News Reel

When an Online Relationship with a Stranger is Unhealthy


**By Rebecca Ruiz/Reprinted from Mashable

The internet can be a thrilling place, full of opportunities to discover something — or someone — new. Adolescents and teens know this feeling well, but may be more vulnerable to exploitation than any other online user. Amid the fun of exploring the digital world, there is the small risk of developing emotionally and psychologically damaging relationships with strangers. That became clear earlier this week when the Daily Mail published an account of an anonymous 15-year-old who had an explicit online relationship with former New York congressman Anthony Weiner.

Last month, the New York Post revealed that Weiner had traded sexual messages and photos with an adult woman — the third instance of that behavior since 2011. Huma Abedin, his wife and a key aide to Hillary Clinton, swiftly announced their separation.

Weiner, who reportedly knew the 15-year-old girl was underage, told the Daily Mail: “I have repeatedly demonstrated terrible judgement about the people I have communicated with online and the things I have sent. I am filled with regret and heartbroken for those I have hurt.”

Prosecutors have issued a subpoena for Weiner’s cell phone records and the FBI and New York Police Department have begun investigating the allegations, according to CNN.

The teenager said that she’d contacted Weiner out of curiosity, and wrote a letter explaining that she shared her story with the media because he “needs to learn his lesson.” Her father, who also spoke to the Daily Mail and requested anonymity, said her mental health was in “jeopardy.”

While the case is an extreme example, it demonstrates how online relationships with strangers can become dangerous experiences for young people.

In a study published in 2013 of more than 1,500 adolescents and teenagers, one in 10 youths said they had a close online friendship with someone they met on the internet. Only 3 percent of the respondents reported a romantic relationship that began online; less than 1 percent said their partner was older than 21.

Strangers do indeed reach out to young people online. A Pew Research Center report from 2013 found that 17 percent of those surveyed had been contacted by a stranger in a way that made them feel scared of uncomfortable. Girls were twice as likely as boys to say a stranger messaged them.

If you’ve developed an online relationship with a stranger, here are five warning signs that it is unhealthy:

The person is an adult

As in real life, adults who seek out minors for an emotionally or physically intimate relationship should not be trusted.

“Anytime an adult is interacting with a child [in this fashion], it’s exploitative, it’s abusive,” says Stefanie Carnes, a clinical consultant with Elements Behavioral Health, a company that provides center-based treatment for addiction and mental illness.

While a young person might find it exhilarating to have an adult’s attention online, and not worry about a threat to their physical safety, Carnes says the relationship is still risky. With such a power imbalance, feelings of control are an illusion.

You already feel vulnerable and lonely 

For an emotionally stable teen making an online connection with a stranger, it may be easy to identify when that relationship crosses a boundary. But for someone who already feels vulnerable and lonely, the lines can blur, especially when the relationship gives them validation that’s hard to find elsewhere.

It’s worth pausing to consider why you’re pursuing an online relationship with a stranger and how you can meet those needs offline.

The relationship makes you feel really special

If someone you’ve never met in person starts to make you feel special, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The dynamic can be harmful, however, when feeling adored comes at a price, like engaging in sexually explicit conversations.

Similarly, says Carnes, a young person might develop expectations that don’t materialize offline and ultimately feel betrayed or used. As in Weiner’s case, an adult interacting online with a minor may make the relationship seem important, but is in fact pursuing multiple connections at once.

It involves explicit photos 

If you can’t trust someone you know to keep a sext private, how can you trust a stranger? When an online friend or romantic interest requests explicit images, Carnes says to turn them down. She likens such photos to a “digital tattoo” that can show up in search results, or worse yet, be used for retaliation or cyberbullying.

And while you might not be concerned about your personal safety, it’s important to remember that photos are often geotagged with your precise location.

 You have to keep it a secret

If you become close with a stranger online and they ask you to keep the relationship a secret, something is wrong. Being secretive may seem fun, but that should never be a condition of a healthy relationship. And if trusted friends or family members have expressed worry over your behavior, or you know they wouldn’t condone your online relationship, it’s time to reconsider keeping this person in your life.


If you want to end contact, become unresponsive and filter or block the person’s email and social media accounts. If you believe that person poses a threat to you or someone else, report them to authorities. Losing that relationship may not be easy, which is why Carnes stresses the importance of reaching out to a friend or adult for emotional support and, if needed, seeking counseling.

“Start investing in and becoming emotionally vulnerable in relationships in real life,” she says. “Start developing connections that might decrease [your] loneliness.”

The Effects of Cyberbullying

Young Female Using Smart Phone

The following information was taken from a Screenagers Tech Talk Tuesday Emailing.

Cyberbullying is a big concern for parents and kids alike. But defining it, and helping children and teens understand exactly what it means is challenging.

The definition of bullying from is:

“Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.

In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:

  • An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
  • Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once. Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”

Children and teens either don’t recognize cyberbullying, or are often afraid, or unaware of how to stop it. Even if they see or hear about one incident that wouldn’t be considered, by definition, bullying. However, today’s technology allows for “one time” incidents to escalate quickly, and it can quickly turn into cyberbullying. The developing brain and lack of impulse control, etc. also can exasperate the problem.

Here are some things to discuss with your child/teen about cyberbullying and how we can put an end to this terrible trend:

  • How do you define cyberbullying? Parents, then share your definition.
  • Have you ever been bullied? What about cyberbullied?
  • Do you think parents are overly worried about cyberbullying?
  • Can you be cyberbullied via text, or just on social media?
  • What do you do when someone says something mean online about someone else? How about when someone says something mean about you?
  • Who are some trusted adults you can talk to about cyberbullying?

This is an increasingly pervasive problem that we need to work together to help solve. That starts with conversations and helping children and teens alike understand the dire, long-term consequences that can be involved. If you believe your child is struggling with cyberbullying and needs help dealing with it, call TAG Counseling (678-297-0708) for a consultation.

Image Source

Screens & Autism


The study of screens and their effects on children are on-going. A movie called Life, Animated, is coming out in 2016 telling the story of a boy named Owen who was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 3. His family discovered that using Disney movies helped him relate better to those around him, through the many characterizations. (Trailer found here:

However, Jason Calder, LMFT, CMHC and Clinical Director of Unplugged at Outback Therapeutic Expeditions in Lehi, Utah has found evidence throughout his own research that warrants greater discussion outside of the Disney entertainment and cautions a potentially misguided message.

Calder says, “While digital media use in moderation can be helpful for some individuals, compulsive usage can have the opposite effect. I came across a study once which showed that too much screen time can induce “autism-like” traits. The study wasn’t necessarily saying that screen time was causing autism, just similar traits. From a synaptic pruning standpoint this makes sense. Neurological real estate is valuable; use-it-or-lose-it. Since we know that the vast majority of face to face communication is non-verbal then this is what we are losing when so much of our interaction becomes digitized. It could very well be that the cognitive processes that normally govern those interactions lie dormant if screen time is pervasive enough, and that those neurological centers get utilized for other functions (similar to the famous London cab driver study).

From my own qualitative research I’ve found some evidence for this. Roughly 40% of the clients in our Unplugged program have either been diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum or possess enough traits of ASD that they will likely warrant a diagnosis. But the fascinating thing for me has been to watch some of these folks develop more neurotypical traits as they detox from screens. As you may know, our program participants are in nature 24/7 and are 45 miles from the nearest electrical outlet. I’ve found that some of my clients initially present with heavy Autism Spectrum (Level 1) traits but that they start to decrease these traits over time; around 4-5 weeks they start giving me solid eye contact and begin reciprocating conversation. It’s been amazing to see!”

While we continue to study these trends, it can always be said that more quality time interacting with our children in positive ways yields good results.

Navigating Today’s World…

Coping with Grief after a Community Tragedy: Our nation has experienced a series of community tragedies lately. How do people process this grief? What does a tragedy mean for a community? Answers to these questions can be found here:

Underage Drinking:
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Alcohol is the most widely misused substance among America’s youth. Consumption of alcohol by anyone under the age of 21, also known as underage drinking, remains a considerable public health challenge. SAMHSA provides information on the dangers of underage drinking and offers tips on how to prevent this threat to adolescent development and health.”

Read more about this threat to today’s adolescents here:

Brené Brown: Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past thirteen years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. She poses the questions:

How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness? How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to recognize that we are enough – that we are worthy of love, belonging, and joy?


ADHD Snacks:
It’s summer time and what mom isn’t looking for new snack ideas? Check out this great information (with recipes!) we found:

“Feeding kids who have ADHD can be extra challenging for several reasons. First, medications can decrease their appetite. Second, kids who experience hyperactivity expend more energy and may need more calories than some of their peers. And third, if they eat too many sweets, they can suffer from mood swings when their blood sugar spikes and then crashes. As a parent, you have to know the right balance to strike. These eight kid-friendly ideas can help take the guesswork out of snack time.”

Snack ideas:

College Recovery: Fellow Educational Consultant, Melissa Shannahan wrote about college recovery programs in a recent IECA newsletter. An excerpt is included below, but check out the entire article here:

College Recovery Programs: A Movement With Momentum

College campuses are often synonymous with drinking and partying. Scenes of students playing beer pong on porches with red cups littered across front lawns, drinking flavored vodka in dorm rooms, and just managing to make it to a 10:00 a.m. class are all considered integral parts of the college experience. But the idea that students can attend college and not drink or use drugs is fast becoming a viable option on campuses. Many colleges and universities provide support services, housing options, and a variety of other recovery activities for students who want to remain sober while pursuing their college degree.

Recovery is more visible and accepted on college campuses across the United States than ever before, with more than 150 College Recovery Programs (CRPs) and College Recovery Centers (CRCs) in the US. This movement is supported and overseen by the Association of Recovery in Higher Education (ARHE)— an organization with more than 150 participating colleges and universities that developed a set of evidence-based standards for CRPs and provides guidance, collaboration, and expertise to campuses that have CRCs and CRPs or are interested in starting new ones (

Internet Addiction:

People frequently joke that they are addicted to their phones, or that their teenager is obsessed with video games. But for some people, it isn’t a joke. And the process to overcome their need to be constantly connected is very real.

Experts say “Internet use must significantly and adversely affect daily life—causing relationships, work, or health to suffer—to qualify as an addiction.” Read more about The Rise of the Internet-Addiction Industry here: