What you need to know about Snapmap

Snapchat recently released Snapmap, a location feature that tracks the user in real time. What this means, is that if your child has this feature turned on, someone can see exactly where they are at any given moment. It’s never a good idea for kids to post information where they might be found in-person so this feature poses a lot of potential problems. The good news, is that it’s easy to disable.

How does Snapmap work?

  • When enabled, the user’s Bitmoji Avatar (the cartoon they’ve created to look like them) will be visible to their friends, as well as the public if their account is not private. Their Avatar will be shown walking around in their current location on the map. They will also see where their friends and public users are located.
  • Public events and videos will also be visible as well as a “heat map” where lots of public users are posting.

How can I tell if Snapmap is enabled?

  • Snapchat is not always easy to use and this feature is a little tricky to locate. When you open Snapchat it should open the camera.
  • Squeeze your fingers together on the camera screen and the map should appear. You can then tell if the feature is enabled or not.

How to turn Snapmap off:

Step 1: Click on your avatar and open your settings by clicking on the wheel in the upper right hand corner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 2: Open your settings and click on Who Can “See My Location”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 3: Make sure “Ghost Mode” is turned on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 4: Go back to the camera (Home) screen and pinch your fingers together to bring up the map.It should look like this (with a ghost for a head)…

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5 Things Parents Need To Know About Musical.ly

Does your child use Musical.ly? If so, they are not alone. It has become one of the most popular apps used by kids and tweens.

The premise is a lot of fun. Kids lip sync to a short snippet of music and it records a little video of them. They can be funny and creative and they have a blast looking at both their own and their friends’ creations.

Unfortunately there are some safety risks that come with using the Musical.ly app.

5 things Parents Need to Know About Musical.ly:

1. It’s impossible to have a “Private” account.

My 9-year-old daughter absolutely loves making and watching videos on Musical.ly. If I let her, she’d spend hours pouring over her friends’ latest posts and making her own.

One evening, I was making dinner and I could hear her playing Musical.ly videos in the living room. I was lost in my own thoughts, when a song caught my attention. When I focused in on the lyrics, I was pretty shocked. There was profanity and really adult content.

I sat down on the couch to take a closer look at what she was watching. It was pretty upsetting.

When she first got the app, we set it up so that it was Private.  She should only be able to see videos of her friends and vice-versa. The problem is even with this setting there is a search feature that exposes her to anyone’s videos.

2.  There are a lot of inappropriate videos on Musical.ly

With very little searching kids can find videos with very explicit language. There are also lots of skimpy outfits and sexual dance moves. It’s impossible to block the search feature so even with a “Private” account, kids can access these videos

3.  Clicking on hashtags can lead to pornographic videos.

There are hashtags at the bottom of the Musical.ly home page that sometimes link them to pornographic videos. Although I didn’t find any when I clicked around, I’ve heard from many parents who have. Kids are just one click away from viewing them.

4.  Kids get addicted to the rating system.

Another problem is that the rating system can become addictive. Often kids become really concerned about the number of likes they get for their videos. Many keep their accounts public, just so they can collect more likes. They also may feel upset if they don’t get a lot of likes.

5.  Kids can interact with strangers.

Because of the rating system and search features, even with Private accounts kids can interact with strangers. It’s never a good idea for kids to interact with people they don’t know. Too many kids have been lured and hurt by strangers.

It’s a shame there are these features since kids so enjoy making the videos. Hopefully, Musical.ly will make some changes to the app so it becomes safer for our kids.

If you would like to share your concerns or suggest changes to the app, you can email them at: info@musical.ly

Social media can lower self-esteem

Does social media effect our kids’ self esteem?

Everyday after school, Sarah checks her Instagram account. She likes to see what her friends are doing, but often feels worse after reading their status updates. What they post always looks so much better than whatever she is doing. She sees friends at the beach, drinking Starbucks and having a GREAT time. She also notices how pretty, photogenic and happy they appear. By the time she sets her phone down, she feels terrible. She believes her life is not nearly as exciting. She is not as pretty or popular or amazing. Sarah is suffering from a classic case of Social Media Hangover.

This phenomenon is extremely common for both kids and grown-ups. We often compare our lives to what we see posted on social media and most of us feel worse after perusing our friends’ accounts. The reality is that Social Media profiles are an illusion. They are carefully crafted. People don’t typically post terrible pictures of themselves. They don’t create updates of the boring, mundane tasks of their day. Instead, most people create an enviable social media image.

Social media can be a lot of fun. It helps up stay in touch with people we wouldn’t otherwise. However, often times our kids feel badly about themselves when they compare their real lives to their friends social media profiles.

One teen girl told me, “I usually take 200+ selfies before choosing one to post. I always edit it too so I look my best.” Another teen admitted that she purposely posts pictures showing how much fun she’s having, and who she’s with, so people will think she’s really popular.

It is really important to talk to our kids about the fantasy aspect of social media. Just as models are highly edited and airbrushed, most of us create Social Media accounts that show an ideal life that doesn’t truly reflect reality.

I encourage you to talk to your child about the Social Media Hangover phenomenon. You can start the conversation with the following questions:

  • Do you think Social Media is real?
  • Why do people edit photos of themselves before posting?
  • Do you ever feel badly when you compare yourself to your friends’ profiles?
  • Would you say you feel better or worse after being on Social Media?
  • Do you think someone is more popular than you if they have more followers on Instagram?
  • Have you ever seen a profile of someone you know well that doesn’t seem like an accurate reflection of his or her life?

Because our digital footprints are permanent, I always encourage kids to post updates that show themselves in a positive light. However, it’s really important for kids to understand that social media is not real. It can be damaging to kids’ self-esteems when they compare themselves to others’ “exciting and perfect lives.”

One fun exercise is for kids to look over their own profile. Usually they see how great their Social Media lives look too and it can help them to remember not to take other profiles too seriously.

Hidden Calculator App

Have you heard about the hidden calculator app?

*Stacey regularly checks her son’s phone to make sure he doesn’t have any inappropriate photos. She was surprised to discover that the calculator on his phone was actually a new secrecy app used for hiding images and videos.

Unfortunately, there has been a big increase in apps like Calculator % that are designed to hide pictures and files behind a password protected calculator. Many teens feel they can safely store pornography or sexting messages.

This is dangerous for several reasons.  As with any digital program, nothing is truly private. These messages and photos can be discovered and potentially become public. There are cases of high school “pornography rings” where teens have circulated nude images and hidden them behind these secret photo vault apps.  Another problem is that these types of images and videos are potentially damaging to both the sender and receiver. Teens need to think about why they want this content on their phones in the first place. Sexting is illegal and has lead to hurt feelings, extreme regret, public embarrassment, lowered self-esteem and suicide.

If you discover your child is using a secrecy app or hidden photo vault, it’s a great opportunity to discuss the risks.

Ask them:

  • Why do they want these images?

 

  • Do they understand the danger of having inappropriate information on their phones?

 

  • Discuss the risks of sexting and how it can be damaging to both the sender and receiver.

If you would like to monitor which apps your son or daughter download, you can set-up your parental controls so that you are notified.

The goal is not to police your child. However, problems with digital technology are so prevalent that it’s crucial you stay involved. Keep the conversations going and help your child use technology in a healthy, safe way.

Rethink: Cyberbullying Prevention

Finally an app that helps kids make good choices: ReThink-A Cyberbullying Prevention App.

Everyday it seems we hear about apps that are dangerous for our kids. Not only can it be hard to keep up, but it can feel overwhelming and scary.

There is a new app that help kids make good choices and keep them safe.

ReThink is a free app that helps kids and teens pause before sending or posting messages that might be hurtful.

When a message has certain warning words (embarrassing, hate, hurt, etc.) a pop-up message appears that says:

“Are you sure you want to say that?” (or a similar sentiment).

It was designed to reduce Cyberbullying, and is surprisingly effective.

According to their website,


“When teens are alerted to ReThink their decision, they change their minds 93% of the time.”

I installed it on my phone to see how it works and it’s great. Just the other day I was sending a message where I said something about being embarrassed and I got an alert:

“Is this the type of person you are?”

I chuckled because it was not a hateful message; however if it had been mean-spirited it would have helped me re-evaluate my message.

Rethink helps kids and teens think through what they are saying before hitting send.

You can download it for free on itunes.

Teaching young kids to use technology safely

I had two experiences last week that helped me realize how early we need to start teaching our kids to use technology safely.

My youngest daughter Meadow is 8. She does not have a cellphone, text or use social media. She does have an ipad though, which I had set up as securely as possible, and thought we were all good. (Click here to read how you can do that on your devices too.)

However, as often happens to me as a parent, something eye-opening happened and I realized she was more than ready.

First, Meadow came home from a play date and told me she was excited because she and her friend talked to “Batman” while playing Minecraft. I was busy cooking dinner so my first impulse was to say, “Oh, that’s nice.” But I made myself stop what I was doing to find out more. When I dug a little deeper, I realized she and her friend were chatting with a stranger. Even though she reassured me that he was not a “Bad Guy,” I asked her to show me her ipad so I could see how the chat feature works. I discovered she was free to type anything she pleased. (Lots of kids games have limited chat features, with pre-written choices for conversation.) This sparked a conversation on why it’s not safe to talk to strangers online and how the internet is not a safe place to make friends. At 8, she was just excited to have the honor of talking to “Batman.” However, she didn’t realize he could be someone else (which call me crazy, I’m guessing he was).

The second incident happened a couple of days later. Even though Meadow doesn’t have a cellphone, she has recently started using Facetime and imessage with a good friend on her ipad. Since this is her buddy, it didn’t occur to me to talk to her about cyberbullying or the public nature of messaging.  Once again it was a lesson for good ole’ mom on the importance of talking about these issues before they become a problem.

Meadow is an animal lover and she and her friend got the idea it would be great fun to have pet pigs.  Meadow mentioned that her friend was mad at her because she wanted to be the only one to have a pig. Again, my impulse was to say “Oh that’s too bad.” But instead, I asked to see her ipad. I was pretty shocked when I saw the nature of their messages. What started out as a fun time chatting about pigs quickly turned into a mean-spirited conversation. Her friend was REALLY mad at her and was letting her know it! Meadow actually handled it very well, and didn’t get nasty back.  I quickly realized though that she was more than ready for training on texting safety.

I was waiting to teach her once she had a cell phone and a digital social life, but this was a mistake. She is ready now.

If your child is online or has any kind of digital life, I highly encourage you to talk about the following:

  • Don’t chat with strangers online.  It’s too risky and just not safe. Instead of trying to figure out whether or not someone is who he or she claims to be, a blanket rule is safest. (Let’s face it; chatting with Batman is pretty appealing to an 8 year old!)
  • Handle conflicts in-person. Even after I called Meadow’s friend’s mom to talk about the upsetting messages, the girls wanted to Facetime to talk about it. Instead we had them wait and talk in-person. This situation was the perfect example of how kids say things digitally that they would never in person.
  • Discuss how digital conversations are public. When I first asked to see her messages Meadow said, “No, they’re private.” It was the perfect time to sit down and explain that actually no, they aren’t. The messages could be copied and forwarded to anyone. She hadn’t realized this (and I hadn’t taught her.)
  • Stay in the loop. As parents, we are busy. However, it really doesn’t take very long to sit down and check-in with our kids. In both of these situations I was focused on something else and my initial impulse was to brush it off. However, I am SO glad I didn’t. I would have missed  discussing both a safety issue and a really important teachable moment, that sparked some great conversations.

It can be a challenge to realize when our young kids are ready for this type of training. I felt relieved that Meadow’s first problem happened with a good friend. They both learned a lot, on a small scale. However, it did surprise me that she needed these lessons already. I encourage you to get these conversations started.

At 8, Meadow doesn’t need to know everything a preteen or teen would about technology. However, she’s definitely ready for the basics.

Have you had similar situations with your younger kids? How have you handled them and what have you learned? I’d love to hear your stories. In this ever-changing digital world, we can all learn from each other.

Child Cell Phone Contract

Are you thinking of getting your child a cell phone for Christmas or Hannukah? Do they already use one but you’d like to establish some concrete rules and guidelines with them? I have a great tool for you: my free Cell phone contract

It’s really important that we talk with our kids about our expectations for their digital lives. Clear rules can help them make good choices when using their devices.

My holiday gift to you is the attached cell phone contract. I encourage you to go over it with your child and answer their questions.  (Of course feel free to adjust it to your own personal rules.)

It’s important to realize that our kids are still learning and will make mistakes with their devices. The good news is that by keeping the lines of communication open and being clear on your expectations you can help them navigate their new responsibility smoothly.

Do you use a cell phone contract? Has it been helpful? Hop on over to my Facebook page and let me know what’s worked for you.
Feel free to share the contract with your friends. We can all use help with keeping our kids safe.

Kids and Snapchat: What Parents need to know

I have a confession: I don’t like wearing costumes. They are usually uncomfortable and scratchy and I don’t feel like myself. This past Halloween my family was invited to a party where costumes were REQUIRED. They meant business too. No costume, no entry. My 13-year-old daughter suggested the perfect costume for me. She had seen it on Pinterest and thought it would meet all of my requirements.

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She helped me create my very own Snapchat costume. All I had to wear was a yellow shirt (not my favorite color, but I’d survive) and I’d have a costume tailor made for someone who doesn’t like dressing up and teaches internet safety. It even had a Snap Code on the back where people could scan it with their phone to send me a message. It was very cool.

I had no idea my costume would be another lesson in the importance of parents staying up-to-date with their kids’ digital lives.

When we arrived at the party, it was already crowded. Right away several parents said, “Oh, I like your little ghost costume.” Hmm…I thought. Do they really not recognize the Snapchat logo? Almost immediately, several teens ran up and said, “Love your Snapchat costume!” This was interesting. I started polling the grow-ups at the party to see if they knew what I was. Not one single parent had any idea what my costume was; however, every single tween and teen did. This was the perfect reminder of why parents need to stay involved in their kids digital lives. As a parent, it’s important to understand Snapchat. Kids use it. Daily. It can be fun, but there are also a lot of problems that come with this app and kids need to know how to use it safely.

Snapchat is an app that allows users to send pictures and videos that flash onto the receiver’s screen for just a few seconds (the sender decides how long: between 1-10 seconds) and then supposedly “disappear.”

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People like it because they can share a moment in their day. A silly expression, what they are snacking on, who they are hanging with, etc. It is a fast-paced social media app that was designed with the intention to provide more privacy then apps like Instagram, where posts can be seen by many. However, Snapchat is just as public as any other digital communication. Kids know that they can take a screen shot of any picture that comes on their device and then will have a permanent copy, which they can share with anyone. Snapchat notifies the sender if someone has taken a screenshot of their message; however by this point it’s too late to get it back.

Snapchat is also often used by teens for Sexting: sending and receiving naked or semi-naked pictures of themselves. They  think it’s a “safe” way to do this since the images vanish; however, this simply isn’t the case.

If you don’t now much about Snapchat, you are not alone! The good news is there are some simple steps you can take to help protect your child.

  • Talk with your child about Snapchat. Do they have an account? (Legally, kids are supposed to be 13 or older however, many younger kids have accounts too.) Sit down with them and have them teach you how it works. Kids love to be the expert and teach their parent.
  • Remind your child how everything they do in the digital world can become public. Even though it FEELS private, once they hit send their picture or video could end up anywhere. I like to have my kids picture how they would feel if their message was on the billboard in front of their school. If they wouldn’t want it there, they should send it.
  • Ask them if they’ve seen anything inappropriate or embarrassing while using Snapchat.  Let them know that they can come to you if they ever see something upsetting. Kids need our help processing inappropriate messages and the majority of them have seen them.

For most of us, it is impossible to understand every app or to try to keep up with our kids. We will always be a step or more behind them. However, we can check-in with them and communicate the importance of creating a digital footprint they can be proud of. Keeping the lines of communication open about their digital lives and staying involved with how they are using technology is an important step to keeping them safe. I know it can feel overwhelming, but your child can show you the ropes, while you communicate that you are willing to learn and want to be involved with their digital world.

 

Protecting Kids from Online Pornography

Do you worry about how to protect your child from online pornography? I do.

When I’m creating my Cybersafety Classes, lots of times I  search online for images for my videos. Over the years, the amount of pornographic pictures I have seen when searching really innocent words (teenagers, dating, cellphones, etc. ) could make your head spin. The last few months, I’ve noticed a HUGE increase in the number of naked and sexual pictures online. (Some of them were so graphic, it made me feel sick.) It was getting so common and so disturbing, I honestly dreaded looking things up.  Every time this happened, I thought about my daughters and how upsetting it would be for them to see some of these images. As a grown-up I could barely handle it.

I started investigating to see if anything had changed with my settings. One thing I discovered was that both Yahoo and Google have options to turn on “Safe Search.” (Mine was not on.) Just by changing this setting, the majority of pornographic pictures were filtered out. (Instructions for turning on settings are at the end of the post.)

I also started thinking about my 8 year old, and how she loves to ask Suri to show her pictures of things. (Unicorns, dragons, etc.) I immediately went to check the settings on her device and made sure it was also set appropriately.

Over the years a lot of parents have asked me about software that helps block inappropriate sites and information. I’ve always advocated for educating kids about how to search safely, instead of relying on software to make good choices for them. I still believe education is the most important piece to empowering kids to use technology safely. However, after realizing how much more prevalent online pornography has become, it might be something to consider, especially for younger kids.

The most popular product available is called: Nanny Net. Not only does it block inappropriate content but it also monitors Social Media usage for things like Cyberbullying and Sexting. This type of software is not foolproof and the older kids get, the more savvy they become at getting around restrictions. Education should always be step one. However, when dealing with younger kids, this can be a good option. (If you choose to use internet filtering software, you will need to purchase licenses for each of your devices.)

As parents, we always want to protect our kids. With the internet, it is not always easy. However, by taking a few minutes to check the settings on your computers and devices, you can protect them from a lot of really graphic, inappropriate information and help them use technology safely.

To change your search settings on Yahoo:

  1. Go to the Yahoo Search box and type “search”
  2. Click on the gear icon in the upper right hand corner and go to “Preferences”
  3. Choose “Safe Search”
  4. You will have options: Strict, Moderate or Off ( I recommend starting with “Strict” and if too much regular content is filtered out, then adjust to moderate.

To change your search settings on Google:

  1. Start at www.google.com
  2. Click “Settings” in the lower right hand corner
  3. Choose Search Settings
  4. Turn Safe Search On.

On an Iphone, Ipad or Ipod:

  1. Go to “Settings”
  2. Choose General
  3. Find Restrictions
  4. Here you can enter a passcode to block adult content. You can even specify what movies you want them to have access to, music, videos, websites, etc.

If you find that too much regular content is being filtered out, you can adjust your settings.

Please share this information with your friends so we can protect our kids.

Protecting kids from strangers online

Does your child talk to strangers online? You might be surprised by the answer.

In July, I spent a few days in Southern California filming new footage for my online program. I always love working with kids and hearing their stories about their experiences using technology. I was really encouraged that many of them seemed to really understand the concept that everything they do in the digital world is public and to be careful about what they post.

I was pretty shocked though when I asked how many of them have chatted with strangers online. They all had! Even though they seemed to logically understand that this wasn’t a good idea, they did it anyway.

I decided to do a little detective work and looked-up some of the tweens I know on Instagram, to see how many people on average they were following and being followed by. It was pretty alarming. Some of them had as many as 500 followers! It’s true that these are sweet kids, but they do not have that many friends.

Part of the problem is that kids feel popular with lots of followers. They also often feel like they know the other person since he or she is a friend-of-a-friend or they’ve seen them around. However, this just isn’t safe.

Kids often post personal information, including where they go to school, live and other details that could make it easy for someone to find them in-person. Kids have been hurt by grown-ups, pretending to be kids and then luring them into a meeting.

Another risk with befriending strangers has to do with the much-loved selfie. Everyday I see tweens posting selfies, oftentimes from their bedrooms. This is especially dangerous if they have a public account and/or use the “Map my photo” feature since with just one click people can see where they live. Kids should never post anything that would make it possible for someone to find them in-person.

During our taping session, I asked the kids what questions they get asked the most by strangers. Here are some of the most popular answers:

You can watch the clip (and a sneak peak from Cyberstrong Kids 2015) here:

Strangers wanted to know:

-Where do you live?

-What’s your name?

-What school do you go to?

-How old are you?

They realized that strangers could figure out how to find them by asking enough personal questions and that this is dangerous.

We had a great conversation about how anyone can pretend to be someone they aren’t in the cyberworld and that it’s really important to only make friends or accept follow requests from people they actually know.

If you haven’t talked with your child about using caution when interacting with strangers online, I highly encourage you to take a few minutes to make sure they understand the risks. Also, if your child uses Social Media sit down with them and look over their friend and followers lists and make sure they personally know everyone on their lists. Encourage your children to make as many friends as they like in person, but the cyberworld is not a safe place to make new friends.

Some questions that can help you get the conversation started:

-Has a stranger ever tried to talk to you online? What happened? What did you do?

-Do you personally know all of your friends/followers on your Social Media accounts?

-What would you do if you met someone online who wanted to meet you in-person?

-How do you know the person you are chatting with is who they say they are?

Talking with your child about the risks of interacting with strangers online is a conversation that is too important not to have.

Watch your inbox for my soon-to-be-released Cyberstrong Kids 2015 program, which covers this topic as well as much more.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Has your child had any problems with strangers online? How do you help your child limit the number of friends and followers they have on Social Media sites?

Hop on over to my Facebook page and share your experiences.

We can all learn from each other.