Facebook for tweens?

June 6, 2012

Facebook has about 900 million users, but that isn’t enough. Now it’s getting ready to go after the tween crowd. According to Mashable:

“Facebook may be preparing a membership option for children under 13, allowing them to access the social network under parental supervision, according to a report.

The new option will allow children under 13 to have accounts linked to those of their parents, the Wall Street Journal says. Parents will be able to control who their children add as friends and which apps they use. The new features may also allow Facebook to charge parents for games and entertainment their children access.”

There’s the argument that many kids younger than 13 are already on Facebook (some with their parents helping them lie about their ages to bypass Facebook’s rules) and it’s better to allow the behavior with parameters rather than keep trying to enforce the rules. I don’t buy that.

There are lots of kids doing grown-up things. Kids try to push the age limits all the time – that’s their job. But a parent’s job is to push back and say “No. I am going to make sure you have a childhood whether marketers and technology like it or not.”

I don’t really care what age limits Facebook and the FTC put on children online. Parents should make the rules that govern their children, not regulators or corporations. In a few years when my son is begging for a Facebook account (and probably trying to sneak and create one on his own!), I will use it as a opportunity for a conversation – the same conversation we’ve had about SpongeBob on cereal boxes, shoes that light up and all the other gimmicks companies use to lure us, our dollars and now our personal information. I’ll tell him we’re smarter than that.

And if my son wants to connect more with his friends, then let’s invite them over. Shared experience is how real relationships form. Then he and his friends can all stay in touch by friending each other when they go off to college!

It seems as though the whole “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” thing has jumped the shark. Yesterday was the designated 2012 day for kids to skip school and head to the office, store, restaurant or factory where mom or dad make the money. But as Julie Drizin, the director of the University of Maryland’s Journalism Center on Children and Families, points out , the original mission of the 20-year-old program was to show girls that they could do more than follow a traditional female career path. But that mission has lost its way. Drizin writes on her blog:

I’ve come to believe that Take Your Daughters And Sons to Work Day is largely a feel-good exercise for the privileged. Sure, this annual kids-to-work pilgrimage gives children a window into – and hopefully, an appreciation for – what their folks do all day to sustain the family. But parents who work in factories aren’t bringing their kids to the assembly line. Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, isn’t participating. Women who clean homes during the day or offices at night aren’t invited to bring their kids along with them, although some children of immigrants have recounted how they curled up and slept on leather law firm sofas while their mothers dusted, vacuumed and emptied trash cans in fancy office buildings after dark.

… It’s the children of farm laborers, home health aides, waitresses and janitors who should be able to spend a day in the science labs, architecture firms, government agencies and other American workplaces where higher education is the stepping stone to a better life. And perhaps my children and their privileged peers could benefit from a day of hands-on experience in service industries. “Trading places” would offer a reality check and valuable lessons to all about the nature of work and reward and struggle.

I agree wholeheartedly with Drizin. For years now I’ve been looking for opportunities for my son to get a sense of how hard some people have to work for so little. Showing my then-6-year-old pictures of desperately poor children in Mali working in gold mines, he thought having no shoes and smashing rocks in the dirt all day would be fun – far better than wearing shoes and learning in a tidy classroom.

I’ve come to realize that no matter how sharp the resolution on the iPad screen or how huge the flat screen TV is, images of the world around us can’t impact us as living, breathing reality can.

I support Drizin’s idea and would be the first to sign my son up for a day of seeing what really hard work is. What do you think of “Trading Places Day” for our kids?

When it comes to parenting, I’m a by-the-book kind of mother. Which is to say, when I have a question about parenting, I buy the book. I have expert advice on my shelf about getting babies to sleep, managing the terrible 2’s, raising boys, and disciplining effectively. And that’s just a few. All told, I’ve spent a few hundred dollars on parenting self-help books in the last eight years.

But along comes Twitter …

Having a parenting problem? There’s a hashtag for that!

In honor of #ff (that’s Follow Friday, in Twitter speak), Friday I’m sharing some of the @’s and #’s that keep me in the know on all things current with parenting. I’m including a recent tweet from each, so you can get an idea if it’s “Follow-worthy” for you. Take a look and please share your favorite Twitter Follows in the comments.

1. #toddlers

2. #parents

3. #cyberbullying

4. #baby

5. @edutopia

6. @talkingteenage

Gaga for Google Glasses

April 21, 2012

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I need people. Not just random people, but the kind of people where I’d say to you, “Have your people call my people and we’ll get together.” But alas, there are no “people” in my future, so I need Google Glasses!

The idea of managing everything I do on my smartphone, but hands-free, is fantastic. It really would be like talking to an assistant who’s walking around with me carrying a pen and note pad and keeping my life organized. The multitasking potential is huge! Folding clothes, making beds, putting away the clean dishes from the dishwasher – all while scheduling a pediatrician appointment, making a grocery list and creating a reminder to have my husband fix the leaky faucet I just noticed in the bathroom sink. The efficiency of it practically makes me giddy (I love efficiency).

But then I step back from the giddiness and think about these glasses from the other perspective. Will I get so hooked on Google Glasses that I put them on in the morning and leave them on through breakfast, lunch and dinner? Will I pretend to be engaging with other people at a party, but really be checking my Facebook wall? Will I pretend to be talking to you, but really be shopping online or finding a recipe for dinner?

As a digital immigrant, I doubt I ever will get too hooked on the glasses. But all of our digital-native kids certainly will. A few years from now we’ll all be blogging about “At what age do you give your child his first pair of Google Glasses?’ and we’ll be looking at YouTube videos of 2-yeaer-olds learning their ABCs from their Playskool version of the glasses.

Technology with Intention, a great blog on public learning about technology and education, recently shared an interesting post about the future of Google Glasses: Google Glasses + Emotiv = the future.

The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.

I love CommonSenseMedia.org, and it may have just gotten better! This website provides “trustworthy information and tools, as well as an independent forum, so that families can have a choice and a voice about the media they consume.” For a few years now my husband and I have been using the site to judge the appropriateness of movies for our son (thank you CommonSenseMedia and my Facebook friends for the heads up on “Rango” not being an animated film for younger kids). And luckily, CommonSenseMedia.org has kept up with new forms of media to cover games, apps and more.

Now, CommonSenseMedia has launched Learning Ratings in which a “highly trained team rates and reviews apps, games, and websites to help you find products with the best learning potential for kids and teens.” Thank you!

While I’m pretty adamant about limiting my 8-year-old’s exposure to iPads, smartphones and computers, I absolutely see the necessity and  learning potential in all those technologies. But a big problem for me is time – I don’t have the time to scrutinize potential games for an hour or two to make sure they’re appropriate and that they maintain our family values. Therefore, I just don’t let him use the games.

That’s not really fair to my son, and I know it.

But now he and I can peruse game options together on the Learning Ratings website and talk about what will happen. In each game’s rating, you’ll find out the cost, what devices it works on, parents’ and kids’ reviews (although the feature is new, so there aren’t too many reviews yet), and (my favorite) the “what parents need to know” paragraph. This paragraph let’s you know whether the game will temp your kids to spend real money to advance faster, or how more sensitive kids might react to the game, etc. It’s the stuff another parent who you trust would tell you about the game or app.

So, I may be downloading an educational app or two soon. Don’t tell my son though. I’d rather he just think I’m in here doing my homework!

In 2040, my son will be 36. By then, he will have undoubtedly shared hundreds, if not thousands, of photos from smartphones starting with the photos from the phone/camera his father and I will have given him (probably) in about 2020.We’ll have lectured him on internet safety and have told him how “what goes on the internet, stays on the internet,” but reality will win. The days of youthful indiscretion are past, and every antic captured by his or friends’ camera phones will be Instagramed to Insta-forever.

When I think about the photos I still have (prints in albums in the garage attic) of me in high school and college, I cringe. Togas, huge hair, arms over shoulders of other people looking just as stupid. I won’t even mention how many photos have plastic cups of beer or rum and coke dangling at the end of everyone’s hands. But these memories are in the attic. Not online.

And it might even get worse. I know about the photos in my garage attic. But what about the photos in the attics of all those people from college that I’m not even friends on Facebook with now? People who I don’t remember, but who were there with cameras the night of the beach party I’d rather forget? Even if I had a brilliant solution to all the world’s problems, would I subject myself and my family to justifying all those years-gone-by antics to the media and public? Never.

The age of too much information undoubtedly has already had an impact on the country’s pool of viable candidates for elected office. And lots of smart, creative people who could possibly help the world in 2040 are going to be sidelined because of dumb photos from when they were 15, 20, or even 25. Either we’re all going to have to recognize that everyone has stupid (but innocuous) photos in their past and not make a big, embarrassing deal out of them, or we’re going to lose out on a lot of smart, talented people who could help the world be better.

Abbi Holtom Whitaker is plugged in. If it’s mentioned on Mashable, trending on Google+, or going viral on YouTube, she knows about it. As owner of the Reno public relations and marketing firm The Abbi Agency, staying on top of the social media tech curve is a vital part of her job.

But as mom to two young children, Abbi faces the same struggles all of us gadget-happy parents do.

“My children don’t let me use my phone past 5 o’clock,” Abbi says. “They will take it out of my hand and tell me, ‘Mommy, it’s family time and you don’t get on your phone.’ They’re really strict with me.”

And Abbi says she gets to be just as strict back when she tells her 2- and 5-year-old, “Get off the iPad. We’re going to go outside to play.”

“It’s such a battle,” Abbi says. “Do I want my children to know how to use those tools? One-hundred percent because that’s probably what’s going to guide them in their jobs and in their futures. But I do think it’s really important to set barriers to when you can use that and when you can’t.”

As part of her tech vs. traditional parenting strategy, Abbi and her husband, Ty, work to create a home that’s interesting and engaging for their kids beyond the screens.

“We created a garden, we got chickens, we plant,” Abbi says. “As parents it’s our responsibility to lead by example. That’s hard and it takes time and it takes energy, but that’s our responsibility.”

What does the digital world look like for the Whitaker kids when they’re ready to launch their own networked lives?

“I think I’d let them start getting on Facebook when they’re around 15 or 16, maybe a little younger.” Abbi says. “I think the longer I can keep them away from it, the better.”

In the meantime, her daughter loves nothing more than to have a no-tech tea party, Abbi says. “So that’s what I try to focus on.”

Parents have always struggled to talk with their children about certain topics. When kids are young, parents can gloss over the details of where babies come from and why the man in the movie is slurring his words and stumbling. But as kids get older and are making more of their decisions independently, it’s vital for parents to give them good information.

It’s time to be upfront, factual and blunt about what goes on in the world, and more importantly, how to avoid making the big mistakes. Until about 1995, this conversation mostly revolved around sex and drugs (OK, I’ll throw in rock ‘n’ roll just for fun). But with the internet, teens can be unknowingly heading down a dark alley with every click on the smartphone.

Luckily, recent research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project shows that most parents are talking to their teens about online safety. Here’s what parents and teens report:

Parents and teens report that they talk together about online safety

It isn’t shocking that parents talk more than teens listen (or perhaps parents just think they talk more than they actually do), but the good news is that there is conversation happening.

One point from the Pew report that caught my eye and that I think some parents can learn from is this:

“According to teens, parents who use social media are more likely to talk with their teen about what kinds of things should and should not be shared online or on a cell phone. Teens report that parents who are friends with their teens on social media are more likely to have these conversations than parents who have not friended their child (92% vs. 79%). Parents who do not use social media are more likely to have teens who report that their parents do not talk about any online behavior or safety issues with them.”

The message is clear: Parents, do not buy your child a technology you do not understand. Get on social media sites and see what’s going on. Send some photos from your phone so you know how easy it is (too easy). Text so you can relate to your child (what does MOS mean in your teen’s text?). Friend your child on Facebook (but not too obnoxiously). Follow your child on Twitter (discretely). The point is not to harass kids, the point is to fend off a major online mistake that your child could regret.

Be where they are – they need you.

Click on photo to watch 57 second video

It doesn’t matter if you’re the chief operating officer of Facebook making millions of dollars a year like Sheryl Sandberg or if you’re the head clerk of a grocery store, parents need to be able to spend time with their children. But it’s hard.

In this short MAKERS video, part of a video initiative from AOL and PBS showcasing hundreds of compelling stories from trailblazing women, Sandberg talks about leaving work at 5:30 p.m. everyday to be home to eat dinner with her two young children. If you have a job that’s salaried rather than hourly, that’s easier said than done.

When I was pregnant, I assumed that I’d return to work after maternity leave. I’d always worked. Everyone I knew worked. So I returned to work. That lasted six months, and then I quit. I could not do the job I expected of myself without staying late. I felt guilty for not being home with my baby (and I just missed him). I felt guilt for not staying late enough, pitching in enough, working hard enough.

I was fortunate enough to be able to stay home for a few years, returning to a part-time job when preschool rolled around for my son. And Sandburg is clearly bright enough and fortunate enough to be able to afford fantastic home help so dinner is ready when she gets there. I know for most parents, leaving work at 5:30 p.m. does not mean sitting down to a pleasant dinner with the family at 6 p.m. It means driving to daycare to pick the kids up, swinging by the grocery store, unloading the car, getting something in the oven, feeding the dog, and on and on.

But good for everyone, rich or poor, who fights the good fight to put their children first.

I applaud Sandberg and her dedication to both her career and her family. I cheer her standing up for parents everywhere and saying, “Hey, I am leaving work at 5:30.”

My time as tech manager

April 8, 2012

Like many moms, Jessica Torres has a house full of technology – four laptops, an iPad, two iPhones, two iPods, an iPod touch and two desktop computers. OK, maybe it sounds more like an Apple Store than a house, but for good reason. Jessica and her husband live in Reno and run two businesses. She has three blogs, three Twitter accounts (one of which has more than 53,000 tweets!), three Facebook fan pages and her personal Facebook page to manage. That’s a lot of digital time!

I found out about Jessica, 30, through her blog My Time As Mom. As another mom submerged in a digital world, I asked Jessica for her insights on managing technology with her 2- and 8-year-old girls.

“We don’t really have any rules about screen time,” Jessica says. “Rather we just monitor them each day with the devices. We try not to let the kids have too much time on any of the devices because we don’t want them to miss out on the world around them. However, it’s hard because they see me spending so much time online because of everything I do.”

Her 8-year-old owns a laptop and an iPod touch. Jessica says the iPod touch was a gift last Christmas.

“For the first month she was always on it at home,” Jessica says. “We started telling her to put it down at certain times. Since then, she has started to spend less time on it – maybe one hour a day.”

The laptop gets one or two hours of use a week and has parental security set up so certain websites can’t be accessed. Jessica says her daughter mostly uses the laptop to look up things she wants to know more about and to learn to type.

“Next year, we are planning on homeschooling her, so I’m sure that she will be spending more time on the computer,” Jessica says.

As for the 2-year-old (almost 3), Jessica says she gets to use the iPhone and the iPad for games and YouTube videos of Dora, Diego and Mickey Mouse.

“I have been in the middle of potty training my toddler, so as a reward she would get to use my phone or the iPad to watch a video while she was on the toilet (hopefully not TMI),” says Jessica.

I think every parent would agree that potty training brings out all the bribes! Check out Jessica’s blog post on the topic: Potty tricks.

Looking to the future, Jessica says she and her husband plan to manage their children’s technology habits closely.

“My kids will not be allowed to join Facebook or Twitter until they are age appropriate and mature enough to understand the sites,” she says.

“Our children will not have cell phones until at least high school,” she says. “I see kids today in my daughter’s elementary school who are in second and third grade with cell phones hidden under the lunch table. We will get our kids cell phones when they are old enough to drive and have a job.”

And maybe that job will be running a successful blog, just like their mother!

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