11 Safe Video Chat Rules You Probably Haven’t Taught Your Kids

11 Safe Video Chat Rules You Probably Haven’t Taught Your Kids

Imagine that your kids could use video chat to build close relationships with far-away loved ones – like their grandparents and their best friend who moved away. And at the same time they knew how to be safe from all the dangerous people and situations that can happen on video chat!

Keep reading for 11 rules to talk about with your kids. These guidelines are going to help them enjoy the benefits and avoid the risks of video chat!

Our wake-up call

Our family rule has always been, “No boys in your room.” Before my oldest daughter started dating, this wasn’t something we gave much deep thought about – until we realized that Facetime was, in some ways, like allowing a boy in her bedroom. Suddenly, it was time to talk about rules for safe video chat for kids.

It hit us—the visual interaction added to those private phone conversations opens up a whole host of potential pitfalls. We quickly realized the need for some frank conversations with our daughter.

Today, video chatting is commonplace. It’s available on many platforms and is a routine way to communicate. It’s time to educate our kids so they are ready for situations they may not anticipate themselves.

Since you can’t actually touch someone over video chat, it may seem safer than actually hanging out in person. In some ways, this is true. However, it’s important to think through the possibilities and help your child establish healthy boundaries for video calls.

Video chatting: where the online and real worlds collide

A good place to start is with the rules you already have in place. Video chatting is subject to whatever digital media guidelines you have in your family. And the same family standards for “real life” behavior also go for video calling. (If you need ideas for agreements, check out these from Fight the New Drug and Better Screen Time.)

Be clear about expectations that are specific to video chatting. Lay down rules such as what time of day video chatting is allowed, who they can chat with, when a parent needs to be present, etc. And be clear that the rules can be expanded over time as you learn more and have new experiences.

Here are some tips and tools for safe video chat for kids:

1. Define your dress code

The dress code when video chatting is the same as in person. Kids don’t always think through this one. They know their parents would never let them go out in a sports bra and running tights. But if they are used to hanging out at home that way, they may not recognize that what they’re wearing is inappropriate when they answer a Facetime call.

2. Beware too much privacy

If you wouldn’t leave two people alone behind a closed door, then the same goes for video calls. Kids may feel “safer” trying something over chat (i.e. revealing body parts or getting into suggestive conversations) than they would if they were actually face-to-face in person.

3. No chat in overly intimate spaces

There’s something sacred about a bedroom. It’s a personal haven and a reflection of who you are and what you like. To allow someone in your bedroom means you feel safe around them. But if you wouldn’t feel safe with this person in your child’s bedroom, it isn’t a good idea to allow video chat in there either. This may not be a line your child understands, since she or he has grown up with these types of devices around the house.

Prepare your young kids to be safe with Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds CLICK HERE to learn how to protect kids ages 3-6 from the dangers of pornography.

4. Remember that everything can be recorded and shared

Video chats can be recorded and screen-shot – often without the other person knowing. This means that even though it seems like a private conversation, it could end up viewed by far more than just one other person. Remind your children to be aware of this, and never say or do anything on video that they wouldn’t be comfortable with others seeing.

5. Respect others’ wishes

Kids may get so comfortable video chatting that they turn the camera on others without considering how they feel about it. Make sure to ask permission to include others in a video chat (i.e. at a sleepover when other kids may be in their PJs). Some people, young or old, may not want to talk or be shown on video. Kids should respect others’ privacy without question and never push friends to do something they don’t want to on video.

6. Don’t fall into a false sense of safety with familiar people

We may relax when “It’s just Uncle Bob” or “It’s just her soccer coach.” But we need to set rules to protect our children when they may be very naive and trusting. Be mindful of any one-on-one chatting taking place between your child and an adult. The scary fact is 90% of victims know their abuser. Many predators know exactly how to make the child feel safe with him/her and they can easily fool us, too. Children should only video chat with other adults when we are there to listen in.

Know how teachers, coaches, and youth group leaders are communicating with your kids. There are fantastic tools that provide necessary boundaries between kids and adults. The Remind app keeps both the adult’s and child’s phone numbers private. GroupMe is a great way to keep communication in a group setting rather than one-on-one.

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7. Watch out for predators luring kids from gaming to one-on-one video chat

There are so many games where kids can connect and play with a virtual team. With only user names to identify them, it’s impossible to know who the real person behind the controller actually is.

While they are often other kids, beware – they can also be predators who know exactly what to say to lure your child. TeenSafe reports that

“Predators will most likely start off a conversation with an innocent question about the child’s name or age, and then move into more inappropriate questions as the relationship grows. After contact has been initiated, the predator may try to convince the child to take the conversation over to another app such as WhatsApp, Skype or Snapchat.”

Become knowledgeable about grooming and the warning signs that your child may have been lured into dangerous chats both inside and outside the game.

8. Sextortion is rising dramatically

Through video chats, predators entice kids into sending compromising pictures of themselves. Then the kids are threatened with exposure if they don’t send more. It’s not just happening with older teens. In fact, 1 in 4 known victims were 12 or under when they were threatened.

9. Don’t accept video chat requests from people you don’t know.

Not ever. Not even once. Enough said.

10. Put parental controls to work for you

Leave personal details out of video chat profiles, since some profiles are public. Know how to set privacy settings in any video chat apps. For example, if you use Skype, you can make your child undiscoverable. On an iPhone, you can turn off and restrict Facetime and allow it only when you’re present.

You can learn more about specific video chat apps from Protect Young Eyes and the Zift App Advisor.

Also, consider using video apps designed for kids such as Facebook Messenger Kids or JusTalk Kids Video Chat App that might be more kid-friendly. No app is fool-proof, so be sure to keep following all these guidelines no matter what app kids are using.

11. Prepare kids for the worst-case scenario.

Just as we train young drivers what to do if they begin hydroplaning, kids need to know what to do if someone sends them an inappropriate picture, asks for personal information or behaves in ways that make them uncomfortable. Practice how to refuse grooming behaviors. Plan together how they can tell you whenever they have had an unsettling experience.

Positive plusses despite potential pitfalls

After all this, you may be tempted to never allow any kind of video chatting ever with your kids. But the fact is, video calls can be a fun and rewarding way to deepen healthy relationships.

Video chats allow kids to see their grandparents and other relatives more frequently than they normally would. My girls have enjoyed doing makeup tutorials with their friends, asking for clothing advice, and engaging in some great heart-to-heart conversations. Sometimes just seeing a friendly face helps us to feel far less alone during trying times and this goes for kids, too.

Encourage good digital citizenship! Just as we teach our children to behave in public, we need to teach them appropriate online behavior, too. This means discussing both positive and negative actions.

Ask your kids these questions:

  • What are some positive things about video chatting?
  • When is it fun to use?
  • Who are some people in our lives that make life better when we video chat with them?
  • What are some ways we can show others respect while video chatting?

These are broad questions that will elicit many types of answers. Most importantly they will get your family talking about communicating via video chat in the best ways.

Conclusion – working toward safe video chat for kids

With any technology, there are upsides and downsides to video chatting. As always, your most powerful weapon is open communication with your kids. Be a safe place, establish clear boundaries, and stay engaged with your kids – you can use video chatting in positive ways in your home.

Get your free guide to help you make that big smartphone decision!

Smartphones and video chat go hand-in-hand these days. Click below for your copy of Is My Child Ready for a Smartphone? 10 Questions to Guide Parents.

Surprise! Boys Care About Love Too. A Dad Shares 3 Easy Ways to Talk to Your Son About Relationships

Surprise! Boys Care About Love Too. A Dad Shares 3 Easy Ways to Talk to Your Son About Relationships

Flowers, hearts, and candy! It’s all for girls, right? Think again!

The silent thoughts in the back of a boy’s mind on Valentines Day may not be what you imagine. Boys also long to understand and connect with the romantic feelings that surface as they grow.

It’s a common misunderstanding that boys are only interested in sex, or even mostly interested in sex, as they grow into teenagers. As the 1980s band, Foreigner once put it, boys also “want to know what love is.” A desire for deep emotional connection comes with maturation, and boys experience that too!

Valentine’s Day is a time we celebrate emotional and romantic intimacy. Unfortunately, our society rarely provides opportunities for boys to learn and talk about such relationships.

Expand your conversations about relationships

Here’s a fun fact: about 80% of kids say they have a crush on someone. A lot of boys and girls feel shy about their crushes, with 40% saying they don’t share their feelings. But 60% said they do talk to someone about the people they like.

When kids share their feelings of attraction, immediately steering the conversation toward sex ed does kids a real disservice, says Elizabeth Miller, M.D., an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

 “Parents can unintentionally oversexualize the situation while undercutting healthy feelings. Tweens aren’t usually that interested in sex itself. Their questions are generally more innocent. They want to know how to approach someone they think is cute, not talk about STDs. Let them guide the conversation, and listen carefully to what is really being asked.”

When masculinity competes with intimacy

It can be difficult for boys to know what to do with feelings of closeness and tenderness toward another person. Especially when that is not part of our society’s definition of what it means to be a man.

Our culture has rather narrow expectations of ideal masculinity. Studies have identified beliefs that men should be independent and self-reliant, be physically tough, not show emotion, be dominant and sure of themselves, and be ready for sex. William Pollack argues that we’ve actually created a “boy code”, which means you’ve got to be tough and divorced from your emotions, except anger – anger is OK.

This viewpoint can create an internal conflict when a boy begins to feel attraction and tenderness toward, for example, a girl that he likes.

One study of ninth grade boys found a complex interaction between boys’ desire for intimacy and emotional connection, and the pressure they felt to conform to traditional masculine norms that tell them not to show emotion.

Let’s imagine ourselves in the shoes of a boy who feels drawn to someone. Something inside him wants to connect emotionally so he can share his feelings, disappointments, and passions. Something creates a desire to have that person respond with acceptance and affection. This is emotional intimacy, which is a universal human need. Unfortunately, emotional intimacy is something boys rarely hear anything about.

Don’t wait! Talk to boys about relationships now

Boys do want to talk about these feelings. We can sense the longing and confusion boys feel in this quote from a 16-year-old boy when asked what he wanted to learn in sex education. Instead of wanting to know about sex, he said:

“We want to be told what it’s like to fall in love.”

And a 17-year-old explained how it feels to have his romantic feelings dismissed by adults:

“When we tell an adult we are in love they don’t take us seriously but laugh and say its just a crush you’ll get over it, they just put us down.”

How can we guide our boys and help them honor these feelings in healthy ways? Here are a few tips for teaching boys about love, romantic feelings, and emotional intimacy.

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Build emotional awareness

Practice talking about feelings with boys. All kinds of feelings! It’s so important to help boys develop emotional awareness and expression.

Romance, love, and emotional intimacy are life-energizing emotions. Boys need to know that all of us have the same kinds of feelings. You can even use an emotion wheel to help them put words to what they are feeling.

Discuss the unhealthy beliefs in our culture that sometimes dictate that boys are not supposed to feel and express “soft” emotions.

Talking about feelings can be part of everyday life in our homes. Give boys a chance to get comfortable sharing safer, less personal feelings before asking about deeper personal emotions. It may be asking too much of a boy to discuss romantic feelings if he’s not used to sharing times when he feels lonely or left out, for example.

We can start by sharing our own emotions more often – even painful feelings. That’s the best way to create a safe place to talk about feelings. Then we can ask our boys how they are feeling and keep inviting them to share to get beyond answers like, “Fine.” It might help to say,

  • “When I was your age, I sometimes felt …”
  • “Lots of kids your age feel like …, do you sometimes feel like that too?”
  • “I learned that when I share how I feel with someone else, I feel better. You might find that too.”

We can make this something we do frequently at home, giving boys lots of practice talking about how they feel. Be patient, over the years you will see progress!

While you are talking about good relationships, help kids understand how pornography can hurt relationships and teach them steps to stay safe! Read Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids with ages 6-11 and Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr.: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds with ages 3-7

“Have you wanted to talk to your kids about pornography, but didn’t know what to say?! I’ve felt that way for quite some time and finally found a solution – Good Pictures Bad Pictures. . . I highly recommend this book to all people with children. A must have for all parents!” – Amazon Review. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.

Have boys teach you about feelings

All of us often come to new insights as we talk out loud about things. Ask boys their opinion. We can ask,

  • “What do you think love means?”
  • “How would you describe what it feels like to love someone?”
  • “What do you think the purpose of love is?”
  • “How can you show someone you love them?”
  • “Have you seen any good examples of love?”

Maybe a boy has thought this through already, or maybe he hasn’t been encouraged to sort these things out yet. Help him process a feeling by asking questions about it.

Kids are more likely to want to give their opinion than hear a parent lecture. They need to talk about what they feel more than they need a lesson on feelings. All kids, boys included, like to know that their ideas are important to adults. Be sure you listen more than you talk!

You don’t have to know all the answers

It’s okay if love and emotional intimacy are somewhat mysterious and hard to describe. We only have to share what we have felt in the best way we can.

If a boy asks his father or another man what it feels like to be in love, he will be perfectly happy with a response such as, “I don’t know how to describe it. I just feel all warm and tingly inside,” or “It feels like really wanting to be around another person and I can’t stop thinking about them,” or “It made me feel amazingly happy if she just said ‘Hi!’”

Want to know the most powerful way to teach about emotional intimacy? Share your own stories of being in love and romantic relationships. Boys don’t want a class on love, they want to hear stories about what love feels like.

Expressing love

Boys need help knowing appropriate ways to express their feelings of love. Sometimes it can feel so huge that some boys overreact in ways that have the opposite effect they were hoping for!

While the feelings they have are big and powerful, making a grand statement to a girl or buying her something really expensive can scare her away. Boys need to know that girls often appreciate most the small things that let them know they are noticed. Simple gestures can be very meaningful, such as;

  • Listening to what they have to say
  • Asking questions about what they enjoy doing
  • Coming to an event the girl is participating in
  • Nice notes
  • Simple acts of service
  • Gifts can be sweet, especially if they are small and thoughtful

One high school boy would leave for school early on a winter’s morning so he could stop by his girlfriends’ house and scrape the ice off her car windows as a surprise. Now that’s a memorable act of love.

And of course, talk about appropriate ways to express physical affection according to your family’s values.

“The message may be different for each family based on their culture and dynamic. The important thing is that the policies be very clear, consistent and enforced. Kids should know exactly where parents stand when it comes to their digital lives, as well as actual dating. And they should be aware of the consequences if they don’t follow the established family rules.” Fran Harding, director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services

Ideas for Valentine’s Day: Celebrate emotional intimacy

Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love and romance – the perfect teaching moment! Talking to boys about relationships and emotional intimacy around this holiday is a natural fit.

Here are a few ideas for talking to your son:

  1. Family discussion. Gather the family and ask, “What is Valentine’s Day for?” After everyone has shared a little, pose the question, “What is love and what does love feel like?” Parents could share stories about when they had tender feelings of affection. Especially if fathers, grandfathers or other male role models talk about love, boys will learn that it is normal for boys have these feelings as well.
  2. Father-son talk. A father or other father figure could take a boy out for a burger to celebrate the holiday. Dad could mention that Valentine’s is a time we celebrate intimate relationships. That dad could explain that emotional intimacy is feeling very close to another person, and being able to share our thoughts and feelings with someone who shows the same kind of interest to us. The father might share times he has experienced these feelings and invite the boy to share if he has ever felt that way toward anyone. Let the conversation flow naturally after that.
  3. Movie Night. Celebrate Valentine’s Day with a movie that shows a healthy romantic relationship. It might take some thought to find one geared in a way that a boy could appreciate it. The movie should focus on romantic feelings, not the physical expression of love, so that the boy can tell the difference. For example, Disney’s animated Aladdin is at a child’s level and is focused more on the male character than the female. Have a brief conversation afterward about the feelings of attraction and affection the male character, such as Aladdin, had for the female, such as Jasmine. In that conversation, discuss that it is normal for boys to eventually have feelings like this. Ask your son what he thinks about the idea of romance and attraction.
Get our free guide to the best sites for choosing good family movies at the end of this post!

Valentine’s Day vs Pornography

Pornography is the antithesis of healthy emotional intimacy. Valentine’s Day is a celebration of the best kind of loving intimacy, and pornography can never give that. This is a good time to teach boys that there is something waiting for them in the future that is more fulfilling than the false illusions of pornography.

In spite of the progress our culture has made toward being open with our feelings, boys still feel pressure to pretend they don’t care about such things. We can make a difference this year and give them opportunities to talk in the safety of our home. Men do need emotional intimacy and do have romantic feelings. All boys come to a time when they want to know what love is. We can help them see that this is a wonderful thing!

10 Best Websites for Choosing Family Movies

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Good Feelings Bad Feelings: Helping Kids Unravel Pornography’s Tricky Dual Emotions

Good Feelings Bad Feelings: Helping Kids Unravel Pornography’s Tricky Dual Emotions

I remember the first time I saw pornography. You probably do, too.

I was nineteen, at a bachelorette party, and very confused by my emotions at the time. I felt caught between arousal and disgust as I watched the scenes unfold before me. How could something that initially sent a rush of good feelings leave me feeling so gross inside?

These days, children a decade younger than I was have been exposed to content that may be even more shocking. If I was bewildered at the age of nineteen, how much more are they?

Pornography exploits natural feelings

Here’s the plain truth: Sexual activity is supposed to feel good. Those good feelings are actually a sign that our bodies are working just the way they were meant to. If procreation required activity that we didn’t enjoy, our species would come to end rather quickly. (Side note: I know that not all people derive pleasure from sexual activity. Much of that happens because of hurtful things, such as abuse. Here I am talking about the intended design of our bodies.)

Unfortunately, viewing pornography activates the same hormones that sexual connection with another human does. This arousal sends the “This feels good! Let’s keep doing it!” signal to the brain.

But instead of deepening a relationship with another person or creating a new life, all that remains is a confused child who doesn’t understand the opposing feelings within his or her body. What are these the dual emotions? Many kids say that although they may feel excited, interested and attracted at the outset, they also feel “yucky” or “sick to their stomach.”

Acknowledge dual feelings

It’s common for internet safety educators to advise kids to get help from a trusted adult if they see anything online that is confusing, that they know is wrong, or when something feels “off”.

When we don’t explain that pornography can create both bad feelings and good feelings at the same time, kids may feel like there is something wrong with them. They may decide they are bad kids because they had good feelings watching bad things. And they may hide in shame instead of reaching out for help.

Related: Porn is Tricky! SMART Parents Assist Kids to Understand Feelings

The highs of pornography

Even when kids have not started puberty, they can still be affected by viewing pornography. Kids as young as eight years old have contacted Fight the New Drug for help stopping their porn viewing. Even kids too young to experience sexual feelings may continue watching simply out of curiosity. It’s their job to grow up and become an adult, so they try to figure out what grown-ups do.

Girls can start puberty as early as eight years old, while most boys don’t start until age ten. That’s still pretty young. Pornography goes to extreme lengths to activate those “feel good” hormones so kids get hooked early and keep coming back for more. That’s why 10% of the visitors to porn video sites are less than 10 years old.

This is the high of porn.

Get your bonus Care Tags Template at the end of this post for a fun bonding activity to do with your kids!

The lows of pornography

While our kids have sexual feelings, they also have a developing conscience. They are beginning to understand ethical choices of right and wrong, such as what is fair and how to treat others.

Just as porn turns on their sexual interest, it also activates their conscience. This is why kids say they feel upset after viewing pornography. This physical feeling is tied to emotional responses such as:

  • Shock and even trauma from being exposed to explicit sexual activity at a young age. (Even lots of adults find it disturbing.)
  • Shame from watching nudity and sexual behavior, which kids know should be private. Then they often feel they are a bad kid themselves.
  • Sadness from seeing the mistreatment of another human being.
  • Fear that something bad could happen to them or someone they love.
  • Guilt if they broke the rules in their family or school.
  • Anxiety because they are worried they will get in trouble.

This is the low of porn.

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 help kids who have seen pornography

The emotional collision instigated by porn

To illustrate just one of these emotional responses, consider that we tell our children the importance of modesty. We teach them to keep their clothes on in public and shut the door to the bathroom. We train them to protect their bodies, that no one should touch their private areas. We share appropriate affection with our spouses around the kids and keep sexual intimacy private behind a closed and locked door.

But with pornography, it’s all laid bare for anyone to see. Kids know that what they are watching, they shouldn’t be. Another collision of emotions.

Prepare your young kids to be safe with Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds CLICK HERE to learn how to protect kids ages 3-6 from the dangers of pornography.

From confused to confident

As adults, we know it can be challenging to reconcile conflicting emotions. We want the brownie, but we also want to lose weight. We want a brand new car, but we also want to get out of debt. We want to manage time productively, but we get sucked in by Facebook. Wanting opposing things is hard to manage at any age!

Remembering this, we can help our children navigate the trickiness of porn. Here are some tips to help you E.N.G.A.G.E. and guide them as they untangle their confusing feelings.

  1. Empathize: Your child already feels horrible. Shame elicits the desire to hide – and this is the last thing you want when it comes to pornography. Instead, empathize with them. Talk about mistakes you made that made your stomach hurt. Affirm that they are not defined by what they have seen. Reassure them that you love them and will be there for them.
  2. Normalize: It’s so important for kids to know their sexual feelings are normal and good. Let them know it’s how their bodies are designed, and that you are glad they have these good and powerful feelings. Share the reasons why we have these feelings. Reinforce your family’s values about appropriate ways to express sexual feelings as they grow and when dating and marrying.
  3. Guard: Talk about working together for better online safety. What were the circumstances that surrounded the encounter with pornography? What ideas do they have to help them stay safe? What can you do as a parent to guard their safety?
  4. Agree: Come to an agreement that pornography is harmful for them. Why is seeing pornography making them feel so down and distressed? Those bad feelings are a sign that they are a good person who recognizes when something is wrong. Even young kids understand the value of people. You can explain that watching porn affects how they think about others. Teach your kids about the detrimental effects of porn, adapted for their age. Here’s an overview of some of the harmful effects of porn.
  5. Give: Give your child tools for what to do when they encounter it again. Make sure to check out the Can Do Plan. Brainstorm ideas on how to handle it if they ever feel tempted to seek out porn. Can they ask you to do something? Go outside and play? Call a friend?
  6. Encourage: Encourage your child to keep coming back to you. They can ask questions. They can tell you they’ve seen something bad. They can turn to you when their friends are pressuring them. Open communication is critical to connection with your child. The more meaningful relationships they have, the less likely they will seek after porn and other addictive substances.

As a parent, I totally get that talking to your kids about their sexual feelings is awkward. It can feel safer to ignore the natural and healthy sexual development of our kids, and just focus on how bad pornography is. Getting past our discomfort and talking openly about both the good and bad feelings that come with pornography gives your kids power to manage their emotions. Building a support system and healthy communication that will last for years to come makes it all worth it.

Bonus: Free Care Tags Template

Writing Care Tags is a fun and healing way to help kids learn to express their emotions. Learn more about this activity here and click below for your free template!

Perfection Not Required! How Parents in Recovery Can Help Their Kids Reject Porn

Perfection Not Required! How Parents in Recovery Can Help Their Kids Reject Porn

Many parents today know what it’s like to be caught in the trap of pornography as a kid – and then struggle with it as an adult. These moms and dads can feel unqualified to teach their children to reject pornography. This is especially true when a parent has not completely won the battle yet. It can feel hypocritical to warn their children about the dangers when they are still learning or have not been free for long.

The truth is that our experiences give us unique insight to mentor a child away from such damaging, sexually explicit content. While your past or present struggle with porn may feel like an embarrassment, this is one case where it can be used to help your children.

I know this works because pornography was a huge challenge for me as an adolescent and young adult. Rather than keep that secret from my children, I shared my story with them. That became the most powerful tool we had in our family to help our children resist pornography. I invited them into my journey and that has made all the difference.

The past can guide a better future for our kids

When a parent has had a challenge resisting pornography they can speak with greater understanding. It is one thing to warn a child away from what we have never been interested ourselves. It is quite another when we know first hand how powerful the allure can be.

Crystal Point of Motherly said in an article about parents who have an addiction or other compulsive behavior problem,

“When it comes to addiction, knowledge is power – and hope and healing. Don’t shy away from these conversations.”

Our past failures resisting pornography do not disqualify us – they give us additional credentials to guide our children.

How your struggle with pornography can benefit your child

If your child is young or has not intentionally viewed pornography, we don’t have to go into much detail about our experience with it. They should know it is something that has affected us negatively, but most of all they should know that we are taking action and making progress to overcome it. Children benefit when they see their parents working on their own issues, whether that is related to pornography or something else. Perfection is not required!

In my experience, children who are aware of a parent’s battle with pornography are typically proud of them for working on it, not ashamed of their parents. The only time I have seen a child feel ashamed of a parent is when the parent had done nothing to get help to change. Children are amazingly forgiving of a parent who sometimes fails if they see the parent really trying.

Once a child admits they feel drawn to pornography it is time to be open about our story. Show them they have a partner on this journey. As they hear your story unfold they will pay attention to what you tried and what worked. They will apply this to their own lives, learning from watching you grow. Even your past failures can teach them. When they see you are determined to change, they will be less likely to give up.

Validating a child’s natural attraction

Parents who have struggled with porn understand their child’s interest. Children are naturally curious about sex. In fact, we are all biologically designed to be drawn to sexualized images. When a child does become curious about pornography they may feel there must be something wrong with them. They can feel too embarrassed to tell us. A parent who knows exactly what it feels like to be drawn to it can honestly say to their child, “I know how you feel.” This gets their full attention and opens the door to honest conversation.

Help children understand why they are naturally attracted to pornography and teach them a plan that will help them turn away! Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids for ages 6-11 and Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr.: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds for ages 3-7 are read-aloud books that make it easy and comfortable to start talking to kids.

“Have you wanted to talk to your kids about pornography, but didn’t know what to say?! I’ve felt that way for quite some time and finally found a solution – Good Pictures Bad Pictures. . . I highly recommend this book to all people with children. A must have for all parents!” – Amazon Review. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.

Showing them how to get back on track after slips

We can relate to wanting to stop viewing it but failing at times. It is common for a child to be completely convinced that pornography is harmful, but still, find it very difficult not to take advantage of opportunities to view it when they arise. Even if this happens only once, a child will be confused about why they found it hard to keep their commitment to stay away. A child can feel they are broken for giving in, even if it was only once or twice.

A parent who has felt the pull of pornography understands this discouragement very well. They realize that when pornography hooks us, it can take time to sever that tie. When a parent shares experiences of returning again after vowing they would not, the child realizes someone understands them. Sharing our own stories of failure – and our determination to keep trying – help keep the door open when a child may be ready to shut it in shame.

Teaching that boundaries keep us safe

Children can get upset when parents limit access to the Internet or won’t allow them to have a smartphone yet. They can feel like they are missing out on what their friends are doing.

We know what it is like to give up some freedom to build our own safety. Most parents who have been through recovery from compulsive pornography use have chosen to restrict their own access to the internet in some ways. They have set their own rules to help them accomplish their goals. They may have asked a friend to help them be accountable. This is a common practice, especially early in recovery. These parents can reassure their children, “I learned to do without some things too, and I found I was better off.” The child is no longer alone.

In fact, parents could decide to take on some of the same limitations that the child is experiencing. For example, we could say, “Since I have had trouble with this too, we will both limit our access to the Internet to this computer in the living room, and only when someone else is with us.” Kids love fairness! And erasing what kids might see as a double standard could help them feel supported.

Working together toward healthy, happy living

We can actually share their journey of recovery. This is the most beautiful aspect of a parent who has experience with overcoming pornography helping their child. Rather than lecture a child, we can invite them into the same journey we are taking.

With older children, we can have transparent conversations that inspire them to make their own wise decisions. Instead of just asking how they are doing avoiding pornography, we can talk about how each of us is doing. We can admit that at times we still feel the pull, and celebrate times when each of us walked away. It is a powerful thing for a parent to say to a child, “Let’s do this together.”

We can share from our own experience why pornography is harmful – how we realized it was holding us back from the best things in life, and the trouble it caused us. We can share how much happier we are when we are free from using pornography. This witness can have a profound impact on your kids.

You have experience with what has worked for you. Now you can share that with your child.

Related: How Dads Can Protect Their Kids Online: Excellent Advice from a Therapist

Teen encourages parents to share

One teenage boy shares why it can be helpful for parents to be open about their story. He knows because his own father did that with him.

 “One thing adults fear is their kids won’t want to hear from them if you also struggle with pornography. But the truth is, your kid would rather hear from you, especially if you’ve messed up. Because right now, if they’ve messed up and they gave in to pornography, they are probably confused and feeling like, ‘No one understands me, who am I going to talk to?

But if you come as their parents and are telling them, ‘Hey, I understand, I’ve been through the exact same thing,’ and you share your own stories and your own struggles and solutions then that’s going to make them feel a lot more comfortable and relaxed. They will think, ‘Someone does understand me and, hey, it’s my parents who understand me.’ I think that’s a really good thing when that happens.”

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Tips for parents who have a history with pornography

  1. There is power in your story. Parents sometimes worry that sharing their history will somehow harm their child, but the opposite is usually true. Trust what you know, don’t be ashamed of it.
  2. You know what helped you. Trust your experience.
  3. You know your child. You are the best person to decide how to apply what you know in light of your child’s unique personality. A customized approach is always best!
  4. You can sense things others miss, such as when your child is feeling shame or when they need to talk.

Stages of sharing your story with your kids

  • When your child is young, tell them about the first time you were exposed to pornography. How did it happen and how did you feel? Do you look back and wish you had felt safe to talk to your parents? Ask them to come to you when they see it. Reassure them that they will not be in trouble and you can help them feel better.
  • When your child reaches adolescence share more about how you realized pornography was causing problems in your life, and what you did to start resisting effectively. Then help them find ways to cope with difficult feelings rather than escape into porn. You can discuss and work through negative feelings together.
  • If your child admits to (or was caught) seeking out pornography, tell them you know how they feel. Explain how you would promise yourself you were done with viewing it for good, but later felt a strong urge to see it again. Invite them to come and talk to you when they feel like they are being drawn to it.
  • There are things we should not share, as they could be damaging to our children. We should not describe the pornographic images we looked at. We don’t ever want to paint an erotic picture in their mind that stays with them. We should never tell them websites we went to, or any other place where we learned to find pornography. That could lead them to go look in the same places.

Related: How to Warn Against Porn Without Scaring Your Child

When your spouse has struggled with pornography

If you weren’t personally involved with pornography but your spouse was, you can decide together how to help your kids. Don’t be afraid to encourage your child to talk to your spouse. They have important things to share with your child that you cannot. This assumes, of course, that your spouse is willing and they have been actively working on their issues.

Silence puts our children at risk, so we can’t let shame and fear keep us from talking. If we know from personal experience how damaging pornography is, we have an even greater motivation to give our children every opportunity possible to avoid the pain we have been through. And you may find that your relationship with your children becomes a powerful bond that strengthens all of you.

Note from Protect Young Minds: We appreciate this father’s perspective, and we love sharing other parent’s experiences with you. We learn from each other’s stories. We also recognize that there is a wide range of experiences in homes that have been impacted by pornography. As a parent, you can make the best decisions about how to approach this in your family. Our hearts go out to everyone who has experienced the pain of pornography in any way. This is why we all work so hard to help children grow up free from these problems.

Get your free guide: 5 Things Teens Wish Their Parents Knew About Porn

Wondering how to understand your teenager and their challenges better? Our friends at Fight the New Drug helped us create this guide. Click below for your free copy!

Parent Alert! The Dark Web Endangers Curious Kids

Parent Alert! The Dark Web Endangers Curious Kids

Our monthly Parent Alert! news updates inform parents so they can stay ahead of the latest trends.

Here’s What’s Trending in January 2019

Teach kids to stay far away from the Dark Web

Have you ever heard your older kids or teens talking about Tor? If so, you will want to dig in and find out more right away! Tor (The Onion Router) is the main way to get into the Dark Web, without anyone being able to identify the user or track their activity. In the wrong hands, it is used to access illegal and dangerous content. While Tor itself is not the Dark Web, it is one of only a few ways to access it.

One middle-school boy asked his parents to let him download Tor on his school laptop, saying that the school internet was too slow and this would allow him to do his homework faster. When his parents pressed him to learn more, they discovered that his friends were using it to bypass school filters and play games and music at school. Fortunately the parents did not let him continue with this plan.

Tor is free and easy to download, and gives anyone the key to the most horrific and dangerous content down in the depths of the Dark Web.

What is the Dark Web?

In a nutshell, the Dark Web (or Dark Net) is part of the internet – but it’s hidden deep within. That’s why people need special encrypted software such as Tor to access it.

Many of us access only a fraction of the total internet. We stay on the surface and mostly browse the Open Web. This is anything that can be publicly viewed using a search engine such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. As vast as it seems, it is only about 10% of what is on the internet.

The next level of browsing is the Deep Web. This is where a much larger percentage of the Internet exists, and you can’t get to it unless you are authorized. A lot of the Deep Web is made of ordinary password-protected sites such as government, banking and financial records, subscription sites, legal documents and medical records.

Going much further in is the Dark Web. This is where a hidden (and heinous) world of sex trafficking sites and illegal activity takes place. People buy illegal drugs and weapons, hire hit men, harass people in suicide chat rooms, learn about hacking, sell stolen goods and promote terrorism. Child sex abusers “share enormous quantities of the most vile child exploitation images”.

“Have you wanted to talk to your kids about pornography, but didn’t know what to say?! I’ve felt that way for quite some time and finally found a solution – Good Pictures Bad Pictures. . . I highly recommend this book to all people with children. A must have for all parents!” – Amazon Review. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.

Child exploitation is rampant on the Dark Web

In fact, The Washington Times began the New Year with this headline: Darknet keeps exploding child-porn epidemic a step ahead of prosecutors. Today, one child sexual abuse image posted on a message board can quickly reach tens of thousands of views. This alarming reach is “now the norm for the seedy corners of the internet known as the darknet, where access to child pornography is growing at an astonishing pace.”

Why are we warning you about this? Because your tweens and teens may have heard about Tor or have friends who use it. They may even have downloaded it. You need to be able to recognize what it is in case you hear your kids talking about it or you discover it on their devices.

Instructions on how to use Tor (and other anonymous browsers) are easily found on the open web, and curious kids might be enticed to explore. They probably would not intend to use it for anything disturbing, but they could unintentionally find their way into some terrible places.

“I went on the deep web once out of plain curiosity, instant regret” – Comment from a 13-year-old

Tips for parents about the Dark Web:

Education and open conversation:

  • Ask your kids what they already know, and then build on that.
  • Part of the attraction to the Dark Webis the mystique associated with it. Take charge and educate your child about the real dangers such as child sex trafficking, sextortion, and accidentally viewing child abuse images or other illegal activity.

Supervision

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Ground-breaking study links changes in kids brains with screen time

11,000 kids. Twenty-one research sites. 300 million dollars. Ten years.

These are the building blocks for a landmark research project being conducted through the National Institutes of Health. They are studying the effects of screen time on the brain development and mental health of 9- and 10-year old children. The study will follow them through their tween years and on to young adulthood.

It’s the most ambitious project of its kind to date.

Last month, 60 Minutes reported on preliminary findings from the study, based on the initial brain scans of 4,500 children.

Here are some key findings:

  • Brain scans showed significant differences in brain structure in kids who spent 7+ hours a day on devices versus those who did not.
  • Brain changes included a premature thinning of the brain cortex in kids who used devices most heavily. The cortex is the outermost layer of the brain that processes information from the senses.
  • There is data to support that kids who spend more than two hours a day with screens score lower on thinking and learning tests.

“We’re in the midst of a natural kind of uncontrolled experiment on the next generation of children.” Dr. Dimitri Christakis, Seattle Children’s Research Institute

What can parents take away from this study so far?

  1. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that parents should avoid letting children younger than 18 to 24 months use digital media, except video chatting.
  2. Tristan Harris, a former Google manager, warns that kids are being caught in the crossfire of technology’s war for attention.” Today’s devices are designed to keep users engaged – there is a built-in addictive quality to them that we cannot ignore. And kids who have gone through a digital detox are reporting the benefits of decreased screen time.

Our kids are growing up in a digital revolution! And it’s hard to tell what things are going to look like on the other side. We can model good digital citizenship through our own responsible use of technology, and guide our kids with a thoughtful plan that gives them appropriate responsibility with age.

The new Dyno Smartwatch could be just right for your kids

Looking for a way to stay in touch with your younger kids without giving in to the smartphone pressure? This product may be what you’re looking for! Coolpad has unveiled a new smartwatch for kids ages 4 – 9.

The new Dyno smartwatch connects to an app on a parent’s smartphone. Some of its family-friendly features are:

  1. Texting, voice messaging, and direct calling from a limited, parent-approved contact list
  2. A geofencing function that alerts parent if their child goes out of an established geographic boundary or “safe zone”
  3. An SOS button on the side so that kids can call emergency contacts or 911
  4. It also counts steps. Maybe it will encourage kids to move around more!

This kid-friendly watch is minimal by design. Coolpad did not want to build a device that had kids staring at another screen. So kids can’t connect to the internet, play games or download apps.

The watch retails for $149.00 plus $9.99 per month for a service plan (it works on 4G LTE network). It will be available at the end of January.

While this device is meant to be a safer alternative to an internet-connect smartphone, remember that no device is foolproof. The kid’s smartwatch is a relatively new industry, and as with all technology, parents should use their discretion with how and when to introduce devices.

Why would kids post nude images of themselves?

Parents, find out what your kids are doing online.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are warning parents to be vigilant after four children between the ages of 8 to 12 voluntarily shared nude photos and videos of themselves on various websites.

It’s already deeply disturbing when children are exploited by adults. What influenced these children to seemingly choose to share exploitive images of themselves? Did pornography play a role? We don’t know for sure, but it certainly seems likely.

“Pornography is often a main factor, and sometimes the only factor, that influenced a child to act out in a sexually harmful way.” Heidi Olson, RN

Thankfully, the kids were identified by the RCMP’s Internet Child Exploitation Unit and are safe.

But there are still consequences.

Their images have been distributed and perhaps shared widely – compromising their identities, privacy, and safety. We truly hope the emotional needs of the children and their families will be cared for.

News reports such as these are wake-up calls. Our kids are on the front lines of a sexualized culture that seeks to disrupt and undermine their integrity and well-being. Resolve in 2019 to be prepared and not scared.

Get your free guide for Top 10 Easy Conversation Starters!

These simple ideas will help you talk to your kids about staying safe from pornography. Click below for your copy!

Screen Time and Mental Health: Simple Life Hacks for Raising Resilient Kids

Screen Time and Mental Health: Simple Life Hacks for Raising Resilient Kids

Technology! It’s changed our lives, hasn’t it? Smartphones, social media, apps and more – they have so many amazing benefits. That’s why practically everyone uses them!

kids screen time and mental health

At the same time, too much of a good thing can turn into a harmful thing.

Many parents are wondering, “Does technology harm children’s mental health?

As exciting, innovative technology continues to unfold, an unfortunate trend is also rising: more mental health problems in children.

So … does screen time harm children’s mental health?

It’s been just over a decade since YouTube launched (in 2005) and Apple released its first iPhone (in 2007). Social media literally exploded – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat. Did you know that by 2014, the number of mobile devices in the world exceeded the number of people?

Research shows that mental health problems have increased at the same time as the growing popularity of smartphones and social media:

However, anyone who has taken an statistics class knows that correlation does not imply causation. In other words, just because two things happen at the same time doesn’t mean there is a cause-and-effect relationship.

Researchers can’t say for sure that technology is a direct cause of worsening mental health. Let’s be honest, it’s rarely that simple anyway. We’re more likely seeing a rise in mental health issues because of several intertwined factors.

Possible digital threats to healthy childhood

An interesting theory comes from Victoria Prooday, an occupational therapist who works with children. She has seen a big change in children’s emotional health during the past 15 years. She calls it a “silent tragedy” and identifies some possible reasons. Today’s children are being deprived of the fundamentals of a healthy childhood, such as:

  • Emotionally available parents
  • Clearly defined limits and guidance
  • Responsibilities
  • Balanced nutrition and adequate sleep
  • Movement and time outdoors
  • Creative play, social interaction, opportunities for unstructured times and boredom

While reading through this list, I found myself asking, How many of these factors have been influenced by technology? There’s an argument for all of them!

For example, Prooday points out that instead of emotionally available parents, kids have “digitally distracted parents.” It’s possible that our own behavior with technology (like texting while your child is trying to tell you what happened at school) is part of the problem!

Here are a few other ways technology interferes with healthy habits:

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Blue light from screens affects people’s ability to fall asleep. And kids who take electronics to bed get distracted and don’t sleep well.

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Kids spend hours playing increasingly addictive video games, instead of playing outside.

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Teens now prefer texting to face-to-face communication, leading to less real social interaction.

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Toddlers don’t have a chance to get bored and learn to manage their emotions because they are given screens as pacifiers.

The point is, even when technology is not directly to blame for worsening mental health, it influences factors that DO have an impact on our mental health.

Related: What is Screen Time Really Doing to your Kid’s Brain?

You can raise healthy kids in a digital world!

Prooday recommends some healthy lifestyle hacks to improve your child’s well-being:

  • Provide nutritious food and limit snacks.
  • Spend one hour a day in green space: biking, hiking, fishing, watching birds and insects.
  • Have a daily technology-free family dinner.
  • Play one board game a day.
  • Involve your child in one chore a day (folding laundry, tidying up toys, hanging clothes, unpacking groceries, setting the table etc).
  • Implement a consistent bedtime routine to ensure that your child gets lots of sleep in a technology-free bedroom.

I love her suggestion of a technology-free dinner. Family dinner should be a time to nourish your body as well as your relationships with each other! (Quality relationships help improve mental health, yay!). You can enjoy a few laughs as a family by watching Common Sense Media’s #DeviceFreeDinner videos on YouTube. And then make a family commitment to put your phones away in time for dinner.

Pornography is not a healthy coping skill for loneliness

So let’s talk about one of the worst emotions ever – loneliness. U.S. adults feel lonelier than ever, according to a CIGNA study released in 2018.

The loneliest group, though, are young adults who were children just a few years ago: Generation Z (adults ages 18-22). These young people grew up totally immersed in a tech-driven culture. This group also “claims to be in worse health than older generations.”

These findings align with the results of a 2017 study where 32% of 16-24 year olds said they felt lonely most or all of the time – compared to only 11% of people over 65.

Some children, teens, and adults who feel lonely turn to pornography looking for relief. Looking at pornography is not an effective coping skill – I repeat; looking at porn does not make people feel better in the long run. In fact, it only makes the feelings of loneliness WORSE!

Mark Butler, a professor at Brigham Young University, describes that his study “suggests a close and painful partnership between pornography and loneliness for some users.” Butler and his colleagues discovered that as some people felt an increase in loneliness, they watched more pornography. As they watched more porn, their loneliness only intensified.

Butler calls this vicious cycle an “entrapment template … where the consequences of coping with loneliness through pornography use only increase loneliness, potentially locking the two in a self-fueling cycle.”

Start preparing kids to stay free from the trap of pornography while they are young! Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids is a safe and comfortable way to start teaching your 6 – 11 year old to build their digital defense skills. And
Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr.: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds is perfect for ages 3-7. Sooner is safer!

“Have you wanted to talk to your kids about pornography, but didn’t know what to say?! I’ve felt that way for quite some time and finally found a solution – Good Pictures Bad Pictures. . . I highly recommend this book to all people with children. A must have for all parents!” – Amazon Review. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.

Help kids choose positive ways to manage stress

What are some healthy coping skills? Here are some examples that kids and adults can use.

  • Physical activity
  • Listen to music
  • Draw
  • Spend time with a pet
  • Talk to a friend or family member
  • Deep breathing
  • Read a book
  • Take a bath

You can get even more ideas along with worksheets for both kids and adults here.

5 Tips for building kid’s mental health

As researchers continue to zero in on the reasons why more children and teens feel lonely, isolated, and depressed, you can establish positive habits in your own family to help promote good mental health and neutralize the effects of screen time.

1.    Teach your children how to take care of their physical bodies

The physical and mental aspects of your body are closely connected! The right  nutrition, sleep, and physical activity boost our immune system and mental health. To protect your child’s sleep, set a time in the evening when screens are put away outside of the bedroom (Bonus: This is also a protective factor from pornography.) Make sure sedentary time is balanced with physical activity – better yet, regularly involve the whole family in a game of tag or a swimming outing.

2.     Encourage social interactions offline

You can have hundreds of “friends” online but still feel lonely as you mindlessly scroll through feeds on social media. I don’t envy teens who, thanks to social media, see pictures and status updates every time someone they know is having a good time at a party. Talk about feeling left out!

To overcome feelings of isolation, help your child spend face-to-face time with friends and family. They’ll be creating memories and strengthening relationships with people they can turn to when something difficult comes along.

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kids screen time and mental health

3.     Model good digital hygiene habits

“Digital hygiene” is what Dr. Nicholas Westers calls setting boundaries and limits on technology. To safeguard mental health, he recommends:

  • Establish “no phone times” during dinner and before bedtime.
  • Take technology out of the bedroom

Additional boundaries and limits to consider:

  • Be clear about the amount of screen time allowed each day (not including homework)
  • Turn off most notifications so that you and your kids are not constantly interrupted and distracted
  • Ensure the content of your child’s games, apps, TV, and social media are appropriate for her age
  • Equip your child with a CAN DO Plan so they know what to do when they encounter pornography
  • Occasional “technology fasts” to reset tech habits

Keep in mind that if we want our children to have good digital hygiene, then we need to model healthy habits too. One thing I’ve recently done to improve my tech use is move my social media apps from the first screen of my smartphone to the last screen. Having to swipe a few times has lessened the temptation to scroll through social media; now I spend more time playing with my daughter!

4.     Engage in a variety of activities

Playing video games and watching YouTube videos are okay in moderation! Don’t panic if your child enjoys these things. Just make sure that your child also participates in activities that help build their confidence and competence in the physical world.

The Child Mind Institute nails it with this:

Another possible source of depression may be what teenagers are not doing while they’re spending time on social media, including physical activity and things that generate a sense of accomplishment, like learning new skills and developing talents.

Learn to play an instrument, take a cooking class, get involved in karate or gymnastics … activities like these will build your child’s confidence and strengthen social connections.

5.     Don’t be afraid to seek professional help

Some people experience mental health problems whether they have positive habits or not – just as our physical bodies come down with sicknesses despite our best efforts. It’s important to get help from a counselor when needed. If you ever wonder whether your child needs help from a professional for a mental health problem, it never hurts to ask his/her pediatrician.

If pornography is a challenge for your child, Does My Child Need Counseling? Reassuring Advice from a Porn Addiction Therapist can help you decide what to do to help.

There are many more things you can do to boost your child’s mental health. While the research on whether screen time damages children’s mental health is new and growing, consider this statement about kids and technology:

We are conducting the world’s greatest experiment on our kids in real time — and we don’t know how it’s going to turn out.” Liz Perle, Founding Editor-in-chief of Common Sense

Many of these ways to help kids may sound obvious – but they were easier to do in times past. Restoring these healthy practices into your family’s lifestyle will have long-lasting effects. The more intentional we are helping children manage their technology use, the safer they will be from possible negative effects – even some that we may not know about yet!

Get your free list of Emotional Needs!

This list will help you identify which needs can help build your child’s well-being. Click on the image below for your copy!