For Kids, the Internet Can Be a Dark and Dangerous Place

Dear Mr. Dad: My 9-year old son is pretty computer savvy and my wife and I haven’t had much issue with letting him use the computer on his own. He likes to play games, visit a few sites, and read online comics. I’ve been hearing more and more about the threats on the Internet, and both my wife and I are becoming more concerned that we might be letting our son put himself in some dangerous situations without knowing it. What can we do to make sure he stays safe while he’s online?

A: You’re right to be worried. The Internet is filled with tons of information (some of which is actually accurate), and all sorts of things to improve our lives. But as hard as it is to imagine life without the Internet, we sometimes forget that it can be an incredibly dangerous place, home to any number of threats, from identity thieves to viruses and pedophiles. You wouldn’t let your child go outside alone without a firm understanding of basic safety rules (don’t talk to strangers, look both ways before you cross the street, etc.), right? So why would you let him go online without having similar boundaries in place?

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Parental Blind Spots Can Be Deadly

Dear Mr. Dad: There are a lot of news items these days about how little parents know about what their kids are up to. Take the Florida girl who committed suicide after being bullied. How could the parents of the bullies be so ignorant?

A: In previous columns, I’ve written about the strange phenomenon of parents not recognizing (or admitting) when their children are obese. That willful blindness makes it impossible for those kids to get the help they need. We’ve also talked about how most parents believe that their children are smarter than they actually are. Why are we so in the dark? I think it’s because we want to see only the best in our children—and we ignore anything that challenges our fantasies. Let me give you a few more examples:

  • Internet dangers. You’d think that with all the coverage of cyberbullied kids who commit suicide and others who use social media to post their intention to shoot up their school, parents would pay more attention to what their children are doing online. Sadly, the parents of those two Florida cyber-murderers (let’s be honest, that’s exactly what they are), are far from alone. A recent study published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication found that parents often have no ideas of what their kids are doing online until it’s too late. For example, while 30% of young people say they’d been cyberbullied, only 10% of parents said they were aware. And while 15% of children admitted that they were the ones actually doing the cyberbullying, fewer than 5% of parents knew.
  • Asthma medication. Most parents of young children who take inhaled asthma medication don’t know what to do to make sure their child takes the medication properly. There are 10 steps parents need to go through. In a recent study of 169 caregivers of children 2-9 who had been hospitalized for asthma and required ongoing asthma treatment, only one knew all of the steps. Out of those 10, five are considered essential, but only four caregivers knew those. Although asthma is quite common, it can be deadly when symptoms are severe enough. And not properly using asthma inhalers means that the child isn’t getting medication he or she needs.
  • Infants must sleep on their back. In 1994, the government’s “Back to Sleep” campaign announced that parents should put their babies to sleep on their back, not on their stomach as the previous conventional wisdom dictated. In the years since, the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) has dropped by more than 50%.However, more than a quarter of parents are still not putting their babies down on their back. According to Eve Colson, lead author of a recent study tracking baby sleep positions, “African Americans still lag behind caregivers of other races by about 20 percent in following this practice.” One of the most important predictors of whether caregivers will put babies down to sleep on their back is whether he or she got a recommendation from a doctor.
  • Pregnant women shouldn’t smoke. This one seems obvious, but a lot of women still haven’t gotten the message. Smoking during pregnancy has been shown to increase the pregnancy complications, risk of preterm delivery, smaller fetal and infant size, birth defects, and even infant death. Despite all that, the CDC estimates that the percentage of women who smoke during pregnancy has remained at about 13% for quite some time. The percentages vary greatly by state, ranging from a low of 5.1% in Utah and 6.8% in New Jersey, up to 19.7% in Tennessee and 28.7% in West Virginia. Unbelievable.

Here’s Looking at (and Listening to) You, Baby

Long gone are the days when mom and dad had to lie sleepless wondering whether they heard a cry or whimper from baby’s room down the hall. Today’s parents have a variety of technology to keep an eye—and an ear on baby from the next room or even from the office across town. For this column, we reviewed several Internet-enabled monitors, most of which work on private WIFI networks so there’s no fear of broadcasting your lives around the neighborhood to parents with similar devices. None of these monitors are cheap, but you’ll be able to get your money’s worth by using them as security monitors or nannycams after your baby gets older.

 

Peek Plus Internet Baby Monitor System

peek plus monitor parents@play

The Peek Plus has all the features you want. You can carry the included video monitor on your belt and watch it all over the. Or you can access video on your phone or Internet while Grandpa and Grandma (up to three viewers) see the same thing on a password-protected network. The only drawback here is the required bridge unit (included) that connects to your Ethernet network to make the WiFi work. This means another set of wires to deal with, though the bridge unit can be kept away from the camera. http://www.summerinfant.com

 

Withings Smart Baby Monitor

withings monitor parents@playA screenless monitor with a simple, clean design. The monitor itself looks like a white jewelry box that unfolds to reveal a simple 3MP lens. On the back, you’ll find just two plugs, Ethernet and mini-USB for recharging the battery. This is one of the few monitors that includes a bracket to attach the monitor on the side of a crib. It also plays lullabies and has a night light, two features that can both be controlled using the app from anywhere in the world. You can even take photos with the monitor with a 4X zoom and 90 degree pan that works with just a pinch or swipe of the finger. http://withings.com/en/babymonitor

 

Samsung SNH 1010 Smart Cam Monitor

samsung monitor parents@playThis is the monitor of choice for the social media-connected. It will send a tweet or email when there’s movement or sound from the baby’s room. It will also post motion- or sound-activated video and stills directly to YouTube and Picasa so you can quickly share with friends and the world. It runs on AC power and connects to the Internet via Ethernet or wirelessly. Up to 10 users can access the camera at the same time and an unlimited number of cameras can be added to the network. The SmartCam has night vision and even includes small speakers for two-way talk. http://www.samsung.com/us

 

IZON 2.0 WIFI Video Monitor

izon parents@playWe love the sleek look of the IZON, which has the look and feel of an Apple product and sets it apart from the rest of the crowd. This is a monitor for design lovers. It was easy to set up using a simple QR code that collects information on your local network. It was simple to use on our iPad and iPhone, and allows you to add multiple IZON cameras and view them at the same time. The IZON has motion and sound alerts, and can record up to 100 events for free to a designated cloud storage area. Sound and video are crisp, though not HD. However—and this is a big however—we can recommend the IZON only if your baby’s room always has a light on, since the monitor has neither LED nor infrared technology. http://steminnovation.com/

Cyberbullying: When Going Viral is Bad News

Dear Mr. Dad: My teenage daughter is often very upset and withdrawn after she uses her computer or checks her phone. And lately, she’s been refusing to go to school in the morning. She won’t talk to my husband or me about what’s going on. Could she be a victim of cyberbullying, and if so, is there anything we can do about it?

A: Humans have been bullying each other ever since we lived in caves, and students have been bullying each other ever since the first school was built. Bullying is so common that it’s almost impossible to find anyone who hasn’t witnessed it, been victimized, or done it.

Unfortunately, thanks to technology, bullies can now do their nasty work 24/7 and from anywhere in the world. Experts estimate that half of 6-12th graders have experienced cyberbullying at least once, and about a quarter of them experience it regularly. Worst of all, studies show that when bullying happens on line, people are more likely to join in—and less likely to do anything to stop it.

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What makes digital dads tick

Think you’re tech savvy–savvier than a 16-year old? How is technology helping–or hurting–your kids? Are you using technology to connect with other parents? See whether you’re a “digital dad” or just an “average Joe” in this very nicely put together infographic from Euro RSCG Worldwide.

Does your child really need a cell phone?

Dear Mr. Dad: My daughter turns ten next week and has made it known that she expects, needs, yearns for, and won’t be able to live without a cell phone. “Everybody has one,” she says. Is she too young? I’m not even sure I know what the issues are, but it seems like opening a huge can of worms.

A: When I was a kid, the rules about cell phones were simple. Oh wait, we didn’t have cell phones at all, which explains why you’re not up on the issues. So let’s start with a few advantages.

  • Cell phones allow you and your kids to stay in touch. The additional safety and security that this provides is—at least from your perspective—the greatest benefit. Your daughter can call if she needs you, and you can call her if you need to know where she is and what she’s doing.
  • Many parents (mostly those with children older than your daughter) use cell phones as a small-scale introduction to adult responsibilities—everything from paying the bill and staying within monthly minutes to keeping it charged.

At the same time, there are some potential downsides. Whether they outweigh the benefits is your call.

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