By Dana Barrett You can’t win. The holidays are upon us, and in addition to our children clamoring for the latest video game or gadget – many of them (especially the Tween set) are hoping for their first cell phone. As we all know – owning a cell phone has very little to do with making calls, and everything to do with the freedom to connect - mostly via social media.

So, what’s a parent to do when their 10-year-old pleads that, “Everyone else in the class has one and I’m the only one being left out!”?

I don’t know about you, but I watched the Facebook whistleblower hearings with great concern. It’s frustrating (but not entirely surprising) to hear that the social media giants are well-aware of the deleterious effects of their prize product (Instagram) on your child’s psyche. As we all know, social media companies greed doesn’t seem to have an age limit. And now they’re mining ever younger user data so they can turn it into big bucks. Unfortunately, the memos that surfaced as part of the Facebook hearings actually discuss tapping into children’s play date time to try and get them on screens!

An enlightening New York Times video entitled, “What’s One of the Most Dangerous Toys for Kids? The Internet” is filled with adorable children sharing their ideas about going online. The video also discusses user statistics, shedding light on some of the safety issues with Instagram and YouTube:

• One study had adult researchers create new Instagram accounts posing as 13 to 15 year-olds. Within the first 24 hours of use, every account the researchers created received private messages (DM’s) from adult strangers. Just as disturbing, the more posts that a teen liked – the more extreme the content that the Instagram algorithm exposed them to - including sexual content, violence, and extreme dieting sites.

• Even though social media platforms have a disclaimer that says, “You must be 13 to use this site”, one study from the last year indicates that 40% of 9- to 12- year-olds reported that they visit Instagram every day, and 78% of that same group reported watching videos across all of YouTube and not on YouTube Kids, a site designed specifically for children’s video content back in 2015.

The regular version of YouTube still has a wealth of content designed for young children since most of the channels were established prior to the creation of YouTube Kids.

According to research in the New York Times video, a large majority of the ads that run during children’s animated programming on YouTube are for things like dating sites, alcohol, and even political opinions – does that make any sense to you?

Google has worked harder to safeguard the content on their YouTube Kids video platform, however, in March of this year Commonsense Media reported: “YouTube Kids is mostly safe, but there's a small chance that kids could see • Nudity • Violence • or just weird stuff, as well as ads for stuff like junk food.”

A small chance that your kids could see nudity? Does that make any sense to you?

Our children are a gift – the most precious thing in our lives. We, as parents, have to develop strategies to protect our kids online and especially on their phones. Until big social media companies agree to dedicate resources to creating solutions designed specifically to produce positive engagement and protect their adolescent audience, we need to be just as vigilant online, as when we are protecting them in the real world.

But just like in the real world, we can’t always be with them when they’re on the internet during classes, searching the web for homework, taking mini-breaks, or having downtime in solitude.

So, how do you win? At holiday time do you purchase that phone your Tween’s pleading for? Every parent has their own version of what ‘feels correct’ and has to stay true to that. For me I think the answer is always found on the middle path, where you establish a clear set of boundaries. If you decide to get them a phone, explain to them your feelings and what level of use you’re comfortable with. If they agree, you have a deal. If not, they don’t get a phone. I’ve also found that establishing respect for your child and demanding the same respect in return is the foundation of any healthy agreement around social media. If your agreement is respected, they have their freedom. If they break those boundaries, then they’ve broken the agreement and you get to re-establish stricter rules. That has always worked for me.

Finding a path forward for your family involves a delicate balancing act that can only succeed with a real-time, ongoing dialogue with your child. Being present and interested in what they are experiencing on social media and the internet will be meaningful to them. Your connection to them trumps everything else. It’s the only thing that matters.

At Elevated Life Solutions, we feel very strongly about connecting, providing and protecting for those who don’t even have technology, so that they can join the rapidly advancing world and not be left behind. It’s why we have also partnered with Cybersmarties, which is the only secure, fully monitored social network that is for school children only, and has ended cyberbullying and ended predatory behavior completely on their platform since 2017.

They are also a member of the UNICEF/ Global Partnership to End Violence against Children, and currently protect over 300,000 children in 3 different countries.

You can donate once and help twice. Help put technology in the hands of those without, so that families and children don’t fall behind in our rapidly advancing world, and know that you’re supporting children going onto a protected locked down social network designed for children only, to play in safely and securely.

Our fundraising efforts support both goals. Please help today! Donate once, to help twice.

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By Dana Barrett

Struggling with how to be a good parent these days – especially when it comes to cell phones and technology? Rest assured that you aren’t alone. The vastness of the internet creates new problems for managing our kid’s emotional health and their online safety, but with all the warnings, the irony is sometimes social media provides more emotional support than the real world.

As a parent, it’s heartbreaking to see your child struggle with school bullying and social isolation just because their interests are unique or different.

My daughter spent her elementary years at a Waldorf charter school where student groups rolled forward year after year in small pods – this meant that every child in each grade was stuck with the same group of 20 or so kids for 6 years. That concept is supposed to be socially beneficial – creating a small village of love and support. But it only works if all the kids have similar interests and dispositions. This was not the case for my kid – she was a little light that shined in her own sweet way, and the other girls who were more mainstream and generic kept her on the fringes of most feminine social interaction. Oh, there were one or two good eggs who were occasionally kind, but for the rest of the group – think Mean Girls or Pretty Little Liars but wearing child-sized Keds and only slightly less lipstick.

Technology was shunned by the Waldorf School, and parents were lectured regularly on the virtues of cell phone abstinence. I went through a divorce when my daughter was about 11 years old. I decided to buy her a cell phone so she could stay connected with both mom and dad at all times.

As she slowly waded into the online world – she found small chat groups with like-minded girls from all over the state. Her creativity blossomed as she found support and encouragement. She wrote short stories and posted fan-fiction – connecting with even more kids who had a similar light. I watched her confidence grow as she started to feel valued for her opinions and interests, instead of being ostracized for not fitting it. She found her best friend – some 400 miles away, something that never would have happened without her cell phone.

That’s an example of social media literally saving someone’s life. While at the same time we know of many stories that are 180 degrees opposite. Clearly lives have been ruined by social media as well. It’s a massive network with no rules and where no one is trained how to use it. Yet social media is a part of our children’s lives now – and there’s no turning back.

When problems do happen or safety issues arise, parents can feel out of their depths, powerless and unsure how to help a child who may be suffering, the same way I felt with my daughter off social media but in her peer group at school.

Parents only want to help. But the irony is that removing your child from social media, or their online world if they’re being bullied, isn’t necessarily the answer. That forces isolation, which feels like its own punishment one and the same.

So, what’s a good parent to do?

These are some suggestions for managing your child's internet and social media use - but every situation is different, and as a parent you should decide what is ultimately best for your child.

The best way to protect kids while they use technology is to limit screen time and encourage ‘off screen’ time, while also teaching them to be mindful, thoughtful, and responsible. For example:

• Don’t ever just grab your child’s phone and start scrolling through it – reading all of their personal content. Think about how you would feel if someone did that to you! Instead, treat your kids with respect and let them know that you are ready to help the minute an uncomfortable situation comes up.

• Make an agreement with your child regarding how time limits on social media will work at home (after homework, only in the evenings, establish boundaries, etc.) and collaborate with them on those boundaries. I’ve always found mutual respect makes one likely to honor the rules. (But if that respect can’t be honored, then the rules have to change.)

• Educate your children regarding what is inappropriate on social media. Teach them to recognize signs of bullying or predatory behavior.

• Create family connection time in your weekly schedule. A shared meal if possible at dinner where phones are off and the actual old fashioned communication system of talking to one another is encouraged. Asking children questions spurs answers. Asking about their day, or current likes and dislikes is a good way to start. Questions to make them think are always plus, like ‘if dogs could talk, what do you think is the first thing they’d say? If people could not talk but could only bark, how would you ask me for something?”

If things have gotten serious with your child on social media, and you know threatening behavior has happened either towards your child, or from your child towards another, you may need stricter boundaries.

• Once or twice a month, sit with your child to review which apps or websites they have access to on both their phone or computer.

• Work together to review usernames or screen names of people they are in contact with - but don’t read private messages or texts. If a user looks suspicious – ask the child to show you more information on that particular user.

Elevated life Solutions believes strongly in teaching kids to use social media kindly, safely, and constructively. That is why we have partnered with CyberSmarties – a completely secure social media platform designed for school children only, ages 7-12. The Cybersmarties social network has ended cyberbullying and ended predatory behavior on their platform completely since 2017. They currently protect over 200,000 school children in three different countries and are continuing to expand.

We are raising funds to help CyberSmarties continue to expand their network, so that school children on their platform can learn and play in a protective environment, that has none of the short fallings of social media. Your donation can protect a child right now, who might need someone to look out for them. Perhaps as you might wish someone to be looking out for yours.

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By Dana Barrett

Limited access to technology contributes to economic poverty. Have you ever stopped to imagine how different your life would be without the technology that many of us take for granted every day? Having a computer or laptop with internet access has become the standard in middle- and upper-class communities across the U.S. However, according to a report by the Pew Research Center 4 in 10 adults with income below $30,000 per year do not own a computer or have access to broadband internet services. Imagine not having the ability to research homework or the latest news with the touch of a finger? Computers and technology are vital for simple but important daily tasks like filing a job application or signing up for healthcare. Imagine dropping job applications and resumes at each site with an opportunity like in the old days, then add up the time, printing and transportation costs that involves. Those costs still effect the under-served. Are You Familiar with the Digital Divide? It’s glaringly apparent how technology is a gateway to opportunity, and without it economic poverty and income inequality take root. Consider the shift to technology- based business processes over the last decade, and how remote work and schooling became crucial ways to stay competitive in the last 18 months. The impact was felt by both children and adults all across the globe. For members of underserved communities, lack of access to computers or internet service had a devastating impact. As a society, we are turning a corner where we will depend less and less on manual labor. Consequently, hundreds of low-skilled workers end up losing their jobs and without access to computers or computer-based education, they lack the ability to retool to join the 21st-century workforce and compete for higher-paying jobs. Students without access to educational technology will be shut out as their generation moves past them. According to Paul M. Ong of the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge - “The disparities in limited technological resources for virtual learning are not just today’s education crisis, persistent digital inequality threatens to deepen disparities in achievement as minority and low-income children become adults, contributing to an intergenerational reproduction of inequality”. Technology and Girls Globally, girls are disproportionately impacted by lack of access to computers and computer-based education. According to a report released by the U.N. on ‘International Day of the Girl Child’, October 10th – there are 1.1 billion girls in the world that could grow up to change the world if they were given access to education, proper resources and a pathway to create a better future. ‘The global internet user gender gap is growing, from 11 percent in 2013 to 17 percent in 2019 and is widest in the world’s least developed countries at 43 percent.’ If those girls in need are provided the technological entrée computers and the internet provide, educational opportunities and community support, we help close this gap and allow them to help shape our world for the better. And What about the Human Benefits of Technology? The stay-at-home restrictions of Covid-19 also brought to light the value between technological connection and social-emotional health. Connectivity – The ability to maintain bonds with loved ones in distant places across digital networks during times of hardship greatly alleviated feelings of isolation. Today it allows people to interact and learn about the world far beyond their own expectations. Opportunities for knowledge become limitless – the world expands. Elevated Life Solutions – Equally Together, We Move Forward. Or mission is to help those in need, to get technology to the underserved for free, and strive to reduce this digital divide in low-income and underserved communities. We have distributed $50,000 worth of refurbished laptops to families ‘without’ in the Los Angeles area already. We will be donating another $25,000 worth of laptops to underserved families this fall. These computers are refurbished with the help of your generous donations. A gift of technology #uplifts many people who never thought they would be able to afford such a thing. It allows them to #GetElevated and gives them hope where before they had none before. And, as always, we believe when you elevate others, you elevate yourself.

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