4 Tips for Keeping Kids Safe Online

September 24, 2015
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I am part of a unique generation. We are tasked with parenting the first generation that doesn’t know life before the World Wide Web but we remember existence before Google and Facebook. I managed to survive most of my childhood without daily access to the internet. However, most in my generation are now actively using technology as a part of our daily lives. We began with the green screen of Oregon Trail and now some of us voice text our kids using a smart watch.

I find myself feeling pretty confident that I’ll be able to keep up with my daughters in the technology department but realize that attitude could lead me right into an app-disaster. With that in mind, I’ve decided to come up with a short list of reminders for myself and the rest of us in the generation that remembers floppy disks that were actually floppy.

  1. Baby Steps and Quality Time:
    Safety online isn’t really that different from safety in the rest of the world. Just like we wouldn’t allow our 2-year-old to cross the street, we also don’t wait until our child’s 12th birthday and send them off into traffic to practice street crossing on their own. We give our kids the privileges and responsibility that they can handle gradually by teaching them and guiding them and certainly not all at once. Enjoy time together using technology. There are many apps and web pages in which you and your child may have shared interest. This provides moments to be a positive role model.
  2. Get Smart:
    Educate yourself on what your child is doing. Fortunately, we have Google at our fingertips! If you want to allow your child to play online games, be sure you understand the game and what the options are for chatting with friends and accessing content that isn’t part of the game. For example, in Minecraft kids can join games with others and chat with them. Just watching your child play for a minute or two wouldn’t necessarily tip you off to that fact. It doesn’t make it a bad game. It just changes the conversation you will want to have with your child before playing. Ask your child questions and listen to their answers. Start a conversation and stay involved.
  3. Set Expectations:
    Some of the best educational games are on the same website as games with violence so helping your child understand what the rules are for your family online is critical and frequent checks are important. As my kids get older and play at a friends’ house, we are talking more about what to do if they are away from us and run into a computer situation that doesn’t fit with our rules. This isn’t different from when we talk about what to do if something in the “real world” makes them uncomfortable away from our parenting umbrella. As they get older and do research for school, they may run across inappropriate content in a search so we talk about the best thing to do if that happens as well. We also talk about what they can share or tell in person or online as well as how we treat others.  Some parents have written contracts with these expectations. At https://thesmarttalk.org/ a parent and child can follow the steps on the page for creating a contract together with some conversation and bonding on the side. Of course, if those expectations aren’t followed, parents follow through with appropriate consequences including reduced privileges.
  4. Monitor:
    It is critical to keep an eye on what is happening. Our house rules ask our kids to use technology in the living room or dining area rather than bedrooms. We also set the expectation that any passwords for apps or devices need to be shared with a parent. As our children get older, they will likely have more freedom since they have been very trustworthy so far. For now we take a peek every so often just to be sure they are still doing ok and haven’t bumped into anything they can’t handle. Children need to understand that parents have the responsibility to keep children safe. Even though the child is trustworthy and makes good choices, others on the internet may not be appropriate, so good parenting requires supervision with the goal of keeping kids safe.

Happy clicking everyone!

Heather DeWit, Director of Childcare and Education Services

The Little Things

August 6, 2015

I have a story for you. This story is one shared with me by a co-worker about her visit to a newly arrived refugee family.

Back in January, she had gone to meet a family that had just arrived the night before. During her visit, one of the children pulled out a toy: a small duck puppet. By the way the other children looked at the toy, it quickly became evident that this small duck was their only toy. Seven children, who ranged in age from two to fourteen, owned a single toy.

As she played with the younger kids and the puppet, their laughter and curious eyes touched her. A life spent in a refugee camp is rarely filled with happy memories and yet, even after forty hours of constant traveling and encountering strange and new things, they were happy. This one, little thing made them happy.

Photo courtesy of Michael Dales

Photo courtesy of Michael Dales

She then made it a priority to get the children more toys. She took four of the younger kids and headed to pick out toys that the wonderful people of First Christian Church had donated for children just like these. All of the children’s eyes doubled in size as three small Rubbermaid tubs were pulled out and they were advised to pick out two or three toys for themselves and for their toddler brother. They had never seen so many toys in one place before.

As they began to leave, the ten year old daughter abruptly stopped, and ran back to the woman who helped them get the toys and joyously said, “Mahatsanid, mahatsanid!” or “Thank you, thank you!” in her native language. Back in the van, the same daughter informed her in a little voice that these were the first toys, besides the duck puppet, she and her siblings had ever owned. She could see the delight in their eyes as they lovingly held their new toys.

I share this story now because it has helped me remember to the little things and to not get too wrapped up in life. My partner and I recently bought a new home and throughout the process he and I received a lot of advice on what we needed in the home (lots of bedrooms, new furniture, fancy appliances, etc.). After months of their advice, we started to get swept up with all the talk too. We started talking about needing new furniture and upgrading appliances though everything we have is perfectly fine. Luckily, we flashed back to reality (seeing the numbers on a mortgage loan can do that to you) and remembered that we didn’t need those things; we just wanted them. We had our little duck puppet—we had each other, our floppy dog, and a beautiful new home—that made us happy. The rest would have been extra.

Image courtesy of suphakit73 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of suphakit73 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting things: the new pair of shoes for school, the tablet to play games on, the new couch that would look amazing in your new living room! But there comes a time when we get caught up, stop saying “we want” and start saying “we need”.  And hopefully in those moments, you can remember the little duck puppet too. And if you want tips on managing the wants vs. the needs, check out these tips from the Center for Financial Resources.




Written by: Kristyne Walth, Volunteer Coordinator, Center for New Americans

Financial Fitness Is No Mickey Mouse Subject

March 19, 2015

My family and I just got back from a trip to that magical mecca of all things entertainment and marketing – Disney World. I have to say, it was a great trip and Disney really does a great job of making sure everything is taken care of for you. Not only are the bathrooms clean (a big deal in our family), but we didn’t even have to wait at the airport for our bags. They just magically showed up in our room. The kids had fun. I ate a lot. It was all good. Although I do have to admit that there was one point where my mood nearly broke, changing me to a raging, lecturing know-it-all. Read the rest of this entry »

Becoming A Trump

February 20, 2015

This week I watched the season finale of The Celebrity Apprentice (to be more correct, my wife was watching it and I happened to be around). In case you missed it, a large portion of the show was Donald Trump himself seated at the middle of a large boardroom table. On either side of The Donald were Donald Jr. and Ivanka, his kids. The Donald’s younger son Eric was in the crowd as well.

It was like watching a little Trump family reunion. You knew exactly who was a Trump. Not only do they all look alike, but they all looked like a million bucks. Probably rightfully so since each is worth well more than that. Having a professional athlete and model for a mother probably doesn’t hurt either. Read the rest of this entry »

Can Christmas be Stressful for Kids?

December 23, 2014

As I tucked my daughter in her bed last night, she was a little weepy. As an education professional devoted to happy, healthy, and educated kids I probably should have figured things out right away. But as a mom, I was just hoping to get her tucked into bed so she wouldn’t be tired in the morning. However, after a few moments I realized that my sweetie may have been experiencing a kid-sized dose of holiday stress.

Kids are not immune to the stress that the Christmas season can sometimes bring. They take cues from the adults around them and some of us may be stretched pretty thin in December. Also, kids thrive on routine. All of the things that break up the usual schedule may be extremely fun but they are still a move away from the comfort of familiarity. Often these changes in schedule involve late nights, skipped naps, changed meal times and very little alone time. From infant to adult, the Christmas season is one that can bring challenges.

Other kids may not show stress in the same way that my daughter did. My youngest tends to act out or whine when stressed. Other kids may mention a tummy ache or lose their appetite. Some kids have an easy tell like nail biting or fidgeting when stressed. It is important to slow down enough to notice the cues that our kids are sending.

For my daughter, the stress came from not knowing what to expect. She knew we had some fun plans for the next few days but didn’t know what would happen and when. We spent some time talking about Christmas gatherings and which family members would be at each event. We talked about what we would eat and even what time we would go to Christmas Eve service at church. That did the trick for her! She was quickly ready for visions of sugarplums to dance through that thought filled head of hers.

Some other strategies to prevent or reduce stress for kids include: ensuring that kids are eating pretty well, following routines when possible, being aware of your own stress, finding moments for the family to rest and of course talking about what your child is feeling. Learn what helps your child unwind and remind them to do it. A hot shower, listening to music, drawing or coloring, petting the cat, for example. My youngest doesn’t seem to be the least bit stressed about upcoming changes in routine or wondering what will happen but I can almost guarantee that by December 26 she will need a few moments alone to curl up with a good book!

Take care of yourself. Take care of your kids. Enjoy Christmas. I’ll be spending it with two happy girls (most of the time) and many other family members, remembering the true reason that we celebrate Christmas. I wish you and yours the merriest of Christmases.

-Heather DeWit, Director of Childcare and Education Services

do nothing

Financial Lessons in the Dirt

November 18, 2014

Our family eats a lot of popcorn and as is tradition in my wife’s family, popcorn is made in a pot on the stove. No microwave popcorn here. As we took that tradition into our family, I decided to add a little influence from my side by growing our own popcorn. The garden was already there. We just needed to plant the seeds and let it grow.

We are a little particular about our popcorn, so we did order packets of yellow popcorn seed from one of the catalogs. Two packets cost us a total of $20. I know it sounds like a lot for corn seeds, but it’s what we like. I just finished processing our popcorn crop for this year. All cleaned, dried, and bagged, we ended up with 65 pounds of popcorn. That should be enough for us and my in-laws for the coming year. Read the rest of this entry »

Back To School With A Full(er) Wallet

July 30, 2014

I always dreaded this time of year when I was a kid. The summer seasonal products in the stores would disappear to be replaced by those dreaded items. The very mention of it would strike fear in my heart and put me into a funk for days. There was no getting away from it, but I sure didn’t want to admit that the time had come yet again. I was enjoying my freedom way too much for them to take it away yet again. Alas, there was simply no way to avoid it – BACK-TO-SCHOOL season. Read the rest of this entry »

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