* Make Sure Your Child is Safe Online

By Jordan Beach, MSW – Courier & Press – April 24, 2018 –

As a school social worker, I work with kids every day. I like to think that I’m pretty up-to-date on all the newest apps that students at my school use.

I want to be in tune with the ever-changing social media aspects that fill our children’s lives, but if I’m being honest with myself, I know that’s not true.  By the time I figure out what I believe to be the “newest” app, my students are telling me they aren’t using that one anymore and they have moved on to something new.

So what can you do to ensure your child is being responsible online, especially if you find it difficult to even keep up with the apps they are using?

For starters, do your research. Know what apps are popular. Most parents know the basics: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Musically…but what are we missing?

  • Yik Yak: Yik Yak is an anonymous social media site that takes zero personal information to create. Every post from every user is anonymous. This is especially concerning in the hands of younger students who often struggle with using social media in a positive way.
  • Ask f.m.: This app is set up in a question/answer format.  This again is troubling for younger users who tend to use social media for validation. Questions and answers can be posted either using a name or anonymously.
  • Kik: Kik is essentially another way for kids to text each other. It thrives on giving a more “face to face” feeling by using images, and pictures are part of its allure. However, this app is easily accessible and often times used as a way to meet strangers. This app certainly puts your child at risk to predators.
  • Voxer: Voxer turns your phone into a walkie-talkie style device. Youth enjoy the app for this diversity in communication styles but it also poses a concern to parents.  Messages on this app can be saved and replayed.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  Again, this app is concerning when used inappropriately to put people down.
  • Other Programs to be aware of: Programs or instructions to “jailbreak” a phone are easy to find. This means the phone is free of limitations imposed on it by its manufacturer and carrier. Once your child’s phone has been “jailbroken” they can add apps that don’t come directly from an app store.  Most commonly apps being utilized in this way are used to hide other apps from the main screen.  Do some research about these jailbreak apps so you can see what the icon looks like.  This will help you identify if one of these apps is being used on your child’s device.

So what steps can you take to keep your child safe online without being the type of parent that is watching every move they make? As our kids get older we want to give them some additional freedom to learn and make mistakes, but we also need to know they’re safe.

Here are some tips to ensure your child is safe online:

  1. Talk about it. Know what apps they’re using and ask them to be transparent.
  2. Have active accounts and befriend them on major social media accounts.
  3. Have their passwords. Don’t abuse this, but letting them know you have the ability to log in and see what they’re doing at any time can be helpful.

* Five No-Phone Zones – Are Cell Phones Coming Between Us and Our Family?

By Katie Omohundro, LCSW, Courier & Press, April 18, 2017 –

We all know cell phones and other electronic devices are here to stay, but do they have to come between us and our family? How do we balance the use of electronic devices and time with family?

It’s just as important to regulate our own use of devices as it is for our children to disconnect. So I’ve broken down some areas where cell phone and other electronic use can be specifically challenging.

Let’s talk about those five zones:

1. Bedrooms – Years ago, pediatricians recommended no televisions in bedrooms, and now we also include other types of electronic devices. To encourage sleep, charging phones across the room versus the nightstand will decrease the chances of checking that phone one last time. Having children charge cell phones and other devices in their parents’ room may also cut down on late-night conversations with friends.

2. At the table – If your family eats dinner together at the table, it’s great to have a rule for everyone that this is family time and to “unplug.”  This goes for parents, too!

3. Reading a Book – It’s difficult to truly get into a book if we’re going back-and-forth from reading to checking e-mail or looking at other applications on our electronic devices.  If you want to read more books or you are trying to get some family reading time in, you might allow e-readers, but keep other screens at a distance.

5. In the car – Of course screen time in a vehicle during a long trip is helpful, but limiting the amount of time would provide an opportunity for family discussions. Some of the most unguarded conversations take place when parents are chauffeuring, so it’s worth trying to limit screen time in the vehicle.  As far as car use by parents, of course texting while driving is not recommended and in many states is against the law.  If children know you do not text and drive, they will learn this is expected practice in your family.

So what now? Make sure everyone is on the same page by developing a family electronic-use plan that works for your family.

One step in my family’s plan is no cell phone use while picking our son up from school. I saw a report recently about a school that posted signs around the building asking parents to not be on their phones when picking up their children. Children often want to tell their parents about their day or show them work they did while at school, so give them your full attention. You will be glad you did.

Hopefully focusing on these five no-phone zones can help provide more quality family time. I challenge families to put their cell phones and other electronic devices down in the five no-phone zones for one week and see how it improves family communication. You can even have a little family competition – parents versus kids – and see who can successfully stay off their electronic devices in these five zones.