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]

Swipe Left for Quick Access to the iPhone Camera

Teens love giving me lessons about using the iPhone. On our last ski tip, I wasn’t accessing the iPhone camera quickly enough for a group selfie. Instead of navigating to the iPhone camera, all I needed to do was swipe left from the lock screen. Who knew? Not me, apparently.

This may go down in history as the shortest tech tip ever, but it’s quite useful. Here is how to get quick access to the iPhone camera:

  1. Grab your iPhone (make sure it’s updated to iOS 10).
  2. Once on the Lock screen, swipe left to open the camera.

quick access iPhone camera

How were you supposed to know this? Well, if you look closely at the lock screen, there are two small dots at the bottom, and a very small dot-sized camera to the right of those dots. Those icons indicate that if you swipe left, you will be in camera mode.

In the future, I’m bookmarking the Apple support pages and user guides for What’s New in the latest versions of iOS. This way, maybe I’ll beat the teens in their newfound knowledge bytes.

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

Photo credit [Flickr creative commons]

Virtual Valentines That Make A Real Difference

Sending thoughtful messages to people we care about can build bridges and connections in these charged political times. This Valentine’s Day, even if you don’t have time to handcraft a letter, get those messages out with virtual valentines. Using your iPhone’s Camera Roll, web browser, and apps, there are plenty of ways to send personalized and creative sentiments.

Send a vintage valentine with Google Images

Hop onto Google Images and run a search for vintage valentines. To make sure there are no copyright restrictions on the image, click Tools and filter by Labeled for Reuse. Find an image that you like, and save it to your device. Email or text the image to a friend on Valentine’s Day, or post it on social media and tag a few favorite followers. This can be a fun, retro way to brighten someone’s day. If posting on social media, I always try to give image credit where credit is due.

Customize a photo with a personal note

Easy apps like Word Swag or Pic Collage are awesome for sprucing up photos. There are valentine templates available on Pic Collage. Choose a template and insert your photo, text and/or stickers. Save to Camera Role, and then send along to a friend!

virtual valentines

Include extra special iMessage stickers in your next text

Texting friends on Valentine’s Day? Make it extra special with themed iMessage stickers. From iMessage, click the App Store icon to see featured apps for iMessage. Apple’s featured category, Let’s Stick Together, has plenty of heartfelt choices to choose from.

virtual valentines

How cute is this cuddly bear in Forever Friends Stickers by Neon Play?

Forever Friends Stickers
Forever Friends Stickers
Developer: Neon Play
Price: $1.99

Once your sticker app is installed, go to iMessage to compose a message and send it along.

Do you have creative ways to send virtual valentines? If so, leave a comment so we can keep the good news flowing. Remember, it’s the thought that counts!

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

Photo credit [Google Images, labeled for reuse]

Decode Teen Text Lingo with the Digital Glossary by Common Sense Media

New content guiding parents in the digital world is published on Common Sense Media at a rapid rate. Recently I spied the Digital Glossary, which is a reference guide for teen text lingo, apps, and popular online communication terms. For a parent with teens, this is especially handy!

The Common Sense Media Digital Glossary

Access the Digital Glossary at https://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/digital-glossary. The Digital Glossary is organized by alphabetical tabs. Each tab jumps to a section of terms and explanations. If you want to know what “on fleek” means, search by clicking the MNO tab. If you want to know what “bae” means, click the ABC tab.

teen text lingo

Fun family questions about teen text lingo

  1. To make the Digital Glossary an interactive family tool, try asking teens if the definitions are correct. How would they change a definition? Which definitions are missing, old, or most popular?
  2. If teens created their own Digital Glossary, how would it work? Would they create an app? Would they vote up the most popular term? How could new terms be entered?
  3. What would YOUR new text term be? Have everyone in the family invent their own acronym, phrase, or even an emoji. Get creative. As we always say around here, the more conversations, the better.

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

Photo credit [Flickr creative commons]

Setting Up Your First Twitter Account

Have you noticed how many news articles are sourcing information from tweets? Twitter is generating news at a rapid rate, and keeping up may involve reading tweets directly from their source. For those joining Twitter just to keep up with the news, here are a few pointers for setting up your first Twitter account.

Create an account

Head to Twitter.com and sign up. It only takes a name, email address and password to get started. Usernames (the characters behind the “@” sign) can be changed at any time so don’t feel too stressed about the specific username you choose. New accounts can also be created from the Twitter app.

Developer: Twitter, Inc.
Price: Free

Edit your profile

Uploading an image and writing a short description on your Twitter profile adds some legitimacy to your account. I rarely follow back unless I see a short description of that person or organization, along with a reputable photo or logo.

Follow people

Now that you’re on Twitter, you can read what people are tweeting. Navigate to specific users by searching for them by name from the search icon, or follow them directly so their tweets show up in your stream. Following people may prompt them to follow you back. The more you follow, the more your follower and following count will increase.

Search topics of interest

Use the search icon to type in keywords and topics you’d like to research. Maybe there is a #hashtag for a specific event. This past weekend, for example, there were two very popular hashtags: #inaguration and #womensmarch. Searching these hashtags will pull up a live stream of everyone who is tweeting on the topic.

Send a tweet

Ready to tweet? Think of what you’d like to say in 140 characters or less. Compose a tweet by selecting the top right tweet button (which looks like a white quill on a blue square) and type a message into the text window. It’s possible to use icons in the text box to add an image or even an emoji. If you’d like a specific person to get notified about your tweet, include their @username in the tweet. Linking to an article? Add the hyperlink into your tweet.

Reply – retweet – converse

Twitter can be conversational with replies and retweets. Replying to a tweet with the arrow icon will automatically place their @username at the beginning of your tweet. This mention will send that person a notification. When they see the notification, they can continue the conversation by replying back to you. Likewise, if you retweet someone’s tweet, they will also be notified. Replies and retweets generate notifications, linking people together through the public stream.

Read notifications

Checking notifications is my first step when logging into Twitter. Check notifications by clicking the bell icon at the top of the screen. You will see who has followed you (so you can follow back), and who has liked, mentioned or retweeted you.

Like ❤️

Not all tweets need a reply or retweet. There are so many tweets in a Twitter stream that replying to everything may feel spammy. Liking a tweet is a great way to show support without spamming your stream. Likes will show up in the tweeter’s notifications, so it’s a good way to connect without being too obvious.

I hope this overview helps you feel more comfortable about sending your first tweet. Please feel free to leave a comment if you have any further tips or questions. Good luck, and welcome to Twitter!

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

Photo credit [Flickr creative commons]

Simple Phone Apps To Help Adults With Special Needs

Recently I was approached to help a family find phone apps for their adult son with special needs. I reached out to the developer community and discovered multiple apps and suggestions to help make digital communication easier. Here are some of their ideas for simple phone apps:

Favorites tab on iOS phone app

The first tab on the iPhone’s phone app is called Favorites. Adding contacts to Favorites enables a picture-based view of each contact, along with an info button with one-tap access to their text, phone, FaceTime or email. Taking a few minutes to set up a user’s Favorites can provide instant access to communication.


EasyPhone connects contacts to a friendly face, and was designed especially to help people with cognitive challenges navigate the phone successfully. This app was recommended by Bridging Apps, a comprehensive website featuring apps for people with disabilities.

EasyPhone App
EasyPhone App
Developer: HJ Holdings LLC
Price: $0.99

Koala Phone for Google Play

Large keyboard and readable text makes this phone easy to use without glasses. Available in 30 languages, Koala Phone links to other apps like camera and flashlight but uses its large text and icon interface. More information at http://www.koalaphone.com.

Koala Phone Launcher Free
Koala Phone Launcher Free
Developer: Tomas Slavicek
Price: Free+


Designed by parents especially for kids, Kidofon is made to simplify phone use for young users in order to reach family members in case of an emergency. Picture-based icons are activated at the touch of a finger.

Kindoma video chat

Kindoma offers video chat features to keep families connected. Designed with young users in mind, Kindoma has two apps for drawing and storytelling. Kindoma was recommended as a potential fit for any user seeking creative and friendly ways to communicate with family.

Do you have any additional apps or recommendations to round out this list? Leave a comment and I’ll keep the post updated.

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

Photo credit [Flickr public domain]

Top 10 iPhone Tips for Family Travel

We just returned from an overseas trip, and I want to share how our family used the iPhone as a travel helper. With certain apps and settings in place, it was easy to navigate, communicate and prepare for our adventure. Here are our top 10 iPhone tips for family travel:

1) Adjust settings to avoid international cell phone charges

I wanted to ensure that having our iPhones didn’t accidentally incur huge overseas data rates. Before we left the house, all family members opened their iPhone Settings app and turned airplane mode on, and cell data off. When we arrived at our destination, we left airplane mode on but enabled Wi-Fi. This allowed us to use hotel Wi-Fi for connectivity without activating the local cellular network.

We had one person with an international data plan for phone use while away from the hotel. Everyone else kept airplane mode on, cell data off, and used hotel Wi-Fi for connectivity.

2) Set the World Clock with home and away destinations

Jet lag can be a challenge, especially with kids. Knowing what time it was back home helped us plan sleep and wake times during the first few days in a new time zone.

3) Use the alarm to wake up during jet lag

Our first local outing was to the Harry Potter Warner Brothers tour near London. Our bus was leaving early and we certainly didn’t want to miss it. We relied on the iPhone’s alarm to wake us up, and it worked great (although we were so excited I think most of us were awake well before the alarm!).

4) Open Google Maps for navigation assistance

While driving a rental car in Wales, we learned that some castles can be hard to find. With my husband’s iPhone (he’s the one with the international data plan) we used Google Maps to analyze our location and find the correct routes. Using Google Maps is effective for double checking locations and routes in real time, especially when road signs are in Welsh.

5) Check weather apps for rain

Winter travel requires the right gear. Checking the iPhone’s Weather app (or Yahoo Weather) helped us determine the hour-by-hour forecast for our location. If rain was in the forecast for the day, then we knew to pack umbrellas and raincoats.

6) Browse Safari for museum or attraction open hours

We were traveling over the winter holidays, including Christmas and New Years. We needed to find out if certain museums and attractions were open during the times we wanted to visit. It was helpful to open Safari and check their websites in advance so we could plan our visits accordingly.

7) Download digital camera apps to transfer pictures

This was my first trip using a Nikon digital camera. I did not need to rely on my iPhone for pictures. Instead, I carried around an actual camera. My Nikon works with an app called SnapBridge that uses bluetooth to communicate between the camera and the iPhone. This app enabled me to pull any pictures I needed from my camera onto my iPhone.

8) Activate AirDrop to share photos between family members

A daughter’s eye view can be quite different from a mom’s eye view. Both of my daughters enjoyed taking photos during the trip, and it was interesting to see the difference in our perspectives. I would line up a shot based on landscape, and they tended to zoom in more closely on subject. Looking through their photos at the end of the day offered a bright and lively point of view on our shared experiences. If I wanted a photo of theirs, we could share files easily via AirDrop.

To access AirDrop on an iPhone, simply swipe up from the bottom of any screen.

9) Check Khan Academy for information on historic sites

I like art museums. But some museums can be boring if you don’t have context. Before our last two big trips, we searched Khan Academy for information about our destinations. I downloaded the Khan Academy app so we could play art history videos from Khan Academy on Apple TV. This was especially helpful for learning about Tate Britain, home of Ophelia and The Lady of Shalott. When we finally arrived to the Tate in person, my daughters were connected to the experience because they learned about those paintings in advance of the visit.

10) Connect with friends over Instagram, email, or WhatsApp to share adventures

We enjoyed sharing special moments with friends and family back home. Thanks to WhatsApp, we were able to wish our cousin a happy birthday. Thanks to Instagram, we were able to pick our favorite photos and post them to friends. Thanks to email, we were able to communicate status and highlights with grandparents and close family. Making positive connections with people we care about added to the enrichment of the trip.

Bonus #11) Add a passcode to feel more secure in case of loss or theft

I was worried that at some point in the trip I’d lose my iPhone. In the event it fell into a villain’s hands, I wanted to keep my data secure. Adding a passcode helped me feel a little bit better about keeping my information safe.

To add a passcode, go to Settings, and then Touch ID and Passcode.

Bon voyage!

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

Photo credit [Flickr Creative Commons]

Fun with New iOS 10.2 Emojis

Sometimes new emoji characters are released in a software update, just like they were this December with iOS 10.2. Reading the update notes, I was pleased to see new emojis from Unicode 9.0, in addition to new emojis representing professions, added to the keyboard on my iPhone’s operating system.

New iOS 10.2 emojis

To best understand what was added I consulted one of my favorite emoji websites, Emojipedia. Their changelog and video provide an overview of the latest. Notable additions include gender diversity, food, sports, animals and professions. For example, now there is a dancing man, in addition to a dancing woman. We also have scientists, teachers, mechanics, a croissant, and even water polo players!

Can you find your favorite new emoji?

One way to become familiar with the enhanced emoji keyboard is by picking out favorites. My daughter and I did this after updating our phones. She sent me the cowboy-hat smiley face, and I sent her the pizza. Sounds a little silly, but the more interaction I build with my kids, the better!

Which emoji most reflects your identity?

Can you find your hobby, interest or profession on the emoji keyboard? As a blogger, I quite like the lady technologist. Similarly, I like the lady mechanic because I could have used that after fixing our household pipes the other day. Which ones would you use to describe yourself?

Do you use emoji combinations?

My friend recently sent an “XO” emoji combination in a holiday message. I hadn’t seen that before, but thought the hugs, represented with emojis, were cute and creative. What new combinations will be made with this latest set of emoji characters? Keep your eyes open – only time will tell.

What’s coming in 2017?

Curious about the next emoji update? Me too. I’d like to see if they add ballerina or pointe shoe emojis for my daughter and her friends. This is important stuff! Head to the Unicode website to keep up with the plans. Don’t see what you like? Then make a submission. The more we participate, the more we can help grow and diversify this new method of communication.

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

Photo credit [Emojipedia video screenshot]

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

Set a Regular Sleep Routine with the iPhone Bedtime Clock

I tend to associate smartphone use with the potential to overstimulate the brain. So I was pleased to learn about new features that support a healthy lifestyle, like a good night’s sleep. The new iPhone Bedtime Clock in iOS 10 provides a peaceful and consistent tool for scheduling sleep. Are you ready to get some rest? Let’s clock in and create a customized bedtime routine.

Open the iPhone Bedtime Clock

From the iPhone home screen, select the Clock app. On the bottom menu bar (if you have iOS 10) select Bedtime, which is between Alarm and Stopwatch.

iPhone bedtime clock

Set sleep preferences

Follow the prompts to input your desired amount of sleep, in addition to preferred sleep and wake times. These times can be adjusted at a later date by clicking Options.

Set notification preferences

Choose reminder intervals and notification sounds that best suit your preferences. For example, I like to be reminded about bedtime about an hour before I actually want to fall asleep. This gives me enough time to finish my current activity and get ready for bed. I also want the sound to be light, peaceful and optimistic. For this, I chose the “first light” audio tone.

Adjust options as necessary

If you would like to adjust the days of the week to initiate a bedtime routine, along with reminder intervals or wake up sounds, just tap Options on the Bedtime clock display. To reset sleep and/or wake times, simply drag your finger around the clock circle.

The number one tip for healthy sleep habits from the National Sleep Foundation is to stick to a consistent sleep schedule. By setting your bedtime on Apple’s Clock, now all you need to do is follow through. After receiving the bedtime reminder from your iPhone, tune into your PJs and have a good night!

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

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons