Category Archives: Internet

How to Protect Your Child from Online Predators

Meeting people on the Internet is not a very good plan.  You can never know for sure who you’re talking to, and there has been plenty of research to show the dangers of developing a relationship with someone online.

However, reality and facts don’t seem to matter when emotions are involved.  According to the journal Pediatrics, a third of teenagers reported having offline meetings with people they have met on the Internet.  Now, their parents probably didn’t neglect to tell them, “Don’t do that!” A lot of kids are thrill-seekers, or they desperately want to connect with someone, oftentimes someone older.  Not too many predators are even pretending to be kids anymore. Many flat-out admit that they’re adults.

Young girls who are abused (sexually or physically) or neglected (because their parents are either divorced or too busy with full-time careers) are the most likely to present themselves online in a sexual or provocative way.  They do it to fill the space that their parents aren’t filling and to get attention.  That’s the most vulnerable kind of kid.  If someone is looking for a vulnerable teen with whom to start an online sexual discourse, they will most likely target someone who presents themselves provocatively.  This also occurs with minor gay males, who are confused, scared, hiding, or being rejected by their parents.

So, how can you protect your kids from online predators?  You have to be there to parent. It’s as simple as that.  As research shows, installing Internet filtering software doesn’t really make that much of a difference – maltreated kids still find a way to intentionally seek the adult content and provocatively present themselves on social networking sites.

Like any other job, being a parent requires you to show up and put in effort.  For example, in order to be a surgeon, you have to be in the operating room.  As a parent, you need to be there when your child gets out of school to reduce the association between your adolescent’s risk factors and online behavior.  Paying attention to your kids is the best medicine and best method of control.  Kids who are loved and well taken care of, by and large, have more self-control and get into less trouble – online and elsewhere.

Why Are We So Mean Online?

Human beings have a tremendous capacity for evil, cruelty and meanness, and a lot of times, they consciously choose to be that way.  Even good people have mean moments.  They know exactly what they’re doing, but they do it anyway because being cruel makes them feel good.  As with anything in life, the higher up the ladder you are, the more haters are going to unload on you.  If you raise your head above the crowd, somebody’s going to come around with a sword and even you out.    

One of the most prevalent examples of this is seen in how people talk to each other online.  People use the Internet as a place where they can spew their vitriol, show their muscle, and have momentary feelings of power and superiority.  They check every five minutes to see how many people “like” them or how many “friends” they have.  Then, they vent their frustrations and post mean comments to each other because they are jealous about what they see other people accomplishing.  A lot of them want to believe they’re special.  If anyone – a friend, neighbor, or family member – criticizes them or says otherwise, their egos get deflated and they attack.

But why are people so nasty online in particular?

One of the main reasons is that their faces can’t be seen.  A social interaction on the Internet is not 1 percent as intimate and fulfilling as interacting in person, and therefore, many people hide there.  It’s easy.  Looking somebody square in the eye and saying something mean is a lot harder to do.  It takes a very particular kind of person to be able to do that without turning red.  In general, when you’re making eye contact, it’s tougher to be your most base self. 

Another explanation for why people are so cruel to each other online is because they are bored.  When you spend a ridiculous amount of hours just browsing and surfing the web, eventually you’re going to need some drama or stimulation. So, hey, why not randomly attack somebody and see if you can get a rise out of them?

If you find yourself getting caught up in someone else’s mean behavior online, my solution is simple: get a life!   Do you seriously think it’s useful to waste your life spending hours on the Internet?!  The Internet is not a life – it’s instead of life. 

I think our ability to use the Internet for information and important communication is an amazing technological feat.  However, just like having one glass of wine after dinner is fine but getting fall-down drunk is not, the way you use the Internet matters.  The big problem is that it’s being used for terrorism, bullying, and destroying people’s reputations, not productivity.

The Importance of Getting Your Kids Outdoors

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be physically active for at least 60 minutes per day, although they stress that the activity doesn’t have to be consecutive.  Is that not the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard?  As long as the time they spend walking across the living room and back to go to the bathroom or play video games adds up to an hour, that’s considered OK.  It’s no wonder nearly two-thirds of children in the United States are overweight or obese. 

I know this may sound obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway: children who spend more time outdoors are less likely to be fat.  According to the National Environmental Education Foundation, kids living within two-thirds of a mile of a park with a playground are five times more likely to have higher levels of physical activity and weigh less.  In addition, children exposed to nature can reduce their stress levels by as much as a third.  It only takes a 20-minute walk outside to help children with ADHD concentrate better (believe it or not, you don’t have to just drug them).

With all that being said, it’s hard to imagine why so many of our kids are overweight when there are more than 20,000 parks and 11,000 playgrounds totaling over 1.5 million acres in cities across the U.S.  When my son was little, I’d put him in the kid seat on the back of my English racer and ride him over to the park to play all the time.  I don’t know why more people with kids don’t try moving closer to areas with parks nearby.

What I really don’t understand is why kids these days don’t want to go outside.  When I was young, the last thing in the world I wanted to do was be in the house.  That’s where your parents could tell you what you could and couldn’t do.  Instead, I’d always be outside running, riding my bike, hiking, and playing ball with friends.  And it wasn’t called exercise – it was called playing.  Nowadays, kids have Wii and Xbox, and they need special shoes and other electronic equipment in order to be active.

I think one of the reasons kids aren’t as active is that a lot of parents are either too busy or just too lazy to pay attention to what their kids are doing, where they are doing it, and who they are doing it with.  They also take their children to sedentary “mommy and me” groups where they sit there and put one block on top of the other.   Whatever happened to kids going outside, running, pushing, and falling down laughing?  Parents need to stop being so freaked out about the possibility of their child getting a boo-boo.  My theory is if your kid turns 18 with no scars or broken bones, you have been too controlling (I can’t tell you how relieved I was when my son broke his arm when he was 17).

Furthermore, a recent study suggests that your child’s social network of friends can greatly influence how much they move their butts.  The journal Pediatrics conducted a study of 81 kids between the ages of 5 and 12 for 12 weeks in an after-school program.  They interviewed the kids about who they were hanging out with the most and equipped them with devices called accelerometers to measure their activity levels.  What the researchers found was the children’s activity levels increased or decreased depending on who they were hanging out with.  If a child’s friend was sedentary, then he or she would also be inactive.  When given the choice to keep their activity levels the same or change them to match those of their pals, the children were six times more likely to match their friends.

The takeaway from this study is that kids are influenced by their peers, even in how much they exercise.  You need to arrange play dates and encourage your children to have relationships with kids who are active.  Even if your child tends to be sedentary on his or her own, having friends that like to play will make them more likely to go out, run around, ride bikes, and do normal kid stuff. 

As parents, you need to get your kids playing outside.  Limit their electronic media use to an hour a day.  Don’t let them sit there staring at a screen all day with hyperactive thumbs – it’s like a scene out of a scary movie.

Can You Not Live Without Your Cell Phone?

I recently went to go see a movie (something I very rarely do), and I didn’t bring my cell phone in with me.  I then went to lunch, and again, left my phone in the car.  For some reason, this freaked people out.

My friend: “Where’s your cell phone?”
Me: “In the car.” 
My friend: “Why don’t you have it with you?” 
Me: “Because I’m having lunch. I want to relax.”

My cell phone is even off now as I’m sitting here in my office.   I don’t understand why so many of you folks can’t do without them.  According to a survey, more than half of Americans would rather give up chocolate, alcohol and/or caffeine than their cell phone.   A third of you would rather give up sex.  Over 20 percent of you would do without your toothbrush, and if you’re an iPhone user, that percentage doubles (well, I suppose it is good you’re talking into a phone because nobody’s going to want to smell your breath!).  In addition, 21 percent of you would go without shoes before separating from your cell phone.  Two-thirds of you even sleep with your phone by your side. 

When it comes to being able to access the Internet, the insanity level is the same.  Forty percent of you feel lonely and 53 percent of you feel deprived if you can’t get on the Internet.  I guess if you live your life through Facebook rather than face-to-face, that makes sense.  One participant in the survey said that unplugging was akin to having their hands chopped off.  Another stated, “The emptiness overwhelmed me,” and yet another described feeling incomplete.

I can only say one thing: This is scary!

I remember in one of the original Star Trek episodes, there was this group of people who had ceased being corporeal.   They were essentially just thought waves, and they had no need for sex or farming.  All interpersonal interaction was gone.  It was very interesting to them to see how humans interacted with each other because they had bodies.   This is what we’re becoming.  A lot of you see technology as a way to keep in touch, but in my opinion, you are all becoming more and more distant.  You are only engaged in virtual relationships as opposed to real connections. 

Here are a couple little things you can do to unplug and start having healthier relationships:

Schedule some periods of time where you are inaccessible and nobody can reach you.  No texts, no emails…nothing.   Nobody can access you.  You can even make them short at first.  You’ll probably feel anxious and maybe even depressed from being disconnected, but guess what?  Your life will not implode!  It’ll be good for you – just think of all the time you could be spending seeing a friend or doing a hobby while you’re not plugged in.

Pick a day where you don’t touch your email or your cell phone.  Just one day.  It could be Saturday, Sunday, your “day of rest,” Shabbos…whatever.  Pick a day.

Or, if you think that’s impossible, how about this?  Set intervals for when you check your email, or don’t check your email before a certain time.  You can use an autoresponder explaining that you can be reached any time on your cell phone.  At least your cell phone is voice-to-voice.
 
Try to get some humanity back in your life. 

Do you crave your technology?  Take this quiz.  If you can’t get to the end of it without texting, you probably already know your diagnosis.

Anti-Bullying Laws Are Not the Solution

Anti-bullying laws have recently been popping up all over America.  They allow children to report their classmates to the police if they feel they are being bullied.  However, in my opinion, these laws are stupid.  

I have always said that if another kid lays a hand on your child, tell your kid to drop them down and hurt them.  If a kid lays a hand on someone else’s child, tell your kid to drop them down and hurt them.  You have a responsibility to teach your children to stand up for themselves and other people.  Put them in jujitsu classes so they know how to do it without any blood or broken bones. 

Of course these days, bullying is not only limited to the playground.  It happens outside of school on the Internet (in my day, the equivalent was spreading notes and gossiping).  I am well aware of how people can be damaged and hurt on the Internet, but I also grew up with the motto, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  We have totally given that up and told our children that the second their feelings are hurt, it’s all over.  Nobody has a right to not be offended, and no kid has the right to not have hurt feelings.  You need to teach your kids how to stand up for themselves and respond to bullying. 
 
Now, these anti-bullying laws are largely based on anecdotal circumstances.  Sadly, some children and young adults have committed suicide over being harassed.  However, there haven’t been scores of children killing themselves.  There have been unique incidences of suicide, and we’ve always seen those.  Every kid who gets picked on doesn’t kill him or herself.  It has a lot more to do with their mental constitution and family dynamics than the bullying.  These experiences are horrible, but they aren’t the norm, and making laws based on the exceptions is ridiculous. 

I can’t imagine the pain of being a parent whose child has terminated his or her own life.  It’s impossible to understand and appreciate, and I am in no way minimizing it.  All I’m saying is that these are isolated cases of individual people and their inability to cope. 

Do I have a definitive solution to all of this?  Not in our society anymore.  When I was a kid, the school called your parents, they gave you crap, and you were disciplined at school.  These days, if the school calls a parent, they give the school crap.  We’re becoming a disordered, self-defending society.  I may not have a solution, but the solution is definitely not to involve the police because somebody is calling you names.  Whatever happened to kids working out their own stuff? 

Here’s what I would do.  If I had a kid right now who was being bullied on the Internet, I would link it to another page saying, “These are the kids who are using the Internet to hurt other kids.”  I wouldn’t say anything mean or attack back.  I would just list all the things they are doing.  And at the bottom of the page I would also put, “Are these the kinds of kids you have come over and play with your kids?”   That way you bring the problem to light.  Embarrass the bullies and let their parents deal with them.  Smear their reputations with facts.  I think there should be websites that show facts about adults and kids who do bad things.  FACTS!  No exaggerations.  No bad-mouthing. Just facts.   

We live in a country where hurt feelings are the most important thing in the world.   It’s time to toughen up folks.  Have your kids toughen up.  It’s really important to you teach your kids to stand up for themselves and be able to handle life.  

When Kids See Smut Online

Should parents be concerned about Internet porn?

Yes!

The thing parents should be worried about most is the victimization of their children.  Whether it’s being preyed upon by a pedophile or experiencing crass sex totally disconnected from intimacy, it’s all victimization.
 
Today’s kids live in a culture where hard-core pornography is everywhere.  Kids have an arsenal of portable devices these days which enable them to go online just about anywhere.  Even if you monitor them closely at home by getting them to use child-friendly search engines and setting up OpenDNS or other parental controls, you still might not be able to stop them from looking at porn.  They could see it at a friend’s house, on a cell phone, or someplace where there’s public access to the Internet – like the library or at school. 

As far as I’m concerned, the windows in front of Victoria’s Secret stores depict soft-core pornography.  The same goes for Abercrombie and Fitch.  When parents walk by these stores in the mall with their kids or get their catalogues in the mail, they are exposing their kids to porn. 

A lot of people call in to my radio show wanting to know if they should wait until their kid asks about sex to talk about it.  I just tell them that at that point, it’s already way too late.  You should talk to kids about sex beginning at a very, very early age because they already have a high chance of seeing porn when their age is still in the single digits. 

You can say we all have different morals and philosophies about this topic, but mine is very child-centered and focused on kids having quality lives with quality relationships.   I think the ultimate goal for developing a child’s sexuality is making them see why connecting both sexually and spiritually is important.  You need to make them see that sex is a special act, and it symbolizes deep love and commitment between a husband and wife.  There are things that are sacred and sublime, and there are things that aren’t.  To take something sacred and put it in a meaningless context diminishes humanity, and affects not only the child’s sexuality, but his or her values, such as how women should be treated.

By helping your kids see the big picture about how sex is sacred and how it is being abused largely in our culture, you will be better prepared to confront the problem of pornography when it occurs in your children’s lives.

If you find out your child has looked at pornography, don’t get hysterical.  I think children are always victims of a form of sexual abuse whenever they are confronted with sexually provocative materials.   Gently find out if someone introduced it to them.  It’s really important to understand the context in which they got a hold of it.  It could have just been a pop-up, or their web search request came back with a porn site (e.g. they typed the word “fox” with two “x’s” by accident). 

And in the worst case scenario, your child could be looking at porn because it has been sent by someone who preys on kids.  “Pedophiles can use access to porn to establish a bond with a child.  The bond can lower a child’s resistance to meeting in person, and viewing porn may lower his or her resistance to being persuaded to perform sexual acts.  Showing a child pornography also is a good way to prevent detection because the child knows at some level he or she is doing something his parents wouldn’t sanction and is unlikely to tell them.”

Lastly, if your kid was just curious and looked at porn, don’t punish them.  Yelling, “We’re taking the computer away and we’re not going to feed you for four days,” is not helpful.   Instead, I think you should use the incident as an opportunity to teach your child that not everything and everyone on the Internet is harmless.  It’s a good time to talk to them about sexuality, how it can be exploited, and your values about sex, marriage, men, women, and relationships.  In your own home, it’s always a good idea to put the computer in a place where it is visible to the adults and limit the amount of time your child spends there.  You initiate the Internet session, log them on and off, and use blocking software and tracking services.  Basically, you set the rules.  If a child breaks the rules, then they get punished, but don’t punish them simply because they were curious and looked at porn.  If they are going to get a punishment, it should be because they disobeyed the rules.  Above all, you don’t want them to feel uncomfortable talking to you about something as incredibly important as their sexuality.

Your kids are being seduced all the time, and you have to keep that in mind.  I constantly see commercials that make my drop jaw.  It used to be that people would get hysterical over a kid getting his hands on a Playboy, but it’s not even close to that way anymore.  Our kids have lost their innocence and their sensitivity about viewing certain things that should be special.  It’s time to redirect and educate them.

Here are some alarming statistics about how Internet pornography is affecting our kids:

Obsessed About Their Kids

You’ve all heard stories about kids getting homesick when they go away to summer camp.  Well, these days that’s sort of flipped.  Instead, parents are getting “kidsick.”

During the summer when I was a kid, we’d have breakfast, leave the house, and then maybe go back again only once that day.  We usually bounced around from house to house and rode bikes for hours across acres and acres of farm fields near where I lived.  Nobody even knew where we were, and I never knew of anybody who didn’t come home again.

But that was then, and this is now.

Now there’s not a day that kids don’t show up dead.  There’s not a day that kids aren’t stolen, molested, or victims of gang violence.  There’s just not a day.  Neighborhoods are rarely tight anymore, and if they are, it’s out of fear.  And if your kids go to the park and you’re not somewhere nearby, you’re probably being irresponsible.

However, there’s a difference between sitting on the side of the playground relaxing, reading, listening to music, or talking to somebody and standing under the jungle gym making sure your precious little bundle of joy doesn’t get dirty or upset by something somebody else says or does.  That’s micromanaging.  Your precious little bundle of joy has to learn to live in the real world.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t supervise your kids.  Macromanaging is really necessary, especially these days with all the sex, drugs, and violence.  What I’m talking about is being a helicopter parent and hovering over your kids.  For example, when parents send their kids to summer camp, the people who head the camp are now expected to take pictures every day, post them on the camp’s Facebook, and send emails to the parents.  If the parents see their kid not smiling, they call the head of the camp to see what’s wrong.  That’s micromanaging.

I recently took a call on my show that just stayed in my head.  On the surface, it didn’t seem like a memorable call, but it turned out to be.  I found it alarming because of how typical the caller’s situation was.

The call was from a mother who had a son in his mid-20s, and he had just gotten fired from working in a pizza parlor (I don’t know what you do to get fired from that kind of job, but he did).  The caller’s mother – the grandma of the ne’re-do-well – was dying and said her grandson could have her car, which only had about 5,000 miles on it.  She said he could just have it!  And just when I was telling the woman she should tell Grandma to please give the car to somebody who would be more responsible, I found out this ne’re-do-well (who doesn’t have a job because somehow serving or flipping pizza is more than he can handle) doesn’t like the car because it’s not cool enough.  He thinks it looks like “an old person’s car.”

SPOILED…LITTLE…BRAT!

But his mother didn’t say that to Grandma.  Instead, she catered to her son further by selling the car so he could use the money to buy a cooler one.

I remember vividly choking down rage and saying that I was finding it difficult to help her out.  In my day, if a car had doors and wheels and went forward, you were happy.  I looked up the car online, and saw it’s a nice car.  But instead of saying, “Hey, you really have to find somebody else to give this car to.  My son’s kind of a loser and doesn’t appreciate it. He’s just not a grownup yet, so let’s find somebody else in the family, who, by virtue of their character and effort, actually deserves and would appreciate it,” Mommy sold the car so he could be cool.

That’s the kind of parenting that ruins children.  The parent who gets involved in every emotional ache, pain, and little problem of their kid’s life only hurts their kid and doesn’t help them grow up.  That’s why huge percentages of young adults are moving back home instead of making their way somehow.  That’s why two-thirds of American children are fat or obese.  Mothers sit three feet away from their kids screaming, “Don’t do that! You’re going to hurt yourself!,” instead of letting them hang upside down and run around.

I remember when my kid was little my rule was if it didn’t kill him or somebody else, I would let him do it.  I figured that’s the way kids grow into adults and men.   I’m not suggesting you allow your kids to run off to the park alone.  That’s kind of stupid these days.  America has changed dramatically, and it will probably never go back to the way it was.  But as far as avoiding being a kidsick, helicopter parent while your child is away at camp, I have a couple ways to cope.

First, don’t be connected to your kid’s camp via the Internet.  If they have a Facebook, don’t go on it until your kid comes home.  And lastly, do what parents used to do when kids went to camp: spend the time caretaking your marriage and worry less about the kids.  You know that saying, “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.”?  Well, just twist it around: while the mice are away, the cats will play.

Just remember this: Being responsible and being worried all the time are two very different things.