It’s summertime. And that’s means loading up on sunscreen and trying to find ways to entertain your family during long days without school. For some kids, summer also means an increase of screen time. But how safe are your kids when they have their own smart phone? How much information can they give away without even realizing it? And should you limit your household’s screen time? These are all good questions to ask, and we want to pass on a few pointers about internet and phone safety/health that we have learned to help you best protect your kids and their screen time desires.
How does geotagging work and should I care?
Every time we use technology, we leave a trace of our activities, which anyone could take advantage of in many ways. It is recommended that you minimize vulnerability by keeping you and your kids’ phones GPS turned off unless absolutely necessary (i.e. have your household avoid “checking in” at locations). Also, anytime you post a photo online, the photo’s information--including exact latitude and longitude--this is “geotagging”--is in the metadata that can be found easily by anyone, even if you’re not adding your location when you upload a photo. Consider limiting your household to posting pictures only in agreed-upon locations that do not compromise anyone’s safety.
Social sites don’t care about your privacy, but YOU should!
Be mindful that social network sites are not in the business of protecting our privacy. While they can be great for staying connected to your community and for finding information about local events and activities, social network sites also give a lot of information about you and your whereabouts that you may not want the public to know. Facebook can be rebooted to be updated several times per day, and each time it’s rebooted it may automatically reset your privacy settings. The default privacy setting is the lowest possible privacy setting which makes a lot of your personal information public, so make sure to check your social network privacy settings at least once a day (yes, every single app). Also be mindful that if you and your kids signed up for an account, your Facebook agreement said that you agree that all words and images that you post are the legal property of Facebook. Are you up for that? If not, consider staying off of Facebook and stick to old fashioned texting, calling and meeting up with others in person.
Here are a few more safety tips that Cyber crime cops recommend:
- Cover your webcam (you can buy a plastic cover or just use electric tape) when you’re not using it.
- Don’t click on phishing emails, and always forward them to safety services.
- Alert people when you see that they are making themselves vulnerable online.
- Watch what your kids are doing online very closely. “Bad guys” go where kids go.
- Report suspicious activity to police and to cybertipline.com by calling 1-800-843-5678
- Check your online bank accounts every day for suspicious activity.
- Remove malware from your phone/computer by using Malware Bytes or AVG free on a regular basis.
Now, about that screen time...
It’s a much-debated topic, and while we don’t suggest a total ban on computer and phone usage, there are some reasonable limits and tips you may want to consider as appropriate for your household, now when kid have long expanses of free time.
- Parents can set a good example by limiting their own TV viewing, smart phone and video game use.
- Maintain an agreed-upon limit for the entire household (parents included).
- Avoid watching TV or using phones while eating.
- Go outside in nature, go hiking or biking, or go to a park to get some fresh air and quality time without using a device.
- Start a Pinterest page or notebook collecting ideas of activities and hobbies to try (such as reading, baking, painting, photography, sewing or join/support local sports teams).
- Instead of having strict limits, teach your household to assess situations and to be flexible. If it’s a rainy day, some extra screen time is not the end of the world.
- Teach and model self-moderation and balance, as well as being mindful of safety, in all things.
Enjoy your summertime together. Connect with one another and your community, and do some real face-time!