5 Signs Your Child is Being Bullied Online

Cyber Bullying

Know the warning signs to help protect your child from cyber bullying (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

There is no question that being a teenager today is different than it was when we were teenagers but one of the things many parents don’t realize is that bullying today is different too.  The stereotypical bully from our childhood is not our teen’s bully and the way today’s teens are being bullied is very different than the kind of bullying we may have experienced.  When parents don’t recognize the signs of bullying in their teens, their teens are at risk.  This risk only increases when you consider the fact that research show that when the bullying is happening online, only 5% of teens will tell an adult.  The best way to protect your child is to know how to recognize the signs that your child is being bullied online.

1.     Changes in Online Behaviors

If your normally chatty teenager suddenly seems quiet and sullen, it may be a sign that something is going on.  The teen years are all about social interaction and seeking the acceptance of peers.   For today’s teens their social universe includes texting, snapchatting, skyping, and gaming.  Watch for changes in your teen’s behavior in relation to online activity.  If they have been playing Xbox with their friends for months and suddenly stop playing or they seem upset or angry after checking SnapChat or Facebook, these are online bullying red flags.

2.     Avoiding Online Interactions

Teens that are experiencing online bullying may begin avoiding any interaction with others online.  Kids who used to fight for more online time may stop using the time they have.  The number of text messages they send or receive may drop.  They may close online accounts like Facebook and Twitter or seem hesitant to do anything online.

3.     Secretive Behavior in Regards to Online Activity

Many teens who are being cyberbullied become secretive around adults, especially parents.  They may stop reading a text message or close their browser window when you enter the room.   If your teen suddenly seems more secretive or as if they are trying to hide something, this is another red flag.

4.     Spending More Time Online

While some teens will respond to cyberbullying by trying to avoid the source of that bullying, other teens have the opposite reaction.  These teens may spend even more time online, checking and rechecking things.  If your teen starts spending more time involved in online interaction, especially if they are tense, stressed, or upset during or after that time, they may be the victim of a cyberbully.

5.     Exhibiting Other Signs of Bullying

Cyberbullying is still bullying which means that teens who are victims may also exhibit all the other signs that they are being bullied.  These signs can include changes in eating habits, difficulties sleeping, unwillingness to go to school, withdrawing from teams and favorite activities, and falling grades.

If you suspect your child is being bullied, talk to your teen and then seek support from the school, the local police, and a mental health provider to develop a plan to end the bullying and take care of your teen.

What Parents Need to Know About Stalking

stalker stalking

If you suspect your teen may have a stalker, follow these suggestions. (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

For many parents, stalking brings to mind a creepy guy or a crazy girl following someone around and acting in ways that make other people uncomfortable like the movie “Fatal Attraction.”  But that idea pre-dates cell phones and the internet capabilities of today.  In this world, stalking can happen in the virtual world as well as the real world and it can look very different than it did even a decade ago.  This is one reason we are encouraging all parents to learn more about this issue as part of National Stalking Awareness Month.

Although it doesn’t get as much attention as other crimes, stalking continues to be a real problem. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, more than 6 million people in the U.S. are the victims of stalking every year and a significant number of those victims are under age 25.  Being the victim of a stalker can have serious consequences.  Stalking victims are more likely than their peers to experience anxiety disorders and depression.  They may miss a significant amount of school or work and about 1 in 7 relocate in order to escape their stalker.

What is Stalking

Although stalking is a crime in all 50 states and U.S. territories, the laws and penalties related to stalking differ in each state.  Despite the differences in legal definition across the various states,  the Stalking Resource Center says that the following is a good general definition.

“a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear”

Stalking can include almost any unwanted behavior that continues despite requests for it to cease if that behavior makes the person it is directed at feel uncomfortable, threatened, or in danger.

What Does Stalking Look Like

Having established that stalking doesn’t always look like it does in the movies, it is important to understand what kinds of things stalkers do.  Knowing how to identify stalking behavior positions you, as parents, to be able to provide the help and support your teen needs regardless of whether they are the stalker or the victim.

Common stalking behaviors include:

  • Showing up at a part time job frequently or waiting for the victim after school each day
  • Showing up unexpectedly at places like the mall, sporting events, or private lessons when the victim is there
  • Following or watching the victim as they go about their day
  • Waiting outside the victim’s home, school, job, or other location
  • Sending frequent email, snail mail, and text messages
  • Calling repeatedly
  • Contact via social media like Facebook and Twitter
  • Damaging things that belong to the victim like their car or the contents of their locker
  • Stealing personal items from the victim
  • Making repeated and threatening statements to the victim

What You Can Do

If you suspect your teenager is the victim of a stalker, take immediate action to protect them.  Change their phone numbers and email addresses, block them on social media sites and adjust privacy settings to restrict access to their information.  Talk to the school and the local police department to find out what options you have and how you can best protect your child.  Make sure you get your teen the support they need to deal with the emotional consequences of being stalked.

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Help, I Don’t Like My Son’s Girlfriend

Are you not excited about your teen's choice of dating partner? Read more to learn what you should know. (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Are you not excited about your teen’s choice of dating partner? Read more to learn what you should know. (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

One of the most challenging conflicts that can arise between teenagers and their parents happens when there is a difference of opinion about the other important people in the teenager’s life.  This can be a girlfriend, boyfriend, or really any friend.  As parents we have to remember that the other people in our teen’s life, their friends and peers, are just as important to them as we are, even if we don’t like to admit it.   But the last thing a teenager that is surrounded by bad influences needs is to be cut off from their parents.    This is why it is often necessary to find a balance between standing our ground about what is best for them and pushing them away.

The key to finding that balance is to pick your battles.  If you don’t like your teen’s friend or girlfriend, take some time to figure out why.  Giving your concerns a voice can help you see if your problems with this person are serious enough to take a stand or if they simply aren’t someone you would choose for your teen to spend time with.  Here are some things you can do to help you determine if you need to take a stand or step aside.

1.     See the Person Through Your Teenager’s Eyes

This can be a hard one but can also be very revealing.  Understanding why your teenager is attracted to this person or what makes them want to spend time with them can help you see them in a different light.  This may or may not change your overall opinion of them but it may help ease some of your concerns.  At the very least is may give you a better understanding of your child.

2.     Give Them the Benefit of the Doubt

Understand that this person is important to your child.  Giving them the benefit of the doubt means treating them as you would anyone else in your child’s life that you liked until and unless there is a reason not to.  Although this may mean that your teenager will be negatively impacted if your concerns become a reality, there are some lessons that are only learned through firsthand experience.  Your teenager will be better able to handle those consequences if he or she feels like you are on their side and there for them.

3.     Separate Yourself

Oftentimes, we as parents project our negative experiences and attitudes onto our teenagers.  If we had a negative experience in high school, we may seek to shelter our teenagers from making the same mistakes that we did without realizing that this is a different time with different people.  Make sure any concerns are based on the actual relationship your teenager has with this person and not a projection from your past.

Unfortunately, there will be times when you will have to put your foot down and take a stand because the risk to your child is too great to ignore.  In these times, focusing on honest communication can help you take a stand without alienating your child.

 

50 Fun Things You Can Do with Your Teen to Build a Stronger Family

There is no question that one of the hardest things about the parent-teen relationship is that they often struggle to relate to one another.  They come from two different worlds, speak different languages, and have different priorities.  But there is no question that one of the best ways to prevent everything from teen suicide to eating disorders to bullying is to have a strong parent-teen relationship.  To help build stronger bonds and give everyone a chance to get to know each other better and understand each other’s perspectives, here are 50 fun things that parents and teenagers can do together.

  1. Build something like a shed, a garden, or a house for Habitat for Humanity.
  2. Fix something that is broken, even better if it something that the teenager likes and is invested in fixing.
  3. Cook Dinner together including picking a menu, grocery shopping, prepping, cooking, and cleaning up.
  4. Volunteer.
  5. Play a sport like tennis or soccer.
  6. Go for a hike.
  7. Swim.
  8. Read the same book.
  9. Go whitewater rafting.
  10. Play a video game.
  11. Play a board game.
  12. Play poker and use chores or favors instead of cash.
  13. Learn to do something new.
  14. Ride horses.
  15. Stargaze and learn to identify the constellations.
  16. Visit a museum.
  17. Go see two movies, one picked by the parent, one by the teen.
  18. Go to an art gallery.
  19. Go to a river or lake for the day.
  20. Play basketball.
  21. Take the dog for a walk or to the dog park.
  22. Teach each other something new.
  23. Plan a neighborhood scavenger hunt.
  24. Go bowling.
  25. Play miniature golf.
  26. Listen to music, alternating between each other’s favorite songs.
  27. Go to a baseball game and eat hot dogs.
  28. Pack a picnic and spend the whole afternoon in the park with no electronics.
  29. Throw a block party.
  30. Have a yard sale and split the profits.
  31. Spend the day at an amusement park.
  32. Go camping for a weekend.
  33. Visit a farm where you can pick your own fruit or vegetables and then use the fruits of your labor to make something at home.
  34. Redecorate a room in the house.
  35. Clean out everyone’s car.
  36. Start a new sport or hobby together like karate or cooking.
  37. Start a garden.
  38. Have a movie marathon.
  39. Go to an outdoor concert or music event.
  40. Dress up and go out for a special dinner.
  41. Make s’mores.
  42. Play hide and seek in the dark with flashlights.
  43. Help at a homeless shelter.
  44. Visit your parents/grandparents.
  45. Act like tourists and visit all the local points of interest.
  46. Go for a bike ride.
  47. Learn a second language together.
  48. Build a sandcastle.
  49. Volunteer at an animal shelter.
  50. Make a bucket list of things you want to do together before they grow up and move out.

The Newest Teen “Addiction”: Smartphones

Smartphone Evolution

Do you suffer from the “addicting” power of a smartphone?  (Photo credit: Phil Roeder)

Do you know where your smartphone is?  Odds are that your teenager does.  A new survey sponsored by Facebook and conducted by IDC shows that the majority of smartphone users in the 18-24 year old age group reach for their smartphone as soon as they wake up.  For younger teens, the smartphone has become synonymous with their social life and while they might forget their homework or lose their keys, you can bet they know where their phone is all the time.

For a generation of parents who were likely adults before they even saw their first cell phone, watching their teens near constant typing, texting, and tweeting has become a cause for worry.  Is there a line to be drawn that limits smartphone use?  Is all this virtual interaction impeding the development of social skills they will need as adults?  Has this generation shifted from avid users to addicts?

Unfortunately, the speed at which technology is changing our world makes it impossible to gauge the long term and sometimes even the short-term effects of these changes.  The previous generation of parents had 30+ years to wonder about whether or not television was bad for kids before cable came along.  Meanwhile today’s parents have watched the smartphone, Facebook, texting, tweeting, skyping, and gaming change everything about how their teens interact with each other and the world around them.  When it comes to knowing what is best for our teens, it is easy to feel as if we are all strangers in a strange land.

If you are concerned about the time your teen spends interfacing with technology rather than interacting with face to face friends, there are some things you can do.

1.     Look in the Mirror

What many parents don’t see is that they are modeling the very behavior that is causing them concern in their teenagers.  If you can’t sit at the dinner table without checking your email, don’t expect your children to have better boundaries than you do.

2.     Define the Line

There is a fine line between normal teenage smartphone use and addiction to smartphone use.  Addictive behavior patterns are fairly standard, regardless of what you are addicted to.  If you know what an addiction looks like, it will be easier for you to see where that fine line is so that you can give your teen the freedom to be a teen or get them help if that’s what they need.

3.     Remember They are Not You

It can be hard for parents to grasp that the life their teen is living is vastly different from their own.  The teens of the 70s, 80s, and 90s bought CDs at the mall, watched all the same shows on TV, and spent as much time as possible together without any parents around.  Today’s teens have an entire virtual world to spend time together that is parent-free.  They don’t need to spend Friday night at McDonald’s or meet up with their friends at the mall in order to spend time together and stay connected.  They are always connected in a way us parents can only begin to comprehend.

The best things you can do as parents is provide a good example, set boundaries you believe in, and get help for your child if they need it.

Bringing an End to Bullying

October is National Bullying Prevention Month and the message of this year’s awareness campaign is “The End of Bullying Begins with Me.”  This is a message that should resonate with everyone including parents, coaches, teachers, and teens.   Most of us have had to deal with a bully at some point in our lives and therefore, we all know how damaging and lasting those kinds of interactions can be.  This month you can make a difference in your family, your school, and your community by participating in activities geared towards raising awareness and empowering others to help put an end to bullying.

There are many ways you can take advantage of the national bullying campaign and do something to educate others, engage your peers, and encourage everyone to take the pledge to be part of the solution.   Here are some great ways you can get involved and help spread the word that the end of bullying begins with each of us.

English: this is my own version of what bullyi...

Help bring an end to Bullying (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Run, Walk, Roll Against Bullying

This is a fun way to get everyone in your community involved.  Communities around the country will be participating in this unique version of a “Walk-a-thon”.  Participants help raise awareness about bullying while also raising money to support local anti-bullying programs.  Most events are scheduled for October 6th this year and you can download a kit with all the information you need to plan your own Run, Walk, Roll event on the National Bullying Prevention Website.

Wear Orange for Unity Day

On October 10th, people across the country will be wearing orange as a way to raise awareness about bullying and the importance of preventing bullying behavior in all areas of our lives.  Participate in Unity Day by donning orange or get more involved and organize some Unity Day activities at your school.  Follow Unity Day on Facebook for ideas and information.

Sign the Petition

Stand-up for what you believe in by signing the online “The End of Bullying Begins with Me” petition.  Take this a step further and encourage those around you to sign it too.  If you are participating in or hosting an anti-bullying event, provide the means for other attendees to sign the petition too.

Speak Up

Ask local churches, groups, schools, and community organizations if you can come and speak to them about bullying.  Sharing your story is one of the most powerful ways to spread awareness and help people understand the long term consequences and real-life impacts bullying behavior can cause.   If your school is having an assembly, volunteer to speak.  Talk to your school paper about writing a story or an article.  Make a video and share it through social media.

Coordinate a Community Event

Bring your community together to celebrate unity and inclusiveness and cultivate a culture where bullying is non-existent.  Whether you choose a fall festival, a street fair, a dance, or a rally, the most important thing is getting people together to raise awareness and encourage everyone to embrace the idea that the end of bullying begins with each of us.

 

What Your Teen is Actually Doing on Their Phone

The sight of a teenager with their attention focused on a smart phone, thumbs flying and oblivious to the rest of the world, is so common that it has already become a cliché.  If you asked many parents what their teen is doing that requires so much thumb action, the likely answer would be “texting” and much of the time, they would be right.  An average teen currently sends more than 60 text messages a day according to a study by Pew Research.  But what many parents don’t understand is that as teens transition to smart phones, they are doing much more than texting.  Here are some of the other things your teen is on their phone.

1.     Listening to Music – Pandora

There are a wide range of apps that provide access to music on both primary smart phone platforms, but amongst teens, Pandora seems to be the top pick.  The music service allows teens to create their own radio stations by selecting a certain musical group, genre, or song.  Pandora than pulls together similar music to make a custom station.  For teens, this provides easy access to new music all the time without incurring the costs associated with downloading music or purchasing CDs.

2.     Taking and Making Pictures – Instagram

Instagram is the top photo editing app available for smart phones.  Teens love it because they can edit the pictures they take with the cell phone – the primary method most of them use to document important moments in their lives – edit them, and then post them directly to the social network platform of their choice.  It is a completely streamlined way of taking pictures, putting your own spin on them, and then sharing them with the world.

3.     Playing with Their Friends – Zynga’s With Friends Games

This suite of games from Zynga, the company that made Facebook games a household phenomenon, has been popular with smart phone users of all ages right from the start.  The “with friends” apps include:

  • Words with Friends, which is similar to online scrabble
  • Scramble with Friends, which is like a cross between Sudoku and a word search
  • Hanging with Friends, which resembles a game of hangman

These games are fun in their own right, but the “with friends” part of each game is one of the main attractions for teens.  Each game lets you challenge people from your social networks to play, enabling you to play very long distance rounds against people you could never play against in person.  Additionally, because the games are turn based, teens can play when it works for their schedule and aren’t required to be actively playing at the same time as their opponent.

4.     Watching…..Something – YouTube

Smart phones make it possible to access YouTube, Netflix, and many other content providers from anywhere which means your teen might be watching a new movie on Netflix, a funny cat video on YouTube, or an episode of their favorite television show.

Regardless of how your teen uses their smartphone, parents should set limits with the phones. Parents can simply monitor what their teen does on their phone by knowing what apps are loaded, how much they talk and text, as well as simply limiting how much and what times of the day teens are permitted to use them. Simply instituting the rule that there are no phones allowed at the dinner table can go far towards increased healthy communication with your teen. In this age where the world of entertainment can literally be at our fingertips, we need to remember that nothing can replace the value of face to face communication and interaction.

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Parent Alert: What Drugs Teens are Doing Might Surprise You

'Spice' -- a designer synthetic cannabinoid.

‘Spice’ — a designer synthetic cannabinoid. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Keeping up with today’s teenagers is hard work.  You would think that with cell phones, Facebook, email, voicemail, and Twitter, parents would have an easier time that ever knowing what their teens like, who their friends are, and what they are up to on their own time.  Unfortunately, all this connectedness hasn’t really helped parents understand their teenagers any better than their parents understood them.  Teens are trendy, parents generally are not.  Teens are all about the next new thing, while parents move at a different pace.  This can be the source of those infamous parent-teen power struggles but it can also create a dangerous communication gap between what parents think kids are doing and what teens are actually doing.  There is no area where this problem is more serious than drug use.

For most of today’s parents, “drugs” means cocaine, heroin, marijuana, crack, and maybe ecstasy and meth.  These were the primary drugs of their youth and they understand them.  They know what to look out for, what the signs are, and when to get help.  What they may not know, is what the list would include if you asked their teenager.  To help parents understand the drug landscape of today, here are some of the drugs today’s teens are exposed to that may be new to parents.

Bath Salts

This synthetic drug which until recently was available to anyone over the counter, is unregulated, and can be deadly.  Although this drug is called bath salts, it has no relationship to anything you put in your bathtub.  It is a synthetic derivative of a stimulant called cathinone which affects the central nervous system.  Sold in foil packages, Bath Salts are sniffed, snorted, swallowed, smoked, and injected.  They are also known under a variety of street names like Bliss, Drone, Purple wave, White Knight, White Lightning, and Vanilla Sky.   Bath Salts mimic the effects of cocaine and were included in the recent federal ban on designer drugs.

2C-E or Europa

This is your teenager’s version of Ecstasy and is a popular party drug.  Effects are similar to those experienced when taking ecstasy and often include vivid hallucinations.

K2 and Spice

According to the CDC, marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug amongst teens.  K2 and Spice are believed in be in second place.  These synthetic drugs are made from a mixture of legal herbs that is laced with a synthetic cannabinoid and mimic the effects of marijuana.  However, with K2 and Spice, the drug is more potent, remains in the body longer, and doesn’t show up in urine-based drug testing.   Until the recent federal ban on these and other designer drugs, K2 and Spice could be legally purchased in many states and over the internet.

Pharming, Pilz, and Trail Mix

While not drugs, these terms, which describe the casual and often social use of prescription medication should be on every parents radar.  Pilz is the teen term for any prescription medication taken for recreational use.  Pharming means gathering and using “pilz” stolen from their homes and the homes of others.  Trail Mix is something that may be found at parties and social events and is a combination of “pilz”.

 

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7 Signs Your Child is Being Bullied

Rich bullying Simon

Do you know if your teen is being bullied? Image via Wikipedia

It is on the news.  It is on the web.  It is in your child’s school.  You know that bullying is a problem and are confident you could help your child if they were being bullied.  You may be right; but the reality is, you might not even know that it’s happening.  Studies have shown that although almost 50% of children are bullied at some point in their life, less than half of them will talk to their parents about what is happening.  If the bullying is happening in cyberspace, that drops to 5% according to StopCyberBullying.org.  In order to protect your child, you need to know what to watch for and when to step in and take a stand for your child while teaching them to stand up for themselves.

Here are 7 signs your child may be the victim of bullying.

1.    They Stop Being Social

Tweens and teens are, by their very nature, social creatures.  They have entered the part of their adolescence when the opinions of friends and peers become more important than those of their parents and families.  If your formerly social teen suddenly stops spending hours on the phone, texting at dinner, posting everything to Facebook, or playing their favorite online game, you should take that as a big red flag.   Watch for a suddenly shrinking social circle, unwillingness to participate in activities like dance classes, sports, youth groups, or extracurricular activities they have always enjoyed.

2.     Acting Out at Home

When teens are unhappy, stressed, or struggling with issues they can’t fix, like being the victim of a bully, they often lash out at the people who love them like parents and siblings.  This is a normal response called transference and is a red flag for parents.  Pay attention if your teenager’s attitude toward family members radically changes and they start lashing out angrily at younger brothers and sisters or you.

3.     Avoiding School or Other Places

Teens who suddenly resist going to school without any stated reason may be struggling with a bully.  This holds true for other places as well, especially if it is a place where they generally spend time with their friends or other teens their age.

4.     Grades Take a Nosedive

If your A and B student suddenly starts getting D’s and F’s, you may need to consider that they are being bullied before exacerbating the problem by getting angry, imposing punishments, or otherwise responding to the grades themselves.

5.     Unexplained Illnesses

If your otherwise healthy teen suddenly seems to be sick with generalized, non-specific symptoms all the time, it can be a sign that they are being bullied.  It is important to have them checked out by their pediatrician or family doctor in order to rule out any medical conditions, but if the doctor can’t find an underlying cause, it may be the stress of being bullied.  Feeling unwell can also give teens a way to avoid going to events or interacting with people, which is another red flag.

6.     Changes in Habits or Routines

If your child’s eating habits, sleeping habits, or other routines radically change overnight, it may be a red flag that they are being victimized by a bully.  Teens may suddenly eat much more, stop eating, sleep all the time, have trouble sleeping, and/or experience nightmares as a result of being bullied.

7.     Depressed, Hopeless, Suicidal

Teens who are being bullied can become very depressed and sad and express a feeling of hopelessness about the world and their lives.  They may talk about suicide and blame themselves for things that are not their fault.  While teenagers can be moody, wild shifts in mood accompanied by changes in outlook and attitude may be more than just hormones.

If you suspect your child is being bullied, talk to them, talk to their medical provider, talk to the school, and keep talking until you feel confident that your child’s well-being is not being endangered by another child’s bullying behavior. If bullying is confirmed, you will want to find a counselor who can also help you and your teen process the effects of  bullying on their self esteem.

How Social Media is Affecting our Teens

How Social Media is Affecting our Teens-

Since computers starting coming into the home and video games left the arcade, parents have expressed concerns about how much is too much and how these virtual interfaces will impact the lives of our children over the long term.  For years, the main concerns around overuse of electronic media have centered on physical activity levels, studying, and the effect of violent, sexist, and racist themes on young minds.   Recently I was asked my thoughts on the impact things like Facebook, Twitter, and video games are having on today’s youth.  My answers might surprise you.

One of the main problems that I see is an increase in teens and young adults with significant social anxiety problems that seem to stem from spending too much time interacting with a computer and not enough time interacting with actual people. This is especially pertinent for teens that are in the 12 to 15 year old range that are actively developing and refining the social skills that will help them throughout their lives.  The more time a child spends in isolation posting on Facebook, playing Xbox, chatting online, texting, and watching YouTube videos, the less time they spend interacting with their peers and families.  These real-world interactions are necessary for developing social skills, understanding social protocols, and building interpersonal relationships.

What Parents Should Look For

  • Parents should trust their instincts and if they are concerned there might be a problem, seek the opinion of a professional.
  • Parents also need to make the distinction between what is normal behavior and what is healthy behavior.  Your son might spend 12 hours a day playing video games which seems normal when compared to his friends, but most health professionals would agree that even if it is normal, 12 hours of video game play in a day is definitely not healthy.
  • Watch for resistance to social situations and avoidance of social interactions.  If your child is having a significant emotional response to a situation that requires social interaction, there may be a social problem that needs to be addressed.

What Parents Can Do

  • The most important step parents can take is to start young.  Set expectations and ground rules about media use early in childhood which will help your child develop good habits as they grow into teenagers.
  • Provide multiple social outlet opportunities for your children through church, community, sports, and educational activities.  But, beware of over-scheduling; children need downtime too.
  • Don’t accommodate their anxiety; it’s ok for them to be uncomfortable in social situations because they are learning how to manage those types of interactions.  Giving in and allowing them to avoid socializing only reinforces the avoidance behaviors.

 

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