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Category Archives: Dear Cathi

Dear Cathi,

I need your help.  My 6th grader is begging for me to allow her to open an Instagram account.  Sienna says she is totally left out because the only way her friends communicate with each other is through Instagram. I don’t know how Instagram works.  Is she old enough to have an Instagram account?  She is only 11. How do I make sure she doesn’t get cyber-bullied?  As you can see, I am really resisting crossing this bridge into social communication.  Any advice you can give me will be much appreciated.


Dear Angie,

There is no doubt that the internet, and social media in particular, has had a huge impact on the social and emotional development of children and teens. At In Step, I see children who struggle with the negative consequences of social networking (i.e., cyber-bullying, identity fraud, and scamming), but I also see children who would be completely socially isolated without the internet. Ten or fifteen years ago, these children had virtually no social exposure outside of school. Now they have opportunities to make connections and develop social competencies online.
There is much to consider in weighing the pros and cons of allowing children to have their own Facebook, Instagram, or Tumblr account, not the least of which is that these sites do not allow those under a specific age to register for an account. I don’t recommend that you lie for your child in order to sign up for one of these services. But even if your child is old enough to join, you may decide not to allow him to. As the parent, you decide what is best for your child.  These tips have been taken from the adapted version of my book Raise Your Child’s Social IQ.  I think they may help you figure how to proceed with Sienna.

Social Communication Safety Tips

Trust Yourself
Consider the notion of waiting for privileges — like owning a cell phone or signing up for a social media account. There are inherent benefits to delaying gratification. Just because your child wants to sign up right now doesn’t mean they need to.
Follow Social Media Site Guidelines
Many of these sites have age restrictions for a reason. Don’t allow your child to talk you into opening an account for them by lying about their age.
Keep the Screens in Your Home Close By
Make sure your TV, computer, and cell phones are located where you can casually monitor your child’s online activities.
Discuss Online Social Behavior Openly
Review together appropriate vs. inappropriate online behavior. If possible, begin this dialogue prior to opening an email or social networking account for your child. Setting guidelines in advance will make it easier for you in the long run.
Keep Tabs on Your Child’s Online Activities
Learn your child’s username and occasionally check your child’s profiles, webpages, and blog.
Discourage Secretive Behavior on Your Child’s Part and Also on Your Own
Tell your child that their friend lists, personal website, and communications are being monitored.
Stay Involved but Not Invasive
If your child asks you not to post on their Facebook account, be respectful and don’t do it. When a child feels exposed, they may resort to secretive behavior. You don’t want to inadvertently encourage your child to open a separate Facebook account that you don’t know about.
Become an Online Native
If you don’t understand how the world of social media works, you won’t be able to help your child gauge the dangers and consequences of their behavior.

Your child’s online social world is changing all the time.  I know it is difficult to keep pace with your daughter.  By beginning your process of understanding now, you communicate to Sienna you are there to help guide her as her social world changes.

Keep me posted as to your progress!

This article from Common Sense Media provides some  additional tips for navigating social media with your child.


Cathi Cohen, LCSW, CGP

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Dear Cathi,

My 14 year old son has been texting another 8th grader who says she is bulimic and cutting. He has told her to tell her parents, and she says she won’t because she doesn’t want to “shame them.” Do you have suggestions on how my son should respond to this girl? I’m very happy that he came to me with this problem, but I am not sure that I’m giving him the best advice on how to respond to his friend.


A Very Concerned Parent


Dear Very Concerned Parent,

When someone admits to self-injury or an eating disorder it can certainly be interpreted as a cry for help. Your son heard that cry and wants to help. How he handles it can be interpreted by his friend in different ways: if he reports it to a school counselor or teacher, she may feel he betrayed her trust; if he doesn’t report it she may be angry with him because he didn’t fulfill the “rescue fantasy” that self-injurers often hope for.

Self-injury is a means of regulating emotions that she feels cannot be expressed verbally. The goal is for your son to encourage his friend to find a trained professional. There are professionals who specialize in working with self-injurers using both individual and group therapy modalities. This trained professional will work with his friend on expressing her feelings in a healthy rather than unhealthy way. Your son may be tempted to want to rescue his friend himself. The most effective response is to consistently tell the girl to seek help. The longer his friend self-abuses, the more ingrained the habit becomes.

Now, the issue of “shaming” her parents is an important one in this process. There are many family scenarios that can lead some teens to self-injure, one being very rigid, disciplinarian parents in which the family culture is one in which it is unacceptable to show emotion. This may be the case in his friend’s family. She may have received the message that showing emotion and seeking help from others is unacceptable. She needs to understand that getting help now will be less of a burden on her parents than waiting until later when things are more out of control.

On an entirely different note, it is heartwarming to me to read that your son has enough trust in you to relate his concerns regarding his friend. This says a lot about the openess in your relationship with your son. Keep up the good work!



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