10 Ways to Keep Kids Safe Online

10 Ways to Keep Kids Safe Online

Family Tech

Technology for parents & kids: Hints, tips, online safety strategies & more.

Whether you’re worried about social networks, texting, apps, video games, online privacy or other growing areas of high-tech concern, it bears remembering: Keeping kids safe in today’s online and always-connected world requires a multi-pronged approach. As with any form of technology, the most effective strategies are proactive. Educate yourself on new innovations and teach kids positive computing habits, and they’ll be better equipped to make good decisions when they encounter questionable content. Below, you’ll some practical tips for doing just that.

  • Remember that homework is for parents too: Always study, research and go-hands on with new technologies to make more informed decisions.
  • If time’s tight, get a crash course on new offerings, trends and features by visiting popular product review sites or searching for online tutorials, e.g. “How to Turn Off iPhone Purchases.”
  • Besides employing kid-friendly software, apps and web filters, educate children on online dangers and encourage them to speak up when questionable content or situations are encountered.
  • Use the parental controls built into popular entertainment devices, video game consoles and operating systems, and password-protect your settings – but don’t employ easily guessable choices like birthdays and anniversaries.
  • Activate privacy features built into popular social networks to limit strangers’ access to personal status updates, photos and videos.
  • Confine screens to common household areas such as playrooms and dens, so usage and play habits can be monitored.
  • Establish predetermined times when usage of high-tech devices is permitted or banned (e.g. during dinner), and always shut screens off at least one hour before bedtime.
  • Create and enforce house rules: Experts recommend no more than 60-120 minutes of screen time daily, balanced with other low-tech activities. Some families add or subtract time as a reward or punishment for children’s behavior.
  • If you’re worried about children’s online interactions, use programs’ and devices’ built-in features to turn off Internet connectivity, disenable digital purchases and restrict interactions to pre-approved friend lists.
  • Talk about safe online spending, and if you allow kids to make purchases, consider restricting these abilities to prepaid cards.

Technology and Kids: 5 Things Every Parent Should Know

Technology and Kids: 5 Things Every Parent Should Know

Family Tech

Technology for parents & kids: Hints, tips, online safety strategies & more.

Between smartphones, tablets, apps, portable media players, computers and connected video game systems, technology has permanently and irrevocably invaded kids’ lives. Cheerfully for today’s family, it can be an immensely rewarding and uplifting part of household hijinks, as long as parents and children observe a few simple rules alike. Following, you’ll find several expert strategies and tactics for making high-tech devices a healthy part of your home.

Make a Commitment to Education

Dozens of companies such as McAfee, Lookout and Symantec offer an equally dizzying array of software programs, apps and child-friendly Web browsers that block kids’ access to questionable content. But given the clip at which technology advances, and how savvy today’s tots are, don’t be fooled: Software’s no substitute for good, old-fashioned parenting, as an ounce of prevention far outweighs a pound of cure. Realize – homework is for parents as well as kids. As many new apps, gadgets, games and online services debut each week, and ways for connecting and communicating constantly emerge or evolve, technology’s a moving target. The only way to stay abreast of it, and meet the challenges it presents, is to constantly keep tabs on and personally try out new advancements. Ongoing research is crucial, as is investing time and interest: Like every other aspect of raising a healthy tot (i.e. feeding, clothing and teaching good manners), preparing them for life in a wired world requires a lasting commitment. Want to successfully equip sprouts to meet the challenge? It’s difficult to teach the rules of the game if you don’t spend the time to personally see just what it is you’re up against.

Keep Connected Devices in Common Rooms

It’s tempting to let kids keep computers, video game consoles and other Internet-ready devices in their bedrooms or other private areas. But speaking as a former teenage male, trust me: Screens should be confined to common areas of the home. Beyond allowing you to monitor kids’ play patterns, time investment and overall activity, doing so also allows you to see how sprouts are utilizing such systems in context, and whom they interact with. Granted, usage will obviously differ while a parent is present (it’s rare to meet a well-adjusted teen that doesn’t spout off at the mouth like a hardened sailor when adults are AWOL). But by being there during times of activity, even if only on the periphery, you will get a sense of children’s general computing habits, favorite apps/programs and the way in which kids employ such devices. Ancillary benefits are also substantial – i.e. not having to worry about a certain someone sneaking online to clock in time with World of Warcraft during the wee hours… at least, apart from Dad, that is.

Use Parental Controls

Expecting Web Watcher or Net Nanny to babysit your child is ludicrous. (Hint: Kids are smart, and have grown up alongside technology – if they can’t discover a workaround, chances are it’s just one search away on the Internet.) But that doesn’t mean you should ignore the wealth of great tools that manufacturers have put at your disposal. From Windows 7 to OS X Lion, the iPad and iPhone to PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, most mass-market computing and entertainment devices come with parental controls built-in. These controllable system settings – optionally guarded with a password – can limit access to questionable content, the Internet or hardware itself, or filter material by age-appropriateness. Using such off-the-shelf tools, it’s often simple to block R-rated movies and mature games, limit access to devices during off-hours, prevent downloadable purchases, and/or confine online interactions to pre-approved friend lists. The best part: Most are idiot-proof and readily accessible from the gadget’s Main or Settings menu, meaning even us clueless grown-ups can configure them in minutes without reading the user manual.

Guard Your Personal Information

The Internet can be a wonderful place, but it’s also an intensely public one, meaning you should approach it with the same reservations as any open forum. Moreover, no matter how much more intimate social networks like Facebook and Google+ seem, it’s important to remember: As with popular online video games (or any other space where we’re defined by virtual personas), everyone is, to some extent, playing a character. Note that many perfectly normal and healthy relationships can be formed online. But it never hurts to stay paranoid. To this extent, never give out personal information such as names, addresses, birthdays or telephone numbers, or reveal when you’ll be out of town – even if just expressing excitement over your fab upcoming Spring Break vacation. Likewise, use such services’ built-in tools and custom privacy settings to limit access to photos or video of yourself only to approved viewers. If nothing else, it’ll save some embarrassment when college recruiters or prospective employers eventually come looking.

Create and Enforce House Rules

Helping kids understand the difference between right and wrong starts with open and honest discussion. Begin by setting house rules which all family members agree on governing appropriate content, when it’s suitable to use high-tech devices (and in what context) and during which occasions – i.e. dinner – access is prohibited. Experts also agree that setting time limits on screen time is crucial for healthy development. While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one to two hours daily, feel free to tinker slightly, offering more or less time as a reward or punishment for good or bad behavior. Some families even treat the use of high-tech devices as a privilege, incentivizing positive habits by offering kids screen time in exchange for doing chores, earning good grades or helping out around the house. Under all scenarios, kids should always feel comfortable approaching you with questions, whether regarding why rules exist and punishments were enforced, or concerning questionable content they encountered while using high-tech apps or devices.

Long story short: Technology can be an immensely beneficial and uplifting part of kids’ lives. But to realize it’s full potential, you’ve got to prepare them to meet its ups and downs, and – most importantly – commit to cruising right there alongside them on the rollercoaster ride.

5 Ways to Easily Communicate on the Road

5 Ways to Easily Communicate on the Road

Staying connected is a top priority for today’s traveler. Thankfully, a wide range of high-tech devices andservices now provide countlessways to keep up with friends, family and coworkers wherever you go. Looking to effortlessly stay in touch with the gang back home or office from any location? From cloud computing solutions to cutting-edge hospitality and lodging services, following are five ways to practically guarantee maintaining seamless communication anytime, anywhere:

Put Your Head in the Clouds – Cloud computing services like Google Docs, Zoho, OneDrive and Dropbox let you easily store and share files, photos, documents, and spreadsheets online, so your desktop travels wherever you do. Using these tools, accessible from Web browsers, apps and even desktop folders, you can synchronize all your data across tablets, smartphones and computers.Coworkers can even collaborate on projects in real-time. Dozens of providers (even more include Amazon, Box, Hightail, etc.) make it easy to stay in touch, team up on shared efforts or transport files and folders full of music, movies and more to any destination.

Get Connected – If you’re a modern professional or parent, or simply want more face-to-face time with your friends and family, free videoconferencing services like Skype, Tango and ooVoo are a must. Make voice and video calls from mobile or stationary devices with an Internet connection so you can tuck in your kids or take calls with key clients from hundreds of miles away. Instant messaging programs such as WhatsApp (see: its free international text messaging services), Trillian and Kik also put contacts and comrades just a tap away. With these, you can easilysend and receive text messages or share photos, videos and more multimedia goodies from a variety of popular portable devices.

Stay Smart – Many hotel brandsoffer wireless Internet connections at significant cost and variable speeds. Others such as Hyatt Place (already notable for its design with the 24/7 traveler in mind and roomyrooms) offer greater convenience and comfort by providing free dependable Wi-Filocation-wide along with USB charging ports.When booking a room, don’t just choose based on location. Look for lodging choices such as these which offer ample power plugs, generous work spaces, and complimentary wireless connectivity.That way, it’s easy to make video or voice calls, visit your Inbox and access social apps and networks.

Use Go-Go Gadgets – Mobile devices make the perfect portable communications solution, but battery life seldom lasts the entire day. Save yourself from sprinting for a power outlet by grabbing recharger cases for your favorite device, which can provide a quick energy refill to go, such as those made my Mophie, PowerSkin and Powermat. If you’re a high-speed cellular customer, virtually every carrier offers mobile wireless hotspot options that can help you stay connected day-round as well. These handy gizmos, which sync up to 3G and 4G LTE networks, make it possible to connect several devices (tablets, laptops, digital cameras, etc.) to the Internet and enjoy mobile connectivity to go.

Bring the World to You – A variety of helpful blogging services such as TravelPod, Tumblr, Blogger and WordPress make it possible to create your own travelogue or running diary, and post updates, photos and videos from every stop on your itinerary. Popular social networks such as Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter also provide a quick and easy way to share updates from every stopover, or even in some cases post up videos or entire photo galleries’ worth of vacation snapshots. You can not only keep others up to date with your travels, but also create a greater sense of connection by helping them see the world through your eyes.

Just as important as knowing the best ways to communicate is taking the time to disconnect. Explore the area you’re visiting using advice from friends in the area, local blogs and newspapers or asking your hotel for their favorite suggestions. You’re bound to discover a something new to share the next time you connect. 

This post was sponsored by Hyatt Place as part of its Seamless Travel Series. The opinions are my own and based on my experience.