Teen Tech Travel Tips

Teen Tech Travel Tips

FTC Disclosure

This is a sponsored post.

When it comes to traveling with teens, I’m sure I’m not the only parent who stresses over what they pack and the rate at which they pack. While BabyGirl is diligent and usually creates a packing list, sometimes she begins to over think what she needs. I remember doing the same thing when I was a kid, so I give her some leeway. On the other hand, when it comes to packing her tech it becomes a game of ‘didja’ – ‘didja’ bring the backup battery, ‘didja’ pack extra earphones, ‘didja’ make sure you have the right cable?

It probably doesn’t make sense to have a tech ‘go bag’ for the kids if you don’t travel extensively, but I’ve found that it’s important to start good habits early. We need to get teens thinking about what they need to keep their tech useable on the go. They’re likely used to grabbing their phone and going since smartphones today tend to have 10+ hours of battery usage. And even if they’re running low they likely have a friend who has a charger or they’re at school and have access to a charger.

While we may have some of the extras to keep the phones charged, sometimes we don’t. And with families often having different types of devices it’s possible we don’t have everything for everyone.

  1. Provide them with a tech travel checklist – this is good for everyone in the household because even those of us who are experienced packers often forget something. If they’re responsible for packing their tech, helping them be successful and avoiding stress while the family is on vacation is a parenting win!
  2. Get them their own accessories – while this may not be possible for everyone, if parents have to share chargers, backup batteries, extra lenses, headphones, fitness trackers, or other basic accessories this can be stressful for everyone. This can eliminate the ‘I thought you packed it’ conversation when something can’t be found. It also means that when your phone is running low you don’t have to share your powerpack or give up the only power cord. I recently got a cable that works with both the Apple lightening and the micro USB cable, (affiliate) mainly because I have both Android and iOS devices. I can’t tell you how many times it’s come in handy to have a cable that can work for either device.
  3. Label their tech – It doesn’t have to be obvious and in-your-face, but if you have more than one of the same thing being able to tell them apart is important for everyone. Even something as basic as a phone cable can be personalized with tape or a dab of nail polish. Of course, this won’t help get the item back to you if it’s lost but to keep things that look alike sorted is one less headache. I like to get each person their own color or style of phone cable charger. While the ones that come with the device are always best, there are so many great color and style options to help personalize the tech. When it comes to labeling in case of loss, I like BoomerangIt. I’ve been using their labels for well over 10 years and while not everyone will think to return a lost item, if there is an easy way to return it the likelihood of getting it back increases. I’ve also used Mable’s Labels to add a name since kids tend to have very similar items.
  4. Clean their tech – When was the last time you cleaned your phone or the accessories? Yah, I don’t remember either. Which is what prompted me to list this here. We all know that sometimes when we travel we get sick or are near people who are sick. And we set down out devices on tables, or even the floor, that may not be the cleanest. With tech you need to make sure you use something that won’t ruin it. I like PhoneWipes (affiliate link) because they’re good for other things but I know they won’t mess with my tech. This is also a great time to clean up the device to free up room for photos and videos or new apps.
  5. Have a ‘go bag’ just for them – While it may seem easy to have them throw everything into their backpack or other carry-on, having a smaller ‘go bag’ will help them keep everything organized. With multiple cables, chargers, headphones, and accessories, if everything is in one place it helps not only to find things when you need them, but when it’s time to pack up at the hotel they know where everything goes and can become familiar with what’s supposed to be in there so they don’t leave things behind. Together with the checklist of what they should have, it’s a great habit to start. I’ve always used makeup bags for my tech, mainly because years ago they were one of the few non-black bags I could easily and inexpensively purchase. There are many other options now, but I still think makeup or dopp kit bags are a great size and come in great color and design options.
  6. Use a bluetooth tracker – This is kind of an extension of the ‘label it’ suggestion. I have used the Tile for quite some time, and I actually have several other brands of bluetooth trackers that I actively rotate. Even if the kids aren’t prone to losing or misplacing things, stuff happens when we travel.

So there you have it, 5 (ok, 6!) simple tips to help you help your teen manage their tech when you travel. What else would you recommend?

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Sara

Dine Out to Help End Childhood Hunger in America #NoKidHungry

nokidhungry

When you think of childhood hunger, what comes to mind? For me, it’s usually those ads with kids in Africa with the distended tummies and some soft voice over about how for just pennies a day we can feed a starving child. I hate those ads. Not because I don’t support what they do, but because I feel like they’re preying on my kindness and desire to make the world better. As a kid, even though I didn’t have a lot of food, compared to those kids on TV I was eating like a queen.

A number of years ago I was at a conference and there was a booth about the No Kid Hungry program. I had never heard of the program and found out it was just a few years old, having rolled out as part of Share Our Strength in 2008. I knew exactly what they were trying to do. End child hunger in America.

It pains me that in this great country so many kids go to bed hungry every night. Even more kids deal with food insecurity, not knowing if they’ll have anything to take for lunch or to eat when they get home from school. We don’t think about kids in our own communities going without meals. Unlike many of the poorest countries in the world, as we go about our day the likelihood of encountering a child who deals with hunger or food insecurity isn’t something we see.

Yes, we know it exists. Yes, we donate to food pantries. Yes, we realize our kids go to school with students who get free or reduced meals. But it’s actually hard to really see and grasp.

Most people don’t know, but for almost all of elementary school I got free lunch. There were no snacks waiting for me when I got home. Meals were simple. Not as in simple because mom was busy. Simple as in “pretend tomato soup” made with ketchup and hot water, or half a sandwich because if I ate a whole one my mom would have nothing to eat. And meals were even more simple as the month wore on if my grandparents or my uncle didn’t “happen to stop by on their way home from the store.” I don’t think I ever went hungry in the sense that there was no food at all or that I went to school or to bed without eating something, but there was definitely a sense that if there was more food I would eat it.

I went to school early, usually leaving the house to catch the 6:45 a.m. bus so I could have breakfast. There were a lot of us, probably 10 kids, so it didn’t really seem all that weird. I wasn’t bullied or made fun of because I ate breakfast at school. In the summer, I rarely ate breakfast. Which is a habit born out of necessity that dies hard.

Every Monday my teacher would give me five lunch tickets. If I lost them, I wouldn’t have lunch. I diligently wrote my name on the back of each ticket, in case they got lost, and then put them in my pencil bag. I remember in 4th grade my lunch tickets were yellow. Some kids had blue tickets. Years later I understood why some kids were handed blue tickets and some kids yellow. It’s humbling to realize that my mother had to ask for help, yet she did everything so it wouldn’t affect me so much.

I know what food insecurity is. I understand how it can impact your ability to learn and pay attention in school. I have a great appreciation for the food that I am served because I often had a choice of eating food I didn’t care for or going hungry. When you’re 6 or 7 it’s a pretty easy choice.

Although we didn’t keep kosher – imaging trying to do that when you’re dependent on other people providing your food – there was a long list of food I couldn’t eat. I rarely ate meat, even at school. You don’t realize how often schools serve ham, or cheeseburgers, or sloppy joes until you have to trade your friends your main dish for their peas or carrots or corn. You don’t realize how few vegetables are actually served until you ask a number of the kids around you ‘are you going to eat that’ as you point to whatever vegetables they’ve pushed to the side just so you don’t feel hungry any more.

I don’t worry about if I will eat today. My daughter will never know a home without food, nutritious or otherwise. At nearly 50, I am still affected by the lack of food when I was a kid. Today, I have the privilege of choosing organic, nutritious, fresh foods. I also have the ability to be part of the solution to put an end to a situation I know too well.

Dine Out for No Kids Hungry is a month-long promotion in September to help end child hunger in America and get more people involved in solving this problem. There are thousands of restaurants participating across the country to help bring an end to child hunger and kids dealing with food insecurity. By dining out at a participating restaurant a portion of the profits from your meal will be donated to Share Our Strength. Go eat out!

With your change you can be the change. Kids should never have to worry about where their next meal will come from. Please learn more about No Kid Hungry by following them on Twitter, Like their Facebook page, and share your support of those restaurants and companies donating by tagging your photos with #NoKidHungry.

 

Note: It’s not easy to share stories like this, but as I get older I realize how important it is for me to shed the fear of sharing and do it to help kids like me. This is not a sponsored post.

Sara

The Silence of the Stanford Sexual Assault Victim’s Parents

Stanford Sexual Assault Pin

In March, former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner was convicted of three felonies related to his sexual assault of an unconscious woman. In June, the judge sentenced the 20-yr old Turner to 6 months in jail. “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him,” Judge Persky said of Turner. “I think he will not be a danger to others.” As people got wind of this, outrage erupted. The outrage has been visible on every social network and in nearly every major news outlet.

The Stanford sexual assault victim’s impact statement has been published on countless websites and was read live, in full, on air by Ashleigh Banfield, anchor of CNN “Legal View”. She crafted a very vivid and powerful picture of who she was before the rape and how her life has changed. She addressed Turner directly. It’s quite a powerful narrative and definitely worth reading and sharing with others. It’s an excellent piece to use to talk to your teens, sons and daughters alike.

We’ve heard from a childhood friend of Brock Turner, Brock’s father, and Brock himself. All three have failed to grasp the gravity of Brock’s choice to sexually assault an unconscious woman. The friend, Leslie Rasmussen, a female, blamed political correctness for putting her friend on trial. Rasmussen went on to question why the jury should believe a woman who doesn’t remember anything. Rasmussen seems oblivious to the fact that being unconscious and unable to recall what happened is exactly why her friend was convicted. She tries to suggest this was some crazy alcohol-fueled college kid misunderstanding. Brock’s father, Dan Turner, also made a statement on behalf of his son. It seems Brock is so distraught that he can’t eat a nice steak or steal potato chips and other snacks from his father. And being the concerned parent, Dan goes on to say that his star-athlete son shouldn’t have to pay the rest of his life for ’20 minutes of action’, as if punishment is meted out based on how long the crime lasted. Dan also seems to think that his son could easily pay for his crime by talking to students about the perils of drinking and sexual promiscuity. Not once did he show any concern for the victim or how difficult her life has become since his son raped her. Finally, we get to Brock Turner’s statement, which is a diatribe about how he was forced to drink to have friends and he was doing what he thought drunk college kids normally do. Only his story was one that was crafted to explain everything away and shift blame to anyone he could.

In brief interviews, we’ve heard from the two students that chased, tackled, and held Brock until the police arrived. Carl-Fredrik Arndt and Peter Jonsson, both from Sweden, spotted Brock Turner on top of an unconscious woman and after a moment thought there was something wrong with the situation. It’s because of them the crime was reported. Had they not come along and intervened it’s likely the victim would have been left alone and when she regained consciousness, unable to recall what happened, returned to her home.

We’ve heard from most everyone involved with the parties of the Stanford sexual assault. And while we don’t know the victim’s name or identity, it’s her prerogative to remain anonymous. I don’t blame her. She’s been through enough. She doesn’t need to become the poster child of a movement. In fact, her voice is likely more powerful because we don’t know her. She represents every woman. She is all of us.

The people we haven’t heard from are her parents. I’m sure they were with her throughout the ordeal. In her statement, the young woman barely refers to her parents. I’m sure it was especially difficult to watch this circus and witness first hand the trauma of seeing their daughter dragged through a trial. I’m certain they were there to support their daughter, perhaps not knowing what to say or do but wanting to take care of their little girl.

No one has talked about her parents, so I will. I know they have a story but it’s so intertwined in that of their daughter they remain silent. If they come forward they risk removing the anonymity she’s worked hard to maintain. When it comes to the victim, rarely do others get to provide in-court statements about how awesome the victim is and how she’s changed because of the horror of being through such an awful crime. Victim impact statements are often singular, not a parade of friends and family providing insight and context to the life shattered. Unfortunately, many victims don’t even get to give a statement lest it be viewed as inflammatory or degrading of the defendant. Yah, seriously! Some judges limit what a victim can say because they don’t want to make the defendant feel bad.

We may never know the hell her parents have gone through. Parents of sexual assault survivors often stand in the shadows. Not because they’re not deeply involved in the care and support of their child. Rather, their pain is often so entwined in a story that doesn’t belong to them.

As parents we advocate for our children. Even as they become adults, we’re still there for them. Our child gets very sick and we start a website to keep everyone informed. Our child is killed in a senseless act of violence and we think nothing of talking to the news and sharing photos of our baby, even if that baby is a grown man or woman. Our daughter is involved in an abusive relationship, we’re open about it so we can educate our community. But when your child is sexually assaulted, raped, it doesn’t matter how old they are you are enveloped by a cloak of silence despite having a story to tell. Being the parent of a sexual assault survivor is its own story, yet it’s kept silent. Parents of sexual assault victims often suffer in silence not knowing that others have a shared experience and understand their pain, are able to overcome the sorrow they feel, and continue to advocate for their child.

So while we provide support for Jane Doe, give a little extra thought about her parents. People who have had to stand by and watch as the judicial system allowed her to be victimized over and over. A mother and father whose heart was broken upon hearing what happened to their little girl. Two people who sit in silence knowing that they don’t get a voice and an opportunity to tell you how they feel and how amazing their daughter was. And still is.

I feel for them. While I won’t go into detail why I wanted to give their silence some perspective, just know that I know this silence is isolating. And at times it’s deafening. They’re without a support network, much like other parents of sexual assault survivors. It’s a difficult position to be in, but like the many who’ve gone before them on this quiet journey they will emerge stronger. That is, if the silence doesn’t break them first.

Parents of Sexual Assault Survivors

Sara

5 Tips to End Distracted Driving Among Teens

Teen Distracted Driving

FTC Disclosure

Spring is in the air, and for many parents of high schoolers talk has turned toward prom and graduation parties. I look back on my experience in high school and better understand why my parents, and my friends’ parents, were worried about us driving. Like kids today, we weren’t bad drivers. But, like kids today, we often did stupid things after prom and at graduation parties. Today, though, every conversation seems to wind its way to the topic of distracted driving or texting and driving.

Distracted driving is nothing new when it comes to teen driving. Young people have faced distractions for decades. Today it’s texting, for my generation it was changing the radio or cassettes, for my mom’s generation it was radio stations and 8-track tapes. And, of course there is alcohol, shenanigans, and a host of other potential distractions. But when it comes to technology, we forget that every generation has their new thing that is problematic.

So what do we do? Obviously, teens are going to drive to prom and graduation parties and we can’t change that. What we can change, though, is their commitment to stay focused on their driving. And, honestly, that starts with us.

I’m not a big believer in having kids sign a ‘no texting while driving’ contract when the parents aren’t going to do the same thing. We’re their role models. If we do it, we’re giving them permission. Just like drinking and driving. We can tell our kids not to drink and drive, but we also demonstrate our commitment by not drinking and driving. It’s not different when it comes to other distractions.

Teens 15 to 19 have the highest incident of drivers involved in accidents while distracted. While they’re out celebrating the last thing we want is for any of them to get hurt or hurt someone else. So what can we do?

5 Tips For Helping to End Distracted Driving

Don’t drive distracted yourself. We set the example. If we’re picking up our phones, that mean they can too. I know there are important messages we need to see. But are those messages really that important to put the people you love most at risk? In March, 2016 the New Zealand Transport Agency released a video with a slightly different approach to the traditional horrifying texting and driving ad. It’s a new approach, and I think it could work better. While I’m still affected by the texting and driving crash videos, I think many kid are desensitized or don’t think it could really happen to them.

 

Know the law. If the law of mom and dad won’t work, maybe the state law will. Currently, in the US, 46 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands, ban texting while driving. The fines can be hefty, and getting a ticket, even if that’s the worst that happens, can put a damper on the fun of prom or the graduation party. However, distractions don’t only come from picking up your own phone.

Have someone else navigate. As the driver, their job is to get themselves and their passengers to the destination safely. Since they’re not always experienced with driving around town, have the teen ask a passenger to put in the destination into the GPS or map. Have you ever tried to type in an address to Google Maps or the vehicle GPS while driving? I can barely figure out the navigation on a car I drive daily. Imagine how challenging it can be for a teen who’s not used to driving.

Use a blocking app. If you’re not sure you or your teen can break the urge to check your phone when you hear the notification or know that friends are posting cool things to social media, use an app to block texting while driving. Just like not having chips in the house because you have no willpower, remove the temptation to be distracted while driving. I often pull out my phone at a stop light, but more and more I’m realizing that even that small glance means I’m not paying attention to what’s going on around me.

Empower the passenger. Most of the focus is on getting the driver to avoid distractions. However, just like educating the kids about not getting in a car with their friend if the friend has been drinking the same goes for getting into a car with someone who’s not paying attention when they drive. I know there’s less risk of being the lame-o if you refuse to get in the car of a classmate who’s drunk or noticeably impaired than if you don’t go along with all the “fun” when it comes to distracted driving. It’s new territory for us as parents to let our kids know we’ll go pick them up if they choose not to get in a vehicle with someone texting and driving or engaging in other behaviors that put the passengers at risk. You’ve seen the videos. Maybe your kids have too. But it’s worth watching again.

The end to distracted driving starts with us. But we don’t know what other parents are modeling for their kids. And because we don’t know what other people are modeling and teaching their kids, we have to teach our kids not only that they don’t text and drive or drive while distracted but that they don’t get in a car with someone who doesn’t take seriously their obligation to protect their passengers.

Accidents happen. We can hope our kids always arrive safely, but there are other drivers out there and we don’t have any control over them. We may not have full control over what our kids do when they get behind the wheel or hop in the car with one of their friends. However, what we can do starts long before the engine starts.

 

Image Credit: Viktor Hanacek

Sara

25 Slang Terms Teens Use Online That Parents Need To Know

Teen Slang Online

Disclosure: The following post about teen slang and digital parenting is provided as part of my relationship as a Verizon Insider and sharing about digital technology.

When it comes to teens, most parents will probably agree they have their own language. It’s been the case for generations. It’s often associated with societal changes. So it should come as no surprise that with regard to texting and online communication, teens have developed their own shorthand and way of communicating with their peers. Teen slang has been around for generations, and it keeps evolving.

As a parent with a teen who’s not all that interested in texting or social media, I breathe a sigh of relief because I get to put off that layer of being a teen for a little longer.  However, for the past 5 or so years I’ve been the “trusted adult” for several kids in my friends and family circle. If you’re not sure what a “trusted adult” is, it’s a great way to keep an eye on the kids with their knowing but not have mom or dad constantly ‘snooping’. Being the ‘trusted adult’ comes with a number of rules, most importantly not being able to like, comment, or respond publicly to the teen. However, the kids know someone’s watching. And I’m not just watching what they say or do, I’m also watching and reading (and screencapping) what their friends do.

I consider it a privilege to be the ‘trusted adult’. It definitely gives me a front row seat to some very interesting conversations. Unfortunately, over the years the language has changed a bit. What used to be shorthand no longer exists or means something totally different. It’s kind of when your grandma texts you and uses LOL and you think it means ‘Laugh Out Loud’ but she thinks it means ‘Lots of Love’. Pretty benign, really, but I’m sure you’ve seen those articles or posts on social media where mom is telling her adult child that someone died and mom ends every text with LOL. Awkward, sure. But mom or grandma aren’t using the shorthand as a way to avoid ‘prying eyes’ as teens (and tweens) may be doing.

Teens, on the other hand, have always developed a language that may mean one thing to parents who check their kids’ online accounts and something else to their peers. Which is why it’s so important for us to stay up on their teen slang. There are thousands, many of which you may use yourself. Slang such as OOTD (outfit of the day), TBH (to be honest), AFAIK (as far as I know), as well as IDK, LMAO, BAE. But you don’t need to know every one.

25 Teen Slang Terms Parents Need To Know

MOS/POS/SOS – Mom Over Shoulder or Parent Over Shoulder or Someone Over Shoulder

PRW – Parents Are Watching

KPC – Keeping Parents Clueless

PIR/MIR/DIR – Parents in Room, Mom in Room, Dad in Room

MOOS or MOSS – Member of Opposite Sex or Member of Same Sex

ASL (RP) – Age Sex Location (Race) (Picture)

CD9 – Parents Are Around (shorthand for Code9)

HSWM – Have Sex With Me

WYRN – What’s Your Real Name

459 or 143 – I Love You

RU18 – Are You 18?

8 – Oral Sex

GNOC – Get Naked on Camera

IHU or 182 – I Hate You

CU46 or LH6 – See You For Sex or Let’s Have Sex

LMIRL – Let’s Meet In Real Life

SMASH – I Would Have Sex With You

Cook Session – When a group of kids gang up on someone on social media

ILYSM – I Like/Love You So Much

KIK – The Kik App

RDH – Rate Date Hate (How do you rate me; Would you date me; Do you hate me)

TBR – To Be Rude

GOAT – Greatest of All Time

PAP – Post a Picture

Ship – Relationship

I hope you’ll find this helpful to keep you in-the-know when it comes to what your teens and tweens are posting and texting. While some of the teen slang is innocuous, having an idea of what they’re sharing with their friends is important. Keep in mind, these are some of the more common phrases and there is another sub-language used for sexting. Unfortunately, there are no parental controls for monitoring their every online move. Monitoring teens online takes more than just uploading some software and walking away. It takes a ninja-like vigilance, which is not for the faint of heart.

If you have friends or family members that need this information, please share it with them. If you’d like to share this on your social networks, just click the button(s) below and pass it along.

Teen Slang Parents Need To Know

Sara

Teens: If We Feed Them Well, Why Do They Choose To Eat Junk Food

Teens and Junk Food

For those of you with teens (or tweens), I’m going to assume you’re like me and have fed your family healthy foods most of the time. I’ve seen all the menu planning, Whole30, paleo, low-sugar, and low-fat posts. Even if we ate like crap before we had kids, things changed once the kiddos came along. So now that that’s out-of-the-way, let’s talk about what the teens choose to eat.

For most of us, I’m sure we’ve created over a decade of meals that had fruits and vegetables. There may have been a few monster milkshakes and over-the-top desserts along the way, too. Treats. We always used the word treats. These were anomalies and not the norm.

Same with the carb-a-palooza that seems to become the staple of teen eating. I think back to my teen years, which some days I wonder how I can think back that far, and am pretty sure my mom wondered how I thought cheese pizza and soda was an appropriate meal when out with my friends when she made fresh, from scratch meals nearly every night that were accompanied with a salad and at least one other vegetable (of which corn did not count as a vegetable). What is it that causes our brain to disregard all those meals at home and decide that mac-and-cheese and pretzels would be an a good dinner?

I’ve said ‘no’ to the child who wants a third helping of potatoes while the spinach salad has been disassembled and strategically located around the plate so it looks as if it’s been mostly eaten. I’m sure you have too. I’ve also said no to the request for dessert when just a few bites of dinner are gone, despite sitting at the table for half an hour.

There have been talks about serving sizes, how a 64-oz gas station soda is not a single serving, french fries are not a suitable meal, and carrot cake is not actually a vegetable. I’m sure there have been many discussions about food choices, too, especially when going out. Surely we’ve not only done our job, but we’ve been employee of the month a few times. We’ve excelled at the salad-eating, fruit-over-cake selecting, water-instead-of-soda choosing. And we know that when they eat at their friend’s house that their parents are doing the same thing. We all live in the same village!

So why when they walk out the door and meet up with their other teen friends all this knowledge is inaccessible? How come they can remember every trick to get to level 3,274 on the game they’re playing but not remember to select something more vegetable-y than, well, the garnish that inevitably comes with their carb and dairy bonanza of a meal. Why when they come home we think all these years of after school snacks of fruit and veggies will continue to be their choice but we hear the loud crunching of them eating cereal.

We did the same thing, I know. But that was back in the day when broccoli-rice casserole was an acceptable vegetable and fruit-dotted jell-o was considered a healthy dessert. Healthy back then was different, and, to be honest, we weren’t really outright taught about making healthy food choices.

I know I’m not the only one who wonders why this happens. Is it normal? Do we need to put more emphasis on healthy eating and making “good” food choices? Less emphasis? I don’t know the answer. I just hope that it’s, as a child psychologist friend of mine say, “developmentally appropriate”.

Why Do Teens Like Junk Food

Sara

Smartphone Etiquette – 6 Rules For Teens and Tweens

Smartphone Etiquette Tips For Teens

FTC Disclosure

When it comes time to hand our kids their first smartphone we’re often so focused on keeping them safe from predators and bullying that we forget to talk to them about basic smartphone etiquette. Our kids are digital natives so we think they’re familiar with how to use their phone. After all, they have been using our devices for years.

But using our phones and tablets to play games and watch videos didn’t teach them how to be a good smartphone user. It taught them other skills, but not many of the skills we take for granted and just assume our kids know. While we’ve had to weave tech into our parenting, there are many “old school” parenting things we’re still responsible to teach.

6 Smartphone Etiquette Rules for Teens & Tweens

  1. How to properly answer a call. Don’t leave! Seriously, we have to teach our kids how to properly answer a call. Remember, when we grew up we had a landline and often raced our siblings or begged our parents to answer the phone. Some of us even created “an adult voice” so we could convince our parents we’d be OK to stay home by ourselves. But we practiced answering the phone – saying hello, being polite, asking for the person to identify themselves. Sure, there’s caller-ID, but what if they don’t recognize the number but they’re expecting you or another family member to call? What if it’s the school or a potential employer? And, yes, I know, chances are kids will let the call go to voice mail, but one day they may get a job where they have to answer a telephone and I’m sure they won’t want to tell their boss they don’t know how.
  2. How to make a phone call. I know, you’re thinking I’ve lost my mind and kids know how to make a phone call. Honestly though, I don’t think so. They text, they don’t call. And if they do call, it’s likely mom or dad they’re calling. Again, we practiced making calls. We’d call the grandparents and leave a message, or we’d call the store to see if something was in stock, or we’d call our friends and have to get past their parents. We did a lot of calling that kids today don’t need to do. That’s why teaching them how to make a proper phone call is so important. First impressions still count!
  3. Respect other people’s privacy. This has many applications, but I’m specifically talking about respecting the privacy of another person if you’re using their phone. While one of the rules most parents have for their kids is not to let their friends use their phone, there may be times when someone has to use their phone or they have to ask a friend to use their phone. Dead batteries happen, so let’s ensure our kids know not to go looking through a friend’s phone. Even more important, if they’re ever in a position that they’re being encouraged by friends to take another kid’s phone and snoop they may be more likely to think twice and not do it. Or, play along until they can tell an adult. But this idea of respecting privacy also means not looking over your shoulder to see what their friends are texting or trying to spy their password or unlock pattern.
  4. Be mindful of other people. It’s great that kids can keep themselves entertained while waiting. However, no one wants to listen to their music, text notifications, sounds from games, or any other sounds your smartphone can make. They can play games and listen to music, but they need to have the device on silent or use headphones.
  5. Do not share private information. Maybe not so much traditional etiquette as it is general rules for having a smartphone, but important enough to include it here. When we were their age we were constantly told not to tell people on the other side of the phone that our parents weren’t home. And while some people have had our address, we weren’t tagged with GPS for the whole world to find us. Of course we need to teach them not to disclose private information on apps or in game chats or on messaging apps. However, our private information is more easily disclosed inadvertently with geotagging, answering basic questions from “friends” (many of whom the kids have never met), or including information in photos (whether purposefully or accidentally). We need to be clear what is and is not private information, so the kids don’t have to wonder.
  6. Don’t interrupt a face-to-face conversation to use your phone. This is the general rule. And yes, there are exceptions – like when mom is calling. Generally, though, if they’re placing their order at the coffee shop, checking out at a store, or having a face-to-face conversation with someone they shouldn’t answer the phone whether it’s a call or text. It may be difficult, so you may need to role play this. While younger people may have more tolerance for this, in situations where you’re buying things it can cause miscommunication or delays that could easily be avoided by giving the situation their full attention.

Overall, I’m sure you’d agree these are pretty basic rules and likely easy for kids to follow. But while they’re easy to follow rules, some will require practice (and patience). For the most part though, even though they may not be intuitive for teens and tweens, I think kids will find them helpful. What do you think? Should there be other rules?

Smartphone Etiquette for Teens and Tweens

Photo Credit for top image.
Photo Credit for bottom image.

Sara

Parental Controls and Alternatives to Monitoring Kids Online

Parental Control Alternative For Monitoring Kids Online

FTC Disclosure

As a Gen-Xer my digital footprint didn’t begin until I was well into adulthood. Initially there was a sense of anonymity because we were able to use screen names. Quickly, though, we came to realize that we could be identified. Even in the early days of the internet there were ways to find out who was hiding behind whatever goofy name we chose for our email, bulletin board, instant messenger, and other lame-in-comparison-to-today social networks.

For many of us, though, our kid have grown up around increasingly sophisticated technology. These digital natives have faced concerns that most of us never did.

I grew up in an analog age. The fanciest of technology came about in high school when the Apple IIe came out when I was a freshman. While that was a huge step forward, it really didn’t impact daily life like technology does today. There was no risk of anything I did going too far beyond my little community. That’s not the case today.

Parental controls when I was a teen came in the form of not getting dropped off at a friend’s house, being picked up earlier from a party than my friends, or having to sit with enough distance between us if a boy had come over to do homework together. Ah, good times!

Now, though, parental controls are more invasive than your mom walking in offering milk and cookies when you’re trying to hold hands with that boy who came over to study with you. While we still could make decisions back then, today there is technology that takes the decision-making out of our kids’ control. For most parents it’s like manna from heaven. But what if you’re like me and are not a big fan of parental controls? What are the options? Is it even possible to parent today without enabling some feature on a smartphone or tablet to make sure our kids aren’t exposed to “inappropriate” content or spend too much time online?

When BabyGirl was about 5 or 6 I installed parental control software on the computer she used. It was a desktop computer I had used but replaced. It was her computer for all intents and purposes. I was homeschooling her at the time and she’d spend time online doing schoolwork or playing. That was in 2007 or so. Seems like an eternity ago some times.

Anyway, back then you’d do a search on Google or Yahoo and, like today, pages of results would be presented for you to check out. Search engines were primitive compared to what we use today. Invariably she’d click on something that was inappropriate for a 5 or 6 year old. She’d close the window and come tell me. We’d talk about it, and she’d go on with her day.

There was a big push about that time for monitoring software. I installed some monitoring software and set the parameters. And then every 5 or 10 minutes I’d hear that the computer wasn’t working. Instead of filtering out what would be truly objectionable content, the software had so many keywords it was checking that nearly everything was filtered and nothing would get through. I go in to adjust the setting and make it less sensitive. Still, it wasn’t possible to get to a lot of legitimate content. That’s when I stopped using parental controls.

Fast forward to 2016 and the sophisticated monitoring software and built-in controls on computers, smartphones, tablets, and other types of mobile devices. BabyGirl is officially a teen and I have never used parental controls on any of her smartphones or tablets. Really. I know many people love them and I have friends who’ve written extensively about the benefits of parental controls for TV and mobile devices. For me, I’ve taken a different route since she got her first mobile device.

Talk Openly – Since she was very young, BabyGirl knew that sometimes there would be things on the internet that weren’t for kids to see. Just like in the “real” world, we can’t keep our kids blindfolded until we’ve had the opportunity to evaluate everything they see and hear, we can’t do that on the internet. And while there are filters that will prevent kids from gaining access to truly inappropriate information, for some it’s a false sense of security and doesn’t leave much room for open communication. As uncomfortable as these conversations can be for both of us, it has to be done.

Be Proactive – I’ve always been very up-front with BabyGirl about what she may see on the internet. No, I haven’t been graphic or given her information beyond what I thought she could understand. But I have worked with her one-on-one to learn how to use different search methods, what to look for in URL names and extensions, how to determine if she’s clicking on a reliable source, and things like that. Just like we role play for fire safety, we need to do the same thing when it comes to internet safety.

Follow the Rules – There’s a reason why most social networks have an age requirement. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a law created to protect the privacy of children under 13. Not that all of a sudden at age 13 they gain a magical sense of maturity and capability. Millions of kids under the age of 13 have social media accounts, despite it being a violation of the terms of service. A few years ago my friend Heather wrote about why kids under 13 shouldn’t be on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or any of the multitude of social networks available. If we allow our kids to start out their digital life with a lie, it’s hard to expect them not to lie about other things.

Know their Login Information – I’ve been told many times that asking BabyGirl for her login information shows that I don’t trust her and I should just use parental controls if I’m so concerned. I’ve always explained that they’re missing the point. I ask this information because I do trust her, but I don’t trust the people on the other side. Being able to get in to her device and the different programs isn’t about snooping and seeing what she’s talking about. I go in to make sure other people aren’t doing stupid things that whether or not there are parental controls they shouldn’t be doing. It’s also an opportunity to make sure her device is up-to-date, clear out apps she doesn’t use any more, and encourage her to continue to make good choice since her parents can check in at any time. It’s kind of the digital equivalent of mom offering milk and cookies right when you’re thinking of kissing the boy who came over to study with you.

Parental controls aren’t the be-all, end-all magic potion many like to believe they are. They are one tool, but there are “old-school” parental control we can use in addition to using tech-based parental controls or in place of relying on technology to do our job. There isn’t one right answer. As with most things related to parenting, you just have to do what works for you.

Sara

5 Tips For Getting Your Child Their First Smartphone

Tips for Kids First Phone

FTC Disclosure

As we approach the gift-giving season, I’m seeing many parents asking about “the best” smartphone for their child’s first phone. Most teens who’ve had a smartphone are very clear on which new device they want. When it comes to getting a first device for a child, or for the kids to share, there are many different opinions. And sometimes they have exactly what they have in mind.

While you may be decidedly in the iOS or Android camp, there is so much more to giving a child their first smartphone than picking out which device. While I do believe that there is such a thing as ‘too much phone’, the fact is you should choose a device that can grow with your child so you’re not needing to upgrade too soon. But there’s so much more to think about beyond which device to get. Sometimes I think picking out the device is the easiest part. Currently, I’m splitting my time between an iPhone 6 Plus and the new Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus Verizon just sent me. I love them both, for different reasons. But my almost teen daughter isn’t a fan of either of them.

5 Helpful Tips For Parents Getting Their Child Their First Smartphone

Talk About Expectations Before You Give Them A Phone – This is not the time to treat the kids like the crazy animals they sometimes are. Don’t throw the phone at them and run for your life like you’re feeding a wild lion. I fully realize they may not hear but a fraction of the words you’re saying., but take a deep breath and set expectations. Even better, consider a written agreement so the expectations are very clear.

Teach Them About The Importance of Using WiFi When Possible – Certainly you’ve heard stories of parents getting huge cell phone bills because the kids have been using data 24/7. Not only is wifi often faster than the data service, it also keeps data usage in check. Even if you have ‘unlimited’ data, you’ll quickly see that it’s not as unlimited as you think it is. Of course, not all wifi is secure so that should be discussed as well.

Require Their Login Information – This isn’t about snooping, it’s about parenting. If you ever believe your child is in danger, at risk, or doing stupid stuff you should be able to access their accounts from anywhere. You should have the ability to shut down your child’s access by logging in from your device and changing the password. They may not like it, but when used correctly this is to protect them from themselves and others.

Explain Social Media Etiquette and Reality – Kids use social media differently than we do. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t rules, both universal as well as age-appropriate. Be very clear on the rules for using the device at school, taking photos of other people, sharing their location, giving out personal information, and other things that are of concern to you. In addition, make sure they understand that not everything they see on social media is reality. This last one is so important since they may not be aware that their favorite celebrities and Youtube or Instagram stars are posting photos that do not include any disclosure about being paid to post, it being staged, or that it’s really an ad.

Trust Them – I know this isn’t really a tip. And I know there are times when we need our kids to check in with us. Remember back when there was a time when we’d go to the movies, the mall, the beach, or just hanging out with our friends and our parents couldn’t get in touch with us. Yes, times have changed. But if you’ve laid the foundation and set the groundwork trust that they’ll do the right thing. Of course, you reserve the right to check in and to go all forensic scientist on their device while they’re asleep. So give them some freedom to grow and learn. And remember that talking about phone etiquette, the realities of social media, the risk of online predators, and other things about the online world will happen with or without our input. This is the time to make sure those lines of communication are open and free of judgement.

Bonus tip don’t surprise the kids with a phone you would want, get something they want. Sure, they’ll use it because the option of being without a phone isn’t really an option but their hands are smaller, they don’t usually carry a purse or bag to put it in, and wanting to be cool among their friends is important to them. You’d think BabyGirl would have the latest and greatest, but she doesn’t. She still has the Droid Ultra she got 2 years ago and she loves it. For her, it’s the perfect phone because it’s slim, lightweight, and very durable. It does everything she needs and she never worries about damaging it. And, ironically, it doesn’t have a case. Just a screen protector. There weren’t many cases made for it and she has chosen to be careful rather than have an ugly phone cover. Hard to argue with that, really.

If you’re thinking of passing on your phone to your child and upgrading, my newest obsession is the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus. It’s beautiful, lightweight, has a sleek design, and a totally drool-worthy camera. And those Edge features? Super efficient and functional. Samsung has so many helpful features like Samsung Pay, wireless charging, reducing window size, opening multiple windows, and so much more. Whether it’s because you want a beautiful phone or need one to help keep your busy life organized, definitely take a look at the S6 Edge Plus.

And now that you’re likely getting a device for your child, or maybe you already have and just stopped by, what other tips do you recommend before getting the kids their first smartphone?

Sara

Back To School Tech Tips To Keep Parents Sane and Kids Safe

Back To School Tech Tips

FTC Disclosure

It’s back to school season and for many it means new tech and upgrades to existing tech, and not just for the kids. Parents are often introduced to new technology to help kids with homework, communicate with the school, or just stay connected in an increasingly connected world. Kids may be experiencing new technology at school, switching phones, or trying out different accessories. Whatever it is, back to school marks a time for transition.

Whether it’s the same routine or something new, when it comes to going online more and more young people are connecting through smartphones or tablets. This makes learning possible everywhere. That’s good. But with the good comes the bad. And that’s where it’s important to re-evaluate how you approach internet security. So, here are a few back to school tech tips for keeping your family in tip-top shape.

Back To School Tech Tips To Keep Parents Sane and Kids Safe

  1. Keep it charged – Many kids are given tablets at school and are responsible for bringing them to school every day fully charged. In addition to having a designated charging station at home, think about having a portable battery to help keep them connected throughout the day. Especially important with older kids, having an external battery will help them do their work without having to be tethered to a wall. Or, having to deal with running out of power just as they’re in the zone. You may even want to invest in a car charger just incase they realize on the way to school they don’t have much power.
  2. Protect the screen – whether it’s with a case or a separate screen protector, don’t leave the screen exposed. Tiny dirt and dust particles can scratch the screen, making it difficult to use over time. Many people worry about cracking the screen. And while that’s a real concern, the fact is a scratched screen is annoying and may impacts the quality of what you see on the screen.
  3. Individualize it with a case – Sure a case can protect the device, but why not sell it as a way to personalize their device. With so many kids having the same type of device it’s easy to get them mixed up. With smartphones there are so many case options and most of us show our personality through our cases and covers. For tablets, especially those issued by the school, if permitted, find a case your child likes to help them take a little more responsibility for their device. Not only does it protect the device, which many parents may not realize they are responsible for, but a cool case also gives the device some personality and helps differentiate it from the sea of black and silver tablets on a table.
  4. Talk about online safety – I know you’ve had the talk before. But just like having to remind your child to turn off the lights, not slam the car door, or take a shower (yes, every day!), talking to kids about online safety is an ongoing and continuous conversation. Kids may think they know everything about being online, but the fact is that many kids are vulnerable and need to be reminded that sometimes things aren’t as they seem. Making mistakes online in this day and age can have long-term and very serious consequences. Teens and tweens, especially, need to know that you’re ultimately responsible for what they do online.
  5. Don’t just talk, take action – As parents, we do a lot of talking. When it comes to online safety for our kids, though, we have to take action. Whether it’s checking their device daily, requiring an approved family member or friend to be friended on their social network, or adding parental controls to their devices, we can talk all we want but action is required. It’s not about not trusting our kids, it’s about not trusting the freaks out there. If you’ve never used IFTTT, or don’t use it for this purpose, here’s an easy way to keep on top of what’s going on. Check out these IFTTT recipes to help keep your kids safe online.
  6. Trust your gut – Too many times we second guess our gut when it comes to what our kids are doing online. This isn’t the time to worry about if our kids think we’re annoying (we are, we’re parents!), being the cool parent (we are the cool parents!), or respecting their privacy. If you’re not hovering over them 24/7, you’re likely giving your kids the privacy they’ve earned. Earned, that’s right. Privacy is not a right in the Kingdom of Mom and Dad. In Mom and Dad Ville, the right to search and seizure is without limits. In Momtopia, you may have the right to be silent but unreasonable search and seizure is a real possibility. Trust your parenting gut when it comes to the safety of your kids. You may need to tone down how you want to react, but if you get that feeling, don’t over-react, just act.

Back to school is filled with so many emotions. But those emotions don’t have to carry through the school year. With a keen eye and a kind heart, our amazing kids will make it through another year. And so will we!

What tips to do you to help keep everything in check during the school year?

Sara