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Critics Target Facebook’s Messenger Kids App

In an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, a coalition of children's health and education organizations individuals have called on Facebook to shut down Messenger Kids on behalf of the well being of children. Messenger Kids is the parent-monitored chat, photo, and video messaging service Facebook launched in December 2017 for children as young as six years old. The minimum age for regular Facebook users is 13.


This letter was published by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and signed by a host of other organizations. It argues that introducing children to social media at an earlier age will increase their dependence on digital devices, negatively affect their mental health, and impact their ability to form relationships. "Younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts," the group wrote. "A growing body of research demonstrates that excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to children and teens, making it very likely this new app will undermine children’s healthy development."

Doing a Finsta

Here is another vocabulary word for your ongoing discussions with your teen about the world of social media, “Finsta.” In the same kind of move that teens have employed for years on Facebook, creating one Facebook page for public consumption and another for their more private revelations, teens who want to post more freely on Instagram start fake, secret accounts known as "Finstas”. This is a combo of the words “fake” and “Instagram.” Teen’s Finsta accounts are typically more unfiltered than their regular Instagram accounts, and are designed to get around those parental and teacher warnings about being careful what you post because school and college administrators, parents, potential employers and others could view it. The term has been around a while but because Instagram seems to be the hotbed of cyberbullying these days, it has surfaced once again.


On the positive side, such acts of digital self-surveillance make sense against the backdrop of widespread media coverage of social media gaffes that teens have probably heard about or witnessed. This includes employees losing their jobs after publishing a distasteful image or a tactless tweet, or a teen losing a spot on a sports team, or a school leadership role because of sexually charged or derogatory items they posted online. But at its worst, Finsta accounts warp into a space where anonymous users hide scandalous or sexual behavior or partake in cyberbullying.


One other thing that you and your teens should know is that even if what a user posts is part of a private Finsta account with an anonymous username, account creators can be traced back by analyzing followers and Instagram activity. And those seemingly private posts can easily surface online if anyone takes a screenshot or records a video of the content. Once again, it can be very difficult to hide even in the seemingly anonymous online world.

Facebook Tops the Charts

Over 2 billion people around the world used a minimum of one of the top five social apps- Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, or Twitter  - every month in 2017, with Facebook taking top spot in the US and France and its WhatsApp messenger app dominating in the UK, Spain, Russia, Germany, India and Indonesia, per App Annie. Instagram's monthly average user numbers in the US have risen 30% in the past two years across both Android and  Apple’s iOS.

The Essential Apps Guide

Did you or your children get a new digital device of the Apple, Android or Kindle variety? Whether you are looking for apps to enhance learning, games, or ways to help keep you organized, a great place to start your search is the Essential Apps Guide on the Common Sense Media site. You can even sign up to get app updates by email.

Snapchat Takes Aim at Misinformation

Snapchat is taking aim at misinformation with some unconventional changes to the design of the app (which for many parents is an app that has been associated with cyberbullying and sexting in the past). While the app will still initially open to the phone camera, allowing users to make and share photos that disappear with friends, the new design will try to separate personal (social) side of the app from what is produced by outside media sources. The media part will also be vetted and approved by Snap, the parent company, by humans, not by algorithms. The use of human curators will allow Snapchat to also program content to make sure that users’ preferences are not keeping them from seeing a wide array of opinions and ideas. In addition to winnowing out fake news, this may keep Snapchat from becoming a place that reinforces narrow sets of thinking. This approach is in contrast to Facebook and Google, who have not vetted much of the hate speech, fake news, and even disturbing videos aimed at children that has been proliferated on those platforms over time.

Getting Your Kids to Put “Picting” To Good Use

Social Media, Apps, Homework, Digital Savvy, Digital Literacy

Images increasingly are taking the place of words on social media. This is a trend known as "picting," writes educator Chrissy Romano-Arrabito in an article for middle school teachers, but a good resource for parents as well. Romano-Arrabito reminds adults that new studies tell us that 90% of K-12 classroom time in the U.S. is spent with text-based materials, and 10% with image-based materials; but outside the classroom, 90% is spent with image-based materials and 10% with text-based materials. So what does that mean? In a cliché, “a pictures is worth a thousand words” Picting has arrived and to be literate kids will need to know how to create and manipulate images and video in very sophisticated ways to reach their peers – the adults of the future - and understand their world.

What can you do to help your kids use social media apps like Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and other apps in productive ways? Romano-Arrabito suggests things like using Instagram to do a mini book report or chronicle a school project. Snapchat is an easy way for kids to video themselves speaking and test themselves on new vocabulary in a foreign language. YouTube is a great way to do a creative book report by creating a commercial for a book. Her article is full of other digitally literate ideas for helping kids use technology in creative and sophisticated ways.

Teaching Your Kids Respectful Argument Skills

While the article Teaching Kids to Argue—Respectfully is written for teachers, the resources listed and the ideas included can be helpful for parents who are trying to help kids learn how to argue fairly and respectfully. As one teacher in the article puts it, “If left unchallenged, high-profile examples of name calling or bullying may leave kids to think this is what discourse should sound like. We need to talk with them about why it’s shocking. What’s not acceptable in our community? We don’t want students to be gaslighted into thinking that this is just the way things are.”While the article Teaching Kids to Argue—Respectfully is written for teachers, the resources listed and the ideas included can be helpful for parents who are trying to help kids learn how to argue fairly and respectfully. As one teacher in the article puts it, “If left unchallenged, high-profile examples of name calling or bullying may leave kids to think this is what discourse should sound like. We need to talk with them about why it’s shocking. What’s not acceptable in our community? We don’t want students to be gaslighted into thinking that this is just the way things are.”

The article points out that media, tweets, articles, and video clips need to be analyzed by kids so they can recognize various points of view on issues and recognize that we all suffer from confirmation basis. Also, we strongly tend to seek information that confirms our own judgment, evaluation and interpretation. Take a look at this handout from Project Sharp to help guide your discussion with your kids about bias.

tbh – Can an App Make a Generation Happy?

Tbh, which is a teen speak acronym for “to be honest,” bills itself as the only anonymous app with positive vibes for teens. The app isn't a standard messaging app like Sarahah that has become almost synonymous with cyberbullying. Instead, users are presented with a series of pre-programmed prompts about their friends like, "Should DJ every party" or "Hotter than the sun", and four options for friends (that come out of their Contacts list) that best fit that description. The name of the app follows a similar trend among teens who use the phrase "tbh" on Instagram to say something nice about their friends. There is no typing by the user required or allowed which keeps the attributes offered up about friends positive.

So what do you as a parent need to know about the app? Try reading 5 Things to Know About 'tbh,' a New Anonymity App Popular Among Teens to get updated and stay tuned in. Someone always seems to be able to turn even the most positive apps into cyberbullying tools.

Instagram Primer for Parents

No doubt as a parent you have heard of Instagram, and maybe even use it yourself. It seems harmless enough - snap a picture or video, add a caption and then share. But have you taken time to consider some of the issues that the app could cause? To consider both the positive and potentially negative sides of Instagram, USA TODAY has created a primer on using the app, why you should worry about your kids using it, and how you can protect them.

Drama, Drama, Drama – Apps That Can Stir Up Trouble at School

Common Sense Media has posted a list of new social media apps that you should know about that could be stirring up trouble at your child’s school. While many of them are similar in ways to apps you are probably already familiar with, such as Snapchat, Instagram and WhatsApp, some of them have new features such as live streaming and group video chatting.  While you cannot keep up with every single detail of how every new app works, it is good to familiarize yourself with the names and intents of these apps. Of course, the most important thing is just to keep talking to your kids about what they are seeing and doing online.

Game Jams

Do you have a child who is interested programming or wants to make a difference in the world? Something that might spark their interest is a game jam, a hackathon-type event where kids get together to design a computer game or app based on social issues such as immigration, climate change, or future cities. Want to know more? Check out this article called Taking Advantage of the Power of Play on the Edutopia site for ideas on how to get started.

15 Great Apps for Kids

Looking for some new learning apps that will engage your children? Take a look at this list from eSchool News that provides suggestions for kids in Kindergarten through grade 12. Some examples include SPRK Lightning Lab - an introduction to coding and robotics, and Comic Life, an app that creates comic strips from your images. Coach’s Eye is a great tool for young athletes that provides instant video feedback, allowing kids to capture and review their strengths, as well as see areas for improvement, while engaging in their favorite sports. They can then share their video with friends and teammates.

A Treasure Trove of Back to School Apps

Looking for apps that can help you and children get ready for the new school year? The AppAdvice site has a list with different categories of apps including those useful for keeping track of homework, projects and tests, as well as shopping for school supplies and lunches. There are even location sharing apps for making sure everyone got home safe at the end of the school day.

Beyond Facebook – Get Up to Speed on Where Teens are Headed Now Online

With school starting you may want to check out a new article on the Common Media Site titled 17 Apps and Websites Kids Are Heading to After Facebook . The article is divided up into sections that cover topics including secret apps and microblogging, and covers some of the most popular sites and apps for teens, looking at their positive and negative attributes.

Fitbit – An Exercise Turn Off for Teens?

An eight-week study in the United Kingdom found that teens who wore a Fitbit Charge wristband became bored with it after about four weeks, and overall said they felt less confident about exercising and were discouraged from doing it, researchers reported in the American Journal of Health Education. Researchers also said that interacting and making progress comparisons with peers, rather than just working on their own with the technology, were better motivators for most of the teens in the study.

Snapchat Versus Instagram – The Battle for the Under 25 Crowd

Instagram reports that users younger than 25 spend more than 32 minutes daily on the platform, and those 25 and older are active for more than 24 minutes daily. Both totals outpace figures from Snapchat, which stated in February that users under 25 spend more than 30 minutes daily on the platform, while users 25 and older spend about 20 minutes daily. If your children use both, they could be spending an hour a day on these apps.

Get Up to Speed on Snapchat Ghost Mode

As you may have observed with your own teens, Facebook and Twitter are fading and Snapchat is the app of choice these days. Even if you are familiar with Snapchat, you may need to get up to speed on a new feature called Snap Map. The feature lets users see where Snaps (messages or pictures) are being composed from. If users want to keep that information private (versus letting the whole world know where they are), users must choose Ghost Mode. Need more information on how to set up Ghost Mode and Snap Map? See Talk to your teen about Snapchat Ghost Mode on the USA Today site.

Tech Helping Schools Overcome Language Barriers

School districts across the country are using machine translation, human translation, or some combination of both to help bridge the barriers for English-language learners. Some districts are using Google's Website Translator plug-in for translations on anything from homework worksheets to school lunch menus, while others have adopted mobile apps such as TalkingPoints to translate text messages, allowing non-English speaking parents to communicate with teachers in more than 20 languages.

Apps and Diversity

Keeping in line with many popular media including books and television programs, apps for kids are also beginning to reflect diversity. Toca Boca is one of the leading children’s app developers and its goal is that "no kid should ever feel excluded by Toca Boca." In Toca Life: School, kids interact with 32 characters, representing different races, ages, backgrounds and physical abilities. The app allows kids to move the characters in and out of the five scenes to act out stories set in a school location. In each scene, players will find a wheelchair, so that any character can be placed there to tell a story. Biracial families show up in apps such as Goldilocks and Little Bear from Nosy Crow. Stereotypes as quashed in apps like Fox & Sheep's Little Farmers - Tractors, Harvesters & Farm Animals for Kids where both males and females appear driving the big machinery.

Assistive Technology – It’s Not Just for Kids with Disabilities

Jenny Grabiec, the Director of Technology at The Fletcher School, has a free book out called iCan with iOS: Apps, Tools & Strategies for Students with Learning and Attention Issues, but as she points out in an article on the Edutopia site, assistive technology can benefit all students. Grabiec states that for all students, with or without learning differences, using text-to-speech and speech-to-text tools are shown to read longer, write longer, and show a great improvement in spelling. Clock apps, with timers and alarms, can help students stay on task and be used for important reminders during the day. Interested in these kinds of apps? Take a look at the Edutopia Assistive Technology: Resource Roundup as well.