5 Reasons Why You Should Be Talking to Your Kids About “13 Reasons Why”

By Tracey Dowdy

You may or may not be aware of “13 Reasons Why”, but I guarantee your teenage children are. A Netflix Original, “13 Reasons Why” is the story of 17 year-old Hannah Baker, told through thirteen recordings on old-school cassette tapes. The twist however, is that Hannah is dead. She committed suicide and the recordings are for the 13 people she says are responsible.

That’s heavy stuff for an adult audience, but even more so for its target audience of teens and tweens. The show takes an unflinching look at suicide, bullying and rape, three issues that have received more attention over the past few years. The storyline reminds me of Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17 year-old girl from Nova Scotia who was bullied after a photo of her having sex was shared with friends via text and email. As a result, Parsons’ family says she developed suicidal thoughts. Three days after she attempted suicide, her family removed her from life support. The teen who initially shared the photo was eventually sentenced to 12 months’ probation.

According to data from the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death for individuals ages 10-24, (2015 CDC WISQARS). Once upon a time, bad decisions led to rumors and it often came down to “he said/she said”. Today, a single poor decision can be immortalized in a photo, possibly taken out of context, and shared with an entire school in a matter of minutes. Bullying has spread from the real world into the digital world, making it even more invasive.

Executive producer Selena Gomez has been open about her own struggle with mental health issues and is pleased with the attention the show is getting. While I applaud the increased awareness of teen suicide, there are a few things both you and your tween/teen should be mindful of:

1. It’s dangerous when pop-culture and suicide collide. Teens are susceptible to images and ideas. The graphic rape scene or images of a character self-harming in “13 Reasons”, can be a trigger for those who have been a victim of assault or those who struggle with self-harm. A study out of South Korea found “Celebrity suicide is a risk factor for suicidal ideation over a short term as well as over a long term.” In a separate study, Dr. Madelyn Gould of the New York State Psychiatric Institute stated, “Our findings indicate that the more sensational the coverage of the suicides, and the more details the story provides, then the more likely there are to be more suicides.” There’s a fine line between attention and sensationalism, and the emotional health of an individual plays a big part in that.

2. There’s a danger of desensitizing the audience. The debate over what constitutes consent seems to be never ending. In fact, in a separate case, the judge who oversaw the Rehtaeh Parsons lawsuit, Gregory Lenehan, stated “clearly a drunk can consent” when he acquitted a cab driver charged with raping one of his passengers. The more images and the more mixed messages that are sent, the more tolerant we become.

3. There is very little mental health support offered to the teens. Sure, parents ask questions but there isn’t enough emphasis on the fact that an individual struggling with suicidal ideation isn’t sad – they’re sick. There’s a canyon of difference between sadness and depression and between suicidal thoughts and action. The value of mental health counseling is glossed over and given too little attention.

4. Assigning blame ignores the bigger issue. The 13 reasons are the 13 people Hannah holds responsible for her death. Suicide has been compared to a bomb – everyone within its radius is impacted and wounded. Those left behind often beat themselves up by asking, “Why didn’t I reach out?” or “I should have been a better friend/partner/parent…” but it’s never that simple. What a terrible burden for anyone to carry. It’s important those impacted understand suicide is a mental health issue, and is much bigger than a missed phone call or conversation.

5. Suicide is never the answer. Hollywood often portrays suicide as beautiful and romantic but it’s not. It’s brutal. It’s heart crushing. It devastates everyone that’s left behind. That is not to judge those who’ve chosen suicide, but to do so without reaching out for help makes it exponentially more tragic.

Awareness, accountability, and advocacy are the key. We need open dialogue about what is happening, hold to account those who bully and assault, and we must advocate for victims. Otherwise, there can be no lasting change.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National  Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line.

Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

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.

Communication Apps for Individuals with Disabilities

By Tracey Dowdy

Augmentative communication (AAC) is an alternative method that enables individuals with language disorders to use expressive or receptive language to converse and engage with others. For years, non-verbal meant relying on flash cards or sign language and for those with limited motor skills, there was an added challenge. Now, tablets and iPads have completely revolutionized communication and given a voice to those who need it most.

These apps have been recommended by users and are included on the list of recommended apps on Autism Speaks.

aacorn AAC

aacornaacorn is designed specifically for children with non-verbal Autism, Apraxia, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, MS, developmental delays or difficulty learning language. Instead of folders or laminated cards (PECS), aacorn uses “Word Trees” that intuitively suggests words as the user builds a sentence. Children learn the connections between words instead of looking for them in isolation and thus expand and strengthen their vocabulary. The app features built-n lessons, but also allows you to import your own photos and images, real children speaking with your choice of American, UK, or Australian accents, and “remembers” your child’s frequent word choices, making it highly customizable.

Platform: iPad
Age: All Ages
Cost: $99.99

Attainment’s ELSB

elsb1Attainment’s ELSB – Early Literacy Skills Builder teaches students with moderate to severe intellectual disability and/or autism, including those with complex communication needs. It includes all National Reading Panel components including sight words, fluency, comprehension, and phonics. by taking students through seven progressive steps, narrator Moe the frog leads students through mastery of 14 different skills. By incorporating scripted lessons, least-prompt strategies, teachable objectives, built-in lesson repetition, and ongoing assessments, the app allows parents, teachers and therapists to focus on student behavior and learning.

Platform: iPad
Age: Children (6-12)
Cost: $79.99 (Free “Try-Before-You-Buy” version available as demo)

GoTalk NOW

talknowGoTalk NOW is a full-featured, customizable AAC with a user-friendly touch-based editor. There are three styles of communication pages: Standard, Express, and Scene that can be customized and combined to create uniquely personal books for each user. Choose from the built-in Symbol Set or import photos and images from your camera and photo library that can be cropped or resized, and record your voice or use text-to-speech voice to further customize your books. Back up your books via Dropbox or to any Mac or PC and share them via WiFi with any iPad user who has NOW.

Platform: iPad
Age: 2-18+
Cost: $79.99

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.

Thursday, April 27: Instant Internet Home


FiosNY Logo

When: Thursday, April 27, 2017
6:00 – 7:00 pm ET
3:00 – 4:00 pm PT
Join host Misty (@mistygirlph) and the #FiosNY team on Twitter at 6 pm ET on Thursday, April 27 as we showcase the Instant Internet Home!
Join us as we take a first-hand look at Fios’ Instant Internet Home and find out what’s possible with a 750/750 Mbps high speed Internet connection!
RSVP and join the chat for a chance to win a voice-activated Google Home assistant!

(Click here to learn more about our Twitter chats. You must RSVP and attend the chat 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/2oAazyZ
  3. Join us on TweetDeck or HootSuite (#FiosNY) on Thursday, April 27 between 6:00 – 7:00 pm ET.
  4. Tell your Twitter followers!
PRIZE WINNER will be announced during the chat!

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

4 Online Tools for Offline Safety

By Megan Valente

Gone are the evenings of wearing cowbells around your neck when you go out to alert the kind townspeople that you are indeed present and are not looking for any trouble. You’ve got cow bells along with your deadly frying pan (a Tangled movie reference) and you sure know how to use ‘em if anyone tries to mess with you.

Wait, is that just me that does that? I just prefer to air on the side of safety. Well luckily you can now walk home alone safely or live with less stress by using 4 simple tools, none of which involve cowbells, even if you can turn them into a great statement piece.

The concept I’m about to introduce may seem paradoxical, or at least somewhat humorous, but there are some pretty brilliant ways to use your online devices to keep you safe offline. Don’t believe me? Read on.


Is the type of app that everyone should have on their phone. Whether you’re a youngster walking home from a party or a seasoned professional choosing a different way to walk to work, Companion tracks your movements and sends updates to selected contacts. If the user runs, the headphones are ripped out, or the user feels they are in danger, the app will immediately notify the contacts and the police if the “I’m okay” button is not pressed by the user. The app will also emit loud noises to frighten a potential attacker and flashing lights to ward them off. This app is a must have for all situations – and it’s free!


On a less intense note, the UVLens app was created to provide the UV forecast so you can be better prepared for your day, especially in the blistering summer months that are approaching. It plans the best times to be outside, as well as your burn risk based on your skin type, so you know approximately how long you can be out in the sun. My burn risk probably hovers at about 3-4 minutes in the sun on a good day so…that’s where I’m at.


Amazon’s Alexa has a great feature that my family uses for my grandparents’ home. Users can ask Alexa to call their buddies and it will instantly alert all the preset contacts that something is wrong. This tool is particularly helpful in instances such as a person falling when nobody is around, or when someone with medical problems needs to get immediate help. And the best part? Alexa even tells jokes.

Alexa, tell me a joke.”
“What do you call a snarky criminal going down the stairs…..A condescending con descending.”

I just choked on my coffee.


Safeture is essential for any travel junkies or for people who just really, really like to be safe. The app alerts you in real time about any travel dangers, warnings or threats made in or around the area where you are. Available In over 90 languages, Safeture is a necessity with all the madness that has been going on. Don’t let fear stop you from travelling!

While there is no way to foolproof your life from accidents and harm, even if you choose to spend your day in bubble wrap, there are preventative measures that can be taken to help you worry less, relax more, have another drink, and be safe!

Megan Valente is a lifestyle blogger and barista and is currently attending Montclair State University. Follow her on Twitter at @TheDayILived.

How To Recycle Old Electronics

By Tracey Dowdy

This Saturday is Earth Day. Since it was first celebrated on April 22, 1970, Earth Day has become a global movement and is often credited with spawning the widespread environmental advocacy that we see today.

One of the greatest areas of environmental impact is e-waste. A 2015 study by the UN found that the United States produces more e-waste than any other country. In fact, we produce a million tons a year more than the country in second place – China.

It’s imperative that our old electronics don’t end up in landfills. Alongside toxins in plastic and other manufacturing materials, many of them contain heavy metals which poison the water table and have long-term environmental impact.

Be a good steward of the environment and dispose of those electronics safely. It takes very little effort and the benefits will last for generations to come.

e-Stewards provides “the best electronic waste recycling solution for forward-thinking recyclers, enterprises and consumers.” The program is run by non-profit Basel Action Network, with a mission of ensuring e-waste is disposed of responsibly around the world. Search for a recycler in your area here.

Best Buy may be recycling’s biggest kept secret. The list of electronics they accept is massive, and even if they don’t accept in-store drop off, they may pick the item (think appliances and large TV’s), depending on local laws. You may not have noticed them, but there are recycling kiosks at the front doors to drop off items like ink/toner cartridges, cables, and batteries. You can bring in up to three items a day and for the most part, the service is free. A $20 fee applies to small tube TVs or CRT monitors.

Office Depot/Office Max sells tech recycling boxes in small, medium and large for $5 – $15. Stuff as much old tech and electronics in there as you can, bring it back to the store unsealed, and they’ll ship it off to recycling plants to be sorted by glass, plastic, copper and aluminum. This link takes you to a page that lists what it will and will not accept.

Call2Recycle specifically focuses on rechargeable batteries and cell phones. Follow the link , type in your state or your zip code, and they’ll pull up a list of retailers in your area that are Call2Recycle drop off sites. They’ve partnered with several familiar faces – Staples, Lowes, Home Depot, Verizon, and Apple Stores to name a few – so finding a location is easier than you think.

Finally, most major cell phone providers have programs for old devices. Some, like Verizon’s HopeLine actually do good work with your unwanted device. They take phones, chargers, batteries and accessories in working or non-working order, refurbish them, and provide them to victims of domestic violence living in shelters around the country, free of charge.

Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T all take back old devices, and some will even pay you for them, check with each provider for details.

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.

Friday, April 21: Choosing the Right Smartphone



When: Friday, April 21, 2017
3:00 – 4:00 pm ET
12:00 – 1:00 pm PT

‘Choosing the Right Smartphone’

Join @RobynsWorld and the MobileLiving team at 3 pm ET (12 noon PT) on Friday, April 21 as we chat about
Choosing the Right Smartphone!
You spend a lot of time with your smartphone, so choosing the right one is extremely important. Join us as we offer some tips for narrowing down the field and make sure you end up with a smartphone you will love!
(We’ll also take a look at the brand new Samsung Galaxy S8 smartphone!)
RSVP and attend the party for a chance to win a Samsung Galaxy S8!

(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: MobileLiving) and include your Twitter ID.
  2. Spread the word and RT this link on your Twitter feed: http://bit.ly/2oZs9eU
  3. Join us on TweetDeck or HootSuite (#MobileLiving) this Friday, April 21 between 3 – 4 pm ET
  4. Tell your Twitter followers!
PRIZE WINNERS will be announced during the Party!

How To Get the Most Out of Alexa

By Tracey Dowdy

Amazon’s Alexa was introduced in November of 2014 and just keeps getting better and better – or should I say smarter and smarter?

Amazon has integrated Alexa into a host of its own products like Fire TV and the Echo Speaker, but they’ve gone one step further and allowed third-party hardware makers to adapt their products to be compatible with their devices. In fact, Ford offers Alexa in its new cars.

Alexa covers a comprehensive number of categories and needs: Alexa devices, smart home hubs, light switches, outlets, as well as locks and your home security. It can even manage your heating and cooling systems, enabling you to kick on the AC in your house while you’re stuck in traffic on your afternoon commute.

Using these tips will make you feel as smart as Alexa herself.

  • Create individual profiles. If more than one person in your house has an Amazon account, you can add them to your profile. Not sure whose profile is active? Just ask Alexa. You can share libraries, though it doesn’t separate shopping or wish lists. Even more important, adding profiles means they can use your Prime Account, so add users with discretion.
  • Delete, delete, delete. Everything you say to Alexa is recorded and stored. If the thought of all your requests floating around in the great beyond doesn’t thrill you, use this link to go in and delete them.
  • Amazon has almost 2000 native skills, but allowing third-parties to tap in to their technology takes it to another level. Use Skill Finder to help you unlock a host of skills, like asking Capital One to make a secure payment to your account or check your balance, or ask for the Skill of the Day to hear what’s new.
  • This one may be a little dangerous. Initially, you could only order previously purchased items but Amazon has updated Alexa so you’re now able to order anything at all from Amazon Prime.
  • Grab an Uber. Or a pizza. Amazon has expanded Skills to include third-party apps, so users can order a pizza from Dominoes or Pizza Hut, a ride from Uber, or even pre-order a Starbucks coffee so it’s ready when you get there.
  • Get exclusive Prime Deals. As if Prime Day wasn’t great enough, Amazon sometimes runs special offers exclusively for Echo, Echo Dot and Tap owners. When they were first introduced, Echo Dot and Tap were only available to those who owned an Amazon Echo.
  • Arguably, one of Alexa’s greatest skills is her ability to settle an argument and not just in a “How long was the Hundred Years’ War?” kind of way with a fact. If you enable Skills, you can have Alexa roll the dice, flip a coin or even ask The Magic 8-Ball.
  • If you really want to go down a rabbit hole, start looking for all the easter eggs Amazon has hidden in Alexa. From movie quotes (Alexa, party on, Wayne), to music (Alexa, who let the dogs out?) to Dad jokes, (Alexa, why is six afraid of seven?), Alexa’s got a million of ‘em!

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.

The Best Pre-School Apps You’ve Never Heard Of

By Tracey Dowdy

I’m a big fan of the apps from Sesame Street and I’ve never met a Toca Boca app that wasn’t engaging and educational. But there are a lot of lesser known apps for pre-schoolers out there. These are some of my favorites:

Busy Shapes 2

busy shapes 2Busy Shapes 2 is an engaging 3-D puzzle game for kids ages 4-8. It expands on Edoki Academy’s award winning Busy Shapes playground by challenging kids to explore forms and figures through visual perspectives, coordination, agility and critical thinking. More than just fun, the app is built on Jean Piaget’s cognitive development theory, so there’s science behind all the entertainment.

Platform: iPhone, iPad
Price: $2.99

Duckie Deck Trash Toys

DuckieDuckie Deck Trash Toys helps your kids think outside the box – or is it trash can? Kids can search through the Workshop, opening drawers, picking up bits of broken toys off the workbench to create fun, new toys. Once they’re done, take a picture to show off that creative imagination. Because it’s a free-play toy, there are no levels, so there’s no win or lose. Kids develop their motor skills while expanding their creativity, plus, they learn that just because something is broken, it doesn’t mean it’s useless.

Platform: iOS, Android
Price: $2.99/$1.99


metamorphabetMetamorphabet is mesmerizing. When touched, each letter of the alphabet morphs into an object that begins with that letter. “F” turns into a feathery foot, “K” becomes a steaming kettle, a “W” shaped Walrus rides the waves, and “Z”’s zipper unzips. It’s not limited to one word per letter – “A” transforms into an arch, sprouts antlers, and “ambles” about. Some of the words – I’m looking at you “amble” – may be beyond the average preschooler, but you’ll both enjoy the apps vocabulary expanding content.

Platform: iOS, Android
Price: $3.99/$1.99

DragonBox Algebra5+

DragonBoxI think if I was introduced to algebra the way it’s presented in DragonBox Algebra5+, I might not have math PTSD to this day. Over a course of ten chapters, algebraic principles and concepts are presented step by step to build a solid foundation. Initially, the problems are solved using images, but as the user progresses, they’re replaced with numbers and variables. New concepts are introduced as current ones are mastered.

Platform: iOS, Android, Windows, Amazon Fire
Price: $4.99

Homes by Tinybop

HomesHomes by Tinybop teaches children about how people around the world live, where they sleep and how they pray in the most charming ways. Another free play game, there’s no win or lose, and kids can explore and interact at their own pace. The app comes with a virtual handbook to give more information, and the text can be displayed in over 50 different languages to add a vocabulary building component to play.

Platform: iPad
Price: $2.99

There are over a millions of preschool apps out there. What are your favorites?

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.