Digital Family

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When Are Kids Instagram Ready?

Want to be the one to introduce the ins and outs of social media to your kids? Follow the adventures of one parent in doing so in a Well Family post on the New York Times site. And think about the advice the author offers about how to how to have a “social media talk” (akin to the “birds and the bees talk”) with your kids, as well as, ideas for when to create a usage “contract,” monitor use, and remain open to learning from kids about global connectivity.

YouTube to Clamp Down on Creators of Violent and Cruel Videos

YouTube has formally announced new punishments that go beyond just their existing community, and copyright policies for those who post violent videos or videos that promote cruelty or bullying. In an announcement titled "Preventing Harm to the Broader YouTube Community," YouTube details the new disciplinary actions which span from stopping payment to those who have channels who promote these kinds of content and being barred from the site's trending video feature.

Although no specific creators were singled out, the policies target creators who "[conduct] a heinous prank where people are traumatized, [promote] violence or hate toward a group, [demonstrate] cruelty, or [sensationalize] the pain of others in an attempt to gain views or subscribers." YouTube currently has a three strike policy under which creators' channels can be terminated following copyright or community guidelines violations, however, this announcement explained the need for "a broader set of tools...that can be used more quickly and more effectively" to bar content. It will be interesting to see how they enforce this new policy.

Wonder Where All that Cellular Data Goes?

Curious about how all that data consumed by sharing and streaming photos, audio and video on your cell phone adds up? You might be interested in getting a quick estimate from a data calculator like the ones on the AT&T or Verizon Wireless sites. Your cellular provider may have it’s own sample measures. 

Interested in some simple ideas for reducing your data consumption? Take a look at Measuring and Managing your Cellular Data Use on The New York Times site.

Don’t Have a Ban, Have a Plan – Cell Phones at School

What is the policy on students’ use of cellphones at your children’s school? A blog article on the Education Week site entitled As Cell Phones Proliferate in K-12, Schools Search for Smart Policies could be an excellent primer on the subject.  It can help parents, teachers and administrators using the evolution of the cell phone policy of the Katy School District in Texas as a sample case study. What is the district’s advice on the topic? Setting clear expectations for cellphone use in classrooms, and establishing models for appropriate use, is the better alternative to simply forbidding their use.

The Greying of Facebook

It appears that those rumors about teens departing Facebook are finally true. Facebook continues to add older users, but younger ones are in decline, according to eMarketer. Many teens are turning to Facebook-owned Instagram, but a growing number are using Snapchat instead. But Snapchat is going through a design process that is making it easier to use, which might make it more attractive to older users, thereby detracting from its “coolness” appeal.

Stop Phubbing and Be a Better Friend with Tech

Sometimes a video can say more about a subject,  that you have subtly been trying to bring up with your kids, than an actual discussion of the topic. Take “Phubbing” for instance. “Phubbing” is the practice of snubbing others in favor of our mobile phones. We’ve all been there, as either victim or perpetrator. We may no longer even notice when we’ve been phubbed (or are phubbing). However, research is revealing the profound impact this sort of snubbing can have on our relationships and well being.

So here is a short and light hearted video on the subject, which takes a look at phubbing and offers seven tips for how to be a better friend, using technology. It also discusses the issue of “FOMO’ (Fear of Missing Out) that drives us to look at our devices instead of our friends.  Other discussions include the subtle art of knowing when it is better to communicate in person or on the phone when there is a crisis that needs intervention or something special in someone’s life that needs celebrating by more than just sending an emoji.

Screen time and Parenting – Take the Quiz

Anya Kamenetz, the author of a new book called The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media And Real Life, offers a quiz on the National Public Radio Education page (nprED) to help you find out what kind of screen time parent you stack up to be. Her biggest take away advice? “Enjoy screens. Not too much. Mostly together.”

Is Tech Addiction a Real Thing?

Are we truly addicted to technology? No matter what side of the debate you (and your kids) come out on, you have to admit that something is going on because no matter where you are, and what you are doing, you see people staring at their phones or other digital devices. Many people are seriously studying the tech addiction issue and say that we aren’t quite ready to admit that the addiction is real. They believe, instead, we need to be focusing on finding solutions rather than defining the addiction.

One of their ideas is to think of our attraction to technology as a habit rather than an addiction. Habits certainly are easier to change then addictions.  An example is labeling a teen, who is in the process of forming their own identity, as an addict can create a long term outlook, issues and excuses that are hard to overcome. Perhaps the question instead should be about “how can people, especially young people, forge healthier relationships with technology while continuing to use it every day?” Obviously you don’t need a formal diagnosis to work on putting your device down more often, or to encourage your kids to do so as well.

It’s Epic!

For less than the price of a Netflix monthly subscription, you can get access to Epic!, a digital library for children 12 and younger. They offer 25,000 premium books (some including audio), educational videos and quizzes. Epic! is a great place to let kids look for books based on their needs and interests. Better yet, Epic! is free to elementary school teachers and librarians and you can try for a month for free.

Identity Theft for Minors a Growing Problem

Does your toddler already have a credit issue? With so many credit bureaus using nothing but social security numbers as the way to verify a person’s identity, they could. Now many young people are finding out the hard way that they have a credit problem, because often someone in their own family used their identity to open credit card and other accounts. This form of identity theft is often not malicious. Sometimes, it’s being done in a pinch by desperate parents who are trying to make an emergency repair or get the lights turned back on. Estranged family members and hackers have also been known to use this means to gain access to credit in another person’s name.

Should Tech Industry Speak Out About Overuse of Tech By Kids?

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) recently released the results of a survey it conducted of nearly 200 attendees who work in the tech sector at the 2018 International Computer Electronics Show earlier this month. The ASHA survey results show 88% of those that think it is important, that more prominent industry figures speak out about tech overuse. The survey also showed that respondents appear to be strict about their own and their children’s tech use. Almost 67% said children should not be allowed to have their own personal tech devices until age 10 or older—this amid a societal environment where new tablets, smartwatches, and other devices are being heavily promoted for even the youngest children. Almost a third (30%) said children shouldn’t even use devices until age 10 or older.


ASHA has previously been a watchdog on the tech industry and has published numerous works on how parents need to be mindful of hearing loss in children who are listening to devices at too-loud volumes, particularly with earbuds or headphones. The organization has also been very vocal about concerns that technology may be interfering with speech and language development in young children, especially when parents use the devices as a substitute for verbal interactions, such as reading and talking, with adults.

Social Media and Shortened Sleep

So the experts have been saying for years that it would be better if we all put our phones away long before bedtime, but now researchers have found some data that may prove that true. The findings in Acta Paediatrica involved a study of 5,242 Canadian youths ages 11 to 20 and showed that those who used social media apps like WhatsApp, Snapchat and Facebook for just one hour a day had their sleep affected. 63.6% of those in the study who said they used social media for an hour or less every day received less than the 10 to 11 hours of recommended amount of sleep for their age, while 73.4% of whom said they used social media for an hour or more daily showed even worse sleeping habits.

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.

Citizen Science Resources

Have a young scientist to be in your midst? Looking for a way to make science more “real world” at your house? Citizen-science projects -- those that involve the public in collecting data – may be a way to encourage an active interest in science and find out what it takes to be a scientist. Try these links to find citizen science projects that might work for you: SciStarter, Zooniverse, Citizen Science Central from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Galaxy Zoo, Citizen Science from the Smithsonian Institution, and Citizen Scientists from NASA.

Connected Toy Company to Pay Privacy Fine

The Federal Trade Commission said online connected toy company VTech will pay a $650,000 settlement in a case in which children's email addresses and other data were gathered via online platforms called Planet VTech and apps like Kid Connect and then were hacked in November 2015. This is the FTC's first case involving toys that are connected back to the toy company online.


While both the online platform and apps are now defunct, VTech was accused of violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires companies to obtain parents' consent before collecting personal data about their children under the age of 13. That law also requires companies to post privacy policies that offer complete descriptions about the data that is collected and give information about reviewing or deleting that data. The children's privacy law also requires companies to use reasonable data security practices to protect personal data.

Apple Vows New Parental Controls Amid Child Phone Addiction Fears

Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers' Retirement System, which together own a $2 billion stake in Apple, asked the company in an open letter, recently, to address the issue of phone addiction among children. Among other things the letter asks Apple to create an option for phones to be set to an interface according to their age group which would include options for limiting screen time, restricting use to certain hours, reducing the available number of social media sites, and setting up parental monitoring.


In response, Apple has stated that it has plans to create new software features that will make the parental controls – many of which already exist on the iPhone – more easy to use with more choices. The current Settings app on every iPhone has a parental control section that allows adults to restrict website access, control in-app purchases, and install or delete apps, among other things. Of course, in the end, common sense about what is and isn’t too much use of digital devices for your own children is the best course of action, still it will be interesting to see how Apple handles this question about it’s role as a company in the issue of phone addiction.

More on the Screen Time Debate

The weather outside has been frightful which may well mean your kids have parked themselves in front of a digital screen more than usual. So what is the latest thinking on that? National Public Radio has pulled together 5 Things To Know About Screen Time Right Now and there are some things there that you need to know to guide your rules and guidelines about screen time. Some of the items on the list you probably already have discerned for yourself such as technology brings young people both opportunities and risks and young children are spending more time with small screens. But interestingly a new UNICEF report on the subject takes a “Goldilocks approach" — not too much, not too little — and encourages parents to focus more on what children are doing online and less on how long they are online. Another recent study along those same lines even found that limits on screen time over the course of a month were not necessarily associated with positive outcomes in children. On the contrary, the researchers found small links between moderately higher screen use and the children's good moods. The researchers concluded that caregivers, and their doctors, should do a cost-benefit analysis before "setting firm limits."

The Dangers of Connected Toys

Did your kids get any “connected digital toys” as holiday gifts? If so you might want to take a look at the Federal Bureau of Investigation notice on the privacy and unapproved contact concerns that such toys can pose. You might also want to take a look at the article A Cute Toy Just Brought a Hacker Into Your Home for some of the safety concerns about the latest toy releases. This includes the Q50 smart watch for kids, the Furby Connect doll, and even the BB-8 droid, which was released with “The Last Jedi” this past month, which some testing services found had an insecure Bluetooth connection.

An Around the World Look At When Kid’s Get Cellphones/Smartphones

While no one seems to know when the best age to give a child a cellphone/smartphone is, a recent article entitled When kids get their first cell phones around the world takes a snapshot of how parents in different countries seem to have answered the question. Cost certainly plays a big factor, but US parents seem to be more willing to give their children phones at an earlier age, starting at age 6. If you are not familiar with the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics on media use, you can find a write up on their site.