The Internet and Social Media: A Curse On Our Kids? Not If They Are Caregiving Kids

“Things are seldom what they seem.”

(William S. Gilbert, 1836-1911)

Nearly twenty-five years have passed since I was first introduced to Sir William’s cautionary and somewhat wistful quote. Although I learned of it early in my graduate study of the mass media, it remains one of the most pertinent pieces of wisdom I’ve ever encountered, often in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Here’s a telling example, starting with the back-story:

As the decade of the 80’s came to a close, a scholarly debate raged across University Schools of Communication. Today the topic seems almost quaint: My professors, a generation of social scientists informed by the written word (i.e., newspapers), was doing it’s level best to convince students raised on – and by – television that there was more to the “Big Picture” than what we were watching on the “small screen”. Of course, in the strictest sense, they were right. For many reasons, televised depictions paint the world around us in quick, broad, stereotypical strokes, bereft of almost any measured, in-depth, analysis. But what stuck with me most was the clear sense that these learned, “older” men and women didn’t quite like the way my generation and the media were headed. Of course, all of this was well before cable and satellite television had penetrated nearly 90% of American homes, a time when personal computers and “mobile” phones were little more than a novelty, years before the Internet truly enveloped the globe, and just about the time Mark Zuckerberg, inventor of Facebook, was completing the first grade.

Fast-forward to the present, and the irony makes me cringe: Two decades into a career as a television producer, erstwhile writer, and public relations professional, I slowly find myself “not quite liking the direction in which things are headed”, particularly with regard to the nation’s youth and their strong affinity for social media. Despite my best efforts to refrain from the same form of “generationalism” I perceived among my professors all those years ago, I can’t help but wonder – much as they must have: “What’s with young people these days?” As an example, I’ve observed that my ten-year-old nephew would rather game remotely with some faceless kid halfway across the country than go outside and play stickball with the neighborhood kids, most of whom, no doubt, are engaged in some form of digital diversion of their own!

Of course it’s not just kids who seem to have been swept away by the technological tsunami. Careful not to ask a digital native who Norman Rockwell was, but were he to capture a portrait of the American household today, it might not seem so idyllic: Here’s Junior texting a friend at the dinner table, little Missy dying to get back to her Facebook, and oh yes, Mom too, with one eye on a TiVo’d soap opera or Dad last to the table, checking online, one last time, the value of his stock portfolio. We rightly can and should bemoan such a phenomenon, a family physically under the same roof, yet miles away from any true, human, face-to-face interaction.

Recently however, I’ve learned of a very special group of young people for whom I cannot begrudge the Internet, or Facebook, or any of the other myriad forms of electronic communication. In their particular case, I’ve been reminded that “things are certainly not as they might seem.”

The truth is, even the aforementioned portrait of the American family, troubling as it may seem, is something of a fantasy. Hard economic times, broken homes, latchkey kids…one struggles to conceive of an “average” American family in this day and age. The situation becomes infinitely more complex, in even the “healthiest” home, when a not-so-healthy family member is added to the mix.

For the last seven months, I’ve had the privilege of volunteering with The American Association of Caregiving Youth (AACY) in an outreach/media relations capacity. Unfortunately, if you haven’t heard of AACY, you are not alone. Not only is this modest, upstart organization the only one of its kind in the U.S., the children for whom it advocates bear no obvious, outward signs of the challenges they face. They come every race, every ethnicity, and every socio-economic stratum. Yet with regard to the public discourse on healthcare, they remain largely voiceless. How else could more than 1.4 million American kids, ages eight to eighteen, caring for chronically ill, injured, disabled, or aged family members go unnoticed? These are not simply kids helping with chores, or cooking and cleaning, but children administering medications, constantly monitoring a loved ones health, sometimes even acting as breadwinners…at the expense of their educations, their social selves, and often their own health.

AACY’s Boca Raton, FL-based model program, the Caregiving Youth Project (CYP), provides a variety of services in school, out of school and at home to help and support student caregivers in the state’s third most populous county. Working in partnership with the School District of Palm Beach County, the CYP currently serves nearly 400 caregiving youth and their families in 8 area middle schools and 17 high schools: a promising start, but modest in the face of an estimated 10,000 youth caregivers countywide. Services provided by the CYP include those one might commonly associate with a charitable, human services organization: home visits, tutoring, skills building, group activities, respite services, etc. I was on-board with all of these although “not so much” when informed by AACY’s founder and President, Dr. Connie Siskowski, of one of the organization’s crowning achievements: the acquisition of computers, printers, supplies, and yes – the bane of our existence – a year of Internet service for seventy-five of the organization’s most affected students.

No doubt, a donation valued at $100,000 in today’s lean economy is a generous and laudable act. But some part of me couldn’t help but wonder if the donor, AT&T, and the fiscal agent, the Palm Beach County Education Commission, hadn’t somehow got it wrong. Quietly, I wondered, “Wouldn’t that money have been better spent somewhere else?” As Dr. Siskowski explained how the challenge had presently become maintaining Internet service beyond the underwritten year, my mind went somewhere else immediately. I envisioned a group of already socially challenged kids retreating to their rooms, ignoring their daunting responsibilities and spending endless hours on Facebook. As it turns out, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Yes, Dr. Siskowski assured me, caregiving kids in the CYP do engage Facebook, sometimes heavily. And why wouldn’t they? After all, these are kids who, because of their adult-size responsibilities, cannot engage in after-school activities with their peers, can’t play sports or join clubs, often hurrying home immediately after the final bell to care for a family member. Perhaps the single psychosocial consequence most consistently articulated by caregiving kids in the program is the feeling of being utterly alone in their responsibilities. They feel like pariahs, ashamed of their predicament and unaware of its prevalence. Facebooking other caregiving kids helps dispel that erroneous and damaging notion, provides them the means for much needed interaction – indeed, any interaction with their peers – and teaches young caregivers they are part of a community.

Oh yes, and let’s remember that a child hurrying home to monitor grandma’s blood sugar can’t casually drop by the library after school to research a homework assignment. If that child is economically disadvantaged, as are many of the CYP’s kids, the assignment may never be completed. Home computers and Internet service are beyond the economic means of many of AACY’s kids, even in Palm Beach County, an ostensibly affluent community which also happens to have an inordinately high number of elderly, disabled, and immigrant populations. So while many of AACY’s caregiving kids are of modest economic means, their schools do not qualify for Title One entitlements which might otherwise offer improved curriculum, instructional activities, counseling, parental involvement, or increased staff and program improvement.

Were all of this not enough, Dr. Siskowski’s internal research indicates “connected” caregiving kids routinely use the Web to find information about their care-recipients’ medical conditions and search for economically priced medication, food and other household supplies. Adults too, in these caregiving households have used their newly provided connectivity to find community resources or employment. And AACY itself sees its own monthly e-newsletter “Treasure Talk” and its websites, as an integral means of communicating with its dual role youth. The sites provide information on and for youth caregivers, forums for youth, family and professionals, and information about medical conditions and community resources.

Once again, I’ve been reminded, “things are seldom what they seem.” As many of us often do, a preconceived set of notions about a complex cultural phenomenon prevented me from seeing a highly relevant truth about technology and kids today. Far from a curse, at least with regard to the unique case of student caregivers and their families, connectivity must be considered a blessing. Let caregiving kids have their Facebook; let them also have a chance to overcome their loneliness and social isolation, perform in school, better care for their chronically infirm loved ones; and while we’re at it, let’s give adults in the household a chance to get ahead as well. Maybe its time we gave them not only our blessing…but also, our support.

To learn more about the American Association of Caregiving Youth, go to, or contact the organization at 1-800-725-2512.

How Do You Talk to Your Kids About Swine Flu H1N1 Virus?

Are you having difficulty in talking to your kids about Swine Flu H1N1 Virus? You are not alone, but there is good news. Health organizations had issued very effective guidelines on how to handle this situation. As the Swine Flu gets worse, more parents get anxious about the safety of their families. Here are some guidelines on how to handle talking the swine flu pandemics issue with your children. These are collection I gathered from reliable health organizations.

Basic Guideline:

  • Do not show any nervousness to your kids. When you talk to them about this topic you must be relaxed and calm. Make it look like everything is normal and nothing very serious. It is interesting to note that children look to their parents for guidance. It is important to tell them what to do to avoid getting infected without causing an alarm.
  • Parents therefore should be prepared to know the symptoms and how to prevent it from spreading. Reassure your kids that the health officials in your community are doing extra careful in order and it can be prevented from spreading.
  • You must put enough time for your kids in explaining the swine flu virus. Ask them questions and make sure they understand it right. Find out what their worries are and start working out on how to eliminate it.
  • Give them accurate information and be honest. It is important that you maintain their trust in you.
  • Limit your kid’s exposure to the TV Swine Flu News. Too much news creates anxiety and it does not do any good to them.
  • As much as possible, maintain their normal routine and school activities.
  • Observe close contact with your school. Follow their instructions. If your kid is sick call them and them about it. Let you kid stay at home. Send him or her back to school when she recovers.

Talking to your children about the Swine flu virus pandemics requires special care. Discuss it with in relaxed mode and tell them your health and school officials are doing extra careful in preventing it from spreading out. Tell them also how to avoid from getting infected. Reassure them everything is well under control and the situation is only temporary.

Health Insurance in Illinois – Illinois All Kids Program For Children

When you bring up the topic of health care reform these days, you are sure to have a very heated, very opinionated discussion. As much as people want to talk about how the decision to make health care more accessible in America will affect taxes or quality of care, the sad truth is that millions of children all over the country are the ones that are suffering. If you can’t currently afford health insurance in Illinois, you should know that there are still options for providing care for your kids.

Children are more susceptible to sicknesses and injuries than adults, and while they are still developing their muscles and bones, it is important that they are taken for regular checkups with a physician that knows them and knows their physical needs. If you have a child with autism, a learning disability, or a chronic medical condition, it becomes even more important for them to have health insurance in Illinois. If you are struggling to make ends meet, and feel like you are being a bad parent because you can’t afford health care for your child, you should know that there are programs that can help.

The Illinois state government has created a program called All Kids that makes it possible for all children to have access to quality health insurance in Illinois whether their parents are able to afford the care themselves or not. Although there are other Illinois state funded programs designed to offer health services if the family is below the poverty level, the majority of people that are without access to medical care are those that work full time jobs.

Illinois All Kids provides comprehensive health insurance in Illinois for those children and families that make too much to qualify for other subsidized programs. A lot of these families are able to pick up health insurance themselves from their employers that offer an Illinois group health insurance plan but are not able to afford the premiums to add their spouse and or children to the plan. These parents are looking for options to get Illinois health insurance for their children and are often unaware of the Illinois All Kids program.

If you are interested in this program, you should know that there is more information available on the State of Illinois website. It is a good idea to read over the qualifications needed to get help through the program to make sure that you will be able to qualify.