Archive for the ‘protecting kids online’ Category

Cybersecurity 101: Top Takeaways from Our Back to School Study

August 1st, 2017

The end of summer is almost here, which means both parents and their kids are starting to gear up for the new school year. Of course, the first homework assignment and first day outfits are top of mind, however, these teens will be thinking about their devices too — what devices they can bring to class, what they’ll post about school events, etc. But will they be thinking about what they need to do to keep these devices secure? To see how students approach device use and security in the classroom, we conducted a survey, Cybersecurity 101: Teens in the Classroom, of more than 3,900 high school students (9th-12th grade) around the world. Here are a few of our key takeaways: 

Students Are Devoted to Their Devices

Between social media and smart devices, kids are staying connected now more than ever before. And it looks like the use of these connected devices in the classroom is here to stay. 86% of students spend at least one hour per day using an internet-connected device during school hours for school-specific work. Technology has just become an everyday part of the classroom experience for students, as more than half (57%) of students spend three or more hours per day using a connected device during school hours for school-specific work.

But, it’s important to note, this connected work isn’t always done with pure intentions, as almost half of students (47%) claim to have seen or heard of another student using a connected device in the classroom to cheat on an exam, quiz, project or other assignment – with only 21% admitting to doing it themselves. Students are also defying the rules when it comes to cybersecurity restrictions as well. When it comes to getting around cyber restrictions put in place by schools, 24% of the students have successfully accessed banned content. Beyond that, almost half (45%) of the students were able to access any (21%), or some (24%) social media sites on school-owned connected devices.

Education Goes Beyond Normal Curriculum

So, what exactly is being done to address this defiance? Fortunately, both administration and teachers are actively trying to employ policy as well as educate these kids on why cybersecurity is so important. 80% of students surveyed think that their school takes the necessary steps to ensure at least the school-owned devices they use are protected from cyberthreats. And most students (86%) feel up-to-date and informed about cybersecurity education/guidelines from their school before accessing school-owned connected devices.

Why Is Security Is Still Struggling?

So, given schools are providing this education, the question is – why do security gaps still exist? The study discovered that, as teens age, cybersecurity education becomes less of a priority for parents. 50% of parents of children 14 to 15-years old regularly talk about staying safe online, but this percentage dropped to 30% for older teenagers 16 to 18-years old. Shockingly, 14% of 16 to 18-year olds have never talked with their parents about how to stay safe online.

Therefore, as a parent, it’s crucial you begin making cybersecurity a priority for your teens. To do just that, follow these tips:

-Talk to your teens. The best way to ensure your teen is staying safe online is to talk to them. Ask them about what they do online and encourage safe behavior like avoiding interacting with individuals they don’t know in real life.

-Use the social networks that your kids are using. Not only will you gain a better understanding about what your kids do online, but you will also become a more trusted source because you will know the ins and outs of their favorite apps/networks.

-Protecting all your devices. Be sure to install comprehensive security software, like McAfee LiveSafe, across all of your family’s devices. Having security software is essential to protecting your family’s devices and privacy.

And for teens, it’s important to keep the following pointers in mind for when you’re using your connected devices next:

-Mind what you share. Personal information should be shared in moderation and only when necessary. Also, ensure that you are enabling privacy settings within social networks. Without privacy setting enabled your profile is open to everyone, which could increase the chances of being bullied or personal photos being downloaded and manipulated.

-Keep passwords private. Avoid sharing passwords with anyone other than parents or guardians. Once you share your password you no longer have control of your account.

As for schools themselves, we have a few additional tips on how you can continue to improve your cybersecurity education:

-Create student contracts in the classroom. The first step to creating guidelines for devices in class is to clearly spell out the terms of a ‘classroom device usage’ so there is no room for misunderstanding. Certain conditions such as staying on task and being considerate of others’ privacy must be upheld by students for devices to be used for in-classroom work.

-Keep parents updated and involved. Parents need education too. Schools should frequently update parents about how technology is used in the classroom setting. Not only does this promote understanding and support from parents but, equally importantly, it helps bridge the technology gap between parents and their kids.

And, of course, stay on top of the latest consumer and mobile security threats by following me and @McAfee_Home on Twitter, and ‘Like’ us on Facebook.

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10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Snapping and Posting that Photo

July 18th, 2017

Let’s face it. Photos do the talking for most of us today. Everyone is snapping, chatting, posting, and engrossed in choosing the perfect photo filter. But what if, while steeped in capturing our lives in images, we were being rude, insensitive, or even breaking the law?

With so many posts, there’s bound to be some unhappy people. For instance, Miami Heat owner Ranaan Katz sued Google over a photo posted of him, and Beyonce’s publicist demanded Getty Images remove those famously unflattering Superbowl performance photos. In fact, in some states, posting “distressing” or embarrassing images of others without a “legitimate purpose,” is punishable by law.

Most people care about putting their best photos forward online. A 2014 study released by The Renfrew Center Foundation reveals that most people edit their pictures before putting them on social media in an attempt to present their  ‘best selves’ over their ‘real selves.’ So it stands to reason that perhaps in all our posting, we’re not always landing on the right side of polite.

While a lawsuit likely isn’t in your future, there are some written and unwritten rules to posting that will help keep you and your family out of hot water in digital social circles. Some of these rules here are the law, others, well just plain polite.

10 Questions to Ask Before Snapping that Photo

  1. Does this facility allow A) personal photography B) use of a selfie stick?  Be sure to look for a sign or posting regarding selfie sticks, photo opportunities, image copyrights, and safety tips when taking photos in high-traffic areas such as national parks, museums, sporting events, academic events.
  2. Am I creating a danger to myself or someone else by taking a photo here? Questionable locations might include zoos, theme parks, boats, crowded public areas such as malls, subways, streets, airports, or while driving a car. (Unfortunately, people die each year unnecessarily while taking risky photos.)
  3. Am I blocking someone’s view or impeding traffic flow by stopping to take this picture? We’ve all been there be it a theme park, concert, public event, ceremony, or celebration. We wait. And wait. Until they get the shot. And, sometimes it not only inconveniences others, but it can also cause an accident if getting the perfect photo trumps safety.
  4. Do I run the risk of offending someone’s religious views by taking a photo here? Often, cathedrals, religious landmarks, sacred burial spaces, and religious communities such as the Amish, forbid or frown on photos.
  5. Even though I can’t see a threat, is there a potential danger in taking a photo here? Think about snapping a photo in potential danger zones such as zoos, national parks, severe weather conditions, ships, subway, or moving bus.
  6. Did I get the permission to post from the people in my photo? How many times have you taken for granted that your friend or family member wants his or her photo posted? It never hurts — and may even save a relationship — to ask before posting.
  7. Is it in poor taste to take a photo here? Some states forbid taking and posting distressing photos or photos in bad taste such as an accident scene, a funeral, or individuals caught in compromising situations.
  8. Is this photo embarrassing to another person in any way? At one time posting unflattering photos of shoppers in Wal-Mart helped fuel the internet’s hunger for memes. At the end of the day, it’s all cyberbullying. Think before posting photos of parties, people in public restrooms, beaches, and in ways that make them look ridiculous. Unfortunately, recent reports of kids sabotaging and rating our their peers with inappropriate photos are becoming a thing.
  9. Is this photo of me too intimate? Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Consider your clothing, facial expression, inference, and caption before posting a provocative photo.
  10. Am I overdoing it on the photos? How many are too many selfies to post in a week? If you are uncertain about your posting habits, ask a good friend to be honest with you.




Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @IntelSec_Family. (Disclosures).

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7 Strategies to Help Kids Sidestep Digital Friction this Summer

July 4th, 2017

What happens when you mix long summer days with a steady flow of SnapChats, tweets, Instagram feeds, and a non-stop hum of group texts streaming into your life?

If you’re an adult, you’ve likely learned how to power off and unplug for a few hours or days when you’ve hit digital overload. If you are a tween or teen, however, those sensors alerting you to trouble have yet to develop fully. So you keep scrolling, texting, posting, reading sometimes mindlessly. It may be a slow, subtle, creep but if you spend more than a few hours a day on your phone, you may experience anxiety, body image issues, sleeplessness, and even some depression, according to several studies (and, let’s be honest, good old common sense).

The summer months can amplify the social highs (friendship, affirmation, memories) and the emotional lows of digital connection (anxiety, cyberbullying, depression).

While the social connection we find in through our digital devices is not inherently dangerous, it can and does go awry if mismanaged. The constant connection can and does go south occasionally and, at times, with significant fallout. Think about it: When you get half a dozen teen girls (or guys) filling a single pipeline of chatter the lack of context, verbal inflection, accountability, and body language can instantly send an innocent chat into a 10-phone collision.

Here are some basic communication tactics with a bit of conflict management thrown to help your tweens and teens dodge the digital fallout this summer.

7 Tips to Help Kids Minimize Digital Friction this Summer

  1. Schedule Time Off. Sometimes the temptation to go to your phone for mental stimulation is just too much. So, just as you’d schedule time off from work or any other stressful situation, encourage kids to schedule time off from their peers and phones each day. Unplugging and learning to enjoy time alone grows the mind, body, and spirit.
  2. Stop scrolling, start going! Why scroll through pictures of beautiful places, fun outings, and exciting trips when you can insert yourself into them? Sounds simple but it’s easy to forget that kids just don’t know what they don’t know. Plan a family day of no phones. Fill it with hiking, beach time, kayaking, or even planning a family trip to another county, state, or continent. Want to keep the experience low-cost? That’s easier than you think. Try some of these apps to discover hiking trails nearby, camps, and fun things to do for little or not cost. Simply widening a child’s peripheral vision is enough to get them thinking bigger and reaching for their phone less. Know where to go, with this list of ways to help kids get outside this summer.
  3. Coach them to cope. If an online conflict does arise, a few simple strategies, well placed, can save the day. But, sometimes kids need coaching. 1) If an online conversation becomes argumentative or uncomfortable, teach your kids how to change the topic. Ask whose going to the baseball game or about a hot shopping spot. It’s an old trick, but it works! 2) Encourage your child to clarify a troubling statement immediately with phrases such as “when you said xx . . . I heard xx . . . is that what you meant?” or “I’m not sure if you are serious or joking right now.”
  4. Share with caution. Remember the screenshot. Remind your child that a group text (and anything shared online) can be captured and shared outside of that group. Be aware that a digital conversation is never “secret” or “private,” as with the recent Harvard University texting scandal. Nothing is private online — even those seemingly safe conversations.
  5. Be real. Be kind. Remind your kids to never say anything in a group text or a public post that they would feel uncomfortable (or afraid) saying to that person or the group face-to-face. Because of its remote nature, online chats and texts (in particular with an audience looking on) can spark overconfidence or arrogance and lead to overly brash exchanges. If something hurtful is said, teach your child to take a break and step away before responding.
  6. Emote with emojis. Those little graphic faces may very well be the best mediator your child has. Emoticons can express instant laughter, joking and help bridge at least a few of the physical deficits of online communication.
  7. Fix it face-to-face. This last point will require an extra dose of maturity for a tween or teen. Teach your child how to use an online fallout to actually improve their friendships. If a misunderstanding does occur, encourage your child to put his or her phone down and meet with the friend/s face-to-face to work it out. Usually, all involved will agree, that intent was misinterpreted. Teach your child to use “I” statements such as “I feel hurt by some of the stuff you said. I want to talk about it face-to-face in a way we can both feel heard and understood.”

Communicating online is tough for both adults and kids. While our tweens and teens do not need us to rescue them from every online conflict, don’t hesitate, to offer wisdom and guidance as they rise, fall, and mature in the online world.



Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @IntelSec_Family. (Disclosures).

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Posted in anxiety, conflict management, consumer, cyberbullying, cybersafety, depression and teens, digital conflict, digital drama, group texts, Instagram, online conflict, protecting kids online, snapchat, Snapchat stories, social networking | Comments (0)

Why Kids Use Secret Decoy Apps and Why Parents Should Care

May 30th, 2017

Decoy AppsKids have been locking their diaries and hiding top secret shoe long before even Sandy Olssen had a crush on Danny Zuko. The need for more and more privacy as they mature is a natural part of growing up. Today, however, some kids hide their private lives behind locked decoy apps catapulting those harmless secret crushes to a whole new level.

A decoy app is what it sounds like; it’s a mobile app designed for the purpose of hiding something. Decoy apps are also called vault, secret, and ghost apps and make it tough for parents to know whether or not their kids are taking and sharing risky photos with peers since the apps are disguised as an everyday app.

A decoy app may look like a calculator, a game, or even a utilities icon, but it’s actually a place to tuck away content a phone user doesn’t want anyone to find. Kids use decoy apps to store screenshots of racy conversations, nude photos, pornographic videos, and party photos that are simply too risky to keep in a regular photo folder that mom or dad may find. One case in Pennsylvania documents vault apps at the center of sexting and cyberbullying case in a middle school.

Adults and Decoy AppsDecoy Apps

Many adults are also well acquainted with decoy apps. It’s no surprise adults use these stealth apps to store private business activity, passwords to secret accounts, inappropriate photos, and content related to extramarital affairs. Apps such as Vaulty Stocks looks like a Wall Street stock market tracker, but in reality, it’s an app designed to keep private photos and videos hidden from nosey spouses.

How to Spot a Decoy App

If you want to get an idea of how many of these kinds of decoy apps exist go to your iOS or Android store app and search secret apps or decoy apps and you will get your fill of the many icons that are in place to hide someone’s private digital life.

Once you know to look for these apps designed to look like a calculator, a safe, a game, a note or even a shopping list app, you are well on your way.

A decoy app can’t be opened without a code or password specified by the original user. Some of these decoy apps such as Keep Safe Private Photo Vault actually have two layers of security (two passwords) designed to throw off a parent who can open the first level and find harmless content. According to the app description on the Google Play store, “Keepsafe secures personal photos and videos by locking them down with PIN protection, fingerprint authentication, and military-grade encryption. It’s the best place for hiding personal pictures and videos.” Further privacy is detailed with the promise of a face-down auto lock feature, “In a tight situation? Have Keepsafe lock itself when your device faces downward.” Another app, The Secret Calculator, description states: “Don’t worry about the icon. It will become a standard calculator icon. No one will ever notice.”Decoy Apps

Other features highlighted in the Keepsafe app description include:

  • Break-In Alerts: Takes photos of intruders and tracks break-in attempts
  • Secret Door: Disguises your Keepsafe as another app
  • Fake Pin: Creates a decoy Keepsafe with a separate PIN code

How to Discourage Decoy Apps

Connection first. Communication and a strong relationship with your child are the most cyber savvy tools you have to keep your child from making unwise choices online. So, take time each day to connect with your child. Understand what makes them tick, how they use technology, and what’s going on in their lives and hearts.

Monitoring. Weekly phone monitoring and using parental controls is always a good idea depending on the age of your child, your trust level, and the expectations that exist within your family. Know what apps your kids download.

Ask to Buy. Both Apple and Android have parental app purchase approval options on their websites you can set up to examine an app before it’s downloaded.Decoy Apps

Get real. Talk candidly about the risks of sending, sharing, and even archiving risky photos on digital devices. Under the law, child pornography is considered to be any nude photograph or video of someone under the age of 18. It usually does not matter if the person possessing or distributing it is under the age of 18. Any offender can face fines and time behind bars. New laws that address juveniles caught possessing or distributing explicit photos are emerging every day and vary state by state.

Reality check. Nothing is private. Kids can share content directly from a decoy app, which means that their passcode is useless. Shared content is out of your hands forever. Sharing risky photos is never, ever a good idea.

It’s worth stressing to your kids that it’s not just about the technology you use, but how you use it that can create issues. None of the decoy apps we mentioned in this post are inherently “dangerous” apps, it’s the way the apps are used that make them unsafe for kids. The same mantra applies to social networks. And remember — give yourself grace as a parent. You can’t police your child’s online activity 24/7. It’s impossible. What you can do is educate yourself and know what these mobile apps do so you can address precarious situations that may come up.


Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @IntelSec_Family. (Disclosures).

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6 Ways to Help Kids Steer Clear of Cyberbullies During Summer Break

May 2nd, 2017

summer cyberbullyingWouldn’t it be nice if kids could leave the veiled threats and cutting words behind when the bell rings for summer break? Unfortunately, bullies rarely take a break from intimidating others over the summer and may even step up their game.

To date, nothing has humbled me quite like this parenting gig. Once upon a time I used to say things like “my child would tell me right away if he was  bullied,” “my kids know how to handle themselves,” and “this kind of stuff happens to other people — you know, clueless people.”

Then my kid got bullied. Big time. The shame and embarrassment stopped him from telling me. It escalated from Facebook to text, to phone calls, to in-person threats. The police got involved. The bullying caused deep emotional wounds that still surface as my child moves into adulthood. I’m pretty sure I’ve lost more sleep over my kids’ spoken and unspoken fears and heartbreak than anything else in life. Through the process, I’ve learned when to step in, and when to let my kids fend for themselves. I’ve learned how deeply words can cut and how fear manifests and expresses itself in a child’s life. Bullying is not to be dismissed, especially as summer approaches and with it, our kids’ screen time.

Over the summer months, our observations skills need to be sharp, and our listening, cued in. Summer means cookouts, poolside, and stargazing. But, for some kids, summer also means more bullying, exclusion from parties or outings, feelings of isolation, and even amplified conflict.

According to a 2014 McAfee survey, Teens and the Screen, 87%
of teens surveyed citing they witnessed cyberbullying this year versus 27% in 2013. The reasons kids are being bullied online — 72% stated it was over appearance, 26% answered bullying was due to race or religion, and 22% stated their sexuality prompted the bullying.

If your child has ever been bullied and feared for his or her safety, then the NBC news story of teens sneaking thousands of guns into school for protection against bullies, sadly, isn’t unimaginable.

As parents, our role is to keep our eyes and ears open this summer. Speak up if you sense trouble. Don’t hold back. Go with your gut. Get nosey. You are a parent for a tiny window of time so being nosy — and repeating things your kids claim they “already know” — is part of your job. Your consistency and attention could mean the difference between a great summer and an emotionally, even physically dangerous one.

Things NOT to do:

  • Never tell a child to ignore the bullying. Social media has changed the impact and consequences of bullying and in turn, how we need to respond to it.
  • Choose your words carefully. Never blame a child for being bullied. Even if he or she made poor decisions or aggravated the bullying, no one ever deserves to be bullied.
  • As angry as you may be that someone is emotionally hurting or physically threatening your child, do not encourage your child to physically fight back. Aggression could backfire and get your child hurt or even arrested.

3 Ways to Avoid Bullying Online

  1. Make profiles and photos private. By refusing to use privacy settings (and some kids do refuse), a child’s profile is open to anyone and everyone, which increases the chances of being bullied or personal photos being downloaded and manipulated. We often recommend on this blog that parents require kids under 18 to make all social profiles private without exception. This limits online circles to known friends and reduces the possibility of cyberbullying.
  2. Avoid risky apps. Apps like that allow outsiders to ask a user any question anonymously should be off limits to kids. Kik Messenger and Yik Yak are also risky apps. Users have a degree of anonymity with these kinds of apps because they have usernames instead of real names and they can easily connect with profiles that could be (and often are) fake. Officials have linked all of these apps to multiple cyberbullying and even suicide cases.
  3. Don’t ask peers for a “rank” or a “like.” Believe it or not, the online culture for teens is such that often kids will be straightforward in asking people to “like” or “rank” a photo of them and attach the hashtag #TBH (to be honest) in hopes of getting an affirmation fix. Talk to your kids about the risk in doing this and the negative comments that may follow. Affirm them and remind them often of how much they mean to you and the people who truly know them and love them.

3 Things to Do if Bullied Online

  1. Tell someone. Encourage your child to talk to a trusted adult if he or she experiences any bullying. Many teens keep quiet when being bullied which communicates to a bully that he or she is fair game for harassment. Encourage your child to come to you at the summer cyberbullyingfirst sign of bullying or conflict online. Monitor his or her online circles and observe the tone of his or her online conversations. Being the target of a cyberbully creates fear, humiliation, and often leads to isolation, so your child will rarely be the first to speak up about it. Until they have the skills, parents need to monitor and coach kids online. Start early and be consistent. Also, do your best to steer clear of the lecture mode. Being a trusted advisor will help your child gain his or her communication chops sooner than later.
  2. Save the evidence. Print copies of messages, texts, photos used to threaten and intimidate. Use the save feature on instant messages and take screen shots of posts or comments on social networks.
  3. Report serious incidents to police. Report the cyberbully to the social network in the Help section. Report the cyberbullying to the police or cyber crime unit in your area if the cyberbullying contains threats, intimidation, or sexual extortion of any kind. Know your rights and get the critical resources you need at



Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @IntelSec_Family. (Disclosures).

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Wired and Tired: 6 Simple Ways to Restore the Things Technology Zaps

April 25th, 2017

wired and tiredI pictured myself at this stage of parenting sitting in a dark forest Yoda-like as younger mothers looked to me for wisdom. But even though my kids are now 16 and 22, it’s confusion, not clarity that invades my decision making. And that whole Yoda thing? Yeah — never gonna happen.

Raising kids of any age today requires parents to navigate a million moving parts. The latest information needed to make the best decisions comes with an appendage of gray areas attached. When my kids were younger, one study heralded video games as improving math skills and hand-eye coordination in kids. So, we smiled on our future surgeons as they mastered Crash Bandicoot and Mario Brothers for hours a day. Now, more studies than not, claim too much screen time can lead to moodiness, depression, and zap motivation and social skills — or does it?

As Yoda would say, “Live in areas of gray, we do.”

Google, Gather, Repeat.

So before moving forward on most parenting fronts, we Google, gather, and repeat. Such is the case with issues like teenage depression. We try to understand: Is our child suffering from legitimate depression or do we just need to turn off the smartphone for a few days? Is this the blues or something more? Too often we can be quick to prescribe medications today when the issue may be less mental and more environmental.

According to 2015 stats from the Department of Health and Human Services, about 3 million teens ages 12 to 17 had had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. More than 2 million reported experiencing depression that impairs daily function. About 30 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys.

So before opting for the meds to balance out our kids, much of the mood mystery today could be curbed by getting back to the basics and the things we know instinctively to do as parents. I’ve watched small changes in my own home, make a big difference.

Small Changes, Big Impact.

  1. Less tech = health. Some doctors say treating kids with mood issues includes methodically reducing and even eliminating electronics use, which allows the nervous system to reset. By reducing technology use, kids can experience deeper sleep, better moods, wired and tiredincreased focus, better organization, and have more energy for physical activity.
  2. Face-to-face = security. When social media surfing, texting, emailing, and gaming becomes the communication norm, kids suffer. While watching television is a passive activity, using electronics engages us with others consistently and without boundaries causing still-developing brains to be hyperaroused and overwork, which impacts sleep and self-control. According to Canadian Psychologist Susan Pinker in her book The Village Effect, throughout history, we need close social bonds and face-time with others to thrive—and even to survive. Creating our “village effect” makes us happier, says Pinker, and can even save our lives as we grow more and more immersed in a digital world.
  3. Green time = hope. Because screen time can physically deplete our senses, green time — time spent outdoors — can be a primitive, but powerful way to reduce anxiety, anger, and moodiness. A hefty dose of Vitamin D from sunlight and moving your eyes from a boxed-in screen to a boundless sky is one of mother nature’s most potent anti-depressants.wired and tired
  4. Balance = success. Few situations improve when subjected to an everything-or-nothing remedy — especially technology limits. Rather than requiring your kids (or yourself) to endure a full-on gadget fast, opt instead, for balance. Even a tech-exchange strategy may impact your family. Exchange a half-day of tech use for a half-day hike, an hour of video games for an hour of reading, two hours of social media scrolling for two hours helping with outdoor chores. Balance wins every time, especially with summer fast approaching.
  5. Red flags = trouble. Don’t ignore the red flags because they rarely disappear on their own. A few red flags include a child who chooses their phone over going out with friends, studying, physical activity, and family time. Also, if your child puts up a fight when asked to turn off, or turn over, his or her tech, it’s time to make some serious changes. Everyone learns to self-medicate depression with different things — be it alcohol, drugs, tv, or food — many kids have learned to self-medicate with technology.
  6. Counseling = healing. The small changes we’ve discussed don’t apply when a teen’s depression goes beyond the blues. If your child’s moods or hopelessness has you worried, talk to a school counselor, therapist or doctor. It’s better to get help earlier than later. For more information on teen depression, visit the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Resource Center.




Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @IntelSec_Family. (Disclosures).

The post Wired and Tired: 6 Simple Ways to Restore the Things Technology Zaps appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

Posted in cybersafety, Family Safety, internet addiction, Internet of things, protecting kids online, screentime, social networking, teen depression, wired and tired | Comments (0)

Distracted Driving: Is Your Life (or Someone Else’s) Worth that Text?

April 4th, 2017

“We had talked about it and talked about it so many times, but she never thought anything like this would happen to her,” said the mom of 18-year-old Kassie. “She would say she was good enough at texting; that she was fast at it. But it doesn’t take that long—all it takes is a couple of seconds.”

Kassie’s story is one of nearly two-dozen personal, heartbreaking accounts on’s interactive video project, The Faces of Distracted Driving.

Deadly Epidemic

Distracted driving is the #1 cause of teen crashes surpassing drinking and driving, according to recent studies. And, April is the month we all come together to get the word out on this growing social epidemic (#DistractedDrivingAwarenessMonth). Considered a dangerous epidemic on America’s roadways, young people are among the most likely to text and talk behind the wheel.

Distracted driving isn’t just texting, it is any activity that takes a driver away from the primary task of driving. And, while we’re focusing on teens in this post, adults are just as guilty of being dangerously preoccupied behind the wheel. Each one of us is likely guilty of distracted driving that includes:

  • Texting
  • Using a cell phone or Smartphone
  • Eating and drinking
  • Putting on makeup
  • Daydreaming or sightseeing
  • Attending to a child or pet
  • Talking to passengers
  • Grooming
  • Reading, including maps
  • Using a GPS system
  • Watching a video
  • Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player

However, it’s not debatable that because text messaging requires visual and physical attention from a driver, it is by far the most dangerous thing to do while driving.

Jaw-Dropping Stats

  • 95 percent of drivers disapprove of distracted driving, but 71 percent engage in cell phone activities while driving. (Source AT&T, Braun Research)
  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. Six teens ages 16 – 19 die every day from motor vehicle injuries. Per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 – 19 are nearly three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash. (Source: Centers for Disease Control)
  • Only about 1 out of 5 young drivers think texting makes no difference to their driving performance. 68 percent of young drivers 18 to 20 are willing to answer incoming phone calls on some, most, or all driving trips. (NHTSA, 2011).
  • 40 percent of teens claim they have been in a car in which the driver’s use of a phone put them in danger.
  • 33 percent U.S. drivers ages 18 to 64 reported reading or writing text messages while driving in the previous month.

Family Action Points

Watch & Discuss: We aren’t going to sugar coat the horrifying realities of distracted driving and neither should you. Sit down with your kids (and their friends if possible) and watch these videos. Doing so could be a small but powerful way to save a life (or several). Be prepared: Your teen may say she’s watched these videos at school and don’t need to see anymore but press in. It’s important she understand the weight of the issue from your family’s point of view.

Have ‘the Talk’*: Driving is a serious responsibility and distracted driving is one of the deadliest choices you can make. Discuss what it means to be a safe driver with your teen and set ground rules for when they’re behind the wheel. If your teen is on the road, they should stay off the phone — this includes talking, texting, photo-taking, and posting to social media sites. Surprisingly, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the summer months of June, July, and August consistently have higher teenage crash deaths than any other month.

Break the Habit: This is alarming: 1 in 3 drivers say using their cell phone while driving is a habit. However, AT&T is challenging all drivers to break that habit with a 21-day challenge. Take the challenge and design rewards (a gift card, a night of bowling) for those who succeed in your family. Share it on all your social channels with the hashtag #ItCanWait.

Link Arms — Take a Family Pledge: Print out the Distracted Driving Pledge form and have every member of your family commit to distraction-free driving. Set a positive example for your kids by putting your cell phone in the glove compartment every time you drive.

Know the Laws in Your State: Many states have Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws that include cell phone and texting bans for young drivers. Get familiar with the laws in your state and make those laws clear to your teen driver. Remind your teen driver that there could be serious consequences for violating these laws — including a delayed or suspended license.

Show Your Support: For both kids and parents: Share a “Faces of Distracted Driving” video on Facebook or Twitter to let your friends know about the consequences of cell phone use behind the wheel. Change your social networking profile picture to remind your friends that “One Text or Call Could Wreck It All.”

Thumb Bands: Here’s a great project. Thumb bands remind kids (and adults) not to text and drive.

Speak Up: Don’t stop at being a great driver — be a great passenger! Make sure to call out your friends, and even your parents, if you see them using a cell phone behind the wheel.

Spread the Word: Get involved in promoting safe driving in your community. Hang up posters, host an event on distracted driving, or start a SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) chapter at your school. Download your shareable art and avatars(*Source:

Use this as your avatar throughout April.

Support Advocacy Groups Online: So many heroes work tirelessly to bring this topic into the spotlight and save lives. It only takes a click or a share to put your social weight behind the many people fighting to end distracted driving. Here are just a few:

Impact Teen Drivers provides free online training materials as well as school presentations and have reached over two million students since the organization’s formation in 2007

Drop it and Drive’s mission is to stop distracted driving by raising public awareness to the point that talking and texting while driving becomes as socially unacceptable as drinking and driving.

It Can Wait is an advocacy group that to date has enlisted over 14 million drivers pledged publically never to drive distracted again. The movement encourages advocates to educate others on the dangers of distracted driving on all their online channels. 



Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @IntelSec_Family. (Disclosures).

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Could Your Kids Be Ordering Dangerous Drugs Online?

November 15th, 2016

According to recent news reports, authorities have linked a drug named Pink to the overdose deaths of two 13-year-old boys in Park City, Utah. Also known as U-47700, Pink is a new synthetic, opioid drug easily purchased online. In this case, the teens, who were best friends, ordered the drug from China. According to multiple news sources, the drug Pink is said to be eight times more potent than heroin and can cause cardiac arrest simply by coming into contact with it. It’s been repeatedly involved in an increasing number of overdoses nationwide, according to doctors.

It doesn’t get more heartbreaking than this story. It’s both unimaginable and terrifying because frankly, this tragedy could have happened to any one of our kids. All that’s needed is a robust sense of curiosity, a credit card, and access to the internet.drugs online

More heartbreaking is that the teens had been talking about the drug on social media. I’ve personally had a handful of very critics challenge me on the ethics of monitoring teens online. They call it snooping, they call it an invasion of privacy and argue it breaks trust with a child. I agree with all of those claims — if the child is over 18. But, when it comes to minors, all bets are off, and my monitoring is on. Could monitoring have prevented this situation? Probably not. We all know when it comes to kids, where there’s a will, there’s a way. And, determined kids can find workarounds to just about any parental strategy. That doesn’t mean we give up trying.

But how do I monitor so many platforms?  You ask. You aren’t alone in feeling overwhelmed, so just tackle the task one day at a time. Stay consistent, and you can cover more ground than you think. Personally, I check my daughter’s Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, and phone apps about twice a week. I bring up language or content that is concerning and offer her some options. In the course of doing this consistently for several years, she rarely missteps with her content.

10 Things You Can Do:

  1. Check browser history. If you see something suspicious in your child’s browser history, folllow the trail.
  2. Device monitoring. According to law enforcement, it’s wise to look at your child’s smartphones periodically to see what they are looking at online and who they are connecting with. If you see any term you don’t recognize or seems like a code word, go deeper. Google the word to figure out what it means. We’ve posted several Internet Slang updates over the past year that may help.
  3. Check all packages. Take the time to check packages shipped to your home — it’s not always Amazon!drugs online
  4. Pay attention to behavior. We can check phones, packages, and browser history all year long but more important is paying close attention to your child’s behavior. A few warning signs: A drop in grades, anger outbursts, change in appearance.
  5. Be bold. It matters. For some reason, parents can be afraid to confront their children about online activity, or suspected drug use. However, this fear can prove deadly in today’s digital world where access is far easier for kids. One visit to one of these accessible drug sites and you will quickly lose your fear.
  6. Censure friends. Go with your gut. If that new group of friends is causing you concern, address it. Yes, you risk looking judgmental, appearing paranoid, and even overly dramatic. But parenting is not a popularity contest. Listen to your instincts. You know which friends are a positive influence, and which ones need a closer look.
  7. Talk, talk, talk to your kids. Talking sounds basic but make no assumptions. Explain what’s wrong with buying medications illegally online and do it in terms your child can relate to. Remember: Tweens and teens experimenting with drugs are not thinking about the dangers of mixing substances or the fact that overseas wholesalers are luring customers with new hybrid drugs that can be very deadly. Make sure you state the consequences you will enforce if they ever purchase drugs online.
  8. Install filtering software. Most programs allow you to create a list of URLs and keywords to block and will produce reports on Internet use.
  9. Bank statements. If you child is old enough to have a debit or credit card, and you have drug suspicions, monitor online statements for irregular spending.
  10. Next steps. What if you find your worst fears to be true? Get help. Project Know is a perfect place to begin and has resource networks available in every state.

When your kids head to school each morning, you aren’t thinking about them purchasing drugs, nor should you. However, knowing what is going on in the digital world and the threats to kids, only empowers you as a parent. So, keep learning, keep your eyes open, and keep communication flowing with your children.



Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @IntelSec_Family and @ToniBirdsong. (Disclosures).

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Teaching Kids to Rise Above the Twitter Trolls

November 1st, 2016

The social media platform Twitter has been making the headlines every day lately and not for good reasons. The popular 140-character driven network is under fire for its increasingly troll-heavy content and its failure to regulate abusive tweeters. From celebrities shutting down accounts to politicians and special interest groups daily (and very publically) engaged in tweet-to-tweet combat, Twitter is a hotbed for conflict – so much so, it affected several potential business acquisitions.

A troll is just what it sounds like — a person (or group of people) who intentionally sows discord and conflict online.

If your kids are on Twitter, they know very well that one perfectly timed hashtag or celebrity tweet can spark a wildfire of online hate if the trolls grab it and run. While your kids likely aren’t part of the hate, no doubt, they can feel the hate and even be influenced by it. A 2015 report claimed 88% of the digital abuse happens on Twitter. The reason for this? Unlike Facebook and Instagram, Twitter still allows anonymous account names and profile information — which is the #1 magnet for haters, hate groups, and cyber bullies.

The issues are real, and the people behind them are real. Here are just a few headlines putting Twitter’s hotbed of hate in the spotlight.

Anti-Semitic Trolls Threaten to Take Twitter Down with Them

Conservative Writer Tells How White Supremacists Have Tormented His Family

Actress Leslie Jones Targeted by Racists on Twitter

In August, Twitter released an updated guide on how to deal with trolls and “control” your experience on the platform, that includes curating notification options. However, some argue the improvements do little to solve the harassment issues. So the best defense is a good offense and educating your kids on how to navigate past the hate.

8 Tips for Rising Above the Twitter Trolls:Twitter Trolls

  1. Never respond. A hater’s full-time job is to draw you into a never-ending, circular conversation of hate that puts you through an emotional shredder. There’s no winning an argument with a person blinded by hate.
  2. Don’t stoop. As tempting as the hashtag may be, don’t join in the hashtag fun if hate or bullying is behind it. Often, people exist behind those hateful hashtags that masquerade as funny. To slam a TV show, a reality star, a football coach, or a politician is still cyber bullying.
  3. Consider the source. If you understand the hater mentality, you can move on relatively quickly without taking too much offense or investing too much emotion. Haters are gonna hate. That’s why they have anonymous accounts; that’s why their entire Twitter feed is negative, threatening, offensive, even violent. So block them and move on.
  4. Teach tolerance. The U.S. is a rich blend of cultures from all over the world, so raising digital kids who understand that is preparing them to rise above the haters. Encouraging an attitude of openness and respect for the differences that exist among people will help kids understand, appreciate, and connect successfully with others online.
  5. Understand Twitter yourself. If you are setting out to coach your kids, make sure you know the Twittersphere yourself. For many teens, Twitter has become a group texting channel. Get to know the lingo. Words like Hashtags, blocks, ReTweets, @ symbols, DMs are simple terms you may want to know. Here’s a quick Twitter lingo guide.Twitter Trolls
  6. You are what you tweet. Remind your kids they are not alone on Twitter but on a stage where an audience of people can see their tweets. They can’t take a tweet back even if they delete it and be assured it’s gone. Teach them to be mindful of photos they post, and links they recommend. This is an excellent opportunity to talk about values, gossip, cyber bullying, critical thinking, drama, and smart communication. Repeat to them often: “Think before you tweet.” Put consequences in place before your kids abuse their Twitter privilege. Talk to them about Twitter cases in the news and the many ways their words can come back to haunt them.
  7. Manage conflict. Twitter’s fast pace can be a landmine where little tweets can ignite into big offenses. Teach your kids to respond well and steer conversations upward. Teach them how first to ignore, then to block. Also, teach them to define gossip and not to re-tweet false information.
  8. Ignore. Block. Report. Every Twitter conflict or cyber bullying will look different and have a different set of circumstances. Ignoring the person and not engaging is often the best option to extinguish a conflict. Step two is to block the abusive user and report the account to Twitter Help. Along with reporting, make sure you have screenshots of the conversation as well as a screen shot of the abusive account and profile information. Or, follow the genius example of this woman who shut down her haters by quoting encouraging dialogue from the movie Good Will Hunting.




Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @IntelSec_Family and @ToniBirdsong. (Disclosures).

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Teaching Kids to Secure Their Data & Hearts Online

October 28th, 2016


Valentine’s week is filled with flowers, chocolate . . . and that wonderfully dangerous little thing called oxytocin. Referred to as the “trust hormone,” oxytocin is one of several chemicals our brains release when we feel attracted to someone. Fun right? Yes, but it can also function pretty much like an opiate and cause feelings of attachment, comfort . . . and trust.

And it’s that trust—real or imagined—that may begin to explain why some people continue to share highly personal information including sexual or nude photos with others on their digital devices despite potentially scandalous fallout.

LRT2014_Infographic-Global-FNLRecently, McAfee released the findings from their 2014 Love, Relationships & Technology survey that illustrates the casual way adults continue to treat intimate information online. Of the over 9,000 consumers worldwide, ages 18-54 polled, almost half (49%) have sent or received intimate or sexually explicit text messages, email or photos or filmed sexual video content. And only 28% of the people who sent or received sexts or intimate text messages, emails or photos delete the message from their device as soon as they have sent/received it. 42% have sent sexts or sexually explicit text messages to their boyfriend/girlfriend, but 16% have sent sexts to a complete stranger!

Even though we share our bank accounts details (43%) mobile phone content (48%), including texts, emails and photos, and passwords (38%), we don’t always trust our partners as shown in the study. 30% of people log into their significant others’ Facebook accounts on a monthly basis by using their passwords and 28% of us have taken their significant other’s mobile device to see the content it has stored .

Valentine’s week is a great time to sit down with your family and attempt to speak louder than the oxytocin. If adults are admitting to such casual behavior online, you can bet that kids aren’t far behind in that trend.

Here are some family talking points and some engaging online activities to help reinforce personal security online.

  • Password-protect your phone, tablets. If your child doesn’t have a screen lock password, be sure she puts one on her phone. Require her to share the password with you only. Remind her that if her phone or gadget is lost or stolen, anyone who picks it up could get access to her information and publish it online.
  • Keep your password under wraps. Remind your child not to share her passwords with their significant other or even their best friend—no exceptions! Let her know that sharing a passcode or PIN, puts her at risk for cyber stalking, identity theft, and leakage of intimate data.
  • Teach your child that people change. While it sounds unthinkable to a teen in love, remind her that even the people we trust today can eventually prove to be inconsistent, untruthful, and even mean. Her boyfriend may be someone else’s boyfriend next year or even next month. Communicate clearly, and candidly, the risk of sending intimate texts or sharing her heart in any digital form.
  • Emphasize reputation and unforeseen risk. Your teen may not relate to a boyfriend sharing an intimate photo (unthinkable) but she will relate to the need to protect their reputation. By being casual with intimate photos and texts messages, she is opening up her reputation to harm.
  • Define ‘intimate’ or ‘private’ for your child. What you define as intimate and private and what your child considers to be intimate could be far different. Set the standard and communicate it clearly. Then, go through her Twitter or Instagram feed together and illustrate your point.
  • Shared info belongs to the world. Remind your child before she hits send, post, upload, or tweet, that her information, once shared, will be out of her control. From that point forward, she will be reliant on others to protect her privacy.
  • Clean sweep devices. Everyone has something on their phone—either notes, emotionally charged texts, or emails that they forgot to delete. Ask your child to sweep her phone clean of anything that could cause embarrassment. Delete, delete, delete!
  • Protect your devices. Protect all of your family’s data, identity and devices with comprehensive security with McAfee LiveSafe™ service that protects all your families PCs, Macs, smartphones and tablets.


To learn more, join the conversation using the #SextRegret hashtag or follow @McAfeeConsumer or @SafeEyes  on Twitter or Facebook. Talking with others, sharing lessons, and getting support is a fun way to learn about safety!

And to stress the importance of protecting your mobile device, play the Crack the PIN to win game. This was launched by Intel and McAfee to teach you how to take simple steps toward privacy everywhere by locking, tracking, and encrypting your devices. Go to to try and win a Samsung Galaxy tablet or McAfee LiveSafe if you guess the PIN!

The Futures Company and MSI conducted surveys in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, The Netherlands, Japan, Mexico, China, India, Singapore and Brazil among 9,337 men and women, ages 18 to 54. The survey was conducted in December 2013 – January 2014.





Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @SafeEyes. (Disclosures).

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