Responding To Stealth Social Media Apps

Most of us know the impact that social media has had on our culture.  Some of it’s great and some has really led us down a slippery slope. One aspect has parents learning of a secret struggle their kids have been dealing with through stealth apps essentially with strangers.

While parents certainly can display behavior that is destructive, an increasing trend among young people is becoming both disturbing and difficult to expose.  Social media hashtags are a platform that kids are using because it immediately connects them with others with like minds or that are engaged in a similar interest or activity.  Splintering off of that though are more stealth hashtags that look either harmless or so ambiguous that they would attract little attention.  #cat is a social dialogue thread that refers to cutting behavior…it drew 44 million searches in 2014 and about 55 million in 2015 according to The Journal of Adolescent Health.  Other forums include #selfHarmm, #SecretSociety123, #MySecretFamily or #blithe.

#cat is a social dialogue thread that refers to cutting behavior…it drew 44 million searches in 2014 and about 55 million in 2015

Phone apps that disguise themselves as a useful phone tool like a calculator or recorder were outed by the recent sexting scandal in the Canon Colorado high school. That app looked like a calculator until you held down a specific button long enough. A log in page then popped up to sign in. That opened up a vault of lewd pictures that were being shared among a number of students.  Other apps like Snapchat are used because they are a picture sharing tool that typically makes the pictures viewable for only a short period of time.  But there are other ways those pictures can take on a longer or more permanent form…either within the app or by simply taking a screenshot of the picture and keeping it or passing it on to someone else.  Not a comforting thought.  Scenarios that sometimes kids don’t think about.

The important thing, like so many other teen issues, is communication with them.  In order to have that, the relationship has to be there.  No, it doesn’t have to be a best friend sort of thing, but they need to have someone they feel can be their advocate as well as their guardrail.  Love with limits is the daily goal.  When there is that relationship, learning what is bothering them, what someone said to them, what pictures were sent to them is more possible. When you are that tuned in to your child, you can likely also detect when some of those moments happen before they even tell you.

Here’s a tool that is meant for parents to monitor their child’s phone traffic. Check out the iPhone Spy App.  It comes in iPhone or Android form.

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Ann Compton: Truth and Bias In Reporting

Earlier this year, I attended a breakfast event hosted Trinity University called “Policy Maker Breakfasts.”  It’s a series of events that features speakers of note who have in the past or presently have a unique position or experience that gives them a special perspective on any number of interests or topics.  Ann Compton, formerly of ABC News, spoke at the February event and offered some great personal stories as a network news White House correspondent as well as her own views of the state of news media today and how it has changed.

Ann Compton speaking at Trinity's Policymakers Speaker Series

While the personal stories she told were interesting, it was some of the questions and answers that came out after her talk that had a lot of people raising their eyebrows.  Like for instance, she was questioned about the Brian Williams memory lapse incidents.  While she acknowledges knowing Brian fairly well through their competitive news gathering days and characterizes him as a nice and smart fellow, what he’s done does not do modern journalism any favors.  She likens the six month hiatus without pay consequence for his faulty memory as essentially the death penalty to a network news anchor.  Turns out she was partially right…Lester Holt was tapped for the NBC News anchor chair, while Williams was given a second chance as a breaking news anchor position on MSNBC. A far cry from Nightly News domination (10 million viewers).

Personally, the only thing I can remember that was as bad as that was Dan Rather’s live interview with George H.W. Bush in 1988 over the Iran-Contra issue. Check it out HERE. Especially at around 6:33 into the interview.

The other topic that was brought up through the audience questions was the perceived media bias in reporting.  While she stopped short of blanketing all media outlets as bias in one way or the other, she did say that many of the broadcast/cable news operations do come to their news gathering mission with an established tone or slant which tends to color their coverage.  MSNBC and FOX News were two examples of networks vying for niche news audiences in a culture that is increasingly going to the internet for their news.  She even fielded a question about National Public Radio that was actually asked by someone who was an avid listener of NPR. Ms. Compton’s answer I thought was honest.  She admitted that her perspective was as a competitor for many years (ABC Radio News), but said expanded or in-depth coverage of a news story, which is NPR’s format, does not necessarily mean objective or unbiased coverage.  That answer probably didn’t please the questioner, but Compton characterized National Public Radio as left of center…generally not objective. But she says many news operations have evolved their color of coverage and have developed loyal audiences because those news programs fit their political or ethical comfort zone.  As a result, while audiences may not be as big as they use to be, the audiences they do have are loyal and news producers are constantly looking for new twists, program formats and personalities to keep them coming back and maybe win a few converts now and then.

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What Kids Knew Then, May Not Know Now

I recently stumbled upon a study that I thought was interesting because it reflects the shifting of what’s common knowledge with kids. That could be a function of how much technology is consumed or it could be just a generation’s pop culture that fades and a new one replaces it. For whatever reason, here are some top common knowledge items that have become either more or less known as common knowledge with young people today.
Example one…what’s the capital of France? Back in 1980, when this study was first put out there, it was the six most correctly answered question, in 2012 it dropped to 23rd. The answer by the way, in case you don’t know, is Paris. 30% of the respondents thought Baghdad was the capital of Afghanistan.
Number two…who warned the American rebels during the Revoluntionary War with the phrase ”The British Are Coming.” The right answer, Paul Revere.
Number three…from the world of the arts. Who was the male lead in the classic film “Gone With The Wind?” The correct answer, Clark Gable fell from 68 in 1980 to 200 in 2012.
Number four…here’s something that went up in the area of terminology. Knowledge of the meaning of the word describing a severe headache we call a “migrane” went from 25 in 1980 to 6th in 2012. This is possibly due to the increased incidence of the malady among young people.
Lastly, the name of the villain captain in the story Peter Pan shot up from number 73 to 18. Such a spectacular climb was also seen by the name of Tarzan’ girlfriend Jane.
Notice a trend? Pop culture and entertainment has replaced History, and Social Studies as the drivers of what kids seek to know about our world and culture. It’s not necessarily their fault with how instant and portable technology is, not to mention the entertainment it offers. It is where we are, until as a whole, we see real usable knowledge as valued and important to know and a key to be something better.

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Study: Sometimes High Tech and School DON’T Mix

Distractions can mean spottier memory and more shallow learning

Multitasking is something that’s been around a long time. Like your mom answering the phone while she was looking over homework or ironing a shirt or dress for the next day.  Sometimes it’s necessary.  But what about multitasking with today’s technology.  It’s almost in a teenager’s DNA to multitask…many times while they are doing something focused like their homework or studying for a test, they’re also texting on their phone.  Come to find out that behavior borders on compulsive if it doesn’t fit the clinical definition.

Researchers from California State University observed students in their homes over a period of time to see what the depth of their multitasking was.  Despite the students knowing up front what the observers would be watching for, they were only able to stay on a focused task 65 percent of the time.  In fact, within 2 minutes of starting their requested task they were already texting, looking at social media feeds or making a phone call.

Observers estimated that the students could not go more than 15 minutes without going to their devices.

Okay…so they like their technology and their devices seem to be a new appendage attached to their body, is it really a problem?   These researchers say it appears, for students anyway, it is. Experts say that the problem comes in when a person is doing two complex jobs at the same time.  You can be mopping the floor and listen to a weather report at the same time without taxing yourself too much because those two jobs are not competing  for the same mental resources.  However, when something like texting, talking on the phone or playing a game on a device goes on while trying to concentrate on reading or studying, mental resources are divided and neuroscientists say the quality and quantity of what the individual is doing goes out the window.  This shows itself in taking longer…sometimes much longer…to complete assignments, mental fatigue is higher because the brain continually has to pick up the thread of thought after the distraction. Likely the most important is learning and memory becomes much spottier and very shallow.

Not all multitasking with technology is harmful or makes them less productive.  Watching television while texting are not necessarily conflicting activities because one is passive, while the other is a bit more complex in turning a thought to text.

If your student is struggling with this, know that most of the time they won’t see it as a problem.  But as an experiment, see if they can stay away from their device and concentrate for 15 minutes…then take a technology break and let them send a text or look at Facebook. Next time go 20 minutes…break. Try to extend to 30 or 45 minutes.  A total ban may be pretty difficult to do, but setting limits to technology when studying or doing homework can go a long way when it comes to retaining what’s being learned.

CLICK HERE to read a more complete report by Annie Murphy Paul

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Social Media-Rising In Younger Kids


Kids & Social Networks-Quite A Choice



To some adults, social media cruising can be fun and even professionally helpful making contacts in our chosen industry. To others, it’s something else to keep track of and even brings a sense of guilt for delinquent responses to others. But it seems to be spreading to a younger and younger crowd, especially preteens.

Estimates say 7.5 million children under 13 years of age that have lied about their age to open a Facebook account.

A lot of this ,of course , is the result of the number of kids who have been allowed to have mobile devices like cell phones.  29% of all children surveyed in an IpsosCT LMX Family Study have an account on a social network site. There is a summary here. Facebook is by far the site of choice with Twitter trailing distantly behind but making up some ground among older teens. That possibly to avoid such a close watch from parents.
So what are they doing when they hop on their favorite site?  The top three activities are actually within a few percentage points of one another. Just “looking” at what others are writing, playing games or “liking” things like pictures or opinions are the top ones.  Also high up there were posting updates and posting pictures (worthy of keeping an eye on) and searching for videos or music. Keep in mind they’re very possibly doing one or more of these activities at a time.
Social networking among young kids is a growing trend that, while parents acknowledge the dangers, are being allowed.  Denying your child something like social networking could result in a rebellious backlash and perception of dictatorship, but if there is a recent  track record of irresponsibility it may take calmly laying out the reasons for denial and chance for rebuilding trust with new behavior. However you handle it, there’s good reason for the old foreign policy phrase we use to hear among diplomats…”Trust, But Verify” when it comes to kids and their social media.

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E-Worship Growing With High Tech

The virtual world of the church growing

…church leaders are realizing the capabilities that are out there to get the message of salvation to the masses…

It doesn’t seem that long ago that many churches, including my own, thought they were on the cutting edge of worship technology when we put away the traditional hymnal and began singing off of the big screens.  Well helping people pursue God these days also means keeping up with the growth of technology-even some churches moving into e-worship applications. Granted, in the past, the journey of knowing God better has not always emphasized technology. But that’s changing because church leaders are realizing the capabilities that are out there to get the message of salvation to the masses…at least the masses that have the technology. 

First, among the e-worship applications are the Bible apps themselves. You’ve probably seen some of these like Olive Tree Bible Reader for Android or iPhone that has a couple of different versions, commentaries and you can highlight passages and take notes. YouVersion has several different versions you can read side-by-side, reading plans and devotionals. E-Sword can put up to 4 versions on the screen side-by-side. Blue Letter Bible gives you some 20 translations with Hebrew and Greek available and gives you study charts, and outlines.  This Christian Chronicle article has more to check out.

But just like a lot of news organizations have done, some churches are now coming out with their own customized apps for smartphones and tablets. According to app developers about 150 churches have their own customized app for it’s members and it looks like there will be more to come. They see it as a way to better keep their members informed with adult and youth group activities and download encouraging messages via podcasts to listen to when they have time.

E-worship tools are not bringing the gospel message to those in China or a remote village in Africa right now, but it is proving to be an encouraging tool for those living in the tech world who want to use media fill their minds with practical  and biblical messages anytime they want.

Here are a couple of my favorite religiously based apps that encourage me on a daily basis. Family Life Today and Focus on the Family.

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Downton Abbey season 2: Proof Quality is Possible

Downton Abbey: A Smash in America

As someone who is a member of the media and is generally surrounded by a variety of  different programs, I’ll tell you there is a lot of truth to the phrase, “so many channels, so little to watch.”  There is a lot of low-end stuff out there that is taking up a lot of channel space.  But with the close of Downton Abbey season 2, there is no question that I’m not the only person who is craving good stories, crafted with great characters that are played with quality actors and actresses. It doesn’t hurt that I especially enjoy period movies, but this is indeed a phenomenon that producers from all walks of the entertainment industry should notice if they really want to tap a market that could reward them in the biggest way.

It is sad that much of the entertainment industry is set on making a statement, or just merely pushing the envelope to “shake up the establishment.” But the makers of the Downton Abbey series have touched on an idea that at first glance looks conventional, but on the contrary it’s actually counterintuitive these days.  Downton Abbey season 2’s conclusion proves that a great story executed well doesn’t need to be edgy or graphic or be following celebrities around to find out what toothpaste they use. I was surprised to see that in Britain, the conclusion of Downton Abbey season 2 which included a much talked about Christmas scene between Matthew and Lady Mary came in second in viewership on Christmas Day to some show called EastEnders that unfortunately sounds closer to the typical offering by American TV producers. Just goes to show you some people just won’t eat steak when there are twinkies hanging around.

If you haven’t heard by now, Downton Abbey is one of the most highly acclaimed TV series ever here in the states with 6 Emmy awards and 4 Golden Globe nominations. It’s made watching PBS Masterpiece Theater cool again- for some people who are concerned about that. Downton Abbey season 3 is already being shot and while critics are calling it just another type of soap opera, it certainly doesn’t feel like it.  When you talk to someone else about the story line, it may sound like you’re describing one, but the way it is shot and produced makes it feel like a top flight motion picture with a tapestry of primary and secondary story lines. And it certainly doesn’t have the sleaze we come to expect with the day time soap scene.  Bottom line, if you like a good story that has an appeal to both men and women, it would be worth your while… you’ll get pulled into a “jolly good” story.

You can start from the beginning of season 1 by going to websites like NetflixHulu or PBS online and watch the entire first two seasons.  Or if you want to take a virtual tour of Highclere Castle where Downton Abbey is shot, it’s an interesting look at the real setting of where the series has been shot.

P.S. In case your interested, Shirley MacLaine will be the new addition as the crew is already filming the third season.

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War Horse: A Christmas Present For The Family

"War Horse"- Spielberg's Christmas Gift

The newest Spielberg release War Horse is coming to theaters just in time for families to slide into the Christmas holidays to escape for a couple of hours. I took my wife and 12-year-old boy to the special screening of the film since it won’t be released until Christmas day. This is a period movie set before and during World War I and focuses on a young man, Albert Narracott played by Jeremy Irvine and the horse that he raises and teaches to unlock and harness an indomitable spirit that carries him through a great deal in this movie. While the main character “Joey” the horse, is an unquestioned hero,  there are a number of heroes in this movie and a good number of villains as well that help tell a rather complicated and intertwined story that tests this horse to the core.

In general, movies that feature animals can be a little sappy and unrealistic because the story tends to want to pin human type emotions and logic to them making them not as believable, but this movie somehow works because Joey responds to the kindness from both sides of the war, not just the guys wearing the white helmets. The movie does have some inspirational moments that will provoke some tears and in my sitting of this movie produced a couple of rounds of applause. While Spielberg’s director stamp is seen in a number of ways in this movie, it is a little bit predictable and lacked some of the unexpected twists that many of his films have included. Even the ending of the movie, without giving it away, was shot in a dramatic red sky background with the actor’s silhouettes finishing the movie in a way that made me think I was watching the end of  Gone with the Wind.

Despite these shortcomings, this is a well made film that tells it’s story in a dramatic and effective way. It’s rated PG-13 for war violence that could be disturbing for kids younger than middle school, but nothing like we’ve seen in other Spielberg war films. Something else to consider, especially if you or your kids are horse lovers. It may be tough to watch Joey being abused as a beast of burden hauling heavy artillery uphill and at one point gets caught up in a spiderweb of barbed wire. My wife really liked the movie because it was not only a good believable story, but it underscored human traits you don’t see in films much these days…like honor and respect for family, friends and having the courage to do something you’re afraid to do.  My son thought it was entertaining and said his favorite part of the movie was when a British soldier and a German soldier each braved beyond the protection of their war trenches to free Joey from that barbed wire.

It’s a little over 2 hours long, but it doesn’t seem like it. I recommend this film giving it three and a half stars out of 5.  I know it’s not perfect, but this is a jewel compared to the shallow or self-consumed genre that comes out many times in theaters these days. A great family movie if you’re kids are not too young.

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Cool Tech Gifts Will Tech The Halls This Christmas, Again

Cool Tech Gifts-What Kids Want

So what is on your Christmas list this year? Well if you’re like one of the many people Nielsen surveyed this year it is going to be high tech gifts.  And our youngest generation is really smitten. According to the latest Nielsen study, after clothing,  kids 6-12 years old are putting things like an iPad, iPod touch and iPhone at the top of their list.  At least their craving for tech gear has not overcome their basic need to look good. You have to think that might be skewed a bit more toward the pre-teen crowd where image, self and otherwise, is really emerging.

While cool tech gifts will be a part of gift shopping for a long time, we parents also need to partake in these choices for our kids in moderation. 

Kids need variety and they need to move.

When you look at this list, you will see that gifts like bicycles, in-line skates, footballs or basketballs are just not there. Maybe classified as secondary gifts? The closest thing to an active gift on this list is the Nintendo Wii.  Those Black Friday shoppers cramming through department store doors at dark’o clock in the morning likely weren’t after a baseball glove and ball right? By the way, is it just me or does it seem a bit hypocritical to make big box store employees  work on any part of Thanksgiving day so people who should be home with family being thankful for what they have, are instead getting worked up in a frenzy fighting for more ?  Cybershopping has struck fear in brick and mortar stores these days so they’re scheduling chaos in people’s lives and holiday time to “survive.”  Actually I think some retailer is just one big ad campaign away from stealing consumers hearts and money by declaring “we’ll be closed all day Thanksgiving so everyone can be with family, but look out when we open at 9 am on Black Friday because you don’t want to miss this!!”

Don’t get me wrong…I love those cool tech gifts too, but I think our worship at the altar of technology has led us to lose a sense of what’s physically good for our minds and bodies, including our kids, and robs our appreciate of the good things in life that we already have been blessed to possess.

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Social Media Reputation-What Happens Here, Stays Everywhere

Social network reputation...a work place concern


It’s amazing how the different social media platforms have lit a firestorm of expression among our society.  The Twitters and the Facebooks of the world encourage a free flow of ideas, emotions and information. But that kind of sowing of the freedom of expression seeds is also reaping a harvest of thoughtless or even reckless behavior that the corporate world is ready squash. 

Some companies are so worried about the social media reputation of their brand or even the people they employ it’s being blocked at many of their cubicles. 

According to the 2011 Litigation Trends Survey by Fulbright & Jaworski, 40 percent of U.S. companies block Facebook and Bebo, 36 percent block YouTube and 35 percent block Twitter.  And here’s another indicator of the chilling effect of social media banter. 16 percent of  U.S. based companies have had to save or collect an employee’s social media posts and activity as a result of company lawsuits over the past year.  This was based on responses from hundreds of companies.

At my job, being in television news, social media is actually encouraged, but only if the company’s brand is being promoted by it.  It knows the value and the danger of social media reputation so it conducted a live webinar with corporate lawyers to keep all the posts and web entries from being lawsuit material. Some of this might help the average Tweeter or Facebooker out there because if you think you’re just having fun putting someone else in a humorous or awkward light just for grins, they may not take it that way. 

First, if you’re writing something about another person and you’re just joking around, make sure it’s plain as day that you are joking.  If someone reads  false information about another person that you wrote, you could be liable and it’ll be out there for a long time. 

Next, respect people’s right to privacy.  Publicizing purely private matters about someone, even if you know about them, is not necessarily information for everyone and that information could be offensive to the typical person. Again, that could be a lawsuit in waiting.

Finally, another form of intrusion and dishonesty comes when someone passes themselves off as someone else in order to get information.  Journalists know this is forbidden and can open up a can of legal worms for them, and you don’t want to go down that road either. 

Litigation Survey

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