by Scott Becker 

WACC hosted Dr. Scott Becker, a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Director of the Counseling Center at Michigan State University (MSU), at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD) on Tuesday evening, October 25th for a talk about technology and screen time, and what research reveals are impacts of technology on child development and family well-being.

In his presentation titled ‘Digital Moms and Dads: Parenting in the Age of Screen-time and Social Media’, Scott talked about screen time:
Do you find others around you are watching a screen during conversation?

Are phones out at the dinner table?

While screen times is not all bad, and may be necessary for children doing school work, there are some evidence-based, concrete numbers about how much screen time is good screen time, Scott shared that children aged birth to 2 years old should NOT have any screen time at all, because screen time can stunt development of attention and emotion recognition and regulation skills.

Screen time during the prime time of child development – 0-12 years old – can have lasting, detrimental impacts on their brains. Technology does not engage both hemispheres of the brain, and so one side remains underdeveloped, reducing creativity, learning and innovative capacities. Plus, online communication and engagement cannot provide the physical and social feedback that helps children learn, such as facial expressions or body language to support social skills learning.

In adults and children alike, this increased screen time can have detrimental effects on brain function. For example, adults might return home in the evenings and use television, phones, or laptops to unwind, or check out after a long day. But just two (2) hours of exposure to the backlit screen of a device lowers melatonin levels in the body by 22%, making your body and brain think that it is not 9-11pm (bedtime), but rather 3-5pm. This means that it is harder to get to sleep and stay asleep.

Because we have become so sensitized and conditioned to the noises our phones make.

Ever feel that phantom vibration or hear that muted but nonexistent buzz?

Our brain remains on alert to hear our phones buzz and ring with notifications. Instead of calming down and resting, our brain sits up like a watchdog to wait for any noise, even a flicker of sound. Scott recommended turning cell phone notifications off, making the phone silent, or even turning the phone off. If you want to get even more creative, make your cellphone its own sleeping bag and put it out of sight, giving your brain a chance to rest.

Given the rise of technology, the increased use of screen time, and tech-savvy age we live in, knowing the real impacts of our phones and the screens we look at everyday might just help us better prepare ourselves and children for tomorrow.

Recently, as I was sitting before a circle of bright, shining four year old faces as I presented our Body Safety program, I was struck by the distinct possibility that these same children, in all likelihood, were the infants who made it through their first year of life thanks to our Safe Sleep for Infants program.  And could quite possibly become the teens we will reach with our Cybersafety program, ten years from now.

We frequently talk about the numbers of children we reach with our programs, but to have them sitting in front of us, in actuality, really makes one consider the impact of our prevention efforts in our community.   It is often discouraging, especially when trying to entice funders, to “show” that our efforts are working, as the effects of Prevention are hard to quantify and it may take several, to, many years until are realized.  But, sitting before a group of very lively, four year olds and seeing in the flesh how  one of our programs may have touched our community is inspiring and encouraging.  

We look forward to seeing you farther down the road, little ones.  Stay safe and sound.

Please join us for our Cheers for Children Breakfast on April 21, 2016 from 8-9 AM to learn more about the programs we offer our community and learn how you can help us keep Washtenaw’s children on the Continuum of Prevention.

To RSVP for the Cheers for Children Breakfast please email jyoti@washtenawchildren.org

While in town for the 34th Annual Michigan Statewide Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect, Dr. Sandy K. Wurtele presented a special event in Ann Arbor on Monday November 2nd, 2015. Dr. Wurtele is currently an Associate Dean and Professor of Psychology at the University of Colorado- Colorado Springs.

In 1986, Dr. Wurtele developed the Body Safety Training Series (BST) to teach children how to be safe. The program was then revised in 2007 to incorporate new research into the program. The program uses a workbook that is divided into two parts:

  1. The first includes instruction on general safety concerns, such as fire, gun, pedestrian, poison, and situations being home alone, and
  2. The second teaches children body-safety skills in order to recognize, resist, and report inappropriate touching.

BST is available for both parents and teachers and is available in English and Spanish.

Dr. Wurtele’s presentation in Ann Arbor was titled Preventing Child Sexual Abuse: Sharing the Responsibility, after her first book by the same name which was published in 1993. The two hour special event covered information on how our children’s safety must include community involvement. Dr. Wurtele’s passion shone through when describing the 4 Grooming Steps used by individuals seeking to sexually abuse a child. Also stressed in the presentation was for parents to teach their children, as toddlers, the proper names for all of their body parts. Dr. Wurtele asked the attendees to consider how children are expected to report sexual abuse if they cannot describe what had happened to them.

The Washtenaw Area Council for Children extends our thanks to Dr. Sandy K. Wurtele for taking the time to speak with our community. For more information about Wurtele’s Body Safety Training program, it can be found at http://www.washtenawchildren.org/programs/body-safety-training/ . Anyone interested in setting up a Body Safety Training session, please contact WACC Program Director Marcia Dystra at marcia@washtenawchildren.org or (734) 434-4215.

Resounding celebration ensued at WACC’s autumn 2015 Cheers for Children Tailgate on Friday October 9th at the Lake Forest Golf Club. Opening kickoff included ambitious purchasing of raffle tickets in the hopes of winning a bottle/wine cooler. The competition was fierce, yet friendly, among the many raffle ticket holders, but at the end of the night Dwight Gilbert came away with the prize!

The silent auction biddings began as participants perused the many tables of items. One silent auction standout included a 4-pack of tickets to the 3-day 2016 Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix with Pit/Paddock passes!

After kind words from Neal Elyakin, Board of Directors Chair, and Jyoti Gupta, WACC Executive Director, the Second Quarter ended with mounting anticipation for the Halftime Show. Jamie Morris, Event Chair, proceeded with the Halftime MVP Presentation and ended with impactful words about the WACC mission.

Next up, the live auction bidding competition began. Bidding was neighborly yet intense over an organic, homegrown turkey, raised by the family of our very own of Board of Directors member Chad Allee.

As the silent auctions closed and the tailgate ended, bidding participants went home victorious with their newly acquired prizes. Even those who did not win their auctions went home smiling because as all athletes know, it is not about if you win or lose, but rather how you play the game. WACC raised $34,000 as a result of generous donations from community members, event sponsors, and local businesses. That is certainly a reason to smile as we think about how many more children throughout the Washtenaw area will be safer benefitting from continued WACC programing.

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What are you doing to prevent Child Sexual Abuse? Yes, YOU. Many of us believe this should be a parent’s job or perhaps a teacher’s or social worker’s, but with one in ten children being sexually abused it should become evident that this expectation is not enough. As we learn of the ramifications of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the impact they have not only on the physical and mental health of children, reaching well into adulthood, but, also their toll on society as a whole; it only makes sense that more of us need to make the safety and well-being of children our priority. Long term consequences associated with child sexual abuse such as the increased likelihood of teenage pregnancy, homelessness, and drug and alcohol abuse can create a cycle of hopelessness and despair. Our prisons are filled with those who were abused or experienced other forms of trauma in their early lives. The emotional and behavioral issues victims must face, in addition to the costs society must pay, call for increased attention to the prevention of child sexual abuse. Many understand the importance of preserving and protecting our natural resources and do their part by recycling or preventing pollution. However, children are arguably our most important resource and by not doing our part by them we are setting up our society to fail. As Margaret Mead, American cultural anthropologist has said, “There is no greater insight into the future than recognizing when we save our children, we save ourselves.”

On Monday, November 2, 2015 from 6-8 PM, Sandy Wurtele, PhD Psychology professor of University of Colorado, child sexual abuse prevention expert and creator of our Body Safety Training program will present, Preventing Child Sexual Abuse: Sharing the Responsibility, at the Washtenaw County Library Learning Resource Center. There is no charge and light refreshments will be served, but we ask that you please register at: www.eventbrite.com/e/preventing-child-sexual-abuse-sharing-the-responsibility-tickets-18403942688

Please join us to learn how you can take a role in the prevention of Child Sexual Abuse and help us keep the children of Washtenaw safe and sound.

For a nonprofit agency like Washtenaw Area Council for Children, raising friends is just as important as raising funds. At our annual Cheers for Children “friends-raising” breakfast this year, Sheriff Clayton implored anyone who cares about children in our community to become a “Steward of Children” and help prevent childhood sexual abuse. Stewards of Children is an evidence based program begun by an organization called Darkness to Light. SOC was designed for parents, caregivers, childcare professionals, community members, and any other interested adults with the purpose of teaching participants how to prevent, recognize and react to signs of child sexual abuse.

In addition to the Sherriff’s plea, we had the honor of hearing from two survivors of childhood sexual abuse. These brave individuals chose to share their stories of violation, pain, and torment in order to inspire others to get involved to prevent childhood sexual abuse. As they shared their heartbreaking stories, those in attendance were moved and inspired to take action. Together we can help prevent such atrocities from affecting other children.

It is our responsibility to protect the children in our community from all forms of abuse. Childhood sexual abuse can have severe, lifelong consequences for victims and it creates an environment where children are not free to be children. This topic is horrifying and difficult to talk about, but you can help keep kids safe and healthy.

When kids are home from school in the summer, they often have more free time – which in this day and age, means more screen time. Without guidance from parents, kids may be at higher risk for getting into problematic situations online during the summer. As parents, nothing is more important than our child’s happiness and safety. Technology will probably always be a part of our daily lives; the line between online life and “real” life is getting more and more blurred by the day. So how do you keep your kids safe online? Here are some suggestions for helping your child successfully navigate their digital world:

  1. Update your internet rules for the summer. (Ex. Does not having homework equal more screen time?)
  2. Keep the computer in an area of the house where the family hangs out together. This allows you to keep an eye on what your kids are doing online while letting them explore and play online.
  3. Remember – cyberbullying doesn’t stop with the end of the school year. Stay alert for signs that your child is being cyberbullied, such as a sudden disinterest in online activities, a change in mood or behavior, or fearful reactions to receiving a text or online messages.
  4. Monitor the apps your child is using on their phone. Most apps are harmless, but some collect your phone’s location or other personal information and others allow your child to circumvent safety features on the phone.
  5. If your child participates in online games on the computer or through a gaming system, make sure you’re aware of what information they are sharing and who they are sharing it with. Many of these games create positive youth-driven communities, but there are risks to your child’s safety or wellbeing if they reveal too much personal information or are being harassed by other players.
  6. Learn how to use any technology that your child is using. It’s much easier to monitor their safety if you understand how the gaming system, app, website, etc. works. Offer to play their favorite game with them, ask them to help you set up a Twitter profile, or discover a new website together.
  7. If you’re planning on going on vacation this summer, don’t broadcast that you’ll be away from home for an extended period of time – this can encourage burglaries. Turn off the location sharing on apps that don’t need it, and help your kids do the same. Tell everyone where you’ve been, not where you are.
  8. Spend time talking to your child about how your family values translate into the online world. Just as we teach our kids how to interact with others positively in person, we also have to give them guidance on how to act online. Technology can often distance us from the people who are affected by our actions, and this situation can lead kids to do or say things online that they would never say to someone’s face. Talk to your kids specifically about online behavior and how it affects others and themselves.

Sources: www.netsmartz.org, www.pacer.org/bullying, www.internetsafety.trendmicro.com/

I frequently credit my daughter as the reason why I doMother Comforting Son the work I do; helping promote and ensure the well-being of children. Until her arrival, the well-being of children was not something I gave much thought, and was certainly not something I considered my life work. Then I became her mom and life and its priorities amazingly changed. I had been given the greatest of gifts and I could conceive of no priority other than to be the best mom I could.

However, I also could not help but wonder about children, who for whatever reason were not received with such happiness; who perhaps represented a burden or heartache and not joy, and what that means to their lives.  Call it payback or paying it forward, but I felt a need to do what I could, in some small way, to express my gratefulness for my own child by trying to make life a bit better for some other child. 

There is a quote that I like from a woman I admire, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, that I think sums up what helped lead me to my “other children.”  While she is best known for her work over a hundred years ago improving the lives of women, after she became a mother her letters were often filled with doing what she could to make life better for the children with whom she came into contact.  In one letter she expressed this sentiment,

“I know the care of one child made me thoughtful of all. I never hear a child cry now that I do not feel that I’m bound to find out the reason.”

This Mother’s Day, share in the joy of being a mother to your children.  But, I hope you will also join me in extending that to being a “mom” to other children, heeding their cries and helping make life a little safer and bit more sound, for them all.

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

This April, Washtenaw Area Council for Children welcomed Francisco Perez and Dr. Sarah Stoddard to their annual conference to speak on the growing epidemic of violence. By viewing violence as a public health issue, our society can begin to understand how violence spreads, what the mental and physical health consequences are, and how we can “inoculate” communities against violence. Mr. Perez is the National Project Director of Cure Violence, a violence prevention model that uses credible messengers from the community to predict where violence will happen and intervene before it occurs. Cure Violence is an evidence-based program that is now active in 50 sites around the world. To learn more visit www.cureviolence.org.

Dr. Stoddard is a professor in both the School of Nursing and School of Public Health at the University of Michigan. Her research focuses on the interaction between individual and environmental factors, particularly with at-risk urban youth, as well as how to use behavioral and ecological approaches to prevent violence.

Thank you to both Mr. Perez and Dr. Stoddard for bringing an exciting new frontier in violence prevention to Washtenaw County!

Want your teen to learn all about digital safety? We’ve got the perfect opportunity. WACC’s CSI (Cyber Safety Initiative) Tweens & Teens Camp is a weeklong camp for youth entering grades 6-9 where they’ll learn everything there is to know about cyber safcybersafetyety. Topics covered include:

  • Social Networking
  • Cyberbullying
  • Online Privacy
  • Digital Reputation

Here are all the details:

WHAT: CSI Tweens & Teens Camp

WHEN: August 4th – 8th, 9 AM – 12 PM

WHERE: Washtenaw Area Council for Children, 3075 West Clark Road, Ypsilanti, 48197

If you’re ready to sign your child up, simply print our registration form, fill it out, and mail it back to us at 3075 W. Clark Road, Ann Arbor, MI, 48197 or fax it over to (734) 434-4243.

Looking for info on how to keep your kids safe online? Check out this blog post on the topic!