Parenting in the Digital Age

By Tracey Dowdy

I’m sitting at my desk with the sun beaming through my window. I’ve got my laptop, a new notebook, and coffee in my favorite mug. I’m ready to write but first let me take a selfie. On second thoughts, let’s not do that.

Before camera phones and social media, no one felt the need to document every meal, every outfit, every day as if it were a scientific experiment. I’m confident even Jonas Salk didn’t maintain such a meticulous record of his research as does the average teen – and frankly, more than a few adults.

As parents, we know the importance of our kids’ friends and the value placed on their opinions. A teen’s peer group is central to his or her social development, and acceptance and validation by that peer group has a monumental impact on self-image. That’s been the norm as long as there have been teenagers. Generally, the older you get, the less you care what others think, but as a teenager, it’s a way of life.

Today’s teens are coming of age online, so it’s not surprising that the impact of social media is significant. Since many online interactions are with strangers, there’s a sense of anonymity, and with that anonymity comes a sense of invisibility. In other words, there’s a greater sense of freedom and for some that translates into a lack of accountability. Comments are often made online that would be off limits in a face to face conversation.

That lack of accountability becomes more dangerous when you consider the results of a 2010 study by York University that found teens with lower self-esteem spend more time online and post more self-promoting content. In addition, a January 2015 study by Common Sense Media found:

  • 35% of teens fear being tagged in an unflattering picture;
  • 27% stress about their physical appearance in posted photos; and
  • 22% felt hurt if their photos didn’t generate enough  attention.

“They’re playing in a different sandbox,” said Catherine Steiner-Adair, psychologist and author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age. “Kids are being kids with a tool that has far more powerful impact than they understand. Parents are feeling understandably overwhelmed by all the challenges technology brings with it. At the same time, this is the age in which we are parenting.”

So where does that leave us as parents? Where do we begin when our kids know more than we do about social media?

Don’t despair. You don’t need to be a social media expert to teach your kids how to safely and positively interact online.

  • Be a good role model. Your kids may not always pay attention to what you say but they do pay attention to what you do. Online or offline, treat others with respect. Model the behavior you want your child to live out. Simply putting your phone down when you’re having a conversation with your kids lets them know that what they have to say is important to you and deserving of your full attention.
  • Teach your children to think critically. Again, online or off, teach your children to stop and think about what they’ve just read or what they’ve seen. The internet is today’s Wild West where almost anything goes. Help them understand that just because it’s online doesn’t mean it’s true or acceptable.
  • Teach them to evaluate what they post. My father-in-law’s mantra of “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” works just as well online as it does in real-life.
  • Look for positive role models. Instead of rail thin models or millionaire athletes, teach them to look beyond physical appearance and money for their heroes. If that model overcame an eating disorder, celebrate her courage. If that athlete spends time working with underprivileged kids, celebrate that too. Teach your kids it’s the character behind the image that really matters.
  • Help them develop a healthy body image. Teach them to see the importance of a healthy body over one that mirrors whatever celebrity is in the headlines. Look for celebrities comfortable in their own skin, not afraid to buck societal norms and be themselves. And as a parent, be cautious of constantly mocking your own appearance and weight.
  • Teach your children empathy. Help them stop and think about the impact of their words. Ask them to consider how it feels when they’re mocked or criticized for what they’ve posted.
  • If there’s a problem, take action. If you feel your child is the victim of bullying or the one engaging in bullying behavior online, don’t wait, take action. The headlines are full of teens on both sides of the issue and every one of the stories is enough to break your heart.

In a tech-driven society, sometimes real world relationships suffer. Take the time to have these conversations. Encourage your kids to talk about their feelings. No easy task I realize, but it’s important your kids know the opportunity is there should they want to open up. The key is to be proactive. Whether your tween is new to social media or your teen is light-years ahead of you, opening these conversations can ensure that the Wild West is a little less lawless.

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. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

How to Organize Your Smartphone Photos

By Tracey Dowdy

If you never have trouble finding a “Throwback Thursday” photo on your smartphone, it may be time to consider switching some of those old photos to a photo-sharing and storage website.

There are several solid options available online, but before you choose you should consider these important factors:

  • Is it user friendly? Consider your comfort level with technology: Are you comfortable navigating the site and uploading photos? Are photos easily edited once they’re uploaded? Can you easily find your photos and search by date or file name? Are photos easily accessed and shared to social media?
  • Does it store photos in a high quality format? Facebook albums are a good example. Images stored on Facebook are compressed into much smaller sizes to save on bandwidth and storage – great for them, not so great for your photos. Storing in a high quality format ensures that whether you’re looking at an online album or photos you’ve printed, your photos are top quality.
  • Speaking of storage, how much do you need? Think long term, not immediate need. You want sufficient space to store all your photos at a reasonable price.
  • Privacy? Does the site control who can see your photos or are you in charge of your privacy option? What about licensing? Who has the right to your photos once they’re posted online?

Keeping these factors in mind, here are some of the best photo storage and sharing sites:

Flickr

flickr-logo-200Flickr has been around for a while but recently underwent significant changes and is once again a great option for storing and sharing your photos with mobile apps for iOS, Android, and Windows phones.
User Friendly: Yes – photos can easily be auto-synced for uploading through the Flickr app, tagged and sorted into albums. You can search for photos by date, tag or keyword.
Quality: Flickr allows for full-size uploading and downloading of photos.
Storage/Cost:  Storage is one of Flickr’s best features – you get a full terabyte (2 million photos) for free with ads or you can pay $49.99 a year to get the site ad-free.
Privacy: You determine the audience: friends, family, public or only you. (When you add your contacts, you can set them as friends or family.)


Photobucket

photobucket-logo_200Another oldie but a goodie, Photobucket offers many of the same features as Flickr, along with the opportunity to buy merchandise created from your photos.
User Friendly: Yes – photos can be uploaded directly from your computer, Facebook or other websites. Photos are easily edited through Photobucket’s intuitive editing interface and once edited they can be sorted into albums or stories for a scrolling side show.
Quality: Photobucket allows for full-size uploads of your images.
Storage/Cost: 2GB free, with an additional 8GB with use of the Photobucket app. Prices range from 20GB for $2.99/month up to 500GB for $39.99/month.
Privacy: Albums are password protected.


500px

500px_logo-200500px is aimed at more serious photographers. Images can be bought or sold as stock photos or wall art.
User Friendly: Upload photos from your computer, Dropbox, Facebook, or other social media and tag photos to make organizing and searching easier. Choose categories you’re interested in and 500px will intuitively match your interests with other users with similar interests. Users can comment on your photos and note which ones they like.
Quality: Outstanding, which is no surprise since the site is aimed at serious photographers.
Storage/Cost: Free for 20 uploads a week. Paid accounts allow unlimited uploads, the ability to sort photos into sets, and premium accounts come with a portfolio website.
Privacy: Public by default but you can restrict photos to private only.


ThisLife

thislife-logo-200ThisLife is a photo aggregator and is ideal for gathering all your photos into one collection. Photos can be imported from Flickr, Instagram, Facebook, Picasa and SmugMug, as well as your computer. A Premium account supports video uploads as well.
User Friendly: Yes – photos are easily uploaded from your desktop or the Instagram app.
Quality: Full size uploads and downloads.
Storage/Cost: Up to 2,500 photos free; 25,000 photos for $59/year; 100,000 photos for $139/year.
Privacy: Only those with the link can access albums – accounts are not password protected.


Shutterfly

Shutterfly-Logo-200Shutterfly is a great option for collating all your photos into one convenient location. Once photos have been uploaded, you can send friends a link to the gallery and they can add to the album or order prints for themselves. Albums can be collaborative, so you can share access to allow members to upload additional photos, share calendars, polls, or comment on images. Shuterfly also offers an extensive line of products for your photos from blankets to custom calendars.
User Friendly: Photos can’t be auto-synced to upload but are easily added from your computer, Facebook, Instagram, iPhoto, Google+ Photos and Adobe Photoshop, iPad, iPhone or Android apps.
Quality: Full size uploads and downloads.
Storage: Like Flickr, one of Shutterfly’s best features is storage. It’s free with unlimited storage and you get 50 free prints when you sign up.
Privacy: Albums are private by default and Share sites are limited to members only.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Dropbox, Google+, iCloud, even Facebook are options and each has its own strengths. Do your homework, consider your current needs and what you’ll need long term and you’ll have no trouble finding the right site for you.

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. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Friday, March 20: Mobile Social Networking

VERIZON INSIDER TWITTER PARTY

#VZWBuzz

When: Friday, March 20, 2015
12:00-1:00 pm PT
3:00-4:00 pm ET

‘Mobile Social Networking’

Join @theonlinemom @RobynsWorld @geekbabe and @thetechdad on Friday, March 20 at 12 noon PT (3 pm ET) as we chat about Mobile Social Networking!
RSVP and attend the party for a chance to win great prizes!
Join @TheOnlineMom on the Video Recap right after the chat for another chance to win a prize!

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

To RSVP:
  1. Email RSVP@theonlinemom.com (subject line: VZWBuzz) and include your Twitter ID.
  2. Spread the word and RT this link on your Twitter feed: http://ow.ly/IK54I     
  3. Join us on TweetDeck or HootSuite (#VZWBuzz) on Friday, March 20 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.)

The Pros and Cons of Social Media in the Classroom

By Tracey Dowdy

If you’re looking to start a debate, I suggest bringing up the issue of social media and whether or not it belongs in the classroom. Parents, educators, students – everyone has an opinion, and it’s an interesting mix of individuals on both sides of the issue.

In our technology-saturated society, one could argue social media is already in our schools. Every day teachers battle to keep kids off their phones and focused on what’s happening in the classroom, and see social media as a distraction. On the other side of the debate, educators have embraced social media as a way to engage with students outside conventional teaching methods, recognizing that students raised on smartphones and laptops have developed very different learning styles from past generations.

Those against social media in the classroom say there’s no need to look further than the name: “social media.” In other words, its purpose is socialization and it should be kept that way. Gail Leight, teacher and contributor to pbs.org points out that many of her junior high students already live in a very “it’s all about me” world and the social media they engage in promotes a very narrow world view. For her, the goal of educators should be to open student’s minds, exposing and challenging them to see the world beyond their social media circles. In addition, students may struggle to shift between digital and real-life learning and may not be able to separate the two worlds effectively.

On the other side are educators embracing social media and making it an essential part of their curriculum and teaching methods. Recognizing this generation of students will be among the first to have lived out their entire lives online, the value of this approach is obvious. From moms posting baby photos through their own social media accounts, virtually every aspect of students’ lives will be out there.  As a result, it’s become more and more critical for students to understand the importance of curating their online presence. As these students graduate and move into the workforce, there will be a higher level of accountability for their digital footprints. Many employers already see social media accounts as an unofficial piece of a potential employee’s resume.

Don Goble teaches Broadcast Technology, Film and Multimedia at Ladue Horton Watkins High School in St. Louis, Missouri. He points out that: “Students communicate, research, collaborate, create and publish online with or without the help of parents or educators. These same students then hop on social media to promote, discuss and share their thoughts with the world. The digital environment is offering us some of the greatest learning opportunities that young learners have ever had.” He further compares excluding social media from the classroom to giving a 13 year old the keys to a Ferrari and telling them to have fun. Not only is it ridiculous – it’s dangerous for the teen and for those with whom they come into contact.

Educators aren’t suggesting adding Facebook or Snapchat 101 to the core curriculum. Instead, they advocate taking what’s already part of the curriculum – basic writing skills for example – and applying it to blogging on closed, education-based sites like Edublogs or Kidblog. Others may use Edmodo, marketed as Facebook for schools, Fakebook, or FakeTweet to teach students what is and isn’t appropriate to put online.

In the words of teacher Vicki Davis, “Social media is here. It’s just another resource and doesn’t have to be a distraction from learning objectives. Social media is another tool that you can use to make your classroom more engaging, relevant and culturally diverse.”

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. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Apps to Help Develop Social Skills for Kids with Special Needs

By Tracey Dowdy

Parenting a child with special needs is a beautiful combination of challenge and reward. One particular challenge can be the development of social skills. Learning to read facial expressions and learning appropriate ways to deal with emotions is often difficult and can leave a child feeling frustrated or misunderstood.

These apps can help young children who struggle with social skills improve their ability to read social cues and help family members and care-givers reinforce what the child has already learned.

Pre-School

Autism Apps

autism-appsAutism Apps is an extensive list of apps focused on meeting the needs of children with autism, Down syndrome, and other special needs. There are a multitude of apps available in the app store but sorting through to find the one that meets your needs can be a challenge. Autism Apps is divided into 30 categories such as Communication, ABA, Assessments, and Rewards Systems to simplify your search. Recommended by parenting.com as a top app for individuals with special needs, the app also includes reviews from parents and other users so you get first hand perspective on each app.

Platform: iOS
Cost:
Free


My PlayHome

my-playhomeMy PlayHome is a virtual doll house with 15 different dolls of different ages and ethnicities to choose from. Characters interact with each other as they go through their day – dress, eat, play, and sleep – and parents can use the multi-touch feature to join in and play with their child. Children learn to share, wait their turn, and other important social skills as they play, and improve communication skills by answering “who, what, where” questions.

Platform: iOS, Android
Cost: $3.99


Avokiddo Emotions

avokiddoAvokiddo Emotions uses four animals – a shy sheep, zany zebra, jolly giraffe, and a modest moose – to teach kids how to read body language along with emotion. Kids can make the animals laugh, cry, jump when startled, or sag when sad. They can dress the animals in costumes and send them to fiestas or the zoo, but more importantly, they can begin to see the connection between their actions and the animals’ emotional responses.

Platform: iOS
Cost: $2.99


Elementary

Feel Electric!

feel-electricFeel Electric! is from the makers of the PBS Kids show “The Electric Company” and builds users’ emotional vocabulary. Going beyond simple “happy” or “sad”, Feel Electric helps children understand and be able to express more complex emotions like stress, anxiety, pride, or excitement by using games, a digital diary and a story maker. Users can use music and video from the Electric Company library or choose their own to customize the app.

Platform: iOS
Cost: Free


ConversationBuilder

conversation-builderConversationBuilder is designed to help kids move through conversations with their peers in a variety of settings from the classroom to a restaurant. With 160 conversations to choose from, students can practice how to introduce themselves, when it’s appropriate to ask questions, change the subject and how to exit the conversation in both groups and one-on-one. Conversations can be customized and archived to review with teachers or therapists. One of the most important features of the app is its adaptability for students who are non-verbal, have limited motor skills, or are blind.

Platform: iOS
Cost: $19.99


Zones of Regulation

zones-of-regulationZones of Regulation is designed specifically to help individuals who struggle to manage emotional and social control. Through the game, students face a variety of social situations and are asked to identify their emotions. As the game progresses, students are challenged and presented with behavior options with common real-life consequences for those behavior choices. Students learn ways to manage self-regulation and increase self-control.

Platform: iOS, Android, Kindle Fire
Cost: $5.99


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. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Wednesday, February 4: A Special Twitter Event

#MyYoga

When: TODAY, Wednesday, February 4, 2015
7:00 pm – 8:00 pm ET
4:00 pm – 5:00 pm PT

Join hosts @JoyceCherrier and @TheOnlineMom TODAY at 7:00 pm ET for a #MyYoga Twitter chat!
Join @JoyceCherrier and @TheOnlineMom as we focus on the value of prioritizing ourselves, our health and our spirits, with sponsors @MyYogaOnline and GaiamTV! 
  RSVP and attend the party for a chance to win one of three Yoga Prize Packs!

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

To RSVP:
  1. Email RSVP@theonlinemom.com (subject line: MyYoga) and include your Twitter ID.
  2. Spread the word and RT this link on your Twitter feed: http://ow.ly/InbKb
  3. Join us on TweetDeck or HootSuite (#MyYoga) today between 7 – 8 pm ET
  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 GaiamTV.)

Friday, March 13: Smartphone and Tablet Games

VERIZON INSIDER TWITTER PARTY

#VZWBuzz

When: TODAY, Friday, March 13, 2015
3:00-4:00 pm ET
12:00-1:00 pm PT

‘Smartphone and Tablet Games’

Join @theonlinemom @RobynsWorld @geekbabe and @thetechdad TODAY at 12 noon PT (3 pm ET) as we chat about Smartphone and Tablet Games!
With smartphone games like Candy Crush, Minecraft and Fruit Ninja dominating the app charts, mobile gaming revenue is expected to outstrip console gaming for the first time in 2015. We look at the incredible popularity of mobile gaming, discuss our favorite games, and invite you to share a few of your high scores!
RSVP and attend the party for a chance to win a MOGA Pro Power Controller or a Moto X by Motorola smartphone!
And join @TheOnlineMom on the Video Recap right after the chat for a chance to win one of two Motorola Power Pack Slim 5100 battery boosters!

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

To RSVP:
  1. Email RSVP@theonlinemom.com (subject line: VZWBuzz) and include your Twitter ID.
  2. Spread the word and RT this link on your Twitter feed: http://ow.ly/ImCn5      
  3. Join us on TweetDeck or HootSuite (#VZWBuzz) today between 3 – 4 pm ET
  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.)