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Study: Screen Time Can Slow Language Skills

With kids doing classwork online due to prolonged school closures during the coronavirus pandemic, it is good for parents to remember to vary what they are doing by not only adding some physical activity to screen time, but also to remember engaging in just plain old conversation. Adding that language component is extra important in these times of reliance on digital learning and entertainment, JAMA Pediatrics points out in a recent article. They cite that while high-quality educational screen content is associated with better language skills, more overall time on screens each day, regardless of its quality, is linked to lower language development. Sheri Madigan, lead researcher from the University of Calgary in Canada, says school leaders and educators can help parents develop plans to keep screen time in check.


Ways to Stay Connected During Social Distancing

While we are all required to stay physically apart during the COVID-19 pandemic, our physical and mental health and the success of our organizations will rely on seeking out emotional and relational connections during this time, write Michael Lee Stallard and Katharine P. Stallard. They offer 12 steps to avoid loneliness while social distancing, such as engaging in creative group activities, using online resources to learn something new, and seeking to serve others – things that apply to both adults and children.


Accessing Free Kids’ Books Online

Have your kids read and reread every book in your house while practicing social distancing?  Check out this list of places to access free audio books that can be listened to on a computer, laptop, phone or tablet; digital books that can be read on any of the same devices; and even pdfs of books that can be printed out and stapled together. For the time schools are closed, Audible is offering a collection of stories kids can instantly stream including titles across six different languages, “that will help them continue dreaming, learning, and just being kids”. All stories are free to stream a desktop, laptop, phone or tablet. You can also check YouTube to watch videos of books being read aloud, such as the book version of the Disney Pixar film Coco, for example.


Social Interaction Virtually

Social distancing is tough on everyone, kids included, but there are quite a few ways you could help your kids interact with others virtually. Using Facetime (on an Apple product) or programs like Skype or Zoom, you can set up virtual play dates with your kids' friends or family members. Try a setting up a show and tell, completing a LEGO challenge, drawing pictures for others, or even playing board games (there are lots of board games that have free or inexpensive virtual versions). Check out some of these ideas kids can use to keep each other busy, or to cheer up a grandparent or other family member who is in isolation.


Resources to Combat Misinformation for Families During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The coronavirus virus pandemic is offering a whole new set of challenges for parents and kids who want to be sure they are vetting and evaluating the media frenzy surrounding the outbreak. To this end, Common Sense Media is offering a set of Resources for Families During the Coronavirus Pandemic that can be very useful including how to explain the news to kids, apps to help with mental health and stress and how to teach kids to be media savvy.


Is Technology Harming Parent-Teacher-Student Communications?

Despite having more tools than ever to communicate with each other, Jeremy Hyler, a middle-school English teacher in Michigan, says he notices that communication breakdowns among educators, parents and students are increasingly common. In this article, he shares that technology-based communication, where tone can often be misinterpreted, may be at the root of the problem. He also discusses a common problem known as “keyboard courage.” “Keyboard courage” he says is the courage to say things to individuals that you would not normally say if they were standing in front of you. Some of Hyler’s tips to combat miscommunication when using technology include reading a potential post out loud to a friend or family member to gauge its tone, or writing your response in a word processing document first. His biggest advice? Put your digital device down and talk with the person face-to-face (or at least do that when the current health crisis is over).


Major Tech Firms Working on Stopping Corona Virus Misinformation

U.S. technology companies, including Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and Twitter, are working together to quell misinformation about the coronavirus on their platforms using artificial intelligence. With workforces shifting out of their offices, some operations are forced to change as well – including content moderation. For many of these social platforms, there is an increase in using automated enforcement systems to detect violations. The companies, which also include LinkedIn, Reddit, and YouTube, said they were working in coordination with government healthcare agencies around the world to share critical updates about the virus, but don’t be surprised if a perfectly innocent post of yours gets caught up in this web.


Age Verification on Social Media

Why is thirteen the magic number when comes to age restrictions on social media? Is it the age on which most experts and parents agree that young teens are definitely mature enough for social media? Nope.Thirteen is actually the age stated by the federal government under the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) at which companies can start collecting personal information about kids without parental or a guardian’s permission. And this is why kids under thirteen are not “allowed” to join social media sites – because companies don’t want to get caught collecting information on kids under thirteen. It is not a safety precaution. It is about privacy and, even more important, the fines imposed by the federal government - $40,00 for every violation of evidence of an underage user. Thankfully this age “barrier” also has had the unintended side effect of “discouraging” kids from signing up for social media until they are thirteen - generally, a mostly positive consequence.

So, how do sites and apps verify a user’s age? It varies, but mainly they rely on an honor system. Asking for the user’s age is called an age gate, and some sites merely ask for an age and others ask for an age and a birthdate, claiming that only users will be able to see the age and birth info. Facebook and Instagram do have moderators that lock the accounts of any users they stumble across that they suspect are under 13 (It is amazing how many kids brag about how they have ‘beat’ the system). Users must upload government-issued proof of age to regain control of their account. Facebook and Instagram are also working on a verification system requiring Facebook and Instagram birthdates to match, but it is a far from perfect system and kids know that there is very little consequence to getting caught being an underage user.

What should you do when your child comes home and asks to be on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat because all her friends are on social media? Ultimately, the decision is up to you. But if, knowing the maturity level of your child, you do allow your less than thirteen year old to go onto a social media site such as Facebook, there are some things you should keep in mind. First, conspiring with kids to lie about their age so that they can join a social media site not only equates to you lying as well, but also admits to your child that sometimes it is ok to lie. Second, if you do decide to allow your child to have a profile on such a site, you should monitor her activities very closely and be sure you friend her and have access to her email account. There are many pros to using social media for kids, but there are cons as well, and you need to make sure you and your kids keep talking about what they are doing and seeing online. The Common Sense Media site and this blog are good resources for how to help your child use social media wisely at any age.


Social Media and Gaming: The New Frontier

New research from Kantar reveals that while Generation Z (those with birthdates between the mid 1990s and mid 2010s) is more active on social media than any other age group, their favorite apps aren’t YouTube, Facebook, SnapChat or TikTok. Kids in this generation are most at home in the private and creative world of video games. Nearly 90% of them are gamers (compared to 59% of the total population) and are finding social communities within games such as "Fortnite." Kantar's Michelle Brisson says, "They are just changing the way social media works for them, participating in smaller, niche ecosystems."


A Technology Company Coalition and Senate Bill Aim at Online Child Abuse

A coalition of Internet companies and social media giants -- Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Roblox, Twitter and Snap -- is backing a set of 11 principles put forth by the US, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand to fight the spread of online child exploitation. Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of US senators has introduced the EARN IT Act, which would allow the government to strip away tech companies' legal immunities for what their users post if the companies fail to crack down on online child sexual abuse.


Instagram’s Restrict Mode – A Way to Block Bullies

If you are not already aware of it, Instagram has a “Restrict” option that givers users control over what comments their followers see on each of their posts. Instagram instituted the option after it was found that young people are reluctant to block, unfollow, or report a bully because it could escalate the situation, especially if they interact with their bully in real life. With this tool, a bully will still be able to see their own comment on their target’s post, but other Instagrammers won't know the comment exists. By restricting a bully, the user is in full control over mean comments while keeping a bully unaware that others are not seeing their taunts.

How can users take advantage of this feature? To restrict comments from a certain account, users should first find a comment that was left on any of their photos. If you swipe left over the comment, a "restrict" option will appear. The person you restrict will not receive a notification they've been silenced. Instead, they'll be able to continue posting their nasty comments to an audience of only themselves.

Other social media platforms are making similar changes. Twitter introduced a feature called "hide replies," which is similar to the Instagram "Restrict" idea, but with one main difference. When a Twitter user hides replies, they are still accessible to the public through a drop-down menu that allows any user to see what hidden comments were left in the thread.


Tip Lines Flag Bullying and More

Many schools are using anonymous safety tip lines for more than just gun violence prevention. The pipeline to school administrators is now addressing bullying, drug use and suicide risk among students, according to a new report that surveyed 1,226 principals nationwide. Of these respondents, 66% believed tip lines allowed their schools to respond more effectively to bullying.


Trying To Boost Social Media Engagement?

Perhaps you have a young entrepreneur or an aspiring social media influencer on your hands that needs some advice? Sutherland Weston has compiled an infographic that outlines the best lengths for posts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube for maximum engagement. Sutherland Weston also notes that combining text with visuals such as photos, GIFs or videos can boost engagement by 650%.


Digital Resource for Finding Books – 2020 “What Kids Are Reading List”

Mary Brown, a reading intervention specialist in Ohio, says a great resource for finding books for kids is the "What Kids Are Reading" report, an annual listing of the most-read books sorted by topic, reading level and state. She says the list is especially helpful for finding nonfiction books that resonate with students and help build vocabulary.


Twitter Backs Bullied Teen Boy's Instagram Book Reviews

Cyberbullying is terrible, but sometimes kids figure out how to get the world to help. That was the case in England when Callum Manning’s older sister tweeted about how unfair it was that her 13- year old brother was being cyberbullied because of his Instagram account reviewing books he liked. Her tweet went viral attracting more than 185,000 likes and over 24,000 retweets. Twitter users responded by making Callum's Instagram follower count surge to 252,000 followers from just 40 – all in three days, making a statement about the community’s disapproval of the bullying. Publishers, authors and book lovers are now seeking his reviews.


Should Users Be Responsible for Device Security?

Security and ease of use of digital devices are often positioned as being diametrically opposed, with tech companies saying they can’t implement more security if users keep demanding ease of use. But it doesn’t have to be like that, writes Rania Molla in a commentary in Vox. There will always be some trade-offs between ease of use and security, he argues, but none of that should prevent tech companies from aiming for a reasonable balance and meeting basic standards instead of blaming users for security breaches. Molla suggests that companies are beginning to move in the right direction with technologies such as Apple's Face ID and Google's pop-up alerts on phones for two-factor authentication.


The Benefits of Unplugging

The first Friday of March every year is the National Day of Unplugging (this year from sundown March 6 to sundown March 7). It is a chance to carve out time to relax, reflect, be active, be outdoors and connect with loved ones by “unplugging” from your digital devices. You may even find the desire to unplug and recharge more often. The scientifically proven merits of unplugging can be enjoyed any time. Choose a specific period of the day to intentionally power-down – you could try the first hour of the day, or the last… or even lunch, dinner, or the hours just before your kids go to bed. The specific time of the day is not important. What is important is the discipline of learning when and how to power-down. Choose something that works for your family and lifestyle and stick to it.

Some benefits found from unplugging:

  • Students that participated in a research study say that unplugging for 24 hours upped their productivity, helped them stay focused, and made them unexpectedly aware of aspects of their life to which they had become oblivious (like face to face interactions). Participants in other similar studies talk about how they felt they had an improved quality of life – more time with friends, more outdoor and exercise time, and even cooking more often and enjoying healthier food.
  • Unplugging can help you sleep better. Being woken up by notifications and alerts on news, random memes, and funny tweets is likely not doing much for your sleep patterns. You also should give those work emails a rest, because without recharging it is more likely you will make snap judgments or worse. Some of the most recent research also shows that for adolescents, sleep quality was negatively influenced by mobile phone use in general and social media use in particular.  Other research suggests that the blue light from the screens in our computers and phones also makes it difficult for our bodies to fall asleep, implying that we should disconnect before bed, rather than falling asleep while staring at our laptops and phones.
  • Multiple studies have shown that unplugging from technology might benefit your in-person communication and interpersonal relationships because it encourages you to communicate outside of the screen- and text-based medium. While technology makes communication super fast and convenient, it also removes body language, tone, and other things that help us understand one another and form bonds. Adolescents, in particular, need practice in reading and interpreting body language - something social media can’t help with, and in fact, often hinders. Unplugging can also mitigate FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) syndrome that so many adolescents suffer from.

Smithsonian Shares 2.8 Million Awesome Images

If your child needs image resources for a project, report or display, the Smithsonian has released 2.8 million high-resolution two- and three-dimensional images from across its collections onto an open access online platform for patrons to peruse and download free of charge. Featuring data and material from all 19 Smithsonian museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives and the National Zoo, the new digital depot encourages the public to not just view its contents, but use, reuse and transform them into just about anything they choose—be it a postcard, a homework project title page, or a backdrop for a diorama, and includes unique resources such as how to make a collagasarus.


Helping Stop Fake News About the COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Misinformation and fake news has ramped up as information about COVID-19 continues to spread. An Australian newspaper article discusses three ways you can help your kids think critically about the news. It reminds parents to help kids identify reliable news sources, a rather standard approach, but goes further by exploring how in light of this crisis some media may exploit emotions. The article also suggests parents help their kids be on the lookout for stories that may present certain people in a discriminating way. An added bonus is a link to a short sci-fi drama that can help kids aged 12 and older recognize media bias.



Brevity is the Key with Emails

Kids don’t send many emails these days and rely instead on texting, so even more of a reason to share some tips about emailing with them. The key? Brevity. What was once considered rude in letter format is now proper etiquette when writing an email. Here’s more:

  • People are burdened with email. Help relieve their burden by keeping your message concise and clear. Brevity in an email shows respect for your reader’s time.
  • Don’t bother with the niceties like asking “how are you” unless you have a real reason.
  • If you need a yes-or-no answer, make sure you are asking a yes-or-no question
  • If you need to set up a meeting, don’t just say you need to set up a meeting; suggest a time and place.
  • Shoot for five sentences or less.
  • Keep your subject line short. It will likely be read on a mobile device so six words max. Never leave the subject line blank. That’s rude. And never put the whole message in a subject line; that’s a text message.