Posts Tagged ‘ kids and technology ’

The Downside of Free Hotel Wi-Fi

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

Many hotel chains (and practically all of the budget brands) no longer charge for Wi-Fi. Last month, Hyatt started giving the service to all guests, while Marriott and the Starwood brands (like Westin and Sheraton) provide it at no cost to loyalty club members who book through the hotel website or via phone. When I first read this news, I thought that it’s about time. Paying $15 a day to connect definitely felt like a rip-off.

But as I think more about it, I worry that this new freebie will make it harder for families to unplug when they’re on vacation. My family, for one, is terrible at it. Like 38 percent of Americans, according to one survey, my husband and I usually check our work emails when we’re away. Watching us, I suppose, our daughter has gotten in the habit of asking for the Wi-Fi password at check-in so she can hook up her iPod. Sometimes, she’s texting a friend before we even open the door to the room. On our last trip, at a hotel with a free connection, I realized how pathetic it was when all three of us were on our devices instead of watching the sunset!

When hotels charged to connect, I could say, “We’re not buying that” and my daughter didn’t complain. I wasn’t on my phone as much because I didn’t want to wipe out my monthly data plan in a single weekend. Now that Wi-Fi is free, it’s up to us to set limits—and an example. It’s going to be hard. Some friends have told me that they allow kids to use their devices only during a certain time, such as in the morning while they’re waiting for the rest of the family to be ready. Others restrict how their device can be used, only permitting it to take pictures or video, for instance.

Of course, I’ll need more self-control too! I’ve heard that some people delete their work email app (and their social media apps too) from their phones so they aren’t as tempted to check in. Another friend thinks it’s all in the timing. She starts family trips on a Saturday so by the time Monday rolls around, her mind is already in “vacation mode” and the temptation to find out what’s happening at the office isn’t there. “The last vacation I started on Monday wasn’t relaxing at all  because I got sucked into what was going on at work,” she told me. Sigh.

Do you totally unplug on your trip? Do you let the kids use their devices on vacay? Tell me in the comments.

Karen Cicero is contributing travel editor at Parents magazine. Her only “unplugged” trip in the last several years was a Disney Cruise—because connecting at sea cost a small fortune. (Watch the video below for the fun activities on board.) Follow her on Twitter @karencicero. 

Why We Loved Our Disney Cruise
Why We Loved Our Disney Cruise
Why We Loved Our Disney Cruise


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How Twitter Can Help Shy and Introverted Kids in Class

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Twitter bird and hashtag symbol on black chalkboardHere’s the one thing my parents heard every year at Parent Teacher Conferences: “Your daughter has really good grades, but she doesn’t speak up enough. She has to learn to speak up because it’ll be important for her later in life.” But as much as I wanted to, I was too shy and introverted to speak up, and every time that I did, I would suddenly feel my stomach tightening, my heart racing, my arm shaking as I raised it, and my lips parting without being able to form words in a cohesive, coherent way. My mind always went too fast for my mouth to process. And even after I spoke, it would take me a good 10-15 minutes to calm down again. I just hated everyone’s eyes on me and the silence in the room as everyone listened, tuning in to every nuance of my shaking voice. It was just easier not to say anything!

Because I still remember how I felt, I was fascinated by Amanda Wynter’s piece in The Atlantic, “Bringing Twitter to the Classroom.” Chris Bronke, a high school English teacher in Downers Grove, Illinois, has developed a brilliant way to get his freshmen class to participate in class discussions — by having them on Twitter. While Bronke isn’t the first teacher to use social media to improve classroom learning, he is one of the few making progress in a positive and effective way. By relying on a social media platform the kids were already using, Bronke has encouraged his students to post photos, quotes, quick thoughts, questions about the reading. Hashtags, of course, keep the discussions contained in one thread. Along the way, kids “favorite” each others’ tweets and connect more with each other any time, anywhere, and from any device (mobile, tablet, or desktop). Bronke found that discussions were rich and robust, and that kids were more engaged with the reading and with each other.

Although Wynter’s piece didn’t mention whether Bronke noticed more participation from shy and introverted kids online, I can only imagine this has been the case. There’s no doubt technology helps people develop alter egos that allows them to voice things in a way they aren’t able to in person — just check out these New York Times and Washington Post articles on how shy and introverted kids tend to be more engaged and “extroverted” online. There is something liberating about being able to process and write your thoughts and feelings — without the pressure of eyes and ears — and vet them before sharing them with the world. For shy and introverted kids who struggle with speaking in class and having the spotlight on them, but who need to speak up because their grades depend on it (site note: I always hated this!), participating in online discussions may be a good outlet. These kids are more likely to blossom online and share their ideas and opinions without fearing how they look and sound, and how others are perceiving and reacting to them. Susan Cain, the author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” even interviewed a teacher in Canada who noted the benefits social media in classrooms for shy and introverted kids.

Of course, using Twitter (or any other social media) to promote discussions certainly has its potential problems — online interaction is still no substitute for real-world conversations, and over-reliance on technology can negatively affect face-to-face social skills (like being unable to identify social cues). As much as shy and introverted kids may be more vocal online, they also need to develop public speaking skills because “real world” situations beyond school necessitate in-person interactions. I know that if I was given the ability to participate on Twitter during school, I would have loved  having another outlet to make my voice heard. But I’m also glad that I didn’t grow up with that technology — I may have relied on it too much and hid behind it. Without it, I had to force myself to feel at ease with talking in front of people — even if it took years, and is still something I’m still working on.

Eventually, kids will need to make speeches and presentations, and give and go on interviews, so it’s always easier to sharpen and refine oratory skills (or any type of skills!) from a young age. Of course, it’s possible that being able to “talk” freely and being “favorited” on Twitter will boost kids’ confidence and make them comfortable talking in person. But teachers will need to make sure they strike a balance with having online and roundtable classroom discussions, and they would also need to make sure that online participation doesn’t become a crutch as the only way to earn good grades. After all, developing well-rounded communication skills will help kids throughout life in all situations (with family and friends), beyond the classroom. Ultimately, this would be the true mark of learning — and even success.

Share your thoughts: Do you believe social media has a place in the classroom?

3 Things to Raise a Successful Student
3 Things to Raise a Successful Student
3 Things to Raise a Successful Student

Image: Twitter bird and hashtag symbol on black chalkboard via Shutterstock

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Made With Code: Why Teaching Code to Young Girls Matters

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Made With Code Google Mindy KalingIf hearing the word “coding” conjures up images of men sitting in the semi-dark, staring at computer screens filled with an endless jumble of  numbers, letters, and symbols, Google’s on a mission to dispel the stereotype that coding is boring, difficult, and just for men.

On Thursday, Google debuted Made W/ Code (, a site and program dedicated to inspiring young girls to learn code by connecting them with other like-minded female coders and letting them create colorful projects like animated avatars, short soundtracks, and customized bracelets (create one using a 3D printer here!) — all for free.

Currently, in the U.S., only 12 percent of computer science graduates are women and only 1 in 5 programmers are female. Google itself admitted only 17% of their programmers are female! With such low numbers, the site aims to show girls how fun coding can be in order to reduce the gender gap in the computer science and tech industry.

We attended the Made W/ Code launch event, which was hosted by Mindy Kaling (who got involved because of her best friend’s app company) and featured speakers like Chelsea Clinton, Megan Smith (VP of Google[x]), Pixar’s Danielle Feinberg (who worked on “Brave” and “Finding Nemo”), iLuminate’s Miral Kotb (who created a dance troupe fusing moves with LED costumes), and UNICEF’s Erika Kochi (who created a mobile system to track birth rates and diseases in poor countries). Some of the women talked about learning to write code as young as 7- and 9-years-old, which sparked a lifelong interest. In the audience were teen girls from local schools who were also interested in and involved in coding. By exciting and encouraging girls at a young age, Google hopes to reshape the perception of the tech industry and improve diversity so that a new generation will dare to do extraordinary things — with code, of course.

Made with Code Google bracelets Shapeways

Here are some of our editors’ thoughts after attending the Made W/ Code launch:

Allison Berry, Editorial Assistant, Parents magazine
I couldn’t get over how empowering each speaker was! All my life my engineer dad has been telling me that I should get into STEM, but it just never clicked with me. After listening to brilliant women like Pixar’s Danielle Feinberg and iLuminate’s Miral Kotb talk about how coding brought them to their dream careers, my interest was definitely piqued. They did a wonderful job of explaining not only how coding is an essential part of their jobs, but also how it plays into our everyday life. Now I’m curious to know what I could do if I knew how to code!

Chrisanne Grise, Editorial Assistant, Parents magazine 
For me, the best part of the event was being surrounded by so much girl power. It was impossible not to be moved by the incredible women who have used code to make such an impact on the world. I was particularly inspired by Danielle Feinberg, the Director of Photography for Lighting at Pixar. She spoke to the teen girls about her own high school experience as the only girl in an engineering class. (Naturally, she showed up all the boys!) It was a funny story, but also a great reminder to be brave and stay true to your passions, no matter what anyone else thinks. At the end of the night, I felt empowered and ready to take on the world — and wondering if I should have studied computer science instead of journalism!

Sherry Huang, Features Editor,
When I was in college, I took a computer science 101-type class that introduced me to the world of binary numbers, basic HTML coding, javascript, CSS, and all these other scary-sounding acronyms. Long story short, I did not do well in that class. Ironically, in spite of that, I landed a web editorial job after college that required me to use basic HTML to code text and build tables in stories. So…somehow, the class I hated became the class that helped “launch” my career. At the Code event, I learned that early exposure, encouragement (from parents and teachers), and knowledge of potential career options were important to helping girls pursue a field dominated by men. Even though I learned coding “late” in life, I wish I had known super women like Feinberg, Kotb, and Kochi to help dispel the confusion and disappointment I felt. But I’m truly excited that these women are paving the way for younger women to pursue their coding dreams.

Watch a video below to learn more about Made W/ Code:

Photos by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic for Google

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Expert Advice for Parenting in the Digital Age

Friday, March 28th, 2014

When Fisher Price introduced its iPad Baby Bouncy Seat late last year, many parents (and concerned citizens like myself) wondered, have we gone too far? But not long before companies were dangling iPads above babies’ heads, parents were creating twitter handles for their newborns and 10-year-olds were posting “duck-face” selfies on Instagram. With all of this digital-age craziness going on, how does a parent know where to draw the line?

Earlier this week, New York Public Radio rounded up a panel of experts for a program called Parenting in the Digital Age in hopes of advising confused parents on what’s acceptable when it comes to mixing kids and technology.  Read on for their advice for your family.

For babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. “There’s no evidence that screen time is helpful for babies,” says Dr. Susan Linn, the co-founder of The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which has challenged companies like Disney for their “educational” Baby Einstein videos and Fisher Price for the iPad Bouncy Seat. Linn says kids under three should avoid all screen time and for children aged three to five, it’s best to stay below the two hour limit suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

At the same time, Joel Levin, the founder of MinecraftEdu, a games-based education nonprofit and father of two girls under nine, thinks that technology can be valuable to kids. His oldest daughter started playing games on the computer when she was five. “When I played with my daughter, I was amazed with the thought processes she had. She learned to spell her first word using the game,” he says. However, he adds, it’s important that you don’t turn technology into a babysitter and, although it can be difficult, don’t use it as a crutch when the kids are bored or fussy.

For elementary school kids and tweens. Wendy Kelly, a third grade teacher at the low-tech Rudolf Steiner School in New York City, recommends the same rules that her school enforces: no technology before fourth grade. Kelly admits that this can be a challenge but suggests that parents talk their child’s friends about setting the same screen time boundaries. “What one child does has an effect on everyone so we ask parents to encourage crafts and books instead of movies, television, and video games.” Whether you introduce your kids to technology in kindergarten or wait until fourth grade like Kelly, all the panelists agreed that you have to monitor the content kids are consuming. “If you feel your kid is watching something that is inappropriate, turn it into a teachable moment and have a discussion about why she shouldn’t be watching it before you take it away,” says Levin. He also says it’s helpful to watch your kids play with their devices to find out why they’re drawn to certain games so you can encourage those certain skills when screen time is over. Lastly, try to carve out time for your kids with your family outside of screen time. It’s just as important as setting a time limit for technology, says Linn.

No matter how strict your screen time policy, one thing that is for certain: is that kids are around surrounded by more technology than ever before. It’s up to parents to make sure they instill the values and self-control needed to navigate the new digital world.

Click here for tech-free craft and activity ideas. 

Digital Devices and Children
Digital Devices and Children
Digital Devices and Children

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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