My Love/Hate Relationship with STEM Education for Girls

STEM Girls

 

As a girl who grew up loving science and math, but eventually moved away from it, I have a love/hate relationship with the recent STEM and coding movements. I know math and science are important, especially for girls. Then again, the only female math or science teacher I had was my 10th grade Biology teacher, Mrs. Head. Even then, it wasn’t like it was so special because she was my aunt’s sister so I already knew her.

I always look back and say that I probably had one of the best STEM experiences in high school because almost all my classes were filled with other girls. If my memory serves me correctly, I’d say that the top 25 of my class (of which I was one!), half were girls. This is out of over 400 kids. Back then – 30 years ago, Class of ’87!! – it was unheard of for so many girls to be at the top of the class.

I’d say, for the most part, my teachers didn’t have issues with ‘the girls’. There was one (male) science teacher who would often put us in boy vs. girl teams, but I never saw it as a gender issue. For the most part the girls were equal to the boys, and we usually won, so I saw it as a way to tap down the testosterone surge of awkward high school boys. Maybe I was naive. And, if so, I’ll just keep it that way. Sure, that teacher had favorites – all of them boys. While  he made it very clear to me that he was never going to accept that I was as smart as the smartest boys, he had to pretend when every time he asked me to prove my worth I did. As a matter of fact, he didn’t want me to go to a state science competition because I was the only girl selected and we’d need a female chaperone. I was required to ask the female teachers if one would like to be my chaperone. Luckily I wasn’t asked to pay more to have my own hotel room, but he make it known that ‘his boys’ had to share a room while I got my own. At the end of the day, I won! None of ‘his boys’ won their divisions. I did. Not only did I win my division, my project and presentation were selected as one of the top three overall. Boom! Oh, and he had to present my award at the school assembly even though he didn’t want to.

I’ve looked back on that one incident and how, despite my hundreds of hours of work between 11pm and 3am having my mom drive me to the university two days a week for several months so I could work with a professor and his team of Ph.D. and Masters students, for me it was never trying to prove I was good enough. At that time, I didn’t see that he didn’t want any girls on his science teams and did everything he could to keep us off. Part of that was teen cockiness. But part of it was because my mom always told me that I if I did the work she’s make sure I had the same opportunities.

Then I went away to college. And the teen cockiness was knocked down quickly. I selected my program – constructional engineering – because it’s something I was really interested in learning and doing. I was one of about 6 girls in the program, and that included the graduate students and office staff. That should give you an idea of where I found myself. The professors were openly sexist. The teaching assistants had no time for me. In my advance physics class I was one of a few girls. I was the only girl in my physics lab. I was one of 3 girls in my Advanced Differential Calculus class, but the only freshman. I looked around, day after day, and saw few women. The women I saw were so busy keeping their place at the table there was no time left to make sure I even had a place in the room.

Now, as a mom to a girl who excels in math and science in a world where STEM education for girls has become a focus of education I’m not the advocate I once thought I would be. Yes, BabyGirl has been involved in robotics and science camps, often being the only girl. Yes, BabyGirl spent a summer in the NASAGirls program and has attended girl-only summer STEM camp at the local universities.

The push for STEM-everything, which is really coding-focused for the elementary and middle school ages, doesn’t seem genuine when it comes to girls, though. Sure, there are amazing organizations like Girls Who Code, but their local programs are connected to a school and if you don’t happen to go to that school you’re on your own. And what if you don’t want to code?

What if you don’t want to code? Can you tell me what’s out there for girls who don’t want to code but love science and technology and engineering and math? I can tell you. Not much. With all the great programs that use STEM as their basis, there is such a predominance of coding that kids are learning that STEM is coding. Girls are being taught that STEM equals coding.

So when they don’t like coding, they don’t like STEM. If they’re not good at coding they start to think they’re not good at STEM. They’re not good at science or math. And that’s where I have a problem.

I was fortunate. Up until about 10 years ago, education was about the various types of science – biology, botany, zoology, chemistry, physics, and so many others – and math. It wasn’t about coding. I hated coding. It’s one of the reason I left my engineering program in college. It’s not that I wasn’t good at it, it’s that I hated staring at a screen with a bunch of nonsense to try and make some stupid design or have a series of number print out on a card. Science and math weren’t fun any more.

And that’s where I am today as a mom, trying to convince my daughter that math and science are fun. That they are used in real life. That there’s more to STEM than coding.

I believe that coding has its place in STEM. But it would be great if schools and the STEM movement would move beyond that focus and create programs that actually try to keep girls interested in science and math beyond elementary school. I say this because I know that there are awesome science and math programs and careers out there for girls, but they have to stay interested long enough to be able to see them as viable college and career options.

What are your thoughts about STEM education for girls? Has your experience been different?

Sara

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

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

The Hooters Hypothesis and the Double Standard of Shaming Women

Hooters Hypothesis - The Double Standard of Shaming Women | @ SaraFHawkins savingforsomeday.com

Every once in awhile a post will pop up on Facebook by someone who’s irritated by Hooters. The post usually mentions the stupidity of taking kids to the restaurant and goes on to talk about how the female servers are dressed. Always, the conversation turns to what the servers are wearing.

As the first in the genre known as “breastaurants“, Hooters has been around for about 30 years. I remember when they first opened when I was a teen. For over 3 decades female Hooters servers have been wearing the same skimpy outfits of orange short-shorts and a white tank top with the Hooters name on it. Back in the mid 80s it was just something kitschy that few people probably expected to last. It was so “out there” that for about 20 years they really had no competition. Now there are others and it’s not just sports bars, but there are coffee shops and BBQ joints, too.

In my understanding of restaurants you don’t stay in business if you don’t have decent food. That makes me think there’s more to Hooters than what meets the eye. And this is where I get to make a confession. My grandmother, z”li, ate at Hooters several times a month for about 5 years. She had been out shopping and wanted a quick lunch and asked the cashier for a suggestion. The cashier was, in her words, “a nice young man”. I’m sure he was probably in his 20s. At the time my grandma was probably in her early 80s. Maybe he thought it would be funny to send this little old lady to Hooters. Maybe he was being sincere when he recommended the Hooters nearby. Despite whatever he though, off to Hooters my grandma went. And it began a wonderful relationship between an octogenarian Jewish woman and Hooters.

I had the privilege to have lunch with my grandma at “The Hooters”. I also heard about her first visit, the time “these nice businessmen” paid for lunch, the time she took one of her fellow Gold Star Widows members, and the countless times she had “such a lovely waitress”. And not once did my grandma ever say anything about how the servers were dressed. Not once. And this from a woman who was devoutly Jewish and who thought it risqué to wear a sleeveless top without a sweater or blouse over it.

Now it’s 2016 and we’ve spent the last several years talking about not placing blame on rape survivors based on their clothing choice, that what women wear is not an invitation to judge them, that young girls should not be exposed to body-shaming, having conversations about fat-shaming, encouraging body pride, and so on and so forth. Yes, we’ve had the dialogue. And we’ve become outraged that women on the red carpet are asked about their clothing but men are not. Seriously, we’ve talked and talked, and typed, and tweeted, and hashtagged this conversation into the mainstream.

Stick with me, because here comes my Hooters Hypothesis. There’s an exception when it comes to Hooters. And on that I’m finally calling BS. It’s hypocritical and, well, BS, to preach about a woman’s right to choose what she wears without being shamed for it, and then with that same breath degrade the women who work at Hooters. If you don’t want to go there or take your family, then don’t go. But stop with the shaming. I’ve seen your posts, the ones where you’re sighing over the “hunky” server. The one of the “hot” backup dancer. The post of the “amazing looking” bartender. Those. I see them. So does everyone else. So shut up about the women who work at Hooters.

That is, unless you’re willing to talk about how much confidence they must have, how brave they are to work in a place where some (male) patrons have little self-control when it comes to their hands, and what courage looks like to deal with people like you who think it’s perfectly OK to shame them for working an honest job.

Do I want my daughter to aspire to a job at Hooters (or Tilted Kilt, Twin Peaks, or the others?) Not really. Then again, I’m raising her to be a strong, confident, and independent woman so it’s not really my choice.

What I do want is for the shaming to stop. Across the board. Let’s just stop shaming women. It does nothing for the younger generation of girls to see and hear such negativity. It does nothing for the young women who are just trying to make an honest living. And, in general, it give boys and men permission to do the same thing.

Cocktail waitresses in Vegas should be able to wear whatever themed outfit the casino requires without thinking what you’ll say about her. Hooters can require short shorts. Airlines can go back to hot pants and go-go boots for all I care. Seriously, it’s not that difficult to just not patronize places where you feel uncomfortable going with your spouse or kids. And if enough people don’t go then maybe the business will rethink it’s required clothing. Because, honestly, this is probably more of a “you” problem than a “them” problem.

The conversation should not be about what “these women” are wearing. It should be about the fact that people should not be degraded or ridiculed for the clothing they wear. We should all be teaching our kids (boys and girls) to be respectful of (both men and) women regardless of what they are (or are not) wearing. So, just stop with shaming women who work at Hooters thinking it’s OK because they somehow deserve it.

It’s your turn, now. What are your thoughts on this double standard?

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

7 Tips for Making Middle School Pick Up Less Stressful for Everyone

School Pick Up Line Tips

For most parents, when we talk about ‘back to school’ there’s a bit of melancholy in our voice. Having the kids home for the summer means lazy days, less rush, fun vacations, staycations. Lots of summer stuff making memories. But after all the “I’m bored!”, “There’s nothing to do.”, and “I’m hungry!” wails, there’s a small part of you that can’t wait for school to start. While I love having BabyGirl home for the summer, I know she misses her friends. And being an only child means hanging out with adults, which isn’t always that fun. So while there’s an excitement in the air about back to school, as a parent there’s one thing I dread – school pick-up.

I share after-school pick-up duties with a friend, which is great. It gives both of us a chance to have an extra hour to cross things off our daily to-do list. We did the carpool program for two years in elementary school and it went rather well. There were a few parents who didn’t think the rules applied to them, but for the most part, elementary school pickup was met with order. For those times someone would double-park, cross between cars, or leave their car unattended the school was quick to give notice and nip the issue in the bud. And while I was at just one of the several elementary schools that feed in to the current middle school BabyGirl attends, I thought the other elementary school pick-up lines were the same. But I was wrong.

Based on the first two weeks of school, either some of the parents completely forgot how after-school pick-up works or they think the rules don’t apply to them. Seriously, how hard is it to follow a few basic rules? What happened to all those things we taught (er, teach?) our kids? Like, wait your turn, be patient, be courteous, watch what you’re doing …

Adults behind the wheel of a car are much more dangerous than the little mistakes our kids make when they don’t follow basic rules of courtesy. So I thought now is the perfect time for a few reminders to those who will be picking up kids after school. And while this is more specifically written for middle school (junior high?) pick up since this is what I’m dealing with now, it’s likely just as applicable for high school and elementary pick up.

7 Tips for Making Middle School Pick Up Less Stressful for Everyone

  1. If you don’t want to wait in a long line, get there early. Just like going to the movies, if you get there late you don’t get to cut the line just because you’re in a hurry. We all have places to go. And cutting in line isn’t just being a jerk, it’s dangerous because cars leaving the line aren’t expecting you to be cutting.
  2. Keep moving up as the line moves. This is how lines work. When people in front of you move, you move too. Think about how it works when you’re in line at the store. It’s the same thing. This is not the time to camp out in one spot like you’re at a General Admission concert. The kids will find the car. They’re in middle school. Finding the right car at the end of the day isn’t all that hard for the average middle schooler.
  3. Don’t be a double parking douche. Your precious unique flower child can wait just like everyone else. Having kids walk between moving cars is dangerous. You should know this.
  4. If your child is slow or needs help getting in the vehicle, find a parking space. It’s safer for you, your child, and the rest of us.
  5. Don’t get out of your car. I repeat, do not get out of your car. The pick up line is not the place for this. It slows down the line, and puts you and others at risk.
  6. Kids should only get in the vehicle on the curb side. This should go without saying. If your child has to get in the car on the street side, find another place to safely pick up your child. Think about how many times you have to tell your child to pay attention. Add moving cars and it’s a recipe for disaster.
  7. Drive slowly around the school. Those School Zone signs are not a suggestion. And just because your school may have them only in certain areas, slow down all around the school. Kids who walk home aren’t often paying attention. Parents getting out of the pickup line may have their view blocked by some ignoramus double parked behind them. There are so many things going on around schools, please, just slow down.

Parents have enough stress, school pick-up shouldn’t add to it. No one wants to deal with a child getting hurt because adults weren’t paying attention or were in a rush. And in the grand scheme of the day, a few minutes of patience and courtesy can go a long way. Getting into an accident, hitting a child with your car, or being stopped by the police because you were in a hurry at school pick-up will delay you much longer.

Be safe out there! Our kids learn from us. We need to be good role models. Because they’ll be driving soon and we can’t expect them to follow the rules and be safe if you’re not willing to do the same.

Edited: Shortly after this post was created my friend Jenny from Jenny on the Spot created this PSA. Enjoy!

Stay safe and have a great school year!

Sara

Teens, Tweens, Tech Safety and Making Mistakes

Teen Tech Parenting Safety

FTC Disclosure

June is Internet Safety Month. Not a day goes by that BabyGirl isn’t online in some fashion. The interesting thing is that I’ve also seen October designated as Online Safety Month. As the parent of a tween, though, every month is Internet and Online Safety Month. Tech minefields are discovered every day and we can’t wait for one month to sit our kids down and talk about staying safe online.

In reality, it’s not easy to talk to kids about online safety. For many parents, the nuances of tech safety are more confusing than trying to learn a foreign language. Parents use tech differently than their children, regardless of age. When it comes to teens and tweens using tech, these digital natives are often the ones teaching their parents. Lessons about online safety are often just examples of where other kids have gone wrong. And, well, our kids would never to that.

Ask any parent of a tween or teen and they’ll tell you how happy they are that social media and the online world didn’t exists when they were a kid. When I was a kid, we made mistakes and did stupid things. Sometimes our friends were with us. But we had something our kids don’t have today – the ability to learn from their mistakes.

Kids today aren’t allowed to make mistakes. The consequences are so high, as parents we’re often more fearful of our kid making a mistake than they are. They’re just kids and may not see the horrible consequences mistakes have had on other young people. We certainly have, though. Then again, they probably have too.

The online world has removed the ability to make a mistake. Gone are the days of “learning from our mistakes”. That’s just impossible with technology. At the same time, though, we know that kids don’t listen to everything we say and glean the important message we’re trying to get across.

Every word, click, double-tap, like, share, retweet, and action is under constant scrutiny. Not only from us, their parents, but from their friends and strangers alike. For as much as we talk about online safety, there really is no such thing for our kids. It’s more like how can we make it less dangerous because safety is about being protected from harm or danger and in the online world today that’s next to impossible.

Throwing our hands up and doing nothing is not an option. And banning them from all things tech isn’t either. So what do we do to make the internet and mobile technology less dangerous for our tweens and teens?

1. Talk to them. Yes, just like teaching them about personal safety and safe touch we need to talk to them about safety with people we can’t see or touch. It’s not easy to talk about anonymity and people lying about their age or gender, but we have to do it. It’s uncomfortable talking about sex and often even more uncomfortable talking about virtual sex and porn. Unlike our parents, though, who often left it to books, magazines, or sex-ed we don’t have that luxury.

2. Trust them. The news if full of horrible things kids are doing online. But the truth is not all kids are doing those things. Not every kids is bullied or bullying. Not every girl is sending compromising pictures of herself to boys. Not every anonymous gamer is on the FBI most wanted list. If we are talking to our kids and having meaningful and helpful conversations, we have to trust that them when they say everything’s cool.

3. Create Offline Opportunities. Kids can’t get all their validation and conversation from in front of a screen. There is an entire world out there to explore and people to meet. When their friends come over, figure out things they can do that don’t have them sitting next to each other texting or watching crazy online videos. Hands-on crafts, cooking or baking, making, and creating are all things that we did that helped to shape us into the people we are today. Kids today are no different. It’s fun to hang out in the virtual world, but there’s so much more depth learned by being present in the physical world.

Yes, these 3 simple things can help our kids immensely when it comes to tech safety. Sure, there are parental controls to limit access to online content. That’s a limited solution, especially for teens and tweens who know how to bypass parental controls. You can forbid them to download certain apps, but there are many decoy apps kids download to hide things from parents.

Honestly, though, it comes down to open communication and trust when it comes to keeping our kids safe (or just safer) online. You don’t need to spend tons of money on apps or special wifi to block their access. We just need to talk to our kids. Although, sometimes that’s easier said than done.

How do you help your kids stay safe online? Have you talked to them about the consequences of making mistakes online?

Sara