Keeping Kids Safe in the Android World

Let’s be honest, we all use our phones and tablets to entertain our kids when we’re in a pinch – right? – so let’s be sure that our kids can’t end up in the wrong places on our devices.

Forget about passwords to get into your device.  If they’re already using it, they’ve already unlocked the key to your entire database. But there are some smart things you can do to keep your kids safe.  Android phones and tablets allow you to set a PIN lock on any app. This means that you can set your phone or tablet to have one app open and lock it for the kids to play with it. They won’t be able to use any other programs on your phone or tablet until you unlock it.  If you want them to access several apps, set up a guest account where you select the apps and they can roam around in their account without having access to yours. To set this up, open the Google Play Store app, go into Settings, and then Parental Controls.

If you need longer entertainment – for say car rides or emergencies -- set up the YouTubeKids app on your phone to ensure that they’re watching the shows and movies you approve. You can also run Kids Place and Kids Zone so your kids can run the apps you’ve approved and nothing else.

For the lucky kids who have their own phones, use MMGuardian to remotely monitor and control which apps they’re using and to create a schedule for when they can be on.

But if your kids have too many apps to keep track of on your phone, it might be easier to use AppLock to put a PIN on your apps that you don’t want them to get into.

With a little planning, you can keep your kids safe from the unsavory part of the world until they’re old enough to deal with it.



Baby Boxes Curb Infant Mortality

It’s exciting to see that expecting parents are ditching the traditional cribs in favor of baby boxes here in the United States.  I blogged about how Finnish hospitals give baby boxes stuffed with all kinds of supplies for newborn babies to families when they leave the hospital to reduce Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).  New Jersey has become the first state to adopt the baby box program.  They’re set to distribute over 100,000 baby boxes. Ohio is following suit and hospitals in Philadelphia and San Antonio are giving them away too.

To prevent infant mortality, parents are discouraged from sleeping with their child or putting toys in their cribs.  These baby boxes are lightweight and portable so infants can sleep near their parents.  The baby boxes also come with an educational video for new parents to learn about how to prevent SIDS. 

In 2015, 3,700 infants in the US died from SIDS.  In Finland they started using baby boxes in 1949, and the infant mortality rate dropped from 65 deaths per 1,000 infants in the 1930s to just 3.5 deaths in 1949. Our infant mortality rate is double Finland’s; in 2016, we had 5.8 deaths per 1,000 births.

The other benefit of using baby boxes is reducing the pressure on parents to spend hundreds of dollars on unnecessary baby furniture that babies outgrow so quickly.



Tribute to Chuck Berry; Merit style! Part Two

We had so much fun doing the first Rock ‘n Roll Revue that we did a more comprehensive production the following summer.  Naturally we covered Chuck Berry again – and this time we did “Johnny B. Goode" in our production of It’s Gotta Be Rock ‘n Roll Music: 1955-1975.

Our 8th and 4th graders gave speeches about the history of rock ‘n roll and how Chuck Berry influenced just about every musician who followed him in the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s. These students created a business called Merit Oldies Entertainment where they performed 30-minute and 60-minute musical performances all over the San Francisco Bay Area. 

They even opened the Frankie Valli Concert in Monterey!


Every Kid Should Learn How to Build

My friend called me in a panic because her husband, a surgeon, had just attempted to “fix” their toilet and water was going everywhere.  She told me that while he was a brilliant surgeon, that’s where the brilliance ended because he knew nothing about common sense things.  Wow!  Today it seems that we are labeled and categorized to fit into specific places. We are neither expected nor taught to expand our understanding of basic survival skills.

Since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve become a society of assembly lines. We specialize in one skill, and then that’s all we do.  If we were robots, that would be the logical and practical way to utilize our time.  But we live in homes that have electrical and plumbing hidden behind sheetrock, and walls built with 2” by 4” on 16” centers.  We’re never officially taught how houses are built so when there is a plumbing problem, we call the plumber.  Electrical problem, an electrician.

Not knowing how things work around your house can make you feel incompetent.  Having to call in a contractor every time you need some minor work done is time consuming and costly. I think all students should spend a summer working with a building contractor to learn the inner workings of a house or building.  It would help students build a sense of independence and confidence.

For Christmas one year, I gave my girls tool kits complete with electric drills, Dremel tools, hammers, screwdrivers, measuring tapes, and anything I could fit in the tool box. While they weren’t thrilled with these gifts back then, I’ve noticed that they keep it handy in their homes today, and I’m glad to see that they know how to use their tools.

When they were in high school, they built their own vanities for their bedrooms one summer.  They learned how to use a saber saw to cut the shape, a router to round the corners, and a belt sander to smooth the surface.  Rob showed them how to wire 7 light bulbs around the mirror. 

I learned how to build furniture by getting tips from the guys at San Lorenzo Lumber.  I buy all of my materials from them because their staff (Mario and Craig are my favorites) are incredibly knowledgeable and helpful.  I’ve built 90% of my home and office furniture since 1976.  I love to design furniture because I get exactly what I want with the safe materials I prefer (no particle board or Masonite!).

Wouldn’t it be ideal for students to learn how to build a house and how to use power and hand tools before they move out to live on their own? Most students barely know how to handle a hammer and certainly don’t understand how to build furniture or any phases of building construction. We certainly want our kids to be able to troubleshoot problems in their future homes, right?


Teaching Kids to Vet Fake News

Did you know that Marie Antoinette didn’t actually say, “Let them eat cake!”? Yup!  Fake news has been around for centuries and as you can see, it this particular statement has been repeated so often that it has ended up in our history lectures still today.  But today fake news is so prevalent that most students (in all grade levels) don’t have the critical thinking skills to decipher what’s real and what’s fake.  So here are ways that teachers – and you – can help students wade through all the propaganda thrown at them.

According to teacher Scott Bedley (who was interviewed by NPR’s Sophia Alvarez Boyd), you can play Simon Says to encourage students to make their own educated decisions about what’s true and what’s false in the news.  Students should consider the following before answering:

  1. How reliable is the source? (Was it written by a major magazine or legitimate expert?)
  2. What does your gut say? (Does it sound possible?)
  3. Does it make sense?
  4. Can you find 3 other sources to verify this same finding?
  5. Have experts in the field commented about it?
  6. Does it have a copyright?

Bringing awareness about how easy it is to create fake news on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media is the first step in preparing students for wading through the junk they read on the internet. Then making sure that students don’t perpetuate or inadvertently spread these lies by sharing news that they don’t carefully vet is the next step. These are things that we all need to do to maintain truth in social networking and information sharing.  Instant access to information can be a blessing and a curse.



Why Speed Reading Isn't Good for Gaining Knowledge

In our fast-paced world where information can be had in mere seconds from millions of readily available sources, reading for depth has become an anomaly. Standardized tests require students to read passages quickly and answer multiple-choice questions within a short time span.  The timed test is really unnecessary and produces inaccurate results. The testing organization is not interested if your ability to fully understand, ponder philosophically, and then render an answer.  Nope!  They want to see what you can take away from the question under pressure in a conveniently short period of time. 

In order to ace the ACT or SAT college entrance exams, students flock to take speed reading classes so they can skim over passages to make educated guesses.  When students speed read, however, they don’t comprehend what they read as if they read it at normal speed. You can’t analyze or think critically when you’re reading fast. All you get is the gist of the passage, which is simply superficial knowledge.

So if students take in bits and pieces of what they read, they’re possibly making bad decisions or assumptions that can lead to big problems.  After all, it’s easy to miss important words like “NOT” and completely misunderstand the passage. Applying speed reading to real life, the speed reader would have to spend unnecessary time fixing their mistakes – something they could have avoided by simply reading at a healthy pace to understand the text.

I love the quote by Einstein, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

So rather than rereading what you didn’t understand because you were speed reading, just read for depth the first time.  Block off time when you aren’t rushed or pressured and then read for knowledge.  You’ll be smarter for it, and you’ll do better on any test. 


Parenting 101: Who Wears the Pants?

I was somewhat surprised when I was once told: “Please don’t use the ‘NO’ word with my child.” While I appreciate the philosophy that you can empower your child and build a positive framework about the world by referencing everything with a positive spin, it isn’t the real world, and I worry that those children will grow up to be unpleasantly introduced to a world that they don’t know or understand.

Always saying “YES” to a child is actually really difficult to do. It requires reframing virtually everything you say.  What if your child wants to eat pizza for every meal? Or worse, Gummy Bears? This parent might respond with a question: “Could you please first take a bite of the chicken – or spinach – and then you can have the Gummy Bears.” While this might sound okay on first blush, there are 2 intrinsic problems you’re creating.

First, you’re giving your child mixed messages about nutrition. Using junk food as a bribe to eat healthy food can cause food issues down the road.  Feeding children fast foods or sweets is the cause of our obesity problem in America. It has become the go-to meal when we want to please the kids and avoid dinner-table conflicts.

Second, you’ve undermined your position as the “grown-up.” Yup, as the parent, you need to look out for what’s best for your child.  Most experts suggest that children aren’t equipped with the reasoning skills to thoroughly understand right from wrong until they’re 25 years old.  So why would a parent put their child in the driver’s seat by always saying “yes” and asking permission to make a recommendation?

Besides, I can’t put together sentences that don’t have the negative words like “no” or “can’t”, and I certainly don’t want to ask a 3 year old for permission to leave a party.  I wonder what happens when this toddler becomes a teenager. Not sure that this type of parenting will work when teens know who wears the pants in their families.  What would the parent say when their teen wants to have sex, drink beer, or smoke e-cigs? Parenting isn’t easy but for the sake of the children, parents need to be the grown-ups so their children can trust them to be the caring and wise leader in their lives that they need. 


Choose Sports that Don't Cause Concussions

I was never a great athlete – probably to the dismay of my athletic father – and my daughters were never interested in any contact sports known to breed concussions.  Thank goodness. I don’t even like to watch sports like boxing, football or hockey because watching people get injured and crowds of people cheering on what I consider “unsportsmanlike” behavior bothers me.  Okay, I know I’m a minority in this arena but hear me out. 
Just recently, I’ve talked to several high school students who have been suffered the consequences of concussions in sports such as soccer, football, and rugby.  They have frequent headaches and often miss school when they have migraines. Many students notice that they can’t remember things or that it takes longer for them to learn concepts after being concussed. These are 15- and 16-year-old kids. When I heard about how their coaches pushed them and fellow teammates pressured them to keep playing, I was appalled. 
Helmet sensors are proven to be inconsistent in detecting concussions, which can be dangerous, even lethal, in protecting our kids. One of my students did a project on how soccer helmets give the false sense of security, therefore, these helmets actually put players at a greater risks because they believe that they’re protected while wearing them and play harder than they would without them.  
Check out this video about football concussions and helmet research. I know it’s not PC to say this but I wouldn’t recommend that any student play a contact sport that might cause a concussion.  With all of the many other inevitable obstacles a child may face, why put them at risk for brain injuries that will negatively affect them for the rest of their lives?  There are lots of healthy ways to play team sports (basketball, volleyball, cross country running) and get exercise (martial arts, weightlifting, dancing). 


Filtering Distractions = Better Retention

Just read an NPR article “Learning in the Age of Digital Distraction,” that validates my claims that when students have to filter out distractions in class or while studying, they will perform at a lower level than their non-distracted counterparts. I’ve written several blogs on how our addiction to technology negatively affects our social and academic performance: There's No Such Thing as Multi-Tasking While Studying, We Have No Privacy - NONE, The Evolution of Language Innovations: Texting and Abbreviations, and Smart Replies Are Dumb, And Here's Why.  
According to Dr. Adam Gazzaley, neurologist and professor at UCSF, students perform at their highest level (memorizing facts and information for tests) when they successfully filter out all irrelevant information and stimuli.  In other words, when they’re reading a passage or listening to a lecture without any distractions, they can fully comprehend the concepts and retain them.  However, if they are distracted by text messages or other notifications popping up on their phones or computer screens (irrelevant information), these distractions will degrade their brain’s ability to process the important information and their performance on tests will be much lower. 
Meditation or other mindful relaxation processes can help give students the break they need from over stimulation that they receive throughout the day.  While that sounds great in theory, I don’t know about you, but I have real trouble meditating.  The last time I “meditated,” it felt like E T E R N I T Y as I tried to “not think” or stop creating mental lists of all of the things I’d rather be doing than meditating. Then when I opened my eyes and looked at the clock, I was disappointed that only 45 seconds had passed. Ugh. 
So, instead I find that for those who can’t or won’t meditate, face-to-face meaningful engagement is the ticket.  By talking with our kids about things that are important to them, or you, they learn how to filter out distractions (texts, notifications, TV shows) as you model how to handle them.  Yup, that requires that you, too, learn how to filter out distractions.  Show them that you don’t have to check your phone or respond to a notification while you’re engaged in this conversation.  Ignore them or turn them off without reading them.  Wouldn’t Miss Manners of the past have put her nose up to people who would be so rude as to have another conversation with someone during a conversation? So rather than patiently waiting while your kids respond to distractions, teach them to filter them out by modeling that behavior.  It might be easier to simply turn off the distractions during the conversation to let your kids see how nice it is to have these interesting interchanges.
Just last week I had an enlightening conversation with my daughter Jaclyn.  She was visiting for the weekend and we sat and talked for about 45 minutes without interruption about her long-term goals with her job, her MBA program, and buying a home. I learned more about how she was feeling and she learned about my perspective on them. During the previous week, we had texted, emailed and called one another at least 50 times to discuss dates, times, lists, and factual information.  Between our crazy busy schedules we know we have about 10 seconds to communicate our thoughts before I have to go into session with a client or she has to rush off to class or work. While it’s nice to be in touch with her constantly via technology, it was such a great time to bond with her about these big decisions she’s facing in a deep conversation.
We know we can’t cut out technology – we actually  need it – but we can create times where we can have long, meaningful conversations with our kids.  Try starting this while driving long distances in a car or eating dinner around the dining table.  Turn off the music, phones, and TVs and open up the conversation.  Just once a day will give the kids a break from overstimulation and allow them to focus on something interesting.  Then, create a No Music/Phone/TV Zone while they do homework, and you’ll see a marked improvement in their ability to learn and retain information. This will improve their grades at school.  


Helping Kids Develop Emotional Agility

Just read an interesting article about teaching your child emotional agility. Sorry helicopter parents!  I’ve found more evidence that proves that providing that protective bubble around your child actually harms them in the long run!  According to psychologist Dr. Susan David, “How children navigate their emotional world is critical to lifelong success.”  When given these opportunities, toddlers become better problem solvers and teens have better self esteem.  On the other end of the spectrum, those who don’t acquire this “emotional intelligence” may develop depression and anxiety.

So Dr. David suggests 4 steps to help your child manage their emotions.

  1. Feel It: Validate your child’s feelings.
  2. Show It: Make it okay for your child to show their feelings.
  3. Label It: Help your child understand what they are feeling and name it.
  4. Watch It (Go): Remind your child about how the most painful emotions go away.

I find it interesting that Dr. David says that children feel stronger when they learn that it’s not about how they feel, but how they respond to their feelings, that counts. It seems to me that it’s really about communicating their “perception” of interactions and moving on from there.