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3 Tips for Moderation around Technology

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Updated: Tuesday, November 8, 2016

I love what I love - but too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. I like sports, beer, Springsteen. But I hope these loves are in balance with the rest of my life (although 68 Springsteen shows may test moderation to my wife). So, as I watch my kids absorb technology, I struggle with its place in our lives. Just how much is enough? What is moderation?

It is hard to watch my kids entranced by any screen. My childhood was filled with bikes, kick the can, tag, sandlot anything and board games. But the average American kid is now in front of a screen for more than 8 hours a day. It is not just a TV show or a movie that my kids find. It's an avalanche of new media in apps, games, TV and movies. All of which can be viewed on multiple screens, from a variety of sources which are completely mobile. 

Technology and media are interwoven into every facet of kids' lives 

Kids use screens:

  • At school and doing their homework

  • Traveling by maps

  • Shopping

  • Talking, texting and emojis

  • Finding Friday night movies

  • Answering the everyday questions by asking Siri to look it up

  • Watching, tracking and even playing sports   

Initially, my wife and I tried the tactic of just limiting our kids screen time. But this leads to the inevitable and endless battle of,  “Just a few more minutes!" "After this round?" "Can I finish this game?” It may be better to find some media that is both high quality and interesting. In the onslaught of new media there are a wealth of gems buried underneath the most popular apps and movies.  

Here are some ideas to help you feel more comfortable with kids on screens: 

1. Find apps and movies enjoyable for them and interesting to you. At first, keep them simple and make sure that there is a fun aspect. Yes, It takes a little effort to find them, but I happen to love problem solving and puzzles. 

Some examples of apps I love:

  • Baby's Musical Hands - The simplest possible interface allows babies and toddlers to play with piano, guitar and percussion sounds. An incredibly rewarding experience and a great choice for a child's first app. (1+)

  • Where’s my Water? - Solving a puzzle for an alligator. What phase is the water -- liquid, steam or ice? Good for ages 4-12 as the puzzles get harder. 

  • Amazing AlexYou get new tools and the puzzles can be solved in many ways.  Learn to test an idea and try something else. As a parent, this is a great game to offer ideas and let kids try to solve the puzzle. Good for ages 6-12.
     

  • The RoomAn amazing display of puzzles and clues about unlocking a room. The visuals are so fantastic that it alone drew our son into the game, but the clues and secrets kept him working at the puzzle. Great for 9+ and certainly for parent engagement. 

 

2. Pick a movie or TV show that allows them to relate to one issue or question in their own life. Yes, the show still has to be interesting but it can tell a great story and have subjects that are interesting for kids. A few that have generated conversations in our household:

  • Sesame Beginnings: Make Music Together - The Sesame Street Muppets appear as babies in this video which demonstrates tapping into young children's natural love of music in everyday activities. (2+)

  • SpellboundA great movie about a spelling Bee. Asking our oldest son if he was comfortable with getting up in front of people in a spelling Bee actually became a reality. The situations in the story are worthy of some great “What would you do?” questions.

  • Searching for Bobby Fischer Introduced  Chess and had all three kids asking questions about Bobby Fischer. One of our kids now takes Chess classes.  (7+)

  • HoosiersYes it is a classic but the story is a great one (8+). It will inspire some great questions about winning and losing well as both the underdog and the champion. The same is true of Mcfarland, a more modern day version of the hard-work-meets-success. 

3. Don’t forget about books. We prefer paper as it travels without the screen (Does that sound old school?). A book inspires the discussion and also allows them to use their own imagination. 

  • Ben's Trumpet - Ben is a young boy growing up in the 1920's who falls in love with jazz music and playing the trumpet. (4+)

  • The Clay PotI do love many of the Eastern stories, but this is one of my favorites. Honesty rewarded. Doing the right thing has its merits. Simple and so direct. (5+)

  • Me, JaneYes, it has won almost every award but that isn’t the point. In a world of money and technology, this is an easy story to talk to kids about doing what they love. And it starts from Jane Goodall's childhood stuffed animal. (6+)

  • Encyclopedia Brown - The stories are always positive, have a puzzle to solve and teach some great attributes about the boy detective. (9+)

I find it easier to accept moderation -- which includes some Angry Birds, Surfing, racing and, yes, even some shooting -- if I also know that we spend equal time on media that helps develop the kids. 

Yes, we still have to hold to time limits ... otherwise when would they run out into the yard and play Kick the Can?

 

Chris has spent 20 years building high tech products for kids in the sports market (Nike and Oakley). Currently on sabbatical, he supports his wife in the passionate pursuit of her start-up, SmartFeed, a new tool to help parents navigate the complex and fast paced world of kids’ movies, TV, Apps and books.

 

Tags:  technology 

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5 Secrets to Make Kid's Screen Time Work for You

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Updated: Tuesday, October 11, 2016

"Just one more minute."

"Let me finish this one thing!"

"Can we watch this, Mom, puhleezze?"

"Why can't I play that app/game? Everybody else does!"

As parenting pioneers in the "digital age," we've heard all this and more.

  • Screen time = stress.

  • Screen time = a battlefield.

  • Screen time = crossing your fingers and hoping it doesn't go too far off the rails.

But why does it have to be that way? For our parents, books didn't feel like landmines. They weren't suspicious of paper and crayons. Catching a glimpse of "Kids" shows didn't give our parents a coronary attack.  

But today, the combination of wildly varying children's programs and the jarring things our kids can stumble upon in commercials, in-app ads or site links create an ever-increasing sense of screen time angst for parents.

Still, as screen proliferation hits an estimated 6+ connected devices in each home (forecasted to more than 60% over the next 5 years - source: The NPD Group), we realize screens are here to stay. Our opportunity lies in converting screen time angst into screen time power.

5 Tips to Make Screen Time Work

1. Set up a family contract around screen time "Rules of Engagement".
Screen time tension can spread beyond parents and kids and creep in between parents. Like everything from diet to bed time, the sooner parents synch up on screen time guidelines, the better the family dynamic becomes. Wherever you are in your child's life cycle, envision 1, 3, 5 years ahead and work through how you can shape your family parameters around screens. As you hone in one your priorities, consider a "Contract" with your kids. Check out numerous resources for boilerplate ones in the resources below.

Some core contract elements are:

1) People matter more than screens. Look up and speak to anyone who walks in the room when you have a screen in play.

2) Don't do anything on a screen you wouldn't want the whole wide world to see - because - they can and often will.

3) The content on the device must meet our family priorities. Which leads us to...

2. Surface - and stock up on - content they'll love and you'll approve.
Seems so obvious: It's not the screens we battle - it's the content coming through them. What if we could customize loads of inspiring content - movies, shows, apps and books - our kids would love and we would approve?

Parents know what their kids like. Parents look to support schoolwork. And parents have values and character traits they hope to impart to their kids. Why can't parents - and anyone hoping to shape kids' perspectives - curate media that meets their priorities?

Whatever kids' media resource you use to customize content (e.g. Common Sense Media, TheSmartFeed.com, Balefire Labs, Greater Good in Action), get in front of the question "Can I...?" by storing an inspiring list of movies, shows, apps and books that meet your family priorities and appeal to your kids.

3. Pick Key Titles to Play and Watch with Your Kids.
I wrote this piece alongside our eldest child - a 10-year old. When I asked him what his top tips would be, he read my draft and said, "Remember -  parents should play and watch stuff with their kids". Of course.

Often kids' screen time is on so we can be off - doing something else. But, take time to invest and discover movies and shows you approve of. Sometimes we like to sit alongside the kids a la family movie night or to watch a quick show before bedtime. At least half the apps we load, my husband plays alongside our kids and encourages them to play "with each other" screen to screen. Although our son loves "candy time," playing Madden 15 or Racing apps, he remembers playing The Room or Where's My Water with his dad.

4. Agree to time windows - and a timer - your kids can set and manage.
No matter how inspiring the content, time limits support media balance. What parent wants to negotiate every 90 seconds until shut down? Some of our favorite time management platforms that sit over your kids' screens include KoalaSafe and Forcefield.me.  But, you can also do what we do: our kids set their device timers (with loud alarms) and agree to shut down when they hear the bell. It only takes a few "I forgot = no screen time tomorrow" to keep the timer strategy strong.

5. Share what works with your community and parenting partners.
Weigh in on public forums and with your spending. Our best parenting resources are each other. We trade more tips, solutions and watch-outs in carpool lines, school hallways and sports sidelines than any amount of "expert" reading can deliver.

Find what works for your family and share solutions - share titles and great playlists with friends, kids' friends' parents, sitters, kids' teachers and family.

The more we all "vote" with our media spending for good stuff, the more great content creators will make. Who would have guessed - even 5 years ago -  McDonalds and Safeway would re-engineer their menus and shelves to stock nutritionally better family food? Lo and behold McDonalds launched an organic burger and Safeway developed a private label brand for organic food.

Your parent vote matters. You can make it count every time you spend on more inspiring media.


Mom of three, Linsly Donnelly is the CEO and founder of SmartFeed. SmartFeed makes it easy to find inspiring media your kids will love and you’ll approve. She and the SmartFeed team thrive on using the power of media as a positive force for our kids. Linsly is a start up veteran (Joann.com, Wine.com, Red.com, YogaLoftMB), a
published author (Happy Go Local: Smart Mom’s Guide to Living the Good and Sustainable Life), a family advocate and wanna be writer. She and her family split time in Mill Valley, Ca and Park City, Utah.


Tags:  technology 

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Smartphone Photo Tips for Parents

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Updated: Saturday, July 16, 2016
Eager to get better photos of your kids this summer? Here are 3 easy steps you can take to get better shots, no matter what phone you’re using.

1) Pay attention to the light. Light is the most important aspect of a good photo. The word “photography,” means “writing with light.” Ask yourself, where is the light coming from? A good rule of thumb is to position yourself so that the light (a window, a lamp, whatever it is) is behind you. If it’s behind your baby’s head, you’re going to get that grainy, dark appearance on their face with a bright washed-out area behind them. Move around to the other side for better lighting. 

2) The four sides of the frame are your canvas. Painters have brushes. Musicians have instruments. Photographers have light and a rectangle to use as tools. That means when you are composing a shot, you want to frame it deliberately. Make sure everything you would like to see in the frame is showing, and make sure anything you don’t want to see is not showing. Stand, sit, move or simply tilt your camera up or down, and you’ll completely change the composition and the photo’s impact.

3) Go easy on the filters. You should definitely use filters to make photos pop and give them vibe, but if you want to keep these for posterity, tone it down a bit. In a few years, current filters are going to look really dated — ahem, remember when we used those “frames” in all of our Instagram shots? Most photo editing apps provide a sliding scale that allows you to apply a percentage of the filter to the photo. Generally, stay under 50%. You can use other enhancements like sharpening and contrast to add a little more oomph, but use those sparingly as well. If something looks fake about it, it’s not right.

Sarah Sloboda is a modern photographer for stylish families and kids based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her renowned style of photographing kids has been featured in Rangefinder magazine and many other publications. 

Tags:  technology 

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Is Your Smartphone Putting Your Toddler at Risk?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Updated: Friday, April 8, 2016

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about distracted drivers and the impact cell phones are having on our road skills. Unfortunately, our love of technology and handheld devices also affect our family’s health in ways we can’t have imagined. As parents, it is important to understand the ways mobile phone exposure can affect a child's wellness.

Listed below are ten ways our Smartphone use might be putting our children at risk:

Distracted parenting can hinder a child’s vocabulary, which affects their future education. Researchers have conducted several studies on young children and what factors impact their I.Q. levels and performance in school. The largest determining factor that caught the eye of the experts was the amount of words young children heard. As early as the age of three, researchers found a strong correlation between higher I.Q. scores and the number of words young children heard. The study concluded that the more words parents spoke to their children, the faster the child’s vocabularies grew which impacted intelligence later in life.

Young children need interaction and contact to bond. Researchers are adamant about the importance of forming a solid parental attachment. Children with secure attachments are able to regulate their emotions, self-esteem, and self-control better. They also perform better in school and have a better ability to get along better with others. Infants and toddlers may miss out on this bonding if we are focused on our Smartphones.

There is a strong correlation between our love of social media, Facebook envy, and growing narcissism in children. Our children witness perfectly groomed social media pages and our need to project a perfect image into the digital world. We are sending the message that it is alright to be self-absorbed. This can lead to feelings of entitlement and an increased sense of importance. Our behaviors are setting up our children to feel inadequate with reality, which can lead them to experience depression or self-harm behaviors.

Smartphones can cause feelings of jealousy in our children. A study conducted by Catherine Steiner-Adair, author and psychologist at Harvard, noticed that all children had feelings of exhaustion, frustration, and anger when they have technology to compete with for their parent’s attention. This study likened these feelings to the jealousness of sibling rivalry.

Analyzed data shows that technology affects the way our brain processes information. The fast paced world of digital technology has the potential to rewire the brain to affect memory skills and attention spans. A lot of research has shown this to be true in adults, but because children’s brains are still forming it is assumed the changes could impact the brain’s development in ways not seen before.

Reliance on our Smartphones can expose our youth to a sedentary lifestyle. If a child’s parents are not active the chances are high that the child will also be sedentary. A less active lifestyle increases the chances a child will become obese or develop diabetes. Parents need to make a conscious effort to keep our children moving and healthy.

Data reveals that small children and fetuses absorb radiation from wireless devices two times the rate of adults. There is a long held debate about whether there is a link between cancer and cell phones. Whether or not that is the case, consider the fact that almost all manufacturers have guidelines that recommend distances devices should be kept away from a body. It is always better to be safe than suffer from regret later- look for handsfree options and be aware of where you store your cell phone while pregnant.

Smartphones can limit quality family time. Whether we are distracted by work emails or cute YouTube videos, Smartphones can steal precious moments away from the family. Set aside certain hours each day to power down and connect with your family.

Children learn through play and interacting with their environment. If we are preoccupied with our Smartphones or our children just want to play a few rounds of Flappy Bird, they could be missing out on important play time. Many educators believe that powerful learning takes place during play and parents need to make sure our devices aren’t getting in the way of this development.

Smartphones might lead to our children being addicted to the Internet. Think of a Smartphone as a gateway device to the world of fast paced social media and games. In 2013, “Internet Use Disorder” was registered in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association. To be included as a true addiction, there had to be evidence that digital activity can change the chemistry of the brain and produce dopamine similar to what occurs in the brain of alcoholics and drug addicts.

Smartphones have many positive attributes, but they can also impair our family life. Parents need monitor their use in our homes and be aware of how our love of technology is impacting our children. After all, we ultimately want the best for our children and moderation can help us find the right balance of Smartphone use while parenting.

Born and raised in Austin, TX, Hilary Smith is a free-lance journalist whose love of gadgets, technology and business has no bounds. After becoming a parent she now enjoys writing about family and parenting related topics.

Tags:  child development  technology 

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How Can Toddlers Use iPhones Appropriately?

Posted By Communications Manager, Wednesday, March 30, 2016
One of the most hotly-debated topics amongst parents and pediatricians is screen time, or how much time children should be allowed to spend in front of a TV, phone or tablet. Study after study has shown that toddlers, especially those under the age of two, learn best through play, hands-on exploration and one-on-one interactions with parents, caregivers and peers. These experiences engage both the body and mind by promoting experimentation, problem solving and creative thinking. Yet in a world dominated by TVs, smartphones and tablets, screens are everywhere and trying to completely withhold them is impossible — especially when parents and teachers use them routinely.

While exposing your toddler to a television will not turn their developing minds into mush, we do advise following a few simple recommendations to maximize the benefits these technological wonders offer.

Participate with your toddler
Learning from TVs and screen time can be greatly enhanced when parents participate with their toddlers and create a social, interactive experience. We encourage parents to ask questions about the content and provide detailed descriptions of what they are seeing, similar to how one might read a book or play with a toy. The more parents, rather than the television, can drive the story, the more impactful the experience will be for the toddler. Furthermore, try to connect what children are learning in the television program with real world applications. For example, if the TV show or screen time is teaching them about counting or letters, have them practice these skills in everyday play and routines.

Make screen time deliberate and age-appropriate
Research has shown that background television interferes with children’s play and development. Exposure to content that is not age-appropriate, in particular, is associated with negative effects on toddler’s language and cognitive function. Toddlers end up spending too much energy trying to understand what is going on and overtaxing their brain. Try to limit adult-related programming to when the kids are asleep.

Avoid screen time before bedtime
Studies have shown that children with televisions in their room have increased difficulty sleeping. Furthermore, screen time should be limited, if possible, in the hour or two before bedtime. That time should be used to help toddlers unwind, whereas television tends to excite them.

Set a time limit
The amount of screen time allowed is a very personal decision. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of two should not be exposed at all, while children over the age of two should be allowed only one to two hours per day. The decision must be made in the context of the child’s other activities; for example, children who are very active otherwise are at less risk of being too sedentary if given a certain amount of screen time per day whereas less active children would benefit from more physical activity and less passive time in front of a screen.

Choose content carefully
Many TV shows are extremely fast-paced and may impair a child’s ability to think and make decisions, as described above. The content of the shows our children watch should reflect their experiences in the world and should provide a context to which your toddler can relate and understand. Furthermore, on phones and tablets, select apps that require interaction and participation that increase learning.

Technology will increasingly become an integral part of our daily lives and can have a huge impact on your toddler, both positive and negative, depending how it is incorporated. By selecting appropriate content that is interactive and participatory, parents can create a highly educational environment in which their toddlers can thrive.

Dr David Kagan is a pediatrician and internal medicine specialist at Healthier, a text message-based service that sends you timely information about your child’s health and development. Ask any question and the clinical team responds within 24 hours, completely free. Enroll now for free by texting 650-458-4744 with signup code PAMP or visit Healthier.

Tags:  child development  technology 

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Learning to Code at Age 5?

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Technology is changing our world, and today kids as young as five years of age are learning to program computers. Learning to code is not only helpful in promoting qualities that are important to nurture in kids — perseverance, creativity and confidence — but it is also helpful in gaining invaluable critical thinking and STEM skills that support learning across all academic areas.

Creativity, for example, is a skill that can be developed and learned at home and in school through the cultivation of an experimenter’s mindset, whole brain thinking and an innate desire to be a creator (and not just a consumer). Kids embrace imaginative play, ask questions, paint colorful pictures and build elaborate things with blocks, but somewhere along the way the capacity for creative thinking diminishes. It’s not due to the lack of a “creative gene”, but rather that we haven’t reinforced creativity — and as researcher George Land concludes from his longitudinal study on creativity and divergent thinking, we have unlearned it.

Programming Teaches Kids to Experiment and Persevere
Creative thinking begins with a questioning mindset. It can be taught by encouraging kids to experiment, explore their ideas, question their assumptions, make mistakes and learn from them. Thomas Edison was a master of this type of thinking. He tested thousands of materials and processes before creating the first working light bulb. “I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb,” he famously said. With programming, kids are exposed to this process of experimentation. They start by learning a handful of commands to do simple tasks, and with each successful result, they slowly gain the confidence try new and more ambitious things, things that force them to question each decision and ask “What if I tried X?” Testing their assumptions in a live environment frequently results in errors and bugs, giving kids the opportunity to find a workable solution. With practice, kids gain a proficiency in their technical and hypothesizing skills, allowing them to move onto solving increasingly complex problems, and, eventually, to building programs completely on their own.

Programming Strengthens Whole Brain Thinking
Each side of the brain is said to control different parts of thinking and information processing. The left hemisphere is typically associated with logical, technical, and analytical thinking, whereas the right hemisphere is associated with imagination, artistic, intuitive thinking. We tend to think of creativity as a right-brain function, but the most creative thinkers and problem solvers can effectively engage both hemispheres. This idea of marrying “art with science” is what Steve Jobs built Apple on, and it’s this kind of “whole brain” thinking that teachers have been embracing in the classroom by promoting active, project based learning, using everything from 3D printers to sewing machines to encourage kids to create, design and build things.

Programming Gives Kids the Confidence to Create
Like learning a sport or a musical instrument, the cultivation of creativity requires hard work and practice. For kids, if the work is confusing, monotonous or the end goal unappealing, the desire to practice weakens. Kids must be motivated. They need to be in an environment that builds confidence and instills in them a genuine desire to create. Kids pick up on technology with shocking ease, so giving them a basic knowledge of programming on a coding platform that is fun and easy to use is one of the best ways they can spend time in practice and actually enjoy the process. Learning programming on the right platform, one that is structured, engaging and well paced, puts kids on the path to fluency in the language and logic of programming, and ultimately gives them a springboard to create – to not just play the games that they love, but to create the games they love to play. What an amazing gift.

Learning to code is very much like learning a new language – it gives kids a fluency not just in technology, but also in the language of creativity. Maria Klawe, mathematician, computer scientist and president of Harvey Mudd College believes that “coding is today’s language of creativity. All our children deserve a chance to become creators instead of consumers of computer science.” It doesn’t mean they’ll all grow up to be computer programmers. Programming is part of the development of a valuable technical and creative skill set that will grow with them into adulthood, enabling them to thrive in our ever growing digital world. It’s creativity that lays the foundation for innovation, ingenuity and leadership because it represents the ability to connect existing ideas with new solutions, approaches and concepts. And we owe it to our curious and imaginative kids to give them the tools to be the creative thinkers and problem solvers of the next generation.

Jennifer Apy is an involved parent, a public education supporter and champion for innovative educational products for children. She is currently VP of Marketing for Tynker.

Tags:  activities  technology 

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