Minors and sexting part two: What parents can do

iPhone in jeans pocket

Unaltered image. Martin Abegglen, Flickr. CC license.

In Part One, we covered the definition and prevalence of sexting in minors. Today, we review potential consequences, and most importantly, how parents can help kids make better choices. Special thanks again to Judge Derek Meinecke of Oakland County’s 44th District Court and Ms. Stephanie Wright, MA, LLP, LPC, of Beaumont Children’s Hospital’s Ted Lindsay Foundation HOPE Center, for their invaluable input on this topic.

What criminal charges are involved with sexting? Judge Meinecke clarifies: Cases are dealt with individually based on the facts, and in many cases criminal prosecution is neither necessary nor appropriate. However, felony charges are a “necessary evil” for circumstances involving predatory behavior. Unfortunately some young people are not innocent in their intentions, and if we de-criminalize this behavior simply because the parties involved are all under 17, we create a dangerous loophole for child pornographers and pedophiles.

Age is an important distinction: Currently, 17-year-olds are treated as adults in Michigan and can be charged with distribution of child pornography. Even if you just turned 17 last week, this changes everything in the eyes of the law, so parents and teens alike should be aware of this legal game-changer.

Aren’t we over-reacting? Isn’t this just a high-tech version of what teenagers have always done? Maybe, maybe not. A 2012 Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine study found higher rates of “risky sex behaviors” (e.g., multiple partners, using drugs or alcohol before sex, etc.) in teen girls who engaged in sexting behaviors. Girls may be more stigmatized for sexting than boys. The authors note, “Sexting may be a new type of sexual behavior in which teens may (or may not) engage.” (p. 832). For many teens, sexting behavior is not sinister, but being digitally savvy does not equal maturity and life experience (AAP, 2011). Even if sexting is just the latest version of sexual exploration, it can have long-term serious outcomes.

What can I do as a parent? All experts agree: The number one thing you can do is to have open, honest conversations with your kids. Yes, it will be awkward! They may ask you some pointed questions about your own past, or share information with you that is hard to hear. However, Judge Meinecke says, “You can be an extraordinarily dynamic parent and really help your kids” by taking time to be educated. Most importantly, he says, we need to be there for our kids, but “not as a friend or as an executioner.” We can be a source of information for our kids, a safe place. Ms. Wright shares this view: “They’re going to make mistakes. They’re still kids. But we need to educate them, not lecture.” As parents we have the responsibility to help set appropriate boundaries, but if our kids sense our extreme discomfort with the topic, they won’t open up. Ms. Wright suggests middle school as a good time to start the conversation, “The earlier you start talking about it, the better.”

You can also reach out to your pediatrician or family physician. The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to be involved, and for doctors to talk openly with their patients and families about teen sexting.

Keep computers in public areas of the house and monitor usage. This AAP article suggests you are honest with your kids about this and show them you know how to use whatever apps they’re using.

Just like helping kids avoid the dangers of drugs, alcohol and smoking, there is benefit to making them aware of pitfalls, but a strictly fear- or punishment-based approach will turn them away. Being involved appropriately in your teenager’s life helps prevent future missteps, and real life ”face time” discussing difficult issues can create a strong, healthy relationship between you and your son or daughter.

– Lori Warner, Ph.D., LP, BCBA-D, Director, HOPE Center at Beaumont Children’s Hospital

Minors and sexting part one: Not just child’s play

 Hidden girl sitting in doorway playing with cell phone

This is part one of a two-part series: Here, we’ll cover the basic facts about sexting among minors, and begin to discuss possible consequences. In Part Two, we’ll review legal issues and other consequences in more detail, as well as give ideas for parents and teens to help prevent a snap decision from turning into lifelong regrets.

Special thanks to Judge Derek Meinecke of the Oakland County 44th District Court and Ms. Stephanie Wright, MA, LLP, LPC, of Beaumont Children’s Hospital’s Ted Lindsay Foundation HOPE Center, for their invaluable input on this topic. Thanks also to Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica R. Cooper for publishing a brochure for minors.

Hold the phone! What is all this talk about sexting? Maybe you’ve heard of court cases or even found some sketchy content on your child’s phone. Personally, I knew very little about the prevalence of sexting among minors, but learned more after being asked to contribute to a story in the Providence Journal.

What is sexting? Sexting is defined as “the act of sending sexually explicit photos, primarily between cell phones.” It’s important to note that in Michigan, creating, soliciting, possessing or distributing sexually explicit photos of a minor (someone under 18 years old) is a felony. These charges can carry four to 20 years in prison! In addition there would be fines and court costs, and mandatory entry in Michigan’s sex offender registry.

How much does it happen? Estimates vary, and the numbers of teens owning cell phones has increased since a 2009 study by the Pew Research Center, “Teens and Sexting”. That study found 4 percent of teens ages 12 – 17 had sent explicit photos, and 15 percent admitted to receiving such photos. Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica R. Cooper’s informational brochure states that 40 percent of teens state they’ve been shown explicit photos or messages originally intended for someone else. Twenty percent of teen girls and 33 percent of teen boys report having posted nude or semi-nude photos of themselves.

Why do it? Sexting is not unusual and peer pressure can be intense to look. The ability to make rational judgments and use our long-term thinking skills isn’t fully mature until at least age 25. Teenagers also typically don’t believe that the bad things they hear about will actually happen to them. So even though they may be aware of the possible consequences, they may think, “Sure, but my boy/girlfriend would never do that!”

Stephanie Wright, MA, LLP, LPC, HOPE Center behavioral consultant, says that teens may think sexting is fun, exciting or “no big deal.” It’s not until the consequences are explained that they even begin to think of what may go wrong.

Often, sexting occurs between couples who are dating, or even as a way of initiating a relationship. Although the images may have been willingly created and sent at the time, one bad fight and suddenly what was intended for one person’s eyes only is being forwarded to many others. As the Cooper brochure states, “Once you hit send, you lose all control over any image you have sent.”

Another contributing factor may be the sheer volume of explicit material available on the Internet. In the past, boys might find their dad’s Playboy magazines and ogle the centerfold. This is worlds away from what kids see today with just a few mouse clicks. “The vast amount of material out there at the disposal of a young person whose Internet access is not being monitored is terrifying,” says Judge Derek Meinecke (Oakland County 44th District Court). He notes that even if your child’s access is monitored, his or her friends’ parents may not be as aware, and they may share this content with your child. Judge Meinecke also feels that viewing explicit content online, which is often impersonal and misogynistic, may set a tone regarding what the minor then expects in his or her own relationships as they grow older.

What should we do about it? All this information can be scary and overwhelming. Being a parent or a kid today is in some ways harder than it used to be, says Judge Meinecke. However, he also points out that parents today have resources available today that our parents never had. The Beaumont Parenting Program Blog is a great example!

In Part Two, we will further review potential consequences for minors who sext, and provide expert recommendations on how to talk to your children about this topic. Stay tuned!

– Lori Warner, Ph.D., LP, BCBA-D, Director, HOPE Center at Beaumont Children’s Hospital

Bullying: No safe exposure

3 girls talking about another girl

Unaltered image. Twentyfour Students, Flickr. CC License.

October is National Bullying Prevention month. Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.

Both in 2014 and 2015, bullying ranked #2 as a leading health concern adults have for children, according to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health. This concern is for good reason as research shows that youth who bully, are bullied, and witness bullying are all at risk for health problems. Exposure to bullying can affect mental and physical health with an impact lasting well into adulthood.

The largest group of children exposed to bullying are the witnesses, sometimes referred to as bystanders. On the surface, bullying may not seem like a relevant issue for bystanders because they aren’t directly involved.

But what if parents knew:

  • Every day, their child went to school afraid of becoming the next target
  • Their child was afraid to be friends with someone, or in a certain group, for fear of becoming a target
  • Their child worried about their social status because it could be impacted at the whim of someone more popular
  • Their child watched someone else’s life being ruined by bullying and now felt anxious, sad or hopeless
  • Their child felt the threat of what would happen if they told an adult was too powerful to overcome
  • Their child saw another child become a target after trying to intervene
  • Their child couldn’t concentrate in school secondary to anxiety about this issue
  • Their child started siding with someone bullying out of fear
  • Their child’s change of interests or extra curricular activities occurred to avoid standing out
  • Their child dreaded social situations because of what could happen, but was also afraid of being excluded
  • Their child’s self esteem was being negatively affected from being afraid to intervene
  • No one was talking about feeling this way and what to do about it

What if this is the reality for millions of youth?

Every day, children are going to school or online and witnessing bullying. They are also being told to stand up, that they can stop this behavior, but what if they are terrified? What if they don’t trust that adults will do anything? And what about the millions of parents who have no idea their child feels this way or attends a school where bullying is happening?

If there is power in numbers, then the parents of witnesses have tremendous power. However, first parents must realize that this is an issue that indirectly, insidiously, and negatively impacts their child, like second-hand smoke.

Fueled with this knowledge, parents can immediately begin to have an impact by talking to their children about bullying and asking about their experiences. They can talk about what to do in certain situations and who they can turn to for help. They can role model what it means to be an upstander (someone who is willing to stand up and take action in defense of others) by talking to other parents and school personnel, and understanding how they can help their school address this issue. Do funds need to be secured to implement an evidenced-based bullying prevention program? Does the school board need to know that parents see this as a priority?

To decrease bullying is going to take a societal effort that cannot be left to the parents of children who’ve been bullied or bullying survivors themselves. Parents of a witness may one day become parents of a targeted child or one who is bullying; it’s too big a gamble to leave to chance.

The parental instinct to protect one’s children is a powerful one. There is a long list of things we do to prevent bad outcomes, even before a child is born. Preventing bullying in schools should be one of them.

– Marlene Seltzer, MD, Director, The NoBLE (No Bullying Live Empowered) Program, Beaumont Children’s Hospital

Beaumont Children’s Hospital Opens a Headache Center

image credit: Hey Paul Studios

image credit: Hey Paul Studios

Beaumont Children’s Hospital recently opened a Headache Center offering comprehensive, specialized care for children and adolescents who experience headaches.

The Royal Oak-based center’s medical director, Elizabeth Leleszi, M.D., is a pediatric neurologist, Beaumont Children’s Hospital and an assistant professor, Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine.

According to the National Headache Foundation, about 20 percent of school-age children in the U.S. have headaches. Of that group, 15 percent experience tension-type headaches and 5 percent migraine headaches. Says Dr. Leleszi, “Head pain is a common symptom affecting kids. Children and teens may experience many different headache types and the problem can, in some cases, be debilitating. Patients and families are often frustrated; children sometimes experience chronic pain, often missing school and extracurricular activities. Our Beaumont Children’s Hospital opens Headache Center center utilizes a team approach in implementing a care plan for each patient.”

The clinic team is comprised of pediatric specialists from neurology, physical therapy, psychology, dietary and social work. Beaumont Children’s Hospital’s Headache Center also offers family-centered comprehensive specialized care, including advanced diagnostic testing, neuroimaging such as MRI and an on-site laboratory.

“The initial focus is a comprehensive evaluation by a pediatric neurologist,” explains Dr. Leleszi. “Using headache diagnostic criteria, combined with a patient history and neurological exam, a pain management plan is developed to decrease the frequency and severity of the headaches.”

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 248-551-7370.

8 Things You Should Know About Colds, Flu and Antibiotics


Besides sharing recent holiday cheer, many shared viruses too. Knowing when antibiotics will help – and when they won’t – is key to preventing antibiotic resistance.

“We all need to remain smart about antibiotic use, and by ‘we,’ I mean doctors, nurses and patients,” says Christopher Carpenter, M.D., director of Beaumont’s Antimicrobial Stewardship Program. “We have a program that promotes appropriate antibiotic use in the hospital and with the help of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Michigan Antibiotic Resistance Reduction Coalition we are providing materials and education to encourage appropriate outpatient use in our Emergency Center and doctors’ offices.”

The CDC offers the following facts and tips:

  1. Colds, fl u and most sore throats and bronchitis are caused by viruses. Antibiotics do not help and may do more harm than good by increasing the risk of a resistant infection later.
  2. Antibiotic resistance – the development of “superbugs” that are resistant to available drugs – has been called one of the world’s most pressing public health problems.
  3. When antibiotics fail to work, the consequences are: longer-lasting illnesses; more doctor visits or extended hospital stays; and the need for more expensive and toxic medications. Some resistant infections can cause death.
  4. Children are of particular concern because they have the highest rates of antibiotic use. They also have the highest rate of infections caused by antibiotic-resistant “bugs.”
  5. Patients should not demand antibiotics when a health care provider has determined they are not needed.
  6. When an antibiotic is prescribed, take all of it, even if symptoms dis appear. If treatment stops too soon, some bacteria may survive and reinfect.
  7. The spread of viral infections like cold and fl u can be reduced through frequent handwashing and by avoiding close contact with others.
  8. Viral infections sometimes lead to bacterial infections. Keep your health care provider informed if your illness gets worse or lasts a long time.

Memorable Moments of 2013 From Beaumont Children’s Hospital

First lady of Michigan Sue Snyder at Beaumont Children's Hospital this past March

First lady of Michigan Sue Snyder at Beaumont Children’s Hospital this past March

One of the great things about health care is there is always the opportunity for growth — whether it be patient care, advances in research, in technology or more community support. Long one of the cornerstones of the science of medicine, Beaumont researchers are finding new and innovative ways to treat many conditions and illnesses. Here are some 2013 moments:

• Beaumont Children’s Hospital expanded its neuroscience services Jan. 7 with a Pediatric Epilepsy Clinic, offering treatment options and services for infants, children and teens with seizures and epilepsy.

• Beaumont Children’s Hospital opened a Sickle Cell Anemia Center offering comprehensive, specialized care for infants, children and adolescents with sickle cell anemia and sickle-thalassemia syndromes.

• In a study published in the April issue of the journal Resuscitation, Beaumont doctors found that cardiac arrests in K-12 schools are extremely rare, less than 0.2 percent, but out of 47 people who experienced cardiac arrest over a six-year period at K-12 schools, only 15 survived. Th e survival rate was three times greater, however, when bystanders used a device called an automated external defibrillator, or AED, that helps the heart restore a normal rhythm. Th e study “Cardiac Arrests in Schools: Assessing use of Automated External Defibrillators on School Campuses,” was led by principal investigator Robert Swor, D.O., Emergency Medicine physician at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, and a research team including Edward Walton, M.D., Beaumont’s director of pediatric emergency medicine.

• It’s called PAWS – the pediatric advance warning score. Caregivers throughout Beaumont began using PAWS at the beginning of May to help predict if a child’s health status is likely to decline. Th e system also gives guidance for providers to follow when scores reach a particular number.

• After a successful year-long pilot at Beaumont Hospital, Troy, the Parenting Program is offering first-time parents in-room car seat safety education at both the Troy and Royal Oak hospitals. “We have one certified car seat safety technician at each hospital,” says Deanna Robb, director, Parenting Program. “They are especially sensitive to the high anxiety of new parents. Before we had this program in place, we provided families with a list of community resources, including Safety City U.S.A., but now parents can get a little more immediate security knowing how to properly use and install their car seat.”

• First lady of Michigan Sue Snyder announced her support of programs launched by the Michigan Departments of Human Services and Community Health to combat the nearly 150 fully preventable accidental suffocation infant deaths annually due to unsafe sleep environments. The announcement was made at Beaumont Children’s Hospital March 25.

• Beaumont offered the community a flu hotline to call with questions.

• At the Radiothon for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, a record-breaking $152,000 was raised for kids at Beaumont Children’s Hospital.

• Beaumont Health System announced a $5 million gift from Danialle and Peter Karmanos Jr. The gift will create the Karmanos Center for Natural Birth and the Danialle & Peter Karmanos Jr. Birth Center at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2014! Happy New Year!

The Importance of Holiday Traditions

photo (2)Holiday traditions can come in many forms and provide a reoccurring opportunity to make memories. Visiting Santa at the mall, going to the movies on Christmas Day, reading “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” on Christmas Eve, lighting the Hanukkah menorah; the list can go on and on.

In addition to making the holidays memorable and comfortable, they serve a higher purpose that contributes to our well-being.

Stability: Families are constantly changing. Different jobs, kids moving out, perhaps some occasional tension during get-togethers. Families count on traditions as unchanging constants despite an ever-changing environment.

Unity: Traditions provide an opportunity for everyone to feel connected. Th is is particularly important for children and any new family members celebrating their first holiday with you. Taking part in a long-standing tradition fosters the feeling of acceptance, which can’t be overlooked.

Identity: Every family does something different, but how you carry out your family tradition makes your group unique. Traditions become a part of who you are and how you celebrate.

Connections to the past: Traditions can serve as a bridge from the past to the present. They provide a forum to connect with those who have gone before you with that tradition.

What traditions are you instilling this year?