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The State of the Internet: Our Teens

internet safety tips for teensThere are many ways to keep track of what your kids are doing online. Social media monitoring software, iPhone monitoring software, Instagram monitoring tools, endless lists of Internet safety tips for teens… all designed to make sure your kids aren’t getting into trouble online, or that trouble isn’t finding them. In light of the horror stories we hear in the media, these precautions give a lot of parents peace of mind. But the horror stories might not be the only stories.

More and more lately, it seems the mainstream media considers their job less informative and more sensationalist fear-mongering. So naturally the horror stories will be what get the most pomp. When things are actually positive and beneficial, and reflect well on a sector of society, the headlines aren’t nearly as large.

For instance, the Media would have you believe that cyber-bullying is running rampant on the Internet, irreparably damaging our youth and eroding the underpinnings of our very civilization. And no one in their right mind would say that cyber-bullying isn’t every bit as reprehensible as regular bullying.

But what doesn’t get reported as often is the fact that many teens aren’t putting up with it. Almost 70% of teens today feel cyber-bullying is a genuine threat and a major problem. Over 94% report that they’ve seen others ignore cyber-bullying when it happens. And an admirable 84% have either witnessed a victim being defended or participated in the defense themselves.

We as parents should never stop worrying about threats to our children’s safety. Learning about Internet safety tips for teens, children, and even ourselves is imperative in today’s rapidly expanding online universe. But let’s not forget to take stock every now and then, see the positive and forward-thinking ways our teens are reacting to these threats, and take a moment or two to be proud of them.

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Why Parents Shouldn't Live in Fear of the Internet

 monitor internet activityIf you’re like most parents today, you’ve found yourself feeling pretty conflicted about new technology. On one hand, Netflix is pretty much your best friend and it’s great to keep your entire shopping list right on your phone. But on the other hand, you find yourself worrying about what your kids are getting into when they go online. You want to set privacy controls (or just block everything, honestly) but you just know that one of the kids will figure out what you’ve done, and before you know it, the next world war is taking place at the dinner table.

And more than anything else, you just feel confused. How are you supposed to monitor internet activity without encroaching on your kids’ privacy? How can you make sure that your kids aren’t seeing inappropriate pages without flipping through their Instagram and Twitter feeds every night? An estimated 93% of teens between the ages 12 and 17 go online, and it’s not just to use social media sites. Anyone with a teenage in high school knows how much teachers love assigning research projects. It’s great that learning opportunities are more accessible than ever, but it’s getting harder to monitor internet activity — and nearly impossible to keep kids from the internet entirely.

The thing is, wanting to find out how to monitor internet activity is about more than wanting to make sure that your 13 year old isn’t swearing in online chat rooms. The problem with so much new technology is that no one seems to know how to use and control it; we only find out about its flaws after something bad happens. Kids aren’t always aware of the permanence that accompanies internet postings, but parents often have a hard time finding reasonable ways to protect kids on social media because “I’m just blocking the entire social media forever” seems so much easier than sitting down and really figuring out which sites are safe, and which aren’t.

Rather than just secretly installing iPhone text monitoring software, or waiting until your kids are away at school, another option is to sit down with kids and discuss tips for internet safety. An estimated 68% of teens agree that internet bullying is a serious problem, and about 95% of all teens who use the internet have seen their peers abuse social media sites in order to bully others. But by teaching your kids how to use these websites safely, and by developing a trusting relationship wherein they feel comfortable talking to you about what they do online, you can help make the internet a safer place for everyone.

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5 Points to Discuss with Your Child About Cyberbullying

protect kids on social mediaYour children likely spend a lot more time on social media than you do. Ninety-three percent of teens go online, and 73% have profiles on social networking sites. This might make you a little nervous, and it should. Cyberbullying has become an epidemic. But what can you, as a parent, do to protect kids on social media? It’s most important to talk to your children about cyberbullying, and we’ve included some points for you to cover in the conversation.

  1. “What is cyberbullying?” – Make sure your child understands what cyberbullying is, and why it is so important to be upfront about it. Sixty-eight percent of teens agree that cyberbullying is a problem, so it’s likely that once you bring it up, they will have seen it happen before. Sometimes, children do not realize that it’s necessary for adults to step in and protect kids on social media, in order to avoid a serious problem.
  2. “You can come to me” – It’s important that your child understands that they can come to you if they think they are being cyberbullied, or have witnessed someone else being cyberbullied.
  3. “Just between us” – Also assure them that any information that is not a matter of health or safety will be strictly confidential. You’re not about to get involved in the middle school gossip circle unless something serious is going on.
  4. “No repercussions” – The main reason kids avoid reporting cyberbullying is because they are afraid they will get in trouble, and have their phone or internet privileges taken away. Make sure your child understands that cyberbullying is not their fault, and that they will not be punished for talking to you.
  5. “Let’s be honest” – What social networking sites do they frequent? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Make sure you know where they are on the internet, and what they’re doing. Also, let them know that you will monitor internet activity and will be keeping an eye on what they’re doing. Internet parental control software for child phone monitoring, and parental control for internet usage, may seem like an invasion of privacy, for the both of you, but it’s the only way to keep an eye on the situation.

It may seem overwhelming, but there are ways to protect kids on social media. There are many steps you can take, but the most important one is to be open and honest with your child, because if he or she feels comfortable coming to you without any problems or judgment, you’re much more likely to be able to nip any problem in the bud before it becomes too serious.

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Keys to Online Safety for Your Kids

instagram monitoring toolThink about how wide the gap is between your Internet savvy and your kids’. Now think about the likely gap between your Internet skills and the skills of your grandchildren. When the time comes to educate that next generation on Internet safety, you’ll be left in the dust. You have to do everything you can right now to make sure your children know the dangers, and can safely navigate the murky waters of the online world enough to pass on that knowledge to their kids, whatever that world may look like.

There are many ways you can monitor Internet activity on your children’s devices, as well as many levels of involvement. Some parents exhibit very little (if any) control on their kids’ Internet habits, reasoning that it’s just a “virtual” world, and therefore nothing bad can really happen.

And other parents have a much better grasp of what’s really at stake.

Over 90% of teenagers (ages 12-17) spend time online. Over 70% of them have social networking profiles. Over 45% regularly upload photos online. And almost 15% upload videos. The simple fact is, the information your children are putting out on the Internet will be there forever. It does not go away. And even if the photos or videos they upload are seemingly harmless, deviant predators and mentally unbalanced sociopaths can pick out a whole host of details from that information — even without a geo-tag.

Programs such as iPhone monitoring software and Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram monitoring tools can help parents keep track of their kids’ Internet activity, in order to ensure that the information they’re providing, however unwittingly, isn’t falling into unsavory hands. It can also be used to make sure that your kids aren’t seeing things that they shouldn’t be, such as gratuitous violence or pornography.

But an Instagram monitoring tool can never take the place of good old-fashioned communication with your children. Talk to them about the Internet, and the things they might see there. Be upfront with them about the dangers they could face online. Should you terrify them into never going online again? No! In today’s world, that’s not even an option. But being straightforward with them could mean the difference between a life filled with well-dodged bullets and a sobering experience that could have been avoided.

Do you have any handy tips for Internet safety? Please share them in the comments below.

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The Silver Bullet to Keeping Your Kids Safe Online

how to protect kids onlineIt would be nice to say that the Internet is not always a willfully malicious place. But the simple truth is, some sites on the Web really are out to get you. As an adult in the Age of Information, you’ve probably developed a few precautions and habits that keep you relatively safe from the less-than-savory aspects of the Internet.
But what about your kids?

While you may know how to monitor Internet activity to avoid threats, knowing how to protect kids online — and teaching them how to protect themselves — might not be as easy.

For very young children, it’s always best to surf the Web right alongside them. Not only does it provide bonding time (which we can always use more of), but it also gives your kids a hands-on example of what and what not to do. And it will keep your computer free from malware, viruses, and the like, any of which could easily be downloaded by an errant click from little hands.

But the teenage years are where knowing how to protect kids online becomes crucial — because you can’t be with them all the time as they go online. Among teens ages 12 to 17, 93% of them spend time online, 73% already have social networking profiles, nearly half have uploaded photos of themselves, and almost 15% have uploaded videos. And the things that go onto the Internet stay on the Internet.

Just as you teach your kids not to run with scissors and to look both ways before crossing the street, you can teach your teens basic tips for Internet safety that they can use the rest of their lives. The trick, however, is to get them to understand the importance of it all (after all, scissors and crosswalks are pretty self-explanatory).

Making the task even more difficult is the fact that many of the online things you want to protect your kids from are not overtly aimed at your kids — they can simply be things you don’t want them to stumble across. Sexually explicit material and violent videos and images are all over the Web. To cross your fingers and hope that your kids will never encounter them is both naive and negligent.

So what’s the solution? Social media monitoring services? Iphone monitoring software? These can help, yes. But the silver bullet of how to protect kids online is the same silver bullet of how to protect them in the real world — communication. Talk to your teens about what’s out there. Have the discussion. You’ll not only prepare them for what they might encounter (and contextualize it as you do), but you’ll further strengthen the bridge of trust, and let your kids know that you’re where they can go if they have questions.

Parents Beware! Facebook is Full of Creepy, Catfishing Predators

protect your kids onlineThere is more reason for you to be concerned about your child entering the world of social media than ever before. If you have teenagers who have smartphones, you will need to up your ante to protect your kids online. You may have innocently thought that cell phones are a great way to keep tabs on your children (which may be true), but this also subjects them to the dangers of predators and bullies on social media. In fact, about 68% of today’s youth identify cyberbullying as a major problem. Furthermore, about 95% of teens who have seen cruel behavior on social media sites notice that others have completely ignored it.

You also may not realize that most teens between the ages of 12 and 17 go online on a regular basis, leaving them vulnerable to these risks.

Here are some other real dangers your children face online.

  • Catfishing
    This practice is when someone creates a false identity on Facebook or other social media sites in order to facilitate an online relationship. This is one of the main reasons to protect kids on social media. An older man or woman can easily create a younger persona, adding in a Photoshopped picture, fabricating contact information, and chronicling a bogus life story. An social media neophyte could be swept up by one of these dangerous predators at any time.
  • Irreversible Posts
    A night out with friends or family can make its way onto Facebook or Instagram instantaneously, without a second thought. While this can be a great way to commemorate a fun event, it is also something that cannot be taken down. Once the picture has been loaded onto the web, whether it is favorable or not, it is permanently part of the internet. Racy pictures with a significant other, or of underage drinking, may be entertaining to post at first, but when a teen is trying to find a job, these pictures could come back to haunt him or her.
  • Unrestricted Profile
    On sites like Facebook, there are a number of settings that help protect your kids online. These settings restrict access to information on a user’s profile, such as email address, phone number, or home address. Many users are much smarter about the personal information they post on the internet, but do not realize that since Facebook went public, anyone can search for any user and find at least a minimal amount of information on the person. Without placing several safety restrictions on a profile, any user can be traced and found by another user anywhere in the world.

These dangers may make it seem like it is impossible to protect your kids online, but this is not the case. There are several tools in place for parents to monitor internet activity, such as social media monitoring software and iPhone remote monitoring.

Along with these measures, you could always talk to your children about the dangers of social media — they are more receptive and often much more aware than you think.

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Fighting Back Against the Online Predators That Prey on Children

protect kids on social mediaDelaware is the latest of many states to pass a law enhancing protections for children against online sexual predators, according to News Works. This Tuesday, Gov. Jack Markell signed House Bill 256. The bill amends Delaware’s child sexual solicitation law, and ensures that a predator is guilty whether they solicit an actual child, or an undercover investigator. If the predator travels to meet the the underage child, the felony classification is elevated.

“The safety of our children is our top priority,” said Markell. The Bill was originally proposed by Attorney General Beau Biden, who said that, “This new law gives the Task Force and law enforcement across our state more powerful tools to put predators behind bars where they belong.”

Online Predators are Not a Myth
Unfortunately, online predation is not just a myth used to scare kids into being safe and smart when it comes to using the internet; the statistics regarding the likelihood of a teenager being contacted by a predator can be quite jarring. There are currently over 740,000 registered sex offenders in the U.S., and over 100,000 of them are effectively lost in the system, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

In past years, chat rooms have typically been the meeting point where victims and predators cross paths. With the advent of social media, however, the danger is coming to new stages. Not only is social media often removed from the eyes of parents, but it also helps predators to gain better access to potential victims.

According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, in 82% of online sex crime cases, the offender used one or more social networking sites in order to understand the victim’s habits, likes and dislikes. This helps predators to better “groom” their victim and convince them that they are “on their side,” or even “in love” with the offender.

How to Protect Kids on Social Media and Online in General
How can parents fight back against a threat that is largely invisible? An important way to protect kids on social media against predators is initiating communication. Study after study shows that many adolescents and teens do not understand the potential consequence of many online activities, including posting personal information, adding strangers to friend lists, and using apps to “sext.”

Kids can also be protected by turning technology into a tool itself. Rather than forbidding teens from using the internet, or asking for passwords, parents can use internet activity monitors and internet content filtering software so that kids can engage and be social, while also having a protective technological net between them and the rest of the world. It’s worth noting that, while 73% of teens have social networking sites, there’s a high likelihood that they’re not posting everything just to Facebook. An Instagram monitoring tool can be an important asset, considering it is one of the most popular websites among youth.

How do you protect kids on social media? Let us know in the comments.

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Dear Parents: Don't Ignore the Dangers of Social Media

protect kids on social mediaDid you know that almost three quarters of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 have created a profile on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites? This may not come as a surprise to you, as social media has exploded in recent years, but what is shocking is that there are an increasing number of young children making their way onto these sites.

In some cases, children under 12 illegally create a Facebook account by lying about their age. One study from the British Broadcasting Corporation shows that one in five under-aged children have create a profile.

The problem with this is that cyberbullying is becoming a serious problem, according to about 68% of teens. With older, more experienced users on these sites, young children may not know who to ignore, and who to accept as friends. Consequently, they could also be placing themselves in danger by sharing information with complete strangers. Almost half of these children upload photos, and many also post videos.

For this reason, many parents elicit the help of social media monitoring services and social media monitoring software. These programs help protect kids on social media sites, as they allow parents to see what their children post, who they are friends with, and how many times a day they log into their account.

Here are a few other ways to protect kids on social media sites.

  1. Set Rules
    According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, about 75% of teens own a cell phone. With many of these being smartphones, teens have unlimited access to their social media accounts. But most children get their iPhones and smartphones from their parents, and since parents are the ones paying the bill, they can set usage rules. Talking to your child about how much data they are allowed to use in a day will help keep them off of social media to a certain degree, and also, giving them a time limit for this activity at home would also be beneficial.
  2. Change Phone Settings
    In some cases, you can work with your cell phone provider on data allowance for each of your phone lines. The ones that you or your spouse use can be set to “unlimited,” but you can restrict data for any additional lines. This will help reduce the amount of time your child spends on social media since you can’t always monitor internet activity while he or she is away at school during the day.
  3. Open Communication
    Sometimes, just a simple conversation with your child can be enough, and you won’t need to invest in iPhone monitoring software. You can talk to your child about the dangers of online predators, how cyberbullying is rampant, and also about keeping interactions on these sites to a minimum. This will at least open the line of communication between you and your child, and if anything does happen, he or she will likely tell you about it.

There is no way to completely protect kids on social media from stalkers, bullies, and other predators, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. The little effort you make could save them from unnecessary danger.

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New Study Shows That Teens are Largely Unaware of Sexting's Potential Ramifications

monitor internet activityDo teenagers actually understand the potential consequences of sexting? According to a new study by Drexel University, the answer is largely “no.”

The comprehensive study, titled “Youth Sexting: Prevalence Rates, Driving Motivations, and the Deterrent Effect of Legal Consequences,” did not monitor internet activity, but instead polled over 200 students at an unnamed university in order to gain an idea of the prevalence of teen texting, and whether or not those who participated understood the risks they were taking.

The study found that over 50% of students had sent sexts to others while they were still minors, and the average age for a first-time sext was almost, but not quite, 16. About 28% of students with a phone camera admitted to sending photographic sexts, as well. The majority of students overall reported not realizing that sending sexts among minors — especially if the sexts become part of an overall harassment issue — can be prosecuted as child pornography, which can carry very real and life altering consequences. Researchers also asked what age the students thought was an appropriate one to begin texting; some said 14 years old.

“Given the harsh legal penalties sometimes associated with youth sexting and the apparent frequency with which youth are engaging in it, the lack of comprehension regarding such penalties poses a significant problem,” said David Dematteo, one of the study’s authors. The study further indicated that the more students were aware of the potential legal consequences, the less likely they were to engage in sexting as a minor.

How to protect kids online remains an open question for many parents who want to keep their children safe, without overstepping their privacy boundaries. Approximately 93% of teens go online, and 73% have social networking profiles. While it is important to allow teenagers to have their own space and even to make mistakes, parents can and should monitor internet activity when appropriate, and have honest conversations about internet safety tips for kids. “Young people need to be educated about the potential consequences of sexting — legal, social and psychological,” said DeMatteo.

Megan Murphy, another study author, agrees, and says that “teenage sexting is very prevalent and, regardless of whether the behavior is normative or problematic, it is something that parents, schools and legislatures have to address.”

For parents who are concerned about their teenagers’ activities, there are also ways to ensure that phones and other devices are used in a safe matter. Internet content filtering software, for example, can effectively prevent teens from viewing questionable material without making them feel as if their privacy is being ignored or invaded.

Do you have tips on internet safety for parents, or advice on how to monitor internet activity in an unobtrusive way? Let us know in the comments.

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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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