Parents: Beware The Zombies (Phones, That Is)!

When cellphones made their introduction into the market, they were only capable of audio transmissions (calls).  Technology increased, opening up the opportunity for texting and eventually, video transmission.  Today’s smart phones are so different from their ancestors that I don’t even refer to them as phones, but as portable computers that are capable of telecommunications.

zombie hand holding phone

New 5G phones work at speeds of 300 Mbps – fast enough to stream video calls, YouTube videos or even movies from Netflix, Hulu or any other service.  The difference in speed is only one difference between the two generations.  The way they transmit data has also changed.  Dramatically.

No longer dependent on a service provider and access to cell towers to transmit data, these portable computers only need access to Wifi to be virtually 100% equal to a phone that has phone service.

In mid-August of this year, a story went viral about a teenager named Dorothy who was punished by her mom for not paying attention to the stove, resulting in a fire.  The punishment, if the story is to be believed (there is some doubt) goes that her mom took away all of her devices, leaving the girl cut off from her online life.  Not to be outsmarted by her mom, Dorothy was able to access WiFi capable devices, even sending out a tweet from her refrigerator!  Shortly afterwards, #FreeDorothy started trending online.

Teenagers are Digital Natives.  They grew up with technology.  Even at pre-school, they may have been using technology on a daily basis.  I didn’t get to use my first computer until I was a high school sophomore and it was about the size of my current car.  Today’s middle school children are likely to have a computer in their pocket that is more powerful than the Cray supercomputers from decades ago that only the elite could use.

And they’re virtually addicted to them.  In a 2015 study conducted by CNN called Being 13: Inside the Secret World of Teens, one young girl stated that she might take as many as 200 selfies just to get the “right” one that is good enough to post online.  She wasn’t alone in showing just how engrained social media had become to her generation.

Even if Dorothy’s story is untrue, it still illustrates the degree to which technology has become an integrated part of our daily lives.  It’s in places we’d never expect and is capable of doing things that would surprise most people, including parents.  As a result, any inactive phone that is capable of using WiFi can be used to go online, access social media accounts, or send texts and emails.  That’s a zombie phone.

In fact, with apps like WhatsApp, the calling app owned by Facebook, they can even create a unique phone number and continue to make calls.  While watching a cybersafety program delivered by a local police department, the detective told us how he got a phone call on his personal phone, but he didn’t recognize the number.  He was amazed to hear his grade school aged daughter on the other end, who explained that she downloaded WhatsApp on her tablet and called her dad.

Taking away a child’s devices might be done for any reason, including doing something inappropriate online or offline.  In theory, it’s a punishment that should stop a child from getting online, but the reality is very different. Restricting a child’s access to their phones might have no real effect on their ability to go online.  With so many homes and businesses having WiFi, any device that can use WiFi can get them back online.  That includes desktop computers, laptops, tablets and inactive portable computers that are capable of telecommunications.

While at home, parents can see who is using their WiFi without their knowledge. Outside of the home is another matter entirely.  Many businesses, restaurants, public libraries and the like offer free WiFi as a way to encourage people to spend more time there.  In addition to providing a child with the opportunity to “get around their parent’s decision to keep them offline for a time”, using open/public WiFi also opens the device to viruses and malware.  While that may not be a concern for an old, inactive phone, it also might put their account information at risk too, including passwords and even credit card information.

So what does all this mean for parents?

The solution is not an easy one.  Many children may already have zombie phones and their parents may never know about them.  Certainly, if this is a concern to a parent, they should take older phones from their children with each upgrade so that they no longer remain in their possession.

Another way to see if children are using zombie devices is to check their social media accounts.  Parents should not just assume that their kids are not able to get online once their devices have been “removed”, so there’s no need to check on their online activity.  With schools back in session now, they will most likely have access on school devices as well as using zombie devices with a school’s WiFi, so keep that in mind.

Learning what technology is capable of doing and involvement with our kids’ online lives is the best way to be keep them safe.  That may not sound simple and in fact, it’s not, but our kids are worth it.  Learning what technology is capable of doing is the easy part.  Getting the kids to open up to their parents is the hard part.  However, in an article I wrote here for Pediatric Safety last June, I showed parents ways to help get kids to open up to them.  Try it for yourself and you should see a difference.

3 Stress Busters for Kids and Teens

Think stress is just for adults? Not these days.

Research finds that between 8 and 10 percent of American children and teens are seriously troubled by stress and symptoms. And stress is also hitting our children at younger ages. If left untreated stress not only affects children’s friendships as well as school success, but also their physical and emotional well-being. Chronic stress symptoms break down children’s immune system as well as increasing their likelihood for depression.

One thing is certain: Stress is part of life and each child handles stress differently. The critical four parenting questions are:

How does my child handle stress?

What could be triggering the stress?

What can I do to reduce unhealthy stress?

And does my child know healthy ways to reduce the stress?

Here are three steps to reduce kid stress and solutions to help children and teens cope with stress.

STRESS BUSTER STEP 1: Defuse Home Stress

One recent study found that 85% of teens say they are stressed—and the number one cause: the stress at home! It may be time to take a Home Climate Stress Check. Here are just a few things to consider:

How is the everyday climate in your home

Does it increase your kid’s stress level or help him relax? Are there opportunities for your family to relax?

Are you watching your family’s diet intake for things that could increase stress?

Are there times you’re modeling how to let down and cool off to your kids?

Are you checking your kids’ (and your) stress loads?

Are you making sure sleep is on everyone’s agenda?

Are you taking time to talk to your kids about their day and their worries?

Are you checking your kids’ work load? Can they keep up?

Watch out! Stress is mounting and is impacting our children’s emotional health. Competition, after school activities, a lack of sleep, a crunched schedule, peer pressure, tests, and bullying are just a few things that boost our kids unhealthy stress levels. Make sure your home is a place where your kids can de-stress. Build in times where you and your kids can relax.

STRESS BUSTER STEP 2: Know Your Child’s Stress Signs

Each kid responds differently, but the key is to identify your child’s physical, behavioral or emotional signs before he is on overload. A clue is to look for behaviors that are not typical for your child. Here are common stress signs to look for in your child:

  • Physical Stress Signs: Headache, neck aches and backaches. Nausea, diarrhea, constipation, stomachache, vomiting. Shaky hands, sweaty palms, feeling shaky, lightheadedness. Bedwetting. Trouble sleeping, nightmares. Change in appetite. Stuttering. Frequent colds, fatigue.
  • Emotional or Behavior Stress Signs: New or reoccurring fears, anxiety and worries. Trouble concentrating, frequent daydreaming. Restlessness or irritability. Social withdrawal, unwilling to participate in school or family activities. Moodiness, sulking or inability to control emotions. Nail biting, hair twirling, thumb-sucking, fist clenching, feet tapping. Acting out, anger, aggressive behaviors such as tantrums, disorderly conduct. Regression or baby-like behaviors. Excessive whining or crying. Clinging, more dependent, won’t let you out of sight, withdrawal.

STRESS BUSTER STEP 3:  Teach Family Members How to Handle Stress

This last step is crucial but often overlooked: Make sure you teach your child a specific way to reduce stress. Without knowing how to cut the stress, it will only mount. Here are a few strategies. Choose the one that works best for you and your family. Then practice, practice, practice until it becomes a habit and your child can use the stress reducer without you.

  • Melt the tension: Tell your child to make his body feel stiff and straight like a wooden soldier. Every bone from his head to toe is “tense” (or “stressed”). Now tell him to make his body limp (or “relaxed”) like a rag doll or windsock. Once he realizes he can make himself relax, he can find the spot in his body where he feels the most tension; perhaps his neck, shoulder muscles, or jaw. He then closes his eyes, concentrates on the spot, tensing it up for three or four seconds, and then lets it go. While doing so, tell him to imagine the stress slowly melting away from the top of his head and out his toes until he feels relaxed or calmer.
  • Use a positive phrase: Teach your child to say a comment inside her head to help her handle stress. Here are a few: “Calm down.” “I can do this.” “Stay calm and breathe slowly.” “It’s nothing I can’t handle.”
  • Teach elevator breathing: Tell your child to close his eyes, slowly breath out three times, then imagine he’s in an elevator on the top of a very tall building. He presses the button for the first floor and watches the buttons for each level slowly light up as the elevator goes down. As the elevator descends, his stress fades away.
  • Visualize a calm place: Ask your child to think of an actual place he’s been to where he feels peaceful. For instance: the beach, his bed, grandpa’s backyard, a tree house. When stress kicks in, tell him to close his eyes and imagine that spot, while breathing slowly.
  • Blow your worries away: An instant way to relax is taking a slow deep breath from your diaphragm that gets oxygen to your brain. A quick way to teach the skill is to tell her to pretend she’s blowing up a balloon in her tummy (as you count “one, two, three” slowly). Then she lets the air out with an exaggerated “Ah-h-h-h” sound (like when the doctor looks in her throat). Explain that taking slow breaths from deep in your tummy will help blow her worries away and then encourage her to practice taking slow, steady breaths by blowing soap bubbles or using a pinwheel.
  • Find a relaxer: Every child is different, so find what helps your kid relax, and then encourage him to use it on a regular basis. Some kids respond to drawing pictures or writing about their stress in a journal. Other kids say imagining what “relaxing” or “calm” feels like helps. (Show him how to make his body feel like a slowly moving fluffy white cloud or a rag doll). Or allocate a cozy place in your home where your kid can chill out when he needs to ease the tension.

All kids will display signs of stress every now and then. Be concerned when you see a marked change in what is “normal” for your child’s behavior that lasts longer than two weeks. When you see your child struggling and feeling overwhelmed, it’s time to seek help from a mental health professional. And don’t wait: Stressed-out kids are two to four times more likely to develop depression, and as teens they are much more likely to become involved with substance abuse.


Dr Borba’s book The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and WildestWorries, is one of the most comprehensive parenting book for kids 3 to 13. This down-to-earth guide offers advice for dealing with children’s difficult behavior and hot button issues including biting, tantrums, cheating, bad friends, inappropriate clothing, sex, drugs, peer pressure and much more. Each of the 101 challenging parenting issues includes specific step-by-step solutions and practical advice that is age appropriate based on the latest research. The Big Book of Parenting Solutions has been released and is now available at

Would You “Sabotage” Your Special Needs Child For More Services?

We all know the bad news about the economy. We also know that raising a child can be expensive, and raising a special needs child can be incredibly expensive. Public schools and agencies can’t keep up with demand, so only the most extreme cases qualify for services. Usually this involves an assessment or examination. Many times I struggle with myself – I want my child to do well on these tests, but I also want her to get as much assistance and support as possible.

Other special needs moms say things like, “Well, I know he can do that task but he was tired so he wouldn’t cooperate,” and I wonder if they put their child to bed late on purpose. Or a caregiver will “forget” a medication, or let a dietary rule lapse before an appointment.  And I wonder if they really forgot something they have done every day faithfully up until that point.  Did they actually not know the ingredients of that food when they read all labels diligently?  Or are they deliberately sabotaging their child in order to gain more assistance?  And would I do the same?

It seems to be more and more cut-throat out there.  Caregivers must constantly advocate for the special needs children in their lives.  My fear is that anything my child is given means that another child with greater support needs might not get helped.  I feel guilty about that.  But on the other hand, anything my child is denied means she may never reach her true potential.  She may have to learn to live with a challenge that she could have overcome if it had been addressed in therapy.  Isn’t it my job to give her the best future possible?

So where do you stand?  Where do you draw the line?  Have you ever sabotaged your child accidentally, or on purpose?  It’s okay, your secret is safe with me because I really, truly understand.