The Right Age for a First Phone

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner

Before we start this chat off with some preachy, scientific-based but potentially somewhat tone-deaf-to-reality blanket statements, let’s look at what is actually happening with today’s youth.

  • The average age for a child getting their first smartphone is now 10-years-old.
  • 64% of kids have access to the internet via their own devices, compared to 42% in 2012.
  • 39% of kids get a social media account at 11-years-old.

On average, kids in the 4th and 5th grades have their hands on a powerful device that leaves them unsupervised and open to a whole lot of trouble. Whatever trouble they can get into, you can be sure that a phone will magnify that trouble 100x.

Sure, parents of previous generations had to face tough parental decisions. But the advent of smartphones and the connectivity of technology has brought with it even more challenging judgement calls.

And, like any other parenting decision, this is a personal one, driven by family dynamics. There is no one-size-fits-all answer for every family—and there may be different answers for each child in your family. I would put aside concerns about being fair and consistent with your children when it comes to giving a child access to a device that literally connects them with the world – the good and the very, very bad. Your child’s maturity and willingness to accept responsibility should be the driving forces in assessing his or her readiness for a phone.

But if you are looking for that very appropriate and scientific-based set of recommendations to gauge how you make this most important decision, I can tell you this: The longer you wait, the better it is for your child. Medical boards and educational experts universally agree that waiting 12 or 14 years old to give your child a phone, gives them a chance to mature enough to begin to manage the complications that come with a phone: distraction, addiction, cyberbullying, pornography, sexting, child predators and more.

You have heard Savvy Cyber Kids say this before: Parenting in the Digital Age is hard. So, if you are looking for an article or a study or an expert panel to give you the nod of approval for handing over a phone to your child sooner, you are asking the wrong questions. Instead, consider these questions:

  • How well does your child keep track of and treat their personal belongings? Is he or she responsible enough to care for a phone?
  • What responsibilities does your child have already and how well does he or she honor managing those responsibilities?
  • How well does your child understand consequences of actions?
  • Is your child empathetic?
  • Is your child thoughtful or does he or she act without thinking or behave impulsively?
  • Do family dynamics, like your work schedule or your kid’s after-school commitments, create a need for staying in touch with a phone?
  • Have you talked to your child about bullying and digital reputation?
  • Do your kids understand what a friend is—only someone they know in real life—and that anyone else they meet online is a stranger and should always be treated as a stranger?

This is a big decision to make and you should proceed slowly and thoughtfully. Here are some steps you should consider:

  • THE DUMB PHONE: Instead of a ‘smartphone,’ consider starting off with a simple flip phone, one that is not connected to the internet and can only send text messages or place phone calls.
  • FAMILY PHONE RULES: Work with your child to create a unique set of family rules your child must adhere to get and keep a phone. These rules should include giving parents access to all passwords for devices and apps; agreeing to never take or send sexually-charged images (what kids call ‘nudes’); and promising to never, ever try to meet up with a ‘friend’ (or what you as a parent would consider a stranger) from the internet in real life. Other rules to consider are: no devices at the dinner table, putting devices away when friends are visiting; and placing devices out of the bedroom at night.
  • THE NAUGHTY PHONE: Once your child graduates to a smartphone, have a Naughty Phone handy (this, by the way, can be that Dumb Phone you started with) that they will get when they break rules.

Above all, get involved in your child’s digital life. Read Savvy Cyber Kid’s ongoing series, The Parent’s Guide to Technology to get more ideas about helping your child thrive with technology. Have The Tech Talk and make sure your kids see you as a resource to help them navigate their digital world.

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Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for their free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics.


Digital New Year Resolutions: Taking Control of Technology For a Healthy New You

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner

Technological advancements in 2019 will bring with it both the good and the bad. On the positive side, there is no doubt that technology has brought truly awesome advancements to our day-to-day lives. From convenience and efficiency, safety and life-saving features, to entertainment and information, technology has transformed modern-day living. But, viewed more critically, the near constant presence of technology has also taken control of our behavior, defining how we act, when instead, we should be strategically using technology to improve ourselves.

The New Year is an opportunity to take control of your technology habits and self-select the very best that technology has to offer, instead of acquiescing to the ever present shortcuts that result in less physical activity and less quality, face-to-face interactions with friends and family.

After all, technology isn’t the bad guy; it’s how we use technology that is the problem. So, it’s up to each of us to take a step back and assess our technology diets and see not only where we can trim the overuse but how we can use technology to work towards even greater versions of ourselves in 2019. Let’s get healthy with technology!

HEALTHY TECHNOLOGY HABITS

  • Don’t use your phone when driving. It is a life or death choice.
  • Don't let technology limit your sleep. Keep your phones out of the bedroom.
  • Limit your day-to-day technology distractions by tailoring notifications.
  • Manage friends, family and work expectations about technology response time.
  • Use social media to be social, and reduce your time spent there if it becomes a negative experience.
  • Intentionally, create time to disconnect and enjoy quality time spent alone and with others.

HEALTHY TECHNOLOGY RESOLUTIONS

  • Use Technology To Get Outside More: From Pokémon Go and Walking Dead augmented reality games to a huge selection of running, walking, biking exercise apps, technology gets you off the couch, out of the office and moving.
  • Use Technology To Track Your Health Stats: Exercise apps and dedicated health apps are designed to track your personalized health stats and goals. These technologies can alert you to health risks and also serve as motivation to get and stay active.
  • Use Technology As Your Health Coach: These same apps give your feedback as to your progress and provide tips to improve your results.
  • Use Technology To Make Exercise Fun: From setting your treadmill exercise program to visually taking you on a walk through the streets of Italy to joining a real-time spinning class led by an exercise professional, there are many ways to make time set aside for physical health into an entertaining activity.
  • Use Technology To Make Exercise Social: Many exercise apps allow you to share your benchmark results, as well as challenge other ‘tech and fit’ oriented friends and family members to join you in achieving a healthier new year.

Be present in your life, cultivating real-time relationships and healthy behaviors by actively taking control of your technology use. Stay in tune to the ways technology can make getting healthy a more engaging and entertaining activity.

EarthLink and Norton have tools to help you stay safe online. Visit our Security and Tools section to learn more about Norton Security Online, Wi-Fi Privacy and EarthLink's Online Backup.

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Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for their free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics.


An Online Shopping Holiday Story To Avoid

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner

It’s that time of year….time to start shopping for your holiday gift giving! Like many Americans, you do much of your shopping online. It’s convenient, easier to price compare and the selection is great, right? All true – but online shopping comes with risks. Here are some tips to help you ensure that your gift giving is marked by cheer – not tears. Read the following shopping scenarios as you think about the popular holiday song, The Twelve Days of Christmas

 

On the first night of online shopping….you are relaxing in a coffee shop, using the stores free Wi-Fi as you pick out the perfect present for your daughter-in-law. Little do you know that at the table next you is a cybercriminal recording your every move as your credit card information is accessed via hacking the free Wi-Fi. So, don’t forget to launch your VPN app before online shopping in a public space.

On the second night of online shopping… you get an email advertising a gift perfect for your nephew. You click on the link and order the gift, sharing your credit card information with a fraudulent vendor and becoming a victim of identity theft. So, instead of clicking the link on the email to make the purchase, search for the gift on a more reputable website such as Target.com, Amazon.com or Walmart.com.

On the third night of online shopping…you bought a beautiful throw for your daughter’s new home from Bloomindalles.net. You didn't know, but were soon to find out that misspelled familiar vendor names and website address with .net instead of .com is a trick by fake vendors. So, verify that the spelling of the website name is correct before making a purchase.

On the fourth night of online shopping…you bought some great historical books for your favorite cousin from a seemingly lovely online book dealer. The site wasn’t secure. So even though the book dealer was on the up and up, a hacker was able to steal your credit card information from the transaction. So, the holiday season is always a good time to check your credit card statement to determine if your credit card information has been stolen.

On the fifth night of online shopping…you misplaced your credit card and used your debit card to buy your grandchildren beautiful, handmade toys from Europe. Unfortunately, the vendor was not reputable and you gave the criminal access to all of your funds in your back account. So, refrain from using your debit card from all online transactions and wait until you can access your credit cards.

On the sixth night of online shopping…you happened on the most incredible deal, the bargain of the century. After you bought it, you realized that the offer was really too good to be true and now you are out the money you spent, with no gift in hand. So, remember that buying from reputable sites prevents this from happening. If you are purchasing from a 3rd party seller on a reputable site, the reputable site will help you get your money back in the case of fraud.

On the seventh night of online shopping…you found the perfect gift for a dear friend and was so excited that you, without thinking, entered your birth date and social security number during the check-out process, giving a cybercriminal access to your identify for countless future crimes against you. So, if you have yet to place a security freeze on your credit at Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, now is the time.

 On the eighth night of online holiday shopping…your credit card statement came in the mail. It was a fat envelope. You didn't entirely want to face how much money you had spent holiday shopping and decided to review that expenses later. Later turned into several months into the New Year and that delay made it exponentially more difficult to dispute all the fraudulent charges you despairingly found on your statement. So, take a breath, grab a cup of eggnog and review your bills in a timely fashion.

Use these important cyber safety tips to be safe this holiday season!

  • SHOP FROM KNOWN RETAILERS: By shopping on familiar sites, you are less likely to get any surprises. Beware of misspellings or domain names using “.net” instead of “.com” as that is one of the common ways scammers trick consumers.
  • BE SURE THE SITE IS SECURE: A secure website starts with https:// instead of http://. Secure sites will also have a small lock icon in the lower-right corner of the screen.
  • PAY WISELY: Use a credit card instead of a debit card. If your credit card data is used falsely, it’s easier to resolve issues with a credit card company than with your bank. Making purchases by providing your credit card number through email is never, ever wise.
  • BE WARY: Avoid shopping websites that offer prices that seem too good to be true. A common tactic by cyber criminals is using extremely low prices on popular items, such as electronics, to lure in potential victims. Buy from an unfamiliar website with a great deal and run the risk never seeing the merchandise (or the website) again. Worse yet, it could be a "phishing" scheme, where shoppers who click through are led to a false site developed to steal their data. If the deal is too good to pass up, enter the website name by hand into your browser.
  • GIVE THE LEAST AMOUNT OF INFORMATION POSSIBLE: Keep your personal information private. Don’t provide to anyone your social security number or your birthday. This information, combined with your credit card number, can result in identity theft.
  • REVIEW YOUR STATEMENTS: You should already be regularly checking statements for credit and debit cards as well as checking accounts regularly. In January and February, it’s especially important. Even small charges you don’t remember making can be a sign of fraud. Notify your bank or credit card issuer immediately to report unknown charges.
  • SHOP FROM HOME: There’s no place like home…for a secure network. Public Wi-Fi can be easily hacked, exposing your passwords, billing information and other sensitive data. When on a public Wi-Fi, limit yourself to window-shopping and price comparing, rather than buying. Do your holiday shopping from the safety of your home - not on your phone in a restaurant or store. If you want to shop on the go, make sure you use a VPN.
  • ACCESS IDENTITY THEFT PROTECTION SERVICE: Inconvenience is your friend when it means taking the time to verify purchases against fraud activity. Take advantage of the alert features on your credit cards. These alerts can warn you of abnormal account activity, which are helpful any time during the year but are especially useful during the busy holiday shopping season.
  • UPDATE, UPDATE, UPDATE: Make sure that your computer and your devices have the most current security software patches installed. Once a security patch is available, cyber criminals have all the information they need to attack devices that have not been updated.

EarthLink and Norton have tools to help you stay safe online. Visit our Security and Tools section to learn more about Norton Security Online, Wi-Fi Privacy and EarthLink's Online Backup.

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Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for their free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics.


Top Apps & What you Need to Know

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner

At Savvy Cyber Kids, we encourage parents and grandparents to get involved in their children’s and grandchildren’s digital lives. This means knowing what they are doing on their devices, on the platforms they engage on and who they are ‘playing’ with – their friends, followers and so on.

In reality, it’s hard to be involved without getting involved yourself. If you don’t know what a certain social media platform is or if you are not familiar with the games and apps that your children are playing, it’s hard for you to converse about them with your child or grandchild. And, it’s equally hard to know what might be of concern to you.

To that end, it’s interesting to look at what are the most popular apps.

 

Top Paid Apps on iOS

  1. Human Anatomy Atlas 2019: Complete 3D Human Anatomy
  2. Facetune: The Original Selfie Editor
  3. HotSchedules: Employee Scheduling App
  4. Sky Guide: View Stars Day or Night
  5. Dark Sky Weather: Up To An Hour In Advance Weather Reports
  6. Forest – Stay Focused: Screentime Moderation
  7. Afterlight 2: All-In-One Phot Editor
  8. The Wonder Weeks: Baby Development Calendar
  9. SkyView: Explore The Universe
  10. Cute CUT Pro: Full Featured Video Editor

 

Top Free Apps on iOS

  1. YouTube
  2. Messenger
  3. Instagram
  4. Snapchat
  5. Facebook
  6. Netflix
  7. Google Maps
  8. Gmail
  9. Remind: School Communication
  10. WhatsApp Messenger

 

Top Free Apps on Android

  1. Hello Stars - Game
  2. Hole.io-Game
  3. Word Link- Game
  4. Tomb of the Mask - Game
  5. Tik Tok- including musical.ly - Game
  6. Helix Jump - Game
  7. PLANK! - Game
  8. Wish - Shopping
  9. Rise Up - Game
  10. Messenger

 

Top Paid Apps on Android

  1. Minecraft – Game
  2. Bloons TD 6 - Game
  3. Roller Coaster - Game
  4. Pocket City - Game
  5. HotSchedules
  6. Hitman Sniper - game
  7. Fake GPS Joystick & Routes Go – Proximity Re-Writer
  8. Basic Education – Educational Game
  9. Geometry Dash – Game
  10. Nova Launcher - Customizable, Performance-Driven Home Screen

It’s really great to see popular apps that are devoted to intellectual curiosity, be it human anatomy or astronomy - even the weather.

But even with the presence of apps like human Anatomy Atlas, Sky Guide and Sky View, the preponderance of apps that are popular are overwhelmingly devoted to social media – be it the apps themselves (like YouTube, Messenger, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook) or the photo editing tools that create a social media friendly version of reality, like Facetune and Cute CUT.

Do you know how your child or grandchild engages on social media? It’s always worthwhile to talk to your child or grandchild about the pressures to maintain a social media presence. This can have a negative impact on the investment they put into IRL (real-life) relationships and they’re real life responsibilities like school, extra-curricular activities, family relationships and SLEEP! Apps like Facetune and other photo editing services can send a message to your child or grandchild that they are not good enough the way they are. It’s probably worth observing how much time your child or grandchild invests in a selfie. How many photos did they take? How much time did they spend editing it? What did they edit?

These lists are also heavily weighted by a fondness for gaming. There’s a lot of talk these days about gaming addiction and, no doubt, kids can spend way too much time trying to level up within a game. It’s important for you to know which games your child is playing so that you can look at the privacy settings. You need to know who your child is playing with. Is it strangers or only people they know in real life?  You need to know how players communicate with one another within a game. Are strangers communicating with your child or grandchild as they play a game?

By looking at this list together, you can start all sorts of conversations with your child or grandchild. First, learning which one of these apps they use and then exploring how to use it.

Remember, getting involved in the digital lives of your children and grandchildren isn’t just so you can look out for potential pitfalls. It’s also about finding a new way to connect with your child or grandchild – in their virtual worlds where they are already immersed. It’s about seeing if you can find fun and joy with your child or a grandchild in their digital world.

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Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for their free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics.


Are You Cyber Healthy? A Refresher Course On How To Stay Safe Online

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner

When you consider a list of your most valuable assets—the items that you value the most and have taken steps to insure and protect—you’re probably thinking of a piece of art or a family antique, cherished jewelry and, of course, your loved ones. But think again, and ask yourself: What are you doing to protect your less visible assets that are both valuable to you and to others—those with self-serving and malicious intent?

I’m talking about data. Hackers who steal private information only succeed because the owners of this information didn’t value it enough to protect it. The lesson here is that you need to be thinking about what others value, not just about what you value, and protect accordingly.

Today’s IT systems, if managed by trained and well-resourced individuals, provide a good defense against data thieves. So good, in fact, that hackers frustrated by these defenses use phishing strategies to convince individuals to simply give them access to the data. A common hacking technique, phishing, involves an adversary crafting an email, text message or social media message that is written to compel the recipient to click a hyperlink or open an attachment. The next step typically involves you entering your authentication details to access a bank account, email account, social media account or other online service. The part of human nature that compels us to click and open anything sent our way has made phishing the most widely used technique to get people to give up their access credentials.

There are a few actions you can take to help ensure that you, your business and your family members are not easy targets.

  • Stop reusing passwords. I know: This a challenging request. We’re expected to log in to multiple websites every day, with each one requiring you to authenticate yourself with a username and password. To save you from having to remember hundreds of username and password combinations, use a reputable password manager.
  • Enable multi-factor authentication (also called strong authentication or two-factor authentication) on all accounts that accept it. Essentially, this is a step beyond the username/password combination. The multi-factor aspect can be a text message sent to your phone, an email sent to the address you have on file with a service provider, a challenge request from an authenticator app (such as DUO or Google Authenticator), a voice call to a phone number on record or some other way to verify that you are actually the one trying to gain access to your account. Another strong option is to use your fingerprint as your means of access, which you can do with an increasing number of apps.
  • Verify that the person or organization that sends you an email, text or social media message with a link or attachment to click is the real sender. You can call them or go directly to their website—don’t click the link and assume that the website it takes you to is authentic. For example, if you receive an email from your bank or email provider asking you to reset or verify your password, open a new browser page and type the main service provider site address yourself and then login to see if indeed they need you to take any action. One general caveat: Most reputable businesses and organizations don’t send you emails requesting you to reset your password unless you’ve already told them that you’ve forgotten it. So if you receive such an email, chances are good that it’s a fake
  • Update everything. It is important for you to update all devices and software on a regular basis and when notified by the manufacturer or creator. Anytime an update (often called a patch) is available, a fix was made to a known problem with that device or software. Perhaps there is a way for someone to remove all the information off of a computer or device. Or maybe there is a way for someone to remotely turn on the video camera on your device and take inappropriate videos.
  • Protect yourself from viruses. Install (and keep updated) an anti-virus product. Antivirus products can protect you from certain attacks. And yes, even Mac computers should have anti-virus software too.
  • Backup your data. Data is the most important aspect of your computer. Computer hardware can fail, data can be corrupted by a virus, computers can be lost, stolen, or destroyed. You can – and should – make wise choices to prevent any of this from happening. But it’s equally wise to regularly use data backup software that can help protect and restore your data when something goes wrong.
  • Beware of public Wi-Fi. Free public wireless networks lack strong security protections, making it easy for hackers to capture passwords and gain access to your credit card and bank account information as you shop or conduct other financial transactions online. Experts advise that its ok to use free WiFi to watch a video or read the news, check the weather or traffic conditions or check on an airline flight to see if it’s on time. But don’t use it for anything requiring a log-in.

Be aware, stay vigilant and fight your basic instinct to click and open anything sent to you. Make these changes, and you will enhance the security posture of your family, your business and your data.

EarthLink and Norton have tools to help you stay safe online. Visit our Security and Tools section to learn more about Norton Security Online, Wi-Fi Privacy and EarthLink's Online Backup.

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Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for their free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics.


Digital Parenting: The Critical Thinking Skills Kids Need in The Age of Fake News

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner

These days information comes at us fast and furious. So quickly, that we easily come face-to-face with videos, articles, blog posts and websites that look real and feel authentic, but are fake or at least distorted. Too many of us  – no matter what our political leaning – have been victim to misinformation and have responded with falsely directed outrage. It’s not productive, and worse yet, can be dangerous.

Information that is rooted in truth, information that distinguishes fact from opinions, rumors, and lies, is vital for a healthy society. The all too real presence of fake news online, ads (that look like news) and news websites (that are not journalistic sources) are not the hallmarks of a society that rules for the people, by the people. Fake news creates the very real risk of allowing ourselves to be controlled by those who seek to color information to promote their own point of view or agenda.

As the song goes, ‘what the world needs now’…is critical thinking, the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue or information in order to form a judgment. A lot of what we read and see online is kind of accurate—but it’s not hard to end up believing something that is not exactly true. How many times have you seen statements as fact, when it is actually opinion or poorly-researched information? It happens all the time, right?

In the age of technology, we must take a greater personal responsibility in seeking out truthful information. As digital parents and digital grandparents, we must ensure that our children and grandchildren have the critical thinking skills to identify fake news. Here are some tips from Savvy Cyber Kids on teaching your children and grandchildren critical thinking skills.

READ TOGETHER: The goal here is not just to improve their literacy, but to develop their reading comprehension skills. Engage with them about what they are reading and ask questions. Give your children the opportunity to think actively, not passively, as they read. Talk about passages or plots that are challenging to them and help them figure out how they can gain knowledge to understand difficult concepts. Ask them to make connections in what they are reading, predicting how a story might end or making a comparison to something in real life. Invite them to summarize a section of a book or an entire story to identify the important themes. This can help you see what they do and don’t understand. You can also read newspaper articles and check facts together to show them how to use analytical and critical thinking skills.

ENCOURAGE THEM TO ASK QUESTIONS: ’20 Questions’ may not be your favorite game to play but it does allow children to conceptualize ideas and call out untrue or half-truthful statements. The child who asks ‘why’ (over and over again) is well on the path to excellent critical thinking skills! The goal here is to teach children to question what they read or hear. With older children, talk about sources of information. Is it a reliable news source or a tabloid , a personal blog or a lobbying website? Did they hear it from a classmate who has only heard it from someone else? The right questions can lead to discussions about the state of the world and all sorts of relevant topics.

MAKE THINKING A FAMILY AFFAIR: Use family time – during mealtimes, on long car rides, or while on trips – to encourage questions and problem-solving techniques. “What do you think of such-and-such?” Or, “What is your opinion on ____?” Invite open-ended discussion and don't let your own opinions drive these conversations.

GO DEEP: Find a topic that interests your child or grandchild, cultivate it and encourage them to read books, watch movies and research the topic.

TALK ABOUT RESPONSIBILITY AND CONSEQUENCE: Start a discussion about why sharing news on social media and elsewhere online may not be a good idea, can be polarizing and can have negative consequences. Remind them of the importance of not confusing their own opinions with fact and to pause before automatically sharing information online, before verifying its truthfulness.

Strong critical thinking skills can benefit young people immensely, improving reading comprehension and furthering their educational development. This will help them throughout their school years and beyond. Independent thinkers make better decisions. Encouraging this skill set in your children and grandchildren will develop a healthy critical mindset that allows them to think for themselves.

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Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for their free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics.