Thursday, December 29, 2011

First Tweens Malia and Sasha Obama Release Sea Turtles into the Wild

The Obama family is back in the President's home state of Hawaii for their annual Christmas break. This year, First Tweens Malia and Sasha Obama got to do a bit of real-life marine biology on their holiday: the girls released four green sea turtles into the wild at Sea Life Park, a marine sanctuary in Oahu that is the only place in the U.S. that raises green sea turtles in captivity. The 18-month old turtles were born at Sea Life Park and are released into the bay as part of program to re-populate this threatened species.

Photo credit: AP

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Year's Eve and Tweens

We love, love, love celebrating New Year's Eve and planning a party with our tweens is half of the fun. Here's a link to an earlier post with some party planning ideas including decorations, food, and drink suggestions.

This year we're adding surprise balls to the mix - check out this video from Kate Spade New York showing how fun these are:


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Friday, December 23, 2011

New Online Cooking Show For Tweens: Food Star by SweetyHigh

Sweety High is an online social networking community for tweens and tweens. Like the ones before it (Everloop, Imbee, etc.), the site is COPPA-compliant and heavily monitored. What makes this social network different from the others out there is that they create online shows using girls from their network. "Food Star" is one such show: it features a sister duo of Sophie and Emily Everhard who were members of Sweety High.
Our tweens seem to watch Food Network and Cupcake Wars as much as Disney Channel, so it's not surprising that media companies are catching on to the tween-foodie market. "Food Star" features the sisters cooking recipes with tween and teenage celebrities; it's sort of a mash-up between a talk show (think "Ellen") and "Rachel Ray". I especially love that the episodes include kitchen safety tips in addition to the recipes, and that the stars of the show are two real-life kids.

One must be a member of Sweety High to view any content (part of the site's safety protocols), and membership is free. Parents are also part of the process: parental permission is required to register for the site, and there's also a group of parents serving as an advisory board to the site's management.

Our tweens loved it - let us know what yours thought of the new show!

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

About First Tween Sasha Obama's Dress From the Official Portrait

We've just learned that the pretty fuchsia and silver dress worn by First Tween Sasha Obama in the Obama Family Official Portrait is designed by BB Dakota, a mother-daughter design company. This dress is from a women's line, so it's not in children's sizes (and as we know, tweens come in all shapes and sizes - some older tweens are wearing youth sizes 12 and 14 while others are in womens or petites). It's available online (and on sale!) for $55. We certain this will be a popular choice for New Year's Parties among tweens.

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Communicating With Tweens

We recently came across a rather harshly-worded article about communication between parents and children. While the author focused mainly on communicating with young children and the manifestations of those behaviors in later years, we felt that one line particular rang true when communicating with tweens, "In the parent/child relationship, communication is entirely…hear this…ENTIRELY the responsibility of the parent."

Personally, this was a great reminder for us especially during the holiday season (which, let's face it,  can be a stressful time of year with all the comings and goings and inter-generational family gatherings). It was sort of a wake-up call to remind us that as mature as our tweens can appear (especially in contrast to younger siblings), at times we place undue burden on them to articulate their needs and feelings. They're more capable of it than school and toddler-age kids, of course, but they're also still learning how and when to speak their mind - or even to sort through their feelings to figure out how they feel. Tween girls can be a moody bunch with a sullen long face in the morning that morphs seemingly instantly to a shiny happy face by lunch. In the abstract, we parents can remember that they're still sorting through who they are and cut them that slack, but in the day-to-day, I know that I lose sight of it.

We've written before about those teachable moments and life lessons that our tweens learn from parents' behaviors and responses, and while the seeds of communication were most certainly sown at a very young age, behaviors are still malleable in the tween years. Thank heavens for that. We hope that you and your tweens have a happy, healthy, and calm holiday season.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Michelle on Obama on Facebook: "Why would we want to have a whole bunch of people who we don't know knowing our business? That doesn't make much sense."

Honestly, this is refreshing to hear from a fellow parent of tween girls. In the Obama family's only print interview of the season, People magazine asked them about their social networking and television usage. First Lady Michelle Obama says of their decision NOT to let First Tweens Malia and Sasha Obama use Facebook, "Why would we want to have a whole bunch of people who we don't know knowing our business? That doesn't make much sense."

Their tweens are young yet, and Facebook's stated policy is that a user must be 13 or older - but that hasn't stopped millions of tweens from actively using Facebook.

With the winter break upon us, tweens will be online in droves - here are our tips for keeping your tween safe online this season:

Our House Rules for Digitally Literate Girls:

(You can read the full interview with Gayle Trotter that ran in the Alliance for Women in Media "Special Report on Digital Literacy for Women and Girls" here.)

Gayle: How can you let girls become digitally proficient without being exposed to the trash on the Internet?

MsTwixt: In a word: slowly. Kids should be taught to go online in stages appropriate to their age, and parents need to monitor their children’s activity online.

Here are some tips for parents:

· Create a family technology policy. Articulate clearly what your expectations are with respect to how mobile phones, television viewing, Internet browsing, YouTube watching, texting, etc., are acceptable for your family. You should share and discuss this policy with your kids so that they are clear on the behavior expectations and the reasons why. The ethics you enforce in real life absolutely extend to your kids' digital lives.

· Trust but verify. There are settings on every major browser that enable “safe search” — which is essentially search result listings of questionable sites or sites with adult content being blocked from display. Clearly this is a form of censorship, and it’s not too different from the settings on one’s cable box that block out channels based on a parent’s preference.

· Parents should check the browsing history on all computers in the home regularly. Not only is this a list of where your kids have gone online, but it provides insight into the kind of information they are looking for and what they really use the Internet for (so you can tell if “online research” includes Facebook or not).

· Parents should “Google” their kid’s names a few times a year to keep tabs on what information strangers can find about your child.

· With mobile phones, most major carriers offer text plans that not only help you to budget text usage but also monitor the texts. Some carriers charge a fee while others do not — it varies a great deal. You can also look for a plan option that backs-up the information on a phone (very helpful for the address book feature) and monitor photos taken with the phone.

· One rule in our household is that all browsing MUST happen at the dining table or living room; computers are not allowed in bedrooms. Publicly viewed screens have a “fresh air” effect on browsing.

· If your kids are under the age of 13 and want to join Facebook, consider setting up a Facebook account for the entire family instead of each member of the family. Check your privacy settings frequently on Facebook (the default settings change often).

· Another household rule with mobile phones that you might find helpful: store all phones in a central place (i.e., NOT in the child’s room). Not only does it help to mitigate the morning scramble and ensure sleep, but it prevents the late-night, unmonitored text sessions.

· An ostrich strategy won’t work when it comes to technology. If you don’t know how to text, learn; if you don’t know what Facebook or Twitter are, spend some time poking around on those sites; and if you don’t know what you don’t know, ask other parents what they’re monitoring online.

· Some of the best ways to parent include modeling the behaviors we want to see in our children. While we often think of that in the context of manners, speech, and ethics, the same applies to online behaviors.

· Focus on the positives of technology and what it offers to your kids; girls especially need to be comfortable with technology in today’s world.

Tips for teaching kids to go online safely:

· Kids need to know that just because they read something online, it is not necessarily true. They should learn which sites are trusted for research information and to check the footnotes, bibliography and sources for any online research.

· Kids should keep a running list of online bookmarks for any research project. Sites such as Delicious make this easy to both save and organize, and it’s incredibly helpful to have a list of their sources available with a single click.

· Avoid using both their first and last name together for any login, username, or screename.

· NEVER enter their address online – this should ONLY be done by a parent.

· Sit down together in front of the computer to research something. This summer we were looking for a new tank filter for our turtle, and this exercise was really helpful for our girls to see how we searched for information, the kinds of terms and phrases we used, and which sites we chose to visit and which ones we chose not to and why. The parent should narrate what they’re doing and thinking at each step in the process. We do exactly this kind of task-based testing in the development world when developing applications, and it is extremely valuable. This same exercise can also be done when going onto the family Facebook account and reading through Wall posts, viewing photos, finding friends, etc.

· If your child really wants to explore a social network online, there are kid-only sites such as Everloop, Imbee, and Togetherville that are tailored just for them. Parents can feel secure in knowing that these communities have live monitoring and are COPPA-compliant (COPPA is the Child Online Privacy and Protection Act).

· Kids should understand that information posted online has a very long “half-life.” This means not only that anyone can find that goofy photo they took with their friends junior year, but that photo will come up when someone searches for them 5 or 10 years from now — and folks they care about (such as college admission officers, job interviewers, scholarship committees, coaches) will most assuredly search for them online. This is a tough reality to confront as it means that all of the trials and tribulations of growing up and the mistakes that come with it are on public display. We can’t stuff that genie back in the bottle, but being cognizant of it is vital.

· Be picky. Kids should be very selective in which sites they chose to use for research and which communities they choose to join. Discuss with them the merits of one social network over another, why one source for research is better than another, etc. With such vastness of information, it's important to learn to filter it well. They should be selective with their time and what information they share online — VERY selective.


Photo: The White House's official family portrait taken on December 11, 2011.

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Monday, December 12, 2011

First Tweens Cheer Justin Bieber at "Christmas in Washington" Show

Meeting Justin Bieber is quickly becoming de rigueur for the First Tweens. Malia and Sasha Obama again welcomed Justin Bieber to the annual "Christmas in Washington" show this weekend at the National Building Museum. The Biebs was the big tween draw last night, but other tween favorite performers included Victoria Justice, Jennifer Hudson, Cee Lo Green, Conan O'Brien, and The Band Perry.

The First Tweens were dressed in colorful holiday attire for the show: Malia Obama wore a bright yellow silk dress by the fashion house "Elizabeth and James" (which parents may recall as being the clothing line developed by former tween stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen) with black tights and flats accessorized by a long chain necklace, and Sasha Obama wore a ballet-inspired lilac tulle dress with plum-colored tights and metallic flats.

This was the 30th Annual "Christmas in Washington" event, and it benefits the Children's Medical Center. Mr. Bieber has also performed at the White House Easter Egg Roll and at the 2010 Christmas in Washington event. You can tune into the TNT channel broadcast of "Christmas in Washington" this Friday, December 16th at 8pm EST - or click here for your local broadcast time.



Credits: AP, WireImage for Turner; video from whitehouse.gov

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Friday, December 9, 2011

A Yule Ball for Tweens by Harry and The Potters

Tween fave band, Harry and the Potters, will be in Washington, DC tonight playing at the annual Yule Ball. Regular readers of this blog will recall that Harry and the Potters played a hugely successful show at the DC Public Library earlier this summer. The band is a brother duo of Joe and Paul DeGeorge, and they write and play rock songs based upon the characters in the Harry Potter series. Harry and the Potters is a perennial favorite of DC tweens, teens, and college students, and they've played at local libraries for the past few years.

Tonight's concert benefits The Harry Potter Alliance, a non-profit that seeks to mobilize young people in social justice causes. This will be the 7th annual Yule Ball, and joining the line-up are YouTube phenoms Potter Puppet Pals, the Max Levine Ensemble, Diagon Alley, Justin Finch-Flechley and the Sugar Quills, Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt, and Dead Cat Orchestra.

Ticket info for the DC show is here. The Yule Ball will be making stops along the East Coast this month in Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. We hope that your tween gets to attend - these shows are a ton of fun! Attire is dress robes.

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Friday, December 2, 2011

First Tweens Cheer BigTimeRush at National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

Malia and Sasha Obama attended the 89th National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the Ellipse last night. On hand to perform "Beautiful Christmas" was Nickelodeon Band Big Time Rush, and the First Tweens cheered their performance and bopped along. The girls continued their sartorial love of color and wore bright, double-breasted coats in deep blue (Sasha) and black with red piping (Malia) - both girls also sported skinny jeans.



Video of BTR's "Beautiful Christmas" performance in Washington below:


You can view the National Tree Lighting ceremony and performances when they are broadcast on your local stations here.

Photo credit: Getty

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

First Tweens Thanksgiving Traditions and Holiday Fashion

As is tradition, the President pardons a turkey every year at Thanksgiving. The Obama White House this year pardoned two turkeys (named Liberty and Peace), and First Tweens Malia and Sasha Obama were on hand for the ceremony. They're growing up before our eyes, and their fashion sense remains every colorful and chic (check out Sasha's shoes!).

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Friday, November 18, 2011

House Rules for Digitally Literate Girls

A dear friend, Gayle Trotter, is a thought-provoking writer on issues of faith, culture and politics, and we sat down recently to discuss the topic of digital literacy and tween girls. Our interview was selected by the Alliance for Women in Media for their "Special Report on Digital Literacy for Women and Girls", and we are so pleased to be part of this publication and group of writers.

The full interview and even more tips is available below:


What Size Is My Daughter’s Digital Footprint?

“In order to be competitive in the job market, girls will have to embrace and use digital tools to their advantage. Our generation has a responsibility to model this comfort level, adapt our behaviors, and show continual learning if we want our daughters to succeed.”

Gayle Trotter: You are known on the web as "Ms. Twixt."  What do you want people to think of when they see your name?

Ms. Twixt: I designed a label and ran a boutique called Twixt, and Twixt is a riff on the phrase “Betwixt and between.” I chose it because I focused on tween girls who are girls ages 7 to 14. Ms. Twixt is what my shop customers called me.

GT: What does digital literacy mean to you?

MT: Being digitally literate means a few things to me. It means not being afraid of technology, being comfortable with ALL the communication and media devices in your family, recognizing the expanding “footprint of digital media” (that is, how digital communications spread and leap from one format to another), separating fact from fiction and education from advertising online, and understanding both the risks and rewards that come from digital communication.

GT: Why are you so interested in girls and digital literacy?  What is the advantage for girls to be digitally literate?

MT: The generation in school today is the first “digital native” generation — they are being raised with technology. They have no notion that a phone ever needs to be wired physically to anything. The idea of calling a television remote a “clicker” makes no sense. Friends can be someone they’ve never met in person. Contrast this with their parents’ generation: growing up, I remember that every kitchen of every house I was ever in had a phone attached to the wall. Children today are growing up with technology as an integral part of their everyday lives, not as something that they need to take a course in. But that’s not how most parents have adopted technology; most have had to “learn” it.
I’m interested in digital literacy for both girls and parents because being digitally illiterate puts both groups at an economic disadvantage, actually can be perilous, and information online has, to borrow a term from physics, a long half-life — that is, information posted online hangs out for a really long time.
In writing my blog and newspaper column and running the store, I would have conversations with nearly every parent about their daughter’s cell phone usage or demands for one, whether or not Facebook was a good idea, concerns about sexting, etc. In my professional life, I lead the digital strategy department of a consulting firm, so it turned out that I was able to be helpful to a lot of these parents. It’s nice to have my two worlds of tween girls’ lifestyle and digital communication come together — that’s certainly not something I’d thought I’d see.
I saw that parents who were uncomfortable and unfamiliar with technology were at a huge disadvantage when it came to communicating with and teaching their daughters — these girls had to figure it out on their own or learn from the their friends. Navigating digital waters can be treacherous. There are cyber-stalkers, and gossipmongers rule sites like Facebook and Formspring. On top of that can be the surprise texting bill at the end of the month.
But like every coin, there’s a shiny, bright side to digital communications: kids can learn in totally new ways; information for their history paper is readily available; parents can reach their child to communicate a last-minute carpool change; we all have family photos at our fingertips; it’s easier to stay in touch with friends who’ve moved schools, etc. So it’s a very good thing.
But the benefits of technology have traditionally left girls behind. In the past, girls have lagged behind boys in high-paying technology careers, girls did not opt to pursue degrees in computer science or engineering, and girls’ scores in math and science were not on par with their male counterparts in school. In this first digital native generation, there is HUGE opportunity to make sure this trend doesn’t continue.

GT: What are the unique challenges girl face in cyberspace?

MT: The physical world poses challenges for girls and boys, and all parents worry, rightly, about what can go wrong out in the “real world.” Today, however, our kids’ real world now includes their virtual or online world. Consider:
·      Kids today now have a whole new identity, an online identity that parents may or may not know about it. In fact, it’s possible for anyone to create and maintain multiple identities online.
·      Kids can meet and form friendships with people with whom no adult in their lives have ever met in person. While this is certainly normal as kids grow older, it is now commonplace at increasingly younger ages.
·      Kids communicate with each other electronically as much if not more than in person. It is becoming increasingly difficult to have relationships with other kids that are only face-to-face — for example, kids share their music choices on Pandora or Spotify; playdates or sleepovers almost always include some rounds of YouTube surfing; and live get-togethers ALWAYS also include separate one-to-one communications via mobile phones with other kids who may or may not be at that same event. These are all forms of digital communication and preference sharing, and it is the new normal.
It’s no surprise that girls are more social and verbally communicative than boys — libraries have acres of well-researched tomes on the how girls communicate, the secret lives of girls, bullying, etc. Digital communications and social networks in particular are especially well suited for how girls communicate with each other — and that includes all of the good and bad that comes with the territory. Authors such as Rosalind Wiseman, Rachel Simmons, and Peggy Orenstein have done excellent work on the social dynamics of girls. Research finds that a rich social currency for girls is in the exchange and control of information, and nowhere is information more freely exchanged than online. One’s “status,” list of “friends,” number of “likes,” and number and nature of “Formspring questions” are all part of girls’ social currency. As a result, girls who do not understand the social networking medium will have a difficult time navigating real-life classroom hallways.  So navigating girlhood digitally is a particular concern more for our daughters than our sons.
Just as important as understanding digital communications is knowing how to trouble-shoot problems online. This ranges from being able to identify and address cyberbullying, to understanding what a credible source is for online research, to deciding what information to share online, to assessing online invitations from various sources. We teach our kids how to resolve conflict in face-to-face situations on the playing field or in the classroom — why wouldn’t we also teach them how to do so in cyberspace? The perils are no less real.

GT: How can you let girls become digitally proficient without being exposed to the trash on the Internet?

MT: In a word: slowly. Kids should be taught to go online in stages appropriate to their age, and parents need to monitor their children’s activity online.
Here are some tips for parents:
·      Create a family technology policy. Articulate clearly what your expectations are with respect to how mobile phones, television viewing, Internet browsing, YouTube watching, texting, etc., are acceptable for your family. You should share and discuss this policy with your kids so that they are clear on the behavior expectations and the reasons why. The ethics you enforce in real life absolutely extend to your kids' digital lives.
·      Trust but verify:
o   There are settings on every major browser that enable “safe search” — which is essentially search result listings of questionable sites or sites with adult content being blocked from display. Clearly this is a form of censorship, and it’s not too different from the settings on one’s cable box that block out channels based on a parent’s preference.
o   Parents should check the browsing history on all computers in the home regularly. Not only is this a list of where your kids have gone online, but it provides insight into the kind of information they are looking for and what they really use the Internet for (so you can tell if “online research” includes Facebook or not).
o   Parents should “Google” their kid’s names a few times a year to keep tabs on what information strangers can find about your child.
o   With mobile phones, most major carriers offer text plans that not only help you to budget text usage but also monitor the texts. Some carriers charge a fee while others do not — it varies a great deal. You can also look for a plan option that backs-up the information on a phone (very helpful for the address book feature) and monitor photos taken with the phone.
·      One rule in our household is that all browsing MUST happen at the dining table or living room; computers are not allowed in bedrooms. Publicly viewed screens have a “fresh air” effect on browsing.
·      If your kids are under the age of 13 and want to join Facebook, consider setting up a Facebook account for the entire family instead of each member of the family. Check your privacy settings frequently on Facebook (the default settings change often).
·      Another household rule with mobile phones that you might find helpful: store all phones in a central place (i.e., NOT in the child’s room). Not only does it help to mitigate the morning scramble and ensure sleep, but it prevents the late-night, unmonitored text sessions.
·      An ostrich strategy won’t work when it comes to technology. If you don’t know how to text, learn; if you don’t know what Facebook or Twitter are, spend some time poking around on those sites; and if you don’t know what you don’t know, ask other parents what they’re monitoring online.
·      Some of the best ways to parent include modeling the behaviors we want to see in our children. While we often think of that in the context of manners, speech, and ethics, the same applies to online behaviors.
·      Focus on the positives of technology and what it offers to your kids; girls especially need to be comfortable with technology in today’s world.
Tips for teaching kids to go online safely:
·      Kids need to know that just because they read something online, it is not necessarily true. They should learn which sites are trusted for research information and to check the footnotes, bibliography and sources for any online research.
·      Kids should keep a running list of online bookmarks for any research project. Sites such as Delicious make this easy to both save and organize, and it’s incredibly helpful to have a list of their sources available with a single click.
·      Avoid using both their first and last name together for any login, username, or screename.
·      NEVER enter their address online – this should ONLY be done by a parent.
·      Sit down together in front of the computer to research something. This summer we were looking for a new tank filter for our turtle, and this exercise was really helpful for our girls to see how we searched for information, the kinds of terms and phrases we used, and which sites we chose to visit and which ones we chose not to and why. The parent should narrate what they’re doing and thinking at each step in the process. We do exactly this kind of task-based testing in the development world when developing applications, and it is extremely valuable. This same exercise can also be done when going onto the family Facebook account and reading through Wall posts, viewing photos, finding friends, etc.
·      If your child really wants to explore a social network online, there are kid-only sites such as Everloop, Imbee, and Togetherville that are tailored just for them. Parents can feel secure in knowing that these communities have live monitoring and are COPPA-compliant (COPPA is the Child Online Privacy and Protection Act).
·      Kids should understand that information posted online has a very long “half-life.” This means not only that anyone can find that goofy photo they took with their friends junior year, but that photo will come up when someone searches for them 5 or 10 years from now — and folks they care about (such as college admission officers, job interviewers, scholarship committees, coaches) will most assuredly search for them online. This is a tough reality to confront as it means that all of the trials and tribulations of growing up and the mistakes that come with it are on public display. We can’t stuff that genie back in the bottle, but being cognizant of it is vital.
·      Be picky. Kids should be very selective in which sites they chose to use for research and which communities they choose to join. Discuss with them the merits of one social network over another, why one source for research is better than another, etc. With such vastness of information, it's important to learn to filter it well. They should be selective with their time and what information they share online — VERY selective.


GT: Are traditional school programs the best way to educate girls about digital literacy?

MT: Schools teach our children how to study, how to research, and how not to plagiarize, and learning how to go online to seek information for academic purposes is consistent with their scope. Schools are increasingly setting policies with respect to mobile phone access and use during the school day, access to social networking sites, and cyber-bullying. I think that such policies are an important part in setting the tone of a school community. So yes, schools have an important role to play in making our sons and daughters digitally literate. But the parent’s role is much broader in digital literacy because it encompasses technologies that the schools do not — mobile phone usage, television consumption, social networking access and usage, etc.  Learning how to be one’s authentic self both in-person and online, learning cyber-etiquette, and the like are all important lessons for parents to impart to their kids.

GT: You are a graduate of Berkeley and Yale. What is the responsibility of educated and successful women to model technological engagement to girls and young women?

MT: It’s a great point: being comfortable with technology is no longer relegated to the engineers on campus. Access to and efficient use of technology is as essential to academic and career success as any core subject because technology is baked into every subject. Foreign language, science, math, history, geography, business, medical, and English classrooms all use online resources to enhance teaching. Being comfortable with the tools being used and resources available to support intellectual exploration requires girls to engage with technology. More career paths are open to people who know how to use and adapt to technology, and careers in fields that haven’t even yet been invented are likely to rely heavily on technology. In order to be competitive in the job market, girls will have to embrace and use digital tools to their advantage. Our generation has a responsibility to model this comfort level, adapt our behaviors, and show continual learning if we want our daughters to succeed.

GT: Social networking sites are the vanguard of technology right now. Do you think women have an advantage over men in technology that is relational, such as Facebook?

MT: Women tend to be natural “connectors” and “sharers”, and both behaviors lend themselves well to social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. It’s almost a gut instinct to share tips and information amongst ourselves, and posting reviews online or writing blog posts is a natural digital extension of that behavior. What I think will be interesting to monitor is how this first digital native generation of boys and girls use social networking technologies and if the gender-based difference in relational technologies continues. To sum up, just as we teach our daughters how to play nice in the real sandbox at the park, we also need to teach them how to navigate cyberspace. Even if your family opts-out of Facebook and cellphones, others in her class will not. Our daughters need to understand what’s happening on other’s screens even if she doesn’t have her own because it affects the environment in which she lives. She doesn’t have to participate, but she does need to understand.

Ms. Twixt is all about positive experiences for tween girls (ages 7-12). By day, Ms. Twixt runs the digital strategy practice of a consulting firm and is a mother to three tween-age girls and a baby boy. She writes under the pen name Ms. Twixt in an attempt to reduce the drama she causes for her tween daughters. Ms. Twixt is a blogger and online columnist for the Examiner.  She earned her MBA from Yale and makes her living advising Fortune 500 companies on social media and digital strategy. She previously owned a storefront in Washington, DC, that opened in 2007 to rave reviews and was selected in 2008 and 2009 as Nickelodeon’s Parents’ Pick for both “Best Kids Store” and as DC Living magazine’s “Best of 2008 Style.” She has worked with hundreds of tweens and their parents on issues such as digital literacy, cyberbullying, self-confidence, and girl power and is a thought-leader on all things tweens. Read more: http://technorati.com/people/MsTwixt#ixzz1XwDw3QRH.

Gayle Trotter is a lawyer, mother of six, and blogger on politics, culture, and faith. You can read her work at http://www.gayletrotter.com.


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HarajukuMini for Tweens at Target; Gwen Stefani as Kid Fashion Designer

Hitting stores this week at your neighborhood Target is Gwen Stefani's uber-cool line, HarajukuMini. Fashionistas have followed her L.A.M.B. and Harajuku Lovers lines for years, but this marks Ms. Stefani's first foray into an accessible, budget-conscious market. We headed to our local Target in Washington, DC earlier this week and left with our wallets much lighter. (Shh, don't tell our tweens, but we picked up a few items as holiday presents as well!)

Our fave picks are the faux-leather motorcycle jacket and the tartan punk pants - both about $25 at Target (in-store only).


BTW, we've seen pics of the HarajukuMini bags and suitcases but haven't seen them in stores - do post a comment and let us know if you scored any fun accessories from this line!

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A New Film Asks: What Are the Consequences of a Childhood Removed From Nature?

In this hyper-media saturated digital-age that tweens come of age in, we are all plugged-in to an astonishing degree. Now more than ever, technology permeates childhood at earlier and earlier ages - and that's often a good thing. "Play Again" is a new independent documentary that explores the consequences of trading screen-time for scene-time (outdoors). The crew follows six teenagers who, like the “average American child,” spend five to fifteen hours a day behind screens. The filmmakers unplug these teens and take them on their first wilderness adventure – no electricity, no cell phone coverage, no virtual reality. We've not yet seen the film (we missed it when it came on DC for the Environmental Film Festival) - have you seen it? What did you think? Especially after "Race to Nowhere", we're excited to catch this screening the next time it's in DC.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Barbie Gets a Tattoo

Barbie has her issues, and parents of girls are no stranger to them. Add this one to the list: the newest Barbie features Tokidoki tattoos on her body.
Certainly tattoos are becoming more mainstream, and many parents I know and love have them. Something tells me that a toy that claims to serve as a role model for girls and whose marquee product now models large, visibly highlighted tattoos will receive a lot of attention. (BTW, Hello Kitty didn't get a tokidoki tattoo.)

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Tween Girl Issues in Film

Winners of the New York International Children's Film Festival (NYICFF) include a category called "Girls' Point of View", a collection of the best short films focusing on female protagonists and exploring common teen and tween girl issues around the globe. These shorts are designed for girls ages 9 to 16 but are not appropriate for girls under the age of 9. The program includes NYICFF Jury Prize-winning short film Chalk and Audience Award-winner See You, in addition to shorts from the UK, China, France, Denmark and United States.

We wrote about the issue of how girls and women are portrayed on screen when we reported on the Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media event last month. These kinds of films are exactly what Ms. Davis was advocating for; attending a screening of "Girls Point of View" may interest you and your tween. We're trying to find screening times and will keep posted when we do.

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tweens Need Boosters! Today is National Car Seat Safety Saturday

Laws vary by state, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has published guidelines for child safety for ages birth through 12. We just learned today is National Car Seat Safety Saturday, and the NHTSA wants families to check how they use car seats and booster seats and if they are installed properly. Certainly we thought we outgrew the whole car seat thing after toddler-hood, but it turns out that the guidelines are that tweens ages 8 to 12 should be in a booster seat. Seat belts-only are fine if the seat belt sits across their thighs and NOT their tummies or across their necks - 'turns out they don't work if they cross her neck. We're checking our car this weekend and may well have to deal with the wrath of the 12-year old tween who might have to return to a booster.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Geena Davis on How Girls Are Portrayed in the Media


Academy Award-winning actor Geena Davis is famous for portraying strong (both physically and emotionally) women on screen. When she became a mom, however, she was struck by the utter dearth of positive, active, and central role models for girls in movies and on television. She founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media (GDIGM) to conduct research on the issue and advocate for change in the industry. We had the opportunity to attend an event on this topic yesterday at Georgetown University's McDonogh Business School and ask Ms. Davis a few questions.

GDIGM did a comprehensive survey of the roles girls and women had in film and television. They looked at everything from the amount of screen time girls and women had, how many girls and womens were in stories, their costumes, the number of lines they had, how they were or were not stereotyped, and the like. The organization also looked at the number of women in professional positions in the industry - that is, those behind the cameras. The results of these studies, especially those on family programming, were disturbing:
  • Women and girls account for less than a third of the characters in family films. Despite public perception that this has changed (oft-cited are films like Mulan and Tangled, and shows like iCarly and Hannah Montana), this figure has not changed since 1946. Surprised? We were.
  • Research shows that there is a direct correlation of when more women are behind the camera, women have more screen time and account for a higher number of characters (even background ones) shown. But the industry trend on female professionals in the industry is that women in the key roles of Director, Producer, and Write are going down.
  • In G-rated films, 80.5% of all working characters are male - but women comprise 50% of the workforce. Why are we shown a 1950's version of the world in 2011?
  • You can view their research here.

Why does this matter to parents, especially parents of tween girls? Because:
  • Even though females comprise 50% of the US population, our daughters see that men outnumber women 3-to-1 on screen. Inexplicably, only 17% of group or crowd scenes are female. As Ms. Davis said yesterday, "So if we're 51% of the population but only 17% of the crowd, where did we all go?"
  • This research means that "family entertainment" isn't the safe haven we parents expect it to be. Female characters are hyper-sexualized, almost especially when animated, and in the majority of shows are there just as eye-candy. One of our favorite quotes from Ms. Davis at yesterday's session was, "The way they're drawn, there's no room for a spinal column."
  • Other research GDIGM cites finds that girls who are exposed to more media have the feeling that they are fewer choices in life, and that, on average, the more media boys watch the more sexist their outlook.
  • Coraline is often held up as an example of a strong female lead role. Did you know that in the book, there was no boy character and that Coraline saved herself? Hollywood put one a boy character in, and he saved her. Really??

So what can parents do? (We LOVE when there are specifics like this)
  • Watch media with your tween as much as possible and discuss what you see. Ms. Davis tells of how she'll watch a show with her own tween (now 9 years old) and ask, "Why do you think she's dressed like that if she needs to go and save someone?" or "Do you think a girl could be the hero in this show as much as a boy?" Starting this dialogue will go a long way towards changing her mindset - neither you nor her have to accept what's shown.
  • Make your voices heard. The good news is that because of Ms. Davis stature in the industry, GDIGM's research was been shown to a key players in it. She has been heartened by the response: that people were shocked by the study. "This means," she says, "that there's no plot to keep women out. And that's a good thing."
  • Raise the consciousness about this issue. Count the number of females you see on screen. Ask about it. Because what we've seen hasn't changed since 1946, it means that we all just take it for granted. Be media-literate, and ensure that your tween is too.

GDIGM will update their research next in 2015. Let's all hope that the results show improvement.

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