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    This will be our last tip of the week for the school year and I am going to miss writing helpful tips for our parents, educators and students in our Supporter Schools.  I am ending the year with a few tips because it is often hard to pick just one tip each week.  Most parents are thinking about “how do I make sure my kids don’t lose knowledge and skills over the summer.”  Check out our tips to make sure the only slide your kids are on this summer is the slide into the pool or the park, not the summer education slide!  Also, kids will have more free time this summer which means more time to spend on their mobile devices.  Make sure you know about these 7 Iffy Messaging Apps Teens Love because they can feel consequence-free, but of course they’re not because data never really disappears.  And lastly, who better to offer some tips to hook reluctant middle school readers this summer then Jeff Kinney, author of the blockbuster Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.  Check out our Senior Book Editor, Regan McMahon’s interview with Kinney on how to keep your kids engaged with books over the summer.


    We know that summer time is movie time and we want to ensure that your movie time is great family time.  Common Sense knows that it is critical for you to be involved in your kids’ media choices and help them become critical media consumers. Here are some sure-fire tips to help you stay on top of your kids’ movie choices.  As an extra benefit, I have included a cheat sheet to help you decide which high-profile summer movies are appropriate for you and your kids.

    ·      Shedule it. Plan a date and time, and don’t break it. Turn off cell phones and ban multitasking during the show.

    ·      Do your research. It can be hard to decide which movies are appropriate based on the trailer alone, so use thischeat sheet to help you pick which high-profile summer flicks you and your kids will love. Want to stream a movie in the comfort of your living room? Check out our list of family-friendly movies that are currently streaming on Netflix.

    ·      Location, location, location. Switch it up! If you’re staying at home, hang a sheet in the backyard, rent a projector, and sit on beach chairs for a fun, movie theater feel.

    ·      Take turns choosing the movie. If you’ve got little kids, pre-select movies to choose from (to avoid watching Care Bears IV over and over again). If you’ve got teens, tell them you’ll watch anything they choose (within your discretion) as long as they return the favor when it’s your turn. Enforce a “no complaining” rule.

    ·      Talk about it. Either when credits roll or the next day, make time to chat about what you watched. Talking with kids about how movie characters handled fictional situations can be a subtle way to reinforce your family’s values or get them to open up about their lives.

    Summer is around the corner and no doubt parents are rushing to get their kids plans in place.  Whether your kids’ summer days are jam packed with activities or left wide open for exploration—or something in between—chances are some of the day will involve a smart phone, tablet or other device.  Now more then ever, you can use these powerful tools to enhance the activities that kids are already doing or help to create brand-new experiences.  We’ve done all the work for you and put together 6 categories to help guide you to the best apps, games and websites for learning while enjoying the summer fun.  Sit back andexpoloreget creativetinker, learn and make memories together.  
    Whether your children are naturally precocious readers or just happened to pick out a more difficult book, they’ll need some guidance to improve their understanding of the material and avoid age-inappropriate content. Here are some ideas:

    ·      Get an assessment. Many schools offer assessments to determine students’ reading level, which a teacher or librarian can then use to help pick out books that will challenge, but not frustrate them.

    ·      Use supporting materials. If your kid has chosen a complex book, supplement it with some lower-level reading to help him build his comprehension of the subject matter.

    ·      Write down unknown words. Ask your child to keep a list of all the new words she encounters so she can look them up later.

    ·      Use reading comprehension apps, games, and websites. Check out this list of great digital products that can help kids better learn to read, understand, and apply information.

    If your child is looking for a new book, try suggesting one off this list of 50 wonderful must-reads that have the power to hook both boys and girls. Some are classics, like Charlotte’s Web, others open kids’ minds to cultures beyond their own, such as Esperanza Rising, but all are sure to fuel your child’s love for reading. 

    Since Mother’s Day is coming up, I thought you might enjoy starting a Mother-Daughter book club, or just picking one of these wonderful books to read with your daughter. Whether you choose a favorite from your childhood, such as Anne of Green Gables, or introduce a popular children’s novel like The Mighty Miss Malone, reading books with your kids is a great way to bring you together around a shared interest.  If you have a daughter with an enthusiasm for history, check out one of my favorites, Revolution is Not a Dinner Party, a gripping story about the Cultural Revolution in China told through the eyes of a young girl. Of course, our suggested list of books is not limited to girls. Pick out historical books that your boys will enjoy like I am Malala or the classic Diary of Anne Frank. Take this Mother’s Day to give yourself the gift of reading a book together with your kids.  You will cherish the conversation. 

    The risks of social media are real, from sexting to cyberbullying to acute FOMO (fear of missing out), but new research is shedding light on the benefits of kids connecting, sharing, and learning online. As a parent, you can help foster the positive aspects by accepting that social media is a real part of your children’s lives and encouraging them to use it in meaningful ways. For inspiration, here are some of the advantages of your kid being social media-savvy:

    ·      It strengthens friendships. According to Common Sense’s study Social Media, Social Life: How Teens View Their Digital Lives, 52 percent of teens who use social media say it’s helped their friendships, whereas only 4 percent say it has mainly hurt them.

    ·      It offers a sense of belonging. A study conducted by Griffith University and the University of Queensland in Australiafound that American teens feel less isolated and have become more socially adept, partly due to an increase in technology use.

    ·      It provides genuine support. Online acceptance – whether kids have interests that aren’t “cool” or are grappling with sexual identity – can validate a marginalized teen. Check out this inspirational story about a Minecraft community on Reddit using voice-conferencing software to talk a teen out of his decision to commit suicide.

    ·      It helps them express themselves. Digital technology allows kids to share their work with a wider audience, receive essential feedback, and even collaborate with people they normally wouldn’t be able to.

    ·      It lets them do good. Twitter, Facebook, and other large social networks expose kids to important issues and people from all over the world, giving them a voice they didn’t have before.

    Today we are officially launching Common Sense Kids Action, an independent, nonpartisan, powerful voice for America’s next generation. Learn how we are making kids and education our nation’s top priority, and sign up as an advocate.

    The media is filled with images of unattainable levels of beauty and ruggedness that kids believe is authentic but is nothing more than smoke and mirrors! This can be incredibly detrimental to a kid’s self-esteem and fuels negative perceptions of body image which can lead to negative comments on social media platforms and news feeds. Since kids today are not only avid consumers of media but are active creators, it is crucial to instill a healthy body image and a strong sense of empathy from a young age encouraging kids to create images from a place of kindness.  

    Give your child a positive role model to emulate by showing them these 13 celebrities who are standing up against the industry’s standard of beauty.  And to keep the conversation going, have your kids try out these games and read these books that celebrate friendship, diversity, and the importance of caring for one another-empathy. When used positively, media can help teach kids how to be comfortable in their own skin and recognize the beauty that lives within all of us

    Young children have a difficult time distinguishing between advertisements and content. Take a look at our research on Advertising to Children and Teens and see how digital media have dramatically changed the advertising landscape, to now include immersive websites, advergaming, viral marketing, mobile ads, social media marketing and precise behavioral and location targeting, blurring the lines between advertising and entertainment.

     Here are some tips to teach your children to view advertising critically and reduce the risk that they will be taken advantage of:

    ·      Help kids identify different types of advertising messages. Watch television or play a video game together and point out the products and logos used as props or part of the story line.

    ·      Tell your kids never to click on an ad or fill out a form without permission. Contests and promotions are devious ways for companies to collect emails and phone numbers.

    ·      Find out who’s behind it. Ask your kids if they know who created a particular ad, which words, images, or sounds were used to attract their attention, and if the product was obvious or subtle.

    ·      Explain “tricks” that advertisers use in commercials. Advertisers often use Vaseline to make hamburgers look juicy or celebrities to endorse products, and kids need to know that no matter how clever the gimmicks, they’re still ads.

    ·      Talk about the spokesperson. When ads use celebrities or “regular people” (who are usually actors) to influence purchases, ask your kids what their qualities communicate about the product.

    ·      Ask how they felt before and after watching an ad. Help your kids identify the emotions or desires an ad prompts them to feel, and make it clear how ads make people want things they don’t need.

    ·      Remind kids that their self-worth is not determined by what they own. Emphasize that qualities such as character, kindness, effort, and empathy are most important – not material items.


    From the outside looking in, it seems that violent video games are simply inappropriate. However, it’s important to recognize that your child’s relationship to the game is meaningful for him and begin an open dialogue, rather than restricting them completely. Here are some ways to start the conversation:

    ·      Tap into feelings. Talk to your teen about the types of violence in the game, the role it plays, and how he feels when he watches it or has to perform a violent act. This will help him understand how the game manipulates his feelings.

    ·      Accept that he has a “type.” Once your kid has developed a taste for a certain game, it can be hard to prevent him from playing it altogether. It may not be your favorite, but you can search for games in the same genre that have less violence. And if you’re looking for absolutely no violence, check out our list of recommended nonviolent video games.

    ·      Acknowledge his skills. For some kids, being the best at video games is a badge of honor among their peers. Help him find other things that he can excel at, too.

    ·      Recognize he’s part of a community. Many video games have active, involved communities and kids enjoy belonging to these groups. Lots of age-appropriate games have strong online communities as well, though; get him to try Minecraft, World of Warcraft, Portal, and Team Fortress 2.

    ·      Play games as a family. The more family-friendly games you can get him into, the better. Plus, it’s a great reason to spend quality time together!

    If you’re a parent of an elementary school student, you might feel that the landscape is constantly shifting under your feet – from new standardized testing, to iPads in classrooms, to new blended teaching in the classroom. Luckily, Common Sense has launched, “Essential School Tools: The Modern Parent’s Guide to Kids’ Learning,” a super helpful guide that empowers parents to help their kids succeed in school. This is the first guide to include a lot of relevant, grade-by-grade advice to go along with the curated lists of the best teacher-approved apps, games, and websites. You’ll find that this information provides important context and tangible help when you’re trying to navigate new educational constructs. Check out one of our recommended games, such as Sid Meier’s Civilization V, and help your kids think critically not only about the subject matter but also about the media itself. 
    Staying in touch with friends is super important to kids and teens and as annoying as it can be to see your kids jabbing away at their phones, it is a normal part of their lives.  Messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Kik Messenger and SnapChat are super popular because they offer richer multimedia experiences than regular SMS texting.  But these extra features, plus the privacy and safety issues, make messaging apps better suited for social-media-savvy teens. Learn more about how to help kids use these apps safely and responsibly.  Don’t forget, it is important for parents to model the manners and behaviors they want to see from their kids and if cell phone use is getting in the way of family time, homework and other responsibilities, here are some helpful hints to help kids and parents manage phone time.

    While most of us would like to think we have a healthy relationship with our phones, the facts just don’t back this up!  Distracted parenting has been a hot topic recently and some experts link the rise in smartphone ownership with the rise in emergency room visits for kids under 5.  Here are a few suggestions for keeping our relationships with our phones more balanced:
    • No devices during mealtimes.
    • Leave the game-playinng (Words with Friends) until the kids are in bed.
    • No Texting or talking on the phone while driving
    • Put away the phone if the kids are swimming unattended or doing anything else potentially dangerous.
    • Designate “No Tech Zones” in your home and respect them!
      Things are not all doom and gloom! Here are a few tips on how to integrate this amazing technology into our lives for the better.  Check out a few of our favorite apps while you are standing in the slow line at the grocery store with your kids!
    • Kids 2-7 years old: 

      ·      Hoopa City: A pre-school friendly world-building game that appeals to older kids as well. There are no rules at all – kids will have a blast figuring out everything they can build, from beaches to amusement parks to universities.

      ·      Barefoot World Atlas: An educational app that gives children an interactive look at animals, indigenous people, science, and hobbies around the world. With beautiful graphics and high-quality narration, this app puts kids in charge of their learning.

    • Kids 7-12:

      ·      Duolingo: Using a fun, game-style system, kids (and grown-ups) can learn any of five languages – Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, and French.

      ·      Scribblenauts Remix: A popular puzzle app that encourages and rewards players for using their imagination. Open-ended situational challenges will keep kids on their toes and empower them to devise creative solutions.


    It can be difficult to balance media use and family time, especially with a demanding work schedule, but it’s important to note that kids learn their screen habits from their parents. Take a look at the article, Be a Role Model: Find a Healthy Balance with Media and Technology, and consider these five tips for managing your own media tendencies:

    ·      Be a role model. Keep phones away from the dinner table, turn the TV off when it’s not being watched, and use a DVR to record shows for later.

    ·      Start good habits early. Establish time limits and hold yourself to them.

    ·      Use media together. Watch, play, and listen with your kids, then talk about the content and how it relates to their lives.

    ·      Keep distractions to a minimum. Hide apps, set your phone to “do not disturb”, or shut your devices down completely.

    ·      Turn off work. Set boundaries for work time so it doesn’t constantly interfere with family time.

    To drive home our message of finding a healthy balance with technology, Common Sense has launched a campaign called #realtime to remind parents to unplug for family moments and set a positive example for their kids. Check out the funny, yet all too familiar videos here.  You might see yourself in one of these videos!


    All kids are naturally creative and the question for parents and caregivers is how do we foster that creativity.  Common Sense has done the work for you and hand selected a variety of tools to help you foster your kids’ interest in art, science, music, writing and even directing.  Take a look at the Modern Kids’ Guide to Crafting, Coding, Composing and more and let loose your inner creative streak.  Whether you’re a teacher or parent, take this opportunity to sit down and help unleash your kids creative potential.  You’ll be amazed at the results! Have a great week and don’t forget to use Common Sense!

    You wouldn’t send your kids to a sleepover without telling the parents about your kid’s allergies or bedtime routines.  Why not use the same logic with screen time rules?  Here are 10 Practical Tips to share with relatives, teachers, babysitters and even your spouse about your screen time rules.  Empower your kids to talk to their caregivers about what they are and aren’t comfortable watching, playing or reading.  Put your kids in the drivers seat whenever possible so they get used to self-monitoring and helping their caregivers monitor appropriately. 

    Do you often worry that your kids are wasting too much time playing video games?  More and more games and apps are elevating their “game” and creating interactive, creative programs that kids can begin to create just about anything!  Your kids don’t have to be be skilled programmers or computer experts to design, build and create entertaining experiences.  Check out our 14 Tools to Turn Game-Obsessed Kids into Genuine Game Designers.  These are awesome tools to let the imagination soar!  


    Given that adolescents are naturally eager for peer validation — precisely when they begin to use social tools that provide it — it’s encouraging to see kids having fun with the notion of perfection and starting to poke fun at those unattainable images.  It makes you realize just how powerful social media tools can be. While they foster relationships and engagement -- and can even bolster self-esteem -- they can be both constructive and destructive. That's why you can't leave it all up to kids to find their way. Whether your kids are just getting into social media or are seasoned posters, it’s critical to help guide them to use Snapchat, Instagram, and other networking apps for fun and connection and not as fuel for self-doubt. 
    Help your kids stop the cycle of destructive comments and urge them to post constructive comments that support their friends for who they are, not what they look like.  Check out our blog on how girls are seeking (and subverting) approval on line and let’s start helping our kids to build up and not break down their self image.
    How kids think, feel and act about their bodies is a critical piece of their self-esteem and overall body development.  As many of you know, Common Sense just released our newest White Paper on Body Image and I think this is a great time to remind parents what they need to know about kids, media and body image.  One fact we know for certain is that parents and caretakers play a huge role in shaping how their kids relate to their bodies.  Read further for Q&A’s about body image, plus advice for parents of preschoolers, adolescents, teens on how to immunize kids against unhealthy body and support kids who are struggling with body image issues.  Check out our collection of stats and advice about body image and check out our body image info graphic.   To read the full report click here.   


    The annual International Consumer Electronics Show brings over 150,000 people from all over the globe to Las Vegas every January to pitch, peruse and explore new products that range from extraordinary to ridiculous. Common Sense was at the show and we scoured the street—and the web— to find some of the best and most promising products for families. Check out our 5 cool products for kids and families and see what the future has in store. 

    It is tough to find stories for kids and young teenagers that don’t reinforce body stereotypes, but we found examples of books featuring characters who are comfortable with their bodies, no matter what their size or shape. Check out these 13 books that show characters who are appreciated for their talent, skills and integrity and they don’t trade on their looks to get ahead.   

    This morning, President Obama proposed the Student Data Privacy Act, which will prohibit technology firms from profiting from information collected in schools as teachers adopt tablets, online services and Internet-collected software. With the help of our CEO, Jim Steyer, California was the first state to enact the SOPIPA Law, which largely prohibits companies from collecting student information for advertising and marketing. 

    With students privacy in mind, I would like to guide you to learn more about your kids privacy settings as well as your own privacy settings for your computer and smartphone. Check out our guide, based on age, to find the best place to go to protect yourself and your computer against privacy invasions.

    Tips (and Resolutions) for the New Year Whether you're a planner or a play-it-by-ear person, your family will undoubtedly face media and technology issues in 2015 as they become more ubiquitous, affordable, and essential to daily life. There's a lot to look forward to -- and a lot to manage but Common Sense is here to help it all make sense. Consider some of these New Year’s resolutions, and you’ll weather anything that comes your way. (Not to mention you can still eat carbs and not give up gluten)! 

    Here are some other things to consider when deciding what the next video game for your child will be:

    Focus on content quality, not screen-time quantity.Trying to tally up all the minutes your kids spend in front of a screen -- and feeling guilty when they go "over" -- helps nothing. This year, focus on becoming actively engaged in your kids' media.

    Play a game with your kid. Kids love games. There's a certain kind of bond that develops when families compete -- plus, it's fun. Playing games with your kids also imparts important skills, such as taking turns, winning graciously, losing gracefully, and practicing good sportsmanship.
    Embrace the next new thing. At some point this year, a killer app, viral video, or hot new show will take your kids by storm. Keep an open mind and explore this new thing along with them. You'll learn more about what your kids are doing, how they can safely use new tools, and how to guide them through a changing landscape.
    Do some good. Show your kids that the real power of the Web is in how it can connect those in need to those who can help out. In addition to traditional charities, there are sites that let you target your gift to specific donors, find volunteer opportunities, promote causes you believe in, and even let your kids lead the charge.For these tips and more, check out the article 7 New Year's Resolutions Every Family Should Make in 2015 on our parent blog. 

    A great way to stay up to date in the new year is to regularly visit our Parent Blog. And remember, you can always find our latest reviews, blogs, and materials on our website at CommonSense.org!
    The air is buzzing with holiday fervor, schools are closing for winter break, and rainy days are sending kids back into their living rooms - to curl up with a book? More likely, kids are itching to utilize their freedom by trying out the newest Nintendo games and catching up on the latest TV shows. Keep family time on the table by balancing screen time with offline activities such as building crafts together, and challenge your family to generate fun on your own steam -- without Wifi, data, or plugs. Check out Common Sense's 8 Ways to Unplug Your Holidays :https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/8-ways-to-unplug-your-holidays 

    Of course, chances are, your kids' Christmas lists' contain at least one or two techy gadgets and games. Before giving in to pleas for the latest Xbox console or iPhone 6, reflect on your family media rules, and which newest tech items your kid can do without. Also, make sure to do your research before picking up the most recent Grand Theft Auto V, or any other video game you may not know is laden with inappropriate content. Make sure to check out Common Sense's reviews on the latest movies, books, apps, and games before the shopping frenzy takes hold. 

    Need gift ideas? Here are the 13 Coolest Socially Conscious Kid and Teen Gifts of 2014:http://www.takepart.com/article/2014/12/11/13-coolest-socially-conscious-kid-teen-gifts-2014

    For more tips on staying media conscious while navigating the holidays, check out Common Sense Media's parent blog, Making Sense
    Video Games for Kids Hundreds, if not thousands, of video games are published every year across a variety of platforms, from handheld and mobile to console and computer.  Most of these are perfectly fine for almost everyone in the family to play, but let's face it: It's the mature games, the ones with lots of adult content -- especially violence -- that get the most attention. On our Common Sense parent blog, we've identified 10 of the most violent games from the past year and listed alternatives with each title from the same genre, so you have solid, less violent options for your kids. 

    Here are some other things to consider when deciding what the next video game for your child will be:
    Make sure games are age-appropriate.  Know the content of what your kids play, both at home and at friends' houses.
    Establish limits.  Be firm from the beginning about how much time kids can play. And be very clear about what games your kids can play.
    Be aware of multiplayer options. Watch out for open chat and user-generated content that isn't monitored.While it might seem like kids' video games are all about shooting, you can find games that provide rich, engaging experiences that broaden kids' horizons and Common Sense Media is a great place to start finding these games. 

    You can find more tips on how to approach this topic in our blog entries, 10 Most Violent Video Games of 2014 (and What to Play Instead) and Gaming Tips

    To explore discussions of this and other topics, visit our Parent Blog. And remember, you can always find our latest reviews, blogs, and materials on our website at CommonSense.org! 

    A Tip on Media Multitasking and Concentration:  Kids these days are all too familiar with media multitasking; that is, they can switch between multiple windows on a laptop, DJ the background music, and keep track of a buzzing iPhone all while "focusing" on a homework assignment. The constant presence of technology makes it difficult to eliminate these types of distractions, but studies have shown that multitasking decreases our ability to process and retain information, as our brains toggle back and forth between short bursts of focus.  While it is important for kids to develop the skills to independently navigate our multimedia landscape, precautions can be taken to encourage focus and concentration. 

    1. Propose an experiment:  Mention to your kid that you notice how distracted he gets by his phone while trying to do his work, and propose strategies for eliminating distractions during homework time.  Offer to do these experiments with him, and see which strategies improve your own focus. 

    2. Get some distance from the distraction:  While many teens have trouble separating themselves from their phones (and risking being disconnected from friends), a constantly buzzing phone is the antithesis of concentration.  Suggest placing the phone in another room for a select period of time, or putting it on 'silent' and face-down on the table during time set aside for focused work. 

    3. Try self-regulation apps to eliminate distractions:  While learning to self-regulate is an essential skill, kids often need support, and many welcome tech solutions to help them manage their time.  Look into apps like "Self Control," which blocks internet access to sites you blacklist for a preset period of time, or "Think," by Freeverse, which illuminates one browser window at a time, allowing the user to maintain focus on a singular page.  Find other parental control features via this link:  New Parental Controls Nix the Fear, Up the Features.

    To learn more about distraction, multitasking, and time management, check out Common Sense's Case Tutorial on the subject: Distraction, Multitasking & Time Management Case Tutorial - Connecting Families.


    This week's tip revolves around the best ways to navigate the extensive amount of violent media available to kids, educate your children about the consequences of violent behavior, and choose games that help enforce positive values rather than glorify aggression, profanity, and sexual content. 

    Experts are still unsure whether there is a direct correlation between media violence and violent behavior, yet agree that heavy exposure can be an added risk factor for aggression. In addition, constant exposure to mature and graphic content, especially if it's 'OK-ed' by parents, can lead to desensitization to disturbing imagery. We would rather have the media our kids' use reflect our own personal values, yet it can be difficult to isolate the good from the bad in the sea of movies and games when our kids are claiming, "but all my friends have it!" 

    According to a study from Northwestern, the number one influence on kids' media consumption is how their parents think and act regarding media. Help your kids think about what they are consuming by explaining the true consequences of violence, and point out how unrealistic it is to get away with violent behavior. For more recommendations for finding quality, age-appropriate media, check out Common Sense's tips on How to Deal with Media Violence.

    Also, if your kid is an avid video-gamer, and you're not sure whether or not to indulge his latest plea for the new Grand Theft Auto V, make sure to check out Common Sense's list of the 10 Most Violent Video Games of 2014 (and What to Play Instead). Many popular games on the market get the most attention because of their adult content - added mostly just for shock value. While these games are OK for adults to play, make sure you stay up to date on which are and aren't appropriate for your kids' age group. Read more:  10 Most Violent Video Games of 2014 (and What to Play Instead)