Managing Kids Tech At Any Age

How many gadgets and connected devices are currently wrapped under your tree or secreted away in some hiding spot far from prying eyes? You likely spent months researching, vetting, shopping, and budgeting for those treasures. But, how much time have you put into thinking about managing kids tech? 

I’ve been in this parenting game for a while now. When my oldest first started asking for tech gifts, I think an iPod shuffle topped his wish list. Yes, I’m THAT old. 

This year my youngest asked for a smartphone that costs more than a few car payments.  With two kids still at home and one in college all wanting tech that I’m responsible for researching, vetting, and budgeting for, managing my kids’ tech has become a big part of this parenting gig for my husband and me. 

Oddly enough there isn’t a really big difference between how the 20-year-old and the 12-year-old use technology. Yes, they all want the latest and greatest phone. Gaming is big, YouTube is bigger. Then there is school. While the conent is varied the platforms aren’t so much. 

My two middle schoolers are lucky to attend a school that has fully integrated tech using tools like Google classroom, Chromebooks, and a cutting-edge tech lab.  The college student takes a number of her labs online. We travel quite a bit so the tech comes along there. Then they’ve got their earned screentime. In our family technology is a part of just about everything we do. 

So, how do my husband and I manage kids technology when there is so much to manage? We have four rules. 

Rule 1: Talk About It 

As the saying goes… with great power comes great responsibility.  Talking to our kids about the responsibility of using tech is huge. We openly talk about how one should conduct themselves online. What any of us, child or not, does online, lives online. It is important that the kids know that. 

We do a have some disconnect when it comes to what is appropriate in our book and what they think they’re ready for. When those impasses come, I have been known to pull the parent card. Yes, parents are and should be the final authority. As I tell our kiddos; until you pay the bill I make the rules. 

Rule 2: Respect The Tech

Respect the tech, it’s kind of my tagline. Taglines are kind of my thing. I employ them as a means of getting my point across. Plus, they’ve got the added bonus of annoying the crap out of my kids.  It’s like that one ad that gets under your skin, you don’t forget it because it gets you! The goal with this particular tagline is that our kids respect not just the value of their devices but the privilege that they have in owning and using them. 

We’ve invested in insurance for each one of their devices. If they break one (like my 14-year-old who is on his 4th phone!) they have to help pay the deductible for getting that item repaired or replaced. They don’t call it paying respect for nothin’, my friends! 

Rule 3: Not Everyone Is Your Friend

Oh boy, that is a hard one. When I was a kid it was easier to know who your friends were. You went to school with them, hung out after school, spent time in their physical presence.

In this digital world, it isn’t easy to really know someone and apps like Mama Bear (which is installed on all of their devices) can’t do the job all by themselves. Part of managing kid’s tech these days means helping them to be savvy about who they meet online.

One of our biggest bones of contention is getting the kids to understand what YouTubers and Instagramers actually are -professional content creators. That’s not a bad thing, but we want the kids to know that content is curated. 

Most importantly though, we want them to know that we’re here for them. That they need to talk to us about their online lives because that is life too. This topic often brings us back to Rule 1. 

Rule 4: Unplug 

This rule is probably the hardest for me. I admittedly have a problem unplugging. For a while, I would tell myself that I needed my phone or DSLR along for the hike, trip, play, fill in the blank with whatever was going on that day because I was recording and chronicling our experiences as a family. What I was actually doing was missing out on them. My kids were behind the creation of this rule. They did it for and because of me. Of course, I now get to wield it over them as well.  I may have just won parenting right there.

Here is the thing, unplugging is vital for their mental and physical health. Being away from technology helps to develop social and problem-solving skills. Thinking about the long road trips my family took when I was a kid when all we had to do was talk to, play with, and yes, fight with each other, those are some of my best memories of my childhood. They helped shape so much of who I am.  I fear my kids may miss out on that. 

In the big picture, this rule may be the most important rule for managing kid’s tech… know when to take it away. 

As a brand partner of Verizon, through their VZParent initiative, I’m happy that I’ve learned that there are a ton of tools out there to help parents manage family technology across all age groups.  Learning about their unlimited data plans for families may have saved our home… hello, FOUR KIDS USING DATA! But the resources don’t stop at customizable data plans. 

Family Locator is a great tool.  The two kiddos we still have at home are involved in sports, spending time with friends and seem to never be where they say they’ll be when you agreed to be there to get them! This nifty Verizon feature allows literally see where they are on the map. It also helps us to schedule by reminding us where we need to be for all those activities that keep my husband and me constantly on the go. 

Our kids are older now. One is even fully grown… chronologically speaking. The days of wondering when they’re ready for a phone, what type of tech is good for their age range are behind us. But, Verizon Family has some great tools for helping parents with younger kids answer those big questions. With that in mind, I had to share this great video featuring the adorable kids of one of my fellow VZParents. If you have littles, you’ll relate to this!

If you have questions about managing kid’s tech, reach out. Leave a comment, search #VZParent on any social media platform. Let’s use tech to support each other because this parenting gig is tough and who couldn’t use some help? 

 

12 Days of Vacay: Off The Grid Getaways

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, maybe as my kids all made it past or into their teens, but somewhere along the line, I stopped wanting things as gifts. Maybe it has something to do with facing what it means to have an empty nest. Or perhaps the roots are in knowing that we have all the things we can possibly need. Either way, I find myself more and more wanting experiences above all else. That brings me to the idea of off the grid getaways. 

I’ll admit that a scant few years ago I couldn’t imagine the thought of staying anywhere where there wasn’t a good internet connection. Then I found myself in Jamacia at a magical oasis called Jake’s Treasure Beach. I was there by myself to write a piece on the food and culture of Jamaica, two things that often get overlooked or watered down by the plethora of all-inclusive resorts on the island. 

Without a reliable internet connection, and with no other people to entertain, I was able to truly immerse myself in this magical place of richness and contradiction. That trip sparked several more that involved little if any internet connection. Hikes into the hills and valleys of the Smokey Mountains. Quiet cabins in the woods. A serene farmhouse on the water in southern Maryland. Those trips, in turn, inspired research into what is available out there in off the grid getaways. Here are some that I long to explore! 

Don’t Call Me I’m in Alaska

Sheldon Chalet is so picturesque I feel like I could just walk into photos of the place and get lost forever. 10 miles from the summit of Denali, America’s highest mountain,  this stay is about as far away as far away gets. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Aurora season is in full glory – and will be through April 21. #ExperienceGrand #Aurora #glow Thanks to Dr. Steve Menaker for this fantastic photo!

A post shared by Sheldon Chalet (@sheldonchalet) on

Sand In My Hair, Don’t Care

The Sheyshells are a place I’ve always longed to be. Pristine beaches, crystal clear waters, greenery so lush as to hurt the eyes, it sounds like a tropical state of bliss. Then there are the Outer Islands. Remote, disconnected from it all, transformative in a way that only quiet can give. 

A small dot of sand in an azure expanse, sigh. Alphonse Island looks like something written into life by Lord Byron. 

photo credit alphonse-island.com

 

Closer To Home But So Far Away From It All

I first found this place when a friend of a friend mentioned it in a Facebook group. My first thought? Oh boy, someone converted a dang storage container into a “hotel” and now they’re charging people to stay there. Geez! 

Then I thought about it. About being just a short drive away from the hustle and bustle of DC life but so far away from it too. It isn’t about bespoke accommodation or having all the amenities that aren’t wired. It is about being with yourself. Being in nature. Letting yourself just be.  That’s kind of exactly what Getaway House is. 

Have you ever taken an off the grid getaway? Dish! I’d love to hear all about it and maybe even add it to this post. Funny thing to ask online for places to go to be off line, huh? 

 

 

12 Days of Vacays: Luxury Private Boating in Lanai, Hawaii

What do you get the person who has everything? Or the person who doesn’t really ever like anything you pick out.  Let’s face it, you could spend endless hours trying to hunt down the perfect gift and still end up striking out. My epic gifting fails were the inspiration for a new series of posts; 12 Days of Vacays. Because everyone wants one of those! 

12 Days of Vacays: Luxury Private Boating in Lanai, Hawaii 

Sure, Hawaii is going to make it onto just about any list of places people want to visit. But honestly, do you really want to elbow your way onto the same beach as every other person and their umbrella? I certainly don’t. 

Now, skipping across the waves onboard a 45’ high-speed luxury fishing boat captained by local … that I can get into! Did I mention that your base camp will be a Four Seasons resort that happens to be nestled on one of the last unspoiled islands in Hawaii? Yeah, that too. 

Four Seasons Resort Lanai is nearly as close to having your own private island as most of us will ever get. It also pretty much an adventure seekers dream. Ride horses, scuba dive, go off-roading, explore local lore, golf, mountain bike, or get on that boat! 

Here is what the Four Seasons folk have to say about their new pride and joy. 

The Lanai V is a 45-foot center-console, tunnel-hull boat designed and built by INSETTA Boatworks, a family-owned company located in Georgia known for marrying high-quality materials and stellar craftsmanship to create top-of-the-line boats. The design was intended to bridge the gap between smaller center-console boats and large sport-fish yachts for a more intimate experience that still delivers peak performance, safety and comfort. Cruising speed is
delivered by twin 370 Horsepower Yanmar Diesel Engines. 

All I’m really hearing is,… luxury private boating in Lanai, Hawaii under my tree. 

When you really think about it though, gifting something this memorable make sense. Experiences. Memories. Time. These are things we can’t wrap up but are the best of gifts. 

If you could pick any vacay to give or receive, where would you go and what would you do? 

 

 

Holiday Tech Gifts

When I was a kid the day the Sears & Roebuck Wish Book arrived in the post was nearly as magical as Christmas morning. My brothers and I would fight over who got it first. By the time November rolled around, that book was more marked up than a NYC subway station circa 1978. Toys. All the glorious toys!  Kids don’t want toys anymore though. At least mine don’t. Now it is all about holiday tech gifts. 

While I may wax nostalgic for the days of Barbie dream houses, sniffable Strawberry Shortcake dolls, and Shrinky Dinks I think my kids are onto something.  Holiday tech gifts certainly have more longevity than those pieces of plastic I burnt into my mom’s favorite cookie sheet. 

This year we have three teens and a grownup (chronologically, at least) to shop for. The fact that they’d rather have tech than toys these days actually makes the shopping a bit more simple. So does my brand partnership with Verizon as a member of their #VZParent program. It helps to know some experts, eh? 

So, what am I shopping for this year? Lucky for you, my offspring are in agreement that blogging is lame. This allows me to freely share the awesome I’ve found for them. 

Apple TV

Back in the day, my dad used to my dad used to make my brothers and I adjust the set-top “rabbit ears” on the tv to get a good picture. Streaming is how it’s done these days, folks. I know my oldest would love the 32GB, 4K awesomeness of Apple TV. With voice control by Siri, I also know that my grandson, who is expected to arrive this Spring, will never have to adjust an antenna. Heck, he’ll never even know what that is! 

Price = $179.99 with FREE shipping

JBL Link View

My youngest daughter is twelve this year and she has her first boy band crush. Ugh. Let me take a moment here to apologize to my parents for 1981 Duran Duran and my steadfast belief that John Taylor would fall in love with me instantly if only they’d fly me to London so we could meet. That said, they never had to deal with YouTube. 

Her band is on an infinite YouTube loop. I think she’ll love the 8–inch, high–definition touchscreen on the JBL Link View. She’ll probably dig the Chrome Cast feature and other bells and whistles. I KNOW she’ll love JBL’s signature stereo sound and bass. Me? Well, that’s another story. 

Price = $249.99 also with FREE shipping (I dig free)

Phones. Phones. ALL The Phones!

Would it be too much of a pun if I said getting your kids a phone, phoning it in? Yeah, I crack myself up. My kids? They crack phones up. My youngest son currently holds the family record for shortest time owning a phone before cracking the screen. THREE DAYS! 

So, I’ll be buying a phone or two. Right now the kids are all asking for the iPhone 10. I’m more into the Google Pixel. The camera on that thing is just sexy. I’ll likely end up with our tried and true Samsung Galaxy. I have the S9+ and it is awesome. 

I’d list a price but since there are tons of holiday tech gifts deals this time of year I’ll just say, shop around. 

Tablets

My oldest daughter is in college. She has also been a bookworm pretty much since birth. A new tablet in on her list and mine. That way she can pop it in her bag and head to class without lugging around a weighty laptop or tons of books. 

There are tons of cool tablets out there for everything from reading to gaming, streaming to actually studying 

VR Gear

Okay, it’s time to come clean. I buy VR gear for them but it’s actually for me. I LOVE me some time in virtual reality. I loathe roller coasters in real life but give me one with a VR headset on and I’m IN! I’ve used VR for everything from playing games to watching NetFlix, shopping to even planning trips. 

Though the price tags on some of the really cool stuff are quite a bit higher than the 5-buck Shortcake doll I got for Christmas, I feel like the kids will get more out of stuff like this. They’ll certainly last longer than the scent on that silly doll. 

 

 

 

 

Giving Tuesday & Tech

random acts of kindness there's an app for that

I first published this post back in 2015 when Giving Tuesday was in its early days. Today I was able to find over a dozen new organizations to give back to just by searing  #GivingTuesday on social media. I love it when we can come together as humans and put the tech that surrounds us every day to GOOD use. If you sport a charity and want to share, feel free to leave a comment. I will share those organizations on social media. Kindness matters.  

Kindness is the best investment. Think about it, how good do you feel right after you’ve done something – big or small-– for someone else? See, just thinking about it paid dividends in you feel good all over again. Right? Giving back with kindness is even easier thanks to tech. Check out these ways random acts of kindness apps, websites and tech tools. 

Walk The Dog

I love this one because it has so many layers. Walking your dog is good for you and them. With Walk for a Dog, Woof Trax is making it your walk good for dogs living in shelters too.

Whether it’s a walk around the block or that epic hike you’ve been gearing up for every walk counts. Download their app, and use it every time you grab for the leash, and Woof Trax donates to one of 6,000 shelters across the country!

Get Those Steps In

Sure, hitting your daily steps goal is great but it can do good for others too. Charity Miles partners with corporate sponsors to make those steps add up to cold hard cash for charity.  Just download the app, fill out your profile and get moving. Bikers earn up to 10¢ per mile; walkers and runners earn up to 25¢ per mile, and it all goes to the cause of your choosing from a long list of participating organizations.

So what charities can you help by getting in your daily workout? Organizations like; Habitat for Humanity, (red), Autism Speaks, Feeding America, Wounded Warrior Project, and lots more! 

 

Share A Meal

A meal has always been my favorite way to connect with others. Somehow feeding the belly, can also feed the soul. Though the Meal Sharing isn’t an app or charity, it does bring people together.

Go to the website, sign up and then search for meals being prepared by gifted home cooks. Find one that appeals to you, pay on the site and then show up to eat. Maybe bring along a gift for the host or ask if you can donate to a food bank in their area. 

Giving Tuesday

The UN Foundation has put kindness and giving back into the holiday season with their Giving Tuesday campaign. In a time where Cyber Monday and Black Friday dominate the season,

#GivingTuesday, is a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 1, 2015, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.

It’s a simple idea and a powerful thing to do. Gather your family, community, coworkers and come together to give something more.  It can be something as simple as donating to your local homeless shelter or as big as hosting a day of community service where you get everyone involved. Tech plays a big role in Giving Tuesday, by connecting people, sharing plans, and getting others involved.

A rising tide floats all boats.

 

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