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Common Sense Media Tips of the Week, 2016-2017


 March 20, 2017
 
In today's digital world, many parents worry about the loss of character as more kids spend time alone on a computer or communicating through a screen. But research shows that kids can and do learn from media -- what matters is which messages they're absorbing and how those messages get reinforced. Though media can address lots of the so-called "soft" skills, empathy is a big concern as kids spend more time with screens.   

The good news is that there's lots of content out there that models showing concern for others and identifying with others' feelings. Depending on your kid's favorite media type, there are booksTV showsmovies, and apps and gamesthat offer positive messages about perspective-taking and compassion. Once you've found a winner, talking to your kids about the messages helps transfer those messages to real life.
 
 
March 6, 2017
 
March is Women's History Month. These days, some of the smartest characters from kids' movies, TV shows, and books are female. And with research -- published in 2017! -- indicating that girls start underestimating their own intelligence by the age of 6, it's clear that brainy media role models matter. A lot. 

Media messages play a big role in shaping gender norms, ideas about sex, and body satisfaction, from the time kids are in preschool to their adolescence. From action heroines to real-life ones, these books and movies are great examples of positive media role models for girls -- and for boys, too. After all, where would Harry Potter be without Hermione? No matter their gender, kids will love watching and reading about these female brainiacs and 9 Women of Color Who Made History. 
 
 
 February 27 , 2017 
 

We answer emails, update Facebook, take a conference call, and try to get in that one last text. The thing is, kids notice -- and they're not happy about it. Lots of studies address the impact of screen time on kids, and guidelines show how much is appropriate at what age. But researchers are just beginning to look into the effect that parents' screen use has on kids.

It might be easier if someone just gave parents a recommended daily time limit so we'd know when to stop. In the meantime, we'll need to find balance. Here are 5 Ways to Find a Healthy Balance of Media and Technology:

  • Be a role model
  • Start good habits early
  • Use media together
  • Keep distractions to a minimum
  • Turn off work 
 
 February 20 , 2017
 

While most adults would agree that face-to-face contact is important, there's no doubt that online communication continues to change how we find, form, and maintain relationships. But the truth is, kids have always had their own codes, slang, and shorthand that adults weren't meant to know. Today, digital tools can cut just about every communication corner with the send of an emoji, bot, or gif

Many parents wonder how they would fare as a teenager in a world filled with social media drama, texting troubles, and cyberbullying. Whether they're the cause or symptomatic of deeper issues, the same tools kids use to connect can also trigger anxiety, depression, and even thoughts of suicide. For today's struggling kids, there's some hope. Click to learn about popular apps, sites, and services that offer guidance and help when, where, and how kids need it.

 

 February 13, 2017 

The glitz and glam of awards season is upon us. The 2017 Oscar nominations are full of family-friendly films, and celebrities who usually become popular for how they look. But some might say stars have an extra responsibility to show their fans how to change the world. This diverse group of role models is great for kids and teens who want their celebs to stand for something. Kids can visit the websites of their favorite stars to see how they're giving back to the community and follow in their footsteps, or they may simply get inspired to explore local volunteer options. And, remember, kids aren't just passively consuming celebrity culture. Check out these kid YouTube stars who are creating their own media and fanbase.
 
February 6, 2017
 
Thanks to live-streaming apps such as Facebook Live, live.ly, Periscope, and others kids can watch actual scenes of real-life violence in their social media and news feeds. As they scroll and swipe through the day's events, they're not only watching real-life violence unfold in real time, they're interacting with it. They're commenting, sharing, and using other digital tools to process the raw footage. Technology can open up the world for our kids -- but often before they're ready to see it and definitely before we understand the impact it has on their developing minds.

Plenty of research has been done on the impact of media violence on kids. While it's oversimplifying to say violent media equals violent kids, studies show that watching, playing, and reading about graphic violence can make kids aggressive, antisocial, and desensitizedBut just because we have 24/7 access to news doesn't mean we have to subscribe to it and watch it. You actually have more control over what your kids see and how they perceive it than you might think. By using various settings and having meaningful conversations, you can help them make informed decisions about their social media feeds -- and help put things in perspective for them when they do scroll by those violent videos and images. Here are some ideas for managing the real-life violent images on tweens' and teens' devices.

January  30, 2017

Have you taken the #DeviceFreeDinner challenge yet? Common Sense recently launched this national campaign to encourage families to set aside time to connect without tech. Last week, #DeviceFreeDinner was featured on the TODAY show to highlight the importance of device-free dinner as a healthy choice. In case you missed it, you can click here to watch the segment. 
Common Sense Media promotes technology use for learning, fun, and bringing people together, but we also see a need to balance media and tech with undistracted face-to-face time. Parents spend 9+ hours with media and technology every day, and so do their kids. Dinnertime doesn't need to be one of those hours. Research provides plenty of support for the importance of family dinner for kids: Learning vocabularyfewer behavior problemsless substance abuse, and healthier eating are some of the positive outcomes.

So, when you have a family dinner, commit to putting devices away for those 30 minutes (or, if you have small children, the six minutes of dinner!). Turn your devices on silent. Better yet, put them somewhere where you can't see them and where a notification won't tempt you to check it. Enjoy a device-free dinner as part of a healthy digital lifestyle, and make the most of family time.
January  23, 2017

Kids are bombarded with images of men and women -- famous or not -- who look perfect. Too perfect, in fact. And that's thanks to photo editing, which, as many of us parents know, can eliminate a model's pimples, make a celeb's cellulite disappear, and lengthen legs, slim waists, and erase wrinkles.

But kids aren't always so savvy. Kids who see unrealistic bodies or faces or clothing -- especially on folks they admire -- can feel inadequate as a result. Even photos of friends on Instagram or Snapchat are too perfect, thanks to flattering filters and selfie-editing tools (learn how girls are seeking, and subverting, approval online).

That's why it's important to teach kids about the reality behind the images that surround them. Empowering kids to see behind the photo spreads and the advertisements can help combat the negative effects of these images. Here are six ways to help your kids resist the Photoshop effect, and 14 books to help kids feel good about themselves and their bodies.

 
January  16, 2017
 

Let's be clear: No one needs a robot. Or a rubber ducky that puts your baby to sleep. But it might be nice to have a gadget do your parenting work for you once in a while -- especially after a long day. Now, with hundreds of new tech tools hitting the market, you can. But should you?

With WiFi, apps, GPS, speech recognition, movement tracking, and more, these new gizmos are programmed to interact with your kids, entertain them, and keep them healthy. For most parents, the idea of a device taking the parenting reins ranges from "over-my-dead body" to "I'll take two." Certainly research shows that warm interactions with a loving caregiver are best for children's development. But just for fun, we consider who (or what) is better able to handle these parenting chores:

  • Getting Kids to Sleep?
  • Entertaining Kids?
  • Keeping Track of Kids' Locations?
  • Keeping Kids Healthy?
  • Being Your Kid's Friend?

Find out who wins when it comes to parenting chores - Man or Machine?

 
January  9, 2017
 

Working out and eating right are at the top of most people's New Year's resolutions. But as tough as those are, nothing compares with the challenge of a healthy media diet. There are screen-time limits to manage, new apps to investigate, bizarre social media trends to make sense of, and, don't forget, plenty more Pokémon to catch. It's like a 24-hour all-you-can-eat buffet when all you really want is a carrot stick. But in a world where both parents and kids are racking up serious screen time, making a commitment to a healthy media environment is critical for family time, learning, relationships, and digital citizenship. 

So whether you're turning over a new leaf or trying to stay the course, our 2017 media resolutions can help you be more mindful, focus on what's most important, get the most out of media and technology, and raise good digital citizens. And if last year was a rough one, past struggles with grades, organization, and friends are easy to carry over into the new year. Check out our Homework Help Apps, Time Management Apps, and Note-Taking Apps for Tweens and Teens for even more ideas on starting with a clean-slate.

Happy New Year!
 
December  12, 2016

During the long break it's easy for kids -- and parents! -- to overload on screentime. But with a little planning you can balance your family's tech activities with much-needed face time. Whether you take the 
#DeviceFreeDinner challenge or make up your own family agreement, the trick is to downsize -- not demolish -- your family's reliance on technology over the holidays. 

To help, here are 8 ways to unplug your holidays:

  1. Be jolly -- but firm. Let your kids know that you'll be enforcing stricter time limits to create more quality family time. And tell them that the rules will apply to the grown-ups as well!
  2. Make a list. Schedule some daily tech time for yourself and your kids. Get their input on which devices they absolutely can't live without, and allow some limited use.
  3. Have a download derby. Browse the app store together. Look for games and activities that the whole family can enjoy, such as the ones on our our best app lists.
  4. Make setup fun, not frustrating. Truth be told, kids often figure out thorny tech glitches faster than parents, so involve your kids in the process. Use that time to discuss responsible use of the new device.
  5. Try some tech togetherness. Unplugging for its own sake isn't the point. Family time is. Plan a night of video games, movies, or maybe preselected YouTube videos that you can all enjoy together.
  6. Combine on- and offline activities. Document your family memories and consider compiling them into journals, cards, and scrapbooks. This is a perfect time to share your own holiday memories with your kids.
  7. If no creatures are stirring ... don't check your email. Remember, your kids learn their media habits partly from you. Use quiet time to reflect on ways you can maximize the benefits of technology without letting it take over your family's life.
  8. Have an old-fashioned holiday. Challenge your family to choose low- or no-tech versions of favorite activities. Generate fun on your own steam -- no WiFi, data, or plugs.

Have a great holiday break!

 
November  14, 2016
 
As we are all trying to move forward from the vitriolic comments from the election, we hope this holiday season all families can start with a simple pledge!  Put your devices away at the table!  Families everywhere are pledging to put down their devices at the table. Why? The holidays are all about connecting with each other, not devices. Whether you're going to dinner at Grandma's or teaching the kids an old (or new) family recipe, those special moments deserve to be treasured. Take the #DeviceFreeDinner challenge this holiday season! Use these sample Facebook and Twitter posts and share the challenge with your friends and networks. Now, more then ever, we need to come together at the holiday table, and your dinner table, and talk to each other, face to face!
Twitter:
Keep holiday celebrations focused on family, not phones. Create memorable moments w/#DeviceFreeDinner! Free tips: http://comsen.se/2fC7RUK
Facebook:
Thanksgiving is the perfect time to be together. This year, take the #DeviceFreeDinner challenge with the whole family, and focus on what you're really thankful for: each other. http://comsen.se/2f7A9Wo
 
November  7, 2016

Serving certain age groups seems to be a no-brainer for TV studios. There are social-emotional skill-builders for preschoolersliteracy-strengtheners for kindergartnersscientific discovery for middle schoolers, and sophisticated dramas for teens. But for tweens who've outgrown Peppa Pig but aren't yet ready for Pretty Little Liars, most shows remain firmly in the territory of talk-to-the-hand, eye-rolling, and mean-girls. 

However, a new trend toward smart, funny, quality programming for tweens is changing the equation. Shows with over-the-top acting and less-than-positive messages are beginning to share the schedule with programs offering tweens enough of an edge to make them feel a little more grown-up, along with lessons on character that use subtlety to make a point and role models you'll be happy to see them emulate. Check out these cool new picks like Milo Murphy's Law and Legendary Dudas and see the rest of list here.
October 31, 2016
 
If you want to monitor the amount of violence your kids see playing video games, curate what they play. The truth is, the majority of the hyper-realistic, hyper-popular games are really best left to mature players.  But instead of saying "no" all the time, Common Sense thinks you'll be more successful if you say "wait" and offer kids alternatives in the same genre, that are more age-appropriate.  Click here for our just released list of the 10 Most Violent Video Games of 2016 (And What to Play Instead), and check out our list of non-violent games for kids of all ages.

And, for tweens and teens who have constant access to devices, they can stumble across actual scenes of real-life violence in their social media and news feeds.  But just because we have 24/7 access to news doesn't mean we have to let our kids witness everything from war to street violence. Check out 
How to Handle Violent Videos at Your Kid's Fingertips for practical ways to help children make informed decisions about their social media feeds -- and help put things in perspective for them when they do scroll by those violent videos and images.
 
 October 24, 2016 
 
November 8, Election Day, is almost upon us. It's been impossible to avoid the barrage of sound bites pulled from contentious presidential debates and stump speeches. And, as our kids learn about the political process, it's critical we give them context and perspective around the latest campaign trail gaffe or candidate counterattack.  Common Sense's 17 Tips to Steer Kids of All Ages Through the Political Season offers advice for helping your kids become media-savvy participants in democracy. And, it will take you less than one minute to check out this advice video highlighting 5 Things to Tell Your Kids About the Election.   
 
For all of you voters out there, Common Sense Kids Action has released a free, online California Voter Guide.  It's designed to give parents the information they need to make informed decisions about the 17 ballot propositions and their impact on kids and families. Click here to access your guide now.

October 17, 2016 
 
Have you been wondering about Virtual Reality games and if you should introduce this "new" gear to your kids, but you have no idea where to start? Don't worry. From Google's inexpensive Cardboard VR viewer to Sony's new PlayStation VR, this guide will help you figure out what makes sense for your family's interests, needs, and budget. Here are your options if you want to dip your toe in the water, wade knee-deep, or really swim with the VR big fish. Keep in mind, virtual reality is a quickly changing technology, so always check out the companies' websites and user reviews before you take the leap 
 
The best option for families with young kids are the virtual reality viewers. Virtual reality viewers are inexpensive, handheld devices that offer three-dimensional views and the feeling of being in a different place. The viewers' lenses work by extending the depth of static images or animation but do not allow you to interact with your environment. To use them, download any app labeled "VR" in either iTunes or Google Play, launch the app, and insert your smartphone into the viewer.  Click here to learn more about all the options for VR that may work for you and your family.
 
October 10, 2016

October is Cyberbullying Awareness Month. This school year, you never know what might bubble up as the heady brew of hormones, relationships, and technology is stirred. Digital drama will play out in texts, on social media, and on popular teen websites. From forums that let kids pose hurtful questions to self-destructing messaging apps, new technologies enable novel ways to get attention, provoke, and try out online personas -- and they go viral fast.

Whether your kid is a bully or is being bullied, we answer all your cyberbullying questions, offering age-appropriate advice, school resources, and more from parents and experts. Popular apps, sites, and services also offer guidance and help when, where, and how kids need it. 
Of course there are many beneficial technologies that kids use responsibly, and not all new technologies can or will be misused. Kids often are the first to discover the latest and greatest thing, whether it's a download from the app store or a cool online trend -- but, just as they must sit through algebra and world history, they need to learn how to use these tools safely and responsibly. Our Cyberbullying Prevention Guide can help you teach these lessons and raise "upstanders" against cyberbullying. 
 
September 26, 2016 

What's the easiest thing you can do to impress prospective schools? It's not your GPA. It's not the debate team. It's your Facebook - and your TwitterSnapchatYouTubeVine, and any other social media feeds that high schools and colleges can see. And yes, they're looking. Get answers to the most important questions about what schools want to see here.   It is important for your kids to understand how their social media feeds will impact their future. They don't need to delete all their photos, but they should certainly understand what is appropriate and what needs to be taken down.  Be sure to share this article with your kids, young and old, who are using social media. Remember, it is developmentally difficult for a 13 year old to think about what their 25 year old self will think of their Instagram post! But, you can remind them that their posts will be viewed by their high school and college Admission Counselors! 

   
September 19, 2016  

Which books do you remember most from your childhood?  The stories that made you laugh, cry, and dream?  As you look for great reads for your kids, remember Common Sense offers a variety of curated book lists for children of all ages including 44 Books that Teach Empathy 50 Books All Kids Should Read Before They're 12 and Award-Winning Books for Teens.  And, if reading is a challenge in your home, check out our blog post with top tips for How to Raise a Reader.

 
September 12, 2016 

Did you know that our school is a member of national nonprofit Common Sense's Supporter School network? This membership demonstrates our ongoing commitment to help empower our children to make safe, responsible decisions online and thrive in a world of media and technology. To help kick off Character Month, Common Sense just published this blog post, How to Raise Good Humans in a Digital World.  Check it out to learn five easy ways to teach character strengths and life skills to kids of all ages using media and technology.  

And, to help you find the best media for your family, download Common Sense's free Kids Media App.  It makes finding appropriate movies, apps, TV shows, books, and more, a snap and, you can customize it for your kids.