Monday, November 22, 2010

Interview With an 11-Year-Old About Texting, Cell Phones, and Other Technology

This is sponsored content from BlogHer and LG Text Ed



In Part One I introduced you to Rob, my 11-but-almost-12-year-old. He's in sixth grade. A bunch of us are asking our kids of different ages questions about sexting and technology and Facebook and so forth, to see at what point kids are still like, "What are you talking about?" and at what point they're more like "Duh, Mom, a little late for this talk." Rob is my firstborn, and when I was his age technology wasn't this kind of problem, so I'm trying to find out from him what he already knows, what is and isn't a problem at his school, and what he and I still need to talk about.


Swistle: Ready?

Rob:
Yeah.

Swistle:
Does it bother you if I use your picture on my blogs, or on Facebook?

Rob:
I don't know.

Swistle:
Well, does it bother you to have your picture on the internet?

Rob:
No.

Swistle:
What if it were an embarrassing picture?

Rob:
Well, yeah, then it would!



Swistle: Why do you want a cell phone?

Rob:
Because everyone else has one and they assume I have one already.

Swistle:
But what would you use it for?

Rob:
Calling and whatever else it did.

Swistle:
Do your friends have cell phones?

Rob:
Most of them, yeah.

Swistle:
Are they allowed to use them in school?

Rob:
Before school and after school, but other than that, no.

Swistle:
Do they ever talk about people using cell phones to tease each other?

Rob:
No.

Swistle:
Have you heard of anyone at school getting bullied or getting in trouble for bullying?

Rob:
Yeah, no one in particular, though---they don't say names.

Swistle:
Did any of the bullying involve cell phones or Facebook?

Rob:
Facebook, yes; cell phones, no.

Swistle:
What was the bullying on Facebook you heard about?

Rob:
They just often tell us about it.




Swistle: Did you know that there's a problem with kids bullying other kids on Facebook and with cell phones?

Rob:
Yeah.

Swistle:
How did you hear about it?

Rob:
They just keep telling us about that kind of thing at school.

Swistle:
On Parents' Night, the computer teacher told us that the assistant principal keeps an eye out for students on Facebook---had you heard of that?

Rob:
YEAH! And also they told us that the police have 8 secret Facebook identities so that they can see when people are bullying other people.

Swistle:
Do you know what happens if they see bullying on Facebook?

Rob:
No.

Swistle:
They told us that they've gotten student Facebook accounts suspended---especially if the student isn't 13 yet.

Rob:
Wow.




Swistle: Is anyone you know on Facebook?

Rob:
Yeah.

Swistle:
Can you estimate what percentage of the other kids are on Facebook?

Rob:
Probably 90%.

Swistle:
NINETY percent? Even though they're not 13?

Rob:
Yep. They just say they're 21.

Swistle:
Really?

Rob:
*nods*

Swistle:
Don't they get caught?

Rob:
I don't know.

Swistle:
Have you heard of anyone getting caught?

Rob:
No. They say their parents let them---if that's what you're asking.

Swistle:
What about the asst principal and the police officer---don't they notice the kids?

Rob:
Yeah, but they don't bust them. For some reason.

Swistle:
Do you think it's because they only go after the bullying?

Rob:
Yeah! Probably! But then if they get caught bullying AND they're not 13 yet, they're REALLY busted.





Swistle: Are you on Facebook?

Rob:
No.

Swistle:
Why not?

Rob:
You won't let me because I'm not 13 yet.

Swistle:
When you're 13, do you want to get a Facebook account?

Rob:
Definitely.

Swistle:
Why?

Rob:
Because it sounds fun.

Swistle:
If you had a Facebook account, would you be Facebook friends with your school friends?

Rob:
Probably.

Swistle:
And would you want to be Facebook friends with Dad and me?

Rob:
Well, what can you do if you're Facebook friends with someone? Like, are they just on your list?

Swistle:
You can look in their profiles and see what they're doing on Facebook.

Rob:
Then yeah, sure.





Swistle: Do you know what sexting is?

Rob:
Nope.

Swistle:
Have you heard the word before?

Rob:
Nope. ...Well, just now, when you said it.





Swistle:
What would you do if one of your friends was teasing someone else using texting?

Rob:
Well, like what?

Swistle:
Like...what if kids were all talking meanly about some girl? And what if they sent around an embarrassing picture of her?

Rob:
*looks shocked* I don't know!

Swistle:
What if something was happening on Facebook, like everyone was talking on the wall about how dumb someone was or something?

Rob:
*more shock* I don't know.

Swistle:
Would you feel comfortable telling me about it?

Rob:
I don't really know.

Swistle:
Would you feel comfortable telling a teacher at school?

Rob:
I'm not really sure. I'd assume that someone else would say something.

Swistle:
And then there's those people at school already keeping an eye out.

Rob:
Right.

Swistle:
Does this make you feel safer, that people are keeping an eye out for bullying and trouble? or does it make you feel weird, like you're being watched?

Rob:
Kind of both.





Swistle: Do you get to go online at school?

Rob:
Only to look up library books and to get Google pictures for computer assignments.

Swistle:
Could you get onto the internet if, like, the teacher wasn't paying attention?

Rob:
I think they'd notice. And also, most of the sites are blocked. There is one place I go: I asked if I could go on [Wikipedia about a game he likes], and the teacher said, "If it lets you, go for it."

Swistle:
Are some kids not allowed to go online, like because their parents don't want them to?

Rob:
No.

Swistle:
So everybody goes online during computer class?

Rob:
Yeah.

Swistle:
Can you get on Facebook from school?

Rob:
I don't know---I've never tried.





Swistle:
Have you heard of Myspace?

Rob:
Yeah.

Swistle:
Do kids you know have Myspace accounts?

Rob:
Yeah. Are you supposed to be 18 to get one, or is it 13?

Swistle:
I don't know. Do the other kids say what they do on Myspace or what it's for?

Rob:
Not really, but I guess it's like Facebook.





Swistle: Do they teach typing at school?

Rob:
Yeah: they did at the beginning of the year, and in fifth grade.

Swistle:
Wasn't it before fifth grade?

Rob:
Uh...

Swistle (to William):
William, have you learned to type in school? [William's in fourth grade.]

William:
Yeah.





Swistle: Do you ever get sick of technology? Like, sick of computers and stuff?

Rob:
Not really.

Swistle:
Do you like computers?

Rob:
Yeah! I'm glad I have it every day at school.

Swistle:
Do you ever wish there was a day without technology, or a project that didn't involve technology?

Rob:
No. But sometimes I think about living out in the jungle!

William:
That's new.





Swistle: Do your teachers mention Facebook groups, like they assume you use it or expect you to?

Rob:
No. I don't really know what "groups" is.

Swistle:
I guess since they specifically say they think Facebook is a problem with students...

Rob:
Yeah.





Swistle: What do you think of parents being friends with their kids on Facebook---so the parents can see what the kids are doing and saying?

Rob:
I don't know.

Swistle:
I think we'll probably want to be your Facebook friend so we can make sure nothing bad is going on.

Rob:
Okay.






To see interviews with kids in other age groups: the BlogHer round-up page.



From the client:

Have you had a conversation with your kids (or nephews/nieces, grandchildren) about texting, sexting and safety? BlogHer is matching LG’s donation of .50 to dosomething.org for every comment on this post, so please tell me about your conversation with your kids in the comments. Or if you haven’t had the conversation yet, what’s holding you back? Maybe another reader will have the perfect suggestion for how you can get your conversation going. It’s important for all our families, and dosomething.org will get a $1.00 for every comment, question or suggestion.

Visit LG Text Ed , where Dr. Rosalind Wiseman explains the dangers and consequences of this new form of flirting. You can also watch Emmy award winning actress Jane Lynch share a lesson on the sensitive stuff kids are sending around without thinking about the consequences.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Smarty Ants and Phonics Reading Pup Review and Giveaway

This is a sponsored review from BlogHer and SmartyAnts.


I think this is my kids' favorite review program so far: a FedEx truck delivered us a singing, talking stuffed dog. The Smarty Ants Phonics Reading Pup comes with 10 songs already in his fluffy repertoire, which was good news because it kept the children busy squabbling over it while I went to the computer to set up the included one-month membership to the Smarty Ants reading program.

If I'd known he would start playing with it before
I even recycled the box, I would have cleared off the counter first.
I mean, salt? a crumpled towel? an electrical plate? PROFESSIONAL.


When I see a computer-based toy, I always want to know what is involved in it: I can use a computer, but I want to know how much information the computer will need from me and how long/difficult/confusing/frustrating it'll be to get things working. So that's the part I'm going to tell you about now.

It had me start downloading some software, and then it asked me for my email address and my birthdate, and then for my child's birthdate (it's one child per membership) and whether the child should be represented by a boy ant or a girl ant, and what the child's ant should be called. I felt squirrelly about the birthdates but I just fudged it a few days: this still gives the game the info it needs, without bothering my privacy issues. I also used a nickname for my child's ant's name, instead of using her actual name.

The next step was one of my favorites, as you would suspect if you read my baby name blog: choosing a name for the dog. Furthermore, there is a LIST TO CHOOSE FROM. How much would I have wanted the job of making a list of possible dog names?? SO MUCH!! I spent probably ten minutes trying out each name on our dog to see which I thought was best. This would have been really fun for the kids, if I had let them help. (I chose Murphy.)

(screenshot from SmartyAnts.com)


The next step is choosing three ant friends to play with, and I did call Elizabeth over for this part. There are three girl ants and three boy ants to choose from, AND you get to NAME THEM. Elizabeth chose the three girl ants, and she named them Kyra, Olivia, and Katie.

(screenshot from SmartyAnts.com)


Then I chose her reading level from a list of possibilities and entered the free one-month membership code that came with the dog. And...that's where it stopped helping me. There I was, looking at my account info, wondering what I should do next. I looked in the FAQ (click the "get help" button at the top of the screen) and followed the directions to unzip the software I'd downloaded (by clicking on the SmartyAnts.zip file on the desktop), then I put it in the Applications folder as instructed---but it didn't start installing as it said it would. So I double-clicked it, and THEN it started installing. (Computery types are rolling their eyes and asking each other if in the next version they should include "Continue breathing while installing this game.")

It took over 3 hours to install. According to the web site that's about double the time it would take with a slow internet connection, but we have a fast internet connection. The downloading was done before I was finished registering, and the installation is what took hours---but the web site says the installation speed depends on the internet connection. In any case, if you're giving this as a holiday or birthday gift to your own child, I recommend doing the installation ahead of time just in case you have the same experience.

Fortunately, the children were still playing with the Pup.


This is where we have Sadness and Woe, because after struggling to get the installed application started, it turned out the problem was that my computer didn't meet the system requirements. There was a hasty consultation with my bosses, and we decided this was a good opportunity to tell YOU about the system requirements.


(click it to see it bigger)


The Smarty Ants game really does look cool. The kids were very excited as we were setting it up and reading about it---so excited that Paul and I had a couple of discussions about whether it might be time to upgrade my computer ANYWAY. It's a reading game for pre-K, kindergarten, and first grade reading levels (even if your child is older than that), the kind that adjusts itself to the child's ability level and learning pace. I thought this was a good summary from the handbook:
For children who grasp reading concepts quickly or have advanced skills, the program accelerates to keep them engaged and challenged. For children who are struggling, the system slows the pace and increases the educational support and scaffolding.
The ants are appealing, and all three of my little kids found it very exciting to get to choose and name their little ant friends. It would have blown their little minds to learn that playing the games would let them earn "Smarty Coins" to spend on ant clothes and ant accessories.

Also, GET THIS: you plug the Phonics Reading Pup into your computer and it will automatically download the songs that go along with what the child is working on with the Smarty Ants. Then the dog can go with your child as, like, a mobile review unit! Plus, the dog shows up in the ant games, and the child can use the Smarty Coins to buy toys for him.

(screenshot from SmartyAnts.com)


It's exactly the sort of thing my kids would go nuts for, and if I'd seen it before the review I would have bought it for them for Christmas. (Remember to install it ahead of time!) The dog comes with a free 1-month membership, and when you go online for the first time you're offered a 2-week trial; I was wondering if the 1-month would get ADDED to that, or if it was INSTEAD, and it's added---so you get a month and a half right off the bat, which might be as long as the child would play it (a Christmas toy lasting well into February is very good). If the child was still crazy for it, or if you have a child who needs either reading help or more reading challenges, a year's membership is $24.99 for 3 months, or $49.99 for 12 months (twice the money for quadruple the time) (you will not be surprised to discover I have a math medal) (from seventh grade, WHATEVER). The Pup is $29.99, and since the grey/white version has a boy voice, and since half the dog name choices are girl names, my guess is that the white version has a girl voice. (It isn't necessary to have the Pup to play SmartyAnts, and children can still have a Pup online even if they don't have a real Pup.)

One of my twins can read but is timid about it: lots of saying, "But I CAN'T!!"---even when he can, and reluctant (to the point of tears) about sounding out words he hasn't seen before. And yet when he plays video games (and he LOVES video games), he reads all the instructions easily. This is why Paul and I were thinking, "Maybe the computer could stand to be upgraded anyway...": Smarty Ants is practically custom-made for Edward, who would be frantic to play the computer games and wouldn't even notice it was helping him with his reading confidence.


The giveaway is for your own Phonics Reading Pup AND a one-year ($50!) subscription to Smarty Ants AND a $100 Visa gift card---all from BlogHer. To enter the giveaway, do one or two (two maximum) of the following by December 17, 2010, each with its own comment so I'll be sure to enter you the right number of times:

a) Leave a comment saying which Pup you prefer, the grey/white or the white (you can see both here: Smarty Ants store).

b) Tweet about this promotion and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post.

c) Blog about this promotion and leave the URL to that post in a comment on this post.

d) Follow this link and provide your email address and your response to the sweepstakes prompt, and then come back here and leave a comment saying you did so.


This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older.

Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail.

You have 72 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected. For more information, see the BlogHer.com Smarty Ants official rules.

To read more reviews and get more chances to win, visit the BlogHer.com exclusive offers page.

For more about Smarty Ants, visit SmartyAnts.com, or go see Smarty Ants on Facebook. To shop, visit the Smarty Ants store on Amazon.com

Monday, November 8, 2010

I Think We'd Better Ask Someone Who's On the Scene

This is sponsored content from BlogHer and LG Text Ed



This is Rob:

Hi, Rob.


He's eleven years old, nearly twelve. He likes video games, logic puzzles, Rubik's Cubes, sleeping in, SpongeBob Squarepants. He gets cranky because so far I won't let him have a cell phone.


Here he is watching our street get torn up this past summer.


Oh, and here he is with all the kids,
watching William do an experiment.



I don't show Rob's face very often on my blogs. This is because I haven't figured out yet where "my writing job" and "his privacy" overlap---and where they don't. When I was his age (You: "HERE we go"), there WAS NO INTERNET, and so it's not like I can think back to how _I_ felt about having MY mother post MY picture online, or whatevs. So until I figure something out, or until he starts objecting, I err on the side of UNDER-posting his face.

In fact, the whole issue of online privacy/interaction for kids is a confusing and uncertain one for me. I can't tell him funny/embarrassing stories-with-morals about how when _I_ was a child I mishandled texting, or email, or Facebook. I can talk to him about the issues I've heard about, but I can't think to myself, "Let's see, I remember the online teasing started around grade ____, so I need to be sure to ask him about it more often and make sure we're staying on top of his Facebook account and texts."

It really is hard for us parents to know what's actually going on---and sometimes we don't find out until something's gone very badly wrong indeed. But we can at least ASK, right? So here's the deal: this is a 2-post series, and on this one you can ask any question you want Rob to answer about technology at school and/or at his age: bullying via technology, cell phone use, texting, all that stuff. And on the second one, I'll interview him and post his replies.


To ask questions of kids in other age groups: the BlogHer round-up page.



From the client:

Each comment left on this post benefits DoSomething.org with a $0.50 donation! Because this topic is so important for our kids and their futures, BlogHer really wants to get the conversation about texting, sexting and safety going – both with our kids and among parents. It will match LG’s donation of .50 to dosomething.org for every comment on this post, so please give me your suggestions on questions for my kids. Dosomething.org will get a $1.00 for each and every one.

Visit LG Text Ed , where Dr. Rosalind Wiseman explains the dangers and consequences of this new form of flirting. You can also watch Emmy award winning actress Jane Lynch share a lesson on the sensitive stuff kids are sending around without thinking about the consequences.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Winner! (Kellogg's Week Twelve)

The winner of the Kellogg's Week Twelve giveaway ($100 Visa gift card) is Sunnymum! I'll email you!

Winner! (Newman's Own)

The winner of the Newman's Own giveaway (a Newman's Own gift basket) is Dave! I'll email you!

Winner! (Ragu)

The winner of the Ragu giveaway ($100 Visa gift card) is Amanda! I'll email you!