Software-Based Parental Controls Extend Your Digital Parenting Reach

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


Your parents had it easy; parenting today is hard.  Not just because it will be awkward to explain to your child, as they get older, why everyone on every sports team gets a trophy at the end of the season. But because the world today is a very different place than when your parents raised you. After all, the iPhone just turned 10 years old; And yet many of us can’t imagine how we would function without a smartphone on us at all times. While the topic of this post is not technology addiction, the addictive nature of these devices is a pressing issue that you as a parent have to deal when it comes to your children and their technology use.

However, parents today are not alone. With organizations like Savvy Cyber Kids providing cyber ethics sessions and resources for students, teachers and parents, help does exist for today’s digital parent.

While the most important thing any adult caregiver can do for their child is to talk to them on a daily basis about what is happening in their lives (including their digital lives), we are all busy and could use some help when it comes to imparting our values on the next generation. The reality is that it is simply not possible to sit with your child every moment they are using their devices. Thankfully, you can look to software parental control options to provide some assistance.

The first software-based parental controls tools that came to market years ago were focused on providing website filtering. These tools would block a child (or anyone for that matter) from going to a specific site or a category of sites such as pornography, violence, gambling, or other sensitive topics. An example of such a tool that has evolved overtime from a filter-only solution to a more powersuite of software parental controls is Net Nanny.

A few months ago, PC Magazine reviewed a selection of parental control software solutions and selected ContentWatch Net Nanny 7, Symantec Norton Family Premier, and Qustodio Parental Control 2015 as their top picks. These full-suite software solutions, along with others in the market such as Boomerang, uKnowKids, and TeenSafe, provide cross-device controls that can provide insight into what your children are doing with their technology while also letting you set usage limits.

In addition to full software suites, there are specific tools that focus on one aspects of your child’s technology use. Do you just want to filter out specific websites? Try the SPIN Safe Browser. Do you want to just limit the amount of time your kids are on their device? Give UnGlue a try. Are you just curious about potential issues that may arise with social media usage? Give Bark a try.

There are a few important things to remember when using any technical parental control solution:

  1. Technology is never perfect. Sometimes your child will see, hear, and experience things you thought were being blocked.
  2. Technology, even if parental control solutions are used, should never be used as a digital babysitter. An adult should always be near (I didn’t say sit next to, but somewhere in earshot) the child when they are using their devices.
  3. Have some aspect of the Tech Talk every day with your kids. For conversation starters, download the free Savvy Cyber Kids Digital Parenting Guides.

Grandparents Guide to Technology

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


May is Older Americans Month and seniors, like the rest of us, are spending an increasing proportion of their day in cyberspace and less time in real life.

From shopping, dating and sharing, to learning, buying and teaching, older American’s interactions with the virtual world are having a greater and greater influence on how they and others see themselves, how they think and how they see the world and their place in it.

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. So, in recognition of Older Americans Month, Savvy Cyber Kids wants to remind everyone that the internet is, as Thomas Friedman of the New York Times put it, “an open sewer of untreated, unfiltered information, where [we] need to bring skepticism and critical thinking to everything [we] read and basic civic decency to everything [we] write.”

Check out Savvy Cyber Kids’ Grandparent’s Guide to Technology and our in-depth analysis of seniors and the scams they need to be aware of.

“Back-up”, I say, and “Back-up often.”

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


They say death and taxes are the only things that are inevitable. I’d venture to say that at some point in your life, you can also count on losing data. Everyone does.

The story of how you lost your data might be a good tale… a malicious hacker up to no good randomly unleashes a ransomware attack on your computer. You no longer have control of your PC or Mac. You know, the computer with all your financial documents, family photos and important work presentations, it’s now encrypted and unless you pay ransom in the form of bitcoin, you will never get it back. Truth be told, even if you pay, you might never get it back…

Of course, there are less dramatic ways to lose your data. Your hard drive could simply die. A virus could infect all your files. Your basement office could flood. Water damage would pretty much be the end of your computer hardware. Your home could get broken into and your computer stolen. You child could drop your laptop, irreparably damaging it. Hey, your house could burn down with your computer in it. OK, that’s a little dramatic again.

The point is, no matter the details of how you lost your data, the solution to eliminating or at least drastically limiting the consequences, all rests with you. If you back-up your data on your computer on a regular basis, tell that hacker a few short expletives and go reformat your computer. Your data is safe. Flood, fire and theft can too have limited consequences. Unlike data, hardware can be replaced.

There are many ways to ensure your data is backed up. Here are just a few options:

– Use your device provided backup options
– Use cloud storage services like Box, Dropbox, etc.
– Use backup specific services like Earthlink Online Backup, Carboninte, etc.
– Use local backup options like USB drives

Be careful out there. The digital world is filled with minefields. Remember to stop clicking stupid links from unverifiable or suspicious sources. You might find yourself with a nasty virus. So, follow my advice and be prepared for any of a number of situations where your data could be compromised:

“Go now. Back-up your data. And back it up often.”

 Clumsy children and hackers, beware. You have lost your powers of destruction.



Be Good Online. Almost Everything On The Internet Is Traceable… …And The Internet Has A Good Memory

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


As we all know, the power of technology has created convenience and connectivity never known before. Used for good, technology is an awesome and beautiful thing. Used carelessly or for malicious purposes, technology is a terrible beast that cannot be tamed. To keep technology working for your own benefit, you must accept that everything you put into the world-wide web – every comment you make on social media, every photo you post, every review you offer, really, just about anything you do online — is permanent. That’s right, nothing, and I mean nothing, is private.

So, repeat after me, ‘The Internet is FOREVER.’ I want you to remember these four words each time you engage on social media, email or anywhere on the Internet. Let these words guide all your online actions. If you must, tape this message onto your phone and on every computer in the house. I’m serious. Why? Because this reminder can save you from embarrassment, conflict and a whole lot worse. Let me show you how…

CONTEXT — One of the biggest tensions within online communications is that the meanings and implications of what you say online is very different from what can be more fully understood in a real conversation. A face-to-face dialogue offers clues where we can infer how we are being understood or get greater insight into what someone else is saying. Multi-dimensional signals, from visual cues like facial expressions or body language, to auditory cues like tone and level of voice, provide real-time clues that inform how we should behave and respond. By comparison, our conversations online are one-dimensional. You cannot reliably infer context in the digital world.  This means that what you say in anger or annoyance or how you react to provocation can be easily misunderstood.

MAGNIFICATION — Online communications are amplified. They are easily seen by lots of people who don’t have any perspective as to who you are personally or as to what made you upset. No doubt, the trail of what you say and do online can and will leave strong impression about you – but perhaps not the one you intended.

FACEBOOK — Pretty much every person on the planet Earth, OK, getting more specific, about 1.86 billion Facebook users, can see every comment you make, what you like and link to and your personal photos if you don’t have any privacy settings on Facebook. But even if you are on top of privacy settings, shares and screen shots can magnify what you say and do beyond your intended audience. Plus, if you have been generous in how you define a Facebook friend, you may not know every friend’s political point of view, affiliation, relations or workplace. You cannot predict how they will interpret what you say or what they will do with that information. Take heed, what you say on Facebook can have unintended and lasting consequences.

TEXT MESSAGES — Even if you delete a text conversation, it’s entirely traceable. Stored by your phone provider, police and legal proceedings can easily unearth every text you have ever sent.

EMAIL — If you have ever sent an email in anger or frustration and then, faced with regret, deleted it, you have done nothing to end the cycle of online communications. Simply put, once an email is unleashed with the unmitigated power of the send button, it is permanently etched into the everlasting memory of the digital world. The person who received the email, the people they forwarded it to, office servers that make nightly automatic back-ups, and yes, here too, police and subpoena procedures can access every email you have ever sent.

In the digital world, your words can be taken out of context. Your anger can become a defining characteristic; your actions can implicate you; and your digital reputation can shape the opportunities you gain access to. Our illusion of privacy, that private account settings and access controls will protect us, is misinformed. The reality is that anyone within our social or professional circles can take a screenshot of a private post to share as a digital image file or make a copy of a confidential document.

Be good out there, the Internet is listening.