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.
SpellingCity.com, 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!