10 “Back To School” Tips To Protect Your Kids Online

10 “Back To School” Tips To Protect Your Kids Online

The first day of school has come and gone for most of us here in America, and for our kids it’s the final nail in the coffin for Summer. For parents it’s often a time to celebrate a few more hours of quiet in the house after months of neighbor kids coming over, debates over what to eat for lunch (much to my kids dismay, I still contend that a fist full of Jolly Ranchers is not a good meal), and listening to countless hours of video games being played in the living room or rough-housing in the back yard.

By now we’re all pretty much back into the swing of things for the school year and all of the changes associated with it, including PTA meetings, before-and-after-school practices, and trying to figure out what the kids will wear for school pictures. (My mother is probably still cranky I wore a “Boss Hogg For President” t-shirt for my 5th grade school pictures waaay back in the day)

And, of course, we’re all making sure our kids are getting enough time to study, which nowadays more than likely means time on the family computer. We’ve compiled some tips and links to help you keep their study time a safe time.

  1. Teach Your Kids Internet Security Basics:

    Show your kids how to check for secure sites, setting up a good password, and things of that nature. Good habits start now, and teaching your kids how to stay safe now will follow them the rest of their lives.

  2. Keep Your PC In An Open Space:

    Any child under the age of 18 should probably be made to use a computer that’s in an open space. Perhaps at the kitchen table on a laptop, or with a desktop in a living room… something like that. This way you can casually glance over and see if anything inappropriate is being said. (Or shown!)

  3. Limit Socializing On The Computer:

    Computers are great, but I like to use the phrase “Everything in moderation” in our house when I tell them they only have an hour or two for fun on the computer or iPad. The kids get to do their Instagraming, Facebooking and tweeting, but they don’t get so engulfed in social media that they become antisocial in real life.

  4. Scan New Devices For Malware Every Time They’re Used:

    As your kids get older, they’ll start bringing home more data CDs, USB drives, and the like. It’s bad enough when they download stuff, but inserting devices into your computer opens up a whole new dimension to possible malware infection. Be sure that your Internet security software scans any new device or drive automatically.

  5. Only Post Parent-Approved Information:

    Once something goes on the Internet, it’s pretty much there to stay, even if you delete it. Because once those pictures, posts, etc. are made live, people can screenshot them, pass them to others, or re-share them. Make sure your kids know this, and only post things they wouldn’t mind you, their grandma, or grandpa seeing.

  6. Re-check Your Privacy Settings:

    Software and services are always changing things up with their privacy settings. (Looking at you, Facebook) Stay on top of your game and periodically check for any changes that may affect your kids, and in particular their online accounts.

  7. Mind Your Manners:

    It’s nice to be nice, and nowhere is that more true than online. Sometimes it seems like most of the folks commenting on anything out there are trolls who have nothing better to do that try to bring someone else down. Make sure your kids mind their P’s and Q’s and help make the Internet a nicer place to visit.

  8. Sometimes It’s NOT Nice To Share:

    TMI, or “Too Much Information”, is a problem, especially on social media. It’s one thing to share what you had for dinner, or the picture of your cat that makes you laugh. It’s a whole other ballgame to get too detailed or explicit about, well, pretty much anything. Kids should know where the line between appropriate and inappropriate is, and that they shouldn’t cross it.

  9. And Sometimes It’s OK To Tattle:

    Cyberbullying is a big problem, and when it happens, kids should be empowered to tell any and every time it happens.

  10. Avoid The Noid Strangers:

    Last but not least is the parent favorite: Don’t talk to strangers. Even those online. If your kids don’t know someone, they shouldn’t be chatting with them. And if things start to go south during a conversation, they can just shut off the computer and walk away, or even get you or another adult to help intervene.

  11. BONUS: Turn Off Location-Based Information On Devices

    On any smartphone, tablet, or any other device that allows you to display your location, be sure to turn it OFF for kids! Letting your kids post from home while displaying their geo-location lets everyone know where they live as soon as they post. The same goes for Exif data in cameras: Find out how to turn geolocation off before it becomes an issue.

Like anything we do, good online habits are formed over years of doing the same things over and over. Start practicing them now with your kids and soon it’ll become second nature to you all.

Image courtesy of twix

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What Is Cyberbullying? Defining A Modern Problem.

What Is Cyberbullying? Defining A Modern Problem.

Keeping kids safe from bullying has never been harder for parents, teachers, and families. If the physical world weren’t enough for us to keep up with, we’re now learning more every day about the importance of keeping our eyes and ears open for cyberbullying across our children’s email, smart phone, social media, and even school-related sites. It’s not just the Internet that’s talking about it — TV news shows, radio personalities, and magazines are increasingly talking about cyberbullying and how it affects everyone, especially kids. But what is it exactly, and what can be done to help prevent the bullying in the first place?

There are many definitions of cyberbullying out there to choose from, but they all break down to something like this:

Cyberbullying Definition
Cyberbullying is any form of intentional harassment that takes place online or by using electronic devices such as smartphones, personal computers, iPods, tablets, and other hand-held devices like the Kindle. It can happen through text messages, social media posts, online chat (IM‘s, or instant messaging), and on websites. (A famous example being Internet forums)

Nowadays, as many as 1 in 3 children say they’ve been cyberbullied (Source), and half of the kids who are cyberbullied never tell their parents (Source). It may come to some people as a surprise that girls are more likely to be an online bully than boys, (Source) but at the end of the day and regardless of whether it’s a boy or girl doing it — it’s wrong, it’s harmful, and it’s a growing problem among school-age children.

So what can parents, teachers, and other friends and family do to help combat the situation? Now that we have it defined, we can focus on the areas it happens. Keeping a watchful eye on Internet activity, games played on iPods and Kindles, who your kids are texting (and what they’re saying!), and in general keeping tabs on their electronic life is a fantastic first line of defense against cyberbullies. Just remember that it’s not about snooping or invading privacy. It’s about ensuring the health and well-being of your children and teaching them to use caution when interacting with anyone online.

Some of what cyberbullies pick up on are things that we put out there in the first place, so there are some things everyone (kids, parents… seriously, anyone at all) can do to help prevent bullying before it happens.

  • No Personally Identifiable Information:

    Be cautious about filling out online surveys, posting the answers to questionnaires on Facebook, or making any information available online or in a text that can give away your identity. Last names, home addresses, phone numbers, and even plans to go somewhere at a future time or day are all fodder for those who would try to bully.

  • Say No To Geo-Location:

    While geo-location tools are great for finding out where your family members are or getting yourself un-lost on a road trip, when used on social media networks and across other publicly viewable profiles it gets predators of all types that much closer to your and your kids. Resist the urge to add your location(s) to tweets and posts.

  • Speak Out Against Bullying:

    If you or your family see cyberbullying, regardless of how small or insignificant it may seem, say something. Too many children don’t speak up for themselves, and the damages to self-esteem can lead a child to depression, feeling nervous or scared, and in some well-publicized cases to suicide. Take bullying seriously and nip it in the bud as soon as you see it.

  • Stranger Danger:

    Only “friend” people online who you actually know. Close friends, family, etc. It’s so easy to let the wrong person into your online life, and once they’re in, it’s not always easy to get them out. Keeping a close eye on who you allow to follow you or see your private posts (such as the Friends Of Friends option on Facebook) can help reduce the chances of a bully smearing your profile with their vitriol.

  • Be Smart About What You Publish:

    Some things just aren’t meant to be shared online. Certain posts, and especially those with inappropriate material attached, can get you into hot water… fast. My rule of thumb is that I won’t post anything I wouldn’t be embarrassed to have my grandma show to all of her friends. Your mileage may vary with that one, but whatever you need to help curb your desire to post something embarrassing, use it!

If your child or someone you know does become the victim of a cyberbully, resist the temptation to delete the offending images, text, etc. The best thing to do is to take a screenshot of the material and use it against the bully by alerting the appropriate authorities, whether that’s the police, school staff, or the bully’s parents. For something minor or an isolated incident, a lesser solution may be appropriate, but if there are any serious threats of harm, do not hesitate contacting your local law enforcement. If you need more ideas about what to do, we’ve got a whole blog post on how to deal with a cyberbully.

Additional Resources:

Image courtesy of mdgovpics

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The Number One Rule For Students Using Social Media

The Number One Rule For Students Using Social Media

I know a lot of students of all age ranges including neighbors, children of friends, my own kids, etc. When we talk the topic of conversation often navigates to social media with all of them. Most of the discussions center around a funny cat picture on Pinterest, the best Auto-Correct Fail screenshots, or things of that nature. These talks have given me some insight into how these students use social media, and I’ve learned over the years how they act (and react) online is often different from how they would in a real-life situation.

My very unscientific research on social media usage by students thus far has broken things down into something like this:

  • Facebook is for close friends and they talk about anything and everything, often in great detail. There’s very little personal filtering here.
  • Twitter is a free-for-all, and they’ll follow anyone who doesn’t look like a spammer or act like a creep. Details are often less personally identifiable.
  • Pinterest and everything else is generally a lot more for the aforementioned funny cat pictures and “likes” or “faves” versus anything of any real substance.

Cat pictures aside, something that captures my attention every single time is how anyone — students, friends, family, whomever — seems to become more active online. Normally introverted people speak up more, normally extroverted people kick it up a notch, and everyone likes to give their opinion on whatever topic is at hand. And that’s great, but sometimes the online conversations can get a little out of hand.

Since anything posted on the Internet is (for all intents and purposes) forever, this means that anyone equipped with Google and some free time can go through your entire online history and cherry pick the most embarrassing points and use them against you. This includes potential dates and future bosses, both of whom are looking for good reasons to not choose you. Students in high school and college would do well to remember these things when posting online:


The easiest way to successfully creating a drama-free social media presence is to be respectful to everyone you meet online. Family, co-workers, that weird friend who keeps “Poking” you on Facebook but never says anything… Keeping your interactions on an even keel will be a big help in keeping the peace.

Easy On The Swears

A lot of people are turned off by swearing, especially if it’s excessive. It’s advisable to keep as PG as possible and don’t whip up a tapestry of obscenities like a sailor on leave. I know, because I used to be a sailor on leave, and nobody wants to hear or read all of that online. 🙂

Take A Deep Breath

It’s easy to make snap judgments, fire off an incendiary email, or comment on a topic that you may not have the full story on. Being a hot head online, or worse yet purposefully trolling blog posts and forums, can quickly give you a bad reputation.

Social Media Can Make Or Break A Career

Job seekers, beware! Managers, HR groups, and potential employers are using social media more and more to learn about both potential hires as well as current employees. Depending on which study you look at, somewhere between 30-90% of interviewers check on an interviewees’ social media profiles at some point before they make a job offer. Even at the low-end, the chances are pretty good that someone will be checking how you conduct yourself online. Avoid posting your “Oh man, I was über wasted at this party!” pictures, because that might be the one thing a potential boss could see and make a snap decision on.

Things Sound Different When Read Vs. When Said

Emails and other written/typed conversations always sound a little more harsh than they are intended. There’s a lot to be said for the inflection of a voice in a face-to-face conversation, so give people the benefit of the doubt. And if you’re unsure, ask them in person if you can.

Having said all of the above, the number one rule I’d give students engaging in social media is this: Don’t jeopardize your future with a poor choice in the present. Once something is posted online — a blog, a picture, a comment, or anything really — it’s there forever. There are no tap-backs. There are no do overs. What you post online can get archived onto servers, captured by screenshots, and forwarded to friends… and enemies. Be mindful of what you post, and you’ll save yourself a lot of grief.

Image courtesy of heza

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Senior Citizen Guide To Avoiding Internet Scams

Senior Citizen Guide To Avoiding Internet Scams

Senior citizens are a vital community in modern society, but unfortunately they’re often targeted by Internet scam artists looking to make a quick buck. In fact, the Attorney General of Washington state did some research on senior fraud and discovered the following statistic from AARP:

Consumers lose billions of dollars each year to fraud. People over age 50 are especially vulnerable and account for over half of all victims…

That’s a staggering number, and a clarion call for seniors to be proactive in their own defense against fraudsters who would scam them out of their hard earned money.

With a few simple precautions, computing seniors can defend themselves against scams and fraud. And while there’s no end to how many different ways there are to try to bilk someone out of their hard-earned money, these tips can help knock out some of the most common scams.

  • Be Sure To Be Secure Senior citizens are an ever-growing segment of online shoppers, and with many Internet retailers offering discounted or free shipping, it’s no wonder. But fake websites and non-secure shopping can put a damper on anyone’s day. Learn how to tell if you’re shopping on a legitimate website to avoid trouble online. It’s not just shoddy workmanship we have to watch out for when we buy things sight-unseen online, it’s convincing websites that look like the real deal but are secretly swiping your credit card numbers and personal information.
  • Learn How To Avoid Credit Card Scams Keeping a low balance on your credit cards is a great idea, but it’s also a dream come true for fraudsters. Be wise with how you use them and use these tips on avoiding credit card scams. Check your balances monthly, question purchases that you don’t remember, and always be sure to only shop on sites you can trust, like Amazon.com.
  • Your Password Is Your Armor A strong password is your first line of defense against anyone looking to hack into your accounts. And while no password is 100% fool-proof, it’s better to err on the side of caution and use a password that’s much harder to break than using the old standbys like “password”, “iloveyou”, or “asdf1234”. (If you use any of those, change them now) Passwords don’t have to be a big pain in the rear. In fact, with only a few modifications you can make a better, stronger password in minutes.
  • If it sounds too good to be true… We’ve all heard this since we were little, but it’s easy to forget. And somehow, online scammers seem to know how to word things just right to make their scheme seem legitimate. If you do think a good deal has dropped into your lap, do a little research on the company first and make sure that there aren’t any complaints from the BBB, your state Attorney General’s office, or on review sites like Yelp and Consumer Reports.

We could go on and on about fraud prevention and online security, but the tips noted above are a great start for any senior citizen looking to protect themselves from Internet scams. Do you have any additional tips that we may have missed? Leave us a comment below and share your thoughts with the rest of us.

Additional resources for seniors:

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StopSign Reviews: Internet Usage Contracts For Kids, Teens & Parents

StopSign Reviews: Internet Usage Contracts For Kids, Teens & Parents

In the first post of our StopSign Reviews series, we’ll be taking a look at preemptive Internet safety tactics through the use of Internet Usage Contracts for parents and their children.

A growing trend among modern families is the signing of a contract between parents and children for a variety of topics. We know of parents successfully using contracts with their kids for guiding appropriate behavior, regulating television &/or electronic device use, and of course for tech-related topics such as cellphone usage and dealing with cyber-bullying. But the broader topic of Internet usage potentially has more snags in it due to the unknown, unsavory elements of the web, which are often combined with phones and bullies.

In general, we find that the use of a contract between parent and child is a good starting point, so long as all parties involved are committed to following through with the terms of the contract. Potential lapses in moderation by a parent or inappropriate use by a child are a concern, but if the family is serious about Internet safety then these lapses should be rare if not completely absent.

There are many different options when it comes to a usage contract, and there’s no one right solution. Your best bet is to do a search for Internet usage contracts and find something that works for your family. We’ve found a handful online to help get you started, but if you don’t find one you like you can always mix-and-match sections and create your own version. I’ve even found combination contracts that discuss phone and electronic equipment use, but the ones below focus solely on the Internet.

Each of the contracts have their own focus, but most have sections discussing how inappropriate Internet usage will be handled, acknowledging terms and conditions of Internet access (by signature or by writing down specifics), clear emphasis on keeping personally identifiable information private (name, school, address, pictures, etc.), and setting clear expectations on the part of the parent(s) and child(ren).

Any of the internet usage contracts should work for you and your kids to get the ball rolling. The most important thing is to open the dialog with your children, set expectations, discuss the reality of the not-so-nice side of the Internet, and be sure that your kids know who to turn to if/when they encounter a problem. Communication is a must when talking about promoting the appropriate use of the web whether your children are playing or studying online.

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Online Safety Tips For Parents Of School-Age Children

Online Safety Tips For Parents Of School-Age Children

When I was a kid, I could ride my bike all over our neighborhood and play outside all day long without seeing or talking to my parents. These days, most parents keep a much closer eye on their kids due to the rise of unsavory characters harming kids. The same thing goes for the Internet; in 1993 most people were still discovering what the “web” was and there wasn’t much cause for concern. But today, the topic of online safety is everywhere and the evening news stories about online predators have most parents keeping a tight rein on what their kids do and see online.

And no wonder. According to the FBI, 1 in 3 kids has been exposed to unwanted sexual material, 1 in 7 have received unwanted sexual solicitations, and 1 in 11 children have been bullied online. (Source) With those kinds of numbers, it’s imperative that we help protect our children at every possible level. A daunting task, to be sure, but one which is just as important as seat belts in cars and wearing bike helmets.

I’d be lying if I said that we, as parents, could protect our children from every conceivable manner of predatory interaction. But the more we know, the more we can do, and action is the key to preventing our kids from being exposed to the wrong kind of people and pages on the Internet. To help you out, we’ve rounded up a handful of ideas that will keep your kids safety and security at the forefront of any visit they make to the web.

  • Don’t give out personal information — It’s very easy to take a few pieces of information and determine where someone lives, works, or goes to learn. Remind your children that any personally identifiable information like their last name, address, email, phone number, or school name are things they should keep to themselves. Putting any of that information online puts them at risk for predators.
  • Sending pictures and videos are by permission only — Stress to your kids that sending pictures or videos of themselves to anyone online, even friends and family, should only be done with your permission. It’s not just online predators who are a problem. Cyber-bullies often pose as a friend at first to gain their victims trust, then use what they find against them.
  • Let your kids know it’s OK to come to you — If your child feels uncomfortable with something he or she finds online, let them know it’s OK for them to talk to you about it. Pictures, video, text… there are all sorts of things that could make your kids feel uneasy.
  • Nix any meetup plans — One of the biggest worries we have as parents is an abducted child. Talk openly and honestly to your children about the dangers of meeting a “friend” they met on the Internet in the real world.
  • It’s OK to not chat back — If your child receives an email, a text, and instant message, or any other communication from someone they don’t know, make sure he or she understands that they do not have to answer back. It’s not rude; it’s a safety issue. This should also extend to immediately stopping a conversation as soon as they feel uncomfortable.

This blog post isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of things you can do to help keep your kids safe on the Internet. Rather, it’s a starting point for action and discussion. The best things you can teach your child about staying safe online is to be aware of the dangers, keep sensitive data secure, and provide a safe haven for them to talk you about what they find online.

Many great websites and articles are posted online regarding Internet safety for parents, kids, teachers, and beyond. Here are some additional resources to help you keep your kids protected:

We’d love to hear more from you on how you help keep your kids safe online. What tips do you have for kids and parents who are looking to stay safe? Leave your comments below to share your thoughts.

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