Apr 14

Evaluating a New Technology Tool for your Family

Tuned-In FamilyWhat follows is an excerpt from my new book: Tuned in Family: How to Cope, Communicate, and Connect in a Digital World

One of the biggest challenges parents face when it comes to digital communication technologies is knowing which tools are the most appropriate for their children and for themselves.


Because the tools themselves change every day. New advances bring new conveniences and greater ease of use and sharing. Your children’s schools may introduce a new learning management system that allows you access to grades and information, a new video game entices your child, an upgraded cell phone operating system adds more bells and whistles. Keeping up is hard enough for yourself, but add in the responsibility of your children and it becomes even more complex.


A simple way to assess the appropriateness of a digital communication technology for your family is to run it through the following test which I call “PAVER”. Think of it as paving your way to technology success.

  • Purpose: First determine the purpose of the tool. Is it a word processing software? Is it an application that helps you check the weather? Is it a console game? Is it a social network?
  • Age Appropriateness: Then, is it age appropriate? Is your child mature enough to handle the environment and user interface? Can they manage the responsibility of the tool?
  • Value: Next, assess the value of the tool for the family. Does it provide entertainment? Is it educational? Does it allow for ease of connection for your family?
  • EULA: Then be sure to read the End User License Agreement (EULA). This is where the company that makes the product lays out the legal implications for use of their product/service and they tell you limitations as well as what they do with content. Be sure you agree with EULA and are willing to conform to requirements.
  • Reviews/Resources: Finally, take some time to read reviews, view videos, and utilize resources to learn more about the tool so you are educated.

Tuned-In Family: Technology Evaluation
Consider the different games, devices, and software you use throughout your day. Think about the same things your children use throughout the day. Have you ever really thought about the purpose of it in your life? In your children’s lives? What value does it bring to your life?  And of course, do you understand the End User License Agreement — all that wonderful legal stuff that comes with the apps and software we all use every day? This is what PAVER can help you with.

I highly recommend these resources to help you as you consider different technology tools for your family.


Apr 14

Tuned-In Family: Setting Ground Rules

Tuned-In FamilyWhat follows is an excerpt from my new book: Tuned in Family: How to Cope, Communicate, and Connect in a Digital World.


When it comes to managing the communication technologies and tools in your family, the rules of use are an important component to teaching best practices, respect, and appreciation for what the tools can accomplish. They are also useful for dealing with the issues that can come with these tools. From health issues caused by too much screen time, to user immaturity and misunderstandings of what content is private or not, individuals run into issues all the time.

Setting strong ground rules within your family is the fastest way for your family as a whole to better appreciate the tools and respect the boundaries you all set together. These ground rules will need to be revisited and discussed often, especially if you have teenagers in the home!

While each family will need to determine the ground rules that work best for them, I’ve compiled a list of recommendations that I have utilized within my family. I’ve also created a handy chart, which you can download here or from my resources section at Tunedinfamily.com in the resources section, that you can work with as you develop your own rules.

My five basic ground rules:

  • The “real friends” rule: When engaging in any online social context the rule for your children until they are older teenagers should be the “real friends” rule. Whether it is video games (computer or console), social networks, music services or even texting, making sure everyone in the family understands the difference between real friends and virtual friends is important. The sooner young children understand this, the better off they will be as they grow older.
  • Read the EULA rule: This one we all have to do a better job on. Often the “legalese” can seem overwhelming, and we just click the box and move on. However, there are many interesting things buried in the EULA, such as who owns the content you post, age restrictions, privacy information, and how they use data collection to manage marketing and advertising efforts. All of this information is very important in a society that is moving more and more towards 24/7, always-on access.
  • What’s the value rule/Tell me why rule: This rule becomes more critical as children get older. But start them young and have them explain why a new tool would be valuable for them or why they need it. This is one that I have employed with my daughter a great deal – the fine print on it is that “because my friends are doing it” is not a good reason. This is also a good way to ask them if they’ve read the EULA (reinforcing rule #2 above).
  • Ask my permission rule. As we take sharing for granted we often forget that each of us has a different threshold for privacy and sharing. Making this a family rule means that all of you must ask permission before posting images or information about one another in social contexts. This is another one that will become more obviously important as your children get older. Giving them a sense of control over what you post and where you post sets a great foundation for some good conversations. It’s how my daughter and I have been operating for quite a few years now. I respect her privacy and her wishes on what I post on my social networks about her, especially with pictures. She does the same for me.
  • Screen time rule. Rather than set time limits with the assumption that all screen time is “play time” emphasize the importance of walking away from screens for health reasons. Extended time in front of a screen, whether it is for homework, watching movies, or playing video games is not healthy for the eyes, mind, or body. Taking breaks, moving around, and changing your “visual inputs” are the foundations for this rule.

These five basic rules have been very useful with my daughter and me. Perhaps you as a family will come up with more rules that fit your needs better. Use these as a starting point, and talk through the consequences for breaking the rules. And remember, everyone in the family (including parents) need to adhere to the rules and take the consequences for breaking them. We’ve had consequences that range from permanent loss of access to a social network to having to removed content and posts from different social media sites.

What are some of your family ground rules?  Feel free to share them below in the comments section.


Feb 14

Are you Building Your Child’s “Permanent Record”?

Tuned In Family Book CoverWhat follows is an excerpt from my new book: Tuned in Family: How to Cope, Communicate, and Connect in a Digital World.

 “According to a recent study, 78% of parents helped create their children’s Facebook pages, and 7.5 million users are under the age of 13. The way your kids use social today will shape their future. It’s time for everyone to get educated on how — and how not– to live online.” (Amy Jo Martin from FastCompany: http://www.fastcompany.com/3010034/the-truth-about-kids-and-social-media)

She goes on to stress that helping our children to navigate this online world is no different than teaching them how to ride a bike. It is important because, “…kids are building a personal brand from an early age.”

What does she mean by “personal brand”? Branding, as a practice in the marketing field is all about communicating to a group of people the attributes of a product or service. To create an image and connect emotions to a product so it is memorable, something that people will talk about, and buy. Think of your favorite brands and consider the emotions you connect to that brand. It could be a brand that was in your house growing up, one that, as a parent, you continue to use because it is not only a good product, but one that  evokes memories and pleasant emotions.

With the advent of digital communication technologies, most specifically tools that make it very easy to create content that is posted online, in a public forum, we can extend this product branding idea to people. Every time we create content about ourselves, we are building the framework for our personal brand and for what people will think about us.

But now we can see this online branding with our own children. Those teens who are athletically inclined and want to be noticed by college recruiters are building online portfolios of their skills in video and pictures so that they can be easily found when someone does an online search for them. We also see high school students who use pseudonyms so people, in theory, cannot find them in online searches.

And more and more it isn’t our children who are just building their personal brand. Families, parents, grandparents, and siblings are all building that brand for our children before they even have a say or any control. Pictures, videos, status updates, blogs chronicling a mother’s pregnancy, Instagram pictures of baby’s first anything, apps that help you build your children’s timeline – all of these tools have been created to help us share and remember the highlights of our children’s and families’ lives, but at the same time all of this content is being stored in some capacity and, if it is public, it can be part of online search results.  These tools are powerful; they create a digital footprint of who we are, what we like and what we don’t like. When we include our children, and sharing content about them, it is hard to think that what we share about them today on the internet, is becoming part of their “permanent record”. But it is doing exactly that.

Parenting is a big responsibility. Want to add an even bigger responsibility to it? Consider this: what you decide now about how you will share content about your child will follow them into adulthood  as it never has before. You are starting the digital footprint of their life.

Every tool you use to share content about them has the potential to make that content public, to link it to other data about your child, and to create paths to discovering more about you as a family for marketing purposes or security reasons. What does this mean for your family? It means becoming very aware of the implications for the content you share and how you choose to share it. Remember to always think of your content on a scale of private to public. This is why starting now to figure out what you will share and what you will not share is so important.

Tuned In Family Content Sharing

Thinking through a content filtering process will help you do just that.

  • What information will we not share online? This can be anything from phone numbers and addresses to specific types of content, such as pictures of your children, your home, or new purchases.

  • Who will you share what information with? For example, think about pictures of your children. You might be fine with sharing those pictures with your immediate family and close friends, but you might not want to share them with anyone else. You may even go so far as to segment your children’s pictures into those that you will share more publicly, such as little league pictures and event pictures, but milestones like losing the first tooth may be only for close friends.

  • Where will we share information? This is where your audit comes in. Using the example above, if you have a Facebook account and Flickr (a photo sharing site) and you write your own blog, each of these tools probably fall on your “private” to “public” spectrum. Facebook may be a space you share with your close friends and friends, your Flickr account may be private for just family, and your blog may be completely open online for anyone to read. A picture of your child in their team little league photo might be something you would post on Facebook (or share, because the little league team has already shared it), but the missing tooth might go on Flickr, and you never post pictures of your children on your blog.

Remember to think about your content in a new way. Before you post anything, pause and consider:

  • Type of content: Are you sharing a picture or a link to something?

  • Purpose: What is the purpose for sharing your content? Is it to celebrate something? Is it to stay connected to family and friends?

  • Audience: Who is your intended audience for your content? Is it your co-workers, the public or your family?

  • Permission: Do you have permission to post this content? Do you need someone’s permission? I’ll get more into the importance of this idea later in the book. Basically, it is always polite to ask first if you plan on posting content about someone other than yourself.

  • Level of privacy: How private should this content be? How public can it be?

  • How will you share this content: Is this better emailed to a select group of individuals? Use your technology audit to determine which social tool you use would be the best place to share this content.

  • To post or not to post: The final step is to decide if you should post the content online at all. All of the other steps lead to this point which is your final decision mark. Remember, once you post it…it’s out there.

If you follow these steps you will have a much better approach to posting any of your content in a way that acknowledges what it means to be building an online digital identity for yourself, your family, and your children.

Jan 14

What is Your Family’s Technology Philosophy? #tunedinfamily

KidsvtbookpicWhat follows is an excerpt from my new book: Tuned in Family: How to Cope, Communicate, and Connect in a Digital World.

I don’t have to tell you that technology has created a whole new challenge to parenting. As parents you already know that technology tools can be on one hand, super amazing for teaching and connecting our children, while at the same time, they can also be distractions that might prevent them from experiencing the “real world” in favor of a virtual world.

Parents all over are trying to figure out ways in which to balance the good with the bad. Some impose screen time limits, while others decide to go “technology free”, and others allow their children to explore and use all manners of technology. There are websites to help guide parents including the very helpful and useful Common Sense Media and many books and blogs that provide advice on how to protect your children and your family, keep them safe online, how to set limits and create boundaries.  And yet, what I’ve found is all of this falls short if you don’t first take a moment or two or even three to consider carefully your own Technology Philosophy.


Before you can begin talking with your family about digital technologies and setting ground rules, it is important to set a foundation that is grounded in your family’s values, beliefs, and culture. It is also helpful to take a moment and really think about how virtual/digital spaces though different are often more similar to face-to-face situations than we realize.


Why is this important? Because it is very easy for us to believe that the virtual/digital spaces we use are somehow different from being in a face-to-face social situation with another person. And yet, fundamentally they are the same. We are surprised that bullying happens online but, is it really any different than any other type of bullying? We expect people to be respectful of others when they are in person, why shouldn’t we expect the same behavior online? The technical differences are simple:

  • In a face-to-face situation we must face a person directly, which makes most of us pause and consider their reactions and feelings because we can see them react as we are having a conversation. Online, we cannot see that reaction, unless we are engaged in a real time video chat with someone.
  • Online interactions are often permanent and can follow us for years, while face-to-face meetings are captured in our memories, but may not have the same permanency as those online.
  • In an online environment messages can travel farther, faster, and are often magnified in ways completely out of our control, while face-to-face interactions and messages don’t travel as far, as fast.

Starting from the realization that however we treat people in person and however we want to be treated in person is how we should act and react online sets a positive tone for your entire family. In other words, starting with the technology and settings on that specific technology (whether it is something like XBox Live or Facebook) ignores the more important aspect of acknowledging the individual, their maturity level, their interests and their goals, as well as the behavior you want to model for your children.

A family’s approach to communication technology should be about how all the individuals in the family can contribute together to learning and adapting to technological change. It’s about building a family learning community if you will. It is not about who has the power to control, but rather, how we all gain knowledge together to overcome fear of the unknown.

The first step in that process is for everyone in the family to identify their own technology philosophy. Begin by thinking about your own comfort with communication technology and how you use it. Start by taking a look at this diagram from Forrester Research called the “Social Technographics Ladder”

Forrester Technographics Ladder

from: http://forrester.typepad.com/groundswell/2010/01/conversationalists-get-onto-the-ladder.html

As you look at the Technographics Ladder can you find yourself? Your partner? Your children? Other members of your family? How different are you? What’s your primary role? Your secondary? I fall into many of these roles. I am a Creator because I publish my own blog. I’m a Conversationalist because I post status updates, and comments on multiple social networking sites. I’m also a Critic and a Collector. On some sites I’m a Joiner and I am often a Spectator as well. Perhaps the one thing I am not is an Inactive. This is why I’m recommending you consider a primary inclination and a secondary one as you look at these categories. In my case, I would say my primary is a Conversationalist and my secondary is a Creator. Why? Because I spend more time in conversation than I do in the creation of content. I would peg my daughter as a Spectator and Conversationalist with a growing interest in becoming a Creator.

What comes next is simple. Use the Tuned In Family Technology Philosophy Worksheet I’ve developed to help you really think about your own and your family’s use of technology.  Once you’ve completed it, sit down with your family and talk through how you each filled it out. There are no right or wrong answers. Essentially, this is the discussion that will form the foundation for your family’s technology philosophy. It is in this discussion that you might have to tackle differences of opinion about areas such as:

  • Where do each of you fall on the “Technographics Ladder”? How does that impact your attitude about online communication tools?
  • Are you a family that is open to technological change? If parents are comfortable with changes, but tweens in the household aren’t, how will you address this?
  • Are you more conservative in your approach to allowing new technologies in the home? What happens if your child has a strong technological aptitude? How will you foster this while still being true to your family values?
  • Are you education-centric and want just educational applications in your home? If so, how will you compromise with the gamer in the family?
  • Are you concerned about privacy and security? How will you all agree on content that you will share, or not share? How will this impact family passwords or virus protection software, to name only two examples?

Once you’ve had your discussions it’s time to use the space below to write down your technology philosophy. Some examples that might help you include:

As a family we believe that technology:

  • Is an important part of our daily lives. It makes things more convenient, is a big part of our entertainment, and helps us to stay connected. As a family we respect that each of us has a different comfort level with technology and because we respect each other, we agree to ask permission before posting content about the family on open social networks. We will respect the importance of health and wellness and set guidelines that will help us all use technology wisely. We will share our knowledge with each other because technology always changes.

  • While ubiquitous, should be managed carefully. We believe that all things should be balanced and come in moderation, and technology is a tool that can help us get things done, but should not be the focus of our lives. Screen time in all things will be limited, boundaries will emphasize the importance of face-to-face family time and we will evaluate new technologies carefully.

  • Helps us stay connected, have fun, and makes our lives easier and even more engaging. We will explore new technologies together as a family and evaluate each one as a unique learning opportunity. We’ll set rules along the way, as we discover how each tool adds value to the individuals within the family or the whole family.

Using the examples provided, along with the discussions you have had as a family write down your family’s technology philosophy:

As a family we believe that technology:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

And with that you can begin to lay the groundwork for how you will adapt, use, and model technology use in your family.