Digital Safety

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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.

Google Really Wants You to Use Different Passwords

Apparently "Guest123!" isn't the most secure password on the Internet. Who knew? If you are guilty of using common passwords, or the same password for various websites, you should consider enhancing your online security. Google's Security Checkup function now alerts users to when websites for which it stores a password have been compromised. The alert not only urges users to change the password for that particular site, but also might nudge people to not use the same password across multiple websites.

Generation Z’s Digital Interaction Increases During Pandemic

For parents, this is probably common knowledge by now, but the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing lockdown has had a significant effect on Gen Z's digital behaviors. According to a report issued by Boston Consulting Group and Snapchat, there has been a boost in Generation Z’s use of social media, video streaming and gaming, as well as an increase in online spending. Their report also highlights Gen Z's increased reliance on mobile-focused video and social platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat.

Coronavirus Pushes Districts to Give Computers to Even Younger Students

Momentum for one-to-one device programs has been more common in middle and high schools, but the rapid transition to remote instruction has more school districts providing devices for young students. GG Weisenfeld of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University says that previously, experts would have argued against investments in devices for young students, but "right now, it's not a perfect world." How has your district handled this question?

Predators Looking for Information

As the pandemic continues, online safety continues to be top of mind. Officer Travis Spencer, a school resource officer in Georgia, warns that whatever an online predator’s motivation, what they want most is information.  They are looking for the kind of information that will let them see into your life, find out where you live, what you like, and let them delve into your most personal thoughts and dreams. Spencer says “Let’s use TikTok for example. The background in your clip for example says a lot about where you are. Like my background right now shows where I work. So, if you were going to put up a very popular video with a current song, your backdrop will tell people not only who you are, but where you live. You might have a poster on the wall, certificate, or something with a school name. Predators will take that information to find out where you live and what you like. So, it’s incredibly dangerous.”

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.

Reading and Tech Resources

While you might think most reading resources are offline, there are a number of digital options if you are looking for creative ways to get your kids reading. Check out these ideas to bring together literacy and technology:

  • Audiobooks: Audible, perhaps the motherlode of audiobooks, is free for kids as long as schools are closed. Looking for some recommendation? A site called Imagination Soup has some Audiobook Recommendations for Kids Ages 6-12 and Teens.. An easy-to-use free app Libby/Overdrive also connects to your local library so you can easily check out ebooks and audiobooks. Unite for Literacy also has books narrated in a variety of languages. You can get a month free of animated story books at Vooks. Tumble Book Library might also have something the others don’t offer. Storybook Online offers famous actors and actresses reading picture books out loud.
  • Make a Book Trailer: One idea for getting kids and family (especially grandparents) to engage more over Facetime or Zoom is to get them to read the same book and talk about it. You could take it a step further by asking your kids to make a book trailer to get others to want to read your book. Try this link to look at a collection of book trailers and suggestions for various apps to use to make a short video advertising your book. For teachers looking for creative ways to include technology into reading assignments, a trailer also makes a great alternative to a book report.
  • Create a Book:  To practice those writing skills, why not have your kids write a book about something they’ve become interested in? Book Creator has great ideas on how to proceed and is free to schools affected by the pandemic. Or try this list of Best Apps for Creating Books and Storybooks for resources. This is a great way to get kids actively using technology rather than just be entertained by it.

Kids and Screen Time: How Not to Feel Guilty

If you are parent in the Digital Age, you’ve probably heard a lot about guidelines on screen time. Many parents look to those screen time guidelines, such as the ones from the American Academy of Pediatricians, for the daily maximum time acceptable for your children to be in front of a screen. But let’s face it, and even research backs this up, there are different kinds of screen time and they are not all equal. Lots of factors come into play when it comes to media – is it educational, are parents and kids watching or playing something together and talking about it, or is it Facetime session with the grandparents? Maybe kids are watching drawing tutorial on YouTube or someone reading a book out loud, which is very different than hours of cartoons. Context matters.


Central to those guidelines, also, has always been the premise that parents know their child best and should use their discretion. You undoubtedly already have some ideas about when to stretch screen time allowance when your kids are watching something of high interest to them. That is part of recognizing that all media experiences are not equal, and that quality certainly trumps quantity.


Kids are also incredibly social beings, and during this period of social separation, that void is also being filled by technology connections. Kids may be watching more Netflix and playing more video games, but they are also video chatting more, playing games with friends online, and even having virtual play dates. While these online experiences will never replace person-to-person connections, using tech to keep kids in touch with peers and family is especially important in these times of social distancing.


So where does that leave you?

  • Don’t beat yourself up if your kids have upped their screen time. We are in unprecedented times. At this point, screen time is their only way to connect with the outside world.
  • Try to find good content. Find reviews of all kinds of media for kids on sites like Common Sense Media and even Rotten Tomatoes.
  • Keep it creative. Make sure they are not just passively using technology all day. Let them use your phone to take pictures and videos and figure out all the special features like slow motion, 360 views and whatever else is available to them. Ask them to make a video diary of their day or that of the family pet. Record dance videos, magic tricks, or short skits and send them off to grandparents to cheer them up. Let them play with some of the free creative apps that are available on your phone or computer like Comic Life for making comic books or drawing apps for all ages.
  • Keep connected. Use the technology to connect to other people and mix it up. Everything does not have to be a straight up conversation or video chat. Have a joke day where everyone has to offer a favorite joke, a picture they have drawn, or a small video they have made.
  • Keep talking. One of the biggest issues experts have with technology for children is that watching passively does help with building language skills the way interpersonal communication does. So when kids are watching, try to join them when you can and then talk about what they are seeing, reading or playing. Ask about what issues or ideas came up in a story, inquire what characters they liked or didn’t like and why, and listen when they tell you about some great move they made in a game to get to the next level.
  • Get out and keep it balanced. If you are somewhere they can get outside, try to get out every day even it is just for a walk. Try to do things that don’t involve screens, even if it is just organizing their closets or reading a book.

Study: Screen Time Can Slow Language Skills

With kids doing classwork online due to prolonged school closures during the coronavirus pandemic, it is good for parents to remember to vary what they are doing by not only adding some physical activity to screen time, but also to remember engaging in just plain old conversation. Adding that language component is extra important in these times of reliance on digital learning and entertainment, JAMA Pediatrics points out in a recent article. They cite that while high-quality educational screen content is associated with better language skills, more overall time on screens each day, regardless of its quality, is linked to lower language development. Sheri Madigan, lead researcher from the University of Calgary in Canada, says school leaders and educators can help parents develop plans to keep screen time in check.

A Technology Company Coalition and Senate Bill Aim at Online Child Abuse

A coalition of Internet companies and social media giants -- Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Roblox, Twitter and Snap -- is backing a set of 11 principles put forth by the US, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand to fight the spread of online child exploitation. Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of US senators has introduced the EARN IT Act, which would allow the government to strip away tech companies' legal immunities for what their users post if the companies fail to crack down on online child sexual abuse.