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TikTok Faces Ban in US

The US government is examining TikTok, the video app popular with tweens and teens, and is considering banning the app for US users amid concerns the Chinese-backed firm is being used by the government to surveil individuals and spread propaganda, says Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. TikTok was recently banned from India over national security and privacy concerns

Free Web Sites and Apps That Can Keep Kids Learning

You don't always have to pay big bucks for great educational games, apps, and websites. Lots of outstanding free options are only a click away. Since the subjects on this list from Common Sense Media range from reading to math skills, kids can find all sorts of fun practice on all kinds of topics. The best part is that kids can check them out and move on if a title isn't a great fit—and it won't affect your wallet! Some favorites are Civilisations ARNational Geographic Kids, and Mission US: Flight to Freedom.


New Microsoft Family Safety App Available

Screen limits, content filters, and even a driving report are all baked into a forthcoming parental control app available for Microsoft 365 Family subscribers. If you interested in a free preview of the app, check in with Microsoft at this link or take a look at this video. When the app is rolled out later this year you will need a Microsoft 365 Family subscription, which costs $99.99 and comes with numerous other features and benefits as well.

Newest Pokemon App Advocates Teeth Brushing

Here is a new take on gaming - Pokémon Smile is an augmented reality (AR) toothbrushing game designed to encourage kids to brush their teeth better. In Pokémon Smile, players help “rescue other Pokémon from cavity-causing bacteria” by brushing their teeth. The app features some adorable art styles and AR effects that let players wear Pokémon hats while they brush their own teeth alongside the game. If you manage to brush away all the bacteria, players are rewarded by getting to catch the Pokémon at the end. Pokémon Smile isn’t The Pokémon Company’s only attempt at leveraging the brand into healthier living: the company also announced a sleep-tracking game called Pokémon Sleep last year.

TikTok Expanding Content

TikTok, a favorite social media platform of tweens and teens, is evolving from featuring short-form quirky clips to live video and content related to everything from sports and gaming to cooking, fashion and beauty, says Bryan Thoensen, head of content partnerships. The social platform expects to see expanded educational content, which would boost users' time on the app while helping creators monetize their efforts, and generating more ad dollars, he says. So expect your children may be spending more time on the app.

Telehealth and Your Family

While stay-at-home orders are being lifted, one change in daily life that seems likely to stay is telehealth. Simply defined, telehealth is the use of digital devices to remotely access health care services, which has been very important during the lockdown, when going out of the house was not suggested. But like most uses of technology, there are pros and cons. Certainly some of the pros are convenience and accessibility since you can manage your health care visits without leaving the comfort of your home. Many a parent has been very grateful not to have to transport, particularly on public transportation, a sick child to the doctor on a cold or rainy day just to get a quick diagnosis. Another pro is that telehealth makes health care more accessible to more people, although it should be noted you do need a smart device to access most telehealth apps and not all adults in the US have or use the right kind of sophisticated technology and high speed Internet to connect.

Another con is patients often fail to notice or mention other symptoms that would be helpful to the doctor in a diagnosis. For example, the tone of a person’s skin, eyes, lips, and body could signify a certain disease, but their discoloration or lack of color might not be evident to a doctor on a video screen. That means that patients become an even bigger factor in their own diagnosis and may need some training to help with diagnosing.

While telehealth is useful during times like this, especially when traveling to and going inside a hospital could put a person at more risk of getting ill, it is important to recognize the limitations. Patients that need physical interaction with doctors for wound care, broken bones, procedures and more still need to stick to the traditional in person visits. Bear in mind that you should always weigh the pros and cons of whether you need to see a doctor in person and choose the one that would be best for you and your family's health and well-being.  

How To Keep Your Kids Safe While Playing Games Online

During the pandemic it has been almost inevitable that kids and adults are playing more games online. The usual top pieces of advice about keeping your kids safe with online games is to be familiar with the games they play, to play with them if possible, and to talk to them about how they feel about these games. With luck, parents may have had a little more time to do just that during the lockdown. Beyond that basic advice, there are several categories of things parents should also be thinking about:

  1. Privacy
  • Make sure your child picks a username that protects their identity. Try to pick something that has no clues to name, birthday, hometown, school or phone number. Be creative!
  • Remind kids to never share with their password or gaming account with anyone else, even good friends. That password may be a way for a stranger to figure out passwords for other accounts if they are similar. Having that information, even if only for a “joke,” can let someone else use their account to harass, bully, or post inappropriate things.
  • Kids are easily led into sharing little tidbits of information about their life but instruct them to keep any conversations with people they are playing with about the game itself. If someone starts asking personal questions, it might be best to stop talking to them.
  • Most online games and gaming apps have privacy settings that you can set (an online search to help you find out how for any particular game). Many have privacy settings that have options for showing information such as when you're online and what games you're playing. Additionally, consider limiting who can play with your kids in the game.
  1. Avoiding Cyberbullying
  • Kids should understand that people can and do lie about who they are online, especially when they are playing games. While it is fun to talk to people kids meet while playing, it is smart to assume they are lying about who they are. They should always treat online “friends” as strangers and never agree to talk to or meet them in real life.
  • Cyberbullies have discovered gaming is a great place to find targets. Your children need to know that they can tell you when someone is being mean to them online and that their experience isn’t going to bring an abrupt end to their gaming life. When they do tell you about an incident, talk to them about what happened and help them figure out how to block that person. Emphasize to them that it is never okay for someone to send mean messages or mistreat them while playing a game, but sometimes things can be said in the heat of the moment when someone is angry about losing. It is important for them to know that repeat patterns of harassment or abuse are not acceptable.
  • Most important, keep talking to your kids about their gaming experiences. Reiterate the importance of protecting their personal information and listen carefully when they are talking about their online friends for any clues to that fact that there may be bullying going on. Ask if they have needed to block anyone. Questioning them about what their character in a game is currently doing can also help you decide if the game is appropriate for them.
  1. Beware of Scams and Expenses
  • Caution kids to avoid downloading tip or cheat sheets for online games as they may contain a virus or spyware, even if these come up in the game itself or appear on the website of the game developer.
  • Help your children to review ratings and reviews on games before they play. Always make sure a game is appropriate for your child’s age range. Make sure that other players say they enjoyed the game and did not experience technical issues.
  • Turn off in-app purchases so your child can’t run up a bill. Some games are free to download and may also offer free game play. However, these games are often set up for in-app purchases if players want access to higher levels. Your child may accidentally make expensive in-app purchases while they’re playing, which can result in a huge bill. Open the app or mobile settings on your child’s phone and switch off in-app purchases
  • Other players may offer to sell your children characters or gear, but as with anything on the Internet, it may not be what it seems. Be sure to research that the person is active on gaming sites and has been around long enough to have the characters or gear they’re selling. It’s better to pay through a service like PayPal so you can file a claim if the person is scamming you.
  1. Set Limits and Offer Breaks
  • Gaming is fun, but kids can get carried away and not realize how long they are playing. Limit how much time your child can play in a single session.
  • Tell you children they can’t play games until their homework or chores are done.
  • Offer alternative activities like getting outside to play catch, take a walk, play with the dog, etc.
  • Make sure your kids are taking breaks when they are tired, hungry, or getting frustrated by a game.

How Our Online Lives are Being Reshaped by the Pandemic

Two months ago if you asked a teen or young adult to call someone on the phone they most likely would have looked at you like you were crazy, preferring communicating by text or social media instead. Now in the solitude of quarantine, a craving for intimacy and personal connection means people want to hear each other's voices and see each other's faces more than ever. In an article on the rewriting of social connections during the crisis, cultural anthropologist Megan Routh describes the ways the pandemic is reshaping the way people connect with each other, including the democratization of online communities as people turn to social platforms for interaction (i.e. anonymous Zoom dance parties). She writes that young and old consumers alike are rejecting aspirational content from social influencers and instead are seeking relatable content that reflects real life, seeking optimism instead of snark and having more respect for facts.

Coronavirus Tracking Apps Could Threaten Personal Privacy

The coronavirus tracking apps coming onto the market, initially hailed as an important tool for containment of the virus, have quickly encountered fears about privacy, cybersecurity and effectiveness. Tracking apps are already in use in Australia, India, China, Singapore and South Korea, and under development in France and Germany. In the United States, tech giants Google and Apple are teaming up to develop “exposure notification” software for use in iOS and Android apps. The technology uses Bluetooth signals to determine the distance between phones. A person with a confirmed case of coronavirus can automatically send notifications to other phones with the contact tracing app, alerting users that they may have been exposed to the virus. The software, which is in beta testing, will be shared with local health departments. Apple and Google say location services will not be used and any personal data would be anonymized and stay on the user’s phone, rather than going to a centralized database. However, researchers say that anonymized data can be reverse-engineered and mined for valuable particulars including gender, age and marital status.

Internet Safety “Tools” (AKA Parental Controls) You Should Be Thinking About

The old Russian proverb “Trust, but verify” aptly describes the relationship you should ideally have with your kids when it comes their use of digital devices and the Internet. Without a doubt, the most powerful tool you have to keep your kids safe online is your relationship. You want them to know that they can come to you about anyone or anything that bothers them online and have a frank discussion, without blame, about how to handle the situation. But with kids being kids, it could be that they will come across (intentionally or unintentionally) some inappropriate material or situation online. That’s where parental controls come in place. With certain kinds of technology helping to filter and field what they come across, that is much less likely to happen.

So where do you need parental controls? Chances are your tweens and teens are most likely to get into sticky situations when they are away from home using their phone, so the first set of parental controls you need to look into are those afforded by your cell phone manufacturer (Apple or Android, for example) and/or your cell phone carriers. Do a search online for what your specific carrier has to offer by using the name of the service and the search term “parental controls” (many of these also apply to tablets). Both cell manufacturers and cell phone carriers offer parental controls, including the ability to set content filters and disable or limit Internet access or certain apps on Web-enabled phones. Mobile controls can also allow parents to disable, limit, or monitor a child’s texting capability, and picture and video messaging.

There are also a myriad of apps for monitoring your child’s cell phone use. What you need from a parental-control app mainly depends on how old your kids are. If you're the parent of children under 12, you absolutely want to be able to block objectionable websites. If you've got teenagers, you might be ok with just monitoring instead of blocking. You might also want to see who your teens are talking to in messenger apps, or where they are late on a Friday night. And you might want to consider a service that monitors your kids' Windows and Apple devices as well as their smartphones. The best parental control apps will offer, at a minimum, a website filter, location tracking, screen-time limits including a scheduler, and an app blocker.

As far as your laptop and desktop goes, again you may want to look into what your Internet Service Provider (ISP) has to offer by doing a search on their website or by contacting them directly. Depending on what operating system you are using (Windows, Apple, Chrome, etc.), there are parental controls built in as well. Again, doing an online search for your operating system and particular concerns is going to be your best bet for finding what you need to fit your particular purpose. There are just as many apps that you can download for your computer– free and otherwise - as there are for your phones. For your computer you are looking for much the same capabilities as for your phones – a website filter, screen time limits, an app blocker, and the ability to limit certain texting and messaging services.