Sunday, January 30, 2011

Gamer or Addict?

Two questions.....first, do you remember the first time you played a video game system? I do, it was Atari, and my favorite game was called River Raid. Video games have come a long way since then, now there are multiple game systems, handheld game systems and cell phone gaming available to choose from. The second question, are you, your child, or someone you know a gamer, or an addict? Yes I said addict. Most people think of addiction as pertaining only to substance use, however video gaming is being equated with the same type of addiction as gambling.

After looking at multiple definitions of a gamer online, I came up with the following definition. A gamer is quite simply, someone who is a devoted player of electronic video games. According to the definition of an addict is a person addicted to an activity, habit or substance. also defines addiction is the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit forming, such as narcotics, to such an extent that cessation causes severe trauma.

There is a recent University of Iowa study that has come out, that focuses on the effects of video gaming on children. The survey spanned three years, and surveyed 3034 Singapore children from third through eighth grade. The results of that study were that 83 percent of those children played video games approximately 21.5 hours a week. The more concerning result of that study was that 9 percent, almost one out of ten, of those children study were to be considered addicted to video gaming. Those considered addicted were observed to play more than thirty hours a week, lacked social skills, had a decrease in empathy, increase in impulsivity, and increased levels of anxiety and depression. In addition to that study, there is an addiction treatment center in Amsterdam that now has a detox type unit for gaming addicts.

Here are some warning signs of video game addiction:
- playing for an increased amounts of time
- thinking about gaming during other activities
- gaming to escape real life issues
- lying to people about how much you game
- feeling irritable and frustrated when you don't get a chance to play

Now, just because a person spends large amounts of time playing video games does not mean that they are addicted. Simply to get to a stopping point in some games takes a minimum of an hour. However, if they meet some of the warning signs above, or if they become angry, violent, or depressed when they attempt to stop playing or have their games taken away, you might want to pay attention, and seek some assistance. As parents, don't be afraid to set limits and boundaries on video gaming. Those limits and boundaries can include where they can game, when they can play and for how long. Video games are fun, but just like most things, should be done in moderation.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cyberbullying - Part Two of Two

In last week's blog I addressed some of the issues relating to cyberbullying: what it is; ways kids cyberbully; and the effects of cyberbullying. In this week's conclusion on cyberbullying I will address: why kids do it; statistics; a recent case in the news; how to prevent it; and some resources.

Over the past week I came across a news article in which two teenage girls in Florida have been arrested and charged with cyberstalking. In this case the two girls (ages 15 and 16) were charged with cyberstalking after they created a fake Facebook page for a classmate. On the page the two teens allegedly created altered pictures of the classmate - in sexually explicit situations - and made disparaging remarks about the classmate. The reasons the two girls gave for this behavior? "Because nobody liked her," and the other one stated she "thought it would be a funny joke."

With that being said, here are some other reasons kids bully/cyberbully:
- for power and a feeling of control
- entertainment, for laughs, or because they are bored
- they think they will not get caught
- do it as a result of peer pressure
- they are motivated by revenge, anger or frustration

In a survey done in 2009, by Cox Communication, of kids ages 13-18 they found the following results:
15% said that they have been bullied online
10% said they have bullied via their cell phone
7% said that they have bullied another person online
5% said that they have bullied another person using their cell phone

So how do we keep our children safe? What can we do to prevent this, or decrease the likelihood of it happening to our children? The first thing is that you have to educate your children. Teach your children never to give out personal information online, never share their passwords, and never meet someone that you only know online. Inform your children of the consequences that can come with cyberbullying, such as losing your ISP, or various accounts (Facebook, IM accounts, etc). Also, as parents be aware of what your children are doing online, and keep computers in public areas of the home, keep them out of bedrooms.

However our children have power in this cyber world as well. Children have the power to block communications with any bully, and can delete messages sent by a bully without reading them. Children can encourage their friends not to participate in cyberbullying, and refuse to pass on messages bullying others. And last but not least, children should tell someone - an adult, a friend or even report bullying/threatening to the service provider.

The most important thing you can do is to talk with your children. Keep open communication and teach your children how to be safe. If your children feel comfortable talking with you, they are more likely to come to you when they have problems. Together you can help them work through any situation, including cyberbullying.

If you are looking for further resources on cyberbullying go to:

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Cyberbullying - Part One of Two

Last week I focused my blog on bullying and your child. This week I wanted to take more time to focus on the increasing problem of cyberbullying. Some of the differences between cyberbullying and traditional bullying are that cyberbullying can occur 24 hours a day, even in the victim's home, which with traditional bullying is typically a source of refuge from bullies. Additionally, because cyberbullying can be anonymous, it can be hard to track. One of the benefits of electronics is that they are quick and easy to use - which also helps to spread the cyberbullying so fast. The definition of cyberbulling is the willful and repeated harm/attempt to harm, threaten, harass, or embarrass one child, by another child/group of children through the use of electronics (cell phone, Internet/computer, etc). Because of this definition, the only limitations cyberbullying has, are the child's creativity, and the type and access to electronic devices. With cyberbullying both the bully and the victim must be minors, otherwise it is considered cyberstalking or cyberharassment. Here are some ways in which children are engaging in cyberbullying:

1. Developing websites with the express purpose of bullying, or posting pictures or personal information of the victim. If you watch the television show Two and a Half Men, aside from the fact it happened to an adult, there was an episode in which this occurred to Charlie, via an ex-interest.
2.Through the use of social networks such as MySpace and Facebook, where they are free to upload pictures, and make posts. Another thing that bullies are doing is utilizing these networks to have votes regarding 'who is the biggest slut,' 'who is the dumbest person,' and you can imagine some of the other categories.
3. By using their phones and sending either harassing or threatening text messages. Groups can also get together and focus on one victim and send mass amounts of text messages, which have the potential of causing more trouble for the victim as they might get charged for the messages and then have to deal with irate parents due to a large phone bill. Another way in which kids bully through their phone is by sending pictures of the victim. Sometimes the pictures are embarrassing, others are degrading, and some are pictures of the victim nude (sometimes taken in locker rooms or bathrooms), which are considered child pornography.
4. Through the use of their computers, bullies can bully by using instant messaging; tricking others into believing the bully is the victim and spreading lies/rumors about the victim; hacking victim's computers; sending viruses; and signing the victim up for mass email lists.
5. Another new way in which cyberbullying is occurring is through gaming. Things such as online gaming, whether it be through the computer, or online game consoles such as XBox Live.

Cyberbullying tends to have the same types of effects on its victims as does traditional bullying. The victims might make efforts to avoid school, or may display changes in mood after being online. Children may isolate themselves, have increased feelings of anxiety or depression, some may even attempt suicide. No matter how you look at it, cyberbullying is an ever growing problem among our children.

In next week's blog, I will address some of the reasons why kids engage in cyberbullying, some statistics, and things both parents and children can do in order to prevent cyberbullying and keep themselves safe.

Friday, January 14, 2011

What's on your mind?

The human brain processes up to 60,000 thoughts per day. When anxious or depressed we typically spend more time attending to negative thoughts and images. As a result, things around us tend to get affected negatively, which, only encourages us to be more down and anxious. This is what can make anxiety and depressive disorders so difficult to manage at times.

Now, I am not going to say that thinking positive will make all your problems go away. But I feel confident saying that becoming more mindful and aware will help us not waste so much emotional energy on the negative thoughts and images.
Travis McBride, MA, LMHC

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Bullying and Your Child

Bullying is an ever growing issue with our children these days. Three out of four children report having been bullied or teased at school, and approximately 160000 kids miss at least one day of school due to bullying. When I was in school, bullying generally consisted of physical and verbal harassment. However, in today's world, kids not only have to deal with physical and verbal bullying, but with social exclusion and cyber bullying as well. Cyber bullying is the new form of bullying that is rapidly growing, in which kids bully each other through the use of electronics, such as cell phones (texting and picture taking) and through the Internet utilizing social medias like MySpace and Facebook.

Bullies bully for many reasons. Some bully because they like having the feeling of power over other people, thusly they tend to pick on people who are smaller, possibly more emotionally sensitive, or have trouble standing up for themselves. They also use bullying as an attempt to build their self-esteem and feel important. Sometimes it is displaying behavior that has been role modeled in their home. Or possibly they bully because they themselves, have been bullied.

Whatever the reason someone bullies for it can have a serious impact on the person being bullied. Here are some possible signs that your child might be getting bullied:

- Your child starts missing school, or trying to stay home from school
- Your child no longer talks about school
- Your child's grade begin to decline
- Your child has unexplained injuries or ripped clothing
- Your child has a loss of appetite or sleeping problems
- Your child begins withdrawing or having mood swings

As a parent, if your child tells you that they are being bullied, be sure to take it seriously, DO NOT minimize it. Be sure to keep your lines of communication open with your child, and do not assume that just because your child has stopped talking about the bullying that it has ceased. Even though your child may ask you not to, if the bullying is happening at school, it needs to be reported to school officials. Nowadays, many schools have a zero tolerance policy for bullying and harassment, so check with your child's school and find out about its policy. Be sure to be empathetic with your child if they come to you, DO NOT tell them they are being oversensitive, otherwise you have just closed your line of communication with them.

Some tips to tell your child if they are being bullied:

- Do not hide from the bully, but if possible avoid the bully by taking a different hall to class
- Try ignoring the bully
- Speak out - tell your child to make statements like "I don't like that" or "stop that"
- Tell your child not to fight back - if possible - as this will not only increase the likelihood for increased violence, but will also provide the bully with the satisfaction of having "gotten to you."
- In the heat of the moment, while it might be difficult to withhold their feelings, tell your child not to show their feelings to the bully, as the bully could view this as motivation to continue the bullying. In contrast, if possible, deflecting the bullying with humor, or having a nonchalant attitude, has been shown in studies, to diminish the bullying.
- Tell an adult
- Tell your child to use the buddy system, and walk with a friend or friends
It is important to listen to your child. If you feel as though your child may be being bullied, ask questions. How do you feel when you are at school? Who do you play with on the play ground? How do kids treat each other as school? Provide your child with the opportunity to communicate with you, how they are feeling. Empathize with your child, and work with them on finding a solution to their situation.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

While this is a common mental health disorder for millions of children and adults, a great deal of myth and mystery surround this disorder. Typically a classroom teacher is the first to notice the symptoms. This is most likely due to the structured school environment that requires extended periods of focused concentration and attention. Some behaviors you might observe in adults include distractibility, impulsivity, trouble getting along with co worker and avoiding activities that require sustained attention. In children common behaviors are distractibility, difficulty getting along with or fitting in with peers, impulsivity or hyperactivity and very short attention span.
The DSM IV (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition) is utilized in making a formal diagnosis. Further items that are considered in making a diagnosis are the persistence of the symptoms. The symptoms must have been present over a six month period. Another factor to consider is the number and severity of symptoms. There must be a specific number of symptoms in each criterion and considered by the clinician as maladaptive. Another factor is the age when the symptoms began. The clinician must be able to determine that prior to the age of seven the symptoms were severely impairing a person’s ability to function. The last factor to consider is that the symptoms must be present in two or more settings.
In conjunction with the DSM IV, a clinician will interview client, gather a thorough history, observe client’s behavior, and utilize standardized assessment measures. Some typical standardized tests that are used include parent rating scales, teacher rating scales, self rating scales, WISC and WAIS intelligence scales and family functioning scales. The typical treatment modalities for ADHD are behavioral and cognitive. Behavioral approaches can include positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment, time out, and extinction. Cognitive approaches include contingency management, parent training, classroom behavior management, academic skills therapy, social skills therapy and multi modal therapy.
Medication is often utilized to treat ADHD. This type of treatment is often utilized when the symptoms are severe enough to impede client’s daily functioning either academically, socially or occupationally. While the research varies on whether or not this is the most effective treatment for ADHD, most clinicians agree that a combination of psychotherapy and medication is the best approach. A licensed child psychiatrist is the most qualified person to determine whether or not medication is appropriate for a minor under the age of eighteen. A licensed psychiatrist can make that determination for an adult.
Jennifer Nadelkov, LMFT

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Tips for Protecting Your Children on the Internet

Do you remember the first time you experienced going online? Using email? For me it was the early 1990's and I was using an email provider, who, for the life of me, I cannot even remember the name of. Things back then were simple, there were not a lot of options. We had two computers, a PC and what I can only imagine was an early model of a "laptop" computer (it was just as big as the PC terminal, only with a screen and keyboard built into it). Quite the contrast to what you might find in a home today. Nowadays, kids have their own computers, and access to things online, I never thought imaginable in the early 1990's.

With social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace, and search engines like Google and Yahoo, kids today are growing up in a world with no boundaries. They have access to a wealth of information and experiences. But like most things, those opportunities come with responsibilities. The Internet, for all of its wonderful contributions to society, has also created things such as cyber bullying, identity theft, and expanded the reach of predators. So how do we keep our children safe online?

Here are some tips to help protect your children while on the Internet:
1. First and foremost, talk with your children. In an age appropriate manner, warn them about some of the dangers of the Internet and ways that they can be safe, such as not giving out personal information.
2. Set house rules for computer use, things such as all computer use will be in public areas and setting time limits for the Internet.
3. Teach your children about responsible ways of using social networking sites, and about things like identity theft.
4. Role model for your children. Be careful about the things that you post on your social networking sites, as your children will see it.
5. Use parental control devices. Things such as key loggers to keep track of your children's online activities and web filters to block harmful or inappropriate sites.
6. Be sure to set your privacy setting appropriately to protect yourself and your children.

The Internet is a wonderful resource for education, socializing and entertainment, and hopefully these tips will help you keep your children safe while utilizing it.