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Cyber Safety

Digital Parenting Challenges

Posted by Sue Scheff on November 30, 2017  /   Posted in Digital Parenting, Parenting Teens, Teen Help

“Everything has a time and place.” This familiar saying is a popular motto for juggling life’s demands and pleasures. We can also apply this mantra to managing the abundance of today’s technology with our children. Somewhere among the love and hate relationship with social media and homework searches, we must find a healthy balance in regards to our children’s technology use. To help us on this journey, we need to consider what teens are doing online, if we should be monitoring our children’s Internet activity, and ways we can curb overuse.

What Are Teens Doing Online?

It’s no secret that our kids rely heavily on their devices, but as parents, we often find ourselves wondering what is so compelling to keep their attention fixated on glowing screens for hours and hours on end. We know they enjoy scrolling through social media, taking selfies, posting funny DubSmash videos, or streaming videos. Afterall, these features have made digital devices an indispensable luxury for our kids.

However, lurking behind all of the merriment is a dark side to our daughters’ and sons’ digital activity. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to recognize all the scary situations awaiting our children just by glancing at their screens. No, these scenarios can range anywhere from oversharing personal information to cyberbullying to interacting with online predators. Up until a few years ago, these topics were foreign and completely left out of parenting guidebooks.

Consider how a recent study found that 87 percent of our kids have encountered cyberbullying as witnesses or victims. These numbers are up from around 28 percent just a little over a year ago, which means rates of cyberbullying have basically tripled. This is disheartening on many levels, because cyberbullying has been linked to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts in our children.

In addition to cyberbullying, sexting is so commonplace that experts see these behaviors as normal and many teens view sexting as a safe alternative to sex. This might be true when it comes to pregnancy and disease, but if kids are underage, the simple act of snapping a provocative selfie is considered child pornography. Sexting, even if it is consensual, will be prosecuted as distributing or possessing child pornography. In addition to legal battles, this can open kids up to digital exploitation, bullying, and harassment.

Should You Monitor Or Not?

Realizing our children might be participating in risky online behaviors is frightening, but we need to realize that 70 percent of our kids actively seek ways to hide their online activities from us. This is only compounded when our sons and daughters are plugged in an average of six or more hours every day. Which can lead many of us to contemplate spying or using monitoring to stay on top of our children’s digital presence. Afterall, anything posted online has the potential to be made public.

Typically, experts warn spying should be avoided, because these behaviors have the potential to ruin parent and child relationships. Monitoring, however, doesn’t rely on sneaking around or hacking devices. This technique can range from simply following a teen’s social media accounts or openly installing software to compile a complete picture of a child’s texts, social media apps, contacts, and locations. If done correctly, this method offers opportunities for open dialogue while protecting a teen’s privacy.

How Should We Handle Constant Device Use?

To help parents overcome modern digital parenting challenges, please check out the following seven tips:

Begin an ongoing conversation about developing a healthy balance of technology in our lives. 

Teach social media etiquette early and build on topics as a child ages. 

Institute a “blackout policy”. An example of this could be powering down all devices from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m. to allow a break from technology.

Limit the amount of data a child has access to on their Smartphones or tablets. 

Provide opportunities for children to log off for a few minutes daily. Reclaim family meals, sign up for extracurricular activities, or dust off the old board games for an alternative to pixels and selfies.

Reinforce a child’s good choices. Give them feedback to show that you notice their good choices.

Create a technology contract for the family that clearly lays out all expectations and consequences.

How does your family manage digital parenting challenges?

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Teens and Apps: What’s Trending Now

Posted by Sue Scheff on April 15, 2016  /   Posted in Internet Safety, Parenting Teens, Teen Help

TeenonTabletIt’s no secret that keeping our children safe is a full time job. In the past we could simply baby proof our homes and hold our child’s hands when they crossed the street. Now, today’s children have the world at their fingertips with the countless devices and forms of technology we have come to rely on. While this invasion of social media and the Internet offers our families countless benefits, it can also expose our kids to a variety of unforeseen dangers.

Many parents find it can be difficult to make sense of the apps our children are using on a daily basis, because new trends and apps on the market are constantly changing at rapid paces. In an effort to keep our sons and daughters safely snapping selfies and sending messages, we have compiled the following guide for parents that highlight seven popular apps and possible problems areas teens commonly encounter using this app.

Dubsmash. This fun app allows users to develop short videos that feature themselves lip syncing to movie and song sound clips. The possibilities are endlessly entertaining, with celebrities even enjoying in the fun.

Things for parents to know:  A few questions have been raised about copyright laws and this app. If possible, children should be encouraged to use sounds that are public domain to avoid infringing someone’s intellectual property. Lawyers suggest only privately sharing videos with close friends and keep them off “public forums such as Facebook or Instagram”.

Whisper. This favored anonymous app allows our teens and fellow users to share secrets and confessions. Users place the words of their confession over funny or related images to post and people scroll through the post “hearting” the ones they enjoy.

Things for parents to know: This app is definitely entertaining, but behind these confessions lurks a dark side of cyberbullying and slandering. The anonymity of this social media application is perfect for spreading lies or posing as others.

Meet Me. This app, formerly known as MyYearbook, allows users to meet new people that are located nearby. It is meant to encourage new friendships with other users who share similar interests.

Things for parents to know: The FBI warns that there are 500,000 child predators online everyday seeking new victims. This app is the perfect vehicle for grooming and contacting new prey, because often the predators create fake profiles or share interests that kids enjoy to lure them into their traps.

Ask.fm. This is another anonymous app, but it relies on a question and answer format. Users simply pose a question and other users answer.

Things for parents to know: We need to know that this app has a checkered past associated with extreme cases of cyberbullying resulting in suicides and even has been used as a communication method for terrorists.

Burn Note. This disappearing app self destructs all messages after the receiver views the message. It was created to keep sensitive material and emails in the workplace from falling into the wrong hands. One feature people enjoy is the “spotlight” that highlights a certain section of the text as it is being read to prevent screenshots and prying eyes from reading the content.

Things for parents to know: All Burn Notes disappear leaving no evidence behind. This provides bullies a wonderful outlet for sending hateful messages, because there is no trail of the cruelty.

Tinder. This site is often associated with adult dating and hookups, but the site admits that 7 percent of its users are are between the ages of 13 and 17 years old. Users simply scroll through profile images to look for attractive people they want to meet.

Things for parents to know: Tinder has a dedicated section for teen dating, but many teens lie about their true age on social media apps exposing them to much older, wiser, and experienced people. It also allows children to quickly judge others on appearance alone.

Down. This app was formerly known as “Bang With Friends”. It allows people to sort through Facebook friends and ‘friends of friends’ to mark someone they are interested in getting “down” with for a one night stand. If two people like each other, a message is sent to both parties so they can contact one another.

Things for parents to know: Yes this app reduces the awkwardness of finding friends with benefits. However, it can promote unhealthy relationships and sexual encounters.

TeensonCell

What sites and apps do your children frequently use?

Contributor: Hilary Smith

About Hilary Smith: Born and raised in Austin, TX, Hilary Smith is a free-lance journalist whose love of gadgets, technology and business has no bounds. After becoming a parent she now enjoys writing about family and parenting related topics. @HilaryS33

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5 Ways to Protect Your Teenager Online

Posted by Sue Scheff on November 14, 2015  /   Posted in Digital Parenting, Internet Safety, Parenting Teens, Teen Help

TeenOnlineSafetyAn astonishing 75 percent of teenagers have access to smartphones and 24 percent of teens go online “almost constantly.” As a parent of a teenager in this constantly evolving cyber world, it’s overwhelming and frightening thinking of all the potential threats compromising your teens digital and physical security. A Pew Research study found that 90 percent of children have witnessed or experienced cyber bullying within the last year and a study by Drexel University found that 54 percent of minors have reported sexting.

Here are five ways to protect your teenager online:

Take Advantage of Smartphone Applications

There are a variety of free and paid applications that provide parents with a wide range of access to their teenager’s mobile phone activity.

If you’re concerned about your teen stumbling upon adult content, K9 Browser is a free application that blocks adult content and is available for smartphones, tablets and desktop computers. For more thorough access to your teen’s activity, the Norton Family Parental Control application’s paid version allows parents to see the sites their teen is visiting from the computer or mobile device but also allows you to block sites and see text messages.

Create a Contract

Before your teenager receives their first mobile device or personal computer, create a contract spelling out each of your expectations. According to the Family Online Safety Institute, almost 50 percent of teenagers are not concerned that their online reputation today will hurt future goals and 58 percent feel it is safe to post photos or intimate details online. A written and signed contract makes it very clear to your teenager what your expectations are in regard to online activity.

Stay Informed & Up-to-date

Setting up guidelines, boundaries and privacy software is not enough. The Internet and cyber criminals are changing so fast that as soon as you have a grasp on the newest social media or application and its potential threats or privacy terms, it has already evolved. To stay up-to-date on the latest cyber security news and tips, bookmark LifeLock Unlocked.

Mark All Profiles as Private

The most important takeaway for your teenager, is that nothing is temporary online. Even if they delete a post, a photo or an account, it can be easily retrieved and anyone can copy or save it. Besides filtering what he or she posts, ensure your teenager’s online profiles are private. Do not rely on the site’s default settings and adjust settings accordingly. Stress to your teen that this does not mean what he or she posts is now “safe” but it does make it more difficult for individuals to access.

Safeguards Passwords & Change Them Frequently

Identity theft is just as much of a threat for your teenager as it is for adults. Teach your teen how to choose safe and secure passwords that are changed every three to six months to ensure maximum security. Advise your teen not to share passwords with anyone besides parents or guardians.

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Teens and Cyber Safety and Online Privacy

Posted by Sue Scheff on November 01, 2015  /   Posted in Digital Parenting, Internet Safety, Parenting Teens

TeensonlinefriendsParents know the things to do keep their kids safe around home, like keeping an eye on them outside, teaching them stranger danger and to travel in groups. But what about in the virtual world? It’s shown to be just as dangerous, and if certain information gets in the wrong hands, your child, your family, and your identity could all be at risk.

The Web offers a plethora of fun and educational things for kids to do, plus all the social networking that is huge for tweens and teens. But along with that comes plenty of places for danger. Just as parents need to talk to their kids about safety in the everyday real world, they also must discuss safety precautions related to the Internet, and make sure their kids get it.

What can parents do? How do they start the conversation? It is important to cover the dangers – all of them – in age-appropriate language to help kids understand the dangers of giving away information online.

Talk, Talk, Talk

The most important thing parents can do is talk to their kids, tweens, and teens. Make sure they know the dangers that are prevalent online, whether sexual predators, those that want to steal identities and financial information, and any other type of cybercriminal. Make sure to keep lines of communication open so kids feel comfortable talking about anything relating to the Internet that bothers them.

Set Clear Internet Rules

Depending on the kids’ ages, parents may have different rules. Young children should never even give out their name. Once kids get older and more into social media, reinforce the importance of careful posting and sharing – what goes on the Internet is there forever! Nothing personal should be posted or shared, like address, phone number, or credit card information.

Identity Theft

When it comes to personal information, it’s easier than most think to get other’s information. If a site looks fishy, it probably is. Parents need to make sure their kids understand to never give out personal information like credit card numbers, bank accounts, or social security numbers without parental permission, even if they are buying something.

If a child sees something like “accepts credit cards” or “enter information here,” he needs to let a parent know and stop what he’s doing. Once credit card information or other personal numbers are in the hands of others, it’s tough to reverse the damage. The best rule is never give it out.

ParentTeen2How to Start This Conversation

Start talking about Internet safety when kids are young. Keep the computer in family areas so activity can be monitored. As kids get older, reinforce these topics. Let them know age-appropriate instances of what can happen if things like cyberbullying or credit card theft happen. Parents need to let children know that they are always available, even if mistakes are made, so they can solve things together.

The bottom line is: Don’t give out information! Whether it’s social, personal, or financial, kids need to keep this to themselves. Parents should stay tuned in to not only what goes in the world of online security, but also what their kids are doing online. Awareness is key. And, parents, keep reinforcing how important it is to your kids!

Your constant and consistent offline conversations helps keep your teen safer online.

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Talking Sexting With Your Teens

Posted by Sue Scheff on October 28, 2015  /   Posted in Digital Parenting, Internet Safety, Parenting Teens, Teen Help, Troubled Teens

SextingDid you know that according to research, one out of five parents send sexual and/or intimate images of each other (considered sexting)?

Of course we aren’t judging parents, we only need to understand that teens are experiencing and experimenting with their sexuality, however at their age, there could be potential legal consequences. It’s never too late to start your sext chat offline to be safer online.

Tito de Morais, The Internet Safety Guy, recently said in a forum, “Kids that are at risk offline will be at risk online, as questionable conduct in the physical and digital world is not mutually exclusive.” After collaborating on several other articles, including the “Cyber-Shield” series, I was thrilled to be a part of Sue Scheff’s most recent contribution to the Huffington Post, Sext Education: Sexting = Cyberbullying. Together, we believe in making a difference by educating students, teachers, parents, and communities about cyberbullying prevention.

In the recent article, we discuss the implications of sexting among teens, and how sexting and cyberbullying = are essentially one and the same. Because of the evolving nature of the online realm, sexting isn’t just confined to text messages: teens are able to use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and other social networks to spread sexually illicit messages.

SextingAlertParents and other adults can make a difference when it comes to building awareness of sexting’s dangers, and it all starts with having the “sext chat” with your children. Here are five tips to get this conversation started:

  1. Start talking: Use current news stories to spark conversation with your kids. Make it relevant to their lives. A recent journal Pediatrics study on teens that sext is a good tool to review.
  2. Just do it: There might never be an optimal time to get the gears moving on the sext talk, so it’s crucial to hunker down, move past any embarrassment, and bring up the topic.
  3. Make it real: Pose the question, “How would you feel if your grandma or grandpa saw that picture message?” We’re all accountable for our actions online and off, even though that notion slips by many teenagers these days.
  4. Address peer pressure: Emphasize that it’s OK for your child to be their own person and not worry about what their peers are doing, especially in regards to sexting.
  5. Give them control: Encourage your children to make the right decisions when they receive a sext. They have the ability to stop the communication right in its tracks.

Now that sexting has extended its bounds from cell phones to social networks, take the time to check out MySecuritySign’s excellent #TakeNoBullies digital responsibility and anti-cyberbullying resources that tie-in directly to sexting.

Contributor: Mike Miles formerly managed social media at SmartSign, a New York City based ecommerce sign retailer and creator of #TakeNoBullies, an anti-cyberbullying and digital responsibility campaign, through its site MySecuritySign. Mike is passionate about writing, digital citizenship, and advocating for a safer internet.

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Social Media & Drug Abuse: How Can You Help Your Teen Stay Straight?

Posted by Sue Scheff on August 26, 2015  /   Posted in Parenting Teens, Struggling Teen Help, Teen Help, Troubled Teens

TeenLaptopAccess to technology means solicitations to try drugs are no longer confined to school yards and parties. Ninety-two percent of teens go online daily,Pew Research Center reports, and social networks provide myriad opportunities for your teen to be exposed to nicotine, alcohol, marijuana and other controlled substances. A study conducted in 2014 by the Journal of Medical Internet Research concluded young people are especially responsive to influences via social media and often establish substance abuse habits during these formative years.

For teens who already struggle with substance abuse, social networking may prevent them from recovering. A 2012 study of teens receiving substance abuse treatment at a behavioral health services center found 66 percent reported that drug-related content on social networking sites made them want to use drugs, as reported by Psychiatric Times. With Pew Research Center finding 71 percent of teens use more than one social networking site, it’s vital for parents to monitor their teens’ social media behavior, while also giving children the ability for self-exploration and personal growth. Here are ways to be proactive without being overbearing.

Create a Digital Contract

Determining when your teen is ready for social media is dictated both by your comfort and by social network guidelines, since most social networks don’t allow users younger than 13. Before your children get online, discuss what their goals are with the networks, and run through scenarios they may encounter that would have you concerned. Talk with them about how you want them to handle those situations and set up guidelines for what they need to keep you aware of. The Family Online Safety Institute suggests visiting drug abuse websites with your teens so they are aware of the dangers of drugs. You could also speak with a parent specialist at 1-855-DRUGFREE to get tips for talking with your teens about drugs before they enter the online sphere.

Make sure your expectations are clearly outlined by creating a digital contract you and your teen understand, with consequences for breaking guidelines. Explain to your teen just like you get to know their offline friends, you also want to get to know their online contacts. Pew Research Center reports the average teen on Facebook has 145 friends, which means lots of opportunities for your teen to learn about drugs via photos, articles and messages their friends share.

Keep your teen’s computer in a central location in the house to keep their interactions open, and determine whether they’ll have access to their mobile phone only when they’re away from you to use in emergencies, and if you’ll have control of it at home. Consider requiring approval for all mobile device applications your teen downloads, since applications such as Snapchat destroy messages after a certain amount of time and prevent you from being aware of what it being discussed. The Dish Insider’s Guide suggests constantly evolving your guidelines based on your teen’s age and level of responsibility; while strict monitoring may work for you and your teen during the early teen years, an older teen may insist communication between them and their significant other or best friend are off-limits. Transparency and clear expectations are key to maintaining trust between you and your teen.

Tools for Parents

If discussing your teen’s social media usage isn’t enough to assuage your concerns, there are technological tools that can help you monitor and control what your teen is exposed to. A program such as NetNanny filters offensive material, gives you access to parental controls on your teen’s device, sends you email alerts when your teen visits inappropriate sites and enables you to monitor your teen’s Facebook posts and chats. For mobile devices, applications such as My Mobile Watchdog can bring you peace of mind and allow you to address concerns based on your teen’s interactions.

Learn about the technologies your teen has access to, since hidden dangers may fall in the realm of video game devices with Web browsers or in online games your teen may be playing with chat functionality. Delve into the parental control capabilities of the devices your teen is using, and establish usage boundaries and expectations on how your teen will use their devices and social media.

In all your communications with your teens, talk to them from a source of empathy and caring. Tell them you have their health and best interests in mind. Encourage them to talk with you about whatever questions they have, and make drug education something you and your teen work on together.

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Disclosure:  We do not endorse or promote any digital products, apps or services.  This article is for educational purposes only.

If you believe your teen is struggling with Internet addiction or substance abuse, and you have exhausted your local resources for help, contact us for options on therapeutic boarding schools. These have been extremely successful when parent’s have reached their wit’s end at home.

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Digital Statuses and Your Teen: Red Flags Parents Need To Know

Posted by Sue Scheff on June 18, 2015  /   Posted in Digital Parenting, Parenting Teens, Struggling Teen Help

sad-status-update-e1301320535379Today our teens live in a digital world that many parents never imagined.  They will vent their inner feeling to strangers, sometimes, before telling their closest family or friends.

“I hate my life”

“When will this end”

“Forgive me”

Many have read the tragic headlines of young teens that have committed suicide and their parents in tears when they had no idea how they feeling, only to read warnings signs on their social media platforms that people missed.

Since teens experience many emotional ups and downs, it can be easy to dismiss most of their dramatic postings as nothing more than normal teenage drama. However, there have been too many instances in recent years when parents had wished they’d paid more attention to what their teenager had posted as their ‘current status’.

Here a few status updates parents should watch for and investigate further.

  1. I can’t take it anymore. Although, this could mean anything from homework overload to sibling irritation, it could also be a cry for help from a teen who is truly overwhelmed with life in someway. It is not a status update that you want to ignore. Parents should take the initiative and find out what prompted this entry.
  2. Text me. This may seem innocent enough, but, for some parents, it may be a signal that their teen may be trying to keep something hidden that needs to be in the open. Privacy and protection are always a fine line to walk with teenagers. Parents, however, should never hesitate to ask about the reason behind such a post.
  3. Really loaded right now. If your teen is high enough to make this post on Facebook without thinking about the fact that their parents might see it, there is drug or alcohol abuse going on. Ignoring these types of problems does not make them go away.
  4. Depressing song lyrics. Song lyrics are popular posts from teens. It may be what they’re listening to at the moment or a song that is running through their head. If the lyrics of the songs are continually negative and depressing, this could be an indication of the teen’s emotional state, as well.
  5. No one understands. This is a common feeling during teenage years, but it is also one that can develop into a true depressive state. Seeing this posted as your teen’s Facebook status should raise enough concern for their parents to pursue the reasons behind the posting.
  6. I hate my life. Again, this is not an unusual statement to come from a teen at different points in their adolescence, however, posting it as your Facebook status is similar to shouting it from the rooftops. It is always better to treat these statements seriously, than to ignore them as a simple impulse statement.
  7. Forgive me, Mom & Dad. This kind of post would be one that should require immediate connection with your child. If it doesn’t mention what they are asking forgiveness for, it may be a subtle plea for you to stop them from doing something terrible. Take this very seriously!
  8. You’re all going to die. In light of the terrible things we have seen happen in our schools, a teen who posts something like this should not be ignored. “I was just joking” is not an acceptable explanation for this type of post. A teen who posts such a statement publicly should expect inquiry from, not only his parents, but school and law enforcement as well.
  9. I wish I were dead. Never assume these statements are words only. Any type of suicidal expression like this should be taken very seriously. Many parents have had the misfortune of finding out that even a verbal statement can be an indication of suicidal thoughts. A public posting of that thought should be taken just as seriously.
  10. I hate my school. The key word in this status update is ‘my’. It doesn’t say ‘I hate school’, it is more specific than that. It would behoove the parents to find out what it is, about the child’s school, that made them post this statement, and what can be done to improve the situation.

FBStatusBe an educated parent, you will have safer and healthier teens.

If you feel your teen needs outside help, never hesitate.  If local therapy isn’t working or your teen refuses to attend, residential therapy is an excellent option.  It is completely different than the weekly hourly session.  Once removed from their environment, teens are better able to reflect and communicate through their issues without being thrown back into it constantly.  Contact us for more information.

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Internet Safety Month: What’s Your Priority?

Posted by HelpYourTeens on June 01, 2015  /   Posted in Digital Parenting, Internet Safety, Parenting Teens

InternetSafetyWordle-300x288June is Internet Safety Month.

It’s great that we designate a month for Internet Safety Awareness, as we do for Bullying and Cyberbullying Awareness in October, but this doesn’t mean that we ignore it the other eleven months of the year.

I think it is great we will see many articles and resources through this month on apps, social media, parenting tips and advice as well as insights from experts that we can all learn from.

What is most important to you?  What’s your priority?

If you’re a parent, your child’s online safety is probably on the top of your list.

  • Do they know when to click out if they feel uncomfortable?
  • Will they tell you if they are being harassed online?
  • Do they know not to share personal information online?
  • Are they careful with the photo’s the publish?
  • Do they check their privacy settings frequently?
  • Do they exercise good digital citizenship?

InternetSafetySeniors-300x169If you have a parent (a senior person) that is online, safety is a major concern for them.

  • Be sure they don’t get involved in online scams.
  • Click on suspicious links that can steal their identity.
  • Get involved with online strangers pretending to be their friends for unsavory reasons.
  • Giving out too much information – again, potential fraud.

For yourself.

  • Privacy.  Almost everyone I talk to is concerned about their privacy which is almost becoming extinct.
  • Passwords.  Keep them private.
  • Oversharing.  It’s not only the kids.  Everyone needs to pause before sharing online.  Pause before you post or send that email.
  • Digital Citizenship. You’re never too old to remember who you are online reflects who you are offline.  Use your keystrokes with respect.
  • Online Reputation. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. In today’s digital society, chances are very good your first impression will be your virtual one.  Are you Google worthy?

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