Tuesday, April 14, 2009


I've been hearing a lot about Skype these days and thought it certainly warranted a post. Not only because they just launched an iphone application which brings free calling to our mobile devices, but also because of the cost saving and family connection benefits it offers to all families with home internet. In today's economy, most of us can't afford long distance phone bills or flights to visit friends and family and Skype offers a great solution to keep us in touch.

Skype was launched in 2004 as a Voice Over IP solution providing users free calls to other Skype customers and inexpensive calls to traditional phones. Essentially, Skype uses your internet connection to let you turn your computer into a phone. You can use a headset or use your computer’s built-in microphone and speakers to talk to friends and family. Skype now also offers Video Calling so you can connect a webcam to your computer and see the person you are speaking to.

According to Ad Age boomers are using this technology, among other social media, to keep in touch with families and to watch their grandchildren grow up from across the country or around the world. Not surprisingly, Skype now has over 400 million users and, according to TeleGeography analyst, Stephan Beckert, "has emerged as the largest provider of cross-border voice communications in the world.”

To keep in touch with your friends and family a no to little cost to you, visit skype.com and download it today. While your at it, set the grandparents up with a web cam so they can see their grandkids in between holidays!

Family Watchdog

Wow - I just went to Family Watchdog to learn more about the site and upon visiting the About Us section was confronted with this...
* 1 of 5 girls and 1 of 6 boys will be molested before their 18th birthday.
* 90% of all sexual assaults against children are committed by someone the victim knew.
* The typical sexual predator will assault 117 times before being caught.
* The re-arrest rate for convicted child molesters is 52%.

If those statistics don't compel a parent to read on, I don't know what would. Family Watchdog was created in 2005 to provide the information needed to protect your family from registered offenders and predators. The completely free service provides a quick search function on the home page which enables you to enter your address and see offenders in your neighborhood. Here is the map that comes up when I enter my address in NYC.

Each of those color coded boxes reveal the home or work information of individuals who have committed an offense against children, rape, sexual battery and other offenses.

Alternatively, here is a snap shot of a suburb on Long Island where I grew up. While NYC is certainly a hot zone and very difficult to assess your families' risk, many areas of the US will likely be a bit closer to this picture, with just a few offenders in the community and several in the surrounding area to be aware of.

In addition to the search tool, Family Watchdog has partnered with Hand Storm to create an iPhone application called Stay Safe (available through iTunes ) which enables you to search via your mobile device. They also offer e-mail services which can notify you if a registered sexual predator moves within five miles of your address. If you are concerned about a particular offender, Family Watchdog can track them and notify you of a change in their location.

Family Watchdog now also offers updates on food and drug recalls from the FDA, product recalls and safety tips for families. I recommend visiting Family Watchdog to increase your awareness and to protect your family.

Monday, April 6, 2009

GPS tracking wrist watch

Okay, so maybe I am obsessed with GPS tracking of children - but I just came across a pretty cool device that can give parents peace of mind and is not as extreme as implanting a chip under your child's skin.

At the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, British company Lok8u introduced the Num8 digital wristwatch. It looks like a typical watch but what lies beneath is a GPS chip that constantly keeps tabs on the location of the child and can be monitored on the company's website. The device is accurate to within 10 feet and if the watch is forcibly removed it sends an alert to the parents via e-mail and cell phone.

The Num8 is approximately $200 to purchase and $8 for monthly service. Click here to see a clip with more information about the Num8 and how it can be used to protect your child.

What not to do with technology

Technology can be an excellent tool for educating our children and helping them to excel academically. However, on Friday eight Chinese parents and teachers took it to the extreme when they used hi-tech communication devices to help students cheat on college entrance exams.

According to the Guardian, scanners, mobile phones, wireless earpieces and bribery of teachers and university students were used to transmit answers to students taking the "gaokao", the two-day exam that annually determines whether 10 million teenagers will enter university and, if so, which institution they can attend.

Because success on the exam plays a critical role in the future of the students, papers regarding the exam are considered top secret and are kept under armed guard. Parents and teachers involved in this cheating scandal were sentenced to between six months and three years for illegally obtaining state secrets.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Tips from The Bump

I recently had the opportunity to speak to Kate Ward, the Online Director for The Bump.com. If you have not yet been to the site – go now. From the creators of The Knot and The Nest, The Bump gives first-time parents expert advice on fertility, pregnancy, birth, and babies. The site has fresh content, local resources, and a ton of interactive tools such as up-to-date community features, baby blogs, checklists, photo galleries, topic-based message boards, and more.

Responsible for driving all content and tools on The Bump and caring for her own 14 month old girl, Kate Ward has got her finger on the pulse of all things pregnancy and parenting. I was thrilled to be able to pick her brain on the best technology available for the various stages of motherhood.

Let’s start with conception and pregnancy. Although it is often a very private issue, Kate informed me that many women who are trying to conceive are using online tools to help them monitor their bodies and share their experiences and suggestions with others.

Fertilityfriend.com is very popular,” said Kate. “Women are using it primarily to keep track of their own ovulation to determine their schedule. If you are having trouble conceiving, this is the same thing a fertility doctor would do, so this technology allows you to do it on your own.”

Fertility Friend pioneered the concept of online fertility charting in 1998 and has helped hundreds of thousands of women to achieve pregnancy. While it is the leading internet destination for women trying to conceive, there are others that are popping up as well.

One such site, Go28days.com, “is a little bit cleaner then Fertility Friend,” said Kate. “And, it has a lot more sharing capabilities.” Both sites bring together a group of women to help one another figure out what is going on with their bodies and share advice that they get from their doctors. “So, instead of one fertility doctor you can have the advice of hundreds,” said Kate.

Once you conceive, The Bump offers a number of great resources for pregnancy including tips by trimester, real birth stories, baby naming help, and message boards covering every topic you can imagine. One of the most useful tools on the site is their interactivity pregnancy check list – which is similar to The Knot’s wedding check list that we all know and love. It updates you on what you should be thinking about and sends reminders for important to-dos. “It’s great for type A personalities and those that can’t be bothered to keep track,” said Kate.

After the baby arrives your bump will shrink but the need for support continues to grow. “The Bump’s online communities have very high engagement for parents of babies under 6 months,” said Kate. “It's a place where you can get an answer in less than 2 minutes. Even at 3:00 in the morning, there is someone there to talk to. Not only to answer questions but to offer support and let you know that you’re not crazy and your feelings are completely normal.” Kate says that the communities do have a few dads that post but it is mostly women. “I think moms like it like that way because they share a lot of personal information and it is kind of like a little cocoon for them.”

Kate also recommends a couple of gadgets that are very useful for new parents. For those of you that have the Iphone there is a nursing application called Baby Tracker: Nursing that records the time of your nursing session and which side you nursed on last. You can then download the information to a CSV file. “At your first doctor visit they ask you a ton of questions about the babies feeding patterns,” says Kate. The iPhone application or the printable Input/Output sheets available on The Bump will help you to be prepared. “Whether you prefer online or paper, they help you keep your peace of mind and answer your doctor’s questions to be sure your baby is getting enough food.” The application is available for purchase for $7.99.

Another tool that new parents like is the Why Cry Baby Crying Analyzer, said Kate. “It measures frequency and pops out a reason as to why your child might be crying.” While it might sound crazy, the Why Cry has been clinically certified with a 90% accuracy rate from leading research facilities. The sound sensitive device recognizes different pitches, analyzes them and then identifies the baby’s cry into one of five expressions - hungry, bored, annoyed, sleepy or stressed. The Why Cry can be purchased at many baby sites for approximately $100.

Just when you think they’ve got everything a new parent could ever need, they invent something new. If you’re interested in more of the latest gadgets and tools, visit The Bump’s Top 10: Best Pregnancy and Baby Trackers list. And be sure to visit The Bump regularly. Kate and her team have got a few more tools in the works that will continue to help make the lives of new parents easier!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Tech Makeover Contest

If technology has played an important role in how your children learn - both at home and at school - let Cablevision know and you could win a technology makeover. The company just announced the Power to Learn Optimum Technology Makeover to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its Power to Learn education initiative, a nationally recognized technology-enabled learning program.

To enter, families submit an essay of 500 words or less "focused on technology's significant impact on learning, both at home and at school." Essays will be judged on originality and creativity by a panel of judges and five families will be selected to receive the Grand Prize of a complete home technology makeover that includes 10 prizes delivered and installed by Optimum.

For the time it takes to write a 500 word essay, this is certainly worth a shot. Also, Power to Learn offers some excellent tips on how to incorporate technology into your family in the For Parents section. I encourage you to check it out.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sneak-A-Peek at your unborn child

Every day my husband and I talk about what our child could potentially look like. Sometimes it starts because we see a child on the street that looks like one of us, or sometimes we pick a quality of the other that we hope our child gets - I hope ours gets my husbands eyes and legs!

Now, parents can get a sneak peek at what their child might look like. Aha! Baby, the pregnancy search engine, just launched "Sneak-a-Peek" a new photo morphing technology that enables parents to upload photos of mom and dad and have a glimpse of what their child could look like.

Although "Sneak-a-Peek" only reveals the face of the baby and won't predict whether or not my little girl will get her dad's legs, it is a fun technology for the ever-curious parents-to-be. The only downfall is that, unless your like the hard-core tourists and have countless pictures of yourself standing alone with a blank expression on your face in front of attractions - you'll have to take a non-smiling, hair out of face, mug shot of both parents to be able to properly use the system. I was hoping to surprise my husband with the photo but had to reveal my plan and ask him to get in the line-up to get a picture that would work.

If you're curious, take a peek - but don't let it scare you!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Itzbeen how long?

It's getting down to the final weeks before our baby arrives and friends and family have started showering us with tons of amazing baby gear. It is so exciting and also a reality check that in 6 weeks the baby will be here and we'll be changing diapers, feeding and checking on baby at all hours of the day - and night!

I recently received a small device called the Itzbeen which is designed to help new, sleep-deprived parents remember baby care details. With the push of a button parents can track the time since the last feeding, last diaper change or last nap. There is also an additional tracking button which can be used to track time between medications, exercise or any activity of your choice. Another great feature of the Itzbeen is the breastfeeding reminder, which helps nursing mothers to remember which side their child last nursed from. Say good bye to the rubber band around the wrist!

As you can see in the above picture, the Itzbeen is about the size of an old-school cell phone and has a clip for parents to secure it to their clothing, the crib or another convenient location. From reviews I've read, parents seem to love this device. "This product is a must for mommy brain!" said one. "I'm not sure what my 'husband' and I would do with out this" said another.

If you're having trouble remembering the basics or have a baby on the way, check out the Itzbeen. It can be purchased at most baby stores for $25.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Driving out of control

I just drove down the FDR drive in NYC to get my car fixed and was shocked at how many horrible drivers were on the road. From the livery cars driving between 2 lanes, to the NASCAR wannabes speeding 100 miles per hour, to the guy next to me clearly texting or reading on his cell phone while driving - I was amazed at how dangerous our roads have become. The baby kicked at that moment making me painfully aware of the fact that she would one day be asking me for the keys to the car and I would reluctantly agree before reciting every driving caution in the book. I can just hear myself now.. "Don't go over 50 miles per hour", "Keep your seat belt on all times," "Never use your cell phone in the car," "Keep the volume down on the radio"!! Gosh, I am already annoying myself.

Well, it turns out that Ford must have a few worried parents on their development team. According to an Associated Press article from October, in 2010 Ford will be introducing the "MyKey" to give parents some peace of mind when their teen hits the road. MyKey enables parents to limit the maximum speed of the car to 80 mph, limit the audio system's volume, to sound continuous alerts if the driver doesn't wear a seat belt, and even to sound a chime if the teen exceeds 45, 55 or 65 mph.

A study conducted by Harris Interactive Survey for Ford indicates that the MyKey is appealing to 75 percent of parents of teen drivers because of the speed-limiting feature, 72 percent like the more insistent safety-belt reminder, and 63 percent like the audio limit feature.

The MyKey would certainly make me feel a bit more comfortable turning over the keys to my kids and the survey showed that about 50 percent of parents also said they would allow their children to use the family vehicle more often if it were equipped with the new technology.

Good news for parents and good news for teens, this is surely a great technology for parents to consider. The MyKey will debut as a standard feature on the 2010 Ford Focus and will quickly be offered on many other Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models.

Monday, March 23, 2009

iWonder what kids are doing on their iphones

Did you ever wonder what your children are looking at on their mobile internet? Now you can know for sure. iWonder Surf is a new application available for iPhone and iTouch devices. This first of it's kind parental control allows you to block the sites your child can visit, disable the device with the touch of a button and see exactly where your child is surfing from any computer.

In a recent press release, Michael Pike, Chief Software Architect of Life Record Inc., the developer of iWonder Surf, said that "filtering is not enough in the internet of today, parents need a way to see what their children are thinking about and who they are talking with." iWonder enables parents to get insight into their child's thinking by providing real time reports of what a child is searching for, sites they are visiting and what they are doing there.

The application is available for download for a one time fee of $15 at iTunes.. User reviews so far are overall positive with some complaints about dissatisfaction with the browsers limited functionality. Many parents reported discovering that their children are browsing the web during class instead of paying attention and one is now fighting with her daughter because she saw so much browsing she decided to disable the internet while she is in school. Although intended as a parental control, one women installed it on her boyfriends phone disguised as a "faster browser" and logged in the next day to read his private messages on MySpace in which he was setting up dates with other women!

While I don't encourage use of the application to spy on other adults, I can see how it could be a valuable tool for parents that are concerned about the well-being of their child. If truancy, drug abuse, depression, violence or other harmful behavior is suspected, iWonder could help.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Si, necesito consejo de la tecnologĂ­a!

You're not alone. Parents from all walks of life and all cultural backgrounds are looking for help navigating technology and parenting. To meet the demand of the Spanish market, AOL Latino recently launched Technopadres.com, a site offering Hispanic parents advice about technology so they can understand the ever-changing world that their children are growing up in.

Technopadres features content from several bloggers and covers topics ranging from understanding You Tube to talking to kids about Sexting and Cyber bullying to implementing parental controls to monitor kids online activity.

Technopadres is published in Spanish and powered by The Online Mom, where similar content can be found in English.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

It's all fun and games...

Video games are becoming increasingly more accepted by parents as many recognize that it is an opportunity to bond with and educate their child. According to Microsoft's 2009 "Play Smart Play Safe" study, more than half of parents polled feel video games bring their families together and three quarters of parents think video games can be educational. Although some have their benefits, not all games are created equal and parents still need to carefully monitor which games their children are playing to ensure their safety when they are playing alone.

I recently interviewed Tracy Mooney, McAfee's Chief Cyber Security Mom, to get her advice on gaming and she warns "Parents need to do their homework about this." Tracy, the mother of 3, encourages open communication with children about the games they are playing but also mentions that basic consumer skills are the best bet. "Honestly, the best things parents can do is read the box or read information on the website," she said. "Many parents skip this step and it is the simplest way to find out if a game has something they don't want their kids to view."

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is an excellent resource for parents. The ESRB is a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering parents with the ability to make informed decisions about the computer and video games they choose for their families through the assignment of age and content ratings. Parents can find ESRB ratings on each box ranging from Early Childhood to Teen to Adults Only. Or, with a simple visit to www.esrb.org parents can type in the name of a game and see the maturity level and find out if a game includes violence or nudity.

Tracy also recommends asking older children for the inside scoop on games. "My oldest son is willing to tell me exactly why the game is or is not appropriate, such as violent, sexual themes, etc. I also always let them talk about games in general to keep the conversation going even when they are not asking for a new game."

As we can see with Microsofts Play Smart, Play Safe study, the gaming companies are also concerned with the safety of children. Tracy suggests checking if your gaming console has tools to help with your efforts. "Many of the gaming consoles have parental controls and time limits built in to the systems," she advises. For instance, Microsofts Xbox and Xbox 360 have family settings which allows parents to decide if their child can connect to the "live" online component and, if so, the option to limit what they download and/or approve who can communicate with their child.

Tracy said that before buying a game for her children she always ask whether they they have the ability to chat with others. "If they do, it is not necessarily banned," she said. "I just make sure they can “stop, block and tell” - stop the chat if something happens, block the user from contacting them, and tell a parent or other adult what has happened."

There are many resources available to help parents navigate the gaming industry. Overall, being educated on the games your child is playing and maintaining open communication makes it fun for the whole family.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Hub

In February, Verizon introduced the Hub phone system, which connects to any broadband line to provide home phone service using the Internet. Designed to reinvent the home phone system, the Hub offers owners many features including the ability to sync with hand held calendars and contacts, pull up traffic and weather reports, locate family members via GPS, send text messages to multiple phones at once, send driving directions to a wireless phone and even log in to the phone remotely to use the functionality or update information from the office or another location. "Verizon Wireless is updating the tools busy families can use to manage their lives,” said Mike Lanman, vice president and chief marketing officer at Verizon Wireless. Here's a quick look at the device and its features.

Launched as an important piece of technology for "busy families", a March 9th Ad Age Article, says that Verizon's initial market research indicated that the primary Hub purchaser would be a "lifestyle manager," and most often, that person would be female. With this information in hand, Verizon is now honing in on women - specifically mothers - as the key target audience for the device.

Verizon recently tapped the iVillage community to help identify key features of the device that would appeal to women. "Overall, Verizon learned from iVillage that it shouldn't play up the bells and whistles of the product but instead emphasize what it ultimately does: connect families."

I agree with this statement, as the bells and whistles of the device seem to be very similar to what a laptop offers. However, despite how useful The Hub can be in connecting families, I think it was launched a bit too late to become the next must-have technology for this audience. Moms are already accustomed to using various technologies such as PCs, cell phones, social networks and other online tools to manage their schedules and connect their families. Furthermore, an increasing number of Moms are on-the-go at all times and spend little time at home like Mothers of the past. Priced at $200 with a $35 monthly charge, I predict that it will be challenging for Verizon to persuade women that they need the Hub in addition to their existing technology.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Instant Alerts About School Emergencies and Absences

When I was a kid and something happened at school - snow day, late buses etc - the good old fashioned phone chain was initiated to inform parents. If your last name started with Z (like my child's will), you could be the last to know and perhaps trek through the snow to find the school doors locked. Today, there is a new technology available that enables school districts to notify thousands of parents about emergency situations, instantly.

Honeywell Instant Alert For Schools is a web based system that has been implemented by thousands of schools around the country to notify parents of emergency situations, truancy (yup, you can know right away if your teen skips), school updates, snow days and more. The Lake Superior School District is getting ready to utilize the system this evening to notify parents that schools are closed again due to the storm expected to hit later today.

The best part of the Honeywell tool is that, as a parent, you can register online to receive notifications via your technology of choice - a phone call, e-mail and/or text message - to be sure that you receive the notification in real time and don't arrive home later to a frantic message from a fellow parent on your answering machine.

With so many media stories about emergencies in our schools, this technology can give parents a little peace of mind. If your child's school has this system in place, sign up today. If not, encourage the school to consider implementing it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Support 2.0

I woke up this morning and turned on the Today Show to find this segment on Digital Moms.

The segment features folks from CafeMom discussing some of the findings from the survey I covered in an earlier post as well as Heather Armstrong, the popular blogger dooce.com and author of the new book It Sucked and Then I Cried. Heather started her website/blog in 2001 and believes that blogging saved her life. As she battled with postpartum depression in 2004 fans of her blog supported her by listening to her struggles, sharing advice and assuring her that she was not alone. Similarly, when Chastity Cortio's daughter was diagnosed with infant asthma, Chastity used forums on CafeMom to get support from other parents caring for a child with the illness.

In a time when every minute of every day is filled, online communities can be an excellent resource for parents dealing with personal health issues or caring for a sick child however, they can also be dangerous if not used properly.

In an article penned for the Seattle Post Intelligencer, Dr. Robert Nohle warns that getting medical advice online can be a gamble. "There is no easy way to know that the information you are getting is accurate -- or evidence-based for that matter," he said. Self-diagnosis based on others experiences can lead to unnecessary stress or a delay in needed treatment.

I was recently diagnosed with Lyme Disease and spent days consumed with reading widely varying opinions and stories on how it could impact my unborn child. I was scared sick and it took three infectious disease specialists to reassure me that treatment would eliminate any potential harm to my child. I was also informed that I am not the only parent that has fallen victim to unneeded stress as a result of "Cyberchondria" and was warned to take everything I read online with a grain of salt.

Millions of parents are using online support groups but it is imperative that we remember they are simply for support and should never replace proper medical attention. For all you cyberchondriacs, be sure to follow Dr. Nohle's tips to ensure the safety of you and your family.

# Bring in the information you have found online to your pediatrician so he or she can see the source.

# Stick with quality Web sites; check your health insurer or provider's Web site, or wrongdiagnosis.com, or look for sites ending in .gov or .org.

# Ask you pediatrician's office for recommendations.

# Looking for an online support group? Check with a related national association, such as jdrg.org, for juvenile diabetes support.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Nadya Suleman's Mommy Blog

Nadya Suleman has taken Mommy blogging to a whole new level. Not only has she signed an exclusive deal with RadarOnline.com to write the blog, she's writing it by hand on a legal pad and it is available in PDF version online.

In addition to her unique style, she also already has some unique content including fears of her father being on Oprah and worries about what the most powerful woman in the world will think about her "crazy" situation. In case she cares what I think...I think I've already had enough.

Let's face it - Empty Nest Moms on Facebook

Just like "Youth Moms" and "Teen moms", "Empty Nest Moms" are all over Facebook. Parents of children age 18 and older are using the tool in a wide variety of ways. Yes, some are still spying on their teenage children off at school, yet others are using it simply because of the cool features. "Facebook captivates the Baby Boomers" says Kay Hoflander in her recent Examiner article . Why? They can find old friends, learn about what their friends and family members are up to, give into their competitive streak with games such as Scrabble and Trivia, and get excitement from watching their number of friends rise. According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, other parents are using it to promote their businesses, connect with colleagues, or because employers want a presence on the site.

In my personal experience, my mom and her friends that have joined just plain old get a kick out of Facebook. After I helped my mom set up an account she was thrilled to report how many "hits" (aka friend requests) she had from my friends and my brothers (even though she knew they that they thought it was hysterical that she had joined the site). She spent the rest of the day looking through our friends' wedding pictures, pictures of their children, and anything else she could find. Like many of us, she's addicted.

In his recent Time article, Lev Grossman provides the top ten reasons "Why Facebook is for Old Fogies". I highly suggest a read - not only is it hysterical, it actually puts a pretty compelling argument forward as to why Facebook is perhaps better designed for parents than kids!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Let's face it - "Teen Moms" on Facebook

"Youth Moms" are using Facebook as a communication tool (see earlier post), however evidence shows that most "Teen Moms" (women with children age 12-18) are using it as a way to keep an eye on their children. The Razorfish Study of Digital Moms found that 47% of moms with a child over the age of 12 that use social networking sites do it to monitor their child's online behavior and a 2008 study by Garlik, a UK based online identity company, found that 72% of parents spy on their kids' online activity by secretly logging into their accounts (25%) or by setting up their own accounts (26%). While this may seem like an invasion of privacy, is it necessary for the protection of our children? The debate is open.

Linda Philips, mother (and Facebook friend) of eight children who range in age from 10 to 25 and one of the teachers of Stanford University's new course "Facebook for Parents," says that being friends with your children on Facebook is "responsible parenting, knowing who their friends are and who is involved in their life. We're ineffective as parents if we are naive and ignorant," Philips said to ABC news.

On the other hand, Dr. Herbert Mandell, a psychiatrist and medical director of KidsPeace, a 126-year-old national children's crisis organization, and Roy Cooper, co-chairman of the State Attorney General Task Force on Social Networking, both believe that it is more effective to talk to teenagers than to spy on them. Cooper said in a recent Sun Sentinel article that "parents should talk to kids about things they post online about themselves, including pictures, videos and comments that can be seen by strangers, future employers and others. And tell them not to accept friends on social-networking sites unless they know who they are."

89% of parents in the Garlik study did report that they speak to their children about the dangers of social networking, but is that enough protection? Here is an example of one teen that,despite talking to his parents about online dangers, accepted a friend request from a stranger who then tracked him down at his home within 24 hours.

While the above report was an investigative journalist and not a threat to the teen, the risks are real. According to a 2006 report by CBS evening news, The Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported more than 2,600 incidents of adults using the Internet to entice children in 2005. A 2007 report found that 29,000 sex offenders had MySpace pages.

Reports of sexual predators, cyber bullying, blackmail, and overall incriminating behavior that can impact a child's personal and professional future, leads me to believe that parents should not only talk to their children about the dangers of social networking but also help them to put available safety precautions in place and teach them to understand why their parents should be able to view their activity. After all, if a teen does not understand why they should not be posting anything on Facebook or MySpace that they would not want their mother to see, it is a clear sign they do not understand the potential dangers being discussed.

If you are a parent of a teen that is active on social networking sites there are tons of tips out there on how to keep them safe. Here are some that stand out from my research.

1) Educate yourself. First, learn about technology in general. In this day and age parents can't in the dark. Parents - The Anti Drug offers some great information about teens and technology. Then get social network savvy. Be aware of the social networking sites that your child could potentially be on and keep an ear open for discussions about their participation in these sites. Research the features of each site they are on and privacy measures available.

2) Talk to your teen. Engage in an open, non-accusatory conversation with your teen about the appropriate use of social networks and the dangers that exist. Cite examples in the news to show them that it is reality, not a paranoid parent, and agree upon specific rules to follow in terms of accepting friends and information that they can and cannot (last name, address, phone number) reveal on their profile page. Keep the communication open and regular.

3) Put privacy measures in place. Help your child to understand the privacy settings that are available and ensure that their information is protected. GetNetWise offers audio tutorials to help you with privacy on Facebook, MySpace and Xanga.

4) Join the network. Create accounts on the same sites as your teen and become friends with them. If they are a minor require that they accept you or prohibit them from using the site. Check in on your child's page but DO NOT publicly interfere with something you disagree with. If you find something that they are posting inappropriate or dangerous, discuss it with them privately.

5) Encourage your child to have friends over instead of socializing online. It seems like personal interaction is becoming a lost art.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities

Important update for the 218,000 members of the "Hey Facebook, Breastfeeding is not obscene!" group. Now is the time to further petition against Facebook's removal of your breastfeeding pictures.

Today Mark Zuckerberg announced in the Facebook Blog that they are soliciting feedback from members on the proposed Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

Currently, the posting of breastfeeding photos would fall under item 3.6 "You will not post content that is hateful, threatening, pornographic, or that contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence." Now is the opportune time to request changes to this term. Visit the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to post your objections.

Let's face it - "Youth Moms" on Facebook

*In case you didn't read my most recent post introducing this series, "Youth Mom" is my admittedly lame title for women with children 11 or younger.

After talking to several new moms about Facebook, it appears to be the ultimate time saving tool available for the busy "Youth Mom". "Facebook simplifies parenting," said JB, mother of 2 children aged 5 months and 2 years. When JB had her first child she was not on Facebook but was encouraged to join by other new moms. She held off for a while thinking she did not have the time to waste on it, but once she joined quickly saw that just the opposite was true. "Now I love it," she says. "It allows me to quickly share pictures with everyone that is asking for them, coordinate play groups without 20 calls and texts about scheduling, RSVP to events, get advice from friends that are parents, and to actually have some sense of personal life by staying in touch with friends and colleagues that are not in the same baby crazed mindset that I'm in."

JB's play group has set up a private group on Facebook so they can easily schedule meeting places and times. For moms that are looking to join a play group, a simple search yields hundreds, some private and some public, which they can join to provide interaction for their children and networking with other moms in their area.

On a larger scale, applications have been developed to enable Moms to connect with others around the world. Circle of Moms is one application that offers a social network for moms and soon-to-be moms. It's discussion boards, product reviews and chat functionality attracts over 2,000,000 active users on a monthly basis.

Although Facebook clearly has many mommy fans, they recently caused a massive uprising among thousands of "Youth Moms" by censoring their breastfeeding photos. In December of 2008, over 58,000 people joined together to protest the companies policy of removing breastfeeding photos from the site.

According to an interview with Reuters, Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt said the website takes no action over most breast-feeding photos but some are removed to ensure the site remains safe and secure for all users, including children. "Photos containing a fully exposed breast (as defined by showing the nipple or areola) do violate those terms (on obscene, pornographic or sexually explicit material) and may be removed," he said in a statement.

Kelli Roman, a mother whose photograph of her feeding her daughter was removed by Facebook, started a group called "Hey Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!" to petition against the companies actions. The group now has 218,855 members that are outraged. View this clip to hear Kelli's take on the issue.

What I find most interesting about this is that 218,000 Facebook users are clearly angry at the company, but yet remain on Facebook to interact about their feelings on the topic. I suppose this is proof enough that the positive benefits that platform offers to Youth Moms, outweigh their disagreement with the company's evaluation of breastfeeding images as explicit material.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Let's face it

We've all heard stories or read articles about kids embarrassed or mad that their parents have joined Facebook. Well, we better get used to it. No matter how many "No parents on Facebook" groups are created (already over 500), the fact is the site has changed quite drastically since it was invented 5 years ago for college students.

According to a recent Fortune article "How Facebook is taking over our lives," today the 18-24 crowd makes up less than a quarter of users. The fastest-growing demographic on the site, up 175% since September 2008, is women 55 and older.

Since we know from the Razorfish/CafeMom study that over 65% of moms online are using Facebook, let's face the facts and find out exactly what they are doing there. Over the next several days I'll explore what Youth Moms (kids under 11), Teen Moms (kids 12 - 18), and Empty Nest Moms (kids 18+) are doing on the platform. Check back tomorrow for more...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Digital Moms

Razorfish and CafeMom recently conducted a survey of Digital Moms which shows some interesting findings as to how mainstream digital media has become in this market. Of the 32 million Digital Moms, women with children under the age of 18 that go online, "more interact with social networks (65%) and SMS (56%), than with news sites (51%)." Even more surprisingly 52% are gaming online or via a console.

While the above chart indicates that moms are using a wide range of mainstream and developing media, the age of the mom and the age of the child play a big role in how they use it. The study found that women under 35 use technology more for communicating with friends and strangers with similar interests whereas moms over 45 use it more for information about what is going in the world and what is going on in their child's world. 47% of Digital Moms with a child over the age of 12 that use social networking sites do it to monitor their child's online behavior! (While this seems high, it is significantly lower than the 72% of parents that admitted to spying on their kids' online activity in another study.)

Similarly, the topics of content researched or items purchased online in the last 30 days varies by age. Overall, 40% selected Fashion/Clothing, 31% selected Food/Cooking and 26% selected Baby/Parenting. However, women with children under the age of 5 were significantly more likely to select Baby/Parenting 46%.

This survey highlights some interesting facts about the behavior of moms online, however I think it would be more eye opening to breakdown the data even further by the age of the child to determine at which point of a child's development a mother begins to prioritize herself again. I would assume that among moms of children under the age of 2, the percent that have read or purchased Baby/Parenting items in the last 30 days would increase dramatically and that less than a few percent would have free time to be gaming. From what I've seen, they're too busy running after the toddler or trying to catch up on sleep!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

vlogging vs. blogging

So I finally get the hang of this blogging thing and I now find out that there are people out there vlogging? I had never even heard this term before this week and I just learned that this form of blogging, using video in place of or in addition to text, started in 2000 with Adam Kontras' launch of “The Journey” vlog which captured his experience moving to LA to break into show business. Kontras' vlog picked up a ton of interest and he secured a segment on The Early Show.

Since Kontras introduced this new form of communication, vloggers have been popping up all over the web. They have a conference, award ceremonies and a wide range of absurd concepts. Rolling Stone highlights the success of early blogs such as Ask a Ninja, "in which the host -in full Ninja garb - fields viewer questions.

While we all know that mommy blogging has already become extremely popular, in her blog, Marketing To Moms, expert Maria Bailey, predicts "Mom vloggers will outnumber mommy bloggers by the end of 2009, as moms begin to see the ease of distributing and consuming information through video." Her research shows that 82% of moms have watched 2 or more videos in the last week, versus 35% who have read blogs in the last week. To respond to this trend, in October 2008 Newbaby.com teamed up with Flip Video, to create a mommy vlogger network in which moms share video tips on all stages of parenting.

Especially due to my enthusiasm over the Flip, I'd be interested to see a rise in vlogging among moms but it seems there are just over 20 vloggers on newbaby.com, one on blip.tv, about 2000 results on YouTube for Mom Vlogs and a few more regular mommy vloggers online. I am not certain if Bailey's prediction was simply a PR stunt to promote New Baby or if she actually believes this is the next phase for tech savvy parents but, right now, vlogging does not seem to be even close to having the reach of mommy blogging.

I'll keep an eye out for mommy vlogs of note and, if nothing else, will certainly get a few kicks enjoy watching them try. This one who seems to be just getting started - I'm sure her daughter is thrilled!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

It's 6:00 pm - Do you know where your children are?

With this morning's news of another missing girl, 5 year old Haleigh Ann-Marie Cummings, I am again reminded of the horrifying fact that children across our country are taken from their families everyday. My heart goes out to Haleigh's family and I hope and pray that the search is swift and successful. Amber Alert.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an average of 2000 children are reported missing each day. This statistic is alarming and makes me seriously consider the various technology available to track our children. Some parents may find this appalling but, the fact is, our children could be at risk. Why wouldn't we take advantage of technology that could ensure their safety?

According to Reuters, Mexican security firm, Xega, is now implanting GPS tracking devices into individuals fearful of kidnapping, which has become rampant in several parts of the country. The chip, the size and shape of a rice grain, is injected with a syringe into the arm between the skin and muscle so it cannot be seen. If the person is kidnapped they press a panic button on an external device to alert Xega, the police are notified and the person can be pinpointed via satellite. The company reports 2000 clients have paid the $4,000 upfront fee plus an annual fee of $2,200 to ensure the safety of their family.

For parents looking for security but not interested in Xega's extreme and costly solution, there are other less expensive technologies that can help. For instance, you might be familiar with BrickHouse security through their new advertising campaign in partnership with Duracell.

The device featured in this commercial is the BrickHouse Child Locator which is a Homing Tag which can be attached to a child to alert you when they leave the safety zone and then lead you to their location. This device is $190.

BrickHouse also offers the The Livewire FastTrac, a GPS tracking device with nationwide coverage and a Web-based tracking system so you can watch the movement of the device and even zoom in on the map for an exact location. The Livewire is $400.

If your child already has a cell phone on which they can access GoogleMaps, there is a new solution which is no cost to you. Last week Google announced the launch of Latitude to its mobile maps service. The application enables individuals to share their location with friends and family.

While this application is stirring up some privacy controversy, it could be ideal for parents of young children that can be convinced to "opt-in" to the program. However, once they hit the teen years and want their privacy, it could become a source of tension.

As a new parent living in a huge city, I would like some sense of security but I think the implant is taking it a bit too far. For the $200 investment, I will likely start with the BrickHouse Child Locator to ensure that whether in the park or in the apartment building, I can find my child in a moment's notice.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Flipping out over baby

"Ohh, how cute. Look, honey, he’s drooling!" Every parent thinks every thing their child does is adorable. From the cutest of coos to the grossest of poos, parents that are obsessed with capturing and sharing each of those moments should check out the Flip Mino by Pure Digital. This ultra-chic, super portable and so-easy-to-use-a-child-could-figure-it-out camcorder is becoming a must have for documentarian parents.

My sister-in-law recently received the Flip Mino as a gift and sends adorable videos of my nephew to me in NYC, my parents in Mexico, and her parents in Poughkeepsie. With a built in USB port and built in software, sharing home videos from your Flip is a simple as plugging in to your computer.

According to an article found on RedOrbit, many parents are posting their home videos on YouTube to share with family and friends. "For many parents, YouTube presents a way of sharing the same kind of home movies that families of an earlier generation might have watched together in a living room on holidays or at reunions. The easy-to-share videos connect with grandparents and family members in far away places without chewing up e-mail "inbox" space." Here's one cutey, falling over from laughing too hard.

For those parents who love posting their photos and videos online, the Flip allows you to upload videos instantly to YouTube, MySpace, AOL Video and many other websites, with the click of a button.

However, many parents including fellow blogger Dave Taylor, Author of The Attachment Parenting Blog, are skeptical about having pictures of their children available to the public. That's why Flip's private sharing feature is great. It enables parents to safely send their videos privately to friends and family, and even select greeting cards to personalize a message from baby to that special someone.

What I love most about the Flip is the simple user interface. As you can see in this picture, it only has a few buttons so when you're trying to capture the moment you don't need a manual to get it started. With Record, Play, Delete and Zoom - literally anyone could grab the Flip and record those precious memories.

The size of a cell phone and just over 3 ounces, the Flip can fit right into a pocket, purse or diaper bag and the 2GB of memory and up to 60 minutes of recording time ensures that not a moment is missed. For parents on-the-go who want to stay connected, this is a great piece of technology that is worth a look.

Monday, February 9, 2009

What to Expect

First published in 1984, What to Expect When Your Expecting is one of the most popular pregnancy books on the market. It’s often the first gift a pregnant woman receives and remains a valuable resource throughout pregnancy. While this book does capture much of the information an expecting woman needs to know, what it lacks is the accessibility we have come to demand from our information sources. What happens if in the middle of the night I awake with a sharp pain in my right abdomen? I can run to my What to Expect and thumb through the pages or perhaps check in the index for “Pain”, no “Abdomen”, or, wait, maybe “when to call the doctor?” By this point, I’ve stirred myself up into hysteria and have to read 15 sections related to the topic to find that none are relevant to my particular situation.

As a tech savvy mother-to-be, I can take an alternate route to quell my mid-night fears by hopping online to www.babycenter.com for immediate access to relevant information. After typing in a quick search for “pain in right abdomen” I get Articles, Expert Answers, Videos and Community Answers featuring similar inquiries and responses from other pregnant women so I can quickly know whether or not I should call the doctor or if this is a common, non-emergency symptom that other women have experienced. I quickly read a few posts and find out my ligaments are just stretching and I should get back in bed. Now, that’s what I expect.

Sure What to Expect has now developed an online supplement to the book, but I have not found it as comprehensive or user friendly as BabyCenter. Since launching in 1997, BabyCenter offers millions of new and expectant parents interactive content to take them from conception to birth and through childhood. The company reaches over 78% of new and expectant moms online and has received numerous awards, including six Webby Awards, for its online excellence. I’d like to add to the list with my very own, first-ever, Technically a Parent Must Have Resourceaward.

As an expectant parent, BabyCenter has become my Must-Have Resource, because it is relevant, interactive and accessible. The site successfully incorporates the latest in digital technology so parents can stay connected and informed in whatever format works best for them. In addition to endless amounts of valuable, searchable, hyperlinked content, BabyCenter provides customized weekly e-mail updates so you can receive quick overviews of what to expect during the upcoming week of your pregnancy (and the option to click to further explore topics mentioned); mobile updates/ texts with fertility, pregnancy or parenting tips; a community forum to post anonymous questions, explore the experiences of other parents, share photos and more; interactive tools such as the due date calculator, weight gain calculator, and baby costs calculator to help with every step of planning; social networks to connect with parents in similar situations or with similar interests to share stories and offer support both online and off; news and blogs to access up-to-date information on news of importance to parents, product recalls and more; an e-commerce section in partnership with Diapers.com to purchase everything needed for pregnancy and baby; and videos and slideshow tutorials on various topics (ahem, how exactly do you wash a baby?).

Over the past 6 months, BabyCenter has been a lifesaver to me and it’s definitely top on my list for excellent parenting technology. As I further explore what’s available out there, I wonder if it will hold its place…

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I don’t actually have a child yet...

but over the past 26 weeks I have been responsible for caring for the child growing inside me. She has already brought me more happiness than I could ever imagine along with a healthy dose of added stress, many sleepless nights and a credit card bill that grows much faster than she does – that’s parenting right?

As I prepare for the birth of my child, I am exploring the myriad ways that my husband and I can use technology to help us raise a happy and healthy child. I must say I enter this project with a bit of hesitation as over the last 6 months technology has been both a blessing and a curse. From the first moment the pregnancy test read positive, we have been overdosing with information about the dos and don’ts of pregnancy, how the baby is developing day-by-day, what to expect during labor, what to do once you have the baby, and five zillion things that could potentially go wrong at any step along the way. The information is endless. Moms, dads, nurses, doctors, grandparents and even childless friends and relatives are blogging, chatting, tweeting, texting and more about their child rearing experiences and sharing their hard-earned advice. It is overwhelming at best.

I believe that technology is hugely important to parental success (and sanity) but I also know that we need to conduct a bit of due diligence to unearth the best resources available. This blog will capture my exploration of how technology is being used in parenting as well as the opportunities and challenges it presents. I look forward to sharing my findings and thoughts on the topic and, hopefully, hearing insights, suggestions, comments and questions from other parents and caregivers.