7 Steps to Leading an RPG for Your Kid and Their Friends

If you want to help your budding adventurer and her buddies to go on a quest of epic proportions, these steps to leading a seriously fun RPG can help.

Role-playing games (RPGs) are so much fun to play, and they give your children a chance to work on their problem-solving skills, math skills, and story-telling abilities all while letting their imagination run wild and free.
RPGs tend to be a bit involved to set up, because, unlike a video game where someone else does the story creation and character designing for you, you have to do everything yourself. So if you want to help your budding adventurer and her buddies to go on a quest of epic proportions, here are seven steps to guide you along your way to being an amazing game master (GM).

1 | Know your players

First of all, you need to get to know your players. Are they into sports? What TV shows, movies, or video games do they think are the greatest? Do they prefer Han Solo or Rey? Are they nitpicky when it comes to rules? Knowing this kind of information will help you design a campaign that’s interesting to all of them, because you can draw on stories and characters they already like.
When my husband was just starting to play D&D, his friend’s father set their campaign in Middle Earth because “The Lord of the Rings” movies just came out, and my husband and his buddies were enthralled. While they didn’t destroy the One Ring like Frodo and the rest of the Fellowship set out to do, they were able to go on other adventures in a familiar place with familiar people (or elves and dwarves).

2 | Pick your genre

There are so many different role-playing games out there, and they each cater to a different genre. For instance, D&D v.5 and Pathfinder are your medieval quests with dragons and knights. whereas Chronicles of Darkness is good for people who are into horror films.
If your players are “Star Wars” fans, they’ll probably appreciate Force and Destiny. If they’ve always dreamed of being a superhero, like Batman or Captain America, you can try Mutants and Masterminds.
Finally, if you are running a campaign for a younger crowd, RPGs designed for ages four to 10 like Hero Kids and Mouse Guard are great options.

3 | Gather your supplies

To play an RPG you can use as many or as little items as you want. At the very least, you’ll need a rule book, some character sheets, dice, pencils, and paper. You should also have a GM screen to keep your notes and dice behind. Everything else will simply help bring the game to life.
For the first few times you play, it would be nice to have maps with a one-inch grid and some tokens to mark where all of the player characters (PCs) and non-player characters (NPCs) are. Even if the map is just a large sheet of grid paper with a poorly penciled-in path on it and the tokens are different coloured buttons, it will help you and your PCs visualize where everyone is during a combat so they can see if they are able to duck around the werewolf to flank him.
Once everyone is hooked, you can buy 2D pawns or miniatures from tabletop war games to represent each of the characters, monsters, and NPCs.

4 | Create your story

There are three ways you can do this. You can use a pre-created campaign from the game you chose, you can make one up all on your own, or, like my husband’s GM, you can steal the plot from your players’ favorite TV show, movie, book, or video game.
At first, your child and his friends might find role-playing to be a bit tricky, so think of the favorite plots as gateways into your players’ imaginations. Because they already know what General Leia looks like, it will be easier for them to become immersed in the Star Wars universe if she’s the one who gives them a mission to help overthrow the First Order. Then, once they’re enmeshed in the world, it’ll be easier for them to use their imaginations to tell their characters’ story.
Even if you are making up a campaign from your head or from loved stories, you can use the NPCs that RPG games have premade. You can leave them completely the same or change their names, genders, race, etc. to make them suit your narrative better.

5 | Set some ground rules

Once you and your child’s friends are all together, it’s important for you to set some ground rules. For instance, you should decide whether or not your group is okay with talking out of character. This way, everyone will already know if it’s okay for them to go out of character and start talking about so-and-so’s party or how their awful teacher gave them tons of homework for the weekend.
You can also discuss whether or not they want to role-play in the first person (as I sneak past the ogres, I think, “Please don’t let me trip on something”) or third-person (Heotene sneaks past the ogres and prays that, for once in her life, she doesn’t trip over something). Third-person is probably easier to start with, especially if they chose a character who isn’t like them. That way, they can avoid actually trying to come up with what their character said when they were convincing the innkeeper that there wasn’t another loaf of bread on the counter a moment ago.

6 | Fudge the dice

In video games or role-playing games, death is always on the line. It’s part of the thrill of making decisions and praying that you are strong enough or smart enough to defeat whatever monster or challenges the GM throws your way.
However, you want to find a balance between a little bit of risk and paralyzing your PCs into inaction because they don’t want to lose their character. This is why you want a GM screen. It gives you the freedom to ignore (a.k.a. fudge) the dice to save someone’s life, or alternatively, to give someone a heroic send-off if one of your players wants to try a new class or race.
You also don’t want to render your poor PC unconscious for the entirety of the adventure. In one of my friend’s first campaigns, her character was taken out by a giant bumblebee in the first quest. They didn’t have a strong enough healer to revive her (or enough money to pay someone else to do it), so she spent the rest of the adventure being dragged on a litter while the rest of the kids became heroes.
While she brought herself into the game by having her character talk in her sleep with helpful advice when her friends were stuck, she still felt sad that she didn’t get to participate more when we talked about it in university. Don’t do that to your kids. Fudge the dice.

7 | Let each child shine

As you are guiding them through the story, make sure you set up different opportunities for each of the PCs to shine.
If one of them is a smooth-talking rogue, give that person the chance to convince the city guards they should be allowed into the town after the gate has been shut. Maybe one of their characters is really good at fighting giants. In that case, you want to bring in a giant for them to clobber. Or perhaps one of them is really good at tracking. Let her guide the rest of the team to the wounded unicorn or lost child before it’s too late.
The main thing is to mix it up when it comes to challenges. Otherwise, the kids will lose interest.
If you have two (or more) kids who really want to be fighters, try to get them to stylize their characters differently. For example, think of the different ways that Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli fought. One was a highly skilled swordsman, another excelled at archery, and the last one was unstoppable with his axe.
Don’t be discouraged if your first meeting together doesn’t quite go as you envisioned it would. Remember, while you might be the guiding force in the story and sometimes need to railroad your PCs to get them where they need to be, an RPG is a collective game and the story is as much theirs as it is yours.
Plus, some children might need a bit more help than others creating their characters or not feeling silly role-playing. So grab a bunch of snacks, be more prepared than you think you need to be, learn from your mistakes, and have fun.

Practical Tips for Easing Kids' Social Media Anxiety

If you see your kids struggling with FOMO — maybe they’re always stressed out after being on the phone or they’re staying up too late texting — step in.

Teens text, tweet, snap, and post like crazy. In fact, about half of teens use social media every day, and for some, this means checking Instagram or Snapchat dozens (or hundreds!) of times a day. While many teens find connecting with friends online a positive experience, some just feel stressed out. This social media-specific anxiety has a name: FOMO, also known as “fear of missing out.”
FOMO can take many forms. Sometimes it’s the worry that a friend might be upset if you don’t respond to a message or post right away. It can also be feeling left out if everyone’s posting pictures of a party or event you didn’t attend (or, worse, weren’t invited to). But more generally, it’s the sense that exciting stuff is happening online constantly and if you’re not online too, you’re missing out.
While FOMO might sound like a silly acronym, it can have very un-silly consequences. Studies have found that the 24/7 nature of social media can lead to kids feeling like they need to check and respond to friends’ posts or messages constantly. As you can imagine, this can lead to poor sleep quality, anxiety, and even depression.
Parents can help. If you see your kids struggling — maybe they’re always stressed out after being on the phone or they’re staying up too late texting — step in.
Listen. It can be easy to dismiss FOMO and other social media stress as superficial, but for many tweens and teens, social media is social life. The more you show you care about how they feel, the more open they’ll be.
Don’t judge. Snapchat seems a little dumb, doesn’t it? But for tweens and teens, connecting with their peers is a normal part of child development. For you, it meant hours on the phone. For them, it means lots and lots of rainbow vomit.
Encourage their offline lives. FOMO can chip away at kids’ self-esteem, but the best defense is a strong sense of what makes kids unique, worthy, and valuable. Help kids participate in sports, clubs, drama, or volunteer work to help them weather the ups and downs of social media anxiety.
Set limits. After all the listening and validating is over, set some basic limits around when and where the phone or computer can be used. Start with turning phones off an hour before bedtime and storing them in your room to help kids resist the temptation to stay up late texting. You can suggest they tell their friends they’ll be signing off at a specific time, so they won’t be expecting a response.
Shift the focus. If kids are feeling overwhelmed by keeping up with all the social stuff online, encourage them to focus on the creative side of Instagram, for example, instead. Entering photo contests or building a portfolio can shift the focus to the positive side of social media.
Ask open-ended questions. You don’t need to solve their problems for them. But you can help them think about what is and isn’t working for them. Here are some questions to try:
● Are there any habits you might want to change? (Such as not checking your phone before bed.)
● What would happen if you turned off your phone? For an hour? A day?
● Have you thought about rewarding yourself for not checking your phone or social media for a certain amount of time? (Make a game of it!)
● What are the pros and cons of using Instagram and other social-networking apps?
● What would happen if you unfollowed or unfriended someone who was making you feel bad on social media?
● Do you notice that you have better or worse reactions to posts or messages depending on how you feel that day?
Written by Sierra Filucci for Common Sense Media.

4 Tips for Healthier Communication on Social Media During Politically Polarizing Times

Next time you’re upset by something political (or not) posted by a friend or family member you care about, remember these things.

We’ve all been shocked by the Facebook posts of friends and family members since last November. Many of us are confused about the political opinions of those we love, and we’re doing our best to keep on loving them regardless of our differences. It’s the perfect time to set an example for kids who have today’s peculiar pressures of life broadcasting.
Unfollowing and unfriending is the easy way out of relationships with people we fear are so different than us that we needn’t humor their words anymore.
While unfriending is sometimes our quickest path to peace, we all know it’s not a permanent solution. We don’t stop loving people just because we disagree with them. Considering all of these nuances, I sought out to become a better communicator, particularly online, with friends and family members I don’t agree with, may it be political or in general.
To identify some tactics for the next time I want to debate facts or comment on an eccentric social media post, I interviewed Dr. Rebecca Branstetter, a psychologist based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Here are a few steps to take the next time you’re upset by something political (or not) posted by a friend or family member you care about.

Reflect on why the article or post was a trigger for you

By identifying the underlying emotion and acknowledging it to be true, you can begin to work through it. Is it anger, disappointment, fear, or disgust?
“Don’t judge your emotion as good or bad,” says Branstetter. “Just make note of it. Labeling emotions can have a diffusing effect on their power to overwhelm you.”

Consider the source if an article upsets you

Was the article published by a reputable source, such as a leading news publication that’s known for reporting unbiased facts, or a lesser known online magazine that tends to skew in a certain political direction? Many articles draw attention with headlines that are purposefully provocative (clickbait), while other articles are fake news altogether.
Today’s media landscape is difficult to navigate with all these complexities, but checking the source before reacting can save you from unnecessary emotional distress. If you discover that a source is false or unreliable, politely inquire about it, suggests Branstetter. Comment with “I had a tough time finding the original source of this article.”
If you have also mistakenly shared news that wasn’t from a reputable source in the past, try mentioning it so the person who shared the false article can relate and is less likely to become defensive. Establishing a baseline understanding of the facts before discussing an issue can help get the two of you to a place where you can look for solutions together, or at least discuss your differences in opinion more objectively.

If you need to respond, do so with empathy

Empathy is the process of trying to take on another’s perspective. “It’s crucial for connection and communication,” says Branstetter. “Consider starting your reply to the post that upset you with something that shows empathy.” Examples of this include “I see you’re passionate about this issue. Here’s my perspective on it,” or “I understand this topic is important to you. It’s important to me, too. Care to take it offline?”
Then, provide your opinion using the same kind of respectful language you would hope to read if someone commented on your posts. Rarely will hearts and minds be changed by responding with polarizing or demeaning comments.
Furthermore, mind your emoticons. A study published by “The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology” found that wink faces 😉 used in “computer-mediated communication” (emails, posts, texting, etc.) imply sarcasm. This was the case 85 percent of the time, according to the study.
That comment of yours when paired with a wink or smiley face could have greater implications than you think. Be weary of replying with what could come across as sarcastic and therefore belittling or passive aggressive.

Avoid broad labeling

When people are polarized in their beliefs, it can be difficult to see one another’s perspectives. This is compounded when we assign broad labels to people, e.g., Conservatives or Liberals.
“When we reduce people to ‘us’ versus ‘them’ it shuts the door on empathy,” says Branstetter. “If you feel comfortable, personalize your answer about why the issue is important to you, so you are not viewed as just a ‘Democrat’ or ‘Republican’ but an actual person.”
Despite your best efforts to show empathy and respond in a respectful way, there will always be others who do not follow suit. But if you speak your truth in a controlled, respectful way, you’ll feel heard and will have demonstrated to others how to exchange in a healthy way.

The Only Back-to-School Cell Phone Rules Your Kids Really Need

Whether your kid is heading to school toting a brand-new device or is already a cell-phone pro, you want everyone on the same page about the dos and don’ts. (Get more information on cell-phone parenting.) You can keep an eye on kids at home (kind of), but at school, they’re on their own. As with any kind of boundary setting, these conversations can be tense. Fortunately, there are only five rules for them to remember — and one for you, to show that you’re all in this together. (Tweens and teens can also play our animated, interactive Digital Compass game to pick up digital-citizen skills.)
Here are our key guidelines for cell-phone carrying kids:
1. Respect the school’s rules. Some schools permit students to use their phones at certain times: between classes, at lunch, on the playground, even occasionally in class. Abusing this privilege — like, by texting during a test or playing Pokemon GO in math class — could get your phone taken away and possibly jeopardize your classmates’ freedom. Only use your phone when you’re allowed to on school grounds.
2. Pick up when it’s parents calling. Ugh, why can’t they just text like everyone else? Sometimes mom, dad, or your caregiver need to talk to you. It’s probably very important, so don’t send it to voicemail.
3. Ask permission before downloading anything. Even if you have your own app store account, get sign off on any apps you download. If something has in-app purchases, those costs could wind up on your parents’ bill — so they need to know what extra charges a download may incur. They also need to make sure it’s age appropriate and reasonably good for you.
4. Don’t flaunt it. Owning a cell phone is a privilege that not every kid has access to. It’s OK to be proud of your phone — it’s an expensive piece of equipment for which you’ve been given responsibility — but showing off could make other people feel bad. Also, it could get stolen.
5. Use your phone for good, not evil. You’ll see all kinds of misbehavior and mischief regarding phones in school. Set an example for others by being respectful and responsible with yours. Ask permission before taking someone’s picture. Take a moment to consider whether a text or video could hurt, annoy, or embarrass someone else. Turn off the phone when you’re supposed to. Don’t let the phone be more important than someone standing right in front of you.
And here’s our essential rule for parents:
Don’t text your kid during the school day. Unless it’s a real emergency — like, you’re going to the hospital — resist the urge to text your kid during the school day. Kids have survived for many, many years without talking to their parents while they’re at school — and they need to be allowed independence. And if your kid texts you, make sure he’s not breaking any rules to do so.
Written by Caroline Knorr for Common Sense Media.

The First Day of School Tradition You Should Start This Year

The first day of school inevitably invokes a host of emotions to the surface, and not just for the kids. This tradition preserves them for generations.

For some parents, it’s a day filled with tears; for others, it means barely-stifled cheers. The first day of school inevitably invokes a host of emotions, and not just for the kids.

Firsts are notorious for dishing out a case of the feels. Whether you’re crying as you watch your little guy wave goodbye from the door to his kindergarten classroom or you’re dancing-like-no-one’s-watching after your kid boards the bus for junior high, the day is virtually guaranteed to be marked with some pretty intense emotions.

Kevin Scruggs knew this when he began a brilliant tradition of capturing short interviews with his daughter on video on the first day of school. The fact that he did this every year from kindergarten until her senior year in high school is what has the internet buzzing. He compiled the videos and played them in the background during her high school graduation party.

This 12 year project and tribute to his daughter, Mackenzie, has gone viral. It trended on Reddit’s front page, and was (briefly) YouTube’s number two video. It netted over a million views in a few weeks. As of this printing, the touching video is at over two million views on YouTube alone, and counting.

You can watch the video here. Fair warning though, you may get a case of the feels as you watch this young lady’s progression from spunky six-year-old to poised high school senior in fewer than five minutes.

Scruggs’ interviews with Mackenzie seemed pretty spontaneous. They were filmed at different locations, for example, and the questions he asked her varied somewhat as she grew up, though always ending with an exchange of “I love you.”

His idea is flat brilliant. And with a little tweaking, it could be even better.

Even if you’ve missed a few first days of school, if you start this fall, you can have an incredible gift for your kid on the day he or she walks across that stage to receive a high school diploma. The good news is that it’s easy. The even better news is that it’s quick. And the best news is that it’s free.

To make your own First Days of School Compilation Video, start with the basics. The camera on your smart phone will do just fine. There is no need to invest scads of cash in a fancy-pants camera. If you upgrade over the years, that’s great, but to get started, just use what you’ve got on hand.

Make sure, however, that you save the video properly. Consider saving it in the Cloud rather than on a device – any device. Physical media has a shelf life. Optical media like CDs and DVDs are frustratingly unreliable. They can literally rot. Plus, they can break, get lost, or wind up being a pain in the butt to access once technology has moved on (which it will). So do yourself a favor by saving it in cyberspace – preferably in multiple places.

Bonus points for setting up an email address on behalf of your child, mailing them the video file each year, and presenting them with the password when they graduate. Better safe than sorry. This is a 12 year project, after all.

Before you start your first round of interviews, whip up a few questions that you will ask every single year. It will make for a great conversation piece around the graduation party food table. You can compare your son’s first grade answers to “What do you want to be when you grow up,” to his answers as a senior. Imagine how cool it will be to run a clip montage of your daughter’s answers over the years to “Who is the coolest person in the world?”

Keep your list of interview conversation starters short. You don’t want to make this something your child dreads. Don’t do this interrogation style. It needs to be conversational. Your goal is to make it fun (and eventually super meaningful) and to establish an annual tradition you both look forward to as summer comes to a close.

Consider making the videos in the same place every year. Include the same piece of furniture or the same tree in the front yard in your shot. This offers viewers an important reference point. In addition, if you choose a reference point background item like a tree, you can make obvious comparisons to growth.

Another fun possibility involves including an inanimate object that shows age (e.g., your child’s favorite toy or blanket at age five). Including reference objects and keeping the backdrop consistent isn’t vital, but it can make for far more interesting video-editing possibilities when you’re done.

Tip sheet

  • Include the same living or inanimate object in every video, preferably one that can show visible aging (e.g., child’s favorite toy, treehouse in the backyard).
  • Video in the same location every time (e.g., the kitchen table, the child’s bedroom, the bus stop).
  • Create a list of questions you ask every year, but leave room for some additional, developmentally-appropriate ones as they age.
  • Save your videos to the cloud in multiple locations if possible.

Sample Questions

  • Tell me about your first day in [insert grade] in [insert name of teacher’s] class.
  • How are you different this year than last year?
  • Can you please show me your backpack and the most important things inside it?
  • What was your favorite part of the day today?
  • What do you think your life will be like when you’re old like Mom and Dad?
  • What are your hopes and dreams for this year in school? Out of school?
  • What’s your favorite meal and what do you say we wrap this up and go eat it to celebrate?

What are some of your favorite back-to-school traditions? Chime in on the comments below.

5 Skills — from Empathy to Manners — That Tech Might Be Eroding (and What to Do About It)

Here are five ways tech has nibbled away at valuable life skills and experiences, and what you can do about it.

You started with the best intentions. Your kid needed a laptop for homework. Your tween needed a phone to text you after school. You wanted a Fitbit to lose a few extra pounds. But now, you look around and devices are plugged into every nook and cranny in your home. Everyone’s staring, tapping, tracking. While you’re grateful for things like Google Maps and Netflix that make your life easier and more fun, something feels off.
It’s the basics that are missing: courtesy, conversation, being bored, and appreciating simple pleasures.
But all hope is not lost. You may have to take another look at how your family is using tech and make adjustments based on your values. But you can do it. Here are five ways tech has nibbled away at valuable life skills and experiences, and what you can do about it.
Home Assistants vs. Manners
If you are one of the millions of households in the United States with Alexa or Google Home, you may have noticed an unfortunate side effect of using the device: a lack of enforced courtesy. Kids (and adults) shout commands at the device: “Play Beyoncé!” or “What’s the weather?!” The devices do not require a “please” or “thank you,” and the more lifelike these devices become, the weirder it is to hear your child rudely demanding something from a humanlike voice.
What to do: Model the behavior you want to see. It might feel strange to say “please” to a machine, but if that’s what you expect from your kid, you should do it too. It might help explain to kids that even though you know Alexa doesn’t have feelings, using polite voices and words makes it nicer for the real people in the house who do have feelings. You can talk about how it can feel bad to be around someone who’s yelling or angry, even if they’re not yelling at you.
Phones vs. Respect for Elders
How many of us have witnessed a teacher, coach, or grandparent try to make conversation with kids who can’t unglue their eyes from a screen? Of course it’s only polite to put down your phone when anyone is talking to you, but it can be especially embarrassing for parents who were raised to defer to the older generation.
What to do: Make your expectations very clear. Talk to your kids about how important it is to use good manners when you’re on your phone. Explain that it can be very difficult to put down your phone when you’re in the middle of a game or chat, but you believe it’s important to pay special respect to people like grandparents and elders. And of course, respect breeds respect, so put your phone down when your kid talks to you (unless it’s about how much redstone they need to build a castle in Minecraft, in which case it’s totally OK to ignore them!).
Internet vs. Value of Boredom
When a phone full of cute cat videos and funny memes is only a swipe away, it’s easy to forget what it was like to be truly bored. But science tells us that boredom is actually useful — for kids and adults. Not only can boredom lead to deep thinking, it can help kids practice perseverance, or pushing through uncomfortable moments without stimulation or distraction. And without boredom, kids might not take the time to explore their surroundings — dig in the dirt, wonder how a house is built, bake cookies without a recipe — and they might not stumble on something they really love to do.
What to do: Create opportunities for boredom by setting up times and places where devices are off-limits. And make sure kids have unstructured time — even a little bit — where they can roam the house or the neighborhood without a schedule. Keep a list of activities that kids say they like to do — from drawing to hammering to bouncing a ball — and point them toward it when they complain.
Activity Trackers vs. Activity for Its Own Sake
If you’ve ever taken a walk with someone who’s trying to get steps, it can be hard to concentrate on the conversation while they’re jogging in place, hopping up and down, and constantly checking their device. Activity trackers — while useful for many — tend to distract from the activity itself. And if we want kids to appreciate the beauty of their surroundings, the comfort of a meandering conversation, or even the rush of endorphins that can come with a strenuous walk, we need to emphasize the benefits of the activity, rather than the quantification of the actions.
What to do: First, don’t buy your kid an activity tracker unless they need it for a specific reason. Second, engage in lots of outdoor activity and fun exercise, and comment on how good it feels. And last, model the behavior and values you want to see in your kid — even if you’re tracking your steps, wait until the walk is over to check your progress, for example.
Devices vs. Empathy
The mere presence of a phone on the table between two people having a discussion has been shown to decrease feelings of empathy. Whether this is because the phone owner is distracted by the possibility of an incoming message or the promise of something more interesting on the device is unclear. But it makes sense that if someone isn’t giving you their full attention, they’re less likely to understand or empathize with you, and ultimately that can affect the quality of the relationship.
What to do: Prioritize face-to-face conversation over devices by putting phones and tablets out of site during meals. Recognize your thought pattern during conversations, and if you find yourself wondering about a missed call or guessing how many people liked your most recent Instagram post, refocus your concentration on your friend, spouse, or kid. And acknowledge how difficult digital distraction can be to manage yourself so that your kids understand that you think it’s an important challenge to wrestle with.
Written by Sierra Filucci for Common Sense Media.

Can Parents Buck the Cell Phone Guilt?

How can parents find a balance between using phones when they are helpful and necessary, and avoid the negative outcomes they bring?

At the end of the long day with my kids, I’m as drained as my cell phone battery. Both of us are begging to be recharged and for no one to need us or touch us for at least the next hour. Please.

I’ll be the first to admit that I reach for my cell phone frequently when I’m around my kids. If they’re munching happily on chicken nuggets, taking a while on the potty, or running around the backyard, I can’t resist taking a few minutes to check on the world outside my home. While I love staying at home with my children, I can’t stand the isolation. In my pocket is a portal to connection – relationships, news, current events, and excitement. I can reconnect with a friend whom I haven’t seen since graduation, or read the latest breaking news anytime I want.

There are piles of research telling me I should feel guilty about how this habit is affecting my kids. Children frequently felt secondary to their parents’ device, according to one study. Over half of the children surveyed felt that their parents checked their phones too often, with nearly a third saying their parents have been distracted during a conversation with their children.

From a child’s perspective, this is awful. From a parent’s perspective, I know what it’s like to try to listen to a 10 minute joke that has no punch line when you just really need to see if that text was your friend cancelling your play date that afternoon.

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However, a third of the children surveyed said that a parent checking their phone in the middle of a conversation made them feel unimportant – something I never want my children to feel. Even if (let’s face it) the conversation is typically unimportant.

When parents turn to our cell phones, it’s often for something necessary – scheduling a pediatrician appointment, checking work emails, or researching what that best treatment for diaper rash is. 50 years ago, children probably felt like their moms spent too much time flipping through cookbooks and their dads with their noses behind a newspaper. It’s impossible to give our children our undivided attention throughout the day.

It’s also probably not good for them, either. Independence is an important virtue to develop in children, experts remind us. Children need opportunities to explore the world on their own in order to develop confidence and capability. Perhaps I don’t need to feel guilty about spending 15 minutes looking for that night’s dinner recipe on Pinterest while my children wander off and go play with their blocks.

That being said, not all of my cell phone use is productive. Too often it turns into a form of escapism when I’m exhausted and need some time off from parenting, yet I’ve found that scrolling through my Facebook feed that’s full of childless friends vacationing around the world never makes me feel any better.

In fact, use of numerous social media platforms is linked to depression according to a recent study. Users with higher numbers of social media accounts (seven to 11) may be at a greater risk of depression due to the constant multitasking, as well as the rumination which can lead users to think of themselves in a negative light.

It’s not surprising then that parents are more irritable when on their phones. Our children don’t know if we’re firing off an important work email that will only take a minute, or ignoring them because we would rather be on a beach in Hawaii like that girl from high school we never really liked in the first place. We become frustrated because we either need to do something actually important, or because our three minutes of escapism into a Buzzfeed article about nostalgic 90s TV shows was interrupted.

So how can parents find a balance between using phones when they are helpful and necessary, and avoid the negative outcomes they bring? Here a few a few simple tips that can help create a happy medium.

1 | Create phone free zones

There are times and places when cell phone use is acceptable, and times when it is outright dangerous. Checking smartphones and texting while driving should be number one on your list of places to put the phone away. Poolside is another good place to leave the phone tucked away in your bag.

Dinner time should also be a sacrosanct half hour where phones remain dark. Full disclosure: we will frequently pull ours out during dinners to FaceTime far away family members, but that encourages interaction between our children and others, rather than discourage it.

2 | Tell your kid what you’re doing

When my son is stomping his feet because I’m ignoring him, I try to give him a reason why. “I just need to finish e-mailing Papa about what dates we are going to come visit,” I’ll tell him.

It rarely appeases his frustration, but it does give me accountability. I’m less likely to switch over to Twitter after hitting “send” and more likely to put the phone down and give him my full attention.

3 | Get out and about

I’ve noticed that I rarely check my phone when I am out with friends, it’s the days that we spend alone in the house all day that I find myself lighting up the screen far more than necessary. If you’re frequently turning to your phone for a sense of connection, remember that any comfort your device offers pales in comparison to the real thing.

For me, being a stay-at-home parent can be lonely and frustrating at times, but connecting with other parents on play dates, park trips, or at the library can greatly alleviate some of the boredom that sends us diving into our social media feeds.

4 | Take a real break

If it’s been a long day and you find yourself reaching for your phone more than usual, it might be a sign that you need some time off from the rigors of parenting. Grumpy and overwrought parents aren’t capable of providing their children with quality time. Find a way to take some time for yourself to recharge. It’s best if you find something to do that doesn’t involve a phone: take a walk, read a book, or grab a drink with friends after the kids go down to bed.

5 | Go old-fashioned

Sure, Pinterest has every recipe you can imagine, but so do classics like “The Joy of Cooking,”  and your kids will have way more fun helping you pick out dinner flipping through cookbooks than trying to pry your face away from the screen.

6 | Get moving

It’s harder to read your phone while you’re walking. If Saturday mornings have turned into Toons-and-Twitter time for your family, consider unplugging and going for a family hike instead. Getting out of cell phone range is the easiest way to insure you aren’t overusing it.

7 | Stop scrolling

When you’ve completed whatever task that sent you to your phone in the first place – checking the weather or sending a text – and you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through headlines and status updates, it’s time to put the phone down. Nothing good comes of knowing which cat videos your great aunt likes.

Cell phones certainly are a distraction from parenting, and I don’t blame any parent who needs that distraction from time to time. On the whole, I believe my cell phone has been good for my parenting. I can text my husband updates about our kid’s runny nose or send grandparents pictures and videos of my kids singing happy birthday to their aunts and uncles. When our phones foster connection, they’re wonderful. It’s when they start impeding it that we need to step back and take a break.

5 Apps to Boost Math Skills over the Summer

Apps that make a game out of learning will fit right into your kid’s summer schedule.

Daily math practice doesn’t have to be — and, in fact, shouldn’t be — drill-and-kill. Summer is a great opportunity to make learning more fun with apps that add a gaming element to key skills such as addition, subtraction, fractions, and more. These apps let kids avoid the “summer slide” in a fun — and totally painless — way.
Dragonbox Big Numbers: In a whimsical land called Noomia, kids collect resources, add them, regroup, and subtract when they buy supplies to accomplish various tasks. As they progress, new areas and challenges unlock, and numbers get larger.
Skills: addition, subtraction, grouping
Why We Like It

  • It’s a unique and fun next step for kids who have mastered basic addition and subtraction.
  • Leveling up slowly and letting kids work with numbers visually and in numerals helps kids master the skills no matter their learning style or pace.
  • The gradual addition of new worlds and challenges makes the repetition of collecting resources and practicing skills more engaging.

Marble Math: In this fantastic app, kids see math problems — such as “Collect fractions that add up to 2” — at the top of the screen and then navigate through a maze with a marble to pick up answers to the problem.
Skills: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, Roman numerals, decimals, negative numbers, and more
Why We Like It

  • The tricky mazes are fun to move through and solve.
  • Kids are empowered to customize the experience to their needs by selecting their level of difficulty, the specific skills they want to focus on, and more.
  • Users get good feedback and help; the “show me” button lets them see the correct maze pattern and math answer.

Motion Math Cupcake: For their new bakery, kids must design, name, and make cupcakes. As they take orders and deliver them, kids do the basic math that comes with the territory of buying and selling.
Skills: addition, subtraction, multiplication, arithmetic, counting, fractions, graphing
Why We Like It

  • Math skills are baked right in to the activities, so there are no distractions from learning.
  • Placing kids in a business setting shows how math skills are useful in real life.
  • The varied activities keep it interesting as the game gets more challenging.

Prodigy Math Game: After choosing an avatar, kids earn spells by completing math problems and use them to defeat monsters. Along the way kids can earn other rewards, and the game adapts to a kid’s skill level.
Skills: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, counting, equations, fractions, functions, geometry, numbers, probability, ratio, statistics
Why We Like It

  • Using the math to propel the game forward can motivate kids to keep practicing.
  • It covers a variety of math concepts within the look and feel of an adventure game.
  • Though there’s some pressure for parents to subscribe, kids can use this game totally for free.

Sushi Monster: Kids playing Sushi Monster work in reverse to solve addition and multiplication problems. Each round begins with a set of target numbers. The chef puts numbered plates of sushi on the counter, and kids must choose the correct combination of plates to meet the target, thereby feeding the sushi monster.
Skills: addition, multiplication
Why We Like It

  • With engaging characters and achievable rewards, kids could easily get hooked on this fun math game.
  • It puts a spin on the traditional drill-and-practice method of memorizing addition and multiplication tables.
  • It’s free.

Written by  Christine Elgersma for Common Sense Media

5 Tips for Your Kid's First Trip to the Movies

If you have little kids, you have to put a bit more thought into a visit to the multiplex, especially the first time you go.

Before you had kids, a trip to the movies was a no-brainer. You liked the actor or the movie poster was cool, so you went. Simple. But if you have little kids, you have to put a bit more thought into a visit to the multiplex, especially the first time you go. Here are some tips for making the first venture to the theater a success.
Determine whether your kid is really ready. What’s the right age to take kids to their first movie? Well, it depends on your kid. Lots of kids see their first movie around the age of 3 or 4, but some parents wait until kids are a bit older, especially if they’re sensitive to loud noises or scared of the dark.
Choose the right movie. Obviously, you want something kid-friendly -– usually, animation fits the bill. But also look for movies that are slower-paced or shorter than the average blockbuster. These kinds of movies aren’t always playing in the mall theater, but keep your eye out for special screenings at art house theaters, special theaters like Alamo Drafthouse, churches, or schools where they show classic kids’ movies on the big screen. Here’s a list of great first movies to watch at home or at a special screening.
Skip the ads and trailers. Lots of theaters show a slew of commercials before the feature. Kids younger than about 8 aren’t able to distinguish advertising from content. Also, movie trailers are often louder and faster-paced than the movie itself, which can be a scary introduction to the theater.
Plan it right. Most little kids are at their best earlier in the day, so a theater’s first screening can be a great time to go — and it’s usually filled with other kids who won’t care if your kid talks through the whole thing (for older kids, teach movie theater etiquette — no talking, no devices, no getting up for no reason). Make sure kids are well fed, and decide ahead of time if you’ll be buying popcorn or candy so you don’t have to negotiate in the theater. (And if you buy popcorn, make sure you have water –- that popcorn’s salty!)
Go with the flow. You won’t be the first parent who’s left a theater with a screaming, crying, or otherwise overwhelmed kid. Yes, you might feel like you wasted your money on tickets, but you don’t want to force your kid to sit through something they’re not ready for. On the other hand, sometimes a short break in the lobby will be enough to prepare your kid for one more try.

30 Cool Things Kids Can Learn Online (for Free!)

With summer in full swing, lots of kids (and parents) are going online for ideas to keep busy.

With summer in full swing, lots of kids (and parents) are going online for ideas to keep busy. Common Sense has rounded up 30 unique things you and your kids can learn to do online (for free!) by a). watching a video, b). following instructions, or c). reading about a subject.
Note: Many videos include an advertisement at the beginning, and some websites might link off to other topics or websites that might not be appropriate for your kids. We suggest previewing or watching along with your kids.

Written by Sierra Filucci for Common Sense Media