Echo Dot Dot Dot…

Remember when you first learned how to echo?  Maybe you were on a hike and your voice reflected off a wall or mountain.  Maybe you were imitating or repeating everything said by your best friend.  Maybe you were eliciting a sympathetic response to a sentiment expressed.

Until recently echo meant any or all of the above.  With the introduction of Amazon Echo and, most recently, Echo Dot For Kids into homes around the world, the word “echo” has taken on new meaning.

Echo Dot is a hands-free, voice-controlled device that uses a smart speaker Alexa to play music, control smart home devices, make calls, send and receive messages, provide information, read the news and more.

Echo Dot For Kids, is being marketed as a kid-friendly DJ, comedian, and storyteller.  Boys and girls can ask her to play music, read stories, answer questions, tell jokes and more.  If there are compatible Echo devices in the house, parents and kids can even “talk” to each other or tell each other good morning or good night.

Unlike the outdoor echo experience of a voice bouncing off canyon walls, young voices are heard, responded to by a voice-activated speaker recording everything your child says all in the “privacy” of your own home.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that children are a key market for tech companies.  With the introduction of Echo Dot For Kids, advocates by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) say voice activated devices could prove to be a security risk as well as just one more device to encourage compulsive technology use.  Further, Google, Amazon and Facebook have all introduced devices or messaging services for kids that could potentially put a child’s privacy at risk and cause further exploitation.

What’s next?  Is parenting being replaced with devices?  What are tech companies doing to promote face-to-face, authentic, family connections?

Managing Technology During Summer Break

Summer is coming and with it the promise of exploration, adventure and fun! Summertime gives kids everywhere a chance to take a break from the school year routine and experience a more relaxed, unhurried, less structured few weeks.

What’s to prevent a child from experiencing a much needed unhurried pace?  Something that might be overlooked, especially by working parents, is kids, rather than parents, determining their own technology use time.

Pediatricians and other experts have sent strong warnings to the public that too much technology use (more than 2 hours a day) can result in negative behaviors and impact normal brain development. Given free reign to decide, studies show that children of all ages will spend up to 9 hours a day on technology – well over the limit of what experts recommend.

Recently, there has been a public outcry holding social networking companies responsible for our growing technology addiction.  While those who have been encouraging this addiction attempt explain away or, in some cases, find solutions, parents can take charge.  By limiting screen time, unplugging, and participating in fun activities kids will have greater opportunity to make the most of their summerbreak.

Set some summertime technology use goals ~

  1. Similar to a family tech use contract, make a summer tech use plan. List all the devices in the home, who uses them, for how many hours/day and prioritize health and well being over technology use.
  2. Everyone pitch in and take responsibility for daily chores.
  3. Read books together and play games.
  4. Take tech free walks, hikes or trips.
  5. Technology is part of our lives so rather than forbid it, limit it or save it for the end of the day.
  6. Each person in the family tell a story and use technology to make a movie, illustrate, or retell the story in their own words.
  7. Let your kids know it’s ok to be bored, daydream and be a kid.

LiveMe: App For Live Video Streaming or Pedophile’s Online Paradise?

Live video streaming– Teens and adults are using it more and more to broadcast, chat, share and follow one another. But let’s take a look at the popular LiveMe app and explore who uses it, who benefits from it, what are the safeguards and is it appropriate for 13+ as suggested.

LiveMe first advertised itself as the number 1 way to watch live streaming videos with video chat.  Over time, there has been an attempt by the advertisers to market to younger adults and now, children age 13+.  All types of enticements are built into this app to get streamers of the viewer’s attention.  So, what’s the downside of LiveMe and why are parents and child psychologists concerned about LiveMe?

Kids love LiveMe because it gives them confidence.  What kids don’t understand is that they have no way to know or control who is viewing them or what the person viewing is doing with the live streaming videos. There appears to be no administrative vigilance of actual age of user, sexual, or harassment commentary.

A Fox news investigation recently found LiveMe has been downloaded 96 million times, shares the users locations and allows the user to search for who is streaming near them. The investigation also found that pedophiles are using the popular live streaming app LiveMe to manipulate underage girls as young as eight years old to do sexual things on camera in return for virtual currency.  In addition, some of these same pedophiles are recording and posting these livestreams online as child porn. In reality, as stated by an expert in the investigation, LiveMe is a platform for child pornography.

LiveMe is currently being investigated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Cyber Crime Response Agency – all with good reason.  As witnessed numerous videos of young females of questionable age, young girls are being asked, by adult males, to lift their shirts, take off their panties and/or strip, send nudes and chat dirty, all for coins and emojis.

Parents and other child advocates are speaking up about LiveMe.  Some sickened by LiveMe, are demanding it be better regulated and that the youngest user be age 18+.  Some want it taken down altogether.  Others say it’s another gateway for pedophiles and children desperately seeking attention and fame. Safeguards against exploitation and manipulation of children need to be in place and enforced.

Knowing Why Teens Value Social Media

Knowing why teens value social media is just as important as understanding why teens are taking breaks from social media.  Behind teens and social media is purpose driven social media marketing.  Not unlike adults, teens desire to be relevant, be a part of a group or community and have value.  Unlike when their parents were growing up and had personal friend connections but often limited transportation or restrictions on time to be with those friends, teens today can hang out with their friends, all the time, 24/7, wherever they are! Social media has created a feeling of connectedness never experienced in human history.

Teens talk about their desires, personal issues, fears, and thoughts on social media.  But there is a downside to all of this connectedness ~ social media is also where cyberbullying and sexual exploitation of young people occur.  Sadly, many teens and younger children, who are being victimized, seldom tell their parents until it is too late.

Parents need to be present in their teen’s social media world while educators need to be vigilant in recognizing signs of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, poor sleep habits, eating disorders or body image issues in their students, which all may be related to the affects of social media.

Are Security Measures Scaring Or Preparing Kids And Adults For A School Shooting?

ONE school shooting is too many!  What are schools across the country doing to improve school safety?  How are children handling school preparedness?  Do students feel safe in school?

In response to recent school shootings, school security measures may actually be doing more to scare kids than protect them. It’s worth examining the notion that in our attempt to prepare and secure our schools, we might be overlooking some basic steps schools can take to improve safety that don’t terrify kids.

Security suggestions should include:

  1. Police and other first responders take regular tours of school grounds so that they become familiar with building layouts.
  2. Use apps available to alert teachers and school leadership about potential threats.
  3. While protecting students’ rights, set up a collaborative environment where parents, staff and kids are free to report any troubling behavior or potential incidents.
  4. Fund more qualified counselors and social workers to help with student mental health issues.
  5. Train staff in threat assessment management.
  6. Invite experts to evaluate the safety of school buildings themselves. Take into consideration entrances and exits, fenced areas, secured doors, fire code rules, cameras, how visitors gain access (ID, sign in, etc.) and mandatory school safety training for all staff.
  7. Emergency procedures must be clear and simple, rehearsed and practiced.

Rather than live in fear and create anxiety for kids, be prepared, be ready!

Why Digital Citizenship Is More Important Than Ever

Respect, educate, prevent and protect are commonly associated with digital citizenship.  Today, we are finding these common elements are more important than even when it comes to how students and adults conduct themselves, especially on social media.

Digital Citizenship as defined in an article written by Terry Heick, is “The quality of habits, actions, and consumption patters that impact the ecology of digital content and communities.”

Heick goes on to write, “As more and more students interact digitally – with content, one another, and various communities – the concept of digital citizenship becomes increasingly important.”  “The Definition of Digital Citizenship” (2017).

Heavy use of information technology today requires certain sites to set and enforce a standard of digital etiquette that involves the use of appropriate behavior and language. Without such expectations digital citizens may experience digital laws broken, rights violated, physical and mental stress, and/or online security jeopardized.

Teens, Brain Matters And Social Media

There have been several articles written about how social media affects the brain. CNN reported recently that researchers at UCLA’s Brain Mapping Center found that when teenagers’ photos get lots of “likes” on social media apps, such as Instagram, their brains respond in a similar way to seeing loved ones or winning money.

Dr. Lisa Strohman, Founder and CEO of Digital Citizen Academy, in her frequent presentations to parents and teachers, stresses the fact that regions of the brain in teens become “activated” by “likes”, with the brain’s reward center becoming especially active.  She compares face-to-face interactions with online interactions and the obvious fact that, when you go online, there is no way to “read” someone’s facial expressions. Often interactions are misinterpreted and messages ineffective.

Teens spend an average of 9 hours a day on social media, which now researchers say is affecting the brain’s neuroplasticity – the way the brain grows and changes after experiencing different things.  What does this mean for future generations?  As teens grow up, will they, for example, be able to read subtle expressions on faces?   How will they adapt differently to their environment?

Digital Addiction: Social Networking ~ A 24/7 Distraction

Addiction defined is the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity.

 In a recent article in the Boston Herald stating, “What began as a method of emergency contact has evolved into a 24/7 distraction, spurring what many would classify as a digital addiction for adults and teens alike,” underscores the need for parents, educators and entire communities to understand the implications for this and future generations. (“Teenagers, adults dangerously addicted to cellphones, says study,”by Lindsay Kalter, Monday, May 7. 2018)

Digital addiction begins in early childhood years when parents first put devices in kid’s hands to soothe or distract them.  Small children are known to throw tantrums or become depressed and anxious when devices are withheld.  We now know that what begins as an addiction early in life, can manifest itself into uncontrollable anger, anxiety, eating disorders and even suicide for teens, failing grades, shorter attention spans, distracted driving, conversations with complete strangers, likes for photos from thousands of people we don’t know, sleep loss, and deficient brain development.

A former Facebook VP, Chamath Palihapitiya, has said publicly that social media is destroying society with ‘dopamine-driven feedback loops.’  He feels guilt over his role in promoting social networking in a way that it has eroded “the core foundations of how people behave by and between each other.”  He admits he and others knew something bad could happen with the development of the FB platform.  He also admits that he seldom uses social networks and does not allow his children to use them at all.

Questions parents and teachers should be asking:  How does social networking impact the students in your school or at home?  What, if any, steps have been taken to decrease the amount of time students are on their cell phones during school hours or at home?

Social Media Trolls ~ Purpose and Prevention

According to the report, “What is behind the spike in Russian social media activity?” shown in a news clip Monday, April 17, 2018, the Pentagon reported there has been a 2000% increase in Russian social media trolling since the US strike on Syria on Friday.

What does this mean and should the US and other countries be worried? In the interview, Morgan Wright, Sr Fellow for the Center of Digital Government stated that the UK, indeed, is on alert for another cyber attack, following closely on the heels of the malicious ransomware attack on their healthcare system.

Information warfare, as referenced in the discussion to the 2016 election, is not new nor is it without serious consequences.  Social media trolls are intent on creating doubt, deceit, manipulation and confusion.  These trolls rely on disinformation to start quarrels and upset people. They basically want to provoke readers into an emotionally charged, negative response.

The English noun, “troll” dates back to 1610 and comes from the Old Norse word meaning ugly giant or demon.  Equating ugly giants or demons to social media trolls, makes it easy to conjure up an image of a creature that inflames and wreaks havoc among normal, well meaning individuals.

There’s no escaping the internet trolls in a connected world however, protecting privacy online by understanding and utilizing privacy settings on personal social media accounts will go a long way toward warding off trolls.

Cyberbullying, often a result of disinformation, is an issue young teens face that can be countered with the cultivation of empathy.  Reconsidering messages before they are sent, rethinking aggressive behavior and encouraging bystanders to report abuse they witness, are just a few of the ways to cultivate a culture of empathy and decrease the number of social media trolls.

FERPA and Social Networking

School district personnel need to ask the question:  Is your use of social networking FERPA compliant?

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.  The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.  You can read more about FERPA at their website.

There are things schools may disclose with or without consent of parents or eligible students but it is important to know the distinction.

Teens are heavy users of social networking and do not seem to be overly concerned about giving out sensitive personal information. Yet educators must be vigilant about releasing personal student data.

Nothing we do on the web is private.  Find out about what’s protected under FERPA. Share some scenarios or guidelines that will help facilitate discussion and understanding amongst colleagues and parents.