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Have a Merry Techy Christmas

Not long ago I met Jessie, a mother who spoke to me about how technology changed her life as a parent. She jokingly told me that what the Rubik’s cube was to her generation, the internet is to today’s. We are all aware of the great challenges technology presents, but for today I wish to focus on the advantages and opportunities that previous generations dreamt of having. The internet, for one thing, has resulted in an incredible amount of information. Do you have a question about breastfeeding, or how to discipline your child or how much time your child should spend on the tablet? Just Google it! With a bit of skill and experience most users can tread through the overload of information and hand pick something useful. Technology can also be a unique tool that brings families together. I will never forget when our family bought the Wii-Fit a few years ago. The number of hours we spent together in front of this game joking, laughing and having fun was unforgettable. The next few weeks leading up to Christmas can be a demanding time for parents due to the amount of parties and events your child is invited to. Not to mention the family events, buying presents, catching up with friends and so on. As tablets, iPads, smart phones and other fancy presents are wrapped in time for Christmas, it could be easy to lose sight of what, in my view, should be at the centre of this holiday – family. The message that often is given by ibrowsesafely is to spend time with your children, in particular... read more

Swap Screen Time for Family Time this Christmas

Are you worried about getting your kids an electronic device this Christmas because you fear they will spend the entire holidays glued to the screen?   As the holiday season draws near, the dilemma of whether to buy technology for your child, or not becomes more difficult. On the one hand you wish to please your children’s wishes but on the other hand you are worried that this will induce passivity and they will glue themselves to the screen for the entire duration of the holidays. The festive season is often associated with family time. Children are off school, parents are on shutdown, or annual leave, either way this creates a perfect opportunity to maximize family quality time, that, of course, you don’t wish to be hijacked by the device that you have just bought for them. Here are a few tips to balance the amount of time that your children spend using technology and spending that well deserved family quality time. Set an example. We sometimes find it extremely challenging to take a technological break. Whilst we continually nag our children to stop playing on their gaming consoles, or tablets, we too find it challenging to ignore that phone call, or that important work email and even more, Facebook. As parents we are looked upon as role models. Children will often mimic our gestures, the way we speak and anything that we do. Set an example and take a technological break over the holidays you will notice that your child will be more responsive to your interaction. Spend time together. Make the most of the Christmas holidays by... read more

Cyberbullying: How to recognise and deal with the signs

I would like to share John’s story – a 12 year old boy who comes across as confident and rather popular with friends. John was upset because his friends took a photo of him (without his knowledge) in a funny pose and posted it on Instagram. They then tagged him so everyone he knew could see it. He found this very hurtful. Just a few days earlier, these same friends treated him like he was special and a part of their ‘inner sanctum’. This blowing hot and cold is all part of the bullying cycle of abuse and John was well and truly roped into it. It had a detrimental effect on John’s self-esteem. This reminded me of the bullying behaviour I and others faced back in our secondary school years. The dynamics around cyberbullying are very similar to that of real life bullying we faced as children. However, online bullying is more challenged because life on social media does not stop when the bell rings and children make their way back home. When I was John’s age, I could feel safe, away from the bully when not at school and the friendships I built outside school gave me the strength to face the bully at school. John’s bullies follow him home on social media and this is a concept that people of my generation (or older) did not experience as children. Therefore, we need to develop a strong degree of empathy towards our children to try and understand the experiences they are going through when they engage with social media, which is a very important part of their... read more

The Weight of Technology – The Rise of iPad Neck

Headaches, pain between the shoulder blades, down the arms and through the fingers are symptoms that could indicate that your child may be too attached to their smart phone or tablet and may be suffering from iPad neck or iPad shoulder. Although in recent years we have become more aware of proper posture especially while using desktop computers in an effort to reduce and avoid computer related neck and back pain, the arrival of portable devices and therefore smaller screens has made ergonomic principles much more difficult to follow. Few can argue with the fact that our lives are now much easier because of portable technology, however this has definitely come at a cost. The use of smart phones and tablets encourages poor posture and upper back and neck strain. This is because our necks are forced into a forward position whilst looking down at the small screen.  Often these devices are used in awkward positions like slouching on the sofa or lying down in bed leading to further strain on the soft tissues in the back of the neck. Initially these awkward positions cause little more than discomfort which can easily be relieved by simply changing position or by a few simple stretches. However, prolonged incorrect posture will gradually lead to more severe issues which are not as easily relieved and often need some form of treatment. It is important to remember that we have one back that has to last a lifetime so here are some tips to help you and your children avoid neck and back pain because of technology. Be mobile and avoid staying stuck in the same... read more

The Worrying Realm of Gaming Addiction

Gaming addiction is on the rise, especially among adolescents. The difficulty in dealing with this growing concern is that adolescents suffering from such an affliction are often identified when the problem is already very complex and they have started missing school to feed their addiction. This highlights the important role parents play in preventing the problem from reaching the point of no return. Signs to look out for There are several warning signs of gaming addiction of which parents should be aware of. Adolescents with internet gaming disorder show classic signs of addiction, for instance: ·      they become preoccupied with gaming ·      they lie about their gaming use ·      they lose interest in other activities having been socially active in the past ·      they withdraw from friends and family ·      they have difficulty communicating with others ·      they use gaming as a means of procrastination or escaping difficult tasks ahead, like exams. How to help One way of helping adolescents escape the clutches of gaming addiction is to provide alternative venues of social connection organised specifically to address their social skills and communication competence. Internet-addicted adolescents need to feel that they are not alone in their situation. Bringing them together and coaching them through various social skills could help them develop friendships with peers who have similar interests. These young adults need a lot of support throughout the process since often they retreated to the online world following failed attempts at social interaction in real life. Gaming is often a form of escapism and therefore parents and professionals should consider the underlying issues that have pushed the adolescents in... read more

Emotion Coaching – the key to online safety and resilience in children

Keeping children safe online is no different from keeping them safe in everyday life. A strong emotional connection between children and parents is one of the building blocks to nurture resilience in children through emotion coaching and by fostering emotional intelligence to help keep them safe. Research has consistently indicated that children who are able to build a strong emotional connection with at least one parent and can communicate openly and honestly with them about difficulties have an inherent resilience when it comes to day to day life, including internet safety and use. This resilience is achieved through emotional intelligence* which refers to: an ability to identify and understand one’s own emotions successfully use emotions during social interactions use emotional awareness when solving problems keep distress from clouding one’s ability to think be in control of how and when feelings are expressed Emotional intelligence is essential as it allows your child awareness and control over what he or she does. It results in lower levels of stress which is associated with better health and enables more satisfying friendships and lasting relationships. Emotional intelligence also gives children better ability to calm themselves and concentrate when faced with challenging situations and makes change easier to deal with. It is distinct from intelligence, meaning that a child with low IQ and low educational achievement scores can have high emotional intelligence scores. Children who are emotionally intelligent will be less likely to communicate with strangers online or even to use the internet as frequently as they are more likely to be satisfied with their personal relationships and to be involved and positively engaged... read more

Cyber Safety – What parents should do…

As the internet continues to form an inherent part of our social fabric and children go online at ever younger ages, parents need to arm themselves with tools to help guide their offspring through this exciting, though potentially daunting cyber-world. Internet usage by children has substantially increased over the last five to six years. Furthermore, children are also going online when they are younger. MCA’s latest study ‘Children’s Internet Use and Parents’ Perceptions of Their Children’s Online Experience’, states 99’4% of children in primary and secondary schools have access to the internet and 78% of children look to their parents for information related to the internet. These facts underline the importance of parental support and guidance when using the internet. ibrowsesafely.com.mt’s 6 Golden Rules Below are the other steps parents can take to help their children be safe online. Keep an open diologue with your child Set up parenting controls Spend time with your child using the technology they use Agree boundaries and set rules Keep up to date with technology Pay attention to age ratings when choosing activities for your child In the tumultuous and every-changing cyberworld, parents can take action to try and support their children in navigating the wide and sometimes scary world of the internet. The amount of information and the speed at which trends reverse can be overwhelming, especially for parents brought up in a more technologically-bereft age. Parents can take back some measure of control by following a few easy steps. The foundation of all of these is keeping an open dialogue. Speaking to your child about their internet usage is the best... read more

Cyber safety

Today the Internet has become part of our lives. It has also created a few new words – when we want to know about something, we say “google it”……20 years ago it meant nothing. For the younger kids it is part of life and cannot even imagine life without it. Unfortunately the Internet has also a dark side. Nobody “owns” it which means that anybody can put just about anything and although sites like Youtube or Facebook will remove inappropriate or offensive content, it can be found elsewhere. This availability causes problems when children surf the web. What makes this particularly difficult to control is that often very innocuous looking links take the user to very non-innocous places…. If your children use your computer, set up user accounts for each of them (and one for you). You can put individual programs on each account – for example children would need a web browser but little else, and web browsers usually have security settings plus Windows itself has security settings – Control panel>Internet Options – I am talking about Windows but I imagine other operating systems have similar settings. Then there is software like Net Nanny (http://www.netnanny.com/) that controls and filters whatever you do and much more. Another area to watch out is a favorite:Facebook. Today almost everybody uses it, especially young people. Unfortunately it’s popularity also makes it an ideal place for dodgy activity. People tend to give too much details about themselves – apart from name they give adress, school, interests, hobbies and much more. Gathering all this data, one can make a pretty good profile of the... read more

Where’s the pen and paper?

The other day I was chatting casually to a priest when the subject turned to issues to do with the internet.  I enquired as to how in his view and experience the internet was affecting marriage and was intrigued by his answers.  Today, couples are using social media to resolve their issues.  Emails to sort out their problems and social media to externalise them or ‘cover’ them up.  Seeking refuge in such a public space can no doubt lead to many a misunderstanding and further complications.  Not to mention the added complication of comment boards from people who are close and not so close. The truth is that ICT has changed every aspect of our lives.  Marriage and relationships are one such aspect.  Smart phones and social media applications have made it easier to communicate. Gone are the days when our children’s budding romance had to wait for the weekend or that lone telephone call – today its full on social media.  Photos on Instagram, messages that are the subject of various comments, facebook posts and whatsapp messages.  We are truly spoilt for choice when it comes to means of communication today.  It has become so second nature that we feel almost lost without our phones or internet connection. The speed of communications has ironically hindered traditional communications.  Only recently I wanted to thank one of our excellent consultants for the great job he did on a family member.  I sat down and wrote a letter and got the children to do the same.  I have always valued written letters and thought this small gesture will be appreciated.  Indeed... read more

Connecting in Cyberspace

“Are you a bot?” Something inside of me never ceases to wonder in amazement at what lies behind this question that often – too often – frames the opening salvo of a conversation with Kellimni.com*. Our teenagers want to connect. They loath what is false or artificial but desperately crave for connections that are real, significant and genuine: qualities that make a relationship deeply human. This need to connect drives them to reach out continuously, lest they end up alone. For nothing is as scary, or as hurtful, to the average teen as loneliness. Being left out is unbearable at an age when they are willing to do almost anything to be accepted by their peers and blend in. Enter Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram and Kik: instant gratification and connection are only two key clicks away. But hold on a second, how safe are they online? Who are they hanging out with in cyberspace? And, by the way, how in tune are caring adults with their world? Teenagers may have a rough time distinguishing the good guys from the bad in cyberspace. Superficiality does not impress them either, for it renders them cheap. They sometimes flirt with it but their sensitive nature often only tolerates it to an extent. And then they feel bad about themselves… Kellimni.com reaches out to all teens in these islands with a message rich in humanity: real people, professionally trained to support the young, through a genuinely caring relationship that begins, and ends, online…  a relationship where the young can feel free and remain anonymous if they wish, and where what they share is respected and... read more

I can never get that moment back

I remember a time when it was common to use siblings as messengers. This was nothing new to me. Some older girls at my school would quietly give me little notes, safely secured with sticky tape, to pass on to my brother. As soon as I hit my teenage years, I did the exact same thing and found someone else’s sibling to act as a messenger. Being in a conservative girls school, we would hide the letters in the sleeves of our cardigans in fear of the nuns finding out that we were sending letters to ‘boys’. It was all part of the excitement. I also remember sprinting to the phone, before anyone else in the family answered, just in case a ‘boyfriend’ called. Going out at the weekend meant that we didn’t know whether we would meet our crush. It was hard to forget the butterflies and the excitement that we felt if a person we fancied happened to be at the same venue. Like any teenager, I have no doubt that we acted foolishly and frivolously in the presence of a person that we liked. It was a different time and the passage of time is inevitable. The difference today is that, unlike my teenage years, most teenagers have an internet-enabled phone in their pocket. Our first flirtations may have ranged from a little note or a secret Valentine card. But without access to smartphones or the web, our romantic gestures, however embarrassing, were rarely seen by anyone else.  At most, the notes would be stored in a little shoebox. Unlike physical cards or photos, the Internet never forgets and, once... read more

Is social media too much for parents to handle?

My father used to say ‘children should be seen but not heard’. We grew up hearing this phrase in our family and I had no doubt he picked it up from his parents as my grandparents were of the same mindset. One look was enough for them to discipline us. That’s all it took. Times have changed and our views on parenting have also changed. The sooner our children talk the better. We are constantly comparing our children’s skills and abilities and equating it with intelligence. We have become slightly obsessed with our children and they way they look and how they act. We always think we know best. We seem to think we can determine everything from their friends, to their teachers to how they behave. The days of ‘your teacher is always right’ is rare if non-existent. For some reason we have developed an inherent belief that our children are flawless. We fear that their behaviour will be judged and we will be to blame. It often seems to me that we are always too quick to justify our children’s behaviour rather than disciplining them. My mother often justified her strict discipline by saying ‘you’ll thank me for this one day … one day you’ll have children of your own and you’ll understand me’. I never quite understood her until today when I often wished there was a handbook for raising children detailing steps one should take in each situation. The truth is there isn’t and many of us can only use our upbringing and instinct to guide us. A guide book will tell you how to... read more

Satisfying your curiosity correctly!

It is dreadfully difficult to battle the temptation to spy on your children when they have left their laptop or computer on. You persuade yourself that no possible harm could come from glancing, ever so quickly, into the cyber world of your youngsters. Maybe you have done it, and not felt guilty about it. A little bewildered maybe, but not guilty… Parents generally know where their kids are each day, and what they plan to do. However, when it comes to their children’s “online lives”, parents have been reduced to the role of spectator. Technology today has a big part to do with the life of a youngster. It influences their education, social life and friendships, yet parents still cannot regulate what their children are doing online. Society has a drinking age and a driving age, but there’s no concrete insight on the age children can safely go online unaccompanied, or communicate to a friend via mobile phone. So, what about the role of parents? Should tabs be kept on their children? Nowadays, children are heard laughing over a video on youtube or are just using the Internet to discover a treasure trove of knowledge. Gone are the days were children would ask their mother’s to help out with a history project or use an encyclopedia to retrieve information. Mothers also used to overhear their children’s phone conversations with their friends, however, for today’s children, so much communicating goes on silently, via e-mails, social networks and text messages, which is all out of parent’s range. Parents’ want and need to know what their children are up to, and up... read more

Have we forgotten our teenage years? by Mikela Fenech Pace

Our instant chats were notes we would exchange at school – I recently found a few and discovered the pains of my teenage years, horrified at how my judgement see-sawed from day to day and what complexes plagued me during my final school years. Not to mention my diary which I have promised my kids I will allow them to read when they are older. The truth is our children are no different to us growing up. The only difference is that their means to communicate has changed. The stuff they write about is the same, their attitudes similar and their craving for being accepted a fact of life. Whilst in many ways easier today, the downside is one very simple notion – What goes online stays online forever. Whilst us parents have the wisdom of knowing this and thus measure our words online, our children are freer and often do not have the capacity to weigh the long-term consequences. Flicking through the notes I used to write to my friends and their responses it would indeed be difficult to imagine them being there online. They represent a girl I was but do not recognise. In many ways I feel quite sad as to the difficulties I must have had dealing with myself, my siblings, my parents and my peers, yet happy to know that it is a phase all children have to go through. We often forget how difficult teenage years are. Inherently they represent the in-between phase between childhood and adulthood. It’s a time for self-discovery and adventure. It is also a rough emotional time and a... read more

Electronic devices: the back-breaking facts-by Physiotherapist Carolyn Cassano

Gone are the days when kids spend their free time playing hopscotch and catch or kicking a ball in the garden. The new generation of youngsters have become increasingly reliant on smartphones, tablets and computers for a lot of their entertainment. The fact that kids are spending prolonged periods of time hunched over their electronic devices means that they are developing a forward head posture, which health professionals are referring to as ‘iposture syndrome’. If the head shifts in front of the shoulders, as is happening with this posture, the weight of the head increases, and the muscles of the upper back and neck need to work much harder to support it, leading to pain and muscle strain . This is a relatively new complaint and as a result young kids are presenting with physical injuries usually seen in adults. Kids as young as 5 are developing chronic neck and back pain and early signs of spine curvature from hunching over their gadgets. Osteopathy Australia‘s Dr Nahla Khraim has been in practice for 23 years and is seeing more and more parents bring in children for treatment. “Over the past five years children as young as three and four are coming to clinics with postural problems or back pain. It used to be when they were teenagers,” she says. “It’s difficult not to make a connection between smartphone development and the younger age of kids coming in with postural problems.” In children, the musculoskeletal system is still developing, and so pain related to computer usage can have serious consequences. Many kids sit in awkward positions whist using their gadgets, such... read more

5 ways of using technology to stimulate speech & language development- by Veronica Montanaro

‘There’s an app for that’……Anyone who knows me would have heard me use that phrase at some point or other. It crops up in conversations about baking, teaching, work or about life in general. Having studied the way young children learn how to use an iPad, I am not surprised that I am associated with touch-screen technology. It is very common for people look in my direction when they say the words tablet, touch screen or app. I am often greeted with ‘I found a really good app…..’. There is no doubt that I am passionate about the potential that technology has for children to learn the colours, vocabulary, puzzles, animal sounds, alphabet and songs. There are over 650,000 educational applications available on the iTunes store with thousands of apps are added each week. However, one of my great concerns is that a child is given a tablet, with one of these great applications, and he or she sits alone with no interaction, other than with the machine itself. As a speech and language pathologist I am particularly interested in children’s speech and language development. So here are a few tips that you can use to help your child’s speech and language development when using tablets. Turn taking is the root of communication. Turn taking is in everything we do and say. Any app can be shared in this manner. “It’s your turn. It’s my turn.”  Some children are possessive over the tablet and do not want to share their screen time with anyone. Using this approach will teach your child that you are not going to take the tablet away from them... read more

On Facebook you are giving yourself away completely

I didn’t come up with the title for this article. Nor is it quoted from some expert on social media. The statement was made by a 13-year-old Maltese boy who took part in a study by EU Kids Online and the London School of Economics and Political Science, involving 9-16 year olds in nine European countries, including Malta. The results of the study “The meaning of online problematic situations for children”, which have just been published, sheds important light on how children perceive potential risks and negative experiences on internet and how they react to them. The study concludes that “Overall, the most common online problematic situation includes the sending of content that is violent, vulgar, or sexual. Other problematic situations include perpetrating, experiencing, and/or witnessing hateful, vulgar, or nasty messages. Although less covered in the risk literature, some involve being killed, cursed, excluded, and/or verbally assaulted in online games. Lastly, some include meeting online peers offline, sending “friend” requests or communicating with strangers not their own age.” Maltese children are aware of internet addiction but have no qualms in accessing illegal content and downloading illegal games, software, videos and music as they don’t see any harm in it. The role of the mass media in reporting stories about dangers and the consequences of negative experiences online is revealed quite clearly as children tend to get influenced by the media’s sensationalism in cases such as ‘stranger danger’ which they are less likely to experience. Prevention seems to be favoured more than support-seeking by the interviewed children, and girls are more likely to seek social support than boys. The study makes... read more

Stay safe, have fun, enjoy sport!

“I love playing football because it is fun”. This was one of the most popular responses children gave in a recent national survey conducted by The Football Association. The internet has become part of the social fabric and the way it is used can affect a child’s safety as well as the level of enjoyment the child gets out of sport. Take the example of John* a 13-year old boy with a proud father who wanted to further his son’s football career. In his determination for John to join a professional academy, the father used a social media website to promote his son to clubs and their scouting network. This may seem innocuous enough as it showcased John’s considerable talent through videos and photos. However, the information uploaded led to the child being groomed by an adult posing as a scout. As a result John was placed at risk of significant harm which had a direct impact on his ability to enjoy the beautiful game of football. Parents, coaches and children need a safe way of communicating. This ensures that not only are the rights of the child being safeguarded but also that the necessary messages are getting through. Having the ability to communicate effectively can improve players’ and parents’ sense of belonging to a particular club and can also enhance coaching techniques. Social media can also encourage team spirit but this is an area where additional parental supervision may be required. Children on the same team can form groups on social media websites to discuss games and build a positive sense of belonging. Adult monitoring is necessary to... read more