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Simon Says: Take 10 Steps Forward

Remember the playground game Simon Says? Back in the day, I use to think of myself as the LeBron James of that game — capable of isolating the world around me — laser focused on instructions; ready to defeat my weaker, less skilled  opponent. That was before the time school playgrounds were filled with hundreds of students with heads tilted forward, squinting to see the latest SnapChat image or Internet Meme.

Like most popular games, Simon Says went digital in the mid 1980’s – several years following the introduction of the greatest accomplishment of mankind at the time, i.e., Pong.  During that nascent era, we purchased a Simon Says electronic game for our two daughters. As our oldest child attempted to open the cardboard box that held the device — attached with hard plastic ties that could have foiled Houdini — I anxiously waited to prove my gaming superiority over every adult, teen and child within earshot.

Like every adult male in the room, electronics represented the great “unifier” among men. Whether you were a milquetoast CPA with a penchant for philosophy and culture — or a grizzled dock worker with a stubby cigar perched stubbornly in your teeth– electronic games leveled the playing field, requiring little strength or physical dexterity — and consequently were adopted by all classes and races of people.

However, what I recall most about that particular game was how good our young daughters were as the complexity of the game increased — and how poor I was as each level of memorization became faster and more intricate. Some things don’t get better with age.

Recently, while speaking with  a group of parents about the responsible use of technology, I sensed the audience felt much as I did the first time playing the electronic version of Simon Says. The tsunami of change that has occurred in the communication business — coupled with the incredible proliferation of smart phones and tablets among children — has  made it difficult for parents to manage their child’s online persona and behavior. Yet, as McAfee recently reported, 49% of teens would change their online behavior if they knew that mom or dad were monitoring their activity. Reality suggests most parents don’t know where to start.

So where do you begin? As the saying goes, “The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.”

There  are a multitude of strategies you can take to help manage and monitor your child’s  online activity, However, the following ten steps are based on conversations I have had with students, teachers, parents, police officers and prosecutors over the past four years. I think you’ll find each helpful – but understand, teens are great at circumventing even the best of plans.

 TAKE 10 STEPS FORWARD

  1.  Talk To Your Child & Your Peers
  2. Establish A Tech Free Zone In Your Home
  3. Own Your Child’s iTunes & Google Play Password
  4. Check your wireless provider’s Account Activity
  5. Subscribe to your carrier’s Parental Controls
  6. Access Other Parental Controls & Your Wireless Router
  7. Automatically Backup Your Child’s Photos To The Cloud
  8. Understand & Audit Your Family’s Private Information
  9. Keep On Top Of Trends
  10. Talk To Your Child Again and Again

Let’s take a quick look at each.

1) Talk to your child and Your Peers

When working with your child it’s important to set expectations related to appropriate and inappropriate uses of technology. Understand that if your child is at least twelve years old, there is a great likelihood that their friend’s parents have already provided technology to their children. Moreover, your child’s friends are already using Instagram, SnapChat and Vine. If you choose to allow your child to have access to such technology you’ll need to control what apps are allowed on their devices.

It’s also important to speak with you peers; other parents and teachers and share your own experiences. Living in an information age without the benefit of conversation —  viewing life only through your own experiences is a bit short-sighted. I have learned more from speaking with teachers, guidance counselors, police officers, students and other parents than I have by simply reading and doing research.

Reach out and start the conversation at your child’s school, your neighborhood, and church or recreation center. Share what you know – and listen to what others say.

2) Create a Tech Free Zone.

Depending on your child’s age, consider creating a tech free zone. This might include the dinner table; bathroom and bedroom. Keep in mind that although technology has increased our ability to communicate with people outside of the home, it has sorely damaged our ability to communicate with those that are most dear to us.  In fact, it’s reported that one out of five divorces are blamed on Facebook. The study, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, found that people who use Facebook excessively are more likely to  succumb to marital or relationship issues.

In fact, an entire website is now devoted to helping people whose relationships have ended due to social media.

Limiting where devices may be used will help reduce the temptation for your child to send something they’ll later regret. It might also make you think about limiting your own access to technology.

As for your kids, remember they are children whose brains are not fully wired. As such, their decision-making is severely hampered by hormones; incomplete brain development and lack of experience. They need your help to avoid temptation and misuse of technology. They might hate you today – but they’ll thank you tomorrow.

3) Know Their Account Passwords

If your child is under the age of 16, you and only you should create and know the password to your child’s  iTunes or Google Play account. As a parent, you should be the only person authorized to download apps to that device. Moreover, often times once an app is downloaded there might be another 15 minutes that would allow your child to download other apps without your knowledge. To that end, don’t give the device back to your child until you’re certain it will require your password for any additional app downloads.

This is important since many apps are available that hide other apps from parents. Often these “stealthy” apps are used to hide photos, text messages and videos from parents and other adults. Once it’s on their device it might be difficult to find. If you haven’t been following this approach you should go back over your purchase history on iTunes and GooglePlay to see what apps might have been purchased. However, this purchase history might not include those apps that were downloaded for free.

You should also know the passwords to their device – and every app on that device.

4) Check your wireless provider’s Account Activity

Although this approach might show your child’s call detail and provide a list of numbers that might have been texted by or to your child — the reality is most kids don’t use their phone to call people. Moreover, most don’t use the texting service provided by their carrier. While this might have been true in 2012, that was so three years ago. Most teens today use SnapChat, Kik, or Whatsapp for texting. These apps use wi-fi, or the data plan of the carrier rather than the texting plan. Unfortunately it is very difficult for parents to “see” these text messages or to even know with whom their child is communicating. Therefore, it is incumbent on you as the parent or guardian to decide what texting app they may use.

Your wireless carrier will provide information on the amount of data being consumed by your child’s device — if indeed they are using the carrier’s broadband. However, as I mentioned earlier, teens often use the wi-fi in the home or where free wi-fi is available.

If you check your carrier’s account activity you’ll at least be armed with some information relative to data consumption and a percentage of texting activity and call detail.

5) Subscribe To Your Carrier’s Parental Controls

Although parental controls offered by your carrier won’t keep track of each app your child is using, it will allow you to control when the phone is used.  It also provides features including:

  • Locate your children
  • View Phone Activity & Control Usage
  • Block Calls & Spam
  • Control Content Based on Age

 Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint each have various plans that cost about $4.99 per month. Remember, they are not the solution to the problem – they are simply part of the solution.

Helpful Articles To Consider:

Talking To Your Kids About Social Media & Sexting

4 Ways To Set Up Parental Controls

6) Access Other Parental Controls & Your Wireless Router.

If your carrier’s parental controls don’t work for you – you might consider finding “the geek within” and search for other available parental options. There are many on the market that monitor your child’s activity, including my favorite, uKnowKids. Although uKnowKids won’t manage your router – it will arm you with a robust dashboard that familiarizes you with your child’s circle of online friends and warns you of any risky or inappropriate online interactions. The cost is less than $10 per month and is all web-based. As such, there is no software that you need to download to your phone, PC or tablet.

Photos and videos that are uploaded to most social media apps such as Instagram, Facebook, Vine, Youtube and others will be viewable by you. However, it will not show you what your child is doing on SnapChat, Kik and Whatsapp. However, you can learn more about the apps supported by unknowkids on their customer support page.

ParentKit for IOS is another option for those parents with children using an iPhone or iPad. The program is available for download at the iTunes store.

Others resources for Android options include:

               Managing Your Home Wi-Fi Network

The Eero http://wp.me/p2D76s-er

Disney Circle http://wp.me/p2D76s-af

                Mobile Tools Outside The Home

Parental Control Apps for Android

More Parental Control Apps

Regardless of the above options – understand that teens are quite creative at navigating their ways around and through parental controls.

One of the best methods of managing parental controls can often be by configuring them on your router. The router is usually that black, plastic case with all the lights flashing that your broadband or cable company installed at your home. Your router kind of acts like the traffic cop for all the data that passes through your wireless network. With a little education, understanding your router allows you to provide web filtering for all the devices on your network, including: computers, tablets, smartphones and even game consoles with built-in browsers.

Although many routers ship with built-in parental control — not all of them provide such features. If you’re one of the lucky ones — the instruction manual might be found in the box or online. Ultimately, the router’s configuration will be all done online using a simple browser.

If your router doesn’t have such functionality, you can use a FREE service such as OpenDNS to set up parental controls on any router. This might take a little guidance and effort, but to do so you’ll need to change your router’s DNS server settings to use OpenDNS. OpenDNS allows you to set up an account and configure web filtering .

Once you’re in, you can select various categories of websites to block. Websites you block will redirected to a “This site is blocked” message when visited on your network.

There are many articles related to OpenDNS and other such safeguards. Many point to the fact that OpenDNS is great for blocking websites but not so good for blocking apps on phones and tablets. However, I recommend doing your own research to find the right solution for your family.

7) Automatically Backup Your Child’s Photos To The Cloud One of the great features of my iphone is how it automatically stores my photos and other information to “the cloud.” You can use this feature – and similar features with Android devices – to automatically upload photos, contacts and other information that your child has on their device.

However, if they delete the picture or a contact  before it is automatically uploaded, you won’t find it on icloud or your other cloud service. Additionally, if they used SnapChat to take the picture, it won’t be sent to the cloud either unless they stored or copied the picture to their gallery. Regardless, you should consider this as part of the broader strategy of protecting your child’s online behavior.

Setting up icloud for Apple devices is rather easy. You can learn more by following this link.

Verizon and other carriers also offer such services. You can read more about Verizon services which work with many different types of devices by following this link.

8) Understand & Audit Your Family’s Private Information

We live in a data-driven society. From the time we’re born there is data gathered and stored about us. As we grow older and acquire a social security number; enter school; surf the web; register for social media accounts; acquire credit; purchase a home; and take many other actions – data is gathered and stored about each one of us. But where does it go? In reality it is bought and sold.

From 2010 through 2012, the Wall Street Journal dedicated significant effort to help its readers better understand how data is captured, stored and shared among data analytics and marketing companies.

On April 7th, 2012 WSJ reporters JULIA ANGWIN and JEREMY SINGER-VINEpenned the article titled, SELLING YOU ON FACEBOOK. They beautifully illustrated how mobile apps have changed the landscape of advertising and privacy.

Below is an excerpt that describes the game changer in communication has been the advent of the app.

“Now there are “apps”—stylish, discrete chunks of software that live online or in your smartphone. To “buy” an app, all you have to do is click a button. Sometimes they cost a few dollars, but many apps are free, at least in monetary terms. You often pay in another way. Apps are gateways, and when you buy an app, there is a strong chance that you are supplying its developers with one of the most coveted commodities in today’s economy: personal data.”

To assist in both seeing and deleting much of this information about you and your child consider visiting Abine.com. A guide for removing at least some of the information discussed by the Wall Street Journal can be accessed below:

DO-IT-YOURSELF DELETE GUIDE

FOR PAY REMOVAL SERVICE

  • Abine’s DeleteMe service cost $99-129/year. Abine actually will delete your personal info from public data mining sites and sends you a report every 3 months. https://abine.com/deleteme

9) Keep On Top Of Trends

If you’re like me, you don’t have time to check the weather much less keep track of the latest technology and teen trends. Unfortunately, you need to not only get-up-to-speed – but stay there. Never before has technology grown, morphed and taken over large chunks of our lives. As such, it’s incumbent on each of us to understand not only the world today – but tomorrow as well.

There are two great resources that will feed you information on a daily basis relative to emerging technological trends… and they’re no further than your own device.

 Google News allows you to create any number of areas of interest. Simply input the request for articles related to your interest and you’ll receive daily updates. For example: You might be interested in such things as “online privacy,”  “sexting,”  “cyberbullying” or “apps.”

 Flipboard is a tremendous app featuring articles from around the globe on a seemingly infinite amount of topics. Much like Google News, you indicate your area of interest and Flipboard will build your own digital magazine focused on your needs. If you want to better understand the digital life of your teen son or daughter, consider adding Flipboard to your device.

Other news services worth considering include Yahoo News Digest  and Circa.

10) Talk To Your Child Again and Again

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having a continued dialog with your child concerning their online activity — and how it can help or hurt them in the future.

I have often used an example from my own life. Up until the time I was 14, we were a middle class family of six. I had great parents and a brother and two sisters that in many ways were living the American dream. However, life often throws obstacles which are unavoidable. In my case, my father passed away, leaving my mother the heavy task of raising four children without any form of income.

If life were a 100 yard dash, I felt I had to run 120 yards while everyone else in the race was running 100 yards. Life sometimes is not fair.

Your child needs to understand that there will be obstacles in life — but they can avoid self-created obstacles due to their misuse of technology. Mistakes made today might not impact your child next week, next month or next year. So often inappropriate posts, photos and videos don’t surface until the most inopportune time; i.e., when applying for college; that first job interview; when running for public office.

By calmly speaking with them — while trying to understand their circle of friends and use of technology, you stand a much better chance of helping them manage their online persona.

***********************************************************************************

By now you’re exhausted, thinking “Why did we buy that stupid device for our kids? Who knew it could be so difficult?” From my perspective, technology is a great thing for our society – and tremendous for your child.  However, it does require management. It does require tough decisions – that impacts the entire family.

You might have one child that you would trust to always do the right thing at age 14. Yet you might have a 17 year old child you wouldn’t trust to send an email. That’s why understanding the technology – and how it can best be managed is so important.

Sitting on the floor with our kids in 1985 playing the electronic version of Simon Says still plays out vividly in my mind. The brightly colored flashing lights and rhythmic noise seemed like a page from a Ray Bradbury novel at the time. I never dreamed that the small, plastic yet seemingly complicated and interactive device would be the precursor of what would evolve into a world of 7×24, online communication, gaming and entertainment devices that would have almost infinite possibilities.

After nearly 35 years I realize that Pong and Simon Says were the beginning.

SnapChat, Instagram and Kik are not the end. Simon says, take 10 steps forward for a better tomorrow.

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