Digital Helicopter Parenting 101

Helicopter parenting: It’s one concept I firmly believe I avoid. Or at least I thought I did.

As a parent, I’m a big fan of promoting independence and attempt to foster situations that allow my sons to figure things out on their own as much as possible.

Right up until it comes to schoolwork. I blame this on the school as much as on myself. Now that parents and teachers have a much more direct and near instantaneous line of communication we, as parents, are expected to be far more involved with managing our kids day to day school work and study habits.

This all stems from a recent struggle we’ve had with Big Bit. Now in the 6th grade, the workload and expected responsibility level are intensifying. Teachers update grades and homework expectations online daily. It’s great in that I know immediately when my son skips an assignment. We have time for a course correction and at least partial credit.

It’s not so great when a teacher ninja posts a new project after school has released on a Friday afternoon.

So, there we are – helplessly staring in frustration at a small series of zeroes due to yet again, missing assignments – and we ask ourselves, “How do we help him be more responsible for this?” At this point, we’re all exhausted by the daily routine:

  1. Check his completed assignments to what’s listed in his agenda.
  2. Check each teacher’s website to confirm he’s actually written it down properly and that there are no ninja assignments.
  3. Have him complete the at least one inevitably missed assignment.
  4. Check the school’s website that has the posted grades to see what’s missing from previous days. They’re still always at least one. Have him complete that assignment too.

Rinse and repeat daily. Now, despite the zeroes and 50% grades from missing and late work he still has an even split of A’s and B’s for his cumulative grades.

Then it dawned on me. In 6th grade I missed homework. I didn’t have a teacher’s website to check; if I didn’t write it down in class I had to phone a friend or deal with the consequences. My grades slipped and I spent the next quarter grounded. Funny thing happened next, I improved.

In this case, all these wonderful tools are preventing my son from just dealing with the consequences of not keeping track of these things himself. It’s time for him to sink or swim on his own. Time for a skinned knee or two. He’s going to falter and fall down, but he’ll get up, grow and learn. And I just need to step aside and let it happen.

My Travel Bucket List

Imagine this – a dazzling pool that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Nearby, an outdoor ampitheater where you can watch the bright orange-red orb dunk into the night sky. It’s a stunning image – your internet browsing has yielded visual gold. You tell yourself, remember this place, you want to visit this some day….you might even add it to your hundreds of bookmarks.

Tomorrow you won’t be able to find it again.

Not me.

Did you know that you can create custom maps with Google Maps? I have several, but my most favorite is my Bucket Travel Map. Every time I stumble across some amazing destination I quickly search the address and save it to my Travel Bucket Map within Google Maps. If you’re feeling organized or have a few moments to spare, you can even edit it to add a photo or website link. For me, this means I have an annotated, central map of all the amazing, wondrous places I stumble across while on my deep, dark, internetting holes.

My Travel Bucket List looks something like this (click “View Larger Map” below to see all my annotations on this map):

In the end, it’s pretty simple. Any time you have a location pop-up on Google Maps there’s this little selection, “Save to map”:


It will allow you to create a new map or save to an existing map. I have several maps saved up. My Travel Bucket List, The Places I Have Gone (obviously want to move as many from the first map to the second as possible), Niagara Wine Tour….to any vacation I could possibly plan or have been on. This is how I track the amazing places I see and find – so I can eventually go visit them. When I’m ready to plan my next exotic trip, I’ve already a road map all laid out.

So, what map are you going to make?

Goodbye Facebook Part 2: Life After Facebook

Four months ago I quit Facebook.

I was nervous, filled with trepidation about how my friendships would proceed next. My quitting Facebook was not an impulse decision. I was finally taking my friendships back, showing my friends that I was tired of the broadcast environment and that I wanted to spend more time with them on a far more personal level. What happened next?

Several friends immediately contacted me to setup lunch plans, make sure I had their contact information and generally show their support and encouragement for my decision. Many agreed with me but weren’t ready to close their own account. One wrote me in angry protest.

My blog post about quitting Facebook went semi-viral. My biggest post to date, it still rakes in regular traffic here. The web response was unreal, more than 80,000 hits in a 24 hour time period. As a nominal blogger, these numbers are huge to me. I couldn’t keep up with the comments here on the blog, Google Plus, reddit and Hacker News. As a writer, it’s hugely flattering to find your words carried meaning for others. For everyone who read my first post, thank you.

I will admit, I feel slightly cut off now that I’ve stepped away from receiving the broadcasts of every small detail of the daily lives of my 200 or so closest friends and family. People truly do have to take an extra step to loop me in to their lives. What’s been impressive are the number of people that take that extra step. I’m learning, quite clearly, who truly values my input.

Having lunch with a friend, she suddenly remembered news that she’d already shared online. “Oh yes! You’re not on Facebook, let me tell you about….” But you know what? I loved hearing it from her personally rather than reading a post. It was far more fun, more personal to hear the story over a shared meal at our favorite restaurant. Being able to see the happy glow in her eyes, share laughter and smiles and give her a hug at the end far outweighed reading smaller updates on a daily level.

My circles have grown much smaller, but infinitely tighter. On the flip side, losing all that extra “noise” in the background has helped me focus on deepening the actual relationships I share with them. I’ve withdrawn from my circle of friends somewhat, but the individual interactions are richer and deeper. Gone are the daily hellos, traded in for afternoons at the beach, lunches at our favorite restaurants, emailed photos when a friend stumbles on to something that reminds them of me.

I have one friend in particular that was upset I left Facebook. She felt I’d traded Facebook for another social network. She didn’t realize that I use them for different purposes and I wasn’t swapping one for another. She seemed angry and after one awkward dinner, we haven’t spoken, texted or emailed since.

I was deeply saddened that she’d let my leaving Facebook come between us. Then I realized something very important: We’d been drifting apart for several years now. The only thing really holding us together was the superficial ties on Facebook. I think, rather than keeping the friendship afloat, Facebook prolonged the inevitable death throes of two people moving in different directions. Facebook was a tool to help falsely maintain an ending friendship. We’d simply grown too far apart.

I want my interactions with my friends to be honest and real. I don’t want to maintain a friend list because “I should”. I want the people who keep me around to do so because they like and value my company and opinion. I’m not going to lie, I still miss seeing a lot of those status updates and photos. But I also know that each time someone calls, emails or texts me – it’s because they wanted to share that specific moment with me.

And, for the first time in 10 years I did not call my friend and sing to her on her birthday. Sometimes, it’s best to just quietly slip away.

John Franklin Stephen & His Beautiful Words

I don’t normally talk politics, but this is important.

Although this is a response to a political comment, this goes much deeper. But first let me tell you a story about my cousin, Jeffey.

Jeffey was born different. It became apparent early on that he wasn’t like the rest of us and his mental development stopped permanently at 18 months old.

He was physically strong, but never progressed past toddlerhood in his mind. Although I lived in a different state, Jeffey always remembered me. I was the only person who’s hair he pulled. It was a ritual between us. It always made me smile, to know that he recognized me from year to year.

We never thought he’d live to adulthood. His teen years were difficult for my aunt, as his strength grew. I clearly remember one year he managed to ingest some silk flowers. The wire lining tore through his intestines and he was hospitalized for weeks. When his kidneys shut down, they had to give him drugs to keep him awake but paralyzed so they could perform dialysis to keep him alive.

Terrified, with no understanding of what was happening to him he laid there. Awake and unable to move. His teenage brother Chad climbed into bed with him, soothing him. I don’t know of too many teenage boys that would do something like that, but Chad did.

Chad did, because Jeffey taught our entire family so much about unconditional love. He was never institutionalized and always lived at home with his mother, father, brother and sister. Our entire family knew a selfless, giving love that he taught us.

When Jeffey’s brother grew up, he joined the army. Chad struggled with the use of “retard” during boot camp. It was a trigger point for him and he had to work very hard to maintain control when his drill sergeants used “retard” to insult the new recruits.

And then the unthinkable happened. Shortly before Chad’s boot camp graduation, Jeffey died. He’d gotten into the family dog’s food dish, eaten some dog food, choked and died. He was 25 years old. Chad left boot camp early (meaning he needed to repeat it) for his “retarded” brother’s funeral.

Jeffey’s favorite song was “Your Are My Sunshine” and we all sobbed as we sang it during his funeral. It’s a bittersweet mix as Sunshine has always been my nickname. Even more bittersweet was the knowledge that Jeffey died on the very day I discovered that I was pregnant with my Little Bit.

Folks, words have power. Mr. Stephen’s letter is beautiful and amazing. Please give it a read. Then, watch yourself when you decide to sling insults.

John Franklin Stephen’s Letter:

Mutant Supermodel

Stephanie Van Pelt is a single mom I met through Google+ (Seriously why aren’t you there yet? Connect with me!) who writes the blog Tech Savvy Butterfly. There she writes about technology, parenting, and how technology affects families for better or for worse. She also discusses these things on Google+ so if you’re new to the platform and interested in these topics, circling her is a must. This is her single parent story.

My journey to single parenthood was so exciting I decided to do it twice. I’m twice divorced with 2 sons, one from each marriage. The journey itself is full of bad decisions – my own and those of my exes. Low self esteem coming off of marriage #1 resulted in an even more disastrous second marriage. Let’s just say that no one was truly innocent in either of these matrimonies other than the children…

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The Power of Social Search: Bing or Google?

I’m a Google Girl, I happen to enjoy all things Google. I almost exclusively use Google for searches, but I know that technology changes and it’s a good idea to challenge your conceptions from time to time. Reading about Bing’s integration with Facebook, I decided to give a Bing a try.

*Note I did this little experiment about 2 months ago, before I closed my Facebook account.

My experiment: I linked Bing to Facebook and searched “andromeda” in both search engines.

First, Bing made me complete a captcha! Shut. The. Front. Door.

Once completed, I was able to retrieve my search results. The Facebook plugin put a ticker on the right side of my screen. It was reminiscent of the ticker found within Facebook and I found it made my screen feel cluttered and claustrophobic. However, collapsing this ticker defeats the purpose of evaluating the new social search features.

My top search results: Wiki article on the Andromeda Galaxy, two scientific articles and a male infertility clinic followed by a preview of an image search. Wedged between my search results and the social plugin was a list of advertisements and a list of related searches. The social plugin? It just provides me with a list of Bing searches that my friends have posted on Facebook. None of this list pertained to my actual search. Instead it was a complete distraction and provided me with nothing useful.

Bing Results

On to Le Goog:

With Google, the “personal” or social search results were interspersed with the regular results. A toggle allows me to view just the personal results if I prefer. My top results were a bit less varied in that it suggested Wiki articles on both Andromeda Galaxy and the television show, as well as an IMDB link. On the side it suggested related searches to expand the search range and below was a quick preview to an image search.

On the landing page there is also a list of search tools that include limiting your search to a particular time frame, dictionary results, reading level, translated pages. While my main landing page has a little less variety, it seems laid out in a more intuitive way. The main search topics are more thoroughly covered but there is also easier access to more complex searches.

Google Results

Now, here’s where it gets interesting.

The “personal” results brought up a search results of all public posts within my Google Plus sphere, but not just any old post – only the ones pertinent to my search. My Googleverse has just been blown out of the water. With a vague recollection that a friend shared an article about Andromeda, I can use the personal results to quickly locate their original post. This search is far more, well, personal.

Google Personal

Sorry Bing, you’re just not there yet. Like Facebook, I feel like I’m being broadcast at rather than customized to. And if you’re out there still wondering how Google Plus can be useful for you? Go circle up a group of people who post on topics that interest you. Your search results will thank  you.

Conversations with Mohammed


With a sad heart, I’ve realized Mohammed closed his account. Our conversations are over and I have this vague, incomplete feeling like something is now missing from my life.

I first met Mohammed in a Google Plus Hangout. With 10 people, our group video chat room was full. Most of us were Americans and Mohammed’s video was muted. He wasn’t talking, nor was he joining in the text chat on the side of the room. After an hour or two, I’d forgotten he was even “in” the room. As a non-Muslim American, I’ll admit there’s a lot of bias, suspicion and general doubt that involves reading about or interacting with anyone named Mohammed that lives anywhere in the Middle East.

I’m not sure how or why we managed to get to this topic, but I mentioned an article I’d read about a teenage boy in Saudi Arabia who’s father had 4 wives. He’d done an “Ask me anything” thread and I was absolutely fascinated at this glimpse into a completely foreign life. With the introduction of this topic Mohammed came alive, first in the text chat, next by speaking and finally, by coming on camera and fully debating with us. We learned he was from the Gaza Strip and Palestinian. A product of a harsh, war torn life he was nonetheless very respectful of us, listened and debated in the true spirit of a real dialogue.

I. Was. Fascinated.

I love people. I find them intriguing. My main thrill with Google Plus Hangouts is the ability to connect with so many diverse, interesting people. They all have a story to tell, hopes, dreams, fears, worries, families and friends, pains and troubles. I have so many interesting “pen pals” and “conversation partners” from around the world. I love listening to them and finding out what makes them tick. I like having my own view of the world challenged, I absolutely love it when someone presents an opposing view point and persuades me to their point of view.

Mohammed and I kept talking. He didn’t work Fridays and I found myself looking forward to my next Thursday night. As the evening drew late for me, the sun would be rising for him. We’ve spent long hours debating politics, religion, families, society. I saw the peace he found in his religion. It truly gave him what he wanted and needed from life and I can appreciate that about him. He lived in a mosque. In his late 20’s he and his brother were building a house and it needed to be finished before he could begin looking for a wife. The only women he interacted with were his family members, but he talked to his mother every day and had a deep respect for her. You could see it in his eyes, the healthy respect he had for all his female relatives. He told me I reminded him of his favorite sister – she too had green eyes and he said I even looked like her.

He was intrigued by American culture. His only real information was what he saw in movies and he had no real concept of the average, daily American life. At first, he felt that we had no values. As we talked, he began to see that we did have a value system, it was just rooted in a very different core value. Everything in his life came back to submitting to the will of Allah. Everything was about obedience – from how you lived, to where you worked, to what you ate and when you slept. I still cannot fathom an entire lifestyle built on this core value. As an American, I value independence. I’ve been taught from an early age to find my own way, educate myself and make decisions based on my own thought process.

We come from opposite ends of the world, opposite ends of culture, opposite ends of religion. And yet, we had so very much in common. We both have families we love, we’ve both been misunderstood, we both just get through each day the best way we know how. He told me stories of childhood in a strict Muslim community, from having trouble staying up late for the last prayer of the day to time spent with his sisters. I learned about his pride in his community, the things he ate and his surprise at our perceptions of where he lived. He learned all about us too. Our frustrations at how deeply our government has let us down, how much many of us don’t support war in the Middle East (although we do support our troops!), how grounded I am as a Mom and how connected my family is to each other – that we also have family values here.

He never said good bye. I don’t know why he’s closed his account. Perhaps his house is finished and this chapter of life is over. Or maybe these conversations with a foreign woman were taboo. I’ll never really know, but my friend Mohammed, I shall miss you.

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