resolving conflicts. 

Finally, excessive screen time leaves little time for active, outdoor, creative play.
The research provided by the Mayo Clinic is supported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH). For example, according to the CDC, approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2-19 are obese and obesity rates among children and teens have nearly tripled since 1980.

According to the NIMH attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) now affects 9% of American children and current studies show that the number of children being diagnosed with ADHD is increasing each year. Studies measuring the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder show a dramatic increase each year. Research by the CDC has established that 1 in 55 children now meet criteria for autism spectrum disorder.

What can parents do to reverse this disconnection from nature and prevent the serious developmental and psychiatric consequences that are linked to excessive screen time? First, parents need to set a positive example for their children. Parents need to lead an active lifestyle and make family physical activity a priority. This includes taking walks together after dinner, doing yard work together, and making use of public parks and outdoor recreation areas -- including camping.

Parents need to encourage aerobic and muscle building activities every day by connecting children to the outdoors.  Rather than view vigorous outdoor activities as a source of danger, parents need to remember that children are resilient and strong and therefore should be encouraged to hike, bike, dig, climb trees, and swim. Unfortunately, only 6% of children ages 9 to 13 play outside on their own. Studies show a dramatic decline over the past decade in outdoor activities like swimming and fishing and a 31% decrease in bike riding since 1995.

Parents should also encourage their children to be active with their peers. Parents need to make sure that children play outside instead of watching television or playing video games inside. Parents need to take the time to connect their children and their friends to activities that occur in nature, such as organizing a beach day or mountain bike riding.

Parents need to partner with schools by encouraging the implementation of comprehensive physical activity programs and by helping organize special events that connect children to their natural surroundings. Parents need to educate schools that there are cognitive benefits to physical activity. Studies show that schools that use outdoor classrooms produce gains in test scores in social studies, science, language arts, and math. One study by the California Department of Education established that students in outdoor science programs improve science testing scores by 27%.

Parents can also join the Sierra Club, America's largest grassroots environmental organization. The Sierra Club’s mission is to “enjoy, explore, and protect the planet." Sierra Club programs seek to expand the conservation movement,organize grassroots and administrative support for the value of outdoor experiences, and build alliances and partnerships that protect our natural resources. 

As for the immediate future, parents can participate in the Great Outdoors America Week. Great Outdoors America Week (GO Week) is considered the preeminent event celebrating our relationship to the great outdoors and advocating for its future. As one of the largest annual conservation and outdoor focused events, GO Week serves the purpose of increasing awareness of important issues that affect the outdoors by bringing together a wide array of organizations and activists to meet with lawmakers and administrators to advocate for our outdoor way-of-life.

It is important to underscore that the foundation for all of the above is parents setting clear and firm limits about screen time use. As noted above, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a maximum of two hours of media time per day: television, computer, movies and DVDs, and video games. Without firm and consistent limits, children will opt to stay disconnected from nature and remain connected to the ever-expanding world of recreational technology.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Cyber Addiction Recovery Center
Christopher Mulligan LCSW

Get Unplugged!

Outdoor-Recreational Activities for “Tech” Dependent/Addicted Kids and Teens

The Cyber Addiction Recovery Center is offering a therapeutic program designed to help children and teens break the destructive cycle of compulsive internet and video gaming use. Children and teens will participate in a variety of outdoor activities that will improve physical conditioning, develop new recreational skills, and connect members to our natural surroundings. Rather than focus strictly on decreasing or restricting access to technology our program is intended to promote motivation to live a healthy and balanced life.  

In order to create new and adaptive behaviors “tech” dependent/addicted children and teens must get “unplugged” from their home environment. Participating in outdoor recreational activities is the most effective way to help technology dependent/addicted children and teens develop an awareness of how technology is limiting the quality of their lives.

By engaging in recreational activities that involve outdoor exercise, physical competence and teamwork children and teens will develop social skills, problem solving skills as well an expanded range of recreational interest. By creating these changes group members will learn the benefits of “plugging in” to a non-technological dependent life style.


Activity 1: Day Hike
Activity 2: Bike Ride
Activity 3: Ocean swimming/boogie boarding
Activity 4: Park Day (Capture the flag/kick ball/hand ball)
Activity 5: Park Day (Relay races/Tag medley)
Activity 6: Park Day (Water fun – water balloons, water guns, etc.)
Activity 7: Park Day (Nerf Base Ball/Nerf football)
Activity 8: Introduction to core strength (Balance ball, free weights, stretching, etc.)

This program meets for 12 Saturdays between 12pm and 4pm at different locations across the Westside of Los Angeles.

For more information, contact Christopher Mulligan LCSW at 855-735-HELP or email