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Screen Smart Parenting

Screen-Smart ParentingOne of the top questions I get from readers is how to control their kid’s screen time. Now that kids have access not only to computers but also smartphones, tablets and other devices it is even more challenging to set up a system to help them be safe and limit the time they spend using devices.  I have explained in many of my posts that I believe helping your kids control their screen time and understanding internet safety starts with age appropriate and regular family communication on those topics.

 

 

Jodi Gold MD is a child and adolescent psychiatrist that has a unique perspective, especially when it comes to family communication! When I found out that she just wrote a book called SCREEN-SMART PARENTING: Screen-Smart Parenting: How to Find Balance and Benefit in Your Child’s Use of Social Media, Apps, and Digital Devices (Guilford Press, November 1, 2014, paperback) that had research and practical strategies, I wanted to find out more.

 

 

 

Screen Smart Parenting Jodi Gold MD1.       What motivated you to write SCREEN-SMART PARENTING?

 

Jodi Gold, MD: “I am a child and adolescent psychiatrist.  Every day, I went to work and listened to my patients.  A theme began to emerge.   This one got dumped on text and that one was playing too much World of Warcraft.  Parents were worried that their kids were distracted during homework and increasingly concerned about how their children presented themselves online.  Then I went to pick up my younger children (aged 5, 7, 9) at school and this mom was concerned about too much TV and that one was upset that her 4 year old could navigate an iPhone. I realized that if I listened carefully, I couldn’t make it through the day professionally or personally without confronting the realities of our changing digital landscape.  I wasn’t startled that technology was ubiquitous or that current parents are the last generation of digital immigrants.   I was surprised at the fear and ignorance. Parents, teachers and families were constantly fearful and distrustful.  I went looking for answers on how to embrace technology and use it for good, but found little guidance.

 

At the same time, I had been presenting nationally about treatments for ADHD.  A senior editor from Guilford Publishers approached me about writing a book for parents about ADHD.  I really felt like there were many good books about ADHD already on the market.  I was convinced that the Guilford editors would think that I was scattered and crazy but I told them that I really wanted to write a handbook for raising kids in the changing digital world.  I wanted to reach both physicians and parents.  I had begun to talk about the digital world with my patients and their families within a developmental framework.  We spoke about when children should be reading, making friends and going out alone.  Theses are all normal parts of growing up.  I realized that reading an e-book, getting a phone and creating a social media profile were also part of growing up but we didn’t have any graphs, charts or handbooks.  I wanted to write a book that looked at the existing research and offered concrete recommendations based on an understanding of research and child development.  Guilford didn’t think that I was crazy and they agreed to publish it before I wrote the first page.”

 

 

2.    Tell us about how you brought your background in as a doctor to helping explain these issues?

 

 

Jodi Gold, MD: “Both the Academy of Pediatrics and the Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry have begun to weigh in on parenting in the digital age.  It is critical that physicians make this a priority for research and policy.  I believe that we should be adding “digital milestones” to our list of developmental milestones and challenges.  I hope that Screen Smart Parenting will deepen the dialogue on raising digital citizens in both the medical and parental world.

 

In medicine, we base our decisions and approaches on double blind longitudinal studies.  When they are not available, we do our best find evidence based research.  The goal is to use sound research to support our medical treatments and decisions.  In pediatrics, we view everything on a developmental framework.  Children are not little adults.  We need to understand children and adolescents from a developmental lens.  We misperceive and mistreat children if we apply adult rules to them.  In psychiatry, we use what is called the bio-psycho-social model.   This means that we try to understand children and adults in a multi-faceted way that encompasses genetics, psychology and the realities of family and home life.  In psychology, we understand human behavior so we can develop incentives and plans that help children internalize healthy behaviors.  We need to use this knowledge as we build behavior plans and create consequences around digital devices.    I used these basic principles from research, medicine and psychology to write Screen Smart Parenting.  I believe that it is one of the first books on this topic written within a medical model from the standpoint of a practicing clinician.”

 

3.   What is screen smart parenting and what areas does your book discuss?

 

Jodi Gold, MD: “Screen Smart Parents are parents who are thoughtful and communicative about managing digital technology.  They want to cultivate online resilience which scientists increasingly feel is linked to happiness and success in life.  They want to instill in their children the tenets of digital citizenship.  Eventually, screen smart parents will have the experience of being digital natives and citizens.  Right now, most of us are digital immigrants with newly stamped passports and limited command of the digital language.  Screen Smart parents do not need a Ph.D. in computer science but they need to check their fear and be willing to learn from and with their children.

 

In Screen Smart Parenting, I ask parents to figure out their parenting style, understand the digital landscape and develop a family technology plan.  In order to parent your children through the digital landscape, you need to understand your family culture and your own relationship with technology. It’s important to understand the developmental evolution of the use of digital technology: what happens at what age. It’s also essential to get a feel for how digital technology is actually used today by children and adolescents.  In the book, I write about how technology does affect your child’s development.  I also introduce the hot topics that monopolize our conversations from the iBlankie to the proverbial 5 minutes of Facebook fame.  In the second part of the book, I write about different age groups, each of which explains how digital technology intersects with what your child needs to achieve during those years and how you can promote technology as a tool to support, not hinder, healthy development. In the third section, I take a more sophisticated look at children who need more attention and parental involvement and may exhibit red flags for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and depression. These “orchid” children may need extra care and modified digital parameters.  In the conclusion, I used my experience with behavioral interventions and plans, to give parents the tools to build a realistic and effective family technology plan.  I offer age-appropriate templates and suggestions on how to trouble shoot.  The goal is to build a family plan that includes your children’s voice in finding balance and using technology as a tool.”

 

 

4. What’s the right age for a phone/smartphone/social media access?

 

Jodi Gold, MD: “This is a personal family decision but I can give you some guidelines as a mother, physician and expert in this field.  Your child will eventually own a smartphone so the question is not “if” but when.  You should give your child a phone when he/she truly “needs” one.  Most kids get their phones and smartphones between the ages of 11 and 14 years of age.  Here is a list of reasons for why you might choose to give your child a phone prior to the age of 11.

  • Parents are divorced and the child would like to have more control over his or her communication with the non-custodial parent, and/or there is shuttling back and forth.  A phone may help with the transition between two households
  • A child is taking long bus rides and needs to communicate with parents for some reason
  • The child has a chronic medical condition and needs a phone in case there is an urgent need to reach parents and caregivers
  • The child has a psychiatric or medical condition that causes her to miss a lot of school.  A phone may help to keep in touch with friends and teachers

It is likely that this decision will be somewhat driven by community/peer pressure.  It is important for parents to be thoughtful about when and how they introduce a phone.  A phone should be introduced in a developmental way (especially if you are giving a child a phone at a younger age).

*I can talk more about social media but similar rules apply.  However, there is some social media that is targeted for young children.  I encourage interested children to start with child-friendly sites before they move onto Twitter and Instagram.”

 

 

For more information, check out her website Screen Smart Parenting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moms With Apps Survery Results: Thoughts On Kid’s Apps

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by Moms With Apps and The Motherhood. All opinions are my own.

 

 

As parents we want our kids to engage with technology in a positive way that inspires learning as well as entertainment. The challenge is helping our kids choose appropriate apps and setting screen time limits. Moms With Apps is a website that offers information about kids apps, including How To Choose Apps For Kids. I have twin 11 year old boys that like using their tablets or my smartphone for their screen time. I use resources like Mom With Apps to help me – help them – choose appropriate apps for their age and also apps that will inspire creativity, learning or just wholesome fun. Just this morning at a doctor’s appointment I searched for Math apps my son could play with while we were waiting.  My concerns related to apps are to make sure they are age inappropriate but also not just simple time wasters. I would rather help my kids use the powerful technology tools they have to enhance their lives, a lesson that they can take to adulthood.

 

 

Mom With Apps just finished a survey of more then 450 parents around the country with their app questions and concerns. The results are interesting so I wanted to share them!

 

 

 

Moms With Apps Survey

 

Here are some of the specific findings from their press release:

 

  • 96% of parents believe that apps are beneficial to their child’s education and development.

    Moms With Apps provides parents with the ability search for trustworthy apps in a variety of different subject areas, including science, math, reading and critical thinking.  

  • 87% of parents report that ​they are concerned about ​their​ children ​making in-app purchases, and 81% say they worry about app​s​ ​​collect​ing​​ their children’s​personal information.

    Founded by parents who love using technology with their own kids, Moms With Apps only features developers who have committed to high standards for protecting kids’ privacy and building great family-friendly apps – and Moms With Apps always makes it quick and easy to Know What’s Inside every app they feature so that parents can decide if it’s right for their kids.

  • When selecting apps for their children, the three key issues for parents ​are: 1) the age-appropriateness of the app​;​ ​2) ​if it’s engaging for their child​;​ and ​3) ​if the app protects their child’s privacy.

    Moms With Apps gives parents simple tools to find the right apps for their kids. Just like nutrition labels help parents decide which snack is right for their kids, Moms With Apps provides parents with information up-front and in plain English to help them decide which app is right for their kids.

  • Parents feel they waste time looking for the right apps for their kids. 49% report the process as “moderately” to “very hard.”

    With more than one million apps to choose from, it can be hard to find the right apps for kids – and even harder to know if the app their kid loves is one they can trust. Moms With Apps is the only resource for parents who want to find great, trustworthy apps for their children.

     

 

What are your thoughts and concerns about children’s apps?

 

 

 

 

Women Rock The Vote! Websites To Help Find Polling Places

VotingToday is voting day for 2014 Mid Term elections.  I usually don’t talk about politics, but I do want to talk about how important it is for everyone to vote. It is especially important for women to vote to make sure their voices are heard. I remember my mom taking my brother and I to vote after work because she worked full time. I kept that tradition and have taken my boys with me for years to vote. Today I cleared some time during lunch and will take a run to my local poll location (exercise and voting at the same time)!

 

To do my part, I also wanted to share the online websites that can you help you find your local poll locations.

 

1. Vote411.org  is a website created by the League of Women Voters and asks users to “enter their addresses to find their polling place, build their ballot with an online voters’ guide and much more!”

 

2. Get To The Polls (Voter Information Project): Get to the polls is a great website just to find out where you can vote. This website worked the best for me quickly finding my local polling location.

 

3. Can I Vote Website: The Can I vote website has information on polling places by state.

 

4. Make a pledge to vote #WhyIVote at MomsRising The website Moms Rising posted with a request to make a pledge to vote:  “Why pledge to vote? Elections, particularly local elections, are sometimes won or lost by fewer than 20 votes.  So when you pledge to vote you’re also part of activating moms and dads across the nation to show up on Election Day to make a critical difference. Women are 53% of the electorateand if we all show up to vote, we can determine the outcomes of elections.” The Moms Rising Facebook Page has great stories that women shared on why they voted. Here is one from Ariana Huffington:

 

Moms Rising #WhyIVote

Photo Credit: Moms Rising

 

 

Please share “Why You Vote” and make sure you head to the polls today!

 

 

 

How To Enforce Screen Time Rules For Kids

How To Enforce Tablet Screentime Rules For Kids

 

With an overwhelming number of mobile devices available today, parents can struggle to keep their kids safe online and set rules for screen time. Even if parents don’t make mobile devices or home computer accessible to their kids, these pesky young ones will find other ways to go online, either from a friend, at school or even the library. From a cultural standpoint, technology in the hands of kids has become an essential part of modern social communication (i.e. texting to make social plans) and education, including school work and online learning. This makes it even more important to set up screen time rules and ensure kids know how to unplug.  Because devices are so enticing, even adults have trouble unplugging (speaking from personal experience) and logical consequences may be needed at times to enforce rules.

 

Like many parents, my husband and I struggle to discover what boundaries and logical consequences work best with screen time rules. If parents use a logical consequence that in the end can’t be implemented, kids won’t respect the rules. In our house, we frame tablet use as a positive reward for homework completion and we establish time limits. Our logical consequence when rules were not followed was taking away the tablets. The kids can always do homework on the family computers in public spaces such as the family room. But on the down side, when we took away their tablets our kids could not read their e-books or listen to their audio books.

 

A few days ago all the moons aligned and I finally found something that works for one of my most tech addicted sons. I have 11 year-old twin sons and one of my twins, J, just started following our family screen time rules including no screen time at bed – reading only. I even purchased both of my twins Amazon Kindle Paperwhites to do their nightly reading. The Amazon Kindle HD Fire’s parental controls are very robust. We choose the Kindle Paperwhites because they are so light, have a great screen for reading in all conditions and the charge lasts for a few weeks.

 

My tween son J was able to actually put down his tablet before bedtime when asked and read books on his Kindle Paperwhite. The ability to manage his own screen time is the goal we have worked toward since they were little. His twin brother, D, had trouble putting his tablet down to read and we tried many other strategies. We had him listen to audio books from Audible at night for bedtime reading, and he went through tons of different chapter books until he said he wanted to go back to reading the books.

 

But D could not resist the temptation to watch YouTube videos at night instead of reading (mostly STEM, minecraft, harmless cartoons and other age appropriate videos). So last night I did what years of learning emotion coaching from the fabulous TheGoToMom Kimberley Clayton Blaine inspired me to do: without emotion, I told my son D at bedtime that he has not shown me he can comply with screen time rules and I am taking his tablet away at night. I also told him that I am only returning it temporarily for his daily hour of screen time. TheGoToMom’s emotion coaching really helped me understand the next thing I did: walking  away! Before my son could resist, yell, debate or plead for his tablet back I just walked out of the room and put the tablet where he could not find it. It was the logical consequence that felt right and I decided to go with it.

 

This technique was extra difficult because my son has a hip injury and is on crutches. He actually got out of bed, grabbed his crutches and followed me from room to room begging to return his tablet. I felt so guilty inside, but TheGoToMom helped me learn that I need to not engage, just calmly say “you will get your tablet back tomorrow, now it is reading time”.. The image of him using his crutches to follow me around while I was cleaning a few different rooms made me want to give in, but I had to keep a straight face and stick to my logical consequence or else I knew it would never work.

 

What happened the next morning can only be described as magical. The night before he finally got tired of chasing me around in his crutches and went to bed – AND READ… Then he told me he work up early and READ MORE before going back to sleep.  When he got up he READ AGAIN. I gave him a big hug when he told me and I said “for now on, I will hold your tablet a night and you can get it back during the day”. D said “OK” and I felt that exhilarating feeling you get as a parent when you see your child taking responsibility and embracing something he needed to do for his own good. I know that we will go through more screen time challenges in the future, but for now – all is good.

 

HOW TO ENFORCE SCREEN TIME RULES FOR KIDS (including tablets!):

 

Step 1: Create family screen time rules. For reference check out Common Sense Media’s section on screen time.  In my experience, it is important to create rules that the whole family can follow (and parents can enforce) – so try to be realistic. For example, because we have all of the family desktops in public family areas, my kids use their personal tablets to check homework websites for school when doing homework in their bedrooms. So a regular rule that includes not tablet use at night would not work. But we do have a rule that tablets can only be used for reading or homework after 8pm in their bedrooms.  We also have a rule that our kids can have one 30 minutes of screen time after school, then they need to finish their homework to earn more recreational screen time (if time permits).

 

Another important point is to define what websites are “appropriate” for screen time. My tween sons can only play Minecraft, STEM websites such as Scratch, sports and other video games rated for their age while my 16 year old can play teen rated video games for his screen time (in a room away from his brothers!). We also have a family rule that states that exercise or sports before screen time! If my boys don’t have organized sports that day, they can play any sport such as a quick game of pickup basketball. But for one weekend morning, they can watch cartoons above and beyond the regular screen time rules.  I find it helpful to print out the family screen time rules and put them next to family desktops and in my kid’s bedrooms.

 

Step 2:  Decide on how to enforce the screen time limits/rules. Create appropriate logical consequences and positive rewards. I have found positive rewards always works better than consequences, but at times logical consequences are needed. For example, my kids “earn” their screen time for doing their homework and doing outside play/sports times each day. At the same time, they may have trouble sticking to the screen time limits so that is when we have logical consequences (like taking away their tablets for a day).

 

When my kids were younger I set up web filters to limit their access to websites. But now that our kids have access to computers at school and friends with smartphones, we have more open access at home and regular discussions about internet safety including the consequences of visiting inappropriate websites. Along with the logical consequences of losing screen time, we have regular talks with our kids about the serious dangers that exist online. Some families I know needed to put more serious logical consequences such as closing down home WiFi access only on an as needed basis. Home WiFi access can be controlled with parental control software or on the home router controls. There is also a great selection of parent control software that can be used across home devices and computers (which I will post on another time).

 

Step 3: Make a promise (to yourself) to always keep emotions in check and set up system to support that. For example, when I enforce the consequence of taking my kids tablet away I either do it when they are asleep or now that they are older I calmly explain that they have not complied with the screen time rules so I am taking their tablet away for (“x” nights or days etc).  I feel it is important now that they are older (11) they see me taking their tablet away as a logical consequence. When they were younger their reasoning was not as strong so I just took it away when they were asleep. To keep my emotions in check after I take the tablet away and to not engage in emotional debates or pleas, I always walk out of the room and then decide on a household chore to start doing. That way, if they want to follow me around I will just focus on my household chore to remain calm. Sometimes I left the house to go for a jog, giving myself a necessary exercise break.

 

 

For more information, check out Common Sense Media Screen Time section.

 

For information on choosing your kid’s first phone (which if it is a smartphone – will have access to a web browser), check out my post titled “Top Tips: Choosing First Phone for Kids“.

 

I am excited to be a volunteer as one of the Common Sense Media Learn On Ambassadors.

Common Sense Media LearnON Ambassador 2014

 

 

Pantech Vybe Review: First Phone For Kids

Pantech vybe first phone kidsBack to school is a busy time for parents, preparing their kids for the classroom, fall sports and other activities. Choosing a new phone and managing cell phone use is also at the top of many parents’ list. Kids nowadays use phones as one of their main forms of communication with other kids as well as pesky parents who pick them up and drop them off places. I covered the topic of deciding on the right age to buy a phone and tips on setting up your kid’s first phone in a recent back to school post.  I drove to the AT&T store myself to try to figure out which phone I was going to buy for my twin boys who are starting middle school. After receiving an email about the Pantech Vybe, I decided to do a review of the phone with my twins.

 

As I mentioned in my “tips for buying your kids a phone” post, I believe phones should be given to kids on an as-needed basis. My kids are taking the bus, riding their bike or walking to school and activities on their own now we decided it was time for them to have their own phones. Because they are just starting middle school, I just wanted to have the ability to call, text and use phone tools while not using any social network or the mobile web. The Pantech Vybe is a great first phone because in addition to making calls it has a slide out keyboard that’s perfect for texting and has its own operating system so kids can’t use app stores to load up on apps and games. We also found it helpful to have the option to disable data on the phones if necessary.

 

Of course at first we the kids pushed back. They wanted an iPhone or another fancy smartphone like some of their other 11-year old friends. Beyond being RIDICULOUS that 11 year olds have full featured smartphones in the first place, tweens especially may not understand the consequences of all of their actions – so why give them mobile tools to do so?  We do believe as a family that all kids should be educated and make informed decisions about Internet safety but temptations and peer pressure can be hard for tweens/teens to resist. Already one of their peers is posting things on Instagram that are pretty alarming for their age group.  While many kids have full access to browsers and apps on tablets, desktops and laptops at home – at least those devices are being used at home and not being taken with them every day and used without supervision.

 

PANTECH VYBE SPECIFICATIONS AND FEATURES
FEATURES:
Here are the features of the Pantech Vybe:

  • Slide-out QWERTY Keyboard
  • 3.2” Touchscreen Display and 3 Customizable Homescreens
  • Hands free one-touch “Say-A-Command button”

 

The user manual has information on setting up and also found the Pantech support section of the AT&T website useful because of the setup videos.
pantech vybe home screen

 

Touchscreen Display, Navigation and Customizable Home screens:

The touchscreen display is 3.2 inches and can be customized with favorite apps such as notepad, calculator, contacts and more.  There is even a hands free one-touch “Say-A-Command” button. Pantech included a proprietary dual-user mode: “Easy Mode has one home screen and a simplified menu for a truly intuitive user experience. Advanced Mode is customizable and offers more options and flexibility. You can safely switch back and forth between modes without losing your contacts or favorites. ”

 

What I found useful to understand is that there are two types of “menus” in advanced mode. The main menu is called the home screen (starting point for using applications on your phone) . The home screen can be customized with a picture or standard backgrounds (customizable from “display” section of tools). One of the home screens can be customized to display shortcuts for favorite apps (Max 9 icons can be added) and another for web addresses. Once the main screen is set up it is simple to use the phone (unlock, tap and go).
The second menu is listed on the home screen in the navigation at the bottom as “Menu”. This has access to load lots of different tools (more than the 9 max on the home screen). In the tools area we loaded shortcuts for pre-loaded apps such as sketch pad, notepad, calculator, alarm clock voice memo, pictures, address book, video player, and camera.

 

Entertainment:
The “My stuff” folder has applications, games, audio (alert tones and ring tones), music, pictures, video, other files and info on memory. Available games include brain challenge and UNO (we bought the full version of Uno). You can insert a memory card if you wanted. For kids who do have data plans there is a video player and for those who want to load music there is a music player. The help section of the website has instructions on how to transfer music to the Pantech Vybe.

 

What I like about the Pantech Vybe is that it does not have access to an app store so kids are limited to what is loaded on the phone. As I said in my “getting your kid their first phone tip post”, having access to app stores can be expensive and give access to inappropriate apps for kids.  While the Pantech Vybe does have Facebook, Twitter and mobile web apps – I explained to my kids that we blocked the data plan so they can’t use those apps anyway.

 

AT&T Services:
Along with the other apps, the Pantech Vybe has AT&T services apps preloaded such as like AT&T Navigator, AT&T Address Book, AT&T Family Map, AT&T Drive Mode and myAT&T so I can help them see their account information.

 

Specifications:

The specifications have the phone at just 4.94 ounces so it is light for the kids to either carry in their pocket, bags or backpack pockets. It is also slim at just 2.32 inches width and 4.49 inches height (depth is only .51). The 3.2″ TFT Touchscreen Display has nice resolution (240 x 400) for a first phone and the touchscreen makes it more intuitive to use. Calls made to my sons on the phone sound great. I am able to hear them clearly and they have been able to hear me (even if they don’t want to!).

 

The proprietary operating system (Pantech Proprietary J2ME)  gives me comfort that they can only use the apps pre-loaded on the phone.  The Pantech Vybe has cellular technology to meet my kids need (2G – Quad Band (GSM/GPRS/EDGE) – (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) 3G – Tri Band (UMTS/HSDPA) – (850/1900/ 2100 MHz) and Bluetooth if they want to use it with wireless accessories.

 

Overall my kids are very happy with the phone and were able to start using it without any instruction from me. But we did of course spend the time to go over the family phone use rules, multiple times to make sure they understand (even though I had to hear “I KNOW Mom!!” multiple times).   With the Pantech Vybe I have the comfort of knowing they can call and text with a phone that has all the features they need right now (as a middle schooler) without having too much access to the wide range of apps available on other smartphones and in other app stores. When my twin boys turn 13, maybe we will allow them to use the Pantech Facebook app

 

Pantech Vybe Overview from press release:

Purchasing your child’s first mobile phone has become a rite of passage for tweens and young teens, and parents too. The big question looms: Is your tween ready for a cell phone?  The Pantech Vybe is a great compromise, offering your child plenty of must-have features like messaging, easy camera access and social media without unrestricted access to apps and a high data plan. The Pantech Vybe is your solution.

The Pantech Vybe is an affordable, easy to use quick messaging phone, with access to the features and apps kids want at a price parents love. With a low-cost monthly plan for talk and text, the Pantech Vybe is an attractive option to add to a family plan at an affordable price.

In addition to being budget-friendly, the Pantech Vybe is tween and teen-approved with a slide-out keyboard for quick and easy texting, social media shortcuts, quick camera button, multiple customizable home screens and music and video players.

 

The Pantech Vybe is $29.99 with a two-year contract and can be purchased exclusively at AT&T. For more information on the Pantech Vybe, visit MyFirstPhone.com”.

 

 

Here is a video I received with the press release:

 

 

 

Disclosure: I have received products for review purposes.

 

 

 

Top Tips: Choosing First Phone For Kids

Top Tips to Help Kids Choose First PhoneOne of the most frequent requests I receive from parents is to discuss the right age to buy a child their first phone, what type of phone to buy and how to establish and enforce phone usage rules. Back to school is the perfect time for families to create family rules for existing kid phones and establish new rules for kids just starting to use cell phones.

 

Our older son received a call and text only phone for middle school and then a smartphone for high school after he proved he could not only follow our family phone use rules but also engage with us in regular “phone safety” discussions. Now that our twin boys are heading off the middle school, we decided it was time to buy them their first phone and set up new family phone use rules. Here are some of the tips from our experience of setting up our kids with their first phone. Please share your tips!

 

Tips To Buying First Kid’s Phone

 

TIP 1Buy your phone on as as needed basis:

Buy your kids their first phone on an “as needed basis”: I tell parents that the age when their kids should have a phone is dependent on when they “need” a phone.  Just because a third grader may say to their parents, “my best friend has a phone, I should get one too”, does not mean a new phone is one the way. Peer pressure is not a valid reason to get a child their first phone.  One appropriate reason is to keep in touch with your kids when they start transporting themselves to school (via bus or bike for example). But each child has different needs and different timing.

 

TIP 2 - Decide what type of plan (i.e. “emergency only”, voice, voice & text or voice, text and data phone):

 

When my kids started riding their bikes to school in 4th grade we decided to buy them inexpensive “pay by the month” phones that only had minutes for emergencies and were not for regular use. But when my twins went off to middle school this year, we agreed to get them a phone with a voice and text plan so we could communicate with them and they could communicate with their friends. A few of our friends purchased phones with a voice and text plan for their kids because they had multiple after school activities and sometimes needed a way to reach the parents where were driving.

 

Although our family phone plan has shared data, we do not allow them to use the data and can easily track this on the monthly bill.  We can also disable data from their phones if their discipline weakens or they don’t comply. The AT&T website (our phone service) has details on disabling data on phones.

 

TIP 3 – Develop family phone use rules and phone etiquette standards:

 

The most important thing to teach your kid when you give them their first phone is phone etiquette.  A cell phone can be a great communication tool or a tool that can get your kids in serious trouble (even danger). Parents should take the time to first educate themselves then create family phone rules. We started talking to our kids about cell phone etiquette a year before they had their first phone. Now we are creating rules as well as a phone “safe use” contract that they “sign” to confirm they understand. Breaking the rules means they lose use of the phone.

 

We checked online resources including the Common Sense Media Parents Guide to Kids and Cell Phones, Emily Post Top Ten Cell Phone Manners, Parents.com Teaching Kids Cell Phone Etiquette and more. We focused on different types of etiquette including appropriate cell phone voice and texting, cell phone etiquette do’s and don’ts (Common Sense Media),  email etiquette, school rules for phones (don’t use during school!) and overall phone safety rules such as not sharing personal information or location information with anyone but family and friends (and never accept “online friends” you don’t know if real life!).

 

My friend Sarah Granger just wrote a book called “Digital Mystique – How the Culture of Connectivity Can Empower Your Life – Online and Off”.  I recommend this book as a great starting point for parents to educate themselves on the online world. She interviewed me for the book and included something I always tell parents: “Internet Safety is the New Sex Talk”.  This includes cell phone etiquette because it opens kids up to a world of communication between other kids, even if it is just calling, texting, and sharing photos.

 

Most of all, I have written for years that the most important tool for proper cell phone use is active communication between parents and kids. We manage this communication by rewarding our kids for sharing their personal experiences and rewarding this open communication with freedom to use their phones. It has been hard at times, but we have a “discuss anything” policy and try not to be upset when they come to us – even with upsetting news. We want them to feel comfortable talking about their phone use and work with us to navigate the scary waters of cell phone use. When my oldest made a mistake or two in the past we discussed why it was wrong and how he can make sure it never happens again. We do not use apps such as “Ignore No More app” that limit cell phone use when kids ignore their parents calls because they do not treat the underlying issue: trust. Of course, each family needs to choose what works for them.

 

For example, the day oldest son received his first phone he attended a pool party that afternoon where he took pictures of his friends, several of whom were wearing bikinis. Some of the girls were posing in ways that could be seen as provocative and the photos were inappropriate. Luckily, our son showed us the pictures in an effort to comply with the “open communication qualification” for phone use. This gave us the chance to explain why the pictures were inappropriate and he deleted them from his phone. It was an innocent situation, which happens so often, but those are also the most dangerous because the kids don’t know that what they are doing is wrong.

 

We also explained that even if someone else takes a picture that could be perceived as inappropriate and sends it to him – he needs to delete it from his phone right away. If he shares a picture even that he did not take, he will still be held responsible and could even include being arrested.

 

TIP 4 – Choose a Phone:

 

I received an email about the Pantech Vybe phone around the same time I had just been to the AT&T store (my carrier) to look at possible first phone options for my twin 11 year olds.  Because I had already included the Pantech Vybe on my list of phones to investigate, I decided to do a review of the phone with my twins. Here is a link to the review “First Phone For Kids: Pantech Vybe Review”.

 

For my kids, we did not want to get them a “smartphone” until they were older. Because they are just 11, we decided that making calls and texting was appropriate for their age (in our family). We also felt that having access to an app store was something we wanted our tweens to do at home using our WiFi only devices.  For example, we set up home tablets to request a password sign-on before any app can be purchased. This allows us to review the app as a family before they download it.  But even then, having access to a device with an app store can have it’s challenges. Both Google and Apple faced lawsuits over in-app purchases by kids. Beyond the cost consequences of using apps, apps that “seem” family friendly can at times lead to inappropriate features. So I always recommend parents use “family friendly” rated apps together at first.

 

TIP 5 – Privacy Settings and Digital Safety Toolbox:

 

To prepare for my kids for getting their phone, I created a list of digital safety tools and phone settings which they later helped me set on their phones. This includes location, which can be a safety issue for young kids.  The tools we implemented include  LoJack for Android, and Find my iPhone to track the device plus apps to track your kids (some of which are covered in this post on Tom’s Hardware “8 Apps for Tracking Your Teens”) including Life360 (family locator, messaging tool and communication app all in one).

 

What was the first phone you chose for your kids and what apps, settings and rules did you set up that worked or did not work?

 

 

Disclosure: This is a press post. Some items were provided to me for review purposes.

 

 

 

 

Back To School Organization Tips – Family Online Calender

Back-To-School-OrganizationAs kids head back to school many families start the process of organizing their schedules and lives.  I will be covering the tools, apps, tech and processes that I have found helpful for back to school organization over the next few weeks , and hope to hear from my readers what works for them. Because organizing for the new school year can be overwhelming, I suggest starting with setting up the school year and after school activity schedule.  While there are many paper based organization systems, my family prefers to use online calenders.  Here are the steps we took to set up our family schedule online:

 

STEP 1: Pick an online calender.

 

There are individual sites such as Cozi.com that have web and apps to capture family schedules, but there are also online calenders such as Microsoft Outlook, Apple iCal, Yahoo and Google Calenders. To help choose, look at the email accounts and operating systems that most family member’s use. At the same time consider that because online calenders can be accessed over the internet, they do work across operating systems and devices as long as you have either WiFi or a data plan for phones.

 

STEP 2: Gather School, Sports and After school Activity dates:

 

Gathering a list of school, sports and after school activity dates make seem time consuming, but it is worthwhile investment. Setting up an online calender in the beginning of the year (and updated seasonally) will help organize the family schedule and family life in general. Some schools and sports leagues have online calenders you can load to directly to personal online calenders (look for the “+” calender or “add calender” option).  If you only have paper printouts our online lists, I suggest putting those in a folder then pick a time that I call “input day” where I just input everything into the calender. It may seem like a big task, but it actually does not take as long as it would seem it I just start it at the beginning of each school year then just update as needed.

 

 

STEP 3:  Input school, sports and after school dates into the online calender.

 

Next pick a time (or a few times) to input the school year calender dates into the online calender. Check out the features of the online calender system so you know in advance the ones you want to use. For example, I use special features like “repeat” for the timing of each school day (8:15am-3pm) so it just repeats each weekday for a whole semester at at time. Then I delete or change the timing for vacations. I “invite” family members to events so they get it on their online calenders (such as school concerts).

 

 

But my favorite feature is the option to color code different calenders to represent different kids in my family of three boys. I then “invite” my kids via their email address to access their calender so they can not only see their schedule but also learn the process of managing their schedule. The goal is as they get older they will become independent by setting up their own online calenders. Color coding has also taken care of any “you did not tell me about that appointment” complaints because I can always say “it was on your schedule – so please check it”.  My teen has a smartphone with access to a data plan so I have higher expectations for him to regularly check his schedule versus my twins who have talk and text phones with no internet access.  I also try to print out my kids “color coded” online schedules and have them up in the kitchen as a reminder.

 

How do you set up your family school year schedule?

 

 

 

Teen Health and Myths

Disclosure: Sponsored Post

 

 

peer pressure kidsBeing a teen is difficult enough, managing self-esteem and self-confidence at time when peers can be judgmental and mean.  With one teen child and two tweens following closely behind, our family is in the thick of that challenge. I decided to help my kids focus on health and wellness to strengthen their confidence and part of our journey involved creating a dental health strategy. As a member of the Invisalign Teen – Mom Advisory Board I had the opportunity to learn about Invisalign as an alternative to braces. Below are our top priorities for our teen’s health and wellness, including a dental health strategy, along with some myths and facts about Invisalign from a company press release.

 

1. Focus on Exercise:  We were shocked to learn that while some sports are great for a team experience (baseball), they may not satisfy a teen’s daily exercise needs. So we looked into setting up regular activities to help with daily fitness training including running, a rigorous work out at a health club, and aerobic sports including swimming and basketball.

 

2. Focus on Healthy Eating: Each of our boys has specific healthy food preferences but all three of them favor junk food when socializing with friends. In response, we talk about finding ways to fit healthy foods into their daily routine.

 

3. Focus on Mindfulness: We researched mindfulness to help our kids learn techniques to deal with stressful situations. One of them is a simple 5 minute meditation at night where they focus on their favorite place (i.e. the beach) and listen to the sounds of that place (waves).

 

4. Focus on Emotional Intelligence: We have regular talks with our kids about recognizing their own emotions as well as the emotions of others to help develop emotional intelligence. We then stress the importance of engaging with “positive” friends while disengaging with negative people (such as school bullies).

 

5. Focus on being Healthy instead of what peers think:  Being a teen brings with it certain social pressures to look a particular way. We try to help our kids understand that real beauty lies in being healthy, not “peer” determined standards. This includes getting sleep as well as exercising and eating well. My teen has been successfully managing Eczema (moisturize more) and addressed dental health by properly brushing and flossing his teeth as well as using Invisalign to fixing the crowding on this teeth. In a prior post I talked about the thousands of dollars I have spent on dental problems caused by my overcrowded teeth (that could of been fixed if I had braces). Fixing my son’s overcrowding during his teen years gives him a better chance at a healthy dental future. It also really helps that the Invisalign are clear so his friends don’t even know he is wearing them!

 

When I first research using Invisalign for my son’s second round of braces as a teen, I had many questions. The wires on the metal braces he used the first time around routinely broke, causing significant discomfort and maintenance challenges. As part of the Invisalign Teen – Mom Advisory Board I had a chance to get some answers – setting it straight on the myths of Invisalign.

 

Here are some of the information I received from Invisalign to help me understand answers to my questions:

 

 

Invisalign Myths/Setting It Straight

Myth: Invisalign can only treat minor or cosmetic issues.

Setting it Straight: Invisalign effectively treats a wide variety of orthodontic issues including severe bite issues. From underbite to crossbite, deepbite to overbite and overly crowded to widely spaced, advancements to Invisalign’s patented technology continues to increase the complexity of issues that can be treated.

 

Myth: Invisalign is more expensive than metal braces.

Setting it Straight: The cost of Invisalign is usually comparable to the cost of traditional braces and many dental insurance plans cover Invisalign just as they would braces.

 

Myth: I won’t be able to tell if my child is wearing Invisalign often enough for it to be effective.

Setting it Straight: Invisalign Teen aligners are made with small blue dots, officially called compliance indicators, that gradually fade as aligners are worn. It’s a quick visual check for parents and teens to confirm they wearing aligners long enough to get results. In fact, clinical data from orthodontists confirms that teens wear their aligners an average of 21 hours per day, just as recommended.

 

Myth: If my child loses their aligners, it’s going to cost me an arm and a leg to replace.

Setting it Straight: We know kids lose things, even their aligners! That’s why you get up to six FREE replacement aligners with Invisalign Teen.

 

Myth: After Invisalign Teen, my child’s teeth may revert back to their original position.

Setting it Straight: Studies show that without retainers straight teeth can gradually shift back towards their initial position. This is a common occurrence with all orthodontic treatment including braces, but is one that can easily be overcome. Ask your doctor about Vivera retainers from the makers of Invisalign.

 

Myth: I don’t need to take my child to see an orthodontist until they are a teenager.

Setting it Straight: The American Association of Orthodontics recommends taking children for their first orthodontic check-up no later than age 7. The American Dental Association says this is because, “Your child’s dentist can spot problems with emerging teeth and jaw growth early on, while the primary teeth are present.”

 

Myth: Invisalign takes longer to complete than braces.

Setting it Straight: The length of Invisalign treatment is comparable to braces. The average Invisalign journey averages about 12 months for adults. The length of treatment time for teens may vary depending on the severity of the case and can only be determined by a doctor.

 

Myth: If my child’s dentist or orthodontist recommends braces over Invisalign, I should trust their opinion.

Setting it Straight: Not all orthodontists specialize in Invisalign Teen. Visit www.invisalign.com and select “find a doctor” to locate experienced Invisalign and Invisalign Teen doctors in your area. If you are told your teen is not an Invisalign candidate, it may be worth getting a second opinion from more than one orthodontist. Doing so may help ensure that you have all the information you need to make an educated decision.

 

Myth: Braces work better than Invisalign.

Setting it Straight: Invisalign Teen was developed with leading orthodontists to correct the most common teeth straightening issues – from severe cases to more minor, cosmetic adjustments. Invisalign Teen’s clear aligners are removable and can straighten teeth without a mouth full of metal and all the disruption and sacrifice that comes with it. With Invisalign, teens look better and feel more confident than they ever could in traditional braces.

 

Myth: We can’t afford Invisalign.

Setting it Straight: Invisalign Teen is covered by many dental insurance policies just like traditional braces — up to 50% of the cost may be covered by insurance. Even if dental insurance doesn’t apply, many doctors will help parents find options to make straightening their child’s teeth more affordable. Many offer flexible and affordable monthly finance plans that can be as low as $99 per month.

 

Myth: Braces are a rite of passage.

Setting it Straight: Virtually invisible aligners, mean there is less social awkwardness to impact teen’s confidence and self-esteem during an already vulnerable time. There’s no need for teens to hold back or feel they’re missing out on anything when straightening their teeth with Invisalign.

 

Myth: Invisalign treatment will disrupt our lives.

Setting it Straight: With Invisalign, Teens can play sports without fear of injury and continue cheerleading, musical instruments, acting and singing with little to no interference. And because its removable, brushing and flossing is easy and no food restrictions to worry about either. Invisalign is much less disruptive for busy moms and dads too. Invisalign Teen eliminates emergency ortho visits for broken wires and brackets and requires fewer appointments since several aligner sets are provided in advance.

 

 

Disclosure: I am a member of the Invisalign Teen Mom Advisory Board. My son has received complimentary treatment from Align, but all opinions expressed are my own. Here is the link to the Invisalign Smile Assessment.

 

 

 

 

What happened when I went #DigitallyDark – sponsored GIVEAWAY

*Disclosure: Sponsored Giveaway*

 

WINNER: Robyn Wright from RobynsOnlineWorld.com! Congrats!

 

device theft solutionsIn my last blog post, I talked about device theft and smartphone security including the importance of protecting the data on our devices. Because I manage my personal life and business using my smartphone, tablet and laptop, I need to plan for the potential nightmare of my technology being stolen. I simulated this scenario as part of  Absolute Software’s #DigitallyDark challenge. This challenge involved going “dark”, with all devices turned off, for one day last week. Absolute Software solutions enable device location tracking, locking it against unauthorized users and data protection software that permanently erasing files from remote locations. Their two device theft solutions are called Absolute Data Protect and Absolute LoJack.

 

What happened when I went #DigitallyDark  (yes, shriek of terror) for a day?

 

1. Contacts: I could not make any calls or access my contacts. Even though my data is backed-up in the cloud, I needed a device to get to the cloud!!

 

2. Data files: I did not have access to all my personal, professional and family management data files stored on my devices. Also off limits the software I use to run both my business and my family management. If the #DigitallyDark exercise had been a real theft of hardware, I would be forced to re-install some of this software from the disks, which hopefully are in a convenient location in my house.

 

3. Music Playlists: Even the music playlists that I listen to when relaxing and exercising were not accessible, so chilling out to music was not an option.

 

4. Security: The personal information on my phone includes passwords to payment software, so a stolen phone or notebook is a big financial risk.

 

5. Theft reporting: If my devices really were stolen, I would not even know where to start. Where would I report stolen laptop, stolen smartphone or even report a stolen tablet? Who should I call first? I could report it to the local police… and then what?  If I had tracking on my device, should I pass that information to the police and ask them to track down my property?

 

Using device theft solutions like Absolute Data Protect and Absolute LoJack would give me peace of mind and more of a sense of control because the software can locate the device, lock the device to prevent access of personal information, and permanently erase files in order to protect personal information and prevent identity theft. Absolute LoJack also has the extra features of recovery and guarantee. Absolute’s Investigation Team springs into action building a case and then presenting it to law enforcement (recovery) and provides a Service Guarantee to help pay for a replacement.

 

GIVEAWAY DETAILS:

Device Theft Absolute LoJackAs part of the #DigitalDark challenge get the opportunity to run a giveawa (6/19 – 6/25) where I will select one winner (at random) who will receive a family pack that includes FIVE -year Premium Absolute LoJack Subscriptions.

 

Rules: Each entrant can only enter once. To enter:

STEP 1. “Like” Absolute LoJack’s Facebook Page.

STEP 2. Comment on this blog post confirming that you liked the Facebook page and then share your thoughts on device theft.

 

1. One Blog Post comment per person. One Blog Post comment is equal to one entry (so only one entry per person)  2. Winners are limited to US residents only 21 years of age or older. 3. If a valid email address is not provided in the entry, another winner will be chosen. 4. The prize is not redeemable in cash and must be accepted as awarded. 5. Approximate value of prizes may vary. 6. All decisions are final  7. By entering any giveaway on this website you release Techmamas.com from any liability whatsoever, and waive any and all causes of action. 7. Contest ends June 25 2014 -10pm pst. Winner will be announced by June 27 2014.

NOTE AS OF JUNE 27 – WINNER HAS BEEN CHOSEN AND CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED. But feel free to still share your thoughts on Device Theft!

BONUS:

I also get the opportunity to share an exclusive offer:  30% off a 1-year Absolute LoJack Standard or Premium subscription.  Just enter promo code:  DARK30 at checkout: www.absolutelojack.com/challenge

**Offer is good until June 30.

 

 

*Disclosure: This is a sponsored giveaway. All of my words are my own.*

 

 

 

Fed Up – New Documentary On Sugar and Obesity in America

Healthy food Lately I have been busy trying to help my family really understand how to live a healthy lifestyle. I realized it is not only about exercise or eating food that seems “healthy”. It is also about understanding what are the right foods to eat and to control things like the amount of sugar being consumed. We have a history of diabetes in our family so it is especially important. I really did get “Fed Up” with the type of foods in the schools, restaurants and even grocery stores that have moved so far away from whole food ingredients. We just recently started cooking from scratch, adding more plant foods and even making my kid’s lunches for school. I am also trying new nutritional apps and websites that I am excited to talk more about in future posts.

 

But for today, I am excited that Katie Couric took her amazing background in investigative journalism and worked with Laurie David (Oscar winning producer of AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH) and director Stephanie Soechtig, to create a documentary on the truth behind the obesity crisis in America called Fed Up opening in Theatres across the country today (May 9).  This was the topic of the Katie Couric Show on May 8 as well. I wanted to share some of this information to help spread the word in the hopes that everyone will take the time to learn more about this important topic.

 

“FED UP” WITH OBESITY IN AMERICA AND ITS AFFECT ON FAMILIES –“KATIE” AIRED MAY 8

 

Photo Credit: Credit:  Disney/ABC.  Katie Couric Show  #2148 with Stephanie Soechtig,  Laurie David,  Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Margo Wootan.

Photo Credit: Credit: Disney/ABC. Katie Couric Show #2148 with Stephanie Soechtig, Laurie David, Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Margo Wootan.


 
 
On Thursday’s episode of the nationally syndicated daytime talk show “Katie,” that aired  May 8, Laurie David and Katie discussed their documentary “Fed Up” on obesity in America and the truth behind one of the greatest health crisis of our time.   Director Stephanie Soechtig joined the conversation along with Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Margo Wootan, Director of Nutrition Policy at the Center for Science In The Public Interest. Find out what you should be doing to live healthier and longer and how this obesity crisis happened.

 

Today, May 9 the Fed Up Documentary is now at Theatres. I will be taking my family to the see the documentary to learn important information about this health crisis! There is also a FedUp Challenge to join in by clicking HERE. The trailer from the movie gives more details:
 

Fed Up

In theaters May 9, 2014

Everything we’ve been told about food and exercise for the past 30 years is dead wrong. FED UP is the film the food industry doesn’t want you to see. From Katie Couric, Laurie David (Oscar winning producer of AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH) and director Stephanie Soechtig, FED UP will change the way you eat forever. The film opens in theaters across the country on May 9th.