Five Cell-Free Zones To Keep Family Life Centered

I’ve been happy with the balance we’ve found so far with kids, technology and family life. In analyzing our family’s habits, I noticed five daily routines that keep conversations flowing and cell phones in their place. Do you notice similar habits? Let’s drill down:


School pick ups

I like having my phone off or in my purse during school pick ups. When I’m focused solely on the kids after their long day at school, it’s easy for me to pick up on important details like mood and energy level. After school can be a critical time of day for my kids. How we wind down from the afternoon determines how well we boot up for the evening’s responsibilities.

Sporting events

I like watching my kids play, dance and sing — whatever they happen to be immersed in throughout the seasons. If they see me watching, I simply want them to see a parent who is fully engaged. If I use the phone to snap a photo or answer a text, I try to make sure any digital interaction is quick and not immersive, keeping my attention on the game and players. The details I soak up from watching are helpful for family conversation starters about who played what, and how the event progressed.

Short car rides

Local car rides to school or errands around town are opportunities to ask about life’s little details. How is the school project going? What are you planning to wear to the next school dance? What shall we do this weekend? If my kids are studying their phones instead of chilling out, they would have no time or interest in a conversation. Conversations can be key to keeping relationships on track. The more, the better — and short car rides can be an awesome medium to keep them rolling.


This is old news because everywhere we turn we’re being told to have family dinner with no devices in sight. But the sentiment is overplayed for a reason. Shared meals are precious. With everyone in the family at the same table, common ground and lively conversations can overcome age divisions. Rings, dings, chimes are vibrations are interruptions that are best put aside until later.


Have you ever studied which nights you get the best sleep? Are they the nights you’ve burned the midnight oil in front of a screen? Or are they the nights you’ve gotten into PJs early with a book or a magazine to doze off peacefully? I’ll make a bet which situation works best for the ultimate zzzzzs.

That’s five? Oh boy. I have one more. Here is a bonus…

Bonus: Playdates with friends!

When friends get together, magic sometimes happens. Over the years we’ve hosted playdates involving all kinds of activities like dress-up, water balloons, and treasure hunts. These activities might have been overshadowed if phones got in the way. Sometimes I notice (even if a phone is just being used to play music) that it’s way too easy for a kid to take it and get consumed by something else. Playing together without distractions keeps everyone connected to each other and on the same page.

What side-benefits have you noticed from keeping cell phones out of the mainstream path? I’d love to hear your strategies, and add them to the list.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

3 Lessons I Learned About Online Privacy When My Teen Googled Her Name

When my daughter Googled her name following a conversation with friends about who is on the Internet, I turned out to be her biggest online privacy problem. The results of the name search displayed several photos from my personal blog that we thought were labeled anonymously. Uh oh.

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 11.23.32 AM

“Mom, why is my sports photo showing up on an Internet search?”, she asked.

Good question, I thought. I should know better.

And so began a series of steps to understand our digital footprint before she enters the world of social media on her own terms. I learned more from this experience than any privacy workshop, and would like to share how we are addressing and correcting the problem.

Lesson 1: Evolving as a parent

As a parent, I needed to realize that my daughter is not a toddler anymore. She has opinions about how she is (or is not) presented online, and my job is to completely respect those opinions. My old default was to be proud of some milestone and shout it out, just like I did when they started walking, talking or playing. My new default is to chill out. If they have something to share, they will soon be able to share it themselves. For the past two years, my Facebook feed dropped off from family sharing, specifically for this reason.

Lesson 2: Even if I think I’m sharing anonymously, Google still has a way of figuring things out!

I never shared their first and last name combinations on a post, but Google still linked the last name from my profile with her first name, displaying her data on a name search. In instances where I thought she was totally anonymous, Google Plus circumvented the anonymity by linking text from a friend’s comment. Ugh! Should I have been using code names from day one? Or, should I have opted out completely from the online sharing universe?

Lesson 3: Third parties that seem innocuous, like sports leagues, have their own set of issues.

Another photo that popped up was from an old team roster. This sports league required photo IDs for every player, and getting the IDs printed required uploading the photo to their database. Did their database have a delete function for players? No. Were these rosters searchable over the internet? Yes. Do I wish I would have known that in advance? Yes! Lesson learned.

Attempted Fixes

After running a name search on my personal blog, I substituted every first name reference to a generic “my daughter” or “my oldest” or “my youngest”. I did the same thing on Facebook by searching for my daughters’ names and adjusting or deleting any named posts. This seemed to fix the search listings on both platforms. Unfortunately, Google Plus is less cooperative. Even after deleting a post, the search results are still displaying the image. Next, I contacted the sports league director to request player privacy. They responded right away, but it’s taking awhile for the new privacy settings to take effect.

Moving Forward

If I had to repeat the last decade, what would I do differently? Blogging is an incredibly satisfying part of my life. I enjoy sharing stories, forming opinions, and connecting with others online. I also enjoy parenting. Luckily, I have great kids who learn along with me. I asked if they wanted to make the blog private or take anything down, and they said no. They enjoy looking back on our journeys and experiences together, even moreso now that they are becoming digital citizens themselves.

Today, I try to use more discretion before posting, keeping photos generally scenic or symbolic. When a photo is identifiable to mark a special moment, I ask permission first. What started as my personal blog is becoming a shared family archive that we enjoy. As new social platforms emerge, like Instagram, I show them my account and let them scroll through, so we experience (and learn) together how it works.

This strategy seems to be working just fine, for now…until the next episode comes along!

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Road Trip Tips: Use The Apps Already On Your Device

Your device already has great features for road trips. Try them!

 road trip 2-02

The great thing about devices today is that they come pre-loaded with great apps. While you are on the road, consider encouraging your kids to use what the device already offers.

Not sure what we mean? Case in point: the device’s camera and note-taking features.

Encouraging your kids to keep a diary of your road trip is a great way to keep them engaged. It is also a good conversation starter to find out what they thought was most exciting and particularly fun.

Combining the use of your device’s camera and note-taking tool allows your kid to be creative and to learn more about writing. One way we’ve done this is by encouraging the kids to take three pictures a day: One of themselves, one from their place in the car, and one at a stop we make.

Older kids can be encouraged to write about why they took each picture in the notes app (or you can make notes for smaller ones). When you get home, you and your kids can go through and either make a scrapbook yourself, or use an app that allows you to design and print a scrapbook.

When you hand the kids a device, you are giving them a tool with which they can create a memento of your trip easily and creatively.

Encouraging your kids to record your trip will keep them excited (especially after hour five on I-90) and will help them to stay involved in the entire process, including picking out stops. You will be amazed at what they’ll want to record and see!

Sara & Alexandra @actonline

Road Tripping with Kids? Find the Perfect Kinds of Apps for the Trip!


In honor of all things summer, Moms With Apps is happy to bring you tips on including technology in your family summer road trips.  Road trips are a fun, time-honored summer vacation pastime for families. They can, however, also bring challenges.  To make life easier for you and more fun for the kids, we found some road travel facts, some great app download ideas, interesting ways to use your device, and some fun stops you can make that use technology in cool ways. We’ll feature these throughout the week on our Twitter feed and on our Facebook page.

To start the week off, we have pored over the different categories of apps and have identified a few types that are perfect for road trips.  These apps will keep your kids learning, busy, and mess-free!

Type 1: Apps About Maps

You may be driving through cities or states that are brand new to your kids.  Map apps are a great way for kids to learn about where you are driving, and how each state fits into the whole U.S. of A! The map can also answer the question “Are we there yet?” with a precise answer. Map apps that combine U.S. geography and games are our favorite.

Type 2: Art Apps

Sure, giving kids paper and crayons can be easy and mostly mess-free. But instead, why not give your kids an app that allows them to create anything they want? Many creative apps make it easy for kids to find inspiration, especially when the app has some suggested ideas or templates. These apps also allow their drawings to stay in one place until you get home. With an art app, you don’t have to worry about running out of crayons or coloring pages. And best of all, you won’t find crayons wedged into strange places in your car!

Type 3: Storybook Apps

These apps are a great option for a number of reasons. First, you can load up one device with lots of books, making travel lighter for everybody. Your child can pick up a storybook app and read along with the narrator while animations show what is happening in the book. Also, if you are the driver and your child needs help reading, there are a lot of book apps that have guides.  Your child can read aloud to you, and when they struggle over a word, the app itself can help them figure it out, keeping your eyes on the road. Finally, many storybook apps are interactive and keep kids interested for longer periods.  Encouraging kids to read more is always a good thing.

Type 4: Photo Apps

With these fun apps, your kids can snap photos of what is outside the window, what the back of your head looks like, and that great shot of sister drooling!

Type 5: Video Apps

These apps are especially great for kids who have trouble focusing on one movie for a long time.  These curated apps have kid-friendly videos that are mostly 30 minutes or less and give your child endless entertainment while keeping their privacy, and your wallet, safe within the app.

Type 6: Games (For everyone)

Part of being on a road trip is family togetherness.  Many apps encourage the whole family to participate, keeping everybody entertained.  Word games, trivia games, and question games are our favorites!

Sara & Alexandra @actonline

Clash of Clans: A Family-Friendly Point of View

When my 5th grade daughter came home from school, mentioning that many boys in her class often talk about Clash of Clans, we decided to investigate why the app was so popular. Even though I’m hesitant about “addictive games“, I do feel it is important she has enough literacy to contribute to hot topics of conversation. So together, along with her younger sister, we discussed the pros and cons of video games, and brainstormed how we could incorporate Clash of Clans without disrupting our family’s priorities.

With our boundaries and expectations set, we sat together on the couch and downloaded the app. It’s been about three weeks since that day, and so far I have to say: WE LIKE IT!

In summary, the game is set in a medieval village that you control. In your village, there are resources to earn like elixir and gold. Gems are the virtual currency. There are also defenses to build around your village like walls, canons, and archer towers. Troops power your offensive strategy, to be used when attacking another village. ‘Clans’ are when villages band together and share resources, which seems to be a key social element for higher level players. Overall, the decision making opportunities are fantastic for thinking through trade-offs. Also, the graphics are not very realistic (thankfully), so “gore” doesn’t seem to be an issue from what I can tell at the early stages.

Here is a snapshot of our village at week 3, and some observations about what I’ve learned so far:

photo 1

Download together, so parents can pay attention to any notices or disclosures about how the app works.

When Clash of Clans first opened on my iPad, there was a notification about In App Purchases in the app. The notification suggested that preferences can be adjusted in Settings to turn off IAP. I was thankful for this reminder, and I adjusted my settings immediately before proceeding into game play.

Play in a public place (i.e., the living room) and talk out loud about decisions.

I did not want the kids to take the device and retreat away from the family. Rather, I wanted us all to participate and learn together. During the first few orientation screens, the children read the instructions aloud. When we make decisions about how to proceed in the game, it’s a discussion, and we assign roles. I am the “collector” which means I check in during the day to collect the gold and elixir, and execute any of their instructions. My eldest is the “chief strategist” and leads our thought process about what to do next. My youngest is our “advisor” and chimes in with a “yay” or “nay” regarding our decisions.

Have patience.

While it’s true a lot that can be purchased in the app, we’ve been able to participate in everything just by waiting through the time allotment. For example, let’s say you’ve collected your gold and elixir, and now you want to train a Barbarian. You can wait a few minutes for the troop to be trained, or you can “pay” a gem to finish off the process immediately. There are longer wait times for more intense activities, like upgrading your Town Hall. If the kids start playing by making a few decisions each day, and then waiting until the next day to make more decisions, they’ve just learned a lesson in patience AND frugality!

Do research.

So we learned about this guy, Jorge Yao, who topped the Clash of Clans charts for 6 months. This other guy named Flammy held a series of YouTube interviews with Jorge, along with a bunch of game playing tutorials, and videos of live attacks. Listening to this material is a supplementary way to learn about game playing strategy in advance of making your next move. How do the high level players build their walls? How do they deploy their troops? After watching one of Flammy’s tutorials, we understood certain aspects of the game that had been confusing. ALSO, you can learn by “visiting” other villages of top players on the leader board. Here is an example of an advanced village:

photo 2

Have fun.

It’s been so interesting to TALK to my kids about topics other than brushing teeth, checking homework, or  getting ready for soccer practice. By playing this game with them, we talk about what we’d like to do next in “our” village. The other day, they built a pretend campfire in the living room with pillows, and danced around it like Barbarians, Archers, and Goblins. “Play” has taken on many forms.

With a healthy media plan, and a lot of conversation, plenty of fun can transpire with a game like Clash of Clans. If you are playing with your kids – let me know! I’d love to talk about how it’s going.


Parental Controls in your iPad’s Settings Menu

Recently I visited the Settings app on my iPad to update the privacy settings on my device. I discovered a variety of options for parents who wish to adjust their devices for different ages and stages. Here are some details to note:


From your home screen, find the Settings icon (above), and then go to General > Restrictions. To Enable Restrictions, you need to enter a 4-digit passcode. Once the passcode is entered, you can adjust a number of variables from Safari web browsing to the App Store. You can also filter media content by disabling access to explicit or adult material. Most notably, In App Purchases can be turned on or off on a device-wide basis.


Scrolling farther down on the Restrictions menu is an area dedicated to “Privacy”. In this section, parents can set preferences for location services, contact lists, and social media services such as Facebook or Twitter.


Given “Privacy” is such a hot topic these days, you can also access it directly from the Settings menu (Settings > Privacy) to view the controls:


Finally, you can control internet access on the device through the wifi and airplane mode settings which are at the top of the Settings Menu. And don’t miss the Notification Center, which shows all of the apps that are set up to send you messages or alerts. Here, too, you can manage alerts according to your preferences.


If you have recommendations for parents about making tablets kid-friendly, please leave a comment so we can continue the discussion. I want to be careful not to dissuade parents and children from browsing the internet together. Just because this post focuses on physical settings and boundaries, some of the best preparation we can do is browse together, pointing out appropriate and inappropriate sites throughout our browsing session. Teaching kids to discern different types of online content can our best tool yet. Thanks!

Using the iPad’s side switch settings to bring back the sound in your app

Our guest post this week is written by Maggie Sheldon of Learning Touch (creators of First Words Deluxe), in response to questions app developers often receive from customers about how sound works in their app. Thanks Maggie!

Did the sound stop working on your kid’s favorite iPad app? Are you just about ready to downgrade that 5-star rating to a 1 because it’s just clearly broken? Please don’t. Here’s why:

Your iPad is muted. No, I’m not joking, it really is muted. I know you’ve tried toggling the mute switch on the side and are sure that it’s in the off position. I know that your Netflix, Pandora, Spotify and Youtube apps all have sound and work just fine. But your iPad is most definitely muted. Here’s how to fix it:

Thanks to a design decision made by Apple, you can also use that side switch (formally the mute switch) as an orientation lock. Meaning you can lock the screen so it doesn’t change orientations when you turn the iPad on its side. Nifty, right?

Unfortunately, switching the side switch (say that five times fast) to control the screen orientation also disables its control over sound.

To make the side switch the sound overlord again follow these simple steps:

  • Navigate to Settings on your iPad.
  • Tap on General and scroll down to the “Use Side Switch to” box and select the mute option.
  • Toggle the side switch to the off position and presto! Your favorite kid’s app has sound once more.
  • To lock the rotation again, just go back to settings to switch what the side switch controls.

Are you wondering why your music and video apps still had sound when your kid’s favorite app didn’t? Apps that include media playback (such as videos, podcasts and music apps) override your mute button settings because their functionality is dependent on sound. Most kid’s apps respect the mute button setting (but yes, we agree, their functionality is dependent on sound, too).

Now that your iPad is sounding off appropriately, could you do me a favor and sound off about your favorite kid’s app? As an app developer, I rely on the recommendations of parents and educators like you to get the word out about my apps. Thanks!
Here is another resource on App-Sound-Troubleshooting from Natasha at @Reks, who outlines a similar method to Maggie along with additional possibilities and video tutorials for resolving unexpected silence.

Updated Policy Statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics

On Tuesday October 18th the American Academy of Pediatrics released an updated policy statement for “Media Use by Children Younger Than Two Years”. This post is intended as a resource for parents interested in their findings, along with my own summary of comments in the report I think are valuable.

Link to: Full text of updated report

Link to: Press release summarizing the report

Link to: YouTube of the press conference discussing the report (thanks 360Kid)

The report addresses whether video and televised programs have any educational value for children under two, and if there is any harm in such children watching these programs. The report did not cover specific interactive media like iPads and tablets. By the time long-term research is complete on interactive media, our children will be grown. Families need to move forward based on the information we have now, and determine what’s relevant.

Why is the age of two important in this conversation? (Note, if I’m using quotes, I’m quoting the report.) “To be beneficial, children need to understand the content of programs and pay attention to it. Children older than two years and those younger than two years are at different levels of cognitive development and process information differently.”

Notable topics in the report:


Talk Time – “Infant vocabulary growth is directly related to the amount of talk time, or the amount of time parents spend speaking to them. Heavy television use in a household can interfere with a child’s language development simply because parents likely spend less time talking to the child.”

Set Limits – “If parents choose to engage their young children with electronic media, they should have concrete strategies to manage it. Ideally, parents should review the content of what their child is watching and watch the program with their child.”

Parent’s Use of Media – “Parents need to realize that their own media use can have a negative effect on their children. Television that is intended for adults and is on with a young child in the room is distracting for both the parent and the child.”

Being Read To – “Families should be strongly encouraged to sit down and read to their child to foster their child’s cognitive and language development.”

Independent Play – “Unstructured playtime is more valuable for the developing brain than any electronic media exposure…Even for infants as young as 4 months of age, solo play allows a child to think creatively, problem solve, and accomplish tasks…” According to Dr. Brown, “Children need this in order to figure out how the world works.” (This quote is from the press release.)

During minute 23 of the press conference on the youtube address, Dr. Brown emphasizes that parents should thoughtfully consider media use. To me, this means that before presenting media to our kids, we think about the trade-offs and reasons for our actions. Why are we using media? What else could/should we be doing with our time? Is media helping us accomplish a goal, or is it undermining a goal? If we think about why we choose media, maybe we’ll have more confidence when we do choose media.

Do I dare extrapolate, and relate these topics to APPS? Of course!


Talk Time – Find apps that encourage conversation! Which apps ask you questions, enable you to record your voice, or omit sound effects so you can provide your own “vroom vroooms”?

Set Limits – In the report they mentioned parents have TVs in children’s bedrooms, and that this tends to disrupt sleep patterns. If TV disrupts sleep patterns, mobile touchscreens probably do the same thing. Limits on media, regardless of device, feels like a responsible move.

Parent’s Use of Media – If background television distracts the family from interacting with each other, then parents who are distracted by their smartphone are probably falling short as well. It’s our job, as parents, to set a good example.

Being Read To – Print book, eBook, iBook…is the parent reading to their child? I think that is the relevant question here. Is the parent using their voice and intonations to cuddle up and read…

Independent Play – Are we being entertained, or are we entertaining ourselves? Which apps put the child’s creative process in the driver’s seat? Which apps let us draw, create, and problem solve, because those are the ones I want on our family’s iPad…

As always, thanks for listening. I hope this helps you evaluate media’s role in your family.

Lorraine Akemann | Editor | Moms With Apps


Promo Codes: What are they and how do they work?

This week we explain promo codes and how they are redeemed in the iTunes App Store. After noticing how many of our Facebook fans are interested in promo codes to trial free apps, it seems necessary to explain what they are and why they are helpful. Special thanks to Suren from Mobicip, Madhavi from MazeArt, Jill from SmartyShortz, Jayne from Let’s Bead Friends, and Julie from Snow Globe Maker for providing content for this post. Readers, please let us know if you have more questions so we can keep the article relevant and useful.

What is a promo code? A promo code is a special code that can be used to download a particular app for free in iTunes. It looks something like this: WJH3KW3A9EFR. Developers receive an allotment of promo codes for every app they launch.  They send these codes to bloggers, reporters, and users who are reviewing or testing their products. Codes expire after four weeks from the time they are requested by the developer, so it is important to use them promptly. Also, each promo code is unique and can be used only once.

Why should I care? Promo codes enable you to download an app for free. Most apps are pretty inexpensive, but as your app library grows, having access to a free download can help expand your selection while getting to know new apps and developers.

How do I get them? Many of our Moms With Apps developers have been offering promo codes to our Facebook Fans as part of their app marketing efforts. If you are interested in checking out a particular app, follow the app developer on Facebook and Twitter so you’ll be informed of promo code giveaways and free app offers. You can also try writing a developer directly to request a code. Their contact information is listed within the iTunes app description.

What can I do in exchange for getting a free promo code? Developers are always looking for honest feedback for their application so that they can incorporate suggestions in their next update. If you do get a promo code from a developer, please return the favor by taking time to give them feedback and/or a review in iTunes. If you would like some improvements or see crashes, contact the developer directly with the detailed nature of the problem. Constructive interactions from customers are very much appreciated.

How do I redeem them? You can redeem a promo code directly from your iPhone or iPad, or from your computer.

From your iPhone/iPad:

1. Open the “APP Store” app.

2. Select Featured from the bottom panel, then New from the top menu.

3. Scroll all the way down to find Redeem.

4. After you select Redeem, enter your code. Once the code is approved, your app will start to download automatically.

Here is the screenshot of redeeming from your iPad:

From your computer:

1. Launch iTunes.

2. Click on the little home icon on the top bar, or click on iTunes Store.

3. From the Quick Links menu on the right, click Redeem.

4. Enter your promo code. Once the code is approved, your app will download to your app library automatically. Next time you synch with iTunes, the app will be transferred to your iPhone or iPad.

OK folks – did this help??? Please leave a comment letting us know. This post will be a work in progress until we all become experts in promo code redemption. Good luck and see you around on Facebook!

Should You Buy That App? Five Tips For Decoding an iTunes App Listing

Our feature this week is from Julie McCool, creator of the popular Snow Globe Maker apps, which encourage creativity and fun while giving users a unique way to keep in touch.  McCool is also the founder of Hawk Ridge Consulting (, which offers custom iPhone apps and iPhone app services including app design, development, testing, and marketing. She shares with us a detailed perspective for deciphering the iTunes App Store.

If you’re buying iPhone apps based on a quick look at their iTunes reviews, you’re missing a lot of the story. Here are 5 ways to evaluate whether that app is worth buying, from an app developer who sees the iTunes listing from the other side.

  1. Check the screenshots because pictures often tell more than words. App vendors can only display 5 images with the app listing, and it’s prime real estate. If a vendor only includes one screen shot, or devotes two spots to pictures of the icon and splash screen, the app is either very simple or could be hiding a problem UI. Look for clear images of the app in action, or of output you would expect to create with the app.
  2. Check the date. Apple displays the date the app was released or last updated under the app icon. If the app was released or last updated in 2008, it isn’t taking advantage of iPhone updates and isn’t responding to new competition. Maybe the app is so perfect it hasn’t needed an update in over a year, or maybe the developer has moved on to other things.
  3. Read the description. Click “More…” to read the app description beyond the two lines Apple displays. Most vendors include a list of key features in the App description so you’ll know more about what you’re paying for.
  4. Try the links. App vendors can provide two links: one for the vendor website and one for the app support page. Many vendors use the same landing page for both, which is fine as long as it’s clear how to get support for the app. A surprising number of apps link to pages that are dead (suggesting the vendor isn’t supporting the app), or redirect you to a page that provides no help. The bottom line is, you want to be able to get help if you have an issue. Vendor web sites often include demo videos which are a great way to evaluate an app before you buy.
  5. Read the What’s New list. If the app has been updated, you’ll see a summary of what’s in the new version just above the screenshots. Few products do everything you want them to on day one. Most dedicated app vendors will have a series of features they want to release, and they’ll bring them out over time. They also might need to improve app stability or usability. If an app is over 6 months old, check to see if it has been updated with new features and fixes.

Okay, now check the ratings, but keep in mind that iTunes star ratings and written reviews are basically anonymous. Positive ratings can be misleading and some companies even sell 5-star reviewsto desperate app vendors. Negative reviews can be vague or inaccurate, and there is no way for an app vendor to respond in iTunes or contact the customer to make things right. Take time to read some of the written reviews and look for detailed feedback. Treat a string of short “best app ever” comments with a little suspicion. Ratings can provide valuable information, but don’t let them be the only factor you consider.

A final tip–remember that most apps are only a dollar or two, so if you make a bad choice it has about the same financial impact as a house coffee at Starbucks. If you have any feedback or suggestions about the apps you purchase, take a moment to email the developer. Most developers are very interested in hearing what their customers think directly, and you may even earn a promo code for a future app.