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Kids Seeking Toys Connected to YouTube Videos

Toy makers have started striking licensing deals with YouTube channel creators as children are increasingly seeking out toys based on their favorite YouTube programming. For example, toy manufacturer Jazwares will start selling merchandise based on three popular children's YouTube channels this year - Blippi, a preschool education-and-entertainment character with more than 21 million subscribers; toy-unboxing and reviews channel CKN Toys, which has 14.7 million subscribers; and Cocomelon, a channel known for nursery rhymes, which has 74 million subscribers. Jazware's Laura Zebersky says, "The world has changed and you will see properties ranging from 'Fortnite' to influencers on YouTube who are leading and competing against movies and TV shows on a day-to-day basis."


TikTok Wants to Grow Up

TikTok's Alex Zhu is trying to broaden the app's appeal from its predominantly 13 and younger fans to expand its audience and risk becoming "a passing fad," write Georgia Wells and Yoree Koh in The Wall Street Journal. Recent moves include rejecting content that might appear "too juvenile," preventing the use of childish animated graphics and using artificial intelligence to detect a user's age, which appears to be working as #over30, #over40 and #MomsOfTikTok started trending in early 2019.



Talking to Other Parents About Your Media Rules

When it comes to digital safety, a lot comes down to modeling the kind of behavior you would like to see your kids follow as well as setting rules and expectations for everyone in your household, including visitors. One way to do that it is to let other parents know when they drop off their kids at your house what kind of rules you follow when it comes to television, movies, games and apps. Here is how to do that:

  • Clearly state your media dos and don’ts. Be as specific as possible about the time limits, types of media, and content you allow and don't allow.
  • Share the titles. If your kid is currently into a certain show or game, it's likely they'll want to enjoy it with their friend. Tell the other parent that you're comfortable with, for example, the kids watching two episodes of The Mandalorian after they get back from riding bikes.
  • Check out their response to your rules. Remember, the other parent may not like your media rules. And if you want them to respect yours, you need to return the favor.
  • Make sure your kids know the rules. Discuss any media rules with your kid in advance and make sure they know that playdates depend on them being responsible about sticking to the rules.
  • Be consistent. The more you set the ground rules at your home around media and tech, the more other parents will start to expect it from you. And if you're lucky, they'll start following your lead.

And remember…. If your kid ends up seeing something at someone else's house that you wouldn't have approved of, it's not likely to do much damage. Restate your rules with your kid, but don't put too much pressure on them to uphold them when you are not around. They're still learning how to do that. And if you freak out because their friend showed them an off-limits video, they might not tell you about it next time. If it was egregious (porn, explicit R-rated movie, etc.), you might consider having an open, nonjudgmental conversation with the other parent and next time, invite the other kid to your place!


A New App to Protect From All Those “Assistants”

The old joke of “yes, there is an app for that” is proving to be even more true with the development of an app that monitors other apps to alert you when they are functioning/collecting data. The Internet of Things (IoT) Assistant app, developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon, lets you know when IoT devices (Amazon Alexas, Internet connected refrigerators, baby monitors, etc.) are operating around you and what data they are collecting. And the app doesn't just let you know about voice assistants, it also alerts users about devices like public cameras with facial recognition technology, doorbells and Bluetooth beacons. The app is free and available for both iOS and Android phones.


Make it Personal

Personalization is the key to effective parent-school communication, according to a survey of parents, teachers and school leaders by the Center for American Progress. The survey found that in-person, parent-teacher conferences were preferable to technology-based communication, with research associate Abby Quirk saying, “We thought there might be special interest in options that use technology because they’re newer, they offer potentially more options, but what we found was that the technological advancement, so to speak, of the communication method really wasn’t that important. What we found was that the individualization was really important.”


TikTok Introduces Family Safety Mode

Bowing to criticism, TikTok has unveiled parental controls in a new feature called Family Safety Mode that allows parents to link their accounts to their teens'. This allows parents to set time limits as well as manage direct messages and content. The safety mode is currently only available in the UK but will be expanded to other geographic areas in the near future.


Connected Cameras in Your Home: How to Stay Safe

There are a myriad of stories floating around online about laptop cameras, security cameras, and baby monitor cameras being hacked, allowing hackers to both spy on or communicate with unsuspecting adults and children. While these attacks do happen, they are preventable. Here are a few tips if you have these devices in your home:

  • If you haven’t already, you probably should cover the camera lens on your desktop or laptop, even if you just fold a piece of paper or put a sticky note. For most of us, chances of being spied on this way will never happen, but it is easy to eliminate all risk.
  • Secure your wireless router so that you can disable remote access to your router. This will prevent it from being configured from anywhere but inside your house and connected to your network. This is especially important id you have Internet protocol (IP) cameras in your household, including your baby monitor. These devices use the Internet and your local area network to communicate with your smart phone.
  • Next you need to add layers of protection – one is not enough. First and foremost, all cameras in your household should have a strong password. It is important to treat your cameras with the same attention to security that you do with your laptop, tablet and phone. You will also want to make sure your network itself is protected by enabling encryption and disabling remote access. Another good tip is to change the name of your home network – leaving it as default can tip off a cybercriminal onto what type of router you have. If they know the manufacturer of your router, they will know the vulnerabilities that model has and can try to exploit them, according to Ioana Rijnetu from the Heimdal Security blog.
  • Stay vigilant and make sure your keep the firmware – the pre-installed software that runs your camera – updated. Since the steps for doing that vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, make sure you know the name and model of your camera if you need to consult with the manufacturer.
  • Beyond that, follow this Video Baby Monitor Security checklist that works for most any kind of camera in your home.



Acceptable Use Policies: Helpful or Intimidating?

When it comes to technology use at school, the “Acceptable Use Policy” is something that you probably don’t even think about except at the beginning of the school year when it is required for you and your child to sign. With luck, that is the last you ever see of it, unless your child is cited for a violation of the policy. To avoid this from happening, it is important your child clearly understands the expectations. While schools and administrators need to clearly communicate technology policies with students and parents, an article in the District Administration magazine online points out that acceptable use policies often can come across as intimidating instead of helpful. The author recommends that schools need to focus the policies on opportunity rather than just punishment, and that parents need to read these policies and work with schools to make sure everyone is on the same page in helping students safely learn how to navigate the online world.


Expert Calls on Schools To Address Digital Threats

In a recent opinion piece in The Dallas Morning News, Doug Levin, president and founder of the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center, challenges school leaders to take measures to protect both their schools and communities from digital threats amid growing reliance on technology in school operations, teaching and learning. He urges them to collaborate on security challenges and share information on cyber threats with other school districts that face similar issues. School cybersecurity failures across the country have resulted in the theft of millions of taxpayer dollars, outages of school IT systems, and large-scale identity theft.


YouTube Spending $100M on Children’s Programming in Response to Fine

YouTube has announced criteria for how it will allocate $100 million to producers of children's content, an initiative it announced in September. The programming targeted to ages 3-8 is meant to “drive outcomes associated with the following character strengths: courage, compassion, communication, gratitude, curiosity, humility, teamwork, integrity, perseverance, self-control, empathy and creativity”, and can be live-action or animated. The announcement was made following YouTube getting slapped with a record US$170-million settlement from the US Federal Trade Commission and the New York Attorney General for allegedly collecting personal information from children without parental consent.


Facebook Still Popular with Millennials

According to Social Media Today research conducted by 5W Public Relations, Facebook is the most popular social platform among millennials and Gen Z, with 77% of them indicating that they're active on the platform every day, followed by Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, Reddit, Pinterest and TikTok, respectively. When it comes to targeted ads, 52% of millennials have clicked on an Instagram ad and 35% have purchased a product via the platform.


A Visual Guide to Bullying and Cyberbullying

Looking for a guide to get yourself up to speed on exactly what bullying and cyberbullying are, the difference between teasing and bullying, and the warning signs of bullying? Check out these short video guides put together by The 74, a web site that looks at a variety of education issues. The site refers to these guides as “Flashcards,” but they are simple to understand presentations on different aspects  of bullying and cyberbullying that can help you and others understand the problem and move to do something about it.


School Screen Time Concerns Parents

Efforts by school districts to supply students with computers or tablets are meeting resistance from parents who are concerned about the amount of time their children are spending in front of a screen. Parents have expressed various concerns, including changes in classroom instruction, access to inappropriate online content, and how the use of electronics is weakening student handwriting, eyesight and posture. One of the biggest issues with districts taking steps to distribute digital devices to their student community has been a lack of teacher training on how to make the best use of these devices and take full advantage of what the technology has to offer, rather than using them as a classroom diversion. Schools and parents alike are caught between making sure students are prepared for the jobs of tomorrow and being mindful that life and learning also takes place in places other than in front of a screen.


School Districts are Dealing with Social Media Impersonators

Did you receive an update or post from your children’s school on social media that seems a little off? Fake accounts for schools and school districts, and even school administrators, have popped up all over the country. Most of the claims on the sites  - like a feral skunk being loose in a school building that has to be closed and burned down – are so outrageous that most parents spot them or figure out they aren’t coming from the school’s regular communication channels, but these kinds of accounts do pose all kinds of dangers, especially in emergency situations.

Schools are fighting back by sending out clarifying messages on their actual Twitter and Facebook pages and immediately forwarding the fake message to school, school board leaders, and local media to inform them of the issue so they don’t accidently share the false information.


There is Bipartisan Consensus on Distrust of Social Media

In these divided times it is easy to blame social media for much of the partisanship and misinformation that is flooding the internet. But a new study from the Pew Research Center suggests that there is overall bipartisan agreement that news that comes from social media sites is suspect. Incredibly, almost two thirds of adults don't trust Facebook as a source of news — and the numbers are mirrored on both sides of the aisle, with 59 percent of Democrats (and independents who lean that way) and 62 percent of Republicans (and independents who lean that way) reporting distrust. The numbers are similarly symmetrical for Twitter (46 percent distrusted by Democratic voters, 51 percent for Republicans) and Instagram (41 and 45 percent, respectively). 

On the whole, a whopping 72 percent of people in the survey said they trusted news information on social media sites either "Not too much" (38 percent) or "Not at all" (34 percent). As for the people who do trust their feeds to be factual: Only 15 percent of people across both sides said they trusted Facebook, 12 percent trusted Twitter, 6 percent trusted Instagram, and a slightly concerning 17 percent trusted what they saw on YouTube.

While is hard to know exactly what these numbers mean and what kind of “news” people are referring to, it is reassuring that many people seem to be aware that everything they read online may not be true. It is definitely a message that parents need to remind their children of constantly. And one positive note, new research from the Reboot Foundation suggests that it is possible to cultivate students’ ability to spot fake news by learning to "read beyond the headline," "check the date" and "check your biases." 


Sharing Pictures of Your Kids on Social Media: Tips for Cautious Postings

Sharing pictures and updates about your children on social media has become a norm for most people who want to keep in touch with family and friends around the world, despite experts on digital safety cautioning parents about being very careful about what you post.  Accustations of “sharenting,” or obnoxiously sharing every little detail of their children’s lives in pictures online, criticize parents who are robbing children of their right to privacy and dignity, and sometimes rubbing others the wrong way by what many see as bragging. So what should you think about when it comes to cautiously and sparingly posting pictures of your children online?

  • Before you post a picture to any site, understand there is still the potential for anyone to see it. Even if you have created a private or “secret” group, with every privacy control available, people may still be able to forward pictures and messages, so think very carefully about what you post. Anything that is shared online – pictures, messages, status updates­– is stored somewhere and has the potential to come back and haunt you (or your child) later. Think about how pictures of your child misbehaving or negative comments about behavior or learning issues could affect them in the future.
  • For what you do decide to post, use as many privacy control settings as possible before posting a picture of your child on any social media site. These are not absolute guarantees to keep strangers from seeing her photo, but it decreases the risk. Also turn off your phone’ s GPS. The default on most phones is to have the GPS turned on.
  • Think about using photo-sharing sites such as Google Photos or Flickr that require users to log in to see your individual pictures (unlike on social media, where all your followers can see them).
  • Never offer any personal information with the photo such as your home address, your children’s school, where their birthday party was held or even what sports team they are on or where the game was played.
  • Make it a rule to try to not include your children’s friends in pictures, but if it is unavoidable do not identify their friends by name.
  • Avoid posting any pictures or comments suggesting your child is a loner or if he's upset about something someone said. Strangers might use that to lure your child into a situation that can be dangerous.
  • Recognize that while you are the owner of the photo you took, by posting it on a social media site you effectively grant permission to the website where you posted it to use the work in any manner according to its terms of use or privacy standards. If copyright is your concern, consider adding a digital watermark (a superimposed logo or word) to your photos.
  • If you share custody of your children, take care. Sometimes ex partners find it emotionally trying to see photos of their child when they are not part of the happy occasion.
  • As soon as your child is old enough to understand, ask permission before posting any photos. What may seem innocent to you, it might embarrass her if her classmates see it. The last person you should ever want to embarrass or expose to cyberbullying is someone you're supposed to protect.
  • Once the picture is posted be prepared for a variety of feedback. Not everyone will see that darling or amusing picture of your child the way you do.
  • Keep in mind that posting a picture of a child could identify you to advertisers and data collectors as someone to target for baby or childrens products.






Facebook Pledges Enhanced Privacy Protections

Facebook filed papers recently pledging to enact privacy protections "far beyond those required by United States law" as it urged US District Judge Timothy Kelly to approve the platform's $5 billion proposed settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. Facebook is also working to appease advocacy groups that contend the fine isn't enough punishment and doesn't hold the platform accountable for past violations.


“Outlet Challenge” Spread on Social Media Causing Fires

The "Outlet Challenge," a new trending challengs circulating on social media video platforms including YouTube and TikTok, is being blamed for kids damaging electrical outlets, causing fires in classrooms, and developing skin burns across the country. Officials are warning parents about the challenge, which involves inserting the plug part of a phone-charger only part way into a wall outlet and then trying to produce a spark by touching a penny to the exposed prongs. Firefighters are issuing serious warnings about possible fires and electrocutions.


Slow Progress on Update to COPPA

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has begun the glacially slow process of considering updates to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The last time COPPA was amended was in 2013, when the FTC updated the definition of personal information to incorporate geolocation information along with photos, videos and audio files that contain a child's image or voice. Critics say one model the federal government should be looking at is the California Consumer Privacy Act. The California law not only expands privacy protections to minors under the age of 13 but also creates additional protections for children aged 13 through 16, who must affirmatively consent rather than opt out of the sale of their personal information. Other models include Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which extended its privacy protections for children to the age of 16, and the United Kingdom, which required its Information Commissioner's Office to create an "age-appropriate design code," which would have applications to youth up to the age of 18."


Kids are Learning 24/7: Are Schools and Parents Ready?

The current media and technology landscape means kids are no longer confined to just learning in the classroom. Sure, kids have always been able to learn outside the classroom via books and other life experiences, but today’s technology allows children to learn in a multitude of new ways. Looking at that change, Project Tomorrow runs a survey called Speak Up, polling hundreds of thousands of sixth graders and adults about learning trends, and makes the local data available to individual districts. Here are a few takeaways:

  • For students today, there is very little distinction between school learning versus what they do on their own at home or on their digital device(s). They feel the learning experience is happening all the time. It is also found they have a healthy balance of using print materials versus first-person materials, and having opportunities to engage with people as well as with digital tools. The media is often quick to say kids today just want to put their nose in their phone and don’t want to interact with people, but the survey found that is more of a symptom seen in Millennials rather than in this current generation. 
  • Students want to co-learn with their teachers and parents. Because they are so used to looking up information online, they are not looking to the teacher or a parent to be an expert in everything. It is common practice to go home and look up information they received at school – partly for accuracy and partly to learn more about a topic. Parents should understand that and not be offended by kids looking for verification of what they say.
  • Students today are also good at authenticating resources. Surveyors were told by students that kids never use a dot com, they don't trust dot coms; that dot orgs are okay; a dot edu is the best; and you shouldn't really even trust the dot govs.