Striking a Balance for Kids of the Digital Age

Sesame Workshop

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I read about a survey and study presented this week by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop called Families Matter: Designing Media for a Digital Age. What I got out of it is that a lot of parents are just like me when it comes to teaching, protecting and entertaining our children today.

Here’s what the center’s executive director Michael Levine wrote about the nationwide study of 800 parents of 3- to 10-year-olds:

(The study) documents how most families are in a “transition period,” one in which parents recognize the importance of technology in their children’s learning and future success, but don’t always grant their kids access to the newer forms of media transforming their own adult lives.

The report profiles how parents’ personal experiences with media are one of the key factors shaping the approaches they take in guiding their children’s media consumption. …Of parents surveyed, 57% recognize that digital media presents ways for children to converse and connect with friends and family, but two-thirds of parents restrict their children from chatting online and visiting social networking sites.

So, yeah, I agree with those two-thirds. Three- to 10-year-olds don’t need Facebook accounts on which to chat with Grandma. That doesn’t seem odd to me.

Here’s where it does get tricky for me: Moshi Monsters. Basically a social networking and computer game site for kids, it hit 50 million users this week. Rose Red is one of them. We talk a lot about proper on-line behavior and avoiding creeps. She got asked on the site, “What’s your real name?” She responded correctly, “I can’t tell you that.” Then she told me about it and my creep alert went up and we reported that person. Maybe it was some other 10-year-old just being friendly, but maybe it wasn’t.

Another place that makes me cringe: the PlayStation Network. Chatting does go on there, mostly between classmates, but strangers have chimed in as well.

Would I rather that the only place they could communicate with friends be a rotary dial telephone with a really long cord they could drag down the hall? Sometimes. But then I’d have to live that way too.

So I have to strike a balance. Teach as much as I can about safe and proper on-line behavior and work to control the exposure. I own the computer, the TV and the electricity. (Cool Breeze saved up to buy the PS3, so he owns that.) I can say when and for how long they’re used. I can say, “It’s time to read,” or “Let’s play Monopoly,” or “Turn that off and go outside.” Is it foolproof? No. But it’s up to me to be involved and teach them how to operate in the world, especially the digital world.

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Is 3D Safe for Young Eyes?

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Everything seems to be offered in 3D today. It’s almost hard to find a family movie that’s not in 3D. The new Nintendo 3DS is a big hit in my house. So is 3D safe for those developing eyes?

The American Optometric Association says it is. In it’s 3D Eye Health FAQ, the association says “no detrimental effects of 3D viewing have been reported at any age.” It offers that handheld devices held close to the face place higher demands on vision so frequent breaks are recommended. As for those warnings that come with all your video games about seizures, the optometrists say it is not a concern for most children.

The optometrists have even said that the 3DS may help identity eye health problems. If your kid can’t see the 3D effect on the game, get him an eye exam.

So, game on, my friends. The docs say it’s OK.

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Are you ready for mobile learning?

Future of Learning

Future of Learning

Are you ready for mobile learning?

Called one of education’s fastest growing trends, mobile learning takes place on iPods, iPads, iPhones, Kindles, Nooks and netbooks. Chris Dede of Harvard University describes mobile learning in a recent report as “(l)earning a variety of content and skills anytime, anyplace with a small device light enough to be carried in one hand.”

It came to light for me in two ways last week. Our local newspaper featured a story on an elementary technology magnet school in Albuquerque, N.M., using a set of iPod Touches in the classroom to teach reading and math to fourth and fifth graders. The Albuquerque Journal doesn’t make its content available online, but there some information on the program at the Tech Savvy Mama blog.

The second application was more personal. This year school sent home a summer reading list for each of the kids. Just two books each, easily manageable. As we prepared for a weekend driving trip to visit family, Rose Red came to me with a request. Could we download “Island of the Blue Dolphins” onto the iPhone Kindle app so she could start on the list right away?

Made perfect sense, except for the fact that we could have checked it out at the library for free. Despite that, I do feel its time is definitely coming and we may as well get comfortable with it now.

What’s your experience with mlearning? photo: soopahgrover

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Video Game Rating T-M: What does it mean?

ESRB "Mature 17+" rating symbol, dis...

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I don’t allow video games with an ESRB rating of M into my home.

The ESRB ratings gude says that “(t)itles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.”

No thanks. I as an adult generally choose not expose myself to such things. Why would I allow my 12-, 10- and 7-year-olds such exposure?

Recently a friend of Cool Breeze wanted him to get a video game with a rating of T-M. He  knows my rule, but he brought this “T-M” game to the house to play.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“Oh, you can adjust the settings to make it one or the other,” friend said. It didn’t sound right to me.

I could find nothing online explaining this kind of rating, so I sent an email to the ESRB, and was pleasantly surprised to get a response in less than a week. Here was the reply:

“(W)hat you describe is a compilation rating icon, which will usually appear on hardware and compilation video game packaging.  For example, a single package may contain a Mature-rated game and, perhaps as a bonus, a copy of an earlier installment of the game which carries a Teen rating. In such an instance the product packaging would display a compilation T-M rating icon like that which appears on the game about which you inquired.”

Mystery solved. Sorry friend.

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Unplugged: Celebrating the Royal Wedding

Tea Time

I don’t know why we’re all so fascinated by the Royal Wedding of William and Kate, but we are. Last night watching the pre-nuptual coverage, I looked at Rose Red and cried, “She gets to be a princess!”

Whatever fantasies we have about leading such a life are probably dead wrong, but we hope for happily ever after anyway.

So, in honor of today’s most famous newlyweds, Rose Red, Nana and I will celebrate with a proper English tea at the St. James Tea Room. We’ll raise our tea cups to princesses everywhere and all our happily ever afters. Thanks, Nana, for the invite!

I think I may also watch an episode of Downton Abbey on Netflix tonight just to hear some British accents.

Photo credit: justmakeit (flickr)

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Playstation Network a Nightmare – In More Ways than One

Logo of the PlayStation Network

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Cool Breeze‘s PS3 woes began last week. He’d just received a new video game in the mail from GameFly and it could only be played online. Oh, how he moped. What a nightmare.

Now I find out that my credit card information may be compromised. Now that’s a nightmare.

Sony admitted today that personal information including names, birth dates, addresses, emails, logins and passwords were obtained by an “illegal intrusion” into the PlayStation Network between April 17 and 19.

Sony told it’s PlayStation Network members: “While there is no evidence at this time that credit card data was taken, we cannot rule out the possibility. If you have provided your credit card data through PlayStation Network or Qriocity, out of an abundance of caution we are advising you that your credit card number (excluding security code) and expiration date may have been obtained.”

Reuters reported that the network’s 77 million user accounts were accessed, the largest-ever breach of its type.


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Nintendo 3DS: “I want to hug those guys!”

Nintendo 3DS

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Was anyone in your house counting the days to March 27, frantically performing yard work for neighbors, and searching for quarters in couches? In my house this meant awaiting the arrival of the Nintendo 3DS.

A month ago, Cool Breeze and Rose Red made the decision to trade in their old DS Lite for $50 in credit at GameStop for Nintendo’s newest handheld game. The $250 3DS promised amazing 3D graphics without the use of 3D glasses. They saved up, Cool Breeze making the biggest contribution, but on release day they were $100 short. Cool Breeze stomped around and sighed for a day before Mom offered a $25 contribution and a $75 loan.

The guys at GameStop celebrated with them as they finalized their purchase. “You’re gonna love it!” they cried. “Woo hoo, the 3DS!” they chanted. They were as excited as their customers.

Having unpackaged and started the thing up before even leaving the parking lot, Cool Breeze exclaimed in ecstacy, “I just want to run back in there and hug one of those guys!”

I guess it was worth it.

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Christina, Groupon and the Steelers Break my Heart

What’s a girl to do when three things she loves all flop in one day? And what if that one day is Super Bowl Sunday?

I love Groupon. I recently got $20 worth of Barnes & Nobel purchases for $10. What’s not to love? If you’re familiar with Groupon, you know they’re quirky. But the point of a Super Bowl ad is to reach the millions who don’t know you. To those folks, their ads were, at best, odd and at worst, offensive.

Then there’s Christina Aguilera. I love her and have her latest on my list of things to download on iTunes. When I watched her sing the National Anthem on Sunday and heard her mistake, I thought, “Did she just muff the words?” Then I got distracted by the runs and riffs I didn’t enjoy and almost forgot about the words. I was left unimpressed, along with much of the audience.

Jimmy Kimmel had fun with it.

Then there’s the Steelers.

What’s a girl to do?

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Digitally Distracted Kid Falls Off Train Platform

How many times have you watched your kid so totally engrossed in a handheld game that the world around him didn’t exist?

In Italy this week a 10-year-old boy walked right off an underground train platform and onto the tracks while playing his PSP. The Daily Mail reported that an off-duty police officer jumped onto the tracks to lift the kid to safety with another train due to cross the electrified tracks in less than a minute.

This kid is no abnormality. I know my kids have walked into doors and walls playing their games. And many times I’ve had to say, “Put that game down so you can pay attention to where you’re walking.” I guess I’m just lucky my state doesn’t have underground rail.

Source: Daily Mail

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A Snow Day Equals Snow Cream

Celebrate the storm that’s sweeping the country with some snow cream. Here’s how:

1. Set a plastic bowl outside while it’s snowing and collect a bowl of clean snow. If you know a storm is coming, set your bowl out the night before. If all else fails, scrape the top layer of snow off the fence or the car.

2. Have on hand a can of evaporated milk, sugar and vanilla.

3. Bring in your bowl full of snow and add your ingredients. For a bowl that holds 12 cups of snow we use almost a can of milk, 1/3 cup of sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla.

4. Serve in a fancy dish. Eat with a spoon or straw. Mmmmm. Thanks to Auntie Molly for teaching us how to make snow cream!

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