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Photo Leaks: The Latest Scary Digital Trend

By Steven Woda on January 2, 2015 at 3:18 PM

Today, news stories about teens getting caught up in sexting and resulting photo leak scandals are a dime a dozen. As parents, we usually say to ourselves “that could never happen to my child” when we see stories like these, but the truth is that a digital slip-up like a photo leak can happen to anyone.

Just a few years ago, advancements in video, photos and messaging technology all seemed so harmless. Now, sexting seems to be all the rage as teenagers experiment with these advances in technology. Disturbingly, sexting photo leaks appear to be becoming somewhat a trend among teens and, as sexting continues to be prevalent, the images are imprinted on technology forever.

Here are a few synopses of photo leaks that have happened in towns across the US. An especially disconcerting facet about these photo leaks is that each case has occurred in just the past six months:

  • In November, two students from McLean High School in Virginia acquired and organized folders containing compromising photos of 56 female classmates. They passed around the folders to other students in a carefully concealed Dropbox page. The 16 and 17-year-old teens plead guilty to three misdemeanor charges each for distributing obscene material.

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Major Florida Sextortion Case Serves as a Warning For Tweens

By Steven Woda on December 19, 2014 at 2:48 PM

A Florida child porn case is making headlines because of its sheer magnitude. Lucas Chansler, 31, was sentenced to 105 years in prison for his coast to coast sextortion of young girls. Authorities found around 80,000 child porn pictures and videos on his computer and amongst his possessions.

Chansler used video chat to convince 350 girls between the ages of 13 and 18 to send him explicit pictures and videos. The images were sent between 2007 and 2010. Chansler admitted that he extorted the young girls to send nude pictures by threatening them. He pleaded guilty on 9 counts of producing child pornography. He'll likely spend between 15 and 30 years in prison and he'll be forced to pay a quarter of a million dollars in fines for each of the 9 counts.

Chansler didn't target girls in his home state of Florida or any other specific region. He went for anyone and everyone he could ensnare. His victims were spread out across 26 states. Chansler used video chats to weasel his way into conversations with the girls by pretending to be an acquaintance. He used multiple screen names to alter his identity with his victims.

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Girl Scout Cookie Sales Go Digital, Move Poses Internet Safety Risks

By Steven Woda on December 15, 2014 at 9:24 PM

In the new "Information Age," it seems that everything eventually ends up on the Internet. Up until the beginning of December 2014, however, Girl Scout cookies were an exception. Most Girl Scouts would begin by selling a few cookies to close friends and relatives, then move on to canvassing their local neighborhoods door-to-door, and finally expand to other nearby towns. 

The recent announcement by the Girl Scouts of the USA that members will soon be allowed to set up their own personalized websites to market Girl Scout cookies to a wider audience has been met with mixed reactions by parents.

The Promise of Online Sales

By enabling Girl Scouts to contact far-off relatives, parents' co-workers, friends of friends, and even outright strangers, overall sales are sure to boom. Valuable experience will likely be gained in running these "miniature online businesses," which will serve them well in years to come. Scouts will be able to post their photos as well as a short "cookie commercial" video online. They will also be able to send eCards to potential customers. 

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Why Sexting Through Apps Will Never Go Away

By Steven Woda on December 11, 2014 at 3:55 PM

Smartphones are amazing devices which have opened up so many opportunities for people ages three to 100, unfortunately they have also brought their own challenges. One such challenge is the issue of teens and tweens sexting through apps

We would like to think this is a phase, but the safe bet is that this type of behavior will never disappear. The good news is that there are ways to inform your kids about the dangers of sexting and hopefully they will make the smart decision to abstain from such actions. 

First of all, it is important to understand that sexting will always continue to be a smartphone risk, and waging a war on it will just be a waste of time and resources. When a child receives a smartphone they are given more power than they know what to do with and unfortunately teenagers can be very persuasive (especially when hormones are involved).

While there are surely measures parents can take to keep track of what their kids are texting, sexting can occur through so many devices and apps that it's difficult to monitor. A mixture between raging hormones, at-hand technology, and the perception that this behavior is cool guarantees that sexting will remain as common place in our society as make out spots were in the 1950s.

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5 Ways To Stay Secure on Public Wi-Fi Networks

By Tim Woda on December 8, 2014 at 8:38 PM

Free public Wi-Fi can be compared to free public restrooms. While a wireless hot spot may be very appealing, particularly when you are out and about without a data connection, you must remember to use caution just as you would no matter how desperately you might need to access a public restroom. 

It might be a good idea to review some important tips with your family members, including children who are heading off to school or doing any sort of traveling. Anyone using a laptop, smart phone or tablet needs to be aware of some of the dangers lurking out there, so it is important to use some safety tips in order to choose a network wisely.

Make certain that the network you connect to is legitimate, not just a facade for someone who wants to intercept your data. How can you be sure it's legit? 

  1. If you are out in public, such as in a restaurant, coffee shop or even at the public library, verify the name of the network they are offering for free.

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Cyberbullying on Sports Teams: It Happens More Than You Think

By Tim Woda on December 8, 2014 at 12:58 PM

The threat of cyberbullying isn't limited to any one group of kids. Students in the chess club are just as likely to be a victim of cyberbullying as students on the football team. If you don't believe that, then take a look at the story below. 

KTTC News reported a case of cyberbullying at a local high school in Minnesota. In this case, members of the football team were caught engaging in cyberbullying. Here are some points from the case:

  • Football coaches at Southwest High School heard about instances of cyberbullying

  • Several players who engaged in cyberbullying were benched for a must-win game

  • The principal of the high school said cyberbullying can be more damaging than traditional bullying

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Daughter of Police Sergeant Victim in Sexting Scandal

By Tim Woda on December 5, 2014 at 10:31 AM

Parents, teens and tweens across the world can learn a lesson from Michaela Snyder's story. Michaela, 15, is the daughter of a police sergeant and she is making her story known in an effort to make a positive impact on teens who are tempted by peer pressure.

When Michaela was 12 years old, she grew interested in a boy in her same grade. This crush turned out to be a tragedy that all parents and youngsters should know about. Michaela admits that she was so infatuated with her new boyfriend that she would do just about anything to maintain the relationship.

Oftentimes, tweens and teens lack self confidence and will do unhealthy things for the affection of others. Michaela's boyfriend asked her to send semi-nude pictures from her cell phone. At first, Michaela refused but then felt pressured into sending the pictures as the boy gave her an ultimatum. She had to either send him the salacious shots or he would leave her.

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YouTube Challenges and Peer Pressure

By Steven Woda on December 4, 2014 at 12:14 PM

The digital age has moved peer pressure from classrooms and neighborhood blocks onto the Internet. Teens follow the pack on social media websites and apps like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. The main difference between the old form of offline peer pressure and today's online peer pressure is public. When peer pressure is applied on a medium that more than a handful of people can see, teens are often tempted to succumb to it even if they'd rather not.

Before the Internet exploded in popularity, teens were often lured into shenanigans by their friends while hanging around in public parks, school parking lots and backyards. Since these situations were limited to a small group of people, fewer knew about the social pressure. Now that peer pressure is online, it is viral. If someone is hazed, taunted or challenged on the web, just about everyone will know about it.

As a result, youngsters feel an extraordinary amount of pressure to respond to social persuasions to avoid hurtful criticism, teasing and social ostracism. It is very difficult for teens to buck the trend and take the road less traveled. Many succumb to peer pressure simply because their refusal to do so will be made public through social media.

Of particular note are the viral YouTube challenges. Most of these are absurdly gross but their proponents have lured in numerous teens.

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Teens Try Virtual Reality Texting and Driving Simulator

By Tim Woda on December 2, 2014 at 12:23 PM

Every generation of teens tends to think that they are invincible. It is part of the exuberance of youth we have all enjoyed. That care-free attitude is much to be envied, unless it leads any young people to assume that the dangers of risky behavior don't apply to them. However, simulation technology gives this generation of teenagers the chance to see how vulnerable they are to the dangers associated with texting and driving.

If you asked most teenagers if they knew that texting and driving was dangerous, they would probably tell you that they did. However, teens texting and driving remains a major problem. The knowledge that they have about the dangers of texting and driving has not influenced their behavior as much as we might hope. Until they experience the consequences first hand, it may be hard to convince them that they should change, but no one wants teenagers to have to get an accident before they make a commitment to keep themselves safe.

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Social Media and Distorted Teen Body Image

By Steven Woda on November 23, 2014 at 9:36 AM

The parents of young people invested in digital social media need to keep out front of technology the best they can. Issues with eleven-year old children viewing pornography for free online, tweens trying to acts grown up by sexting, kids developing negative attitudes about themselves and their body images are in strong competition with the widespread issues of bullying peers in school environments.

Teen Body Image

What is body image? Do you know the term "thigh space"? Where do teens begin to get distorted ideas and negative feeling about their young, growing, healthy bodies? 

In today's social focus on outer beauty, no kids are insulated from feelings of inadequacy and despair. Parents concerned about their child's body image must become educated regarding the realities of what kids are faced with on the internet relating to teen body image.

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4 Cardinal Twitter Safety Tips for Teens and Tweens

By Tim Woda on November 21, 2014 at 2:30 PM

Twitter is now the second largest social networking website on the planet. Still, there remains a lot of room to grow for this social network. Internet security and how it relates to Twitter continues to be a hot topic. 

Follow these steps to optimize your account security when using Twitter:

Change Passwords Regularly

As with almost any other website, frequently changing the password is a good way of staying safe. Sometimes, passwords are stolen by computer hackers. In other cases, someone may simply figure out what your password is if they see you type it in or if it is just too obvious. Thus, changing the password on a regular basis can help minimize the chances of the account being compromised.

Here are some other best practices teens can use for optimal password security:

  • Avoid anything on a list of most common user passwords - sequences of numbers like 123456, names of family members or pets, or the word "password" itself should all be avoided.

  • Don't make a password too short. Generally eight characters is considered the minimum for security.

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Location Sharing in Facebook's Messenger App: The Basics

By Steven Woda on November 19, 2014 at 12:09 PM

The launch of Facebook's Messenger App came with a whole lot of concern. Everyone seemed immediately worried about its safety as it has the ability to send your location along with every new message.

Questions and concerns about Facebook's location sharing feature and the safety of the feature have made waves across the media. The social media powerhouse even required that its mobile users either install the Messenger App, or give up using the Facebook private messaging feature altogether. The result: (even with clear evidence that it did indeed include your location in messenger by default) over 500 MILLION people downloaded it. Million.  

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Common Mobile and Internet Child Safety Dangers to Avoid

By Steven Woda on November 12, 2014 at 6:09 PM

The moment that a child logs on to the Internet is the moment that they are exposed to a number of risks. While the Internet is designed to help us all accomplish tasks, learn new information, and even do business, there are potential threats that lurk as well, particularly for children. Mobile and Internet child safety is an important topic to learn about. 

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Worried That You're Oversharing? Try the Empty Case Challenge

By Tim Woda on November 12, 2014 at 5:36 PM

Oversharing on social media can be a serious problem for your kids, as we've posted before. One of the problems with teaching your kids about oversharing online (or for that matter, recognizing if you're doing it yourself) is that sometimes it's hard to recognize that you're doing it.

Posting Without Thinking

Part of the reason kids and adults alike share so many things on social media is that it's so easy. Pulling out your phone to snap a picture, write a post, or click a few "likes" is such a simple action that it quickly becomes habit.

Habits are actions we do without thinking about them, and sometimes even without noticing them. This is great when a habit helps you do something positive, like developing routines to carry you efficiently through the day. It's not good when habits lead you to oversharing and obsessive social media use, because you don't even realize how often you're checking in.

How can you become aware of phone habits, and help your kids learn about theirs? Try the empty case challenge.

How It Works

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Recent Study Finds Sexting is the New "Norm" Among Teens

By Steven Woda on November 12, 2014 at 3:40 PM

Sexting is the transmission of sexually explicit images through smartphones or other Internet connected or cellular devices like tablets and laptops. Until recently, it was considered a behavior that was limited to "at-risk" teens and a sign of potentially problematic behavior. New research, however, suggests that it may actually be a part of normal sexual development in teens.

Like virtually any controversial subject, however, there are two sides to this argument. Here is the first one:

In the journal Pediatrics, research found that thus far there is a total failure for anyone to prove a link between sexting and any sort of risky sexual behavior. There is also no link yet between sexting and diminished mental health. This was all part of a study that polled over one thousand high school students, and was conducted by researchers at the University of Texas.

Now that you have the "sexting is normal" side of the argument. Here is the counter-debate:

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Selfies Gone Wrong: 5 People Who Died Taking Selfies

By Tim Woda on November 6, 2014 at 10:31 AM

You would be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t become privy to the selfie epidemic that has seized pop culture. Everyone from President Obama to Pope Francis has participated in the trend. The self-portrait photograph has become a staple of social media. With 91% of teens estimated to have posted a photo of themselves online, it's likely that your own teen or tween has contributed to the craze!

While the selfie trend is innocent enough for the most part, there are a few potential risks associated with taking selfies. Although it may seem surprising, there have been various world-wide reports of selfie-related accidents that have resulted in serious injuries or, in some cases, deaths. 

Here’s a list of people who have tragically died from accidents and events involving selfies.

    1. A couple visiting Portugal sadly fell to their deaths while trying to take a selfie with their kids on the edge of the Cabo da Roca beachside cliff. Authorities are continuing to investigate the incident, but suspect that the deaths happened directly resulting from the couple taking the selfie.

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3 Fantastic Reading Apps that Integrate Screen Time With Learning Time

By Tim Woda on November 5, 2014 at 6:22 PM

It's often a struggle for kids and parents to strike a nice balance between screen time and learning time. Okay, a struggle is putting it lightly. It's more like a battle, war, or holy crusade even! Regardless of personality, disposition, or intelligence level, kids want their screen time. Conversely, parents want their kids to be active, independent, and spend time reading or learning

Our advice: Stop the insanity, declare peace, and integrate screen time with learning instead. Laptops, tablets, and smartphones can actually be used for far more than just Angry Birds, YouTube, and Facebook. In fact, you can make excellent use of any of these devices to help your child cultivate a potentially lifelong love of reading.

These devices are actually great tools in this learning endeavor. Apple's App Store and the Google Marketplace are loaded with opportunities to encourage this task. Here are three of the best reading apps available for kids:

  • Learn with Homer: Reading and Educational GamesD'oh! No, not that Homer. It's actually an app from a company called HomerLearning, Inc., and it's drawn rave reviews from such noteworthy critics as the New York Times as well as many parents. The website boasts that just ten minutes a day can result in increased confidence and academic success. It's designed for kids from pre-k to first grade, and contains literally (pardon the pun) hundreds of hours of lessons designed specifically by literacy experts.

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Study Suggests More Family Dinners to Combat Cyberbullying

By Tim Woda on October 24, 2014 at 2:36 PM

The Huffington Post reported on a recent study on cyberbullying that was conducted by the Institute for Health and Social Policy at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. One of the conclusions of the study was that regular family dinners, where children can communicate with their parents, is a key to raising awareness of instances of cyberbullying. By being able to be open about how they are being cyberbullied, children can help their parents take action to shield them from the harmful consequences.

The study was based on survey data that was garnered from 18,000 students in 49 schools in Wisconsin. It found that one in five of the respondents had been cyberbullied at least once during the past year.

Family dinners were singled out in the report because they are the most common occasion when children and parents have face to face communication with one another. But the communication can happen in other situations, such as car trips.

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"It Can Wait" Calls for New Etiquette to Avoid Texting & Driving

By Steven Woda on October 21, 2014 at 2:39 PM

None of us mean to get into situations where we are texting and driving. We want to set a good example for our kids and keep the roads safe for drivers and pedestrians by making driving the top priority. When splitting the focus between driving and carrying out a conversation through text messaging, safety for everyone on the road decreases drastically.

Distracted driving, the umbrella category for texting and driving, is a behavior that is particularly prevalent among the teen demographic. In 2012, 3,328 people were killed in distracted-related crashes. 11% of those killed were under the age of 20. Additionally, one out of five young drivers thinks that texting makes no difference to their driving.

That's why AT&T, one of the leading cellular carriers, has started a campaign to try to curb the urge to text and drive. Their campaign is called, "It Can Wait" and it tries to teach the general public that no text conversation is more important than keeping yourself and others safe while you are driving.

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Snapchat Breach: Sexting Through Apps Is Still a Risky Practice

By Steven Woda on October 20, 2014 at 6:57 PM

In some instances, cell phones offer parents a lot of peace of mind. When your teenager has a cell phone, you know you can get ahold of them and that they have a resource to turn to if danger arises. In this regard, cell phones offer security to today's parents that previous generations of parents would have loved.

However, teenagers can also use their phones to get into trouble, embarrass themselves or even put themselves at risk. As a parent, you have probably already talked to your children about the kind of information they should and shouldn't put online, but sexting through apps has become such a trend in youth, as many believe that these apps are guarding their privacy.  

We have all heard about the dangers of the popular teen app Snapchat, which is an app that allows users to send a picture of short video that allegedly automatically disappears within seconds. With Snapchat, recipients of photos or videos can still screen shot and save images from a Snap. The app is widely believed to be used as an app for sexting, even amongst younger users. 

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