Everyone has a back-to-school supply list from teachers, but what about the “list nobody ever tells you?” Parents, you know the one. It’s all that last minute, urgent — we’re going to be late for school now stuff — that catches us off guard every single year. The printer ink is out (again) the night before a big paper’s due. Your teens got sucked into Snapchat when they should have been doing homework. You can’t find your car keys and you’re all going to be late!
Whatever the catastrophe, large or small, here’s a new back-to-school tech checklist that could save a whole lot of hassle. Not to mention, a little time, money, and maybe even a few tears too. You’re welcome.
PAY LESS GET MORE
Just say no to paying through the nose for all of the tech tools your teens need, including smartphones. A lot of carries have great deals, including Virgin Mobile. Virgin’s Inner Circle deal will get you the Apple iPhone that will put a smile on their face while keeping your bank account from buckling. If you buy one of six specially priced iPhones (starting around $275) before August 31st you’ll get a full year of unlimited service for just $1. Considering that service typically costs around $50 per month, that’s a good deal and perfect timing for the back-to-school money crunch. Virgin Mobile just updated this deal too – you can now bring your phone and still get a year of service for $1. I don’t know of any deal to beat that right now. Do you? (If you do – let me know right away!)
If your teens or preteens already have cell phones, invest in a decent phone case, back-up charger, and add some inexpensive earbuds to the list too. For cases, you have a ton of choice in the $10-$50 range. Just remember, you can often find the best prices online versus in an Apple store. For backup chargers that won’t break the bank, Anker’s PowerCore 10,000 ($25) can charge up a dead smartphone three times over, which should be plenty even for the most students. And, earbuds are often sold in packs, so if your child is going to lose or destroy them anyway, think about buying a six-pack of mid-range earbuds for $7 and it’ll last them all year.
From streamlining study time to navigating a hectic school sports schedule, it’s all about the apps. A typical school day only gets more and more hectic with each passing year, but My Study Life (iOS/Android) helps your student make sense of it. It tracks assignments, due dates, tests, quizzes, and everything else that your kids need to know about the days and weeks ahead. It’s extremely easy to use and has a straightforward design that they’ll master in no time flat.
To make sure they’re doing their homework and not binge-watching Netflix, the unGlue app (iOS/Android) is my top pick. It lets you set limits for the time kids spend on certain apps such as Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube and others. Then, grab the Life360 Family Locator (iOS/Android) for keeping tabs on your kids even when you’re not around. With live updates that sync with their smartphones, you’ll always know where they are, even if they “forget” to text you when they arrive. It’s also great if your teen is a new driver, like mine is.
Speaking of teen drivers, be sure to outfit whatever wheels they have with a few smart tech safety tools. Many car-makers also have something to offer here right now. For instance, if you drive a Buick, Chevy, GMC or Cadillac that’s 2015 or newer, you can sign up to automatically get OnStar’s free Driver Safety program. Through an app, parents get a basic report card of each drive, showing average speed, distance, late night driving, hard-braking—feedback that can help make teens better, safer drivers, and save us parents on ton of worry! If you have a 2012 or newer Chevy, you can add three months of free OnStar Family Link, which sends emails and text alerts, too.
I love doing video calls with my family, especially if I’m traveling for work, and high-schoolers love them for study groups, tutoring, and everything in between. For that, check out Skype’s newly redesigned mobile app (iOS/Android), which just relaunched this past June. It’s my top choice for messaging, voice and video calling, often outshining regular calls and even FaceTime. It’s packed with new, fun features for group communication, personalization, and even file sharing. Also, for keeping family organized after school, TeamSnap (iOS/Android) is a great tool that makes easy work of sporadic school sporting events. It tracks practices and games on an easy-to-use calendar, and also has a handy database for the contact info of other parents and coaches.
YES, YOU NEED A PRINTER. AND INK.
People keep telling me that printers are old news in school, but that’s never been the case with my daughter, or my stepsons. Even when they’re allowed to hand in a paper online, they always have to hand-in a printed copy too. So, yes, you really do still need a printer. The good news is there are some great choices at $100 or less. Two of my favorites are the HP Envy 4516-N ($65) and the Canon MG5720 Wireless All-In-One Printer with Scanner and Copier ($100). What I like about both of these, is that they’re a breeze to set up and both work well with a lot of other devices, so kids can print from laptops, tablets, and phones, with no issues.
As much as kids love it when you buy them new stuff, they are also great at losing it, so be sure to turn on the “find my gadget” features on their laptops, tablets, and cell phones. You can even add a tracking device to things like backpacks, keys, and gym bags. The new Pixie tracker ($30) is like Pokemon Go for your lost stuff. Attach one tracker to your phone and the other to whatever you lose a lot. When you can’t find something you need, just open the app on your smartphone, scan the area and watch a little cloud of “pixie dust” appear right over it. If you’re not within range, it shows you the last place it “saw” it, which is super helpful too.
While you’re at it, enable the “Night Shift” mode on iOS gadgets and Night Mode on Android gadgets. This will tweak the light that the phones put off in the evening, and keep your kids from becoming insomniacs.
(Parts of this story first aired/ran in Jennifer’s weekly columns at USAToday.com)