Thursday, May 31, 2012

Facebook 101: 8 Things to Know About Cyber-Safe Parenting

Posted By on Thu, May 31, 2012 at 3:22 PM

Worried about the way your kids use social media? Well, you’re not alone. On Tuesday night, Attorney General Bill Sorrell appeared at Essex High School with representatives from Facebook to talk about keeping kids safe online. The goal: to educate parents, teachers and teens about some of Facebook’s new safety regulations and how to use them.

Sorrell just launched his eighth reelection campaign — he’s fending off a primary challenger, T.J. Donovan — and Internet safety is a big part of his platform. He admitted that while he began using the social networking site to stay in touch with his college-age kids, he remains somewhat mystified by Facebook and, like those in the audience, was “here to learn.” Though Facebook is a “wonderful new technology,” there are also downsides, he said, citing “horror stories” about cyber-bullying — like that of Essex teen Ryan Halligan, who committed suicide in 2003 after being bullied both on- and offline — and cases in which teens have released too much information, later regretting it when applying for college, graduate school, or employment.

After Sorrell’s welcome, Facebook representative Brook Oberwetter, part of both Facebook’s public policy and safety teams based in Washington, D.C., gave a presentation outlining some tips for parents hoping to keep their children safe online. Here’s her list:


1. Check out your own privacy settings. From the drop-down arrow on the top bar, choose “Privacy Settings,” and peruse your own privacy controls. You can set your default settings to “Public,” “Friends,” or “Custom”: in other words, as few or as many people as you’d like. (You can also do this on a per-post basis, both before and after you post.) It’s good to keep up with your own privacy settings by revisiting this page about once a month, Oberwetter says, as things on the Internet are constantly in flux. Facebook’s policies are subject to change, while you’ll add more friends and share different content. Checking in regularly with this page is a good way to keep abreast of these changes.

2. Be honest. Facebook operates on a “real name culture,” which means that, instead of the traditional Internet world of anonymous screennames, Facebook is designed to encourage people to interact with each other just like they would in real life. By using their real full names, users are accountable to the wider community, and less likely to do something irresponsible or disrespectful.

3. It’s also important to make sure your kids are using their real age, Oberwetter emphasizes — kids between 13 and 18 are given special protection under Facebook’s safety policies, all of which is undone if they lie about their age. Kids under 13 are banned from Facebook, though they do get access — it’s near impossible to monitor, but best if done with parental consent and supervision.


4. Be careful when using apps on Facebook. Facebook is both a product and a platform, which means that while your content is seen and (sort of) managed by the Zuckerberg empire, apps like Words with Friends, Farmville, and The Washington Post Social Reader, are not. When you install an app on your Facebook account, it will generally ask you if you’re comfortable sharing certain information. Facebook’s requirement is that an app can only ask for information it needs to make the app work (like asking for your birthday if it plans to suggest age-appropriate books, for example). But be careful — apps can also get information about you from friends who use them. If you’re uncomfortable with this, log in to your privacy settings and deselect these permissions. If you want to stop using, and deny access to, all Facebook apps, you can un-enable Facebook Platform (under Privacy Settings – Apps, games, and websites, there’s a link that says “Turn off all apps”).


5. Make sure your kids know about Facebook’s new social reporting tools, which help users deal with cyber-bullying and harassment within the social context in which they happen. Children aren’t always comfortable reporting cyber-bullying offline, so this platform allows them to send the offending post to a mutual friend or trusted adult, on or off Facebook. Anecdotally, Oberwetter says, the program has so far helped kids to communicate with each other and with outsiders to work through online problems.


6. Don’t be afraid to be the bad guy. Facebook’s “Report” tool allows users to flag content they find inappropriate, offensive, hurtful, or alarming, under very specific categories. Oberwetter and the safety team encourage you to use the anonymous reporting function to alert Facebook to any harmful content or irresponsible underage users, and to take more immediate action when the situation calls for it, like informing the local police if you see something regarding crime or violence.

7. Know that Facebook is working behind the scenes to protect you and your children. Oberwetter assured the audience that the site’s safety teams are available 24/7, around the globe, and able to respond in over 70 different languages. Facebook’s safety arsenal includes photo DNA scans, as well as programs that detect excessive contact between adults and children and check for harassing language.

8. In the end, you’re the boss. Set your own rules regarding your child’s use of Facebook and social networking based on what seems to work for your family. Have a conversation with your kids to see what you’re both comfortable with, and keep the conversation going as your relationship to social media evolves.

One of the best ways to stay safe on Facebook is to keep up with changes in the site’s development. Oberwetter and her safety team have a Facebook page you can follow, where they share information regarding changes and new protections as they are developed. Most of the information is readily available, but underutilized, as people tend to ignore the Facebook info banners and spend their time chatting with friends, not perusing the safety guidelines. Take a minute next time you log on to read up on the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, the Data Use Policy, and the Community Standards.

Don’t have a Facebook profile? Have your tech-savvy teen help you set up an account, or go through the process of creating a page together if you’re both Facebook newbies. Keeping the conversation honest and open, Oberwetter advises, is the best policy when it comes to Internet safety — both between Facebook and its users, and between parents and their children.

Editor's Note: Sachi Leith is interning this summer with Kids VT.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pick up the June Issue

Posted By on Wed, May 30, 2012 at 10:11 AM

It all dads up in the just-out June Kids VT. We spotlight fathers in this month's issue, which includes mini-profiles of seven dads who traded careers for caregiving. Other pop-ular content this month: One dad's war on lice, and information about playgroups that aim to bring dads and kids together.

June also marks the start of our Vermont Day-cations summer series. This year's day trips bring you to family-friendly spots in Vermont as well as to some nearby but out-of-state attractions. This month's destinations: the Shelburne Museum and the Montreal Biodome.

Feel free to let us know what you think - good, bad, or ugly. Send us a letter, an email, or Facebook comment to share your thoughts.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Gardening with Kids

Posted By on Mon, May 21, 2012 at 12:38 PM


If you’re gardening with kids, get ready to get messy. And I mean that both literally and figuratively. Kids love to get dirty and so introducing them to directed dirt digging will thrill the little worm-seekers. But, kids also go at their own pace, along their own path. So … your expectations might get messed up.

The key, I think, is to let go a little. And have fun.

I have a hard time with this, and so when I offer this advice, I do it gently. I know how hard it is to achieve the zen-like serenity that will enable you to smile when your son tears up the entire tulip bulb to bring you a flower. Or to laugh when your neat rows of seedlings are broken up by barren spots where a toddler marched through.

But, if you can let go and accept that things will go awry, bringing kids into your garden is a great learning opportunity. It’s a chance for kids to connect with the earth in a real and meaningful way. They’ll learn respect for the forces of nature when birds eat the seedlings, see how life cycles through the seasons, and they’ll actually eat the vegetables that they grow.

My son loves to prove that point: He doesn’t like asparagus … except when it’s fresh up in our garden. I often think he picks the young shoots just because he knows I value them so much … but I have to grin when I realize I’m upset because he’s eating a vegetable that I wanted. Darn.

Here are some ideas for garden fun that kids will enjoy. Spark their imagination and get them hooked on a healthy hobby. If things get too messy, just remind yourself that there’s always next year.

1) Grow a sunflower house: Plant a circle of sunflowers and when the flowers form, tie the tops together to make a roof. This living play-structure is awesome — we put ours near the blackberry bushes, so the house comes complete with snacks. Bonus feature: Leave this up all winter for the birds to enjoy. Also, it makes the basis of a great snow fort.

2) Plant a name garden: Sow fast-growing seeds in a pattern spelling out your child’s name. (If you named your kid Maximillian, I’m gonna recommend you just use his initials.) When the radishes or lettuce come up, seeing their name in greens is going to seem as cool as seeing it in lights.

3) Personalize your pumpkin: Growing pumpkins is great, but it takes a while to get to the enjoyment phase of that vegetable. A fun way to spice things up is to etch your name or initials onto a gourd when it first forms. As it grows, the marks you make with a knife will stretch and shift in pretty neat ways. This is a good way to keep kids interested in repeat visits to the pumpkin patch after planting.

4) Cuke in a Jar?!?: Here’s a trick that will amaze your friends, and older kids will love the wow-factor. Slip a clear plastic bottle over a cucumber when it’s still small. Allow it to grow to full size inside the container, and then pick when ripe. You can tell friends and neighbors that you magicked it inside.

5) Plant berries: There’s no magic involved in this recommendation. It’s just a matter of appealing to a kids’ tastes. Kids love the sweet stuff and there is simply nothing better than going into your own back yard and eating strawberries, blueberries or raspberries right off the bush. Strawberries are probably easiest and there are now many containers that give you a chance to grow them in tight quarters — even on your porch or stoop. You won’t regret it.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Baby Name Game

Posted By on Mon, May 14, 2012 at 1:03 PM

We're all focused on babies this month here at Kids VT. Not only did we just publish our May Baby & Maternity issue, but we're also expecting a bunch of new additions to our Seven Days-Kids VT staff family. The wives of two of our staff writers are expecting (actually, one of them delivered last week!), one of our proofreaders is due soon, and two employees on the sales side of our company are due this summer.

Not surprisingly, the subject of baby names comes up quite a bit around the water cooler.

One of our expectant writer-papas just forwarded me this nifty website called The Baby Name Wizard, which lets you do all kinds of crazy searches. You can use it to research names and track baby-name popularity. It's pretty sweet.

The Baby Name Wizard has a state-by-state breakdown of baby names, which is also data you can find on the Social Security Administration website, though the SSA doesn't present it nearly as prettily. Interestingly, I just read a report that mentions the Baby Name Wizard on the NPR website. The NPR story claims that baby names are the latest partisan divide. Interestingly, it leads with a couple sentences about Burlington, Vermont! Apparently, we're more conservative up here than our red-state counterparts when it comes to baby names. The Baby Name Wizard founder posits that's because blue-state moms are older when they give birth, and therefore less adventurous.

What do you think? What baby names have you heard around here lately? I suddenly know a whole bunch of Henrys. And more than two young Griffins. We thought Ivy was really original back in 2008, but now it's apparently one of the most popular names of the year.

Photo from Dreamstime.

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Walking for Williams

Posted By on Sun, May 13, 2012 at 8:34 PM

Yesterday, while most of the Kids VT staff was hanging out at Battery Park for Burlington’s Kids Day celebration, my family and I headed to Oakledge Park for Vermont’s second annual Walk for Williams. More than 100 people showed up on a sunny spring Saturday to raise money for the nonprofit Williams Syndrome Association.

If you were on the southern end of the Burlington Bike Path Saturday morning, you might have seen us walking between the Oakledge picnic pavilion and the Earth Clock. Most of the walkers wore white T-shirts that read, “Williams Syndrome: extraordinary gifts, unique challenges.”

Williams syndrome is a genetic condition — children and adults who have it are missing part of chromosome 7. They lack the elastin gene, which is what gives blood vessels their strength and flexibility. “Elastin’s in every tissue in our bodies, basically,” says Walk for Williams organizer Mary Hill.

Hill is an oncology nurse at Fletcher Allen Health Care, and an assistant nursing professor at Vermont Technical College; my partner, Ann-Elise, is one of her students, which is how we heard about the fundraiser. Hill and her husband have three boys. Their oldest, 8-year-old Aiden, has Williams.

I spoke with Hill by phone after the fundraiser. She explains that the condition can cause a wide variety of complications, including severe cardiovascular problems and cognitive challenges. “There are behavioral issues, ADHD and all of that fun stuff,” she reports. People with Williams also possess similar facial features, including a small, upturned nose and a wide mouth. According to the WSA website, people with Williams may also possess “striking verbal abilities, highly social personalities and an affinity for music.”

Hill points out that Williams isn’t something that doctors catch right away. Aiden was diagnosed at 14 months. “He had so many different issues,” remembers Hill. “He was extremely colicky and irritable.” A Burlington geneticist finally discovered the cause.

Williams is a rare condition; the WSA estimates that it affects just one in 10,000 infants born worldwide; by contrast, Down Syndrome, another genetic disorder, affects one in every 1250 infants, though the rate goes up for children born to women over 40. Hill says there were seven Williams kids and one adult among the participants at Saturday’s event. “The walk is the only time in Vermont that families have been brought out of the woodwork,” she says.


Hill likes being able to get the families to get together. “It’s fascinating to hear that they have the same positives and negatives,” she says. “It’s nice.” Her son Aiden was the youngest Williams kid in the crowd, and she appreciates hearing from the other parents who have already navigated some of the issues she’s facing.

“I know there are other younger kids with Williams Syndrome out there in the Burlington area,” she adds. “I think right now they’re still in the acceptance stage.”

Burlington’s Walk for Williams was one of more than 40 similar fundraisers happening around the country on Saturday, the WSA’s 30th anniversary. It also featured a raffle, with prizes donated from Lake Champlain Chocolates, SnowFlake Chocolates, Beltrami Studios, The Edge, Vermont Teddy Bear Company and Once Upon a Child. Hill says they raised $4800 for the WSA, which will go toward research programs, family assistance with health care and camps for Williams kids.

She points out that raising awareness of Williams is part of the goal, too — hence the T-shirts. “A lot of times, it’s the bigger disabilities that get the attention,” she says. “Everybody knows about Down syndrome. Everybody knows about autism.” By organizing the walk, she hopes to educate people about her son’s condition, especially other young children. “So when they go to school with [kids with Williams],” she says, “they’ll know how to relate to them.”

Photos from the walk by Sarah Larner and Cathy Hill

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Pick up the May Issue

Posted By on Tue, May 1, 2012 at 8:42 AM

May's Kids VT is our Baby & Maternity issue. In it you'll find lots of awww-inspiring content, including a Q & A with a neonatal intensive care unit nurse and birth stories from four fathers in Go Ask Dad. And, several local moms share their experiences making the transition back to office work after maternity leave.

Also in this issue, moms get fit with a Baby Pump class, pregnancy circles offer a chance to share positive birthing experiences and we highlight a class on preparing kids for sibling-hood.

As always, please let us know what you think. Send us a letter, an email, or Facebook comment to share your thoughts.

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YMCA Camp Abnaki

YMCA Camp Abnaki

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Overnight camp for boys currently in grades 1-10, day camp for boys currently in grades K-4. Camp Abnaki has been on Lake Champlain’s shores in North Hero for more than 100 years and features rustic cabins grouped in villages spread out over rolling acres. Abnaki’s technology-free environment is tailor-made for…(more)

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