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Protecting your kids in the real world can be challenging enough. Protecting your kids online is a whole other matter, especially when it comes to social media sites. Yet when you consider that their safety is at stake –be it from hackers, predators, or would-be bullies – the stakes are too high for parents to turn their backs. That’s why we bring you our sixth and final episode in our Teen Health
podcast series, which focuses on how to keep your teen safe with social media. Senior Medical Director at Florida Blue, and mother of two young adults, Carmella Sebastian, M.D. is our expert on teen safety and social media. Check out he podcast below to listen on ways to protect them.
Whether you set online rules early on with your teens or know how to listen for details in their lives like Dr. Sebastian, we encourage you to talk today with your kids about being safe with social media. Their safety is worth it!
Be sure to listen to all six podcasts on Your Teen’s Health
for more ways to keep your teen healthy, engaged and ready for their exciting next steps in life! Find more ways to keep your entire family healthy and enjoying life at FloridaBlue.com.
The complete transcription of the podcast starts here:
[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to Florida Blue radio where we explore health care topics important to you. Whether you own a business, are a health care practitioner, or an individual interested in how health care is evolving, experts from across Florida Blue will keep you in the know.
In today's session, we begin our series on teen health with Florida Blue's Senior Medical Director, Doctor Carmella Sebastian. Doctor Sebastian will share information on the most common health issues concerning our teens, and empower parents with ways to talk to their teens about them. Our host is Kate Warnock, Social Business Strategist at Florida Blue. Now, here's Kate.
We're back today with Doctor Carmella Sebastian. Today we're going to continue our teen health series with a conversation that I think a lot of parents will be interested in, and that is your teen and social media. Our previous conversations touched on bullying, and one way that we know today's child is being bullied is through the use of social media, but it goes beyond that. What about your child who you fear might become addicted to social. So with that, let's hear from Doctor Sebastian, and what we can do to help keep our teens healthy with social media.
Well our parents really had it easy didn't they? They did not have to worry about any of this stuff. I remember my mother trying to pick up the telephone to listen in to my phone calls on the traditional telephone, and you almost couldn't do it because you'd hear the click on the other side, or else they just had to stand outside our bedroom door. Now it is very, very difficult to keep an eye on what's happening with your kids, and aside from bullying, and aside from them getting addicted there's predators out there.
And so it's a very, very dangerous situation. The vast majority of American teens are on Facebook, Instagram. It used to be Myspace. It changes about every year or so, and parents are worried about what their kids are doing there because there's no way, even if you're a stay at home mom or dad, you cannot be on top of what they're doing 24/7. It's very interesting to see how much social networking is part of the modern teenage lifestyle. Do you know 93% of teens ages 12 to 17 go online, and 69% of them have their own computers. So all of them are online, and most of them have their own computers.
And I bet most of those computers are in their bedroom behind a closed door.
That's exactly right. So one of the tips will be pull the computer out, and put it in a place where everyone can have access to it, and where you can see what's going on. Now the other thing that I think is such a funny story, personally for me, is when my 21-year-old was about 16 or 17 she came home, and she said, oh Miss, I'll change the name to Betty, Miss Betty is so stupid about social media. Now this is the parent of her best friend. And I said, why is Miss Betty so stupid? You know, just trying to get as much information as I can. Oh, well she told Mary that she couldn't use the computer, and couldn't be talking with people on the computer, and took it away. But she didn't realize that Mary could use her phone to get online. So what do you think I did? I immediately called Miss Betty and told her, they're gaming you. Hello.
So one of the things is that it's not only the computer. Now they use the smartphone, and they can get online from the smartphone. So incredibly, incredibly difficult to keep your eyes on it, and find out what's going on. Even more scary, 55% of teens have given out personal information to someone they don't know, including photos and physical descriptions. 55%. 29% of teens have posted mean embarrassing things, spreading rumors about someone, and 29% have been stalked or contacted by a stranger, or someone they don't know. This is a big problem for our teens, and for us as parents because it's very hard to really control.
And of course, the first thing is starting with discussing, having an open conversation. And what I do is, from the very start what I said was, I am a creeper. I am going to creep on you. I'm going to know every single thing you're doing. So if you want to hide something, start to think about how you're going to do it, because I'm going to be two or three steps ahead of you. Because I've tried to hide things on my parents even though we didn't have the social networking days. And I'm going to read up, and I'm going to be informed. And the number one rule that we started with was if you do not friend me on a particular social media site, then you don't have any friends on that site because you're not on that site. So I have to be one of your friends.
I'm sure that gave them something to think about, didn't it?
Well, you know, I'm not out to be their friend, and to be their most favorite person during these teen years. I'm out to be their parent, and to make sure that they're safe. And then, hopefully, when they realize by the age of 22, 23, and I can see that happening now with my 21-year-old, 22, 23 to 25, they start to realize why I did what I did, then maybe at some point in time there can be some type of parental friendship. But at this point, I'm not out to be their friend. So if they're mad at me because I'm creeping, then so be it.
Now I've been lucky enough that one of the other things I've done is, I always open my house to the kids. So I let the kids always come over here. I cook for them. I stand in the kitchen. I pretend I'm not paying attention, and I listen to every single thing that's happening in the living room. And yeah, I do it, and you absorb an awful lot from that kind of thing. You just have to keep your eyes open really. And, you know, I work full time plus. So I don't have all the ability to be around, but my husband and I are on the same page. So when I'm not here, he's here. They're not in the house alone. There's controls on the TV as far as what they can be watching. It sounds like a prison, but you cannot take any chances because they do not know when they get in over their head. You have to have the conversations.
I agree with that so much because I think that children by nature are naive, and they don't realize that maybe the other avatar on that game that they're with is going to strike up a conversation that could go in a completely different direction than they're prepared to handle. So I really applaud you that you're not only making your house the fun house by cooking for all these kids, but you're really just establishing that rapport with all these children that your teens are hanging out with so you really do get to know them.
That's absolutely true, and to be honest with you, I haven't had to press friending anybody because they actually reach out and friend me.
You're pretty cool, then. [LAUGHING]
Even the friends of my children friend me which, I think, this is probably the definition of success.
I would agree with that. That's amazing. You're that cool.
Yeah, just to make sure, and they'll come to me, a couple of them, when they started getting serious boyfriends. Now maybe part of it is because I'm a physician, but I've always been very open with our discussions about everything. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll. And so they feel like they can come to me because I'm not going to judge them. So I mean, I think those things are important, but there's going to be times when you really want to watch for signs of trouble.
And one of them is any signs that the child could be getting depressed, and that would be a change in eating patterns. You know, there's a lot of change in eating patterns in teenagers, but ordinarily boys just eat, and eat, and eat, and girls are trying to diet to get into the bikini. Those things are still the same as when we were growing up. So you watch for any changes in that. It could be eating too much, or eating very little. Sleeping patterns. Very, very tired all the time, less communication, taking to their room. There will always be a little bit of this going on, but if it changes that's the thing.
I had one friend who, her daughter, she just started taking note of the fact. I mean, I actually noticed it. We went on vacation together and her daughter, we were on a cruise and you know on a cruise you can order all the food you want, it's like amazing, and she would eat the same thing every night. A broiled piece of chicken, veggies, and a potato. That was every single night on a cruise. Like, to me, why go on the cruise because I'm on there for the food.
So you know, I knew something was up, and within about a month to two months it was revealed that she had an eating disorder, and they had to get her into therapy. So you watch for stuff like that. That's unusual. You know, my kids are eating ravioli and ordering steak at the same dinner, and she's having the same exact thing every night.
Drop in school grades. I mean are they skipping, are they not going to school? Has somebody gotten to them? Watch the friends. My one daughter, her friends, amazing. They are amazing, amazing kids, and we have debates about theology. We have debates about everything, and you can really tell when you start to talk to them. Are they nice kids? Do they come from nice families? I mean, unfortunately, that is where it all comes back to. So are less of the nice kids coming around? Did the peer group change? That is something to be aware.
And then, any kind of altered consciousness. I said before extreme sleepiness, any kind of agitation. And again that's all you've got during this point in teenage years. Everything is changing all the time, so you really have to be astute to, is this change unusual? Is there something really weird here? And you know what, don't hesitate. Get them to see somebody. Call in the grandmother, or the aunt. I mean, I had to do that for my 21-year-old. I called the grandmother over, and I said come over here and talk with her because if something's going on, she'll end up living with you. So you better get over here right away.
So you know, that helped a lot, because she could talk to her nana, but she didn't want to talk to me about whatever it was.
Right. So I think even something else to help equip our parents obviously is looking for those warnings signs. So critical. Other things like getting to know the children that your teenagers are hanging out with. But, too, maybe even having those rules that you alluded to in the beginning. You set out right away letting them know that they're not going to be active on a social site that you're not a part of. I think in addition to that parents can kind of also set rules. I have friends with children older than mine. I don't even have a smartphone in the house yet for the children. So we're on the brink of that, but you know one rule was at 8 o'clock the phone is in my hand, and it's there all night. So absolutely it is shut down by 8 PM, and that obviously was to sleep, as you mentioned for this age group is so critical, and it's so easy to become lost in tweet chats, and snap chats, and all the things that happen at the end of the day. So that's one way.
Another way is just kind of a random phone check or a computer check. Like you said, keeping those devices out in the public, and knowing the logins that your children are using to access those social media sites. And to go out and let them know to expect this. This is going to be random. I'm going to be performing these checks and, as you said, it's not to ruin your life. It is to keep you safe.
Right, and I think if you say that, Kate, a couple of times. This has nothing to do with you. It has to do with bad people out there. And you know, you're absolutely right about the whole phone thing. A lot of times the reason they're not getting sleep is somebody's texting them at one o'clock in the morning. So I mean that's one of the things you have to watch out for, because kids need their sleep. And so, you know, you're paying for the phone. You need to do that.
But I will tell you, and tell all the parents because my children are a little bit older now, that there's nothing so beautiful like getting to the point where you know you don't have to check anything anymore because you put the time in. This all seems like it's an awful lot of work, and it is. Parenting is hard work. But let me tell you, when you get to the point where you know the kids are all right, and you know they're making good decisions, and they're even coming to you about their brothers and sisters or friends and saying, I don't think you want me hanging around her anymore. She started to use pot. You know you've done something right.
I think that's a victory for any parent. And like you said, you work kind of crazy hours, no denying. Your husband works crazy hours and yet you make the time. This is the time to be the most engaged with your kids because there are so many things out there beyond your control that what you can control, I think, just yields dividends that like you said is going to keep your teenager maybe not loving you right now for all those rules, but they're going to see down the line why you did it.
They will appreciate it.
And the love behind it, absolutely.
Well with that, Doctor Sebastian, you've been such a wonderful resource with us in helping to keep our teenagers healthy, helping to give our parents what they need to know to keep their teens healthy and safe, and I so value the time you've given us. So thank you, again.
Thank you. It's been my pleasure.
All right. With that, we will talk to you soon.
You have been listening to Florida Blue Radio, recorded at our Jacksonville headquarters. For notes from today's program, visit our blog at floridablue.com. Be sure to leave us a comment there with your ideas, or suggestions for future programs. Until next time, here's to you in your pursuit of health.
Florida Blue is a trade name of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, Inc., an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.