Cybersafety, Privacy Online and Teens: The Conversation

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

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

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

Talk, Talk, Talk

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

Set Clear Internet Rules

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

Identity Theft

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

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

How to Start This Conversation

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

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

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Teens and Making Safe Online Purchases

OnlineShoppingSummer is approaching and teens will be spending more time online – and possibly be making purchases such as iTunes, Netflix or other items that they have parent permission to buy.  It is imperative they know how to make safe cyber-purchases.

Like TV, the Internet targets kids with advertising, giving them plenty of opportunities to shop online, even if they’re not intending to. As parents, you need to make sure your kids are making good choices when it comes to online purchases, and the best way to do this is to talk and set some parameters.

Communicate

Before your kids start making online purchases, talk with them. Let them know what information is okay to give out and what’s not. Just like so many facets of the Internet, it’s essential for your kids to know the difference. Discuss what personal information is okay to provide; this will differ depending on their age. Younger kids should never give out any information, and it’s okay for older kids to give pertinent billing information only if they are buying something with your permission. They should never give out personal financial information or social security numbers.

Let your kids know to come to you so you can help them make the purchases. Plus, depending on their age, they should probably be asking permission before buying anything.

Another thing to communicate to your child is that if he or she is playing online and things come up like “add to shopping cart” or “accepts credit cards,” it’s time to alert you.

Use Gift Cards

Instead of giving out credit card numbers to set up accounts, use gift cards. A lot of kids love buying apps–let them use iTunes gift cards. That way, they can monitor their spending, and you won’t end up seeing surprise totals on your credit card bills. It will also encourage responsible spending.

Only Shop Reputable Sites and Do it Together

You wouldn’t send your eight-year-old into the mall alone with your credit cards; you shouldn’t let your kids have free reign online. Talk about this and how it’s important to sit down and shop together. Maybe they can browse around a little without you on safe, approved sites, but when it comes time for buying, do it together.

The younger kids are, the more online supervision they’ll need. A teen can have more freedom (but still be safe) than a younger child.

Let Them Know Many “Game” Sites Want Money and Membership

A lot of kid-friendly “free” sites are actually sites where you can buy memberships to get more options. If your child likes certain sites for playing, look into them and see if they offer memberships and what it entails. If you’re okay with this, go through the membership together to sign up with your child (you often have to approve this anyway).

If you’re not okay with this, explain why. Maybe you don’t want another monthly fee or you don’t think it’s necessary. Often you can still play, you just don’t get ALL the benefits, but that’s a good life lesson.

Even some apparently free apps will offer things you can buy to make it more fun or a better experience. Discuss with your child if they really think it’s necessary, and go from there.

The Internet offers a lot of fun sites for kids to play and stores to shop in. But it also harbors dangers, whether financial ones or others, and kids need to know what safety precautions to take. Let them know your parameters and values, and they can start making good, safe shopping choices from the beginning.

Contributor:  Heather Legg is a writer who blogs about Internet safety, parenting tips, and healthy lifestyles.

Teens and Internet Gossip

TeenCyberbullyingSocial media sites such as Ask.fm have been in the news lately and the headlines are not ones that parents would one to hear about their teens.  Gossip, whether online or off, can be cruel and harmful to others, especially when a person is already struggling with self-esteem issues.

“Sure enough, I had a parent come to my door and say, ‘Your daughter has been saying some rather nasty things about my daughter on this website.’”

– Patti, Mother

High school students have always spread gossip in the halls, on the walls and on the phone.  Now, it’s on the Internet, too.  On various message boards specific to communities around the country, kids write about whom they hate, whom they think is pregnant or has an STD and record other often hurtful rumors that may or may not be true.

Sixteen-year-old Jessica remembers once when some kids at her school wrote cruel things about her on the Web.

“They were just making fun of me,” she says.  “You know, she’s really ugly, she’s this, she’s that, ba-ba-ba.”

Jessica’s 11-year-old sister, Emma, admits she’s used the Web to write nasty things about another girl, though she regrets it now.

“After a while, you’re like, how could I have been so mean?  Like, why did I do that?” she says.

The other girl’s father eventually became so frustrated with what Emma had said that he came to her door and demanded her mother make her stop.

Experts say gossip on the Internet can be more harmful than the old-fashioned kind.  It’s often anonymous because kids use fake screen names.  It has the power of the written word, so it lasts longer and is taken more seriously.  And, unlikely ugly words on the bathroom wall, there’s no way to scratch it out.

“Online gossip is to hearsay gossip probably what nukes are to dynamite,” says Dr. Ramah Commanday, a school psychologist.  “It can get EXTREMELY raunchy.”

If your kids are victims of online gossip, Dr. Commanday suggests putting the gossip into perspective.

“Point out to them how what’s being said on the screen differs from what everyone knows about you as a person,” Dr. Commanday says.

You can also try what worked for Emma:  Keep your kids off the offensive website!

“When she was using it all the time, her name was on there all the time.  People were writing things about her,” explains Patti Thrift, Emma’s mother.  “Since she has no longer had access to that, she’s no longer a topic of conversation.”

Experts say that any time your child is on the Internet, you should know what he or she is doing there.  Online gossip is just another reason why.

Tips for Parents

Most of us remember passing notes during class or swapping stories over lunch with our friends in middle and high school.  But with more teens accessing the Internet these days, it appears that gossip has gone high-tech.  Teens are using message boards, instant messaging and even email to air out their frustrations – often in hurtful language – about their teachers and peers.

According to an Internet Report from the UCLA Center for Communication Policy, 97% of kids aged 12 to 18 access the Internet on a regular basis.  What they’re doing on the Internet, however, may be surprising.  The U.S. Department of Justice reports that approximately one in every 17 kids is threatened or harassed while using the Internet.  In fact, most don’t tell their parents or other adults, and if they do, the adults often don’t know how to stop the online teasing.

Gossiping, whether it’s in the halls or on a message board, more often than not leads to hurt feelings.  According to the Nemours Foundation, if teens spend enough time gossiping and passing on stories they don’t know are true, eventually no one will believe anything they say, even when it is the truth.  Teens who gossip shouldn’t expect to be trusted ever again.  Once friends learn that a peer can’t resist spreading secrets around, they won’t tell him or her anything personal.  And if a teen gossips about personal or important issues, he or she could even end up in trouble at school and at home.  Teachers don’t appreciate students who make it tough for other students to learn, and parents won’t be happy to hear that their child is causing trouble in school.

If you’ve heard your teen taking teasing and gossiping to a hurtful level, it’s time to remedy the situation.  The experts at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota offer the following advice for curbing your teen’s gossiping and teasing:

  • Cultivate your teen’s compassion.  Talk to him or her about feelings – how emotional blows can hurt as much as physical ones.  “You wouldn’t throw a rock at that boy, would you?  So you shouldn’t call him a ‘zit-face’ either.”
  • Give your teen a simple test he or she can use to judge if his or her teasing is playful or hurtful:  “How would I feel if someone said this about me?”
  • Talk to your teen about the when and where of playful teasing.  He or she shouldn’t always resort to sarcasm or jokes at someone else’s expense in order to get a laugh.
  • Examine your own behavior and that of other family members.  Do you rib your children at length, even after they plead with you to stop?  Do you tease inappropriately, that is, about the way people look or the habits they have?  Are you confusing razzing with teaching and discipline – for instance, do you communicate your frustration about your teen’s messy room by calling him “Mr. Slob”?  Make sure that your own teasing (and that of everyone else in your household) is good-natured, not aggressive or manipulative.

As a parent, it is also important to regulate how your teen uses the Internet.  If you know what your teen is doing while online, you can better prevent him or her from visiting message boards where the temptation to gossip exists.  The Media Awareness Network suggests considering the following questions concerning how your teen surfs the Net:

  • Are you involved in your teen’s online activities?  Do you know what he or she is doing and whom your teen is talking to when he or she is on the Internet?
  • Does your family have a set of rules or an agreement for appropriate Internet use?
  • Do you make Internet use a family activity by guiding your teen to good sites and teaching him or her how to do safe, effective searches?
  • Have you taught your teen not to believe everything he or she reads online and to check online information with an adult or with another source?
  • If your teen has her or his own website, have you checked to make sure it doesn’t contain harmful or hurtful information?
  • Have you talked to your teen about responsible online behavior?  Does he or she understand that making threats or harassing others online can be considered illegal activities?

References

  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota
  • Media Awareness Network
  • Nemours Foundation
  • UCLA Center for Communication Policy
  • U.S. Department of Justice

Facebook and Tweens: What is Age Appropriate?

FB55This is a question that has been lingering for the past couple of years.  We know that kids under 13 are joining, but should they be?

The brave new world of technology has expanded so far that even your grandmother may have an account on the social networking clearinghouse that is Facebook. The fact that your elderly relatives have adopted Facebook, however, doesn’t mean that your child is ready to tackle the social media giant. When your tween is pleading with you for permission to start a Facebook account and swearing that all of their friends have them, these are 10 of the reasons why you might want to stick to your guns and continue to ban the site for a few more years.

  1. Bullying – Being bullied is a devastating situation, even for teenagers and young adults, but tweens are even more likely to be overwhelmed by bullies online. Kids who aren’t victims of bullying may also find themselves joining in with the crowd picking on another youngster in the no-holds-barred world of the Internet.
  2. Exposure to Questionable Content – Even if your preteen is never approached by a sexual predator, she’s still likely to come across photos or status updates that simply aren’t age appropriate. A child who doesn’t have a Facebook account may be protected from that objectionable content for a bit longer, though.
  3. Online Predators – Sexual predators lurking online are such a problem that entire television series have been dedicated to sting operations designed to catch them. Preteens simply aren’t equipped to properly fend off approaches from predators, and may be more susceptible to their techniques than older kids.
  4. They’re Not Technically Allowed to Have Accounts – If you don’t prohibit Facebook use for your preteen for any other reason, you should consider the fact that allowing them to start an account is tantamount to telling them that it’s okay to lie. Facebook doesn’t allow users younger than 13, so your child will have to falsify her age in order to sign up. Doing so with your permission is effectively sending a message that lying is acceptable behavior if you’re lying to get something you really want.
  5. Reducing Screen Time – Between television, video games and time spent online for homework purposes, kids spend enough of their day planted in front of an electronic screen. Facebook is just another way for your child to while away the hours in sedentary activity, rather than getting outside and being active.
  6. Preserving Academic Performance – When your child is supposed to be online researching homework methods or studying for a big test, his shiny new Facebook account can be a very serious distraction. Kids so young may have difficulty controlling their impulses, and may spend far more time on the social media site than they do actually working.
  7. Protecting Your Computer from Malware – You and your teenagers may have a basic idea of how to avoid malware and spyware sent out by unscrupulous Facebook users, but your tween probably doesn’t. Keeping your child off of social media for a few more years can also be your computer’s saving grace.
  8. Because Kids Lack Adult Judgment – The fact that college students post photographs of binge drinking parties and incriminating status updates at an alarming rate is proof that young people don’t always have the best judgment when it comes to social networking. For a young child, not understanding acceptable Facebook use could lead to them sharing very sensitive personal information that later proves to be dangerous.
  9. Friends Lists Can Be Difficult to Manage – When the friend requests start rolling in, your tween will probably accept each and every one of them because it makes her feel well-liked and cool. That can give some shady characters access to her profile, something she may have trouble understanding when she’s still so young.
  10. Tech-Savvy Tweens Can Block Your Monitoring Efforts – Some preteens may have trouble avoiding malware and managing a friends list, but others will be tech-savvy enough to filter their updates and change security settings that affect what you’re able to see. Even if you think you’re monitoring your child, you may only be seeing a fraction of the things she does online.

If you still think that your preteen is mature and trustworthy enough to have a Facebook account without getting into trouble, the decision is up to you. Be warned, however, that your child could find all of her hYoursphere1ard work tossed to the wayside if Facebook administrators discover that she’s maintaining an account before she’s reached the age limit set in the terms of use and decide to delete the account.

Source:  Babysitting Jobs

Need a great alternative to Facebook for tweens?  Check out Yoursphere!  It is designed for that age group where safety for your child is their priority!

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Should You Snoop On Your Teens Online?

When safety trumps privacy--parents need to know.

When safety trumps privacy–parents need to know.

When safety trumps privacy–yes, a parents responsibility is to be in the know!

Let’s face it, our kids crave their privacy just like adults–but they are not adults.  We want to give them their space, and trust them, however it is the outsiders that we worry about.  Especially when it comes to virtually strangers!

How to snoop on your kid when they are online?  It sounds very sneaky, but their safety is always a priority.  When you understand that it is not about invading their privacy as much as it is about insuring their security you will find the sense of comfort.

How would you feel if your son or daughter ended up meeting a stranger offline they meet in a chatroom since you felt it was too invasive to glance into their cyber-world?  Remember, you are a parent first—you have the rest of your life to be their friend.

As kids approach adolescence, their need for privacy and insistence upon keeping parts of their life away from the prying eyes of a parent can make it difficult to monitor their activity. With the advent of smartphones that allow your child to carry the Internet around with him in his pocket, the need to make sure that he’s not getting into online trouble can feel even greater. While it’s usually more effective to attempt an open dialogue about what is and is not considered appropriate online behavior before resorting to spy-level surveillance, there may be times when snooping feels like the only choice.

Monitoring Software

Even less than tech-savvy parents can learn to navigate parental monitoring software, which is designed to run in the background and be undetectable by users. There are several varieties of monitoring programs, all with different features and levels of functionality. One thing that they all have in common is an ability to reveal all the things your child is doing online when you’re not there to look over his shoulder.

Limit Computer Use to Common Areas

If you’ve opted not to give your child a web-capable smartphone or a laptop, then you may find it easier to snoop while he’s online if the main computer is located in a high-traffic area of your home. When your child knows that a simple glance his way could reveal questionable web content he’s viewing, he’s more likely to think twice about what he looks up. Not only will you be able to keep an eye on what your child is looking at, but you’ll also be able to influence him into making better choices based solely on your nearby presence.

Check Your Browser History

Older kids with more advanced computer knowledge may be savvy enough to delete their browser history, but younger kids and tweens may not yet have the required know-how. After your child uses the computer, take a moment to scroll through the browser history. You’ll be able to access all of the pages your child has recently viewed, allowing you to get a good idea of what areas need to be addressed most.

Fake Social Networking Profiles

If your children haven’t deleted you from their Facebook friends list yet, there’s a strong possibility that they’ve learned to manipulate the safety and security settings so that they can block what you’re able to see. One way to make sure that you’re seeing everything posted on your child’s timeline and every interaction he has is to sign up for your own fake profile and use it to add your child. Unless he’s naturally suspicious of strangers, he probably won’t block the visibility of his posts to a new friend.

Keystroke Recording Software

Every email, every message and every web search can be recalled with a keystroke recorder, along with your child’s passwords. If you have a serious reason to believe that something is wrong and you’ll need to be able to confront your child with concrete evidence to make a difference, keystroke software may be the way to go. Be warned, however, that a child who’s not actually involved in questionable activities will almost certainly feel that she has no privacy or grounds for trusting her parents. In the event of an emergency, these programs can be quite valuable tools for parents.

Webcam Monitoring

There are ways to remotely view everything the webcam in your child’s computer sees, but it’s wise to think long and hard before resorting to such things. No invasion of privacy is as personal or as upsetting as being actively watched when you’re not aware of it. Furthermore, there are some sights a parent just doesn’t need to see.

Smartphone Apps

Do you want to track your child’s movements with an online GPS service connected to his phone or block content he’s able to view with the device? There are a slew of kid-monitoring apps available for smartphones that can help you keep tabs on your child when he’s away from home.

These methods will help you track and monitor what your kids are doing online, but there is no app or program to replace the trust that is almost certain to be lost when your child discovers the depth of your investigation. Before resorting to underhanded means of finding out what your youngster is up to, you may want to attempt having an open, judgment-free conversation about boundaries, appropriate behavior and the implications of being careless on the Internet.

Reference:  Nanny Background Check

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Teaching Teens About Online Responsibility

If you are the parent of a teenager and you have a home computer, then it’s likely that he or she would be surfing the Web 24 hours a day — if you allow it. There’s also a strong possibility that your teen is hiding their online activities. BusinessWire.com released a study conducted by McAfee, a dedicated security technology company, showing that 70 percent of teens hide their Internet usefrom their parents.

The study broke down how teens were hiding their  Web activity: 15 percent of the teens in the study had hacked into a social network; 30 percent had pirated movies or music; and 48.1 percent had cheated on tests, looking up answers on their phones. The study evaluated the awareness of parents and how much they knew about their child’s computer use, finding that more than 70 percent of the parents didn’t see anything abnormal or alarming about their teen’s Internet use.

So, how can parents stay on top of their kids’ online activity without being overbearing, thus encouraging their teens to conceal more? Here are a few suggestions we think will build a stronger connection between you and your teen, while also teaching them the importance of responsible Internet use.

Surf the Internet with your Teenager

Let your kid know that not everything is off limits; go to YouTube and watch viral and funny videos together. If you see something that makes you or your teen obviously uncomfortable, talk about it, and let them know they can trust you and you won’t punish them for their openness.

Keep Sensitive Information Private

Let your teen know that while you want to be in the know about what they are doing and that you can be trusted, the rest of the world on the Internet cannot be trusted. Let your teen know what the consequences are to sharing private information such as phone numbers, addresses, social security numbers, bank account information or other sensitive information. Ask them to be honest with you about whether they have shared private details already and with whom.

Empower Your Teen

Let your teen know you view them as an intelligent, responsible young adult who is capable of making the right choice. Deanna of MommyGaga.com advises parents to take an educational tactic in teaching their teens to be responsible users, rather than the prison guard tactic the “Today Show” presents. Deanna advises parents to teach their kids how to use common sense and behave accordingly, so as to not come to a point where you’re policing your kids’ computer use.

What if it’s Gone Too Far?

If you’re phones are tapped, the Feds have paid you a visit regarding wire fraud and your teen is spending 80 hours a week holed up in his or her bedroom, maybe it’s time to use some enforcement. Dr. Michele Borba’s article on Today.com suggests that parents let their kids know that the parent will be online and in charge. This may mean you have spyware hooked up to the family computer, or that you will be in the room while they are online. Having all Internet devices in a family room, and not hidden, can also discourage your kid from doing anything that you wouldn’t approve.

As always, it’s important to be honest and open with your child about why you are protecting them. If you explain why it is important to discuss their online interactions, then they will be more likely to trust you and less likely to think you are just trying to make their lives miserable.

Contributor:  John Hill.  He  is a former print journalist who converted to digital when he fell in love with blogging for larger audiences. He writes about health, fitness and medical topics.

Facebook Considering Allowing Access for Kids

Despite problems in recent months with its initial public offering (IPO), Facebook still sits on top of the mountain when it comes to social media. As a result, millions of young people find themselves with social media accounts on the world’s social networking leader, begging the question: How young is too young to have an account?

In recent times, the thought has been put out there that Facebook will consider authorizing membership to children under 13 with parental permission. As it stands now, there are millions of children under 13 with illegal accounts, an issue that can present a number of problems for both child and parents.

Problem Already Exists

According to a survey from ConsumerReports, approximately 5.6 million children under 13 are violating Facebook terms in registering for an online account.

As one child-privacy advocate sees it, the Federal Trade Communication (FTC) and Congress should consider making it so that Facebook creates a section for children under 13 and requires opt-in parental permission.

How comfortable would you be as a parent letting your young child peruse all Facebook–or any other social media site for that matter–has to offer? Would you trust your child’s instincts to know right from wrong, worry that someone who means them harm could come in contact with them, or be concerned they would spend too much time on this type of site?

It is important as a parent or just someone that is concerned about a younger relative, student, or friend, that you remind children why Internet age limits exist in the first place.

Remember, there is a reason individuals are not allowed to drive until a certain age, have their first alcoholic beverage until a specific age, or serve in the military until they reach a particular age. Even though being on the Internet at a young age can seem harmless, there are dangers out there in cyberworld that await kids without the proper security system in place.

Before you let your child sign up for a Facebook account under the age of 13, think about some of the risks they could come in contact with, which include:

  • Being a potential target for sexual predators
  • Giving out personal information that could put them (or even you!) in jeopardy such as credit card numbers, bank accounts, or social security numbers
  • It requires more supervision time from you, the parent, meaning you are taken away from other tasks and responsibilities

 

On the positive side, allowing a child under 13 to have a legitimate Facebook account means:

 

  • More openness between parent and child
  • You can make an agreement with your child that they must get your approval before posting any personal information and/or visiting sites
  • Given that many kids under 13 already are on Facebook illegally, you’d be better able to monitor more users and validate user information

Are Stricter Privacy Controls Coming?

As Facebook and billionaire owner Mark Zuckerberg sees it, given the fact that millions of children under the age of 13 already have illegal Facebook accounts, allowing them to sign up legally (with their correct ages) would give the social media giant the ability to put in place stricter privacy controls for those in that age range.

That being said, some social media experts believe tighter privacy controls are not exactly on Facebook’s economic agenda.

As of late, Facebook has been trying out means whereby kids under 13 could be on the site without lying about their age, most likely under parental supervision. Once such way being discussed is having children’s accounts linked to their parents’ accounts.

In the meantime, do you monitor your child’s time on social networking sites? If not, do you worry that trouble is lurking on the other side of the screen?

 About the author: With 23 years of experience as a writer, Dave Thomas covers a wide array of topics from online security to identity theft.