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Social Media and College Admissions – The Latest Take

How much is social media considered in college admissions? About 68% of admissions officers say they reserve the right to check a prospective student's social media presence, but only 29% reported doing so, according to a series of surveys by Kaplan Test Prep. That’s actually down from the 35% last year who admitted checking an applicant’s social media presence. The data also shows that 20% of schools have set policies around checking students' social media, with just a third of those forbidding the practice.

Alexa for Kids: Manners Count

Amazon is listening to the concerns of many parents who were worried about their kids using Alexa devices, whether it be for privacy or moral reasons such as worrying their children would have no sense of etiquette after being able to order Alexa to do something without a “please” or “thank you”.  Now Amazon is offering a new line of kid friendly and pro-etiquette products that encourage children to be polite. It turns out that kids are some of the biggest fans of voice assistants, with some learning to talk to Alexa, Apple's Siri or Google's Assistant before they can form full sentences. The new products are in the Echo Dot series and will have durable candy colored cases. Amazon is also adding parental controls to the Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Plus to help limit when a child can interact with their technology.

Simple Tech Supports for Students with Dyslexia

The website of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, Edutopia, features an article with 5 simple supports for students with dyslexia. These tech oriented supports include information on where to find free or inexpensive audiobooks, resources for note-taking apps, ideas for voice note players,  and suggestions on text-to-speech technologies. They also have a suggestion for teachers you might want to pass along - take away the stigma of “ear reading” by offering audiobooks as a reading option for the whole class. Kids may also discover that while often more enjoyable, listening to a book takes longer than reading it, giving them a new perspective on the challenges that dyslexic classmates face.

YouTube Accused of Targeting Children with Ads Violating Privacy Laws

Facebook isn’t the only tech giant being challenged over its collection and use of consumer’s information. More than 20 consumer advocacy groups have recently filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission against YouTube, alleging they have been gathering the personal data of children who use their platform and then using this data to target advertisements, in violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

COPPA requires commercial websites and apps to get informed parental consent before collecting any personal information on children under 13. YouTube, which is owned by Google, allows any visitor – regardless of their age - on its platform to search for content on the site and watch videos without signing in or verifying age. Although YouTube has a “kids version”, a 2017 survey by Common Sense Media found that more children watch YouTube on the main platform than on the kids' app. Of parents of kids ages zero to eight, 71 percent said their children watch videos on the main website or app, while 24 percent said their kids watch on the kids' app. 

Text Messages Encourage Teens to Go to College

A platform called Siembra -- Spanish for sowing seeds – provides communication tools for school admissions professionals and high school guidance counselors. The tools utilize student data analytics to target under-served and under-represented students for efforts encouraging them to go to college, including the ability to send text messages to low-income, first-generation, and racial and ethnic minority high-schoolers. Less than 20% of US students whose parents do not have college degrees go on to earn a degree themselves, according to data from the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation.

YouTube to Offer Handpicked Selection of Kid’s Videos

YouTube will soon launch a new choice for parents seeking programming for their children with a version of its Kids app that offers only videos handpicked by YouTube staff  - aka the “whitelisted” version. The algorithmically suggested version will still be available, but this new version should, in theory, cut down on the number of videos that sneak through the automated selection process that could include language and jokes inappropriate for kids.

Common Sense Reports on Virtual Reality and Children

If you have already tried using a virtual reality (VR) headset you will probably agree that the effect is pretty mind blowing, whether you are riding a virtual roller coaster or strolling down a Parisian street. While VR is becoming more popular, not much is known about the effects it may have on kids. Recently Common Sense Media released a report on the subject entitled Virtual Reality 101: What You Need to Know About Kids and VR, co-authored by the founding director of Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab. The key finding from the report is this: Everything in VR is more intense, and while VR has great potential to show kids new worlds and may help in education, the jury is still out on both the  health risks and concerns remain that what kids experience may be too “real.”


So what can you as a parent do when your kids want to explore VR technology? Here are some suggestions:

  • Pay attention to age ratings and choose games wisely with your own children in mind. Don't let your kids play VR games that mimic experiences you wouldn't want them to have in real life, such as using violent weapons. On the other hand, take advantage of VR that exposes kids to things they wouldn't normally get to see, feel, and learn, such as visiting a foreign country. 
  • Keep it safe. Don't let kids use VR alone, help them get oriented when they first turn it on, stay seated if possible, and if kids feel nauseous, dizzy, drained, or sad, angry, or anxious -- give it a rest for a while.
  • Keep privacy in mind. Devices that can track your movements -- including eye movements -- could store that data for purposes that haven't yet been explored.
  • Keep talking. As with all experiences with technology, make sure you test out what your kids are seeing and doing with VR and talk to them about their impressions of the games.

Middle School Relationships Have Changed – The Effects of Technology

You are likely aware that dating today is nothing like it was years ago. Smartphones, apps and social media have even affected the relationships of middle-school students. In an article in Wired called The Middle School Relationship Is Dead (As We Knew It), current and recent middle-schoolers share what's in -- Instagram and Snapchat -- and what's out -- human connection.

Smartphones and This Generation

An article by Jean M. Twenge, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” summarizes many parents’ worries about allowing their children to have and use smart devices, and whether or not it is true that smartphones are making kids depressed. The truth is that we really don’t know, and there is not much research on the possible causes for why this generation seems to be more depressed – and more likely to self report their depression – than past generations.


In the end, it is all about mentoring. Parents – and other important people in kids’ lives– need to model thoughtful relationships with digital devices and recognize their actions set the path kids may follow. That means no distracted conversations with your child while you are texting or checking Instagram. That means no reading of derogatory tweets out loud to significant others even if you think the author is right on target. And no smartphones at the dinner table or long chats while you are supposed to be watching a kid’s sporting event or rehearsal. It is also very important to set clear boundaries for using devices and most importantly, stick to them even if it isn’t convenient for you as a parent. It also means teaching kids to use technology to make a positive difference in the world, rather than for navel-gazing, self-promotion or obsessing about other people.

To Facebook or Delete? Not an Easy Question for Some Students

Concerns about how Facebook has used its users' data have some users pledging to delete their accounts. However it may not be that easy, as schools, teachers, and even parent teacher organizations use Facebook pages to deliver news about what is going on at school or to highlight activities. Some high school teachers also use Facebook as a way to communicate with class members, answer student questions after hours and even enhance instruction. While many schools and teachers have moved on to other apps and learning management systems, it still raises the question of whether or not it is necessary to have a Facebook account.

Don’t Take that Quiz – What’s Up with That?

If you've ever downloaded a personality quiz through Facebook, you may be one of the thousands of people who unwittingly supplied information about yourself and your friends for use in highly targeted psychological profiles exploited in the 2016 presidential campaign. Frankly, most of us don't spend much time thinking about online privacy until a breach occurs. Sure, we tell our kids not to tell online strangers where they live, but beyond basic safety precautions, we're pretty hands off. Targeted ads? Who cares. Endless email alerts? Whatever. But now we know one of the key methods of getting personal information: personality quizzes. It may seem like such a menial thing to stay away from, but it is just the tip of the iceberg and serves as a reminder to be mindful of new online marketing methods and updates to your privacy settings. 

All social media offers privacy settings -- some more than others. The companies usually keep them off by default, so you have to go in and enable the ones you want. This is a good time to sit down with your kids and go over their privacy settings. Facebook, for example, offers many levels of privacy for each piece of information it stores. The safest setting to use is "Only Me," which means you're the only one who can view it and Facebook is not allowed to share it. Take a look at this guide for help in reviewing your Facebook settings.


It’s Spring -- Time to Start Thinking About Tech Free Camps

Turns out that 90% of the camps accredited by the American Camp Association have a cellphone ban. How do camps, kids and parents fare with that kind of challenge? Actually everyone does rather well according to an article on the site. Ironically parents seem to be the worst offenders and often smuggle phones in with kids despite signing a pledge not to subvert the rules. Kids also adjust, learning how to practice direct human interactions and enjoying the great outdoors rather than staring at a screen all day.

Smart Speakers and Your Kids

Smart speakers, like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home, are showing up in homes more and more with 75 percent of homes likely to have one by 2020. Child-development experts are considering how smart speakers affect learning and development. Some suggest that without intentional planning, the devices could reduce the kind of "serve-and-return conversations" with adults that are so necessary for the development of childrens’ language, literacy and social skills and one-on-one reading time.

How Safe is Mobile Banking?

Mobile banking apps are generally secure, experts say, but consumers should be aware of their smartphone's overall security as consumers and the way they use their cellphones is often the weakest links. Consumer advocates agree that banks need to do a better job on educating consumers on safety practices, which include having a strong password and keeping smartphone software up-to-date.

Can Schools Search Students’ Phones?

Are students' personal cellphones and devices subject to searches at school? That's the question some states are beginning to address with legislation, writes Ariel Fox Johnson, senior counsel for policy and privacy at Common Sense Media, who urges school leaders to provide clarity on policies regarding students' devices. While the Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that police need a warrant to search a cell phone, there has been a little more leeway when it comes to schools. If a student, parent or teacher were to challenge a search, the court must consider why the search was undertaken and if the search’s scope was reasonably related to the circumstances that led to the search in the first place. For example, if a student has video of a disagreement between a student and a teacher in a classroom, it would not be reasonable for a search to be done of all the e-mails on the child’s phone, whereas a search of other videos might be warranted. Do you know what your state’s or district’s policies are on searching students’ digital devices?

Apple’s New Page of Tips for Parents

Shareholders and parents have been asking Apple for months to address how addictive smartphones are and to offer tools to deal with the problem. Recently, Apple posted a new resource page outlining what parents can do now to monitor their kids' iPad and iPhone use. There are no new features on this resource page, though Apple in January said that it is working on “new enhancements” to address concerns about problematic tech use — a response to investors asking for more “choices and tools to help [parents] ensure that young consumers are using your products in an optimal manner.”

The Push for Digital Magazines

Apple's recent purchase of Texture, a subscription service for over 200 titles, proves that they see a future in digital magazines. Called the “Netflix of Magazine Publishing,” the service combines articles from across publications into a single format, like in Apple’s Newsstand app. Apple’s interest in Texture shows they think it could be a way for young consumers and magazines to reconnect.

Girls’ Confidence Can Drop From Social Media Exposure

Technology and social media are contributing to self-doubt, isolation and vulnerability among female students, according to The Girls' Index, a survey of 10,000 5th- to 12th-grade girls conducted by the nonprofit Ruling Our Experiences. The report found 46% of girls entering high school say they don't believe they are smart enough for their dream careers, while students' confidence rate drops between fifth and ninth grades. Other takeaways from the survey include:

  • 30% of the respondents reported having been bullied or made fun of on social media. 19% said they have made fun of someone else on those forums.
  • Many of the girls who were the heaviest social media users struggle in making connections with peers, and they tend to have fewer outside interests
  • Girls who spent the most time using technology are 5 times more likely to say they are sad or depressed nearly every day. Girls who engaged with technology the most were also the least likely to be involved in activities such as clubs, sports, band, music, and theater.
  • Girls who spent the most time on technology are the least likely to say they have supportive friends and supportive adults to talk to about serious issues.
  • 75% of the 12th grade girls who took the survey said  “most students their age send sexually explicit photos.” And more than half of 8th grade girls surveyed had been asked to send a sexually explicit photo.

Windows 10 and Macintosh Operating System Tools for Keeping Track of Children Online

Did you know there are tools already part of your computer’s operating system for keeping track of how much time your children play games and do other things online? Detailed instructions on how to find those free tools and use them for both the Windows 10 and the Macintosh operating system are part of a recent Personal Tech blog post in The New York Times. You can keep track of what games, apps, and websites your children visit and how much time they spend on each, and even check out what keywords they are searching for in your browser. You can also set limits on your children’s screen time.

Acquiring Job Skills to Survive Automation

Three-quarters of K-12 and higher-education instructors say careers that emphasize creative thinking and problem-solving will be less affected in the future by automation, according to an Adobe survey. However in the same survey, 69% of the educators say such skills are not emphasized in primary and secondary curricula because students lack time to use technology to create projects, have limited access to software and other technology at school and at home to stimulate creative thinking and most educators do not have the right kind of training to assist them.