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6 Fantastic Parenting Resources to Help Your Family Successfully Navigate The World Of Technology

Phil Meehan

If your family is like mine, disagreements about screen time and technology are more than just common; sometimes it feels like they are the source of every fight. Once in a while I imagine simply getting rid of all screens in the house – problem solved! Yes and no. At the end of the day, even though ipads, gaming systems, computers and phones can be problematic, the “problem” is not so much the technology itself, but ours and our children’s relationship with it. Rather than banishing it altogether, the goal is to foster a healthy ability to be responsible around technology. This responsibility includes being positive and safe with others when using technology as well as being able to put it aside without a fight.

With that said, here are 6 tools you can use that can help to create a positive environment around technology in your house.

1. Family Media Agreement

Having a FMA means that you have had a conversation with your child about what it is to be responsible with technology. You have talked about your expectations around technology, and your child has told you theirs. This is also a time to agree on the consequences should the agreement be broken. Here’s an example of a Family Media Agreement from Common Sense Media.

2. Rescue Time

This is an app that runs in the background of your computer or device. It tracks the time spent on different applications and gives you an actual picture of how time is spent on a screen, and you can include it in the Family Media Agreement. Each month or so, the real value for Rescue Time in developing responsibility in young people is then in the conversation you can have with them about that time. They will probably be as surprised as you. Having a discussion around distractions and legitimate use, and helping them come up with a plan when they see the data can build your shared understanding.

3. Common Sense Media

In addition to providing a good example of a family media agreement, CSM is a great tool for parents. It is a one stop shop if you are wondering if the movie you are about to watch on Netflix is appropriate for your nine-year-old as well as reviews on apps, TV shows, books and guides for parents divided by age. As they say, they Rate, educate, and advocate for kids, families, and schools”

4. Cyber Safe Kids Australia

When it comes to being safe online, avoiding technology full stop isn’t a practical solution in today’s world, especially in Singapore, one of the most connected cities on the planet. The folks behind CSKA work to teach individuals and communities to “behave safely, think critically and participate responsibly in digital environments.” Note “think critically” because it’s when our kids can do that, they are able to navigate the challenges and dilemmas they will face when you’re not around.

5. Minute Quick Social Media Primer

Here’s a 5 minute video from the Australian Government e-safety commission which gives parents an outline of some of the most popular social media apps and sites. Note that for every app they discuss, there are others that have the same function, and new ones being developed daily. It’s not about knowing every form of communication, but fostering a relationship where you can talk about them with your child.

6. Role Modeling

The most important thing you can do as a parent is to model the behavior you would like to see in your child. Think about what you want to see from your child with respect to technology: perhaps limiting it to fixed times, transitioning from online to offline without drama, screens away during family time or no screens in the bedroom. If you’re asking this of your kids, do they see the same from you? And if they see you doing the opposite, what message does that send in terms of the importance of the rule?

At the end of the day, learning to manage technology, like any new freedom, is a skill that takes time to develop and appropriate limits to help foster. By communicating with your kids about what you want, what you are afraid of and hearing things from their perspective, you strengthen your relationship with your child. It’s that relationship that is the backbone of your family and what your kids will rely on when times are tough.


This post originally appeared on March 15 on

Must Read Books for Parents Overseas: "Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds"

Phil Meehan

The book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds is one that every parent who is raising kids outside of their home culture should know. These parents include expats, military, missionary and even those who move from one part of the country (or city for that matter) to another. 

Pollock and Van Reken see the cultures that each parent grew up with as #1 and #2, and "Third Culture" as the one their child is growing up in. For some families, this is obvious because both parents grew up in different countries and are raising their children in a third. But the challenges, opportunities and nuances of being a third culture kid apply to just about anyone growing up in a different environment than what either they or their parents are familiar with.

Growing up a third culture kid (TCK) has opportunities and challenges. As Pollock and Van Reken say, "he third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the third culture kid’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of the same background, other TCKs.” Third culture kids are at home everywhere, but don't necessarily have a strong sense of home. "Where are you from" is a difficult question to answer for TCK's.

For parents raising TCK's, there are a number of things that Pollock and Van Reken discuss that can help emphasize the benefits and mitigate the challenges of growing up a TCK. On the emphasizing side of things, embracing the culture that you are living in - exploring, getting to know locals, being open to new experiences is important. There can be a tendency to focus on the negative, what is lacking, about a new location, which certainly takes away from the benefits of living in a new culture. On the other hand, maintaining links and ties to a home culture is a way to ensure consistency and roots for children. Skype and Facetime with grandparents, annual visits home to reconnect are two of many ways you can help your children maintain a sense of stability amidts the shifts of global living.

One of the best resources Pollock and Van Reken introduce is the RAFT framework for transitions. It's a way to think about the move for you and each of your family members - how do you "leave well"? The four elements are:

  • Reconciliation - because especially with social media, people are never truly out of your life. It's important to ensure closure with relationships.
  • Affirmation - one way to solidify a friendship before moving on is to let the person know how important they are to you.
  • Farewell - Saying goodbye to people and places. For some it's a "bucket list" from the place they are leaving.
  • Think Future - Leaving one place also implies arriving in a new destination. Consider what you are looking forward to and concerned about. 

Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds is an important book that every family raising kids abroad should read. Here are a couple other resources for TCK's, and an affiliate link to the book. 

This was originally posted March 2016 on 

Parenting Adolescents - Magic Moments

Phil Meehan

In preschool, children can’t wait to share with you just about everything they can remember about their school day. In elementary school, it isn’t everything, but important highlights from the day often find their way into dinner time conversation. At some point between the ages of 11 and 14, you will likely find that the conversation changes significantly. It may even feel as if an upset monosyllabic entity has taken up residence in your home.

Brain science shows us sound developmental reasons for this preteen behavior – neurons are pruned at a rate that can only be compared to toddlerhood, and hormones from puberty hit their strides. There are a number of ways to cope with adolescent changes as a family that can improve communication. However, the focus of this post is to keep things as simple as possible: Look for magic moments.
I’d like you to think back on the past month or two. When was communication with your adolescent better, even just a little bit better, for a short period of time? Was it at a particular time of day? Time of the week? During a particular activity? In a particular location? There’s a good chance that you already have an idea of when the magic moments of communication are most likely to occur. Those moments remind you vaguely of what communication used to be like, and also offer a window into what communication might be like on the other side of the adolescent storm. Each adolescent will open up at different times. Some of the most common magic moments are bedtime, while driving, when going for a walk, sharing a meal out or around the dinner table.

If the goal is to understand and be understood by your adolescent, the key to achieving this goal is to be aware of the best time to communicate and to use that time well. Let’s say that your son tends to open up as he’s getting ready for bed, whereas questions posed when he arrives home from school are met with a grunt. Rather than trying to force a conversation during “grunt times”, keep things simple – “We’ve got muffins in the fridge if you’re hungry – I’m going to the store, anything we need?” Then, as your son is winding down for the night, offer him your full attention. Ask him how his day was – who did he have lunch with, how’d that chemistry quiz go, what’s on the horizon for the weekend? You may just find yourself getting answers, and perhaps even being asked a question or two.

What about the times when the magic moment doesn’t work like it’s supposed to? You’ve waited until bedtime and still communication looks to be near impossible. In such cases, you’ve got some options. The first is to let it go for a day and try again tomorrow. A second is to offer a choice. For instance, you need your daughter’s thoughts on a big family decision and time is of the essence. Let your daughter know what you need to talk about and when you need to discuss it by, but acknowledge her feelings and try to give her a small choice: “Sorry Jane, I can tell that you’re not in the mood to talk tonight, but I’m going away on this trip tomorrow and we need to sit down and chat for a few minutes. Would it be better to talk now or better if I come back in fifteen minutes?” This shows your daughter that you acknowledge her mood, and that her perspective is important to you, which is sometimes all she needs.

As a parent, rather than lamenting the loss of one style of communication, this can be a chance to savor those times when communication does flow. It probably won’t be as often or as regular as you’d like, but by knowing when your child communicates best, you give them an opportunity to talk about things that are truly important to them in moments when they are physically and mentally able to.


This post originally appeared February 6 at 

Parenting: Hope or Fear?

Phil Meehan

Singapore American Newspaper, May 2015

The moment I first held my son I was filled with joy and hope for the possibilities ahead. That was quickly followed by a moment of fear – both “what now?” and “I hope I don’t screw this up.” Parenting is a balance between hope and fear; we wish the best for our kids and want them to enjoy safe passage through life, but fear creeps in as we encounter real and perceived danger all around.

Fear can be the driving force behind our parenting decisions. We constantly hear about things to be fearful of – strangers, cars, foods, too much screen-time, too little nature --the list is endless. When we parent from fear, we build walls between our child and the outside world, developing a parenting style where risk avoidance rather than learning is the goal. The fear of physical danger might mean that a young person may never leave his parents’ sight.  Another fear focuses on opportunities, such as academics; parents, swept up in a wave of activities and tuition, fearful that without them, their child won’t “succeed”. Finally there’s a fear of making mistakes, of not being the perfect parent. Of course he threw a tantrum; I knew better than to let my son play too much Minecraft!

How do we parent with hope? To manage risk around physical danger, rather than building walls, we build supports that allow kids to learn to manage risk age-appropriately. Kids learn when they fail or make a mistake but we are there to help them up and problem solve for the next time. The child who is always caught when they fall at the park, never experiencing pain, is more likely to take greater risks without the necessary skills than a child who learns through small falls and natural consequences.  As a child shows she can navigate her environment safely, she earns trust and further freedoms, and we feel hopeful because of her resilience.

Similarly, when we fear that a lack of academic tuition or extra-curriculars will keep our child from being successful - we also need to lean on hope.  Instead of choosing activities that we think will help our children gain a leg-up on peers, we can encourage children to follow their own interests and explore possibilities, even if it’s a different path than the one we envision.  When children find a fit and invest the time, whether it’s bugs, bass guitar or basketball, they will be more likely to stick to it when the going gets tough. This “stick-to-it-ness”, or grit, is what parenting out of hope encourages.

Finally, when it comes to parenting perfectly, we all have times where we actually do just that. Too often we get bogged down with the negative, admonishing ourselves for mistakes without celebrating successes. When you find something that works, keep doing it! And when you repeat the same thing over again with negative results, try something different. Rather than aspiring to perfection, it’s hopeful to recognize we’re doing our best with the resources, time and energy we have.

Managing "Overwhelm"

Phil Meehan

According to scientists at the University of Southern California, we are exposed to five times more information as we were back in 1986 (1). True, there’s a good chance that you weren’t born in 1986, and even if you were, there’s an even greater chance that you were not yet reading, but the point is that this feeling of being overwhelmed isn’t about how people today can’t deal: it’s that we are exposed to the equivalent of 174 newspapers worth of information on a daily basis! That an incredible amount of processing that our brains need to do between waking up and going to sleep. Our brain works like a muscle, and when you exercise it (a lot) over the course of a day, a week, a year, it gets tired.

So what can you do?  One of my favourite expressions is “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it… but if it is broken, try something different”. I think that when it comes to managing the busyness and stress of life these days, we sometimes tell ourselves “If I just work harder at doing this thing (um, this thing that hasn’t been working, because I’m stressed out, tired and getting sick), I’ll get it eventually.” I’d like to argue that it’s time to try something different.

According to Christine Carter from U.C. Berkeley, and her upcoming book “The Sweet Spot”, here are a few simple changes that can help to counteract the bad habits that contribute to feeling overwhelmed (2). 


Bad Habit 1 - By expecting to stay focused and productive all day, every day, we get tired, and more work doesn’t mean more productivity.

What to Do About It - Work for shorter bursts, then take real breaks - take a walk, do something you love, nap. Listen to your body (3); Pre-make decisions. [e.g. rather than agonizing over what you’ll have for lunch, follow a pattern – hey, if it works for Mark Zuckerberg… (4)].


Bad Habit 2 - Believe that multitasking is efficient, but the switching between tasks can increase the total time it takes to complete it by up to 25%.  

What to Do About It - Do one thing at a time (instead of working on a project while replying to messages and reading email and reading this blog!).


Bad Habit 3 - Constantly checking devices for information - this depletes our energy, increases feeling of being overwhelmed and since you’re always available, there’s no downtime.

What to Do About It - Technology free zones in your life/home. Take a break; Predictable time off (e.g. your friends know that you will not check devices between 9pm and 7am); Respond to information in bursts, but the rest of the time, your phone is on silent or better yet, silent and in another room.



(1)       Alleyne, Richard. "Welcome to the Information Age – 174 Newspapers a Day." The Telegraph, 11 Feb. 2011. Web.

(2)       Carter, Christine. "Week 7: Mental Habits That Contribute to "The Overwhelm""YouTube. Greater Good Science Centre, 13 Oct. 2014. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.

(3)       Ciotti, Gregory. "The Science of Why Energy Management Is the Key to Peak Productivity." IDoneThis Blog. N.p., 19 Oct. 2012. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.

(4)       "#AskMark: Why Do You Wear the Same Shirt Every Day?" Vimeo. Facebook, n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.

The Right Fit - Taking Fear Out Of The College Application Equation

Phil Meehan

"If I just get into the XYZ College or ABC University, my life will be great." Ever heard this or felt this way? Underneath this statement lurks the thought process that “If I don’t get into XYZ, life will be bad.”  Fear has always been one of the most powerful motivating forces: Think “fight or flight” when a large predator provided the motivation to not become dinner. When you stop to consider it, you know that the fear of not getting into one of the top universities in the world isn’t the same thing as being chased by a lion, tiger or bear, but our brains do not. When that fear is with you constantly, the stress is unhealthy.

Stress can be a positive motivator and moderate level of it will work in the short term. I remember being quite motivated to meet deadlines for papers; a little bit of adrenalin helped to keep me awake until it was done. But there’s a ton of research explaining the negative long-term consequences of a constant stressful state such as insomnia and a lowering of cognitive ability. (1)

The strange thing is that attending XYZ college is not at all a precursor to a “great life”. The reality is that there are almost 10 000 Colleges and Universities worldwide and gaining acceptance to the top 10 (you know the ones!) is an achievement closer to becoming an Olympic athlete than a well-rounded student. In fact, even when it comes to future financial earnings, studies show that there is little difference between universities (1). That’s not to say that future success is measured by $, but for some people that’s what matters. Finding the right college or university for you is much more important than attending the best college or university as determined by a magazine or website.

What about you?

  • An interesting experiment:  Take 10 minutes and imagine yourself five or ten years from now. In a perfect world, what is your life like? What are you doing? How are you spending your time?  Who are the people in your life? Write it down. Be as specific as possible.
  • Once you’ve finished, give some thought to what you can do today to help make that happen? What kind of College/University/Other experience would help? 

It bears repeating: Finding the right college or university for you is much more important than attending the best college or university as determined by a magazine or website. Next time you meet with your school’s college and career advisor, be sure to talk to them about what type of school will help you to best reach your goals. Rather than the best name, what type of school is your best fit?


How To Make Stress Work For You

Phil Meehan

First thing’s first – stress is not a bad thing. In fact, it is how we know we’re alive. Stress is anything that shifts your balance. It is the excitement of a crush and it helps get things done when a deadline is looming. 

For over a hundred years a simple way to see the relationship between stress and productivity has been the Yerkes Dodson curve (1). Think of an upside down U.

On the left you have low stress and low productivity. On the right you have high stress and low productivity. In the middle, you have what some researchers call “flow”, or the peak productivity. Can you remember a time when you were so completely immersed in something that you lost track of time? Maybe it was working with a group on a interesting art project, playing your favourite video game or programming? That’s the top of the curve. Now, it might be hard to reach the top studying for your next test, but how can you ensure that you are not at either extreme: bored or burned-out?

When I talk with people about stress, I often use the analogy of a bucket with a tap near the bottom. The bucket is your capacity to deal with stress. Your stress is what is filling the bucket and it can never be empty (because the tap isn’t at the very bottom, and if you have no stress, you wouldn’t be alive!). 

Solution Focussed Stress Bucket

This is a simple exercise and can be really helpful to look back on when you find your bucket nearing the top…

A-    List the things that fill up your bucket. What goes on in your life that adds stress, both good and bad? It may be family, friends, school, extra-curriculars, thinking about the future.

B-    Next, list the things that happen when your bucket overflows. When you have “had it up to here”, what do you do, what happens?

C-    Lastly, and this is the really important one, what are the things that you do or have done in the past to turn on the tap and empty your bucket? What are the healthy things that you do to relieve stress?

When you write it all down, you might find patterns, like you tend to lose your patience with your sister less on days you have training for your sport. You also might find that you are better able to deal with unexpected stresses when you’ve spent a few hours taking photos.

When it comes to stress, balance is key. It’s important to understand what it is in your life that fills up your bucket, but also what you do, and can do more of, to empty the bucket.

As for FLOW, not many things that fall under "need to do" will get you into that really rockin' space. But if you think about how you work as a relationship between stress and productivity, there are things that you can do to have stress work for you. Boring tasks can be pretty predictable, so the next time you find yourself preparing to work on something you know will put you in the "bored" range, why not add in a little bit of (good) stress? How about:

  • giving yourself a positive incentive to work towards once you have finished the task, like a piece of chocolate or 20 minutes of video games.
  • give yourself a consequence, like asking your little brother to come in when the timer goes off at the time you expect to be done and throw, I don't know, his dirty socks at you if you are still working on xyz. Ok, maybe that's just gross, but probably a good motivator. And imagine how excited he would be!
  • I'm sure you can come up something that would work for you... I would love to hear it in the comments below!



(1)  Goleman, Dan. "The Sweet Spot for Achievement." Psychology Today. N.p., 29 Mar. 2012. Web.

(2)   Henden, John. "Beating Combat Stress: 101 Techniques for Recovery." Wiley, Jan. 2011.

Stress Quiz from The Greater Good Science Centre: