Monday, December 29, 2008

You Aren't Going Steady Until Facebook Says You Are

One of the key features of Facebook is the relationship status indicator. Mine is set to married and I don’t plan on ever changing it! However, among the high school and college crowd, changing that indicator from single to in a relationship is a big deal. It’s the 2007 equivalent of giving your girlfriend your class ring. Facebook is how kids today announce to the world that they are either taken or on the market. I’ll give the kids this. It’s certainly cheaper than handing over a $200 ring or $100 jacket that you may not get back if you really piss her off in the breakup!

It gets more complicated though. In order to couple yourself to another Facebook member, both parties much confirm. So connecting yourself romantically to a girl only to have her reject it is the Facebook equivalent of not having your ring accepted. Other dangers would include having your date for this weekend see that you are listed as in a relationship with somebody else, or listing yourself as single when your date has other ideas about your availability. It’s certainly a lot more complicated these days. However, I can see how the transparency of being expected to maintain that status on a global network would promote a certain level of honesty in the dating game. In fact, had Facebook existed when I was in college, my first date with my wife may have never happened. It would have depended on her willingness to be the other woman. However, that story really doesn’t need to be repeated here!

Friday, December 26, 2008

The XBox 360 - Now with Built-In Egg-Timer

Microsoft has announced the availability of a built in timer for Xbox Live that will give parents a way to enforce video game usage without actually dealing with the kids.

A similar Microsoft survey conducted in the United States last month found that 62 percent of parents say they would use a timer if it were available to help them manage their children’s interactive entertainment use.

62% of parents can’t deal with their kids video game time without the help of a software tool from Microsoft? That’s just sad. If your kid can’t get off the Xbox when you tell him to then he is obviously not mature enough to have an Xbox in the first place. However, in today’s guilt laden word of permissive parenting, few parents actually have the backbone to make that call.

So they rely on Microsoft instead.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Are TV Time Control Devices a Good Thing?

Phil at A Family Runs Through It has an interesting post up about his experience with Bob, a TV and computer screen time controller. It is an electronic device that once plugged in between the device and the power, can control use time for up to six people. The idea is that if junior is spending a little too much time on the TV or PC, Bob will electronically control whatever time limits you set. I’m not a fan of these devices.

First, I don’t see why any parent can’t handle this conflict without paying for Bob. I could see the utility if the kids are home alone after school each day and you want to keep them offline. That could be useful. However misdirecting the source of conflict to the inanimate object doesn’t seem that useful to me. The disagreement about screen time still exists. Phil says as much in his post. The kids haven’t accepted his view of how much screen time they should have. They have given up arguing because Bob doesn’t listen.

More importantly, the whole idea of teaching kids that an electronic device is in control is way too 1984ish for me. It probably would not have helped sales if they had named this thing HAL, but that is exactly what I thought of when I read Phil’s blog post. If I put one of those things in my house (just as an experiment) I’d be disappointed if my kids didn’t work together trying to defeat it. Teaching obedience to the black box, even if the black box is a proxy for the the parents, just strikes me as creepy.

Friday, September 5, 2008


I have been focused on some rather dry, although important topics recently, so after spending about a half an hour today playing keyboarding games, giggling like a buffoon and emitting groans from my office which made my colleagues wonder if my back had gone out, I decided to bring up the idea of keyboarding skills. Although a lot of people equate keyboarding practicing with water boarding, especially when they would rather be skateboarding, keyboarding skills are important and don't have to be totally dull.

In this technological age, where everybody has access to computers, learning to type well makes sense. You could be a "Pick-n-Pecker" who uses only the index fingers to make it through whatever typing has to be done, or you can be smart and learn to touch type. Since technology is not going away, I would recommend teaching your children to touch type.

I am old-school when it comes to typing software, and in my mind, you can't beat Ole' Mavis Beacon , whom, I am disappointed to find out, isn't a real person! I have always hoped that Mavis Beacon was a retired typing teacher who was living very quietly and filthily rich, in Ohio or Indiana somewhere, and would someday surprise the snot out of her relatives when it was time to read her will.

Anyway, Mavis Beacon costs about 20 bucks new, and can be borrowed free at the local library. It locks in touch typing, and once you get it down, you will increase your typing speed and accuracy. Even adults can learn it easily with regular practice. It's best for kids 12 and older, but one of my children, who likes getting the facts without any embellishment, used it when she was 10 with no problems.

Another good system is Typing Instructor for Kids. It's also about 20 dollars, suitable for younger kids, and is more fun than Mavis Beacon, if fun is what you are after when learning to type.

Once your child has gotten the basics of touch typing, go to Learning Games for Kids and have them try some of the typing games. Dance Mat Typing is good for beginners, Alpha Drop is a Tetris-like game that helps with letter typing, Cup Stacking is a fun game for beginning typists -- an extra challenge is to suggest that the child not look at the keyboard when he is typing.

My favorite game is Typing of the Ghosts. This is an addictive game that can be played by children and adults alike. It is also Tetris-like, but this time words instead of letters that you must type before they hit the ground. As you expect, the better you do, the faster the words fall. It is also timed.

Nothing wrong with having a little fun while you learn!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Filtering Software vs. Accountability Software vs. Time Limit Software

Thanks to a few comments on some recent posts, I am becoming increasingly intrigued by the different types of parental control software that is out there.

One kind is straight filtering software, that I discussed by proxy via my last post called Are You as Tech-Savvy As Your Child?

Another is called accountability software, which sends a record of every website you visit to an accountability partner, which I also mentioned and linked to in my last post. This is a great behavior modification tool if you are trying to conquer a pornography problem, but doesn't have as strong an application for children as filtering software or computer time management software.

This is interesting, because it is a software version of my whole Life Time Management Method, which includes a kitchen timer with a loud "ding!" This software claims to prevent Internet access when you are not home, solve IM addiction, resolve computer sharing angst among siblings, eliminate bedtime arguments, and avoid childhood obesity, and frankly, I believe it.
As a people,we don't self-limit very well, and discipline isn't genetically passed, it is learned, so this makes sense. I think it is a great idea and would be interested in trying it out.

And FYI, in case you do not have any kind of budget for purchasing software, here is a free way I found to set up a safe email for your child. This claims to ensure that your child will never receive a Viagra add. I'm all for that.

I would say that computer time management software and an an internet filter, as well as teaching and demonstrating safe and unobsessive computer use would, together, be an excellent recipe for healthy family internet use, but of course, nothing beats high-quality/high-quantity parenting.

Log those hours with your children!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Are You As Tech-Savvy as Your Child?

There was a recent comment made on my post called It's Never Been Easier To Spy On Your Children, wherein a parent asked if there were any websites or forums that might help her to parent and protect her tech-savvy teen without taking away his administration privileges.

Admittedly, I am not an expert on this subject. I know a little bit about internet filtering, and have recently learned about accountability software, which, although it is intended for self-use by adults, may be an interesting approach to teaching older children about disciplining themselves to visit appropriate online content.

I don't know enough to address the subtleties of this particular issue, since it may (or may not!) include brand new restrictions on a child who is used to none, or have something to do with a child who is hiding things from his parents, so here is the point wherein I pass along another blog.
Teens Today with Vanessa Van Petten has a great post/advice column that addresses reviews of specific parental control software. It includes links.

I do not know of any specific forums that address this issue, although I think they would be interesting. Readers, if you know of any, please comment!

I believe that any parent's best bet is to get educated. Learn just a little bit more than your child, and try to keep the balance that way for a long, long time.

Monday, August 4, 2008

About Me

I am a parent who is interested in how and what children learn. This interest includes the various types of homeschooling, and "school-schooling" -- private, religious, charter, and government schools.

I like to read about the history of education -- am especially fascinated by time around the turn of the 20th century, when the government really started getting involved, and about educational theories in general. I collect antique school texts, and enjoy understanding the ways schoolbooks have changed as the structure of schools and education has changed.

My main goal is to create life-long learners out of my children, and to inspire other parents to do the same with theirs.

I have a blended family which includes three children who still live at home with my husband and me, and two stepsons who have been launched successfully into their adult lives. One graduated with a BA in Business from Carson Newman College , a wonderful private Christian school that had a great football program. He is now living his dream in NASCAR, working on a pit crew, and learning all he can about the industry. I have no doubt that he will one day own a team.

The other is saving lives in the US Coast Guard and is living his dream of making a living on the water. He protects our borders from illegal drug smugglers and gets people out of stupid trouble on a regular basis. Plus he gets to surf on his days off.

Of the three children still at home, the oldest is academically inclined, which is, contrary to popular belief, not much easier to get through school than a kid with a learning disability. Putting a revved up mind into the body of a little child is like putting a GT 350 engine in a riding lawn mower....too much engine for the vehicle makes the vehicle hard to control. Plus school is boring to her, she has no patience for bureaucracy, and she occasionally underachieves. We have to be deliberate in what we talk about, provide for her to learn, or expect out of her. She is led toward the study of rhetoric, politics, history, Latin, and mock trial, none of which can be addressed in schools in our area. We supplement.

The middle child of the three left at home is a girl who has many talents that are not recognized as such in the traditional school setting. Her gifts include many hands-on abilities. Athletics comes easy to her. She is lightning fast, and has been a superb defender on several soccer teams. She also has a gift with working with animals. She grooms them, cares for them medically, breeds them when she can, and trains whatever ones are trainable. She is working on Therapy Dog certification for one of her dogs so she can take her dog into hospitals to help people, as she also has a great compassion for humans. For her, school is something to get through so she can live the rest of her day. She is a reluctant reader who has terrible trouble with spelling and handwriting and spacial orientation on paper. Her eyes focus funny and she requires eye exercises and prism lenses. Why read when it hurts and you'd rather be riding a horse anyway?

The youngest child has Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism. Contrary to what Michael Savage says, Autism is real, and he really does have it. We have homeschooled, private schooled, public schooled, done OT, PT, and speech language therapy. We have done biomedical interventions, such as the GFCF Diet -- which does work -- supplements, DAN doctors, social stories, videotaping behavior, then role playing later, and Karate. Despite our best efforts this sweet child still struggles with making friends and struggles through school and life. Our goal for this school year is to make one good friend, and develop social skills to a level that helps him navigate comfortably at school and at home.

In order to offset the costs of Autism, which is very expensive, and is not really covered by insurance, I work as a writer and editor of various things. I currently do some work with a company that I think is pretty neat. We stumbled upon them during our homeschooling days when we were looking for a program that would help my son. I started out as a client of theirs, then someone I knew mentioned there was some work available at her company, and I was interested, without even knowing it was Time4Learning.

Whether I am connected with them or not, I believe in the program. My son used it quite successfully and had fun at the same time. It presented information in a way he could process, and he not only felt smart and successful, but he learned and retained what he learned. I have placed their ads on my blog, and will honestly recommend their program to anyone who has a pre-K through middle school child, but anything I write on this blog comes from me - they are my opinions, generated from ideas that I have.

Learning, for all of us is a lifelong process, and shouldn't stop when we leave school. I hope this blog can encourage you to parent meaningfully, and make the best out of your time with your kids! Have fun, expose them to much without much expectation -- some things you do together will stick, and some will fall by the wayside to become just a memory, but the time you spend considering their "big picture" needs and the time you spend with them will create the ties that bind.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Second Life for Kids?

You already know I am wary of online social experiences for kids. I worry about what virtual living does to the real lives of those who indulge. Because I am an idealist, I believe children, and adults, are supposed to be striving for honesty and excellence in their lives most of the time. It's hard to be honest in a virtual world, where things don't really matter, and experiences, especially dubious ones, go unnoticed by people who really matter -- parents or other moral leaders. Places like Second Life and There, because of their nature as places that don't really exist, worry me.

Virtual reality communities are unreal places where people make things up and apply this fiction to a persona, which kids may or may not be able to differentiate from their true selves.
I believe this fosters, without exception, an attitude of ambivalence and a way of disengaging in real emotions and life in children and teens, especially when the virtual life is better than, more fun than real life.

As parents, we want our children to be engaged in real living, to really be at the table with us when we are dining, to be present in the conversation when we are asking them something, and to feel and think real things in response to real events.

The way to insulate children from this kind of virtual disengaging from real life is to really have your child's heart. Be more fun, more positive, and more engaging than a virtual world. Every day.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A Two-Way Street

The past few years that I have been driving my children to school or, when we were homeschooling, to activities, I have noticed an alarming number of parents driving with their heads bent to their shoulders, talking on their cell phones, while their children sit silently in the back seat.

The half hour before school, that time right before you leave your child to navigate alone in an often hostile world for six to eight hours, that time is precious.

It is a time to go over their supplies for the day, which helps them to learn to make a mental checklist of the daily things they need to do when they get older. Do you have paper and pencils? I know, just asking. Lunch? Gym uniform? Yes, I can smell it....I know it's in your backpack. How about that paper I signed for Mrs. Whatserface? No? Oooh...I think it's still on the counter....go get it.

From the time at the breakfast table to the time they are captive in your car, you have a wide-open opportunity to make sure things are going well for them socially. Take a minute to ask about the tiff her two friends got into. Inquire about the group project he's being forced to do by that mean technology teacher. See if playground time is going well. So often a child who is getting picked on will never mention it to a parent if the parent doesn't ask.

Send your child off to school every day with a few humorous tips that lets you know you care about how they behave. "Be Sweet, Champion the Underdog" is one of the phrases I like to say.
I believe it is important to not send your child out to face the world with absentminded wave of the hand because you are engrossed in a cell phone conversation with someone else.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Technology and Fat

There is some evidence that shows that younger children, presumably ones who aren't old enough to sit on their duffs and surf online for hours a day, are more fit, and less fat than older children who do use the computer for their primary source of relaxation.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), in July 2008 shows that exercise levels drop off as children get older. In the study, which lasted from 2000-2006, researchers recorded the movements of more than 1,000 kids using an accelerometer, which the children wore for one week at ages 9, 11, 12, and 15. Their finding are, in a word, frightening.

The average 9 year old got about 3 hours of activity a day during the week and on weekends, and they weren't doing to badly at age 11. But by age 15, about 30% were getting the minimum recommended amount of exercise during the week, and only 17% got that much on weekends.

I know that teenagers' activities tend to slow down somewhat once they leave the rough and tumble puppy years of childhood and start sleeping until noon, but they used to have activities that helped their bodies move, even if they weren't involved in sports, such as walking to school, or to friends' houses, mowing the grass, raking leaves, and even cleaning house. Lifestyle changes have all but removed that from the list of things teenagers do -- more teens have cars than they used to, and more parents pay for lawn services than in the past, and a surprising number of kids don't even have household chores.

We also have the addition of technology to woo them away from a day tossing footballs at the lake, or taking a good walk with a friend: text messaging, cable television, movies and DVDs, online social networking, and instant messaging.

Because kids are rarely unable to think of how present behaviors will affect them in the future, (smoking, jumping off balconies into pools, drinking and driving, etc.) it may be up to you to manage their physical activities. Just like we feed them vegetables, even though the don't really want them, we have to keep them moving, even though they would rather stay plugged into something at home.

If your children plays sports -- fantastic! Make sure they stay signed up with a team. Help them to explore new sports. A rule in our house is one sport a semester -- a spring sport, such as flag football or track, and a fall sport such as Cross Country or Soccer.
But not all children are team sports kids. If you have one of those, you could try karate or dance, or even cycling. Get two bikes --one for you and one for your child, and ride together.

If none of these options will work for your family consider Frisbee, hiking, racquetball kayaking, and seasonal sports such as skiing or snowshoeing.

Make fitness a part of your family life, and your children -- even the most reluctant of teens-- will probably warm up to a family fitness activity if you keep it light, good-natured and free of criticism.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Is Your Computer a Zombie?

This somewhat sensationalist article from CBS News is a decent quickie primer on botnets and zombie computers. A zombie computer is simply an internet connected computer that has been infected with a virus or hidden program that allows some malicious 3rd party to utilize your computer for nefarious purposes such as spamming. It is believed that millions of personal computers worldwide are “botted.” The simple way to avoid these problems is to not get infected in the first place.

1. Install and use a virus scanning product that auto updates every day. There are several that you can spend $50 on, but it is really not necessary. AVG Anti-Virus is a commercial product that allows home users to use it for free. I have it on every Windows computer in my house, and we have never had a virus infection.

2. Firewall your home computer or network. If you are on dial up Windows XP has a free firewall that should be turned on by default. Poke around your system and make sure it is. A firewall is simply a device or software program that controls what computers can connect to yours. If you have a high speed connection you may have a router that functions as your firewall. Note, your cable modem or DSL modem is probably not also a router. If you have a router log into the admin function and look for something called firewall and make sure it is turned on. If your computer connects directly to the DSL or cable modem make sure that your Windows firewall is on.

3. Use Firefox as your web browser. It is more secure than Internet Explorer. It is also free.

4. Don’t open suspicious looking email attachments. Your anti-virus software should protect you, but why take the risk? If you system is properly firewalled the only way a bad guy can get a virus or zombie bot to your system is for you to invite it in via an email attachment or malicious web site. Firefox is far less vulnerable to the malicious web sites than Internet Explorer, which is why I recommend that everybody use it.

5. You can also check your system for spyware with a program like Windows Defender. If you have steps 1-4 covered you probably won’t have any spyware issues, however it’s never a bad idea to make sure.

That’s it. If you follow those 5 steps religiously it is highly unlikely that you will have any virus or spy wire problems. If you were paying attention you may have noticed that keeping your computer clean will cost you exactly zero dollars. So you have no excuse.These steps apply specifically to Windows users. Macintosh and Linux uses don’t have as many of these issues. But they already knew that.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

It's Never Been Easier to Spy On Your Children

"Spying" is a negative way to say it, but today's online parent/teacher/student communication systems make it easier than ever to know what your children are doing in school, without ever having to meet the teacher, or even speak directly to your children. Sites such as and have provided a service that some teachers and students and parents find quite valuable. For a small fee, paid by the teacher or the school, teachers can log students' assignments and in the case of, the students' actual grades onto a website that parents and students can view from home.

On one hand this is a good thing. It helps parents monitor those children who really need a little extra organizational boost. It also helps parents and students stay on top of assignments if a student is out sick. It also helps parents keep track of assignments for apathetic, chronically overwhelmed students, or students who are at risk for failing.

I can see the negatives. however. Similar to the unsettling trend of parents filling out college applications for their nearly grown kids, it can take responsibility away from children who will benefit from having it, and indeed, failing to handle it. Increasingly, children are no longer the masters of their own destinies. Helicopter parents, who just can't seem to help themselves, are micromanaging their children's academic and after school lives far past the age when they should have stopped.

Soon we will have no need for the interim report, quarterly report card, and even, communication at all between student and parent. Parental Omniscience is good when it comes to Facebook and MySpace, but should kids have a little independence when it comes to managing their school careers?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Do You Speak Teen?

Generations of parents have always said that it seems as if their teenagers are speaking a different language. Teens have usually agreed and are usually happy about it. They don't want to be like their parents, after all.

It might be a good idea for you to learn to speak the language your teenager is speaking. These days it includes Urban Slang, Facebook, MySpace, and texting.

Get yourself some social networking action. Sign up for whatever social networking site your child is using. Chances are she has both MySpace and Facebook accounts.
You can be "friends" with your teen, which will keep you up to date on social activities she may have "forgotten" to tell you about, and it is a very revealing way to see the company your child keeps.

When you hear jiggy new slang words, look them up in the Urban Dictionary. Seriously. A lot of this language bending is clever and funny, and you'll be able to get the social references teens are using to define their collective sense of humor.

If you don't know how to do this already -- learn to text. If you do, you open another door for communicating with your child when she is away from home. Texting, although odd, is fun, and if kids can receive texts in SCHOOL, there is no excuse for your child to not be able to text you when she is out with her friends on a Friday night.

See their movies. Sure a lot of it is smut, but knowing what your child ingests through the media will help you develop wisdom in how to guide them through this media maze.

Remember, it probably won't be "cool" if you actually speak Teen when your teen can hear you, especially when said teen is around a group of friends, but it is good to know the language. It will keep you connected.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Violent Video Games Are Almost As Bad As Smoking

If you believe the headline, I have some land in the Everglades that you might be interested in buying. However, some researcher from the University of Michigan is getting his 15 minutes of fame this week by making this statement:

Exposure to violent electronic media has a larger effect than all but one other well-known threat to public health. The only effect slightly larger than the effect of media violence on aggression is that of cigarette smoking on lung cancer.

We also get this:

The findings, which are reported in the Journal of Adolescent Health, support earlier research which showed that children who watch violent television shows and who identify with the characters and believe they are real are more likely to be aggressive as adults.

Anybody see the little switch-a-roo that they are trying to pull? They are equating exposure to violent media with psychopathic behavior in which the subject believes the TV characters are real. That is not exactly the same thing.

As explained in more detail at both Slashdot and Techdirt, what really happened is the researcher reviewed 50 years worth of studies, cherry picked a few things that look like they support what he already believes, and published his amazing new findings.

Shoddy research, shoddy publishing, and shoddy journalism for whoever ran with this story, but I digress.

I don't at all like violent video games or violent movies. I don't believe children should watch much of it, unless depicting violence helps viewers understand the depth, breadth or importance of a subject, such as the Band of Brothers series.

Think about this: video games in general cause lack of movement in children, which, in turn, can lead to obesity, which I believe is now the greatest health risk for children in America, since 16 percent of 6-19 years old are obese, and 70% of obese children grow up to be obese adults.

Here's another real statistic: for children born in the United States, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with Type2 diabetes is 30 percent for girls and 40 percent for boys.
The topper: 60 percent of obese children ages 5 to 10 are diagnosed with at least one cardiovascular disease.

Be careful about what you read, be wary of alarmist publications. Check your facts.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Tech-Savvy Teens and Real Books

No one is more web-savvy than today's middle schoolers and high schoolers.
They have grown up with cable television and videos for entertainment, video game systems, internet access, social networking, laptops in their classrooms, and cell phones.

A Yahoo study from back in 2003 said that at that time, 82% of teens have a computer and 78% use the web to help with schoolwork. It also shows teens spend more time on the computer than using any other media (including TV!). And that was in 2003. Now, a mere five years later, there are armies of elementary school students with their own cell phones and laptops.

I compare this with my teen years, when we had a television with three channels that we had to get up to change, and a rotary dial telephone in the kitchen. We didn't even have dimmer switches on our lights. But I always had a paperback at my bedside, in my book bag, and often folded into the back pocket of my cutoffs. Technology didn't take up much of my time because we didn't have any technology! I remember going over to my best friend's house just to watch her mother cook a chicken in the microwave.

I had time for drawing, riding my bike to the library, reading hundreds of books per year, playing music, making my own music, and just dreaming.

Parents, make real books available for your children. Have a library night once a week.
Pick a piece of literature and read it out loud a few nights a week, send them emails of great literature lists ( is one), and ask them which ones they would like to read. Or, get heavy handed and bring books home for them and have them read thirty minutes a day. With anything, technology included, there has to be a balance. It's not all about entertainment.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Penguins, Monsters, and Stuffies

A few interesting web-based business models are out there now, attracting kids to computers like hummingbirds to sugar water.

Club Penguin. Moshi Monsters. Webkinz. These social networking sites are fun, safe ways for kids to play games on the Internet, interact with other kids online, and they are pretty cute ideas. You can maneuver a a virtual creature around, decorate it's room, make it tell jokes, play games, and take care of it.

Neat, right? At least they are learning to use the computer, instead of sitting in front of the Dinsey Channel all day, right?

A few safety features are in place to ensure that your kids can interact in the virtual world and stay safe.
  • Club Penguin, a free site with membership upgrades, requires you to sign up using a confirmation email in your parents address. Although this can be bypassed by a savvy child using a Gmail account, I don't think most children will have a reason to do this. Also, Club Penguin has a page devoted to internet safety and urges parents to teach their children how to be safe - don't give out personal information, don't share your password, use moderated chat rooms, don't use your real name, etc. Also Club Penguin has something called "Ultimate Safe Chat" which allows children to respond using a preset menu of responses only.
  • Moshi Monsters also requires a parent email address to activate the account, and devotes a parent page to internet safety.
  • Webkinz requires you to purchase a Webkinz stuffed animal, which comes with a code. The code can be used only once to register. I did notice that accounts expire... and I don't know what happens when it does -- are you required to purchase another Webkinz to continue with the site? Webkins says this about their safety:
"In our KinzChat system, the chat is entirely constructed. There is no way for a user to type what they want, nor ask or say anything inappropriate to any other user. We control everything the users are able to say. We have designed our chat menu of choices of sentences and phrases to put safety first. There is no way to exchange any personal information of any sort."

When I started to research for this post, I was expecting to find things that I didn't like, such as ads, uncontrolled chat rooms, sites trying to soak parents for money. I found none of that.
With the exception of the cost to purchase a Webkins ( about twelve dollars, and the kids have a cute stuffed animal to play with), or the optional cost to upgrade the Club Penguin account (about six dollars per month) there is no cost involved. Moshi Monsters is entirely free.

Parents, check your children's accounts. Play the games on their sites ( Webkinz games are fun, and if you don't watch yourself, can be addicting), and manage their time on the sites.
Let them use the sites for down-time and entertainment, but stress that these virtual worlds are just for fun, and shouldn't take up a lot of the time in their lives. Above all, keep them grounded in the real world.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Web-Based Summer Learning

Summer time is a time for kids to relax and unwind from the stress of the school year.
It's okay for kids to goof off, snack between meals, stay up late, and even watch more television than they would normally watch.
But if, as a parent, you don't believe that memorizing all the dialogue and gestures in every episode of Sponge Bob Square Pants will give your children an educational leg-up next year, you may not be alone.

Whether your children go to boarding school, private school, public school, online school or are such radical unschoolers that you don't know where they are most of the time, they are all homeschooled in the summer, and that means we are all homeschooling parents. We have a wonderful opportunity to teach them new things, help them get ahead for the next school year, help them to explore new interests, or remediate learning from the previous school year.
You don't have to send them to summer school!

But no matter what you do, you don't want your children to feel chained to a desk, especially in the summer. You need to make it interesting.

One company, Time4Learning offers web-based summer learning that is comprehensive and fun.

"Time4Learning is a great change from school and for some children, a great antidote (and an interesting alternative to attendance at summer school). What this means is that many children have developed some bad habits about school. They've found themselves in a rut where their learning style and the school's teaching style are not working. This is especially likely with the children that find themselves needing remediation since they have apparently been thru the school year without learning what they are supposed to. Time4Learning allows the student to control the pace and learn the material which can be a very maturing opportunity for them. The summer school environment in many ways would just recreate the classroom environment with all the same distractions, teaching styles, and attitude problems that created the problem in the first place."

Not a bad idea.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Asperger's Syndrome

They say that one in a hundred a fifty kids now are on the autism spectrum.
Despite what official twits, such as Michael Savage say, Autism is real, and no matter how much my son "straightens up" and "acts like a man" he still a person with Autism.

Asperger's Syndrome is as much of a puzzle to me as other forms of autism. I watch my boy, who can't catch a ball, can't run, can't walk without tripping, has many odd mannerisms and a strange tone of voice, struggles with friendships, and needs to be taught many many things that neurotypical children just naturally pick up, such as how close to stand to a person, and how many times to repeat something for emphasis. (He likes to repeat things five to seven times on average)

Here is a formal definition I lifted from somehwhere:

"Asperger’s Syndrome is part of the Autism Spectrum. It is characterized by poor social interactions, obsessions, odd speech patterns, and other peculiar mannerisms. Although children with Asperger’s have an average to above average intelligence, they sometimes have specific learning issues and difficulty reading the body language of others. They also tend toward obsessive routines, unusual special interests or preoccupations, and sometimes display a sensitivity to sensory stimuli (for example, they may be bothered by a light that no one else notices; they may cover their ears to block out sounds in the environment; or they might prefer to wear clothing made only of a certain material)."

People with Asperger's Syndrome need help with pragmatic language and abstract thinking.
There should be more awareness among educators on how to best help children with Asperger's Syndrome in school. As it stands, there isn't enough, and children with AS are bullied, misunderstood, and treated as if they are strange and inferior, not as if they have a significant disability. This can cause lifelong pain, which just isn't necessary, and their many strengths are not often recognized.

Let's get some teacher workshops in schools, shall we?

Technology Vacation

You know there is a problem when kids have to check their schedules to find out if they can play, especially during summer vacation.
The other day, my daughter, who was happily and healthily bored, was outside coloring the bark of a tree red with Kool-Aid powder and water. She spied a friend of hers getting out of her mom's car.

"Hey...ya wanna come color this tree bark with me?"asked daughter.
"Uh, I dunno. I have to check my schedule," said friend.
"You have a schedule?" said my daughter.
"Sure. Don't you?"

It is true. My daughter's friend, even smack dab in the middle of summer, has a schedule of activities she has to follow, which includes strength training, speed and agility training, soccer practices, and soccer games, not to mention soccer meetings. She's twelve.

I know there are so many children like this nowadays that it makes my kids look like neglected slackers, since I purposefully do not book many scheduled activities for them.

Some of the best learning, thinking and creativity comes from bored kids. Parents, let your kids get so bored that they run out of things to do. Turn off the television, video games, and internet.
If you are brave, set out a pile of magazines, some glue and glitter and scissors and paper in the middle of the table and start washing the windows. See what they do. Save the vacuuming for later!

Put an empty bowl, a spoon, and a box of brownie mix on the counter and just leave it there, and go about your business.

And I know it sounds like child abuse, but send your children outside with a watch, and tell them not to come in for at least 45 minutes. If you give them some jars or tupperware, they can collect bugs, strange leaves, or other interesting tidbits. Have a show-and-tell when they get back in.

Get some old telephones, appliances, or speakers from bulk trash or yard sales. Give your kids some tools. Let them take stuff apart, and put it back together again. What better way to learn about technology than to understand the mechanics of some of it?

Are these activities really less valuable than a soccer training session or visit to the mall?

Some people call this benign neglect, but when done well, it can add a boost of independence and creativity for your kids. They can learn to be responsible for keeping themselves occupied.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Can’t we just buy them a nice set of wood blocks?

This really shouldn’t be a surprise. Cellphones, laptops, digital cameras and MP3 music players are among the hottest gift items this year. For preschoolers. On one hand, it makes sense. Play has always been about kids emulating the adults around them. This is what the adults do these days. However, I think I agree with the doctors and other experts in the article that state that a computer screen is no substitute for imaginative play. Something has to be lost if we let our kids grow up depending on digital technology to substitute for imagination.

I was lucky in that computer technology wasn’t quite there yet for kids when my kids were toddlers in the mid to late 90s. They grew up with the same sort of traditional toys we all had, plus they had access to a computer. I fear today’s toddlers are skipping the wood blocks and Hot Wheels in favor PC based building games and a Hot Wheels game on a Playstation. It’s not the same.

Written by COD for ParentalTech

This article uses alot of vocabulary. In support of building English vocabulary, including for non native English speakers, let me suggest: İngilizce Kelime Dağarcığını Öğrenin. And also, to learn english, Lernen Sie Englisch-Vokabular

Thursday, June 12, 2008

This school is missing the point of education

In NJ, a middle school has blocked Wikipedia from all school computers because it can be edited by anybody and contains inaccuracies. I wonder if they burned all their copies of Encyclopedia Britannica when a 12 year boy found significant errors in it?

Shouldn’t the school be teaching the kids how to use online sources, instead of blocking them outright? Wikipedia probably shouldn’t be a primary source for a middle school student anyway. However, it is great for providing an overview on just about any topic imaginable, and most articles are annotated with links to the primary sources. Instead of blocking the site, the school should be requiring the kids to either create a new entry, or contribute to the usefulness of Wikipedia by improving an existing entry. That would be educating. Is that too much to ask?

Internet Filters

We've already talked about establishing family rules about internet use, and teaching your children the basics of internet safety. Using an internet filter is an additional step many families take to add a layer of safety that could be a critical barrier between your children and the dark side of the internet.

Two types of parental controls that parents often implement as a part of their overall internet safety plan are controls provided by your service provider and blocking software.

High speed Internet providers usually have free or low cost parental control features that parents can use to monitor websites, filter e-mails, and limit the distribution of other online content. Some parents purchase additional blocking software, which has such added features as the ability to monitor or block chats, peer-to-peer interactions, and instant messaging, which according the the FBI, is one of the top places sexual predators use to locate vulnerable children online. Some of them also offer remote reporting, such as alerts and log reports sent to email or cell phone, as well as history reporting, and logging of security violations.

If your household has more than one computer, and they are networked, or if you have a fast Internet connection, you may want to consider using a router-based filter. A router is a piece of equipment that connects your computers to the Internet and to each other. Some routers offer an ability to filter content that affects all computers in your network. This method is harder to bypass, but it tends to be pricier, since you have to purchase the router, and pay an annual fee to subscribe.

Again, don't rely on the technology to do your parenting for you. According to the FBI's Parent's Guide to Internet Safety, "you should always maintain access to your child's online accounts and randomly check his or her email." Also be aware that your child could be contacted through the U.S. Postal Service.

Lest I leave you with a feeling of dread regarding your children and the internet, keep in mind that there is a lot of family-friendly content out there. Todays-Learners has a good little family-friendly electronic medial guide that will help you and your family keep the fun in your online experiences.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Technology Enables Helicopter Parenting

Helicopter parents have been beat up in the press quite a bit lately. I won’t pile on. However, this cautionary article from does make the point that all this wonderful technology we have in the home makes it much easier to micromanage your child’s life. They aren’t presenting that as a benefit either.

Just because you can log into the school extranet and check your child’s test score before he even gets home doesn’t mean you should. How are you going to foster and encourage open communication with your kids if you cut them out of the loop? Certainly there may be times when you need to take charge, but don’t jump the gun on that. Growing up under Orwellian surveillance from Mom and Dad can’t be healthy.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Internet Safety I (common sense tactics)

Keeping your children safe in when they use the internet is an important, and often ignored parental responsibility.
In a tech-driven society, our children have the opportunity to be exposed to many things that are not only inappropriate, but are things that thirty years ago, people would have had to search long and hard to find. Hate websites, porn sites, sexual predators, and other content that promote adult and/or negative themes can fall into an unsuspecting child's lap with the click of a mouse.

What can parents do to protect their children from inappropriate internet content?

First, know what is out there. The internet has a lot to offer. Children can, with a few seconds of navigating, travel to distant countries, learn about other cultures, visit sites that promote education, travel, intellectual thinking, family values, cartooning, movies, math practice, and the ever popular games. They can keep in touch with family members, visit potential college choices, trade photos with friends, and visit the site of their favorite sports team, or their favorite sports drink, for that matter.
There are a lot of sites created specifically for children, for educational and entertainment purposes.
However, one wrong click and a child can be transported into a world that is not only unsavory, but unsafe.
I did a quick Google search on anorexia nervosa, which any high school child could research for a class, to help a friend, or learn about out of curiosity. Using the keyword "anorexia," the fifth most popular site on google was a pro-anorexia site, which supports disordered eating, unhealthy thinness, and a desire to get as thin as possible. Websites run by mentally ill people who promote a community of other mentally ill people who do not want to get well are not sites most parents want their children to visit, as children are not often able to discern right from wrong in abstract areas.

Second, don't allow children to use the Internet in private rooms, including a separate office or study. All Internet use should be in a common, supervised area of the home. If kids want to do homework on their computers, in their rooms, give them an unconnected system.

Third, use the Internet with your children. You can visit sites you like together, teach them how to spot certain types of sites that you don't want them on, and help them avoid clicking on advertisements that look like games.
Watching a goofy YouTube video together can set the stage for a casual talk about videos they should stay away from.

Also, learn how to check your browser history. You can see all the websites that have been visited on your computer.

Last, consider disable your internet access when you are not home. Kids who are old enough to stay home alone, need to be protected just as much as younger children do.

Future blogs on this subject will include using parental controls, and reviews of a variety of internet filters.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Do virtual worlds lead to real world stress?

Do kids take events in their online worlds too seriously? Journalist Anastasia Goodstein references several parents that called into a radio show because their kids were stressed out over events in online worlds, specifically sick virtual pets and getting scammed in an online game.

She mentions the difference between a sick stuffed animal that “poof” gets better, versus a sick Neopet, that requires you to log in daily and “work” at getting the pet better. Is this really a problem, or are we reaching here? We don’t want to rob kids of the magic of pretend play, but maybe understanding that animals (and people) don’t “poof” get better is a good thing? Would it better if the kid was stressed over the family dog being sick? I’m asking here, not suggesting that I have the answers. We are the first generation of parents that have to deal with immersive online worlds. Certainly there will be kids that obsess beyond reason about these things, but aren’t those the same kids that 20 years ago would have been obsessing over a stuffed tiger that only they saw as alive?

I’m not convinced that there are really any new problems here. Playground bullies used to corner you at recess and take your lunch money. Now they take your virtual goods instead. Does the fact that it all happens in a pretend world change how we need to deal with it?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Time Flies

The other day I heard a woman say she was going to go home and put in a video for her son while she cooked supper.
I had to do a double take. Her son is one and a half.

What a difference a decade makes. When my last child was born ten years ago, I had never heard about Baby Einstein videos. It is possible that, if they existed, I scoffed and wrinkled my nose, then promptly forgot about them, because I was too busy to think much at all. Maybe if I had used Baby Einstein videos I would have had some time to think, but as it stood, when I cooked supper, I propped babies in swings, or playpens near me, and sang and talked to them while I worked. They watched ME. When they "talked" back, I responded. It was a two-way dialogue.

When they toddled, I gave them access to the pot and tupperware cupboards. They played with pots and tupperware and pretended to cook when I did. They didn't watch a show about it.
By the time they were in preschool, they could help set the table, and "wash" dishes in the sink, all the while moving their little bodies, learning to manipulate things in the real world, and carrying on lengthy conversations.

Now we have infant videos. Swirly light show toys you can prop babies up in front of. Toddler software.

Access to technology can be a two-edged sword. It has been connected with improved reading skills and computer savvy, but it also has been blamed for ADD, gaming addiction, obesity, the virulent epidemic of affluenza, and social disconnection.

Professor Andrea Thau, spokeswoman for the American Optometric Associations, advises:

Children need appropriate visual stimulation for sight to develop normally. Parents should limit TV and computer games, especially in children under six whose sight is still developing, though the effects occur in older children too.

Parents, get your very young children away from the television. Let them color near you while you work. Give them books on tape whose pages they can turn when they hear the little "ding."
Take time to read to them several times per day, and always take time to explain things to them, ask them questions about how they think things work. There will be time for technology by the time they are learning to read. Those precious early years will soon be gone forever.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Everybody sing: It knows when you’ve been naughty…

No, we aren’t talking about Santa here. We are talking about Facebook. The business model for Facebook and just about every other social networking site is the same. Entice users to provide a wealth of personal data, and use that data to better target ads. That is a perfectly legitimate business model. However, Facebook users need to be aware that everything they do on the site will in a sense, be used against them in the battle to entice them to buy something. Adult users probably get that. We as parents need to make sure our our kids understand too.

Facebook has now upped the ante though. The new advertising program they have rolled out, called Beacon, not only tracks you on Facebook, but across the web. Many privacy advocates feel that a line is being crossed with this new service. Not only does Facebook know what you do on its site, it knows what movie tickets you bought, or what you purchased at an online retailer. Even worse to some, this information is injected into your user news feed, just like anything you do on the site. So your friends and contacts on Facebook, along with seeing a note that you updated your profile picture, may also see a note that you just purchased Preparation H at on online drugstore, along with ad for hemorrhoid ointments. Not only is the privacy issue problematic, the implied endorsed of the ad is a concern too.

(Note - the hemorrhoid thing is a hypothetical example. I have no idea if any online drugstore is part of the Beacon program today, or if they would publish specific product info. But they could.)

Obviously, not using Facebook is an option. However, it’s not an option many kids will take. Facebook has an astounding 85% of US college students using the site, frequently multiple times per day. Facebook claims that it provides ways to opt out of Beacon. And they do. However, you have to opt out of each information transaction as it occurs. There is no way to opt out across the board. They are receiving quite a backlash from this, so it’s possible that the system may become more respectful of user privacy.

What do we do as parents? Be aware. Banning Facebook use probably isn’t going to work. If your teens are on Facebook, make sure they understand the privacy implications of anything they put on the site. Make sure that their privacy controls are set such that their profile info in limited to “friends” only. Make sure they understand that Facebook collects everything they do on site, and wants to collect what they do off-site.

Better targeting advertising is not a bad idea. I think we’d all be happier if we were only subjected to advertising that was relevant to us personally. How the advertisers do that while balancing privacy issues will be a major challenge for Facebook and the countless other services that have similar ideas.

written for Parental Tech by COD

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Out With the Old, In With the New

I like my rose-colored glasses, and am not apologetic about liking old-timey things, even though I appreciate the modern world as well. I am glad we have high-def television, fancy washers and dryers, computers, GPS systems, and MRI machines. They are all wonderful and we are better off with them. But I miss things they replace, like doctors who are great diagnosticians, story telling by the fire, grand old libraries, fresh laundry whipping around on the line, seeing kids play outside all day long, and cursive writing.

I am sorry that more parents and schools don't insist on teaching cursive, even though it may soon be obsolete, if it isn't already. Children all over the world are learning keyboarding instead of cursive. Then again, parents all over the world hit "enter" to send an email far more frequently they stick a stamp on an envelope. We can't really blame anything except the societal changes that result from advancing technology.

I think this is a good solution to handwriting woes for kids who may have minor problems with it., which is a free site, has added a way to print out spelling lists in a traceable form that lets kids practice their penmanship at the same time that they practice their spelling lists.
You can do it at several levels, from large-line kindergarten through small-line cursive, at a few different line sizes. You can also print it out in sign language, which is fun if you want to learn sign, and great if you need to learn it.

I LOVED tracing things when I was a kid, even after I had learned to write on my own. For fun, I still try to learn different styles of handwriting, such as Spencerian,
which I am currently working on, but for kids who aren't excited about writing, or for kids who struggle with writing, these free printable tracing worksheets are wonderful. I like that kids can practice their spelling and penmanship at the same time, without making a big deal out of any of it.

Let's not let cursive die, friends! Make your kids write in cursive! It may even improve their reading.

Old School

I miss "old school" school.

I miss kids being able to go home during lunch and have some hot soup and a sandwich. They can't anymore, because no one is home, or perhaps they might stumble upon some drugs and do them instead of eating lunch, or maybe get pregnant, or HIV, or get abducted by the sexual predator who lives five hundred and one yards from the school.

I miss towns being in charge of the schools, instead of counties. People used to know their school board members, and could actually speak to them if they had a problem. Principals were concerned about their teachers and their kids, not working a huge system for money so they can keep their jobs.

I miss recess with real balls and hoops and games, and swing sets and slides and see-saws, even though I know see-saws are responsible for more facial stitches and head and crotch injuries than bar fights. See saws were cool. Toys were cool too. Now, in our school district, kids can't play ball games, because they exclude "differently-abled" children and could hurt someone.

There was bullying, but not as much. Kids who got picked on were instructed to "hit back" by their fathers, and often their teachers! They could defend themselves without worrying about going to jail.

I miss teachers being able to knick knack paddywhack a nasty kid. When the kid got home he'd get knick knacked all over again by his parents, because the teacher would be certain to call, if not visit the child's parents that same day. Now a teacher can't even do a magic trick without being fired, so discipline, even righteous discipline can cost a teacher his job. The climate of fear is elevated so high, that no one is free of it. Kids, teacher, administration all function with an unhealtly level of near-paranoia.

I miss old school text books. When text books were made of text, and kids could read them at home to back up what the teacher talked about it class. These days textbooks are printed in two languages and filled with plethora of color-filled graphics (and yes, that is plethora used the correct way, which is an obscene overabundance) that only serves to confuse young eyes and minds. Kids have to hunt for the actual text amidst pie charts, and graphs, and cartoons and photos and other largely unnecessary graphic art.

Of course, I didn't have all of these old school things. I was educated with "new math," which means I still count on my fingers, and whole language. Luckily my mother taught me to read with phonics before I started school, or else I might have been another whole language casualty. And luckily, my parents were educated old school- style. The trickle down of their education made it to me, and to some extent, my own children, who are growing up just fine despite their spotty school education. I knew not to misbehave in school. I knew if my teacher wouldn't be able to come down on me, my parents sure would. As far as they were concerned, I was lucky enough to not get knick-knacked twice, like they would have been. As it stood, the fear was enough and I never got knick-knacked due to a school related event.
I was a good kid, and guess what? So was everyone else, because my classmates would all have gotten knick-knacked too. The time we spent in class was used for learning because everyone behaved.
I miss old school school.

Monday, May 5, 2008

A Special Kind of Special Needs Student

It is no secret that children with cerebral palsy who are wheelchair bound are paying a price for their physical inactivity, even though it is not by choice.

The body functions best when upright, and the muscles are engaging. Abdominal muscles that are firing help with digestion, muscles pumping in the legs push the blood around and improve circulation.

And any physical activity in general is good for the body and mind. It is beneficial to use the body and become physically tired. It helps with restlessness, and the ability to sleep well. It creates endorphins, which are natural pain relievers.

And one of the best reasons of all….walking upright makes kids feel like everyone else, and other kids look at them the that way too!

Children with CP now have a great option for assisted walking. The TAOS walker, invented by a genius at Sky Medical in South Florida, is a great orthotic and walking system that can be used as a therapy tool, a method of ambulation, a break from the wheelchair, and so much more.

It is heart-warming to see a child walk for the first time. Parents, therapists, cameramen have all been moved to tears to see a child get strapped into a TAOS, and walk with a proper gait, down the hall and out a building door.

It's not only for walking. Children can use the walker to practice dexterity skill builders, build head and trunk control, and do standing activities such as washing dishes, playing at a sand table, or working a table puzzle.

It’s amazing. Every child with cerebral palsy who is not self-ambulatory should have one!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Why A La Carte Cable is a Bad Idea

A la carte cable pricing has been a goal of consumer and family advocates for quite a while. On the surface, it seems like a logical idea that you only pay for the exact channels you want while keeping objectionable content out of the house. In reality, it’s a horrible idea that would raise cable costs for just about everybody.

Don’t believe me? Consider this. ESPN charges about $3 per subscriber. If a la carte were implemented, assume they only retain 1/2 of their subscribers. That means just to remain revenue neutral on subscriber fees, they have to double the cost to $6 each. That will be repeated for every single station you want to receive. You’ll end up paying more for less. A lot of the smaller niche channels simply won’t be able to cover their costs and will shut down. This simple analysis doesn’t even take into account reduced advertising fees or the tremendous overhead of cable distribution that is absorbed equally by all subscribers today.

Written for by COD

Friday, April 18, 2008

Your BFF Needs to Learn Real Spelling

For a language that took over 1500 years to develop, you’d think English would finally be content with itself and would consider resting easy for a while. You’d think it would be happy staying home, tending the fire, puttering around in the garden for once. It wouldn’t have to be modest – after all, it is the primary language of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom. It is also commonly used in countries with a colonial past, such as South Africa and India, and is taught as a primary foreign language of many other countries. It could still stay full of itself with its strange spellings of strange sounding words a body has to be “in the know” to understand. I reckon the red wren was a wretched recreant! It would be good for it to rest for a while.

But no. It has to be fluid, constantly adapting to large, (and gross!) changes in the use of English in the media, which translates nearly instantly to use of English in the under 18 set.

The fact is: English is ill, and I don’t mean “ill” in the same way my teenager does, which is the “ill” that is actually not ill, but good.

There is a contagious case of English language sickness that seems to be breaking out everywhere we look.

Things that have gone out of the grammatical window in the US:

Spelling. Forget spelling. Who needs it when we no longer use words to communicate? Don’t believe me? ^RUP^ : AAMOF, your BFF, AKA IRL as “Jenny” who is ROFL. It’s 2G2BT! *

We live in a world of texting.
And what happened to grammar? It’s largely out the window. We live in a country filled with reality shows starring people who may not be in the deepest end of the gene pool, and as such, should not be the example of intellect for our children, and our children’s teachers, to model.

My pet peeve:

Me: How are you?

Anyone under the age of 39: I’m good.

I don’t care how “good” you are, you are not good enough at grammar to keep William Malone Baskerville from rolling over in his grave every time he hears that phrase.

In fact, I may see evidence of how good you are in your daily actions – you are probably quite a good person. What I want to know when I am asking that question is how well you are.

There used to be a time where if you answered “I’m good.” Instead of “ I’m well” your mother would slam your head down in your morning bowl of Cheerios, or your teacher would smack you with a ruler and your parents would be grateful. Has proper English died?

The truth is, there are people fighting the good fight to keep English spelling and grammar consistent and correct. Your stodgy old English teacher, the one who looks like the Crypt Keeper - - she’s a soldier. Grandmas and grandpas all over the English-speaking world are disgusted with the speech of their grandchildren, but they try to model correct grammar.

Many writers and most publishers still take pride in grammatical excellence, but I’m afraid they are a dying breed.

What you can do to keep the English language fire alive:

Talk to your children in proper English. Remind them that they need it to get a good job later on in life. Point out grammatical errors in the media. Give them spelling and grammar activities.

Make them read. Make them write, then correct what they write. Keep it fun.

Lead them to the knowledge that superior spelling and grammar skills will help develop a superior intellect.

Let’s let ole’ Baskerville RIP.

* Read up, please. As a matter of fact, your best friend forever, otherwise known in real life as “Jenny,” is rolling on the floor laughing. It’s too good to be true!”

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Learning English Spelling is Tuff

Did You Throw the Tough Dough in the Trough?

It is no secret that spelling in English is a daunting task, even for native English speakers. There are spelling and phonetic tools, which are supposed to help us make sense of the sounds, and then there are rules, which often make no sense to anyone. It’s kind of like Baseball.

English is a catch-all language, with the spelling rules and tools thrown into a linguistic melting pot, and it can cause spelling trouble that other languages don’t have. For example, Japanese has clear, ordered, phonetic rules. All rules, all the time. No matter what word it is, the “oh” sound always sound the same, and is always represented the same way. No wonder the Japanese trounce Americans in science and math. Japanese students don’t have to spend countless hours of extra time studying spelling just to master their language. They have more time to study math and science, since they are not worried about weekly spelling tests. You can't be a bad speller in Japanese.

Can you imagine a Japanese student, comfortable in his ordered phonetic world, trying to learn English? Give him a simple first grade spelling list in English and he will probably feel pretty good.

Cat, bat, rat, hat. These phonetic spelling tools make sense. Learn the beginning sound, and the end sound. Change the beginning sound to another beginning sound and the end sound stays the same. Just like Japanese.

Give him any fourth or fifth grade spelling test, however, and he may start to sweat.

Dough, thorough, bough, enough, trough, plough, and although

What? So much for knowledge of common letter-sound relationships. Nothing makes sense, and you have to rely on straight memorization. Is it no wonder that non-native English speakers need help with spelling? I will go so far as to say every English speaker needs help with spelling at some point in the acquisition of the language.

That’s enough. It’s making me cough. I think I need a doughnut….

Monday, April 14, 2008

Maybe They Shouldn't Post This Stuff In The First Place

Some 71% of 2,000 14 to 21-year-olds said they would not want colleges or employers to do a web search on them before they had removed some material.

It’s a British poll, but I’m certain the results hold for the US too.

The obvious question that pops in my head is, why the hell did they upload the stuff in the first place? Teenagers seem to be genetically predisposed to do stupid things without thinking through the potential consequences. Luckily for those of us that are parents of teens today, cell phone cameras didn’t exist back when we were teenagers. However, this is a real issue that kids today need to deal with in a proactive manner. The internet is the ultimate realization of the permanent record that Dean Wormer talked about in Animal House.

I think this sort of thing is a far more realistic danger to kids than cyber stalking or any of the scary stories that get over hyped on the evening news. Any parent of a teen should be googling their kid to see what they are releasing to the world. This goes double for any boy picking up your daughter for a date. It might be fun to that search in person with him while your daughter is making final adjustments to her hair. ;) If I were hiring in that demographic I would certainly google every interviewee prior to meeting with them.

As parents, what can we do? I think saying, “No, you can’t have a Facebook account” is the wrong approach. First of all, you can’t really stop them from setting up an account. So as parents I think we are much better off helping our kids learn how to interact online responsibly. It’s not rocket science. Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your mother to see pretty much much covers it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting parents enact a sophisticated spying program on their kids. Kids are entitled to privacy too. The point you need to get through to them is that there is no such thing as privacy online. If they post it online, odds are good it will eventually become publicly accessible.

written by COD for

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Ever heard of the R4 Chip for Nintendo DS?

I wonder if your Nintendo DS obsessed teenager has? It’s essentially a tool for loading software onto the DS. That by itself is no big deal. I can think of a lot of perfectly legitimate reasons why the enterprising geek teen would want to load 3rd party software onto a DS.

However, I suspect that the primary use for the R4 chip will be to load pirated software on to the DS. If you know where to look, you can find a free copy of just about any video game on the Internet. However, loading those games onto the DS has not been an easy task, until now.

contributed by COD for

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Parents Guide to Video Games

This guide from CNN may be handy if you are trying to buy video games with little guidance from the intended recipient, or are trying to double check the list that was provided to you by a child or teen.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Does your Tween need a cellphone?

If your 8-12 year old is bugging you for a mobile phone this Christmas, it might be because his friends all have one. A recent survey reports that 35% of US ‘Tweens” owned a mobile phone.

Where exactly are these 10 year olds going that they need a phone? I can see the occasional need to give a 9 year old a phone if they are at a school event or somewhere where they might need to call home for a ride. I can’t see any reason why somebody that would need a ride from mom or dad to get anywhere beyond bicycle range would need to have a phone with them 24 x 7. Is there a real need here, or is this just silly parents giving the kids what they want?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Are social networks a great thing for our kids?

Noted web guru and City University of New York Associate Professor Jeff Jarvis believes our kids benefit greatly from growing up online.

Young people today need never lose track of their friends, as I have with most of mine. That’s not only because they leave bits of themselves online that are findable via Google, but also because they will remain linked in ever-expanding social networks, such as Facebook.

How many of your high school friends could you contact today? For me, the answer is three, plus one junior high friend. Jarvis sees that number being 3 dozen for our kids. I wonder if that is really a good thing. Are we supposed to maintain those close ties forever? It sounds sort of like growing up and then staying in a really small town. It seems like history, in the US at least, has been driven by people getting the heck out of those small towns.

According to the marketing firm Alloy, 96% of teens and tweens use social networks; they are now universal. And I think this means that they will maintain friendships longer in life. Which, in turn, could lead to richer friendships. No longer can you escape relationships when you move on; you will be tied to your past - and to the consequences of your actions. I hope this could make us better friends.

I’m not sure I buy this one. That kind of maturity about dealing with people comes with age. I don’t think 16 year olds will start acting nicer towards each other just because they are all on Facebook. Thinking about the longer term consequences of behavior simply does not come naturally to teens. In fact, I think the opposite is more likely and Facebook becomes just another place to engage in the bullying and the cliquishness that defines growing up in the US.

But because you can’t escape your past, this also means that you could do one stupid thing in life, forever memorialised in Google, and you are embarrassed in perpetuity.

The Google chief executive, Eric Schmidt, jokes that we all should be able to change our names and start fresh at age 21. But I think we’ll be protected by mutually assured humiliation: we will all have our moments of youthful indiscretion and so we will have to forgive others’ if we want them to ignore ours. So you inhaled - so did I, what of it? That will be the golden rule of the social internet. And I say that could make us more tolerant.

That sounds great in theory, but human nature is much more hypocritical than that. People today have no problem condemning behavior in others that they in turn engage in. Is one generation of openness really going to change that?

As much as I’d like to believe that the social web will lead to this great awakening in social behavior for the next generation, I just don’t see it happening that quickly, if at all.

What do you think?

Written by COD
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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Is stealing pretend goods a crime?

A Dutch teenager has been arrested, and several others are under investigation, for stealing virtual furniture from the “rooms” of social networking site Habbo Hotel

On one hand, somebody actually spent $5800 to populate their room with these objects, and they no longer have “use” of the furniture. So the basic concept of theft seems to fit. Also, online fraud in the form of phishing may have been part of the crime. That is a separate issue though. On the other hand, we are talking about pretend stuff on a web site. If Dutch teenagers commit a virtual crime on a web site hosted in the US, against a party living in some third country, who has jurisdiction?

I think we are barely entering the wild west days of online law. There is simply so much about life online that doesn’t neatly fit into our existing legal framework. This should be an interesting case to watch.

written by Chris O'Donnell