Be the Child On Children’s Day – Try Out Role Reversal To Build Better Bonds With Your Kids

November 14th is a day children in India keenly look forward to. Schools and neighbourhoods gear up to make the day a memorable one for the children; TV channels run continuous children’s special serials and movies and there is no pressure at home to study.

At the Facebook Safety Summit panel discussion, where I recently participated, a lady from the audience expressed her inability to understand her teen. They seemed to be living in different dimensions! I suggested she work with him to help her become tech-savvy.

One Teacher’s Day program that was a great hit in my school was when teachers pretended to be a students and presented a farce. The children just loved it! Why can’t we do this at home sometimes?

There will always be situations when children would need to be reminded of their boundaries and you need to put on your parent-mantle and say, “Because I said so!” Parents need to be both firm and loving. But what if you are in uncharted territories like the digital world? Where your knowledge of the latest social media developments is limited compared to that of your children? How can you establish yourself as an authority your children will respect, obey and turn to for guidance if you are not a digital literate? Who will you turn to for cyber surfing tips?

Your children.

Yes, you heard that right. Turn the table around and be the student for a change. Let your kids teach you about the digital world. You can encourage them by asking about security, privacy, cyberbullying, fake news, risky games and other topics that concern you. Check out how they download apps. Be prepared for some amazing conversations and insights into their digital hygiene awareness. You will know whether they are mature enough to handle tricky situations. If you buy a new device, consult them on securing it and activating 2-factor authentication.

Benefits of digital role reversals

  1. Set an example: Children learn a lot by observing their parents. So, if you don’t hesitate to ask them when in doubt, they wouldn’t either. Also, if parents practice digital balance, kids will usually follow suit.
  2. Promote mutual understanding, trust and respect: Commend your kids when they share valuable tips. Your words would act like an instant confidence booster and make them feel all grown-up and responsible.
  3. Extend real life education to cover the digital one: You can establish this during your conversations about how you think real world lifeskill lessons apply to the virtual space. Talk about peer pressure, good manners, diplomacy, etiquette, etc. to drive home the point.
  4. Better understanding of child’s digital world: Think about all that you can learn! You have first-hand knowledge of the apps they use and can later Google them to learn more about associated risks, if any. You get an idea about what’s trending, the new online threats and also what interests your kids and how they spend time online.
  5. Opportunity to test their cyber security awareness: Dig deep to get to know how kids secure their accounts and the content they create. Also, have a detailed chat about the merits of using licensed security tools vis-à-vis a free basic one. This lesson will last them a lifetime and ensure their online safety so spend time on this on a regular basis.

This Children’s Day, try out a bit of role reversal and pick up tips on being a savvy digital citizen from your kids. Not only will they feel proud of helping you become a smart device user, you also get to understand how they view digital media, online friendship, cyber safety and data privacy. With one stroke, you will both empower your kids and also strengthen your bonds with them. You are without doubt, your children’s best teacher and well-wisher. So, with their interest in heart, be the kid sometime.

Happy Children’s Day to all your precious angels.

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Light a Lamp This Diwali To Dispel the Darkness of Digital Literacy

One of my favourite Indian festivals is Diwali and I have a sneaky feeling I may have mentioned this a few times earlier too. There is so much of positivity attached to this festival- say the word Diwali, or Deepawali, and smiles will light up the faces of people, just like diyas light up houses and courtyards. The excitement the term Diwali will conjure up will be as crackling as the ‘green’ firecrackers kids have already kept ready to burst after the evening prayers.

“So how does Diwali remind you of Digital Literacy?” asked my son, as he peered over my shoulders and looked into my laptop.

“Everything reminds me of digital literacy, but Diwali more so because just like we light lamps of joy to dispel the darkness of evil and sorrow, similarly we can light lamps of knowledge or ‘gyana’ to dispel the darkness of ignorance or ‘agyana’.

Parents often ask me how to start a talk on digital habits with children, how to help them turn out to be good digital citizens and so on. Actually, it’s pretty easy to start a talk and if you are worried that you are not tech-savvy enough to teach your child about digital habits, do not worry. All you need to do is continue teaching the values you teach in real life. They apply to the online world too!

Take for example, language and manners. Think back on the ways you taught your child to greet others, talk civilly and keep their cool when the situation becomes aggressive. Now add the following to your lesson – ‘when online, remember the other person can’t see you so, will not be able to decipher your body language. Hence, it’s become even more important to take care of what you say online’.

You can also teach your kids to stand up against bullies and never bully others. How? Try the age-old dictum, “treat others as you want them to treat you.” Encourage them to share their problems with you and guide them on how to tackle bullies. If you find they are participating in cyberbullying, sit them down and talk to them, just like you would if they behaved badly offline. Find out the cause of their unpleasant behavior and help them resolve issues, if any.

A very important thing to teach kids, and adults alike, is to protect their devices. Use the lock-and-key concept to explain the need for securing devices and accounts with strong passwords and 2-Factor-Authentication. You may even get your child to help them secure their devices with branded security tools. This will definitely make your child feel important, and most importantly, responsible. A responsible child uses digital tools wisely.

Stretch your reach and help your friends and relatives learn how to use parental control tools to protect and monitor their young one’s online activities. If you check your security icon on the computer or laptop, you will be able to access parental controls and learn, through some easy-to-do steps, how to set it up.

Another way to make this Diwali count is to increase the scope of joy that you usually share – bring someone you know into the digital safety circuit. Gift them online security software and shield them from online threats.

Do share your family bonding pics during Diwali—tell us how you made Diwali in your family more meaningful this year.

Happy Diwali folks!

The Importance of Security Awareness in Our Connected Lifestyle

Not very long ago, people could be seen walking around waving their mobile phones in the air, looking for a network connection. Today, we are talking 5G! Our kids just can’t imagine a world without gadgets and internet! Little kids as young as four can turn on and instruct Alexa, search for new games on smartphones and talk to digital devices.

Moving Toward an Increasingly Connected Lifestyle

Ours is a connected world and we are constantly connected to the internet- be it through our smartphones, digital assistants, gaming and reading devices, laptops, wearable devices, remote monitoring devices like CCTV and many more. While this leads to time saving, higher efficiency, and greater comfort, there are a few safety checks, which if ignored, may lead to data and ID thefts.

I was recently reading an article on the 5G revolution. South Korea, I believe, already enjoys phenomenal browsing and download speeds, and so will rest of the world very soon. It will also hopefully reduce lags and connectivity disruptions that we currently experience. More IoT (Internet of Things) devices will come into play and home Wi-Fi routers will have a larger count of devices connected to it. Needless to say, this calls for ensuring maximum security for the router as well as all our devices.

Moreover, we often use public Wi-Fi connections to browse; which expose us to possible cyber attacks. Often, something as innocuous as using external storage devices or delaying the installation of updates can lead to malware entering the device system. What happens if cyber attackers worm into our systems? They can spy on us, regulate our smart devices, and even listen in on our baby monitor, to name a few.

As many countries observe October as Cybersecurity Month, it is the right time to have a discussion on how we can keep our connected homes safe.

Let’s discuss some of the common causes that can lead to device hacking:

  • Software updating not done: Security companies and your OS vendors keep sending patches to give cover for latest viruses and thus enhance protection against cyberattacks. Delay in patch installation exposes our device to attacks. It is therefore advisable to set updates to automatic.
  • Increasing use of IoT devices: Our smartwatch or smartphone, digital assistants or digital toys are all connected to Wi-Fi. This offers cyber criminals a bigger hunting ground. They try to find and exploit vulnerabilities in these devices
  • Outdated security: Despite being aware of safety issues related to not securing devices with licensed comprehensive software, we often neglect this very important step. At best, we download and use free security tools which may not offer cover against more sophisticated attacks.
  • Carelessness of users: But the security chain also includes us, the users. We may click on malicious links or download infected files. We may also visit unsafe websites, making it easy for cyber criminals to target us

How to use smart devices safely:

  • Use unique, complex passphrases: Strong passphrases (not passwords you will notice) will go a long way in keeping hackers at bay. If the thought of remembering several passphrases daunts you, go for a password manager
  • Set up autolock: Set up autolock and PIN protect your devices. Modern devices offer biometric locks as well. Make use of them
  • Keep auto update turned on: This way your OS and security tool would always receive patches and updates on time and you will receive maximum protection
  • Check security settings before buying IoT devices: Before buying any connected toy or device, research the manufacturer to find out if they give security top priority. Check out the security they offer and change default passcodes. Also, do read the terms and conditions to know how the vendor plans to secure your data
  • Secure your home Wi-Fi router: As this will be the point for connecting with the net, this device needs to be secured with a strong passphrase. It’s a good idea to change the passphrase from time to time. Keep an eye on data consumption too
  • Install and run licensed comprehensive security software: Don’t go for free, your devices and your personal data are at stake here. Instead, use a comprehensive security solutionto protect your technology
  • Be aware: Awareness pays. If you know of the latest threats doing the round, you would take necessary precautions and share your knowledge with friends and family accordingly

We can do it, can’t we? A few simple measures help secure our digital lives and allow us to take full advantage of what tech has to offer. Let us be ready to welcome 5G in our lives.

Stay safe, stay secure!

Digital Literacy Decoded – Time to Reprise Our Roles as Digital Citizens

Celebrated every year on September 8, this year’s theme for International Literacy Day focused on “Literacy and Skills Development.” And this made me instantly think of digital literacy and why we need to push digital skill development among the populace. It does not take much time to move from pen and paper to keyboard and screen. After all, low-cost smartphones, wide penetration of the internet and cheap data have made it possible for even the less-educated to join the digital world.

I think we all will benefit from a refresher on digital literacy- what it means, what it entails and what are the requisite skills. Let’s start by understanding the term “digital literacy.”

What is digital literacy?

Literacy, stated simply, means the ability to read and write. Digital literacy goes a step ahead and encompasses a variety of skills necessary to be part of the digital world. So basically, a digital literate can use devices to communicate, transact, create, research and/or evaluate content and network with other digital citizens.

If we break it down further, to simplify matters, we can say that a digital literate is one who:

  • Can operate a device: Use an internet-enabled device, understand and use the different functions, know how to secure the device and importance of security tools
  • Has basic computer literacy: Can search the web, book an app cab; buy or sell things online; use the digital medium for work, entertainment, education or to create awareness
  • Knows how to search for and create content: Uses devices to research, evaluate and compare data and also to create and share content
  • Communicates via social media: Understands and uses various social media platforms for purposes ranging from education, entertainment, collaborations to networking
  • Is aware of online threats and knows safe surfing habits: Stays aware of the digital environment and takes basic precautions when online

We all know why digital literacy has become such an important aspect of modern life. Technological advancement and increasing use of machine learning, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT) has made it necessary for all to join the digital literacy bandwagon to understand how things work, communicate correctly, and know how to stay safe online.

Blackboards in schools are already a thing of the past with digital boards making their way into classrooms. Children do not need to go to the library to work on their projects, they simply ‘Google’ for the information. Teachers use available resources to make learning interesting and long-lasting. Children are also using apps to learn at their own pace and subjects customized to suit their interest. Homework assignments are more likely to be found in the WhatsApp messages from school than in school diaries. Digital literacy helps children to know how to select safe search sites, separate truth from falsity, be aware of the latest malware and phishing strategies and the need to avoid strangers and aggressive people online. They will also be adept at taking the right actions if they face negative behavior online.

Children are also on social media, using a plethora of devices. A digital literate would understand the implications of online actions and the probable consequences. They would also be well-versed in cyber etiquette, cyber ethics and cyber hygiene. Not only would they be moderate in their comments and posts, they would also show more diplomacy and empathy online. Importantly, they would know how to handle negative behavior like cyberbullying and trolling.

At home and work, we use a number of IoT devices. Hackers can break into these to steal our data or send us ransomware. Digital literacy arms us with the right skills to secure our online presence and keep our dear ones and our data safe.

As a parent your first question is likely to be- OK, so what are the skills that my child needs to have to be called a digital literate?

As you prepare your little tykes to become responsible digital citizens and take ownership of their online lives, do remember to reinforce time and again, the need for installing and running licensed security software like McAfee LiveSafe and McAfee Total in all their devices. Discuss and list the different ways the security tools help users to stay safe online and why skipping this step can lead to problems later.

Cheers to all you digital citizens. Ciao!

Salute to Teachers – The Architects of Tomorrow’s Digital India

The digital whiteboards have long replaced the squeaky blackboards, while emails and text messages are replacing messages pinned on the display boards in the corridors. Today, many schools have a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, making notebooks redundant. The education pattern is itself changing from general rote learning for all to the ‘Discovery’ methods. Children are encouraged to participate in  group activities, brainstorming etc. to make learning easier, more interesting and long-lasting. As the academic system is being revolutionized by technology, the teachers, who have the task of making tech work in schools, are working hard to adapt to the changing scenario.

Technology offers an enormous range of possibilities within the confines of the same old classroom, and teachers now have greater access to reading material on the internet to do fact checks, organize presentations, get students to prepare slide shows or study at their own pace – something that was not possible even a decade ago, when I was a full-time teacher.

I feel so excited therefore when educationists talk about new strategies and concepts to enable wholesome learning and development. What’s more wonderful is that parents too, are getting to be a constant part of their child’s daily activities in schools, thanks to videos and emails. Further, the internet has made the world a global village and teachers are smartly making the most of it. Tweet chats and dedicated discussion platforms on education have allowed teachers to share findings and learn from each other. Such forums allow teachers to stay abreast of new digital learning tools and ensure that their students are making the most of what tech has to offer. After all, only an aware teacher can impart the right knowledge to our digital children.

Therefore, it’s a win-win situation for both teachers and students, leading to vastly improved academic environment and global outlook in students.

If anyone argues (and we used to write essays on this in school) would robots replace teachers in the near future or are teachers becoming irrelevant, then my answer is an emphatic “NO” and I will tell you why.

Why do students need human teachers in the digital age?

  • The human touch and attention
  • To instill the right values and cyber etiquette
  • To teach discipline and responsibility
  • Offer the right guidance on web surfing in the age of fake profiles and fake news
  • Guidance on searching for information online

It’s not an easy task. If you examine what being a teacher in the digital age entails, here are some of the skills they need to have.

Digital Age teachers should be able to:

  • Bring about required changes to move towards digitalization of education
  • Think critically or think out of the box and encourage this trait in children too
  • Stay updated with the latest tech developments and familiarize themselves with current trends to be able to establish classroom order
  • Help students select the right digital tools and use them responsibly
  • Teach kids to safeguard their devices and their online environment
  • Understand digital literacy and teach kids digital etiquette and digital hygiene
  • Use social media effectively to connect with other educationists, parents and children
  • Assist parents to become tech-savvy and cybersafety aware

Three things that every teacher needs to tackle in school:

  • Cyberbullying: Classroom bullying has gone online. It has become quite rampant- ranging from the harmless leg-pulling to serious threats and abuse. Teachers need to keep an eagle eye out for such activities, educate children on future consequences and organize peer support groups for victims of bullying so that children can learn how to deal with bullies.
  • Online dares and risky challenges: Teens especially are attracted by such competitive tasks where they can prove themselves and earn peer approval. Children need to be educated early on about the associated risks so that know where to draw the line.
  • Oversharing: Children need constant guidance on what and how much to share for they lack the foresight to think of future consequences.

Sanitization and security of the digital world of children are of paramount interest and teachers are best placed to guide them on this. This includes using only those devices that have running licensed security tools like McAfee Total Protection, using strong passphrases or better still, password managers, and being mindful of their digital actions.

Teachers are truly the nation builders; they are moulding the future digital age citizens with the right knowledge and guidance. It’s a tough task, but they do it with elegance and a smile. Wishing all you teachers a very Happy Teacher’s Day, may your tribe flourish.

McAfee Survey: Parents Share Pictures of Their Kids Online, Despite Understanding the Risks Involved

As Birbal had once pointed out to Akbar, “There is only one pretty child in this world and every mother has it.” Never has there been such a strong urge to prove this than in the digital age. Parents are making full use of their social media platforms to keep their friends and family updated with the latest happenings in their precious one’s lives. However, are they compromising their children’s privacy and security to satisfy their pride?

The Age of Consent Survey commissioned by McAfee brings to light some interesting facts in India, regarding parental habits of sharing their children’s photos online.

  • Parents are aware of the risks of posting images of their children on social media, but the majority are doing it anyway, often without their children’s consent
  • 76% of parents say they have considered the images of their children they post online could end up in the wrong hands
  • 61.6% of parents believe they have the right to share an image of their child on social media without their consent

Parents Ignoring the Risks?

The McAfee survey reveals that parents are not giving enough consideration to what they post online and how it could affect their children. There are two kinds of risks involved:

  1. Physical risks: Pictures can be misused to create fake identities, groom victims and morphed and used inappropriately by paedophiles
  2. Emotional risks: They may cause children worry and anxiety if they fear that the photos may be used to shame or cyberbully them

While parents are aware and concerned about the physical risks associated with posting pictures online, they are less concerned about the emotional risks. The survey reveals that moms consider the embarrassing side effect more than dads, with 45% of dads assuming their children will get over any embarrassing content compared to just 14% of moms. But it is important to consider the emotional effects on kids as they will tend to shape his/her character and future.

How do Men and Women Compare When It Comes to Sharing Pictures?

Most men and women post photos of their children only on private social media accounts, indicating they are aware of the risks. While identity theft worries men more, women are more worried about image morphing.  In addition, women are more restrained about sharing pictures of kids under 2 without clothes over social media in comparison to men. But, unfortunately, neither is much concerned about paedophilia. This needs to change! You have to put the ‘stranger-danger’ policy in action well before you start teaching your kids that.

Mumbai Parents Lead in Sharing

Mumbai parents, ahoy! You are tech-savvy no doubt and leave Delhi and Bengaluru way behind when it comes to sharing of kid’s photos online. Though Metro city parents are aware that children may be embarrassed by some of the photos posted and consider photoshopping or morphing of pics as a major potential risk, they still go ahead and share. Whoa! Go easy and THINK well before hitting the ‘SHARE’ button parents; it’s your children we are talking about.

Some Salient India-Specific Findings from The Survey

  • 5% of parents post an image of their child on social media at least once a day
  • 79% share images on public social media accounts
  • 39% of parents don’t consult with their children before posting images of them on social media
  • 98% of parents have considered that the images they post of their child on social media may be embarrassing/be something they wouldn’t want posted, but do it anyway
  • 6% of parents have/would share an image of their child in their school uniform on social media
  • 6% of parents believe they have the right to share an image of their child on social media without their consent
  • The average age parents believe they should begin asking their child for consent to post a photo of them on social media is 10, interestingly, the age of responsibility in India is 7

Tips for Safe Sharing of Children’s pics

  • THINK.POST: Always think twice before uploading pictures of your child. Will it prove risky or embarrassing for the child later in life? If yes, or in doubt, postpone sharing.
  • Disable geo-tagging. Many social networks will tag a user’s location when a photo is uploaded. Parents should ensure this feature is turned off to avoid disclosing their location. This is especially important when posting photos away from home.
  • Maximise privacy settings on social media: Parents should only share photos and other social media posts with their intended audience.
  • Let family, friends know your views on posting images and tagging: This will help prevent future embarrassments. Return the favour.
  • Use an identity theft protection service: The amount of personal data shared online, and the rise in data breach, together escalate the possibility of identity theft. It’s recommended that you use an identity theft protection solution like McAfee Identity Theft Protection to proactively protect your identity and keep your personal data safe from misuse.

Parents, put aside your pride in your child and review the future implications of posting their pictures online. As parents, it’s your responsibility to understand the effects of your social media actions on your child. A few general photographs shared privately may be OK, but it is advisable NOT to turn your social media page into your child’s digital record page. Let your child start his/her digital journey on a clean slate.

Are You a Screen-Obsessed Mom?

The modern mom is super-efficient; she manages the home, her profession, family, and a hundred other things efficiently day in, day out. But in recent times, something is playing a spoilsport in this perfect scenario in some cases; and that’s her device.

My friend was nostalgic at a party about how she missed her son’s spectacular goal at an inter-school competition even though she had taken a day off for this very reason. “I was checking my emails,” she wailed.

Something similar happened to me too last week!” remarked another. “I was checking my WhatsApp messages while awaiting our turn at the PT meeting in my daughter’s school, when her class teacher gently told me to keep the phone on silent mode. My daughter was so embarrassed and so angry she didn’t speak to me for two straight days!”

I accidentally put the dishes in the washing machine one day, engrossed as I was in viewing the Instagram pics!” confessed another of our always-distracted friend.

Perhaps you have also been called out for paying more attention to the phone, or for proving to be boring company as you preferred your phone to conversation at the restaurant or at a party? If yes, you definitely need to check your level of digital obsession.

 Are you screen-obsessed?

  1. Do you frequently check your phone for messages?
  2. Do you get agitated if your phone is not working?
  3. Do you prefer your phone now to your previous passions like reading, gardening or music?
  4. Do you feel distracted while talking to your kids or family?
  5. Do you check your messages the first thing every morning?
  6. Is your sleep cycle disturbed because you stay up late socializing online?

If the number of ‘yes’ is 3 or more, it might mean that you are finding it tough to balance your digital life. You tend to give your device a higher priority in your life, sometimes at the cost of real relationships. Time to do a reality check Moms, because your social media obsession can have consequences.

Firstly, you need to keep in mind that children are good at picking up unspoken cues. Your phone obsession will tell them you are more interested in your virtual life than in them. They will feel neglected and look for approval elsewhere. While younger kids tend to hide devices, older ones may isolate themselves from you and you definitely don’t want that.

Children may also feel embarrassed by your general digital habits including oversharing, sharing of embarrassing baby pics of them or being distracted during conversations and tiffs may arise, affecting the  general happiness of the family.

With hands busy on the smartphone, will it be possible for you to impart that very essential physical touch – the hug, the squeeze and the hand-holding when kids feel low? I think not. Neither will you be able to share their fun moments, even cartoons, and create teaching points for them, for your screen will be monopolizing your attention.

Don’t distance yourself from your child. You are the adult, and you can identify your issues and change yourself. It’s not too late, start making changes in your digital habits today! Remember, besides mothering your kids, you also need to guide them to follow good digital practices.

Be the digital wellness role model for your kids:

  • You want your kids to practice digital balance? You show them the way – limit your time online and know when to keep the phone away
  • Your kids will be picking up social behavior clues from you so show them how to be a responsible device user – keep the phone on silent mode when in company and avoid looking at it when having a one-to-one conversation
  • Fix ‘No Device Hours’ and ‘Device Free’ dinner time rules so that then entire family get to chat and share
  • Devices away at night- Have a basket in which each member will deposit their phone before turning in for the night. Go back to ending the day with cuddles and story-telling; everyone will sleep with a smile on their faces
  • Turn off message alerts and notifications- The pressure to check for messages will automatically decrease and you will experience reduced stress, trust me

We are worried about the effect of the virtual life in our children’s life but adults too are falling prey to the attractions offered by technology, especially the internet. Instead of engaging with family, grownups are often engaging with their devices, setting a bad example for kids. As parents, we need to take definitive steps to control our screen obsession and balance our digital lives.

After all, we want to set the right examples for our kids, right?

Focus on Real Friends This Friendship Day

I walked into my niece’s room and found her busy making colourful bands.

“What are these for?” I asked.

“Friendship Day is coming up and this year I have decided to make my own bands to give to my friends. Got to finish making them all today.”

“That’s lovely,” and then as a thought struck me, I added, “Are you making them for your friends online?”

“No!!! What a question! How do you think I would give these to them? Virtually? These bands only for real friends.”

Happy as I was to hear that, I couldn’t help adding a parting shot, “Really? Then why do you share so much about yourself with these virtual friends?”

We spent the next few minutes thinking about friends and friendship.

The charm of school and college life lies in friends- the better the group of friends you have the more enjoyable your student life is. Such friendships stand the test of time and can be revived even after years of separation.

If adults can be duped, then aren’t the highly impressionable teens also at risk? Even tech-savvy kids tend to be duped by fake profiles so the smart parenting thing to do is to create awareness beforehand.

Friendship Day is the perfect time to initiate a discussion with your kids on how to establish if online friends are actual people. Start by administering this quiz on real vs. online friends:

Who are your real friends? (Check the boxes that apply):

  • You know them well in person
  • Your parents know them too, and approve of them
  • You are most probably studying in the same school or college
  • You live in the same apartment block or neighborhood
  • You have shared interests and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses
  • You have been to each another’s house
  • You know they will accept you the way you are and never embarrass you in public
  • You trust them

Then, ask them to tick the boxes that apply for their virtual friends and follow it up with a discussion.

Takeaway: The online world holds infinite promises and possibilities but they can be realized only when the user is judicious and careful. In the early years of adolescence, it’s better to keep virtual friends limited to known people.

 Next in line is to find ways to identify fake profiles and learn to block and report:

Teach kids to identify fake profiles online:

  • Profile – Profile pictures is very attractive but there are rarely any family, group pictures
  • Name- The name sounds weird or is misspelled
  • Bio – The personal details are sketchy
  • Friend list – Have no common friends
  • Posts – The posts and choice of videos make you feel uncomfortable or are clearly spams
  • Verification – A Google search throws up random names for profile pic

Show kids how to block and report fake profiles:

  • Save: If you had erroneously befriended a suspicious person, no worries. Keep records of all conversations by taking screen shots, or copy + pasting or through a print screen command
  • Unfriend: Remove the user from your friend list
  • Block: Prevent the person from harassing you with friend requests in future by using the blocking function
  • Flag: Report suspicious profiles to the social media site to help them check and remove such profiles and maintain the hygiene of the platform

Share digital safety tips:

  1. Practice STOP. THINK. CONNECT. -Do not be in a hurry to hike friend count and choose your friends wisely
  2. Share with care: Be a miser when it comes to sharing personal details like name, pictures, travel and contact details online. The less shared, the better it is for the child
  3. Review privacy and security: Check all your posts periodically and delete those you don’t like. Maximize account security and keep privacy at max

Finally, share this message with your kids.

On Friendship Day, pledge to be a good friend to your real friends and limit your online friends to those you know well in real life. Secure your online world by using security tools on your devices and acting judiciously online. If you act responsibly online, you not only make your digital world safer but also help to secure the digital worlds of your friends. That’s the sign of an ideal digital citizen.

Handling Social Media Stress – Pointers to Share with Your Teens

The lion’s share of modern day communication happens online and for that, thanks to the hundreds of apps available. Whether it is news or videos, blogging or education, social media or gaming, entertainment or social movements – a lot is happening online, all the time.

In fact, social media apps have become the new ‘hangout’ zones for virtual citizens. After all, we live in a connected world and enjoy being online. But that may not be always good for tweens and teens as they are still too young to process all the information download happening. This may lead to stress.

Stress is not uncommon in our physical lives. We get stressed by our education, career, relationships and the environment. The same happens in the digital world. In the physical world, our responses to stress are primarily venting, having face-to-face spats or ignoring the issue. Not so in the digital world. In the virtual space, stress may arise from different causes and the repercussions may take on a viral form.

Why do children get stressed by social media? The common causes are:

  • Peer pressure: THE most important reason for children being online is to connect with their friends. And to keep this friendship alive and kicking, they often blindly copy the group leaders, even if they are not comfortable with what they are doing
  • FOMO (Fear of Missing Out): Teens, especially girls, have a competitive spirit when it comes to online presence and don’t want to be ‘the last to know’ so, they end up spending a lot of time online
  • Keeping up with the Jones’: The same competitive spirit leads kids to spend hours posing and selecting the perfect pics to share online or seek approval from strangers. This is risky, as negative comments online can harm self-confidence
  • Excessive sharing: When kids share a lot of their private information on social media, they leave themselves vulnerable to hacking, as well as opening themselves up to contact from inappropriate individuals online
  • Cyberbullying: Most kids have witnessed or experienced some forms of cyberbullying and often end up as either perpetrators or victims or mute spectators. In all cases, this is a disturbing occurrence
  • Lack of screen time limits: Lack of digital balance can have psychological effects and so digital usage rules are a must
  • Lack of empathy: When children are not taught to respect others and their traditions, they do not develop empathy and may end up bullying those with differing views and lifestyles
  • Exposure to inappropriate content or people: The wrong connections and information are a big source of stress
  • Online spats: Differences crop up, leading to squabbles and heated exchanges. It gets complex when this is done in a public forum and strangers join in
  • Disturbing global news: The slew of violent news often creates negative tension in the minds of youngsters, leaving them feeling confused and belligerent

Parenting plays a major role in helping children learn how to tackle social media stress.  As parents, you know your children the best. Yes, even teens.

Observe them and if you note any change in their social media habits or general behaviour, talk to them. The earlier you start having frank one-to-one conversations, the easier will it be for you later. But before that, you may need to modify your own response to stress and learn to control your reactions. That way you will teach them a very important lesson without having to use a single word.

Help your kids fight social media stress:

  • Accept differences: People are different and will have different opinions. Accept the differences and respect their values
  • Be discerning: Life isn’t a bed of roses for anyone, so don’t let profiles fool you. Don’t judge someone by their bio and pictures
  • Practice tact: When things get bitter, the decent thing to do is to agree to disagree and walk away. If you don’t react, it doesn’t mean you are the weak one; it means you are smart enough not to get provoked. However, if the meanness gets out of hand, be the strong one and report and block account
  • Practice digital balance: Limit screen time and have good friends in the real world who will always stand by you
  • Be aware: The world will have both good and bad and growing up means learning to understand and accept this. Maturity is being able to stay true to values. Wisdom is knowing which is bad and avoiding it

Say goodbye to stress and lead a healthier and happier life online. Apply your values from your physical life in the digital one and practice STOP.THINK. CONNECT. And don’t forget! Use McAfee Total Protection on all connected devices to protect what you value the most.

Are third party apps for you?

What are third party apps?” asked my mother with a frown.

Wow Gran! You are becoming pretty cyber-savvy!” commented my incorrigible offspring and added, “Wherever did you come across it?

Why, your Mom shared a post on Facebook about being cautious while using third party apps. I have been searching for a while but can’t find one. So, what are they and how do I delete them?” The last part was evidently directed at me.

I’m secretly proud of my social media savvy Mom, who has amazingly knit the extended family together by tirelessly searching for long-lost relatives and adding them to family groups and keeping the conversation alive with her daily quips and queries. So, her question jolted me awake to the fact that there are many out there in the digital world who do not have a clear idea about risky apps and how to avoid them. An explanation was definitely in order.

What are third party apps?

The apps in your devices are either developed by the OS provider or the device maker and are called native apps. These abide by the strict rules set by the vendors regarding security, quality, authenticity etc. But there are many apps that are created by developers other than these. Some of these apps are available on official app stores and as they adhere to the rules of legitimacy, security and quality set by the app stores, they are comparatively less risky.

Side-loaded apps are those whose developer/source are unknown. The developers have more freedom; they can develop free or ‘cracked’ software (like OS, movies etc.) and gain faster market reach. Some users too like to access third party apps to maintain anonymity and privacy. These include apps that let you watch movies for free or get the latest OS without paying a penny.

Some third party apps are not directly downloaded but are connected to other services or apps (like photo editing apps). These too, are risky as they have access to sensitive information through the main service or app. Think about all the apps you have given permission via Facebook to access your info and you will get it!

Why are they risky?

As the developers of third party apps are not under the control of the OS owners, they can have lower security levels. This enables advertisers and hackers to insert malicious codes within the app.

Also, to install such apps, the users have to enable “unknown sources” in the device security settings. If it’s an iOS device, it has to be jailbroken to allow the installation of third party apps. Thus making the device vulnerable to attacks.

How to check app authenticity?

  • Check the developer and source- If they are not from your OS or device vendors, they are likely to be third party apps
  • Analyze permissions sought- If the apps seek permission to access several files unnecessarily, ring the warning bells! E.g.; Why would a weather app require access to your contact list?
  • Read reviews and download stats: Go through user reviews and see the rating it has received and issues with it. A quick check of the download count will also offer a clearer picture

How to disable apps on your device?

On your Android phone: Select – settings > device > Apps > All. The default or native apps have been installed by your device vendor. Scroll down and select those that you do not want to keep anymore, are  not in use, or consume a lot of space, data or need too many permissions. Then click on the “Disable” button.

On your desktop or laptop: Go to control panel > programs. Check all the installed programs. If they have valid developers like HP, Apple, Intel Corporation, Microsoft, McAfee etc.; then they are from your vendor or services you have purchased. Review programs or apps whose developer is either unknown or seems suspicious. Google them to know what they are used for. Your kids can be of great help as they are usually very knowledgeable about apps. My kids are my go-to people for all tech doubts.

On Social Media: Check account settings and delete apps that can access your account, if you don’t need them

Cybersafety tips:

  1. Check app security levels even if its available in a valid store
  2. Secure all devices with a licensed comprehensive security solution
  3. Do not forget to Secure all your internet connected devices – smartphones, tabs, PC, Macs and gaming devices as well
  4. Don’t give in to temptation and download apps and extensions to get free alternatives to paid apps
  5. Review app, permission required and developer source. When in doubt, don’t download!

It is very important that you and your family stay aware and updated about new apps in the market and related risks. Remember even bonafide app stores may have malicious apps.

Since device and data security are a priority, let’s be a little more be app-conscious!