Technology and Kids: 5 Things Every Parent Should Know

Technology and Kids: 5 Things Every Parent Should Know

Family Tech

Technology for parents & kids: Hints, tips, online safety strategies & more.

Between smartphones, tablets, apps, portable media players, computers and connected video game systems, technology has permanently and irrevocably invaded kids’ lives. Cheerfully for today’s family, it can be an immensely rewarding and uplifting part of household hijinks, as long as parents and children observe a few simple rules alike. Following, you’ll find several expert strategies and tactics for making high-tech devices a healthy part of your home.

Make a Commitment to Education

Dozens of companies such as McAfee, Lookout and Symantec offer an equally dizzying array of software programs, apps and child-friendly Web browsers that block kids’ access to questionable content. But given the clip at which technology advances, and how savvy today’s tots are, don’t be fooled: Software’s no substitute for good, old-fashioned parenting, as an ounce of prevention far outweighs a pound of cure. Realize – homework is for parents as well as kids. As many new apps, gadgets, games and online services debut each week, and ways for connecting and communicating constantly emerge or evolve, technology’s a moving target. The only way to stay abreast of it, and meet the challenges it presents, is to constantly keep tabs on and personally try out new advancements. Ongoing research is crucial, as is investing time and interest: Like every other aspect of raising a healthy tot (i.e. feeding, clothing and teaching good manners), preparing them for life in a wired world requires a lasting commitment. Want to successfully equip sprouts to meet the challenge? It’s difficult to teach the rules of the game if you don’t spend the time to personally see just what it is you’re up against.

Keep Connected Devices in Common Rooms

It’s tempting to let kids keep computers, video game consoles and other Internet-ready devices in their bedrooms or other private areas. But speaking as a former teenage male, trust me: Screens should be confined to common areas of the home. Beyond allowing you to monitor kids’ play patterns, time investment and overall activity, doing so also allows you to see how sprouts are utilizing such systems in context, and whom they interact with. Granted, usage will obviously differ while a parent is present (it’s rare to meet a well-adjusted teen that doesn’t spout off at the mouth like a hardened sailor when adults are AWOL). But by being there during times of activity, even if only on the periphery, you will get a sense of children’s general computing habits, favorite apps/programs and the way in which kids employ such devices. Ancillary benefits are also substantial – i.e. not having to worry about a certain someone sneaking online to clock in time with World of Warcraft during the wee hours… at least, apart from Dad, that is.

Use Parental Controls

Expecting Web Watcher or Net Nanny to babysit your child is ludicrous. (Hint: Kids are smart, and have grown up alongside technology – if they can’t discover a workaround, chances are it’s just one search away on the Internet.) But that doesn’t mean you should ignore the wealth of great tools that manufacturers have put at your disposal. From Windows 7 to OS X Lion, the iPad and iPhone to PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, most mass-market computing and entertainment devices come with parental controls built-in. These controllable system settings – optionally guarded with a password – can limit access to questionable content, the Internet or hardware itself, or filter material by age-appropriateness. Using such off-the-shelf tools, it’s often simple to block R-rated movies and mature games, limit access to devices during off-hours, prevent downloadable purchases, and/or confine online interactions to pre-approved friend lists. The best part: Most are idiot-proof and readily accessible from the gadget’s Main or Settings menu, meaning even us clueless grown-ups can configure them in minutes without reading the user manual.

Guard Your Personal Information

The Internet can be a wonderful place, but it’s also an intensely public one, meaning you should approach it with the same reservations as any open forum. Moreover, no matter how much more intimate social networks like Facebook and Google+ seem, it’s important to remember: As with popular online video games (or any other space where we’re defined by virtual personas), everyone is, to some extent, playing a character. Note that many perfectly normal and healthy relationships can be formed online. But it never hurts to stay paranoid. To this extent, never give out personal information such as names, addresses, birthdays or telephone numbers, or reveal when you’ll be out of town – even if just expressing excitement over your fab upcoming Spring Break vacation. Likewise, use such services’ built-in tools and custom privacy settings to limit access to photos or video of yourself only to approved viewers. If nothing else, it’ll save some embarrassment when college recruiters or prospective employers eventually come looking.

Create and Enforce House Rules

Helping kids understand the difference between right and wrong starts with open and honest discussion. Begin by setting house rules which all family members agree on governing appropriate content, when it’s suitable to use high-tech devices (and in what context) and during which occasions – i.e. dinner – access is prohibited. Experts also agree that setting time limits on screen time is crucial for healthy development. While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one to two hours daily, feel free to tinker slightly, offering more or less time as a reward or punishment for good or bad behavior. Some families even treat the use of high-tech devices as a privilege, incentivizing positive habits by offering kids screen time in exchange for doing chores, earning good grades or helping out around the house. Under all scenarios, kids should always feel comfortable approaching you with questions, whether regarding why rules exist and punishments were enforced, or concerning questionable content they encountered while using high-tech apps or devices.

Long story short: Technology can be an immensely beneficial and uplifting part of kids’ lives. But to realize it’s full potential, you’ve got to prepare them to meet its ups and downs, and – most importantly – commit to cruising right there alongside them on the rollercoaster ride.

Video Games for Your Family or Kids

Video Games for Your Family or Kids

Family Tech

Technology for parents & kids: Hints, tips, online safety strategies & more.

While gaming has certainly matured over the past few decades and more adults are playing them now than at any time since arcade machines were the rage, video games are hardly for the 18 and up set alone. Some of the best titles around are made not specifically for kids, but with more of an all-ages focus in mind, seeking to provide something enjoyable for children, adults, or even the entire family who wants to team up to conquer new challenges. Here are some of this year’s releases which fit that bill.

Rayman Legends – Despite a high-profile demo garnering attention on the Wii U last year, this follow-up to Rayman Origins was delayed to an August release so that it could also be released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The left-to-right gameplay is slightly similar in some ways to games such as New Super Mario Bros. Wii U, specifically the ability for up to four to play at once on one screen. On the Wii U, a fifth player can join in with the GamePad controller and manipulate the environment to help others along.

Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix –  Square Enix has finally announced the eagerly-anticipated third installment in the series that dared to answer the question of what would happen if characters from their stable of role-playing games met those from the wonderful world of Disney. But as that isn’t due for a while yet, they’re biding their time by re-releasing the original game and its side-story follow-up, Re:Chain of Memories, in high definition. This collector’s package also includes a motion picture retelling of the events of another installment, 358/2 Days, as a nearly three-hour cinematic compilation.

Skylanders Swap Force  –  The title that managed to fuse toys and video games like no other before it is back for a third round. As the name alludes to, the Swap Force is a group of 16 new Skylanders characters who are able to swap out their top and bottom halves to gain new powers and abilities throughout 256 possible combinations. A solid 17 new levels await, and as before, you can continue using characters from previous Skylanders games, complete with all their levels and abilities still intact.

Disney Infinity – Disney knows a good thing when it sees it, and when it saw Activision’s Skylanders, it wanted a piece of that action. The result is Disney Infinity, which allows you to not only purchase figures of  different Disney characters from hit series ranging from The Incredibles to Monsters University and Pirates of the Caribbean to Phineas and Ferb, but also different world and power discs, which dictate where you play and what added abilities you have, respectively. The star attraction, however, is the Toy Box mode, where you can mix characters and items from different Disney worlds to create your own fun.

Pikmin 3 – Ever wonder what it’s like to be the size of an ant? The latest title from the creator of Mario puts you in control of a crew of three tiny spacemen who have crash-landed on a mysterious planet where everything around them is enormous. Everything, that is, accept the friendly plant-people known as the Pikmin, who do their humble best to help our intrepid explorers to take on fierce predators and solve puzzles to claim the large pieces of fruit needed to provide sustenance to their hungering homeworld. A new Bingo Battle multiplayer mode also allows you compete with a friend as you each race to collect the four fruits needed to form a row on your card.

The Wonderful 101 – What do you get when you cross Power Rangers with Pikmin, and multiply them by 20? You get the Wonderful 100 (the other one is “you”), a team of superheroes who travel en masse and use the power of Unite Morphing to create large Green Lantern-esque constructs, from the Unite Fist and the Unite Sword to the Unite Gun and Unite Bomb. The more heroes you have in your team, the more powerful your attacks. And you’ll need that power if you’re to stop the giant forces of the invading alien terrorists known as the GEATHJERK. Additionally, up to four other players can join in for cooperative gameplay by using Wii U Pro Controllers.

DuckTales Remastered – Those who grew up with DuckTales in The Disney Afternoon are now old enough to have their own children, but the everlasting appeal of Disney’s characters and stories provides a unique opportunity for them to share this adventure with a new generation. Capcom, WayForward, and Disney have come together to remake the classic ’80s Nintendo Entertainment System title with high definition graphics, new features, and a reunion of all the surviving cast members from the show– including the 93-year old Alan Young as Uncle Scrooge and the 96-year old June Foray as Magica De Spell! This version of the game was originally released as a download-only title, but is also being released at retail for $19.99.

WWE 2K14 –  A perennial favorite, World Wrestling Entertainment’s latest outing comes under the flag of a new publisher in 2K Sports. Boasting numerous new improvements to improve the feel and dramatic tension of the action, WWE 2K14 is also celebrating 30 years of WrestleMania with a single-player campaign of the same name. A whopping 45 matches look back on and allow players to recreate landmark moments throughout WWE’s history, from the rise of Hulkamania in the 80’s to the rise of New Generation stars such as Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart in the early 90’s, and beyond. Pre-orders get to use the Ultimate Warrior as a playable character, and a special “Phenom Edition” of the game will also be available, containing extras based on the Undertaker, such as his “American Bad***” biker persona.

Rocksmith 2014  – Whereas Guitar Hero and Rock Band allowed music fans to pretend they were playing a guitar, Rocksmith 2014 actually teaches you how to do so by plugging in an actual electric guitar or bass. Designed as a replacement to the previous 2011 release, rather than a sequel, this version features 85 lessons and other features, including different modes to help players learn, improve, and further challenge themselves. Meanwhile, those who purchased the original will find value in the newly-added songs and modes now included.

Need for Speed: Rivals – Whether you’re on your fifth vehicle or aren’t even old enough to touch the pedals without receiving a severe scolding, who doesn’t love the thrill of fast cars? Need for Speed: Rivals follows on from the series’ prior Hot Pursuit installment with players taking on the role of either a speeding racer or the police officer tasked with stopping them. Cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes are included, with the new “AllDrive” system allowing you to switch between them seamlessly. And for the hardcore car enthusiasts, there are numerous customization options for the  numerous brands of cars featured in the game, including Ferrari, who hasn’t been a regular part of the series since 2002.

Technology and Gadgets Every Child Should Own

Technology and Gadgets Every Child Should Own

Family Tech

Technology for parents & kids: Hints, tips, online safety strategies & more.

While technology may not have been an integral part of your childhood, it’s part of the very fabric of growing up these days.  In fact, some gadgets are so ingrained in our lives that they’re now the de facto gifts for certain birthdays, holidays and bar mitzvahs. Here’s a look at the essential technology and gadgets every child should own.

Home Computer – Every house should have at least one computer, and most now have at least two.  Teachers have come to expect computers and internet access at home for all children, assigning homework and class project for kids. Note though that kids don’t necessarily need their own computers.  In fact, experts still recommend that kids’ computer usage be kept on systems that are housed in common areas of the house, even if they’re on laptops.  There’s nothing kids should be doing on computers that needs to be kept private from the rest of the family.

Tablet PC or Touch Device – With computers now a given, the focus now turns to tablets and other touch devices as to whether they are “must-owns” or “nice-to-haves.”  Most educational school computer programs work on tablets, and they’re extremely portable and convenient to take on family trips or outings, whether it’s vacation or a local restaurant.

At the very least, we think kids need access to their family’s tablet device, and it’s up to parents to decide whether they need one for themselves.  Kids will want to use them to play games, so make sure that you’ve locked down the ability to purchase apps and regulate connections.

eBooks Readers – While there’s still something satisfying about physical books, kids can access literal libraries of information from their fingertips with eBook readers, and it’s the same content you remember from growing up.  There are even library subscriptions which allow kids to check out books on their eReaders.  Most parents would greatly prefer their kids read book instead of goof off playing games or chatting, so why not get them a device that lets them enjoy books the way they want.

Portable Hard Drive – With so much schoolwork being done on computers, it’s important to save it and back it up, so a portable hard drive will help kids keep all their files, even if they’re working on many different computers.  It’s also a good way to make sure that data stays safe and secure even if a computer gets lost or stolen.

USB Drive – While portable hard drives are big and bulky, USB drives are simple and compact way for kids to share and transport information.  Consider a keychain USB device so it’s always with them, and they can use it for important documents, personalized information or even sharing pictures.  USB Flash drives make it simple to switch data from computer to computer.

Smart Phone – We saved the best and most controversial for last.  Although kids around the age of 13 don’t necessarily need full function smart phones, as they get older and progress through high school, the functionality of the device will become extremely useful for them.  Realistically, kids don’t need all the bells and whistles smartphones offer, parents who trust their kids to use these devices properly will rest easier knowing they have map functionality and Internet access at their fingertips. To be clear, we don’t recommend this for young teens, but as kids get ready for college, smart phones certainly make a lot of sense.