Written on July 31, 2013 at 4:29 pm , by Christina Tynan-Wood
Shopping for back to school? Me too. But as a geek Mom, smart phone and tablet apps are high on my list of supplies. They are cheap (or free), portable, and my kids don’t lose them. So after shopping for sneakers and dress-code appropriate clothes, I plan to sit down with both of my kids and help them download and get the hang of a few apps that will help them take better notes in school, keep track of their schedule, find a little extra instruction, and discover their intellectual curiosity. I rounded up quite a few of them for the print version of the magazine and you can find some of those here. What I didn’t have space for in that story was a roundup of smart phones and tablets you might want to consider if you want apps but don’t yet have a tablet or smart phone.
The great thing about being in the market for a smart phone or tablet right now is that there is lots of choice and the prices are compelling. That is, of course, the hard thing about it, too. There is so much choice that many parents ask me to just, “Tell me what to get!” I understand that not everyone enjoys shopping for tech gear as much as I do. But the answer isn’t that easy. You have to choose between Apple, Android, Windows, and even Blackberry. You have to stay within your budget. And your school might have some requirements.
But when you walk into a store, it can be daunting to even know where to start. So, in addition to your own needs and wants, here is a short list of gear you should consider to get you started.
$199 (with a contract at ATT.com)
The Galaxy S4 is a great Android smart phone. In fact, it is something of a showecase of state-of-the art technology. It will run all the latest apps, keep GPS tabs on your teen so he won’t get lost driving, has a great camera, and even makes eye contact so the screen won’t shut off when he’s trying to read the latest political diatribe. (You can even pick one up at Target.) But the Galaxy S4 Active will survive a dunk in the pool and a drop from a not-so-careful teen. In fact, you can take it right in the water and shoot video with it. My teens love this idea. And so do I! I’ve had to replace a couple of phones that died after an unexpected swim.
This is a great little device. It is a go-anywhere size and an easy-to-cope-with price (Especially when compared to the full-size iPad.) But it will bring hundreds of educational apps and organizational tools to your child’s fingertips. Even if you think this is outside your price range, you should stop by a store that carries it and take it for an in-store spin before you make up your mind. And take a look at my list of apps so you know if there is something you want that will only run on the iPad.
$379 (at Amazon.com)
This is like a bigger version (8.3” x 5.3”) of the Galaxy S4 with the addition of a built-in stylus and some software that makes taking notes with that stylus (in the old way: through handwriting) work exceptionally well. I got one in for review and became almost instantly completely dependent on it. Grab the pen to jot a note. Pull up the Kindle App to read a book. Check email, Facebook, Twitter. Run any of the apps in the Android market. All on a nice big (for a highly portable tablet) screen on a device that fits in your hand much like a trade paperback and in your purse like a small notebook.
$229 – $399
This collection of Android phones and tablets from Google (creator of Android) is a super easy solution: Not only is this a very sweet hardware – great screen, thin, light, fast — implementation of Android but it’s easy to buy. Just log on and choose the size and price that suits your student and budget. The Nexus 4 Smart starts at $299 (no contract), the Nexus 7 (7” tablet) at $229, and the Nexus 10 (10” tablet) starts at $399. Aside from size, storage, and data connection (Wi-Fi or cellular), they work the same.
This tablet is very nearly a laptop, especially if you opt for the optional (+$130) keyboard. And at this new low price it’s a great choice for students. It runs the tablet version (RT) of Windows 8 and comes with Microsoft Office installed. The size is perfect for watching a movie. But it is also thin and light enough to bring everywhere. Just fold the keyboard up and it transforms into a cute cover — with lots of color choices. And the little kickstand that pops out to let the tablet stand on its own on a table is genius. I say it’s almost a laptop for purely technical reasons. Your student won’t know the difference unless she wants to install software — Photoshop perhaps — that won’t run on a tablet.
Any of these options will help your student get out from under that pile of paper, get more organized, and stay connected to both school and home. It will also free up your home computer – if you are sharing one. Still looking for justification? Go price scientific calculators. For a little more money, you can have a tablet that will replace the calculator, TV, phone, notebook, and much, much more.
Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at GeekGirlfriends.com.
Written on July 25, 2013 at 11:00 am , by Christina Tynan-Wood
My daughter recently attended an ID Tech Camp at MIT in Cambridge. These technology camps for teens and tweens are offered on university campuses around the country and offer a high-caliber of fun learning on geeky topics. We don’t live in the Boston area but the camp she was eager to attend – one that focused on photography and Web design — wasn’t offered at any colleges near us. And, as it happened, my son had expressed an interest in touring colleges in Boston. So we decided to turn it all into an education-focused summer vacation.
So while she got an impressive education in tech skills and met some like-minded nerds to add to her social networks, the rest of us toured colleges, museums, and sites. We had a blast, he fell in love with at least one school, and she ambitiously set her sights on a future at MIT. So that went well. I know that the tech world needs more women. And a woman with her out-of-the box thinking and creative mindset would probably enjoy working in high tech. So I’m happy to see her acquiring the technical skills she will need for that – and embracing her inner geek.
A Tour Guide in My Purse
This trip was about education in other ways, too, though. In fact, my husband and I make a habit of making our tourism as educational as possible. We went to science and art museums and famous historical sites, which was, of course, educational. But Boston itself is full of history, not all of it widely known. And historical events in the real world aren’t always explained in a plaque the way they are in museums. So before we left, I installed the Field Trip app (free; Android or iPhone) on my phone. As we traveled, it buzzed my phone whenever we went near something it knew something about. And, when it was convenient, I read what it had to say.
So when we were waiting for an Amtrak train at Union Station in Washington, DC, my phone buzzed to tell me the history of that building and show us some photos of the station during its construction and early days. When we sat down for a coffee in a café at MIT before Ava’s camp, it offered information about the building we were in (shown above), who built it, and what tech luminaries had offices in the building. When we walked down the street, it told us about movies that had been filmed near where we were, historical events that had happened around us, and even good restaurants nearby. The information was relevant and fascinating. It added so much to our travels, in fact, that whenever we rode the subway, my son sat next to me and waited for my phone to buzz so he could find out about the buildings and sites nearby – whether we could see them or not. I am already a fan of my smart phone as a travel tool but this transformed our vacation from one where my husband and I delivered a series of lectures based on information we had looked up, to one where we were learning together as we traveled. And the app will even net you free admission to participating museums if you are near those and using the app. Sweet! I left it running when we got home. And it has already told me a half-dozen interesting facts about where I work and live that I didn’t know before.
Written on July 17, 2013 at 8:32 pm , by Christina Tynan-Wood
I recently heard through the grapevine that a thief made a run through my neighborhood grabbing valuables from cars. He had dumped items he couldn’t sell quickly for cash, though, and a local police officer had a stash of these found items in his car. If I’d been a victim of these small crimes, I had only to call this officer and, hopefully, reclaim what I’d lost. The grapevine in my neighborhood has become so efficient these days that I heard this information within hours of the thefts even though I was traveling when it happened. How? My neighborhood recently joined NextDoor.com, a social network that connects people to their own neighborhood.
The technical tools at the site are awesome. With a few clicks and a jotted note, I can let my entire neighborhood – but not strangers outside my neighborhood (or nearby neighborhoods if I choose) — know if my dog goes missing, if I’m selling a car or renting an apartment, or if I want to invite everyone to an event. I can set up small groups within the neighborhood to start a book or running club. And my kids can just as easily announce that they are willing to babysit or mow lawns or find out about neighbors looking for that kind of help. And, because the site verifies every member, I don’t have to worry that my daughter will be approached by some creep on Craigslist if she advertises her babysitting services online.
I’ve been hearing how much people like NextDoor.com for the last year or so. One woman I spoke to recently signed her kids up for summer activities and, after everything was good to go, learned that she couldn’t get the time away from work to drive the kids. It was just a few hours a week so not a very appealing job for someone looking for real summer work. But within a few hours of posting her dilemma at her local NextDoor.com page, a neighborhood teen – home from college for the summer – contacted her and the problem was solved.
My neighbors resisted efforts to organize, though, until very recently. An ancient email list was already up and running. And, though it was not nearly as effective and didn’t let people create subgroups or post announcements to nearby neighborhoods, it was working well enough to keep people from feeling the need of something else. But suddenly, for reasons that are a mystery to me, our NextDoor site took off. And in that short time, I’ve met (or logged on and discovered names and faces to go with houses) a dozen neighbors I barely knew before. I’ve learned about rental properties, goods for sale, and that spate of thefts and what to do about it.
In fact, as soon as I’m done writing this, I plan to wake up my perpetually asleep teenager and help him post an announcement offering to mow lawns. He has already asked people we know and gotten nowhere. But I’m sure that if he widens the net to include our immediate neighbors (even those not in our current social circle) and adjoining neighbors, he’ll soon be busy. Hopefully that will solve his cash-strapped summer problems without necessitating that he don a hair net and work a deep fryer.
Written on July 10, 2013 at 5:42 pm , by Christina Tynan-Wood
Ah, summer. The beach, sunscreen, kickball in the street, plenty of time to wander the neighborhood with a best friend. Oh, wait. That was my childhood. My own teens seem to see summer as a time to stay in and stare at a screen. And that means I’m working from home to see that they don’t do that. But not all screen-staring is bad. In fact, here are a couple of sites I’m encouraging my teens to stare at.
My daughter Ava took guitar lessons for a couple of years. She enjoys music but the lessons were a hassle. We drove across town at the end of the day at a time when she was tired and I needed to make dinner so we could spend 30 minutes in a lesson. Getting there and back took longer than the lesson. When she wanted to quit, I didn’t put up much of a fight. But she likes music and needs a teacher. So when TakeLessons.com sent me a note to explain that this service would help me find a local teacher, I checked it out — hoping for one she could walk to. Takelessons.com didn’t have a teacher near me. But it did have a better option: virtual music lessons. I quickly roped Ava into trying it. She loved the idea and sat down in front of her laptop with her guitar at the scheduled hour. She met up with her teacher, Gordie, on Skype. He asked a few questions about her ability, tested her answers by asking her to play. And when he’d judged her level, asked her what she wanted to learn. She immediately named her two favorite songs “Therapy” and “Lullabies” by All Time Low. Gordie, unfazed by this not-a-classic request, impressed us both by Googling the songs, listening to a few bars, determining which of the two she might be able to play, and breaking it down into cords for her – all in just a few minutes. He threw some fingering cords up on her screen and walked her through the easier of the two songs until she could play it passably well. He told her she would have to learn a new cord, which he showed her, to master the other song. And the two said goodbye and signed off. I didn’t have to drive anywhere! I didn’t even put on shoes. It was cheaper than our in-town lessons and the instructor was better. And the lesson took only as long as the lesson, no traffic jams. But it had another benefit beyond those obvious ones. Ava didn’t have to jump up, pack her stuff, and get in the car when the lesson was over. So she kept right on playing for another hour until she had mastered that cord. Now she wants another lessons so she can learn her other favorite song. That’s screen time I will gladly pony up for — once a week.
TakeLessons.com, 30 min: $20
Summer camp can be expensive and require a lot of driving to and from. I just can’t do that every week in the summer, much as I like that it when my kids get out and do something productive. But if they stay in and do something productive, I don’t have to worry about the heat, transportation, or paying for camp. To that end, Google and MAKE magazine launched Maker Camp, a free virtual summer camp for teens aged 13-18 years. It started Monday and runs through August 16 on Google+. It’s bound to appeal to this age set: Aside from it involving their favorite screen-staring activity, it’s just a bit geeky and will have them building DIY projects to trick out their bike, build a rocket-propelled toy car, or play with computers. Every week they post new projects so, it’s a great, ongoing answer to that idle lament of summer, “I’m bored!” And it’s not just canned videos. It’s led by a team of DIY obsessed counselors. Kids follow along at home using Google Hangout’s video chat feature. All they need is a computer with an Internet connection. Every week ends with Field Trip Friday — a virtual field trip conducted via Google+ Hangout (past trips include NASA and Ford’s Innovation Lab).
Maker Camp, free
Written on July 3, 2013 at 3:36 pm , by Christina Tynan-Wood
“Mom! I need a new computer,” my son (16) lamented when his new game would not run on the under-powered machine he hauls to school. I didn’t bite.
I can postpone this purchase for a while. Right now, I figure, if he needs a state-of-the-art computer for gaming, he also needs a job and a way to pay for it. But that computer is on its last legs. When he goes to college next year (if all goes well), he will need a new computer. Not a gaming computer — that wouldn’t help his grades — but a good machine for school. He will also need tuition money, gas money, and a lot of other things. It’s a lot for a parent to fund.
So I’m thrilled with a new idea that came out of Microsoft recently: The ChipIn program. Microsoft set the site up to help college-bound kids crowdsource the purchase of a new computer. With it, he will be able to direct the goodwill and offers of help from family toward a good computer at a good price. Microsoft has already contributed 10% toward the purchase price. And whatever computer he chooses will come with Office 365 University already installed. (That’s a four-year subscription to Microsoft Office for college students that would otherwise cost another $80.)
Here’s how it works: He logs on, picks the computer he wants from the selected-by-Microsoft-for-school-and-already-discounted list, and creates a profile with the name of his college and graduation date. Then he can just click to share his choice with his social network via Facebook, Twitter, or email. His grandmother, uncle, aunts, and even friends, can log on to give whatever they like from any internet connection. ChipIn keeps track of all the contributions. When it has enough to pay for the computer, it will ship it to him.
I do nothing, which will give him ownership over the process and help my budget. And family members don’t have to worry that if they send him cash, he’ll spend it on a tattoo, a road trip with friends, or fast food. They’ll know it went to something he needs for school. Relief, all around.
Written on June 26, 2013 at 10:42 pm , by Christina Tynan-Wood
When I was starting college, my father gave me a computer he’d picked up at a yard sale. It was old, even at the time, but it changed my life. I think everyone who uses a computer would agree it is hard to imagine life without one. There is little doubt computers have changed our culture.
There are a few luminaries who made this disruptive change possible. And one of my heroes is Steve Wozniak (AKA Woz). He built the first personal computer and founded Apple Computers with Steve Jobs. In doing so, he changed the way most of us live and started us on a road that we are still traveling. So I was thrilled to attend an event at Ford Motor Company’s Detroit headquarters, where Woz was scheduled to talk on a panel about how technology is currently transforming the way we drive cars.
There is a beauty to the fact that event was at Ford. Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile. He made it possible for everyone to have one. Similarly, Steve Wozniak didn’t invent the computer. He made it possible for everyone to have one. And it is that democratization of these machines that caused the disruptive changes to the way we live.
I expected to be in geek heaven at this event. And I was not disappointed. I’m still pinching myself. Was it just a dream?
What I didn’t expect was to come away with some inspiring parenting advice. It wasn’t offered as advice. It was just a story Woz told us. But parenting advice is what I took from it.
He told us that, as a shy teenager, he enjoyed playing with transistors and programming. (We sort of guessed that, right?) And he desperately wanted a computer. But like most teenagers, he didn’t know a lot about the world. And like a shy teenager was often too shy to ask.
“I told my Dad,” he explained. “That one day I would own my own computer.” His father didn’t tell him this was impossible. He didn’t say he’d need to be rich. He simply told him the truth: Computers are huge and cost as much as a house.
“That stopped me,” Woz said. “But only for a minute. Then I told him that, okay, I would get an apartment.” And he went on to reduce the size and cost of the computer so that he — and the rest of us — could have an apartment sized one.
As parents, we want to protect our kids from disappointment. And we want to steer them in the right direction. But it was an obstacle – the cost of a computer – that motivated Woz to change the world. So maybe we only need to point out the truth, with all its bumps. Maybe the kids will find a way to change it?
Okay, so here is a truth that everyone on that panel wanted to point out to any of us in the audience with kids. The technology industry needs engineers. And your kids — whatever their interests — might make good ones. The kids who study STEM subjects and get the right technical knowledge, will create the future. They don’t have to build the computers anymore. That work has been done. But whether they want to tell stories, make films, design clothes, or build cars, they will — increasingly — need to be (some sort of) engineer. Engineers create things in our world. “Kids think it’s math and it’s hard,” says Woz. “But math can also be lots of fun. And engineering is really creative.”
Who designed that car in your driveway? The iPhone in your hand? The tablet you are reading on? The video game your teen can’t stop playing. Engineers. Or at least designers, writers, and artists with an understanding of engineering.
There is a good reason Wozniak has spent so much his time in the last couple of decades bringing excitement about math and engineering to schools. Think about it. What if he had decided math was too hard or engineering too boring?
Written on June 19, 2013 at 6:05 pm , by Christina Tynan-Wood
I’m planning a summer vacation. Yet it is with some trepidation and a healthy dose of courage that my husband and I undertake a journey that involves sharing a car, train, and hotel with a pair of teenagers who can go from delightfully entertaining to possessed by snarling demons faster than Wild Bill Hickok could slay an evil cowboy.
As prevention against the rise of these demons, I pack a bag of travel entertainment gear as carefully for these nigh adults as I did when they were squabbling toddlers. The contents of that bag has changed drastically over the years. But the back-seat squabbling remains surprisingly unchanged.
Beats by Dr. Dre Solo
When these headphones arrived at my house, I handed them to 16-year-old Cole. I’d noticed in my travels that young men wear these as much as a fashion statement as a way to listen to tunes. And, by way of a social experiment, I wanted to see how he would react to them. He gave me a look of deep appreciation, gave a friend a look that said, “I told you my Mom was cool,” and put them on. He has yet to take them off. I don’t think it’s entirely about fashion. He says they sound better than any (we have tried quite a few around here) headset he’s ever worn. But he has thanked me at least a dozen times for making him so cool. For my part, they make the arguments between him and his sister go away. He even helped me supervise her math homework wearing them. He calmly explained the math and didn’t listen to anything she said. That doesn’t sound like it would work. But the math got done without any arguments. I don’t have to pack these, he will. I’m just saying. They come with us.
HMDX Jam Party
When contented silence has been achieved by way of electronics and headphones in the back seat, my husband and I like to listen to an audio book to make the miles driven fly by faster. Our rental car doesn’t always let us listen through our phones, though. And that’s where we keep our library of books downloaded from Audible.com. So a portable Bluetooth speaker goes in my travel bag as well. This one is easy to use, easy to carry (with its cute pop-up handle), holds a charge for 12 hours, and comes in vibrant colors that make it easy to find in that bag. When we get to our destination, it’s versatile enough to bring tunes to the hotel room, or play the audio for a movie running on a tablet. We could even be “those people” at the hotel pool if the mood to party takes us.
My kids grew up on technology. So it surprises me that they aren’t better at keeping it charged. No worries, though. I have taken to always sporting a battery charger because – especially when I’m traveling — I rely on my smart phone. And it’s always when I need it most at the end of a long day, that it decides to start demanding a charge. So I am a huge fan of the in-purse backup battery. At the moment, I am sporting this adorable iGO Power Trip 4700 in my favorite color: purple. When a teen laments a dead gadget, I hand it to her. She can charge at breakfast and it will still have power for me later in the day.
The Hub 6000
The iGo will charge a teen’s phone and still have plenty of power left over for mine later. But if everyone’s gadget dies at the same time, having only one battery charger will cause my young demons to start snarling “I want it!” at each other. So my travel bag also has one of these super-powered, multi-gadget chargers in it. It will charge my daughter’s phone and my son’s (Lightening) iPod at the same time. It will even simultaneously keep a third device powered and mobile if someone (that would be me) was clever enough to bring a compatible USB cable along as well. (Yes, I do have a cable bag with every possible device cable in it. Does the mother of an infant have baby wipes?)
My kids have data plans on their phones. But on a long trip, they will burn through their cheap-o data plans in an hour. One of these, plus a month-to-month data plan that I turn on for trips, will buy me much more connected quiet time. It’s touch screen makes it easy to connect and see what’s going on with the data connection. Apparently taking a road trip with teens in the year 2013 requires IT support.
AT&T.com, $169 without a plan
Written on June 12, 2013 at 2:43 pm , by Christina Tynan-Wood
Father’s Day is coming up fast. I have a gift all wrapped for the Dad in my life. But my teenagers prefer to leave all such matters to the very last minute. At that last minute, they will also be very short on cash. I’m not planning to take them to the mall, hand them money, and handle this for them. But I do plan to have some inexpensive or free last-minute ideas at the ready when they come to me desperate for something they can wrap and hand to Dad.
Microsoft Office 2013
I gave my two students a subscription to Microsoft Office 365 Home Premium ($99 a year) to share because I want them to do well in school. I rely on OneNote (included in that subscription) to take notes and keep track of research projects. It’s a great student tool. And this latest version of Office also comes with Word, Publisher, Excel, online storage for their files, and a million other useful student tools. That subscription is good for five computers, though, so they could easily gift one to Dad so he can work smarter, too. That won’t cost my teens a thing.
A Better Digital Card from Paperless Post
Dad starts every day with a cup of coffee and the news and his email delivered to his iPad. So the kids can start his day right — even before they even crawl out of bed — by sending him one of these wonderful cards from Paperless Post. Not cartoonish or smarmy, these cards are all class. And they simulate the experience of opening a paper card right on a digital device. So Dad can get a created-by-the-kids card without the angst associated with what to do with it – Keep forever? Throw away? — once he’s opened it. Many are free. Some cost a few PaperlessPost.com coins. Packages start at $5 for 25 coins.
A Good Audio Book for his Commute
Whether Dad commutes by foot, train, bus or car, listening to a good book while he does so will transform the time he spends getting to and fro from wasted to “me” time. My teens can’t afford to buy Dad a three month subscription to Audible.com ($45.) But – with a last-minute chore list and some help from me — they can scrape together $20 for a good book on Amazon that will play on an the Audible app on Dad’s phone. When my kids ask me for a suggestion, I’ll recommend any of the rather dark hard-boiled mysteries by Adrian McKinty narrated by Gerard Doyle. Or perhaps the wonderfully narrated by Colin Firth version of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair. Either will have Dad happily setting off for work…and perhaps walking a bit further to enjoy another chapter.
Written on June 5, 2013 at 12:35 pm , by Christina Tynan-Wood
Did you see the tech gift guide I wrote with my husband, Dan Tynan, in the June issue? (It’s not online yet.) There are lots of great tech gifts in it. But that story contains only a fraction of the cool gear we wanted to include. Here are some more ideas.
Nokia Lumia 521 Windows Phone
Is your grad old enough to take over his own cell phone plan? Sweet! Get him started right with this slick, capable, social connector Windows phone. Not only will it keep all his people glance-close on the start screen but he will be thrilled with its tight ties to his Xbox. And once he’s hooked on having it always with him, it will help him with his studies: Microsoft Office? And the best student tool I know of: OneNote. All right there in his pocket. That’s how to stay on top of school work. The low price and a no-commitment, no-contract plan from T-Mobile will help him handle his own fiscal autonomy, too.$129, Walmart
Ventev Colorful Chargesync Cables
I couldn’t persuade Dan or my editor that these cables would be well-received as a gift. But I love the idea of a pretty color-coded bouquet of chargers that solve – at a glance – the need to plug in all my devices and get them working again. Choose different colors for each of her gadgets, tie them up with a ribbon, and she will thank you every time she plugs in her favorite device.
Dad? Grad? Who doesn’t want one of these? I find the full-size iPad a bit big to cart around. But this little one fits easily into a purse, backpack, or hand. But it opens the door to quick bill paying, going to school via iTunes U, games, social media and the 300,000 apps in the Apple App Store.
$179 with a plan, Target.com
If your grad could use a little help keeping up with life or the demands of college, this phone will have his back. News? Directions? Help keeping track of his schedule? Yep. And in ways you never thought possible. Example: It will watch his schedule and start making suggestion when it’s time to get going. And it will amaze him with all the cool new technology it sports – such as the ability to watch his eyes to see if he’s still reading before powering down the screen. It will handle the minutia of life so your little genius can focus on decoding the genome – or whatever his passion happens to be. And you can pick one up at Target Mobile so it’s easy for you, too.
Is Dad trying to take better care of himself? Encourage that by giving him this stylish wristband that tracks steps, connects him to a community of other UP users for encouragement, and watches how well he’s sleeping so he can be happy, healthy, and hip. Comes in a great choice of colors (so you might want one yourself). He won’t lose it because it never has to take it off – not even to shower. And syncing it to his smart phone or tablet, is as easy as plugging in a pair of headsets. So it won’t add to his frustration. (Don’t tell him but this is what I’m getting Dan.)
Written on May 29, 2013 at 1:51 pm , by Christina Tynan-Wood
My son and all his friends are looking for summer jobs. And since all the job applications – for Target, Starbucks, and fast food places – are online, I’m sure a lot of pre-screening of applicants happens on Google.
From a teenager’s point of view (as far as I can tell) the online job application is the greatest thing since sliced bread. No getting dressed, driving around town, acting like a dork, filling out paper applications, and being polite to strangers. Job hunting can be done at any time of day and in any outfit. And when Mom and Dad ask if you are looking for a job, you can say, “I just applied at Target today.” (Even if you are still in your pajamas and have no intention of leaving the house.)
Even if teens don’t have to put on a suit and shoes and fix their own actual hair, though, they do have to do it virtually. Even if your teen is an honor student who has managed to get through high school (so far) without photos of beer guzzling or other youthful mistakes posted online, he probably has not thought to create an online snapshot of the things that makes him awesome. And having no online reputation can be almost as bad as having an embarrassing one – especially if there is someone out there with a similar name who pops up in a search.
Take a second to Google your teen. What comes up? Silly commentary on Twitter? Embarrassing photos? A YouTube video from fourth grade? Someone else? Yep. So it’s probably time to start creating an online presence that portrays the best parts of your teen’s life — that kid you know someone will want to hire, accept into college, or – yes, even – date.
This is often fairly easy to do. Post some pictures, links, or commentary of her accomplishments – that garden she’s proud of, the soccer game she’s looking forward to, the science project that won an award — to Twitter. Create an About.me page that highlights AP classes, interests, accomplishments, work experience, artwork, goals, dreams, and aspirations. When people Google her, they need to find something — preferably something accurate and flattering.
If the results you turn up are more than you can fix with a little positive boasting, you might want some help. In fact, everyone – not just your teen — could use a little help maintaining and monitoring their online reputation.
In the past, getting help with this from companies like Reputation.com or ReputationChanger.com was prohibitively expensive for this sort of situation. But a new site, BrandYourself.com, founded by a pair of college students who found themselves in need of reputation management services but unable to afford it, has stepped in to help. The basic service is free; premium services are $10 a month.
The site got started when co-founder Pete Kistler couldn’t get an internship because he was being mistaken – on Google — for a convicted drug dealer with the same name. He sought help and was quoted $8,000/mo. by reputation management firms. This was more than he could pay. But he and his friend Patrick Ambron, CEO and co-founder, saw this as an opportunity. If Pete was in this situation, other people must be, too. So, in 2009, the pair got to work creating a service that anyone could afford. Today universities like John’s Hopkins and Syracuse University purchase BrandYourself’s premium product ($10/mo.) for students and alumni.
This site helps you control what turns up when someone searches on your name by asking you to input the sites you would like to showcase. And it allows you to create a profile page that is optimized to turn up on the first page of a Google search.
I may not be coaching my son on what to wear to apply for jobs but I am sitting down with him and going over his online reputation. And it helps to have not only a tool he can use to take care of this but Kisler’s tale of reputation woe – instead of my son’s mistakes, which only makes him defensive – to illustrate why this is important.
Written on May 22, 2013 at 5:56 pm , by Christina Tynan-Wood
I was in a flurry of preparation for a trip to Europe. I had a million things to do. And I was worrying about leaving my 14-year-old daughter Ava home alone for a night while I was gone. (My husband and son had college-tour plans while I was away.) Ava assured me she was excited about getting some “alone time.” But she’s my baby. I was fretting.
In the midst of this, I took a call from some folks at Vivint, a home security company. They wanted me to try their home monitoring system because it was – they said — like some of the “future” technologies I’d covered in “Your Future Home.” It would tell me when my kids got home and let me see who was with them.
If I hadn’t been right in the middle of fretting, I might simply have said, “No thanks! I have to pack.” But as they explained how great it was for keeping an eye on a house when you aren’t in it, I started to imagine my trip with the option to also be a fly on the wall back home.
So I agreed. A few days later, a bright orange truck pulled into my driveway and a team of friendly installers busied themselves setting up a control panel, door locks, cameras, window sensors, and smoke alarms. (Component prices vary; monitoring starts at $50 a month.)
When they left, the only thing that was really noticeable was a touch-screen panel on the wall in the kitchen and the fancy new locks. We threw out our now-obsolete door keys and learned our new access codes. Bonus: I don’t have to worry (not that it had occurred to me yet) that one of my kids will lock themselves out when I’m too far away to help. We each get our own code to lock and unlock the doors. And I can issue a new code right from my phone if I want to let someone – repair person, house guest — in.
I showed my daughter how she could simply push a panic button on the wall panel. “So if there’s a fire or Zombie Apocalypse,” I told her. “Or you cut yourself and need medical attention, push that button and tell the person who comes on the intercom what’s wrong.”
Next I grabbed my laptop and went to the system’s online dashboard. I can lock and unlock doors, arm the security system, and view the video feed from my computer, phone, or tablet no matter where I am – as long as I have an internet connection. I told it I want to be alerted whenever anyone unlocks the door and anytime the fire alarm is triggered. When someone unlocks the door, it also grabs a short video so I can see who it is and if they are alone.
“Hah! I told the dog. “No parties for these teens when I’m away.”
I experienced an odd mix of despotism and maternal affection. But my fretting was gone. Now all I had to do to check on the kids was pick up my phone. That quickly became reflexive. If I miss them, I have a quick look home.
A few days into my trip, I got an alert that the fire alarm had triggered and the alarm system — unable to get a response — had sent the fire department. I looked in on the family room and all seemed well. But I called anyway.
“I was cooking.” My husband admitted. “And I didn’t answered my phone because it was set to silent.” An embarrassing false alarm. Now the fire department knows how reckless a cook he is. But it got me thinking about how inadequate our old fire alarms had been. If there was a fire when no one was home, their annoying chirping wouldn’t have done any good.
On the night my daughter was home alone, I looked in on the house whenever I had a Wi-Fi connection. I mostly I saw empty rooms because the cameras are trained only on high-traffic areas and she was in her room. I frowned at the dog, though, who was making himself quite comfortable on the couch when he thought no one was looking. But at least if the dog was sleeping, all was well.
As I was about to board a plane, I took one last look. And there was Ava, eating pizza, cranking up the music, and — could it be true? — doing homework. She was clearly enjoying her alone time – even while getting some work done.
I decided I should do the same.
I noticed, though, that she had left the front door unlocked. So — maternal fly on the wall that I now am — I clicked a button on the Web portal and locked it. Then it was easy to turn off my phone and enjoy my flight.
Written on May 15, 2013 at 4:17 pm , by Christina Tynan-Wood
As summer gets closer– at least the part where the kids aren’t in school – my panic gets more intense. My two teens are looking forward to having “nothing” to do. And I feel for them. It’s been a long year of math, enforced reading, homework, and high-stakes tests.
But what about me?
I don’t want to spend my summer chasing kids away from screens and worrying that they are rapidly forgetting all the math and science they worked so hard to cram into their brains. I am picturing the wet blanket I am about to become — tossing around pat phrases like, “Turn that thing off and go outside!” “Why don’t you read a book instead 144 texts that all say LOL?” — and I don’t like the image.
So I’m hatching a series of anti-wasted-summer schemes. Here are a few I’m considering.
Apple Camp is a free three-day session held at the Apple Store. If they are set on sitting in front of computers, at least they could learn some STEM skills and meet some other kids, right? These camps are for kids ages 8–12, though, so mine are too old. But maybe yours would like to work with Apple Store employees to shoot footage, create an original song in GarageBand on an iPad, and learn the ins and outs of iMovie to put it all together in a film on a Mac. At the end of the three days there is an Apple Camp Film Festival where campers debut their masterpieces. Move fast though. These are free and fill up fast. In fact, why not sign up to be notified when registration opens here. Registration opens in June and camp sessions will be held in July and August.
A Tablet Loaded with Learning
I know I will cave in to my teenagers relentless badgering for screen time eventually. So I’m grabbing a tablet and installing the YouTube app on the front page. It’s the first thing they they tap when they look at that screen. But I will subscribe to Steve Spangler Science, (see video above) MinutePhysics, and few other smart channels that specializing in entertaining learning from EDU YouTube. That way, at least some of the time they spend in front of a screen will make them smarter.
Let the Machine do the Nagging
Computers excel at marking time. Teens? Not so much. So I plan to offload some of the pestering to the machines. That way, when two hours – or whatever my kids and I have negotiated – is up, the computer will do the nagging and enforcing. I don’t have to use any of my classic wet-rag phrases or deal with the inevitable argument that follows. So, today, while the kids were at school doing their high-stakes testing, I installed the free Norton Family on all our laptops. Now, I can log on from any computer, tablet, or smart phone I have and set a limit on how long that laptop will let my kids stare at the Internet. If I’m worried about what they are up to online, I can also use it to monitor and block specific sites or categories.
Take Control of the Internet
I also use Linksys Smart Wi-Fi app on my phone to control when they can go online and what sites they visit – at least if they do it through my wireless router. Controlling access this way requires a bit more set up and the right router but it’s a great way to set a bedtime – or a designated outside time. And it gives me so much power! When I say, “Shut that thing off and go outside!” and receive, for my trouble, an argument or whining, I just pull my smart phone out of my pocket and kill the machine – or at least everything that’s interesting on that machine – with a couple of taps. And, just like that, everyone is doing what Mom wants — even if that means going outside to “do nothing” – just to I’ll turn it back on.