May 10

We all know of the many actions we can take to make the world a better place: hold the door open for someone else, recycle your garbage, volunteer for a charitable cause. The list is infinite, in fact. Yet, as our society migrates to the web, many of us spend almost as much time online as we do in the “real world.” And, increasingly we recognize that online actions can be just as devastating or rewarding to individuals as those actions made in the physical world.

As the first generation of children grows up immersed in the digital culture, parents and society in general, need to consider ways to bring the same level of care in teaching kids social responsibility and kindness in real life to their online life. By creating a set of standards based on our real life knowledge, we can provide kids a map for navigating the internet with much needed compassion and responsibility.

Here are ten ways we can start to build a better internet for both ourselves, and our kids:

  1. Be respectful when you comment. There is nothing wrong with feeling passionate or angered by a post, but insults and derogatory phrases should stay out of it.
  2. Before posting a questionable video or photo of your friend, tell him your intentions, and respect his wishes if he asks you not to. Everyone makes mistakes and just because it happens to get caught on camera, it doesn’t mean that person should suffer its infinite presence online.
  3. Make an effort to post or message at least one compliment or uplifting thought every day on another person’s social media page (be it Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, or a blog).
  4. When you read a mean or derogatory post about a person you know, defend him or her by either trying to have the post erased or by posting a kind comment to offset it.
  5. Every day, the internet is offering an increasing number of opportunities to educate kids, adults, families in almost every facet of academia and society. Seek them out. Expose yourself and your kids to the diversity of this world in a way that was simply not possible only five years ago.
  6. Set a rule for yourself to never post anything hurtful on your Facebook page. Ever.
  7. Refrain from visiting sites that encourage vices or addictions, (you know the ones).
  8. When you read an article that you really enjoy, leave a comment! That will encourage the site’s author to publish more similar pieces.
  9. Share your personal positive experiences, perspectives, or stories by starting your own blog on a theme near and dear to your heart. While we can’t prevent detestable content from being published online, we can do our best to overpower it by publishing even more “good” content.
  10. Seek websites that offer fulfilling advice or uplifting content and make an effort to visit them regularly for inspiration and positive reinforcement.



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Video Round-Up: What My Kids Watch When My Kids Watch YouTube

May 05

Three boys hovering over a glowing screen is a common scene in my household. Every once in a while I ask, “what are you watching?” Invariably it’s some inane YouTube video they are more than eager to explain to me in painstaking detail. Or worse, they ask me to watch it with them. As a digitally-concerned parent, I usually oblige. So for today, on my first Porridge Report video round-up, I am showcasing my sons’ top YouTube video selections.

what kids watch online

For the record, I was a little shocked by some of the videos they recommended (and apparently watch regularly). However, I try to maintain an open mind so that my kids continue to share their viewing habits. Tonight they excitedly told me of two favourite videos, which I watched for the first time while writing this post. I was surprised by the questionable content. But on the other hand, I also recognized that the videos are very funny and somewhat reminiscent of the Mad Magazine issues I perused as a tween myself – vulgar, satirical, and edgy – and, well, sort of brilliant.

Below is one example of the hundreds of videos created by This one is called If Video Games Were Real (my 11-year-old was adamant that I watch this one). It’s pretty darn funny, but there are references to fake breasts, cursing, and violence. I get that it’s all satire but I’m a bit concerned that my young boys are watching this. Note to self: schedule a “chat” tomorrow.


This next one is by The Computer Nerd. It’s pretty lengthy. Clearly these young YouTube sensations know how to hold a boy’s attention for longer than any mother or teacher (I can barely hold any child’s attention for more than 4 seconds). It’s a funny commentary on Justin Bieber’s song Baby, although it still manages to have one violent scene.

What are your kids watching online? Be sure to ask them once in a while. You may be surprised by what they tell you.

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Tip #29 – Teach Your Kids that their Private Parts are Private Despite What They See Online

Apr 03

Offset sexual imagery kids see by teaching privacyOn my eighth birthday, I’d received a light pink bikini as a present from an aunt. While the adults ooh’d and ahhh’d at how cute it was, I feigned gratitude as I my stomach twisted into knots. Me? Wear that little thing? I was finally persuaded to try it on, but then refused to leave the bathroom to let anyone see me. “Yep, it fits,” was all I could muster before twisting the new bikini into a ball and hiding it in the corner of a bathroom cupboard, never to be seen again.

I was, you see, exceedingly modest. Even at the unripened age of eight. And, I felt too exposed – too naked – in anything smaller than a tank bathing suit. Growing up in an ultra-conservative and Catholic household, my mother had taught me and my two sisters to take great care in protecting our youthful bodies from overt display. This, she hoped, would help protect us from being leered at by potential predators and from ever wanting to play “doctor” with the boy down the street. (Which we would never have dreamed of doing.)

Fast forward to today, and this rigid thinking might easily be dismissed as old fashioned and out of touch with the laissez-faire attitude of sexuality. After all, thanks to television, movies, and the internet, a child can access anything from girls in skimpy bikinis to full out pornography with a few typos in a google search (or not). The less supervision in a household, the greater the likelihood a child will be exposed to inappropriate content. Hence, the disturbing stories that pop up every once in a while about young students performing sexual acts in school that, frankly, they should neither know about, nor want to engage in.

Some school systems across North America have resolved to push kids into more robust sex education as the solution for preventing today’s over-exposed kids from taking part in illicit behaviours. Their reasoning is based on the assumption that every kid knows about the birds and the bees (and then some…), so better to learn from a trusted source than a hip hop artist. And, if they don’t, well, just trust us (the school) to introduce every 12-year-old to the concept of fellatio. Uh, really? While I agree with the underlying logic of this thinking, I also believe that kids would benefit from one simple message that seems to have disappeared completely from this discussion. A message that can help prevent them from even wanting to role model what they see online.

Teach them to “Protect your privates.”  I know – has a real ring to it, doesn’t it?

Parents and teachers could use sexual education as a platform to not only teach young kids about sexuality, but to instruct them that, despite the proliferation of naked body parts on screens, their own private parts are, well, private. That is, not for sharing, unless Mom and Dad say it’s okay (like the doctor’s office, bath time). Kids would, in fact, be learning modesty. (Remember that word?)

I’m not calling for a country-wide ban on thongs, nor pleading for a distribution of turtlenecks to be worn by every female. I’m just pointing out the power of the simple message to kids –  keep your private parts private – to help offset the endless stream of sexual messages flooding our kids’ vision.

We can’t stop them from seeing the Victoria’ Secret TV ads that pop up unexpectedly, or LMFAO’s Sexy and I Know It music video proliferating YouTube, nor naked pictures of almost every celebrity of the last decade. (I’m hoping we can prevent them from seeing online pornography, but even that is not a guarantee.) But despite all their exposure, kids are capable of understanding that, although these adults participate in such behaviour, you need to be respectful of your own body’s need for privacy.

As they grow to adulthood, and have developed a context for sexuality, they can make set their own limits for what is acceptable. After all, it happened to me… I now wear a bikini.

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Tip #14 Cutting Back on Couch Time will Increase Your Life Span

Dec 22

We all sit on our butts too much these days. Between our office job, Googling, Facebooking, playing video games, and watching TV, few of us can complain that we don’t get enough opportunity to just sit and relax. This habit of parking our rears is apparent through all generations – from young to old. In fact, one of the biggest dangers of the internet and digital technology may be it’s negative effect on our health.

Here are some interesting statistics about the state of our health due to sedentary living, as compiled by U.S.-based organization Medical Billing and Coding:

  • The average North American sits 9.3 hours per day (versus 7.7 hours of sleep);
  • A person who sits more than six hours per day is up to 40% more likely to die within 15 years than someone who sits less than three hours;
  • Those who sit three hours or more per day watching TV are 64% more likely to die from heart disease, and;
  • Of those who watch three hours per day, those who exercise are no slimmer than those who don’t.

The solution to our life-shortening habits is, actually, quite simple. We need to turn off the TV, or whatever screen engages us most, and get off the couch. The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend kids include at least one hour of physical activity per day, and adults at least 2.5 hours per week. These may be helpful for some, but how many parents are actually keeping track of their kids’ activity? Probably very few. Rather than wringing hands over the amount of time kids are getting vigorous exercise, parents might be better off keeping track of how many hours their kids are sitting watching TV, YouTube videos, or playing video games. Less time in front of a screen will likely translate to more time on their feet.

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Tip #17 – Encourage Responsibility In Front of Camera and Behind Camera

Sep 09

A new word has popped up in the English language that truly defines the digital culture in which we are now all living.  Sousveillance.  Unlike surveillance, in which we are watched by those from above (government, police), sousveillance is the monitoring of events by those “below” – that is, regular folks like you and me: Aunt Martha, a passing stranger, and that annoying kid from down the street that you’ve never really liked.

When cameras first came onto the scene, worries abounded over the likelihood that Big Brother would invade our personal space, forcing citizens to consider their every move lest they upset the powers above.  As it turns out, it’s the people surrounding us in our every day lives that have the greater capability to sully our reputations or applaud our heroics.  Admit it – you’ve nervously glanced around to ensure no one videotaped you tearing a strip off your eight-year-old.  (He deserved it, of course, but YouTube videos don’t typically offer context around their one-minute snippets).

I cringe when I see teenagers behaving badly in front of the camera.  I thought I behaved well back then, too.  I didn’t.  It wasn’t until I hit my mid-30′s and started raising my own kids that I fully understood how self-absorbed, overly emotional, and embarrassingly I behaved on occasion.  Thank God there is not a shred of proof.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for today’s kids.  Filmed mistakes will live for all of cyber-eternity for way too many of them (cue the sad-faced emoticon).

There is a teachable lesson here.  Teach kids responsible use of the camera.  I encourage my kids to make videos to their heart’s content.  After all, video is now one of the most celebrated forms of art whether it’s worthy of that accolade or not.  At the same time, I remind them to do so responsibly.  Does the video portray anyone in a negative light?  Is personal information exposed in the video that may put anyone in peril? Will the video destroy someone’s reputation?  Although my kids are still too young to truly understand some of these concepts, I believe the more I talk about responsible use of a camera, the more likely they’ll ask themselves these questions as they grow older.

On the flip side, my kids are reminded to monitor their actions when the camera lens is on them.  What may seem hilarious to a kid and his three buddies, can explode into an angry backlash by another (often much larger) audience.  Kids should ask themselves: Do they trust the person behind the camera?  Does he or she post every video onto YouTube the second it’s filmed?  Would he or she want thousands of strangers to see them behave this way? The great thing about acting like an ding-dong the odd time is that your few witnesses either forget about it over time or simply stop talking to you.  That’s not the case if it’s on video and reaches 331,457 views on YouTube.  Ouch.

I know I can’t prevent my kids from building a cyber-album of their journey through childhood to teenage-hood, but hopefully I can help them create one that is more flattering than embarrassing.  One in which they can look back at and laugh, rather than sob.

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Encourage Responsibility In Front of, and Behind, Camera

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