All posts by Tracey Dowdy

Gadgets for Summer 2020

By Tracey Dowdy

For many of us, summer 2020 means a lot more time at home and a lot less time at the community pool, beach, or parks. While COVID-19 restrictions are lifting in some areas, rising hospitalization numbers mean there’s a good possibility some states and communities could start moving back, rather than forward with reopening plans.

That means it may be time to upgrade with a few simple gadgets that will make the dog days of summer a lot more fun.

The CleanPod UVC Sterilizer may be the gadget of summer 2020. It emits a high-energy beam of UVC (ultraviolet C) light, sanitizing surfaces without chemicals and killing up to 99.9% of germs on surfaces. It’s portable enough to fit in a pocket or purse, so it’s perfect for sanitizing shopping carts, door handles, and phones. Plus, a portion of the proceeds of every sale goes to the United Way’s COVID-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund.

Movie nights are going to look a little different as theatres slowly reopen and try to accommodate social distancing requirements. The Anker Capsule Projector is a fantastic alternative. This soda can-sized point-and-play projector allows you to streaming movies anywhere, including your backyard. It features 360-degree sound, four-hour video playtime, and projects a screen size of up to 8.3 feet. It uses Android’s OS, meaning you have plenty of streaming options. 

The Nest Thermostat is every “Who touched the thermostat?” dad’s dream. Via the Nest app, dad can set and forget the thermostat for the whole house. Plus, over time, the Nest “learns” dad’s thermostat preferences and monitors heat and cool for you. It works in 95 percent of homes with low-voltage systems, features Auto-Away and System Match features, and will send monthly reports via email. 

If you don’t have air conditioning in your home or apartment, the Evapolar evaCHILL Personal Evaporative Air Cooler is a reliable option. Its 3-in-1 functionality serves as a personal ac unit, a humidifier, and an air purifier. With a range of about 45 feet, it’s perfect for your desktop or nightstand. The water tank can last up to nine hours without needing a refill. Plus, because it doesn’t use freon or other hazardous liquids, it’s environmentally friendly, and the filter cartridges are anti-bacterial. 

Finally, no summer is complete without a backyard barbecue, so high-tech gadgets like the Char-Broil SmartChef 420 TRU-Infrared 3-Burner Cabinet, low-tech like a ThermoWorks ThermoPop, and no-tech like the Blue Rhino Melt and Steam Dome are essential. The Char-Broil SmartChef is a Wi-Fi-connected grill you can control via your smartphone. Adjust the burner temperatures, monitor the cooking time, set reminders to flip the meat, check the temperature, and access their library of recipes from your device. The ThermoPop is a highly accurate thermometer, with an easy to read backlit display with large digits. You can flip from Fahrenheit to Celsius, and you can rotate the screen so you can read it from either side, the top, or underneath. As a bonus, it will shut itself off after 10 minutes to save battery life. And it doesn’t get much more low-tech than the Blue Rhino Melt, and Steam Dome is the perfect cover to ensure that cheese melts perfectly over your burger. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

How to Stream 4th of July Fireworks

By Tracey Dowdy

Summer plans look a little different this year?  While many of us would normally head out to watch our local fireworks display on the 4th of July, many localities have opted not to hold their traditional celebration to avoid the increased potential of spreading COVID-19. Even if your town is going ahead with their plans, not everyone feels comfortable gathering in large crowds at this stage in our recovery. The good news is, there are several online options for watching from the safety of home.

“These past few months have been some of the most difficult in our city’s history, and New Yorkers are looking for a break,” New York City mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “This 4th of July Celebration with Macy’s will give all New Yorkers a safe and exciting way to enjoy the holiday together, even when we are apart.”

Mayor de Blasio announced that the city and Macy’s will bring smaller fireworks displays to each of the five boroughs, with the first show scheduled for Monday, June 29, and wrapping up with the July 4 finale. This idea is to allow New Yorkers to experience the fireworks while reducing crowd sizes.

Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular will air on July 4 on NBC (8-10 p.m. ET/PT, 7-9 p.m. CT/MT. For more, check your local listings). You can also try a free trial of YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, or Fubo TV to stream NBC online for July 4.

A Capitol Fourth – Washington DC

America’s Independence Day celebration, A Capitol Fourth, will mark it’s 40th year on the air July 4, 2020. Broadcast around the world to millions of viewers on PBS and to troops watching on the American Forces Network, the show will be co-hosted by John Stamos and  Vanessa Williams and feature new performances from iconic locations across the country like Washington, D.C, New York, Nashville, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. This year’s concert performances were pre-taped without a live audience and will be available on the event’s website, YouTube and Facebook feeds.

This year’s celebration will also feature a tribute to front lines workers in the fight against COVID-19, as well as a segment honoring the significant contributions of African American heroes from our nation’s past and present as well as a salute to our wounded warriors and their families.

Boston

The Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular concert starts at 8 p.m. EDT, and features Queen Latifah, Arlo Guthrie, Amanda Mena, and the Texas Tenors alongside the famous Boston Pops Orchestra. Their always incredible fireworks display starts at 10:30 p.m. You can live stream the Boston July Fourth fireworks on Bloomberg.com and its mobile apps. Local news channel WHDH-TV will also broadcast the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular online.

Disney

Disney knows that for Disneyphiles, there’s nothing quite like seeing fireworks over Cinderella’s Castle. The show is always amazing, but they really step up their game on the Fourth of July for its Disney World’s Celebrate America! A Fourth of July Concert in the Sky event. 

You can live stream Disney’s July Fourth fireworks from the Magic Kingdom starting at 9:10 p.m. EDT on the Disney Parks Blog.

San Diego

Not to be outdone by the east coast, San Diego is promising “the largest fireworks show on the west coast” with the San Diego Big Bay Boom. You can watch it from the comfort of your home beginning at 9 p.m. PDT via live stream San Diego’s July Fourth fireworks on fox5sandiego.com.

Watch Local Fireworks on TV

Finally, keep checking your local listings because many cities have opted to close fireworks to crowds but televise them for TV and online audiences. Nashville, Tennessee canceled their usual celebrations but is televising a fireworks show in honor of their local frontline responders. (9 p.m. central time – Nashville’s News Channel 5).

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

spam calls

Block Unwanted Calls, Texts, and Email

By Tracey Dowdy

Recently, I’ve been getting non-stop text messages addressed to someone named Alyssa, who is on her “last chance” to renew her warranty. They are as annoying as they are relentless. I’ve blocked the number and deleted the text without opening it dozens of times. 

I’m not alone. According to YouMail, there were over 58 billion robocalls in 2019. The scams are almost as plentiful as the calls themselves – you’ve won a Caribbean vacation, your PC has a virus, your identity has been stolen, you’ve been selected for a unique opportunity, or won the lottery. You may even get messages purporting to be from a government agency like the IRS. However, the IRS will not call, email, or text you – they communicate almost exclusively through snail mail. 

Wireless carriers are using SHAKEN/STIR technology to identify and block spam calls, on both their respective networks and between phone providers. 

Software giants like Apple have added features that prevent unknown callers from ringing you. Google has made its Call Screen feature more robust by routing suspicious calls to Google Assistant before your phone even rings. When Android 11 is released, it will Include even more robocall identification and prevention features beyond the default Android Phone app. 

If you’re receiving a lot of spam text messages, not just calls, you can forward the message to the number 7726 (spells SPAM). Though it doesn’t immediately prevent the number from texting you, it will allow your carrier to investigate and possibly intervene.

There’s no way to block every spam or robocall, but the FCC suggests taking the following measures to limit the number of calls you receive. 

  • Don’t answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize – let them go to voicemail.
  • Don’t answer calls from blocked or unknown numbers – this tells scammers your number is real, and they can then sell your number to another company, or begin targeting your number more often. 
  • Don’t assume an incoming call is from a local number just because it looks like it is. “Spoofing” technology allows scammers to trick your caller ID into displaying false information like a local area code.
  • Don’t respond to any questions that can be answered with a “Yes.”
  • If someone calls you and claims to be with ABC company, hang up immediately. Use the company’s website to find an official number and call them to verify.
  • If you answer a call and hear a recording such as, “Hello, can you hear me?” hang up.
  • If you’re asked to press a number before being connected to a representative, hang up.

All the major carriers offer some form of call-blocking technology, some free, some fee-based.

AT&T’s Call Protect app is available for iOS and Android. 

Verizon’s Call Filter app is automatically enabled for Android users on a postpaid plan. It’s built into most Android devices out of the box and is available in the App Store for iOS users.

T-Mobile’s Scam ID is free to all customers and includes Scam Block. To enable it, dial #662# from your phone.  

Sprint’s Call Screener Basic was recently launched with a free option for its customers. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

How to Prepare Your iPhone For Sale or Recycling

By Tracey Dowdy 

The almost-annual release of a new iPhone is one of the most significant events in tech, often setting trends and becoming the phone that other tech companies try to emulate. If you’re looking ahead to the release of the iPhone 12 later this year, or if being quarantined with an older phone has you in the market for an upgrade, there are a few steps to take with your current phone before you trade it in, sell it, or turn it in to be recycled. Wiping your phone and rolling it back to its factory settings ensures that no one has access to the personal information or photos stored on your phone. 

The first step is to back up your phone. There’s nothing worse than following the steps to wipe your device and discovering you’ve lost your contacts, photos, or other relevant information. Back up your iPhone by connecting it to your MacBook or iMac and or use iTunes on a PC to back it up. CNET offers a full tutorial here.

The easiest way to back up your phone is through the cloud. Go to Settings > tap on your name > iCloud > iCloud Backup > Back up now. Depending on how long it’s been since your last back up, it may take a while, but it’s by far the easiest method. Pro Tip- make sure your phone is connected to Wi-Fi and a charger to keep the backup from failing because of a drained battery. 

The next steps are a little more tedious. 

  • Sign out of each app and service individually.
  • Delete email accounts from your device in Settings > Passwords & Accounts.
  • If you haven’t already, take out your SIM card. If your new phone comes with a new SIM card, destroy your old one and throw it away. If your phone has an eSIM, make sure you remove or deactivate it. 

Return your phone to its factory settings by following these steps: 

Go to Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings. 

Enter your phone’s PIN code along with your Apple ID password to delete the phone from your account. The screen will then go dark, and the Apple logo along with a progress bar will appear. As with a new iPhone, after it turns back on (it will take a few minutes), a screen with “Hello” in different languages will flash, indicating the reset is complete. 

Your phone is now ready to be sold or recycled. Have fun with your new one!

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Best Grilling Gadgets for Father’s Day

By Tracey Dowdy 

 Even before we all hunkered down in quarantine and couldn’t eat out the way we used to, grilling was the staple for Father’s Day menus. There’s something quintessentially American about Dad in his “Every Butt Deserves A Good Rub apron, telling terrible dad jokes, and reigning over the grill like a feudal lord. 

But, nothing ruins the party faster than food that chicken with a hint of lighter fluid, flare-ups that char the burgers, or dad getting sidetracked and turning those steaks into jerky. These apps and gadgets can help ensure dad’s day is everything he wants it to be. 

Despite its misleading name, the Weber iGrill Mini app-connected thermometer works with both Android and iOS phones and promises precision grilling every time. The app will track the temperature from the fridge to the grill and notify you via the app once the food reaches the perfect temperature. ($49.99)

Similarly, The Meater+ thermometer uses an app to send notifications to your phone when your food is ready, but unlike the Weber iGrill Mini, it’s wireless. Plus, it has a range of 165 feet, so dad can wander around the yard, regaling guests with tales of his neverending battle against crabgrass and chipmunks, and still monitor the grill. ($99)

Indoors or out, we can all agree that one of the worst parts of cooking is cleaning up. The good people of Grillbot heard our cry and created a line of grill cleaning robots – yes, you read that right – that will do the worst of the dirty work for you. Just place the Grillbot on the grill, press a button, and leave it to get all that charred sauce and bits of food off your grates. ($89.99+)

Once those summertime temperatures soar, keeping up with the demand for a cool drink can be challenging. The Cooper Cooler Rapid Beverage Chiller is the answer. It can chill a can of soda or beer in one minute and an entire bottle of wine in six – roughly 40x faster than throwing the cans in the freezer and 10x faster than it can chill wine, plus there’s no risk of forgetting them and finding an exploded mess later. There’s even a 12V car adapter for one of the models so you can up your game at your next tailgate party. ($79.99+)

How many times have you started the grill, threw on the burgers, only to discover that you’ve run out of propane?  GasWatch Propane Tank Level Indicator with Digital Display pairs with an app on your smartphone, tracks your propane level and sends an alert when the supply is getting low. ($24.95)

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Last-Minute Father’s Day Gift Guide

By Tracey Dowdy

I feel like Father’s Day crept up on us this year – anyone else? 

A whopping 75% of Americans are planning to celebrate Father’s Day, but of those surveyed by the National Retail Federation, 58% will be doing so virtually. Thanks, COVID-19. But whether you’re face to face or screen to screen, if you’re one of the millions of Americans looking to snap up a great last-minute Father’s Day gift, this guide should help.

Outdoor speakers. There are hundreds of options available, so take a minute to consider your budget and what features – portability, sound, wired/wireless – are most important to you. This list from New York Magazine can help you narrow down your choices. 

Wireless Charger. Tech Radar tested the top wireless chargers available to determine the pros and cons of each. Their list is from last year but still packed with solid options at a variety of price points and for Android and iOS phones. 

Bar Accessories. CNET has a fantastic list of bar accessories and drinkware – including a couple of bar cart options – to upgrade dad’s bartending game.  

Grilling Accessories. Good Housekeeping isn’t just for stain removal tips or pound cake recipes. It’s list of 14 Best Grilling Accessories, According to Cooking Experts has everything from skewers and spatulas to mops and thermometers. 

Tech and Gadgets. Tech Crunch’s list of The Best Father’s Day Tech Gifts Under $100 includes gift ideas for all dad’s hobbies including music, fitness, gaming, reading, tinkering, and much more. 

Coffee and brewing accessories. Roasty, whose slogan is “Brew Coffee So Good It’ll Make a Hipster Cry,” has a wild list of coffee brewing gadgets including a Vacuum Coffee Syphon, Mind Reader Coffee Condiment Organizer, and a Coffee Drip Scale/Timer, all available on Amazon Prime. 

Smartwatch. Tech Radar has a comprehensive list of 2020’s best smartwatches for both Android and iOS fans. They evaluated features like the design, options, battery life, specs, and price then ranked it against the competition.

Subscription box. A subscription box is literally the gift that keeps on giving. Crate Joy’s 21 Best Subscription Boxes for Father’s Day has options from jewelry, microbreweries, gadgets, accessories, and gaming, and sports. You name it, there’s a box for that.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

How to Talk to Kids about Race and Racism

By Tracey Dowdy

The past week has been a news cycle of tragedy and violence that has once again exposed the racial divide that plagues this country over 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. 

There’s no easy way to expose your children to the ugly side of race relations or to explain the complexity of the images on the news. But it’s not a matter of whether or not to have the conversation, it’s a matter of how and when. Opening the discussion is imperative as is giving your children the tools to become actively anti-racist. 

While there are no quick tips or formulas, these conversation starters and action steps can help you talk to your children about this critically important issue. 

Open the Conversation. Mark my words, your children are talking about the subject of race whether you’re involved in the conversation or not. It’s important that your children hear the truth and understand current events in the proper context. Dr. Margaret Hagerman, a sociologist and author of White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America, spent two years studying 30 affluent, white families in a Midwestern community, during which she found, “kids are learning and hearing about race regardless of whether parents are talking to them about it.” 

Parents on both sides of the racial debate need to engage their children in conversations. White children don’t need to be taught to be color blind but rather to celebrate differences rather than ignore them. While the intention is noble – we are all equal – it may lead to them failing to recognize injustice or dismissing it as unimportant. Julie Lythcott-Haims, Parent Toolkit expert and author of How to Raise an Adult and Real American, a memoir on race says, “Parents need to take stock of the community in which they are raising their kids, talk about the racial differences and how people are sometimes treated unfairly on the basis of race, and prepare their child to be self-aware, smart and safe out there.” 

Be an Example. It’s a cliche but there’s more than a modicum of truth – when it comes to child-rearing, more is caught than taught. But before you begin the conversation, you need to educate yourself. Check out the Documentary 13th on Netflix, books like Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations about Race, or Becoming, by Michelle Obama. Embrace Race has an excellent list of books for teaching children about race. 

“It’s not about whose perspective is right or wrong, it’s about acknowledging there are perspectives other than your own and making an effort to learn about them,” Lythcott-Haims says.

Information isn’t enough. The best and most powerful way to educate yourself and your children is by developing meaningful relationships with individuals different from ourselves. Nothing is more impactful to our psyche than someone’s story, so make sure that your friend group is diverse. If it’s not, ask yourself why. 

Have a conversation, don’t present a lecture. Kids are naturally curious – how many of us have had our child ask an awkward question or point out something the adults in the room are trying to ignore? But when it comes to matters of race, engage your kids in the conversation and allow them to ask questions. Michele Chang, Director of Facilitation and Curriculum for Challenging Racism, explains, “Young children have a natural curiosity about differences, but they don’t put any value on what it means until they pick it up from what their parent says, or what the media tells them. So, when a child asks their parent, ‘Why does that person look like that?’ and their parent shushes them, it shuts down the conversation and signals to the child there’s something wrong.” 

Sometimes kids may make a statement or an observation that has racist undertones. Shari Benites, Challenging Racism Facilitator and Trainer, suggests parents stop and ask themselves: What are they saying? What are they noticing? Ask your child, “What makes you think that?” Their observation may be completely different than what you initially assumed. And the only way to truly know what your child meant after saying a “questionable” statement is by asking them to clarify or explain further.

There will inevitably be times when open, honest communication isn’t enough and you need to take action. If your child comes to you upset, Benites suggest parents respond by saying, “It is not your job to educate your classmates about race, but with that in mind, what do you want to do about it? The focus should be on figuring out what the child needs, and going from there.”

And remember, kids ask hard questions and it’s okay if you don’t know the answer. Just say, “I’m not sure. Let’s figure it out together.” The important thing is to keep the conversation open and moving forward. 

Make it Age Appropriate. America’s history of racism is dark and complex. Don’t feel you have to communicate 300 years of systemic oppression and abuse in a single conversation. Use some of the resources and tools listed about and use practical, hands-on teaching tools to help them understand. 

For example, in her article, Here’s How To Raise Race-Conscious Children, Erin Winkler, suggests that parents of younger children give them, “balls of string and ask them to move around the room unraveling their balls of string to make a very tangled web. Once they are finished, ask them to untangle it. They will soon find that it is much more difficult to untangle the web than it was to create it in the first place. Then explain that working to make society fair is a lot like untangling this web.”

Be an advocate.
“The focus is often on white America, but it should be about all cultures and how each of us can live in a way that is acceptable for everyone. But what does ‘being an advocate’ actually look like? With advocacy, you want to allow people to speak for themselves, That means passing the mic when it’s someone else’s turn to share their experience. “But, you’re also supporting them when they need assistance,” says Amber Coleman-Mortley, Director of Social Engagement for iCivics.

The most important element of advocacy is going beyond words to acting in a way that demonstrates your belief. “It’s not good enough to say, ‘We are not racist.’ You are not off the hook,” Wiseman says.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

Supporting Teens and Young Adults

Being quarantined with teenagers may not be as much a hands-on job as managing toddlers, but that doesn’t mean that the mental strain or engagement is any less. You’re probably seeing a lot more of each other than either of you are used to. These tips for parenting teenagers and young adults suddenly home from college can help smooth some of the edges and help you to enjoy your time together. 

Reiterate the importance of social distancing. Now that parts of the country are starting to open up, your already restless teen may be tempted to take a chance and hang with their friends. Teens lack the ability to understand the long term consequences of their actions. Dr. David Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, also notes that teens tend to see themselves as invincible and they may think that COVID-19 isn’t problematic for their age range as it is for older people. “They want to see their friends, and don’t see why the social distancing should apply to them. Our answer is that exposure to this virus is an exponential thing, and that it’s not really about them. It’s not really about the fact that they feel fine. It’s the fact that they could be asymptomatic carriers and they could kill others, including their grandparents.” He suggests you remind your teens that, “You just can’t know that your friends are well. And while you may be comfortable taking that risk, you’re also bringing that back in your house.”

Encourage healthy habits. It may be easier to explain string theory to a toddler than get your teen to maintain healthy sleep habits, but it’s worth the try. Just like the rest of us, being well-rested coupled with healthy eating habits and regular exercise goes a long way to boosting mental as well as physical health. Model the behavior you want to see – if you’re on the sofa, powering through a family size bag of Cheetos at 2 am, don’t expect your teen to take you too seriously. 

Don’t over-parent. If you’re living with a college student that’s just moved home, remember you’re dealing with a young adult who has experienced life outside your home, out from under your authority, and has had autonomy over their own lift and decisions for some time. If you treat them the same way you’re treating your younger children, they’re likely to chafe against your rules. Be mindful of the fact that while you are still their parent, you’re speaking to an adult, not a child. Speaking to them respectfully while maintaining authority goes a lot further than making demands or doling out punishment.

Give them – and yourself a break. It’s all about balance. Yes, good sleep habits, a healthy diet, and exercise are important, but if sometimes they a second cookie, an extra episode of Adventure Time, or sleeping till noon translates to self-care, don’t sweat it. When the days seem endless and it sometimes feels like time no longer exists, be kind to them and indulge. 

Validate their feelings. Think back to when you were a teenager and how much you relied on peers over parents for everything from advice to emotional support. When things are getting heated or you’re getting push back on the boundaries you’ve set, acknowledge that their feelings of frustration and isolation are valid. Studies have shown that teens still prefer face to face connections over social media, so it’s no wonder they’re struggling. If you’ve set boundaries on screen time or social media, this is a good time to sit down and have a conversation about the possibility of shifting those boundaries and finding creative ways for them to connect while still social distancing. 

Look to the future. Don’t forget, many teens are missing out on milestones you enjoyed or may have taken for granted. Senior prom, graduation, bar mitzvahs, their quinceañera – these are once in a lifetime events. There’ll be other birthdays, other chances at a first-date, but be aware your child may be grieving the loss of what was supposed to be. Give them the grace they need and work together to find ways to make up or re-schedule the event if possible. By including them, you make them feel less helpless and take away some of the sting of the disappointment.  

Help them practice mindfulness. Mindfulness techniques are powerful tools that will carry them through the challenges they face inside and outside quarantine.  Mindfulness teaches us to stop, identify the feeling you’re experiencing, and free yourself of judgment. 

Dr. Joanna Stern, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute calls it “radical acceptance.”

“You tell yourself it’s okay to feel anxious right now. It’s okay to feel scared. It’s okay to feel angry. You’re accepting the feelings you have and validating them because we’re all having those feelings. It’s really important that you accept them as they are rather than fighting them. We say to ourselves: ‘This sucks, and I’m going to be sad about it, and I’m going to be angry about it, and I’m going to feel anxious about it,’ or whatever it is. This then allows us to move on and say, ‘Okay, so now what needs to be done?’”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Parents’ Guide to Facebook’s Messenger Kids

By Tracey Dowdy

Facebook introduced its free video calling and messaging app Messenger Kids with the tag, “Made for Kids. Controlled by Parents.” Targeted at kids under 13, Messenger Kids is designed to be a bridge between child-friendly devices like Leap Pads and full access to social media platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, or TikTok.

Kids still can’t sign up for a Facebook account. Instead, they can create one through their parent or guardian’s account. Once the account has been authenticated by a parent, kids – with a parent’s help and or supervision – can set up a mini-profile with their name (it can be a nickname) and photo (it can be a photo of anything). Kids can use the app either on their device or on yours, but remember: if you give them your phone, they’ll have access to all the photos and videos on your device. Parents can choose whether to add the child’s gender and birth date. Once the profile is complete, parents can approve any friend requests through the Messenger Kids bookmark in the main Facebook app. Messenger Kids is interoperable within Facebook’s Messenger app, so parents don’t have to download the Kids app.

To further protect their privacy, Messenger Kids users can’t be found through Facebook search, so if a child wants to chat with a friend, their parent must first friend that child’s parent, then choose to approve the friend request.

When users open Messenger Kids, they’ll see a color-customizable home screen with tiles representing their existing chat threads and all approved contacts. The interface is user friendly, making it easy for kids to jump into a video chat or text thread with their contacts. They can also block and unblock their parent-approved contacts. Good news parents – there are no in-app purchases to worry about. 

The app offers loads of kid-friendly creative tools, like fidget spinners, dinosaur AR masks, carefully curated gifs (native to the app – no external third party sites), and crayon-style stickers. “Video calls become so much more playful with AR,” says Marcus. 

Facebook won’t monetize Messenger Kids, but will automatically migrate kids to regular accounts when they turn 13. Nor will they be collecting data to remain in compliance with Children’s Online Privacy Protections Act (COPPA) law. The app also includes a reporting interface written specifically for kids so they can flag anything suspicious to a dedicated support team working 24/7.

Facebook’s head of Messenger David Marcus says, “When you think about things at scale that we do to get people to care more about Messenger, this is one that addresses a real need for parents. But the side effect will be that they use Messenger more and create family groups.”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.