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Teens: Online Safety and Security

What teens need to know about cyber-security.

As parents and guardians, we’re all too familiar with the fact that this generation of teenagers are very adept at exploring the many uses of their smartphones, tablets, and laptops. 

In a study by Pew Research that we reported on, 45% of 13 to 17-year-olds self-reported that they were “constantly online,” and 95% either had their own smartphones or had access to one.

This is the reality of today’s screenagers. But as much as the web empowers teens, it also puts them at risk of being targeted by hackers intent on grabbing their private, personal, and financial information for profit. This prompts an important question that we should all be asking about our children – do teens know enough about cyber security and how to protect themselves? As evident by the growing incidents of hacking around the globe, the short answer is no.

Remember last year’s Facebook data breach? The incident, which The New York Times calls the largest cyber security breach in the company’s 14-year history, exposed the personal data of nearly 50 million users. This was, and is, especially dangerous considering how Facebook – the world’s most popular social media site and app – give users the option of connecting to other popular apps like Instagram and Spotify.

This means that the hackers who got into Facebook also got into whichever other apps the accounts were connected to, giving them access to a large variety of personal user information, including banking details for in-app purchases. And while Facebook’s reputation has plummeted since, its popularity hasn’t dwindled in any significant way.

More and more teens are still using it on a daily basis, either unconcerned or unaware of the security risks attached to voluntarily entrusting the company with their personal information. 

Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, there are teens who are so well-versed with cyber security that they’re able to play the other side of the game. Teens as young as 14 are reportedly making thousands of dollars per week by hacking into private accounts on the popular first-person shooter game Fortnite and then selling them online. The BBC got in touch with 20 of these hackers who are part of a burgeoning global black market based around the popular game.

While Fortnite is free to play, it allows players to use their online accounts to purchase avatar skins as well as other add-ons with real money. Based on what the former owners of the accounts have already purchased, the stolen accounts can be sold for as low as 25 pence (30 cents) or as high as hundreds of dollars apiece.

One of the hackers interviewed said that he first got into “Fortnite cracking” when his own account, already worth £50 ($64.47) in in-game purchases, was hacked into and stolen. Devastated, he got back into the game by purchasing a “new” account for just 25 pence (30 cents) even if it was clearly worth a lot more.

Although illegal, purchasing and using cracked accounts has become surprisingly common within the game, which itself is estimated to be worth around $1.23 billion. In short, there are teens who certainly know enough about cyber security to become profitable hackers – enough to create a small industry within just one online game. This also reveals the fact that most Fortnite players don’t know nearly enough about protecting themselves online.

All of these incidents have led to an increased demand for experts in the field of cyber security. This is reflected through the growing number of courses at universities aimed at producing professionals who can actually address the world’s growing cyber security concerns. In an overview of Maryville University’s Cyber Security Master’s degree, it notes how today’s students are taught about mobile device hacking and forensics.

This is a direct reflection of how common and dangerous attacks on smartphones and tablets have become. Designed to streamline access to information, the latest touchscreen devices store private user data.

This of course doesn’t mean that teens should be completely cut off from using the Internet. Instead, parents and guardians should do their best to teach teens (as well as themselves) about simple and manageable ways to keep their personal data safe while online.

Sanjay Goel who is the director for cyber security programs at the University at Albany’s School of Business, shares how his first task as a teacher and researcher is always to describe potential threats to students that he works with. This is followed by teaching them simple cyber security protocols and behaviors that anyone can (and should) adopt.

This includes using strong, 10-character long passwords that include numbers, letters, and symbols to make them harder to crack – and using a secure password manager instead of just writing them down. In terms of mobile safety, Goel advises not just assigning a password for your smartphone, but also disabling Bluetooth in public places to prevent hacking, and avoiding using public Wi-Fi networks.

On your laptop’s browser, you should never click on any unknown links or open any e-mails from unknown people. When playing online games, avoid using and sharing personal information, and only download official content that’s verified to be safe.

These are just some of the most important points worth remembering if you want to use the Internet in a safe manner. The more you and your teen know about how to protect yourselves online, the less you’ll be at the mercy of hackers who will go to great lengths to steal your data.

Article contributed by Eloise Martin

Exclusively for helpyourteens.com

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    Helpful Tips for Research Teen Help ProgramsMost of us never expect to land in a spot where we are searching for teen help outside our local area. It’s really hard to swallow that we have exhausted our resources, our teen is out-of-control, we’re constantly walking on eggshells or feeling like we’re hostage in our own home to their explosive and defiant behavior.

    Turning to the internet can be daunting and downright confusing! You start reading terminology you never thought about or heard of -- wilderness programs, therapeutic boarding schools, residential treatment centers and more. How do you know who is qualified and who isn’t? More importantly, how do you know what your individual child needs?

    Years ago this happened to me when I had a good teen that started making bad choices. The internet, which can be a wealth of information, can also be extremely deceptive. It’s one of the reasons why I created Parents Universal Resource Experts. To help educate parents about the big business of teen help programs.



    HELPFUL TIPS: FINDING THE RIGHT TEEN HELP PROGRAM

    When searching for a therapeutic boarding school (TBS) or residential treatment centers (RTC), keep these tips in mind:

    -Internet deception

    Be cautious of the internet: Today we turn to the internet for almost everything we do, but how do we know what is internet fact, fiction, or somewhere in between? This is why doing your due diligence, especially in this big business of teen help programs, is imperative.

    -Fear-mongering sites

    You will find some websites and forums that will criticize families for seeking outside help for their teens. They may lead you to believe that all programs and schools are bad or abusive. In reality, not all schools and programs are who they say they are– which is why are you here, doing your research.

    You are taking your time to investigate what will be best for your individual child’s needs and learning from the mistakes I made so you don’t have to. It’s exactly why I created P.U.R.E.

    If you find negative complaints about a school/program you are considering – take the time to ask us about it. We never diminish a person’s experience, however we have also realized that some people are there to make it harder for parents to get help. Again, we have walked your shoes and have taken time to dig deep into this industry.

    -Beware of the Placement Specialist

    Are you talking to a placement specialist? What exactly is this? Today these are people that are paid to place your troubled teen in a program. This is not in the best interest of your child. In some cases these are programs that have less than desirable reputations – however the placement specialist is making a commission. Typically what they are good at – is marketing. You may have just become bait and will become inundated with emails from different programs. They will be sending your name and email to many programs without qualifying your child as an appropriate fit for their school.

    If you’re a parent at your wit’s end, be sure you’re always speaking to an owner or director of a program. Someone that has a vested interest in your child’s recovery. These marketing arms aka placement specialists, can be deceptive. Read “A Parent’s True Story.”

    -Placing Abroad

    Be very cautious if sending your child out of the country. Laws are different and cannot protect your child out of the country. Many parents are misled by the lower tuition–don’t be one of them. We recommend keeping your child in the United States. If you are a resident outside of the United States, this may not affect you.

    -Behind the Screen

    Don’t allow fancy websites, emotional online videos determine your decision for your child. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. If a program is advertising a very high success rate, please ask them what third party organization did their statistical studies.

    In-house surveys are prejudiced and not always a good source of reliability. Keep in mind, this a major emotional and financial decision you will be making.

    Don’t judge a program by their website. You never know what is behind a screen. We have visited programs that have less than attractive websites with amazing facilities and staff. On the contrary – you will find polished websites with programs that wouldn’t leave your pets at.

    -Myths of Wilderness

    Your teen does not need to complete a wilderness program before they attend a residential treatment program (RTC or TBS). In many cases families today cannot afford that extra step of a wilderness program; however we hear over and over that parents are talked into breaking a child down before sending them to a therapeutic boarding program. Isn’t your teen already broken down? Isn’t that why you are reaching out for help?

    This is why you are looking for programs that will help stimulate your teen back on to a positive road– making good choices and creating a bright future that you had planned for them.

    -Finding the right program

    You are not choosing a program to “teach your child a lesson.” This is a common mistake many parents make. Many times, these are good children making bad choices. Harsh treatment and environment can enhance their anger as well as build resentment.

    -Accredited programs

    Don’t accept a program that is not accredited to educate your child, provides scant food and/or clothing, and has unsanitary living conditions. A visit to the program prior enrollment, if possible, is recommended.

    It is understandable that not every family has the finances or the time for the extra trip. With this, please be sure your research is thorough. Below – the importance of calling parent references can be helpful with this.

    As far as education, ask the program for a copy of their accreditation for their academics. With that you can contact your local school to be sure the transcripts will be transferable.

    -Basic human rights

    It is normal for parents to want their child to appreciate what they have at home; however deprivation of food, sanitation, and clothing should not be accepted. These are basic human rights.

    Many of these teens are suffering from low self-esteem, depression, peer pressure, etc. Taking away their basic needs may escalate these negative feelings.

    -Communication

    Asking the program about their communication with parents and visitation schedule is imperative. Another helpful tip – is to verify it through asking parent references when you call them.

    Don’t enroll any child in a program that refuses to allow parents to speak with their child within a reasonable amount of time, usually no longer than 30 days.

    Visitation in many programs begins at three months. This is your child, and family counseling is just as important as your child’s recovery.

    -Ask questions

    If you feel you have valid concerns and do not understand something, do not allow the program director to overlook your questions. Keep asking until you receive an appropriate response. This is your right as a parent. You are your child’s advocate.

    Ask for the staff’s education, training, and experience. Credentials of those working with your child are vital. Ask if they have background checks for all employees.

    -Age of consent

    Know what the age of majority (consent) is in the state of the program. Be sure children cannot sign themselves out of the program at their current age. You will see that many programs are located in the western part of the U.S. (especially Utah ) due to the age of majority of 18. This ensures your child cannot leave without your consent.

    -Choosing a program in the best interest of your teen

    Do not limit your decision on geographical location. The fact is this is the most important 6-9-12 months of your child’s life to date, it has to be the best placement/program/school that fits their emotional needs — not your travel plans.

    In reality, family visits are never more than every 4-6 weeks (depending on the program) after your teen has completely the initial ninety days.

    We remind parents – this is only a snapshot of their entire life – yet will have such an impact on their future. Let’s not limit it for geographical reasons.

    You won’t be making daily or weekend visits. This is about your teen’s healing, recovery and what is best for him/her. If it means you need to take an extra plane ride or few hours by car, remember — it’s only several months out of their entire life.

    Most programs are very similar in tuition fees, using credit cards as tuition can build frequent flyer miles. (If you are able to do this – with paying it off either with your funds or a loan you have received, can be a good option).

    There are many excellent programs in our country, find the one that is best fitted for your child, not your airport. The other important fact is – if you have a teen that is a flight risk, they are more likely (or tempted) to leave a program (runaway) and call one of their new less-than-desirable friends to pick them up.

    Choosing a program that is in an unfamiliar area is in the best interest of your teenager. Remember this is about your teen’s emotional wellness and recovery, not about geographically convenience.

    -Background check

    Check with the local sheriff department or the state office of the Attorney General or Department of Social Services (DSS) or Department of Children and Families – for reports of neglect or abuse as well as their current licensing.

    With this, understand that there are no perfect programs. Some may have had issues which have since been rectified or are not related to the students. However, others, with constant complaints, should be crossed off you list. Investigation is your best solution in finding a good program.

    When you contact the local sheriff department, ask them how many times a month they are called out to the program – how many runaways they have – and your final question should be, is if it were their child, would they send them there?

    With licensing, you want to be sure they are licensed as a residential treatment centers and not a daycare center or foster care home. You will be paying a significant amount of tuition, be an educated parent.

    -Consequences

    Find out what the program’s use of restraints is. If they have “isolation,” inquire about the length of time that is normally spent there and what this entails. Ask what the program does if your child runs away.

    -Fees

    Ask if the person who is marketing the information receives any kind of direct, or indirect referral fee or compensation (i.e. A month’s free tuition, gifts, certificates, dinners, etc.). P.U.R.E.™ discloses on our FAQ page that we do receive fees from some schools and programs.

    -Ask for and call parent references.

    If a school/program won’t give you parents references, it’s a red flag. It might be time to consider another program.

    Hopefully you have time to ask for at least 3-5 parent references. In some situation you can also speak with the teen that graduated the program too. This should be a call for information, guidance, and support. Did their child have the same issues as yours?

    If you are considering transport and apprehensive about it, ask the parent reference how they got their teen to the program. It’s a great way to gain more insights on residential therapy.

    Parent tip: Ask for families from your own geographical area, as well as parents that have the same gender and age as your child. You want to try to talk to parents as similar to your own situation as well as possibly near where you live. Maybe you could have an opportunity to meet with them in person. Keep in mind, first hand experiences are priceless.

    One question to ask the reference parent is if they could change one thing about the program, what would it be? Though it may not be a major concern, it may be another question you can ask the owner or director of the program.

    -Inside a program

    Look for programs that offer an ACE factor:

    A=Accredited Academics
    C=Clinical with credentialed therapists
    E=Enrichment Programs such as music, sports, animal assisted therapy, horticulture, art therapy, fine arts, drama, or whatever your teen may be passionate about. It is about stimulating your teen in a positive direction by encouraging them to build self-confidence and want to be their best.

    -Family decision

    Most Importantly, placement needs to be a family decision. Trust your gut and your heart.

    If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Keep searching. It is time to bring the family back together. If possible – do this research before you’re in crisis.

    Many parents call us with that gut feeling, than things go well for awhile and they don’t do anything. Suddenly they’re in crisis-mode and have 24-hours to select a program. Don’t be that parent.

    -Free consultation

    Parents’ Universal Resource Experts is about helping educate parents about residential therapeutic schools and programs. We offer free consultations.

    These tips are not to frighten anyone, it is to make parents aware of an industry that has little to no guidelines or regulations to follow.

    It is a fact, some of our kids need help. Let’s get them the right help with an educated and researched decision.

    Many parents contact us about the fear-mongering websites that are up. These sites are usually created by former students and they have listed just about every program in the country.

    Sadly, what they are doing is preventing families from getting the potential help they may need for their child. There is always good and bad in every field/industry — this is why it is imperative you do your due diligence when researching programs.

    We have personally visited, researched and spoken with many parents, students and former employees of programs since 2001. Feel free to contact us if you are considering a program and you find it on one of those fear-based websites.

    One of their issues is that they don’t believe in level systems. Keep in mind – in life, we all work our way up. Whether you start as a clerk and work your way to judge, or start in the mail room and work your way up to an executive. It’s part of the way life is. As long as it is not done in a degrading way.

    Are your considering Wilderness programs? Learn more about them.

    Understand there are some teen behavioral issues that require more intensive therapy. Read more.

    Be an educated parent, this is a major financial and emotional decision for your family.

    P.U.R.E.™ is part of bringing families back together…

    Click here for questions to ask schools and programs.
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