Do you have family rules about screen time?
The West Ada School District invited parents and students to a viewing of ScreenAgers, a documentary about families struggling to find balance with internet usage and screen time. The movie is not available online and can only be viewed at select locations.
I was able to watch the movie with my two middle school kids last night. If you do not have the chance to watch it, here are a few highlights and insights I learned from the movie:
The average teenager spends over six hours a day looking at screens. Because our brains are wired to release dopamine when we receive new information, scrolling through social media or watching short clips (like Tik Tok), makes us feel good. While we may ‘feel good’, overstimulation tires the brain. This rapid stimulation compromises the brain’s ability to think clearly and solve problems.
Several experts in the movie explained how difficult it is for our brains to pay attention. Staying focused at school is already a challenge for a lot of students and when one phone is out in class, the students sitting adjacent to the phone also tend to be distracted.
Some kids argue, using a mobile phone when they are bored is no different than daydreaming or doodling — but daydreaming and doodling are both good for your brain. They allow the brain to process information from the day. Using a device does the opposite.
The movie was not full of data or statistics about internet usage, which I would have preferred, instead it focused on the real struggle of teens and parents trying to find a healthy balance. One family decided to give their daughter a phone, along with a list of guidelines and rules about her phone usage. Here is the phone ‘contract’ they created, along with one created by a different family. If you want to create one that is individualized for your family, there is also a link to information that will help you get started (determining your family rules, principals, incentives, and consequences).
The movie also discussed internet gaming and it’s potentially addictive qualities stating; the average boy spends 14+ hours, or two full school days every week playing online games. The movie also discussed the pressure girls feel to be pretty, due to constant exposure and praise for people’s physical appearance, displayed on social media.
When we left the movie, I asked my kids what they had learned. We discussed my husband’s and my phone usage (it’s not just a kid problem), the benefits of limited screen time (my 11-year-old admitted she would be on Tik Tok all day if I didn’t limit her to 30 minutes), what our family could be doing with our free time instead of being on our phones (playing outside, cooking together, being more creative, or learning a musical instrument) and what is a reasonable amount of time for gaming every day.
The best thing about the movie was the conversation I was able to have with my kids about the positive and negative qualities of internet usage. If you would like to have more conversations about technology with your families, here is a link to ‘tech talk Tuesday’s’. You can sign up to receive weekly topics to discuss with your family.
Does your family have conversations about technology usage in your home? Do you have a mobile phone contract or a clear list of family rules? If so, please feel free to share them!
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Today was a good day to be mom
Today was a good mom day. I chaperoned several second-grade classes on a field trip to the Idaho Discovery Center in Boise. It’s been over a year since my family’s last visit, so I was anxious to see the new exhibits.
The trip began with a herd of excited second graders wiggling on the benches, while a staff member explained the instructions (no running, no yelling, don’t touch the dinosaur sculpture and don’t take apart the Lego exhibit). She did an outstanding job of keeping the kids engaged and attentive while she explained each of the four exhibit rooms.
Each section could have held the kids attention for the entire two hours, so the adults had to encourage the students to move from room to room.
Some of my favorite interactive displays in the first room were; a paper airplane making station with launching machine, a building block station with air blower to check the integrity of the structure, the giant Light-Brite replica made from colored water bottles, and (of course) the large bubble maker.
The second and third rooms focused on the sun, the Earth, the universe, and a giant t-rex named Tinker. The kids loved laying on the bed of nails, playing with robots, and reading about the dinosaur.
My favorite room was the Lego brick room. The kids were able to create wall art, build a dam (with flowing water), build a car and race it down a track, and create a stop motion movie. I’m not ashamed to say, I spent a long time building my car. The second graders were engrossed in play, creativity and engineering the whole time.
With Idaho winter in full swing, I love taking my kids indoors to explore local museums and discovery centers. The Discovery Center is a bit pricey, $14 for adults, $13 for seniors and $12 for kids, but for EBT card holders, it’s only $3 (up to four family members).
If you don’t live near Boise, consider visiting some of these other museums located all around Idaho.
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Do you know someone who vapes?
I know teenagers who vape. Most of us probably know someone who vapes. In 2017, the CDC surveyed middle and high school students and found over 42 percent of students had used electronic vapor products.
Growing up in the 90’s, I remember seeing advertisements about the dangers of tobacco use. I saw pictures of people with tracheostomies and warnings about the risks of lung cancer, caused by smoking cigarettes. The pictures and dangers frightened me and made smoking very unappealing (like this 30-second anti-smoking clip, produced by the CDC).
From 1965 to 2014, the number of smokers in the United States dropped from 42 percent to 16 percent. According to this article, the decline in tobacco used was caused by the anti-smoking campaigns, stricter tobacco laws, increased tobacco taxes, and the media’s shift away from glamorizing smoking.
Unfortunately, the $35 billion dollar tobacco industry did not slink away quietly. Instead, they created electronic cigarettes marketed toward young people. Ironically, e-cigarettes were invented by a man, Hon Lik, who’s father died from lung cancer after a lifetime of heavy smoking.
Commercial sales of electronic cigarettes began in 2003. E-cigarettes are commonly called; “vapes”, “tank systems”, “hookahs”, “ENDS” (electronic nicotine delivery systems), “mods”, and/or “JUULs”. JUULing is one of the most commonly used nicotine products by middle and high school students. It is appealing because it is easy to hide (it looks like a USB device) and it comes in fun flavors, like mint, fruit, cotton candy and bubble gum. My daughter told me most girls hide it in their bra.
I asked my kids what they knew about vaping, if their friends vaped or if they had ever tried vaping. My two middle school kids were not directly exposed to vaping, but they were aware of kids who hid in the bathroom stalls to vape.
My two high school kids had a different experience. They both know several kids who vape and have even been given the opportunity to vape (via JUULs). My question spurred an interesting conversation about when and where students vape, why they vape and the perceived ‘positive’ and negative side effects of nicotine use. To be clear, I do not believe there are positive effects, but I wanted to better understand the appeal. I was told kids enjoy the flavors and playing with the smoke vapors in their mouth.
I spoke with other high school students who told me they know students who sneak a puff or several puffs, during class, when the teacher is not looking. When I asked about nicotine vaping vs. marijuana vaping, they told me that most kids who vape use both products.
Here is a guide for parents who want to learn more about vaping and JUULing. If you’re not sure how to start the conversation with your kids, you can talk about this teenager who recently received a double lung transplant due to vaping usage. Let’s make sure our kids understand the dangers of vaping and nicotine addiction.
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How do you feel about mastery programs?
I just finished reading an article about Rocky Mountain Middle School in Idaho Falls. RMMS is one of a few dozen schools in Idaho that is using state funds to pilot an education mastery program. Mastery learning allows students to learn at their own pace, with the goal of mastering a subject before moving on. The students work independently from laptops and have the opportunity to attend lessons, work in groups or request teacher assistance when needed.
Mastery learning makes sense, especially for subjects like math, foreign language and science. If a student doesn’t fully understand basic vocabulary, concepts, formulas or theories, how can they be expected to build on them?
I have noticed this dilemma with my own children. When my son began high school he loved math. He was placed in an honors course, but struggled with the teacher’s teaching style. He worked hard, but didn’t get the help he needed and was not able to gain a confident grasp of the subject matter. The following year, he switched to math II (not honors). He did a little better, but was not able to regain his love and mastery of math. By his junior year, math was admittedly his least favorite subject. He was resigned to the belief that he was bad at math. Now that he is a senior, he is taking calculus. It is his least favorite subject and he has lost all desire to pursue any career involving math.
I had a similar experience when I was in high school. I took three years of Spanish. I excelled in my first year, began to struggle my second year, and by my third year I felt like I was in the wrong class. I’m sure these two experiences are not unique.
Students need to have a solid understanding of complex subject matters before moving on. They may even need tutoring, peer assistance or new teaching styles to help them master ideas and concepts. No one benefits from moving a student to a more complex subject without understanding the basics.
Are your children involved in one of the 32 schools across the state implementing the mastery program? How do you feel about mastery learning?
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Resources to help students plan for their future
Raising kids is a challenge.
I already have two kids in college and I still worry about properly preparing my other five kids for life after high school. It’s hard to know how to teach the many life skills and lessons they will need to become successful adults, while also keeping up with the regular demands of school and extracurricular activities.
Anytime I find resources to help me in my endeavor to raise healthy and successful adults, I am eager to share it with other parents. Recently, I discovered a wealth of information available on the Next Steps Idaho webpage. I knew Next Steps was the government program responsible for direct admissions, but I didn’t know about the other tools and information available to younger students.
Here are the ones I found most helpful;
- A printable checklist for students in grades 8-12, offering advice and an annual simple ‘to-do’ list to help each student understand how to prepare for graduation and post secondary education or career options. It lists basic and easy to follow suggestions like; talk about future goals, make a plan for paying for college, the importance of reading during the summer, etc.
- The Future Finder quiz to help kids (or adults) discover their strengths and possible career choices. I took the test and discovered three potential careers that fit my skill set; anesthesiologist, social and community service manager, and EMT. Once my second grader leaves for college in 10 years, maybe I’ll consider pursuing one of these careers!
- Scholarship search information. Looking for applicable scholarships is a lot of work, and it is always nice to have a starting point.
Hopefully these resources can help us help our kids plan for their future. Now all we (the parents) have to do, is teach them how to manage their finances, shop and cook for themselves, resolve conflicts, change a tire, find a job and do the laundry. Best of luck!
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It makes my heart happy to know where my kids are at all times
My kids tend to be on their phones in the evenings a lot. They claim they need their phones to do homework and until recently, I really didn’t have a way of checking if this was true. I figured they were probably wasting a portion of their time on non-homework related phone things, but there was no way for me to know.
After a lot of peer pressure from my kids, I switched from an Android to an iPhone and set up a family plan. With the iPhone family plan, I can set app limits, check screen time and even turn off individual apps at a specific time every day. All of these tools are available on any iPhone, for free, and without downloading any special app.
If you are a tech savvy parent, you probably already know how to do this. Bravo! You can skip the rest of this post and gloat in your tech knowledge. Maybe go have a bowl of ice-cream and tell your kids how cool you are.
If you are more like me and unfamiliar with the tools available to parents and family members on iPhones, then read on.
- Have your kids sit next to you with their iPhones to set up family sharing. If your kids are too busy, or you want to do this on your own, you will need to log into their phone.
- Open up the settings tab and log into your Apple account.
- Click on the family sharing tab and add family members.
For detailed instructions, you can click here.
Next, you will need to set up screen time. Once your kids are on your family plan, you do not need their phones to set up screen time.
- Open up your settings tab.
- Click on screen time.
- Scroll down to select family members (you can also set up screen time for yourself, if you are trying to limit your personal usage).
- You will need to select a pin number to access screen time. Make sure it is one your kids don’t already know, or can guess.
- Select a set downtime to turn off all apps (or select apps). You can even customize this for each day (I allow my kids more time on the weekends).
- You can also set limits on specific apps (ie. YouTube, Mario Kart, Clash Royale, Instagram, Snapchat…).
- My favorite thing to check is See All Activity. With this tab, I can see exactly how much time was spent on each app by day or week. It helps me to know what apps I should limit and where my kids spend their time.
Here is the link with specific instructions.
My other favorite feature is called Find My. You can use it to find your phone (from another iPhone) or to find your family members on your family sharing account.
- You and your kids need to go to settings and open your Apple ID (the top tab with your profile picture).
- Click on Find My
- Turn on the Share My Location tab
- Tap on each family member you have listed (that you previously added to your family sharing) to share your location with that person. Your kids will have to do this in order to share their location with you.
- Select Share Indefinitely… and voula, now you can see where your kids are and they can see where you are. No more texting and calling to see when your kids will be home (this works both ways, now my kids can see when I’m grocery shopping or just wandering around Target).
- You can also set up your phone to notify you when your child (or husband, if you have him on your account) leaves school, a friend’s house, work, etc. by clicking on the Find My app and the family members name.
Here are more detailed instructions to set up location share.
Now, if you are a family of Droid users or mixed Droid and Apple users, you can still set up location sharing on Google Maps.
Location Share with Google Maps
- You both need to have Google Maps downloaded on your phones’ (which requires a Google account, but you should have one if you use Gmail)
- Click on the menu side bar and then click Location Sharing
- You can add people and choose to share for one hour or until you turn it off.
- Google will email you quarterly to ask you if you still want to keep sharing your location with the individuals you have on your location share.
The best part of Google Maps location sharing, is every time I use the map for directions, I see a small icon of each one of my kids’ faces and where they are located. It makes my mom heart happy to know where my kids are at all times.
Here is the Google Maps location sharing directions.
P.S. Don’t let your kids know I told you about screen time.
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How do you talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol?
My second grader spent a good part of the morning looking for something to wear that was neon colored. Unfortunately, she left for school this morning with boring, non-neon clothes.
Tomorrow, I expect we’ll have a similar problem, as she looks for tie-dyed clothes to wear. Sadly, our house doesn’t have a lot (none) of neon or tie-dye clothes lying around.
This week is Red Ribbon Week at the elementary school. Every day the students are encouraged to dress to match a drug-free theme. The rest of the week’s themes should be easier; Wednesday is crazy hair day, Thursday is pajama day and Friday is school spirit wear.
Besides the fun of dressing up, teaching students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol abuse is very important. It can be especially tricky talking with elementary age children.
After last year’s red ribbon week, my first grader was extremely worried when she saw her older brother take a couple Ibuprofen pills. She looked up at him and asked why he was taking drugs. It was a great question that started a conversation about the numerous good and bad qualities of safe and illegal drugs.
Having conversations with children and teenagers about drugs and alcohol can be difficult. Every family has different views, beliefs and rules surrounding these topics. My husband and I prefer to give our children as much information as possible.
I like to explain how drugs and alcohol affect our bodies and brains (this Infographics video is very interesting about drinking on an empty stomach), what causes addictions, and why people choose to use drugs or alcohol. Simply telling my kids to ‘say no’ is not enough. I want them to know how to make healthy choices. I want them to know they can ask questions. And most of all, I want my kids to be safe.
The CDC reports that 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States is drunk by people ages 12-20, and 90 percent of underage drinkers are binge drinking. Because I want my kids to be safe, and because I know this statistic, I also tell my children that they can always call me if they have been drinking. I don’t want them drinking, but I really don’t want my children to drive or be in a car with a drunk driver.
On the Red Ribbon website it states: Children of parents who talk to their teens regularly about drugs are 42 percent less likely to use drugs than those who don’t, yet only a quarter of teens report having these conversations.
Do you talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol? How does your family talk about it?
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Our to-do list for selecting a college
Choosing the right college can be a challenge. My senior has been working for a few weeks to compile a list of potential colleges and relevant information, to help him make the decision.
A lot of parents and their teens struggle to know how to choose the right college, so I thought I would share the process we use to choose the right school:
- Check for the senior’s most updated GPA (either through the school’s web page or by calling the school counselor).
- Obtain the senior’s SAT or ACT score (collegeboard.org for the SAT or act.org for the ACT test).
- Help your senior choose a list of 5-10 schools that admit students within your senior’s GPA and SAT scores, with a few “for sure” schools and a few “reach” schools.
- List tuition, housing and the total cost of attendance for each school (go to each school’s website to gather this information).
- Check the Western Undergraduate Exchange to see if any of the potential colleges offer discounted tuition for out-of-state students, and check the requirements.
- Check each school for potential scholarships.
- Check each school’s application costs (usually around $50 each) and application requirements (some schools require an essay and/or letters of recommendations).
- Check each school for early application deadlines (sometimes applying early can help students who have borderline GPA/SAT numbers get admitted). The deadline for early applications is usually Nov. 1.
- Beginning Oct. 1, fill out the FASFA, regardless of your family’s financial status. Most schools require this information to determine tuition and scholarship information.
- List any other information that might be important to your family (hours from home, degrees or special programs, number of students on campus, weather, public transportation, school ranking).
- Create a “to do” list with appropriate deadlines and check the list regularly.
How do you help your senior apply for college? What factors are important to your family?
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How have Idaho’s free programs helped your future college student?
The State Board of Education has spent over $130 million dollars on programs to encourage high school students to go to college and get a degree. Here’s how these dollars have affected my high school senior:
Before the beginning of my son’s freshman year, he met with his counselor and asked for help filling his schedule with concurrent credit classes. He knew the state offered each high school student over $4,000 in Advanced Opportunity funds to cover the cost of college courses, and he wanted to take full advantage of the free-to-him college money. The credits he has currently earned will cover more than one full year of college, essentially saving him $20,000+ in expenses (the cost to attend Boise State University, including room and board).
His sophomore and junior years he took the PSAT and later in the spring of his junior year, he took the SAT. If the state were not providing these tests for free, at the school, during a normal school day, our family would have had to cover the cost for him to take the PSAT ($17) and the SAT ($49.50). The state has been paying for students to take the PSAT and the SAT, since 2011, with the hopes of increasing the number of high school students who go on to college and get a degree.
And finally, in the mail this week, my son received a letter from the State Board of Education, informing him of all the Idaho public colleges and universities where he’s been accepted, without even applying. This is called the Direct Admissions Program. This program compiles every Idaho public school student’s GPA and SAT scores and pre-admits students, if they meet each school’s criteria.
If my son chooses to go to one of the listed schools, he can go directly to the Apply Idaho website and submit the necessary paperwork to finalize his acceptance to the school of his choice. The application process is also — you guessed it — free.
Each one of these programs has made it easier and much cheaper for my son to pursue his post-secondary education. They have saved him and our family tens of thousands of dollars and have made graduating from college a little bit easier.
Have these programs helped your future college student?
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My schools are making changes to protect kids and staff
I hate the amount of school shootings that seem to occur on a regular basis. I’m not sure if there is any way to totally prevent these types of incidents, but Idaho school districts are trying.
Over the past two years, the West Ada District has worked to install locks and intercom systems at the school’s main entrances. At the middle and high schools, students are required to wear their student ID on a lanyard around their neck. These school ID’s are used to unlock the school’s main doors.
If a visitor wants to enter the school, they have to ring the intercom and explain the reason for their visit. The school’s office staff can also see the visitor through the camera and can choose to buzz the door open.
My child’s elementary school went one step further to protect the students and teachers. They now require parents and visitors to bring a valid driver’s license or government ID if they want to enter the school.
The flyer sent out to parents states; “The scanning of the government ID insures schools maintain a log of all visitors and instantly checks each visitors data (ID photo, name, date of birth, and last four digits of ID) against a database of registered sex offenders in all 50 states and a data base containing information regarding any court ordered protections, custodial arrangements, etc.”
This is so smart. I’m glad the school is working to find ways to keep our children safe from potential shooters and child sex offenders.
What safety measures does your school have in place?
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