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.


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.

Technology Tools for Grandparents

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


Have you heard? We are living in the ‘Digital Age’. Got grandkids? Then you are grandparenting Digital Natives, young people born into a world that is, if not defined by technology, then certainly surrounded by technology in ever-evolving ways. This means, like it or not, you are a Digital Grandparent.

But what does it mean to digitally grandparent? From the Savvy Cyber Kids point-of-view we—parents, grandparents, educators and any adult who cares for a young person—have a responsibility to raise cyber aware kids. Their safety, if not their lives, depends on it. Their reputation and their ability to not make inappropriate decisions that will negatively impact the rest of their lives depends on it too.

There is no one-stop shop set of rules for digitally grandparenting. Every family can and should make their own judgments, even from child to child, or grandchild to grandchild, about what constitutes cyber safety and cyber ethics in the family home. The one rule we impart to EVERY digital grandparent is to get involved and stay involved in your grandchildren’s digital lives.

In order to get involved, you need to be on technology yourself. The Savvy Cyber Kids Grandparent Guides to Technology help you navigate your own online safety while you meet your grandchildren where they are at. And, your grandchildren, where are they? Geography aside, they are on Instagram, among other social media platforms. That's the beauty of technology, your grandkids could be living down the street from you or a continent away, technology doesn’t care. And truth be told, your grandkids might very well be more attentive to what you have to say when you post it or when you use technology to communicate with them.

Ready to get tech savvy? Here are some guides to get you started….

Click the links below for Volume 1, 2 and 3:

Grandparents guide, Volume 1

Grandparents guide, Volume 2

Grandparents guide, Volume 3


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.

What We Can Learn From Celebrities on Social Media

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

Thanks to social media, fans and critics alike have access to celebrities’ lives -- or at least, the version of their lives that celebrities choose to curate online. It’s an insider’s viewpoint that before the advent of social media was simply not possible. Today’s celebrities post on Instagram, share on Facebook and tweet all kinds of insight and intrigue. As a parent or grandparent, you may not want your child or grandchild to follow the likes of a Kardashian, the escapades of Justin Beiber, the philosophical rantings of Kanye West, the applause and struggles of Demi Lovato or Selena Gomez, the perfection of Taylor Swift or the biting humor of Chrissy Teigen and Pink. Yet, despite your objections, they are.  And even if you banned them from following celebrities from their devices, they would still see it in a browser search, on a blog or on friend’s device.

And before you dig your heels in, take a step back and imagine if you could have had this kind of intimate and detailed access to your teenager celebrity crushes and obsessions. Be honest, wouldn’t you have clicked, followed, liked and commented? Alright then, let’s talk about what we can we learn from celebrities on social media: how they curate, how they respond to haters and most importantly, how and why they decide to take breaks from social media. This might be a classic ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ point of view. But if your kids are following celebrities and important life lessons can be gleaned from these accounts, then use it to your advantage. Getting involved in your kid’s digital lives can start by discussing the celebrities they adore on social media.

First and foremost, let’s start here: Most celebrities do not manage their own social media accounts.

Agencies and consultants may define the overarching strategy, professional photographers may be on-call to capture the ‘it’ shot and low-level employees may manage the day to day content, even responding to messages. It takes a team, sometimes a very large team, to craft a professional social media presence. The ordinary person attempting to replicate what celebrities do online would be sacrificing a huge investment of time, at the expense of, um, actually living life. The perfection that many celebrities craft, it’s not real. You cannot replicate in real life what is essentially a fiction. Understanding this should help young people on social media temper their attempts to replicate what their favorite celebrities do online. Understanding this should also offer some words of caution. You may think you are getting a response from a celebrity (and some do respond to fans) but you could also be responding to a staffer with suspect motives. Remind your kids, you may follow celebrities but if you don't know them in real life, they should not be following you!

Some celebrities get ‘the special sauce,’ they know how to be authentic without over-sharing.

These celebrities understand what fans want to see online and create an intimate space without revealing too much about themselves. Over-sharing is likely one of the greatest offenses on your social media feeds right now. While we may disagree about what is too private to share as an adult on social media, we certainly want to cultivate a sense of privacy in our kids’ social media profiles. But our kids want to be liked and they want to be followed. Talking to your child about admired celebrity accounts (Rihanna, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift have been applauded for their captivating but tightly controlled social media presences) and diving into what makes them interesting to your child, may help them understand how those observations can translate into what they present about themselves online. Help them to see that celebrities value their privacy. Rumor has it (OK, Ed Sheeran spilled the beans) that Beyoncé changes her email address weekly!

Celebrities stop and think before they post too.

A recent article in Cosmopolitan said “No celebrity is ever too big or famous for professional social media assistance. Scooter Braun, who manages your faves like the Biebs [and formerly Ariana Grande] and as of this year, Kanye West, says he often get calls from them checking to see if certain messages or photos are kosher.” This means that your child, even if they are not asking you for your opinion before they post, should at the very least pause and ask themselves, ‘what would Mom or Grannie think about this post?’ SIDE NOTE: Just a day before writing this blog, Kanye reportedly fired his entire management team, including Scooter Braun via a truly epic twitter rant (as of press time, it has not ended yet). Point being, celebrities may not always follow sound advice and they can fire and rehire their management teams at will. Parents and grandparents can’t be fired. And the internet has an excellent memory. Celebrities can weather social media missteps better than you or I can. And as you know, if you are a celebrity, even bad news is good publicity.

Celebrities are not role models.

Word has it that Kim Kardashian manages all of her social media accounts herself. And, if you have not noticed, many of her posts lack what you assume will ALWAYS be featured on your child’s posts…clothes. Kids need to understand that they are not celebrities and that their choices online can come back and bite them in the A$$. Emily Tatajkowski, a Victoria Secrets’ model, is also well-known for her minimal attire online. She and Kim may defend their pride in their bodies but the reality is that they are earning money from their online presences. It’s not a philosophical debate that they are engaging in by getting naked online. It's a brand and they are making money off their online choices. Tatajkowski recently told Vanity Fair, "I'm making money via social. That's a huge part of my income, and if that wasn't there, then I would be taking every movie that was offered to me. My career could be in a much different place." Their posts are often endorsements for brands or a method of staying relevant for future projects. So, unless you are celebrity making six figures and more for an oft-colored post, keep it clean.

Celebrities feel the love but they really feel the hate on social media.

 With enough followers to populate a large metropolitan city, celebrities feel the sting - more like a missile attack - of negative feedback from haters on a regular basis. And things can get personal, fast. From the truly offensive to the bigoted and abusive, celebrities on social media must endure an onslaught of unfiltered negativity. Sure, followers who behave this way can be blocked -- and that’s likely what we would encourage our kids to do if faced with this type of negativity (right?). But some celebrities seem to have a little more freedom than you or I have to respond to haters (with a bit of dark humor). Seeing how these celebrities fight back is downright inspirational. It’s worth mentioning that celebrities who have struggled with anxiety and other mental health issues -- from Justin Bieber to Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato -- have publicly made the connection between their health issues and their relationships with social media. Feeling overwhelmed? Feeling unhappy? Ask yourself how social media plays a role in your well-being.

 Celebrities take social media breaks.

Sometimes it’s a forever break. Often though, it's a temporary reprieve. When asked why, celebrities will share that they made a mistake online and need to keep a lower profile. Or social media feedback upset them and they didn’t like how they responded, or didn’t like how they wanted to respond or didn't like how the exchanges made them feel. Others just sometimes find keeping up with this alternate version of reality a little exhausting. Some celebrities temporarily take themselves off social media when they have other things going on in their lives that demand focused attention. The point is that its ok to take a break. Your life, your friendships and your work all go on.

Here’s the thing about social media. An obsession with it leads to basing your self-esteem on the number of likes you receive for a post or the number of followers you have. Our young people center their needs for an emotional connection in social media - where zero emotional connections are actually made. You can find yourself feeling lonely yet ‘surrounded’ by friends and followers. For celebrities, this cycle is only magnified. After all, their careers and financial stability seem linked to their social media profiles. So, when a celebrity announces their struggles with social media, it’s their humanity that’s showing - not their superhuman strength, talents or good looks that made them a celebrity. It’s in this most authentic moment, where we can truly say, celebrities are just like us. And it’s an excellent moment to learn from them.

Talk to your kids or grandkids about social media balance. Maybe slow it down as a family. See how you lead your life without documenting everything on social media and then ask yourself if ‘social media light’ is more authentic and which version makes you happier. Don't let social media create a version of you based on others. Live for you, keep it real and live without comparison.


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.

To Pay Or Not To Pay: A Hacking Victim’s Dilemma

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

Hackers have all kinds of methods to make your digital life a mess. One of the more vicious tools in a hacker’s arsenal is ransomware, a malicious piece of software that takes over your computer and threatens you with harm. This harm is usually in the form of denying you access to your data.

Ransomware is commonly delivered via Phishing, which involves a hacker crafting an email, text message, or social media message that is written in such a way that you are compelled to click the link or open a document that is part of the message. The temptation to click and open anything has made Phishing the most widely used technique for hackers to deliver their malicious software.

Other forms of ransomware delivery exploit security holes in your computer’s (or mobile device’s) operating systems (OS). Certain vulnerabilities will allow a hacker to take control of your system without you having to do anything.. This is why we have told you to always keep your operating system software up-to-date!

What happens next? The hacker will demand a ransom from you, promising — (and can you trust the word of a criminal?)  — to restore access to the data once you pay the hacker the ransom. Most ransomware software encrypts your data so that it is unreadable or inaccessible. The only way to get your data back is to decrypt it with a mathematical key only known by the hacker, but only if you send an untraceable Bitcoin payment to the attacker (or so they say!).

So, if your system has been infected with ransomware and you've lost vital data that you can't restore from backup, should you pay the ransom? The answer may depend if you are a big organization or just an individual. But generally, the guidance is to NOT pay the ransom. Law enforcement agencies urge victims not to pay ransomware attackers. They would argue that paying ransom only encourages hackers to create more ransomware. In addition, just because you pay they ransom fee, doesn’t mean the criminal hacker will send you the decryption key (they are criminals, remember?).

So, should you listen to your cyber-criminal and pay? WHOA…Time to take a breath before you pay anyone, anything. You need to first verify that you are the victim of ransomware and not being manipulated with an empty threat. What looks like ransomware may not have actually encrypted your data at all. Make sure you aren't dealing with "scareware" and go to your browsing history and delete your history. If this is a superficial attack, you may regain control of your computer. In addition, some ransomware encryption can be defeated by applying various techniques to restore your data.  

Now, if you have accidentally and unfortunately stumbled across the real deal, a pirate in the world wide web, outside of taking the risk of paying the ransom, what can you do?

  • Reboot your computer to safe mode
  • Install ransomware removal software
  • Scan the system to find the ransomware program
  • Restore the computer to a previous state

These steps can remove the malware from your computer and restore it to your control but it won’t decrypt your files. If you have not recently backed up your files, they may be lost…but at least the computer is back in your control.

So, To Pay or Not To Pay is NOT the question. The question is, how can you protect yourself from ransomware so that this never happens to you?


  • Keep your operating system up-to-date. This ensures that you have fewer vulnerabilities to exploit.
  • Don't install software or give it administrative privileges unless you know exactly what it is and what it does.
  • Install antivirus software, which can detect malicious programs like ransomware as they arrive.
  • Back up your files, frequently and automatically! That won't stop a malware attack, but it can make the damage caused by one much less significant.
  • Stop clicking on everything!

We have said it before… regrettably, there is not a virtual justice system ensuring that those who use the internet for good are rewarded and that those who do otherwise face appropriate consequences. It’s up to you to keep yourself and your private information safe from cyber criminals!

Ready to stay safe online? Good!


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.

Want to engage more with your grandchildren? Get on Instagram!

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

Sometimes you just have to meet folks where they are at. And, your grandchildren, where are they? Geography aside, they are at Instagram, among other social media platforms. That's the beauty of technology, your grandkids could be living down the street from you or a continent away, Instagram doesn’t care. And truth be told, your grandkids might very well be more attentive to what you have to say when you post it.

The great thing about Instagram is that it’s PUUURFECT for grandparents. Think of it as your virtual photo album, or brag book, if you will - one that allows for your own unique narration…in other words, an opportunity to share your POV, your feelings and your memories with the younger generation -- when (and where) they are listening!

So, start with the photo or image. For inspiration, check out these grandparent selfies. Just like your traditional photo album, choose an image that is interesting to look at, whether it shares an experience or a mood. Instagram is about telling stories through images. A memory from your childhood is a story waiting to be told. A picture of your daughter with her new baby might remind you of when your daughter was a baby and what you were feeling then. Honoring your grandchild’s academic or sports achievement is perfect for Instagram. Instagram can be all about introspection, especially when this dive inward opens a window into who you are in a way that your family can see and share it. Instagram encourages you to share more detail about an image with a description. Feel free to express yourself here.

Then, don't forget to close with hashtags. Using hashtags is pretty much like joining the conversation with your grandkids. They will notice. Technically you are encouraged to use more than one, say 10 -- but no more than 30. And yes, you can curate your own collection of hashtags and re-use them on each post, maybe updating a few for the specific content of the post. Here is a collections of hashtags that you could use for yourself:

  • #grandparents #family #love #happy #fun #cute #instagood #familytime #life #photooftheday #smile #kids #children #mom #dad #sister #sisters #siblings #mother #father #related #brothers #brother #sis #bro #instatags4likes #grandma #grandpa #parents #grandparentsday #summer #memories #blessed #photo #birthday #anniversary #easter #wedding #uncle #babyboy #mothersday #babygirl #auntie #bookart #fathersday #halloween #babyshower #foldingwithlove #parentstobe #gift #summer

Want to see how other grandparents are doing it? These grandparents used the hashtag #grandparent and now are representing grandparents on Instagram. A hashtag is like a filing system for social media posts. It helps you look things up and be part of a trending or common topic. Finish your social media posts with the hashtag #grandparents and your post will now be part of this worldwide filing cabinet.

Think this is sounding a bit frivolous? Think again. Here is the proof in the Instagram + Grandparent formula…This 75-year-old grandfather in South Korea seemed impossibly far from his grandchildren in the United States. Like you, he may have wondered, will they ever really know me or what will they remember about me? Chan Joe’s son recognized his father’s talent with art and saw its potential on Instagram. He encouraged his father to draw for his grandchildren and share the images on Instagram. This account, Drawings for My Grandchildren, is pretty much the gold standard of making meaningful family social media connections.

Worried you might get it all wrong and embarrass yourself or someone else. Sometimes getting it wrong is just right! Just keep in mind a little social media etiquette and you should be just fine!

  • Don't post unflattering/inappropriate photos of your grandkids;
  • Don't hijack every post and turn it into a conversation;
  • Don't use social media to guilt kids or grandkids; and
  • Don't add your grandkids' friends unless they instigate it.

There is another side benefit of getting on Instagram or other social media. It gets you involved in your grandchild’s online world . This a great conversation starter for you and your grandchildren. Ask them for help setting up your account and for Instagram tips. They will be glad to engage with you on this! Our kids need us there. Be a digital grandparent and help keep the youngest generation safe.

Ready to give it a try? Good!


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.

So you want to meet up with someone you met online… Taking the Stranger Danger discussion to the next level

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


Today’s children are considered ‘Digital Natives’ because they were literally born into a world defined by technology, but are actually “Digital Naives.” Without intervention, children completely lack an understanding of the implications of their digital actions.

We tell kids that they should NEVER meet-up with a person they met online and that someone you don’t know in real life is ALWAYS a stranger (because you can’t confirm who they really are). But, let’s face it, the internet is about making connections.

From dating sites to Craigslist and special interest chat groups, adults regularly make online connections that turn into physical world connections. At some point, children will have legitimate reasons to make these connections too. Even if that some point is when they go off to college, the adults in children’s lives need to model behavior that ensures safety in the digital world. Here are tips for staying safe when meeting and talking to unknown people online.

While you can never guarantee anything you do will keep you 100 percent safe, there are certain precautions you should consider if you really want to meet up with someone you met via tech.

  • Ask them to Facetime, use Google Hangouts, or another social media app with live chat. If they refuse or can’t for some reason, ask them to send you a selfie with something that shows the day’s date and time. If they also refuse to do this or can’t send a selfie, do not meet up with them! Ask yourself, why would they be refusing to prove who they really are?

But is this enough to keep you safe? Unfortunately not.

Woman charged in DeKalb dating app murder to face judge

The details of this story are disheartening. After they met online, they spoke on the phone and they live streamed. He verified it was really her before agreeing to meet-up in real life. And he brought someone with him for extra safety. And despite these precautions, he is now dead because he met up with a stranger he met online.

So let’s add the most important safety tip….

  • When you arrange to meet-up NEVER go alone and be sure to meet-up in a PUBLIC PLACE.
  • Tell the person that “I’m bringing along my friend (or insert name of trusted adult) too. Just giving you a heads-up! If you are as paranoid as me and you have someone coming too, they could sit together!”

If you are under the age of 18, these are not merely suggestions. You MUST bring a trusted adult with you IF this trusted adult APPROVES of the meet-up.

If any of your plans are not accepted by your “new online friend”, STOP COMMUNICATING. Time to go into BLOCK mode on your accounts for this “person.”

There is one TRUTH you need to remember. Parents, teach your children this! When meeting and talking to unknown people online, your safety and comfort should be important to them. It will be important to any good person you meet online who wants to meet up IRL.

The reality is that it’s a dangerous world out there. Even following these tips cannot guarantee your safety.

Don’t be the next headline. Talk to the trusted adults in your life, use good judgement and stay safe out there.


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.