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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.

Facebook Offers Messenger App For Children

As a parent you want to control who your children talk to online, so you can step in if anything becomes a problem. But, how do you do that? Facebook is now offering a solution by developing a messaging program for children younger than age 13 called Messenger Kids. Parents are able to use their own Facebook accounts to create Messenger profiles for their kids. These profiles have most of the features of full-blown Facebook Messenger, but messages are sent and received exclusively from a smartphone, tablet, or web-connected device (only on the Apple platform currently) and are controlled by parents.


Control is the key to Messenger Kids. Kids’ names don’t show up in searches of Messenger users. Once parents create an account, they get to decide whom their children are able to talk to. Parents can add friends and family they’re personally connected with–and those users’ kids, if they’re on Messenger Kids–to their offspring’s list of approved chat friends. 


Conversations within Messenger Kids are monitored, and should the app’s artificial intelligence detect an inappropriate word or image it won’t be sent. Kids can also report activity they find inappropriate or hurtful, a move that will also send a note to parents letting them know there was an incident such as “Sally reported Bobby.”

Brain Changes Found in Teens with Fixated with Smartphones

Teens overly attached to their smartphones show higher levels of a neurotransmitter that slows down brain signals, South Korean researchers reported at the recent meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. The research linked the impact on the brain signals to increased levels of addiction, anxiety and depression, one radiology professor said.

When Should Cybersecurity Education Start?

Educators and government officials met recently to discuss cybersecurity education for elementary and high school students at a conference in Nashville, Tenn. A number in attendance expressed the need for cybersecurity education to begin as early as elementary school to prepare students for possible technology careers as reports of cyberattacks multiple. One of the keynote speakers even went as far as saying, "If you're in high school, it's almost too late." Experts are asking teachers to weave cybersecurity principles into core academic subjects.

Free Keyboarding Practice for all Ages

Learning how to type well is definitely a 21st Century skill, and even Kindergarten students can find the practice useful especially if it comes in a graduated skills game format. Schools don’t always have the time or the technology for all kids to practice keyboarding but a free gaming platform like TypeTastic can be very useful for home practice. Kids can ramp up their words per minute and accuracy by hitting different keys to hop over lily pads, build construction projects and pop bubbles in outer space. The platform includes several different games, each with multiple levels of play so kids can continually test themselves. Unlocking the levels and conquering challenges keeps them engaged and learning. This kind of practice can be vital with schools issuing tests via computers as early as first grade.

Increased Screen Time Suggests Correlation to Surge in Suicide Rate

A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that an increase in suicide rates among U.S. teens occurred at the same time social media use surged between 2010 and 2015. Recent teen suicides are being blamed on cyberbullying and social media posts that depict "nothing but perfect" lives.  Experts say there is a tendency to discount the connection between teen suicides, depression and social media as just the usual “adult” opposition to the latest trends for young people, like television or rock and roll for previous generations. Experts warn that with its immediacy, anonymity, and potential for bullying, social media has a unique potential for causing real harm.

Text Messages That Save Lives

Here is a rather scary fact. Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that suicide rates for teen girls, specifically, in the U.S. are at a 40-year high. So how do you target that audience? Crisis Text Line, which launched about four years ago, offers free crisis intervention via text messages. Seven out of 10 texters are women, and 75 percent are under age 25. The stats also skew rural, LGBT and low-income.

 While Crisis Text Line is not set up as an ongoing therapy, volunteers field texts about topics ranging from school stress to suicidal thoughts and work to get first-responders on the scene when needed. And how do people find the service? If you search the hashtag #741741 you will see posts on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook spreading the word. Fifty million texts were exchanged with Crisis Text Line in the first four years, and they expect another 50 million just within the next year.

Bunk – The History of Plagiarism, Hoaxes and Fake News

We continue to need to talk to kids about how to evaluate sources online and off, but we all should probably know more about the history of the hoaxes, plagiarism and fake news. A new book entitled Bunk – The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, PostFacts, and Fake News by Kevin Young draws connections between the days of P.T.Barnum and the 21st century and compares terms like swindler and confidence man to contemporary buzzwords like plagiarismtruthiness and fake news. More than just telling tales of hoaxes revealed, Young discusses the theory of the hoax and the effects of the deception on politics, online news and everyday life then and now

Late-Night Screen Time Affects Sleep

Students exposed to blue light from computer screens or other digital devices including smart phones, got less restful sleep in a study by researchers at the University of Haifa in Israel. Data in the study show that, besides getting 16 fewer minutes of sleep, those exposed to blue light from screens also woke up more often during the night and woke up groggy in the morning.

Research Shows Spike in Children’s Media Use

Children younger than eight are more likely to have their own tablet device now than in 2011. These children are spending an average of 48 minutes on those devices (up from five minutes in 2011, according to an updated report from Common Sense Media). Findings also show this same increase across all income levels. What does this mean for parents? It is even more important to model good behavior when it comes to digital devices. That means putting your phone away at mealtime, turning screens off before bedtime, and talking about what kids are watching and playing.

Coding For Everybody

Whether you think your child is going to go in coding career direction or not, it is essential for today’s young people in understanding why technology can do what it does, what it does well and not so well, and why it is so difficult for it to do other things as an extension of their digital literacy. To that end, you might want to take a look at the games in the article Coding Across the Curriculum featured on the Edutopia site. While written for teachers, the article cites a variety of games and apps for all ages that parents can employ just as easily and even suggests things like having kids “build an animation in Scratch [a web-based coding language for building animations and games] for their next book report—a modern, digital update for the shoebox diorama. “

Study Focuses On Socioeconomic Links To Kids' Screen Time

Children in lower-income families spend more time watching TV and using electronic devices than kids in more affluent homes, according to a report released recently from Common Sense Media. The nonprofit group followed the viewing habits of more than 1,400 children nationwide. Ages 8 and under found that less-affluent youngsters spend nearly three-and-a-half hours daily watching TV and using varied devices including smartphones, tablets, laptops and video game players. By comparison, kids in higher-income homes spend just under two hours on such activities. The offspring of better-educated parents also spend less time with media (1 hour, 37 minutes) compared with children of those with less education (2 hours, 50 minutes).

Would One Minute Tech Breaks Help Digital Natives Focus?

Should teachers give “tech breaks” to students in class? That’s an interesting new idea proposed by Larry D. Rosen, emeritus professor of psychology at California State University-Dominguez Hill. He proposes that digital natives (those born between 1995 and 2010 who have been given that moniker because of their comfort with digital devices) should be offered a one-minute tech break in the classroom to check and send messages on their phones. More specifically, "Instructors should initially schedule the breaks every 15 minutes, [Rosen] says, but then gradually increase the time between breaks to teach students to focus."

Outrageous? Rosen points out that students have a very short attention span and that they do typically check their phones every 15 minutes anyway. So, should teachers give in to that? Or should they have higher expectations as Barbara King, a professor emeritus at William and Mary, writes on the National Public Radio site in an article entitled Should College Professors Give 'Tech Breaks' In Class?

Strategies To Prevent Bullying - Advice From a Charter School

Positive school culture and strong relationships are important foundations for academic achievement, and are crucial in creating a bulwark against bullying to create safe spaces for students, writes Erin Hearn, Director of Social Emotional Learning for Uplift Education, a charter school network in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. One interesting tool the network uses is the Panorama Student Survey, which is completed biannually to gauge the quality of students’ relationships with their peers and teachers, among other social and emotional components. It also helps teachers and administrators pinpoint issues and concerns students are facing.

Additionally, the school network employs a Safe Space program, encouraging faculty whom are willing to intervene in a bullying situation to wear a pin that signifies their readiness to help (this is very interesting as this “readiness” is something not all teachers embrace, as other critics have recently noted). Staff training on diversity, equity and inclusion is also a component of their anti-bullying strategy. Moreover, the school is one of the pioneer districts using Rosalind Wiseman’s Owning Up curriculum. Owning Up teaches young people to understand their individual development in relation to group behavior, the influence of social media on their conflicts, and the dynamics that lead to bullying, discrimination, and bigotry.

Yondr Cell Phone Pouches Growing in Popularity at Schools and Concert Venues

Have you been to a concert venue where you are given a special locking pouch that keeps phones locked within a designated no-phone zone, outside of which the phone can be unlocked for your use? Most likely those pouches are from a company called Yondr. They are gaining popularity with performers such as The Lumineers, Louis C.K., Alicia Keys, Dave Chappelle to cut down distracting cell phone sounds and texting and talking during their performances.  Dave Chappelle is also using the system to cut down on people video recording his show and sharing the material online, possible driving away others from coming to a performance because they think they have already seen all his new material. Now schools are beginning to use the system as well.

Parents Need to Talk about Kids and Smartphones

Each generation of parents has worried about the new technologies that have impacted their children’s lives from radio up to today’s mobile devices. Today’s devices are inescapable, and coupled with the allure of social networking,  are having a profound impact on the way adolescents communicate with one another and spend their free time. While some experts say it is too soon to sound the alarm on smartphones, a recent article in Time magazine entitled,” We Need to Talk About Kids and Smartphones” points out that the latest statistics on the incidence of teen suicide and depression are rising sharply and may be connected to the proliferation of smartphones. These statistics alone make this an issue that parents should be talking to each other about and to their teens as well.

A Disconnect on Home- School Communication

Among several digital communication options, most parents say they prefer to receive text messages from their child's school regarding the types of technology they should have at home [data from Project Tomorrow's Speak Up program]. Only 16% of parents said Facebook was an effective communication tool. Although, 78% of district communications officials favored it as a way to convey information. Parents said they prefer texting because it is convenient, timely and recognizes that they may be too busy to sign into Facebook on a regular basis.

Some of the Pros of Social Media

Social media has received a lot of bad press regarding its negative effects (cyberbullying, depression, etc.) on young people. However, some academics and health professionals say there are benefits too. Social media can help boost self-esteem and give people an outlet for finding emotional support. Matthew Oransky, a therapist and assistant professor of adolescent psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, says, "I've seen some of the really big positives, which is that kids who are isolated or marginalized can find a community." Another researcher, John Naslund, at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice suggests that marginalized kids who are looking for that larger community should start cautiously and use pseudonyms when reaching out for advice from strangers.