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Back to school and back online: Catholic Charities mental health counselors share tips for parents & caregivers


Mon, Aug 14th 2023 03:30 pm

Submitted on Behalf of Catholic Charities 

According to a U.S. surgeon general’s advisory issued earlier this year, there are increasing concerns about the impact of social media, both positively and negatively, on youth mental health. With the start of a new school year weeks away, the mental health counselors at Catholic Charities of Buffalo are sharing tips for caregivers to help keep their children and teens safe online.

“With technology commonly used by students as young as kindergarten, and even more so as we have embraced virtual schooling on a larger scale, the Catholic Charities mental health counselors are frequently asked by parents and caregivers at our children’s clinics for any tips on how to keep their child and teen safe on the internet,” said Michelle Abraham, LCSW-R, assistant director of clinical services, Catholic Charities. “As you would deal with any other issue, talk with your kids and make sure they are comfortable sharing details with you about their online activity, especially if they experience something hurtful online.”

“Our best advice for caregivers is to build a trusting relationship with your child, listen without judgement, and offer compassion instead of lecturing,” Abraham continued.

Here are some other tips Catholic Charities mental health counselors recommend:

√ Consider having a family electronics basket and normalize turning in electronics during meals, homework and at bedtime. Even 30-minute increments can be a great start to limit screentime.

√ Be aware of what your child is doing online and talk with them about being safe and not sharing personal information.

√ Caregivers are encouraged to check their child’s phone, tablet and computer on occasion, especially if they notice a change in behavior. Let them know that you will randomly ask them and be monitoring their usage.

√ Many cell phone carriers have special safety features parents can use such as turning off the phone after a certain time or tracking location.

√ Use parental controls to restrict access to dangerous or unwanted sites and limit the amount of time the device can be used.

√ Think twice before removing social media, as not only does this risk social isolation, it also doesn’t teach them new behavior. Instead, spend time online with your child to teach them about appropriate online etiquette.

√ The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends less than one to two hours of screentime per day for children. While technology may often be needed for homework, try to engage in other “unplugged” activities such as sports, reading, art, music, or just playing outside to limit the time your child spends online, in front of a screen.

Abraham said, “Most importantly, if you notice increased online usage and changing behaviors in your child, consider seeking outside counseling with a trained clinician or speak to your child’s school about what mental wellness resources may be available.”

Catholic Charities offers individual, children and family counseling services throughout the eight counties of Western New York. For more information visit, ccwny.org/mental-wellness

More About Catholic Charities

Catholic Charities has helped individuals and families in need since its founding in 1923. That need is varied and widespread – from emergency assistance to mental health counseling and treatment, and from specialized services for older adults to help with job training and education. Catholic Charities empowers children, families and seniors to achieve meaningful, healthy and productive lives. In all situations, Catholic Charities delivers support to meet immediate needs, and then assesses clients for other needs to ensure long-term success. An excellent steward of the contributions it receives, Catholic Charities earns high ratings from Charity Navigator for transparency and sound fiscal management, and is a Better Business Bureau Accredited Charity. Catholic Charities also receives highest ratings from the Council on Accreditation for quality service. For more information, visit ccwny.org.

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