3 Ways to Stay Informed While Taking a Break from Nonstop News

I almost missed daylight saving time in California. While taking a break from nonstop news, I turned off the TV and other devices over a sunny spring weekend. The 24 hour news cycle had taken its toll and I was motivated to power off during the glorious daytime weather.

By Monday morning I was already behind, almost missing the time change and nearly making the kids late for school. I needed to do a better job of staying informed without getting overwhelmed by the constant flow of breaking news. I needed a refresher on media literacy!

Thankfully, Common Sense Media broached the topic with their latest report called News and America’s Kids. Although the research is focused on kids and teens, many of their findings and recommendations are also helpful for adults. While reviewing the report on how young people gather and perceive the news, I found excellent tools for becoming a smarter news consumer. This report prompted me to take a step back and rethink my own approach to news.

I’ve started to focus on three main areas: 1) the quality of news content, 2) the method of news gathering, and 3) the awareness of news habits. By paying attention to each topic, I’m confident I can get back on track. Here’s the plan!

1. Think critically about the quality of news content by brushing up on media literacy.

If you navigate to the homepage of Common Sense Media, under Parent Concerns, the first option is News and Media Literacy. Click that! In this section you will find ways to spot fake news, reviews on credible news sites, fact checking resources, and explanations about journalistic definitions of fact versus opinion. I especially like News Literacy 101 which offers tips and techniques for thinking critically about information. Should we believe everything we hear? Who is the source? What are some alternative points of view? How objective is the segment? Do you notice any bias? These are all great questions to help discern the credibility of incoming information.

2. Manage methods for consuming news into more predictable formats. Don’t forget about slow news options like print, podcasts, or standard daily news segments.

In search of slower, long form news, my husband and I went on a mini date to the magazine stand at Barnes & Noble. We picked up a few periodicals we’d missed over the years. From the progressive left to the conservative right, there was a wide range of titles to choose from. Immersing ourselves in a few magazines was a refreshing way to engage in thoughtful discourse during these interesting times. The time delay of seeing information in print (on topics that were headlines a week prior) can lend perspective on hot button issues.

Likewise, podcasts and TV shows deliver current events in a dedicated listening setting. With a set timeframe to listen to the news, I’m less likely to be distracted by random headlines throughout the day.

3. Recognize binge behavior. Awareness is a great first step to help minimize wasted time.

I recently organized my iPhone into specific screens with folders of apps for various uses. For example, I have a folder titled “Binge Break”. In this folder are social media apps like Instagram and Twitter, in addition to news apps like The Skimm. Putting the BINGE label on the folder has deterred me from accessing it more often than necessary. It makes me think, “Is it worth my time to binge, or should I be doing something more useful?” The simple but effective tactic of organizing a desktop or device should not be undervalued when so much of our lives are spent online.

Taking control of media input us helping me think more deeply about a topic rather than merely reacting to it. Thanks Common Sense Media for getting the ball rolling!

Lorraine Akemann | Co-Founder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo credit [Flickr creative commons]

Talking with Teens about Snapchat Groups

Snapchat announced a new group chat feature just in time for the holidays. Groups allows up to 16 friends to communicate on a chat. Separate, 1 on 1 chats can occur simultaneously by tapping a group member’s name on the bottom of a group chat. Returning to Groups is as simple as a swipe.

I’m not an avid Snapchat user, and nor is my daughter, but many of her friends are on Snapchat. In case she gets called into group chats with the release of this new feature, I want to have a conversation about how it works.

Conversations about new technology can provide interesting ways to keep up with the trends. This way, my daughter knows I’m aware of the new feature, and we have an open communication channel for learning how to use it best.

Here are some topic ideas for talking with teens about Snapchat Groups:

  • Can you show me how to use this new feature?
  • What do you like about it?
  • Do you have any concerns about group chat?
  • Do you communicate the same thing to a group that you would in a 1 on 1 conversation?
  • What would happen if you thought you were talking 1 on 1, but the message instead went to the whole group?
  • How can you navigate carefully to make sure you know where your message is being sent?
  • Even if the group chat is deleted after 24 hours, how many people might have saved a portion of it? How is this possible?
  • How many times per day or week do you check Snapchat? Do you think Groups will impact this frequency, either more or less?

These are merely some ideas for starting points. It’s not always possible for every parent to know every feature of every app on a consistent basis. What is possible, is to care consistently about how are kids are managing themselves online – and then talk about it!

Read the Snapchat app review from Common Sense Media

Common Sense Media has a thorough Snapchat review covering how Snapchat works, potential parental concerns, user reviews, and more talking points for families. Dig in at Common Sense Media, or watch the video if you’d prefer a visual summary.

Happy chatting, and happy holidays!

Lorraine Akemann | Co-Founder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Social Media Etiquette For All Ages

On Thursday November 3rd cyberbullying became a campaign headline. Melania Trump acknowledged the good and bad sides of social media culture in her Pennsylvania speech, along with the intention to address youth cyberbullying as a national conversation. As the wife of a man who is known for his Twitter outbursts, the irony of this point was pounced upon over the Internet and Melania herself quickly became a subject for the nation’s cyberbullies.

As sarcasm exploded through the #MelaniaTrump hashtag, I wondered about social media etiquette for all ages, adults included. As a Bay Area resident who lives within miles of city with a major high school suicide problem, I believe that teen anxiety and depression may be due in part to information overload accessible through social media.

Social media is a powerful tool that can celebrate and sting at the same time. For kids, it’s especially powerful because the world is watching, which is much different when just the playground was watching. Increased audiences bring increased pressures and vulnerabilities. Children need safe space to grow their confidence and self-esteem, but when social media metrics assess every action, this safe space is at risk of disintegrating.

If we get to a point when youth is more concerned about building their audience than about building their character, we have a problem.

If we get to a point when adults are poor role models for children because they are displaying disrespectful behavior online, we have another problem.

We’ll have fewer problems if people of all ages have the tools, inclination and capacity to demonstrate respectful and productive social etiquette online. With the right examples, maybe it’s possible to turn a negative culture into a positive and encouraging culture.

Let’s start with a few tools for social media etiquette

1. Understand the definition of cyberbullying

Let’s be realistic with the risks of going online by fully understanding the definition of cyberbullying. If you know what to look for, you’ll have the tools to protect yourself. Common Sense Media has a guide for parents called Cyberbullying, Haters and Trolls. It includes answers to popular questions about how to recognize cyberbullying, what to do if kids are bullied, and how to teach safe online behavior.

2. Follow great people

With one look at the Instagram grid view for any online profile, you can quickly assess whether images are appropriate or inappropriate for a particular age group. For my young teens, we opt to follow role models in their area of interest. This includes, for example, social media accounts for sports, art, or dance. Finding positive role models amidst the vast landscape of shocking celebrity profiles can take some time but it’s worth the due diligence. In addition, we make sure plenty of close friends and family members are also linked to our children’s online networks.

3. Use platform features to create safe boundaries

Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram all have privacy settings. Accounts can be customized to be private, blocked, or unfollowed. If harassment is on the rise, ignore, block, delete or report those people or posts. These tools are available and easy to use, and can be effective in setting up smaller, safer spaces online.

What ideas do you have about social media etiquette for all ages? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments so we can continue the learning process.

Lorraine Akemann | Co-Founder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo credit: Creative Commons Image

Media Calculator Helps Families Plan Screen Time

New recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics about children’s media use were released in October 2016. These recommendations include tools like the Media Calculator to help families plan their screen time.

Media Calculator from the American Academy of Pediatrics

The Media Calculator has color codes for categories including sleep, school, sports, meals and other everyday activities. These categories are distributed across a 24 hour day, and can be can be customized to match specific schedules.

While creating a schedule, users can visualize how their time is spent. If an average schedule includes sleeping, eating, finishing homework and after school activities, any leftover time for media use is scarce. Working with this dynamic visual diagram can help people understand the tradeoffs and plan time wisely.

media calculator

Family Media Plan

If you like the Media Calculator, you may also appreciate their Family Media Plan. The media plan tool covers house rules for screen time, digital citizenship and online privacy. Each topic helps families think about their definition of healthy media use for the household.

Media planning can also be done with a written agreement or contract. I particularly like the example from Common Sense Media which covers a range of ages along with prompts for family discussion.

Evolving Definition of Screen Time

Be sure to reference the Common Sense Media Screen Time Q & A. This resource is a helpful reminder that screen time has multiple purposes and evolving definitions. For example, limiting screen time to 30 minutes a day for a student who has two hours of homework may not be possible when classroom homework moves online. A middle or high school student may need several hours of screen time just to complete their homework.

Recognizing the difference between recreational screen time and essential screen time is necessary for mapping out realistic and successful media plans.

What is your family’s plan for screen time? Do you think these tools can make a difference? Let’s connect in the comments!

Lorraine Akemann | Co-Founder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo credit: Flickr

Family Media Agreement by Common Sense Media

As kids become active on social media, setting expectations upfront about respectful media use can help deter future problems. My kids and I wrote a family media agreement before they received their first phones. For example, one of our primary household media rules is to have all devices turned off overnight to ensure a smooth and restful bedtime. That rule is still effective.

Revisit family media agreements because kids and technology are often changing!

But revisiting media agreements on a regular basis is probably wise as kids evolve through technology and peer groups. So when my daughter’s school sent out a link to Common Sense Media’s Family Media Agreement, I took notice. The agreement was easy to read, customizable, age-appropriate, and respectful to both kids and parents.

In other words, I liked it so much I wrote the team at Common Sense Media to request permission to share it here on the blog. Let’s take a look!

family media agreement


Elementary, middle and high School

Scrolling through the pages, you will see how the contract covers a wide age range: elementary school through high school. Whether your kids are young or old, media has an important impact on their daily lives. It’s never too early to start thinking thoughtfully about how families use technology.

Stay balanced

I especially like Common Sense Media’s point about staying balanced:

I will be mindful of how much time I spend in front of screens, and I will continue to enjoy the other activities – and people – in my life.

Have a conversation

Page four of the agreement has some excellent conversation topics to cover as a family. How long should media be used each day? What happens if a device gets lost or stolen? What does it mean to be respectful online?

Make your own

The last page of the agreement has fields to fill out based on the conversation above. I like how Common Sense Media  realizes that all families may have different needs, and allows enough space for kids and parents to come to their own sense of understanding.

If you like it, please share!


Lorraine Akemann | Co-Founder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Hollywood App Prompts Mother-Daughter Conversations

I saw the richest mom-with-app on the cover of Forbes magazine while browsing through an airport bookshop this summer. Intrigued, I purchased the reading material for my next flight. By the end of the day, I joined millions of others who downloaded Kim Kardashian’s app to my iPhone. Let’s see what it takes, I thought, to play the game of fame.

According to the Forbes article, the app called Kim Kardashian Hollywood is a remake of a preexisting app called Stardom. Glu Mobile, the company who made Stardom, approached Kim with the opportunity to rebrand the app. She went for it, and according to her remarks at the BlogHer16 keynote, she really enjoys the creative process of bringing app ideas to life.

Hollywood app prompts mother-daughter conversations

Sometimes I get so caught up in what’s educational for my kids, that I forget about what’s conversational for my kids. Hot mainstream topics, like the Kardashians, can be interesting to talk about with young teens. Instead of ignoring these types of media choices, I’d rather learn more about what makes them so popular, and then debate the findings with my girls.

Playing the app myself, I was faced with making choices about clothes, photo shoots, meeting with agents, and decisions about whether to attend a party or go to work. Within 30 minutes, I had over a dozen family discussion points. That does not include tidbits the girls found, like whether to make the game character be snarky or apologetic.

Hollywood app prompts mother-daughter conversations

Before getting carried away with our characters, we stopped the clock and had mother-daughter conversations based on the following questions:

  • What do you think about skipping work responsibilities to be more famous? 
  • What is snark? Why would a snarky comment be valuable in the game?
  • What are your favorite clothes in the game? Do you feel they are appropriate? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think the app is so popular?
  • If you made the game, how would you change the app?
  • What do you think are the pros and cons of being famous? Would you want to be famous? Why or why not?

Before long, we forgot about the app and resumed our regular summer routines. No one in the family wanted to sacrifice their chore money for virtual clothes. And that was fine with me. But meanwhile, we got to benefit from some girl talk by playing Hollywood for a day.

Lorraine Akemann | Co-Founder and Editor | Moms With Apps

10 Discussion Questions for Kids Who Play Pokémon GO

Commentary about Pokémon GO has turned into a national conversation, and opinions about real life gaming have been prolific on tech and parenting blogs. As a blogger myself, I’ve been reading about the advantages and disadvantages of being able to catch Pokémon with an iPhone. But one comment that really caught my attention simply stated the importance of discussion during the gaming experience, which is a helpful reminder worth sharing more broadly.

In the August 2016 issue of Children’s Technology Review, Warren Buckleitner published his thoughts on Pokémon GO:

“The game is loaded with local history facts, which are tied to earning the Pokéballs needed to catch Pokémon. But without discussion they’re only facts. Ask your child to share and discuss what they find.”

When reading Warren’s comment, it felt relevant not only for gaming, but also for parenting. Having discussions with my kids helped me progress through 13 years of parenting. A consistent back and forth exchange of ideas enabled me connect with them to reach agreement and understanding.

In that light, Pokémon GO can be a great source of conversation starters for families.

Here are 10 Pokémon GO discussion questions for kids

  1. Can you show me how to play Pokémon GO?
  2. What are Pokéstops?
  3. How do you catch a Pokémon?
  4. Who are your favorite Pokémon? Why? How many have you collected?
  5. Where have you found the most Pokémon? Why do you think they like that location?
  6. I keep hearing about Pokémon game terms, like gyms, eggs and leveling up. Can you explain those terms to me? What do they mean?
  7. Have you ever been in a Pokémon battle?
  8. What is your Trainer name? Why did you choose it?
  9. What are some ideas you have to stay safe and sensible while playing the game?
  10. When would be a good time to turn the game off? Or on?

Next time you find yourself in the virtual reality of Pokémon GO, remember to ask a child these Pokémon GO discussion questions to start a conversation about what they think!

For more information about Children’s Technology Review, visit www.childrenstech.com or follow them on Twitter or Instagram at @childtech. Don’t miss CTREX, their massive online database of over 12,000 academic reviews of children’s interactive media products. CTREX is an ideal search tool for teachers, librarians and parents who are constructing their digital learning initiatives for the new school year.

Lorraine Akemann | Co-Founder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo credit Flickr

The Number One Rule For My Daughter’s iPhone

We gave our oldest daughter an iPhone for her 11th birthday. Now she is 13. For two years we have followed a consistent rule for the phone, and I believe this rule has helped our family adapt to technology in a balanced way.

The Rule Is Simple

The number one rule for my daughter’s iPhone is that every single night the phone is powered off and stored in the dining room drawer. Powering off a phone and storing it in a common area overnight does not sound revolutionary. The rule does not contain parental controls or overbearing stipulations. The rule is simple, and maybe that is part of its effectiveness.

The Rule Involves The Whole Family

The rule does not single out my daughter as the only one responsible for implementing the rule. Life gets busy and it’s easy to forget details like putting a phone in a drawer. Part of the evening for everyone (Mom, Dad, Daughter, Sister) is to make sure devices are powered off and in their place.

If one person forgets, another remembers, and asks out loud if the phone is put away. Asking out loud reminds and reinforces the importance of the rule. It becomes everyone’s responsibility to put technology to bed.

The Rule Is Consistent And Habitual

Because the rule occurs every night, the practice gains consistency over time and turns into a regular routine. This habit is woven into a rhythm of family life. For our family it now feels natural to power off and put away a phone.

Not all families experience this type of consistency. Some kids spend different nights of the week in different locations. In this case, it would be up to the caregivers to standardize the routine and expectations, regardless of whereabouts.

The Rule Was Stated Before The iPhone Became Available

I kicked off our daughter’s iPhone gift with a letter about appropriate usage that we both agreed upon. This agreement eliminated battles over personal devices from the beginning because expectations were understood upfront.

But letters and contracts may not be the most intuitive tool for families. For example, if you ask me right now, I can’t recall the specifics of our agreement except for the one rule about putting the phone in the drawer at night. Maybe for us, the most valuable part of the agreement was to form that rule. The act of stating ideas in advance can help promote good habits before bad ones get in the way.

The Rule Supports A Bedtime Routine

Bedtime routines are traditionally associated with raising young children. But as digital media plays an increasingly central role in daily life, bedtime routines can be helpful at any age. It can take a lot of willpower to create tech-free zones with devices in arm’s reach. The nightly ritual of powering off and creating physical separation provides a buffer to foster distraction-free sleep.

The Rule Employs Trust

Let’s say the phone is in the drawer at bedtime, but a mouse sneaks out to get the phone in the middle of the night. Does that make the rule a total dud? Sneaky mice are a possibility in any household. In our home, I’m a light sleeper, and I hear it when kids wake up. I would recommend choosing a drawer that is closer to the parents’ bedroom to increase the likelihood of hearing any mice!

While it’s technically possible that every night for the past two years my daughter has woken up to sneak a peek at the phone, it’s more likely that she has appreciated her sleep. I’m making a choice to trust her, and right now that feels like the right choice.

The Rule Helps The Morning Routine

In the era of instant gratification, have you noticed that powering up a phone takes awhile? I love this tendency about electronics because it makes powering off even more effective. The instantaneous rush of phone-checking can be deterred by the inconvenience of grabbing the phone and waiting for it to power up. All ready for school? OK, now grab your phone, or better yet, forget it completely until later in the afternoon.

The Rule Is Contagious

To have any credibility with my family I’m supposed to be modeling this rule myself. I have seen the rule in action with my daughter, and the healthy overall tone it’s setting for media use. On nights when I put my phone to bed early, I also sleep better and feel more balanced.

Our household rule may have been created for my daughter, but it benefits me as well. It’s pretty interesting to hear myself admit: “I want to be more like her.”

As a parent, I’m always learning. I am interested to hear about your household rules for media management. What works, what doesn’t? 

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Adam Fagen]

Screenagers Movie Review

Screenagers Movie About Teens Behind Screens


I recently saw the movie Screenagers – Growing Up In The Digital Age. This documentary analyzes the behavior of teens behind screens, specifically addressing addiction, attention span, and the appeal of social networks. As a parent, I found value in the movie’s ability to show how extreme situations can sometimes happen in regular families. By shining a spotlight on screentime addiction, viewers gain a frame of reference for evaluating their own habits.

Three Real Life Situations That Catch Your Attention

There are three storylines in Screenagers that caught my attention most. One was about a college freshman who avoided academic pressure by constantly playing video games, eventually dropping out of college. Another was about young teenagers who are obsessed with posting selfies and generating likes, to the point where they discuss fake likes. Then there was a grandmother whose efforts to intervene in her grandson’s gaming resulted in angst and friction for both of them.

These extremes all generated from well intentioned families who got caught in out of control situations. By sharing these stories, other parents have context to gauge where their own families fall in the range of extremities.

Benefits of After School Activities

I also noticed when the movie talked about after school activities as a counterbalance to screen time. As a parent I think it’s a constant effort to get the right balance between downtime and scheduled activities. Hearing about the benefits of scheduled activities was somewhat refreshing after noticing so much backlash over the years about over scheduled kids. 

Find a Screening Near You

To view a trailer or find a screening of Screenagers, visit the ScreenagersMovie.com website. Whether you have teenagers or just toddlers, understanding the pros and cons of digital media and its progression in our daily lives can be increasingly helpful to parents.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Garry Knight]

Artful Photography From Young Teens On Instagram

At this stage of family life I’m able to observe young teens as they start to join Instagram. My initial concerns about bullying or addiction have been appeased by their thoughtfully considered creative expression through photography. I realize that managing technology in the home is going to be a constant effort, but I’m also grateful that our first foray into social media has been a positive one.

To illustrate my point, I received permission to share these images from a special young teen in my Instagram network. As we become surrounded by messages about technology overriding our lives, I hope this post can provide some confidence that when used responsibly, digital tools can help us explore the world in innovative ways, bridging perspectives across generations.  

photography photography photography photography photography

These photographs show me someone who notices a range of life’s details from tiny to grand. As a kid, I don’t think I ever noticed the view my father always talked about. But with tools in hand, young teens now have an opportunity to participate and play in that view. And therefore the view can become much more fun – for everyone.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit [Flickr | Axel Naud]