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How to Keep Your Kids Happy and Healthy in the 21st Century

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Dr. Meg Meeker

Our world is scarier and more dangerous than ever. Here’s how to keep your kids happy and healthy.

When I was a girl, my parents always warned me not to talk to strangers and to look both ways before I crossed the street. When I was a young mother, I gave my children the same warnings, but today’s parents can’t just stop there. Now, as a pediatrician and parenting expert, I’ve seen firsthand the struggles today’s children —and their parents— deal with.

The world our kids are growing up in is so much scarier than when we were growing up, and that means we need to tailor our parenting to protect our kids from these modern dangers. The three biggest perils our children face are issues you’re probably aware of:

  • Technology
  • An over-sexualized culture
  • Drug and alcohol abuse

After 30 years in the pediatric and parenting world, I know how terrifying it can be as a parent not to know if you’re doing everything right to protect your child. Below, I’ll break down these three dangers and show you how to become better equipped to handle whatever the world throws your way.

Tech and Screens

Technology itself is a beautiful thing— it helps people connect, can make better use of our resources and generally makes our life a lot easier. But as we depend more and more on computers and iPhones, we need to be aware of how this new way of life affects our kids.

There are two ways parents must evaluate screens: what our children are watching on them, and how long they’re watching them for.

It’s crucial for us to monitor technology usage because there’s so much out there that can harm and misinform kids. Video games can promote violence to impressionable minds, social media can destroy self-confidence and make children vulnerable to predators, and cyberbullying can damage children for life. This is why parental controls on adult websites and social media platforms is crucial to your child’s healthy development.

The second issue concerns screen time. Recent studies published by UCLA and in Lancet Child & Adolescent Health show that restricted screen time (usually about 2 hours per day) not only enhances a child’s ability to read emotions and connect with others, but can even result in superior mental performance on language and memory tests.

This also means that children who are in front of screens for longer than this recommended amount struggle to read emotion and perform as well on these same tests. Too much time on screens can also affect concentration and self-worth.

The truth is, it’s too early to see how screens will affect our children thirty or forty years down the road. So as parents, it’s our job to monitor what our kids are watching now, and for how long, so we can ensure their success as adults.

Sex

No matter the school they go to, the faith your family practices, or their level of maturity, your child will learn about sex online. It’s inevitable. Nowadays, even general advertising contains sexual content.

What’s worse, your child is seeing and hearing about sex on tv shows, in movies, during video games, and on ads, but they’re not being given the facts. These depictions of sex often don’t show the risks of casual or unprotected sex, so a child’s perspective is very skewed.

According to a 2017 study on sexual media and childhood health, “exposure to such content is linked with shifts in attitudes about sex and gender, earlier progression to sexual activity, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infection among adolescents.”

These are very real risks. 2017 data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 1 in 4 sexually active adolescent females has an STD, and young people aged 15-24 are responsible for half of all new STDs.

Here’s the good news: a George Washington University study shows that parental monitoring can help moderate sexual risk, even when the child is being exposed to other influences (social media, friends, etc.) So be well aware of the role you play in teaching your child about sex. If you need a guide or resource for this conversation, check out my course on how to have the talk with your child.

Drugs and Alcohol

When it comes to the biggest dangers facing our kids, sometimes it helps to follow the money. More than $25 billion is spent every year to advertise tobacco, alcohol and prescription drugs, according to the Council on Communications and Media. These commercials and billboards are designed to create desire for drugs and alcohol, and the most vulnerable audience is our children.

Kids aren’t just seeing this on TV, either— their peers and classmates are supplying powerful peer pressure. 32 percent of eighth graders reported drinking in the past year (NIH), and youth aged 12 to 20 drink 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States (NIH).

A report published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) show that kids who drink are more likely to…

  • Be victims of violent crime like robbery and sexual assault
  • Experience problems in school
  • Be involved in drinking-related car crashes
  • Become alcohol dependent in adulthood

As a mother, this puts fear into my heart. We want to protect our children from anything harmful to them, but we can’t tag along to every place our child goes or lock them in the house for safekeeping. We need to teach our children about the effects of alcohol and drugs on a developing brain so they truly understand why substance abuse is never worth it in the long run.

The Bottom Line

The truth is, you can’t control what the world offers your child, but you CAN control what your child takes from it. I believe you have the greatest influence in your child’s life, and that you can help them navigate through the thick of it.

You. Not an after-school program, or activity, or club. Not a therapist. A parent’s ability to connect with her child is still the most effective at keeping her child safe and healthy.

So, how do we protect our children from these three (and all other) dangers? The answer lies in one word: discipline. Discipline means setting clear boundaries for your child, building strong character in them so they can withstand external pressure, and creating an environment where they feel safe coming to you with their problems.

There is no need to be afraid if you are proactive and effective in your discipline. “Discipline” might be a simple word, but it takes a lot of time and work. That’s why I created the Discipline with Courage and Kindness course, a program that you can complete online and in your own time to really nail down healthy discipline.

I remember how busy and hectic it was raising four young children, and how hard it was to sit down and focus on one thing without being distracted. I structured my course to be a combination of lectures, videos, podcasts, and downloads so you can always learn on the go and never feel left behind!

The world can be a scary place, especially when it’s changed so much since we were kids ourselves. But no matter how the world changes, discipline will always be crucial to a child’s development. It is a kindness and sign of love for your kids— you are teaching your child that he is in control of himself, even with addictive screens. All parents want that.

No matter what, I know you can protect your children and help shape them into happy, healthy adults, because I’ve helped thousands of parents do the same thing. If you’d like to learn more about the Discipline with Courage and Kindness course and how it can help you keep your kids safe, you can learn more here.

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Dr. Meeker is here to help! “How to Talk to Your Kids about Puberty & Sex (ages 8-18)” is her most comprehensive course ever and she’ll equip you to have that conversation with knowledge, confidence and sensitivity. Check it out!

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