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Parenting is tough. It's time to take action.

I talk to parents on a regular basis. In fact, I am a parent of an 11 year old girl. As one of the founders of ZABRA, I’m always interested in what parents think of social media, mobile phones, texting, etc. and what their kids are doing online. Most of them are perplexed by their kid’s habits when it comes to these mediums. I have to admit, I am too, but then again, I’m not….it’s my job whether I work for ZABRA or not.

I think back to the days when I was a kid or a teenager. Of course I was a little nerdy, I was very captivated by electronics and communication devices. I was also enthralled with being on my bike and exploring the neighborhood while hanging out with friends. The key here is “friends.” Sound familiar in the age of social media and text messaging? Looking back, I was a connector of people. Whether it was for a pick-up game of basketball, backyard football game or building ramps to jump our bikes to flashlight tag after dinner, it was fun to have all the kids together hanging out having a good time.

I’ve been reading the book, It’s Complicated, The Social Lives of Networked Teens by Danah Boyd. Although this book is a couple of years old, it delves into the murky depths of social media in today’s teens and tweens. Her hypothesis? Kids are basically the same no matter which era they grew up in. Many of us long for connection with friends and people. Instead of using the phone connected to a wall in our house or walking next door to see if someone can come outside and play, kids use their social media and text messaging to connect with their friends. They’re not limited by proximity. “Friends” nowadays can be the ones right next door or a couple of hundred miles away and be “in” on the action.

The definition of “friend” has surely changed based on the ability for technology (social media, mobile phones, skype, the internet). Sounds pretty awesome right? But, the rules change when you become a parent.

The influences my daughter faces on a daily basis are tough to keep track of thanks to the wonders of technology. By and large I think technology is a good thing. However, no matter if it’s in the real world or virtual world, part of my job as a parent is to protect the influences on my daughter as much as I can. And, when influences challenge her, that she is able to make a good decision and if she makes a bad one, then hopefully the consequences aren’t life altering.

The title of this blog is “Parenting is tough. It’s time to take action!” As parents, we rely on feedback from others in order to raise our children. From teachers and coaches to troop leaders and fellow parents, we get that feedback (sometimes whether we like it or not) from these folks to help course correct when needed, praise when appropriate and help our kids be the best they can be. So, why not have that teacher, coach, leader or parent in the digital world?

ZABRA provides the type of feedback that parents, who may be a little intimidated by the whole social media thing, need to understand the kind of influences that are happening with their children in the digital world. We’ve all the read the horrible headlines about bullying, sexting, and suicide due to online harassment. One momentary lapse in judgment by a kid with a cell phone could haunt them for the rest of their lives. I’m certainly glad my bad choices as a kid weren’t broadcast for the whole world to comment on. In today’s world, that is the reality. I hope that your child never has to experience what others have, are going through and will go through because of a poor choice they made online. A picture, a comment, a video or a rant can be viewed by millions of people in a matter of minutes in today’s world. Their future lives are potentially at stake. These decisions affect the college they’ll be accepted to, the jobs that they apply for and the lives that they will one day lead.

Now is the time to take action. Get ahead of the curve. Whether your child is a straight A student, middle of the class or on the bubble of making good grades, every child needs positive influences, especially in the digital world. The stakes are high but this is why we created ZABRA. While it won’t prevent a bad choice, you’ll at least know about it or see it coming and ZABRA can be that teacher, coach, leader or other parent that will help you talk to your child and be the hero you are in your children’s eyes.

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Got questions? Email me: mark@zabra.com

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5 Must Read Tips for Summer Mobile Phone and Social Media Use

internet content filteringIt’s summer time! Hooray! No more tests, carpools, projects or after school activities to figure out. Kids are ready for a break and chances are, they’ve earned it. As parents, you have too, but that doesn’t mean you get to take a break from monitoring their activities in both the real and the digital world.

We’ve put together these tips as a guideline to help keep on your toes about social media and mobile phone use this summer:

1)      Establish “Summer Rules” for screen time and mobile phone usage. It’s always a good idea to have screen time and usage rules for your family. During the summer you may want to relax these based on the new schedules. Of course, you know your kids schedules and you can determine the best way to establish the “Summer Rules” in your house. It’s still a good idea to limit screen time, but you may want to allow for extra time to give everyone a bit of a break. Remember, you should still have a central station in your house (kitchen, etc.) where cell phones charge and sleep at night.

2)      Pictures No doubt, kids with mobile devices have cameras. Summer break is a great time to take pictures with friends at the beach, camp, lake or summer vacation. Summer also means that it’s swimsuit season! Did your daughter just buy a new suit and wants to show it off to friends? While this can be harmless, in the wrong context, it could create an opportunity for potential harassment, embarrassing language and comments. So, remind your child about the rules of that mobile phone camera and the rules for posting pictures of themselves or others in their swimming attire. (If you haven’t made rules about swimsuit pics, do it now!)

3)      Protect your kids’ devices When around water, sand, and suntan lotion, it’s a good idea to remind your child to protect their phone…especially if you’ve not taken the insurance your carrier provides. The simplest way to protect their devices: re-sealable plastic sandwich bags! They can protect your child’s device from all the dangers that lurk to destroy that device this summer. Keep a few in the pool bag and keep devices in those bags when around water and protect from the potential kerplunk into the nearest body of water.

4)      Camp Rules If your child is headed off to camp, chances are the camp has pretty strict rules for mobile phone and device usage. So, as you’re running through the check-list of items your child needs to bring, check the cell phone policy. If one’s not printed, call the camp and make sure you and your child know the rules before you get to camp.

5)      Monitor Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean we get a break from this full-time job. Tired of scrolling endlessly through texts, posts, tweets and direct messages looking for potential danger? Use a service like ZABRA and save time knowing that we’ll notify you in the event of harmful content. If your child receives or sends potentially questionable content, we’ll notify you via text message, email or nightly update. ZABRA does the heavy lifting for you. Also, you don’t have to worry with hidden messages on social media or deleted text messages. We catch them all and notify you of potential danger.

So, sit back and relax this summer knowing that you’ve got a plan to protect your family. You will be glad you started summer vacation on the right digital foot. Enjoy the pool, the beach, or if you’re like our family, discover the fun of a “stay-cation.” Don’t forget the sunscreen, and have a safe and fun summer!

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Sexting Scandals are Erupting Across the Country

Part of my responsibility with ZABRA is checking the news for relevant issues happening across the country and pass that knowledge onto parents. Now that ZABRA is offering text message monitoring, I’ve become even more tuned into mobile phone issues. Specifically…sexting scandals.

As I check my daily news feed, I’ve found that virtually no school level is immune to these incidents. I can’t help but think that if parents had a “heads up,” they could prevent them from escalating to front page headlines.

Below are a few links from today’s headlines:

NJ Officials Warn Teens of Sexting Dangers After Video of Alleged Sex Act Posted online

Teacher Sexting Scandal in Macon County, NC

Chargin Falls Student Disciplined for sexting

14 Fort Zumwalt Students tied to Sexting Case

As a parent, the headlines and stories are downright intimidating. As a parent of a child that has a mobile phone, I can’t help but think that there has to be a better way to monitor our kids. Hundreds of texts happen each day. It’s the way kids communicate today. My wife and I find it almost impossible to check all these messages, along with all her Instagram and twitter account.

That’s why ZABRA is a great tool. Not only is it a time saver, it helps us monitor every message that is sent, even the ones that have been deleted. Based on customized settings, we get alerts of potentially inappropriate content sent by or to our child almost the second that it happens. It’s simple to sign up and there’s no software to install on her phone. We check our nightly report and the alerts we get via email and text message and we’re able to talk to her when she gets home.

Shameless plug? Yes. However, this is something that every parent should look into, even if you don’t use ZABRA. Protecting your family is a parent’s primary responsibility. Nearly every counselor, psychologist, and school official tells parents to monitor their children’s online activity. In fact, it’s not that different from knowing what they’re doing in the real world. You typically know who they’re with, where they’re going and when they’ll be home. So, why is online or on their mobile phone much different?

Take a few minutes and give ZABRA a try. It’s easy to setup and for reading this far in the blog, I’ll give you a promo code to give you 30 days free. Use promo code: myATT when you checkout and you’ll receive 30 days to try the ZABRA service.

 

 

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Three Must-Read Internet Safety Tips for Everyone in the Family

internet content filteringWhen it comes to using the internet, there are plenty of great things it can allow us to do, from chatting with friends and playing games to getting work done and paying bills. However, there are also plenty of dangers online as well. From cyber bullies and online predators who can target children to identity theft and malicious software that can affect adults, there are many problems that the whole family can encounter online. If you and your family members are all regular internet users, be sure to follow these internet safety tips for everyone’s benefit.

1. Pay attention to the information that you and your family share online. Social media apps and websites can make it easy to give out more info than we really should. Even displaying your full name and where you work or go to school publicly online can make you vulnerable to stalkers, predators, and other threats. If you and your children do decide to use social media networks, only share this information with trusted friends and family, not strangers. Keeping certain facts private can also prevent your children from being bullied by schoolmates or other individuals online.

2. One of the best internet safety tips for everyone in the family is to only visit websites that you know you can trust. Many sites these days are infected with malware, which can install itself on your computer and end up costing you a lot in repairs. Other websites may look like our favorite sites, but they include fake log-on pages used to steal information from us, especially when it comes to social media and even bank accounts; this practice is known as phishing. In addition to potentially unwanted costs on credit card statements, phishing attempts can also lead to identity theft. (Another important safety tip: if you let your children use your credit card online, make sure that you know which sites they are using it for, and don’t let them use it on a site that you don’t trust!)

3. If you suspect that your children are participating in questionable activities online, or if you want to prevent them from accessing inappropriate websites, there are many types of internet monitoring tools available to parents. Social media monitoring software can let you know whom your children are messaging and adding as friends without you having to sift through hundreds of posts and messages. Also, for preventing access to certain websites, installing internet content filtering software is an easy way to ensure that your children will have a safe browsing experience.

By following these internet safety tips for everyone in the family, you can prevent potentially costly identity theft, bullying, and threats against your children. Don’t be afraid to use the many resources available for keeping everyone safe online, such as social media and internet activity monitoring. Doing so will reduce stress for everyone in the family and keep the online experience pleasant and fun for all.

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Four Essential Internet Safety Tips for Children That All Parents Must Use

internet safety tips for children Browsing the internet can be a fun way to spend our time. Children and teens, especially, love the games available online and enjoy the ability to chat with friends whenever they want to. However, although the internet offers plenty of excitement, there are also many dangers that younger users must be aware of. Predators and bullies can affect children both online and in the real world. If you are the parent of a young child or a teenager, here are some internet safety tips for children that you can use to keep your family safe.

1. Don’t let your children talk to strangers online. Just as we warn kids against “stranger danger” on the street, the same rules should apply on the internet. Many online predators may pose as children and teens in order to talk to younger internet users; when the subject of meeting in person comes up in these chats, these predators can pose a deadly risk. Keep your children safe by telling them to only talk to people they know in real life when on the internet.

2. One of the most important internet safety tips for children and adults alike is to never reveal personal information online. In the age of social media websites, this can be easier said than done. However, some information that children should never give out online can include their full names, their family members’ names, their addresses, their phone numbers, their schools’ names, and any other personal details that could be used by stalkers or other threatening individuals.

3. Speaking of social media, one of the biggest issues faced by children and teens these days is the problem of cyber bullying. Cyber bullying is just like teasing in school, only it can spread throughout the whole internet. Many times, this type of bullying takes the form of students sharing embarrassing photos or information about the bullying victim on social media websites. This can lead to the victim receiving taunting or even threatening messages online. To protect your children, ensure that any perpetrators of this bullying are reported and banned from social media websites; if that fails, do not allow your children to use these sites.

4. Unsure of whom your children talk to, message, and “friend” on social media websites and apps? You can try looking through your child’s computer or phone, but this can be tricky when sifting through hundreds of messages, posts, friend requests, and other bits of data. However, there are social media monitoring services that can deliver this information to you quickly and easily. For additional protection on the web, you can install parental control and internet content filtering software, too, to protect your children.

By following these internet safety tips for children, you can be a positive influence in your child’s life and prevent the depression, anxiety, and fear that can come with problems like cyber bullying and online stalkers. Don’t let your children become vulnerable on the web. By paying attention to where they browse online and who is contacting them, you can be sure that your children will stay safe and still enjoy their online experience.

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10 Rules for Safe Family Cell Phone Use

We all know that many kids today have cell phones and mobile devices. It’s a fact of life. If you’re a parent who is considering a mobile phone for your child, it’s important to setup rules and guidelines from the beginning. And, if you’ve made the mistake (like we did) of not setting up better rules for mobile phone usage, it’s not too late to change. Here is a list of 10 Rules for Safe Family Cell Phone Use that you can adopt in your family.

1. Have a conversation and monitor your child’s activities both on their phone and online. Talk about when it’s OK and not OK to use the phone for talking, texting, apps and other functions. This should include both time and place. Talk about rules for cell phone use during dinner, at social events and in public places like movie theaters and restaurants. Take time to review your child’s text messages and communication with their phone to make sure it’s appropriate. You can do both of these with ZABRA. (sorry…shameless plug).

2. Consider having a centralized resting place for the phones to charge up while family members are sleeping. There are lots of reasons why phones shouldn’t be used or sending out audible alerts after bedtime. Just because your phone may also be an alarm clock doesn’t mean it necessarily should be sitting on your or your kids’ nightstand. This is also a good time for you to check their communication, if you’re not using a service like ZABRA.

3. Talk about the polite use of the phone, such as not talking in a loud voice (people think it’s necessary but it usually isn’t) and not talking or texting in a way that will disturb others or violate your privacy.

4. Never text, send email, use apps or configure the phone’s GPS while driving, riding a bicycle or on a skateboard. There have even been “texting while walking” accidents, so be sure that you don’t hurt yourself and others.

5. Kids need to know that phones can cost a lot of money to replace (sometimes far more than the subsidized price you might have bought it for). Be careful around water and be gentle with the screen. Consider getting insurance to cover loss and damage.

6. Consider software that not only provides some security but also helps avoid loss. Products like Apple’s free “Find my iPhone” and Lookout.com’s free security app for Android can send a loud alert if the phone is missing, can wipe the phone’s data if it’s lost or stolen and can actually show you — on a map — where the phone is as long as the phone is on and the battery is not dead. Because these apps can locate the phone, they can also locate the family member.

7. Be sure that all family members understand the appropriate use of the phone’s camera. Avoid taking and sharing pictures that may be inappropriate or that could embarrass you or get you into trouble. And consider other people’s privacy when taking and pictures of those around you.

8. Be careful about any apps you download and install. While most apps are fine, there are some that pose security and privacy risks. Read the reviews and make sure that the app is from a legitimate source.

9. Make sure that anything you post using social networking apps or websites is appropriate. And be aware that smartphones have web browsers so whatever rules apply to Internet use at home should also apply to browsing on smartphones.

10. Make sure all family members understand the cost of using their phone. That includes any charges for calls, text and data as well as the purchasing and use of apps and in-app purchases.
Source http://www.safekids.com

Also, you may want to consider a contract with your child that you can both refer back to. ZABRA has created one for you to download here.

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Teens Themselves May Hold the Power to Stop Cyberbullying

social media monitoring for kidsCyberbullying is a problem for teens and their parents that never existed until cell phones and the use of social media boomed in the last decade or so. Though cyberbullying might not result in physical bumps and bruises, it can be just as damaging to kids who get tormented online, and there are plenty of cases that resulted in tragic consequences. In some cases, like at John Jay High School in Poughkeepsie, NY, kids are working together to try to put a stop to the problem.

The peer leadership group of the school, along with about 50 other students, met with Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro to talk about ways to combat cyberbullying on Wednesday. Groups like this could be the key to ending the problem altogether.

“The government tries its best to legislate the challenges you face,” Molinaro told the teens. “But nothing it will ever do is more powerful than what you can do… You have a profound ability to make it stop.”

But since groups like these students are relatively rare and don’t always have the ability to influence every online teen, many parents need to step in. Since 97% of teens are online, according to the Pew Internet Project, parents can’t always look over the shoulder of their children to monitor internet activity constantly and protect them. However, they can use social media monitoring for kids, which will send alerts to possible bullying.

While teens who want nothing more than to be independent and do their own thing might hate the idea of social media monitoring software, parents who want to prevent the consequences of cyberbullying from harming their teens would be smart to use the best internet protection for kids. Social media monitoring for kids might be tough to start, but it can be vital for parents who are worried about more than just the playground.

If Molinaro is right, then the only way cyberbullying can be stopped is if teens stand and work together. However, since cyberbullying is so widespread and, unfortunately, easy, parents might need to take extra measures to make sure their kids are protected. Luckily, there are several options of social media monitoring for kids that allow parents to rest easy knowing that their children aren’t being tormented online.

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