Creating a family social media policy

Our family spends a lot of time online. I’m constantly astonished by the way our kids will casually say, “You can tweet that, Daddy” or “Don’t Facebook that, Mummy!” the way I might have asked my mom to stop talking so loudly in a restaurant. Our kids are only 4 and 7, so I’m nothing less than delighted that they already direct us on how to represent them online — or conversely, to respect their privacy.

The ongoing conversation in our home about how to use social media — and in particular, how to do so in a way that is both safe and enjoyable for our kids — has helped us evolve a de facto social media policy governing how we engage with social media as a family. I decided it was time to go from de facto to actual, recorded policy. I found some great resources for thinking about corporate social media policies on Inc., Social Media Today and PolicyTool.net, and used these to help me think about the kinds of issues we might want to cover in our family social media policy.

Our policy is in text below. It refers to our household as the Palindrome (our nickname for our house) and to our kids’ online handles, so I’ve created a more generic, downloadable version here (RTF) that you can adapt for your own family. By the way, I am not a lawyer, so I am in no way suggesting that this is a legally binding document. But hey, if your kids are suing you over your rules around Facebook, you’ve got bigger problems than my lack of a law degree.

A Family Social Media Policy for the Palindrome (Samuel-Cottingham family)

It is the responsibility of all residents of the Palindrome to familiarize themselves with this social media policy. Those residents who are not able to read may request assistance reading and interpreting the social media policy until such a time as they are literate. Palindrome residents are subject to this policy until they reach the age of 18 or become fully self-supporting, whichever comes later. This policy holds whether they identify themselves as residents of the Palindrome or participate in social media activities under a pseudonym.

This policy applies to all social media, online communities, networked video games, and Internet-connected devices. This includes but is not limited to blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Youtube, the PlayStation Network, Xbox LIVE, and GameCenter apps. This policy is additional to any other family policies governing use of TV, e-mail, smartphones, videogames, tablets and the Internet. Its policies hold with respect to all family members’ online activities, whether they are executed in the course of schoolwork, professional responsibilities or personal use.

Use of social media and online tools

The use of social media and other networked tools is part of our family life and relationships. The respectful, creative and safe use of social and interactive media is encouraged, as is the thoughtful and conscious decision to refrain from using any electronic device or online tool at a specific time, or generally. Each member of our family is expected to determine his or her own preferred set of on- and offline activities and to control the persona or personas s/he chooses to maintain online. For minor residents, these online activities must take place within the bounds of safety and good judgement, as determined by Mummy and Daddy. Before participating in social media, joining any online network or registering as a user of an online game, minor residents must obtain the permission of Mummy or Daddy.

Confidentiality

All conversations, activities and events at the Palindrome shall be treated as confidential.  Off-site conversations and activities shared by members of our household shall likewise be covered by this expectation of confidentiality. Confidentiality may be waived by any member of the household upon explicit request. Do not post, tweet, Facebook or otherwise share any images, utterances or activities of family members without their consent. This applies to both parents and minor residents; minor residents may grant or deny any request to post their utterances, images or creations to blogs, Facebook, Twitter or other online media. Likewise, we must respect the wishes of our family and friends regarding the confidentiality of our social engagements and conversations.

Privacy

It is the responsibility of all residents and visitors to the Palindrome to safeguard the personally identifiable information of minor residents. Each resident of the Palindrome will be restricted in their disclosure of personally identifiable information until such a time as they have proven their alertness to “stranger danger”; the scope of permissable sharing will be commensurate with each resident’s age and capacity for self-protection. Personally identifiable information includes the dates and locations of upcoming vacations or travel, names or locations of schools and after-school programs, the legal names of minor family members or depictions of the faces of minor family members.

All postings that reference minor residents should refer to them by their online handles: Lil Sweetie and Lil Peanut. Images of minor residents are to be shared only within password-protected or limited membership circles online (for example, a limited circle of Facebook friends).

Disclaimers

When posting content to the Internet, all members of the Palindrome household should make it clear that their online postings represent their opinions alone. When speaking on behalf of other family members, please be explicit about which family members are represented in the post.

Intellectual property

All members of the Palindrome are encouraged to publish their online content under Creative Commons licenses. When violating copyright laws (for example, by downloading protected video or audio content) any member of the household may be asked to provide a clear, internally consistent argument for that violation; minor residents may ask for help reading and interpreting relevant materials on intellectual property laws and alternative copyright regimes. Where warranted by the volume or content of illegally or illicitly obtained content, residents may be requested to provide their justification in writing. Minor residents may request justification from parents as well as vice versa.

Passwords

No member of the Palindrome household will attempt to obtain, through deception or observation, the password of any other family member. This includes but is not limited to e-mail logins, social media logins, iPad and iPhone unlock codes and iTunes store accounts.

Assistance

All members of the Palindrome may request technical, creative or instructional support from other members in their use of social media, online gaming or other interactive tools. These requests may be subject to the availability and priorities of other family members. Wherever possible, Mummy and Daddy will endeavour to assist the minor residents in their safe exploration of the Internet and other networked and electronic devices.

Feedback

All residents of the Palindrome are welcome to comment on this social media policy, and to request future iterations or amendments. Minor residents are encouraged to provide retrospective appreciation for their parents’ efforts at including them in the governance of family Internet use, and for the general awesomeness of the level of technology to which they have access at a young age.

Creating your family policy

If you are interested in developing your own family social media policy, you can download a draft family social media policy in RTF form (adapted to be slightly more generic). Please leave a comment or send me a tweet if you decide to use or adapt it – I’d love to hear how it works or how you’ve amended it.

If you’re looking for more resources that can help you think about how to set boundaries around your kids’ use of social media, I highly recommend the great articles and tips at Common Sense Media.  And if you want a policy for your kids’ offline activities, you might want to check out the Terms of Use for our toy cupboard.

5 ways technology can reduce the family stress of business travel

When you’ve got kids, business travel is especially stressful. It’s hard for them to have mum or dad away, and it’s hard for you to miss them. Here are 5 ways that technology can help:

  1. Google your trip: Before you hit the road, spend a few minutes showing your kids where you’ll be going. Google your destination and show them a few images so they can picture the city you will be visiting or even the hotel where you will be staying. Use Google Maps to show your child where you will be and how it relates geographically to your hometown. This is a great way to make geography real and meaningful to your child.
  2. Download a bedtime story: Maybe you don’t want to lug the complete Beatrix Potter collection, but you can download one of your kid’s favorite books to your e-reader or laptop. Call or Skype at bedtime, and ask your spouse or babysitter to turn the pages of your child’s storybook while you read the words on your virtual edition.
  3. Make a movie: When my husband is on the road, he often shoots a short movie for the kids with his phone or webcam. It might be a walk down the Vegas strip, or a puppet show he puts on in his hotel room (don’t forget to pack the finger puppets!) It lets the kids know he’s thinking about them and helps him feel like they are along for the ride.
  4. Make a playlist: Our family bedtime features a now-standard set of bedtime songs. The kids prefer it when we sing for them ourselves, but in a pinch we can pull up their favorite bedtime songs on the iPhone so they won’t object when (unlike their dad) I forget the words to U2’s Pride.
  5. Yelp a souvenir: You can count on the airport newsstand if you want to return home with a plastic airplane or a stuffed mascot for the local sports team. But it’s much nicer to bring the kids a small souvenir that relates to one of your passions. If you’ve got even a 20 minute break in your meeting schedule, use Yelp to find the nearest art supply shop, toy store or hobby shop and pick up a gift that reflects your child’s latest interest. Or better yet, Yelp before you leave home to find a really outstanding craftsperson or toy store in the city you’ll be visiting so that you can return with something that is unique to your destination.

Of course, the number one way technology can reduce the stress of business travel is by keeping you at home. These 10 ways to use social media to get the most out of business travel can help.

The Lonely Princess: A Social Media Fairy Tale

Once upon a time* there lived a princess who had everything a princess could want. She had an air conditioned castle furnished with tasteful furniture from Design Out Of Reach, and a solar-powered car that could run at up to 100 MPH, and a large-screen TV that received over a hundred channels. More importantly, she could do anything a princess might want to do: she was an excellent surfer, a renowned aerialist, a prolific painter and a skilled welder.

Despite all these possessions and talents, however, the princess was unhappy. She had no shortage of ladies-in-waiting, royal cousins, minions and exotic pets. And yet the princess was terribly, terribly lonely.

When she drove her solar-powered car sharply around a bend in the local mountain road, she wanted to share her triumph with someone who understood the difficulty of maintaining control at high speeds. When she finished watching the latest episode of Real Princesses of Forest County, she wanted to compare notes with someone else who cared about Forest County’s shocking disregard for landscaping standards. When she managed to weld an exceptionally complex set of spires onto her balcony, she wanted to show it off to someone who appreciated the quality of her craftsmanship.

The king and queen could see that their daughter was unhappy, so they did what any normal set of royal parents do when faced with a lonely princess: they looked for a lonely prince. After all, the princess wasn’t getting any younger, and while all that surfing and trapeze work certainly helped her keep a lovely figure, the welding ensured that her once-delicate hands now showed their age. Find her a prince now, they figured, while she’s still got her looks, and that will provide her with all the companionship she could want.

The royal parents didn’t know a lot about prince-finding, but luckily the princess had a fairy godmother who was quite worldly and kept up with things. This fairy godmother gave the king and queen all the latest advice on how to look for a prince, and helped them formulated their proclamation:

Every prince needs his princess!
Carriage rides are meant for two. Find your happily ever after with a princess who has it all: looks, talent and a fast, environmentally sensitive car. If you’re sensitive, clever, well-mannered, considerate, passionate, charming, as kind as you’re handsome, and heir to a throne then this could be the princess for you. Send an intro and recent portrait to @lonelyprincess15.

The castle was soon deluged by the emissaries of distant princes who were hoping for an introduction, and nearby princes who’d ridden over to see this princess for themselves. The princess consented to spend an afternoon with a prince who shared her passion for circus arts, but was disappointed to discover he enjoyed clowning rather than trapeze. She agreed to let another prince watch the big game on her large-screen TV, but found that high def merely intensified the boredom of watching cricket. She had some hope for a prince who professed his passion for both welding and surfing, but found herself questioning his intellect when he turned up with a handmade iron surfboard.

All these princes left the princess lonelier than ever. To meet so many potential mates who shared one or two of her interests, and then to realize that she would never find someone who shared all of them: well, the princess couldn’t bring herself to choose. She withdrew into her hobbies, and told her parents that if she couldn’t share all of her passions, she’d rather rely on her inner resources and come to terms with a lifetime of isolation.

The king and queen had heard of princesses who took that kind of self-reliant attitude, and they knew it could lead to poetry writing or even Buddhism. Why, there hadn’t been a Buddhist in their family in fourteen generations! They weren’t going to let it happen on their watch.

Just when the entire court was near despair, the tower watch reported that two royal parties had been spotted in the distant hills. But this time, the suitors were not mere princes: they were full-fledged kings!

When the two kings arrived at the castle, the king and queen hastened to look them over. One king was dark and handsome; his crest featured a blue bird. The other king was fair and shy; his crest showed a simple silhouette of a man’s face.

The Bird King kept his introduction brief. “I am the king of a new kingdom. I promise the princess a lifetime of conversation.”

The Face King cleared his throat, and launched into a monologue. “My kingdom is already established. I am simply new to these lands. I promise the princess a lifetime of friendship. Also private messaging,
photos, groups, blogging and a wall where her friends can leave her public messages.”

The king and queen were impressed by the eloquent simplicity of the Bird King, and awed by the riches promised by the Face King. Surely both kings were at least worthy of an introduction to the princess herself! The princess was brought into the throne room, where she posed her own questions to the would-be matches.

“Can you keep up with me on a mountain drive?” she asked.

“Just say the word NASCAR and you’ll have trouble keeping up with ME,” the Bird King said.

“Spend your life in my kingdom, and a world of drivers can become your friends,” countered the Face King.

“And will you be able to appreciate my accomplishments as a surfer, aerialist and welder?” the princess next demanded.

“When you give word of your latest feat, it will echo across the land,” promised the Bird King.

“The news of each and every achievement will be shared not only with me but all of your friends, so that they may tell you how they like it,” said the Face King.

“And will you even keep me company when I watch the Real Princesses of Forest County?” the princess asked.

The Bird King smiled. “In my kingdom, you will hear from the Real Princesses themselves.”

The Face King matched him. “With me, you will be able to discuss every aspect of the Real Princesses in excruciating detail, and know that you will always find a response that is just as passionate.”

For the first time in many moons, the princess felt the faintest glimmer of hope that her loneliness might yet be cured. But her fairy godmother knew that such a cure did not come easily; it fell to her to pose the questions that the princess and her parents had not thought to ask.

“Why is there no princess who yet graces your kingdom?” she asked the two nobles.

“Our kingdom is still in beta,” said the Bird King.

“It’s complicated,” said the Face King.

“Are your subjects wise or foolish?” the godmother asked.

“As in your land, we have both,” the Bird King replied. “The princess may choose who she will heed.”

“We too have all manner of subject,” said the Face King. “The princess may find groups as wise and talented as she is. She may even choose to become friends with only those she holds in highest esteem. Of course, that’s not how most people do it.”

“And I must ask: are either of you currently under any curses, cease and desist orders, or other functional limitations?”

Both Kings paled.

“Those in our land must speak briefly,” answered the Bird King. “When the princess shares her joys or sorrows, her words will vanish near as quick as they are uttered.”

“The princess will be free to speak her mind, to wander the kingdom, to befriend those who amuse her: in short, to enjoy all the liberties she has here,” the Face King said.  “But she must know that everything she does will be reported to me, and that her stories will become my stories for all eternity.”

The king and queen sighed. How could they ask the princess to accept either king, knowing that each suffered from so dire a curse? Surely, the princess was destined to remain lonely forever. Her parents steeled themselves for an onslaught of tears, moping and Alannis Morisette.

But to their amazement, the princess wore a shining smile.

“Dear kings, I am honored and humbled by the riches you promise,” she said, holding out her hands to the two men. They each clasped one of her rough hands in theirs. “But I can not become your queen.”

“Bird King, the eloquence of your people and the abundance of your conversation warms my heart. I would know the pleasure of sharing each of life’s joys with those who share that passion!”

“Face King, I can only imagine the love and kindness of a kingdom in which each subject has so many friends. I would know the joy of friendship myself, and feel my friends beside me at every moment!”

The princess paused, and gently withdrew her hands from the kings’ grasp.

“But I can not give my whole life to either of your kingdoms. To speak in so few words, when my heart is bursting with volumes…Bird King, that is no fate for me. And Face King, my stories can not be your stories; some must be guarded for me alone, or shared with all the world instead.”

The two kings now looked as forlorn and worried as the king and queen.

“If I can not be your queen,” the princess continued, “I would yet be your subject. Bird King, permit me to live in your kingdom by day: to share my news with the world, and to find in your kingdom a voice and companion for every one of my own passions. Face King, permit me to live in your kingdom by night: to review my day with those few friends I choose from among your good subjects, and with whom I shall share only the stories I would permit you to keep.”

Most kings balk when a potential queen rejects them. But both of these kings were busy building their kingdoms, and disinclined to turn away any potential subject, especially one as influential as a princess. They gave their assent, and each provided the princess with a lengthy contractual agreement that she asked her fairy godmother to read for her. (Unbeknownst to the princess, her fairy godmother nodded off while reading, so the royal family never did know exactly what they agreed to.) With the documents signed, the princess embarked on her new life, and promised her parents that she would make regular visits to her home kingdom.

As she had hoped, the princess was no longer lonely. In the land of the Bird King she had conversations about welding with her fellow ironworkers, compared watercolor techniques with her fellow painters, and was regularly mentioned by one of the Real Princesses of Forest County. In the land of the Face King her wall was constantly festooned with well wishes, and as the King himself had predicted, she acquired a large circle of friends, not all of whom she actually knew. In fact she had so many conversations and so many friends that she ceased to be known as the Lonely Princess, and was universally recognized by her new title: the Social Princess.

The princess never broke a promise, so she continued to visit her parents in the kingdom of her birth even as she spent more and more time in the kingdoms of the Face King and the Bird King. Her parents thought the arrangement slightly peculiar, and like many parents wished the princess would spend more time with them, but on the whole they were relieved that the princess was happy and hadn’t turned out to be a poet or a Buddhist.

But the princess herself sometimes wondered what it would have been like to meditate.

*Circa 2006.

Facebooking the kids: 12 Dos & Don’ts

I began this series on a false note. My initial post on the five reasons to consider sharing your kids’ content on Facebook missed the reason that actually motivates my own Facebook sharing: the desire to include my kids in my life online, and to include my life online in my time with family. The Internet is a huge part of my life, and to keep it entirely separate from my family life would be to exclude my kids from something that they know is hugely important to both their mother and father. And of course, the kids are the heart of my life offline, so to keep them invisible in my web life would be to show up online as a very partial version of myself.

Embracing Facebook as our online family space has given me way to integrate my on- and offline lives. But I’m only comfortable including the kids in my Facebook life because I’ve taken pains to dramatically limit access to any kid-related content. This series spelled out how you can do the same: by creating a “kid-sharing friends” list and by modifying your privacy settings so that by default, your content is only visible to those kid-sharing friends.

I encourage you to adapt this approach to your own goals and comfort level, but would strongly encourage you to stick to the following dos and don’ts unless and until you have a high degree of technical skill and a strong knowledge of online privacy and related issues:

DO…

  1. Share kid-related content only with people you know well, trust, and who want to hear about your kids.  A smaller circle = lower risk to your kids, less annoyance to your uninterested friends.
  2. Check your privacy settings on a regular basis to ensure your kids’ content is still protected on any social network you use to share their images or stories.
  3. Let your friends and family know if and how they can re-share your kids’ news and photos.
  4. Teach your kids to think critically about what they share online by including them in the decision about what to post.
  5. Listen to your kid if he or she asks you not to post a photo, video or status update about him or her.
  6. Share your friends’ responses to your kid-related content so your kids know their news and pictures are appreciated.
  7. Learn as much as you can about online safety and privacy before expanding access to your kids’ content.

DON’T…

  1. Post any pictures of your kids in a state of undress.
  2. Post your kids’ real names or identifying information (like schools or after-school programs).
  3. Post pictures or videos of your kids with their friends, unless their friends’ parents have given you their written permission to do so.
  4. Post anything your kids would find embarrassing or object to you sharing.
  5. Post anything you wouldn’t want your kids to see or read in 20 years (because they will).

My work gives me one more reason for including our kids in my life online. The focus of my blog and my research is to help people make sense of their lives online; to articulate and focus the choices we each make about how to use the Internet, and thus, to determine what kind of online world we will create. Figuring out how children can safely, constructively and enjoyably engage in the online world is part of that work, as is sharing my own thoughts and concerns about their experience online. I don’t want my kids to be lab rats, but as a family that is Internet-obsessed if not Internet-centric, I want to share whatever we learn from our own online exploration.]

And I’m just as keen to hear about the decisions other families make about whether and how to include their kids on Facebook or other social networking sites. What is your approach to bringing family content online? What experiences, insights or concerns do you have to share? I’d love to hear from you.

10 ways your smartphone will help you travel with kids

It was 9:15 a.m., and the Eiffel Tower had barely opened for the day. Nonetheless, we faced a 90-minute line-up before our two young kids — ages 4 and 6, respectively — would get to take the trip up the tower that they had been begging for since the moment we landed in Paris. But half an hour into the line-up, their patience (though not their enthusiasm) was wearing thin. So we did what any rational, tech-centric parent would do: we produced a pair of iPads, and handed one to each kid.

Five minutes later, peace was restored. In fact, the kids looked so happy in their distraction that we decided to follow suit. Each of us took out an iPhone, and there we stood, inching forward in line, playing on our respective screens.

Then we made the mistake of looking up.

All around us, the tourists of the world had been distracted from the prospect of their Eiffel Tower visit by an even more amazing sight: we four and our four screens. A German couple elbowed each other and pointed. A pair of Spanish kids craned their necks to see what our kids were playing with. And a family of Japanese tourists pulled out their cameras and took our pictures.

When your family’s technology use starts to compete with one of the world’s most beloved tourist attractions, it could be time to re-evaluate the role of technology in your travels. Or it could be the time to embrace your geekiness and incorporate it into your travel planning.

You’ll be shocked to hear that we took the latter route. If anything, our two weeks abroad gave me an even greater appreciation for the miracle that is the smart phone, and its ability to make travel with kids a whole lot smarter. The last time I was in Europe was not only pre-iPhone, it was pre-kids: and now that I’ve braved (and enjoyed!) international travel with two young children, I feel thankful that I got to do it with an iPhone in hand.

Here are 10 ways you can use your smartphone to get the most out of travelling with your kids:

Jet lag cure

  1. Stimulant: If your travel involves a major timezone change, you may find it hard to get your kids past their jet lag. In our case, the challenge was keeping the kids awake late enough on their first couple of nights in Paris. But for the very reason that most experts recommend against letting your kids play video games close to bedtime — the overstimulation makes it hard to fall asleep — we found our iPhones to be a great ally in keeping the kids awake. When we reached the droopy end-of-day when the kids just wouldn’t keep their eyes open, we handed over the iPhones and encouraged them to play high-stimulation games like Implode and Frogger.
  2. Travel clock: One challenge in adjusting to a new place and time is figuring out when it’s appropriate to wake up. When our four-year-old woke me up our first night in Paris, I had no idea if we’d just fallen asleep or if it was close enough to morning that I could let him get up. From then on, I used the Theme Clock app every night: it keeps the hour on permanent display, so that when we woke up in the night, I could instantly see if it was an appropriate time for a snack, potty break or morning wake-up.
  3. Night light: It’s scary for kids to wake up in an unfamiliar location, and tough for them to find their way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. But we were leery about leaving lights on, since darkness helps with the adjustment to a new time zone. The gentle illumination from our iPhone clock provided just enough light to make them comfortable during middle-of-the-night wake-ups.

    Guidebook

  4. Kid fun: Our Paris explorations were targeted at sights and activities our kids we hoped our kids would enjoy. Appls like DK’s Top 10 Paris (which included a list of top 10 kids’ attractions) and Lonely Planet Paris (which let us look up details on major attractions) helped us find our way to attractions like the Musée des Arts and Metiers, which was a huge hit. And the dedicated app for Paris Plages, the family-oriented riverfront festival that happens in Paris each summer, helped up discover the street performance that was a highlight of the trip.
  5. DIY Guidebook: Before leaving home, I did lots of research on topics like the best kids’ attractions in Paris, the best places to eat with kids, and the best restaurants in the neighborhood where we were staying. I used Evernote‘s web clipper to save the results of my research into an Evernote notebook called Paris, and I used Evernote’s settings on my iPhone to select the “Paris” notebook for offline use. If I used my computer to find a new activity or a fresh set of restaurant options, I added that to my notebook too; if I looked up a bus route, I took a screen shot of the results using Skitch, then dragged it into Evernote, too. As long as I remembered to sync Evernote on my iPhone before leaving the house each morning, I had a constantly up-to-date guidebook tailored to our plans for that day.
  6. Portable highlights: In addition to the iPhone guides, we purchased a couple of guidebooks dedicated to kids’ fun in Paris. Rather than schlepping these everywhere we went, I began each day by snapping pictures of the relevant pages with my iPhone, and using my Photos app as a kind of mobile guidebook.
  7. Snack finder: Traveling with kids changes your perception of a “close” location for the next snack or meal. Traveling solo or with Rob, I’m happy to walk fifteen or twenty minutes, even when starving, if it means my next bite will be something special. But even two blocks can feel like an impossibly long walk if you’re with a tired, starving and cranky kid who insists on being carried. Thank goodness for Yelp, which lets you search for cafés or restaurants, sort them by distance, and filter for those that are open now.

    Entertainment

  8. Navigation lesson: When our daughter got impatient with the time it took for us to plan out each Metro route, we included her in the planning by handing over an iPhone. The GPS locator made it easy for her to figure out our location on the Paris Smart Map; we used the iPhone to teach her how to navigate to the nearest Metro using the map.
  9. Local flavor: While searching for Paris-related apps that would help us navigate or find restaurants, I came across a few games and activities that were aimed at kids. The iPétanque app harnessed our little ones’ gaming to the characteristically French game of boules; Paris Concentration got them playing the usual card-matching game against a backdrop of Paris monuments.
  10. Dinner companion: We wanted to enjoy some serious meals out, but knew our kids wouldn’t have the patience to sit through a three-course meal at a nice restaurant. Thanks to the iPhones, we made it work: when the kids got antsy, we let them play games as long as they kept the sound off.

With the iPhone in such heavy rotation, you might expect that the Eiffel Tower wasn’t the only place we drew stares. And it’s true that our use of smartphones (not to mention the kids’) was more anomalous and conspicuous in Europe than it is in North America.

But for the most part, I felt like the iPhones made us less conspicuous as tourists than we would be without them. Instead of standing on a street corner with a map and guidebook, I stood there with an iPhone — just as I would here in Vancouver. Instead of eating in the touristy cafés, we found our way to the local watering holes. Instead of being Those Horrible Tourists With Their Noisy Children, we were Those Weird People with the iPhones.

In other words, ourselves.

5 questions that will change how your grown (or little) kid thinks about technology

Day 2 of our New York Times-inspired techsperiment: can we go without iPhones, iPads and computers for our three hours of family time each night?

The day brought a new challenge in the form of a comment on my blog, from my own mother:

I’m thrilled to learn from this blog post that you’re trying out the methodology I suggested recently for getting your kids to sleep earlier, ie turning off all the technology over the supper/bedtime hours. Good luck!

My first instinct was to race home and hand an iPhone and an iPad to each kid. The question of whether, when and how we let the kids engage with technology — and how we use it ourselves — is a frequent source of, um, “discussion”, between my mom, me and Rob. Like any ongoing discussion, it runs on a point system, so if my mom was going to regard our techsperiment as a point for her side, we’d have to call it off.

Before I pulled the trigger I called my mom to talk about her comment. “People my age all think it’s ridiculous you’d ignore the advice I give you,” she told me. “But then you listen to the same thing because you read it in the New York Times.”

That remark made me realize that our struggles over technology aren’t actually about technology. They are about how much I do or don’t listen to my mom; about how much influence my mom has over our lifestyle and parenting choices. Technology is simply one more battleground for fighting out the age-old battle for independence that is part of every parent-child relationship.

The battle heats up around technology because it is the one area in which everything we do is different from how our parents did it. We might argue about what I wear to the office party, but my mom went to office parties too (and yes, at age 39 my mom does still tell me if she thinks I should wear something different to the office party). We might disagree about our standards of good housekeeping, but my mom had to decide how much effort she would put into keeping her dining room table clutter-free. We might let our kids watch more TV (or less) than I was allowed, but my mom had to make a rule about whether and when I could watch TV.

But my mom’s career choices didn’t include the decision about whether to friend her boss on Facebook. She didn’t have to decide whether to shut off her mobile phone when she got home from work, or whether she’d respond to evening e-mail. She didn’t have to set household policies on violent video games, or what I could watch on YouTube. None of those choices existed.

For precisely that reason, my mom’s edicts on technology carry less weight than the experiences and perspectives of my peers — people who, like me, are engaged in daily negotiation around the role of technology in their professional life, their social life and their parenting.

But less weight isn’t no weight, as you can see from this techsperiment. Yes, it’s true, I rebuffed my mom’s initial observation — as in, “I would observe that if you two were really serious about geting your kids to bed, you would spend less time playing with your computers and actually engage with your kids.” If the New York Times’ story resonated enough to inspire us to try unplugging for a few hours a day, perhaps my mom’s comment softened up my neurons.

Which brings me back to my mom’s question: why didn’t I listen to her in the first place? Besides the seniors’ discount — by which I mean, discounting the tech pronouncements of seniors — my mom’s input was sidelined because it was a conversation-stopper rather than a conversation initiator. When I read the story of the mom who banned gadgets during family time, it precipitated a conversation between Rob and me about the role of technology in our own home. And it was that conversation, and not the New York Times, that got us to try our techsperiment.

The implication for parents (and I include myself in this) is that if you want to affect your kids’ relationship to technology, you need to do it through conversation, and not by handing down edicts or advice. Here are five questions you can ask your kids to start a meaningful conversation about technology, whatever their age:

  1. How do you decide what kind of information, stories and pictures to share online?
  2. How much time do you like to spend on the computer each day? How do you feel at the end of a day like that?
  3. What are your favourite things to do online? What do you like about them?
  4. Where do you feel like technology is really helping you live the kind of life you want? Is there anywhere that you feel it’s getting in the way?
  5. What could I be doing online that would let us communicate more or understand each other better?

The more curious you are, the more effective these questions will be. If you’re using them to deliver a message (“you’re online too much”; “you shouldn’t blog about your personal life”) your kids will hear that judgement and shut down, instead of hearing questions that can open them up.

Approach the conversation with genuine interest in your kids’ perspectives, asking follow-up questions that help you understand why they make the choices they do, and you’re more likely to catalyze deep thinking on their part. And who knows? You might get a new perspective on technology yourself.

For Oprah.com: Should you get an iPad for kids?

This post originally appeared on Oprah.com.

At 5 a.m. on April 3, I became the fifth person—and the first woman—in line outside the Apple store in Bellevue, Washington. By the time Apple store employees started handing out coffee and cookies, we front-of-the-liners were old friends. When a store employee announced we were allowed to buy only one iPad each, and not the rumored two, I wasn’t worried: My husband raced over with our kids so he could buy the second iPad for himself.

But what about Steve, standing right behind me? We’d never met before, but he’d shared his excitement about bringing a couple of iPads back to his office full of video game developers. He looked positively panic-stricken by the news he could buy only one.

As soon as my husband and kids arrived, I flagged down one of the store employees: “Excuse me, but do my kids count toward my iPads-per-person? Because their Uncle Steve here had hoped to buy an iPad for them.”

The employee agreed that yes, my kids counted as full, iPad-worthy citizens, and that “Uncle” Steve should feel free to buy an extra iPad for them. We made our iPad purchases as a brief, fictional family: me, my husband, and my pseudo-brother-in-law Steve, who was thus able to buy his two iPads.

If you’re feeling shocked that I would lie in an Apple store—my personal equivalent to lying in church—rest assured, I have been amply and appropriately punished. Perhaps it was the kids overhearing me say that we might get them their own iPads, or it was the eager way we handed our new ones over to create a whine-free drive back across the border to Vancouver—whatever it was, the kids now seemingly have their own iPads: ours.

Oh sure, I get to take the iPad to work while they’re at school. But it’s not really a work computer. It’s more of a kick-back, lie-on-the-sofa gadget. And no sooner do I kick back with the iPad than a couple of hands—usually dirty or sticky—pry it away from me.

More than a month into our life as a two-child, two-iPad family, I’ve come to appreciate this machine as perhaps the perfect kid computer. It’s kid-sized, unlike a desktop that looms too large, or a laptop that’s too big for a little lap. It’s intuitive, especially for kids who’ve been using their parents’ iPhones for the past couple of years. And best of all, it’s tactile: Getting rid of the mouse and replacing it with a touch screen gives kids the sense of immediacy that is missing from other tech toys.

Yet I still have misgivings about handing over a $700 machine to a 4- and a 6-year-old. Quite apart from the possibility that our kids will turn the iPads into a couple of very expensive paperweights, I worry about the impact of yet another screen in our already screen-infested house. We’ve got two TVs (each hooked up to a cable box, PVR and computer), three iPhones, a Wii and a PlayStation: Do our kids really need one more device to keep them info-tained?

If you’re considering an iPad—or other device—for your kids, here are some questions to consider first:

Which on-screen activities will this replace?
The Kaiser Family Foundation recently found that the average American child consumes almost 11 hours of media per day, fitting that into about 7.5 hours of actual screen time thanks to multitasking. Unless your kid has a couple more hands than mine does, you probably can’t get them to multitask a lot more than they are now, so adding another device into the mix will see that whopping 7.5 hours extend even further to accommodate yet another distraction. In our home, we’ve tried to keep the total amount of screen time more or less constant by turning off the TV whenever we see that both kids have their noses buried in an iPad.

How will I control my kids’ use of this device?
If it were as easy to find a pen in our house as it is to find a computer, I expect our oldest kid would already have written her first novel. At this point it feels like every surface of our house is covered with some kind of computing device: a pile of game controllers on the ottoman, a couple of laptops on the dining room table, iPads on the sofa and iPhones scattered across the coffee table. While it’s reassuring to know I’m never more than 30 seconds away from finding Wikipedia’s answer to the question of whether dogs can eat dogwood trees, the ubiquity of our computing devices also makes it very hard to patrol the kids’ tech time. Our best ally has been the password protection built into the iPads, iPhones and computers: While it’s a tiny bit inconvenient to enter a password every time we want to use our own machines, it means the kids can’t play with an iPad without first asking us to unlock it. Just don’t let the kids see the password as you’re typing.

How can this device promote more family interaction?
My daughter has only recently started to read, so I was surprised to find her peering over my shoulder as I played a game of Chicktionary, an iPad word-search game that attaches letters to animated chickens. Sure enough, she found some words of her own, and Chicktionary has now turned into an activity we can enjoy together—while working on her language skills. It’s hard for two people to simultaneously play with a single phone, but it’s easy for two kids (or a kid and an adult) to share an iPad. I try to invest in devices and software that encourage the kids to play together, or that provide us with new activities we can do as a family.

How much will we spend on software?
Early in the life of my iPad, our 4-year-old son pressed “buy” on a $10 word-processing app. “I thought about it and thought about it,” he told me. “And then I downloaded it.” Touched as I was by his concern for my text-editing environment, I could foresee feeling a lot less touched if his next executive decision involved the $299 medical database now available from Lexi. You can lock your kids out of the App Store by using the Restrictions option in the iPad’s settings, but that won’t resolve the constant whining for new games. So we’ve followed the advice of Common Sense Media and told our kids that iPad purchases have to come out of their allowance, which they can use to buy iTunes Store gift cards.

Will this distract us from spending time together?
With all the worrying about how much time our kids spend onscreen, it’s easy to overlook our own screen obsession. One of the things I love about the iPad is that, unlike a laptop screen, it doesn’t put a physical barrier between me and the kids if I’m surfing the web while they’re watching TV next to me on the sofa. But precisely because it’s so unobtrusive, it’s easy for the iPad to add to my current level of distraction as a parent: If I can snuggle up beside my son while catching up on Facebook, I can pretend I’m parenting rather than geeking out. But I have heard about some parents who actually pay attention to the kids sitting next to them, possibly even interacting without the presence of a TV, computer or gaming device. Who are these parents, you ask? I’m not sure. But I bet you don’t meet them at 5 a.m. in line outside the Apple Store.

On Oprah.com: 6 ways to be a better parent online

This post originally appeared on Oprah.com.

A few months ago, we had one of those stomach flus familiar to parents of young children everywhere. My son threw up all over his bed, and I wasn’t feeling so hot myself.

A wiser woman would do her best to forget this nightmare, but in our house, the ups and downs get immortalized on Twitter and Facebook. So when my husband headed off to a gathering of twitterers the next day, I couldn’t resist posting an update. And of course my update had to introduce a new hashtag, one of those keywords (preceded by a # sign) that people use to organize conversations on Twitter:

@robcottingham off to #vancouvertweetup while I go home to #pukefest

Rob’s response:

@awsamuel Will try to moderate drinking sufficiently to prevent hashtag convergence. #vancouvertweetup #pukefest

But Rob wasn’t the only person to respond. Our friend Jordan saw our tweets and chimed in:

@awsamuel @robcottingham It sounds as though we’re experiencing the same kind of week. Praise Pedialyte!

Pukefest may have started as a one-liner, but it turned into a lifeline. Three nights after our Twitter exchange, #pukefest claimed our daughter. The poor kid was epically sick: She threw up for hours and hours, all night long. Thanks to Jordan’s tip, we were ready with the Pedialyte, and when the puking finally stopped, we were able to get Sweetie hydrated and perked up very quickly.

If it takes a village to raise a child, that village no longer needs to be defined by the place you happen to live. Given the mobility of today’s young parents, it’s probably better if you’re not reliant on the people in your own town or city: You need a village of co-parents who can travel with you, who will be wide awake in their time zone when you’re groggily dealing with a middle-of-the-night crisis in yours.

6 ways the web can get you the village of help you need

Get Support
When we were expecting our daughter, we knew we were likely to have breastfeeding challenges. I’d had a breast reduction many years before, back in the day when the surgery almost inevitably compromised a mom’s future ability to nurse. Thanks to the Web, I discovered Breast Feeding After Reduction (BFAR), a Yahoo group for moms who’d been in the same position. Reading through the group’s archives introduced us to a book with practical tips and guidance, let us read up on the pros and cons of different supplementation approaches and helped us know the signs if our baby wasn’t getting enough milk. But with all that preparation, I was still devastated when a lactation consultant told me that no, my daughter wasn’t getting enough milk, and I had to start giving her extra milk or formula. I cried for an hour and then posted my heartbreak to the BFAR group. Within minutes, I had consoling messages from other moms who’d been there, sympathizing with my pain and cheering me on for my efforts to deal with the situation. They got me past the tears and ready to embrace feeding my baby in whatever way she needed.

Get Information
Shortly after our son was born, we had a chat with some friends who told us how they avoided using any plastic food storage, strictly for health reasons. Sounded crazy to me, but I Googled to see what scientific evidence was available for or against plastic. And I came across an extensive campaign, dating back to 1999—years before we became parents—drawing attention to the lack of scientific evidence about the safety of BPA, the plastic used in many baby bottles, including the Avent bottles we used. There was enough cause for worry that we decided to switch bottles, and I wrote an extensive blog post on about BPA and the alternative bottles we’d discovered. A year later, the BPA issue got in the headlines once again, and there was suddenly a mass exodus of parents from Avent bottles and the like. But I didn’t panic: My blog post had gotten me up-to-speed on the issue in time to get my son off the questionable bottles.

Get Inspiration
As astonishing as this may sound, we had trouble getting each of our kids to sleep through the night. We read lots of sleep books and even hired a sleep consultant, but each stage of development brought a fresh batch of sleep problems. And each time, we’d find fresh inspiration on the Web. These days, the chief tool in our bedtime arsenal comes from a great idea we found online: Give your kid a “pass” at bedtime, good for one glass of water, trip to the bathroom or whatever the latest request might be. With this tip we were able to go from 90 minutes of bedtime drama to just 10 or 15—giving us back our evenings!

Get Stuff
Another tip we read on lots of parenting sites was to provide an “attachment object,” typically a blanket or toy that your baby or child will cling to for comfort and sleep. And many parents emphasized the importance of having a backup in case the favored object goes missing. When our daughter got attached to a green elephant, we purchased a second identical elephant the next week. Little did we know that we’d also need one to keep at daycare and one to pack in her daycare earthquake kit. By that time, the elephant was long gone from our local baby store—but with some effort, we located a supply online. No matter how obscure your parenting quest, you’re likely to find your object of desire somewhere online.

Get Help
The Web is a great place to find sitters and other help, if you know where to look. I’ve generally had great success hiring off Craigslist for both home and business, partly because we make a point of conveying our character:

Do you love to bring order to chaos? We can supply the chaos. We have small kids (both in daycare) and a thriving business, so we really need another person who can help us at home. We may leave our kitchen looking like a disaster area, but we really appreciate the person who restores it to order, and the people who have worked with us at home or in our office have loved working for us.

I get lots of responses, and I’m conscientious about checking references. But no system is foolproof: One lovely young woman who came highly recommended looked after our kids several times before we came home early and found our vodka bottle on the kitchen counter…and then hidden away as soon as we turned our back. After that experience, we resorted to a subscription-based website that matches sitters with parents, and found a great sitter among the many responses. And unlike referrals from friends, you’re not competing for sitter time with people you know, so you’re less likely to come up empty on the night of the big party.

Get Expertise
We’re expertise junkies. I might as well confess that in the past five years, we’ve had a business coach, a money coach, a sales coach, a doula, a lactation consultant, a sleep coach, a professional organizer and a parenting coach. We’ve worked with some people by phone and with others in person, but it was our parenting coach—Barb Desmarais—who suggested video conferencing via Skype™. In just a few conversations, we were transformed from daunted parents of a newly argumentative toddler into a confident, relaxed Dad and a gently authoritative Mom. For five whole minutes.

Okay, so the Internet can’t turn us into superparents. But what can? As parenting coach Barb once said to us, “We are all perfect parents—until we have kids.” What the Internet can do is remind you that you are not the only parent to come up short. And in that recognition comes the self-acceptance and peer camaraderie to get the advice, support and inspiration to be the best imperfect parent you can be.

The geek’s guide to child-proofing: how to keep your tech safe from baby

If you’ve had a baby, chances are you’ve given some thought to the question of childproofing. No sooner does the stick turn pink, it seems, then people start telling you about all the things you’ve got to do to ensure that your baby doesn’t hurl itself down the stairs, electrocute itself, or drink poison instead of breast milk.

Keeping your baby alive and uninjured is an important part of parenting. But so is keeping yourself sane and happy. And if you’re a geek, the keys to your happiness may be embedded in the thousands of dollars of technology that you accumulated in your pre-baby years. The technology that is just chock full of delicate wires and flashing buttons that are all-too-vulnerable to tiny, sticky hands.

With the wisdom earned from six years’ of childraising, two destructive children and four or five figures’ worth of maimed technology, I’d like to weigh in on the neglected side of childproofing. Because once you’ve figured out how to keep your baby safe from your stuff, it’s time to figure out how to keep your stuff safe from baby.

Replace your DVD player with a computer: Just before our second baby, aka Lil Pnut, was born, our DVD player died. When Rob suggested we replace it with a Mac Mini, I thought he was crazy: why spend $800 on a computer when we could get a DVD player for $200? Happily, he prevailed, and it turns out to have been our smartest purchase ever: instead of playing a constant game of keep-away so that sticky fingers stay off of DVDs, we download our videos or rip them immediately to our hard drive. Now that we’ve entered the gaming years, the same principle applies: buying DVD-based games is a risky proposition, but buying downloadable games ensures there’s no physical medium to lose or destroy.

iPhone case: You may think you’ll never hand that gorgeous, shiny iPhone to your gooey toddler, but trust me: someday you will be in a lineup, or at restaurant, or at a friend’s house, and become truly desperate for something — anything!! — that will distract your kid for a few precious moments. When that day comes, you don’t want to hand your kid a bare naked iPhone: you want to hand them a phone that is in a sturdy, impact-resistant case, with some kind of protector on the screen, too.

CD/DVD slots: You may not realize it, but your computer’s DVD drive is an awesome receptacle for index cards, paper clips, coins and a wide variety of two-dimensional objects. If you don’t need to access the drive on a regular basis, slap a piece of duct tape on it. I haven’t seen any kind of drive cover that you can install (and lock) but would love to know of one

Speakers: We used to have very nice stereo speakers that Lil Pnut dismembered over a year’s worth of steady working away at the edges, the cover, and finally, the interior. Put your speakers on a high shelf, or put the good speakers away for a few years and get a pair of moderately-priced bookshelf speakers instead.

Kid & sitter account: Once your kid gets old enough to use your computer — you know, at around 8 months — you want to ensure that all that banging away on the keyboard doesn’t nuke something crucial on your drive. Set up a separate user account, with no admin privileges, that you can use when you are sharing the computer with baby; it’s also handy if you’re going to leave your computer for a babysitter to use, too.

Raise your power bars: Even if your computer is out of reach or locked away, a kid will gravitate towards that bright red switch that does that cool flashing on-and-off thing when you flick it. If you want to avoid a sudden (and perhaps fatal) power outage or surge, keep the power bar hidden behind furniture or up out of reach.

Get mag-lock cables: Apple’s mag-lock cable connection is a genius way of ensuring that your kid won’t destroy your laptop cable (or laptop) by tripping or pulling on the cord. If you’re likely to have your baby in the same room as your laptop, a magnetic lock cable is your new best friend.

Give baby your deprecated technology: People who are concerned about keeping baby safe from technology will tell you that you should never let your kid play with something that isn’t designed as a toy. But if you have a tech-loving baby, he or she will be far more interested in actual tech than in play tech. A good compromise is to give baby your cast-off tech toys so that she or he can play with something that looks and beeps like the real thing — just make sure to avoid handing over anything with little pieces that can break off and get swallowed, and keep a careful eye on baby when playing with grownup toys.

Use Google safesearch: You may not object to seeing pornographic images — in fact, that may be one of your favourite uses for the web. But get in the habit of leaving Google’s safesearch on — it’s under “search settings”, and can filter out any explicit images that come up in a search. That way a kid that accidentally punches a few unfortunate letters into the search bar won’t get an explicit and traumatic eyeful.

Password protection: Set up passwords on all your computers and phones — before your kids set them up and lock you out. On different occasions, Lil Pnut has managed to lock us out of both a computer and iPhone, simply by banging away on the keyboard until he somehow triggered the account settings, at which point he apparently entered some random keystrokes that voila! created a new password we couldn’t get around.

Avoid magnetic toys: There are a lot of great kids toys that use magnets either as a way of creating little pictures and paper dolls, or as a construction element. Small, strong magnets are incredibly dangerous to kids if swallowed; but even large, non-swallowable magnets can be bad news if applied to the side of your computer.

Put your phone out of reach: Did you know that randomly hitting the buttons on your phone will trigger a connection to 911? I didn’t — until Lil Pnut got ahold of a phone and, after a few minutes, found himself talking to the 911 operator. Apparently this is a very common problem, so the good people at 911 would appreciate you keeping your phone out of toddler reach so that they can keep the lines free for people with actual emergencies.

Baby-wise purchasing: When we recently looked at LCD TVs, the salesperson was kind enough to point out that one brand of TV (LD) was unique in offering a screen coating that resists the push-and-smudge impact of little fingers. If you’re making new technology purchases, look for the vulnerable points on the product you’re buying, and ask a salesperson to recommend the least-vulnerable option. That goes for household appliances too: look for dishwashers and ovens that don’t just have soft locks (i.e. a locking feature that prevents kids from activating the appliance) but actual physical locks that keep kids from opening the appliance.

Borrow an inquisitive toddler: Once you’ve got the obvious vulnerabilities covered, it’s time to look for the the weaknesses you’ve failed to anticipate. There are inevitably going to be cables and gadgets in your house that you never dreamed of a toddler touching — unless you’ve already got one running around underfoot, by which time it is too late. So while your little angel is still at the blissful, pre-crawling stage, borrow someone else’s toddler: you want the inquisitive, button-pressing kid whose parent is always complaining about the latest household object to be broken or flushed down the toilet. Bring that kid over to your house (after you’ve asked the parent for permission!), give them free rein, and watch them like a hawk as they explore all the nooks, crannies and possessions you have left on view. You’ll quickly find any unanticipated vulnerabilities which you can now patch before your own kid starts moving around.

As you will infer from this post, Lil Pnut is the inquisitive, button-pressing, tech-destroying kid that you need for your own babyproofing audit. We will accept bookings at a rate of $1000/hr for a parent-and-child team; we figure that after a dozen bookings he will have paid off his debt to our household technology. Needless to say, we assume no liability for loss or damage incurred during the auditing process.

12 kid-friendly iPhone apps for toddlers and young kids

You may think of your iPhone as a communications device, a productivity tool, an iPod or even a babe magnet. But if that’s all an iPhone is to you, you’re missing its most extraordinary power: the ability to keep a preschooler silent and occupied for the length of time it takes a grown-up to eat a meal in a restaurant with actual tablecloths.

We discovered the awesome child-pacifying powers of our iPhones last summer, while on a leadership retreat at the Hollyhock Centre. Hollyhock is almost the last place on earth you want to be outed as an over-technologized parent, but we decided we’d rather be the freaks whose kids can’t be separated from the small screen, than the freaks whose kids are incredibly noisy and disrupt everybody’s dinner (though there were some nights when we got to be both).

At first, we treated the iPhones as very tiny TV screens, capable of amusing our kids with downloaded Diego and Dora episodes. But within a few weeks of his second birthday, our little guy had already mastered the art of unlocking a sleeping iPhone, navigating to the iPod player, and getting Diego up and running. From this we inferred that the kids might be up for something more interactive, and tried out a variety of educational — and not so educational — games over the following months.

The opportunity to download a new iPhone app is now the second-most-requested privilege in our house: ahead of junk food, but still behind the lure of a new arts & crafts project. (Phew!) Saturday is “you get to buy a new app from the iTunes store” day, and our elder kid now has her sights set on an iPhone (or iPod touch) of her own.

Here are some of the apps that have been consistent hits in our house. I’d love to hear about other iPhone apps that appeal to the 3-5 set.

  1. fairies flyFairies Fly: If you’re the kind of parent who refuses to take your kid to Disney movies on principle, this is not the application for you. If, on the other hand, you are a five-year-old girl, you will think that steering Tinkerbell and other Disney fairies through trees, clouds and insects is pretty much the best thing that has ever happened in the entire history of the world.
  2. Zippo Lighter: On the one hand, it seems like an extraordinarily poor idea to encourage a small kid to play with fire. On the other hand, it seems to have completed displaced the fascination with REAL matches and lighters that I associate with small children.
  3. the wheels on the busThe Wheels on the Bus: This interactive version of the kids’ song is genuinely awesome; your kid can sing along in English, French, Spanish or several other languages, or record his own voice and listen to himself sing. No downsides except for the remarkable ethnic homogeneity of the bus riders & townspeople, which I can excuse on the grounds that this version seems to be set in a small French village (why, I couldn’t tell you.)
  4. Cylon Detector: If you’re geeky enough to think that an iPhone is an appropriate kid toy, you probably share our eagerness to induct your children into sci-fi geekdom as early as possible. The Battlestar Galactica Cylon Detector lets you or your kid snap a photo, and then find out whether the subject is a Cylon. Our kids love the composited photos of themselves and their friends in BSG garb; we love them getting groovy with Captain Adama et al.
  5. Subway Shuffle Lite: Move the obstacles so the train can move from one station to the other. A very simple logic game that can be modestly challenging for adults, and is a good brain-builder for kids who fight it engaging.
  6. Tappy Tunes: Unless you’re ready to start nagging your kids about piano practice, Tappy Tunes is the easiest way to get them playing music that sounds like, well, music. The kids tap the screen, and it plays the notes of a song, in order; your kid basically controls the pace, but not the tune.
  7. Ocarina screenshotOcarina: An iPhone version of the wind instrument: blow into your iPhone’s mike while you tap the appropriate spots on the screen, and you can play your iPhone ocarina like a real instrument. The kids love the challenge of modulating their breath and coordinating with the taps on screen.
  8. Scoops: Tilt the iPhone to slide your ice cream cone back and forth across the screen, catching more ice scream scoops and avoiding the tomatoes and onions. Simple, quiet and enjoyable.
  9. Balloonimals: Blow into the mike to inflate a balloon, then shake the phone to make a balloon animal. The resulting 3-D animals each perform a few different motions depending on where you tap. It’s all in the execution, here; nice images and animations make for a great experience.
  10. Bugdom: Help your bug navigate through a garden, zapping bees and catching butterflies.
  11. Toddler Teasers: Basic toddler challenges, like shape and colour identification. The instructions are spoken out loud, instead of written, which is something more kid-oriented games should think of!
  12. Peekaboo Barn: Guess which animal you’re hearing through the barn doors before the barn opens. It’s the adorable illustrations that make this game so charming; our toddler was delighted each time a new animal was revealed.

    Last but most essential: the Clarifi case, useful for sharpening your iPhone’s camera so you can take great shots of your kids. And even more useful when those tiny, techie fingers let your $299 iPhone drop on the restaurant floor.

    Update & Saliva Warning: I took my iPhone in for a repair this week and was told my warranty was void because a small paper tab Apple implants in each iPhone showed the phone had been exposed to liquid. Since this phone has never gotten wet, we suspect that the moisture detector (which is just inside the dock port) was triggered by excess saliva from the kids playing Ocarina and Balloonimals, both of which involve blowing into the phone. If your kids are still at the drooly stage, you may want to avoid iPhone games that involve mouth-to-iPhone contact.

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