Author Archives: Toni Birdsong

Want Your Kids to Care More About Online Safety? Try These 7 Tips

The topics parents need to discuss with kids today can be tough compared to even a few years ago. The digital scams are getting more sophisticated and the social culture poses new, more inherent risks. Weekly, we have to breach very adult conversations with our kids. Significant conversations about sexting, bullying, online scams, identity fraud, hate speech, exclusion, and sextortion — all have to be covered but we have to do it in ways that matter to kids.

With 95% of teens now having access to a smartphone and 45% online ”almost constantly,” it’s clear we can’t monitor conversations, communities, and secret apps around the clock. So the task for parents is to move from a mindset of ”protect” to one of ”prepare” if we hope to get kids to take charge of their privacy and safety online.

Here are a few ideas on how to get these conversations to stick.

  1. Bring the headlines home. A quick search of your local or regional headlines should render some examples of kids who have risked and lost a lot more than they imagined online. Bringing the headlines closer to home — issues like reputation management, sex trafficking, kidnapping, sextortion, and bullying — can help your child personalize digital issues. Discussing these issues with honesty and openness can bring the reality home that these issues are real and not just things that happen to other people.
  2. Netflix and discuss. Hollywood has come a long way in the last decade in making films for tweens and teens that spotlight important digital issues. Watching movies together is an excellent opportunity to deepen understanding and spark conversation about critical issues such as cyberbullying, teen suicide, sextortion, catfishing, stalking, and examples of personal courage and empathy for others. Just a few of the movies include Cyberbully, 13 Reasons Why (watch with a parent), Eighth Grade, Searching, Bully, Disconnect. Character building movies: Dumplin’, Tall Girl, Wonder, Girl Rising, The Hate U Give, Mean Girls, and the Fat Boy Chronicles, among many others.
  3. Remove phones. Sometimes absence makes that heart grow appreciative, right? Owning a phone (or any device) isn’t a right. Phone ownership and internet access is a privilege and responsibility. So removing a child’s phone for a few days can be especially effective if your child isn’t listening or exercising wise habits online. One study drives this phone-dependency home. Last year researchers polled millennials who said they’d rather give up a finger than their smartphones. So, this tactic may prove to be quite effective.
  4. Define community. Getting kids to be self-motivated about digital safety and privacy may require a more in-depth discussion on what “community” means. The word is used often to describe social networks, but do we really know and trust people in our online “communities?” No. Ask your child what qualities he or she values in a friend and who they might include in a trusted community. By defining this, kids may become more aware of who they are letting in and what risks grow when our digital circles grow beyond trusted friends.
  5. Assume they are swiping right. Dating has changed dramatically for tweens and teens. Sure there are apps like MeetMe and Tinder that kids explore, but even more popular ways to meet a significant other are everyday social networks like Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Instagram, where kids can easily meet “friends of friends” and start “talking.” Study the pros and cons of these apps. Talk to your kids about them and stress the firm rule of never meeting with strangers.
  6. Stay curious. Stay interested. If you, as a parent, show little interest in online risks, then why should your child? By staying curious and current about social media, apps, video games, your kids will see that you care about — and can discuss — the digital pressures that surround them every day. Subscribe to useful family safety and parenting blogs and consider setting up Google Alerts around safety topics such as new apps, teens online, and online scams.
  7. Ask awesome questions. We know that lectures and micromanaging don’t work in the long run, so making the most of family conversations is critical. One way to do this is to ask open-ended questions such as “What did you learn from this?” “What do you like or dislike about this app?” “Have you ever felt unsafe online?” and “How do you handle uncomfortable or creepy encounters online?” You might be surprised at where the conversations can go and the insight you will gain.

Make adjustments to your digital parenting approach as needed. Some things will work, and others may fall flat. The important thing is to keep conversation a priority and find a rhythm that works for your family. And don’t stress: No one has all the answers, no one is a perfect parent. We are all learning a little more each day and doing the best we can to keep our families safe online.

Be Part of Something Big

October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM). Become part of the effort to make sure that our online lives are as safe and secure as possible. Use the hashtags #CyberAware, #BeCyberSafe, and #NCSAM to track the conversation in real-time.

The post Want Your Kids to Care More About Online Safety? Try These 7 Tips appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

15 Easy, Effective Ways to Start Winning Back Your Online Privacy

NCSAM

NCSAM

Someone recently asked me what I wanted for Christmas this year, and I had to think about it for a few minutes. I certainly don’t need any more stuff. However, if I could name one gift that would make me absolutely giddy, it would be getting a chunk of my privacy back.

Like most people, the internet knows way too much about me — my age, address, phone numbers and job titles for the past 10 years, my home value, the names and ages of family members  — and I’d like to change that.

But there’s a catch: Like most people, I can’t go off the digital grid altogether because my professional life requires me to maintain an online presence. So, the more critical question is this:

How private do I want to be online?  

The answer to that question will differ for everyone. However, as the privacy conversation continues to escalate, consider a family huddle. Google each family member’s name, review search results, and decide on your comfort level with what you see. To start putting new habits in place, consider these 15 tips.

15 ways to reign in your family’s privacy

  1. Limit public sharing. Don’t share more information than necessary on any online platform, including private texts and messages. Hackers and cyber thieves mine for data around the clock.
  2. Control your digital footprint. Limit information online by a) setting social media profiles to private b) regularly editing friends lists c) deleting personal information on social profiles d) limiting app permissions someone and browser extensions e) being careful not to overshare.NCSAM
  3. Search incognito. Use your browser in private or incognito mode to reduce some tracking and auto-filling.
  4. Use secure messaging apps. While WhatsApp has plenty of safety risks for minors, in terms of data privacy, it’s a winner because it includes end-to-end encryption that prevents anyone in the middle from reading private communications.
  5. Install an ad blocker. If you don’t like the idea of third parties following you around online, and peppering your feed with personalized ads, consider installing an ad blocker.
  6. Remove yourself from data broker sites. Dozens of companies can harvest your personal information from public records online, compile it, and sell it. To delete your name and data from companies such as PeopleFinder, Spokeo, White Pages, or MyLife, make a formal request to the company (or find the opt-out button on their sites) and followup to make sure it was deleted. If you still aren’t happy with the amount of personal data online, you can also use a fee-based service such as DeleteMe.com.
  7. Be wise to scams. Don’t open strange emails, click random downloads, connect with strangers online, or send money to unverified individuals or organizations.
  8. Use bulletproof passwords. When it comes to data protection, the strength of your password, and these best practices matter.
  9. Turn off devices. When you’re finished using your laptop, smartphone, or IoT devices, turn them off to protect against rogue attacks.NCSAM
  10. Safeguard your SSN. Just because a form (doctor, college and job applications, ticket purchases) asks for your Social Security Number (SSN) doesn’t mean you have to provide it.
  11. Avoid public Wi-Fi. Public networks are targets for hackers who are hoping to intercept personal information; opt for the security of a family VPN.
  12. Purge old, unused apps and data. To strengthen security, regularly delete old data, photos, apps, emails, and unused accounts.
  13. Protect all devices. Make sure all your devices are protected viruses, malware, with reputable security software.
  14. Review bank statements. Check bank statements often for fraudulent purchases and pay special attention to small transactions.
  15. Turn off Bluetooth. Bluetooth technology is convenient, but outside sources can compromise it, so turn it off when it’s not in use.

Is it possible to keep ourselves and our children off the digital grid and lock down our digital privacy 100%? Sadly, probably not. But one thing is for sure: We can all do better by taking specific steps to build new digital habits every day.

~~~

Be Part of Something Big

October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM). Become part of the effort to make sure that our online lives are as safe and secure as possible. Use the hashtags #CyberAware, #BeCyberSafe, and #NCSAM to track the conversation in real-time.

The post 15 Easy, Effective Ways to Start Winning Back Your Online Privacy appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

Device & App Safety Guide for Families

app safetyWhile we talk about online safety each week on this blog, October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM), a time to come together and turn up the volume on the digital safety and security conversation worldwide.

To kick off that effort, here’s a comprehensive Device and App Safety Guide to give your family quick ways to boost safety and security.

Device Safety Tips

  • Update devices. Updates play a critical role in protecting family devices from hackers and malware, so check for updates and install promptly.
  • Disable geotagging. To keep photo data private, turn off geotagging, which is a code that embeds location information into digital photos.
  • Turn off location services. To safeguard personal activity from apps, turn off location services on all devices and within the app. 
  • Review phone records. Monitor your child’s cell phone records for unknown numbers or excessive late-night texting or calls.
  • Lock devices. Most every phone comes with a passcode, facial, or fingerprint lock. Make locking devices a habit and don’t share passcodes with friends. 
  • Add ICE to contacts. Make sure to put a parent’s name followed by ICE (in case of emergency) into each child’s contact list.
  • Back up data. To secure family photos and prevent data loss due to malware, viruses, or theft, regularly back up family data. 
  • Use strong passwords. Passwords should be more than eight characters in length and contain a mix of capital and lower case letters and at least one numeric or non-alphabetical character. Also, use two-factor authentication whenever possible.  
  • Stop spying. Adopting healthy online habits takes a full-court family press, so choose to equip over spying. Talk candidly about online risks, solutions, family ground rules, and consequences. If you monitor devices, make sure your child understands why. 
  • Share wisely. Discuss the risks of sharing photos online with your kids and the effect it has on reputation now and in the future. 
  • Protect your devices. Add an extra layer of protection to family devices with anti-virus and malware protection and consider content filtering
  • Secure IoT devices. IoT devices such as smart TVs, toys, smart speakers, and wearables are also part of the devices families need to safeguard. Configure privacy settings, read product reviews, secure your router, use a firewall, and use strong passwords at all connection points. 

App Safety Tips

  • Evaluate apps. Apps have been known to put malware on devices, spy, grab data illegally, and track location and purchasing data without permission. Check app reviews for potential dangers and respect app age requirements.app safety
  • Max privacy settings. Always choose the least amount of data-sharing possible within every app and make app profiles private.
  • Explore apps together. Learn about your child’s favorite apps, what the risks are, and how to adjust app settings to make them as safe as possible. Look at the apps on your child’s phone. Also, ask your child questions about his or her favorite apps and download and explore the app yourself. 
  • Understand app cultures. Some of the most popular social networking apps can also contain inappropriate content that promotes pornography, hate, racism, violence, cruelty, self-harm, or even terrorism.
  • Monitor gaming. Many games allow real-time in-game messaging. Players can chat using text, audio, and video, which presents the same potential safety concerns as other social and messaging apps.
  • Discuss app risks. New, popular apps come out every week. Discuss risks such as anonymous bullying, inappropriate content, sexting, fake profiles, and data stealing. 
  • Avoid anonymous apps. Dozens of apps allow users to create anonymous profiles. Avoid these apps and the inherent cyberbullying risks they pose.
  • Limit your digital circle. Only accept friend requests from people you know. And remember, “friends” aren’t always who they say they are. Review and reduce your friend list regularly.
  • Monitor in-app purchases. It’s easy for kids to go overboard with in-app purchases, especially on gaming apps.

Our biggest tip? Keep on talking. Talk about the risks inherent to the internet. Talk about personal situations that arise. Talk about mistakes. Nurturing honest, ongoing family dialogue takes time and effort but the payoff is knowing your kids can handle any situation they encounter online.

Stay tuned throughout October for more NCSAM highlights and information designed to help you keep your family safe and secure in the online world.

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5 Digitally-Rich Terms to Define and Discuss with Your Kids

online privacy

Over the years, I’ve been the star of a number of sub-stellar parenting moments. More than once, I found myself reprimanding my kids for doing things that kids do — things I never stopped to teach them otherwise.

Like the time I reprimanded my son for not thanking his friend’s mother properly before we left a birthday party. He was seven when his etiquette deficit disorder surfaced. Or the time I had a meltdown because my daughter cut her hair off. She was five when she brazenly declared her scorn for the ponytail.

The problem: I assumed they knew.

Isn’t the same true when it comes to our children’s understanding of the online world? We can be quick to correct our kids when they fail to exercise the best judgment or handle a situation the way we think they should online.

But often what’s needed first is a parental pause to ask ourselves: Am I assuming they know? Have I taken the time to define and discuss the issue?

With that in mind, here are five digitally-rich terms dominating the online conversation. If possible, find a few pockets of time this week and start from the beginning — define the words, then discuss them with your kids. You may be surprised where the conversation goes.

5 digital terms that matter

Internet Privacy

Internet privacy is the personal privacy that every person is entitled to when they display, store, or provide information regarding themselves on the internet. 

Highlight: We see and use this word often but do our kids know what it means? Your personal information has value, like money. Guard it. Lock it down. Also, respect the privacy of others. Be mindful about accidentally giving away a friend’s information, sharing photos without permission, or sharing secrets. Remember: Nothing shared online (even in a direct message or private text) is private—nothing. Smart people get hacked every day.
Ask: Did you know that when you go online, websites and apps track your activity to glean personal information? What are some ways you can control that? Do you know why people want your data?
Act: Use privacy settings on all apps, turn off cookies in search engines, review privacy policies of apps, and create bullet-proof passwords.

Digital Wellbeing

Digital wellbeing (also called digital wellness) is an ongoing awareness of how social media and technology impacts our emotional and physical health.

Highlight: Every choice we make online can affect our wellbeing or alter our sense of security and peace. Focusing on wellbeing includes taking preventative measures, making choices, and choosing behaviors that build help us build a healthy relationship with technology. Improving one’s digital wellbeing is an on-going process.
Ask: What do you like to do online that makes you feel good about yourself? What kinds of interactions make you feel anxious, excluded, or sad? How much time online do you think is healthy?
Act:
Digital wellness begins at home. To help kids “curb the urge” to post so frequently, give them a “quality over quantity” challenge. Establish tech curfews and balance screen time to green time. Choose apps and products that include wellbeing features in their design. Consider security software that blocks inappropriate apps, filters disturbing content, and curbs screen time.

Media Literacy

Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media in a variety of forms. It’s the ability to think critically about the messages you encounter.

Highlight: Technology has redefined media. Today, anyone can be a content creator and publisher online, which makes it difficult to discern the credibility of the information we encounter. The goal of media literacy curriculum in education is to equip kids to become critical thinkers, effective communicators, and responsible digital citizens.
Ask: Who created this content? Is it balanced or one-sided? What is the author’s motive behind it? Should I share this?  How might someone else see this differently?
Act: Use online resources such as Cyberwise to explore concepts such as clickbait, bias, psychographics, cyberethics, stereotypes, fake news, critical thinking/viewing, and digital citizenship. Also, download Google’s new Be Internet Awesome media literacy curriculum.

Empathy

Empathy is stepping into the shoes of another person to better understand and feel what they are going through.

Highlight: Empathy is a powerful skill in the online world. Empathy helps dissolve stereotypes, perceptions, and prejudices. According to Dr. Michelle Borba, empathetic children practice these nine habits that run contrary to today’s “selfie syndrome” culture. Empathy-building habits include moral courage, kindness, and emotional literacy. Without empathy, people can be “mean behind the screen” online. But remember: There is also a lot of people practicing empathy online who are genuine “helpers.” Be a helper.
Ask: How can you tell when someone “gets you” or understands what you are going through? How do they express that? Is it hard for you to stop and try to relate to what someone else is feeling or see a situation through their eyes? What thoughts or emotions get in your way?
Act:  Practice focusing outward when you are online. Is there anyone who seems lonely, excluded, or in distress? Offer a kind word, an encouragement, and ask questions to learn more about them. (Note: Empathy is an emotion/skill kids learn over time with practice and parental modeling).

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, shame, or target another person online.

Highlight: Not all kids understand the scope of cyberbullying, which can include spreading rumors, sending inappropriate photos, gossiping, subtweeting, and excessive messaging. Kids often mistake cyberbullying for digital drama and overlook abusive behavior. While kids are usually referenced in cyberbullying, the increase in adults involved in online shaming, unfortunately, is quickly changing that ratio.
Ask: Do you think words online can hurt someone in a way, more than words said face-to-face? Why? Have you ever experienced cyberbullying? Would you tell a parent or teacher about it? Why or why not?
Act: Be aware of changes in your child’s behavior and pay attention to his or her online communities. Encourage kids to report bullying (aimed at them or someone else). Talk about what it means to be an Upstander when bullied. If the situation is unresolvable and escalates to threats of violence, report it immediately to law enforcement.

We hope these five concepts spark some lively discussions around your dinner table this week. Depending on the age of your child, you can scale the conversation to fit. And don’t be scared off by eye rolls or sighs, parents. Press into the hard conversations and be consistent. Your voice matters in their noisy, digital world.

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5 Hidden Hashtag Risks Every Parent Needs Know

Adding hashtags to a social post has become second nature. In fact, it’s so common, few of us stop to consider that as fun and useful as hashtags can be, they can also have consequences if we misuse them.

But hashtags are more than add-ons to a post, they are power tools. In fact, when we put the pound (#) sign in front of a word, we turn that word into a piece of metadata that tags the word, which allows a search engine to index and categorize the attached content so anyone can search it. Looking for advice parenting an autistic child? Then hashtags like #autism #spectrum, or #autismspeaks will connect you with endless content tagged the same way.

Hashtags have become part of our lexicon and are used by individuals, businesses, and celebrities to extend digital influence. Social movements — such as #bekind and #icebucketchallenge — also use hashtags to educate and rally people around a cause. However, the power hashtags possess also means it’s critical to use them with care. Here are several ways people are using hashtags in harmful ways.

5 hidden hashtag risks

Hashtags can put children at risk. Unfortunately, innocent hashtags commonly used by proud parents such as #BackToSchool, #DaddysGirl, or #BabyGirl can be magnets for a pedophile. According to the Child Rescue Coalition, predators troll social media looking for hashtags like #bathtimefun, #cleanbaby, and #pottytrain, to collect images of children. CRC has compiled a list of hashtags parents should avoid using.

Hashtags can compromise privacy. Connecting a hashtag to personal information such as your hometown, your child’s name, or even #HappyBirthdayToMe can give away valuable pieces of your family’s info to a cybercriminal on the hunt to steal identities.

Hashtags can be used in scams. Scammers can use popular hashtags they know people will search to execute several scams. According to NBC News, one popular scam on Instagram is scammers who use luxury brand hashtags like #Gucci or #Dior or coded hashtags such as #mirrorquality #replica and #replicashoes to sell counterfeit goods. Cybercriminals will also search hashtags such as #WaitingToAdopt to target and run scams on hopeful parents.

Hashtags can have hidden meanings. Teens use code or abbreviation hashtags to reference drugs, suicide, mental health, and eating disorders. By searching the hashtag, teens band together with others on the same topic. Some coded hashtags include: #anas (anorexics) #mias (bulimics) #sue (suicide), #cuts (self-harm), #kush and #420 (marijuana).

Hashtags can be used to cyberbully. Posting a picture on a social network and adding mean hashtags is a common way for kids to bully one another. They use hashtags such as #whatnottowear, #losr, #yousuck, #extra, #getalife, #tbh (to be honest) and #peoplewhoshouldoffthemselves on photo captions bully or harass peers. Kids also cyberbully by making up hashtags like #jackieisacow and asking others to use it too. Another hashtag is #roastme in which kids post a photo of themselves and invite others to respond with funny comments only the humor can turn mean very quickly.

When it comes to understanding the online culture, taking the time to stay informed, pausing before you post, and trusting your instincts are critical. Also, being intentional to monitor your child’s social media (including reviewing hashtags) can help you spot potential issues such as bullying, mental health problems, or drug abuse.

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Are Cash Transfer Apps Safe to Use? Here’s What Your Family Needs to Know

cash appsI can’t recall the last time I gave my teenage daughter cash for anything. If she needs money for gas, I Venmo it. A Taco Bell study break with the roommates? No problem. With one click, I transfer money from my Venmo account to hers. She uses a Venmo credit card to make her purchase. To this mom, cash apps may be the best thing to happen to parenting since location tracking became possible. But as convenient as these apps may be, are they safe for your family to use?

How do they work?

The research company, eMarketer, estimates that 96.0 million people used Peer-to-Peer (P2P) payment services this year (that’s 40.4% of all mobile phone users), up from an estimated 82.5 million last year.

P2P technology allows you to create a profile on a transfer app and link your bank account or credit card to it. Once your banking information is set up, you can locate another person’s account on the app (or invite someone to the app) and transfer funds instantly into their P2P account (without the hassle of getting a bank account number, email, or phone number). That person can leave the money in their app account, move it into his or her bank account, or use a debit card issued by the P2P app to use the funds immediately. If the app offers a credit card (like Venmo does), the recipient can use the Venmo card like a credit card at retailers most anywhere. 

Some of the more popular P2P apps include Venmo, Cash App, Zelle, Apple Pay, Google Wallet, PayPal.me, Facebook Messenger, and Snapcash, among others. Because of the P2P platform’s rapid growth, more and more investors are entering the market each day to introduce new cash apps, which is causing many analysts to speculate on need for paper check transactions in the future.

Are they safe?

While sending your hard-earned money back and forth through cyberspace on an app doesn’t sound safe, in general, it is. Are there some exceptions? Always. 

Online scam trends often follow consumer purchasing trends and, right now, the hot transaction spot is P2P platforms. Because P2P money is transferred instantly (and irreversibly), scammers exploit this and are figuring out how to take people’s money. After getting a P2P payment, scammers then delete their accounts and disappear — instantly

In 2018 Consumer Reports (CR) compared the potential financial and privacy risks of five mobile P2P services with a focus on payment authentication and data privacy. CR found all the apps had acceptable encryption but some were dinged for not clearly explaining how they protected user data. The consumer advocacy group ranked app safety strength in this order: Apple Pay, Venmo, Cash App, Facebook Messenger, and Zelle. CR also noted they “found nothing to suggest that using these products would threaten the security of your financial and personal data.”

While any app’s architecture may be deemed safe, no app user is immune from scams, which is where app safety can make every difference. If your family uses P2P apps regularly, confirm each user understands the potential risks. Here are just a few of the schemes that have been connected to P2P apps.

cash apps

Potential scams

Fraudulent sellers. This scam targets an unassuming buyer who sends money through a P2P app to purchase an item from someone they met online. The friendly seller casually suggests the buyer “just Venmo or Cash App me.” The buyer sends the money, but the item is never received, and the seller vanishes. This scam has been known to happen in online marketplaces and other trading sites and apps.

Malicious emails. Another scam is sending people an email telling them that someone has deposited money in their P2P account. They are prompted to click a link to go directly to the app, but instead, the malicious link downloads malware onto the person’s phone or computer. The scammer can then glean personal information from the person’s devices. To avoid a malware attack, consider installing comprehensive security software on your family’s computers and devices.

Ticket scams. Beware of anyone selling concert or sporting event tickets online. Buyers can get caught up in the excitement of scoring tickets for their favorite events, send the money via a P2P app, but the seller leaves them empty-handed.

Puppy and romance scams. In this cruel scam, a pet lover falls in love with a photo of a puppy online, uses a P2P app to pay for it, and the seller deletes his or her account and disappears. Likewise, catfish scammers gain someone’s trust. As the romantic relationship grows, the fraudulent person eventually asks to borrow money. The victim sends money using a P2P app only to have their love interest end all communication and vanish.  

P2P safety: Talking points for families

Only connect with family and friends. When using cash apps, only exchange money with people you know. Unlike an insured bank, P2P apps do not refund the money you’ve paid out accidentally or in a scam scenario. P2P apps hold users 100% responsible for transfers. 

Verify details of each transfer. The sender is responsible for funds, even in the case of an accidental transfer. So, if you are paying Joe Smith your half of the rent, be sure you select the correct Joe Smith, (not Joe Smith_1, or Joe Smithe) before you hit send. There could be dozens of name variations to choose from in an app’s directory. Also, verify with your bank that each P2P transaction registers.

Avoid public Wi-Fi transfers. Public Wi-Fi is susceptible to hackers trying to access valuable financial and personal information. For this reason, only use a secure, private Wi-Fi network when using a P2P payment app. If you must use public Wi-Fi, consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

cash apps

Don’t use P2P apps for business. P2P apps are designed to be used between friends and include no-commercial-use clauses in their policies. For larger business transactions such as buying and selling goods or services use apps like PayPal. 

Lock your app. When you have a P2P app on your phone, it’s like carrying cash. If someone steals your phone, they can go into an unlocked P2P app and send themselves money from your bank account. Set up extra security on your app. Most apps offer PINs, fingerprint IDs, and two-factor authentication. Also, always lock your device home screen.

Adjust privacy settings. Venmo includes a feed that auto shares when users exchange funds, much like a social media feed. To avoid a stranger seeing that you paid a friend for Ed Sheeran tickets (and won’t be home that night), be sure to adjust your privacy settings. 

Read disclosures. One way to assess an app’s safety is to read its disclosures. How does the app protect your privacy and security? How does the app use your data? What is the app’s error-resolution policy? Feel secure with the app you choose.

We’ve learned that the most significant factor in determining an app’s safety comes back to the person using it. If your family loves using P2P apps, be sure to take the time to discuss the responsibility that comes with exchanging cash through apps. 

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3 Things You [Probably] Do Online Every Day that Jeopardize Your Family’s Privacy

Even though most of us are aware of the potential risks, we continue to journal and archive our daily lives online publically. It’s as if we just can’t help it. Our kids are just so darn cute, right? And, everyone else is doing it, so why not join the fun?

One example of this has become the digital tradition of parents sharing first-day back-to-school photos. The photos feature fresh-faced, excited kids holding signs to commemorate the big day. The signs often include the child’s name, age, grade, and school. Some back-to-school photos go as far as to include the child’s best friend’s name, favorite TV show, favorite food, their height, weight, and what they want to be when they grow up.

Are these kinds of photos adorable and share-worthy? Absolutely. Could they also be putting your child’s safety and your family’s privacy at risk? Absolutely.

1. Posting identifying family photos

Think about it. If you are a hacker combing social profiles to steal personal information, all those extra details hidden in photos can be quite helpful. For instance, a seemingly harmless back-to-school photo can expose a home address or a street sign in the background. Cyber thieves can zoom in on a photo to see the name on a pet collar, which could be a password clue, or grab details from a piece of mail or a post-it on the refrigerator to add to your identity theft file. On the safety side, a school uniform, team jersey, or backpack emblem could give away a child’s daily location to a predator.

Family Safety Tips
  • Share selectively. Facebook has a private sharing option that allows you to share a photo with specific friends. Instagram has a similar feature.
  • Private groups. Start a private Family & Friends Facebook group, phone text, or start a family chat on an app like GroupMe. This way, grandma and Aunt June feel included in important events, and your family’s personal life remains intact.
  • Photo albums. Go old school. Print and store photos in a family photo album at home away from the public spotlight.
  • Scrutinize your content. Think before you post. Ask yourself if the likes and comments are worth the privacy risk. Pay attention to what’s in the foreground or background of a photo.
  • Use children’s initials. Instead of using your child’s name online, use his or her initials or even a digital nickname when posting. Ask family members to do the same.

2. Using trendy apps, quizzes & challengesfamily privacy

It doesn’t take much to grab our attention or our data these days. A survey recently conducted by the Center for Data Innovation found that 58 percent of Americans are “willing to share their most sensitive personal data” (including medical and location data) in return for using apps and services.

If you love those trendy face-morphing apps, quizzes that reveal what celebrity you look like, and taking part in online challenges, you are likely part of the above statistic. As we learned just recently, people who downloaded the popular FaceApp to age their faces didn’t realize the privacy implications. Online quizzes and challenges (often circulated on Facebook) can open you up to similar risk.

Family Safety Tips

  • Slow down. Read an app’s privacy policy and terms. How will your content or data be used? Is this momentary fun worth exchanging my data?
  • Max privacy settings. If you download an app, adjust your device settings to control app permissions immediately.
  • Delete unused apps. An app you downloaded five years ago and forgot about can still be collecting data from your phone. Clean up and delete apps routinely.
  • Protect your devices. Apps, quizzes, and challenges online can be channels for malicious malware. Take the extra step to ensure your devices are protected.

3. Unintentionally posting personal details

Is it wrong to want an interesting Facebook or Instagram profile? Not at all. But be mindful you are painting a picture with each detail you share. For instance: It’s easy to show off your new dog Fergie and add your email address and phone number to your social profile so friends can easily stay in touch. It’s natural to feel pride in your hometown of Muskogee, to celebrate Katie Beth‘s scholarship and Justin‘s home run. It’s natural to want to post your 23rd anniversary to your beloved Michael (who everyone calls Mickey Dee) on December 15. It’s also common to post about a family reunion with the maternal side of your family, the VanDerhoots.

family privacyWhile it may be common to share this kind of information, it’s still unwise since this one paragraph just gave a hacker 10+ personal details to use in figuring out your passwords.

Family Safety Tips

  • Use, refresh strong passwords. Change your passwords often and be sure to use a robust and unique password or passphrase (i.e., grannymakesmoonshine or glutenfreeformeplease) and make sure you vary passwords between different logins. Use two-factor authentication whenever possible.
  • Become more mysterious. Make your social accounts private, use selective sharing options, and keep your profile information as minimal as possible.
  • Reduce your friend lists. Do you know the people who can daily view your information? To boost your security, consider curating your friend lists every few months.
  • Fib on security questions. Ethical hacker Stephanie Carruthers advises people who want extra protection online to lie on security questions. So, when asked for your mother’s maiden name, your birthplace, or your childhood friend, answer with Nutella, Disneyland, or Dora the Explorer.

We’ve all unwittingly uploaded content, used apps, or clicked buttons that may have compromised our privacy. That’s okay, don’t beat yourself up. Just take a few hours and clean up, lockdown, and streamline your social content. With new knowledge comes new power to close the security gaps and create new digital habits.

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7 Questions to Ask Your Child’s School About Cybersecurity Protocols

Just a few weeks into the new school year and, already, reports of malicious cyberattacks in schools have hit the headlines. While you’ve made digital security strides in your home, what concerns if any should you have about your child’s data being compromised at school?

There’s a long and short answer to that question. The short answer is don’t lose sleep (it’s out of your control) but get clarity and peace of mind by asking your school officials the right questions. 

The long answer is that cybercriminals have schools in their digital crosshairs. According to a recent report in The Hill, school districts are becoming top targets of malicious attacks, and government entities are scrambling to fight back. These attacks are costing school districts (taxpayers) serious dollars and costing kids (and parents) their privacy.


Prime Targets

According to one report, a U.S. school district becomes the victim of cyberattack as often as every three days. The reason for this is that cybercriminals want clean data to exploit for dozens of nefarious purposes. The best place to harvest pure data is schools where social security numbers are usually unblemished and go unchecked for years. At the same time, student data can be collected and sold on the dark web. Data at risk include vaccination records, birthdates, addresses, phone numbers, and contacts used for identity theft. 

Top three cyberthreats

The top three threats against schools are data breaches, phishing scams, and ransomware. Data breaches can happen through phishing scams and malware attacks that could include malicious email links or fake accounts posing as acquaintances. In a ransomware attack, a hacker locks down a school’s digital network and holds data for a ransom. 

Over the past month, hackers have hit K-12 schools in New Jersey, New York, Wisconsin, Virginia, Oklahoma, Connecticut, and Louisiana. Universities are also targeted.

In the schools impacted, criminals were able to find loopholes in their security protocols. A loophole can be an unprotected device, a printer, or a malicious email link opened by a new employee. It can even be a calculated scam like the Virginia school duped into paying a fraudulent vendor $600,000 for a football field. The cybercrime scenarios are endless. 

7 key questions to ask

  1. Does the school have a data security and privacy policy in place as well as cyberattack response plan?
  2. Does the school have a system to educate staff, parents, and students about potential risks and safety protocols? 
  3. Does the school have a data protection officer on staff responsible for implementing security and privacy policies?
  4. Does the school have reputable third-party vendors to ensure the proper technology is in place to secure staff and student data?
  5. Are data security and student privacy a fundamental part of onboarding new school employees?
  6. Does the school create backups of valuable information and store them separately from the central server to protect against ransomware attacks?
  7. Does the school have any new technology initiatives planned? If so, how will it address student data protection?

The majority of schools are far from negligent. Leaders know the risks, and many have put recognized cybersecurity frameworks in place. Also, schools have the pressing challenge of 1) providing a technology-driven education to students while at the same time, 2) protecting student/staff privacy and 3) finding funds to address the escalating risk.

Families can add a layer of protection to a child’s data while at school by making sure devices are protected in a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) setting. Cybersecurity is a shared responsibility. While schools work hard to implement safeguards, be sure you are taking responsibility in your digital life and equipping your kids to do the same. 

 

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Clicks & Cliques: How to Help Your Daughter Deal with Mean Girls Online

According to a new report released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), mean girls are out in force online. Data shows that girls report three times as much harassment online (21%) as boys (less than 7%). While the new data does not specify the gender of the aggressors, experts say most girls are bullied by other girls.

With school back in full swing, it’s a great time to talk with your kids — especially girls — about how to deal with cyberbullies. Doing so could mean the difference between a smooth school year and a tumultuous one.

The mean girl phenomenon, brought into the spotlight by the 2004 movie of the same name, isn’t new. Only today, mean girls use social media to dish the dirt, which can be devastating to those targeted. Mean girls are known to use cruel digital tactics such as exclusion, cliques, spreading rumors online, name-calling, physical threats, sharing explicit images of others, shaming, sharing secrets, and recruiting others to join the harassment effort.

How parents can help

Show empathy. If your daughter is the target of mean girls online, she needs your ears and your empathy. The simple, powerful phrase, “I understand,” can be an instant bridge builder. Parents may have trouble comprehending the devastating effects of cyberbullying because they, unlike their child, did not grow up under the threat of being electronically attacked or humiliated. This lack of understanding, or empathy gap, can be closed by a parent making every effort empathize with a child’s pain.

Encourage confidence and assertiveness. Mean girls target people they consider weak or vulnerable. If they know they can exploit another person publicly and get away with it, it’s game on. Even if your daughter is timid, confidence and assertiveness can be practiced and learned. Find teachable moments at home and challenge your daughter to boldly express her opinions, thoughts, and feelings. Her ability to stand up for herself will grow over time, so get started role-playing and brainstorming various ways to respond to mean girls with confidence.

Ask for help. Kids often keep bullying a secret to keep a situation from getting worse. Unfortunately, this thinking can backfire. Encourage your daughter to reach out for help if a mean girl situation escalates. She can reach out to a teacher, a parent, or a trusted adult. She can also reach out to peers. There’s power in numbers, so asking friends to come alongside during a conflict can curb a cyberbully’s efforts.

Exercise self-control. When it comes to her behavior, mean girls habitually go low, so encourage your daughter always to go high.  Regardless of the cruelty dished out, it’s important to maintain a higher standard. Staying calm, using respectful, non-aggressive language, and speaking in a confident voice, can discourage a mean girl’s actions faster than retribution.

Build a healthy perspective. Remind your daughter that even though bullying feels extremely personal, it’s not. A mean girl’s behavior reflects her own pain and character deficits, which has nothing to do with her target. As much as possible, help your daughter separate herself from the rumors or lies being falsely attached to her. Remind her of her strengths and the bigger picture that exists beyond the halls of middle school and high school.

Teach and prioritize self-care. In this context, self-care is about balance and intention. It includes spending more time doing what builds you up emotionally and physically — such as sleep and exercise — and less time doing things that deplete you (like mindlessly scrolling through Instagram).

Digitally walk away. When mean girls attack online, they are looking for a fight. However, if their audience disengages, a bully can quickly lose power and interest. Walk away digitally by not responding, unfollowing, blocking, flagging, or reporting an abusive account. Parents can also help by monitoring social activity with comprehensive software. Knowing where your child spends time online and with whom, is one way to spot the signs of cyberbullying.

Parenting doesn’t necessarily get easier as our kids get older and social media only adds another layer of complexity and concern. Even so, with consistent family conversation and connection, parents can equip kids to handle any situation that comes at them online.

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Digital Parenting: How to Keep the Peace with Your Kids Online

Simply by downloading the right combination of apps, parents can now track their child’s location 24/7, monitor their same social conversations, and inject their thoughts into their lives in a split second. To a parent, that’s called safety. To kids, it’s considered maddening.

Kids are making it clear that parents armed with apps are overstepping their roles in many ways. And, parents, concerned about the risks online are making it clear they aren’t about to let their kids run wild.

I recently watched the relationship of a mother and her 16-year-old daughter fall apart over the course of a year. When the daughter got her driver’s license (along with her first boyfriend), the mother started tracking her daughter’s location with the Life360 app to ease her mind. However, the more she tracked, the more the confrontations escalated. Eventually, the daughter, feeling penned in, waged a full-blown rebellion that is still going strong.

There’s no perfect way to parent, especially in the digital space. There are, however, a few ways that might help us drive our digital lanes more efficiently and keep the peace. But first, we may need to curb (or ‘chill out on’ as my kids put it) some annoying behaviors we may have picked up along the way.

Here are just a few ways to keep the peace and avoid colliding with your kids online:

Interact with care on their social media. It’s not personal. It’s human nature. Kids (tweens and teens) don’t want to hang out with their parents in public — that especially applies online. They also usually aren’t too crazy about you connecting with their friends online. And tagging your tween or teen in photos? Yeah, that’s taboo. Tip: If you need to comment on a photo (be it positive or negative) do it in person or with a direct message, not under the floodlights of social media. This is simply respecting your child’s social boundaries. 

Ask before you share pictures. Most parents think posting pictures of their kids online is a simple expression of love or pride, but to kids, it can be extremely embarrassing, and even an invasion of privacy. Tip: Be discerning about how much you post about your kids online and what you post. Junior may not think a baby picture of him potty training is so cute. Go the extra step and ask your child’s permission before posting a photo of them.

Keep tracking and monitoring in check. Just because you have the means to monitor your kids 24/7 doesn’t mean you should. It’s wise to know where your child goes online (and off) but when that action slips into a preoccupation, it can wreck a relationship (it’s also exhausting). The fact that some kids make poor digital choices doesn’t mean your child will. If your fears about the online world and assumptions about your child’s behavior have led you to obsessively track their location, monitor their conversations, and hover online, it may be time to re-engineer your approach. Tip: Put the relationship with your child first. Invest as much time into talking to your kids and spending one-one time with them as you do tracking them. Put conversation before control so that you can parent from confidence, rather than fear.

Avoid interfering in conflicts. Kids will be bullied, meet people who don’t like them and go through tough situations. Keeping kids safe online can be done with wise, respectful monitoring. However, that monitoring can slip into lawnmower parenting (mowing over any obstacle that gets in a child’s path) as described in this viral essay. Tip: Don’t block your child’s path to becoming a capable adult. Unless there’s a serious issue to your child’s health and safety, try to stay out of his or her online conflicts. Keep it on your radar but let it play out. Allow your child to deal with peers, feel pain, and find solutions. 

As parents, we’re all trying to find the balance between allowing kids to have their space online and still keep them safe. Too much tracking can cause serious family strife while too little can be inattentive in light of the risks. Parenting today is a difficult road that’s always a work-in-progress so give yourself permission to keep learning and improving your process along the way

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How to Help Kids Steer Clear of Digital Drama this School Year

Editor’s note: This is Part II of helping kids manage digital risks this new school year. Read Part I.

The first few weeks back to school can be some of the most exciting yet turbulent times of the year for middle and high schoolers. So as brains and smartphones shift into overdrive, a parent’s ability to coach kids through digital drama is more critical than ever.

Paying attention to these risks is the first step in equipping your kids to respond well to any challenges ahead. Kids face a troubling list of social realities their parents never had to deal with such as cyberbullying, sexting scandals, shaming, ghosting, reputation harm, social anxiety, digital addiction, and online conflict.

As reported by internet safety expert and author Sue Scheff in Psychology Today, recent studies also reveal that young people are posting under the influence and increasingly sharing risky photos. Another study cites that 20 percent of teens and 33 percent of young adults have posted risky photos and about 8 percent had their private content forwarded without their consent.

No doubt, the seriousness of these digital issues is tough to read about but imagine living with the potential of a digital misstep each day? Consider:

  • How would you respond to a hateful or embarrassing comment on one of your social posts?
  • What would you do if your friends misconstrued a comment you shared in a group text and collectively started shunning you?
  • What would you do if you discovered a terrible rumor circulating about you online?
  • Where would you turn? Where would you support and guidance?

If any of these questions made you anxious, you understand why parental attention and intention today is more important than ever. Here are just a few of the more serious sit-downs to have with your kids as the new school year gets underway.

Let’s Talk About It

Define digital abuse. For kids, the digital conversation never ends, which makes it easier for unacceptable behaviors to become acceptable over time. Daily stepping into a cultural melting pot of values and behaviors can blur the lines for a teenage brain that is still developing. For this reason, it’s critical to define inappropriate behavior such as cyberbullying, hate speech, shaming, crude jokes, sharing racy photos, and posting anything intended to cause hurt to another person.

If it’s public, it’s permanent. Countless reputations, academic pursuits, and careers have been shattered because someone posted reckless digital content. Everything — even pictures shared between best friends in a “private” chat or text — is considered public. Absolutely nothing is private or retractable. That includes impulsive tweets or contributing to an argument online.

Steer clear of drama magnets. If you’ve ever witnessed your child weather an online conflict, you know how brutal kids can be. While conflict is part of life, digital conflict is a new level of destruction that should be avoided whenever possible. Innocent comments can quickly escalate out of control. Texting compromises intent and distorts understanding. Immaturity can magnify miscommunication. Encourage your child to steer clear of group texts, gossip-prone people, and topics that can lead to conflict.

Mix monitoring and mentoring. Kids inevitably will overshare personal details, say foolish things, and make mistakes online. Expect a few messes. To guide them forward, develop your own balance of monitoring and mentoring. To monitor, know what apps your kids use and routinely review their social conversations (without commenting on their feeds). Also, consider a security solution to help track online activity. As a mentor, listening is your superpower. Keep the dialogue open, honest, and non-judgmental and let your child know that you are there to help no matter what.

Middle and high school years can be some of the most friendship-rich and perspective-shaping times in a person’s life. While drama will always be part of the teenage equation, digital drama and it’s sometimes harsh fallout doesn’t have to be. So take the time to coach your kids through the rough patches of online life so that, together, you can protect and enjoy these precious years.

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5 Digital Risks That Could Affect Your Kids This New School Year

digital risks

digital risksStarting a new school year is both exciting and stressful for families today. Technology has magnified learning and connection opportunities for our kids but not without physical and emotional costs that we can’t overlook this time of year.

But the transition from summer to a new school year offers families a fresh slate and the chance to evaluate what digital ground rules need to change when it comes to screen time. So as you consider new goals, here are just a few of the top digital risks you may want to keep on your radar.

  1. Cyberbullying. The online space for a middle or high school student can get ugly this time of year. In two years, cyberbullying has increased significantly from 11.5% to 15.3%. Also, three times as many girls reported being harassed online or by text than boys, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
    Back-to-School Tip: Keep the cyberbullying discussion honest and frequent in your home. Monitor your child’s social media apps if you have concerns that cyberbullying may be happening. To do this, click the social icons periodically to explore behind the scenes (direct messages, conversations, shared photos). Review and edit friend lists, maximize location and privacy settings, and create family ground rules that establish expectations about appropriate digital behavior, content, and safe apps.Make an effort to stay current on the latest social media apps, trends, and texting slang so you can spot red flags. Lastly, be sure kids understand the importance of tolerance, empathy, and kindness among diverse peer groups.
  2. Oversharing. Did you know that 30% of parents report posting a photo of their child(ren) to social media at least once per day, and 58% don’t ask permission? By the age of 13, studies estimate that parents have posted about 1,300 photos and videos of their children online. A family’s collective oversharing can put your child’s privacy, reputation, and physical safety at risk. Besides, with access to a child’s personal information, a cybercriminal can open fraudulent accounts just about anywhere.
    Back-to-School Tip: Think before you post and ask yourself, “Would I be okay with a stranger seeing this photo?” Make sure there is nothing in the photo that could be an identifier such as a birthdate, a home address, school uniforms, financial details, or password hints. Also, maximize privacy settings on social networks and turn off photo geo-tagging that embeds photos with a person’s exact coordinates. Lastly, be sure your child understands the lifelong consequences that sharing explicit photos can have on their lives.
  3. Mental health + smartphone use. There’s no more disputing it (or indulging tantrums that deny it) smartphone use and depression are connected. Several studies of teens from the U.S. and U.K. reveal similar findings: That happiness and mental health are highest at 30 minutes to two hours of extracurricular digital media use a day. Well-being then steadily decreases, according to the studies, revealing that heavy users of electronic devices are twice as unhappy, depressed, or distressed as light users.
    Back-to-School Tip: Listen more and talk less. Kids tend to share more about their lives, friends, hopes, and struggles if they believe you are truly listening and not lecturing. Nurturing a healthy, respectful, mutual dialogue with your kids is the best way to minimize a lot of the digital risks your kids face every day. Get practical: Don’t let your kids have unlimited phone use. Set and follow media ground rules and enforce the consequences of abusing them.
  4. Sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation connected to smartphone use can dramatically increase once the hustle of school begins and Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) accelerates. According to a 2019 Common Sense Media survey, a third of teens take their phones to bed when they go to sleep; 33% girls versus 26% of boys. Too, 1 in 3 teens reports waking up at least once per night and checking their phones.digital risks
    Back-to-School Tip:
    Kids often text, playing games, watch movies, or YouTube videos randomly scroll social feeds or read the news on their phones in bed. For this reason, establish a phone curfew that prohibits this. Sleep is food for the body, and tweens and teens need about 8 to 10 hours to keep them healthy. Discuss the physical and emotional consequences of losing sleep, such as sleep deprivation, increased illness, poor grades, moodiness, anxiety, and depression.
  5. School-related cyber breaches. A majority of schools do an excellent job of reinforcing the importance of online safety these days. However, that doesn’t mean it’s own cybersecurity isn’t vulnerable to cyber threats, which can put your child’s privacy at risk. Breaches happen in the form of phishing emails, ransomware, and any loopholes connected to weak security protocols.
    Back-to-School Tip: Demand that schools be transparent about the data they are collecting from students and families. Opt-out of the school’s technology policy if you believe it doesn’t protect your child or if you sense an indifferent attitude about privacy. Ask the staff about its cybersecurity policy to ensure it has a secure password, software, and network standards that could affect your family’s data is compromised.

Stay the course, parent, you’ve got this. Armed with a strong relationship and media ground rules relevant to your family, together, you can tackle any digital challenge the new school year may bring.

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FOMO: How to Help Digital Kids Overcome the Feeling of Missing Out

What happens when you give hundreds of teenagers smartphones and unlimited access to chat apps and social networks 24/7? A generation emerges with a condition called Fear of Missing Out, or, FOMO. While feelings of FOMO have been around for centuries, social media has done its part to amplify it, which can cause some serious emotional fallout for teens today.

What is FOMO

FOMO is that uneasy and often consuming feeling you’re missing out on something more interesting, exciting or better than what you are currently doing. FOMO affects people of all ages in various ways since 77% of humans now own phones. However, for uber-digital teens, FOMO can hit especially hard. Seeing a friend’s Paris vacation photos on Instagram or watching friends at a party on Snapchat can spark feelings of sadness and loneliness that can lead to anxiety and even depression.

As one mom recently shared with us: “My daughter called me a few months ago saying she wanted to drop out of college and travel the world. When I asked her what sparked this and how she planned to finance her adventure, she said, ‘everyone else is doing it, so I’m sure I’ll figure it out.'”

After further discussion, the mom discovered that her daughter’s idea to drop out was a combination of intense FOMO and lack of sleep. It was exam week, the pressure was high, and scrolling Instagram made her daughter question her life choices. When exams ended, her daughter got some sleep and took a few days off of social media and remains in school today.

Signs of FOMO

  • Constantly checking social media (even while on vacation, out with friends, or attending a fun event)
  • Constantly refreshing your screen to get the latest updates and to see people’s responses to your posts
  • Feeling you need to be available and respond to your friends 24/7
  • Obsessively posting your daily activities online
  • Feeling of needing new things, new experiences, a better life
  • Feeling sad, lonely, or depressed after being on social media for extended periods of time
  • Feeling dissatisfaction with one’s life
  • Making life choices or financial decisions based on what you see online

Coaching Kids through FOMO

Nurture JOMO. The Joy of Missing Out, JOMO, is the opposite of FOMO. It’s the feeling of freedom and even relief that we’ve unplugged and are fully present in the moment. To encourage more JOMO and less FOMO, parents can help guide kids toward personal contentment with more phone-free activities such as reading, journaling, face-to-face conversations, outdoor activities, and practicing mindfulness.

Other ways to encourage JOMO: Remind kids they have choices and don’t have to say “yes” to every invitation and to ask themselves, “Is this something I really want to do?” Also, consider challenging them to turn off their phone notifications, try a digital cleanse for a day or even a week, and read and discuss this great JOMO Manifesto together. A big perk of embracing JOMO is also “missing out” on some of the digital risks such as oversharing and risks to reputation and privacy.

Keep a thought journal. Changing your thinking is hard work. Experts suggest that kids suffering from anxiety, depression, or FOMO keep a thought journal to track, analyze, and reframe negative thoughts in more realistic, honest ones. For example, an initial thought might be: “I can’t believe my friends went to the concert without me. They must not want me around.” After thinking honestly about the situation, that thought might change to: “I don’t even like that band, wouldn’t spend money to see them, and my friends know that. Anyway, I had a blast with Ashley at the movies tonight.”

Cut back on social media. Cutting back sounds like an obvious fix, right? That’s the thing about unhealthy habits — they can be very tough to break and sometimes we need help. Most kids will be quick to argue that the amount of time they spend online doesn’t impact their emotions at all but numerous studies and common sense contradict that reasoning. They say this because the thought of cutting back on their social media habits can strike panic. It’s a love-hate routine they don’t quite know how to stop and it is their go-to remedy for boredom. So persist in helping your child reduce screen time. Be creative by offering alternate activities and helping them stay on track with their goals.

Curate for quality. This tip will, no doubt, challenge your kids. You may even get a flat “no way” when you suggest it. When it comes to photo-based platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, challenge your child to think about why they follow certain friends or accounts. Challenge them to delete feeds that are not encouraging, useful, or post quality content. They may not want to reduce their friends’ list (follower and friend counts matter) but they can mute accounts so they don’t have to see content that triggers FOMO feelings.

FOMO is a very real feeling so if your child shows signs of it be sure to validate their feelings. Periodic feelings of exclusion and hurt are part of being human. Don’t, however, allow faulty, streaming perceptions to push out the true joys of real-life experiences. Be the bridge of reason for your kids reminding them that social media spotlights the best versions of people’s lives — the filtered versions — but that nothing compares to showing up and living the real adventure.

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YOLO: What Parents Need to Know About the Anonymity App Kids Use with Snapchat

If your kids use Snapchat, chances are they also use the popular new app YOLO along with it. Since it’s debut in May YOLO has been downloaded over 5 million times, and kids absolutely love it. Whether or not parents love it, however, remains to be seen.

But before rendering YOLO yet one more risky app (because frankly, all apps are dangerous if used recklessly) let’s take a closer look at what the attraction is for teens and how we can equip them to use it wisely.

Why kids love it

Snapchat is already where kids spend a lot of their time, and YOLO is an app specifically designed to work in tandem with the Snapchat interface. YOLO enhances that experience by allowing Snapchat users to invite other Snapchat friends to ask or answer questions anonymously. And who hasn’t been curious about what other people think about them or wish they could access how someone “really” feels about something? Kids can ask any number of questions such as if people think they are funny, if their new hairstyle works, how to lean on a big decision, or if others share their fear of clowns. The possibilities are endless. This kind of connection — without having to put your name on your answer — offers some a fresh level of honesty and peer connection.

What makes it risky

The exact reasons kids love YOLO — anonymity, curiosity, honesty — are why the app could (and by some reports already has) turn into the latest breeding ground for bullying. Similar to anonymous apps preceding YOLO such as Yik Yak and Saraha, users can say whatever they want without attaching their name. Apple and Google stores have banned similar anonymous apps over accusations of hate speech and bullying.

What parents can do 

Talk about the app with your kids. Pull YOLO up and see how your child is using the Q&A app and the kinds of questions and responses he or she is collecting. Discuss any concerns you see.

Discuss the risks of anonymity. There’s a psychological phenomenon known as the online disinhibition effect, which means people feel less attached and responsible for their actions when they feel removed from their real identities. In short, when people can be anonymous online, they tend to say things they’d never say to someone in person. Warn kids that when they open themselves up to anonymous comments, they can also be opening themselves up to hurt. So, proceed with caution.

Check privacy. The YOLO app is very vague about how its user data is shared. As with any popular app, be mindful of the permissions you grant. Periodically, consider going through your phone settings to review and edit what information an app is collecting. Check to see if an app has access to your photos, location, social map, health information, purchasing habits, contacts, calendar, camera, or more.

Limit YOLO circle. Likely, because the YOLO app went viral so quickly, the site does not include app policies or guidelines or how to report abuses, which is a problem. The only nod to safety is in a brief app description in the Apple store: “YOLO is for positive feedback only. Be kind, respectful, show compassion with other users; otherwise, you will be banned. Please, be mindful of what you send.” To reduce potential bullying, advise kids to only send their questions to people they know and trust with kind responses. If problems arise, encourage kids to delete the app.

Words have power. Removing your face and name from a comment does not dilute the power of the words shared. Remind kids that their words can either be used to build someone up or tear them down and that being “honest” with someone doesn’t include giving mean spirited opinions or taking part in online trends that allow an “anything goes” mentality, as was the case with the TBH (To Be Honest) app.

Consider the tone of a text. Remind your child that even when someone posts something, they may consider funny, it may not be funny to the person on the receiving end. Because of the vulnerability factor of Q & A apps, they can cause unnecessary drama. Intent and inflection often get lost online, and even a seemingly small comment can quickly escalate into a big deal. With more social networks taking steps to reduce online hate speech and bullying, users must do their part and think before posting sensitive comments.

Stress responsibility, and empathy. Relating to others with empathy — putting oneself in the shoes of another person to understand and share their feelings — is often harder to do online than face-to-face. Stress to your child the importance of being responsible online and remembering the real people, with real feelings on the other side of a blank text box.

New apps come out every day. Some catch on like wildfire, like YOLO, and others have traction for a while then fade into cyber oblivion. Regardless of an app’s staying power, discuss app safety with your kids openly and often. Also, as an added layer of protection on devices, consider security software to monitor device activity and block inappropriate apps and websites.

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Family Safety: Twitter, Instagram Beef Up Measures to Fight Hate Speech, Bullying

The past few weeks have proven to be wins for family safety with several top social networks announcing changes to their policies and procedures to reduce the amount of hateful conduct and online bullying.

Twitter: ‘Dehumanizing Language Increases Risk’

In response to rising violence against religious minorities, Twitter said this week that it would update its hateful conduct rules to include dehumanizing speech against religious groups.

“Our primary focus is on addressing the risks of offline harm, and research shows that dehumanizing language increases that risk . . . we’re expanding our rules against hateful conduct to include language that dehumanizes others based on religion,” the company wrote on its Twitter Safety blog.

Twitter offered two resources that go in-depth on the link between dehumanizing language and offline harm that is worth reading and sharing with your kids. Experts Dr. Susan Benesch and Nick Haslam and Michelle Stratemeyer define hate speech, talk about its various contexts, and advise on how to counter it.

Instagram: ‘This intervention gives people a chance to reflect.’ 

Instagram announced it would be rolling out two new features to reduce potentially offensive content. The first, powered by artificial intelligence, prompts users to pause before posting. For instance, if a person is about to post a cruel comment such as “you are so stupid,” the user will get a pop-up notification asking, “are you sure you want to post this?”

A second anti-bullying function new to Instagram is called “Restrict,” a setting that will allow users to indiscreetly block bullies from looking at your account. Restrict is a quieter way to cut someone off from seeing your content than blocking, reporting, or unfollowing, which could spark more bullying.

These digital safety moves by both Instagram and Twitter are big wins for families concerned about the growing amount of questionable content and bullying online.

If you get a chance, go over the basics of these new social filters with your kids.

Other ways to avoid online bullying:

Wise posting. Encourage kids to pause and consider tone, word choice, and any language that may be offensive or hurtful to another person, race, or gender. You are your child’s best coach and teacher when it comes to using social apps responsibly.

Stay positive and trustworthy. Coach kids around online conflict and the importance of sharing verified information. Encourage your child to be part of the solution in stopping rumors and reporting digital skirmishes and dangerous content to appropriate platforms.

Avoid risky apps. Apps like ask.fm allow anonymity should be off limits. Kik Messenger, Yik Yak, Tinder, Down, and Whisper may also present risks. Remember: Any app is risky if kids are reckless with privacy settings, conduct, content, or the people they allow to connect with them.

Layer security. Use a comprehensive solution to help monitor screentime, filter content, and monitor potentially risky apps and websites.

Monitor gaming communities. Gaming time can skyrocket during the summer and in a competitive environment, so can cyberbullying. Listen in and monitor game time conversations and make every effort to help him or her balance summer gaming time.

Make profiles and photos private. Require kids under 18 to make all social profiles private. By doing this, you limit online circles to known friends and reduces the possibility of cyberbullying and online conflict.

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How to Help Kids Build Strong Digital Habits Before Summer Slips Away

Few seasons are more important to the parent-child bond than summer. The days are longer, fewer activities are crowding the family calendar, and if we’re lucky, we can grab a few more quiet moments with one another.

So how will you spend these last few, magical weeks of summer before the frenzy of a new school year arrives? We hope it includes a lot more fun and taking time to connect with your kids about what’s going on in their online world.

Thanks to the results of a recent survey, we have some clear and current insight into the digital issues most important to parents.*

Survey: Top digital concerns for parents

  • Knowing which apps my children are using 66.67%
  • Knowing which sites my children are visiting 65.83%
  • Knowing what my children are posting online 62.50%
  • Being able to put parental controls on my children’s smartphone, tablet and/or computers 62.50%
  • Keeping photos of my children/ family safe 60.83%
  • Monitoring and/or limiting the amount of time my children spend online 55.83%
  • My children’s use of social media 55.00%
  • My children’s use of texting 52.50%

Before summer slips away, we challenge you (as well as ourselves!) to bring up these critical conversations with your kids. Doing so will help to equip them and give you peace of mind as your family heads closer to the new school year.

5 Digital Concerns & Solutions

  1. App Safety: Look at the apps on your child’s phone (don’t forget to look for decoy apps). Also, ask your child questions about his or her favorite apps and download and explore the app yourself. Analyze the content and culture. Check app reviews for potential dangers. Are the accounts your child follows on the app age-appropriate? Are the comments and conversations positive? Does your child know his or her followers? Is your child posting appropriately? Follow your gut, parent: If you believe the app is harmful, discuss the reasons, and delete the app.
  2. Track Online Activity: One of the most common questions we get at McAfee from parents is, “Where do I go to find out information about what my kids are doing online?” Simply put: You go where they go. Start with their phones. Depending on the age of your child, you as a parent can determine how frequently and how deeply you want to dive into your child’s apps, direct messages, and texts. An invasion of privacy? Perhaps, depending on your point of view and parenting style. But if you are genuinely concerned about your child’s online activity, then some form of monitoring is a must. Let your kids know you are monitoring their activity and why — there’s no need to spy. A few basics: Google your child’s name, check their PC online history log, agree on weekly phone checks, and open and explore phone apps. Sound like a lot of work? It is. The more efficient way of tracking online activity is using parental controls, which helps you set limits on sites visited, apps used, hours online, and location tracking. A comprehensive software solution can be a game-changer for parents who are exhausted with phone tracking routines and arguments.
  3. Time Limits: We know that excess screen time can lead to physical and emotional issues in kids, but reducing family screen time online can be a challenge. Cutting back takes consistent effort such as family media use rules, establishing phone-free zones like dinnertime, movie time, and family outings. Turning off notifications, deleting tempting apps, and having a phone curfew can significantly impact online time as can the use of parental controls.
  4. Smart Photo Sharing: Be mindful of the risks of sharing photos online and discuss them with your kids. Remind your child to lock privacy settings on each app, to only share photos with known friends, to turn off geo as well as photo tagging, and to never share inappropriate images online.
  5. Safe Texting: When it comes to texting, parents often want to know how to curb the amount of texting, and if the content is harmful. To help curb texting: Teach kids self-control and remind them that they don’t have to respond to friends right away. Challenge them to turn off text notifications and only check their phone at set times. Reduce texting anxiety by enforcing a phone curfew, so kids don’t text into the night or wake up to text conversations. On the topic of content: If you know there’s an issue — get equipped so you can respond. Understand what’s going on with group chat conflict, cyberbullying, and the texting slag kids use.

While monitoring and parental controls are two of the best tools parents have, we know that equipping kids to be safe online comes down to two things: A strong parent-child connection and engaged parenting. This will look different in the context of every family but might include creating age-appropriate family ground rules for online activity (and enforcing them!), open communication, modeling a healthy digital balance, and taking the time to listen to your child and what’s going on in his or her life and heart.

* McAfee commissioned Response Marketing to conduct a survey in the U.S. in April 2019.

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Summer Scam Alerts: Don’t Let Crooks Wreck Your Family Travel Plans

While our click-and-pay digital lifestyle makes accessing travel and entertainment more convenient, for every app or website we loop into our travel plans, crooks gain a potential pathway into our lives.

This summer, be mindful that while you intend to relax and unwind a little, cybercriminals are working overtime to catch consumers off guard. Here are just a few of the latest scams that could affect your family travel plans this summer and a few tips on how to amp your security.

5 Summer Scams to Look Out For

  1. Bogus booking sites. If that flight, accommodation, or rental deal is too good to be true, pause before you purchase. According to a recent study, 30% of respondents have been defrauded by malicious travel deals.
    Summer safety tip: Pause before you purchase and think before you click. Scammers will use fake websites, apps, or phishing emails to get you to purchase. These scams are designed to access your credit card, personal information, or to download malware onto your device. Unsure about a company’s legitimacy? Check the Better Business Bureau for reviews from previous customers. Also, use a comprehensive security solution that includes McAfee WebAdvisor to help identify malicious websites.
  2. Unsecured wi-fi attacks. If you are staying in a hotel and access its wifi for your family’s entertainment or if you check your email or bank account from a coffee house (or any other public wifi) while on vacation, you are opening you and your family up to serious risk. Cyber thieves are like moths to a flame when it comes to public wifi. They can eavesdrop and grab personal data or access your devices.
    Summer safety tip: In public? Connect with caution. Consider subscribing to a  virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your online activity and give your family secure internet access no matter where you are.
  3. Vacation phone/direct mail scams. Haven’t you heard the good news? You (or your child) have been chosen to travel free or be part of an exclusive student experience abroad. You may think you’d never fall for such a call, but people get lured in by super-friendly phone agents all the time pitching free or bargain vacations, camps, and tours. Be alert to offers promoted for a “Limited Time Only,” or that require “Payment in Advance.”
    Summer safety tip: Never pay a company with a pre-paid debit card or via wiring the funds. If you do purchase only do so with a credit card since credit card companies allow you to contest fraudulent charges.
  4. Device theft. Distracted vacationers are the perfect target for thieves looking to steal devices, be it a phone, laptop, tablet, or game. Crooks hope to access your data or resell your hardware for fast cash.
    Summer safety tip: Most lost devices get left behind by the owner, so keep your device close and secure at all times. Make sure your smartphone is password-protected, the lock screen is enabled, and the Find My Phone app is on.
  5. Rideshare scams. Rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft can be your only transportation while on a family vacation. Be on alert for several scams including fraudulent charges, phishing emails from the ride company asking you to reset your password, and, of course, fake/criminal drivers.
    Summer safety tip: Never change your password by clicking an email or text link. Always use the app itself or go directly to the company’s website. Double-check your ride receipt for extra charges, and always confirm the name of your driver and make of the vehicle before getting inside.

If you’ve been a victim of any travel scam, you can report your experience to any or all of these places: BBB.org/ScamTracker, FTC Complaint Assist, or the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) to help other consumers avoid falling prey to travel scams.

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Kids Obsessed with YouTube? How to Help Them Stay Balanced, Safe This Summer

If you haven’t seen your kids in a few hours but can hear outbursts of laughter from a nearby room, chances are, they — along with millions of other kids — are watching YouTube. The popular digital video hub has more viewers than network television and soaks up more than 46,000 years of our collective viewing time annually. Chances are your kids will be part of the YouTube digital mosh pit this summer, but do you know the risks?

Types of screen time

The quality of online time for kids usually shifts during the summer months. For example, there’s active screen time and passive screen time. Knowing the difference between the two can help your family decide best how to balance device use — especially when it comes to consuming endless hours on YouTube.

Active screen time requires a person’s cognitive and/or physical engagement and develops social, language, or physical skills. Engaging in activities such as researching, creating original content, learning a new program, and playing educational games is considered active screen usage. Active screen time tends to go up during the school year and down in the summer.

Passive screen time is passively absorbing information via a screen, app, or game for entertainment reasons only. This includes scrolling through social networks, watching movies binge watching), and watching YouTube videos. Little to no thought or creativity is required when a person engages in repetitious, passive screen activities.

According to a Common Sense Media study, children ages 8 to 12, spend nearly six hours per day using media, and teenagers average closer to nine hours a day (numbers don’t include school work). It’s safe to say that during the summer, these numbers climb even higher — as do the risks.

Here are a few ways to balance screen time and boost safety on YouTube this summer.

YouTube: 5 Family Talking Points

  • Explore YouTube.The best way to understand the culture of YouTube is to spend time there. Ask your kids about their favorite channels and what they like about them. Get to know the people they follow — after all, these are the people influencing your child. Here’s a sampling of a few top YouTubers: MattyBRaps (music), JoJoSiwa (music, dance), Brooklyn and Bailey (vlogs, challenges, music), Baby Ariel (challenges, vlog), Johnny Orlando (music), PewDiePie (comedy), Jacy and Kacy (crafts, challenges), (Bethany Mota (shopping hauls), Grav3yardgirl (makeup), Smosh (comedy).
  • Respect age limits. YouTube is packed with humor, tutorials, pranks, vlogs, music, reviews, and endlessly engaging content. However, age limits exist for a good reason because the channel also has its share of dangerous content. The darker side of YouTube is always just a click away and includes sexual content, hate content, harassment and cyberbullying, violent and graphic content, and scams.
  • Turn on restricted mode. By turning on the restricted mode you can block videos with mature content from a user’s searches, related videos, playlists, and shows — this is a big deal since many “up next” videos (on the right side of the screen) are cued to play automatically and can lead kids to sketchy content. In addition to the restricted mode, consider an extra layer of protection with filtering software for all your family devices.
  • Opt for YouTube Kids. For kids under 13, YouTube Kids is a safe video platform, specially curated for young viewers. Kids may snub any platform designed “for kids,” however, if you are worried about younger kids running into inappropriate content, this is your best video option.
  • Discuss the ‘why’ behind the rules. As a parent, you know the possible ways YouTube — or other social platforms — can be harmful. Don’t assume your kids do. Kids are immersed in their peer groups online, which means danger and harm aren’t primary concerns. Even so, before you lecture kids about the dangers of YouTube, open up a dialogue around the topic by asking great questions. Here are just a few to get you started:

  • Do you understand why it’s important to filter YouTube content and respect age limits (inappropriate content, cyberbullying)?
  • Do you understand why unboxing and makeup videos are so popular (advertisers want you to purchase)?
  • Do you understand why we need to balance between screen time this summer? (mental, physical health)
  • Do you know why this piece of content might be fake or contain questionable information (conspiracy, hate, or political videos)?

As the public increasingly demands social networks do more to remove harmful or objectionable content, one thing is clear: Despite strides in this area by a majority of platforms, no online social hub is (or will likely ever be) 100% safe. The best way to keep kids safe online is by nurturing a strong parent-child connection and having consistent conversations designed to equip and educate kids about digital risks and responsibility.

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5 Digital Risks to Help Your Teen Navigate this Summer

S’mores.
Sparklers.
Snow cones.
Sunburns.
Fireflies.

Remember when summer was simple? Before smartphones and social networks, there was less uploading and more unwinding; less commenting and more savoring. 

There’s a new summer now. It’s the social summer, and tweens and teens know it well. It’s those few months away from school where the pressure (and compulsion) to show up and show off online can double. On Instagram and Snapchat, it’s a 24/7 stream of bikinis, vacations, friend groups, and summer abs. On gaming platforms, there’s more connecting and competing. 

With more of summer playing out on social, there’s also more risk. And that’s where parents come in. 

While it’s unlikely you can get kids to ditch their devices for weeks or even days at a time this summer, it is possible to coach kids through the risks to restore some of the simplicity and safety to summer.

5 summer risks to coach kids through:

  1. Body image. Every day your child — male or female — faces a non-stop, digital tidal wave of pressure to be ‘as- beautiful’ or ‘as-perfect’ as their peers online. Summer can magnify body image issues for kids.
    What you can do: Talk with your kids about social media’s power to subtly distort body image. Help kids decipher the visual world around them — what’s real, what’s imagined, and what’s relevant. Keep an eye on your child’s moods, eating habits, and digital behaviors. Are comments or captions focused only on looks? If so, help your child expand his or her focus. Get serious about screen limits if you suspect too much scrolling is negatively impacting your child’s physical or emotional health.
  2. Gaming addiction. The risks connected with gaming can multiply in the summer months. Many gaming platforms serve as social networks that allow kids to talk, play, and connect with friends all day, every day, without ever leaving their rooms. With more summer gaming comes to the risk for addiction as well as gaming scams, inappropriate content, and bullying.
    What you can do: Don’t ignore the signs of excessive gaming, which include preoccupation with gaming, anger, irritation, lying to cover playing time, withdrawal and isolation, exchanging sleep for gaming. Be swift and take action. Set gaming ground rules specific to summer. Consider parental control software to help with time limits. Remember: Kids love to circumvent time limits at home by going to a friend’s house to play video games. Also, plan summer activities out of the house and away from devices.
  3. Cyberbullying. Making fun of others, threatening, name-calling, exclusion, and racial or gender discrimination are all serious issues online. With more time on their hands in the summer months, some kids can find new ways to torment others.
    What you can do: Listen in on (monitor) your child’s social media accounts (without commenting or liking). What is the tone of your child’s comments or the comments of others? Pay attention to your child’s moods, behaviors, and online friend groups. Note: Your child could be the target of cyberbullying or the cyberbully, so keep your digital eyes open and objective.
  4. Smartphone anxiety. Anxiety is a growing issue for teens that can compound in the summer months if left unchecked. A 2018 survey from the Pew Research Center reveals that 56 percent of teens feel anxious, lonely, or upset when they don’t have their cell phones.
    What you can do:
    Pay attention to your child’s physical and emotional health. Signs of anxiety include extreme apprehension or worry, self-doubt, sleeplessness, stomach or headache complaints, isolation, panic attacks, and excessive fear. Establish screen limits and plan phone-free outings with your child. Set aside daily one-on-one time with your child to re-connect and seek out professional help if needed.
  5. Social Conflict. More hours in the day + more social media = potential for more conflict. Digital conflict in group chats or social networks can quickly get out of hand. Being excluded, misunderstood, or criticized hurts, even more, when it plays out on a public, digital stage.
    What you can do: While conflict is a normal part of life and healthy friendships, it can spiral in the online space where fingers are quick to fire off responses. Offer your child your ears before your advice. Just listen. Hear them out and (if asked) help them brainstorm ways to work through the conflict. Offer options like responding well, not engaging, and handling a situation face-to-face. Avoid the temptation to jump in and referee or solve.

Summer doesn’t have to be stressful for kids, and the smartphone doesn’t have to win the majority of your child’s attention. With listening, monitoring, and timely coaching, parents can help kids avoid common digital risks and enjoy the ease and fun of summer. 

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Study: Fortnite Game Becoming the Preferred Social Network for Kids

According to a study recently released by National Research Group (NRG), the wildly popular video game Fortnite is growing beyond its intended gaming platform into a favored social network where kids go daily to chat, message, and connect.

The study represents the most in-depth study on Fortnite to date and contains essential takeaways for parents trying to keep up with their kids’ social networking habits. According to the NRG study, “Fortnite is the number one service teens are using, and audiences cite its social elements as the primary motivators for playing.”

The popular game now claims more than 250 million users around the world, and for its audience of teens (ages 10-17) who play at least once a week, Fortnite consumes about 25% of their free time, cites NRG adding that “Fortnite presents a more hopeful meta-verse where community, inclusivity, creativity and authentic relationships can thrive.”

Summer gaming 

With school break now upon us, the NRG study is especially useful since screentime tends to jump during summer months. Here are some of the risks Fortnite (and gaming in general) presents and some tips on how to increase privacy and safety for young users who love this community.

Fortnite safety tips 

Activate parental controls. Kids play Fortnite on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and iOS. Parents can restrict and monitor playing time by going into the Settings tab of each device, its related URL, or app. Another monitoring option for PC, tablets, and mobile devices is monitoring software.

Listen, watch, learn. Sit with your kids and listen to and watch some Fortnite sessions. Who are they playing with? What’s the tone of the conversation? Be vocal about anything that concerns you and coach your child on how to handle conflict, strangers online (look at their friend list), and bullying.

Monitor voice chat. Voice chat is an integral part of Fortnite if you are playing in squads or teams. Without the chat function, players can’t communicate in real-time with other team members. Voice chat is also a significant social element of the game because it allows players to connect and build community with friends anywhere. Therein lies the risk — voice chat also allows kids to play the game with strangers so the risk of inappropriate conversation, cyberbullying, and grooming are all reported realities of Fortnite. Voice chat can be turned off in Settings and should be considered for younger tween users.

Scams, passwords, and tech addiction. When kids are having a blast playing video games, danger is are far from their minds. Talk about the downside so they can continue to play their favorite game in a safe, healthy way. Discuss the scams targeting Fortnite users, the importance of keeping user names and passwords private (and strong), and the reasoning behind gaming screen limits.

Social networks have become inherent to kids’ daily life and an important way to form meaningful peer bonds. With new networks emerging every day such as Fortnite, it’s more important than ever to keep the conversation going with your kids about the genuine risks these fun digital hangouts bring.

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Oversharing: Are You Ignoring Your Child’s Privacy When You Post Online?

Take it down, please. 

The above is a typical text message parents send to kids when they discover their child has posted something questionable online. More and more, however, it’s kids who are sending this text to parents who habitually post about them online.

Tipping Point

Sadly — and often unknowingly — parents have become some of the biggest violators of their children’s privacy. And, there’s a collective protest among kids that’s expressing itself in different ways. Headlines reflect kids reigning in their parent‘s posting habits and parents choosing to pull all photos of their kids offline. There’s also a younger generation of voices realizing the effect social media has had on youth, which could be signaling a tipping point in social sharing.

Ninety-two percent of American children have an online presence before the age of 2, and parents post nearly 1,000 images of their children online before their fifth birthday, according to Time. Likewise, in a 2017 UNICEF report, the children’s advocacy group called the practice of “sharenting” – parents sharing information online about their children – harmful to a child’s reputation and safety.

Digital Footprint

This sharenting culture has fast-tracked our children’s digital footprints, which often begins in the womb. Kids now have a digital birth date — the date of the first upload, usually a sonogram photo — in addition to their actual birth date. Sharing the details of life has become a daily routine with many parents not thinking twice before sharing birthdays, awards, trips, and even more private moments such as bath time or potty training mishaps.

Too often, what a parent views as a harmless post, a child might see as humiliating, especially during the more sensitive teen years. Oversharing can impact a child’s emotional health as well as the parent-child relationship, according to a University of Michigan study.

Diminishing Privacy 

So how far is too far when it comes to the boundaries between public and private life? And, what are the emotional, safety, and privacy ramifications to a child when parents overshare? The sharenting culture has forced us all to consider these questions more closely.

Children’s diminishing privacy is on advocacy agendas worldwide. Recently, the UK Children’s Commissioner released a report called “Who Knows About Me?” that put a spotlight on how we collect and share children’s data and how this puts them at risk.

5 safe sharing tips for families

  1. Stop and think. Be intentional about protecting your child’s privacy. Before you upload a photo or write a post, ask yourself, “Do I really need to share this?” or “Could this content compromise my child’s privacy (or feelings) today or in the future?”
  2. Ask permission. Before publicly posting anything about your child, ask for his or her permission. This practice models respect and digital responsibility. If posting a group photo that includes other children, ask both the child’s consent and his or her parent’s.
  3. Keep family business private. Resist sharing too much about your family dynamic — good or bad — online. Sharing your parenting struggles or posting details about what’s going on with you and your child could cause embarrassment and shame and irreparably harm your relationship.
  4. Consider a photo purge. With your child’s wellbeing, safety, and privacy in mind — present and future — consider going through your social networks and deleting any photos or posts that don’t need to be public.
  5. Talk to kids about the freedom of expression. Every person who logs on to the internet can expect fundamental freedoms, even kids. These include the right to privacy, how our data is shared, and the freedom of expression online. Discuss these points with your children in addition to our collective digital responsibilities such as respect for others, wise posting, downloading legally, citing works properly, and reporting risky behavior or content.

When it comes to parenting, many of us are building our wings on the way down, especially when it comes to understanding all the safety implications around data privacy for children. However, slowing down to consider your child’s wellbeing and privacy with every post is a huge step toward creating a better, safer internet for everyone.

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Are Your Kids Part of the TikTok App Craze? Here’s What Parents Need to Know

What phone app has over 150 million active users and more than 14 million uploads every day? You might guess Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat, but you’d be wrong. Meet TikTok — a video app kids are flocking to that is tons of fun but also carries risk.

What Is It?

TikTok is a free social media app that allows users to create and share short 15-second videos set to favorite music. If your child was a fan of Musical.ly, then he or she is probably active on TikTok since Musical.ly shut down last year and moved all of its users to TikTok. Kids love the app because it’s got all the social perks — music, filters, stickers — and the ability to amass likes and shares (yes, becoming TikTok-famous is an aspiration for some).

The Upside

There are a lot of positive things about this app. It’s filling the void of the sorely missed Vine app in that it’s a fun hub for video creation and peer connection. Spending time on TikTok will make you laugh out loud, sing, and admire the degree of creativity so many young users put into their videos. You will see everything from heartfelt, brave monologues, to incredible athletic stunts, to hilarious, random moments in the lives of teens. It’s serious fun.

Another big positive is the app appears to take Digital Wellbeing (tools in the app that encourage screen time), privacy, and online safety seriously. Its resources tab is rich with tips for both parents and kids.

The (Potential) Downside

As with any other social app, TikTok carries inherent risks, as reported by several news sources, including ABC.

For instance, anyone can view your child’s videos, send a direct message, and access their location information. And, while TikTok requires that users are at least 13 years old to use the app and anyone under 18 must have parent’s approval, if you browse the app, you’ll quickly find that plenty of preteens are using it. A predator could easily create a fake account or many accounts to strike up conversations with minors.

Another danger zone is inappropriate content. While a lot of TikTok content is fun and harmless, there’s a fair share of the music that includes explicit language and users posting content that should not be viewed by a young audience.

And, wherever there’s a public forum, there’s a risk of cyberbullying. When a TikTok user posts a video, that content instantly becomes open for public comment or criticism and dialogue can get mean.

Talking Points for Families

Most social media apps have an inherent risk factor because the world wide web is just that — much of the planet’s population in the palm of your child’s hand. Different age groups and kids will use apps differently. So, when it comes to apps, it’s a good idea to monitor how your child uses each app and tailor conversations from there.

  • Download the app. If your child uses TikTok, it’s a good idea to download the app too. Look around inside the community. Analyze the content and the culture. Are the accounts your child follows age appropriate? Are the comments and conversations positive? Does your child know his or her followers? Is your child posting appropriately?
  • Talk about the risks. Spend time with your child and watch how he or she uses TikTok. Let them teach you why they love it. Encourage creativity and fun, but don’t hesitate to point out danger zones and how your child can avoid them.
  • Monitor direct messages. This may seem invasive, but a lot of the safety threats to your child take place behind the curtain of the public feed in direct messages. Depending on the age of your child (and the established digital ground rules of your family) consider requiring access to his or her account.
  • Adjust settings. Make sure to click account settings to ‘private’ so only people your child knows can access his or her content and send direct messages. Also, turn off location services and consider getting comprehensive security software for all family devices.

Apps are where the fun is for kids so you can bet your child will at least check out buzz-worthy platforms like TikTok. They may browse, or they may become content creators. Your best social monitoring tool is to keep an open dialogue with your child. Keep talking with your kids about what’s going on in their digital life — where they hang out, who their friends are, and what’s new.  You may get some resistance but don’t let that stop you from doing all you can to keep your family safe online.

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Breaches and Bugs: How Secure are Your Family’s Favorite Apps?

app safety

app safetyIs your family feeling more vulnerable online lately? If so, you aren’t alone. The recent WhatsApp bug and social media breaches recently have app users thinking twice about security.

Hackers behind the recent WhatsApp malware attack, it’s reported, could record conversations, steal private messages, grab photos and location data, and turn on a device’s camera and microphone. (Is anyone else feeling like you just got caught in the middle an episode of Homeland?)

There’s not much you and your family can do about an attack like this except to stay on top of the news, be sure to share knowledge and react promptly, and discuss device security in your home as much as possible.

How much does your family love its apps? Here’s some insight:

  • Facebook Messenger 3.408 billion downloads
  • WhatsApp 2.979 billion downloads
  • Instagram 1.843 billion downloads
  • Skype 1.039 billion downloads
  • Twitter 833.858 million downloads
  • Candy Crush 805.826 million downloads
  • Snapchat 782.837 million downloads

So, should you require your family to delete its favorite apps? Not even. A certain degree of vulnerability comes with the territory of a digital culture.

However, what you can and should do to ease that sense of vulnerability is to adopt proactive safety habits — and teach your kids — to layer up safeguards wherever possible.

Tips to Help Your Family Avoid Being Hacked

Don’t be complacent. Talk to your kids about digital responsibility and to treat each app like a potential doorway that could expose your family’s data. Take the time to sit down and teach kids how to lock down privacy settings and the importance of keeping device software updated. Counsel them not to accept data breaches as a regular part of digital life and how to fight back against online criminals with a security mindset.

Power up your passwords. Teach your kids to use unique, complex passwords for all of their apps and to use multi-factor authentication when it’s offered.

Auto update all apps. App developers regularly issue updates to fix security vulnerabilities. You can turn on auto updates in your device’s Settings.

Add extra security. If you can add a robust, easy-to-install layer of security to protect your family’s devices, why not? McAfee mobile solutions are available for both iOS and Android and will help safeguard devices from cyber threats.

Avoid suspicious links. Hackers send malicious links through text, messenger, email, pop-ups, or within the context of an ongoing conversation. Teach your kids to be aware of these tricks and not to click suspicious links or download unfamiliar content.

Share responsibly. When you use chat apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, it’s easy to forget that an outsider can access your conversation. Remind your children that nothing is private — even messaging apps that feel as if a conversation is private. Hackers are looking for personal information (birthday, address, hometown, or names of family members and pets) to crack your passwords, steal your identity, or gain access to other accounts.

What to Do If You Get Hacked

If one of your apps is compromised, act quickly to minimize the fallout. If you’ve been hacked, you may notice your device running slowly, a drain on your data, strange apps on your home screen, and evidence of calls, texts or emails you did not send.

Social media accounts. For Facebook and other social accounts, change your password immediately and alert your contacts that your account was compromised.

Review your purchase history. Check to see if there are any new apps or games installed that you didn’t authorize. You may have to cancel the credit card associated with your Google Play or iTunes account.

Revoke app access, delete old apps. Sometimes it’s not a person but a malicious app you may have downloaded that is wreaking havoc on your device. Encourage your kids to go through their apps and delete suspicious ones as well as apps they don’t use.

Bugs and breaches are part of our digital culture, but we don’t have to resign ourselves to being targets. By sharing knowledge and teaching kids to put on a security mindset, together, you can stay one step ahead of a cybercrook’s digital traps.

The post Breaches and Bugs: How Secure are Your Family’s Favorite Apps? appeared first on McAfee Blogs.