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A very 'Big Brother' type of technology can spy on your kids at school for you. Should you use it?

I first saw the alerts one afternoon when I was working at my desk two weeks ago.

A very 'Big Brother' type of technology can spy on your kids at school for you. Should you use it?

I first saw the alerts one afternoon when I was working at my desk two weeks ago.

A series of notifications about my son popped up on my phone.


What was going on? Was he skipping school? I began to wonder if my usually responsible firstborn, a high school junior, was suddenly developing a taste for rebellion and the thrill of forbidden joyrides or something.

I am a big proponent of the golden rule in all things. So instead of jumping to conclusions, I entertained other extenuating circumstances. Because I knew he was planning on talking to his counselor about changing classes around, I figured something might have gotten jumbled in the attendance system. It turns out, that's exactly what was going on.

But imagine if I'd jumped on him when he walked in the door that afternoon, demanding to know why he wasn't in class (when he really was)? It would have created a needlessly negative situation — something many parents and kids navigating the tenuous teen years don't need any more of.

This was my first experience with CampusPortal, an iPhone app that hooks into the grading and attendance bookkeeping system by Infinite Campus that some schools use.

It's one example of how technology companies are trying to assist parents in helping their kids to juggle deadlines.

High school: It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

Remember the pressures of finishing big papers and passing tests, the social events, trying to get the hang of this "being a productive, well-liked person" schtick?

"If I smile at my homework, maybe it won't suck my soul right out of my still breathing body and torture it for a thousand years." Image by Amanda Mills/CDC.

It's a lot to manage even in the most positive circumstances (when kids have attuned, caring adults in their lives to help).

But "CampusPortal" can help parents be more involved by keeping them apprised of attendance and grades.

In real-time, the app sends you notifications as grades are entered for your student:

These are screenshots from my own son's school life, which he's given permission to share (that's important, parents — in the social media age, we can damage our precious two-way trust when we put our kids on blast without checking with them first).

In some ways, these updates have been helpful. It's a consistent frame of reference for how much work is on my son's plate, which helps me be mindful of how much more I'm asking him to do when I assign other tasks. And it helps me keep my eye on a part of my son's life that he would sometimes prefer to talk about in vaguenesses.

But is technology putting us in danger of micromanaging our kids to a damaging degree?

In other ways, these notifications are tempting little morsels that invite me to pore over details of my child's life that he needs the practice (and space) to manage on his own.

There's a lot of potential for annoyance here.

For instance, if I'd been a certain kind of parent (or I guess if my son had a habit of being truant) I might have looked at the series of absences and assumed my child had skipped most of the school day.

And heaven knows if I'd had someone keeping an eye on every itty bitty detail when I was between the ages of 16 and 18, it would probably have backfired pretty badly in the form of resentment and refusal to fit neatly into "authority's" little boxes.

Here's what my son says about it:

"I feel like it's a good attempt at trying to keep us from goofing off and doing stupid things, but it's too Big Brother-y; it infringes too much on our rights. Whether we've signed them off to the school or not, we should have more freedom than that. It feels creepy that no matter what, I'm just tracked by that. And if I'm marked truant for being late to a class because I was helping a teacher, then I might have to hear about it later from a parent even though nothing bad occurred. It leaves out necessary context."

I get what he's saying. You might feel pretty motivated to do a good job and be a respectable student of your own free will but then have that positivity micromanaged right out of you with an app like this.

"I like to break a mental sweat." Image by GnarlyCraig/Wikimedia Commons.

You see, intrinsic motivation is pretty important to human development, but it doesn't get talked about a lot.

There's no way to really measure it and evaluate it and win awards for making a career out of revolutionizing it because there's not a good way to systematize it.

What even is intrinsic motivation?

"Intrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is driven by internal rewards. In other words, the motivation to engage in a behavior arises from within the individual because it is intrinsically rewarding. This contrasts with extrinsic motivation, which involves engaging in a behavior in order to earn external rewards or avoid punishments." — About Education

Getting to the root of intrinsic motivation is a deeply personal, case-by-case kind of thing. And only each individual can do it. A coach, parent, or mentor can help us tap into it, but ultimately it's up to us ourselves to identify it and feed that beast to keep it going. And too much of the extrinsic kind of motivation can interfere with a person ever really getting to the root of what moves them to pursue things.

Carrots are a nice after school snack and all, but maybe not the best method for having truly self-motivated humans. Image by Alan O'Rourke/Flickr.

It's important to remember this when we look at systematizing every little part of the education system. Some things, like intrinsic motivation, aren't easily "scalable." It requires one-on-one time with teachers and allowing educators and parents the time and space to really get to know what works and doesn't for each kid.

So how good is this tool, really?

"It gives me less leeway to bullshit you."

In the end, I think it's like Facebook, the Internet in general, and GPS — it's only a tool that's as good as the hands and minds that are using it. If it is being used as means of micromanagement without a deeper understanding of our kids, then yikes. But if it gets people to pay more attention to what's going in kids' lives and is being used judiciously to be a good helper to kids, then yay!

In spite of his criticisms, my son also acknowledged this app could be helpful. For instance, instead of having wrongful truancies listed on his record long-term (which would have been difficult to go back and rectify with clarity months later), I was able to get to the bottom of the attendance mixup and get it fixed immediately.

"At the same time, it gives me less leeway to bullshit you," he admitted with a sheepish chuckle. And let's be honest — we all value a little wiggle room to prioritize our own time on our own terms.

Axel had a good day today. I can see that he got a 100% on his AP literature quiz and that he's been marked present in every class. But when he walks in the door, instead of congratulating him and flexing my "I have eyes everywhere" muscle, I will use some self-restraint and let him share about his day in his own time and in his own way.

After all, that's how I'd want someone to treat me.

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Marine veteran Paul Coppola is a wonderful example of the transformational power of service dogs.

Ten years ago, he was rocked by two explosions in an attack that took the lives of 17 Marines in Afghanistan. The attack left Coppola with traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and an injured back.

Coppola didn't think his struggles warranted a service dog but after prodding from his wife, he was paired with Dobby, a four-year-old black Lab mix trained by veteran organization Operation Delta Dog.

Dobby and Paul soon became best friends and partners in life.

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via © Jakub Gojda/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021 and © Zoe Ross /Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

Two of the winners of the Comedy Pet Photo Awards.

A few weeks ago, Upworthy shared the hilarious winners of the 2021 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards and the winner was a well-timed shot of a monkey who appears to have hurt the family jewels on a suspension wire. (Don't worry folks, no monkeys were harmed for the awards.)

The awards were created six years ago by Tom Sullam and Paul Joynson-Hicks to promote positive awareness of animal welfare issues. The competition has been so successful, the duo decided to branch out and create the Comedy Pet Photo Awards, where photographers can submit pictures of their furry friends for a £2,000 ($2650) prize.

Donations generated by the competition go to Animal Support Angels, an animal welfare charity in the U.K.

This year's winner is Zoe Ross for "Whizz Pop," a photo of her labrador puppy Pepper who appears to be tooting bubbles.

“We never ever thought that we would win but entered the competition because we loved the idea of helping a charity just by sending in a funny photo of Pepper," Ross said in a statement. "She is such a little monkey, and very proud of herself, bringing in items from the garden and parading past you until you notice her. She is the happiest puppy we’ve ever known and completely loved to pieces.”

Here are the rest of the winners of the 2021 Comedy Pet Photo Awards.

Overall Winner: Zoe Ross "Whizz Pop," Penkridge, U.K.

© Zoe Ross /Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

Did this puppy swallow a bubble?

Best Dog Category: Carmen Cromer "Jurassic Bark," Pittsboro, North Carolina

© Carmen Cromer/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"My golden retriever, Clementine, loves to stick her face in front of the hose while I water the plants. Her expression in this photo made me think of a tyrannosaurus rex, hence the title, "Jurassic Bark." Duh nuh nuuuh nuhnuh, duh nuh nuuuh nuh nuh, dun duh duuuh nuh nuh nuh nUUUUUUhhhh." – Carmen Cromer

Best Cat Category: Kathrynn Trott "Photobomb," Ystradgynlais, U.K.

© Kathrynn Trott/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

Jeff stealing the limelight from his brother Jaffa.

Best Horse Category: Mary Ellis, "I Said 'Good Morning,'" Platte River State Park, Nebraska

© Mary Ellis/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"I like to visit the stable horses before I begin my hike at the State Park. This is the reply I received when I said 'Good morning.'" – Mary Ellis

All Other Creatures Category: Sophie Bonnefoi, "The Eureka Moment," Oxford, U.K.

© Sophie Bonnefoi/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"Cutie and Speedy are two chicks hatched from eggs placed in an incubator at home in August 2020. They spent their first few weeks indoors. In the photo, they are just over two weeks old. They were curious about everything. This is the day they discovered their own shadow. It was hilarious to see them wondering and exploring that 'dark thing' that was moving with them!" – Sophie Bonnefoi

Junior Category: Suzi Lonergan, "Sit!" Pacific Palisades, California

© Suzi Lonergan/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"Our granddaughter gave the command to sit. Beau is very obedient." – Suzi Lonergan

Pets Who Look Like Their Owners Category: Jakub Gojda, "That Was a Good One!" Czech Republic

© Jakub Gojda/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"This photo was taken by accident during the photography of my ex-girlfriend with her beloved mare. For this cheerful moment, I thank the fly that sat on the horse's nose and he instinctively shook his head." – Jakub Gojda.

Highly Commended: Chloe Beck, "Hugo the Photobomber," Walsall, U.K.

© Chloe Beck/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"This is my best friend Faith, her husband Alex, and their cheeky Sproodle, Hugo. Faith wanted a photograph to mark a special occasion—her first outing after shielding at home for 14 months. Hugo jumped into the frame at just the right moment!" – Chloe Beck

Highly Commended: Luke O'Brien, "Mumford and Chum," Coventry, U.K.

© Luke O'Brien/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"Losing the opportunity to play with my human bandmates during lockdown, Flint, my rescue dog, soon taught me that we didn't just have sharp bones in common, but musical ones, too. He soon became the perfect substitute for a collaborative stomp up at home, so much so that we felt we deserved our own band name (Muttford and Chum). With my camera set up remotely during this shoot, I think it's fair to say that the image is proof that his conviction as a performer matches my own." – Luke O'Brien.

Highly Commended: Kathryn Clark, "Wine Time," Cichester, U.K.

© Kathryn Clark/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"It's that time of day again! Little Blue enjoys it almost as much as me." – Kathryn Clark.

Highly Commended: Diana Jill Mehner, "Crazy in Love With Fall," Paderborn, Germany

© Diana Jill Mehner/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"This is Leia. As you can see, she definitely loves playing with all the leaves in autumn. It was really tricky to take this picture because you never know what the dog is going to do next." – Diana Jill Mehner.

Highly Commended: Christine Johnson, "Boing," Crosby Beach, U.K.

© Christine Johnson/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"I was busy playing with my dog on the beach and this dog came to play. I liked the shapes he was making in the air." – Christine Johnson

Highly Commended: Manel Subirats Ferrer, "Ostrich Style," Platja del Prat de Llobregat, Spain

© Manel Subirats Ferrer/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

Nuka playing hide and seek at the beach.

Highly Commended: Colin Doyle, "Nosey Neighbor," Bromsgrove, U.K.

© Colin Doyle/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"According to Ozzy, we need a new fence panel ASAP. He is fed up with Chester our nosy next door neighbor spying on him every time he has a meal." – Colin Doyle.

Highly Commended: Corey Seeman, "A Warm Spot on a Cold Day," Michigan

© Corey Seeman/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"Two of the morning regulars at the dog park are Gary (hound mix with the jacket) and Kona, one of the most chill dogs ever." – Corey Seeman.

Highly Commended: Lucy Slater, "So What?" San Diego, California

© Lucy Slater/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"This is how I like to sit!" – Vincent the cat

Highly Commended: Mollie Cheary, "Photobomb," Poole, U.K.

© Mollie Cheary/Animal Friends Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2021

"Bailey was so excited to see her friends, she couldn't sit still for a photo!" – Mollie Cheary

Peet Montzingo following his mom around with a trombone is delightful family entertainment.

Peet Montzingo and his mom have the most delightful relationship, as evidenced by their joint videos on Montzingo's social media platforms. And one viral video sums up the sort of fun Montzingo and his unique family engage in.

The video is a compilation of clips of Montzingo following his mom around with a trombone, making silly sound effects as she goes about doing chores and normal daily life things. It's simple and silly, which is what makes it so wholesome. People can't get enough of their gentle bantering.

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Dolly Parton was the picture of grace in her 1977 interview with Barbara Walters.

Dolly Parton is a beloved icon whose appeal somehow bridges a diverse audience. Even people who aren't big fans of her music admire her for her kindness, philanthropy and unflappability.

Barbara Walters is a now-retired broadcast journalist who gained international fame for her candid interviews with well-known figures. Though she was renowned for her interview techniques and willingness to ask tough questions, sometimes her questions could be somewhat tactless.

Put those two together 44 years ago and you get a shining example of Parton's grace and wit in the face of tasteless questions about her looks, her breasts and criticisms lobbed at her. Parton has always been who she is and portrayed the outward appearances she wants to portray, and she calmly and deftly navigates Walters' patronizing line of questioning with impressive poise.

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So much of Barbara Walters' commentary and questioning comes across as condescending and judgmental, but Dolly Parton transforms that negativity into a positive portrayal of who she is, where she's from and what she's all about.

When Walters told her she was beautiful and didn't need the wig and the make-up and the outrageous clothes, Parton told her it was a choice she's making. “I don’t like to be like everybody else," she said. “I would never stoop so low to be fashionable, that’s the easiest thing in the world to do.

"I'm very real as far as my outlook on life and the way I care about people and the way I care about myself and the things I care about. I just chose to do this, and show business is a money-making joke and I've just always liked telling jokes," she added.

Walters asked her if she ever feels that she is a joke, since people make fun of her.

“Oh I know they make fun of me, but all these years the people have thought the joke was on me, but it’s actually on them,” said Parton. “I am sure of myself as a person. I am sure of my talent. I’m sure of my love for life and that sort of thing. I am very content, I like the kind of person that I am. So, I can afford to piddle around and do-diddle around with makeup and clothes and stuff because I am secure with myself.”

The questions about Parton's breasts were particularly tacky, especially by today's standards. But Parton handled it all beautifully. Her responses are a masterclass in grace and her self-assurance is a refreshing model for us all—especially now that we can see how she has stayed true to herself all these years. Anyone who has ever wondered why Dolly Parton's appearance is what it is will learn a lot from this interview, and anyone who wants to learn how to maintain dignity and class in the face of inconsideration will learn a lot as well.