Category Archives: Tech

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? 

 

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.

 

Back To School Tech: Do Your Kids Really Need It?

Gone are the days of Pee Chee folders and rad book covers of our youth, my friends.  Our kids need back to school tech.  And you do too. Now that we have that question answered, let’s talk about the why what and how much with a little help from Verizon, my brand partner for this post. 

I can clearly remember the first year that tech became part of our back-to-school shopping list. That year I had kids in high school, middle school, elementary and preschool. Looking back, I’m sort of surprised I made it through that year. The pickup lines alone should have done me in.  

It started with cell phones for the older kids. Soon though the middle h showed a penchant for art and a teacher told us we should consider a digital sketchpad.  We made that purchase and never regretted it. As the kids started to travel, find their love of reading, started to become explorers, tech came along for the ride. 

This summer Verizon asked me to join them at their Baltimore destination store to host a discussion for parents that focused on back-to-school tech.  The best part? I got to talk about the products I love most of all and how they help us manage school, sports, travel and family time. 

Since you couldn’t be there, I thought I’d share my top four picks and why I love them so. 

Top 5 Picks for  Back To School Tech 

Google Home (mini)

If you’ve ever gone hoarse from hollering at your kids to get to the dinner table, found them playing a game rather than doing research on the laptop, or had family arguments about the atomic weight of slime, this is the gadget you need. It’s sort of an all-in-one family helper. 

Kids can google topics without jumping on a device that may distract them from the work that needs to be done. It works as an intercom system and media player in your home. And, if you were the type of parent who might want to just drop in on the sly to see what they’re up to in their room, you can do that too. Not that I do… nope, not me.  

Samsung Gear VR 

I. Am. Obsessed. With. This. It started out as my own personal Netflix home theater. Then it became a fun way to laugh at people as they tried to play AR games that had zombies chasing them. Then things changed. 

The youngest came home with an assignment on the galaxy. After having to paint foam balls to look like planets, three times before her, I just couldn’t get excited about doing this again. We were fiddling around with our VR and found an app that allowed you to play around in space. This changed everything! The assignment went from boring and repetitive, to immersive and engaging. 

Since then, we’ve taken a ride through the human body to see how platelets and antibodies work. Done a report on glaciers after zooming across, around and THROUGH one. I honestly feel like AR is the future of learning and these types of gadgets will soon become back to school tech must-haves. 

Nest Home Camera

Our oldest is a Marine and traverses about the planet doing hero stuff. The next one down is 19 and a continent away at college. But, we still have two at home, even when we aren’t home with them. The Nest Home Camera gives me so much peace of mind and lets me almost be there, even when I can’t. 

The Nest is more than a nanny cam. It is a two-way communicator. When the kids get home they walk up to the Nest, setting off an alert on my phone. I can then pop in and ask them how their day was. We chat, they show me their classwork or the dog. They like to put the dog up to the Nest and see him look around frantically trying to figure out how mom got in that tiny box. 

Nest does double duty as a home safety device too. Oh, and I can also drop in to see what they are doing when they aren’t looking for. Not that I do that either… nope, not me. 

ASUS ZenPad Z8s 

They want an iPad, you want to pay the mortgage. The ASUS ZenPad tablet is the compromise. It has what they need, fast processing, great connectivity, a plethora of available apps. Paying less than $300 for it will make you feel like you got the gold star. 

Verizon Smart Family

Smart tech can be the tool that helps bring your family closer together. In a time where we are worried about how healthy it is to be too connected when we face the argument of how much screen time is too much, Verizon Smart Family can be that tool for you. 

I love it because;

  • I can set up different content filters for each person in our family
  • Setting turn-off times for the wifi means I don’t have to keep changing (and forgetting) the password to be sure that the kids aren’t on their devices past bedtime
  • I always know where my kids’ devices are with location tracking… find the device you typically find the kid, right? 

Though I must confess I miss some of the simplicity of my back to school days, I’m also really into all the cool ways technology is transforming the learning experience of my kids. That said… 

Also… Pee Chee folders forever! 

 

Turkey Tech: Apps for Thanksgiving Planning

Believe it or not, we blinked and the holidays snuck up on us. If you’re like me, you may have found yourself in a daze wondering how this happened and just how you’re going to get everything done in the next five days or so. Fear not my friends all you need is a little turkey tech! 

Thanksgiving planning (say it with me) … there is an app for that! In fact, there is more than one way to use technology to help get the turkey and all it’s trimmings on the table. 

photo credit: foodista
photo credit: foodista
Bon Appétit Manual

Sick of that tired old green bean casserole? Not sure when you should start the stuffing? Looking to liven up the turkey day lineup? This is an app you’ll want to check out.

Condé Nast has updated their popular (free) app – Bon Appétit Manual –  that helps take some of the mystery out of what to cook and when to cook it. It’s also packed with ideas that will put an end to boring, bland and overcooked dishes.

Butterball Cookbook Plus

Planning, prep, thawing, cooking… this app has it all covered. Makes total sense since Butterball is pretty much synonymous with Thanksgiving dinner. 

Ah, but the Butterball Cookbook Plus app comes with more than just Thanksgiving day guidance. Want to know what to do with those leftovers? Is it worth it to snag two birds while their cheap and cook one later? Let their everyday recipes be your guide. They’ve even got options for turkey snacks. Sweet tryptophan daydreams, Batman!

Hello Vino

Because… hello, you can’t forget the vino. How many times have you found yourself wondering what wine to bring as a hostess gift? Or better yet what to serve to your guests?  

Hello Vino is the app that takes care of all that. It also helps you shop within your budget while hopefully helping you avoid the disappointment of getting stuck with an expensive and crappy wine, for which no thanks will be given. 

Blogs… Yep, Go Old School 

Remember way back in the day (like five years ago) before you’d just mindlessly pin things that you’d never actually read? Don’t get me wrong, I love some Pinterest. Let’s be honest here though it’s become a bit of a shiny object thing over there. 

See It. OOOH, like that! Pin it. Never actually find out what the post it links out to even is. Gah! 

This holiday let us give thanks for blogs and bloggers out there who slave away in the kitchen, perfectly pose their food, snap mouthwateringly awesome images and actually share their recipe for YUM with us! 

Thirty Thanksgiving Side Dishes from A Cork, Fork and Passport is a roundup of drool-inducing inspiration from around the blogosphere that pretty much wraps up ALL you need for the perfect meal of thanks, except for the bird. Julie’s very own Au Gratin Brussels Sprouts will change your life. 

No stress Thanksgiving bird? Inconceivable! Or maybe not. This recipe for Easy Garlic and Herb Roast Turkey from NeighborFood could put the makers of Zoloft out of business.

 Liza at (a)Musing Foodie is a muse of mine (see what I did there?) From weeknight make-it-easy dinners to the center of your holiday table, she’ll keep you hungry.  This year we’ll be heading to The Big Easy for a non-traditional holiday. So last week I made her roast turkey recipe using a small bird and little fuss. 

Oh. My. Yum. 

Top off that turkey and side dish fuss with a sweet and happy ending from THE Garlic Girl. Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Icing for me, yes. You’ll need to find something for you because I’m not sharing! 

No matter whether your turkey day is high tech or no tech, remember that gratitude is something that requires no app. Happy Thanksgiving Nuggetiers! 

Disclosure: As a member of a very cool team of influencers for Verizon Wireless I sometimes receive compensation, cool gadgets to test drive, or get attend special events. All opinions entirely my own, based on my experiences, because you deserve nothing less!