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Ask Amanda: PokémonGo

Dear Amanda,

I have two children: a girl in middle school and a boy in high school. They have become obsessed with the PokémonGo app. It has been all over the news about thieves using it to lure kids to areas and robbing them. I feel that I should make them delete the app. What should I do?


A very timely question! For those that aren’t aware, Pokémon is a video game created by Nintendo for their handheld device, the Gameboy. It was first released in 1996 in Japan and has become a worldwide phenomenon spawning multiple movies, TV shows, trading cards, etc. There have been various editions of the game over the last 20 years. Many of our kids have grown up with the figures as a part of their pop culture.

In a nutshell, the game involves the player traveling around trying to capture Pokémon (pocket monsters) that run wild in the world using a special device called a Poké ball. There are hundreds of different breeds of Pokémon with varying levels of power. For more info about the game, click here.

Until now, the game has bpokemon-header2een played on Nintendo platforms with some sharing via Wi-Fi between players. For the first time, the game can be played on your cell phone with a free app called PokémonGo. It is a “live” version of the platform game, only the world isn’t imaginary anymore. The app uses GPS to pinpoint exact locations of your child/teen and generates content for them to interact with. The game was designed to get kids out and walking in the fresh air. Features of the game include “eggs” that hatch after walking so many kilometers, accessories/upgrades you can find and notifications for wild Pokémon in your area. In order to catch the wild Pokémon, players need to track and sometimes even run to get it. Quite ingenious!

One tool that can be purchased or earned is called “lure.” This allows a player to attract Pokémon to a particular location. This is helpful if you are trying to capture a rare breed or several Pokémon in a small area. A side effect is that it also attracts other players to you. This is what is getting the publicity as, yes, those with negative purposes could use this feature to lure unsuspecting kids (and adults) to locations that are not well lit, vacant or off the beaten path. Note: At this time, the GPS feature only shows you where items or Pokémon in the game are. It does not show you the location of other players.

So back to your question….should you make them delete the app? Ultimately, that is your decision as a parent, but this is the approach I would take (and did!).

First, learn a little about the game. It’s actually a lot of fun…sort of a combination of a treasure hunt and geocaching. It’s a great way to get a child or teenager (or adult!) out of the house and exploring their Community. I spent this weekend taking my child to a few local sites that were considered “hot spots,” meaning there were many Pokémon or accessories in the area. We were at a local university, a cemetery (lots of cemeteries are on the map), a local park and a church. All were good locations for kids to go out and walk. One friend actually downloaded the app along with her child and they are playing together while exploring their city.

That being said, it is also an excellent opportunity to talk with your child about the location feature on their device. Do they know what a GPS is? Do they know how to change the location and privacy settings? Do they know their Community and what areas may be unsafe? Do they go with a group and have a plan in case they encounter a stranger? Are certain locations off limits depending on the time of day?

This is also a good opportunity to have follow-up discussions about what they are posting on social media sites and review those privacy settings, especially regarding their location. Here is a great article about Pokémon and concerns over data collection and privacy. These concerns hold true for a lot of other apps on the market as well, so you really have to make sure your settings are at a level you feel comfortable with.

Speaking of social media, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Tumblr all have big followings based on this new game. Fun fact: In the five days it’s been on the market, PokémonGo has been downloaded more that the social media app, Tinder and is set to overtake Twitter as well. Click here to read more.

If you are concerned, then it’s time to make a different decision and/or seek out help. As with all social media, we want our kids to use the technology in a safe manner. So talk and connect….it is all about the open conversation.

amanda-new

Amanda Cooper, LCSW

Ask Amanda: Self-Esteem

Question:

“Dear Amanda,

I have a teenage daughter who is on social media. I worry about her self-esteem and her comparing herself to other girls on social media. How do I help her develop strong self-esteem in this social media visually driven world we are immersed in?”


Great question! Worrying about our daughter’s self esteem, especially in regards to body image and media, has been around for a long time. For decades, women have been used in print and television media to sell and promote various items and goods. They have been touched up, airbrushed and Photoshopped for years. Social media has certainly taken its place as the primary vehicle for teens to get information and feedback.

First of all, continue to do the good things that parents do to instill good self-esteem:
– Praise accomplishments
– Do things as a family
– Help your daughter build sets of skills and ways to express herself
– Encourage sports teams or other group based activities (band, theater, etc.).

Next, watch how you, as her parents, interact with her:

Moms
– Don’t criticize your own body in front of her, i.e.“Doesn’t my butt look big in these jeans?”

– Don’t wear her clothes. Allow her to develop her own sense of style and image.

Dads
– Teach her to be self sufficient and allow her to learn the same skills that you would a son: change a tire, drive, mow the lawn, play ball, learn sports, etc.

– Remember, that one-on-one time with a father is important!

Food
– Don’t talk about food as “good” or “bad.” Talk about balance and what helps to keep our bodies healthy.

Social Media
– Have a conversation about what your daughter is seeing. If she’s watching the Kardashians on television, talk with her about what she is thinking. Help her to develop a critical lens to translate and decode what is the message behind the ad or show.

– Talk with her about what she is seeing on Instagram, Snapchat and Tumblr. Discuss what hashtags her cyberpeers are using with selfies and photos. If you want more information about hashtags, contact Shape the Sky and request our hashtag guide.

– Review your daughter’s social media activities and discuss how to post a positive “brand” about herself.

– Research blogs about celebrities who stood up when their image was sabotaged by Photoshop and how they advocated for an accurate betrayal. Click here for an example of a great blog on the topic.

Warning Signs
If you continue to be concerned or notice your daughter becoming withdrawn, overly negative or changing her sleep, weight or eating habits, contact a professional. An assessment with a good therapist can give her support to get through a difficult time as well as screen for anything that may need further intervention.

As always, keep the conversation going. We can’t help them travel the path if they don’t have a map and a guide.

amanda-new

Amanda Cooper, LCSW

Ask Amanda: Technology Addiction

Question:

“I’m working with parents that are struggling with their kids’ behavioral outbursts when they take away their device. It’s almost like they have an addiction to their phone or tablet. I’ve heard of internet addiction, but is there device addiction?”
_______________________________________________________________________

This is a very good question and one that comes up often in discussions with parents and professionals.  For the most part, the object of dependence tends to be the cell phone. If you need a demonstration, all you need to do is go to the mall and try to walk without colliding with a teen whose eyes are turned downward to a device.

First, let’s start with the definition of addiction.  According to Merriam-Webster, addiction is defined as:

  • A strong and harmful need to regularly have something (such as a drug) or do something (such as gamble).
  • An unusually great interest in something or a need to do or have something.

If we use the first definition, I think we need to focus of the word “harmful.”  What would be harmful for a child with a device?  Clearly using a smart phone while driving is potentially harmful, but is all usage harmful?  As adults, we use smart phones and devices as tools in our work.  They help to organize our schedules, set reminders for appointments, check bank balances, take photos…there are dozens of positive usages for devices.

For many teens, they also use their devices for good.  I know in my daughter’s high school, many teachers encourage the usage of their devices for sending reminder texts about tests and homework, cancelling after school activities and even to do research in class when the teacher could not secure the cart of laptops.  In her personal life, there is the app that helped her to study for her drivers permit exam, records her practice lessons for her instrument and allows her to connect with colleges via her email.

In my world, I think of addiction as something that interferes and impacts one’s ability to carry on the activities of daily life.  So, having a glass of wine, not addiction.  Drinking every night and being unable to go to work or care for children, becomes harmful and thus, an addiction.

In the world of devices, I encourage parents to think about which patterns get in the way of positive usage.  For example, no one in my family has their smart phone in their bedroom.  Sleep is crucial for success so removing them to charge downstairs is a way to put a routine in place that encourages healthy device usage.  Parents have many controls that they can add to a child’s device, depending of age, to help guide positive usage.  Parents can control what time of day texts are permitted and phone calls.  For example, you can allow only messages from designated people during the school day and after 10:00 PM.

During meals, everyone puts their cell phone on the table and no one touches it until the end of the meal.  I can clearly see if I have an emergency call on the screen, but usually they stay quiet and we enjoy a family meal.  For other ideas, here is a link.

The best way to help address device overuse is to develop a contract with your child BEFORE they are given a device.  In the contract, you can outline time limits, time lengths, restrictions, in app purchases etc.  Then the standard is set and rewards for positive use as well as consequences for inappropriate use are already on the table

Is there the potential for a teen to become addicted to a device? YES!  If you are worried if your child is addicted to a device, it is important to seek professional help. Some behaviors that could be of concern: not sleeping due to being on the device, change or decrease in friends, decrease in other age appropriate activities (sports, clubs, job), lower grades, etc. Shape the Sky has begun training agencies and therapists who we recommend and we know have the knowledge to help.

Ultimately, it is our responsibility as adults to teach our children good habits so that their devices are tools to assist them (and us) in this busy world.  We need to create and continue a dialogue with them and help them to develop other interpersonal skills so that they grow to be successful young adults.

amanda-new

Amanda Cooper, LCSW

Facebook “Dislike” Button Update

As we thought, Facebook has made a decision about the “Dislike’ button. Rather than one button, Facebook is planning on launching a group of “Reaction” emojis which will express “love”, “haha”, “wow”, ”yay”, “sad” and “angry”. These emojis will have motion much like a gif.

emoji

Currently, they will pilot the new buttons in Spain and Ireland. After data is collected, then plan will be to release more globally. For a video of how it will be used and additional information, click here.

As with all changes, keeping up to date and talking with our kids about usage will continue to be important. The potential for “laughing” at something serious or being “angry” about something positive still exist. But the choice to show an empathetic response is certainly needed in today’s world. I look forward to the roll out in the U.S.

Amanda Cooper, LCSW

 

Facebook’s “Dislike” Button

In the last week, there has been a lot of talk about Mark Zuckerberg creating a new button to allow users to express “dislike”. This request has been going on for several years as users would like to show empathy for a FB friend who may be going thru something that is negative in their lives. As a clinician, my natural assumption, given the prevalence of cyberbullying, is that it could turn into another weapon in the cyber arsenal of those who wish to bully a peer.  Because we live in a world where we look for validation – we want to know that we are liked and that people are interested in what we have to say. A dislike button could add fuel to the fire and further the need for digital validation. After talking with my in-house expert, my daughter, who is a high school senior about this, her comment was, “That’s a horrible idea. All it will do is create more hate!”   As I contemplate this, I agree with her. From her perspective, a “Dislike” button will just allow peers to give a negative comment to each other and continue the issue of on-line bullying. Imagine a teen posting a new relationship status and a group of “friends” click on “Dislike” or posting a college acceptance letter, a prom photo, new pet and having a group of negative responses. This could have social and emotional consequences for youth. I then decided to challenge her. “How do you “like” a friend’s post that mentions that their grandmother died?” Her response was that she would post an emoticon showing a sad face or tears. Interesting.

So, let’s think about the flip side, why would Facebook create a button that could potentially be used for negative purposes? You could argue that having friends commiserate and offer support by “disliking” a post can feel therapeutic in the same way that venting about a tough day over a latte or a walk with a friend. And for those doing the “disliking”, it is known that expressing, rather than avoiding, negative emotions can prove helpful to well-being.  Also, if a teen posts an inappropriate comment and receives 89 “dislikes,” would this be feedback to the teen to recognize that the post was negative and allow the teen to edit or delete the post and learn from the experience? Interpretation of words without facial expressions, voice tone and other non verbal cues is difficult in this media world. This could allow for a discussion about sarcasm and “meaning what you say and saying what you mean.” Especially when it is posted for the world to see.

So where does that leave us? As with most apps and platforms, it’s how we use it and teach and monitor how our children use it. Zuckerberg has been quoted to say that “we didn’t want to build a “dislike” button because we didn’t want to turn Facebook into a forum where people are voting up or down on people’s posts.” Click here to read the full article.

The intention is for people to be able to express sympathy or support for personal or world issues that are around us. The company has not determined what the button will actually be labeled or what graphic will be used we will keep you posted. More importantly, this is a time to have a conversation with our kids about how to show support, both online and in the real world.

Amanda Cooper, LCSW