Category Archives: Family Safety

Is Your Child Being Cyberbullied? What Parents Need to Know

cyberbullying

In this season of social distancing, teens need their friends more than ever. Daily digital connection — through texting, video chat, social networks, and gaming — is critical to keeping friend groups strong. But could increased time online these days lead to an increase in cyberbullying?

While there isn’t data to answer that question definitively, it wouldn’t be surprising for parents to notice some signs of conflict surface as the months continue to creep by. And, with re-open dates for schools in limbo, it’s more important than ever to keep the family safety conversation humming.

For clarity: Allowing more screen time doesn’t mean more cyberbullying or conflict is certain to occur. However, experience has taught us that more screen time does increase the potential for digital conflict.

Social and Emotional Fallout

This unprecedented health event hasn’t been easy on anyone, but kids especially are likely to be holding onto some big emotions about it. A recent Common Sense Media study confirms that social media has been key to helping kids get through this crisis, but one in four kids surveyed feels “more lonely than usual.”

The school year with its milestones — proms, graduations, dates, parties — ended abruptly. It’s logical to assume these losses have sparked feelings of sadness, anger, frustration, and anxiety. And because online is where most kids connect with peers, these emotions can easily play out there in the form of aggressive behavior, conflict, or persistent drama.

Digital Awareness

cyberbullying

So how do you know if your child is being cyberbullied or dealing with conflict online? It isn’t always easy simply because so many kids won’t admit to being bullied. Often they believe telling an adult will make the harassment worse. They may feel ashamed or embarrassed about a regretful situation or the fact that they’re being targeted in the first place. For that reason, one of the best ways to help your child is to be aware of the time they spend online, the people they connect with, and how those digital circles impact their wellbeing.

What to Look For

The many forms of cyberbullying continue to evolve alongside the digital culture. Here are just a few ways kids bully one another.

 

  • Saying hurtful or intimidating things to someone on social media, a text, or email.
  • Making negative comments about a person’s sexuality, race, religion, handicaps, or physical features.
  • Camouflaging hurtful or threatening comments with words like “jk” (just joking).
  • Asking online friends to vote for or against another person, with Instagram polls or captions such as “Is this person hot or not?” or “Would you go out with this person?”
  • Posting or sharing with others the private photos, memes, emails, texts, or secrets without the permission of another person.
  • Intentionally posting unflattering or embarrassing photos of another person.
  • Spreading rumors or false information about another person online.
  • Making any threat to another person no matter how harmless you think it may be.

Signs of Cyberbullying

If your child is getting bullied online, there are some potential signs.

  • Anxious or upset after reading a text, frequently gets sick or nauseous, declines invitations from friends, or bows out of fun family outings.
  • Trouble sleeping or being withdrawn or moody.
  • Being protective of his or her phone, deleting or deactivating social networks
  • Sudden loss of a steady friend group or sudden complaining about once-loved friends.
  • Loss of interest in favorite sports or hobbies or a decline in grades.
  • References to suicide, loneliness, and hopelessness (when severe bullying is taking place).

Know Where They Go

Another way to understand your child’s emotional connection to his or her digital communities is to learn about their favorite platforms and monitor them. Pay specific attention to the tone of his or her social threads. And, if you see concerning comments or posts, ask your child how you can help. If your child is using risky apps such as WhatsApp or Kik, that allows people to use the app anonymously, discuss your concerns with your child. Some social networks are more conducive to cyberbullying than others.

Monitor Gaming Communities

Gaming time can skyrocket during the summer, and when games get competitive, cyberbullying can happen. Spend time with your child while he or she is gaming. Listen to the tone of the conversations and be aware of your child’s demeanor. For your child’s physical and emotional health, make every effort to set gaming limits as summer approaches.

Parenting Moves to Avoid

Bullying experts will tell you that what you don’t do if your child is getting bullied is often as important as what you do. Here’s some insight:

1) Never advise a child to ignore the bullying. 2) Never blame a child for being bullied even if he or she did something to aggravate the bullying. No one deserves to be bullied. 3) As angry as you feel that someone is bullying your child, do not encourage your child to fight back physically. 4) Don’t overreact; escalate accordingly. If you can identify the bully, consider talking with the child’s parents. 5) Don’t lead the charge. Give your child veto power over your involvement. If they say they don’t want you to get involved (unless you suspect physical danger or suicide), respect that. 6) If the bullying continues to escalate, report it, seek help from school counselors or the police if necessary. 7) Even if you are fearful, don’t take your child’s digital devices away. He or she didn’t do anything wrong.

Online Resources

A number of organizations are leading the charge against cyberbullying and have fantastic resources for families. Here are just a few: Cyberbullying Research CenterStopBullying.govStompOutBullying.orgKindCampaign.comItGetsBetter.orgNational Bullying Prevention Center. If you’d like your organization added to this list, please leave a comment.

We hope you and your family are staying healthy these days and finding some time to talk about online safety. If you need a refresher, read Part I and Part II of our Online Safety Basics series. And, if you’re looking for a fun school lesson for the day, you can always quiz your kids on any of McAfee’s Family Safety content!

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What’s the Right Age to Give Your Child a Phone?

iPhone parental controls

“Can I pleeease have my own phone?”

The “first phone” is one of the most loaded questions a child can ask and it can start as early as elementary school. And, with kids homebound most of the time, boredom could be fueling that dreaded request even more.

That’s because phones have become an ever-present accessory for kids. According to a 2018 Pew Institute study, 95 percent of teens have a smartphone or access to one, and 45 percent say they are online on a near-constant basis.

Even so, before you make the leap or give in to the pressure, there’s a lot to consider.

Access Granted

Let’s be real. When you decide to give your child his or her first phone, it’s never about the hardware. It’s about the access a phone provides a child. A phone connects kids to a whole new universe of fun, learning, and limitless media-creation tools. But that world is also brimming with risk.

No doubt, a phone is convenient and can also be a safety tool for a family. It allows you to call or text your child at any time of the day, which is a lifesaver for working and divorced parents, or caregivers.

However, when you hand your child his first phone, you are also giving him a digital portal leading directly to potential cyberbullying, inappropriate content, encounters with strangers, and a sea of contrary ideas and values.

Ultimately, the best answer to the “first phone” question — while the object of endless opinion — is a personal choice that reflects the unique dynamic of each family.

It’s rarely an easy choice. Here are a few things to consider that may help you make the best decision for your family.

iPhone parental controls10 Questions to Consider

  1. Does your child need a phone, or does he want a phone? As a parent, ask yourself the same question. Do you need your child to own a phone, or do you want it to make life easier?
  2. Does your child’s life/family circumstances (i.e., two households, riding public transit, geographic location, or health condition) require him to have a phone?
  3. Each child matures differently from his peers and even his siblings. One way to evaluate maturity is to ask: Is my child responsible? Does he generally follow the rules at school and at home? Does he take care of his possessions, or is he frequently losing or breaking them?
  4. Listening and communicating are foundational to responsibility. Does your child listen? Does he communicate with you and others well?
  5. Does your child understand and demonstrate how to treat others respectfully?
  6. Phones range in cost and functionality. Consider: Can our family afford a phone? What’s the best type of phone for my child’s maturity level (primary, flip, smart).
  7. As a parent, do you have the time to consistently teach your child how to use a cell phone properly?
  8. As a parent, are you able to monitor your child’s phone activity either with parental controls, physical checks, or both?
  9. As a parent, do you understand how to keep your child’s privacy and mental health safeguarded online?
  10. As a parent, are you willing to create, communicate, and follow through with family safety rules?

The impact a new piece of technology can on the family dynamic is also something you may want to explore. Digital access too soon can fast-track a child’s independence and compromise the natural parent-child bonding process. You may want to ask a few other parents how their relationship changed once they gave their child a phone and if they’d do anything differently.

iPhone Parental Controls

If you determine the time is right to give your child his first phone, we recommend parental controls be the first order of business after unboxing the device. The iOs parental controls can be found in Settings under the Screen Time tab. Within Screen Time, parents can set limits on device time, apps, contacts, and block content.

Android Parental Controls 

Enabling Android parental controls is similar to iOS. Tap the Play Store icon on the phone home screen then tap the Menu (three lines, top left). Once in the menu, go to Navigation, then the Settings tab. Scroll down to find Parental Controls and slide it to “on.” Behind this tab, much like iPhone parental controls, you can set screen, communication, and content restrictions.

Getting the settings combinations on your child’s phone will take time and will likely be an ongoing task (kids can easily change them back). Often, it will be trial and error as you discover what kind of content is getting through the phone’s basic filtering settings. This is why it’s also a good idea to add comprehensive monitoring software for an extra layer of protection on family devices. Also helpful is using software that blocks virus and malware scams that can target kids.

The McAfee team continues to produce content specific to the challenges of Working #FromHome and Schooling #FromHome. Our goal is to help you create the most secure, productive, and fun environment as possible for your family during these unique times. Look for those articles here on the McAfee blog.

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School From Home: Project-Based Learning

School from Home: Project-Based Learning

If keeping your kids on task and engaged with schoolwork from home is proving to be a challenge, you aren’t alone. We recently surveyed families and found that keeping kids focused was at the top of parent concerns right alongside establishing a routine. Just as school-aged kids can often struggle with homework completion during a normal school year, the challenges are magnified right now at home. If you’re a parent living through this pain right now, here’s something that can help: project-based learning.

Like adults, kids often engage more authentically with project-based work that they feel connected to on a personal level. Finding those connections without the in-person presence of a teacher to help create context makes it all just a little (or a lot!) harder for many of us right now as we try to make sure our young scholars are continuing to engage with learning.

 

How are your children spending their time?

Depending on grade level and the number of weeks your student has been learning from home, you might be encountering varying levels of work assigned by teachers and varying levels of work completed by your kids. Assignments from school might be non-negotiable for many students, especially high school-aged kids who are receiving credit and, in some cases, preparing for high-stakes tests such as AP exams, being taken this year from home.

If your personal situation at home is one of optional assignments or work from school that’s finished quickly leaving your student bored or going on autopilot on a device, here’s a self-directed project almost any age child can enjoy: Genius Hour. It’s relatively easy to get started and best of all, there’s no grading at the end!

Project-Based Learning That Gets Kids Motivated

Genius Hour (sometimes known as 20% time) is a concept implemented at some innovative companies like Google in which employees take 20 percent of the work week to pursue projects of their own interest. Many teachers in recent years have adopted the practice as a way to increase engagement among students by giving them time to explore a project of their own choosing while connecting components of the project to scholastic skills connected to research, critical thinking, reading, writing, and presentations. Teachers set certain requirements to keep the expectations high and then provide resources and guidance along the way.

How does Genius Hour work?

Here’s a quick snapshot of how Genius Hour works—followed by a few details and some helpful links to help you get your child started:

  • Choose a topic you’re interested in.
  • Form a guiding question to focus your study.
  • Decide how you’ll show what you’ve learned.
  • Look for resources and start learning.
  • Present your project.

Choose a Topic and Create a Guiding Question

An important part of Genius Hour is forming a question to focus and guide a student’s study. To maximize engagement and focus, kids should choose a subject they would genuinely like to explore. Topics are wide open and do not need to relate directly to any current study from school, so your child’s topic can connect to current interests or a new curiosity.

Genius Hour for Young Kids

For young kids, a topic like weather or pets could, with parent help, be focused by a guiding question like “How do bodies of water impact weather?” or, “What animals make good pets?” Younger children might connect most readily to subjects they’re learning about at school such as weather, rocks and minerals, or farm animals.

Genius Hour for Students

Older students should be able to come up with many areas of interest that might be spurred by what they’re learning at school or topics entirely of their own choosing. A young student musician, for example, may be interested in a particular musical genre like hip hop or jazz. She might then form an essential question to focus her study along the lines of “What are the influences on today’s most successful hip hop artists?” A student interested in physical fitness or a student missing their sports practices might pose a question for study like “What home workouts are best for keeping fit for my sport?”

Decide How to Show What You Know

At the end of this project, students create something—a slideshow on the computer, a drawing, a diagram, a photo series, a song, a poem, a video, a podcast, or a poster—to show their learning. Creating an artifact allows students to synthesize their learning in a creative way. And that artifact can be as broad and varied as the materials as the student has access to. Anything works. High tech or on paper. The medium really doesn’t matter, because the learning occurs as a natural part of the process.

Track Down Resources and Start Learning

Equipped with a topic of interest and a guiding question, your child can begin exploring resources from right at home. Researching online is an obvious first step—but consider some other avenues too. You can also point your child toward movies or documentaries connected to both topic and guiding question. And who knows, you may also have some useful books or magazines around the house too. Other options beyond going online for research include conducting interviews on the phone or through video conferencing. Help them think beyond the screen, at least for starters.

Research online

As for resources online, many museums now offer virtual tours of their collections. While we can’t travel there in person, the Smithsonian National Museum of National History offers a number of virtual tours online, and the National Park Foundation will take you on a virtual visit to the national park of your choosing.

Is your young athlete missing sports? Local gyms and community centers may have exercise and workout programs online for kids who’re interested in fitness-related topics. Likewise, most pro organizations currently have added content on their websites like the official site for Major League Baseball where you’ll find history, videos from past games, and even mascot origin stories.

If your child is interested in exploring the world, National Geographic Kids has an abundance of online resources. Older kids can explore magazine and newspaper websites as well and many currently have free access right now. In addition, video learning from YouTube can be a wonderful resource depending on age, access, and parental guidance.

Internet safety for kids

As with any work your children are doing online, now’s an excellent time to remind them how to be particularly safe when exploring resources online. They’ll want to watch out for fake apps, risky links, and sketchy downloads as they always do—particularly now as hackers have cued into the increase of schooling at home going on right now and are looking to take advantage. A comprehensive security solution will help them look after their safety and privacy.

Share What You’ve Learned

Once your child has spent time reading, viewing, listening, and learning, it’s time to create an artifact to show what they’ve learned. See possibilities listed above, because the final step in the Genius Hour project is to share the learning.

Usage of video conferencing

Anyone at home can sit in on the audience and even an audience of one works just fine. If you like, you can invite other friends and family with a quick video conference so that they can participate too. This offers kids a great way to connect with extended family members like grandparents or even their friends from school. (Imagine a few parents getting together and having all of their kids present their projects and then hanging out for an online chat after that …)

During the presentation, students share their topic, why they chose it, their guiding question, their artifact, and what they learned. In the classroom, a teacher would then engage students in a reflection of the process from start to finish. You can do something very similar by following up with questions from the audience, whether they’re in person or online. This is a wonderful way to close the journey and for everyone to gain something from the process.

Duration of Genius Hour

Genius Hour is highly adaptable and can take a few days or several weeks. It can be low-tech or high-tech depending on resources and preferences. For kids with time on their hands and parents who want a little extra focused learning and engagement, this project just might fit the bill. Check out this article to learn more about Genius Hour in the classroom.

 

Stay Updated

To stay updated on all things McAfee and for more resources on staying secure from home, follow @McAfee_Home on Twitter, listen to our podcast Hackable?, and ‘Like’ us on Facebook.

 

 

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School #FromHome: The Challenges of Online Learning for Parents and Kids

School #FromHome: The Challenges of Online Learning for Parents and Kids

With classrooms closed and millions of kids faced with schooling at home, parents are wondering how do we make this work? If you’re asking yourself that question, you’re certainly not alone. Earlier this month, we conducted a study, Distance Learning Challenges. We reached out to 1,000 parents of kindergarten through twelfth-grade students in the U.S. and asked for their thoughts.

Our goal of the survey was to better understand what pressures parents are feeling, and we wanted to identify how we could possibly help, even if in some small way, as children take up going to class online. Here’s what parents had to say:

Home School Challenges

The Top Five Difficulties

Whether they have kindergarteners or high school seniors, parents are sharing many of the same pains. Across the board, they are:

1)      Keeping their children focused on schoolwork (instead of other online activities) – 50.31%

2)      Establishing a daily routine – 49.26%

3)      Balancing household responsibilities and teaching – 41.83%

4)      Establishing a wake-up and bedtime schedule – 33.40%

5)      Balancing working from home and teaching – 33.31%

Also making a strong showing were “help understanding the content to be taught,” at 33.20% and “reducing anxiety and depression due to real-world concerns,” at 31.58%.

Top Difficulties by Grade Level

There are nuances by grade level, however. Keeping children on task ranked first or second in all grade levels except for kindergarten, third grade, and twelfth grade. Instead, these parents cited “establishing a daily routine” as their top concern. For their number two concern, kindergarten and third grade students called out “balancing household responsibilities and teaching” as an issue.

Parents of twelfth graders were the only ones to list “reducing anxiety and depression due to real-world concerns” as their second topmost care, at 43%. This is a broad category, yet it includes overall worry about COVID-19, sick family members and friends, or separation from classmates. This is particularly understandable—senior year is one of milestones and leaps ahead in life, all of which have been upended by the need to stay home.

What Devices are Kids Using

Most parents in our survey said that their kids are using a device that’s already in the home. Some children may have their own device, or it may be a device that the family shares (which can introduce pressures of its own). A small percentage (15%) said their children use a device that was purchased specifically for home schooling purposes. Meanwhile, only about 33% of parents said that their child has a device provided by their school for free.

And what are they working on? It appears to be a mix of devices.

  • Laptop computers – 62%
  • Tablets – 40%
  • Desktop computers – 25%
  • 2-in-1 laptop computers – 15%

Helping Where We Can

Different states, cities, and individual schools are responding to the need for homeschooling in their own way, which means that the situation from family to family (or even child to child) will differ. The common thread is that we’re all learning how to manage our day and to make the best of learning at home in the most challenging of circumstances.

With that in mind, we’re producing a series of articles on School #FromHome, written in conjunction with educators who are facing the same challenges you are. Our aim is to offer you some specific advice and resources to help make it all easier as you determine what learning at home looks like for your child and your family. Look for these articles right here on the McAfee blog.

 

Stay Updated

To stay updated on all things McAfee and for more resources on staying secure from home, follow @McAfee_Home on Twitter, listen to our podcast Hackable?, and ‘Like’ us on Facebook.

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School #FromHome: Bring Structure to Your Day

protecting kids online

School #FromHome: Bring Structure to Your Day

 

Whether you’re a few weeks into a school closure or going on a few months now, you’re no doubt helping your school-aged children—and even your college kids—settle into a new routine that involves learning from home. Needless to say, it’s an adjustment for everyone as you and your children make the shift. As a parent, you might be feeling responsible for a range of academic responsibilities that go well beyond after-dinner homework help. In light of what we’re all facing, we reached out to a long-time educator for some specific advice about bringing structure to the school day at home.

While you’re probably accustomed to logging on to your school’s homework and grade-posting platform, what’s likely to be entirely new territory is monitoring regular emails from one to several, staff members, and coaches looping you in to help them make some type of learning happen from home for your children. We’re all a little overwhelmed already.

 SCHOOL AT HOME: THE STRUGGLE IS REAL

Parents told us just that. In our recent survey, the aspect of this new landscape they struggle with most is setting a routine, and it’s no wonder. The school day is a constant for all of us. It starts and ends at a certain time every day without fail. Bells at the exact same time each day signal the beginning, end, and all points in between including lunch at, you guessed it, the exact same time every day.

So why doesn’t this structure transfer easily to the home? It’s just a location change, right? School is social—a group effort—and it’s run by adults outside the home who set expectations, from where to be when the bell rings to how many minutes for breaks and lunches. Home is, well, home with its own set of expectations, rules, and freedoms plus a refrigerator and a TV and devices nearby and no bells except a morning alarm clock. Does it even make sense to try to bring the exact same structure to the home learning environment?

AN OPPORTUNITY TO INDIVIDUALIZE

What if we saw this abrupt change as an opportunity to do things a different way? For example, school starts early for most high schoolers despite research that indicates later start times work better for teens. If your child doesn’t have a set schedule from the school, then you have the opportunity to set one that just might work better for your family. Students anywhere from late elementary school all the way to senior year can help set their own schedule (contingent upon other factors, of course, like helping with siblings or other family duties).

In all, setting a rhythm is key. A teenager experiencing a separation from friends is likely spending even more time online or on a device as a means to pass the time and connect with others. Their new rhythm might mean later nights and later bedtimes than normal. Letting your high school-aged student sleep in and start the at-home school day in late morning might give you some time to get your own work started and prepare for the day. If you’re sharing computers, printers, or other devices, letting your teenager sleep in makes it a bit easier to allocate time for yourself and others.

 HOW YOUR NEW SCHOOL DAY CAN LOOK

A middle school or high school aged student’s school day might work out better running from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with 15-minute breaks and up to a full hour for lunch. Bottom line: teenagers love freedom and choice. Letting them have some control over the timing of their school day, to the extent possible, may help keep them more engaged and focused. For example, middle schoolers may get as little as five minutes to pass from class to class. Why not offer 15 minutes between at-home classes? Many public schools allow 30 minutes for lunch. Home lunch might be an hour or maybe even a little more. During home lunch, maybe phones are out and kids have free time to eat, check their texts or social media, listen to a podcast or audiobook while they eat or just relax.

While most adolescents will sleep later given the chance, younger children might still be up early. Starting a learn-from-home-schedule on the earlier side for younger ones might alleviate late mornings spent vying for computer time. There’s no one perfect way to do this. It might work best to start school at 8 a.m. together at the kitchen table and then go about the day as your children do during the normal school year; however, it might work best to let the older kids sleep in while the younger ones enjoy a waffle and an audiobook, allowing you time to have your coffee, catch up on emails, and get ready for the day.

CREATING A SCHEDULE THAT WORKS

Khan Academy, the online educational service known best for its video tutorials, has created sample school day structures in direct response to the current school closures for learners in four age groups from preschool through 12th grade. Khan Academy’s Daily Schedules start all grade levels at 8 a.m., but older kids could easily adapt the basics of the schedule and start later in the morning.

In addition to the sample schedule, each age group chart links to grade-appropriate video tutorials in math—something Khan Academy is well known for—along with other opportunities for learning in almost all subject areas. If your child’s school is still in the process of formulating the specifics of its own from-home learning program, Khan Academy has a full day of learning options already mapped out. You might be surprised to see the breadth of offerings and the materials available to assist families during school closures.

For example, children in grades 3-5 start the day with short, interactive math videos for about 30 minutes followed by play time, ideally outside. Next up is 30 minutes of guided reading followed by silent reading. The rest of the day continues with small segments allotted for writing, grammar, lunch time, and even computer programming. Everything you need to complete the school from home day is available directly on the site or via links.

Another great resource is Scholastic, the education and publishing company well known for its school book fairs. Like Khan Academy, Scholastic’s newly created Learn From Home site also offers some structure to the school day arranged by grade level where you’ll find a wealth of books online plus supplemental videos for kindergarten through grade 9. For example, Week 1 material for a first grader is centered around five days of stories, each with a different focus: animal studies, weather, sound and music, farm life, and healthy bones. Each day’s area of focus offers audio and video stories, read-alongs, and supplemental videos for drawing and spelling—all connected to that day’s theme.

Both Khan Academy and Scholastic are two reputable sources. Yet there are plenty others, and it’s quite possible you’re seeing plenty of suggested resources–particularly if you’re searching for them online. When consulting these sources, be sure to do some research and make sure they’re reputable as well. Also, consider using browser protection that will protect you from any malicious links or malware-ridden downloads. Sad but true, there are those out there who are willing to take advantage of families who’re looking for online education resources during these times.

FLEXIBILITY IS IMPORTANT

Teachers are experts at establishing routines, boundaries, and expectations for school work and behaviors. This is part of building the culture of the classroom, and it starts back at the beginning of the school year on day one. It’s no wonder children have a harder time settling into a routine and remaining focused on school at home. It’s not the easiest transfer of skills. In the adult world, for example, if you’re working from home, you may not structure your workday in the same way you would if you were actually at the office. The same applies for the kids.

SO, HOW DO YOU BEGIN?

Here are a few things you can do:

  • Look over the emails and announcements from your child’s school. What are the non-negotiables like online class meetings and due dates? Pencil those in.
  • Set a schedule like mentioned above, at least as a starting point. You can adjust and adapt it as needed, all with an eye toward what works for you and your family overall as you settle into your new routine.
  • The youngest children might have a hard time focusing for an online check-in with their kindergarten class but seeing their classmates online might be important socially with other options currently limited. If possible, try to make sure you help even your littlest ones make their meetings. Or even set up a digital playdate for them.
  • For older kids, online lessons are likely essential right now. Then, knowing your child best and asking for their input, you can be flexible in creating a daily routine that optimizes personal schedules, preferences, and family responsibilities.
  • Work together. In many households, family members may use a shared device to get everyone’s work and schooling done. Now’s a good time to set a schedule and make sure those shared devices are secure. and sharing of devices.

We hope we’ve offered you a few helpful resources for structuring an entire school day or adding to an existing structure, and that you might see some opportunities to benefit from a change in routine.  No doubt, we’re all adapting to the changes brought about by school closures, yet each family’s situation is different. Some days it just might not work out as planned, and that’s ok. The bottom line right now is flexibility and compromise, and it’s worth it to allow yourself a little grace as you find what works at your home.

Stay Updated

To stay updated on all things McAfee and for more resources on staying secure from home, follow @McAfee_Home on Twitter, listen to our podcast Hackable?, and ‘Like’ us on Facebook.

 

 

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Keeping Virtual Play Dates, Hang Outs, and Video Chats Safe for Everyone

virtual play date

Every day we discover (or stumble over) new ways of coping and connecting during this unique chapter in family life. Still, as every age group under your roof finds their favorite virtual play date and hangout apps, parents may need to add a few safety rails to make sure the fun stays fun.

IRL community resurfaces

virtual play date

While this health crisis is devastating in so many ways, it’s also put a spotlight on the many heartwarming ways to connect in real life (IRL). We’re placing teddy bears in our windows for solidarity, creating scavenger hunts for neighborhood kids, serenading shut-ins, publically supporting first responders, celebrating birthdays and graduations with drive-by parades, and so, so much more.

The ongoing infusion of true, human connection has softened the uncertainty. Still, kids of every age need to maintain an emotional connection with peers. Here are a few things to think about as kids of every age connect with friends online.

Pre-K and Elementary Virtual Play Dates

Since health experts have put restrictions on familiar fun for little ones such as playgrounds, sports leagues, sleepovers, playdates, and even visits with grandparents, parents are relaxing screen time rules and looking for ways to have virtual playdates. Free video tools such as FaceTime and Zoom are proving lifesavers for group art, play, and learning, as are safe websites for young ones and phone apps. (If you run out things to do, here’s a great list of fun to tap and great learning sites for every age group).

Keep Them Safe

  • Share online experiences with young children at all times. Sit with them to teach, monitor, and explain the context of new digital environments. Also, keep computers and phones in a common area.
  • Try to keep screen time brief. Even young kids can become too screen-reliant.
  • Maximize privacy settings on all devices and turn on and safe mode or search on websites and apps.
  • Introduce concepts such as cyberbullying and strangers in age-appropriate language.
  • Start family security efforts early. Consider the benefits of filtering software, safe browsing, and encrypting your family’s digital activity with a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

Middle and High Schooler Virtual Hang Outs

While screen time has spiked, digital connection while homebound is also essential for tweens and teens for both learning and peer relationships. Kids finding their new virtual hangouts on social networks, group chats, and video games. They are also playing virtual board games using sites such as Pogo, Let’s Play Uno, and Zoom. Netflix Party has become a fun way to watch Netflix with groups of friends.

Keep Them Safe

  • At this age many kids (own or will soon own) a smartphone. With increased time online, you may want to review the basics, such as privacy and location settings. This includes gaming devices.
  • With increased internet use and most schools closed for the year, using parental control software and gaming security software can help parents reduce online risks for children of all ages.
  • Be aware of and talk about trending, risky digital behaviors, and challenges that can surface on apps such as TikTok, and WhatsApp.
  • Review and approve games and apps before they are downloaded and consider monitoring your children’s devices as well as social profiles and posts.
  • This age group is quick to jump on public wifi, which puts your family’s data at risk. Exploring using a family VPN is critical for this age group.
  • Discuss the danger of connecting with strangers online. Also, discuss the risks of oversharing personal information and photos, even in seemingly private chats and texts. Don’t let boredom lead to bad choices.
  • Discuss cyberbullying and how to block and report accounts that express hateful, racist, or threatening behavior.
  • Coach your kids on using strong passwords and how to verify legitimate websites and identity online scams.

There’s nothing normal for families about this time, but there is something special. Grab it. Keep talking and laughing, especially on the hard days. Have a daily “heart check-in” with your teen if he or she seems to be isolating. Give one another space for topsy turvy moods. And, don’t forget parents, before this is all over, be sure to nail that TikTok dance with your kids and share it with the world!

The post Keeping Virtual Play Dates, Hang Outs, and Video Chats Safe for Everyone appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

Internet Safety for Kids: A Refresher for Homebound Families

internet safety for kids

Editor’s Note: This is part II of our internet safety for kids series. Part I focuses on younger children and can be read here.

Parents have always been concerned about keeping their kids safe online — especially their tweens and teens. That conversation is even more critical with parents and kids now working and learning at home. But as the days turn into weeks, the line between safe and risky digital behavior may get a little blurry. Maybe we can help by refreshing some basics.

Why is internet safety for kids important?

There’s no way around it. Young and old, over time, we’ve tethered nearly every aspect of our lives to the digital realm. If we want to work, bank, shop, pay bills, or connect with family and friends, we have to plugin. A wired life makes internet safety not just important, but mission-critical for parents.

Kids go online for school, to be entertained, and to connect with friends; only they don’t have the emotional maturity or critical thinking skills to process everything they will encounter on the other side of their screens.

That’s where proactive digital parenting comes in.

If our parenting goal is to raise wise, responsible, caring adults, equipped for real life, that goal must also include helping them safeguard their emotional and physical health from online risk. There’s no such thing as a digital platform or product that is 100% safe. So, our best strategy is to learn and pass on skills that mitigate that risk.

What are the dangers of the internet?

Any danger that exists offline is potentially multiplied when we log online due to the vast access the web affords each one of us. In a few clicks, we can unlock a world of possibilities. The flip side? There’s an ever-present battalion of crooks and bullies out to exploit that access. Online we will encounter the best and the worst of humankind. The daily threats to children include bullying, inappropriate content, predators, and the loss of privacy. Add to that list, digital viruses and malware, phishing scams, sharing regrettable content, and gaming addiction.

How can homebound kids avoid digital risk?

So what can we do to ensure the weeks ahead don’t bring more digital risk into our homes? We start by having consistent, candid conversations with our kids about online safety (even if eye-rolling begins). Truth: Your family’s cybersecurity is as strong as the weakest security link in your family. If one family member is lax about internet safety, your entire family’s security is compromised.

So let’s get started with some internet safety basics to share with your tweens and teens. To read internet safety guidelines for younger children, click here.

11 Internet Safety Basics for Homebound Teens

internet safety for kids

  1. Get candid about content. Your tweens and teens have likely come across inappropriate material online. You can minimize further exposure by discussing expectations and family values around acceptable content — both sharing it and receiving it. Reminder: “Vanishing” Snapchats and deleted content can be easily captured in a screenshot — nothing shared online is private. For extra monitoring muscle, consider adding a parental control software to your family’s internet safety plan.
  2. Keep passwords, software, apps updated. Being homebound gives us all extra time for details. Go through personal and family devices and update all passwords. Keeping device software and apps updated also protects kids from outside risk.
  3. Balance life and tech. Kids can lose their entire day surfing, scrolling, and watching YouTube or TikTok videos. Establish screen limits help kids grow healthy tech habits. Consider scheduling device breaks, no phone zones (dinner table, movie time, bedtime), and installing software that features time limits.
  4. Be a leader online. Yoda was on target — with much power comes much responsibility. Many online dangers can be diminished by consistently teaching kids to be upstanders online. Practicing empathy, respect, tolerance, and compassion makes the digital world safer for everyone.
  5. Address peer pressure. Kids with devices can share unwise, personal photos with friends they trust. When friendships end, however, those photos can be shared or used for bullying or extortion. Discuss digital peer pressure with your child and how to respond.
  6. Look out for scams. Talk frequently about the many forms scams can take, such as phishing, malware, catfishing, fake news, and clickbait.
  7. Don’t friend strangers. Sexual predators create fake social media accounts specifically to befriend kids. In turn, kids share personal info, daily plans, location, and may even agree to meet in person with online friends. Discuss these risky scenarios and other manipulation tactics of predators with your child. Be aware of his or her friend circles, and look for chat apps such as WhatsApp or Kik.
  8. Maximize privacy on social profiles. Help kids maximize privacy settings on social profiles and delete any profile or post information that unintentionally gives away personal data. Consider removing the names of family members, pets, school, hometown, and birthdays. Hackers can piece together this information to crack passwords or create authentic-looking phishing scams.
  9. Consider a family VPN. Virtual Private Networks are becoming the most popular way to conduct business, shop, and safeguard a family’s online activity from outsiders. VPN encryption can protect a child against several virtual threats.
  10. Review gaming safety. If your kids spend a lot of time on games like Fortnite and Call of Duty, they can encounter strangers, bullying, and scams that target gamers. Teen gamers should use a firewall to help block would-be attackers from gaining access to their PC and home networks and as well as a comprehensive security solution to protect devices from malware and other threats.
  11. Monitor devices. Consider spot-checking all devices routinely. Review privacy settings on social networks (kids change them), look for new apps, review browsing history, chats, and texts. Need to go a step farther? Keep your child’s phone for a few hours to check notifications that pop up. You may find activity that wasn’t necessarily visible otherwise.

Taming all the moving parts of internet safety isn’t easy, and balancing your relationship with your child and parental monitoring can get turbulent at times. While kids can experience more drama and anxiety by going online, social networks remain critical channels for affirmation, self-expression, and connection. In the weeks to come, take time to listen, learn, and get to know your child’s digital passions and patterns. Identify safety gaps and reinforce those areas. Good luck, parents, you’ve got this!

The post Internet Safety for Kids: A Refresher for Homebound Families appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

How to Stay Cyber Safe While Social-Distancing

Do you find yourself working from home these days? Kids off school too? Then your daily life is set to change super-fast. Yes, there is so much to organise to implement this essential ‘social distancing’ strategy. But in the flurry to get everyone set up, it’s essential that we don’t cut corners, make rash decisions so we can ensure both our headspace and online safety aren’t at risk.

The New Era of Social-Distancing

Many workplaces have already instructed their staff to ‘social distance’ and work from home so we can ‘flatten the curve’ while others are probably not far away from making this decision.  Many Australian states have given parents the option to keep their children at home. So, even if you (and the kids) are not yet home, it’s wise to start thinking about how our work (and learn) from home lives might look while we are ‘social-distancing’ and, how can keep our households safe when online. Here’s a few things to consider:

  1. Breath. These are Uncertain Times

It’s completely normal to feel anxious and stressed in this time of great uncertainty. While we are hopeful that ‘social distancing’ measures will help minimise the impact of the virus, the truth is – we just don’t really know what the upcoming months will look like. Acknowledging that you (and all your family members) will be feeling anxious and ‘out of sorts’ at the moment is essential. Cutting family members some slack, particularly if you are all ‘cooped up’ together will definitely make for a smoother self-isolation experience!

  1. Always Think Critically & Don’t Overload on News

When we are feeling panicked and stressed, it’s easy for our rational brains to stop functioning. Social media feeds have been full of ‘miracle cures’ for COVID-19 which have been of great interest to many stressed out peeps. PLEASE avoid clicking links and ‘buying into’ this. Not only could these be links to malicious websites designed to extract your private information, but these themes just feed our anxiety. Instead, seek out advice from reputable medical institutions and authorities. Being a critical thinker online is more important now more than ever.

And if the constant barrage of news about the pandemic is affecting your (and your family’s) mood and outlook then take a break from it. Maybe limit yourself to checking for updates once per day as opposed to having constant updates come through on your phone. It’s super easy to disable news notifications, if you are Apple user, here’s what you need to do and, if you are an Android user, these tips may help.

  1. Ensure You Are Using the Correct Platforms & Software

Before you start downloading programs you think are helpful, check with your workplace or employer about their preferred platforms. It’s highly likely you will have most of the programs they require whether it’s Facetime, Slack, Zoom or Trello. But if you don’t, please ensure you download apps from a reputable source such as the AppStore or Google Play or a site that has been approved by your employer. Third party app sites are to be avoided at all costs because the chances are, you’ll score yourself some malicious software!

  1. Protect Yourself & Your Data

Please check whether you employer has security software and a Virtual Private Network (VPN) installed on your devices. If not, or you are using your ‘home’ devices to undertake company work, then ensuring that both your stored data and the data you share over the internet is protected is essential.

Using a device without security software is a little like leaving your front door open – you are essentially inviting anyone to enter. So, investing in a comprehensive security software solution that protects you from dodgy downloads, visiting fake websites, malicious software and viruses is a no brainer! A VPN will also protect the data that you share from your devices by effectively creating an encrypted tunnel between your device and the router – the ultimate way of keeping the cybercrimals out!

  1. Back-Up Your Data

Check with your employer to ensure that all your data will be backed up, even when working from home. If they can’t guarantee your work will be backed up then you need to find yourself a reliable, safe option. I am a Dropbox fan but Google Drive is also a great tool. But if you need something a little more robust then check out IDrive or IBackUp.

And don’t forget about the kids! If your offspring are remote schooling, ensure all their hard work is backed up too. Google Drive or Dropbox is a great solution for students.

  1. Manage Your Internet Usage at Home

If your household has two adults working from home plus a tribe of kids remote schooling, then chances are your internet may slow. With more than 90% of Aussies now accessing the internet through the NBN, many are worried that the spike in demand may create havoc.  While the folks from NBN keep assuring us that it’s all going to be fine, we may need to find ourselves staggering our internet use. Why not encourage your kids to do offline activities such as reading or craft while you have some designated time for emails or an online meeting? And don’t forget, you can always create a hotspot from your mobile for another internet source.

  1. Invest in Your Back & Neck – Splash Out on Some Gadgets

Setting up a designated workspace at home is critical to providing some structure in this new phase of your work life. Why not use this as an excuse to get properly setup?

I’ve worked from home for many years but could not have done so without my large monitor and my stand-up desk. Like many peeps, I have a dodgy neck so my stand-up desk and large monitor have meant that I can continue to work with no pain! I simply plug my laptop into my monitor and happy days – everything in enlarged and at eye height! On the days that I decide to work from my kitchen benchtop, my neck always starts to throb – you’d think I’d learn!

And don’t think you need to spend a fortune. A large monitor can cost as little as $200 and a stand-up desk not much more. If you are using these items for work, the chances are you’ll be able to claim these purchases as a tax deduction – why not talk to your accountant?

There is no doubt that 2020 will be ‘the year we will remember for the rest of our lives’. And while the bulk of us aren’t in the high-risk category, it is essential that we all do our bit so that we can protect our most vulnerable. So, please take the time to ensure you are cybersafe while setting up your new work (and school) from home life and even more importantly, keep washing your hands!!

Till Next Time

Stay well

Alex xx

The post How to Stay Cyber Safe While Social-Distancing appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

Little Ones Online More? Here Are 10 Basics To Keep Them Safe

protecting kids online

Online safety conversations look dramatically different depending on the age and stage of your child. For very young children, toddlers through elementary school, parents have a golden opportunity to lay the foundations that will shape a child’s digital perspectives and behaviors for a lifetime.

One way to keep younger children safe online is simply to begin. How early, you might ask? From the day they arrive. If you’ve ever seen a four-month-old reach for mommy’s smartphone only to cry when mommy takes it away, it’s clear the baby has observed the culture around him. He knows that the shiny toy that hums is one of mommy’s favorite things. It has the power to capture and hold her attention. It makes her laugh, cry, and influence her routine and emotions.

Protecting kids online

Modeling balanced screen habits is a powerful way to influence behavior as toddlers begin to discover television, apps, interactive toys, and online learning sites. At this stage, intentional steps such as limiting screen time, reviewing content, and talking with your little one in simple concepts about the images and stories encounter will help grow their digital IQs. Note: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends keeping all screens turned off around babies and toddlers younger than 24 months.

Move With The Curve

As kids move into elementary school, technology is often part of the learning experience. Some children (depending on the household) may even own smartphones. Because the integration of technology begins to increase, this stage requires parents to move with the curve of a child’s online safety needs. Priorities: Securing devices kids take to school, setting filters on web browsers, limiting screen and gaming time, encouraging physical activity and hobbies, and having consistent, age-appropriate conversations about the online world is more important than ever.

10 Online Safety Basics for Younger Children

  1. Keep devices in a common area. By locating all computers, TVs, and devices in a common area, parents can easily monitor a child’s online activity. This simple step also helps kids get used to parental monitoring and responsible digital behavior.
  2. Follow family device rules. Establish family ground rules for technology use and repeat them to your younger children. Every child’s maturity and self-control level is different. If you think your child’s connection with his or her technology begins to tip toward the unhealthy, make adjustments as you go. If you set a 20-minute game time limit, be ready to enforce it consistently. In our experience, inconsistency in enforcing technology rules when kids are young is one of the biggest regrets among parents of teens.
  3. Introduce password security. As we accumulate IoT devices, it’s common for younger children to interact with home assistants, SmartTVs, digital toys, and online games. When password prompts come up on a login screen, explain to your child what you are doing (use your password) and why passwords are necessary. Get into the habit of using 2-factor authentication for passwords and locking your device home screens with a pin code.
  4. Filter content. Younger kids accept content at face value and don’t have the critical thinking skills process information or to be alone online. If you allow younger kids online, consider sitting with them, and explaining the content in front of them. To avoid the chance of your child encountering inappropriate content by mistake, consider adding parental control software to family devices.protecting kids online
  5. Start the privacy conversation. Kids of all ages understand the word “mine.” As your kids interact with the online in the early years, explain why it’s essential to keep their name, picture, family member names, school name, and address private.
  6. Introduce VPN use early. Browsing on a secure network (VPN, Virtual Private Network) from an early age reinforces the concept of privacy online. Explain to your child how the private encryption “tunnel” your content (searches, activity, messages) passes through and how that keeps other people from grabbing your private information. Even a text conversation with Grandma could accidentally give away information.
  7. Explain the concept of scams. When age-appropriate, explain how (and why) some people online try to trick you into clicking a box or a link to learn more about you. Discuss why you shouldn’t click on pop-up ads, hyperlinks, and messages that could contain malware or phishing links. To guard family devices against malicious links, consider free tools like Web Advisor.
  8. Discuss digital stranger danger. When you open a web browser, you open your home to content and people you don’t know. Children of any age can inadvertently run into digital danger zones. Teach young children not to talk to a stranger online or send (or share) photos with others. It’s also a good idea to cover the camera lens on your laptop or tablet, advise children to never stay on a website you would not approve of, and to never download or click a link without asking your permission.
  9. Introduce safe social networking. Online communities are here to stay, so consider starting social network safety talks early. Several kid-friendly browsers, apps, and social networks exist online for younger kids and are perfect for teaching them about privacy settings, how to collaborate and interact with others online.
  10. Start talking. Keep talking. Of all the principles we’ve featured, we’ve saved the best for last. Creating an open, trusting dialogue with your child is your #1 security tool in keeping your child safe online today and into the future.

While schools introduce kids to internet safety basics to protect kids online and do well to refresh concepts along the way, it’s the consistent, intentional work of parents that shape the values and skills a child needs to navigate the online world. By putting some of these foundational principles in place early and committing to consistent follow-through, it’s possible to maintain critical influence as your children move into different phases of their digital lives.

The post Little Ones Online More? Here Are 10 Basics To Keep Them Safe appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

Honey, We’re Home! Securing Your Devices and Your Family Bond  

family device security

More and more parents and their kids are experiencing what it’s like to work and learn together from home these days. With this increase in device use, it’s more important than ever to verify that all the technology humming under your roof is as secure as possible.

Securing family technology

Run an overall security check. Taking an inventory of all your family’s connected devices and their security should be as important as keeping your doors locked and keeping batteries in your smoke alarms — your family’s safety depends on it. Consider installing a comprehensive security solution across all devices. This will help protect your family against malware, viruses, phishing attacks, and alert you to malicious websites. As part of your security check, be sure to update the software on all devices, including IoT products, TVs, and toys.

Review parental controls. There’s no way around it. Device use will likely skyrocket under your roof for a while. Kids will be online for school, as well as for fun. You may have turned on some filtering on some devices and some social networks, but it may be time to bring on an extra set of eyes and ears with comprehensive filtering software. With increased tech use, parental controls will help monitor your child’s digital activity. Too, with a new work-at-home lifestyle, the software (with time limits) can also make scheduling family breaks together much more manageable.

Secure your home router. Your router is akin to your family’s front door, and now is a great time to change the locks (your passwords) on this critical entryway into your home. If you are reluctant to change your passwords or think its a hassle, consider the simplicity of a password manager. Using a password manager will make changing passwords easy to change and easy to keep track of, which can boost overall security. If you are working from home, make sure your home network aligns with your company’s security expectations. For specifics on business security, read this post on working securely from home.

Introduce a VPN (Virtual Private Network). If you’ve toyed with the idea of a VPN but just haven’t made a move, now is a great time. While you may not venture into public spaces much at the present moment, a VPN will add a significant layer of security on your devices if you take a break and go to a public park or if your kids need to go online while at a friend’s. Explain VPN benefits to your kids and how to log on. It’s easy, it’s smart, and it’s secure.

Securing your family bond

Create a schedule that works for everyone. Your home network is likely working on overdrive by now. With the extra online schooling, devices, and video calls taking place, your bandwidth may start to lag. This is because residential internet doesn’t rival business internet. Discuss a schedule for online time and the challenge of accomplishing mutual deadlines each day. Respect and honor one another’s responsibilities. If you’ve never had the chance to talk about the specifics of your job and daily tasks, maybe this is your chance.

Acknowledge the stress of uncertainty. There are feelings — lots of feelings — that accompany change, and everyone’s response to it will vary. Shifting into an abrupt, new routine may feel confusing and confining to a child of any age and cause anxiety and emotions to run high. Talk through these feelings together as often as needed. Acknowledge your child’s losses — connection with teachers, sports, friends, events — and offer empathy and support.

Explore new possibilities — together. No doubt, considerable shifts in a family’s routine can be stressful. Even so, there’s opportunity woven throughout every challenge. With some extra time management, it’s possible to discover some hidden opportunities and adventures along the way. Hiking, canoeing, and exploring the outdoors could become a new love for your family. Watching movie classics together, learning a new skill online, building something, or tackling overdue projects together may open up a new, shared passion. Endless possibilities await.

Balance work, health, and family. Nothing will undermine your efforts to work from home more than a skewed work-life balance or school-life (yes, kids can go overboard too)! A recent study shows that remote workers are more productive than office workers and spend more time at their desks. For balance, consider setting firm office/school hours (for both you and the kids), taking exercise breaks throughout the day, and getting an accountability partner to help you stay on track. And, don’t forget — lots of eyes are watching you always — so modeling work-life-and-technology balance for your kids is teaching them with the same value.

It’s a new frontier parent, but with the right tools and the proper support around you, anything is possible. Stay healthy, stay happy, and stay secure in this new remote, family adventure.

The post Honey, We’re Home! Securing Your Devices and Your Family Bond   appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

WhatsApp Security Hacks: Are Your ‘Private’ Messages Really Ever Private?

WhatsApp hacks

WhatsApp one of the largest instant messengers and considered by many a social network of its own. So, in continuing our app safety discussion, we’re diving into some of the top security hacks and questions many WhatsApp app users and parents may have.

But first, what’s a security hack? In short, it’s an attempt to exploit the weaknesses in an app, network, or digital service to gain unauthorized access, usually for some illicit purpose. Here are just some of the concerns WhatsApp users may have and some suggestions on boosting security.

WhatsApp Hack FAQ

Are WhatsApp conversations private?

Yes — but there are exceptions. More than any other app, WhatsApp offers greater privacy thanks to end-to-end encryption that scrambles messages to ensure only you and the person you’re communicating with can read your messages or listen to your calls. Here’s the catch: WhatsApp messages (which include videos and photos) are vulnerable before they are encrypted and after they are decrypted if a hacker has managed to drop spyware on the phone. Spyware attacks on WhatsApp have already occurred. Safe Family Tip: No conversation shared between devices is ever 100% private. To increase your WhatsApp security, keep sensitive conversations and content offline, and keep your app updated. 

Can anyone read my deleted WhatsApp messages?

A WhatsApp user can access his or her own deleted messages via the chat backup function that automatically backs up all of your messages at 2 a.m. every day. WhatsApp users can delete a message by using the Delete for Everyone button within an hour after sending though it’s not foolproof. Here’s the catch: Anyone who receives the message before it’s deleted can take a screenshot of it. So, there’s no way to ensure regrettable content isn’t captured, archived, or shared. There are also third-party apps that will recall deleted messages shared by others. Another possibility is that a hacker can access old chats stored in an app user’s cloud. Safe Family Tip: Think carefully about sharing messages or content you may regret later.

Can WhatsApp messages be deleted permanently?

Even if a WhatsApp user decides to delete a message, it’s no guarantee of privacy since conversations are two-way, and the person on the receiving end may screenshot or save a copy of a chat, video, or photo. On the security side, you may delete a message and see it disappear, but WhatsApp still retains a “forensic trace of the chat” that can be used by hackers for mining data, according to reports. Safe Family Tip: For extra security, turn off backups in WhatsApp’s Settings.

WhatsApp hacksHow can I secure my WhatsApp?

It’s crucial when using WhatsApp (or any other app) to be aware of common scams, including malware, catfishing, job and money scams, spyware, and file jacking. To amplify security, turn on Security Notifications in Settings, which will send an alert if, for some reason, your security code changes. Other ways to boost security: Use two-step verification, never share your 6-digit SMS verification code, disable cloud back up, and set your profile to private. Safe Family Tip: Install comprehensive family security software and secure physical access to your phone or laptop with a facial, fingerprint, or a passcode ID. Don’t open (block, report) messages from strangers or spammers. Never share personal information with people you don’t know. 

How do I delete my WhatsApp account from another phone?

To delete a WhatsApp account go to > Settings > Account > Delete My Account. Deleting your account erases message history, removes you from groups, and deletes your backup data. According to WhatsApp, for users moving from one type of phone to another, such as from an iPhone to an Android, and keeping the same phone number, your account information stays intact, but you won’t be able to migrate messages across platforms. If you’re not keeping your number, you should delete WhatsApp from your old phone, download WhatsApp to your new phone, and verify your new phone number. Upgrading the same phone type will likely include options to migrate messages. Safe Family Tip: Before you give away or exchange an old phone, wipe it clean of all your data.

How do you know your WhatsApp is scanned?

WhatsApp users can easily sync devices by downloading the WhatsApp web app and activating it (Settings > WhatsApp Web/Desktop). Devices sync by scanning a QR code that appears on your laptop screen. You know your device is scanned when you see the green chat screen appear on your desktop. Safe Family Tip: It’s possible for a person with physical access to your desktop to scan your QR code and to gain account access. If you think someone has access to your account log out of all your active web sessions in WhatsApp on your mobile phone.

How long are WhatsApp messages stored?

According to WhatsApp, once a user’s messages are delivered, they are deleted from WhatsApp servers. This includes chats, photos, videos, voice messages, and files. Messages can still be stored on each individual’s device. Safe Family Tip: The moment you send any content online, it’s out of your control. The person or group on the receiving end can still store it on their device or to their cloud service. Never send risky content. 

How secure is WhatsApp?

There’s no doubt, end-to-end encryption makes it much more difficult for hackers to read WhatsApp messages. While WhatsApp is more secure than other messaging apps — but not 100% secure.

Is it true that WhatsApp has been hacked?

Yes. Several times and in various ways. No app, service, or network has proven to be unhackable. Safe Family Tip: Assume that any digital platform is vulnerable. Maximize privacy settings, never share risky content, financial information, or personal data.

Is WhatsApp safe to send pictures?

Encryption ensures that a transmission is secure, but that doesn’t mean WhatsApp content is safe or that human behavior is predictable. People (even trusted friends) can share private content. People can also illegally attempt to gain access to any content you’ve shared. This makes WhatsApp (along with other digital sharing channels) unsafe for exchanging sensitive information or photos. Safe Family Tip: Nothing on the internet is private. Never send or receive pictures that may jeopardize your privacy, reputation, or digital footprint.

WhatsApp isn’t the only popular app with security loopholes hackers exploit. Every app or network connected to the internet is at risk for some type of cyberattack. We hope this post sparks family discussions that help your kids use this and other apps wisely and helps keep your family’s privacy and safety online top of mind.

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Is WhatsApp Safe for Kids? Here’s What Parents Need to Know

WhatsApp Web

We may be talking about the TikTok app in our public circles, but there’s another app — just as widely used — that kids are hoping parents’ won’t ask too many questions about. That’s because they can use the messaging app WhatsApp to talk privately with friends, exchange content and videos, and (hopefully) fly under the parentals’ radar.

What is WhatsApp?

WhatsApp is a downloadable app that uses your phone’s internet connection (wifi) to send messages, photos, videos, or files. It also allows users to make real-time video calls (much like iOS’ FaceTime). The big perk: WhatsApp can be used by connecting to any wifi so users can avoid using up minutes or texting fees. If you travel internationally, using WhatsApp is a popular way to avoid expensive international calling charges.

Why do kids love WhatsApp?

It’s easy, it’s fun, it’s free. WhatsApp Messenger lets kids send text messages, videos, photos, and audio messages as well as make video calls to friends without message limits or fees. Oh, and so far, it’s ad free, which is a plus.

It’s a stealth chatting app. WhatsApp is a popular way to create group chats (up to 256 people) that parents won’t necessarily think to check. Often kids will meet someone on one app such as Snapchat or Instagram and move to WhatsApp because they feel its less public and less regulated by parents. Like any other app, it can also be hidden behind decoy or vault apps to avoid detection.

WhatsApp web
You can’t miss the bright green WhatsApp icon on your child’s phone or in the desktop application folder. ©WhatsApp

It has cool features. WhatsApp has a broadcast feature that allows a user to send out a message to a group of people that can then only respond to the sender. The Status Feature enables users to send disappearing photos, videos, and GIFs, much like the fun features on Instagram and Snapchat.

WhatsApp hacks keep it fun. Kids love workarounds and cool functionality hacks they can use to enhance their WhatsApp experience. WhatsApp hacks can be found online with a quick Google search. Hacks help users understand how to do fun things such as schedule messages, create fake conversations, retrieve deleted messages, turn off Read receipts, make a Broadcast List, and formatting hacks that will help their account stand out.

There’s a perception of secrecy/security. WhatsApp has end-to-end encryption built-in, which means any texts, photos, or videos exchanged between users are encrypted (scrambled code) and assumed to be secure between the people communicating. WhatsApp has set itself apart from other chat apps in this area. No server stores messages after they are delivered. Not even WhatsApp can read, view, or listen to the chats, which gives users a sense of privacy and security. However, as we are reminded daily, WhatsApp, like every app is vulnerable to hacks, scams, and breaches.

What are the risks?

Inappropriate, secretive content. As with any app, the biggest concern is in the way kids and others use the app. WhatsApp (like any messaging app) allows anyone to create an account. Kids can be exposed to inappropriate content and exchange inappropriate content with others. As with any app, kids will also use acronyms or slang to hide risky behavior.

Strangers. A lot of people use WhatsApp, including those with harmful intentions. Users may assume group chats are closed to strangers since group members need a digital link to join. However, group chat links can be copied by group members and shared with anyone who can then click and join without any vetting.

Cyberbullying. Group texts are a big reason kids use WhatsApp. They can have groups as large as 250 kids. So, if a rumor, mean comment is shared or conflict erupts, situations can get intense very quickly and easily spill beyond the WhatsApp environment.

Privacy. While kids believe WhatsApp safely encrypt conversations, it does not protect them from people taking and sharing screenshots. Private discussions and photos can also be downloaded. Another threat to privacy is the way the app itself collects data of its users, which can be reviewed in its Privacy Policy and User Data section.

Scams and malware. WhatsApp is not immune to the typical scams that target social apps. The Facebook-owned app has had issues with spyware, catfishing, phishing, money requests, and fraudulent job opportunities — all in a quest to get users to hand over their personal information or assets.

Fake news. Because WhatsApp allows a user to chat in a group of up to 250 people, it’s easy for information to go viral quickly, even that information isn’t accurate. More recently, fake news originated on WhatsApp that incited panic around Coronavirus conspiracies and the 2018 mob killing in India.

Family Safety Tips

WhatsApp web
The WhatsApp interface. ©WhatsApp

Download and discuss the app. WhatsApp is easy to download and understand (simple texting interface). Once you know the basics, discuss the pros and cons of WhatsApp with your child. Ask your child to walk you through his or her app to show you how they use it.

Some questions to consider asking might be:

What do you like most about WhatsApp?
What kind of group chats are you a part of?
What kind of media do you mostly receive and send?
Are there any people in your group chats you don’t know?
Are your location and account settings as secure as they can be?
Have you shared personal information or your phone number?
Has any situation made you feel uncomfortable while on the app?

Guide younger users. For younger children or new WhatsApp users (age requirement is 13), consider creating a private WhatsApp group just for your family. Teach your kids to create a safe profile, maximize safety features, block strangers, report bullying, and how to safely share pictures, videos, and communicate. Use this time, teach them the upside of the app and the risks.

Monitor devices, screen time, and behavior. There are a lot of issues to consider and pay attention to when your kids use messaging apps. First, to monitor content, consider security software as well as filtering software. Second, pay attention to screen time and your child’s ability to balance technology use. Third, monitor behavior. Messaging apps connect kids to groupthink, a variety of content, and several emotional danger zones. Technology monitoring includes paying particular attention to your child’s emotional and physical health, friend groups, academic performance, and sleep habits.

Talk about privacy settings. Encourage your child to maximize settings and use the two-step verification option that allows a custom PIN for security against breaches and hacks. Privacy settings will allow users to choose Everyone, My Contacts, and Nobody. Review profile information and omit any personal information (age, phone number, other account links, school name, hometown).

Control location sharing. When location sharing is turned on, the images your child shares on WhatsApp will also show his or her exact location when the photo was taken. Be aware of this and consider keeping location turned off.

Avoid strangers and strange links. Once a person outside of your child’s known circle has his or her phone number, they can send any content directly unless (and until) they are blocked. They can catfish, scam, or groom WhatsApp users. Talk with your child about the importance of only chatting with known, trusted people and to block messages from strangers. Messages from strangers could contain explicit content, malware, spam, or phishing scam.

Should your child be on WhatsApp? As long as your child is only connected to trusted people (and has some form of monitoring), this can be a relatively safe social app that echos the features of most other apps. However, every family and every child is different, and whether or not your child is allowed to use the app is a personal decision. If your child is active on the app with your approval, one way to help them navigate the danger zones is to keep the safety conversation on-going and honest. Your guidance is crucial. You’ve got this parent!

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Is the TikTok App Safe for Kids?

TikTok safety

Everyone’s talking about the TikTok app. In addition to talking, tweens and teens are swiping, laughing, and sharing TikTok videos. Meanwhile, parents are concerned with one thing: Is TikTok safe?

What is TikTok?

Based out of China, TikTok is a video-based social networking app that replaced the Musical.ly app, which ended its digital run in 2017. The app allows users to create an account, make and post short 15-60-second videos, as well as view, comment on, and share videos from other users. According to reports, TikTok has 1 billion active users in 155 countries. Approximately 60 percent of TikTok’s audience is between 16 and 24. Guidelines state that anyone 12+ can use the app, though there’s no age-verification process.

Why Do Kids Love TikTok?

TikTok is the latest and greatest digital hangout that has become the main channel for kids to discover new and creative ways to express themselves. They can follow their interests, be entertained, and be rewarded with views, likes, and shares for their artistic efforts. Tik Tok has built-in editing tools, free music, and dialogue clips, and filters that make creating videos easy for any skill level. Users can share funny sketches, lip-sync videos, and spontaneous, personal raves or rants. According to app reviews posted by teens, TikTok is also a go-to creative outlet, a place to de-stress, and a confidence-builder.

What are the risks?

Apps aren’t inherently risky. Rather, it’s the way individuals use an app that puts themselves or others at risk. That’s why understanding how your kids engage on TikTok, and how to make the experience as safe as possible, is important. Here are some of the risks your child could encounter on TikTok:

Contact from strangers. According to news reports, predators use TikTok to connect with kids. Anyone who follows a TikTok user can privately message them and initiate private conversations outside of the app.

Exposure to mature content and lyrics. Apps attract users of all ages, which means if your child has a TikTok account, he or she has access to the public video feed. With 1 billion users, your child will likely see videos containing sexually suggestive or explicit images and hear explicit lyrics (we saw and heard plenty). They may even unknowingly use music clips for their videos that contain explicit lyrics.

Spam and malware. Recent reports reveal software flaws that could potentially open up TikTok accounts to a range of malicious attacks. Researchers say hackers could have exploited the flaws to send legitimate-looking text messages loaded with malware, made private videos public, and accessed personal data.

Excessive screentime. TikTok is a curiosity magnet for kids, which can lead to excessive screen time, lack of sleep, and a host of other negative outcomes from too much time online.

TikTok safety

Cyberbullying. TikTok users have been known to create “cringe compilations,” which are videos they deem to be odd, uncool, or cringe-worthy. Several of these cruel compilations have been posted outside of TikTok and have gone viral.

Quest for likes. As with any social network, some users can become preoccupied with amassing views, likes, and followers. This obsession can lead to bad decisions, risky behavior (such as challenges), cyberbullying, and sharing harmful content.

Oversharing. Some kids share their daily activities through TikTok videos and inadvertently expose personal information such as their school, their location, home address, and other personal data.

10 Family Safety Tips

Should you allow your child to use TikTok? The answer to that question depends on a few things, including the age of the child using the app and how they use it. Here are a few tips that may help in that decision.

  1. Download the app. The best way to understand TikTok is to download it, create an account, and explore. Take some solo time to search a few hashtags, scroll some feeds, and get a feel for the content. Visit the app’s safety center for an overview of safety tools. Visit the privacy center to see how your child’s data is being used.
  2. Go through the app together. Sit and browse content with your child. Discuss the pros and cons of the content and how it does or doesn’t align with your family’s digital ground rules.
  3. Max privacy settings. By making a TikTok account private, only approved followers (known friends) can view your child’s videos or send your child messages. When an account is public, anyone can comment, send messages, or share your child’s videos.
  4. Explore restricted mode. TikTok has a Restricted Mode for minors that will allow you to filter out inappropriate content.
  5. Explore Family Safety Mode. This TikTok feature allows a parent to link their TikTok account to their child’s to manage screen time, direct messages, set restrictions, and control friend and comment filters.
  6. Control interactions. Users can disable comments on a specific video, block people they don’t know from following them, and report abuse.
  7. Monitor social circles. Kids can change privacy settings and eventually be wooed into making more connections and getting more exposure. Consider monitoring who your child follows and who is following them. Consider the TikTok influencers they follow and the type of content they share.
  8. Monitor screen time. It’s easy to burn through countless hours on TikTok. The app has a digital wellbeing element that alerts users every two hours. Consider filtering software that adds another way to set screen limits.
  9. Talk about being an upstander. Creating and sharing original content online takes courage — and attracts bullies, making TikTok a potentially unsafe environment for kids. Encourage your child to be an upstander online and offer encouragement and support to peers when needed.
  10. Block the app. If you determine TikTok’s content isn’t a good fit for your family or that the risks outweigh the opportunities, both Android and iOS have built-in parental controls in Settings that allow you to block any app (consider rechecking these settings weekly).

One look at today’s headlines, and it’s tempting for a parent to want to delete every app like TikTok. Only we know a similar app will soon surface. Another approach is to jump into the digital mix. Know what apps your kids love and why. Understand how they use their favorite apps and who they are talking to. And, always remember: It’s never too early or too late to start these critical conversations with your kids. You’ve got this, parents!

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TikTok Challenge, Hoop App, and Other Headlines You May Have Missed

TikTok Challenge

Digital news that affects families seems to be dominating the headlines these days. To keep parents in the know, here are some of the stories you may want to give extra family discussion time to this week.

Skull Breaker Challenge Proving Unfunny 

Apps — video apps especially — can help kids tap into their creativity and give kids a critical way to connect. Where the fun can take a dangerous turn is in the way kids choose to use their technology. In this case, the poor choice is in the Skull Breaker Challenge (also called the Trip Jump Challenge), a prank resulting in some kids being hospitalized.

The prank, designed to get laughs and accumulate TikTok views, includes two kids tricking a third friend into making a dance video together. Three kids line up side by side for a planned group dance that will be videotaped and posted. As everyone jumps as planned, the two kids on either side swipe the legs out from under the middle person causing him or her to fall backward. According to reports, the prank is surfacing mainly on TikTok but also Youtube.

Safe Family Tip: Consider talking to your child about the dangers of online challenges and the risks already reported in the news. 1) Discuss the physical dangers doctors are warning the public about, including neck strain, concussion, skull fracture, long-term complications, or even death. 2) Using current news stories, explain personal responsibility and what can happen legally if your child hurts another person during a prank.

Snapchat’s Hoop App Being Called ‘Tinder for Teens’

Snapchat users (over 2.5 million in fact) are flocking to a new Tinder-like app called Hoop that interfaces with Snapchat. The developer app allows other Hoop users to swipe through other Hoop users and request to connect via their Snapchat profile name.

While the app asks a user’s age, much like other social sites, there’s no way to prove a user’s age. And, users can change their age at any time after creating an account. This type of app format can be tempting for kids who are naturally curious and seeking to meet new friends outside of their familiar social circle. There’s a potential for common issues such as catfishing, predator behavior, and inappropriate content. Kids as young as 12 can form connections with strangers. While their profile may be harmless, they can’t control the type of content that pops up on their screen from other users. Another red flag: Hoop users are rewarded with “diamonds” for sharing their Snapchat name and getting others to join Hoop, so the incentive to daily share and connect with a wide circle outside of one’s known friend group may prove tough for some kids to resist.TikTok Challenge

Safe Family Tip: While it’s challenging to stay on top of the constant array of new apps, it’s not impossible. One way to understand where your child spends his or her time online is with comprehensive monitoring software. Another way of monitoring activity is to physically check your child’s phone once a week for new app icons (see right) and take the time to talk about his or her favorite apps. Consider explaining the dangers of connecting with strangers and the real possibility that a new “cute 16-year-old” may be a predator attempting to win your child’s trust (it happens every day). Review and agree on which apps are considered safe and the expectations you have for your family’s online choices.

Another app to keep on your radar is Wink. Nearly identical to Hoop, Wink interfaces with Snapchat and is being promoted as a “new friend finder.” It has a similar “swipe” feature that connects kids to random Wink users and is currently ranked #15 in the app store.

Should phones be banned from schools?

A conversation gaining a quiet but consistent buzz is the merit of prohibiting phones from schools — a law France has enforced for two years that has parents, educators, and legislators talking. Several recent studies reveal that phone bans can lead to higher test scores, higher test grades and attention spans, and increased cognitive capacity. Some schools in the U.S. have independently taken steps to curb and ban phones in hopes of focusing on distracted students.

Proponents of phones in school say a ban would be impossible to enforce and that technology is needed to help parents stay in touch with kids during the school day, especially for emergencies. Others say phones at school are a critical part of learning and raising self-sufficient, tech-savvy students prepared for a digital workforce.

Safe Family Tip: Begin the discussion with your child about the pros and cons of devices at school. Listen closely to his or her perspective. Discuss potential device-related issues that can be amplified during the school day such as cyberbullying, group chat conflicts, sexting, gaming during class, and using devices to cheat. Review expectations such as using phones only before and after school to connect with parents.

Stay tuned in the weeks to come as we take a closer look at other apps such as TikTok and WhatsApp Messenger that — when used unwisely — can lead to some surprising risks for kids. Until then, keep the digital safety conversation humming in your home. You’ve got this, parents!

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Timeless Principles to Help Your Child Develop Social Superpowers

online relationships

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” ~ Dale Carnegie

Each year it’s my tradition to re-read a handful of books that continue to shape my perspective. One of those books is the 1936 self-help classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

I’ll admit, I’ve never liked the book’s overly-schmoozy title, but its content is gold. And 84 years later, it’s still relevant to our ongoing family discussion of how to model leadership and get a more meaningful return on our digital connections.

Slow down, look around

It has become easy, and almost habitual, to move fast, skim content, and make quick judgments. We upload details about ourselves, our opinions, our activities, our agendas, our wins.

Carnegie’s approach (condensed and paraphrased): Slow down and look around. Take a genuine interest in the people around you. Make room for different points of view. Steer clear of drama, criticizing others, and conflict. And never make anyone feel “less than.”

Social superpowers

Carnegie’s principles, applied online, are tools parents can use to help kids develop their social superpowers. The simple act of slowing down and listening instead of clicking is a big step toward more genuine connections.

On the safety side, slowing down can help kids become more aware of and avoid threats such as cyberbullying, scams, catfishing, and online conflict.

Here are a few more Carnegie power tips (condensed and paraphrased) to help build up your family’s social superpowers.

More meaningful connections

Take a genuine interest in others. “If we want to make friends, let’s do things for other people – things that require time, energy, unselfishness, and thoughtfulness.”

Encourage your child to step out of the “selfie” mindset as a first step in forming more genuine friendships online (as opposed to amassing followers). Brainstorm ways to do this. Maybe it’s more face-to-face time with known friends, keeping track of other people’s birthdays, and hand-writing cards and sending them in the mail. Paying attention to the details of a person’s life — their hobbies, family members, values, and goals — is the heartbeat of a real friendship.

Smile, be welcoming.  “Actions speak louder than words, and a smile says, ‘I like you. You make me happy. I am glad to see you.’”

Sounds simple but a smile — in this case, the way we welcome others online — can go a long way. The attitude we express through our online interactions communicates can make or break our relationships and reputation.

Encourage your child to review and delete negative or harmful content that lacks a spirit of inclusion and kindness. Our social profiles may be the first impression others — including teachers, colleges, and employers — may have of us.

Another plus: Choosing a digital “smile” when we post (over drama and making fun) sends a powerful message that can ease cyberbullying, build empathy, and be a source of strength for others who may be struggling.

Note: Choosing to smile online as a general principle doesn’t include faking it or only sharing a heavily-edited or overly positive version of your life. Be real. Be honest. Be you.

Affirm others. “. . . a sure way to [people’s] hearts is to let them realize in some subtle way that you realize their importance and recognize it sincerely.”

Everyone person on the planet has a fundamental need to be noticed and feel valued. With the amount of anxiety, depression, body image issues, and cyberbullying kids face online, what young person couldn’t use a genuine word of encouragement?

Discuss the many ways to affirm others on and offline. Encourage your child to be aware and willing to complement the strengths of others, cheer on accomplishments, and support a cause or passion they’ve expressed.

Avoid arguments and criticizing others. “Criticism is dangerous because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his [or her] sense of importance, and arouses resentment.”

If we could all master these two Carnegie principles online, the world’s collective mental health might be on a happier, healthier trajectory.

Encourage your child to pay attention to his or her emotions and avoid engaging others if they feel angry, anxious, or tired. Discuss the importance of empathy and forgiveness. Challenge them to allow others to express their ideas without judgment.

Avoiding conflict doesn’t mean you ignore injustice or become a doormat. On the contrary, responding with grace in a tense situation requires strength and self-control — especially when it comes to trolls and bullies.

Carnegie wrote his book during the Great Depression when the practice optimism and simple truths were critical to a person’s hope. So, some perspectives will feel odd or passé. But stick with it. Savor and apply the gems and enjoy the process of deepening your digital connections.

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Safer Internet Day 2020

What Can You Do To Make The Internet a Better Place

In 2020, you’d be hard-pressed to find an Aussie teen who doesn’t spend a fair whack of their time online. And while many of us parents don’t always love the time our offspring spend glued to screens, most of us have come to accept that the online world is a big part of our kids’ lives.

So, let’s accept that the internet is going to be a feature of our kids’ lives and work out how best we can keep them safe.

Together For A Better Internet

Today is Safer Internet Day  – an international annual event that encourages us all to work together for a better internet. The perfect opportunity to find out what we can do as parents to ensure our kids are as safe as possible online.

Organised by the joint Insafe/INHOPE network, with the support of the European Commission, Safer Internet Day is held each February to promote the safe and positive use of digital technology, especially among children and young people. Safer Internet Day is all about inspiring users to make positive changes online, to raise awareness of online safety issues, and participate in events and activities right across the globe.

What Can We Do As Parents?

As role models and life-educators, parents play an enormous role in shaping our kids’ behaviours and opinions – particularly before they get to the teenage years!! So, why not use Safer Internet Day as a prompt to freshen up your cybersafety chats with your brood.

Not sure where to start? Here are my top messages to weave into your chats with your kids

  1. Be Kind Online

Spread love not hate online. A better internet includes building an online culture where people share positive and encouraging posts and comments. It may be as simple as posting a positive message, liking a post that is encouraging or sharing an inspiring article. Image

It may sound obvious but before you post a comment or a tweet, ask yourself whether the message could offend someone or impact them negatively. And remember to NEVER like, favourite, retweet, post or comment negatively online.

  1. Learn How To Disagree Respectfully Online

No matter how much we try, there will always be some people online who get a kick out of being unkind. If you come across this behaviour, I encourage you to call it out and report it but ALWAYS do so in a respectful fashion. Reciprocating with harsh words or name-calling will only further inflame a toxic situation. A logical, factual response that is respectful will always triumph!

  1. Protecting Your Online Reputation (& Others Too)

If you’re planning on hiring someone or even going on a date with someone, the chances are you’re going to ‘Google’ them first. And what you find online and the opinion you form decides whether the person’s digital reputation is acceptable or not.

So, it’s essential to remember that everything you post online is permanent and public; not to post inappropriate comments or pics of yourself or others; ensure all your online profiles are set to private to avoid strangers ‘screen-grabbing’ your private info and photos; don’t respond to inappropriate requests and most importantly, take a breather when things are getting heated online and you may regret your comments and actions.

  1. Passwords!!!!!

Managing passwords is one of the best ways of taking control of your online life and creating a better internet. Ensuring you have a separate password for every online account means that if you are affected by a data breach, your other online accounts are not at risk. Always choose passwords that have letters, numbers and symbols and ensure they are complex and not obvious. I love using a nonsensical sentence! And if all that’s too hard, why not consider a password manager that not only creates complex passwords for each of your online accounts but remembers them too. All you need to do is remember the master password! Awesome!!

So, why not pledge to change up your cybersafety chats with your kids this Safer Internet Day? And remember – they are watching you too! So, ensure you always model online respect, take your online responsibilities seriously and, also manage your passwords carefully. Because every little step is a step towards a positive change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7 Conversations to Help Build Up Your Family’s Digital Literacy Skills

Digital Literacy

With the surge of misleading content online, helping your child learn to become an independent thinker is no small task.

While schools have been charged with developing students’ digital literacy skills, parents also have a role in consistently sparking deeper thinking when navigating digital environments.

The sharper a child’s digital literacy skills, the more quickly he or she can identify biased agendas and deceptive content and form thoughts, insights, and opinions independently of the digital crowd think.

Here are a few conversations to focus kids on building up digital literacy skills.

7 conversations to build digital literacy skills

  1. Grow visual literacy. The world expresses itself through media today, which makes visual literacy (the ability to interpret art and media content) another must-have skill for kids. According to recent reports, Snapchat has 10 billion video views a day, Facebook video 8 billion views a day, YouTube video 5 billion views. Instagram reports its users upload 25 million photos every day. This visual tsunami increases the chances your child will encounter deep fakes (AI-enhanced video), malicious memes (false information placed on photos) designed to manipulate public opinion. Discuss: Learn ways to spot deep fakes with your kids (stray hairs, no blinking, eye movement, etc.). Additional resource: Watch and discuss this video and read the post Can You Spot a Deepfake? from LifeHacker with your family.
  2. Search with care. Search engines scan the web and bring up relevant content. However, not all that content is credible. Understanding a search engine’s function is essential, especially when your child is researching a paper and evaluating other content. Search engines rank by keywords, not content accuracy. Ask: Is this content credible and supported by legitimate sources? Is it presented as humor or an opinion piece? Is the URL authentic and trustworthy? Additional Resource: Common Sense Media’s video Smart Online Search Tips.
  3. Protect, respect privacy. Kids, fueled by emotion and impulse, often move around online with little thought to personal privacy or the privacy of others. Discuss: Talk about the basics often: Where are the privacy gaps in our technology? Where are there privacy gaps in my behavior? How can we create strong passwords? Are my privacy settings current? Do I have personal details in public view, either on profile info or in my posts? The other side of privacy: Respect friends’ privacy by asking permission to post photos, keeping personal secrets, and never sharing personal details or circumstances of another person in the online space.
  4. Recognize and respect points of view. The web is a big place with an ocean filled with different points of view. Part of becoming digitally literate is learning how to listen to and respect the opinions of others. Exercising this skill is essential to building empathy, eliminating cyberbullying and online shaming, and becoming a positive voice in the online space. Additional resource: Discuss Dr. Michele Borba’s blog post, 9 Habits of Empathetic Children.
  5. Always attribute content. The internet is a big place that showcases a variety of exciting, valuable, original content. However, that content doesn’t display a visible price tag. Therefore, great content is often re-shared without giving credit to the author or creator. Discuss: Talk about the value of a person’s art, writing, photos, and research. Find examples of how to correctly cite sources and share them with your child. Follow up by checking your child’s social feeds to see that sources are being cited correctly. Coach them to add attribution when needed. Additional resource: Go through this free, 5-day course for families from CyberWise on Digital Citizenship.
  6. Always consider your digital footprint. A digital footprint is anywhere we’ve personally connected online. These small digital breadcrumbs — when added together and viewed as a whole — are what others see, and consequently, believe about us. The parts of our footprint include social profiles we create, comments we leave, tweets, photos, or any time others mention us online. Ask: Is this photo something that will add or subtract value from my digital footprint? Will this post, photo, or tweet affect my chances of getting into college or competing for a job? Will I be proud of this post five years from now? Additional Resource: Author Sue Scheff’s blog post Online Reputation Reboot for Teens.
  7. Stay current with new technology. It’s more so adults than kids that need to make a larger commitment to new technology. Part of digital literacy is keeping up with current technology and preparing for future technology. By making this learning investment, we can better understand the origin of new technologies such as AI and spinoff trends such as deep fakes. Educating ourselves on the nuances of tools such as vlogs, audio, video, AR, AI, 3D printing, and machine learning is essential to navigating the current and future landscape. Additional resources: Consider subscribing to magazines online to get you rolling: TechCrunch.comTheNextWeb.comDigitalTrends.com.

Like other areas that require time and consistency to develop, your child’s digital literacy skills will take time to mature. Author Tim Elmore say on his Growing Leaders blog, when it comes to raising kids to thrive in the digital era, a parent’s role is clear, “We must clearly convey values and virtues like resilience, discipline, integrity, problem-solving skills, good communication, commitment, and responsibility. That’s the critical role we can play.”

So, have fun with these conversations always recognizing that your influence matters. Look for real-life digital literacy examples to talk about, and don’t forget to celebrate the wins you see your kids achieving online.

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Spotting Fake News: Teaching Kids to be Responsible Online Publishers

fake news

Editor’s note: This is part II in a series on Fake News. Read part I, here.

Kids today are not equipped to deal with the barrage of digital information coming at them every day. Add to that, the bulk of information that may be fake, misleading, or even malicious. So how do we help kids become more responsible for the content they share online?

We do it one conversation at a time.

When it comes to the mounting influence of fake news, it’s easy to point the finger at the media, special interest groups, politicians, and anyone else with an agenda and internet access. While many of these groups may add to the problem, each one of us plays a role in stopping it.

What’s our role?

We, the connected consumer, now play such a significant role in how content is created and disseminated, that a large part of the solution comes down to individual responsibility — yours and mine.

The shift begins with holding ourselves accountable for every piece of content we read, create, or share online. That shift gains momentum when we equip our kids to do the same.

Teach personal responsibility. Start the conversation around personal responsibility early with your kids and keep it going. Explain that every time we share fake news, a rumor, or poorly sourced material, we become one cog in the wheel of spreading untruths and even malicious fabrications. We become part of the problem. Challenge your child to become a trustworthy, discerning source of information as opposed to being viewed by others as an impulsive, unreliable source.

Discuss the big picture. Fake news or misleading content isn’t just annoying; it’s harmful in a lot of other ways. Misinformation undermines trust, causes division, can spark social unrest, and harm unity. More than that, fake news edges out helpful, factual, content designed to educate and inform.

Be aware of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is gravitating toward ideas, people, and content that echoes our spiritual, social, political, or moral points of view. Confirmation bias tempts us to disregard information that opposes our ideology. While confirmation bias is part of our human nature, left unchecked, it can be an obstacle to learning factual information.

Chill, don’t spill. Fake news is designed to advance a personal agenda. This is especially true during times of social tension when tempers are running high. Don’t take the emotional bait. Exercise discernment. Before sharing, read legitimate news sources that offer balanced coverage, so the story you share or opinion you express is based on accurate information.

Be a free thinker. Our kids have grown up in a world where ‘like’ and ‘share’ counts somehow equate to credibility. Encourage kids to break away from the crowd and have the courage to be free, independent thinkers.

Challenge content by asking:

  • Do I understand all the points of view of this story?
  • What do I really think about this topic or idea?
  • Am I overly emotional and eager to share this?
  • Am I being manipulated by this content?
  • What if I’m wrong?

Question every source. Studies show that people assume that the higher something ranks in search results, the more factual or trustworthy the information is. Wrong. Algorithms retrieve top content based on keywords, not accuracy. So, dig deeper and verify sources.

5 ways to spot fake news

1. Look closely at the source. Fake news creators are good at what they do. While some content has detectable errors, others are sophisticated and strangely persuasive. So, take a closer look. Test credibility by asking:

  • Where is the information coming from? 
  • Is this piece satire?
  • Is the author of the article, bio, and website legitimate? 
  • Are studies, infographics, and quotes appropriately attributed?
  • Is the URL legitimate (cnn.comvs. cnn.com.co)?
  • Are there red flags such as unknown author, all capital letters, misspellings, or grammar errors?

2. Be discerning with viral content. Often a story will go viral because it’s so unbelievable. So pause before you share. Google the story’s headline to see if the story appears in other reliable publications.

3. Pay attention to publish dates, context. Some viral news items may not be entirely false, just intentionally shared out of context. Fake news creators often pull headlines or stories from the past and present them as current news to fit the desired narrative.

4. Beware of click-bait headlines. A lot of fake news is carefully designed with user behavior in mind. A juicy headline leads to a false news story packed with even more fake links that take you to a product page or, worse, download malware onto your computer, putting your data and privacy at risk. These kinds of fake news scams capitalize on emotional stories such as the recent tragic death of basketball great Kobe Bryant.

5. Verify information. It takes extra effort, but plenty of sites exist that can help you verify a piece of information. Before sharing that a piece of content, check it out on sites like:

  • Snopes.com
  • Factcheck.com
  • Politifact.org
  • Opensecrets.org
  • Truthorfiction.com
  • Hoaxslayer.com

While fake news isn’t a new phenomenon, thanks to technology’s amplification power, it’s reached new levels of influence and deception. This social shift makes it imperative to get in front of this family conversation as soon as possible especially since we’re headed into an election year.

The post Spotting Fake News: Teaching Kids to be Responsible Online Publishers appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

Where’s the Truth Online? How to Build Your Family’s Digital Discernment

fake news

Note: This is Part I of a series on equipping your family fight back against fake news online. 

Fake news is chipping away at our trust in the government, the media, and in one another. And, because our kids spend much so much time in the online space, it’s more important than ever to help them understand how to separate truth from fiction.

How dangerous is the spread of misinformation? According to one study, 75% of people who see fake news believe it’s real. This inability to discern is at the core of how a false piece of information — be it a story, a photo, a social post, or an email — spreads like wildfire online.

Fake news erodes trust

A 2019 Pew Institute study reveled Americans rank fake news as a bigger problem in the U.S. over terrorism, illegal immigration, racism, and sexism and believe the spread of fake news is causing ‘significant harm’ to the nation and needs to be stopped.’

At the root of the issue is that too much news is coming at us from too many sources. True or not, millions of people are sharing that information, and they are often driven more by emotion and than fact.

According to Author and Digital Literacy Expert Diana Graber, one of a parent’s most important roles today is teaching kids to evaluate and be discerning with the content they encounter online.

“Make sure your kids know that they cannot believe everything they see or read online. Give them strategies to assess online information. Be sure your child’s school is teaching digital literacy,” says Graber.

Kids encounter and share fake news on social networks, chat apps, and videos. Says Graber, the role of video will rise as a fake news channel as AI technology advances.

“I think video manipulation, such as deepfake videos, is a very important area to keep an eye on for in the future. So much of the media that kids consume is visual, it will be important for them to learn visual literacy skills too,” says Graber.

The hidden costs of fake news

A December Facebook post warning people that men driving white vans were part of an organized human trafficking ring, quickly went viral on several social networks.

Eventually, law enforcement exposed the post as fake; people shrugged it off and moved on. But in its wake, much was lost that didn’t go viral. The fake post was shared countless times. With each share, someone compromised a small piece of trust.

The false post caused digital panic and cast uncertainty on our sense of security and community. The post cost us money. The false information took up the resources of several law enforcement agencies that chose to investigate. It cost us trust. Public warnings even made it to the evening news in some cities.

The spread of fake news impacts on our ability to make wise informed decisions. It chips away at our expectation of truth in the people and resources around us.

Fake news that goes viral is powerful. It can impact our opinions about important health issues. It can damage companies and the stock market, and destroy personal reputations.

In the same Pew study, we learned about another loss — connection. Nearly 54 percent of respondents said they avoid talking with another person because that person may bring made-up news into the conversation.

The biggest loss? When it’s hard to see the truth, we are all less well informed, which creates obstacles to personal and cultural progress.

Family talking points

Here are three digital literacy terms defined to help you launch the fake news discussion.

  1. Fake news: We like the definition offered by PolitiFact: “Fake news is made-up stuff, masterfully manipulated to look like credible journalistic reports that are easily spread online to large audiences willing to believe the fictions and spread the word.”Discuss: Sharing fake news can hurt the people in the story as well as the credibility of the person sharing it. No one wants to be known for sharing sketchy content, rumors, or half-truths.Do: Sit down with your kids. Scroll through their favorite social networks and read some posts or stories. Ask: What news stories spark your interest, and why? Who posted this information? Are the links in the article credible? Should I share this piece of content? Why or why not?
  2. Objectivity: Content or statements based on facts that are not influenced by personal beliefs or feelings.Discuss: News stories should be objective (opinion-free), while opinion pieces can be subjective. When information (or a person) is subjective, you can identify personal perspectives, feelings, and opinions. When information (or a person) is objective, it’s void of opinion and based on facts.Do: Teaching kids to recognize objective vs. subjective content can be fun. Pick up a local newspaper (or access online). Read the stories on the front page (they should contain only facts). Flip to the Op-Ed page and discuss the shift in tone and content.
  3. Discernment: A person’s ability to evaluate people, content, situations, and things well. The ability to discern is at the core of decision-making.Discuss: To separate truth from fiction online, we need to be critical thinkers who can discern truth. Critical thinking skills develop over time and differ depending on the age group.Do: Watch this video from Cyberwise on Fake News. Sit down together and Google a current news story. Compare how different news sites cover the same news story. Ask: How are the headlines different? Is there a tone or bias? Which story do you believe to be credible, and why? Which one would you feel confident sharing with others? 

The increase in fake news online has impacted us all. However, with the right tools, we can fight back and begin to restore trust. Next week, in Part II of this series, we’ll discuss our personal responsibility in the fake news cycle and specific ways to identify fake news.

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Dangerous Digital Rituals: Could Your Child be Sleep Deprived?

sleep depravation and teens

You’re not wrong if you suspect your kids are spending far more time online than they admit. Where you may be in the dark, however, is that a lot of kids (maybe even yours) are scrolling at night instead of sleeping, a digital ritual that puts their physical and mental health at risk.

And, because sleep and behavior are so intertwined, one family member’s unwise tech habits can quickly spill over and affect the whole family.

Screens over ZZZs

That moody stew your daughter has been dishing up all day or may not be standard teen angst. And the D in math your son brought home for the first time may have little to do with geometric proofs.

While it may not be the first thing that comes to a parent’s mind, sleep deprivation could be a source of a number of family challenges today.

According to a 2019 Common Sense Media study, 68 percent of teens take their devices to their rooms at bedtime, and one-third have the phone with them in bed. Over one-third of those kids and, more than one-fourth of parents admit to waking up to look at their phone at least once a night (usually to check social media or respond to a notification).

What science says

Like water and air, humans need sleep to live. Sleep deprivation over time is a serious condition, especially for children. Medical studies continue to link poor sleep habits to anxiety, reduced cognitive development, obesity, immunity issues, absentmindedness, and impaired judgment. Because depriving the brain of sleep reduces its reaction time, it’s also one of the main causes of road accidents.

How much sleep do they need? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations:

  • Children 3-5 should sleep 10 to 13 hours on a regular basis
  • Children 6-12 should sleep 9 to 12 hours on a regular basis
  • Children 13-18 should sleep 8 to 10 hours on a regular basis

Goal: digital responsibility

I recently met a mom in a parenting forum who tackled this very issue by establishing clear ground rules for nighttime device use.

Dana Ahern is the mom of four (ages 7-15) and co-founder (along with husband Adam) of Village Social, a private, safe, “alternative” social network that helps teach kids digital responsibility.

Ahern says establishing ground rules for devices only works if parents stick to them.

“Yes, they [kids] might get mad,” says Ahern. “Yes, they may say they need their phone to listen to music or a meditation app to be able to fall asleep or need the alarm to wake up in the morning. Our solution — get them an Echo Dot or an old fashioned alarm clock radio in place of the phone.”

In the Ahern home, all screens must be shut off at least one hour before bedtime and put on a docking station in the parents’ bedroom. Screen time is tracked via Apple’s Downtime app. And, all homework must be done in the living room (no bedrooms) with an absolute cut-off time of 10 p.m.

Says Ahern, “We’ve found that it’s been relatively easy to get all the kids on this schedule. They don’t fight it. They may, in fact, secretly appreciate knowing we care.”

More ideas to consider:

It’s never “too late” for a good change. Some parents say they’re reluctant to give their kids (especially teens) new technology rules because it’s “too late,” and their kids are too attached to their devices. Even so, with more information linking technology to kids’ mental health, it’s imperative to change course if needed — even if doing so may be difficult.

Reframe the change. Why are kids on their phones all night? Because they want to be and want often overpowers need in this age group. To help kids make tough digital shifts, discuss the personal gains that will result from the change. For instance, consistent quality sleep can help control weight, boost academic and athletic performance, increase energy and immunity levels, reduce drama and conflict, sharpen decision-making, and improve creativity and motivation. In short, quality sleep ignites our superpowers.

Add monitoring muscle. There a number of ways to help keep a child’s screen time on track. One way is to get a monitoring solution. Need to make sure your youngest is only accessing the internet for homework at night? Or limit online game time to 30 minutes a day? Software support could help.

Model good sleep habits. Your kids will be the first ones to call you out if your screen time goes up while they are digitally wasting away. In the same above study, 39 percent of teens said their parents spent too much time on their phones in 2019 (an 11-point jump from 2016).

Any change to your child’s favorite rituals may put a temporary strain on the family dynamic. That’s okay. A little healthy tension, some grumbling, and lingering awkwardness are all side effects of successful digital parenting. Also, remind yourself and your kids as often as you need to that restricting device use — especially at bedtime — isn’t a punishment. It’s a health and safety choice that isn’t negotiable. Translation? Limits equal love.

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Less is More: 5 Ways to Jumpstart a ‘Digital Minimalist’ Mindset  

digital minimalism

Editor’s Note: This is part II of a series on Digital Minimalism in 2020.

Is this the year you rethink and rebuild your relationship with technology? If so, embracing digital minimalism may be the most powerful way to achieve that goal.

We learned last week in our first post on this series tht digital minimalism isn’t about chucking your devices and going off the grid. It’s about being hyper intentional that your technology choices support the things you value.

And, as outlined by Cal Newport in his book, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, the first step in the process is clarifying your values. Your values are the guiding principles that motivate you and give your life meaning such as family, education, work/life balance, community service, friendship, integrity, health, or wealth. With values clearly defined, you can evaluate every piece of technology, app, or social network you use to be sure it aligns with those values.

For instance, if you establish your top values to be family and volunteering, then maybe it’s time to let go of all the podcasts, apps, and email subscriptions that no longer support those priorities. The online social communities you habitually peruse may trigger anxiety and be taking time from activities that could be far more fulfilling.

If you get overwhelmed amid your technology pruning, come back to these two critical questions:

  • Does this technology directly support something that I deeply value?
  • Is this technology the best way to support this value?

digital minimalism

 

 

There’s a ton of great information as well as passion online around the concept of digital minimalism. But to keep this new idea “minimal” and easy to grasp, we’ve chosen 5 things you can do today to help you and your family jumpstart this new way of thinking.

5 ways to jumpstart a ‘digital minimalist’ mindset

  1. Make social accounts private. Last week we suggested cutting all non-essential media for 30 days. Another way to mentally shift into a minimalist mindset is to transition your social media accounts from public to private if you haven’t already. Not only will this small change increase your online privacy, but it could also help you become more aware of the amount of content you share, the people with whom you share it, and the value of what you share. For people who post frequently (and often out of habit), this may prove to be a game-changer. The goal of digital minimalism isn’t a digital detox or white-knuckling no-or-less-tech life. The goal is to consciously, willingly, and consistently be rebuilding your relationship with technology into a formula that decreases distraction and increases value.
  2. Audit those apps! Want to feel a rush of minimalist adrenaline? Whack some apps! Most of us have amassed a galaxy of apps on our phones, tablets, and laptops. Newport suggests getting rid of any apps or devices that continuously distract and are “outside of work.” Those brain games, cooking apps, calorie trackers, and delivery apps you rarely use or value, may no longer be relevant to your values. Some will find this exercise exhilarating, while others may feel panicked. If that’s the case, pace yourself and delete a handful of apps over the next few weeks. The goal is more peace, not panic. On a security note: Remember, apps are one of the main channels for malware. Consider adding security software to your family devices, reading app reviews, and only downloading trusted products.
  3. Reclaim your space. Do you carry your phone with you into restaurants, upstairs, on a walk, and even to the bathroom? If so, this step may be especially tricky but incredibly beneficial. Think about it — you weren’t born with a phone. Over the years, it became a companion, maybe even an extra appendage. So start small to reclaim your birthright to phone-free space. If you go outside to walk your dog, leave your phone inside. Are you headed into a restaurant? Leave the phone in the car. Newport also suggests leaving your phone in a fixed spot in your home and treating it like the “house phones” of the past. When you go to bed, leave your phone in another room. Over time, hopefully, these small changes will add more hours, sleep, relaxation, conversation, and contemplation to your day.
  4. Condense home screens, turn off all notifications. Clutter — especially digital clutter — can trigger feelings of chaos and anxiety. By creating folders for random files and apps on your laptop, tablet, and phone, you can declutter and breathe a little easier. If later you can’t find a document, use the search tool on your device. Also, turn off all notifications, including your phone ringer, to reduce interruptions and to avoid the temptation to phub (phone snub) the person in front of you.
  5. Replace device time with more productive activities. The pain and regret of the social media time suck are very real. We lose days, even years going down digital rabbit holes and getting emotionally invested in random social media posts and exchanges. Some ideas: If you are a night scroller, opt to read a physical book. If you take breaks to scroll during work hours, put your phone in a drawer — out of sight, out of mind. If you’ve defined “relaxing” as curling up with your coffee and phone and reading through social feeds, reclaim those hours by calling a friend, taking a walk, connecting with your family, reading, or getting outside.

Embracing a new mindset, especially when it comes to our sacred technology habits, won’t be an easy task. However, if you know (and yes, you do know) that technology is taking up too much of your time, attention, and emotional bandwidth, then 2020 may the perfect time to release digital distractions, rethink your technology choices, and reclaim the things that matter most.

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Is It Time to Overhaul Your Relationship with Technology?

digital minimalism

Editor’s Note: This is part I of a series on Digital Minimalism in 2020.

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, he called it the “best iPod ever,” and said it would be a “very cool way” to make calls and listen to music. Little did he know that it would be the catalyst to a future technology tsunami of social networks, apps, and gaming platforms that would come to own our collective attention span.

But here we are. We daily enter an algorithm ecosystem that has little to do with our initial desire to connect with friends and have a little fun. We’ve gone from fumbling to find our flip phones to checking our phones 96 times a day —that’s once every 10 minutes, according to recent research

We’re getting it

However, with more time and knowledge behind us, parents and consumers are starting to get it.

We now know that companies deliberately engineer our favorite digital destinations to get us hooked. With every “like,” emoji, comment, and share, companies have figured out how to tap into our core human motivators of sensation, anticipation, which keeps our dopamine levels amped the same way tobacco, gambling, or overeating might do. 

This evolution of marketing and economics has hit us all hard and fast. But as Maya Angelou famously said, when we know better, we can do better. Stepping into 2020 may be the best time to rethink — and totally reconstruct — our relationship with technology.

digital minimalism

Digital Detox vs. Digital Minimalism

We’ve talked a lot about digital detox strategies, which, no doubt, have helped us reduce screen time and unplug more. However, there’s a new approach called digital minimalism that may offer a more long-term, sustainable solution to our tech-life balance.

The difference in approaches is this: A detox implies you will stop for a brief period and then resume activities. Digital minimalism is stopping old habits permanently and reconstructing a new way forward.

Digital minimalism encourages us to take a long, hard, honest look at our relationship with technology, be open to overhauling our ideology, and adopt a “less is more” approach.

Author Cal Newport examines the concept in his book, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World and is based on three principles: a) clutter is costly b) optimization is important c) intentionality is satisfying. 

According to Newport, digital minimalism allows us to rebuild our relationship with technology so that it serves us — not the other way around. Here’s the nugget: When you can clearly define and understand your values, you can make better, more confident decisions about what technology you use and when.

Three core principles

• Scrutinize value. Digital clutter is costly. Therefore, it’s critical to examine every piece of technology you allow into your life and weigh it against what it costs you in time, stress, and energy.

Ask yourself: 

What am I genuinely gaining from the time I am spending on this site?
What is being here costing me in terms of money and attention?
What emotions rise (positive, negative) when I’m using this app/site?
Can I perform the same task differently?

• Optimize resources. You don’t have to throw out all your technology to be a digital minimalist. Instead, optimization is determining what digital sources bring you the most value. For example, you may habitually scroll six news sources each day when you only gain value from two. You may have six active social networks you frequent out of obligation or habit when only one actually offers you value and genuine connection.

Ask yourself:

What app/site is the most accurate and valuable to me?
What app/site feed my emotions, goals, and relationships in a positive, healthy way?
What app/site helps me personally to work more efficiently?

• Align tech with values. The third principle of intentionality is inspired by the Amish way of life and encourages holding every technology decision up against your fundamental values. For instance, if spending time on a specific app doesn’t support your priorities of family and personal health, then that fun, albeit misaligned app does not make the cut. 

Ask yourself:

Does this activity benefit and support my values and what I’m trying to do in my life?
Am I better off without this online activity?

Getting started

  • 30-days of less. For 30 days, cut out all non-essential technology from your life. Use only what is essential to your income and health. 
  • Reflect on values. Reflect on the things that are truly important to you and your family. Think about what activities bring you joy and which specific people interest you. If you decide that creating art or volunteering are your central values, ask yourself, “Does this technology support my value of creating art and volunteering?”
  • Increase solitude. Researchers have found a connection between lack of solitude and the increase in depression and anxiety among digital natives (iGen) they call isolation depravation. Solitude allows us to process, reflect, and problem solve. Little by little, begin to increase your time for personal reflection. 

While it’s easy to demonize the growing presence and power of technology (smartphones and social media specifically) in family life, it’s also added amazing value and isn’t going anywhere soon. So we do what we can do, which is to stop and examine the way we use technology daily and the amount of control we give it over our time, hearts, and minds. 

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Lessons Learned: A Decade of Digital Parenting

digital parenting

Give yourself a high-five, parents. Pour yourself a cup of coffee or your favorite celebratory drink and sip it slow — real slow. Savor the wins. Let go of the misses. Appreciate the lessons learned. You’ve come a long way in the last decade of raising digital kids, and not all of it has been easy.

As we head into 2020, we’re tossing parenting resolutions (hey, it’s a victory to make it through a week let alone a year!). Instead, we’re looking back over the digital terrain we’ve traveled together and lessons learned. Need a refresher? Here’s a glimpse of how technology has impacted the family over the past decade.

In the last decade

• Smartphone, social, gaming growth. Social media and gaming platforms have exploded to usage and influence levels no one could have imagined. Smartphone ownership has increased and as of 2019: 81% of adults own a smartphone and 72% use social media, 53% of kids own a smartphone by the age of 11, and 84 % of teenagers have phones.

• Video platform growth. Video platforms like YouTube have become the go-to for teens and tweens who spend nearly three hours a day watching videos online.

• Streaming news. Smartphones have made it possible for all of us to carry (and stream) the world in our pockets. In 2018, for the first time, social media sites surpassed print newspapers as a news source for Americans.

• Dating apps dominate. We’re hooking up, dating, and marrying using apps. A Stanford study found that “heterosexual couples are more likely to meet a romantic partner online than through personal contacts and connections.”

• The rise of the Influencer. Internet influencers and celebrities have reached epic levels of fame, wealth, and reach, creating an entire industry of vloggers, gamers, micro and niche-influencers, and others who have become “instafamous.”

• Lexicon changes. Every day, technology is adding terms to our lexicon that didn’t exist a decade ago such as selfie, OMG, streaming, bae, fake news, the cloud, wearables, finsta, influencers, emojis, tracking apps, catfish, digital shaming, screen time, cryptojacking, FOMO, and hashtag, along with hundreds of others.

What we’ve learned (often the hard way)

Most people, if polled, would say technology has improved daily life in incalculable ways. But ask a parent of a child between five and 18 the same question, and the response may not be as enthusiastic. Here are some lessons we’ve learned the hard way.

Connection brings risk. We’ve learned that with unprecedented connection comes equally unprecedented risk. Everyday devices plug our kids directly into the potential for cyberbullying, sexting, inappropriate content, and mental health issues.  Over the past decade, parents, schools, and leaders have worked to address these risks head-on but we have a long way to go in changing the online space into an emotionally safe and healthy place.

Tech addiction isn’t a myth.  To curb the negative impact of increased tech use, we’ve learned ways to balance and limit screen time, unplug, and digitally detox. Most importantly, it’s been confirmed that technology addiction is a medical condition that’s impacting people and families in very painful ways.

The internet remembers. We’ve witnessed the very public consequences of bad digital choices. Kids and adults have wrecked scholarships, reputations, and careers due to careless words or content shared online. Because of these cases, we’re learning — though never fast enough — to think twice about the behaviors and words we share.

We’re equipping vs. protecting. We’ve gone from monitoring our kids aggressively and freaking out over headlines to realizing that we can’t put the internet in a bottle and follow our kids 24/7. We’ve learned that relevant, consistent conversation, adding an extra layer of protection with security software, and taking the time to understand (not just monitor) the ways our kids use new apps, is the best way to equip them for digital life.

The parent-child relationship is #1. When it comes to raising savvy digital kids and keeping them safe, there’s not a monitoring plan in existence that rivals a strong parent-child relationship. If you’ve earned your child’s heart, mind, and respect, you have his or her attention and can equip them daily to make wise choices online.

The dark web is . . . unimaginably dark. The underbelly of the internet — the encrypted, anonymous terrain known as the Dark Web — has moved from covert to mainstream exposure. We’ve learned the hard way the degree of sophistication with which criminals engage in pornography, human trafficking, drug and weapon sales, and stolen data. With more knowledge, the public is taking more precautions especially when it comes to malware, phishing scams, and virus attacks launched through popular public channels.

There’s a lot of good going on. As much negative as we’ve seen and experienced online over the past decade, we’ve also learned that its power can be used equally to amplify the best of humanity. Social media has sparked social movements, helped first responders and brought strangers together in times of tragedy like no other medium in history.

Privacy is (finally) king. Ten years ago, we clicked on every link that came our way and wanted to share every juicy detail about our personal lives. We became publishers and public figures overnight and readily gave away priceless chunks of our privacy. The evolution and onslaught of data breaches, data mining, and malicious scams have educated us to safeguard our data and privacy like gold.

We’ve become content curators. The onslaught of fake news, photo apps, and filter bubbles have left our heads spinning and our allegiances confused. In the process, we’ve learned to be more discerning with the content we consume and share. While we’re not there yet, our collective digital literacy is improving as our understanding of various types of content grows.

Parents have become digital ninjas. The parenting tasks of monitoring, tracking, and keeping up with kids online have gone from daunting to doable for most parents. With the emotional issues now connected to social media, most parents don’t have the option of sitting on the sidelines and have learned to track their kids better than the FBI.

This is us

We’ve learned that for better or worse, this wired life is us. There’s no going back. Where once there may have been doubt a decade ago, today it’s clear we’re connected forever. The internet has become so deep-seated in our culture and homes that unplugging completely for most of us is no longer an option without severe financial (and emotional) consequences. The task ahead for this new decade? To continue working together to diminish the ugly side of technology — the bullying, the cruelty, the crime — and make the internet a safe, fun experience for everyone.

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