Technology and Trends that parents find useful today

by Shikha Das Shankar ~ Aug 30, 2018

Parenting is inherently wrought with challenges, and many believe that the unprecedented rise of gadgets and gizmos, and the internet, render parenting more strained than ever. 

While the challenges will remain, there has been a significant crack in the belief that technology is detrimental for children. Guidelines for responsible use of technology are being formulated at schools, concept of digital mentoring is being encouraged, and parents realize that raising children in the digital age should not be done in fear or with apprehension but by modeling healthy digital usage.

What is also noteworthy is how technology has made several parenting woes a thing of the past, at the same time it has brought some new concerns to be worried about. Parents find themselves leveraging technology to engage more with their children, be more experimental toward teaching their kids new skill sets, and what’s more, are able to grab a coffee when you least expect it. Read on to know how.

Video monitoring and streaming

A cursory glance at the baby video monitor to see your baby still in deep slumber is a moment of nirvana for every mom. A reason to make herself another cup of coffee, finish another chapter of a book or even run another load of laundry. The global baby monitor market was estimated to be USD 929.4 million in 2016, out of which the revenue for audio and video monitors are 50.6%. Real-time communication between child and parent seems to be the key driver for high adaption of this technology. Baby monitors have been around for a while but the recent versions that stream on your phones and have motion detection provide a sense of security and peace of mind unfathomable before. Definitely a popular choice for parents who spend time away from home or in need of some ‘me-time’ while at home with kids.

Voice-enabled devices

If you have been reading our ‘I, Alexa’ (and other voice-enabled devices) series, you already know these AI-enabled devices are here to stay. No more worrying about scratched music cds that have seen rough handling by children eager to use them as flying saucers. Alexa will play music peppy enough to get the kids dancing indoors. Meaningful conversation about football teams between your child and Google’s HomePod? Yes, please. Want a giggle? Try asking some knock knock jokes to Siri. While these devices have raised concerns about etiquette and mannerism around a machine, with some mindful parenting, children and parents are learning to accept these machines as a fun and interactive part of life.

Social media

As social media became a place to congregate virtually, more and more parents found it easier to make friends, express emotional pleas previously written only in personal diaries and seek support from people across the globe. And it is this virtue of social media that helped tackle everyday parenting woes like choosing the best diaper rash cream to coming out of the closet and talking about postpartum depression. Fretting over a parenting problem is being replaced with using social media to express concern or post a query only to be pleasantly flooded with suggestions, virtual hugs and recommendations in return. Brag posts, vent posts and picture perfect parenting snapshots do make social media a slippery slope in many ways, but it has become an extension of us nonetheless. Trust us, ‘#momfails’ and ‘#toddlertrouble’ are here to stay.

Language learning apps

Repetition and continued exposure to language are two important factors in learning a language. So when a wave of e-learning language apps, equipped with both these attributes, as well as an interactive platform, surfaced in the digital world, it found many takers. More and more parents want to expose children to new languages from a young age and find great options among a gamut of language apps for children. Through these apps, parents have the option to conveniently and affordably introduce their children to learning different languages in a fun and interactive way, which previously was a laborious task. Read our story about some popular language learning apps if you are looking for a start in that direction.

Shikha Das Shankar is a storyteller. Multitasking dragon slayer mom. Happy hiker. When not writing, she loves hiking with her favorite trio—the son, the daughter and the husband or cooking her favorite foods in her de-stressing zone, the kitchen.

What can ‘Digital Foreigners’ teach us about technology?

by Priyanka Raha ~ Aug 16, 2018

child and grandparent
digital foreigner

I believe we are all familiar with the term ‘Digital Natives’ and ‘Digital Immigrants’. Made popular in 2001 by Marc Prensky, a renowned American writer and speaker on education, the scope of these terms have definitely evolved since then. Marc himself once mentioned that “The most important thing to realize is that this is a metaphor. It’s not a distinction or a brand, it’s extremely fluid.”

I am extending that fluidity of these definitions to define the generation that came before us, as digital foreigners. The wikipedia defines a digital native as a person that grows-up in the digital age rather than acquiring familiarity with digital systems as an adult. The latter is what defines a digital immigrant. That’s us. Digital foreigners are adults who know how to use a computer or own one but have not substantially used it in their daily life. They are our parents. This is a generation that survived without google, so please have utmost respect.

Both my parents own a smart phone and a laptop and can work their way around the systems, for the most part. Since we live in two different continents, Skype and WhatsApp are ways how we stay connected. But that has happened after a one-too-many phone calls of guided conversations on how-to-navigate a chat client.

This year my parents are spending the summer at my house, my kids are getting their much needed quality and quantity time with their grandparents. My kids are also getting royally spoiled but that’s a story for another day. For now, if I think about discussions just around technology between my kids and my parents, there are quite a few interesting conversations that I run into.

It goes without saying that our parents are the first ones who hold our hands and teach us about life. Our lessons on life come from them. But when it comes to technology most of the times the tables turn and we find ourselves providing tips to them, about managing the digital world. Even with the flow of information happening the other way, I can assure you there are so many things that we can learn from our digital foreigner parents about technology.

The joy of giving back

It seems like a lofty expression but if I can reiterate the fact about turning the tables as mentioned above, it is extremely rewarding to be able to help my parents figure out an app download or how to set up an online account. Seeing my mom figuring out Apple’s multi-touch or Facebook’s messaging is exciting. I have watched my parents read to my kids and at other times my kids explain the Minecraft world to them, and I have thought to myself, ‘there is that joy of give and take at play here’.

By teaching we learn

It is not a secret that the best way to grasp a concept is to explain it to someone else. The unfamiliarity of certain concepts around technology, in fact, leads to meaningful questions from our previous generation. And in the process of providing those answers we learn more. It is important to note that most of these questions come from an experience of having lived a full life and having understood what being social means without worrying about social media. Combing through the whys and hows leads to discovering the ways the world worked before, like not being able to play any song of your choice while on the go. I think this provides the next generation with a perspective that helps them appreciate, a little bit more, the world they live in.

A new type of quality time

Exploring the digital world together not only helps us learn more but it also opens up new avenues for connection. The other day I walked in from work and found my four-year old explaining the story of PJ Mask to my Mom and Dad. For those of you who do not know it is a kids’ show about three friends who fight bad guys at night, that explains the ‘PJ’ in the title. My goal is not to take away time from other fun activities that grandparents do with their grandchildren, but what if besides all the things that they always did, like playing ball or riding a bike, we have discovered new ways to bond and communicate.

So, next time your parents are baby-sitting, ask your kids to explain how a tablet works or better even to narrate the latest show. See what happens!

Be tech-savvy safe this summer

by Shikha Das Shankar ~ Aug 09, 2018

  

An app tracks your teen’s driving habits, shows his location and rates the trip. A browser designed for middle-school children blocks inappropriate content on the web. An oil company in Uganda invests in developing an app to teach local kids about road safety. A single click turns your phone into a road safety beacon during your evening cycling session.

The rap about technology being unsafe and making our lives more vulnerable does the round frequently. But if we look beyond the flak, technology is the tool that provides a solution to combat the risks that exists today. When we bring positive aspects of technology coupled with our mentoring and guidance to the younger beloveds in our lives, we give wings to their imagination, empower them to think differently and help them stay safe.

Digital technology tools are prevalent in our lives more than envisioned decades ago and a key aspect of its evolution is how it helps us be safe. Safety starts at home, right from the time our kid develops her pincer grip and we teach her not to pick up those dirty peas from the floor. The job gets more complex as children grow older and here’s where technology can help.

For those of us busy making the best of summer by teaching our kids how to swim, ride a bike, code or spend time traveling, we bring you a list of apps that will help create awareness of common dangers around us, travel safely and reinforce ways to stay safe at home or outdoors.

Kidsstrap

Kidstrapp_1
The developers say the name is exactly what the app is — a kid’s strap with an app. Tie and scan a cheap and funky Kidsstrap to the child’s wrist, download the app and you are ready to go on your exciting summer break with more peace of mind than ever before. Busy vacation resorts and amusements parks elevate parents’ worries about kids getting lost. So devices like these can potentially go a long way in keeping children safe.

GoodYear Crossroad Safety

Goodyear, a known name in the automobile parts industry, brings an app to teach preschoolers and kindergartners about road safety. How to safely cross at construction sights, railway crossing or at traffic lights are taught to kids through an interactive setting and fun graphics.

Kids_Safety

SkyGuru

Ease your or your child’s flying fears or satiate his curiosity about aviation with this app that acts like your personal pilot. The app was authored by a trained pilot and aerophobia expert, and has helped overcome flying-anxiety for many people. Weather updates, expected turbulence, real-time commentary on wind conditions such as opening of landing gears or wing flaps are part of this detailed app for reluctant air travelers. All of this and much more is available on flight mode setting on your phone throughout the duration of your flight.

Safety for Kids

It is challenging to explain to young children how to react should an emergency situation occur. The Safety for Kids app introduces children four and above to twelve safety lessons, explaining what steps to take if emergency situations like getting lost, fire, earthquake, tsunami etc might occur. The app is interactive, wordless and role-play based with relatable, real-life settings. This app works effectively as a resource for both parents and teachers of children up to 8 years.

SafetyforKids_1

Red Cross Accident Prevention and First Aid

Developed in collaboration with the Red Cross society for kids in the age range 6-8, this educational app emphasizes that the best way to stay away from unpleasant surprises is by preventing them in the first place. The app teaches children how to prevent accidents, steps to take in case of emergency and basic first aid techniques. Available in twelve languages and presenting eleven everyday scenarios that are potentially dangerous, this resource is wonderful for both teachers and students.

RedCrossSafety

 

   

Shikha Das Shankar is a storyteller. Multitasking dragon slayer mom. Happy hiker. When not writing, she loves hiking with her favorite trio—the son, the daughter and the husband or cooking her favorite foods in her de-stressing zone, the kitchen.

I, Alexa – The Final Piece

by Priyanka Raha ~ Aug 02, 2018

Engage with kids in digital interaction

Yes, we have been lately obsessed by the effects of interaction with voice activated digital assistants on kids. Last week we spoke about the not-so-explicit effects of Alexa on kids. This is the third and final piece of our series ‘I, Alexa’. Please note that for our discussion, Alexa is a representation of all digital assistants.

In this piece we explore ways to prepare kids for a world that they will actually live in. We need to teach them the perpetual things, like good manners and the new things, like the truth about Artificial Intelligence (AI). 

As the digital voice assistants are becoming an integral part of consumer device usage, millions of parents have suddenly been forced to grapple with this new parental dilemma of defining boundaries on the usage around kids. Already 20 percent of U.S. households have some kind of smart speaker and research says, that percentage will rise to 55 percent within the next four years.

AI driven assistants are not 100 percent child proof, at the same time they are not the big bad wolf either. Beyond any doubt, it is important for us as parents to consider certain ways to define interaction between our children and the Alexas of today. After all, parents are gatekeepers for their children’s online experience, not just for our Alexas and Cortanas but for all digital devices.

Here are some of the things that we can do to make sure our children have a healthy growing environment amidst our Alexas. While this is not a comprehensive list, it certainly is a place to start.

Don’t Be Rude

While interacting with our humanoid helpers, as parents we run into the courtesy conundrum. Should our kids say please to Alexa or is it okay to call her an idiot? I think either is an extreme and the key is balance here.

Repeating pleasantries to Alexa can lead to over-humanization of Alexa, which in turn can blur the lines between animate and inanimate objects. With increased penetration of voice activated systems in our daily lives – from smart homes to smart cars, it is on us to help children conceptualize virtual assistants in a healthy way.

I think, for the same reasons that you don’t go kick a door after you bumped into it and got hurt, you don’t abuse Alexa.

The rule is simple here.
“Don’t be bossy pants.”

Limit the Time

One of the challenging aspects with Alexa is that it is available for use 24×7. Being screen-less you cannot really put it away. Being screen-less has its upsides of not having to stare at a screen or be sedentary.

“These devices certainly offer more engagement and interaction than just passively watching a TV”, mentions Solace Shen, a psychologist at the Cornell University. “But that interaction is still impoverished compared to talking to a parent or a teacher.”

It is imperative to remember that at the end of the day Alexa or Home Pod is a digital device. Like any other device of technology it is a great tool for learning but it is not a replacement for human interaction. In general, it helps to think of these devices as tablets. We have to make sure that there is a balance between the time kids are interacting with the systems versus interacting with humans, doing physical activities and getting enough rest.

Keeping that in mind, there can be certain times during the day when we can avoid interacting with Alexa. Our questions, however inquisitive they are, can wait until we finish our conversation with real people or playing ball with our friends.

So it is okay to say,
“Alexa, stop. We are having dinner now.”

Engage In The Dialogue

“One solution for families with smart speakers is to stay intentional about deepening their relationships through intentional, loving interactions”, says Peter Kahn, a psychologist at the University of Washington.

Alexa can sing lullabies to children, remind them of bedtime and provide positive reinforcement when kids say please. But a machine cannot know a child the way a parent does.

As parents we need to be aware that Alexa is a passive system. If she doesn’t have the answer to a question, jump in and suggest other ways of attaining that knowledge. Digital assistants are amazing tools to gather information but don’t let them implicitly teach children that knowledge is easily attainable.

As immediate adults in the vicinity of Alexa we can enrich the dialogue by asking our own questions or mixing it up and asking the kid a few questions. If we are not around when the kids are talking to Alexa (and that is totally okay), we can certainly follow-up afterwards to see how they have been using it. It can be a very nice conversation starter as well, something different from asking, ‘How was school today?’

So do not just watch your kids interact with Alexa,
“Be an active part of the Alexa interaction.”