I attend training and community events to stay current on the scientific and clinical discoveries that help us to respond well to the stresses of cyber-connectivity and the mental and emotional impact social media has on youth and family relationships.

Last Thursday I attended a training on how post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorder are adversely related. The lecture was delivered at Sierra Vista Hospital in Sacramento, by Christine Curtis, PysD, Executive Clinical Director at Akua Mind & Body Treatment Center. A main theme of her talk is the importance of helping people who suffer with trauma and addiction to find a safe place where they can unpack the issues underlying the disease and then rediscover their own power to heal.

Well, my personal experience, fieldwork and research has shown me that home is not necessarily perceived by youth as a safe place. And if youth do not feel secure to talk about the things they are experiencing on and offline that inspire shame, or deal with the consequences of their decisions, such as use of drugs and alcohol and sexting, the chances of addiction and prolonged suffering are greater. This feature is to help parents become aware of how they make home to be perceived as a safe place where youth can feel secure in talking about their life experiences that inspire shame, guilt and anxiety. And then parents can impart wisdom.

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So let’s start with the typical things parents do without realizing that are actually hostile signals inspiring youth to keep secrets that harbor risk.  Below are some of the things that make children feel insecure.

Casting blame.  If your child is getting into trouble, not doing well in school, or is being bullied, the least helpful thing you can do is blame others involved, or find somebody to be the scapegoat – such as the teacher or the principal, or the other parents involved.

Blaming is a strategy that belongs to the mindset of a victim and victims are powerless. The message behind blaming is “everyone else has power over me and or my circumstances”. Often blaming can be used as an excuse for behaving badly. For example, when a mother minimizes her child’s contribution to cyberbullying as “he [the victim] started it,” “[my child was] only calling him names,” and “the other kids started it,” the signal it sends to the child is that he or she is not responsible for their own behavior. The thought behind blaming is that your child is simply a product of what their peers are doing. Where is the hope in that thought?

Holding yourself and others accountable, by calling out the unacceptable behavior without condemning the person or people involved, that is empowerment. When you seek to correct a behavior, circumstance or change a dynamic without condemning the person, it is possible to get the people involved to become a part of the solution and make changes for the better.

Situations where parents cast blame:

  • My child’s poor grades are the result of a poor teacher, bad principal or poorly run school district.
  • My child uses drugs and alcohol because his friends are doing it and it is easy to acquire.
  • Social media apps make it impossible for my child to refrain from engaging in sexual promiscuity or watching internet porn.
  • My child is being bullied because other parents and teachers look the other way.

Worry.  Worrying is not caring, although we are often conditioned to think of it as caring. Worrying is a product of fear and anxiety which makes those around you feel insecure and shuts down communication. It is ruminating on the negative possibilities coming out of a situation or a circumstance. Worrying signals to your child that you do not have confidence in yourself as a parent to teach them well, and in your child to learn how to make good decisions in response to stress, and learn from their mistakes. The other thing worrying does is inspire youth to keep secrets about risky situations and circumstances, because they do not want to make parents worry.

Forbidding/Zero tolerance. When a child is forbidden from doing something or being with someone, this thought presumes that you have no confidence in your child to make good choices based upon your family values, and to learn from the consequences of their choices.  In some cases it inspires rebellion, and most definitely zero tolerance encourages youth to keep risky situations and choices a secret because of fear of reprisal. The lesson the children learn is that the crime is to get caught.

Instead, express your expectations for your child to make good decisions according to your family values, and your confidence in them. And then offer yourself as their guide if they have issues or get into trouble. At the same time, have consequences established if your child violates your house rules, and when you enforce the consequences do not do it with an angry heart. For example, you expect your child to refrain from using drugs and alcohol. If they are caught, then the consequence is perhaps a loss of privilege to go out with friends and access to the car for a period of time. More importantly, the consequence should ideally involve both of you exploring the motivation to use drugs and alcohol. Consider signing up for drug counseling (which is something you can do together) and an assessment of your child to affirm that the use of drugs and/or alcohol has not become a habit and well kept secret. Then it is possible to introduce treatment to prevent addiction. Some good resources for substance abuse prevention and drug counseling are: Raising Placer and Recovery Happens

Give your family a fresh start

In this crazy, topsy-turvy, anything goes cyber-powered world, youth need to learn how to discover their internal power to respond to the stresses of online living. Whomever has the device needs to learn to think like the quarterback. Below are the three main ways parents can teach youth to be secure:

  • Create a family culture that holds parents and youth accountable without condemnation, (i.e., no blaming).
  • Clarify your family values around the qualities of a trustworthy person, and expect your child to demonstrate those qualities on and offline.
  • Create a short set of house rules that inspire open communication about what is happening on and offline.

To learn more go to Fresh Start.

To learn more about the power of parents to impart wisdom to children of any age, go to: The Role of a Parent in Healing a Suffering Child: Insights about the power of love and suffering in the family

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About:  We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device. To that end, ten percent of all proceeds are donated to prison ministries. Your donations are greatly appreciated. (Donations are payable to Banana Moments Foundation).

Joanna Jullien, Founder & CEO of Core Connectivity
Photo by: Victoria Hatch

Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.