Facebook Updates Safety Check Feature

By Tracey Dowdy

Facebook has made an important change to its Safety Check feature.

If you’re not familiar with the feature, Safety Check sends a message to Facebook users within a geographic area of immediate danger such as natural disaster, terrorist attack or a mass shooting. Users can then notify friends and family that they are safe and sound.

Initially, Facebook manually controlled Safety Check and determined whether an event was alert-worthy. In response, they would send a message to users in the affected area based on the city listed in your profile, your last location listed if you had activated Nearby Friends, and the city where you are currently using the Internet. Users who were safe selected “I’m safe” and an automatically generated notification would be posted to your Timeline.

Since its introduction in late 2014, Facebook had activated Safety Check 39 times. However, they faced criticism for failing to activate the tool in certain areas of the world. For example, it was activated for the Paris attacks in November of 2015, but not for bombings in Beirut the day before.

In response to the criticism, Facebook handed control over to the Facebook community. Instead of Facebook staff far removed from an event determining whether an alert should be sent, users themselves can activate Safety Check. The Orlando Nightclub shooting back in June was one of the first times it was activated by users instead of Facebook staff.

Now, Facebook algorithms search for keywords like “tsunami”, “shooting”, or “fire” in real-time and then fact-check the veracity of the posts through a third-party security firm. If the information is verified, Safety Check is activated.

Allowing the community to control activation is seen as a smart move. Peter Cottle, lead engineer on crisis response for Facebook, explained their motivation for the change. “A typhoon in the Philippines might have six inches of water in your house, and in California, that’d be a big deal. But in the Philippines, we did research there, and people said this wasn’t a big deal.”

“We can tell how many people are spreading this and marking themselves safe, and how quickly it’s growing,” Cottle said. “There’s a real strong measure of urgency based on the rapidness of the people who are using the tool.”

As follow up, Facebook is in beta stages of a Community Help page users can look to after checking in as safe. It will be a forum for those looking for or offering support in the form of supplies, medical aid or counseling services and was born from the #PorteOuverte (Open Door) hashtag after the Paris attacks.

For more information about Safety check, follow this link.

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.


Holiday Movies the Whole Family Can Enjoy

By Tracey Dowdy

If the prospect of watching Frozen for the eleventeenth time makes you want to shed bitter tears and curse Disney, these holiday movies are a welcome break and may end up being new family favorites.

I’m pretty sure an angel gets its wings every time you watch A Charlie Brown Christmas. When he and the rest of the Peanuts characters participate in Lucy’s Christmas pageant, Charlie chooses a bare, pitiful tree to decorate and ultimately finds the true meaning of Christmas. Kids will love the humor, adults will love the message; and as well as being a nostalgic look at Christmas, it’s a great opportunity to talk to your kids about gratitude and being thankful for what’s really important at a time of year that can be very challenging for some families. (Ages 3+)

Yes, Virginia is based on the real life story of a New York Times editorial from 1897. Little Virginia’s belief in Santa is shaken when a playground bully tells her she’s “infantile” for believing. She and her friend Ollie set out to find the truth and ask everyone from her dad to a sidewalk Santa. Unsatisfied with the responses, she turns to none other than The New York Times, the most reliable source she knows. The paper’s response is sweet and may make your little ones think twice before they give up believing. (Ages 4+)

The same animation studio that brought Wallace and Grommit and Chicken Run to life also created Arthur Christmas, so you know there’s plenty of humor that will appeal to adults as well as children. The story focuses on Santa’s son Arthur and his Grandsanta and their mission to bring a present to a little girl before she wakes up on Christmas morning. It also answers that age-old question, “How does Santa deliver all those presents in one night?” It’s silly, sweet, and a lot of fun. (Ages 4+)

The Muppet Christmas Carol is a perfect introduction to the Dickens’ classic for your kids. The cast consists of all the familiar Muppets, so kids will be engaged immediately, plus the story is narrated by Gonzo the Great and Rizzo the Rat. Rizzo acts as a stand in for your children and often says what they’re thinking, especially at times when the story gets dark. When the Ghost of Christmas Future appears, Rizzo says, “This is too scary. I don’t think I want to see any more,” and he and Gonzo leave until the next scene. Cues like this are scattered throughout the movie and are perfect if your kids are sensitive to the elements that might frighten them. (Ages 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.


Apps to Help You Manage Stress

By Tracey Dowdy        

It’s been quite a year, hasn’t it?

According to a study by the American Psychological Association, stress levels rose in 2015 with 24% of Americans saying they weren’t just stressed, they were highly stressed. Factor in events like November’s presidential election and I feel confident that number is going to be even higher for 2016.

It’s not just negative things in our lives that raise our stress levels. I love to write, but my stress levels are higher after I’ve written an article. It’s not a negative experience but the concentration it requires naturally increases my tension.

Finding ways to reduce your tension levels is important, as prolonged stress has a detrimental impact on your overall health. These apps can help you manage those stress levels and boost your mental health.


Based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – the idea that your perception of any given situation determines your reaction more than the situation itself – Pacifica provides users with tools to manage stress, anxiety and even depression by using mindfulness, relaxation and healthy habits. Instead of a “quick fix,” the app focuses on changing thought patterns and behaviors and helps you recognize your triggers as part of a long term solution. There’s a Daily Mood Tracker, audio tools and exercises, and Daily Challenges to help you reach your mental health goals. It’s not a “feel-good,” daily affirmation style app; it’s practical, user friendly, and a great resource.
(iOS/Android; free with in-app purchases)


You know how in movies they give someone a paper bag to breathe into if their panicking? Breath2Relax is your virtual paper bag. Diaphragmatic breathing exercises are clinically proven to reduce the “fight or flight” response and mitigate the intensity of your emotions, particularly anxiety and anger management.
(iOS/Android; free)


Headspace is “meditation made simple.” Using guided meditations simple enough for beginners, Headspace promises to help with focus, concentration and mindfulness and will help reduce anxiety and stress. The free version gives users full access to Take 10, the first level of the course. You can track your progress, get rewards for using the app regularly, and partner with a friend to encourage one another. The sessions can be downloaded for offline access and once you’ve mastered the basics, you can opt to move to the next level by purchasing the monthly, annual, or “forever” subscriptions.
(iOS/Android; free with in-app purchases)

The HeartMath Institute has a Stress and Well Being Survey that can help you measure your current stress levels and do a mental health check-up. Although it has been developed by professionals, it should never replace the need for services provided by a medical professional. Always seek the advice of your doctor before following any treatment or regimen. Only your doctor can provide you with advice on what is safe and effective for you.

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.

Xbox One S: The Only Family Entertainment System You Need

It has been a while since we talked about home entertainment systems. Over the last few years, my family has tried a few different ones, including Apple TV, Roku, three gaming consoles and Amazon Fire TV. Given all the competing claims about content, ease of use, value for money and more, it’s not surprising that most parents are confused about what’s the best decision for their families.

So here are five important questions to ask yourself before you go out and buy another home entertainment system this holiday season:

1) Do you have one of those awesome high definition displays but want to do more than just watch TV?

2) Do you use on demand services like Netflix and Hulu or watch Blu-Ray movies?

3) Do you want to make sure your kids are watching age-appropriate content?

4) Do you want access to top-rated games?

5) Do you want to bond with your kids over something you will both enjoy?

If the answer to any of those 5 questions is “yes”, then you can’t go wrong with an Xbox One S from Microsoft.

At under $300, it certainly offers unbeatable value. In fact, in the run-up to Christmas, most retailers are selling select 500GB Xbox One S bundles for just $249. (I just saw one at Costco for $239!)

With the Xbox One S, you will be the hero of the family. You will be able to watch your favorite movies in high resolution; bond with your kids with games everyone can enjoy (racing games, Guitar Hero, puzzle games); and you can Skype with grandparents to give them a thrill on Sunday afternoons.

Most importantly, the Xbox One S will keep your kids safe, because right out of the box you will be able to set up controls to block inappropriate content, regulate what your kids can purchase online, and prevent them from sharing personal information.

To find out more about this incredibly versatile family entertainment system, check out my video clip. If you have any questions, post them here on the page or look out for my next clip on the best games families can enjoy together.

All opinions are my own. The Online Mom LLC receives a fee for participating in certain promotional programs for Microsoft.

Stocking Stuffers For Under $25

By Tracey Dowdy

Choosing items for stockings is just about my favorite part of holiday shopping. Most of the items I choose are simple and inexpensive – lip balm, purse size lotions or hand sanitizer, crazy socks – but I like to include at least one item that’s a little nicer.

Here’s a list of stocking stuffers under $25 for all the techies on your list.

The Kingston DataTraveler SE9 flash drive has a capacity of up to 64GB and is compatible with Windows 7, Vista, XP and Mac. It’s compact – a little smaller than a standard house key – has a sturdy metal casing with a large ring that makes it easy to attach to your keys, and while not the fastest, it’s hard to beat the design and durability at this price point. The 16GB runs around $6 and you can get the 64GB option for around $18.

Who couldn’t use an extra set of earbuds? Panasonic’s ErgoFit RP-HJE120 are better quality than you might expect for under $10. Honestly, for under $10 normally I’d assume you’re better off with two empty soup cans and a piece of string, but this time I’d be wrong. They come in a bunch of fun colors and depending on the color, are as little as $4 a pair.

The Philips SPS2150WA travel charger offers 2 USB ports and 3 AC ports. Keep in mind that with just 1 amp of power, some devices like tablets will take a long time to charge, but as a back-up charger, $6 is hard to beat. Its design is compact and folds up to take up less space in your bag when you travel. It’s not fancy, but it will get the job done.

I have purchased at least 4 AmazonBasics Lightning cables because somehow in my house, they disappear. I can only assume they’ve traveled to wherever single socks and spare keys go. As a side note, always be careful when buying third-party accessories like lightning cords, especially if they’re not certified by Apple. Amazon’s cords are, plus they’re cheaper, range in size from 4 inches to 6 feet, and are available in black or white. The 4” is $5.99 and the six-foot cord is $7.99 or you can buy a two pack for $15.59.

The AmazonBasics Mini Bluetooth Speaker pairs with your Android or iOS phone, tablet or laptop up to 30 feet away and promises ten hours of battery life from a single charge. You can listen to audio as well as use it to make hands-free calls. It’s lightweight enough to be portable but designed and weighted to not tip over if used outdoors in a breeze. The speaker comes in five colors for $19.99 or buy the speaker and a 3.5mm audio cable for $24.98.

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.

Helping Your Teens Manage Social Media Stress

By Tracey Dowdy

I grew up in a rural community back in the 80’s. For me, connecting with my friends outside school mainly consisted of hours on a harvest gold, rotary dial, attached-to-the-wall phone. The greatest day of my life was when my father bought an extra-long cord so I could sit on the stairs and get what little privacy is available to someone with six brothers and sisters.

Kids today – for better or worse – have 24/7 access to their friends and peers. Passing notes in class means shooting a text and social media means your kids are hyper-aware of who is hanging out with who…when they are stuck at home doing nothing.

For many teens, that translates into a lot of stress. A study by the University of Glasgow found that teens often felt a constant need to be online and connected. Furthermore, the strain of the emotional investment manifested itself in poorer sleep quality, lower self-esteem and increased levels of anxiety and depression.

If you feel your child is showing any of these signs or you are concerned about changes in behavior, these tips from professional family therapist Roy Dowdy can help you manage those stress levels and help them find a balance.

Start with a conversation. Don’t come in with an agenda, just listen and let the child direct the conversation. Ask open ended questions like, “You seem stressed. Is there anything you’d like to talk about?” or “What do you think will happen if you don’t respond to a text right away?”

Help them set boundaries. Part of parenting is teaching your children self-control, whether that’s choosing to have an apple instead of ice cream or stepping away from Snapchat at 11pm.

Be mindful not to judge. Being immersed in someone’s Instagram account or being obsessed with the latest Snapchat filter may seem absurd to us but did your parents ever really appreciate your obsession with Alan Longmuir from the Bay City Rollers? (Sorry, that got personal.) Social media is how your kids are connecting with their peers and just because we don’t value it doesn’t mean it’s not important to them.

Help them find real-world ways to connect. Social media isn’t going anywhere. The key is to help your child find ways to manage relationships in the real world. Challenge them to leave their phone in their locker, in their bag, or face down on the table and engage in face-to-face conversation. Make sure you’re modeling that behavior by having that kind of conversation with them.

Remember peer pressure is a big deal. Do you remember what it was like to be 14 and be torn between the agony of “I’m hideous, don’t look at me!” and “Ugh, why is everyone ignoring me?” Emotions and reactions are often oversized for teenagers, and helping them learn how to manage their reactions to what they see, don’t see, or feel hurt by on social media is a significant part of the maturity process.

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.

Monday, December 19: Your Guide to Holiday Entertainment



When:  TODAY, Monday, December 19, 2016
9:00 – 10:00 pm ET
6:00 – 7:00 pm PT
Join host Misty (@mistygirlph) and the #FiOSNY team on Twitter at 9 pm ET on Monday, December 19 as we put together Your Guide to Holiday Entertainment!
Looking for holiday entertainment ideas? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Join Misty and the team as we share our favorite movies, shows and games – and explore why a fast and reliable Internet should be at the top of your holiday wish list!
RSVP and attend the chat for a chance to win an Echo Dot home assistant or a Kindle Fire HD 10 tablet!

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

  1. Email RSVP@theonlinemom.com (subject line: FiOSNY) indicating your Twitter ID.
  2. Spread the word and RT this link on your Twitter feed: http://bit.ly/2hWRq2p
  3. Join us on TweetDeck or HootSuite (#FiOSNY) on Monday, December 19 between 9:00 – 10:00 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.)

Tuesday, December 20: Tasty Holiday Treats and Better Eating Resolutions



When:  TODAY, Tuesday, December 20, 2016
8:00 – 8:45 pm ET
5:00 – 5:45 pm PT
followed by a 15 minute Facebook Live Recap with a chance to win an Xbox 360 with Kinect!
The holidays are about sharing meals with family and friends, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make healthy choices. Join us as we chat about creating those delicious meals that satisfy and keep your health and fitness goals on track!
RSVP and participate in the chat or Facebook Recap and you will be eligible to win a holiday-themed prize courtesy of Sanderson Farms!
(Prize includes a beautiful serving platter and a $50 gift card to buy chicken and seasonings!)

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

  1. Email to RSVP@theonlinemom.com (subject line: SandersonFarms) indicating your Twitter ID.
  2. Spread the word and RT this link on your Twitter feed: http://bit.ly/2h8Ti8b
  3. Join us on TweetDeck or HootSuite (#SandersonFarms) on Tuesday, December 20 between 8:00 – 8:45 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 Sanderson Farms.)

Grand Velas Riviera Maya: Affordable Luxury

By Monica Vila

If you work, work, work all year (who doesn’t?) and have barely enough time to take a break, when it’s finally time to choose a vacation spot you simply cannot risk going to the wrong place. If you’re like me, you want a resort that will take the thinking out of the experience.

Things get even more interesting when you vacation with teens – they are extremely demanding; they need to have fun 24×7, but the standard kids’ clubs aren’t “cool” enough; and you want to provide a variety of culture, thrills, and experiences that they can cherish for a lifetime. Also, they most definitely do not comprehend the meaning of the word ‘relaxation’ but they are still eager to just chill and check their screens from time to time.

Therefore, for our last break – and this particular challenge – I checked in with my trusted travel blogger Jean Newman Glock, and soon after we headed to the Grand Velas Riviera Maya.

The property, located 30 minutes south of Cancun airport, showcases the beauty of its Caribbean location and provides accommodations that are the true essence of a “getaway.” With my husband and two teens in tow, we arrived at the Grand Velas and were instantly captivated by the area’s white sand coast contrasting with the ocean’s sapphire colored waters. We marveled at the beautiful construction of the three buildings, carefully placed so as not to disrupt the very thick jungle that hugs the coastline.



The Grand Velas Riviera Maya resort is just five minutes from downtown Playa del Carmen, which is a fun and colorful town, as well as a unique shopping destination.

Guests can choose from rooms that overlook the ocean, pool, or jungle landscape. The rooms are welcoming and luxurious; at the Grand Class building where we stayed, every room was a beautiful and spacious suite with ample seating area, a large beautiful bathroom and balcony overlooking the ocean. In addition to ocean swimming, there is also an infinity pool and a spa voted “Best Spa in the World” by Virtuoso in 2010. It has an exclusive hydrotherapy circuit, which includes a clay room, ice room, and experience pool. I was so excited about this feature and how it activates the circulatory system that I went nearly every day I was there. Honestly, I have never enjoyed a SPA as much as this, and trust me, I am spa pro!

Whether you arrive with the family or for a romantic getaway, the resort prides itself on the services it offers to its guests. There is very little decision-making required. A concierge quickly assessed what our likes and dislikes and arranged several activities which we all enjoyed – including the paragliding!!

There is a kids’ club available for childcare each day for children ages 5 to 12. Complete with games, movies, storytelling, and arts, the club allows parents to escape for a day of exploration on their own. And, if teens are unwilling to spend too much time with their parents, then there is always the teen club where they can enjoy billiards, an arcade, snacks, and, in the evenings, a dance club.


Within the resort, guests can enjoy multiple restaurants, each offering a taste of a specific international cuisine and unique flavors to please any palate. You can choose between Mexican, Asian, Italian, French and even experiment with molecular cuisine. And remember, you are in an all-inclusive resort so you can enjoy every meal with premium drinks and excellent wine until your heart’s content. My favorite two restaurants included Cocina De Autor, which introduced us to the world of molecular cuisine and gave us a new way to enjoy delectable and wildly exciting dishes.


The next favorite restaurant was Frida, a beautiful space with delicious and unique variations of Mexican cuisine, which will delight even the most sophisticated palates.


For many, a beach vacation means just that: staying on the beach. However, for those with curious and energetic teens, seeking a little excitement and adventure, the Grand Velas Riviera Maya goes above and beyond to provide opportunities for the adventure seeker. In the Yucatan Peninsula, there exists an abundance of wildlife, geological formations and historical ancestral sites, giving insight into the area’s origins. It has long been a place of fascination and the perfect place for adventure.

The Grand Velas also offers a variety of attractions in the resort and the surrounding areas, including scuba diving, yoga classes, and horseback riding. Here you can swim with dolphins, dive in beautiful ocean waters, explore underwater caves, zipline through the jungle, or visit the majestic ruins of the Mayan civilization.

The Grand Velas is working to revive traditional travel in which the guests are indeed guests. It is a place where everything from the cuisine to the daily adventures can be experienced right there with the guided help of the resort. For our family, this experience was unlike any other; I was able to proudly show some of the treasures of my country of birth while being pampered in exceptional luxury.

Which resorts to you recommend for parents and their teens? I would love to know in the comments below!

(Disclosure: this is not a sponsored post. I paid my own way to enjoy the resort. Since I raved about the resort so much on site, they kindly provided me with a complimentary SPA treatment.)