NetSmartz Teens Helps Kids Learn About Online Safety And Bullying Prevention

NetSmartz Teens

I am a volunteer with the social media group at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and was provided with early access to some of the new changes with the NS Teens website. I am sharing this post because of my relationship with NCMEC and because it’s important information for our kids.

NetSmartz is a website which offers a host of informational workshops for adults and kids. There is a unique site just for teens (and tweens) called NSTeens and it is designed to be an interactive portal for young people to learn about online safety and bullying education in a peer-to-peer environment.

NSTeens re-launched their site with a focus on interactive games, comics, and video. Through research, NCMEC learned that teens and tweens were more likely to listen to their peers when it comes to learning about the pitfalls of being online. While parents will definitely share information with their kids, we’re smart enough to know that our kids may tune us out. And no matter how much monitoring of their online usage we undertake, we can’t address every situation.

NSTeens Online Safety

NSTeens offers 5 Significant Benefits to Kids (and Parents)

1. Games and Comics make learning fun – while online safety and bullying education are both very serious subjects, bombarding kids with facts and figures isn’t the best way to get through to our kids. With interactive games and comics, young people have the opportunity to see some of the consequences of making the wrong decision. Even if it’s not what they’d really do, kids are able to see what may happen if they don’t do the right thing. In this safe environment, kids are able to explore emotions, feelings, and results that in the real world can have significant or long-lasting consequences.

2. All content has been vetted by online safety expertsNSTeens was created specifically for kids 8-18 by law enforcement and child safety experts. Men and women whose job it is to help our kids have worked with other experts to develop a program that addresses these important topics in a way that is both meaningful but also factual.

3. Peer to peer conversations – let’s not kid ourselves and think our children will watch video with adult experts blathering on about doing the right thing. They may, for a time or two. But they’re more inclined to watch videos from their peers. By seeing themselves in these other kids, our kids are able to learn how to navigate new situations. In addition, our kids may see themselves as leaders and willing to be examples for their friends at school or in the community.

4. Parents encourage use of the site – while NSTeens is never going to be as popular as some of sites our kids become fixated with, it is a site that is safe and parents can encourage accessing the site. Especially for younger kids who want to play online games the site offers an opportunity for kids to get their feet wet while learning how to navigate some of the challenging social situations found in online gaming.

5. Bilingual Education – NSTeens is one of the only sites dedicated to educating kids about online safety that is available in both English and Spanish. Online safety and bullying education is important for all kids.

NSTeens is designed for kids but the site also integrates a page for educators (which would include parents!). This section of the site offers suggestions about how to incorporate the materials and information into classroom (or home) conversations.

In today’s world, we want our kids not only to be safe online but to understand the long-term consequences of choices they make. When we were kids we didn’t have to worry about many of the situations and circumstances our kids face today. The internet has added a new way of sharing that is new to both our kids and us. We’ve read the horror stories. The last thing we want is our kid to be one of them.

Share NSTeens with everyone you know who has teen or tween kids. Many are already online but don’t fully understand the significance of the choices they’re making today. Predators no long just lurk behind bushes or in dark alleys, they’re online and they’re looking for vulnerable kids. Bullies are taking what was once easily seen behavior into platforms that our kids can’t avoid.

NSTeens is a FREE resource for parents, educators, and kids.


Summer Reading List For Tweens

Books for Tweens

I’m not one of those “take the summer off” kind of moms. When I homeschooled, we had a year ’round program. In the summer we actually did  a lot of our learning because going outside isn’t high on our list of things to do. It’s eight-hundred and sixty-two degrees outside most days in the summer, so why not spend it inside learning and doing fun stuff. Summer Reading List For Tweens

Now that BabyGirl is in a public school (or, soon to be charter school) gifted program, we have summer off. But that leaves BabyGirl with two months of having a lot of time on her hands. And since she read over 4-million words during the school year, you get an idea of how much she reads. And that 4-million words does not include any books she read multiple times. All told, including re-reads, she read close to 7-million words! In 10 months! That’s 700,000 words a month. Or, an average of 23,000 words a day.

While she’s likely to read a lot of books, she’s already read many books her peers haven’t. That makes it even more of a challenge to find suitable books. In talking to her about books she’d recommend for friends, we’ve come up with this list. While she can read and comprehend books at the adult level, they’re not always appropriate for a 10-year old. The follow books have a reading level of at least 4th grade.

8 Books Ever Tween Should Read

The following books are all linked to Amazon, from which I would get a small commission if you were to buy.

Tuck Everlasting is a somewhat short book with well-developed characters tweens can identify with easily. BabyGirl has read this book so many times. She actually keeps it in the car because she loves it so much.

Harry Potter is a series we put off because we knew once BabyGirl started them she wouldn’t be able to stop. The later books are a bit darker and more complex. JK Rowling’s characters are multi-dimensional, the story line is easy to follow, and the reader is quick to identify with many of the characters.

James and the Giant Peach is a Roald Dahl classic. The first part of the story is a bit sad, but it quickly turns in to the well-written fantasy classics true to Roald Dahl. Honestly, any Roald Dahl book would be a great addition to a summer reading list.

The Invisible Fran (Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist) skews toward the younger side of tween, but who doesn’t love a book about a mad scientist. It’s an easy and fun read. As part of a series, if your kids like this one there are others to keep reluctant readers going or advanced readers wanting more.

Number the Stars may not be on most lists because of its subject matter. Set in Nazi-occupied Denmark, the story is a compelling historical fiction. The author handles the very delicate topic of World War II and the Holocaust in a way that is appropriate for juvenile readers.

The Hobbit is a somewhat lengthy classic that many young people love. The pre-story to the ever-popular Lord of the Rings series, The Hobbit tells the story of Bilbo Baggins as he is swept up on an adventure with a wizard and a group of dwarves. Most of us know the story, but the book goes into much more depth and describes the people, places, and history in exacting detail.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle another classic that’s perfect for both hesitant and voracious readers, the story about the friendship between a young boy and a mouse is well-written, captivating, and fun. Beverly Cleary tells a tale every child loves, and wants to read.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a coming of age story set at the turn of the 20th century. A lengthy novel written over 60 years ago tells the story of an 11-year old girl growing up through difficult times. There is a great history lesson woven into the story, as well as important life lessons learned through the eyes of the young Francie.

The thing I love about BabyGirl being such a dedicated reader is that I get to re-read books I grew up with, as well as find new ones. There are so many great books out there, and these are just 8 of the many hundred I could probably list. However, these were chosen because they represent a great cross-section of options for young readers.

What other “must read” books would you add to this list?


Goodbye, Brace Face


This is a sponsored conversation on behalf of Invisalign and their Straight Talk program. When I was invited to participate in this program it was easy to say yes. I may be busy but I’m not foolish enough to turn down the opportunity to get all my questions answered by an Orthodontist who was willing to spend as much time as needed. If you or someone in your family may need braces, I hope you find this information helpful. I know there are many opinions out there, mine is just one.

What a difference a few decades make, especially when it comes to advances in dental care. For most of us, having braces in high school meant a mouth full of metal for a few years. It’s what it was, your friends had them, you had them, and no one really cared. And, yes, I did have them. Thanks to those giant glasses you’re distracted from noticing I’m wearing braces, aren’t you. Or maybe it’s the totally 80s hair that cause you not to see that glare in my mouth.

Sure, there were the taunts of “brace face” and “metal mouth”. Then there were the days after the adjustments when your mouth would hurt like you were punched in the face. But there was always a friend who was going through this braces thing at the same time, so it wasn’t too much of a big deal.

Thirty years after getting braces, I still remember my orthodontist’s name. I loved Dr. Black and his staff. I hated getting the impressions taken, and to this day I can still remember the feel of those metal forms and the squishy material as it mushed down onto my teeth. I remember the times my lip would get caught on a bracket. And who can forget the sudden jab of a wire into the jaw. Good times!

Over the past several years I’ve heard about Invisalign. I don’t need braces again, but it’s something CycleGuy has considered. And as BabyGirl gets further into her tween years, it’s possible she will need braces. I’ve done some research, have spoken to a few people, and yet still had more questions about how clear braces compare to traditional braces.

At a recent Invisalign event, a local orthodontist shared his perspective and gave insight about pros and cons the profession has about both traditional braces and the clear Invisalign product. As someone who took great pains to constantly floss and have my wires taken on and off for my 6-month dental cleanings, I was surprised to learn that one of the biggest drawbacks of metal braces today is their impact on long term dental health. It makes sense that with Invisalign, there is no interference with daily flossing or regular dental checkups. However, I didn’t realize what a big deal this was since I had this freakish need to have clean teeth.

Since the Invisalign event was close to the end of the school year, a few people mentioned graduation, yearbook, and prom photos. It wasn’t easy to find these photos. Besides the general lack of photos from the 80s, I had a hard time finding a photo of me smiling with my braces on. I can imagine how different it is today with cell phone cameras everywhere and the ease of photo-sharing.

See that photo to the left? Yes, that’s me. Still had the big totally 80s hair, requisite blue eyeshadow, but this time I have pearly, straight teeth! And since you likely can’t read the shirt, I will out myself and confess that, yes, I was a finalist for Miss Texas US Teen. And I gladly smiled for every pageant I was in.

So much of what Dr. Shipley was saying made me understand why Invisalign is so popular. But popular is one thing, how it works is something different. The group of moms at the event didn’t hold back on the questions about efficacy. Braces, whether traditional or Invisalign, are a huge expense in both money and time. And while I don’t want BabyGirl or CycleGuy to deal with the societal stereotypes that go along with braces, I also don’t want to spend money on something that’s not as good just because it’s a better fashion statement.

Boy was I surprised. With Invisalign, there is no goopy tooth impression. In its place is a digital scan that more accurately maps the mouth and tooth alignment. Instead of relying on an assistant’s expertise, or a few minutes with a doctor, each of the incremental changes are built into the Invisalign trays with mathematical and technical precision. And there is the smooth plastic tray instead of brackets and wires that can irritate the inside of the mouth.

I think, like many people, I had an idea about much of this before attending the Invisalign event. But it really clicked after hearing other moms ask questions I hadn’t thought of, and hearing Dr. Shipley speak very candidly about both types of orthodontia treatment. It was nice hearing from a doctor who believes in the benefits of orthodontia and not just in one type of solution.

Before the event I was very skeptical. Now, though, I would definitely have CycleGuy consider an Invisalign assessment. And when time comes, if BabyGirl needs braces, I would consider Invisalign for her. Based on the out of pocket cost for us, it’s not much more than traditional braces. And with the added benefit of continuing her good dental hygiene I’d prefer to have an option that allows her to keep up those good habits.

One question I did ask, was how Invisalign works with kids (and adults) who have cleft lip and palette concerns. While this isn’t a concern for everyone, I wanted to know because I know a few people who would be interested. Dr. Shipley said that Invisalign may be an option but before you rule it out talk with your surgical team and have an Invisalign professional who has additional training and experience with similar patients. I know for many who have cleft issues, clear braces would be one less thing to worry about.

His answer to that question really sealed it for me. He could have easily just said it would be fine. And maybe some would. But when a doctor is willing to tell you that his services may not be the best for you, that level of honesty is a good foundation for everything he says.

Don’t just take my word on this. Check out the Invisalign website, like Invisalign on Facebook or follow Invisalign on Twitter, or make an appointment with an Invisalign trained specialist in your area.

I hope this information has been helpful to you. If you have any questions for me, please ask. I learned a lot and am happy to share with you so you can make the best decision for you or your family.

Disclosure: I have been provided compensation for the Invisalign Straight Talk program to share my thoughts and (embarrassing) photos about my experience with braces and how it compares to the new alternative of Invisalign. All thoughts and opinions are mine, and may not reflect the views of any organizations listed. My thoughts and opinions were not influenced by this compensation. This article was not reviewed or edited by a third-party. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. Why do I put these disclosures in my posts? Besides being a lawyer and writing about this stuff, they’re required by consumer protection laws and you deserve to know. Invisalign is a medical device and should only be provided by a licensed dental professional. This information is not being offered as medical advice.



10 Must Have Holiday Gifts For Tween Girls


I’m not always a fan of these “gift guides” because they are often filled with products that people get “free” and I don’t feel I really get a true sense of what’s what. Also, many of these guides are generalization or geared toward boys. I’m the mom of one tween daughter. Girl stuff holds my house together. If it’s pink and sparkly we probably own it. But she also loves math and science and reading. She makes her own movies and knows her way around lots of tech.

BabyGirl and many of her tween girl friends have shared with me the things they hope to get this holiday season. I was surprised at the range of products they’ve researched on their own so they can prioritize their lists. It’s an eclectic list but really has something for all tween girls with a variety of interests.

10 Must Have Holiday Gifts For Tween Girls

1. Sony Bloggie Touch Camcorder – for under $100 this is an easy to use and fun way for girls to make movies. It’s easy to use and very intuitive for kids. My daughter makes movies with her bears, ponies and LPS and having an easy to use and dedicated camera means she can work on her own (or with her friends) and I don’t have to worry about where my video recorder is at.



Pattern Duct Tape

2. Duct Tape – yes, you read that right. Duct tape. But not your grandpa’s duct tape. We’re talking about all the fun patterns and cool colors. Duct take isn’t for fixing things as much as it is for crafting and making cool things. I’m not sure what’s the big deal but colorful and patterned duct tape is all the rage and the fun things kids are making are creative and will definitely keep them busy during their off time.



Make Your Own Chocolate Kit

3. Make Your Own Chocolate Kit – not all girls are as much into science as BabyGirl, but this kit is so much fun. It’s pretty easy to use, but may require adult supervision using the stove. For under $15 the kit comes with information on fair trade products as well as including organic cocoa powder. All the ingredients needed to make about 8oz of chocolate are included. Science plus chocolate? What’s not to love!



Etymotic Etykids

4. Ety-Kids Headphones – designed specifically for children, these headphones are not only the right size for their ears but also incorporate technology that limits the decibels so their hearing is not compromised. BabyGirl has 2 pairs of the Ety-Kids Headphones and she loves them. They incorporate technology that blocks background noise so using them at school when they’re doing computer work allows her to more fully concentrate on her work. BabyGirl received her first pair of Ety-Kids about a year ago and doesn’t use any other headphones.



5. Nail Polish Sheets – at about $10, these are awesome! They are fun, long-lasting and not very messy. BabyGirl and her friends love these! I like that they’re not messy or smelly. It’s real nail polish and lasts about 10 days, which is about 10 days longer than regular nail polish that gets messed up in about a minute thirty eight after it’s put on. It comes off easily with nail polish remover. As much as she and her friends love science and technology and playing outside, they also like trying out nail polish and being girly.


Bath and Body Works Shower Gel

6. Warm Vanilla Sugar Shower Gel – in our pre-kid life, we lived in Columbus, OH when CycleGuy worked at Bath & Body Works Corporate. All these years later our love for BBW products continues. BabyGirl has been a frequent shopper at Bath & Body Works for many years and she has seasonal favorites, although Warm Vanilla Sugar is her all time fave. During the holidays the stores have great sales and getting the shower gel and lotion makes bath time less of a challenge. And, because she has hers I don’t have to worry about her using mine up. It’s a win-win!




7. Diary of a Wimpy Kid – When I first heard of the series I wasn’t all that keen on it because of the word “wimpy”. But after reading the first one, I realized just how fun and funny they are for kids. Greg Heffley is a sweet kid who has experiences that your girls can definitely relate to. If your child reads these then you know how much of a “must have” these are.



8. Kindle Fire HD – sure it’s about $200 but  they’re so worth it! BabyGirl has had one since they first came out and loves the portability. I search with Swagbucks so I can earn Amazon cards for her to buy books. And we have Amazon Prime so when we travel we have access to an entire library of free movies and TV shows to break up the monotony. Also, it allows her to text me. She also uses it for schoolwork and it makes doing research so much easier for her. I like that it’s more than just an eReader and it gives me more flexibility in how it’s used. If the tween girl in your life loves to read as much as BabyGirl this will be their new BFF.

9. The Daring Book for Girls – I bought this book when it first came out in 2007, partly because it was at Costco and I’m a sucker for their book deals. But, truly, this is a wonderful book. It teaches girls about self confidence and how to do things all girls should know. It’s not a girly book by any means. It’s one of those books that even I, as a grown woman, look at and wish I’d had as a young girl. Even now I’ll flip it open and learn something new. At less than $20, any young girl on your list will get years of use from this book.

10. iTunes Gift Cards – I know, I know! Gift cards are kind of lame. But, honestly, with all the apps these girls want it’s better to get them their own iTunes gift card and not have to deal with having to shell out money and losing track only to realize you’ve spent $63 on apps in the past few months. Not that I have any experience with that. *insert shifty eyes* These can be purchased at grocery stores, drug stores or online and delivered electronically. Another win-win!

So there you have it! The 10 Must Have Holiday Gifts for Tween Girls. I’m sure there are others, so please share them. These little ladies aren’t easy to shop for any more. Gone are the days of princess this or pony that and you knew you’d be good to go. These young ladies are smart, tech-savvy and in-the-know. And from what I’ve been told by friends with older girls, we only have a few years until they won’t talk to us and think that anything we do is lame and any gift is even more lame. We have few precious years to convince them of our ability to be great gift-givers.

What’s on your tween girl’s gift list this year?

Disclosure: I have purchased or used these items without compensation. This is not a sponsored post. Links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you purchase through my link I may receive a small commission. For that I’m thankful. I appreciate your support for this site. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.