News Reel

Teen Sexting Laws

Teens and cell phones bring up an ever changing landscape of pitfalls parents are trying to help them avoid. One huge pitfall? Sexting. The latest question, answered by Screenagers in the article below, is about laws effecting sexting within the teen demographic. Please read below to find out how to help your teen understand sexting and it’s consequences better.

Teenagers are budding with sexual energy. Mix that with cell phones and it can be a complicated combination. According to a JAMA Pediatrics report from last April that analyzed 39 studies of just over 110,000 under 18-year-olds (the mean age was 15.16 years, but ages ranged from 11-17 years)— it was found that roughly 15% of teenagers send sexts and 28% receive them.

It is so important to have an open line of communication with preteens and teens about the issues around revealing photos and videos (yes, videos—some teens send short sexually explicit videos to one another). Today’s TTT is all about just the facts. In a pragmatic way, try sharing with your teens and preteens what the laws are in your state—and, starting with this example case can also be helpful.

In 2015, two 16-year-olds from North Carolina were arrested and charged with multiple felony counts of sexual exploitation of a minor under the state’s child pornography laws. Their crime? The boyfriend and girlfriend sent nude photos to each other via text. They were charged as adults, faced four to ten years in prison and would have to register as sex offenders if convicted. The kids agreed to plea bargains that reduced their charges to misdemeanors. Still, a very scary situation. The teens were doing what some sexually curious boyfriends and girlfriends do—the last thing they wanted was to get in trouble and to break a law.  

North Carolina does not have any sexting laws—in fact, half of states do not have sexting laws. If the couple had been in a state with sexting laws, such as Arizona, Florida or Arkansas, they would have most likely been charged with something such as a misdemeanor and given the chance to prove their intent was not criminal. Sexting legislation is designed to deter teens from sexting with consequences including education and less severe sentences.

Below the TTT weekly questions, I’ve included part of the Cyberbullying Research Center’s chart that shows sexting laws for each state across the country. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Are you aware that it is against the law to send and receive nude pictures, even if they are from your significant other?  
  • If you were creating laws on this topic, how would you do it?
  • If you were to write a letter to a younger student, what advice would you give them about issues surrounding the taking and dissemination of revealing and suggestive photos and videos?

To read more about the texting laws in your state click here.

If you have a loved one struggling with appropriate communication please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Children are ‘competing to become better self-harmers’

Self-harm is becoming more and more prevalent among children. As it does they are looking for different ways to harm themselves. Below is a study about the lengths children are willing to go to in order to self-harm.

Children as young as 12 are competing with each other to commit worsening acts of self-harm on websites, a groundbreaking study reveals. They described wanting to become “better self-harmers” and match horrific injuries they saw on Tumblr, one of the sites they chose because posts receive little scrutiny.

It is the first time researchers have been able to lift the lid on experience of such sites, after securing approval to interview young self-harmers.

It will fuel growing concern sparked by the death of Molly Russell, 14, who took her life after viewing self-harm images on Instagram.

This weekend, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) called for urgent action by social media firms to tackle self-harm and backed demands for an independent regulator.

Dr Max Davie, RCPCH officer for health promotion, said: “We know that self-harm rates are high and rising, particularly among young girls, and so seeing the rise of accounts promoting self-harm is very concerning.

“The combination of social media’s incentives to be noticed, and the lack of effective regulation, can be toxic and may be contributing to this rise.”

Ministers are to announce plans for new laws to regulate social media in the next month following a Telegraph campaign for a statutory duty of care.

The Cardiff University study found some young people only began self-harming because the internet provided a catalyst. Most, though, were already self-harming and went online “to make sense of their behaviors”.

What they experienced online, however, largely normalized their harming so that it became “a routine, everyday activity”, said the researchers. The children were also able to discover and share new practices and techniques.

“They became motivated to engage in further harm … the exposure to other individuals’ severe acts made them want to become better self-harmers,” the study reports.

One woman, aged 19, told researchers she was left feeling one small cut was “not nearly good enough”.

The researchers discovered a “sense of competition”. One woman, aged 23, said she chided herself when she saw images: “Why can’t I do it like that?”

Tumblr was cited as the favored site because it was easy to search and find images, enabled image sharing and was “not encumbered by the monitoring and intervention by other social media and microblogging sites”, said the study. Instagram also featured.

Dr Nina Jacob, who led the research, said: “The lack of scrutiny and moderation, where you can purportedly ‘do what the hell you like’, together with perceived anonymity, meant the site was considered more authentic than alternative platforms.”

One 19-year-old woman told researchers: “Kids as young as 12 can use it … and there’s a big self-harm community on there. I got sucked into it and it did sort of increase the intensity of my self-harm again.”

In the study approved by the university’s ethics committee, the researchers displayed ads on 42,000 Facebook accounts, before 21 self-harmers – 18 girls and 3 boys – aged 16 to 24 volunteered for in-depth interviews.

Three quarters were attracted to sites that provided self-harming images. One described them as “triggering a rush like an addictive high”.

Dr Jon Goldin, vice-chairman of the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “When people look up the words ‘self harm’ they should be directed to helpful sites which offer guidance and support, not to images of people hurting themselves.”

Tumblr refused to say how many moderators it employed but said it had teams to quickly take down any material that violated its rules by glorifying self-harm, and worked with charities and mental health experts to provide advice that automatically popped up when people put in self-harm searches.

Victoria McCullough, Tumblr director of social impact and policy, said: “Research has shown that deletion of content posted by individuals struggling with mental health issues can have the unintended consequence of ostracizing them and preventing them from seeking out the support they need. Together with government and advocacy leaders, we’re working to develop innovative approaches that help those in need.”

If you, or a loved one is struggling with self harm, please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Super Bowl Ads and Young Children

Did you and your family watch the Superbowl last night? Not everyone watches for the football – many people watch for the advertisements and the half time show. But, are the ads really kid-friendly (or the half time show for that matter)? The article below, written by the Children’s Screen Time Action Network, demonstrates that they just might not be, and what you as a parent can do about it.

It was January 1999 and the Falcons and the Broncos were playing in Super Bowl XXXIII when I had the moment. (Not the Janet Jackson moment, that came later.) But, the ‘my-kids-should-not-be-seeing-ads” moment. You could argue it was the moment that led me here to CCFC.

We were happily having a family gathering to watch the game. Drinks, friends, and pigs-in-a-blanket. Cut to an ad with Olympic distance runner, Suzy Hamilton, in her bathroom. As creepy music builds up the tension, she closes the mirrored door of her medicine cabinet to reveal a masked stalker with a chainsaw. Suzy runs away in Nike sneakers, which apparently allow her to outrun her would-be killer. The Nike ad asks “Why sport?” The answer: “You’ll live longer.” My 10 year-old daughter was terrorized. Heck, I was terrorized!

As in years past, this year’s ads promote alcohol and junk food. No surprise. At least two feature smart devices as characters in the ad. For instance, (spoiler alert) the Pringles device laments not having hands or a mouth to taste the nutrition-free snack. Even worse, they all promote materialism and excess. For kids to imagine life without advertising, they need to know what’s up with it. Here are a few suggestions to warm up for the big night.

  1. Use it as a media literacy lesson. When you are watching ads, explain to younger children that a big company paid a lot of money to change your mind and make you buy something. Remind older kids, “Who’s messing with your emotions here?”
  2. Explain that the people in ads are actors. They are not real people like you and me. They are getting paid to make you think so. They probably don’t even like that car, taco, or makeup.
  3. Speak up about your values. Are there gendered or sexualized images you find degrading? Does the ad glorify alcohol or encourage consumption of expensive products like smartphones? Is it just plain stupid? As my mother always said, “Ads insult our intelligence.” A kid version of this phrase might be, “You are way too smart for this ad.”
  4. Prepare yourself. Don’t be surprised or embarrassed. Think about what you’ll tell the kids.
  5. Create ad-break fun. Tell the kids that when the ads come on, we’re going to get food, add a piece to the football puzzle on the kitchen table, or check our score chart to see who is closest. Take bathroom breaks, get PJs on – anything that will take them out of the room during ads.

Gambling Among Teens

Gambling - teens
Gambling is now more common among teenagers than drinking, smoking or taking drugs, a report has found.

The Gambling Commission says that 450,000 children aged between 11 and 16, equivalent to one in every seven, are taking part in some form of gambling.

Researchers found children were increasingly making wagers with friends at school or gambling online at home. More than 70,000 teenagers are classed as problem gamblers, with 55,000 more at risk of becoming addicted.

Parents and teachers were urged to warn their children about the risks of gambling in the same way they would about smoking, drinking and taking drugs. But only one in five children said their parents had done so.

Tim Miller, the executive director of the Gambling Commission, said: “Parents must have this conversation as they would with other areas of risk. We see it in computer games, on social media, in apps – activities that have all the same behaviors [as gambling] but none of the warnings or protections.”

The survey found that 14 per cent of children aged 11-16 had spent their own money on gambling in the past week, up from 12 per cent in 2017. That compared with 13 per cent who drank alcohol, 4 per cent who smoked and 2 per cent who took drugs. Gambling was common on fruit machines, with most pupils who gambled saying they did so for pleasure and to win money. Four in 10 – equivalent to 1.3 million – said they had gambled in the past year.

Figures suggested children were increasingly being exposed to gambling online. Three in 10 said they had opened “loot boxes” in video games, which give players random rewards and have been compared to gambling. Just over one in 10 played free-to-play casino games online. The research will add to concerns about the influence of gambling advertising before the watershed during football games and online.

Two thirds of young people had seen gambling adverts on television, 59 per cent on social media and 53 per cent on other websites; 46 per cent had seen gambling sponsorship at sport venues.

Mr Miller said although protecting children from the harms of gambling was a priority, regulation alone could not address all the risks to young people. “The most common forms of gambling by children do not happen in gambling premises,” he said. “Some are bets between friends, some are unlawful gambling on machines in pubs. But all present risks. It is vital that all those with a part to play in protecting children and young people – parents, businesses and regulators – work together.”

If you, or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to gambling call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Groundbreaking Screen Time Study

Kids and Screentime

How much screen time children should be allowed is an ongoing (and sometimes heated) discussion among parents, caregivers and medical professionals. The federal government and the National Institute of health launched a large study to look at the effects of screen time and the results are astounding. Read below for the results and an interview between Dr. Gaya Dowling and Anderson Cooper. If you, or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to technology call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Groundbreaking Screen Time Study 

If you have kids and wonder if all that time they spend on their smartphones endlessly scrolling, snapping and texting is affecting their brains, you might want to put down your own phone and pay attention. The federal government, through the National Institutes of Health, has launched the most ambitious study of adolescent brain development ever attempted. In part, scientists are trying to understand what no one currently does: how all that screen time impacts the physical structure of your kids’ brains, as well as their emotional development and mental health.

At 21 sites across the country scientists have begun interviewing nine and ten-year-olds and scanning their brains. They’ll follow more than 11,000 kids for a decade, and spend $300 million doing it. Dr. Gaya Dowling of the National Institutes of Health gave us a glimpse of what they’ve learned so far.

Dr. Gaya Dowling: The focus when we first started talking about doing this study was tobacco, marijuana, all drugs the screen time component really came into play because we were wondering what is the impact? I mean, clearly kids spend so much time on screens.

The first wave of data from brain scans of 4,500 participants is in and it has Dr. Dowling of the NIH and other scientists intrigued.

The MRI’s found significant differences in the brains of some kids who use smartphones, tablets, and video games more than seven hours a day.

“We’re sort of in the midst of a natural kind of uncontrolled experiment on the next generation of children.”

Dr. Gaya Dowling: What we can say is that this is what the brains look like of kids who spend a lot of time on screens. And it’s not just one pattern.

Anderson Cooper: That’s fascinating.

Dr. Gaya Dowling: It’s very fascinating.

The colors show differences in the nine and ten-year-olds’ brains. The red color represents premature thinning of the cortex. That’s the wrinkly outermost layer of the brain that processes information from the five senses.

Anderson Cooper: What is a thinning of the cortex mean?

Dr. Gaya Dowling: That’s typically thought to be a maturational process. So what we would expect to see later is happening a little bit earlier.

Anderson Cooper: Should parents be concerned by that?

Dr. Gaya Dowling: We don’t know if it’s being caused by the screen time. We don’t know yet if it’s a bad thing. It won’t be until we follow them over time that we will see if there are outcomes that are associated with the differences that we’re seeing in this single snapshot.

Anderson Cooper: When the study is complete, is it possible that a researcher will be able to say whether or not screen time is actually addictive?

Dr. Gaya Dowling: We hope so. We’ll be able to see not only how much time are they spending, how they perceive it impacting them, but also what are some of the outcomes. And that will get at the question of whether there’s addiction or not.

Anderson Cooper: When will you have the answers that you’re searching for?

Dr. Gaya Dowling: Some questions we’ll be able to answer in a few years. But some of the really interesting questions about these long-term outcomes, we’re gonna have to wait awhile because they need to happen.

That delay leaves researchers who study technology’s impact on very small children anxious.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis: In many ways, the concern that investigators like I have is that we’re sort of in the midst of a natural kind of uncontrolled experiment on the next generation of children.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis at Seattle Children’s Hospital was the lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ most recent guidelines for screen time. They now recommend parents, “avoid digital media use, except video chatting, in children younger than 18 to 24 months.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis: So what we do know about babies playing with iPads is that they don’t transfer what they learn from the iPad to the real world, which is to say that if you give a child an app where they play with virtual Legos, virtual blocks, and stack them, and then put real blocks in front of them, they start all over.

Anderson Cooper: If they try to do it in real life, it’s as if they’ve never done it before.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis: Exactly. It’s not a transferable skill. They don’t transfer the knowledge from two dimensions to three.

Dr. Christakis is one of the few scientists who have already done experiments on the influence screens have on children under the age of two. It’s a critical period for human brain development.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis: If you’re concerned about your teenager being addicted to their iphone, your infant is much more vulnerable and using the exact same device.

Anderson Cooper: Your infant is more vulnerable because why?

Dr. Dimitri Christakis: Because the experience of making something happen is so much more gratifying to them.

In a small pilot study that Dr. Christakis conducted on 15 children, researchers gave toddlers three toys: first a plastic guitar, then an iPad that played musical notes and finally an iPad with an app that rewarded the kids with lights, colors and sounds.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis: So at a very specific time, the research assistant will ask the child to give what they’re playing with back.

Anderson Cooper: To give it to the research assistant.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis: To give it to the research assistant.

Sixty-six percent of the time with a traditional toy, the child will do just that.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis: With the iPad that simulates that, they give it back almost with the same frequency. But with the iPad app that when they push on it, it does all kinds of things, they’re much less likely to give it back.

With the more interactive iPad app, the percentage of kids willing to hand it back to the researcher dropped from 60 percent to 45 percent.

Anderson Cooper: It’s that much more engaging?

Dr. Dimitri Christakis: It’s that much more engaging. And that’s what we find in the laboratory.

It’s engaging by design, as Tristan Harris told us in a story we reported more than a year ago.

Tristan Harris: There’s a whole playbook of techniques that get used to get you using the product for as long as possible.

Harris is a former Google manager who was one of the first Silicon Valley insiders to publicly acknowledge that phones and apps are being designed to capture and keep kids’ attention.

Tristan Harris: This is about the war for attention and where that’s taking society and where that’s taking technology.

Anderson Cooper: You know it’s one thing for adults, for kids this is a whole other thing?

Tristan Harris: That is where this gets particularly sensitive…is developmentally do we want this war for attention to be affecting our children?

Anderson Cooper: Do you think parents understand the complexities of what their kids are dealing with?

Tristan Harris: No. And I think this is really important. Because there’s a narrative that, oh, I guess they`re just doing this like we used to gossip on the phone, but what this misses is that your telephone in the 1970s didn’t have a thousand engineers on the other side of the telephone who were redesigning it to work with other telephones and then updating the way your telephone worked every day to be more and more persuasive.

Until recently, it was impossible to see what happens inside a young brain when a person is focused on a mobile device. But now scientists at the University of California, San Diego have hacked that problem.

Roxy Shimp: I check my phone pretty regularly I’d say.

Anderson Cooper: What’s pretty regularly?

Roxy Shimp: Every at least 10 to 20 minutes.

Anderson Cooper: Is that a conservative estimate?

Roxy Shimp: Probably.

She can’t take her phone into the MRI because of the powerful magnets in the machine, so a mirror has been placed above her face to allow her to look across the room at a movie screen displaying images from her Instagram account. This way, Dr. Bagot can see exactly which parts of the brain’s reward system are most active while using social media.

Anderson Cooper: So you can actually see a part of the brain light up when you’re feeling good.

Dr. Kara Bagot: Yes, in the scanner.

Anderson Cooper: In the scanner.

Based on her data and the results from other studies, Dr. Bagot is among scientists who believe screen time stimulates the release of the brain chemical dopamine, which has a pivotal role in cravings and desire.

Dr. Kara Bagot: So you’re more likely to act impulsively and use social media compulsively instead of, like, checking yourself.

Anderson Cooper: You want to keep on it to keep getting–

Dr. Kara Bagot: The good feelings.

Teenagers now spend on average four and a half hours a day on their phones. All that time has resulted in a fundamental shift in how a generation of american kids acts and thinks.

Jean Twenge: When smartphones went from being something only a few people had to something that the majority of people had, it had this really big effect on how teens related to each other.

“it should be a tool that you use. Not a tool that uses you.”

Jean Twenge is a psychology professor at San Diego State University. She spent five years combing through four large, national surveys of 11 million young people since the 1960’s. She discovered sudden changes in the behavior and mental health of teens born in 1995 and later, a generation that she calls “I-gen”.

Jean Twenge: They’re the first generation to spend their entire adolescence with smartphones so a lot of them can’t remember a time before smartphones existed.

Anderson Cooper: There have been generational shifts before in the past, haven’t there?

Jean Twenge: Certainly. But this one’s much more sudden and pronounced than most of the others.

The iPhone was introduced in 2007. Smartphones gained widespread usage among young people by 2012. Jean Twenge says she was startled to find that in the four years that followed, the percentage of teens who reported drinking or having sex fell. But the percentage who said they were lonely or depressed spiked. It’s possible other factors may have played a role, but Twenge says she wasn’t able to identify any that correlated as closely as the growing popularity of the smartphone and social media.

Jean Twenge: It’s not just the loneliness and depression from these surveys. It’s also that ER visits for self harm like cutting have tripled among girls age 10 to 14.

Anderson Cooper: What are teens doing on their phones that could be connected to depression?

Jean Twenge: It could be anything. There’s kind of two different schools of thought on this. That it’s the specific things that teens are doing on their phones that’s the problem. Or it could be just the sheer amount of time that they’re spending on their phones that is the problem.

Correspondent Anderson Cooper with Jean Twenge

Finding definitive answers about social media’s influence on mental health can be a frustrating exercise. Eighty-one percent of teens in a new national survey by the Pew Research Center said they feel more connected to their friends and associated social media use with feeling included. But in a month-long experiment at the University of Pennsylvania, college students who limited themselves to just 30 minutes a day on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat reported significant decreases in loneliness and depression.

Jean Twenge: A lot of times with these technological shifts is these things are adopted because they’re so wonderful and convenient. And we don’t realize until later the possible consequences. And I think fortunately in the last year or so there’s been more discussion about how can we manage the use of our devices.

Facebook and Instagram have introduced settings to allow users to monitor app use. And Apple, the company that started the smartphone revolution, has built a new feature for parents to set time restrictions on apps.

Anderson Cooper: Tech companies say there are tools out there that they have supplied and that they’re doing their part.

Jean Twenge: A lot of parents, probably the majority I talk to, don’t even realize those tools are available. and I wish they happened five years ago instead of now. But better late than never.

For its part, the National Institutes of Health has just finished enrolling the 11,000 kids for its landmark brain study. Early next year, the data will be made available to any researcher around the world investigating the effect of a device that’s become the most dominant technological presence in young lives.

Jean Twenge: Smartphones are great things, They are a wonderful piece of technology. They allow us to find our way around and look up the weather and do all that kind of stuff. And if you do it for a half an hour or an  hour a day, fine. No problem. Then you’re using it for what it’s good for. But you have to use it for what it’s good for and then put it down. I mean, it should be a tool that you use. Not a tool that uses you.