Family & Technology

Keep Your Naked Selfie Covered

Written on September 12, 2014 at 5:00 am , by

We’re used to hearing celebrities bare all in interviews and watching them bare all on movie screens. But this month, when news broke of hackers using the iCloud to leak nude photos of stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton, many were shocked. How did the hackers pull it off? What other information could be hacked into? Who’s at risk? Aside from the obvious concerns about such a privacy breach, however, another issue loomed. Why take a naked photo?

Maybe it’s because I don’t even like to pose for, much less share, a photo of myself in a bathing suit sans cover-up. So I can’t help but wonder why folks want naked selfies.

One group worth approaching to answer that question: teenagers. Most teens sext to maintain or ignite a relationship, or are pressured into the behavior. A recent study indicated that more than 50% of college students sent sexually explicit texts—with or without photos—as minors. (About a quarter admitted to sending sexually explicit photographs.) These numbers would indicate that among young people sexting is increasing in prevalence. In fact, it has tripled or quadrupled in some ages and categories of teens over the past five years. Boys and girls sext at the same rate, but boys forward more.

As moms and dads, we need to shift our focus to parenting in the digital age. We need to talk to our children and teens about sending pictures, receiving pictures and passing them on. We need to tell them that not everyone is doing it and cyberspace does not have a button for forgiveness. Images that are deleted can be retrieved, and pictures that are sent can be passed along.

The message to our children and teens should be clear and consistent. Do not ever post or send a naked or half-naked selfie to anyone. Ever. They should delete images that are sent to them and not forward them. I want to remind young people that there are many ways to feel good about yourself: practice kindness to others, volunteer in schools and communities, simply contribute to the common good. But keep your naked selfie covered.

Have you talked to your child about sexting? Do you think your son or daughter would ever do it? Post a comment and tell me.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet. Read more of her posts here.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

Surviving a Cross-Country Road Trip with the Husband, Two Quarrelsome Teens and a Dog

Written on August 5, 2014 at 12:18 pm , by

 

“We could pull a Thelma and Louise right here, Mom.” Ava (15) was pointing to the precipice falling away into oblivion before our car.

“I was about to say that!” I answered.

We were climbing into the mountains on our way out of Death Valley, six days into our own epic, life-changing road trip, and relocating from North Carolina to California. Everyone—well, mostly my teenagers—had expressed no small amount of anxiety about our ability to get along in a car for that long. When informed that we planned to drive cross-country with two quarrelsome teens and 60 pounds of stubborn canine anxiety, a few people had suggested that our chances of ending in mayhem and bloodshed were high.

At least one of the trip’s detractors was in the car with us. “I’m dreading this,” Cole (17) had said the night before our departure. “Ten days in a car with my family. What could be worse?”

I didn’t voice my fears but I certainly had them. My kids are so skilled at bickering they could have coached Liz Taylor and Richard Burton for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. My husband, Dan, and I had just packed all our earthly belongings into a moving container, a herculean effort that had left us teetering close to Taylor-and-Burton territory ourselves. I’m aware that moving has a stress quotient that’s right up there with divorce. Was I crazy to think that throwing this road trip on top of the move wouldn’t cause one to lead to the other?

“Maybe we’ll have fun,” the Pollyanna voice in my head ventured.

So I overprepared. I made sure everyone had a working smartphone with data, a tablet and headphones. I made sure the kids downloaded books, movies and music to those devices before we left in case we found ourselves without cell service or Wi-Fi. GM had loaned me a Buick Enclave for the journey as part of its Buick Bucket List campaign. It sports plenty of charging ports, video monitors and space as well as some serious creature comforts, such as heated and cooled seats. The dog would have the third row and each teen a monitor. We were not planning on suffering. Since this particular car does not sport a Wi-Fi connection (though most cars with OnStar will in the future), we packed a NetGear Mingle so that everyone could get online with their laptops and tablets. When another famously quarrelsome couple (Sir Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke) went searching for the source of the Nile, preparation was essential. I told myself the same was true for us. Preparation didn’t guarantee success—certainly not for Burton and Speke—but the lack of it could mean certain failure.

And here we were, six days later, staring into a (stunningly beautiful) abyss.

We’d had to make a few compromises for the dog, but not many. We were able to find beds, TV and free Wi-Fi in places that let our pet stay with us at every stop. It was pretty easy. We simply limited ourselves to two hotel chains and used the Hotels Tonight app, when possible, to secure rooms at a bargain price. La Quinta hotels are always pet-friendly but, from afar and with only a smartphone, it’s hard to tell the difference between the nice properties and the sketchy ones. Best Westerns usually accept pets and are sometimes (I’m talking about you, Best Western near Zion) exceptionally pleasant. We also like KOA’s Deluxe cabins because they’re as nice as hotel rooms and often pet-friendly, plus they offer more space, including a kitchenette and a separate room for the kids. So, with almost no advance planning, we did fine on accommodations.

We also survived vast deserts that lacked not only water but cell service. We were traveling with our phones on an AT&T plan, a Nokia 2520 tablet with 4G on Verizon, and the Mingle on Sprint’s networks. I now know for certain that all claims by cell companies that they have connected the entire world do not include vast stretches of American mountains, plains and desert. But it didn’t matter. By the time we got past Oklahoma, the need to always be connected had drifted away, along with most of the worries that we wouldn’t get along.

When we got to the New Mexico desert, Cole grabbed the Bluetooth connection to the Enclave’s sound system so that we could all enjoy that landscape to the sound tracks to Sergio Leone spaghetti Westerns like A Fistful of Dollars. “Is that atmospheric or what?” he asked as we drove over a bridge with desert as far as the eye could see while a train passed beneath us, Ennio Morricone’s music playing full blast.

We survived my husband’s disastrous attempts at hula hoop in Santa Fe, blistering (115 degrees!) heat in Death Valley, our own bad singing and some terrible food. As a family, we are stronger for it.

It turns out this crazy road trip was an excellent idea. My bickering kids got into only a few scrapes. My husband and I have a blast together when we aren’t working so hard. Our post-move aches and pains were soothed by repeatedly alternating the car’s seats between heated and chilled. We saw a dozen places—Monument Valley, Zion National Park, Death Valley and Memphis among them—that were on my bucket list. And we witnessed a few things that none of us expected or really hoped to see, including the Area 51 Alien Brothel (or the gas station portion of it, anyway) and the Continental Divide fireworks and souvenir store.

As we crested that hill with Death Valley below and only my sane driving decisions keeping us from Thelma-and-Louise oblivion, Ava was not suggesting that we end it all in an apocalyptic blaze. She was demonstrating that we were enjoying each other’s company.

“See,” she answered. “I can read your mind. Love you, Mom!” She smiled at me in the rearview. “Who knows you better than anyone?”

Opening Minds with Skype in the Classroom

Written on July 9, 2014 at 8:00 am , by

Sometimes I’m stunned by the myopic viewpoints my daughter encounters in school, and so is she. I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to help both my kids see past their own small world to understand global issues. We travel as much as we can. We watch programming from other cultures. We read. And we explore the Internet with an eye to the larger, diverse world.

My daughter has described in-class worldviews that are so insular—limited by teachers’ less-expansive experiences—that I’m frustrated. Although I know there are simple technical tools that can transcend those limitations, most teachers look at me with annoyance if I suggest them. I realize that teachers have concerns and time constraints I know nothing about. But I recently sat in on a demonstration at a Skype in the classroom event in New York where teachers from remote, rural and deeply impoverished areas were—for free and using equipment they already have—exposing their students to cultures from all over the globe. Why aren’t my daughter’s teachers doing this?

These teachers—from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kenya—don’t have any special grants or more time or equipment than anyone else. In fact, they probably have less than most. They just said yes. Then they clicked, chose an expert or classroom to connect with, installed Skype (free) and set up a laptop in their classrooms. That opened up the world for their students, changed the way they teach, and inspired the kids in their classrooms and, often, in classrooms on the other side of the world. Some did group projects with students in other countries, some played 20 questions with kids from a completely different culture, and some connected with thought leaders who let the students ask them questions. All the speakers are invited by Microsoft (and vetted), the connections are teacher-to-teacher so it’s safe for everyone, and there is no cost. Why aren’t my daughter’s teachers doing this?

If the answer is “We don’t have the resources,” I’d like to point out that Jairus Makambi, director of the The Cheery Children Education Centre in the heart of the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, has almost nothing. Kibera is home to about 1.5 million people; it’s one of the largest, poorest slums in the world. But Makambi’s students have had the opportunity to Skype with 70 schools from 30 different countries using only a laptop and a dicey Internet connection. It has opened the eyes of those children to a world beyond the abject poverty they live in and allowed teachers around the globe to help Makambi teach subjects he has neither the materials nor the knowledge to take on. “This experience is phenomenal,” says Makambi. “It is promoting global integration and appreciation of cultures that transcends the trivialities of race while inculcating in our students the spirit of global citizenry that is essential in this rapidly globalizing world.”

Why aren’t my daughter’s teachers doing this?

10 Road-Tested Travel Apps

Written on July 8, 2014 at 10:15 am , by

When our kids were little, my husband Dan and I planned road trips with an attention to detail that likely rivaled General Eisenhower’s strategy to invade Normandy. Not anymore—these days, we hit the highway at the drop of a hat like a pair of carefree teenagers, with our own teens (17 and 15) in tow.

A smartphone and the right apps at our fingertips means there’s very little we can’t tackle as we go. Case in point, our annual climb to the top of the Great Smoky Mountains. A few years ago, we would have started booking rooms weeks in advance. This summer we mapped and reserved almost nothing ahead of time—yet spent less money than ever.

A few days before we left, I bid on a rental car at Priceline.com. (For this getaway, we rent a vehicle substantially bigger than our family car to gain more legroom and space for gear.) Bidding is fast, easy and nets the best price, provided you bid low. That same night, I plotted our driving route using Google Maps and shared the result with my family, so everyone had the info on their phones. Then, on D-day, we just loaded up our bags and got going. Apps bridged the gaps when we needed food, gas or the closest clean bathroom. And when it was time to settle in for the night, booking a room at the last minute was simple and inexpensive— meaning we could rest easy.

What to Download

Create a page on your smartphone and group these mostly free apps together for easy access.

Last Minute Travel Deals (iOS, Android) : Provides access to broker’s prices and last- minute bargains for flights and hotel rooms.

HotelTonight (iOS, Android, Windows Phone): Incredible prices on hotels near where you are or will be. Here’s the catch—although you can scout options beforehand, booking is same-day-only for up to five nights. Embrace the spontaneity to snag awesome deals.

Waze (iOS, Android, Windows Phone)
: When traffic suddenly comes to a halt, Waze can provide insight as to why—it tracks the speed of all nearby smartphone- toting drivers so you can see real-time driving patterns. Often a user posts the reason for the delay, as in, Three-car accident just before Exit Such-and-Such.

Yelp (iOS, Android, Windows Phone): 
Hungry? This app finds nearby food options and shares other diners’ feedback. Just
tap the screen for precise directions to your chosen pit stop.

Eventseeker (iOS, Android, Windows Phone): A source for concerts, museums and other attractions near your location.

Priceline (iOS, Android, Windows Phone): Instead of going to the trouble of shopping around, just bid what you can afford on hotels, flights and rental cars.

Google Maps (iOS, Android): 
A comprehensive navigational tool, including turn-by-turn directions, that incorporates rerouting when needed based on up-to-the-minute traffic info.

ChargePoint (iOS, Android): If you drive an electric vehicle, you’ll want to reserve at a free charging station along your route. (For obvious reasons, it’s best not to leave this to chance!)

SpotHero (iOS, Android): 
Skip the circling and reserve parking at discounts of up to 50% in New York, Boston, Chicago and other select cities.

Parkopedia Parking (iOS, Android, Windows Phone):  Once you’ve arrived, park like a
local by accessing this app’s crowdsourced database on available nearby options.

 

 

 

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Turn Off to Turn On: Make Time to Really Connect

Written on July 8, 2014 at 9:38 am , by

 

Truly connecting with your spouse, your kids or even a coworker isn’t a high-speed endeavor. Meaningful relationships can’t be jump-started by hitting send, condensed into 140 characters or easily deleted. They’re about a lingering glance, a tight hug or a pat on the back.

Unfortunately, high touch is being taken over by high tech. I’ve painfully witnessed couples more engrossed in their smartphones than in each other, fathers reacting faster to the ping of a text message than to their kids yelling “Dad!” and moms spending more time uploading family photos to Facebook than letting their kids download with them.

I know, I know, your teen is probably so obsessed with her Instagram account that she’s not paying attention to you either. But it’s hard to ask a teen to turn off a smartphone when you’re not paying attention yourself. My suggestion: Aim for as much real face time as you can. Create mini media blackouts by using a basket to collect electronics for a distraction-free dinner or having a family night devoted to offline entertainment like board games. Most important, teach your children when to pick up the telephone to reach out to someone by modeling that behavior. Our kids need to develop the keys to love and trust that come from a human touch-not a touchscreen.

 

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanetRead more of her posts here.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.


5 Geeky Ways to Get Rid of Clutter

Written on June 25, 2014 at 11:00 am , by

I am in the process of moving. I’m excited about my new house, but the move also has me jumpy. Every time I open a closet, I slam it shut in fear. Out-of-date gadgets, clothes that don’t fit, shoes that were a bad idea and broken purses stare back, accusing me of procrastination. They are right. I don’t know where the time in this house went, but I clearly didn’t spend enough of it disposing of crap I no longer want or need.

I’m not alone. According a new Intel survey, almost half of Americans (47%) keep outdated tech devices long after they are useful. And according to a recent “spring cleaning” survey by used electronics marketplace uSell.com, 68% of U.S. residents suffer from “compulsive gadget hoarding.”

We don’t keep this stuff because we love it and hate to part with it. We keep it because it’s too much trouble to get rid of it, we have sensitive data on old devices that we can’t be bothered to fetch, and we’d rather clean a toilet than wipe those devices clean of that info. It’s the same thing with the worn-out handbagsshoes that looked sexy in the catalog but not so much on a closet shelf, and kitchen gadgets that haven’t been used since the term “gluten” became synonymous with evil.

But reckoning day is here. At least for me. According to Nik Raman, chief operating officer of uSell.com, the trick to getting past my fear of this overwhelming chore is to focus on one item at a time. And I knew just the item. My husband has been hauling around a suitcase-size backgammon board since we met. Inspired by a survey from moving marketing company Our Town America that found that one in three movers admitted to “accidentally losing” a significant other’s prized possession, I started my donation box with the backgammon board. That felt good. Next, since money is a great motivator, I decided to focus on getting rid of junk that someone would pay money for. I started this project three weeks ago. Today my house is nearly Spartan and my wallet fat with cash. I can’t understand why I held on to that stuff for so long. I had a good time getting rid of it and I’ll have a good time spending this cash.

Here are my top 5 strategies for getting rid of junk—and turning some of it into cash or nice new things.

eBay App

I had some kitchen appliances that I hadn’t used in ages which are popular on eBay and not prohibitively expensive to ship. I spread them out on my counter, snapped photos with my smartphone and, with a few taps on my phone, listed them on eBay. Then I put the appliances back in the cupboard. A week and a trip to FedEx later, I was not only $100 richer, with room in my cupboards, but I was also getting happy notes from people who were enjoying those neglected appliances. Fun!

Craigslist

I kept a couch I wanted to replace for two years because it was too much trouble to get rid of. I’d called the Salvation Army, but they wouldn’t take it since it had a small tear in the seat. This, however, is what Craigslist is for. Using the cPro Craigslist app (Apple App Store or Google Play), I took a few pictures of the couch, listed it as “Free” and waited. Within a day, someone took it away in a truck, thrilled to have a beater for the playroom that his kids could jump on. That went so well that I walked through my house snapping pictures of all the furniture I don’t want to move and adding prices and clever descriptions. Every few days, someone shows up, hands me cash, chats for a bit and happily carries off my detritus.

Glyde.com

My son went on a phone-dropping spree, which resulted in a useless smartphone sitting on my desk. He had priced replacing the screen and found out it was cheaper to replace the phone. But used marketplace Glyde claimed that it could sell even a broken smartphone. I entered the model and was honest about its shattered screen. A few minutes later, the phone sold for $45. A few days later, a shipping box showed up in the mail and I dropped the phone in and sent it off.

Twice

Next stop, my closet. It was crammed with clothes that haven’t fit me since I lost those pounds I don’t want back. Some of them were nice labels, though, so I requested a shipping bag from LikeTwice.com. This site buys clean, quality clothing and resells it online. I filled the bag with clean clothes in good shape and dropped it off at the post office. A week later, the site told me I had money to spend. When I get to my new house, I’ll order a few new things that fit.

Amazon

I had a used smartphone that was too old—or perhaps too obscure a brand?— for Glyde or uSell.com. On Amazon, I clicked “Have one to sell?” after looking up the model. I didn’t even have to take a picture. I just typed in its condition and the price I wanted for it. It sold within the hour.

 

Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at GeekGirlfriends.com.

Use Twitter to Get Quality Customer Service

Written on June 10, 2014 at 7:00 am , by

There I was at the airport, in a long line of jet-lagged travelers that was devolving into an angry mob before my eyes. All outbound flights had been grounded by weather, so none of us were going anywhere in the near future—and the customer service reps were starting to come unglued. I called my husband, Dan, to warn him I was stuck before dialing United Airlines to try to bypass the chaos and rebook my flight home. Dan hit Twitter. While I waited on hold, he engaged in a productive back-and-forth with @united, learning that my best option was to book a hotel and accept a voucher for a future flight. Dan texted me this update and I snagged a room lightning-fast, before they were all gone.

Using Twitter to get quick, courteous customer service is one of the best reasons to maintain an account on the social media site. Because these interactions unfold in a public forum, companies know their reputation is always on the line. Therefore, they tend to staff their Twitter accounts with reps trained to listen attentively and resolve issues on the double. Lately, I’ve been seeing more and more users Tweet complaints and get results—even possibly incite change.

For instance, I watched a Safeway (@Safeway) customer post that an advertised sale price was no longer ringing up at her local store and get a reply the next morning honoring the lower price. A Chico’s (@Chicos) shopper who complained that shipping to Canada cost too much was promised that the policy would be reviewed. A Whole Foods (@WholeFoods) customer who expressed distaste for her store’s plastic take-out containers was informed that packaging decisions are made by local management. Of course, people also visit the Twittersphere to praise products and businesses (which is a nice thing to do). But more often, it’s the best way to circumvent lengthy hold times. Case in point: When General Motors (@GM) recalled cars because of a faulty ignition switch earlier this year, one woman bypassed phone support by Tweeting instead, and her problem was soon addressed. Bottom line: These days, if you have something to say to a company, Twitter is the smartest place to do so.

 

Speak Up!

Twitter communications director Rachael Horwitz sums it up perfectly: “Twitter is public, so brands are listening.” Keep her advice in mind when you try Tweeting for service satisfaction.

Address the right audience. You post a Tweet to a company by using their Twitter handle, which always starts with @. To find the correct handle, type the name in the search field on the home page.

Be concise. Remember that you only have 140 characters to get your message across. Composing a Tweet is the modern equivalent of sending a telegram. Skip any unnecessary preamble. Include only key details.

Follow along. While Tweets are public, there is an option to continue a conversation privately within the Twitter platform, through the Direct Message (DM) function. In order to do so, both parties must be following each other. If a company’s customer service rep asks you to follow them, this is likely why. (It’s often a good sign.)

Don’t wear egg on your face. If you set up a new Twitter account, be aware that the default icon is an egg, which displays in your profile and Tweets. To avoid screaming newbie, change that icon right away. “It doesn’t really matter whether you have a lot of followers,” says Horwitz. “But companies are more inclined to take tweets seriously from someone who seems engaged with Twitter. So you should create a profile to convey that.”

Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at GeekGirlfriends.com.

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A Grassroots Effort to Bring Computer Science to Your Teen’s School

Written on May 22, 2014 at 11:18 am , by

Family Circle editor Jonna Gallo and I were on a whirlwind tour of the Microsoft campus. As it happened, there was also a field trip under way: Busloads of high school students who had learned programming through Microsoft’s TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) program, were enjoying a full day of activities.

The TEALS program, which puts Microsoft computer scientists and engineers in high schools across the U.S. to teach computer science, started with just a few volunteers. It’s been growing rapidly, nearly doubling in size this school year, offering classes in 70 schools in 12 states to more than 3,000 students.

“Do you want to look in on the YouthSpark app-building competition?” Lindsey, our handler, asked. “Sure!” Jonna and I agreed. I imagined we’d be lurking in the back of a computer lab while students worked quietly and teachers helped. What we walked in on was more like a rock festival.

The room was vast and crammed with over 1,000 students settled into friendly clumps on the carpeted floor with phones, tablets and computers. A speaker stood in front of a projector announcing coding challenges. And the kids were having a blast. They knew what they were doing and they were in it to win, laughing, cheering and pumped up by the throbbing music.

“Do you want to talk to one of the students?” Lindsey shouted over the din. I didn’t want to be responsible for any of these kids missing a solve—and a chance to win prizes (which included Xbox One gaming consoles). But somehow I found myself chatting with Justin Austin, a senior from Kentucky. He had enrolled in a TEALS class at his high school. That class came about almost by chance, when a Microsoft engineer on a rock-climbing trip found herself chatting with a local school-board member. There was no one in the county who could teach computer programming. But these days you don’t actually have to be in the room to teach, so a Skype intro to computer science class was born. Justin loved it and wanted more. With only six other students, he signed up for an advanced class, also via Skype from Microsoft. That’s how he came to be coding his way (if these reporters would stop distracting him) into the possibility of some sweet prizes. It’s also a big part of how he got a full ride to the University of Pennsylvania to study computer science.

There may be some debate about the value of teaching computer science in kindergarten, but there’s no doubt it should be offered in high school. Yet in many school districts it’s considered an elective rather than a core subject. That means guidance counselors don’t encourage students to take it, and students who are trying to get mandatory classes under their belt don’t enroll. This has to change at a legislative level. And many states are working on it.

Meanwhile, though, at least the remote approach taken by Justin’s school gives kids access to computer science education. It’s a grassroots effort, but those can be very effective once they get traction. If you’d rather not wait for a vacationing engineer to bring computer science to your school, contact the TEALS program directly at schools@tealsk12.org.

11 Spring Cleaning Tips from the Geeks at Google

Written on May 14, 2014 at 12:00 pm , by

 

In my job, I get to ask some of the biggest geeks in the world to explain the tools and features they build into the consumer electronics we all use. This helps me stay just an inch or two ahead of my teenagers when it comes to knowing how to use a smartphone, tablet or smart TV. After speaking to someone at Google, I introduced them—and my husband—to Google Now. It was on their phones, but they didn’t know about it. Since then, that app has become part of most conversations in our house.

Example: “Do you think that actor is an actual hillbilly?” my husband asks while we are watching Justified. “No, I think he’s a good actor,” I reply. Then I ask my Android phone, which can access Google Now via voice, “Okay, Google, who plays Dewey Crow in Justified?”

The answer: Damon Herriman, an Australian. We are extra impressed with his southern accent.

Another example: “Mom! I need to go to the mall now!” my daughter announces, bursting into the room at 8:45 p.m. “Okay, Google,” I say to my phone, “what time does the mall close?” I hold the phone up to show that her timing makes this impossible. She leaves quietly. And so it goes, throughout the day. Answers, instantly. We all do it. What did we do before?

This app also knows where we are, where we tend to go, what we are planning to do next and offers helpful on-screen info at the time of day or night you most need it: weather, traffic, transit, appointments, flight and hotel details, package shipment information, news articles, TV show reminders and more. It shows places and events nearby, interesting photo spots in case you’d like to check them out, and more. You don’t need an Android phone to use it. It’s free and available on both iPhone and Android (look for the Google Search app), though not all phones let you speak your questions so easily.

In keeping with the theme of making life convenient, I also asked my geeks at Google for their best advice on uncluttering your Gmail—the buildup of inbox messages can be overwhelming. (As you can tell, I like Google products.) Here’s what they came up with:

Gmail Tips from the Geeks

1. NEVER SEND AN ACCIDENTAL EMAIL AGAIN. “Even the best of us sometimes type someone’s name wrong or forget to include an important detail in an email. Undo Send is basically an email mulligan. I set mine to 30 seconds to make sure I have plenty of time to change my mind!” —Alex Gawley, product manager on Gmail

2. MUTE GROUP EMAILS. We’ve all been on an email thread that just keeps popping up (for example, your coworker just shared photos of her new baby and everyone keeps hitting “Reply all” to say “Congrats!”). You can mute the thread by clicking the drop-down arrow at the top of the thread and selecting “Mute.” Don’t worry—muting doesn’t delete, it simply automatically archives the message for you.

3. STOP EMAILING YOURSELF TO-DO LISTS. Be honest: A lot of the emails cluttering your inbox are from yourself, with subject lines like “Remember to turn on dishwasher” and “Buy birthday card for Jackie.” Instead of adding to your unread count, create a task list that appears as a minimizable window in your inbox.  Simply click on “Mail” (right above the “Compose” button) and select “Tasks” to get started. Once you’ve created a list, you can email it by clicking the “Actions” button.   

4. SKIP YOUR INBOX. Keep your Gmail spic-and-span by setting certain emails to automatically skip your inbox and/or go directly to an appropriate folder. For example, you can set any emails from say, your alma mater, to automatically go into your “Alma Mater” folder, where you can read them when you have time. Go to “Settings,” “Filters,” “Create new filter.” After filling in your filter details, hit “Create filter with this search” and mark “Skip the inbox.”

5. MOVE YOUR CHAT BOX. Did you know you can move your chat box to the right side of your inbox? To enable right side chat, go to “Settings,” “Labs,” “Right side chat” and hit “Enable.”

6. CREATE A CALENDAR EVENT RIGHT FROM AN EMAIL. The next time someone emails you about meeting for coffee, you may notice that the day or date in the email is lightly underlined. Click it to create an event in Google Calendar with the relevant details pre-filled. It will even link back to the original email in case you need it for context later.

7. CHECK INTO YOUR FLIGHT FROM GMAIL. Instead of opening emails and digging through them for important information, use Gmail’s quick action buttons to check into your flight, rate a restaurant, go straight to a doc and more. You’ll notice an “RSVP” or “WATCH VIDEO” or “OPEN FILE” when appropriate—just click!

8. DON’T STRESS IF YOU FORGET TO SIGN OUT. While you should always sign out of your Gmail account when accessing it on a public computer, if you ever forget, Gmail has got you covered. You can click “Sign out all other sessions” to sign out anywhere else you are logged into your account.

9. DE-CLUTTER WITHOUT DELETING. “It seems like a simple thing, but a lot of people never fully embrace the power of the ‘Archive’ button. I never file away or delete anything: I just hit ‘Archive.’ If I need to look something up, Search in Gmail always gets me what I need.” —Phil Sharp, product manager on Gmail

10. UNSUBSCRIBE TO UNWANTED EMAILS. “Every time you report spam, Gmail’s spam filter adapts to your definition of unwanted mail and does a better job of catching similar types of messages in the future for you. Plus Gmail will ask you if you want it to unsubscribe you at the same time. Two birds, one stone! So put that ‘Report spam’ button to good use!” —Vijay Eranti, engineer on Gmail’s spam team

11. LOOK AT CUTENESS ALL DAY. “I use Custom Themes to set my Gmail background to a photo of my teammate’s newborn Cavalier King Charles spaniel. Every day, I get to enjoy reading, writing and checking emails while staring into adorable puppy eyes.” —Anissa Mak, product marketing for Gmail

A Little Sleep Self-Help for Your Home

Written on April 28, 2014 at 12:30 pm , by

Sleep—it’s that elusive thing all moms crave and rarely get enough of, especially with younger kids around. Most of the tips we’ve given you so far focus on the health angle—when to exercise, how to curb caffeine consumption and how to deal with a sleepless night. But when was the last time you considered what your home has to do with a good night’s sleep? Turns out there’s probably more of a connection than you think. The good news is that just a few small changes could have a big impact on the quality of your zzz’s.

Use your senses—smell, in particular.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, lavender has been shown to decrease heart rate and blood pressure, which can make you feel extra relaxed. So try a lavender-scented candle on the nightstand before turning in, or tuck a fragrant sachet inside your pillowcase. Better yet, wash and dry your sheets, PJs and other nighttime linens in the new lightly lavender-scented Sweet Dreams collection from Tide, Bounce and Downy. If you’re sensitive to fragrance, keep it to a single dryer sheet. Even a hint of lavender could help get you into slumber mode.

 

Make the bedroom a gadget-free zone, especially at night.
Face it, with the popularity of tablets, e-readers and laptops, more work, reading and Netflix watching is done in bed these days than ever before—it’s just so comfortable and convenient. We’re not suggesting you never marathon a series or ban the Kindle from bed, but be sure to limit that activity to daytime. Dr. Ian Smith, celebrity physician and wellness expert from The Doctors, recommends turning off all devices, including your smartphone, at least 30 minutes before bedtime. If you want to read, do it the old-fashioned way, with a book. Don’t use your phone as an alarm clock, because that gives you an excuse to leave it on all night and be tempted to check it.

Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet.
Creating the right environment is key for falling and staying asleep. Shop for breathable sheets, PJs and other bed linens, says Kelly Ellis, director of integrated marketing at Serta International, who notes that flannel sheets, while certainly cute, are best avoided, even in winter. Dim the lights in the evening to tell your body that it’s time for sleep, and choose calming decor—think whites, blues, grays, tans and other tranquil hues.

Replace that old pillow.
Everyone seems to know that mattresses eventually need replacing, but so do pillows. According to Erik Brandt, VP of iComfort brand development at Serta International, they should be updated more frequently than mattresses for optimal comfort. (How long have you been holding on to yours?) The cooling action of the iComfort Scrunch Pillow’s memory foam particles is right on target for enhancing anyone’s sleep experience. At $79, it’s a bit of an investment, but what better to splurge on than a good night’s sleep, right?

These Kids Aren’t Spoiled: They’re Changing the World

Written on April 16, 2014 at 2:21 pm , by

I think it’s debatable whether todays’ kids are spoiled, overprotected, distracted, game-addicted or less polite than previous generations. That has not been my personal experience with the kids I know. And since the big, splashy, star-studded stage event We Day is currently touring the world, launching a year of social activism for youth called We Act, I happen to have some statistics at hand that I like—and that seem more in keeping with my experience—about today’s kids:

Through their involvement in We Act, over 2 million youngsters have gotten behind local and global causes, volunteered their time, raised money, attended camps to learn how to lead other youth to change the world, and used social media—another often-denigrated modern development—to raise awareness for causes they care about.

These kids have:

• raised $37 million for more than 1,000 local and global causes
• volunteered 9.6 million hours for local and global causes
• collected 4 million pounds of food for local food banks
• logged 7.5 million hours of silence to stand up for children in developing communities who are silenced by poverty and exploitation

It starts with the We Day event, which gets kids pumped up with the message that everyone—no matter how young—can make a difference simply by believing in a cause and doing something about it. Then the site provides schools and families with the resources they need to actually get involved in whatever social change they want to make happen. So maybe, instead of lamenting our kids’ failures (and our own parental mistakes that led there), why not watch the video (above) with them and see what happens?

If kids still doubt they can effect change, point out that We Day and We Act are part of Free the Children, which was founded in 1995 by Craig and Marc Kielburger when Craig was 12 years old. Craig rallied a handful of classmates to rescue children from child labor, and discovered that he could make a difference even though he was himself just a kid. Since then, Craig has become a social entrepreneur, a New York Times bestselling author and a syndicated columnist, and founded a youth organization that has taught 2.3 million young people that they can change the world for the better.

I’m sure there are some spoiled, overprotected kids out there. But they can change. And I can’t get behind this idea that today’s youth aren’t doing anything worthy. They seem like an impressive bunch to me.

Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at GeekGirlfriends.com.

Hit “Post”—Wait, Not So Fast!

Written on April 10, 2014 at 9:00 am , by

I remember when memories had expiration dates. What I mean is that if someone had a picture that you liked, you actually had to ask for the negative or request a copy of the photo. Occasionally, by the time you received the keepsake, you had long forgotten about the event. The good thing about formally requesting a reproduction was the implicit approval residing in the delivery of the image.

That was then. This is now. These days, a photo is taken and uploaded faster than you can say “Cheese!” A quick turnaround is wonderful for sharing a joke and capturing good times, but if you are looking for private moments, you won’t find them in this technological age. And when it comes to children—and more specifically photos of other people’s children—we’re not dealing with a laughing matter anymore.

A recent poll indicated that 57% of parents on Facebook strongly dislike having unauthorized photographs of their children posted. However, most parents feel like they don’t have control over the images. Their wishes and wants are conflicted. As a parent, if you don’t have control, who does?

Perhaps the answer is that every family needs to have a social media and sharing policy. Decide if it’s okay to have your little cherub’s face posted at any time by folks who are not part of your family’s tribe. If it is, have at it. If not, then diligently make sure that your wishes are enforced. That may result in the potentially difficult task of asking friends and family to delete unauthorized photos. By the same token, if you post a picture and are asked to remove it, please do.

In the future, schools and organizations may need to require consent for the release of photographs to protect your wishes. Until that happens, the wiser decision may be to ask, not assume, before hitting the “post” button.

Have you ever asked someone not to post (or to remove) a photo of your child from a website? If so, post a comment and tell me what happened.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.