Parental Controls and Alternatives to Monitoring Kids Online

Parental Control Alternative For Monitoring Kids Online

FTC Disclosure

As a Gen-Xer my digital footprint didn’t begin until I was well into adulthood. Initially there was a sense of anonymity because we were able to use screen names. Quickly, though, we came to realize that we could be identified. Even in the early days of the internet there were ways to find out who was hiding behind whatever goofy name we chose for our email, bulletin board, instant messenger, and other lame-in-comparison-to-today social networks.

For many of us, though, our kid have grown up around increasingly sophisticated technology. These digital natives have faced concerns that most of us never did.

I grew up in an analog age. The fanciest of technology came about in high school when the Apple IIe came out when I was a freshman. While that was a huge step forward, it really didn’t impact daily life like technology does today. There was no risk of anything I did going too far beyond my little community. That’s not the case today.

Parental controls when I was a teen came in the form of not getting dropped off at a friend’s house, being picked up earlier from a party than my friends, or having to sit with enough distance between us if a boy had come over to do homework together. Ah, good times!

Now, though, parental controls are more invasive than your mom walking in offering milk and cookies when you’re trying to hold hands with that boy who came over to study with you. While we still could make decisions back then, today there is technology that takes the decision-making out of our kids’ control. For most parents it’s like manna from heaven. But what if you’re like me and are not a big fan of parental controls? What are the options? Is it even possible to parent today without enabling some feature on a smartphone or tablet to make sure our kids aren’t exposed to “inappropriate” content or spend too much time online?

When BabyGirl was about 5 or 6 I installed parental control software on the computer she used. It was a desktop computer I had used but replaced. It was her computer for all intents and purposes. I was homeschooling her at the time and she’d spend time online doing schoolwork or playing. That was in 2007 or so. Seems like an eternity ago some times.

Anyway, back then you’d do a search on Google or Yahoo and, like today, pages of results would be presented for you to check out. Search engines were primitive compared to what we use today. Invariably she’d click on something that was inappropriate for a 5 or 6 year old. She’d close the window and come tell me. We’d talk about it, and she’d go on with her day.

There was a big push about that time for monitoring software. I installed some monitoring software and set the parameters. And then every 5 or 10 minutes I’d hear that the computer wasn’t working. Instead of filtering out what would be truly objectionable content, the software had so many keywords it was checking that nearly everything was filtered and nothing would get through. I go in to adjust the setting and make it less sensitive. Still, it wasn’t possible to get to a lot of legitimate content. That’s when I stopped using parental controls.

Fast forward to 2016 and the sophisticated monitoring software and built-in controls on computers, smartphones, tablets, and other types of mobile devices. BabyGirl is officially a teen and I have never used parental controls on any of her smartphones or tablets. Really. I know many people love them and I have friends who’ve written extensively about the benefits of parental controls for TV and mobile devices. For me, I’ve taken a different route since she got her first mobile device.

Talk Openly – Since she was very young, BabyGirl knew that sometimes there would be things on the internet that weren’t for kids to see. Just like in the “real” world, we can’t keep our kids blindfolded until we’ve had the opportunity to evaluate everything they see and hear, we can’t do that on the internet. And while there are filters that will prevent kids from gaining access to truly inappropriate information, for some it’s a false sense of security and doesn’t leave much room for open communication. As uncomfortable as these conversations can be for both of us, it has to be done.

Be Proactive – I’ve always been very up-front with BabyGirl about what she may see on the internet. No, I haven’t been graphic or given her information beyond what I thought she could understand. But I have worked with her one-on-one to learn how to use different search methods, what to look for in URL names and extensions, how to determine if she’s clicking on a reliable source, and things like that. Just like we role play for fire safety, we need to do the same thing when it comes to internet safety.

Follow the Rules – There’s a reason why most social networks have an age requirement. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a law created to protect the privacy of children under 13. Not that all of a sudden at age 13 they gain a magical sense of maturity and capability. Millions of kids under the age of 13 have social media accounts, despite it being a violation of the terms of service. A few years ago my friend Heather wrote about why kids under 13 shouldn’t be on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or any of the multitude of social networks available. If we allow our kids to start out their digital life with a lie, it’s hard to expect them not to lie about other things.

Know their Login Information – I’ve been told many times that asking BabyGirl for her login information shows that I don’t trust her and I should just use parental controls if I’m so concerned. I’ve always explained that they’re missing the point. I ask this information because I do trust her, but I don’t trust the people on the other side. Being able to get in to her device and the different programs isn’t about snooping and seeing what she’s talking about. I go in to make sure other people aren’t doing stupid things that whether or not there are parental controls they shouldn’t be doing. It’s also an opportunity to make sure her device is up-to-date, clear out apps she doesn’t use any more, and encourage her to continue to make good choice since her parents can check in at any time. It’s kind of the digital equivalent of mom offering milk and cookies right when you’re thinking of kissing the boy who came over to study with you.

Parental controls aren’t the be-all, end-all magic potion many like to believe they are. They are one tool, but there are “old-school” parental control we can use in addition to using tech-based parental controls or in place of relying on technology to do our job. There isn’t one right answer. As with most things related to parenting, you just have to do what works for you.

Sara

5 Ways To Help Protect Your Identity When You Travel

Ways To Protect Identity

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post for LifeLock.

Just 10 years ago, if you headed out-of-town for work or vacation only a few people knew. Today, it’s likely most of your co-workers, friends, and family know everything about your trip. Unfortunately, it’s also very likely many strangers do too. And while it may not be intentional, we exchange so much information online in general conversation that we forget there may be others “listening”.

In addition to the time-honored tips our grandparents passed down – stop the newspaper and mail service, let a trusted neighbor know you’ll be out-of-town and to keep an eye on your place, and get some timers for the lights – there are many other ways to keep your personal information safe while traveling. It’s no longer just a matter of someone physically breaking in to your home that we need to be concerned with. Each year millions of people experience some sort of data breach related to mobile, online, or credit card use.

Whether you are heading out-of-town for work or play, by plane or car, add these 5 tips to your travel checklist and gain some peace of mind.

Check your social network settings

Of course you want to share updates about your life with your close friends and family. But social networks can change settings without you knowing. Before going out-of-town, double-check your settings to make sure you have the privacy you are expecting. It’s also a good time to talk to your kids, if you have them, about what they should and should not be sharing.

Find your phone

Almost every mobile phone platform and provider offers some type of app to track your phone or shut down your phone if it’s lost. Don’t make it easy for anyone to gain access to your private information and stored passwords. Before you go is a good time to look over what is needed if your phone is lost or stolen, especially if you are going out of the country.

Be aware of unsecured WiFi

Free wifi often sounds like a good deal. And, for the most part it is. But unsecured internet connections at hotels, museums, airports, or other public spots can be a way for unscrupulous people to gain access to your data, passwords, or other private information.

Safeguard your credit cards and identification

It’s tempting to just leave your wallet or purse in the drawer as you head down to the pool, but use the hotel safe. It’s easy to leave your credit card on file at the hotel or bar, but always ask if you can just charge it to your room or pay as you go. It’s more convenient to throw your wallet in the little bin at the airport security checkpoint and send it through the scanner, but keep it in your larger bag if you can. Know where your ID and credit cards are at all times.

Turn off your home wi-fi

While it’s not always possible to turn off your home wi-fi due to alarm connectivity or having a house sitter, if there is no reason to keep your wi-fi active then turn it off. It’s one less access point to your information. If you must keep it connected, make sure you are using a very strong password and, if possible, hide the connection so it’s not visible to anyone with a wi-fi enabled device.

Identity theft is a top consumer threat that targets people of all ages. There are ways to monitor your identity, depending on your level of need. The LifeLock Site offers many resources to help you determine how to best safeguard your identity as well as providing educational tools to teach your children about keeping their information secure.

Stolen Identity BookIf you’re more of a book reader or want to share information about protecting oneself against identity theft, Stolen Identity: What Anyone with a Name, Birthdate and Social Security Number Needs to Know Now is an excellent resource.

If monitoring your accounts is something you’d like to learn more about, visit the LifeLock Site and compare their product offerings. LifeLock Junior is specifically designed for advanced monitoring of your child’s personal information. If you decide identity theft protection services are for you, visit the LifeLock Site and use LIFELOCKSAFETY for a 10% discount. Identity theft can happen to anyone at any time. Learn how to protect yourself and your family, especially while you’re out working hard and enjoying life!

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Disclosure: This is a compensated conversation on behalf of LifeLock. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sara

NetSmartz Teens Helps Kids Learn About Online Safety And Bullying Prevention

NetSmartz Teens

I am a volunteer with the social media group at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and was provided with early access to some of the new changes with the NS Teens website. I am sharing this post because of my relationship with NCMEC and because it’s important information for our kids.

NetSmartz is a website which offers a host of informational workshops for adults and kids. There is a unique site just for teens (and tweens) called NSTeens and it is designed to be an interactive portal for young people to learn about online safety and bullying education in a peer-to-peer environment.

NSTeens re-launched their site with a focus on interactive games, comics, and video. Through research, NCMEC learned that teens and tweens were more likely to listen to their peers when it comes to learning about the pitfalls of being online. While parents will definitely share information with their kids, we’re smart enough to know that our kids may tune us out. And no matter how much monitoring of their online usage we undertake, we can’t address every situation.

NSTeens Online Safety

NSTeens offers 5 Significant Benefits to Kids (and Parents)

1. Games and Comics make learning fun – while online safety and bullying education are both very serious subjects, bombarding kids with facts and figures isn’t the best way to get through to our kids. With interactive games and comics, young people have the opportunity to see some of the consequences of making the wrong decision. Even if it’s not what they’d really do, kids are able to see what may happen if they don’t do the right thing. In this safe environment, kids are able to explore emotions, feelings, and results that in the real world can have significant or long-lasting consequences.

2. All content has been vetted by online safety expertsNSTeens was created specifically for kids 8-18 by law enforcement and child safety experts. Men and women whose job it is to help our kids have worked with other experts to develop a program that addresses these important topics in a way that is both meaningful but also factual.

3. Peer to peer conversations – let’s not kid ourselves and think our children will watch video with adult experts blathering on about doing the right thing. They may, for a time or two. But they’re more inclined to watch videos from their peers. By seeing themselves in these other kids, our kids are able to learn how to navigate new situations. In addition, our kids may see themselves as leaders and willing to be examples for their friends at school or in the community.

4. Parents encourage use of the site – while NSTeens is never going to be as popular as some of sites our kids become fixated with, it is a site that is safe and parents can encourage accessing the site. Especially for younger kids who want to play online games the site offers an opportunity for kids to get their feet wet while learning how to navigate some of the challenging social situations found in online gaming.

5. Bilingual Education – NSTeens is one of the only sites dedicated to educating kids about online safety that is available in both English and Spanish. Online safety and bullying education is important for all kids.

NSTeens is designed for kids but the site also integrates a page for educators (which would include parents!). This section of the site offers suggestions about how to incorporate the materials and information into classroom (or home) conversations.

In today’s world, we want our kids not only to be safe online but to understand the long-term consequences of choices they make. When we were kids we didn’t have to worry about many of the situations and circumstances our kids face today. The internet has added a new way of sharing that is new to both our kids and us. We’ve read the horror stories. The last thing we want is our kid to be one of them.

Share NSTeens with everyone you know who has teen or tween kids. Many are already online but don’t fully understand the significance of the choices they’re making today. Predators no long just lurk behind bushes or in dark alleys, they’re online and they’re looking for vulnerable kids. Bullies are taking what was once easily seen behavior into platforms that our kids can’t avoid.

NSTeens is a FREE resource for parents, educators, and kids.

Sara