Digital Parenting: It’s About Assessing the Risk

Many people believe that digital technology has made the already-difficult job of parenting that much harder. As if we didn’t have enough to do in raising normal, healthy children, we now have to worry about what they might stumble across on the Internet, who they’re texting with on Snapchat, and what they might be doing with that smartphone camera!

In reality, the job of parents should have become easier. Most parents have access to an enormous amount of information and advice through the Internet, and technology-driven medical advances give us early warnings of health issues and treatment options.

Although it’s certainly possible for kids to find trouble in the Internet age, many of those dangers are no different to the problems kids have faced since the first schoolhouse opened its doors. Bullies and bullying existed long before e-mail and Facebook accounts became available; some children were sexually adventurous well before sexting became part of our digital culture; and kids were exposed to smoking and violence on TV long before video games were invented.

A combination of overactive hormones, immaturity, and peer pressure has always caused teens to experiment with risky behavior. What has changed in the digital age is the consequences of such risky behavior. Before, we might have shrugged off some adolescent indiscretion as a boys-will-be-boys moment and hope that they had learned their lesson. Now, with the Internet, YouTube and the ever-present digital camera, such indiscretions may not be so easy to ignore.

Assessing whether your child is likely to engage in risky behavior in the digital world is really no different from how you would have made that assessment 30 year ago. If you think your child might be vulnerable to physical bullying, then it’s likely that they might be exposed to cyber bullying as well. If your daughter is boy-crazy and runs around with a group of like-minded girls, then it’s safe to assume she’s at risk for sexting or similar reckless behavior.

Taking the right steps as a parent depends on our view of our kids’ maturity and lifestyle. If we feel they are well-grounded and are not unduly influenced by risk-takers, then the Internet and digital technology shouldn’t present too many new problems. Regular parental involvement and normal supervision should help them successfully navigate the difficult years.

But if you feel that your child is at risk, then today’s technology offers all the tools they need to turn that risk into a serious problem.

Inside Motorola Mobility’s New Chicago HQ

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting the brand new global headquarters of Motorola Mobility, located in the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago. I was there with the Midwest #VZWBuzz team, part of an ongoing social media initiative for Verizon Wireless.


Motorola has a long history in Chicago, having started out there as Galvin Manufacturing Corp some 90 years ago. At over 600,000 square feet, the new Motorola Mobility facility represents the largest downtown lease since 2005. It occupies the top four floors and rooftop of the Merchandise Mart, space that previously housed over one hundred home interior showrooms.


The architecture firm Gensler was hired to effect the transformation, and the result is an eye-popping blend of high-tech imagery, graffiti art, and flexible office space that fully reflects the innovative ideals of the new company.


About 2,000 employees have moved into the new space, which includes 75,000 square feet dedicated solely to labs. These labs are now at the forefront of the design and testing of the new Motorola Mobility devices that will follow in the footsteps of the Moto X, Moto G and the iconic Droid smartphones.


The new facilities also include nine kitchens, a game room, and what seems like acres of open work space. Employees are encouraged to move around to facilitate collaboration and there are even treadmill desks if they get tired of sitting still for too long. Of course, landlines are a thing of the past, so no-one is tied down by desktop communications.

Kudos to Motorola Mobility for having the vision and resolve to create such an amazing space.

Smartphones or Smores? Summer Camps Stand Firm Against Tech

When I think of summer camp, I think of toasting marshmallows by a campfire, stepping in the mud on the bottom of a lake, and itchy mosquito bites. But for a lot of kids these days, summer camp has a new meaning. Brought up on a daily diet of texting, Snapchat and Facebook, they are steeling themselves for the anxiety of going up to eight weeks without access to technology!

In response to what many believe is a severe digital overload for our children, both modern and traditional camps are being encouraged to remain tech-free. Smartphones are universally banned; personal computers and gaming systems are also excluded; and even iPods and other music players are severely restricted.

Camp supervisors – and many supportive parents – argue that kids shouldn’t need these gadgets if camps are successful at keeping kids busy from sunrise to lights out. “The dilemma for camps is that if they do allow technology, the kids will likely plug in and tune out,” said Gary Rudman, founder and president of GTF Consulting, a firm that helps companies advertise to kids and teens.

Most summer camps have had some restrictions on cell phone use in place for years, either banning them completely or only allowing calls at certain times of the day. But those restrictions are being extended to other forms of technology as well. Although almost all camps now have some form of Internet access, use of computers is usually granted only to staff.

Other camps take a slightly different approach, prohibiting the personal use of gadgets but incorporating them into structured programs. At Camp Marist near Ossipee Lake, New Hampshire, traditional camp activities like swimming and archery are accompanied by a few hi-tech options like digital photography classes.

If you know your child just won’t be able to cope without technology, there are other options. Plenty of camps offer specialized technology programs. iD Tech Camps, for example, has programs for film and computer programming, as well as game creation and design. And Microsoft, through its two-day DigiGirlz High Tech Camps, provides hands-on tech experience for girls, in the hope of dispelling some of the gender stereotypes of the high-tech industry.

Many experts agree that giving your child some time to unplug is a good thing. They will get more physical activity and interact with friends in the real world as opposed to the virtual one. But separating a child from his or her smartphone can cause some anxiety, and brings up some valid safety issues for concerned parents.

How do most kids cope without constant access to their tech gadgets? Quite well, according to most camp counselors. Besides, they often learn another new skill during their few weeks away from home: the lost art of letter-writing!

Should summer camps continue to ban smartphones and other technology? Let us know what you think!

Friday, July 18: Mobile Entertainment



When: TODAY, Friday, July 18, 2014
12:00-1:00 pm PT
3:00-4:00 pm ET

‘Mobile Entertainment’

Join @theonlinemom @RobynsWorld @geekbabe and @thetechdad TODAY at 12 noon PT (3 pm ET) as we look at Mobile Entertainment!
Faster wireless networks and a vast trove of accessible content are turning smartphones and tablets into our own personal TV screens, music centers, gaming consoles and more. We look at the devices and apps that can help you join this mobile entertainment revolution!
  RSVP and attend the party for a chance to win one of 5 Sony Xperia Z2 tablets!
(Plus, we are giving away 5 more Xperia Z2 tablets during the #VZWBuzz RECAP which immediately follows the chat!)

(Click here to learn more about our Twitter chats. You must RSVP and attend the party to be eligible for a prize.)

  1. Email (subject line: VZWBuzz) and include your Twitter ID.
  2. Spread the word and RT this link on your Twitter feed:
  3. Join us on TweetDeck or HootSuite (#VZWBuzz) today between 12 – 1 pm PT
  4. Tell your Twitter followers!
PRIZE WINNERS will be announced during the Party!

(The Online Mom LLC receives a fee for participating in certain promotional programs for Verizon Wireless.)

7 Apps for Great Summertime Menus

By Tracey Dowdy

Ah, summer. Cookouts and campfires, marshmallows and mosquitos. I love summer at an irrational level for an adult that spends the majority of those glorious summer days trapped in an office. I’ve just never lost my “school’s out – let vacation begin” mentality, probably because summer foods are among my favorites.

Whether you’re looking for classic recipes like potato salad or want to step up your game and wow your guests with Lamb cutlets with spinach skordalia, there are plenty of apps for your smartphone or tablet that will make summer meals a breeze. How great is that? Because really, who doesn’t love a breeze on a hot summer day?

Big Oven

bigovenHands down one of my favorites, Big Oven is a one-stop shop for recipes, meal planning, and grocery shopping. With a database of over 250,000 recipes, plus the ability to add your own or favorites from another site, the possibilities are virtually endless. Plan your menus and have them sync to your calendar so they’re easily accessible and can be re-used.

Platform: iOS, Android
Cost: Free but in-app purchases

The Photo Cookbook

photocookbookThe Photo Cookbook is a paid app but it’s great if you’ve ever come to an instruction in a recipe and thought, “Wait, what? What does ‘butterfly the pork chops’ mean?” Beautifully shot, these photos walk you through step by step and are a great resource if you’re stepping outside your comfort zone to try new recipes and techniques.

Platform: iOS
Cost: $3.99

Weber’s On the Grill

webersWeber’s means grilling. Weber’s On the Grill app not only offers over 300 grilling recipes but step by step instructions and live demos to help everyone from beginners to more advanced grill masters learn new techniques.

iOS, Android
Cost: $4.99

Allthecooks Recipes!

allthecooksThe Allthecooks Recipes! app allows you to exchange recipes with family or friends. Once you’ve tried a recipe, you can post photos and other users can comment. You can ask users to submit ideas for substitutions, food or wine pairings, and post photos of their versions of favorite recipes as well. Recipes are sorted into categories and you can customize and create your own profile.

Platform: iOS, Android
Cost: Free

Perfect Produce

perfectproduceThe Perfect Produce app from SparkPeople isn’t so much a cooking app as it is a great way to make the most of the abundance of beautiful produce available this time of year. Information on selecting, washing, storing and preparing fruits and vegetables makes it easier to make healthier eating choices for you and your family.

iOS, Android
Cost: $1.99

Paprika Recipe Manager

paprikaThe beauty of Paprika Recipe Manager is that it doesn’t even have recipes. Instead, launch the app and it opens a Google search with Paprika’s recipe-related options. From there, search for a recipe or a favorite chef or food blogger’s site, select a recipe, hit Save, and Paprika scans the relevant information and creates a virtual “recipe card” in the app. Once saved, recipes can be edited, annotated and added to your calendar so you’ll know the last time you dazzled the family with a particular dish.

Platform: iOS, Android
Cost: $4.99

Green Kitchen

greenkitchenGreen Kitchen is a vegetarian’s dream come true. Beautifully illustrated, Green Kitchen is a collection of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free recipes. Even if you aren’t strictly vegetarian, it’s another great option for making the most of your produce and making the vegetables the star of the show instead of just a side dish.

iOS, Android
Cost: $4.99

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology.

Apps for Celebrating Independence Day

By Robyn Wright

Independence Day is coming up and that means lots of fun, fireworks and food, and all the other great things we love about summer. Everyone’s Independence Day is a little different, so here is an assortment of apps for your smartphones and tablets. You can create your own firework displays, get some great recipes for the BBQ, and even have first aid instructions at the ready just in case! Happy 4th of July!

Fireworks Deluxe Full

fireworks-deluxeWon’t get a chance to see the real thing? Fireworks Deluxe gives you a gorgeous display of fireworks right on your smartphone or tablet. I love the silhouette feature in the foreground!

Platform: Android
Cost: 99¢

Fireworks Arcade

fireworks-arcadeFireworks Arcade lets you watch a fireworks display, create your own, or play one of several games that use fireworks – all in one app!

Platform: Windows Phone
Cost: free

Phantom Fireworks

phantom-fireworksThe Phantom Fireworks app lets you find the nearest Phantom Fireworks store, get offers, and even see demos of the different fireworks that are available.

Platform: Android, iOS
Cost: free

Fourth of July

fourth-of-julyFourth of July is a simple coloring app with the perfect designs, so your little ones can celebrating Independence Day too!

Platform: Android
Cost: free

American Red Cross First Aid

american-red-crossUnfortunately, accidents do happen, so be prepared! The American Red Cross First Aid  app includes a guide on how to give first aid to those that need it – just in case.

Platform: Android, iOS, Kindle Fire (English), Android, iOS (Spanish)
Cost: free

Foodie Recipes

foodie-recipesFoodie Recipes includes a great collection of barbecue recipes to cook up this holiday weekend and all summer long.

Platform: iOS
Cost: free

UV Index Alert

uv-index-alertWith UV Index Alert, you input your zip code and find out what the UV Index is for your area. Now you know how many layers of protection to apply when you plan on being outdoors!

Platform: Windows Phone
Cost: free

Robyn Wright is a social media specialist and blogs on her own blog,, as well as several other sites. Robyn has a love for family, technology, food and lots of apps!

Manage Content, Not Screen Time

In the digital age, it’s  become conventional wisdom that too much screen time is a bad thing for  our kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids under  the age of two have no screen time at all, and that kids over two watch  no more than 1 to 2 hours a day.

Numerous studies have chronicled  both the rise in overall media consumption and the correlation between  too much screen time and poor academic performance. As a result, parents are constantly reminded to monitor screen time and restrict it as much  as possible.

Unfortunately, that’s becoming increasingly hard to  do. Think of all the screens that are now commonplace around the home.  There are multiple TVs of course, but then there might be desktop  computers, laptops, iPads, iPods, Kindles, smartphones, gaming devices –  the list is almost endless. Are all these screens equally bad or are  some screens worse than others?

The reality is that screens will be an increasing part of our kids’ lives, not less. Most schools now  schedule computer time at school. Some schools even make a point of  providing each child with a laptop and require them to be in use for  virtually every class.

The use of computers, iPads, and other  devices is even more pronounced at higher learning institutions, where a recent Associated Press poll found that the average students stares  into a screen for over 6 hours a day. (That’s nothing – I estimate that  on an average day, I’m looking at some kind of screen for at least 10  hours!)

So how do we decide good screen time from bad screen time?

Clearly it’s down to content. An hour spent prepping for a test on is a totally different experience for a child than watching an hour of cartoons on Nickelodeon. An hour playing the Watch Dogs video game is clearly not the same as an hour reading a good book on a Kindle.

So the next time you worry about your child and too much screen time, stop to consider what kind of screen time they are experiencing. I don’t think it will ever be  like good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, but maybe there’s bad screen  time and not-quite-so-bad screen time!

Quality Portable Sound with the Bose Soundlink Mini Speaker

Bluetooth technology has given rise to a whole new catalog of smart devices, including head phones and headsets, fitness trackers, smart watches, and even heart rate monitors. But Bluetooth technology has probably had the biggest impact on a far more traditional consumer electronics category: sound systems and speakers.

Remember when we used to spend a fortune on speakers that were tethered to one corner of the living room? Or when we spent even more to wire the whole house with a multitude of static speakers? Now, thanks to Bluetooth and smartphones and tablets, we can take our music – and a quality sound system –  with us wherever we go.

I have recently been enjoying the Soundlink Mini Bluetooth speaker from Bose and it has taken the idea of a portable music system to a whole new level. Whether it’s sitting on my desk serenading me with my favorite tunes, or blasting out the sounds at my daughter’s high school BBQ, the Soundlink Mini is versatile and powerful enough to deliver a quality listening experience wherever I set it up.

The Soundlink Mini is small enough to fit in just about any bag, and, at only 1.5 pounds, I didn’t even notice the extra weight. The Soundlink Mini has a range of about 30 feet, so it’s easy to control the playlist and volume from across the room. So far, my family and friends have paired it up with two different iPhones, an iPad, a Motorola Droid Ultra, and a Samsung Galaxy Note 3. How do I know? Because the Soundlink Mini remembers each device, so re-connecting is easy.

The Soundlink Mini eschews the boxy design of other portable speakers to deliver the traditional Bose elegance. From there, you can customize your speaker by adding a protective cover in a choice of 7 different colors, including pink, mint, green, orange, gray, red and blue.

While the Soundlink Mini delivers up to 7 hours of continuous playback, it also comes with a charging cradle that can serve as a home base for your speaker. A wall charger can be plugged into the cradle or directly into the speaker. There is an auxiliary input port for additional audio devices and a micro-USB port for software updates.

If you’re looking for a lightweight wireless speaker option for all your on-the-go music needs, then the Bose Soundlink Mini is a great choice. It costs $199.95 and is currently available from Verizon Wireless with free shipping.

The Online Mom receives a fee for participating in certain promotional programs for Verizon Wireless.