Cyber-tech guru offers valuable tips

Cyber technology is changing so fast it's almost impossible for parents to monitor.

In the past, parents knew the world in which their children were growing up and could guide and protect them accordingly. This is no longer assured since the landscape changes almost daily. Parents are left stumbling around in the dark while their tech-savvy kids move at lightning speed through this uncharted new world.

It is estimated that the average teen spends five hours a day online (nearly one-third of his or her waking time), according to a 2013 study by Internet security company McAfee. This same study revealed that:

• 70% of teens hide their online behavior from their parents

• 50% clear their browser history on a regular basis

• 32% view pornography on purpose

• 25% report having cheated on tests using cell phones

• 17% have hacked their friends' accounts

• 15% turn off web filters and other parental controls

• 15% have met up with a person introduced online

• 10% have created a duplicate Facebook account to be free of parental review

Even more disturbing is that these behaviors are trending upward, even as the average age of a child's first cell phone is going down (currently at 10 to 12 years old, but estimated to be several years younger in Laguna Beach).

Scott Burnett, the owner of Lake Forest-based Integrity Computer Concepts, gave a seminar on cyber safety at the Artists Theatre in Laguna Beach on Jan. 15. Against a background of current Internet usage patterns, he provided a host of practical tips and tools — many of them free — that can be installed on home systems and through cell phones to enable parents to protect their children.

Cyber bullying is an area of vulnerability for our children, yet only 20% of kids know what to do if it happens. Last fall Rebecca Sedwick, 12, of Florida committed suicide after persistent cyber bullying followed her from one middle school to another.

While her mother monitored Facebook, she didn't know the girl was using the apps Kik and Askfm, which invite people to anonymously make comments, often hurtful. Burnett recommends talking to your kids using "what if" questions, keeping their cell phones and laptops out of the bedroom as long as possible, looking for signs of depression and removing apps like Kik.

Online predators are another reality. Kids should be taught to answer certain trigger questions to discourage possible targeting. "Where is your computer?" should be answered "In the kitchen," whether it is or not, and "Are you alone?" should always elicit a "No," no matter who is asking the question.

Sexting is another area facilitated by apps like snapchat, a photo messaging app, and wickr, which promises to "leave no trace." Burnett said kids should be taught that nothing is safe.

Pornography sites account for more than 11% of all websites, and the word "sex" is the No. 1 search term on Google. Burnett recommends installing the K-9 filter (customizing settings to make it user-transparent) on all computers in the home.

Social networking is part of everyday life. While 13 is the minimum age for participating, this is tough to enforce. Burnett recommends that parents understand the platform, follow their children and know their passwords. Explain, if you hear a cry of protest, that you aren't looking over their shoulders so much as watching their backs.

Instagram can be made safer by turning off the public sharing setting as well as the GPS tag. Of course, talk freely about what your children are posting. Kids are striving for "likes" without considering how their sassy poses and pouty lips are being viewed.

Vine is a social network owned by Twitter that loops six-second videos and has a significant pornographic potential, particularly when collated by sites like Burnett recommends installing the free MinorMonitor for Facebook and Twitter. This monitors a circle of friends and emails parents when something looks amiss.

Everything posted online leaves a digital footprint. Colleges and potential employers are looking at candidates' Facebook and other accounts and can sniff out the sanitized ones.

Hook-up apps are not pornography per se but are potentially dangerous. They allow users to view profiles of other users and give a yes/no response, and the "yesses" are then able to connect. Beware Tinder, Blendr, Grindr, Skout, Swoon.

Generally, try to keep home computers in a public location or install extra controls. Also, remove cell phones from kids' rooms at night. Kids with cell phones get on average one hour less sleep.

Set the Google search and YouTube settings to "safe search" (lower right corner) and be sure to do so for each user name. Homework helpers — Freedom for PC's and Self Control for Macs — block web surfing for a pre-set amount of time. Burnett also recommends installing Spector Pro and eBlaster, which can be a lifesaver for some kids. Think of it as insurance, and hope you'll never need it.

Apple iOS devices have great parental controls if enabled. Always remove Safari (which can't be filtered) and replace it with the MetaCert browser on the iPad, and K-9 browser on the iPhone. Set app purchases to 12-plus years old, and turn off the "in-app purchase" setting, which can cost unknowing parents thousands of dollars when their kids get hold of their phones.

TeenSafe monitors texts on the iPhone by reading your child's iCloud backup. You will need your kids' iCloud password. Life360 tracks all movement of the phones through time, not just in the present. Always stay up to date with safety-enhancement programs that carriers like Sprint and Verizon are developing.

Burnett's overriding advice to parents is to stay current, understanding that what is true today cannot be relied upon to stay true tomorrow. Keep up with technology and embrace it. This is our children's world.

KATE ROGERS is a mother of three and a member of the Coffee Break committee, a PTA-organized group in the Laguna Beach Unified School District.

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