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Do Phones Make Kids More Safe or Less Safe During a School Emergency?

Usually the debate about smartphones at school is about whether they are a distraction or a tool for learning, but the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida  has sparked some debate about whether students are made more -- or less -- safe by carrying cellphones at school. Some say students with the devices can alert others that they are safe when getting to and from school or during an emergency, but others argue that phones can make students less safe during a crisis by distracting them from following directions by teachers or first responders, giving away their location to an assailant, or jamming up communications interfering with those coming to help them.

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.

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.

Is Their Mind Wandering?

As schools move more to personalize learning through the use of digital devices and software, researchers are working to pinpoint when students' minds wander as they use software programs. A study of students' eye movements found that they may "zone out" 20% to 25% of the time when using such programs. But what should that mean for this kind of instruction? One idea is let the computer stop and repeat what is being shown, or change the subject to get the student’s attention back. Another is to use this research to evaluate instructional software pointing out when it is boring students and figuring out what is better done with a human teacher or in a group setting.

Either way it is important that we don’t do away with daydreaming. Some mathematicians purposely turn their attention to something irrelevant when they’re stuck on a problem and then the solution magically pops into their heads.

Daydreaming is also associated with some of the biggest breakthroughs in science and technology and the link to creativity is well established. Certainly something to think about as schools move to more tech driven personalized learning for your kids.

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.

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.

The Battle Against Digital Distractions

Students may believe they can manage digital distractions via multitasking, but some research shows that multitasking leads to lower grades. Educators now are testing ways to help manage digital distractions, such as taking technology breaks. But what really drives the distraction? Most researchers feel that the prime suspect is FOMO – the “Fear of Missing Out” and that very human foible is very hard to fight.

Making a Speech in Class? Some Tools That Can Help

Are your children making a speech in class or a presentation at a science fair or entering a speech competition? Here are a couple of tools that can help:

  • Say What?: Kids (and parents) sometimes struggle with how to pronounce words that are part of a presentation on an unfamiliar topic. The Howjsay English Pronunciation Dictionary is available on the computer or as an app and gives you the standard pronunciation or alternative pronunciations (if applicable) of a wide variety of terms. It also supplies alternative definitions and synonyms.
  • How Long is That Again?: The Speech in Minutes tool is helpful when kids are preparing for presentations or competitions in which they have a certain length of time to speak. Instead of timing their speech, they can use this tool to find out how long their talk should take and at what pace they are going to have to speak to get it all in. To do this, you first add your rate of speech (below average, average, above average) and then the number of words in the speech. The program tells you how many minutes you’re going to be talking.

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.

Facebook Users Vet New Sources

Facebook's latest news feed update will include a prioritization of news sources rated as trustworthy by "a diverse and representative sample" of its users, the company's News Feed chief Adam Mosseri wrote in a recent blog post. Publications with lower scores could see a decrease in distribution while there will also be an emphasis on promoting local news. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, recently writing on the same subject said that prioritizing news from trusted publishers is part of Facebook’s broader effort to revamp the News Feed and “encourage meaningful social interactions with family and friends over passive consumption.”

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.

The Black Mirror Effect

Recently the term “Black Mirror effect” has been cropping up more and more in literature on digital safety, and if you are not already familiar with the term, as a digital safety savvy parent you might want to become so. Black Mirror is a British science fiction show that appears on Netflix that examines modern society, particularly with regard to the unanticipated consequences of new technologies. The “Black Mirror effect” seems to be that young people are beginning to question the role of technology in their lives, as are their parents, because even when technology seems to have been developed for good, someone is always trying to pervert it into something bad or highly unsavory. Of course what that boils down to is that we don’t have a technology problem, we have a human one.


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.

Smart Speakers Ownership Rapidly Rising

An Accenture study reveals more smart-speaker owners use their smartphones less for entertainment (64%), purchasing (58%) and information searches (56%), and instead rely on devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home for those purposes. The firm projects that by year's end, 40% of Americans will own a smart speaker. The question is will smart speaker manufacturers add an etiquette feature that some parents have asked for since children seem to be picking up on the idea that there is no need to add “please” to a request when talking to an electronic device? Parents have reported that this lack of awareness spills over into children’s relationships with humans!

Use of Recording Devices By Students in Schools in Question

The 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston is expected to take up a case regarding a Maine student's right to carry an audio-recording device in school. The student in question has autism and a neurological syndrome that affects his speech and he cannot talk to his parents about his school day so the family is fighting for the right for him to carry an “always on” recording device to ensure he is being properly treated during the school day. In other states, parents of special education students have secretly placed audio recorders on their children to expose abuse, which have led to firings or settlements. Opponents say though that this raises serious privacy concerns for other students and that it would actually be “disruptive and detrimental” to his education.


Especially now that every cell phone has a recording option, you may be wondering is it legal for a student to record a teacher? That may depend on whether you live in a one party or two party consent state. While federal law allows for recordings as long as one party to the conversation consents (known as "one-party consent"), several states have stricter recording laws. California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington all require every party to a conversation to consent to recording (known as "two-party consent"). Most states make illegal recordings a felony. For instance Florida's wiretap law makes illegal recordings a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. If you live in a one-party consent state, you (or your children) are probably OK recording a teacher or professor as long as you are present in the class, since you're a party to the conversation and by your action have given your consent to be recording. If you're in a two-party consent state, or are placing a secret recorder on your child, things may get a little trickier. Of course the easiest way to get around the issue may be to let everyone know you are recording, but as these parents in Maine are finding out even that may not satisfy everyone. If you or your children are thinking of doing any kind of recording at school or at college, be sure to check with the institution first.

Is Partying Going to Become a Thing of the Past?

Students who were born in 1995 and later -- known as iGen teens -- are spending less time partying than previous generations of students, data shows. And it is not just partying – college students, for example, are spending an hour less a day with their friends than previous generations.  Of course that means one less hour a day building social skills, negotiating relationships, and navigating emotions up close and personal. One possible reason is that teens are more connected than ever via social media. But what are they doing with all that extra time that they aren’t spending with friends? It isn’t social. Think screen time, including binge watching. Interested in more on this phenomenon? A new book entitled iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us by Jean M. Twenge takes up the topic.

Lawmakers Seek Mandatory Media-Literacy Lessons

Students in several states including Washington, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Mexico will be learning more about media literacy in 2018 as lawmakers have passed legislation to take steps to help address false content online. Lawmakers in several states -- including Arizona, Hawaii and New York -- are considering legislation on the matter. A study in 2016 by Stanford University researchers brought the issue into focus. It warned that students from middle school to college were “easily duped” and ill equipped to use reason with online information.

The Power of Technology – What is Like to Read with Dyslexia?

The power of technology has recently been used to make it possible for everyone to glimpse what it is like for many with dyslexia to try to read and write. Created by a friend of a dyslexia sufferer, the website recreates the effort of reading a paragraph with the condition. While dyslexia affects every person differently, the site is an interesting way to simulate the learning difference that touches the lives of up to 15% of the world’s population.