You may think this internet safety rule is obsolete– It’s not

We all heard it from our mothers: “Never talk to strangers.” Then the internet came out, and our mothers doubled down. If talking to strangers in person was risky, talking to strangers online was simply begging for disaster. We made pseudonyms and kept all identifying information off-line.


MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media profiles made the internet seem smaller. Safer. Most people use their real names online now, and convenience has led us to handle everything from homework to photo sharing to banking online. We give out our mailing addresses on eBay and Craigslist, and we assume the person on the other side of the screen is more or less like us. And most of the time, we’re right.


And yet…


Our kids are getting a little too comfortable talking to strangers online. While we as adults have been around the block a few times, they don’t notice the red flags. This dad described on his blog how his daughter became a target for a human trafficking ring through making friends online. Police are deeply concerned about SnapMaps, a SnapChat feature that broadcasts users’ location for any of their online friends to see.


The person on the other side of the screen may be a normal teen or tween, just like your kids. But the person on the other side of the screen could be anyone. Profile pics can be stolen, birthdays can be falsified– online, anyone can make a new identity. Teens just don’t have the life experience to pick out the predators.


Parents, monitor your kids’ friends list. Ask questions. Know who your kids talk to online. Have a family rule– don’t talk to strangers online. Enforce it. The principle of “Trust, but verify” will serve you well here!


The internet may feel smaller, but the predators are still there. And, as the lines blur between online and offline, it’s far too easy to forget the dangers.


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Why you need to monitor your kids online

“What about their privacy?”


The never-ending struggle of parenting is finding the right balance between giving your kids enough autonomy to learn and grow and enough supervision to keep them safe. When kids start spending time online, many parents wonder if checking their browser history, demanding their kids’ passwords, and otherwise keeping tabs on what their kids do online violates their kids’ privacy. Checking your kid’s phone or tablet can seem a little too invasive– like reading their journal or taking the door off the bathroom.


It’s interesting that electronic use seems so private. On the one hand, adults often send and receive confidential information online. Smartphones, tablets, laptops, and computers are all clearly designed for one user at a time, and peeking over at someone else’s screen runs counter to modern social etiquette. On the other hand, the very nature of the internet is intensely public. With a keyboard and an internet connection, everyone and anyone can publish thoughts and ideas for the world to see. Each link clicked and website visited is stored in your internet browser and available to anyone with any computer savvy.  While online journals exist, nothing online is really a secret.


The lines between the online and off-line world are blurring out of existence. This means everything in the physical world– the beautiful, the horrific, the virtuous, and the evil– is reflected on the internet. When your child opens a browser, he or she is walking into the world. THE world, mind you, not his or her own world. We tend to think of social media as a digital tree house or school yard– something intimate, juvenile, innocent– when, in fact, the ocean or New York City would a better comparison. The internet is beautiful, loud, unforgiving, stormy, and yes, dangerous. If you wouldn’t let your child dive into the ocean alone or wander a metropolis, you should not let your child use the internet unsupervised.


An internet connection is access to every corner of the earth, and almost every person alive. And yet, we hand this power to children too young to walk out the door alone. Leaving our children to explore the internet alone is not respect for their privacy. It is tempting fate.


Use the internet to show children the ocean of humanity. Teach them to respect the roaring waves of politics, art, music, and ideas. Demonstrate to them how to stand on the stage of the internet and fight for what they believe in. But please, don’t let them swim alone.


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Social media makes you sad, study says

If you feel a little blue today, too much time on social media may be the culprit. A study published by the Public Library of Science found logging into Facebook predicts a decline in subjective well-being. In other words, Facebook is a mood killer.


Researchers texted the study’s participants five times a day for two weeks and asked them to the following questions on a scale of 1 to 100:

  1. How do you feel right now?
  2. How worried are you right now?
  3. How lonely do you feel right now?
  4. How much have you used Facebook since the last time we asked?
  5. How much have you interacted with other people directly (face-to-face or on the phone) since the last time we asked?


The participants  also took other assessments measuring their satisfaction with life, motivation for using Facebook, loneliness, number of Facebook friends, level of depression, self-esteem, and how supported they felt on Facebook. Even after controlling for all these variables, researchers still found that the more time the study’s participants spent on Facebook, the worse they felt. Furthermore, those who spent greater amounts of time on Facebook during the two week period of the study experienced a significant decline in life satisfaction in that time. The more time on Facebook, the sharper the decline.


You can read the original study here.


While social media can be wholesome and fun, it’s important to understand the less obvious side effects. Teens and young adults especially should understand contribution social media makes to feelings of dissatisfaction, sadness, and loneliness. Periodically taking breaks from social media can keep our lives in balance and help us remember just what we all did before smartphones. Parents, lead by example– kids often can’t tell the difference between a work email and checking Facebook, so follow any screen time rules you set scrupulously and encourage frequent tech-free family time. Demonstrating a healthy screen/life balance will help kids understand there is life unplugged.


Enjoy life off-line!

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Just be yourself on social media, study says

Some people rant and rave online, but have a hard time standing up for themselves in person. Some people create shiny social media profiles that omit the gritty side of life. Some people make intimate confessions online they could never bring themselves to say out loud. No matter your style, if the discrepancy between your online persona and your off-line self makes you feel a little two-faced, maybe it’s time for a change. Research suggests closing the gap between your Facebook self and your IRL self leads to better mental health and a better social life.


The study, published in the academic journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, asked 164 people to complete surveys on mental health and social connectedness and two personality assessments: one as their online self, and one as their off-line self. The researchers found those with similar online and off-line selves were more socially connected and less stressed. You can read the study here.


If Shakespeare were alive today, he would be thoroughly confused by our tweeting, posting, and selfies. Regardless, he seems to have been a man ahead of his time in his advice: “This above all, to thine own self be true.” If our social media profiles are bubbly and positive, maybe we could infuse some of our day to day life with this optimism. If we are kind in person, but snippy online, perhaps we should picture the person on the other side of the screen. As we take the best of our online selves and our off-line selves, our world as a whole will be a kinder and happier place.


Enjoy life off-line!

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teens on facebook

4 Things Every Parent Should Know About Facebook


Facebook can be a great resource for families and friends to connect and share the fun parts of life. But, like any tool, Facebook can be used incorrectly and even harmfully. Here are four things parents should know before their kids sign up.


 1. It’s for ages 13 and up

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 lays out certain responsibilities websites have to protect the privacy of children under 13. It is illegal to collect personal information of children under 13 years without jumping through a few hoops (such as parental consent). To prevent cost, hassle, and possible legal liability, Facebook asks that its members be 13 years old.

Some parents might feel this rule is no big deal. However, it’s an effort to protect children online, and circumventing it puts Facebook in the position of acting illegally.


2. No written statement on your wall can deny Facebook the rights to the pictures you post

If you have a Facebook account, you may have seen a friend post a statement that went something like this: “As of (date) I do NOT give Facebook or any entitles associated with Facebook permission to use my pictures, information, or post, both from the past, in the present, or in the future. By this statement I give notice to Facebook it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute or take any other action against me based on this profile is private and confidential information. The violation of privacy can be punished by law (UCC 1-308-11 308-103 and Rome statute).

NOTE: Facebook is now a public entity. All members must post a note like this. If you prefer, you can copy and paste this version if you do not publish the statement at least once it will be tactically allowing the use of your photos, as well as information contained in the profile status updates. DO NOT SHARE you MUST copy and paste this. I will leave a comment so it will be easier to copy and paste.”

This statement has no legal power. The Facebook Terms of Service states:

“For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settingsyou grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License).”

If you choose to open a Facebook account, you are bound by their Terms of Service. They are allowed to distribute anything you post (pictures, video, etc.). They probably won’t because people would likely stop using Facebook, and no one else really cares about your cat pictures anyway.


3. People who are not “friends” can send your children private messages

Anyone can send a private message to anyone else on Facebook. If the sender is a friend, the message will go in your main inbox. If the sender isn’t a friend, the message will probably go to your “Other” inbox.

Teach your children to never, ever talk to a stranger online, and make sure they know how to block any stranger who tries repeatedly to contact them.


4. Your kids can hide posts from you

Many parents require that their children add them as a condition of having a Facebook page. They think this will allow them to monitor what their child says and does online.

However, there are many ways for kids to keep their parents in the dark about their Facebook activities. Each post has a customizable privacy setting. A post can be visible to the public, to friends of friends, to friends only, to a certain group of friends only, or to only the poster. All the child has to do is choose a privacy setting for certain posts that excludes his or her parents.

As previously stated, Facebook also has a private message option. Only the sender and the recipient(s) can view private messages.

Never assume that you can see everything your child does on Facebook simply because he or she has added you as a friend. The only way to see all posts is to log in with his or her credentials.


Facebook is like any other social experience. There is a lot of opportunity for fun, and some opportunity for mischief. Parents should know the ins and outs of Facebook to intelligently talk to their kids about internet safety and online etiquette.

Fortunately there are some great solutions to help protect your family online!


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