Technology for parents & kids: Hints, tips, online safety strategies & more.
While online virtual worlds are an incredibly popular way to have fun with friends on the Internet in a seemingly trustworthy environment, the truth is that there are a number of potential concerns and dangers that parents and users of all ages should be aware of.
The European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) reports that the biggest concerns for parents about virtual worlds for both kids (7 an under) and tweens (8 to 12) is online safety and exposure to online predators.
This is made possible due to the very social nature of these virtual worlds, which are essentially forms of social networks for kids with more of an emphasis on graphics than words.
Going beyond general online safety fears, key concerns parents have about virtual worlds from the ENISA report include:
– Exposure to harmful or illegal content, such as pornography or gambling
– Interaction with ill-intentioned adults masquerading as children
– Identity theft
– Health issues related to spending too much time on computer and not enough time outside
– Unauthorized spending
While these are all legitimate concerns, all reputable virtual world sites take steps to prevent misuse or abuse by users which parents should be aware of.
For starters, any service aimed at kids age 13 and under must be compliant with the U.S.’s stringent COPPA regulations, designed to protect the online privacy of minors.
The creators of these sites that are used by kids also offer many parental control options via a parental control panel, which also can generate usage reports and monitoring about not only how long kids are playing, but what types of activities they are participating in.
And because gamers in these virtual worlds are always connected online, the game’s developers can track and record every movement, interaction and purchase that gamers do while online. Companies do this not necessarily with the player’s best interest in mind, but rather to be able to better tune and enhance their worlds based on how players are using them. But for parents concerned about online safety, this practice is a nice consequence.
It is definitely worth noting though that for those parents more concerned about online privacy that are lax to share ANY information about their children, obviously you’re giving up some anonymity by participating in virtual worlds, even if the data collected can’t be connected to your specific children.
A Bit More About Chat in Virtual Worlds
A key part of these online virtual worlds is also the chat function. There are many solutions available to help prevent unwanted and undesired contact from others.
There are two ways that chat can be moderated in virtual worlds. The first is by controlling which other users players can interact with, and the second involves the types of communication they can engage in.
As a basic option, many virtual worlds offer “restricted chat.” This means that not only are users restricted to talking with others on their dual-approved friend list, but there are also limited, pre-written chat options for them to use.
Older kids may be allowed more chat freedom, but most virtual worlds still have a list of words they will not allow, as well as restrict interactions with others.
And nearly all have live, human moderators that are on hand roaming the world to watch out for any bad or questionable behavior, or who can immediately respond should you click the handy and usually prominent “report” button.
Other Tips for Keeping Kids Safe in Virtual Worlds
The US government has a website at OnGuardOnline.gov that offers many online safety tips, including those specific to virtual worlds. Among the recommendations are for parents to check out online destinations themselves and engage in specific conversations about how and when they’ll be visiting these virtual worlds.
Parents can also look for third-party certifications on sites such as the TrustE online privacy Trustmark, the kidSAFE Seal or the FamilyFriendlyVideoGames.com Seal of Approval. All of these indicate that the site has been checked out by a third-party for safety, privacy and other concerns.
Teaching a kid how to use technology safely and effectively is kind of like teaching them how to walk to school on their own for the first time: It’s natural, it’s necessary, but gosh, it’s pretty unnerving. Regardless, the Internet and other technology is a huge part of the modern child’s world, just as much as television or automobiles. It’s up to parents to teach their kids how to use technology safely.
From encouraging the learning process from day one to teaching kids how to properly sort their inbox, here are five tips that’ll help you teach your children the finer points of tech safety.
Hands off the tech (parents) – Letting your kids experiment with technology is the first step in teaching them how to use it safely. Daniel Donahoo at the GeekDad Community encourages parents to let kids puzzle out tablets, phones, etc, for themselves—no matter how much they may want to intervene.
“My biggest tip is ‘don’t touch the tech,’” Donahoo writes. “When my children come and say, ‘Dad how do I?’ It may be insert an image, or download a new program, or fix an error…I come and talk to them about it, I ask questions, but I never do it for them…they learn by doing it themselves and finding the answers…the way I had to.”
Needless to say, you’ll at least want to ensure that all traces of jam and chocolate have been eliminated from your kids’ fingers before they start poking away.
Kids learn by example, so set a good one – If your kids walk in on you while you’re surfing, shall we say, less than reputable sites, they’re going to believe it’s perfectly okay for them to do the same thing. The shifty content on said sites isn’t the only thing you need to worry about, either: They can also be nests for viruses and malware.
It’s also important for you to set a good example by not using your cellphone or texting while driving. The last thing you need is a trip to the Emergency Department because Junior thought he’d ape dad and make a call while driving his BMX.
Start as early as possible – There are apps available for babies and toddlers. That tells you something about how easily kids catch on to new devices. It’s not a bad idea to initiate supervised play on tablets and computers. The earlier a kid manages to find his or her way around tech, the sooner he or she can learn how to use it safely while unsupervised.
Teach kids how to spot spam and frauds from real email – There are safe, walled email options for very young kids, but they’re eventually going to need to use something more functional. Unfortunately, with email comes spam. Lots of it. It’s important to teach kids how to sort scams from the real deal, especially when a cleverly-disguised notification asks for bank information, credit card information, or passwords to game sites.
Keep the computer, tablet, etc, in the living room – Parents have strong opinions on whether or not technology like TVs and computers should follow kids into their bedrooms. While the choice is ultimately up to mom and dad, keeping the family unit in a busy area of the house helps parents keep an eye on their kids’ surfing habits until they can be assured that Junior has learned some measure of online safety.
For more suggestions on helping your kids surf safely, visit:
When Why at How to Teach Your Kids about Social Media at TogetherFamily
Teaching Your Kids to Think Before they Click at ParentFurther
The holidays are here, and you know what that means: Technology and gadgets galore! With it just as fun for techies to give as receive, there’s no shortage of high-tech items crowding gearheads’ wish lists either – whether shopping for an LED HDTV, tablet PC, smartphone or otherwise, expect to be well-covered.
But picking the best electronic gifts isn’t as easy as it used to be, as shoppers suddenly face tough decisions on every front, e.g. to buy Apple or Android, 4G LTE or 3G. Thankfully whichever option you choose, and device you settle on, odds are you’re likely to come out a winner. Why? Growing power and performance combined with falling prices and increasing connectivity means that regardless of manufacturer or item, you’re effectively getting more bang for your buck across the board.
In fact, according to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), holiday shoppers plan to spend roughly $252 on tech-related presents this year – a full third of their gift-giving budget. The good news: With value a big watchword for manufacturers in 2012 and 2013, you’ll find that the best high-tech gifts (which now offer wireless and mobile connectivity, including support for downloadable apps and updates) don’t just make jaws drop… they also often keep on giving for months to come. So no matter if you’re dreaming of a snazzy DSLR camera or shiny new Wii U video game system, realize. Plenty of great gift ideas can help you stay snuggled up warm in front of your screen until Jack Frost takes the hint and finally flies south for the winter.
See below for just a few great high-tech gift ideas the whole family will love this holiday, each worth adding to your wish list. Note that you can click the below links to learn more about all options, and for online shopping deals.
Leading a wave of new pint-sized tablet PC launches, the smaller and slimmer iPad Mini does everything its larger cousin does, only in a more portable and lightweight format. A miniaturized alternative to traditional laptops, it also provides extensive online connectivity for surfing the Web or playing books, music, movies, TV shows and games in a format so hyper-intuitive that even toddlers can enjoy it.
Owners can easily check email, videoconference with friends or family, and browse the Internet on its gorgeous 7.9-inch LED screen, or enjoy immediate access to a virtual library’s worth of magazines, newspapers and periodicals to boot. Capable of 1080p high-definition video recording, and measuring up 23% thinner and 53% lighter than its full-sized cousin (clocking in at just 7.2mm and 0.68lbs), the device also packs 10 hours of battery life.
Great for enjoying on the couch or cross-country flights, support for high-speed WiFi and LTE wireless connectivity makes it easy to enjoy the best upside of all: On-demand access to hundreds of thousands of free or value-priced apps (read: bite-sized software programs) in every genre. Buy one, and you’ll greatly minimize chances of ever being bored again.
Having recently claimed the title of world’s best-selling smartphone, it’s easy to see why shoppers and critics alike are raving over this sleek, high-speed handset. Among the most popular iPhone 5 alternatives available, the Android 4.0 model doesn’t just offer a brawny dual-core processor, brisk 4G LTE download speeds and sharp 8MP camera. It also packs an ultra-crisp 4/3-inch AMOLED (read: colorful and oversized) display, loads of memory for fast program juggling, and support for both speech recognition and voice commands, a la Apple’s Siri.
Priced competitively and available on a variety of cellular carrier networks including AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular, the gadget also lets you quickly share photos, videos and documents using wireless “S Beam” transfer capabilities. As an added bonus, you can further access turn-by-turn directions, seamlessly share film clips you’ve shot to Samsung TVs and easily check friends’ social network updates. Crammed as the gizmo is with fun features and extras, it’s almost refreshing to note that basics like call quality, reception and data transfer speeds don’t disappoint. Anyone looking for a new phone without an “i” in the title would do well to make it a first port of call.
While manufacturer Toshiba’s no slouch in the HDTV market – see its affordably-priced 24L4200U, which delivers myriad connectivity options besides solid screen performance – this stunning LED set quickly helps reinforce the point. A 46-inch flat screen that delivers vivid coloring and snazzy 1080p high-definition graphics in a sleek-looking package, it also offers a 120Hz refresh rate for seamlessly smooth motion while watching sports or movies. As with other models, myriad connections (including 3 HDMI ports, USB support and component video hookups) are offered to boot, so you can easily connect a Blu-ray player, Apple TV or media receiver.
Whether using the set to output images from your PC or screen a marathon of The Lord of the Rings movies, it takes just seconds to get the picture, both literally and otherwise. Credit workmanlike video performance, including wide viewing angles so you can enjoy screenings no matter where you’re reclining in a room, and vibrant coloring that helps bring on-screen images to life. While it lacks 3D capability and smart TV (i.e. Internet-connected and app-based options), it’s worth noting that the television also offers something supporting TVs don’t. Specifically, a more affordable price point, so you can enjoy large screen size and LED backlighting technology without breaking the bank.
While a printer may not seem the sexiest holiday gift, it’s among the most practical, and likely to keep on giving, especially if you’re in the mood to save vacation photos, or running a small or home-based business. Offering high-quality color prints with a fraction of the time and cost of competitors, the HP Officejet Pro 8600 cranks out up to 20 great-looking pages a minute in black and white or 16 per minute in color. A touchscreen powered all-in-one that offers the ability to copy, scan and fax, it doesn’t just connect to wired or wireless networks either – it also offers downloadable apps and printing from mobile devices.
If you’re looking to enjoy wireless home printing for less, you might also give the HP Officejet 6700 Premium all-in-one a look this holiday season as well. A value-priced option that also packs a touchscreen, WiFi connectivity, built-in apps and the ability to print from mobile devices or throughout the whole home, it strikes a nice balance between performance and practicality too. Whether churning out holiday photos and fliers or simply downloading Disney cutouts or other arts and crafts projects to entertain kids on break, it’s a fun and useful addition to any home, or home office.
Another strong offering in the slim and lightweight tablet PC category, Google’s answer to the iPad Mini (also available in a 10-inch format) does for Android what its rival does for Apple’s own iOS. Priced to sell and tailor-made for travelers, you may be surprised to learn that the eye-catching 7-inch display isn’t necessarily the main draw here, though. Rather, it’s on-demand access to hundreds of thousands of apps from online store Google Play, serious graphical horsepower, and long-lasting battery life that make the device a must-see for both enthusiasts and casual shoppers alike.
Compatible with mobile wireless GSM carriers worldwide, WiFi-enabled and offering 32GB of storage, we’re most psyched about the NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core processor the system packs. Able to pump out jaw-dropping 3D graphics and juggle multiple apps with minimal hiccups, the system shines brightest when playing games or pumping out videos, making it a portable digital entertainment hub. Equally great for killing time alongside guests during the holidays or while cruising at 30,000 feet, it also offers effortless web browsing and Internet surfing, and the ability to read reams of eBooks during cold winter nights.
From favorite songs to films, TV shows and novels, it’s all there waiting to be enjoyed from the cloud. Happily, around 9-10 hours of playback or online usage are offered per charge as well, so you won’t find yourself suddenly sprinting for an outlet during extended layovers as you voyage towards sunnier shores.
Letting Mad Max fans live out their every post-apocalyptic fantasy, this sequel to the multimillion-selling action role-playing game (RPG) epic will be a surefire favorite with gaming enthusiasts. Albeit for mature audiences, the uniquely-styled adventure – which looks like a living, breathing graphic novel – lets up to four players patrol a blasted futuristic wasteland battling mutants and marauders, and collecting piles of loot as they gallivant along. Packing weeks of replay value in solo or multiplayer modes, it lets you pick from literally millions of weapons, pieces of equipment, and gear, then travel the desert blowing adversaries to kingdom come.
Successfully straddling the line between a white-knuckle first-person shooter and stat-crunching 3D dungeon crawl, it delivers the kind of depth diehard fans crave alongside the accessibility casual players can’t resist. Which makes it something of a rare beast among games these days: The kind you can dive into and blow off stress in just minutes by enjoying a little co-op, split-screen and LAN-based play, or alternately spend months immersed in ferreting out every last collectible or clue. An overarching campaign helps add some depth to the proceedings, but make no mistake whether you’re a PC, PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 owner. The real fun here’s in grabbing a few friends, getting your hands on increasingly spectacular randomly-generated gear, and settling in for an evening of casually using it to splatter slavering monstrosities across the sand.
It’s a tablet. No wait – it’s a notebook. OK, so maybe it’s a little of both, with this so-called Windows 8 “ultrabook” (lightweight, mid-range portable PC that mimics the best features of each) sitting somewhere in-between. Designed for road warriors who demand more versatility from their computing solutions, the touch-based model essentially packs a streamlined layout and physical keyboard for heightened productivity, yet also boasts a screen that swivels a full 360 degrees.
Think form meets functionality: Capable of transforming into four different modes – laptop, tablet, stand and tent – the system is built for maximum convenience. That way, you can switch its setup to pound out reports, play games and videos, or enjoy streaming music and social media updates as situations dictate. Offering a 13.3-inch HD display, multi-touch capability and up to 8 hours of battery life, yet weighing in at only 3.4lbs, it makes an ideal travel companion. Credit a unique mix of performance and practicality, with models capable of packing up to an Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of memory and 128GB SSD storage.
Can’t decide between an iPad and full-sized Windows 8 machine? Perhaps you don’t have to: The Yoga 13 effectively splits the difference, making it a uniquely engaging contender in its own right.
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