The Apprentice Becomes The Master

2yo:
Daddy, did you go pee pee?
Me:
Yea, why?
2yo:
That’s great! Good job! You get a sticker!

What Did You Sing In School Today?

Me:
What did you sing in school today?
2yo:
Wheels On The Bus.
Me:
How do you sing that song?
2yo:
*Pauses to think* With my mouth.

Let It Go

2yo:
*Brrrt*
Mommy:
Did you just fart?
2yo:
I Let It Go.

On Being a Stay-At-Home Dad: Cooking

I’m not much of a cook. I once looked up directions on how to boil an egg after my egg “exploded” in the hot water (it’s actually a thing; search for it on Google).

Another time, I boiled a pot of macaroni, then went to change my newborn’s diaper. I didn’t remember to check on the pot until after a round of tummy time and belly zerbers. The water had boiled off and the macaroni was burning.

I won’t tell you about a third incident, except to say: did you know that oatmeal can catch on fire? I didn’t either.

We try to feed our kids healthy natural foods as much as possible. Home-cooked meals are a great way to achieve that in a cost-efficient manner. That’s a driving impetus for me. That, and the sense of accomplishment from not burning the house down.

“I didn’t burn the house down today hon!” I’ll tell my lovely and talented wife.

“That’s great hon,” she’ll answer.

She is a genius cook. I don’t even try to match. She has this ability where she can taste a dish and guess its key ingredients fairly accurately. Me, I’m lucky if I can tell there’s bread in the hamburger I’m eating.

But I know that experience is what I need. The more I boil eggs, make macaroni, and cook oatmeal, the better I’ll become at making healthy meals and knowing that, hey, there’s also beef in my hamburger.

On Being a Stay-At-Home Dad: Grocery Shopping

I find grocery shopping challenging. Especially when I have to pick out fruits and vegetables.

I’m still trying to get down which items need to be soft, but not too soft, have a certain sound when you knock on them, and are okay to have some brown spots vs have no brown spots at all. Anxiety levels rising!

There needs to be a mnemonic for picking produce, like I before E, except after C. Maybe, “Banana brown bad, slightly green glad” or something.

Just being at the grocery store is an ordeal in itself. Shopping at Safeway on a weekday afternoon usually means being in a sea of mothers, nannies, and retirees.

Any men I come across look like they are picking up party supplies for the office more than buying groceries for the week. Sometimes I seriously consider going home and returning in the evening so I am not such an odd sight.

I’m not one for stereotypes, but admittedly, I’d rather circle the aisles forty times before asking for help. Once, a Safeway clerk stopped me somewhere during my thirty-third circuit and asked if she could help me find something. So I pretended I was just looking for that can of baked beans behind her head.

The angel that she is, my lovely and talented wife saw my plight and helped me create a weekly grocery shopping & cooking schedule.

This significantly satisfied my Type A personality. Now I had a plan. Now I knew exactly what I needed to buy and, eventually, where those items are in the store. I think I’m getting the hang of this now. Anxiety levels declining.

On Being a Stay-At-Home Dad: The Morning Routine

I think the biggest challenge is the hair braiding. Yes, definitely the hair braiding.

“Daddy, I want princess hair,” our 2 yo daughter often requests. And of course, only when there’s five minutes left for the morning preschool drop-off.

“Like Elsa,” she says. “Not Anna, Elsa.”

So I rush. My fat Daddy fingers tear our hair and snap hair bands. “Owie Daddy, that hurts!” she cries. Then: “I want Mommy!”

I finally manage lopsided pigtails. One perpendicular out the left side of her head. Another out the right and slightly towards the top.

“This is princess hair?” she asks, trying to look upwards. “Like Elsa?”

I pull both pigtails together towards the middle and use a third hair band. “It is very pretty hair,” I reassure her. “Some princesses have hair like this.” “Maybe,” I add under my breath.

Her hand reaches up and touches her head. “Daddy, this isn’t Elsa hair.”

“It’s almost time for school!” I shout. “Who wants a graham cracker?”

“I do! I do!”

I had her a graham cracker bribe reward and we rush out the door.

Hello Again and Welcome Back

It’s been a long time! A lot has happened since I last wrote here. Had two beautiful girls and created a edtech startup. Although it fits into a little sentence, it was one of the most amazing and thrilling chapters of my life.

And now begins another.

I am now a part-time stay-at-home Dad. My first daughter was born when I created my startup. It was challenging to split my focus. I don’t want to do that again. The whole reason I created a company in the education space is because everything I do is for my kids. Sometimes the best way to do that is simply to be there for them, especially in their early years.

This also means, hey, I may be able to start writing again. So hello again! Welcome back.

On Hiatus

You may have noticed that I haven’t written in a while. I’ve been working on a few exciting ventures and haven’t had the free time I once had to write.

This is an official hiatus. I still love to write and will definitely return to it in earnest someday. For now, I’ll be concentrating on other priorities.

In the meantime, if you’re craving more to read, here are some nice starting points:

  • Best Of – A collection of essays that are either my personal favorites or are popular with my readers.
  • Conversations – Personally, I love conversations. I love having them and writing about them.
  • Dating – I’m no longer single (sorry ladies!), but this category seems to be one of my most popular.
  • Theories – I have lots of theories. You may not agree with them all, but perhaps some will make you go, “Hmmm.”
  • Travelng – Who doens’t like traveling? If you like reading travel stories, you’ll like this category.
  • Values – Curious about me and what makes me tick? Here are a collection of essays that reflect my core values.

Thanks!

The Potential Issues Social Media May Have on Children

If my wife and I have children someday, one of my roles as a father will be a social media watchdog. I use the term “social media” to refer to any kind of technology that enables communication and interaction with others, be it Internet, web or mobile.

Right now, there isn’t a whole lot of research or literature on the psychological impact of the Internet and mobile technologies on children. We are already seeing some of the effects though. I’ve seen nieces touch a TV screen, expecting it to be a touch screen. I’ve seen nephews expect instant gratification as quickly as an instant message. I’ve seen friends’ children using a web search to replace their memory of basic facts.

And, I can’t lie – to some extent, I’ve done some of this too. But at least I’m aware of this and try not to let this become a handicap. For young children, however, they don’t have this awareness yet. Such behaviors will shape their entire futures.

Since I haven’t found a single source of the potential issues a child may face when using social media, I decided to amass this list. I’m planning on using this list as a guide for what I may have to teach my children one day. They probably won’t encounter all of these, hopefully, but as a parent, I’d rather be prepared than not.

Over-sharing
The act of publishing too much information about oneself online. There’s a fine line between appropriate sharing and over-sharing. Where that line lies will be a judgement call for each family. At a minimum, I would think child safety is a great line not to cross. There is software for parents that monitors their children’s social media usage as a way of watching out for this too.
Privacy issues
Unintentional leaks of your private information to the public. This is in contrast to over-sharing, which is the intentional sharing of your private information. Some organizations may alter their privacy policies, or have weak ones to begin with, putting your private data at risk. The best way to avoid this is to assume that whatever you put on the web will be public one day.
Cyber bullying
An extension of bullying, except done online, where taunts and insults can be anonymous, multiplied, amplified, and remain around for a long time, if not forever. When talking about bullying, it may be a good idea to discuss how to deal with both real-life and online bullying, both as a potential bully and the target of a bully.
Child predators
Malicious adults who prey on unsuspecting young children. Fortunately, cyber-crime departments of the law enforcement are getting better at nailing these people, but it’s still a concern. Since these predators don’t just operate online, talks about stranger safety should encompass both real-life and Internet interactions.
Computer security
Malicious software that can be accidentally downloaded and installed, like viruses and worms. Some teens may be more tech-savvy than their parents and will know all about this already, but young children may not. Anti-virus software isn’t enough; education on how to keep a clean system is also necessary. This includes Internet security issues, such as phishing and insecure public wifi hotspots.
Social engineering
Malicious attempts at tricking someone through some kind of social interaction (email, IM chat, text message, face-to-face interaction, etc) to gain access to his/her information. Think of it like a con job, only with social media technology. A healthy level of skepticism and common sense may help, for both children and parents.
Internet addiction
An intense desire to be on the Internet, even at the detriment of the other aspects of one’s life: health, relationships, social maturity, etc. There is still much debate over whether or not this is clinically a real addiction, but overusing anything is never a good thing. This can include the social media, the web, video games, and even mobile devices.
Erroneous information
Data that is intentionally misleading or unintentionally incorrect. Don’t trust everything you see on the web. To be safe, always go to verified sources or double-check the information. Some older school-aged children seem to be aware of this, but younger children – and parents – may not be.
Adult activities
Any kind of media portraying adults in sexual acts. It is surprisingly easy to find porn on the web. Unless you have a parental filter, your children will inevitably encounter it one day, whether it be intentionally on a porn site or unintentionally in a random video chat. Perhaps the best a parent can hope for is that their children will have a healthy & appropriate sexual education.
Illegal activities
Actions that break the law. The Internet makes many things surprisingly easy to do, like ordering illegal weapons, hacking into a federal computer system, or unknowingly breaking a foreign law. Children may assume that because something is easy and possible, it’s also acceptable and legal. It may not be.
Hate groups
Organizations that exist primarily to evangelize their intense dislike for a particular group of people. Such groups often thrive online. Children may need to be educated about the existence of such groups, especially if they may be influenced by one, or are the target of one.
Proper grammar and spelling
Forgetting or not learning proper grammatical constructs and word spellings. It’s quicker to type in shorthand than full sentences. Some technologies, like SMS and Twitter, even have character restrictions, further encouraging the use of shorthand. I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old man who’s arguing that grammar & spelling is going downhill, but parents may want to keep an eye on this nonetheless.
Profanity
Words that are generally considered to be impolite and unacceptable for children. Though there are many child-safe sites out there, lots of blogs – including mine, I should say – contain profanity. Parental Internet filters will block sites with profanity in them.
Mean behavior
Words from people designed to create ill will. This, of course, is something children will face in real-life also, though misunderstandings and miscommunications are more common on the Internet. What is curt to one person is rude to another. Tempers can also run high and inhibitions low. This may be an issue for children who may be overly sensitive or insensitive.
International interactions
Encounters with people of cultures foreign to those of your family. Since the Internet is international, children may come across languages, behaviors and mannerisms from people of other cultures. This is a good thing and may provide an opportunity for a parent to teach their children about geography and other cultures, though misunderstandings and miscommunications may occur.
Dimished social connectedness
A decrease in the ability to relate to people due to heavy Internet usage. As a potential consequence of Internet addiction, some studies have reported children saying they feel alone and secluded when not using social media. Being without an Internet connection led to withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety. Others have reported a decrease in stranger empathy. Much research still needs to be done on this topic, however.

Again, this is only a swag at a list of potential issues a child may face when using social media technologies. I don’t think technology is inherently harmful. Nor do I intend to frighten parents and make it sound like the Internet is rife with problems. There are a lot of amazing advances coming from technology that will help children, such as education technologies, information access, international awareness, etc.

This list is an attempt to prepare myself for how I may need to educate my children. As with everything in life, there is always the potential to misuse social media technologies in harmful ways. By understanding what those may be, I hope to become a better-educated parent.

What do you think of this list? Did I miss anything? Is an item here really not a big deal? I would love to know what you think; all suggestions welcome. Thanks!

On Being a Social Media Watchdog

When my wife and I have kids, we decided that one of my tasks as a father will be a social media watchdog. That means monitoring our children’s social media usage and staying up on the latest & greatest Internet, web and mobile technologies that may cross their paths.

I love social media. You’ll find me on practically all of the popular services, and many of the newer ones still in “beta.” I publish frequently and share generously. But I do so with a careful eye. At least, I do now.

Way back when the word “blog” was still “web log,” I had this site. I called these writings my “Rambles.” Although most topics were personal essays that covered events in my life, many were works of fiction and some were opinion pieces & rants. It was through one of these opinion pieces that I stupidly discussed a personal issue of a friend of mine.

The friend read the piece, sent me a painful email, and I lost that friendship.

It was a hard lesson in sharing over the web. One that I will never forget; one that I will definitely teach my children someday.

Nowadays, sharing over the web is a lot more complex. Back when I started, there were no such things as privacy filters. If you published it, anyone could eventually find it (unless it was password-protected, which few did).

With the rise of social networking sites, the minutiae of who-sees-what has gotten a lot more complicated. Settings may be hard to find. You may forget to actively manage your privacy settings. Companies can change the options on you, accidentally or intentionally. Hackers could break into your account. And companies could shut down, taking all of your posts and shared items with them.

In other words, there is a thinly veiled belief of privacy that lulls some users into a false sense of security. The truth is, if you don’t want to share something with strangers, don’t post it on the web. Don’t share your password, don’t share your home address, don’t share geo-tagged photos your children or house. Abstinence is the best form of safety.

That isn’t to say sharing over the web is a bad thing. Far from it. Part of the grandeur of the web is all the fantastic things others have shared. Online communities can support, shelter and heal. News from across the world can reach you in mere seconds. Internet messaging can maintain relationships with acquaintances, people you might not otherwise talk to on a regular basis.

If you’re of the baby boomer generation, you probably remember the concept of a pen pal. For you youngun’s, that was someone your own age who lived far away, usually in another country. You and this person, this pal, would write letters to each other with a pen and paper. Hence, pen pal.

I had a pen pal once. Well, he was more like an email pal. We both were into heavy metal, so we’d exchange emails about the new bands and albums we discovered. He lived in Europe and told me all about the huge metal scene over there, while I filled him in on the American scene.

What I’ve learned over my years of Internet usage (and that encompasses the web, email, newsgroups, chat, etc) is the nuanced set of acceptable and safe behaviors. At least, I like to think so.

There’s really a range of acceptable behaviors, and it varies from online community to online community. What is acceptable in one is not in another. And even then, each individual has his/her own particular sensitivities. What offends one person may not offend another.

If that all sounds like quite a quagmire, consider all of the real-life social groups in which you belong. Your family, your classmates, your coworkers, etc. You probably have many circles of friends, each with its own set of acceptable behaviors and sensitivities. Same goes for the online world.

The big difference is you grow into each real-life social group slowly. You start with your family. Then grade school friends. Then high school friends. And so on.

Each of those groups grows with you. Each member goes through the same awkward lessons you do, even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time. Each painful lesson teaches you and shapes your social maturity. You learn to understand social cues, vocal inflections, body language, slang, pop culture, etiquette, boundaries, etc.

For young children, this is especially important. The first social group – the family – provides them with a safe, nurturing environment in which to learn how to interact appropriately.

But what if you’re thrown into a world before you’re ready to deal with it?

In the online world, the members vary in social and emotional maturity. They aren’t necessarily in the same range as you. There are some social networks that restrict by age and geography, but the majority do not because they want more users through inclusiveness rather than tighter but smaller communities through exclusiveness.

Along those same lines, a child may interact with his/her family, relatives, family friends, and neighborhood friends in real life. As parents, you can control this. Again, there are some emerging social networks that offer this kind of control, but the majority do not. The general fear – and it’s a real fear – is of predators. Individuals who seek to do harm. There’s a range of this too, from bullying to abduction. All of it scary and all of it harmful.

Also, social feedback exists online, but immature outbursts and reactions are more permanent. Amongst a group of friends, poor behavior can be excusable. It may even stay within the group, if you’re lucky. On the Internet, such behavior could live forever and be found by future employers.

One last point. The lessons on the Internet come much faster. Real life interactions are limited by geography. Children can only interact with the people around them. One of the great things about the Internet is its expansive nature. But for a child who hasn’t yet gained a sense of emotional and social maturity, the volume of interactions – not to mention information – can be staggering.

This is just off the top of my head, of course. I’m not a child psychologist, digital sociologist, or even a “social media specialist.” I’m just a concerned guy who’s trying to anticipate the potential lessons I’ll have to teach about the emerging world of social media. My views may change as I educate myself, find actual research papers on these topics, talk to people way smarter than I, and, you know, have children.

I should also add that I love the possibilities that technology offers to future generations. My children will learn, know, and do things I cannot even begin to fathom. And I don’t want to hold them back at all; the last thing I want to do is shelter them. Life is not fair nor perfect; there are bad people out there, as well as good. A dad can only tell his kids so much before they stop listening to him.

The crux of it all is really emotional and social maturity. Having a healthy sense of self, empathy for others, and understanding of society is, in my opinion, the key for navigating the online world. Since the Internet can be a firehose, my role as a social media watchdog will be to tighten the nozzle and gently release it as my children become ready for more.