Tip #28 Add Google to Kids’ Chores

Mar 06

I am a firm believer of chores for kiddos. I hated doing them as a child, and the good Lord knows, I did plenty of ‘em. Among my four siblings and I, we easily clocked in about five hours of chores on a weekly basis. In fact, it is precisely because I hated them so much that I realize their importance.

I knew over the years that the best way to complete chores was to just get’er done as soon as possible. That way I could carry on, burden-free, with what I really wanted to do (like read Sweet Valley High #17: Love Letters). Furthermore, I wholeheartedly agree with the principals behind chores – you enjoy living in this house, you need to contribute to its upkeep. And, yes, I do pay an allowance in the same way I was paid a stipend for my torturous hours of household duty.

Now that the digital revolution has moved beyond the thrills of being new and exciting, families such as mine have come to recognize some computer tasks as laborious, thankless, and a royal pain in the butt. The novelty of switching on the iPad or laptop to search Google has worn off like the silver coating on a cheap mood ring. In other words, digital sleuthing has become almost as much a chore as running errands (albeit, a very lazy way of running errands).

Questions like: what time does the store open? Where is the hockey game? How much does that video game cost at Wal-mart? require a trip to the closest screen where somebody must type in the requisite topic (sans typos). Furthermore, it is almost always delegated to Mom or Dad, not one of the kids, whose specialty is in video games and YouTube videos, right?

Think again. Kids, as much as adults, need to familiarize themselves with the navigation of the internet. In the very near future, digital tools will be the only vehicles to uncover basic information. When was the last time you looked up a business in the yellow pages? (My kids don’t even know what the yellow pages are.) Based on a recent survey by Media Awareness Network Digital literacy is surprisingly low among kids. They lack basic searching skills and have little or no ability to think critically about the website content they come across.

Why is this? I would venture to say that part of the blame lies in us, the parents. Many of us stifle their online freedoms for fear that little Sally will encounter inappropriate content (of which there is an abundance). However, that excuse can be quite easily refuted when one considers the variety of internet filters available today (including many free options).

I’d always assumed my kids, who are no stranger to the screen, were perfectly capable in any online pursuit. So, I was flabbergasted when I read the survey. Unwilling to believe it, myself, I put my 11-year-old son to the test. One particularly frustrating morning, as I meandered through unknown streets, I asked him to look up an address on my iPhone’s GPS. He was clueless. Later that morning, when I drove him to the wrong location for his hockey practice, and shoved my iPhone at him to find out the correct arena (as I peeled out of the parking lot), he was, again, no help to me. And, this is a kid who owns an iPod Touch.

The survey results proved correct, even in my own household where ownership of Apple products was ridiculously high. Sure, they could find their favourite video games and click from one moronic YouTube celebrity video to the next, but they were incapable of basic online sleuthing skills. The kind of ability that every citizen in the Western hemisphere who wishes to participate in society needs in order to thrive.

I have decided that I will no longer be the “go-to” person to look up times, dates, or locations on my laptop every time a question of that nature arises in our home. Instead, I will encourage (read: command) my oldest son to pry his eyes from whatever zombie he’s shooting on a screen and perform the task, himself. Yes, I am bound to experience more groans, eye-rollings, and “Why can’t you do it, Mom?” replies. But, he will eventually acquire the skills necessary to sift through the loads of online crap to find the golden nugget of information we need. And, I will kindly tell him, as I do when he is forced to practice guitar, load the dishwasher, or get dressed for yet another practice, “You’ll thank me for this one day.”

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Commercials for Lucky Charms Right on Your Kitchen Table

Feb 28

I remember reading cereal boxes over and over as a child. I can’t recall any specific reason why I did it, other than it was sitting right in front of me as I slurped my milk-soaked Shreddies. Back then the boxes touted health benefits, which were apparently interesting enough for me to read over and over and over again. Today, I see my kids equally engaged with their cereal boxes. However, the backside is more likely to be illustrated with quizzes, mazes, and scrambled words than nutritional information.

The cereal box is, in fact, one of the most widely read mediums according to General Mills’ Chief Marketing Officer, Mark Addicks. The average person reviews his or her cereal box 12 times. Not surprisingly, the company plans to further take advantage of this branding opportunity by using the newest digital technologies available to create more interactivity. Very likely, this will be most appealing for the youngest marketing segment – kids.

According to a USA Today article, General Mills is considering the addition of QR (quick response) codes to cereal boxes, as well as creating apps for their top brands. With the use of an iPhone, cereal eaters may be able to point to a logo for some sort of entertainment. Needless to say, the motivation is to provide pure entertainment, not nutritional know-how (not particularly surprising since one of their top sellers is Lucky Charms, a food product that is clearly short on nutritional bragging rights). General Mills and Kellogg’s are eager to look beyond the traditional 30-second TV spots by providing videos and games that can be turned on only inches from your cereal-munching face.

What does this mean for parents? Here are a few of my predictions:

  1. Your kids will beg even harder for the “fun” boxes (think: unnaturally bright-coloured morsels of sugary shapes) as you peruse the grocery aisles.
  2. They will fight over who gets to use Mom’s iPhone to watch the game or video.
  3. New breakfast table entertainment will slow down the morning routine the way television programs have a tendency to do. “Wait – I’m almost done playing this game! One more minute.”
  4. Kids lose yet another opportunity for good old fashioned reading – even if it is back-of-the-box fluff, it’s a nice break from animation.
  5. The brands that health-conscious parents least want their kids to eat will be more enticing than ever to their young ones.
  6. More brand brainwashing for kids during a morning ritual that is typically a wonderful time to chat among the family.
  7. Parents will feel more urgency to teach their children to be critical of videos and games provided by brands.

Okay, clearly I’m not a fan of the interactive cereal box. When one considers the enormous potential of a medium that is read almost a dozen times, it’s hard to fathom that the best we can do is give kids more cartoons to encourage them to eat more sugar-laden cereal. I have an idea: how about an interactive box that encourages kids to study for school, listen to their parents, and eat their fruits and vegetables? Now, that’s a box I’d keep on my table all day long.

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Kids Can Be a Scientist in 3-Minute Video for $250 Prize

Feb 21

Parents and kids! This very cool contest, sponsored by invites kids to create their own YouTube video that explores an important issue facing society today. It can relate to health, the environment, world hunger, or any other issue that you think is important.

Just come up with a problem. Turn it into a question. And brainstorm your own solution. Then, through a 3-minute video, propose a creative, original  and scientific solution to your problem. This fun project is a great opportunity to encourage innovative thinking and inquiry-based scientific learning. And, best of all – it makes science fun!


Kids must be between the ages of 6 and 18 years old. The finished video must be uploaded with the title “2012: Science Can Fix That” onto YouTube by March 31st, 2012.

The video entries received are judged based on: concept originality; quality of the solution to the problem; creativity and imagination; scientific truth, ability to inspire; and adherence to the contest rules.

More about the contest is .

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Don’t Expect Your Child to Learn Digital Literacy in School

Feb 17

One of the greatest benefits to digital technology is also one its biggest drawbacks – ability to learn autonomously. Today, any subject or area of interest can be accessed online with a few clicks. From algebra lessons to yo-yo tricks, the barriers to learning have collapsed thanks to digital technologies at our finger tips (literally).

Unfortunately for our children, the communities in which they are learning haven’t yet adapted to this new paradigm of instruction. Although children are interacting daily with digital media through iPods, tablets, computers, and cell phones, a new report suggests they are lacking the critical thinking and ethical skills to both use the internet appropriately and to experience its enormous learning potential.

The report, Young Canadians in a Wired World by Media Awareness Network, indicates that traditional teaching models, such as “drill and kill” where the teacher  talks at the students and demands all students do the same exercises, do not work well with the type of autonomous learning inherent in digital tools. However, a teacher who is willing to collaborate with their students and share in the responsibility of learning is more likely to use online tools effectively.

Technology use is viewed by many teachers – particularly younger, less experienced instructors – as disruptive to the classroom. It is seen as a distraction to students’  learning, rather than a fundamental tool to navigate a child’s natural curiosity on various academic subjects.

Surprisingly, the report also indicates that students are not as internet-savvy as one would expect, given their comfort with the online world. “They really struggle about what to type in for a Google search, and I’m always surprised at the lack of knowledge that students have about how to search and navigate online,” says one secondary school teacher in the report.

Today’s parents, who grew up having to rifle through library stacks and newspaper clippings to research a topic, inherently understand that a source of information needs to be reliable. We are, therefore, less apt to take what we read online as fact. Kids, however, whose reliance on Wikipedia is abundant, may not ever bother borrowing a library for their school project and, instead, assume that the information written by an “expert” on website 1812WarTheories.ca is as reliable as a non-fiction book with a bibliography of scholarly sources.

There is little suggestion in the report that school boards are racing to restructure the classrooms to better incorporate the self-learning style necessary for effective use of digital tools. Certainly, the changes will come, however incrementally. Yet, we have an enormous opportunity to expose our children to innovative thinking within the digital landscape. That’s why parents need to pick up the slack.

Parents should invest one-on-one time with their kids in front of the screen during which time they can help them learn to think critically about their online experience. Rather than letting a child wile away hours watching YouTube videos featuring moronic twenty-somethings pulling pranks, encourage him or her to research a topic of personal interest (it can be anything). Then spend time reviewing what he’s learned and determining which websites provided the best information.

Much like a parent must spend quality time teaching a child how to read, he or she should invest time teaching that same child (albeit older) how process online information. This is a skill, after all, and many kids are not learning it.

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Tip #21 – Have the Talk, No Not THAT One, the Money Talk

Sep 26

If money grew on trees, I’d probably have an easier time explaining the value of a dollar to my kids than what I do with today’s spending technologies.  At least then, my children could see the latest collection of ripened bills (we’d go out every morning to reap the harvest), and the family would discuss how best to use our stash.  Should we save it?  Use it for essentials?  Or just squander it at Banana Republic (even just a bit)?

Unfortunately, my kids are growing up seeing very little exchange of actual cash.  Instead, I rely almost exclusively on my debit card.  This observation is not lost on my kids, the youngest of them recently exclaimed: “I want a card with money in it, too.”  Ah, if only it were so easy.

Soon, mobile payments will become as ubiquitous as the plastic card.  With a quick wave of the cell phone over a scanning device, (such as is offered by the Bank of Montreal and Mastercard for purchases up to $50), and TA-DA.. an item is paid for.  For those of us (read: adults) who keep track of our dwindling bank accounts and bulging credit, it’s a convenient extension of our usual purchasing practices.  However, in the eyes of an eight-year-old who wants to buy the $50 LEGO set, it’s probably more akin to magic.  Why can’t you wave your phone for stuff that I want? he may complain.

That’s why the money talk is becoming as important as that other talk.  Raising financially responsible kids is no easy feat thanks to today’s spending technology.  However, we can help them understand that an exchange of money is taking place by talking about our transactions.

After paying for groceries, for example, explain to your child that the money used to pay for the food has been taken out of your bank account and been sent to the grocery store’s account.  Even while shopping together, be honest about how much you are willing to spend, and why.  Point out the cans of soup that are on sale versus the ones that are not… and why it makes more sense to purchase the sale items.  You can take it a step further by explaining the importance of setting budgets.  The less you spend at this store, the more you can save for other things, like a family vacation.

Our kids earn an allowance for doing chores.  When they want to buy something for themselves, they can spend their own earnings.  Funnily enough, they’re a lot pickier about what they want when they know it’s coming out of their own wallets.  This experience is great training for the days to come when they have more to spend, and more at stake.

Of course, kids learn best by observing their parents’ behaviour.  I turn off lights to conserve energy and lower our electricity bills.  I point out sale prices at stores.  But I also buy plenty of things that are far beyond the periphery of essential purchases.  Usually with a debit or credit card.  Perhaps that’s why one of my sons recently asked how old he had to be to get his own credit card.  As alarm bells went off in my head, I calmly told him that every month, his dad and I pay back all the money we’ve put on our credit cards and that anyone with a credit card needs a job first.  By the time I segued that conversation into his need to do more chores, he’d lost interest.  Work? For money?  Bah!

Yep, son, money doesn’t grow on trees.  And it doesn’t flow out of mobile phones, either.

Image: worradmu / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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