Head-Banging

Seeing one’s child banging his or her head against the wall or a wooden bed is alarming for parents, especially if the child is a baby or toddler. Parents are not only concerned about the possible pain and injury that may result from such an activity – they are also worried about the child’s psychological well-being. “Is something wrong with my baby?” is a reasonable question for parents to ask when their child deliberately harms himself.

In fact, in most cases, a child’s head-banging is caused by a normal desire for stimulation or soothing (as we will discuss below) — not by underlying mental health issues. Additionally, young kids rarely hurt themselves during head banging enough to cause considerable pain or head damage. Head-banging may also occur in certain developmental syndromes such as autism. In these cases, there will be other neurological and behavioral symptoms besides head banging. In an otherwise healthy child, head-banging is not a matter for intense concern.

What’s Behind Head-Banging?
Head banging can be a way for kids to get stimulation. The habit can relieve the discomfort of boredom or stress. Remember that during the toddler years, kids are in the process of understanding and appreciating different body sensations such as sights, sounds and  even feelings of pain and discomfort. The sensation that comes when we bang our heads against a hard surface is new and foreign to a child, and understandably, the child is curious about it. Thus he may repeat head-banging so that he can explore the sensation better.

It’s also possible for children to head-bang in order to soothe themselves when they are anxious, in discomfort or otherwise distressed. In these cases, head banging is no different from thumb sucking or nail biting. It’s ironic, but it’s possible that children find the pain of head banging a distraction for their current discomfort or unease. Some kids may also find the rhythm of soft head banging comforting, in the same way that a slow and steady drum beat can be soothing, rhythmic head banging can be reassuring to a child.

What can Parents Do?
Safety is always a primary concern. Even if head-banging is usually harmless, there’s nothing wrong with taking a few extra precautions. As much as possible, keep young children away from hard surfaces like walls or bed posts. If there’s a risk that they will run into a hard surface, protect your child by putting a soft pillow or foam padding as insulation. If you can make it impossible for your child to head-bang against something hard, then you can worry less about head-banging behavior.

It may also help to provide your child with stimulation and soothing when you feel that he or she needs it. Toys of different shapes and colors, as well as materials of varying comfortable textures and temperatures can provide stimulation to a child. Rocking, singing a lullaby or a soft massage are also positive ways to provide soothing.

When parents suspect that unease, discomfort or stress is causing the head-banging behavior, they can offer their child the Bach Flower Remedy Agrimony. Two drops in liquid four times a day can be used until the banging diminishes. Or, for a more complete treatment, call a Bach Flower Practitioner. You can find more information about the Bach Remedies online and throughout this site.

Older children who are banging their heads may need more than Bach Remedies (although these should be tried first). Stress reduction through professional psychological counseling may be very helpful. If very young children are stressed, family counseling may be preferable. Parents may be able to make environmental changes that put the child more at ease.

When Should Parents be Concerned?
While head-banging is generally normal and harmless, there are occasions of head-banging behavior when parents need to provide their children with stronger interventions and/or professional help.

One situation is when kids use head banging as a way to get negative attention, punish themselves or release anger and frustration. When head banging is a deliberate action to achieve an end, parents should arrange a consultation with a child psychologist. The psychologist may help the parents intervene in more appropriate ways or he or she may work with the child directly in order to reduce underlying tensions.

But a second situation is when parents suspect an underlying medical or psychological condition behind the head banging behavior. If head banging is seen alongside symptoms of social withdrawal, delayed speech and motor development, and inability to empathize, parents should consider consult their pediatrician. A referral to a mental health professional for assessment can confirm or rule out a diagnosis of autism or pervasive developmental disorder. Head banging that seems beyond a child’s control may be a symptom of Tourette’s Syndrome. Various seizure disorders may also account for head banging behavior. To be certain, it’s best to get a child diagnosed by the appropriate medical or mental health professional.

Picking at Skin

There are different ways to pick at one’s skin.  Some people, including children and teens, pick at the skin around the nails of the hand. Others pick at little scabs or sores that may be anywhere on the body (such as insect bites, blemishes, or injuries). Some create little sores by scratching themselves or irritating normal surface “bumps” on the skin and then, they pick at the newly formed sore. Some pick at their scalp. “Dermatillomania” is one name for this condition, although each type of picking has its own distinct name.

Lack of Control
Picking at the skin is an impulse control disorder. It has been compared to trichotillomania – a condition in which one pulls out one’s own hair from the eyebrows, or the eyelashes or from the scalp. It has also been likened to OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), a disorder in which a person performs ritualistic behaviors in order to reduce anxiety. Dermatillomania has also been considered to be a sub-category of Tourette’s Syndrome – a condition in which a person has compulsive tics (movements and sounds that just MUST be made, even though they serve no constructive purpose. No matter which way we categorize skin picking, it is always seen as a behavior that is related to tension release.

Stress and Dermatillomania
Skin picking occurs more frequently when a person feels stressed. It also decreases when a person is feeling more relaxed and in-control of their lives. Therefore, treatments aim to reduce tension and build emotional stability. Skin pickers often do not have healthy ways of handling their stressful emotions. Psychotherapy may be helpful – especially with teens and adults. Children may benefit from art therapy. Techniques like EFT (emotional freedom technique) can sometimes be helpful. Meditation and relaxation training, as well as hypnosis, have all been helpful in addressing this disorder. For adolescents and adults, there are also support groups that can be helpful. The workbook “The Habit Change Workbook” by Claiborn and Pedrick, takes a cognitive behavioral self-help approach that can also make a positive difference. Psychotropic medications like anti-depressants are sometimes used as part of the treatment. Each person who picks at his or skin has different psychological needs and therefore treatment is individualized to address those needs.

Getting Help
Skin picking can make a person feel out-of-control and ashamed. It is often done in hiding and it is rarely spoken about. People are embarrassed and therefore don’t even talk to their doctor about it. Therefore, people don’t get the help that is available for this highly treatable disorder. If you think that your child may have this disorder, or even if you are just concerned about seeing picking behaviors on occasion, do consider arranging for a mental health assessment. A professional will let you know whether treatment is necessary or not and if so, help design a treatment program that can help way beyond stopping this symptom.

Pulls Out Hair

Hair-pulling in children and adolescents may be perceived as a harmless habit. After all, if your child likes to pull, say 3-5 strands of hair a day, it shouldn’t make much difference to his or her scalp and hair health. The amount of hair that falls off naturally probably exceeds the couple of strands kids and teens pull for fun anyways. When should hair pulling become a concern?

Hair-pulling behavior can range in severity from mild to severe. There are those who ritualize hair-pulling for aesthetic purposes, e.g. getting rid daily of the strands that don’t fall obediently with the rest, or hair considered as “dead”. There are others who pull hair strands when they’re frustrated or upset. And then there are those who suffer from an impulse control disorder called trichotillomania – compulsive hair-pulling that can be so bad, sufferers end up with permanent patches of baldness.

What’s Behind Compulsive Hair-Pulling?
Like many impulse control disorders, compulsive hair-pulling is caused by a feeling of incredible tension and anxiety. For some reason, hair-pulling relieves the tension and anxiety. Once the hair-pulling is done, the child or teen with trichotillomania feels an immediate sense of release, gratification and even pleasure. This dynamic of “tension-behavior-relief” is what makes hair-pulling addictive, progressive and after a while, very difficult to resist.

Hair-pulling in trichotillomania is often concentrated on the hair on the head, although sufferers may also focus on eyelashes, eyebrows, moustache and beard, and hair from other places of the body. Hair-pulling can be of individual strands, although more serious versions of the illness have patients pulling clumps at a time.

Are There Serious Health Effects?
At first, hair-pulling may not cause any physical harm to hair follicles and the scalp. If compulsive hair-pulling can be stopped early, hair growth resumes normally. But in severe cases, repeated hair-pulling can irreversibly damage hair follicles, inhibiting the ability of hair to grow, resulting in permanent baldness.

How can Parents Help Kids and Teens with Hair-Pulling Problems?
There are many ways parents can assist their children with compulsive hair-pulling.

First, it helps to understand that compulsive hair-pulling behavior is an impulse control disorder. This means that it won’t go away by simply telling your child to stop. In fact, unless your child is too young to understand the impact of his or her condition, your child likely already wants to stop — except that he or she can’t seem to quit.

What parents can do is address the tension and anxiety that causes hair-pulling behavior. Hair-pulling is essentially a coping mechanism, a way to get relief from stress. This is not as irrational as it sounds, and may have a biological basis. When our bodies feel pain, such as after the hurt caused by hair-pulling, our brain releases natural pain relievers that makes us feel good. It’s this feeling that people with trichotillomania like and chase, not the act of pulling hair. Although reducing stress will help the child have less intense episodes of hair-pulling, it will not cure the condition. A cure generally requires therapy. However, parents can reduce stress by being careful not to yell at the child or use harsh discipline, help manage the child’s academic load by consulting with teachers as necessary, limit the amount of marital conflict they display in front of their child and so on. In addition, they can teach their child healthy ways to release stress such as through exercise, the use of natural remedies like Bach Flower Remedies (consult a practitioner for best results), use of aromatherapy (consult a book or a practitioner for ideas), use of yoga, breathing techniques, EFT (emotional freedom technique) and other self-help strategies.

It’s best if parents can see professional help for their child who is pulling hair. Professionals can set up a cognitive-behavioral therapy to help decrease hair-pulling.

At the end of the day, compulsive hair pulling is not really about hair, nor about beauty and appearance. It’s about internal regulation and emotional management. If symptoms persist or worsen despite the interventions listed above, then parents are recommended to consult a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Twirls Hair

Children (and adults!) have “nervous habits.” These are often little useless movements or actions like rubbing the forehead, cracking knuckles, nibbling at fingernails, shaking legs back and forth, rocking back and forth and so on. Hair-twirling – taking a strand of hair and wrapping it around a finger – is a popular nervous habit from infancy onward.

If your child engages in hair twirling, consider the following tips:

Nervous Habits Reduce Feelings of Stress
Those who understand the human energy system can often describe how a nervous habit contributes to feelings of soothing and comfort. For instance, when people bump into something, they’ll often instinctively rub the injured part of their body. This is because humans are wired to help themselves heal without even knowing how or why they are doing it. They rub the injury instinctively – not because they’ve been told to do it. The rubbing activity brings increased blood circulation to the area and also brings energetic healing to the wound. Indeed, the whole business of “hands on healing” has to do with the energy stored within our bodies that can be transferred through hands to another part of our own or another’s body. In a similar way, rubbing the head, nibbling fingers and so on, initiates energetic healing that reduces stressful feelings and increases calm.

Children and teens engage more in their favorite nervous habit when they are more stressed. This increased stress may be due to outside pressure like school exams or internal pressure like fatigue. Tired children will often curl up on their mother’s lap and twirl their hair. The twirling activity acts like a pacifier, calming their internal agitation, exhaustion or fear.

Hair-Twirling is Not Hair Pulling
Some children will not only twirl a strand of hair, but then they will pull it out of their head. This habit is called trichotillomania. It is a mental health disorder which is a type of impulse disorder. Hair-pulling is a compulsive activity – one that is very difficult to stop without professional assistance. Hair-pulling, like hair twirling, occurs more often when a child is experiencing stress, but it’s real purpose is to reduce anxiety.  In other words, hair-pullers have more internal pressure than simple hair twirlers have. Moreover, hair-pulling leads to feelings of helplessness and shame when left untreated. Hair-twirling usually doesn’t bother the person who does it. Hair-pulling is best treated by a child psychologist.

Helping Your Child Stop Hair-Twirling
Toddlers frequently engage in hair-twirling and as they become a little older, they just as frequently grow out of the habit. Therefore, the best thing to do for young hair twirlers is NOTHING. However, if your child is still twirling her hair when she is six or older, you can help her in a few ways. Nagging is not one of them. Besides being detrimental to the parent-child relationship and to the child’s development, nagging is also completely ineffective as a deterrent to hair twirling! What helps more, is reducing the child’s stress and re-directing her behavior.

Stress-reduction for children and teens can often be accomplished with Bach Flower Therapy – harmless vibrational remedies (water) that are available at health food stores. The Bach remedy Agrimony is particularly helpful for those who have bad habits. However, a consultation with a Bach Flower Therapist can be most helpful – read up on the descriptions of the 38 remedies to pick the ones that most fit the profile of your child (you can find more info online and on this site). Up to 7 remedies can be mixed together in one “treatment” bottle and used until the twirling subsides. If twirling begins again, start giving the remedy mixture again. Continue off and on in this way until the twirling has stopped completely.

Anything you can do to reduce stress in the house will be helpful in a general way. Quiet parenting techniques and a happy relationship with your spouse can only help. However, a child’s hair twirling can certainly happen even in a very low stress environment and even when she is very emotionally secure. It’s really more a matter of personal stress style, inherited tendencies and so on.

You might try giving your child something to hold in her hands when you notice she has been twirling. The hands, as discussed above, have energy centers that can help regulate stress. Holding or playing with something in the hand is a more socially acceptable soother than hair twirling. You can get your child a worry stone (a smooth stone for rubbing) or a fidget toy of some kind. Always give her something to DO with her hands instead of just asking her to stop playing with her hair.

In order to break the habit, you can also give your child a hairstyle that makes twirling very hard to do – tight braids or very short hair. It takes about 21 days to break a habit, so after that period, you can probably go back to her old hairdo. However, NEVER give a child a hairstyle that she doesn’t like as this can actually be traumatic for her.

If the hair twirling won’t stop and it bothers you or the child, consult a psychologist. A professional can offer techniques that are used for more intense issues like trichotillomania but that will also help with hair twirling.

Nail Biting

So, your child bites his nails. (The technical term for the compulsion is onychophagia.) Don’t worry, there’s more than one way of weaning him out of the habit— and none of them involves chili peppers! If your child can’t seem to leave his nails alone, consider the following suggestions:

Start with Increasing Awareness
Nail-biters are rarely aware of what they are doing, until someone directs their attention to their action. So before you issue your child a reprimand, consider the possibility that he may just be acting out of instinct, and has no idea that nail-biting is an undesirable behavior.

If this is the case, then simply start by explaining that nail-biting is not a hygienic habit, and can cause germs to travel to the mouth (talk of tiny little worms is recommended at this point — which is not a lie! Some worms are microscopic, and may be found in the dirt under one’s fingernails). Explain to your child that you would like to help him avoid nail-biting as much as possible. More so, you would like him to stop immediately once he catches himself biting his nails. Putting the responsibility of managing behavior onto your child is a good beginning education in self-regulation.

(In the meantime, cut the child’s nails short so he or she won’t have much to bite!)

Ring the Bell on Nail-Biting
As mentioned, nail-biting can be an automatic behavior, often done outside of a person’s awareness. If you want to remove an automatic habit, you have to increase consciousness. You have to make the action as obtrusive as possible.

Bracelets with loud bangles can be used as a warning device for nail-biting. As the child raises her hand to bite her nails, she will be notified by the jingle of the bracelets. This may be enough to stop her mid-track.  A consequence when caught nail-biting, such as reciting a poem or song (the consequence need not be unpleasant; simply “obtrusive”) may also be implemented. It can be enough to break-up the automatic sequence in the brain. When the child is slowed down by any consequence following biting, the brain registers this slightly aversive activity and tries to avoid it by stopping the precursor – the nail biting itself.

Consider Nail-Biting as a Symptom of Stress or Tension
It’s possible that kids nail-bite to release tension or manage insecurity. If this is the case, the best thing to do is address the cause of their unease. Otherwise, other nervous habits might just replace nail-biting and you’ll be back at square one again.

So try to be observant. When do your kids nail bite? Where do they nail bite? What situations trigger the behavior? Which people seem to reinforce it? Gathering this information can help you discover sources of stress or tension in a child’s life. For kids, plain, old-fashioned boredom can trigger stress that triggers nail-biting. Nail-biting may also be a general self-soothing activity that follows conflict in the home, studying for exams, worrying about something or some other tension. Giving kids effective stress-release tools can diminish or stop the habit of biting. For instance, stress can be relieved by Bach Flower Therapy (see a practitioner or learn more about this harmless form of stress relief on-line), daily physical exercise, relaxation training (meditation or yoga for kids) and EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique). Some kids will benefit from professional counseling or specific therapies for breaking habits. A child specialist (art therapist, child psychologist or other mental health professional) can be very helpful.

Or Just Let it Be…
While nail-biting is a common habit among children, it’s not a serious one. It also tends to go away on its own, so no intervention may just be the intervention that you need. If the habit persists for several months, or if it’s so intense that it causes bleeding in the nails, then a physician or a child psychologist should be consulted. Keep in mind too, that some adults still bite their nails. Early intervention can prevent a lifelong habit.

Habits and Nervous Behavior

Everyone has some bad habits. And everyone engages in their bad habits more often when they are feeling tense or nervous. For instance, a teenager or adult may have taken up the “bad habit” of smoking cigarettes. The smoker will almost always be smoking more often when feeling anxious. Younger children can have habits like picking their nose, biting their nails, or twirling their hair. (You can learn more about these bad habits and how to help them by reading articles under the category Nervous Habits on this site). Some kids crack their knuckles, chew their pencils, or nibble on their shirt cuffs. Some rock back and forth in their chairs. In fact, there is hardly a limit to the type of bad habit that a child can “invent!”

If your child has some bad habits or nervous behaviors, consider the following tips:

Nervous Behavior Means the Child is Nervous!
Whether it is pacing back and forth, pulling out hairs, or shaking one’s leg, the purpose of a habit is to release some nervous tension. If you can address the tension directly, the habit will most likely go away (or at least diminish) all by itself. Instead of telling your youngster to stop shaking his leg, offer him something for his “nerves.” Now this doesn’t mean that you should offer him a stiff drink! (That’s a bad habit that a lot of adults are into!). There are plenty of healthy, child-safe “stress busters” that you can offer your child. For instance, your child might be calmed by the right herbal tea. A herbalist or naturopath might be able to prescribe a herbal mixture that reduces your child’s overall level of tension or “nerves.” Herbs can be prepared as bedtime tea’s or they can be taken as syrups or even lollipops when they are made by a professional herbalist. Some herbs are available in tincture or tablet form from your local healthfood store. All herbs are medicinal so make sure that you consult a professional before giving your child herbal medicine. Less medicinal than herbs are essential oils. These, too, are available at healthfood stores. Aromatherapy – the use of essential oils to calm nervous tension – is less medicinal than herbal medicine, but still a little medicinal (for example, some oils need to be avoided in pregnancy or when someone has epilepsy). Therefore, it is adviseable to check with a professional aromatherapist before preparing oils for your child. However, once you learn which oils are safe and how you can prepare them for your child, you will find essential oils to be a delightful way to calm your child’s stress, help him sleep and reduce his nervous habits. A calming treatment that is not medicinal in any way is Bach Flower Therapy. The Bach Flower remedies are essentially water. They do not affect the body – rather, they affect the emotions. They help a child feel less upset, worried, angry or sad. They can help with excess nervous energy, anxious feelings or other “nervous” symptoms. You can read descriptions of the remedies on-line and choose the ones you think are most appropriate for your child or you can consult a professional Bach Flower Therapist. Always include Agrimony in your Bach Remedy mixture when you want to treat a nervous habit; Agrimony is the remedy that helps reduce nervous behaviors. In addition to natural therapies (and these are only a few of the treatments that are available), you may find that psychological counseling can help reduce your child’s anxiety and stress. Obviously this intervention is most important when your child is really stressed and nervous. However, your child who is just “the nervous type” (not very, very anxious), may benefit from psychological interventions as well. Most appropriate for the average child is EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), mindfulness meditation for children, CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) self-help workbooks and other psychoeducational tools. Exercise is another great way to reduce nervous energy: enroll your child in active sports, gymnastics, yoga, swimming – make sure your child is physically active daily!

Refrain from Telling Your Child to Stop His Habit
Telling a child to stop doing whatever he’s doing not only DOESN’T help, but it also hurts. Your child isn’t trying to be “bad” when engaging in a nervous habit. It’s almost like it is happening outside of his conscious awareness. Rather than telling him to stop, simply re-direct him to another activity. Interrupting habits helps to break up the strong neural pathway that is beginning to develop. For instance, suppose your child is sitting in a chair wildly kicking one leg back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Don’t tell the child to stop! Instead, ask him to please fetch you something from another part of the house. This will interrupt his habit and anything you can do to interrupt the pattern will be quite helpful.

Never Humiliate or Mock Your Child for His Nervous Habit
Some people try to “shame” their child out of their nervous habit. Even if you manage to cure a child this way, the cost is way too great. Don’t do it. There are better ways to cure a habit. For instance, if your child has a habit of nose-picking, DO NOT tell him he is disgusting! Instead, follow the steps you’ll find in the “Nose-Picking” article on this site.

Get Your Doctor’s Advice if a Habit is Persistent
Pediatricians have seen it all. Ask your child’s pediatrician for advice on how to help your child with his nervous habit.

Try to Reduce Stressful Events in Your Child’s Life
This can be a hard one. You might really WANT that divorce, even if it causes your child to become unravelled. However, do what you can to limit the stress your child is exposed to on a daily basis and you’ll find that his nervous habits diminish. Refrain from yelling at anyone or engaging in any kind of conflict. In fact, try to stay in a good mood when your child is around.  Nurture your own mental health by taking good care of yourself. This will help you be happier and calmer and this will only be good for your child. Getting help for yourself or your marriage or even your divorce, can be an important step in calming your household and supporting your child’s mental health.

Sexual Disease

As a parent, advice you might feel queasy, troche even embarrassed, talking about sexual matters with your teenager. You might have grown up in a home when sex was not even mentioned, much less discussed in detail. Or you might be worried that talking about sex with your child will make him or her more likely to engage in it. But given the risks associated with irresponsible sexual behavior today, this is not a talk you want to miss.

Here are some important details about sexual disease and protective practices to cover in your talk, just in case you’re not up to date:

What is a Sexually Transmitted Disease?
As the term implies, sexually transmitted diseases or STDs are illnesses that can be passed through sexual contact; through vaginal intercourse, oral sex or anal sex. These illnesses can range from manageable fungal infections to debilitating and terminal diseases such as HIV-AIDS. STDs is the category used for diseases that used to be called VDs or venereal diseases.

Below are just some of the many STDs identified today:

  • Genital warts. Genital warts are caused by HPV, human papillomavirus. This virus lead to warts in the genital area as well as cervical cancer and cancer of the vulva, vagina, anus, and penis. It is spread through skin contact in vaginal or anal sex.  Eruption of warts can be painful both physically and psychologically and, since they are part of a viral process that can lead to more deadly disease, they are also a matter of serious concern. There are currently HPV vaccines available that are effective for people who have never been infected with this virus. Therefore, teens are urged to have the vaccine before engaging in their first sexual experience.
  • Gonorrhea. Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection characterized by a yellowish discharge in the sexual organ and difficulty in urination. Untreated gonorrhea can spread to other parts of the body, such as the joints or the heart.
  • Herpes. This STD lives in the nerves and once contracted, is a permanent condition.  Herpes simplex type-1 produces cold sores around the mouth, while Herpes simplex type-2 produces sores in the genital area. The sores take the form of painful, itchy blisters. Break-outs can be prevented or minimized with daily doses of anti-viral drugs. Pregnant women can pass the virus to their babies, so they need to inform their doctor of their condition immediately. Herpes is contracted by skin-to-skin contact whether or not sores are visible to the eye at the time of contact.
  • Syphilis. Another bacterial infection, syphilis has three stages, with symptoms getting more serious as one proceeds to a later stage. Primary syphilis is characterized by a painless red sore in the genital area called a chancre. In the secondary stage of the infection, the bacteria may enter the bloodstream and cause many symptoms like fever, rashes, weight loss, muscle aches and joint pain. In its later stage, syphilis can damage vital organs like the heart and parts of the central nervous system.
  • Candidiasis. Also called thrush, this STD is caused by a fungus called Candida or what is commonly known as yeast. The infection may be minimal, causing merely irritation and itching, or it can result to more systemic health problems. Cheese-like discharge in the sexual organs, redness and a smell similar to bread are some of the common symptoms of Candidiasis.
  • HIV. HIV stands for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, the main culprit behind the fatal disease Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or AIDS. AIDS is a pandemic in many countries, and has caused the lost of whole communities in some areas of Africa. It’s a disease that causes a steady decline of the body’s immune system, causing susceptibility to different kinds of opportunistic illnesses. As of present, HIV has no cure, although there are drugs that can boost the immune system and improve quality of life.

How can Kids Protect Themselves from Sexually Transmitted Diseases?
It’s important that parents emphasize to their children that they can protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases.

The most foolproof method of avoiding STDs is sexual abstinence. While the age of first sexual experience tends to become younger and younger every year (NBC Today’s latest survey has it at 15 years old!), it doesn’t necessarily mean that the teenage years is the recommended age to start having sex. While the physical maturity may already be present by the time kids hit the teenage years, it also takes mental and emotional maturity to engage in a sexually active relationship or a sexually active lifestyle. There is nothing to be lost by waiting until one feels more ready, or until marriage, to begin having sex.

But if your child does decide that he or she is ready, and you concur, there are ways to practice safer sex. Start by making sure that you and your partner have undergone a medical exam and have a clean bill of health before engaging in any sexual activity. While the practice of asking when a partner’s last check up was may sound unromantic, it is always better to be safe than very, very sorry.  Regular tests and visits to a gynecologist should occur as long as one is sexually active.

Opt to use contraception. As of now, it’s only the condom that is recommended for protection against sexually transmitted diseases. Birth control pills and intra-uterine devices may protect a couple from unwanted pregnancy but they do not protect against STDs. Note though that a condom is not 100% foolproof; some STDs may be passed through oral sex and there are reports of condoms breaking during intercourse.

If one suspects an infection, it’s best to consult a doctor immediately. With the exception of HIV, most STDs are treatable by medicines such as some antibiotics. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the prognosis.

Unprotected Sex

Today’s world is highly sexualized. Children are no longer sheltered from “adult” material and in fact, are encouraged to express their own sexuality at younger and younger ages. These days, it is hard to find a primetime TV show that doesn’t have a sexually explicit scene — and many of these shows are explicity marketed to teenagers and young adults. Contraceptives are sold in the nearby convenience store, right alongside soap and shampoo. And many teen celebrities — some barely out of puberty —sport a sexy image; some even find themselves as tabloid fodder because of irresponsible real-life sexual behavior.

Given that sex seems to be in the very air we breathe, it’s important that parents take an active role in promoting responsible sexual behavior in children. The cost of poor choices when it comes to sexuality can be very high, from sexually transmitted diseases or STDs to unwanted pregnancies, to early, often inappropriate, marriages. There’s also the psychological cost of premature sexuality: kids having unwanted sex due to peer pressure or partner pressure, finding out the hard way that love and respect doesn’t always accompany the sexual act, regretting being intimate with the wrong person and experiencing deeper levels of hurt and/or betrayal when intimate relationships are disrupted.

What can parents do to encourage responsible sexual behavior in their children? Consider the following:

Communicate Your Values Early
Different parents have different definitions of what “responsible sex” means. Some families do not believe in sex before marriage, for practical or religious reasons. Other parents are more liberal; they allow sexual behavior before marriage, as long as a child is at the right age and safe sex practices are being followed. Whatever your family’s belief system is, it’s best that you share it with your child, especially if they are already in the teenage years. The public library also offers an array of books for young people that cover all aspects of teen sexuality and romance – you can bring them home for your kids to read and you can also use them as a starting point for discussions about the topic.

Explain the Risks
Not all teenagers are aware of the risks involved in irresponsible sexual behavior. Or some kids are aware but they do not take the threats seriously. As parents, it’s your job to educate your child about the serious negative consequences that come with irresponsible sex, particularly unprotected sex. Unprotected sex refers to sexual intercourse without any intervention designed to prevent unwanted pregnancy and/or sexually-transmitted diseases. Two common methods of protection are common: condoms and birth control pills.

Parents must make sure kids know facts from fiction. For example, there’s a myth that goes “if you only do it once, you will not get pregnant.” This simply isn’t true. While having sex only once does lessen the risk of a pregnancy, it doesn’t eliminate it. Similarly, a child can contract a life-long sexually transmitted disease from having intercourse only one time.

Kids Must be Educated about the Limits of Their “Protection” of Choice
Condoms, for example doesn’t protect against HIV virus passed from the saliva or sperm of an infected person to an open wound in the mouth. HIV-AIDS remain without a cure until today, and causes much pain to the person who has it. Birth control pills (if used properly!) only protect against unwanted pregnancy, they don’t protect against most sexually-transmitted diseases. They also have known side effects. The emergency contraceptive or the morning after pill doesn’t 100% eliminate the risk of pregnancy after unprotected sex, it merely lessens it.

Kids should see a medical doctor for examination and preparation for responsible sexuality. The doctor can explain how to reduce or prevent disease and pregnancy and the youngster who wants to act like an adult in the bedroom can take the adult steps of preventative care.

Tell Them That There’s Nothing Wrong with Waiting
The best protection against unwanted pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases remains one thing: abstinence. Tell your children that there is nothing wrong with waiting to become sexually active until they are ready. They need not give in to peer or partner pressure; they always have a right to say “no.” Friends may chide you for being a virgin, but sexual activeness is not a race — you don’t lose points for starting late. Waiting does not necessarily mean until marriage. It can mean waiting for a serious committed relationship or waiting until one is closer to the age of marriage – simply to reduce the number of sexual partners one will have and thereby reduce the risk of sexual disease.

Work at Your Marriage
Research has consistently shown that the best way to teach a child about responsible sexual behavior is to for parents to model what a respectful and loving relationship is like. If kids know the standard that they should aspire to, and how beautiful this standard is, they are less likely to settle for less than what they deserve.

Won’t Dress Properly for Cold or Wet Weather

Young people often don’t have the patience to put on layers of protective clothing – no matter if that includes jackets, scarves, hats, gloves or other items. Moreover, they frequently claim that they’re not cold – even when the thermometer clearly makes a dip. Many youngsters don’t seem to care about getting wet either: “I don’t need a raincoat,” “I don’t need boots,” “I don’t need an umbrella.” Oddly enough, mothers are often at the other extreme. This part of the population often feels chilly and is willing to layer clothing, wear extra coats and gear and do whatever is necessary to cozy up. Mothers just don’t understand why their kids don’t want to be warm and comfortable! Fathers, however, are a different story. Often, men are much like the kids, braving the elements with minimal protection (although, of course, there are many exceptions to this generalization!). However, whether it’s Mom or Dad that is concerned about the child’s lack of warmth, the underlying issue is usually about the child’s health and well-being. Parents worry that an under-dressed child may catch a cold, flu or worse. And in fact, some under-dressed children tend to do just that. There are kids who are vulnerable when they are chilled. Naturally parents don’t want a child to become sick (and feel awful and miss school and so on); just as importantly, parents may not want to be personally affected by their child’s sickness such as by having to take days off work to tend to a sick child or by catching the child’s sickness themselves. These are legitimate concerns: one sick child can cause the entire household (siblings, parents and whoever else is around) to become sick too.  Consequently, parents do really want to find a way to get their kids to look after themselves by dressing properly for weather conditions.

If your child refuses to button his coat, wear a hat, or otherwise dress appropriately for cool or damp weather, consider the following tips:

You are the Parent
Try to keep this in mind! You have both the responsibility and the right to direct your household. Your child’s behavior affects other people in the household, as explained above. You have every right to insist that he dress appropriately for the weather. Although this doesn’t guarantee that the child won’t get sick, it is one step that the child can take to protect himself. (You may have discovered other steps that the child needs to take as well such as getting enough sleep or eating enough healthy foods and so on. We’ll limit this discussion, however, to the issue of dressing warmly.) Some parents feel that it is up to the child himself to decide what he wants to wear. They reason that the child needs to learn through his own experience that under-dressing is uncomfortable and can lead to illness. In fact, personal experience IS an ideal way for the child to imbue this lesson of self-care. If you can allow your child to become a little uncomfortable (without rescuing him when he wants you to drive over to school with more clothing!), then you should. Experience is truly the best teacher. However, if this particular child gets sick easily (that is, sick enough to have to miss school) or if YOU get sick easily, then you may not have the luxury of allowing the child to experience the consequences of his own actions. In that case, remember that as a parent, you are allowed to insist that your child wear the appropriate clothing.

Use Your Regular Forms of Behavioral Management to Help Your Child Dress Appropriately
There are many ways to encourage cooperation in kids. Refer to other articles on this site (or the book Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice) for detailed explanations of the main interventions that encourage cooperation with parental requests such as the 80-20 Rule, The CLeaR Method, and the 2X-Rule. Positive techniques should be employed before bad-feeling interventions (like discipline with negative consequences) are used. Therefore, if the child is listening to you and decides to wear the boots or put the sweater on, be sure to offer positive feedback (“that’s great – I really appreciate your cooperation” or “that’s very cooperative of you!”).  If the child is not listening and you yourself will be layering heavily due to inclement weather, you can use non-aggressive discipline (i.e the 2X-Rule). On round two of this conersation, your message might sound like this if  you are speaking to a nine-year-old who is on the way out the door to school, while you are on the way to work with little time to spare: “I asked you to wear your warm coat and if you do not put it on right now, then when you get home today, you will have to write out ten minutes worth of lines ‘ I need to do what my mother asks me to do’ (or use any other slightly annoying negative consequence such as losing computer privileges, losing dessert, going to bed early or whatever you think will be annoying enough to motivate the child to wear the coat next time!).  The point is that a young child doesn’t have to understand all of the parent’s thinking processes and calculations. He won’t understand until he is much older. He doesn’t have to agree with the parent either. What he DOES have to do, is cooperate with his parent’s instructions. Giving the child negative consequences for failing to comply will help him to comply eventually – not necessarily right away. You are not looking for instant results. Rather, you are looking for positive results over the long run.

If your teenage child isn’t listening to you, it will be more helpful to strengthen your 90-10 rule with that youngster (the relationship-building ratio of positive to negative communications from you to your child). Application of this rule with adolescents greatly encourages their cooperation.

Sometimes the Child Doesn’t Like His Outer Clothing
Sometimes your child’s lack of cooperation is not due so much to defiance as to simply not liking his clothing. You can always ask him why he doesn’t want to wear his coat, gloves or whatever. If he doesn’t like them, take this seriously. Kids are very sensitive to peer pressure. Perhaps their clothing isn’t “in.” Do whatever is possible to purchase clothes your kids like and are willing to wear. Even adults don’t like to wear clothing that their friends would not like. This social consciousness is actually healthy. Don’t tell your child that it doesn’t matter what other kids think; it actually DOES matter what other kids think. Being socially appropriate helps people succeed in their lives. Being out of sync with the crowd, doesn’t work well for most people. Remember the kid in your class who didn’t dress right? What did YOU think about him or her? While we’re not trying to encourage the development of a mindless, cookie-cutter kid, we ARE trying to encourage the development of a child who can read social cues and manage to fit in well with his or her peer group.

Sometimes the peer group just isn’t wearing scarves or hats, no matter what the temperature out there is. When this is the case, you may be able to find some acceptable alternative like ear muffs, 180’s, a coat with a high collar etc. Your goal is to help your child stay as warm as possible without looking “nerdy” to his peer group. Keep in mind that YOU wouldn’t want to be the only one wearing mittens in your office if no one else ever wears mittens there! Again, social norms ARE important. Of course, if your child has particular health issues, he may just HAVE to be different in order to be healthy. However, do not impose difference on a child who has pretty good resilience just because you think he should dress the way you had to dress when you were a child!

Sometimes the Clothing is Hard to Put On
A related but different reason for opposition may be that some articles of clothing are hard to put on or do up. If this is the problem, try to get easier clothing to put on.

When Your Child is Generally Uncooperative
If your child isn’t cooperating because your child just doesn’t cooperate in general, make sure you are following the 80-20 Rule and allow a week or two before seeing a turnaround in attitude. If you still don’t see improvement, consider trying Bach Flower TherapyThe Bach Flower Remedy called Vine (available at health food stores and online), will often melt away a defiant, uncooperative attitude – sometimes within 24 hours, or sometimes a little longer. The remedy is a harmless form of water, safe for infants, nursing moms, pregnant ladies and everyone else. Put 2 drops of Vine in a small amount of any liquid (water, chocolate milk, milk, tea, juice etc.) 4 times a day (morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening). Bach Remedies don’t interact with other medicines, herbs, foods or health conditions; they can be taken with or without food. If you still don’t see improvement after this treatment, you can consult a Bach Flower Practitioner for a more specific remedy mixture and try this method a little longer or, you can make an appointment with a mental health professional or parenting expert for further advice.

Sexual Harassment via Social Media

Our children may be spending considerable time each day logging on to social networking sites. But just because your child is surfing from the comfort of home doesn’t mean his or her safety is guaranteed. In fact, there is one serious threat to children online that must be given particular attention by parents: sexual harassment via social media.

The anonymity of the internet can easily make people do things they wouldn’t normally do in real life. Inhibitions, after all, can dissolve when you can’t see the person on the other end of the line. Add to this is the difficulty in policing people online, and the lack of anti-cyber crime laws in many countries and states. The reality is: the internet is ripe for committing sexual harassment.

Many cases of sexual harassment online have resulted in tragic consequences; from the teenage girl who developed an eating disorder because of the barrage of negative comments about her figure, to the gay teen who committed suicide because a video of him kissing another man was uploaded by a roommate. Sexual harassment, whether face to face or online, can result in psychological trauma and severe mental anguish.

The following are some tips in helping protect your child against sexual harassment online:

Educate Your Child
The first thing you need to do is to increase your child’s awareness of what sexual harassment is. Many children today are already getting sexually harassed but don’t know it, simply because the internet is filled with ideas presented in all extremes. For example, not all kids know that demeaning comments about one’s gender and/or one’s gender preference is a form of sexual harassment. The same goes with unwanted sexual comments or innuendos. Your child may already be suffering the ill effects of sexual harassment, and yet not know that they are being victimized.  Talk about the issue comfortably so that your children will feel comfortable coming to you when they have concerns or need your help. The last thing you want to do is make your child afraid to come to you when he or she needs you most. Avoid heavy-handed threats and tacticts. The internet is here to stay; help your child learn to use it safely and learn to use YOU as a safe resource.

Protect When Possible
Using child protection software may be helpful. Keeping your computer in a public area or just doing random checks can help your children and younger teens stay on a proper path and not deviate off to more suspicious communications online. Let your child know that you have reporting software and that you are checking regularly. Older teens want and need more privacy. With this group, make sure you keep your communication lines open; keep a warm and friendly relationship with them so that they’ll feel comfortable asking you for help when they need it. Also, as mentioned above, talk openly about your concerns and the dangers that some innocent kids have fallen into.

Never Release Private Information Online
Tell your child that he or she must always be careful what kind of information to release online — even to friends! Never give out contact details aside from email addresses; you can always give this information face to face. Similarly, never release information that can be used to track you, such as school ID number or a parent’s social security number, especially when commenting on pages accessible to the general public. A social networking site may claim to have privacy settings that protect members, but at the end of the day, you don’t really know when your private information will be hacked by someone with malicious intent.

Don’t Engage the Harasser
Teach your child that if you’re the victim of sexual harassment on social networking sites, the first thing you must do is to disengage — whether the other person is someone you know or is a stranger. Don’t argue or fight with your harasser; it will only lengthen the ordeal and encourage further contact. Instead, collect documentation, e.g. screenshots of what they said with timestamps, copies of their emails and IMs, and all information about them that you have. Then block your victimizer from your list of friends immediately and/or change your account, password and/or username.

Report Harassment to the Authorities
Tell your child the following: They should tell you and other adults what is going on. Let the right authority deal with your harasser. If he or she is someone from your school, then do report their action to the school principal or prefect of discipline. For people you don’t know, and for serious cases, report the crime to the police. You should also send the management of the social networking site a copy of your documentation so that they can permanently remove that person’s account.