Great Ways to Learn During the Pandemic

Desmond Brown pic
By Desmond Brown

In this age of the internet, getting educated online is nothing new. But while your students may be using Zoom or other video chat services to connect with teachers during the ongoing pandemic, there are several other ways to learn online.

What I am talking about are “skillsharing” sites like Udemy, Skillshare and Masterclass. These websites offer paid classes that teach everything from English to ethical computer hacking to everything in between. Many of these sites have been around for several years, but they’ve jumped in populating now that we’re all stuck at home. They’ve become places for people to learn new skills and even start new careers – all without having to learn in a face-to-face environment.

However, these sites are not all the same. I will analyze three of the most popular sites for you, as well as suggest some exciting courses for you or your kids to learn.

Udemy

Udemy was founded back in 2009 and is the most popular of the three by far. Udemy boasts over 150 thousand courses and millions of students worldwide. Note, I believe all of the courses are done by taught by volunteers, chosen because of their expertise or because of the reputation of the company they come from.

For example, one of the classes I bought was for a C# coding language course specifically for the Unity Game Engine. Unity is a free game development software platform that offers tons of tools for users to build any kind of game they want. However, many people, like me, don’t know where to start in game design, let alone how to code or “script.”

This course taught me not only a beginner’s knowledge of how to use the C# language but also basic game design. The instructors were industry veterans for over a decade and they worked with Unity to deliver this comprehensive course. Each lecture is broken up into several parts that I could rewind or pause at anytime. I’ve been told that instructors at Udemy do go back to older lessons and update them. They also provide material for students to download and host open QA sessions for students that are having trouble. In general, the community for each course is made up of students that can communicate with each other and they help each other out as well.  Udemy also offers a certificate of completion for finishing a course.

The downside to Udemy, I think, is that each course is volunteer taught, so, therefore, the results may vary. Some might be perfect, but some might also need a lot more work. Fortunately, there is a rating system in place for students to give feedback. It helps new users decide which courses are trustworthy or not.

Pricing wise, the average course costs $200+ each. But, Udemy hosts many sales that knock that price down to about $9.99.  I suggest waiting for one of these sales and buying multiple courses at once.

Recommended Courses:

  • Coding Classes

These classes are some of the best on the entire site. Many coding languages are available for purchase. Thousands of users have cited how easy it was to pick up and start coding with clear and concise instructions. Challenges in these courses are practically based and will push you to test what you’ve learned during a lecture. I highly recommend these classes for any age that wants to begin their journey into coding.

Masterclass

Masterclass is a newer site. Unlike Udemy that has volunteer teaching, Masterclass has many known celebrities teaching classes in different subjects. You can learn creative writing from Margaret Atwood, cooking from Gordon Ramsey, or even filmmaking from Martin Scorsese.

Each lecture is about 10 minutes long and each class is at least 20 lessons long. However, to access any of the classes, you must buy an annual all-access pass for $180 a year. This gives you access to all of the instructors on the site at any time, but it is a bit steep considering there may only be a couple of instructors/courses in the topics you want.

Recommended Courses:

I haven’t bought the pass, so I cannot recommend any of the courses. However, Dr. Lauber says he has taken the Malcom Gladwell course on writing and thoroughly enjoyed it. It wasn’t too advanced for anyone to take and learn from it, but it did offer insights he had never heard – and he teaches writing himself. I think it sounds enticing enough for me that I want to try it out. But I’m waiting for a free trial to pop-up – it’s a little beyond my college student budget.

SkillShare

SkillShare is a bit older than Udemy and is nearly as popular. It offers many of the same things that Udemy does, but its course library is more limited. The main difference is the price. SkillShare is currently offering a free trial for a full month and users can purchase access to all of the courses either monthly or annually. It is significantly cheaper than Masterclass and costs either $100 a year or $15 a month.

Recommended Courses:

I think the strengths of SkillShare are the writing and practical skills courses. I would take advantage of the free month and find some of the results for yourself. I would advise parents to take a look and see if they can find a course they might want to take with their kids?  Nothing says quality bonding time like learning how to write a short story together!

Overall, any of these sites I think can be used to further someone’s journey into education for a relatively low cost. If you would like to check out any of the sites I mentioned the links are below.

Stay Safe.

Links:

SkillShare:

https://join.skillshare.com/jan2020-general/?coupon=google2free&utm_source=Google&utm_medium=paidsearch&utm_campaign=Brand_US_2Free&utm_term=skillshare&matchtype=e&gclid=CjwKCAjwte71BRBCEiwAU_V9h85eT-5urnckCZ-zxeYBr-DtSPoenz5oxgsqV3iDAeQeqyhRGOr0_BoCD8AQAvD_BwE

Udemy:

https://www.udemy.com/

Masterclass:

https://www.masterclass.com/

Great things for your kids to watch during quarantine

pic of Megan D
By Megan Donny

As much as I hate to admit it, my daily screen usage has gone up significantly during quarantine. 

Since we are all stuck inside most days, it’s likely that both you and your kids have also been on your devices more than usual. While this is completely understandable, most of what your kids may be viewing on their devices is probably not educational or brain-stimulating.  

Instead of letting your kids stream TikTok videos, here are my top five things for your kids to watch: 

Educational and fun YouTube series: 

YouTube isn’t just cute and funny animal videos anymore; it now actually contains channels and show series that can be both fun and educational for your kids. One of my recent favorites is “Some Good News.” Started by actor and dad, John Krasinski, SGN is solely focused on providing happy, fun and good news to its viewers. John Krasinski brings some of his celebrity friends on each episode as well. Other shows I’d recommend on YouTube include The Brain Scoop, SoulPancake and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls. 

Aquarium and zoo live streams: 

Many zoos and aquariums all around the country have begun to live stream their animals to show everyone at home how they are doing during this quarantine. The Houston Zoo is one of the most popular with its live streams of giraffes, elephants and more. They also have a Facebook Live series that includes videos of their animals, fun facts and even activities for you to complete at home with your kids. If your kids love sea creatures, the Monterey Bay Aquarium also has live streams as well as narrated feedings during the week. 

Kennedy Center’s Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems: 

A great way to get your kids to use their hands for things other than scrolling through social media or clicking on their tablets is to get them to be creative. Mo Willems is the Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence. Since the quarantine, he has begun to make videos of himself drawing and exploring different ways to make art. He provides printable worksheets for each of his “Lunch Doodles” on the Kennedy Center website.

Documentaries for kids: 

Netflix, Hulu and all of the other streaming platforms provide a wide variety of different types of documentaries. Many of these can be super educational and kid-friendly. March of the Penguins was the first documentary I watched as a kid and it really opened my eyes and taught me so much about nature and penguins. Disney’s animal documentaries like “Born in China” and “Monkey Kingdom” are super educational and interesting to watch. Some other family-friendly documentaries include “Kindness is Contagious,” “Pick of the Litter” and “The Imagineering Story.” 

Live stream concerts: 

Since artists can no longer perform on stage in front of audiences, they are bringing the concert to you by live-streaming their performances online. Live Nation has a whole page on their site dedicated to telling you when these live stream concerts are taking place. Some family-friendly artists who have begun live streaming are Andrew Lloyd Webber with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Kathrine McPhee with David Foster. They have sung songs from your kids’ favorite Disney movies as well as popular musicals. To find out more about who is live streaming, check out Live Nation’s website or your kids’ favorite artist’s social media pages.  

For more information:

https://www.kennedy-center.org/mowillems

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/best-documentaries

https://www.livenation.com/livefromhome

https://www.montereybayaquarium.org

https://www.houstonzoo.org/explore/webcams/

Teens, the Current Smokeless Tobacco Scene, and maybe an Alternative

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By Seth Woolcock

Although vaping has stolen all the headlines when it comes to teen tobacco use, it’s not alone as a significant threat to teenagers because of tobacco addiction.

That’s right, smokeless tobacco, also known as snuff, dip, cha, whatever you want to call it, is still very present in teen’s lives, despite new vaping technology.

Recent Smokeless Tobacco Trends with Teens

According to a 2017 study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 5.5 percent of high school teens admit to using smokeless tobacco.

While the number of chewing tobacco users definitely favors males, 7.7 percent vs. 3.0 percent for females, keep in mind that these figures could be lower than the actual numbers, as these are only the teens who self-reported using in the last 30 days. 

I know when I was given these self-reporting tests back in high school, many students didn’t take it seriously and answered untruthfully. 

According to the chart below, smokeless tobacco use by males has had a gradual increase since 2005. 

Via CDC.Gov

In my opinion, as one of America’s youth not that long ago, I think the trend will only continue. I think some teens might reason there are clear advantages to being hooked on smokeless tobacco versus smoking cigarettes. The first is price.

Today, the average can of smokeless tobacco costs about $3, compared to the average price of $6.85 for a pack of cigarettes. According to JUUL’s website, pods normally cost between $4-$5  a pod, before tax. If the number one factor for a teen’s tobacco habit is the price, chewing tobacco could be where they land.

Another reason is that it is pretty discrete. While vapes are pretty good at this also, like cigarettes they can also leave some odor both in the air and on the user’s breath. Nowadays that smell might be some sort of minty or fruity smell.

Chewing tobacco, on the other hand, can be hard to trace back to a kid if it’s disposed of correctly.

The Dangers of Smokeless Tobacco for Teens

The bottom-line regarding smokeless tobacco is that there is still nicotine in it, an addictive and toxic carcinogen. Because teens’ brains are still developing and they have greater neuroplasticity, it is easier for them to fall victim to an addiction. 

An addiction to smokeless tobacco can cause lip and gum issues, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and in some cases, oral cancer.

In the most severe cases, smokeless tobacco has been known to cause permanent disfigurement with loss of teeth and/or even bones in the face, according to TeensHealth.

A New, Innovative Way to Wean Off of Smokeless Tobacco

Grinds Coffee pouches

Even though smokeless tobacco use and addiction are continuing to rise in the U.S., so are alternative forms of the product, designed to help users quit.

Parents, I present you, Grinds Coffee Pouches, a tobacco and nicotine-free coffee pouch used by many to actually quit chewing smokeless tobacco.

The startup, originally created by two college baseball players, eventually made its way into Major League Baseball and onto Shark Tank, the entrepreneur reality show on ABC. 

The product comes in six different flavors (Wintergreen, Vanilla, Cherry, Cinnamon Roll, Mocha and Caramel). It gives users an energy boost while helping them wean off of smokeless tobacco. 

Possibly the best part about the product is that the caffeine in Grinds is actually not all that bad for you either, as one pouch only contains about ¼ cup of coffee.

I have a few friends and former-collogues who have used Grinds to quit chewing. If your teen is chewing smokeless tobacco, I highly recommend getting them some Grinds as a healthy alternative. 

Useful Links:

Parents: CDC Advice For Dealing with COVID-19

By Katie Mest

I don’t even have to ask at this point about your mental states, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down businesses, workplaces, and schools. Families who would normally see each other only a few hours in the mornings and evenings during a workday are now seeing each other 24/7.

Parents, we know you already have enough on your plate as it is. Maybe you’re working from home while also trying to occupy and teach your children. You have to worry about keeping yourself and your families safe, and you’re confronted with the thought of potentially getting sick every time you leave the house to go food shopping. It’s overwhelming and fear-inducing for everyone. Including your children.

Check for changes in your kid during this time, especially since their schedules have been wildly disrupted. They have no school, no daycare, no sports, no friend interaction outside of the internet. They just have you. And while they might be getting on your nerves now more than ever, there may be some underlying issues stemming from this whole experience.

The CDC suggests that some of what your child may be feeling could come from how you are reacting to the situation. Being “calm and confident” is the key here. (We know that’s far easier said than done.) Before checking in on your kids, ask yourself honestly how you’re doing.

Here are some signs the CDC says to look out for in children and teens:

  • Excessive crying or irritation in younger children
  • Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (for example, toileting accidents or bedwetting)
  • Excessive worry or sadness
  • Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
  • Irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens
  • Poor school performance or avoiding school
  • Difficulty with attention and concentration
  • Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past
  • Unexplained headaches or body pain
  • Use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

You might even be experiencing some of these yourself. I know I am.

Returning to my classes in an all-online format has not been easy. There are days each week when I struggle to find the motivation to accomplish even simple tasks. My brain is more scattered than ever. I rarely know what day of the week it is, let alone the date. And wine is a tempting treat to counteract the negativity and bad news around me. I get it.

We’re all in this together. Use this time of isolation to support and take care of those you’re now “stuck” with.

What can you do?

  1. Keep routines. The Child Mind Institute says this is the key. The biggest parts of your kids’ schedules have vanished completely. You can help your child through this transition by keeping certain routines in place. Create for them (or if they’re older, help them create) a schedule to follow each day that tells them when they can play, do schoolwork, exercise, etc. Make sure they’re realistic for what your kids can actually accomplish in a day, and factor in breaks from doing work.
  2. Make time for nonelectronic activities (like exercise). Let’s be real, we’re all spending our free time on our devices. Make sure your kids spend some time away from the screen every once in a while and engage in another activity. Try planning a family activity time where you can go for a walk, work on a puzzle, or do a craft together. That way you can get quality family time while also breaking up your days.
  3. Practice good media literacy with them. Especially now, make sure you’re consuming truthful, meaningful media. Certainly, stay up to date with the COVID-19 situation, but don’t let the news add to the anxiety you’re feeling. Similarly, reinforce that your kid (particularly older ones) can tell the difference between fake news and real news. And make sure they don’t spend their days worrying themselves by reading article after article about the coronavirus.
  4. Check-in with your kid. They may come out and tell you the different ways they feel negatively impacted by the pandemic. The Child Mind Institute says that kids throwing tantrums or being more defiant than usual may be experiencing anxiety, and they don’t know how to manage it. Talk through emotions, and you might be able to get to the root of the problem.  
  5. Keep them connected. They miss their friends as much as you miss yours. Allow them to message or video chat their friends because at this point in their lives (teens especially), their friends are one of the most important things in their lives. Remember that there are some issues in a kid’s life that require friends’ input, not necessarily parents’.

The most helpful thing you can do to help your child through this pandemic is to validate their feelings. I don’t know how to manage all the feelings I have about the coronavirus and its impact on the world, but it means a lot to have trusted adults in your life tell you that you’re not silly or childish for feeling this way.

We all feel a little helpless right now. Support your kids, and don’t forget to lean on others for support, too, if you need it.

Read More:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html

Gaming Addiction May Go Up During the COVID-19 Crisis

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By Desmond Brown

It is a confusing and strange time we find ourselves in. COVID-19 has essentially put a pause on all of our regular activities and pastimes, pushing everyone to use the internet. Whether it’s using Zoom everyday like us college kids or binge-watching shows on Netflix, everyone is using the internet for something. However, the most significant users of internet bandwidth at the moment are gamers, and that could be a concern for parents.

With millions of kids staying at home with no clear indication of when they will return to in-person classes, many parents are struggling to keep their kids from playing games all day, every day during this crisis. Gaming addiction, which has been recently confirmed as a mental disorder by the DSM-5, has been the subject of extensive discussions by those in both the medical field and the gaming industry. We all know it is essential that kids and teens take adequate breaks when playing games. But it’s also essential to look for signs of dependence on video gaming, as opposed to real-world relationships or interactions.

A recent article from the Bloomberg news service warns people about the uptick in gaming addiction. Experts say every risk factor for gaming addiction is on the rise. And many call-in centers have seen a rise in calls, including an increase in gaming addiction patients by psychiatrists. It’s created a real problem for health officials, but right now, combating COVID-19 is the bigger issue. But many expect a big wave in gaming addiction as this carries on.

The American Addictions Centers website lists a set of behaviors to be on the lookout for if you are concerned about gaming addiction. They include:

  • Poor performance in school, work, and other responsibilities.
  • Neglect of other hobbies or friendships
  • Ignoring basic hygiene
  • Irritable mood when not playing or forced to stop
  • Playing games with increased intensity or length to reach enjoyment
  • Symptoms of withdrawal when the game is removed; sleeplessness, loss of appetite, emotional

I offer these up as helpful suggestions to all of you parents out there. But, honestly, I don’t think gaming is as addicting as people make it out to be. When I play, I do find it hard to break away from at times, but only because I’m so engaged in what I’m. But I think gaming is a great pastime. There are countless games and storylines to play through. For many, gaming acts as a way to escape. Whether winning a battle royale or goofing around online with some friends, gaming can be useful in a variety of ways.

For your children, I think they act as something to focus on while they’re sitting around the house. That’s not to say they should sit in bed and play games all day. But gaming can be mentally stimulating. The “Independent,” a British newspaper, recently cited a study of 1,000 gamers.  It showed that most people who play games report they feel gaming helps them relieve stress, make friends, and help them have a feeling of accomplishment.

Now, you can argue that relationships made in games or online cannot rival the ones made outside. However, connecting with friends, whether indoors or outside, is still engagement. It still allows one to have a sense of social interactivity.

Given the circumstances that COVID-19 has placed under, I feel that having a connection with friends online through gaming is a benefit and not a detriment.

But – do be careful. If the medical community it right, some will fall victim to the disorder of gaming addiction. You do want to keep your kid safe.

For more information about gaming addiction:

https://americanaddictioncenters.org/video-gaming-addiction

To read more on the studies referenced in this story, visit these links:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-07/video-game-addiction-poised-to-spread-during-coronavirus-lockdown

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/video-games-stress-playing-strategy-key-gamers-study-a8202541.html

Other blogs we’ve written on gaming:

5 Great Apps for Kids at Home

By Seth Woolcock

Hey parents. As if you’re job of monitoring and limiting screen time wasn’t hard enough, it just got a whole lot tougher with 42 states closing K-12 schools in response to COVID-19.

We here at 2020 Parenting will leave it up to you how much screen time is right for your kid in these unprecedented times. But maybe we can help you make that screen time more beneficial to them.

Today we’re going to look at five applications that can help your kid make the most of their screen time.

Marco Polo (Available on iTunes & Google Play Store)

One of the most difficult things about social distancing is not getting to see family and friends. “Marco Polo” is an app that helps keep family and friend groups close, no matter how different their lives and schedules may be.

The app combines elements of texting, social media & video chat. Groups communicate by sending videos & photos to the group.  The beauty of Marco Polo is that, though the videos and images stay in the group, they can be watched and responded to whenever it’s convenient.

Overall, “Marco Polo” is user friendly and can help your kid, you and your entire family stay in touch and keep morale high during these uncertain times.

Here’s what one mom had to say about it:

“Scrabble Go” or “Words with Friends 2” (Available on iTunes & Google Play Store)

Since we really don’t know when schools will open again, this could be a perfect time to have them brush up on their vocabulary.

“Scrabble Go” is the mobile version of the classic board game. It has the same feel as the game you knew from childhood. You can play online with friends or against the computer. There are also some new game modes like “Word Drop,” “Tumbler” and “Rush” that offer a refreshing twist to classic Scrabble.

For more competitive players, there are even leagues and tournaments to take someone’s game to the next level.

“Words with Friends 2” is a newer and trendier take on “Scrabble.” It focuses almost as much on socializing as on word crafting. The game is not overly time-consuming, but I think it is thought-provoking.

Either one allows you to download the game yourself and show them who’s boss.

“Duolingo” (Available on iTunes & Google Play Store)

What could be better than a kid using their screen time to expand their knowledge of the English language? How about learning another language.

I present “DuoLingo” – an iTunes’ Editor’s Choice that specializes in teaching anyone a new language in only 10 minutes per day.

“Duolingo” allows users to study any of 30 different languages. Users can select how intense they want the learning – or how relaxed.  It also offers a placement test for those who have some experience in a language.

It has daily notifications to remind users to do their “Duolingo” for the day. The free version is excellent, but for about $64.00 a year, you can upgrade to the “Pro” version and get rid of the ads and get access to advanced features. By the way, did I mention it is probably the largest, most-downloaded language learning app in the world? It’s a no brainer.

“Driving Academy 2020 Car Simulator” (Available on iTunes & Google Play Store)

One day, when your kid turns 16 and the DMV returns to business, they’ll want to get behind the wheel. Well, why not begin their driver education from the comfort of your own living room with “Driving Academy 2020 Car Simulator?”

It seems like a pretty sharp looking app to me. It puts teens behind a virtual wheel to help them master parking and driving skills. But don’t worry – this isn’t another “Grand Theft Auto” game.  The simulator challenges drivers to follow real road signs and the rules of the road.

The game has 250 levels, more than 135 different cars to choose from, and even a night driving mode.

“Garage Band” (Available on iTunes)

The classic Mac app, “Garage Band,” is now a popular app on most iPhones. Most likely it’s already installed on your IOS device. I think Garage Band has the potential to unlock a whole new side of your kid.

Although the app does have a slight learning curve, once your kid understands how to make different tracks and loops they can really start making music. It even allows them to use several different instruments, including a guitar, bass, piano and more.

If they don’t know how to play any of these instruments, “Garage Band” has a smart version of each instrument, making it easy to create great music.

Garage Band also has a Sound Library which allows them to pull in third-party loops and soundtracks. And of course, they can record their voice or other audio. When they eventually have some tracks and loops created, they can throw them in the app’s editing bay and create their own amazing content.

Whether it’s just making some sample music or an entire podcast, these are real skills that could be used down the road, especially in the media industry.

Again, as parents, you’re going to have some really tough decisions to make when it comes to your kid’s screen time over the next few months. My thought is if they’re going to have it, they might as well use some it to their advantage.

Good luck out there and stay healthy.

Useful Links:

TikTok’s Relaxed Terms Could Be Unsafe for Kids

By Megan Donny

TikTok, one of the most popular content-creating apps children and teens use today, is full of security concerns that parents may not be aware of. 

According to Australian ‘Cyber Cop’ Susan McLean, the app has been known to fail to remove suspicious accounts, even after complaints and warnings have been filed against them. 

These accounts could be run by possible stalkers and child predators. And the minimum age to create an account is 13 years old. This is a low age compared to other popular content-sharing apps. 

TikTok’s whole premise is video creating and sharing. Unlike Snapchat, these videos do not disappear after 24 hours. And TikTok has over 500 million monthly active users. 

The app relies on content from children and teens, who make up a majority of the users and content creators. 

While adults understand that we need to look out for our online safety, children as young as 13 might not comprehend the idea that there could be people on TikTok watching their singing and dancing videos inappropriately. 

For example, an investigation by BBC News in the UK found that children were receiving inappropriate, sexually explicit messages and that the platform was full of bullying. The Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK is now investigating the video sharing app, according to The Guardian. 

“Like any social media platform that has a direct message or commenting feature, there’s always the possibility that your child could be chatting with anyone, including strangers,” said Titania Jordan, chief parenting officer of parental-control app Bark.

According to BBC News, even though most of the sexually explicit comments disappear within 24 hours after being reported, most of the users who posted the comments are not removed from the app. 

“Even if you set your own account to private, you may still be exposed to sexual or violent content posted to the public feed,” Jordan said. “Ranging from overtly sexual TikToks to physically dangerous stunts that kids may want to recreate, to overtly racist and discriminatory commentary, there is a wide range of concerning content on the platform.”

The app recently launched a new set of parental controls settings in the UK, following the investigations into their app. The new setting, called “Family Safety Mode,” allows parents to be able to manage their child’s screen time, limit viewable content and limit or even shut off the messaging feature on the app. 

If you can’t access the new “Family Safety Mode”, I at a minimum advise that you make your child’s TikTok account private. Common Sense Media advises parents to make sure to turn on all privacy settings for accounts kids are using, so only people you know can interact with their videos or messages on the app. Parents should also teach their children about the possible effects that posting their personal information can have in the long run. 

Sources:

https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-47813350

https://www.healthy-holistic-living.com/tiktok-is-a-pedophile-magnet-and-unsafe-for-kids-warns-cyber-security/?utm_source=JERF&fbclid=IwAR23txVdFF13qaNqVEEmjWf5WnDs2VEaPoYk-HGE0kuIUAK4zTHxxX2E7lc

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/parents-ultimate-guide-to-tiktok

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/jul/05/why-tiktok-is-facing-greater-scrutiny-video-sharing-app-child-safety

https://www.parents.com/kids/safety/internet/is-tiktok-safe-for-kids/

YouTube’s New Policy Regarding Your Kid’s Data

By Katie Mest

Your kids are all over YouTube. (But aren’t we all?)

We blog about how your kid might be using YouTube here, but there have been some recent changes in YouTube’s privacy policies and they impact your kids. Don’t worry, though. This time it’s actually good news.

Back in September, the video media giant got into hot water when regulators said it was collecting the personal information of children and using it to target them with ads. To settle the case with the FTC, YouTube’s parent company, Google, paid a $170 million fine ($136 million to the FTC and $34 million for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Rule.) This was the largest fine collected from the act since it came into existence.

 Enacted in 1998, COPPA prohibits online services doing certain things when the user is under 13 years of age. YouTube violated this by collecting data without the consent of the kids’ parents. YouTube also earned millions of dollars by mining this data and targeting ads toward those kids.

So What’s New?

(https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/06/technology/youtube-children-privacy.html)

YouTube tried to get around this by saying that users cannot be under 13 because in order to have an account, you must be 13 and over…probably to avoid this very occurrence. However, you and I both know that YouTube is where kids spend a lot of their time regardless of that requirement.

YouTube has changed its policies to follow COPPA guidelines and better protect your kid’s privacy.

  • YouTube will limit the collection of data from anyone watching videos directed toward children. It has also turned off some features from kid-directed channels. Comments, live chats, and saving videos to a playlist might be disabled depending on the content your child is watching.
  • Ads on these types of videos will be shown based on the content of the videos, not the web-browser and online data from the user watching. And if your kid is watching kid videos, they will more likely be recommended other kid videos.
  • Video producers posting on YouTube will now have to categorize their videos as specifically made for children. Doing so will help determine which videos to turn on data-collecting limitations. Officials also said they could override a producer’s decision if they feel it is incorrect. More info: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/9383587?hl=en.

That should make you feel a little safer for a while. It’s highly recommended that if your kid is under 13 they should use YouTube Kids for their content. It’s better regulated by age-appropriate content.

But if your kiddos are 13 and over…let’s just say you should start having conversations about what information they put on the Internet and how services use that information.

How Many Teens Are Using YouTube?

According to Forrester, 96% of teens online are using YouTube. It says 85% of boys ages 13-17 use YouTube daily, while 70% of girls ages 13-17 use it daily.

So, yeah, the short answer is that a lot of kids are using it. And they’ll be watching anything from sports to beauty to gaming to humor to cute puppy videos.

I guess what you should take from all of this is to remind your kids over and over (and over and over) that EVERYTHING they do on their devices has an impact. It’s no coincidence that that ad popped up on their feed after having a conversation about the product.  

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Star Wars: The Best Content To Watch With Your Kid

Parents, does it ever seem like picking a movie to watch with the whole family gets tougher and tougher the older your kid becomes?

By Seth Woolcock

Parents, does it ever seem like picking a movie to watch with the whole family gets tougher and tougher the older your kid becomes? 

I know when I was 14 or 15-years-old the last thing I wanted to do was watch a movie with my parents. 

It’s probably difficult because tweens are at that awkward stage: Too old for “kids” movies, but not yet ready for adult movies. 

Well, how about a compromise? 

Instead of recommending just a one movie, I’m going to recommend an entire franchise: “Star Wars.” 

What most of you remember as a 1970’s space story about a young Jedi named Luke Skywalker trying to defeat Darth Vader has evolved over the past forty-plus years into an entire fictional-universe that’s comprised of full-length films, animated and live-action television shows, video games, comics and chapter books. 

I think it’s the perfect bridge between you and your kid, particularly if they are a tween. 

Star Wars Basics: 

“Star Wars” was created by George Lucas, owner of Lucas Films. The entire franchise was purchased by the Walt Disney Company in 2012 for $4.05 billion. 

After the release of the original “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope”, Lucas went on to release “Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” in 1980 and Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi in 1983. These are called the original trilogy. Though they are labeled Episodes IV, V and VI, I highly recommend stating with “A New Hope.” Not only does it have one of the simplest hero arcs for a kid to understand, but it easily establishes the light and dark side the force, a key concept in all of the films. Also these are most likely the “Star Wars” films you grew up with, so it might be the perfect place to start bridging that gap. 

Twenty-some years later, Lucas released three more films between 1999 and 20015. This trilogy, known as the “prequels” tells the story of how Anakin Skywalker eventually became Darth Vader. 

Even though the prequels received a lot of scrutiny from critics, they’re still beautiful pieces of art. This trilogy was released when I was a kid. I confess I had a mixed bag of emotions watching Anakin grow from a young boy into a renowned Jedi, and then becoming a force for evil as he turned to dark side. 

Note, this trilogy ends on a somber note as we see the relationship between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin change (Anakin becomes head strong and refuses to listen to the advice of his elders.) 

After the prequels were released, Lucas and Disney went on to make three more movies. They pick up where Episode VI ended, so these are Episodes VII, VIII and IX. Currently, “Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker” is still playing in some theaters after debuting Dec. 18, 2019. It serves as both the end to the Skywalker Saga. 

This last trilogy is probably the one your kid knows best. It’s very female-empowering as the plot follows a young woman, Rey, who becomes the next Jedi. The cast is by far the most diverse in the franchise’s history but still includes legends such as Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford returning to play their original roles. 

Importantly, all of these films can easily be streamed on Disney+, excluding “The Rise of Skywalker” which is still in some theaters. But here is where it gets interesting. There is a lot more to the Star Wars Universe! 

Other Popular Star Wars Media 

Spin-off Films 

In addition to the prequel films, Disney and Lucas Films have also released two spin-off movies. One is “A Star Wars Story: Rogue One”. It tells the story of the rebels who stole the Death Star’s plans prior to “A New Hope”. Another is “A Star Wars Story: Solo”. It serves as Han Solo’s origin story. While these films have received mixed reviews by some critics, they both carry strong themes of bravery and justice, and I think they are excellent films. 

Television Series 

You might not know there have been several television series in the franchise’s history. Right now there are two that stand above the rest. 

“Star Wars: The Clone Wars” is an animated series that ran from 2008 to 2014 on Cartoon Network and retuned on Netflix for a sixth season later that year. Disney recently announced that the series will be returning for its seventh and final season Feb. 21, streaming exclusively on Disney+. 

The show is animated, so that might make it more appealing to your kids than to you. But don’t let that stop you from watching. It has many fans of all ages. A few claim it is the best media the franchise has to offer. 

A new series is really catching people’s attention, “The Mandalorian”. If you haven’t seen it, is the show responsible for the “Baby Yoda” memes you may have seen on Facebook. This show became Star Wars’ first live-action television series when it debuted on Nov. 12, 2019. It was timed to launch with Disney’s new streaming service, Disney+. 

It has been confirmed that the show will return for a second season in the fall of this year. 

Like all of the Star Wars movies and TV shows, it always has a good message. I would sum this one up as “Doing the right thing even when the wrong thing seems easier.” 

Video Games 

Star Wars has also been making a strong comeback over the last several years with their video games. It’s safe to say that “Star Wars Battlefront II” is currently the space saga’s most popular game. 

Available on consoles like PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC for less than $20, the game is very entertaining for the price. It is also very appropriate for tweens. While there is obviously some violence, which explains the Teen ESRB rating, it isn’t graphic. Defeated players generally just fall to the ground. If you want, check out this parent review on the game that goes into more detail.

w on the game that goes into more detail.

Final Thoughts 

Maybe you’re not one of those people that reads science fiction and you have a hard time buying into a fictional, galactic-spanning universe of diverse creatures (that somehow still manage to communicate with each other?). But I think it’s the perfect vehicle for bridging the gap between childhood and adulthood for kids in that tween stage. It has action and aliens, but it’s not graphic or grotesquely violent like some franchises these days. 

With new content continuing to rollout, “Star Wars” could be the perfect compromise for your next family movie night. Or your next twelve. 

May the force be with you. 

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Should You Worry About Screen Obsession? One Guy’s Take

Desmond Brown pic
By Desmond Brown

Parents, have you ever honestly thought about what your children are doing with the technology that’s in their hands every day? Guess what: Chances are they’re doing the same things you are.

You get up in the morning and check your phone or the TV for the weather and traffic reports. If you have an office job, the majority of the day is spent on a computer or laptop. If not, you still use your phone when you go on break (or while you’re working, we don’t judge here). And then you come home, turn on the TV, check your feed, text your friends, or read some articles on your device of choice. If you’re like me, you use your phone or TV until you pass out and go to sleep.

Let’s look at it from the kids’ perspective. They wake up, check their phone to text their friends (or call them if they are like my sister) and check the weather. Then on the school bus ride over, everyone around them is either half asleep listening to music from a device or still texting. When they’re at school, they use laptops to work on projects and papers and read off of a projector screen to write down notes. Then they go to lunch and text, or look at the latest YouTube craze, or play Fortnite. Then after more lessons, they go home and text, talk, or play with their friends until it is time to do it all over again the next school day.

Notice how similar their day is to yours?

Newer generations are growing up with technology, but everyone says need protection from the dangerous and addictive nature of social media and “screen time”. The older generations need to be on the lookout and reduce kid’s exposure to screens.

But how much time do adults spend on screens?  How much time do YOU spend looking at a screen each day? 

Sure, there are things to be worried about. And we’ve written about lots of them (see some links below or just search our blog). We do recommend taking the time to learn how your kids are using the Internet, their cellphones, various social media sites. Maybe have them show you how they use it. That way you can understand why they use certain social media and you can work on ways to limit their use, if necessary.  

If you feel the need to cut back their screen time, why not make it a family thing? Start a competition and see who can stay off social media the longest. Suggest ways to keep people’s attention away from the phones. It would be great if you role modeled how to avoid “screen obsession” instead of not “practicing what you preach”.

Anyone a part of modern society is surrounded by technology. There’s just no way around that. But I do think how much time we spend with it is in our control.

I don’t think screen time is “wrong”.  Technology enables children to interact with friends, and create unique experiences. When I was growing up, some of the best times I had were when my friends and I on a Friday night would play our favorite games together online. With technology, I was able to break out of my shell and talk to my friends about anything and everything. Screens are not a bad or good thing. They are necessary to our lifestyles in the 21st century. So, rather than limiting a now normal part of the modern child’s life, I think we should all learn to embrace and understand it. Teach them how to use their time online for creative or productive tasks in addition to the social aspects.

Some of these ideas come from Director of Digital Civility, Laura Higgins. She gives tips to parents on what to do in their households. A link to that article can be found here.

Meanwhile, explore our numerous other blog posts on technology, including social media, video games, online gambling and more.

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Article by Laura Higgins