My Facebook Addiction Started With Curiosity

Consciously or not, we make a choice to give something up every time we log onto Facebook. What that something is might surprise you.

My addiction started with curiosity. Don’t they all?

In 2008, a close friend told me about Facebook, and my first thought was “that’s juvenile.” But as I was pregnant with my second child and living in a new town where my adult interactions were limited to sing-alongs moderated by a clown puppet, I wasn’t exactly one to judge. One peek couldn’t hurt, I thought, so I did, during my toddler’s naptime.

Before she awoke, I’d put up my profile.

The next week I received a friend request from an ex. He’d moved out West and become a psychiatrist, a fitting profession for the biggest mind warp I’d ever dated. His profile picture revealed a pretty wife and a new baby, so why was he friending me? “Thanks, but I’ll pass,” I responded. I began to see the entertainment value of Facebook.

My second child was born on Facebook. My oldest started preschool, Obama was elected, I had a third baby, and the Iraq war drew to a close. My mother-in-law joined Facebook. A woman posted a derogative article about C-sections and I argued with her. I made peace with an old friend I’d had a painful falling-out with. Sandy Hook split my heart open and I posted “F*** the NRA.”

My dad’s best friend told him I said the F-word on Facebook. A woman posted something about Obama taking away her guns and I argued with her. I formed a private group of fellow terrified mothers, and we comforted each other. I stopped arguing with people on Facebook.

I unfriended a fellow school mom because her boyfriend’s profile picture showed a swastika on his forehead. I saw her the next week at the grocery store and avoided eye contact.

My aunt joined Facebook, as did my entire high school graduating class. I looked at their families and said how lovely, congratulations, I’m sorry for your loss.

Back then I was a full-time mother in need of adult conversation, and Facebook filled a void. Then my kids reached school-age, and I needed to tackle writing projects I’d put off. Alone at my computer, I couldn’t resist Facebook’s siren song. I’ll just peek at my messages, I’d think, and there would almost always be a message. “Can you believe what my neighbor commented?” “What time is the swimming event again?” “OMG, look at this! [insert funny political meme]” and on and on.

What was insidious about those moments was not what was happening, but what wasn’t – namely, my work. An hour later, I’d repeat the cycle: another message here, a funny article there. The increments of time were tiny grains of sand in the hourglass. They added up.

In the business world, the term “opportunity cost” refers to the losses inherent in each action we take, the benefits we could have gained had we made an alternative choice. I began to look at the eight years I spent on Facebook in terms of its opportunity cost. Yes, I’d reunited with college friends and gained a community that had buoyed me through some dark days as a stay-at-home-mom. But what had I given up? Could I have finished writing that biography, learned to play the guitar my father gave me, joined more real-life communities?

Women, I’ve noticed, are especially susceptible to Facebook’s charms, maybe because we’re wired – or socialized – for interpersonal connection. Facebook was my Hindu goddess Kali, who creates and destroys in equal measure. The sounding board and community it provided me with obliterated other activities. My husband and I used to discuss our days over the dishes at night. Gradually, he took on the task solo while I checked messages on my phone.

A former literature major, I once devoured a novel a week. Now my book pile taunted me, unread, from my nightstand. I grew absent around my children. “If you’re playing on Facebook, I get screen time too,” my five-year-old would say. It was a fair point.

The genius of Facebook is that it provides roots in a rootless world, a virtual way to unite the friendly faces from each stage of our lives.

It’s no revelation that communities aren’t what they used to be, that colleges and jobs toss us haphazardly across the country, away from our family and friends. The genius of Facebook is that it provides roots in a rootless world, a virtual way to unite the friendly faces from each stage of our lives.

They’re lovely extras in our Truman Show, but they’re not free. You’re paying for them with your time and attention. Take that hilarious woman from your college Medieval Lit class. She brings a convivial warmth to your Facebook life, but in the time you spent commiserating with her over bra shopping with your tween, your real-life tween was trying to tell you something important about her day that you ignored.

Or at least I did.

I’m not suggesting that we all deactivate our Facebook accounts. Even if we wanted to, it’s an invaluable marketing and networking tool that many people need for their work, including me. But if we can’t quit Facebook completely, we owe it to ourselves to take a hard look at its opportunity cost.

Consciously or not, we make a choice to give something up every time we log onto Facebook. What that something is might surprise you.

Every year for the past three years, I’ve taken a three-month detox from Facebook. I’m amazed during these breaks how easily my life regains its former architecture, but I can’t stay away forever. Recently, I fell back into my old distracted cycle, my same stalled productivity. My college friends included me on a lively thread about summer plans and work/life balance. This group of mothers had enriched so many lonely days I’d had as a new mom, and I wanted to stay and play. But there was an article to write, a child’s homework question to answer, and a life to be lived offline.

Why Parents Need to be Cautious About Kik

What is Kik? And is it safe for our kids?

Kik is a free mobile messaging app. According to the company, 40% of U.S. teens use Kik to chat with friends.

Sounds safe enough for our social media savvy kids, right?

Well, messaging is just the tip of the iceberg. Once you’re on Kik, you can send selfies, use emojis, and listen to music.

But it’s just fun and games?

Mostly. Kik also has an internal web browser, and an assortment of native apps.

Ok, so what? My kid make memes?

Yes. And she can also chat with strangers.


Using internal apps like Flirt! Kik users can message strangers — strangers who never have to provide any sort of legitimate identification or contact information.

Strangers who can pretend to be any age, and any body.

So, should parents be worried about their kids using the app?

Yes. There are multiple cases of predators using Kik to lure potential victims. Most recently, slain 13 year old Nicole Lovell, who likely met her alleged killer on Kik.

Following this incident, Kik provided an updated guide for parents available on its web site. The company also changed the age rating from 9+ to 12+.

But should kids be using it?

Stephen Balkam, founder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, thinks probably not.

In a recent article, Balkam told The Guardian, “As a parent, I would be very wary of a child of mine using an anonymous messaging app. Anonymity is an important part of free speech and dissent, but for minors it causes problems.”

Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance also speaking to The Guardian, agrees, “Kik is not designed to create a community of bad behavior, but there does tend to be bad behavior on anonymous apps. It’s a rough environment for young people to be in.”

Additionally — and perhaps most importantly — Kaiser reminds parents that consistently speaking with our kids about their digital lives is essential to keeping them safe.

“Part of normal conversation is asking, ‘What happened at school?’ or ‘What happened on the playground? You have to have that same rapport for online, and ask, ‘What are you doing online?”

Source: The Guardian, CBSNews





9 Year Old’s Video Hijacked, Can’t Be Taken Offline

A 9yo made a video of herself twerking with friends, copying what they’d seen in music videos online. The video was hacked, and the content exploited.

The girls were nine when they turned the camera on and made a twerking video, playfully copying what they’d seen in music videos online.

In the time before it was removed from YouTube (thanks to the due diligence of author Kashmir Hill, an editor at Fusion), the video was hijacked by a hacker, collected over 70,000 views, and could not be taken down by the girls who put it up.

Hill, author of an extensive article published by Fusion, found the video in a database curated by Dr. Kyra Gaunt, Baruch-SUNY professor and author of The Games Black Girls Play.

Dr. Gaunt’s work explores the sexualization of young black girls online, and the enduring impact of posting videos on social media platforms like YouTube, where the content — often intended to be silliness among friends — is exploited. She explains,

“These girls are in their bedrooms playing, it’s not sexual to them. They’re just imitating what they’re seeing online. But imagine that there are 600 people peering into your 8-year-old’s bedroom. The cognitive, social and emotional impact may be real….”

The videos in Gaunt’s database were mostly filmed with smartphones, and many of them have been taken down for violating YouTube community guidelines. In their Teen Safety guide, YouTube tells its young users never to post sexually explicit content.

Like all tech companies, YouTube is not allowed to collect data from users under the age of 13 without the permission of their parents. This being the cornerstone of the Child Online Privacy Protection Act.

But everybody knows that kids long ago figured out how to lie about their age and get an account anyway. It’s this loosely guarded gate that leads to the dangerous crossroads of adult entertainment and child’s play.

Which is exactly what happened with the twerking video. What was done in fun was viewed as lurid and sexual by men who left disturbing comments, phone numbers, and pleas for more.

It’s not uncommon for these sorts of videos to be hacked, repurposed for predators, and even monetized. Based on analysis, the 600 videos in Gaunt’s database were viewed over 26 million times, profiting about $2 per 1000 views.

Imagine for a minute: your child posts a video, it’s hacked so she can no longer access it, users then pay to watch your daughter’s video as sexual entertainment, and the hacker profits.

This is not an isolated scenario — at least 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube each minute, of each hour, of each day.

As social media platforms become the world’s biggest forum for communication and expression, the tech industry struggles to outpace its most pressing moral dilemma: how to both profit from, and protect, the youngest users.

Parents should make no mistake: having an ongoing conversation with your children regarding their digital footprint, as well as clear and firm rules for screen time, is not just a matter of their responsibility and education, it’s an urgent matter of their safety.

Source: Fusion.Net



Milo the Robot Helps Kids With Autism Spectrum Disorder

Milo the humanoid robot was developed to help kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder engage, learn and navigate life.

Developed by the Dallas start-up, Robokind Robots, Milo the robot was created to help meet the challenges faced by children with Autism Spectrum Disorder; the fastest growing developmental disorder in the U.S.

Robokind specializes in advanced social robotics. The Robots4Autism arm of the company focuses on building and improving the “expressive, humanoid” robot Milo, as well as providing Milo-based curriculum and research.

Milo keeps children with ASD engaged in many ways, most obviously, because he’s a robot. He also has an expressive face, stays calm, and is encouraging.

Robokind recently beat out 600 other start-ups in the North American Startup Contest, garnering the attention of several large angel investors.

The cost of Milo’s first iteration, the Zeno R50, was $15K per unit. Milo will be more widely available to schools and families at a significantly lower cost.

Source: Mic, Robokind


The Benefits of Screen Time for Kids: A Look at the Data

The risks of excessive screen time are studied and documented. But what about the rewards?

My husband is an electrical engineer who has worked for two of the largest tech companies in the world. I am an investor in a variety of tech products. 

We both benefit from screens in our professional and personal lives. Inevitably, we model how ubiquitous screens are for work and play.

The news is filled with warnings. Screen time before two years of age harms kids eyes as well as their attention spans. Sitting in front of the pixel boxes contributes to childhood obesity. Psychology Today posts cat scans of disintegrated gray matter. Pediatricians talk of over-firing nervous systems.

The risks are studied and documented. But what about the rewards?

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]Self Control has the word “self” in it for a reason.[/su_highlight]

Allowing our kids to make their own choices (particularly during free time) improves their confidence, time management, and ability to sense and meet their own need.

Plus it preserves the parent-child relationship.

Peter Gray writes in the very same publication that scared us with brain scans:

“It is always a mistake, I think, to tell kids what they must or must not do, except in those cases where you are telling them that they must do their share of the chores around the house or must not do things that hurt you or other people. Whenever we prevent our kids from playing or exploring in the ways they prefer, we place another brick in a barrier between them and us. We are saying, in essence, ‘I don’t trust you to control your own life.’

Children are suffering today, not from too much computer play or too much screen time. They are suffering from too much adult control over their lives and not enough freedom.”

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]Video games can help keep kids fit.[/su_highlight]

Screen time does not just mean kids are sitting like lumps on the couch. Many games encourage dancing, bouncing and swinging. In our house even sedentary games seem to include a lot of jumping around as they encourage each other to win a particular battle. They are in it together. It is really more We, or Wheee than it is Wii.

“Systematic surveys have shown that regular video-game players are, if anything, more physically fit, less likely to be obese, more likely to also enjoy outdoor play, more socially engaged, more socially well-adjusted, and more civic-minded than are their non-gaming peers.” – Wack & Trantleff-Dunn (2009), “relationship between electronic game play, obesity, and psychosocial functioning in young men; CyberPsychology & Behavior.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]Easier access to academics.[/su_highlight]

As our kids get older, their technological fluency is leading to advanced academics. One of the most common phrases in our house is “search it up.” They have taught themselves how to inflate boats to contribute to their Destination Imagination Project. They have created multi media presentations on “matter” and they have learned how to pick a lock. We are so proud.

New Scientist explains…“there is an unquestionable body of research showing that new technologies can engage children,” she says. Her studies have shown that children who struggle to learn using books often made more progress with iPads.

Its not all research and reading…it is also having the technological fluency to focus on the content rather than the computing. In school test taking has taken to the keyboard.

My kids have to turn in assignments through Google docs and communicate with their teachers through email. Their ability to type and navigate the internet took a lot of their anxiety away about the process of school, allowing them to focus on learning.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]It’s a small world after all.[/su_highlight]

My younger son’s social life is supported by Skype. He may be online, but he is not alone. He chats with a boy from Germany about bedtimes while he plays Minecraft. He crafts imaginary worlds while learning about the real one.

When he is confused about a game, he heads to a wiki. When he needs a refund for an online purchase, he copies his purchase order and heads to the forum to request help from customer service.

Sometimes he sends gifts to his online friends. Other times he barters with them over pick axes and armor. He is learning cost-benefits analysis and other economic principles at the same time he is practicing social skills.

Kim Komando writes about the hidden benefits of Minecraft for USA Today:

“One overlooked value of most strategy-based video games is resource management. The player has a finite amount of resources at any given time and needs to decide wisely how to use them most effectively.”

He feels that anything and anyone are just a click away. This is a powerful message to learn at nine, and I don’t think that anything could have taught him this more quickly than a few keystrokes with the fingertips that reach forward to access the world.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]Tablets level the playing field.[/su_highlight]

Studies that talk about family dinners and bedtime reading routines often have stratified results based on socioeconomic backgrounds. Tablets seem to take away some of the tilted results.

Although not every family has tablets in the home a consistently lowering price point (for example, $50 for a color Kindle Fire) is making access more equitable.

New Scientist cites a survey of more than 1,000 teachers and parents of five-year-olds concluding that: “importantly, the performance of children from low socio-economic backgrounds who use both at home is less likely to be below average at school than if they only look at books.”

According to Wired Magazine tech can be an equalizer economics as well as academics. “Technology can be the spark that transforms these limiting systems and extends economic opportunity to those marginalized populations desperately in need of it. If these individuals remain in the margins, and their perspective, ideas, and talents continue to go untapped, they will become a financial burden to society, rather than viable contributors.”

Instead of limiting our kids’ access to technology we offer slight oversight as they learn about research, Kickstarter, auctions, and other cultures. When they were small, they learned to read and write and add and take turns. Which is not to say our world is contained in computers.

Together we take family walks and bike rides, we kick around a soccer ball, and some of us play hockey and practice yoga. A Saturday might include a hike…after 6 hours of Minecraft and a movie.

It’s the way we live, for better and for worse. Brain scans be damned.

Minecraft: Coming Soon to a School Near You

Microsoft announced Minecraft Education Edition will be available this summer. Children everywhere rejoice.

Microsoft announced that Minecraft Education Edition — Minecraft specifically for use in classrooms — will be available for free trial this summer. The associated web site is already live and offers several teacher resources including forums and starter lessons.

Microsoft acquired Minecraft — the wildly popular video game created by Markus Perrson — in 2014 for a disclosed sum of ALL THE DOLLARS.

The technology behemoth closed on its recent acquisition of MinecraftEdu for so much money they won’t even tell us how much. That means it’s a lot. That means the deal went down more like an exclusive restaurant with a distinct lack of pricing on its menu and less like hey, let’s watch Anchorman and have corndogs. Again.


MinecraftEdu, produced by Teacher Gaming LLC and renamed Minecraft Education Edition by Microsoft, includes a generous cache of lessons and activities that can be used by teachers to explore several subjects including language, history, art, and STEM.

The game inherently encourages important skills like empathy and responsible digital citizenship and lends itself well to being a powerful educational tool. According to this post by Microsoft’s Anthony Salcito, VP of Worldwide Education, over 7000 classrooms in 40 countries across the globe have already incorporated Minecraft into the curriculum.

Salcito goes on to say:

[su_quote]Minecraft Education Edition will be shaped by a growing community of educators throughout its development this spring and through the educator community…. I’m happy to share that this site will also boast a new Minecraft Mentors program, matching educators with experience using Minecraft in the classroom with those looking to try it for the first time.[/su_quote]

Hey Tony, if Microsoft is looking for an 8 year old second grade Minecraft expert to become a mentor, I know just the guy. (Hint: it’s my son.)

One thing’s for sure: kids everywhere love this pixelated world of textured cubes and monster spawners. Indeed it may be just the thing to get our less enthusiastic learners out of bed in the morning.

Source: The Verge, Tech Crunch, Microsoft

5 Fun Toys That Will Teach Your Kids To Code

When kids learn how to code they also learn important life skills like how to communicate and solve problems. For parents, the question is where to start. Here are 5 answers.

While your child may or may not grow up to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, programming is a worthy endeavor. Learning to code teaches communication skills, encourages creativity and builds problem-solving acumen.

But if your neighbor’s 7 year old kid just coded a whole new mod for Minecraft while yours sat on the couch picking his nose and whining about toast, helping your kids learn how to code can feel like trying to reach a faraway land without a map. Not that I speak from experience here, but I do.

Hang on a hot minute though, don’t despair! We can help our kids learn how to code too!

And we can start right here with these 5 toys:

Robot Turtles 1) Robot Turtles

Robot Turtles is an award-winning board game designed to teach kids ages 3 – 5 the basics of coding. Before we all freak about kids and screens, allow me repeat that: it’s a board game. No screen time necessary. $20

2) Cubetto

Geared for kids ages 3 – 7, Cubetto also embraces the idea that while coding is great, too much screen time is not.

Another key tenet of this colorful, enticing toy is that while kids may be too young to read, they can still learn how to code. Literacy not required.

Pro-tip: Cubetto has gained enough popularity that you’ll have to add your name to the list of people waiting for more of these to drop later this spring. (~$240)


3) JewelBots


Oh, are we playing into stereotypes here? Maybe. But when women are outnumbered by men 4:1 in computed related jobs in the US, I say let’s do what ever we gotta do to get girls coding early.

Check out the first programmable friendship bracelet by JewelBots ($69 – $139). Using an mobile app, you can program your JewelBot to light up when a friend walks by or to when it’s time to practice the piano.

Pretty cool, right? Cool enough that everyone’s favorite scientist, Bill Nye (@BillNye), has endorsed their Kickstarter.

4) Codeapillar

Coming to a Toys R Us near you in Fall of 2016, the Fisher-Price Codeapillar! With kids ages 3 – 8 in mind, the Codeapillar moves and lights up according to the sequence of its segments.

While no actual programming takes place, the toy introduces the concept of coding. It works both as a stand alone gadget or in conjunction with an app that further challenges kids to experiment with different sequences. ($49)

Bee Bot

5) Bee-Bot

Bee-bot is an adorable robot for young children designed to teach estimation, sequencing, and problem-solving.

The little bee moves, beeps, blinks and remembers up to 40 commands encouraging increasingly sophisticated programs.

Bee-bot’s older brother, Pro-bot, is a robot disguised as a race car providing a hands-on experience with robotic controls. Pro-bot works as a companion toy to Bee-bot or as a separate toy.  ($89 – $129)

Source: Robot TurtlesJewelBotsBee-Bot, Cubetto, Fisher-Price

iOS 9.3 Will Make It Easier to Read in Bed – And Still Fall Asleep

We’re looking forward to the free iOS 9.3 update for iPhone and iPad. Our favorite feature is Night Shift, which shifts colors in the display at night.

We’re looking forward to the free iOS 9.3 update for iPhone and iPad.

Our favorite feature is Night Shift, which shifts colors in the display at night. Less eye strain, and less blue light – which makes it easier to fall asleep.

Anyone can join the Apple Developer for free to test beta iOS updates. Read how here.

Nerds rule.


It’s Summer Camp Year Round with

Sitting in this sunny window, it’s not hard to believe that summer camp is an actual thing. Step outside into the -5 degree air, though, and suddenly I can’t be convinced it’s ever going to come around again.

Ah, summer camp. Kids gathering together to dig in and explore new territory, both literally and figuratively. It’s empowering and transformative as they discover interests they never knew they had.

Adventure and exploration come easily when, say, simply being outside too long won’t kill you.

In our house we have a phrase that incites eye rolling of epic proportions: “Only boring people get bored”. It’s the most annoying parent-y phrase we drop on our kids when they get to complaining about not having anything to do. It seems to happen on the daily lately.


DIY is a website (with accompanying app) and learning tool for kids ages 7 and up. With hundreds of categories to choose from (everything from front end web design to bee keeping), kids can earn badges by performing hands on, skill based challenges. Parents and kids alike are kept informed of individual achievements via a simple dashboard. Kids can give and receive constructive feedback and support from peers, and upload videos and of their successes.

My 9 year old just barely signed up, but he can hardly wait to get home this afternoon and master Yeti hunting. On second thought, maybe there’s hope for winter yet.


Drop Beats with Patatap

Patatap is a portable animation and sound kit that both kids and adults will love. Tap your fingers on the A-Z keys of your keyboard or screen of your mobile device to create melodies charged with moving shapes reminiscent of the art of Piet Mondrian and Wassily Kandinsky. Press the space bar to change color palettes and matching soundscapes. The more you play and experiment with patatap, the more possibilities you discover.

Designer Jono Brandel created Patatap based on two fundamental disciplines: graphic design and computer programming. His motivation for creating Patatap was to bring the medium of visual music to a broader audience. Brandel collaborated with composers Lullatone from Japan to create this melodic and hypnotizing music app.

Patatap is available on the desktop for free. You can also download the app on an iPad, iPhone, Android, or tablet for just 99 cents and play it offline. Try it for yourself below. The kids and you will be dropping beats, looping, and mixing like pros within minutes.