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Why Your Child Should Be Using LinkedIn

Most parents may not have considered how LinkedIn could be part of their children’s social media experience. In my opinion, it has the greatest potential to help (or hinder) a teenager’s future by how it impacts their Digital Footprint – the evidence that we all leave behind when we go online. And not just by what it says about them, but about what it might not say about them.

Smart Social, used by over a million parents, educators and students each year and whose tagline is “Learn how to shine online,” recommends that every high school student should be using LinkedIn. In fact, they recommend that teens start preparing for their LinkedIn profile even before they’re actually using the service.

Why LinkedIn?

As the number one social media network across all professions, LinkedIn is in a unique position to help just about everyone who uses it, regardless of what educational and professional future lies ahead of them. There are reportedly over 180 million people in the U.S. using LinkedIn and close to a billion worldwide.

LinkedIn puts students in a position where they can reach out to people with a wide variety of backgrounds as well as the schools and companies that they may wish to engage with in the future. As far back as 2017 (further than that, really), Forbes Magazine has been recommending that parents help their children use LinkedIn.

Unlike many other social media platforms, the minimum age for using the service is 16, as long as your local laws don’t require something older. No access until age 16 means teenagers are under a tight time constraint if they want their Digital Footprint to help them achieve their immediate goals of getting a better job or into a good school. By the time your child is a sophomore or junior in high school, they need to be active on LinkedIn. The more time they get to spend on it, the bigger the impact it can have on their future.

LinkedIn As a Blogging Platform

Having an online presence where people can demonstrate their knowledge and skills is an important part of crafting their future. Unfortunately, creating a personal website where people can post their own content isn’t for everyone. That’s where LinkedIn can really help.

Unlike other platforms that might limit what a user can post in terms of topic, length or features, LinkedIn’s Articles can provide a robust platform and demonstrate that your child is a thought leader and lets them engage with others in a way that no other platform can.

Groups! Groups! Groups!

Most social media platforms have groups, but not like LinkedIn does. Students can use these groups to reach out to graduates, faculty, student groups and more from possible future institutions where they may wish to attend after graduating high school. My own alma mater has over 70 groups on LinkedIn. This can help focus attention on the schools that best fit their interests. As a parent, it can save families from making cross-country trips to visit potential schools only to find out that they aren’t a good fit for your child.

Groups can also be used to find other individuals who have similar career interests. The most important part about being in a group is to be active in it. That may sound like common sense, but the people in the group need to see that someone in the group is engaging with others and not only doing “hit and run” actions to get attention. If your child uses the articles feature mentioned above, it’s a great place to share those posts with people who are likely to be interested in what your child has to say.

Job Hunting on LinkedIn

One of the best ways to use LinkedIn is to prepare for sending in resumes and job interviews. Applicants can learn more about what the company does not only by looking at the company’s page, but by seeing what employees post about the company (you can search for people by where they work).

You can also see what groups people belong to, read their posts, etc. to help get an edge on other applicants. The more competitive the job is or the school that someone is applying to, the more that every advantage can mean the difference between getting accepted and being passed over in favor of someone else.

The Bottom Line

What it comes down to is that if schools and employers are going to be using a candidate’s Digital Footprint to help make acceptance decisions, then everyone should be making the most of their opportunities.

Most people think of LinkedIn only as a way to connect in terms of sales leads and having others contact them for job opportunities and while it certainly does that, it’s capable of so much more if used properly. LinkedIn has the potential to be of tremendous value to school and job applicants.

One word of caution: like any social media platform, there is always the risk inherent with using it. While I haven’t seen any of the issues of pornography or sexting that can happen on other platforms, I have seen what could pass for cyberbullying when people engage on hot button topics, such as politics.

That said, once someone becomes active on a social media site, including LinkedIn, the algorithms that help determine what people see online can get their profile noticed by people that otherwise might not get the opportunity to learn about your child. The key to using any experience, online or offline, is to use it to their greatest benefit.

First impressions make lasting impressions. Make it count!

6 Ways Kids Can Use Technology to Improve Their Grades

With schools back in session, I thought I’d use this opportunity to show how kids can use technology to improve their grades. As someone who taught at the college level for more than 10 years, I often made these same recommendations to my students. Remarkably, many of them tell me that they were completely unaware of these resources.

1. Using Boolean Operators in Search Engines

Search engines use algorithms based on both logic and popularity, which is why Wikipedia is often at the top of the results from most search engines. Since most people rarely go through more than one or two pages of results, it’s important that the results are as helpful as possible. Boolean operators will help accomplish that for you.

For example, when searching for information on Alexander Hamilton, you will get different results based on what is typed into the search engine:

  • Alexander Hamilton will return pages that contain either word.
  • “Alexander Hamilton” will return pages that contain an exact match.
  • “Alexander Hamilton” and “Maria Reynolds” will return pages that contain both exact matches, likely related to their affair and the subsequent blackmail by her husband, James.

There are plenty more Boolean operators available and the results will definitely be better for the student.

2. Google Scholar

As popular as Google is, it is subject to results based on popularity. Google Scholar, on the other hand, will provide research quality results and have better search criteria tools, including dates, patents, authors, and more. Those kinds of results rarely show up using traditional search engines.

Not that Google doesn’t have those features, but Google Scholar puts them front and center so that the student is more likely to use them. That’s not to say that the popular version of Google isn’t sometimes a better option, as it would miss out on many reliable sources because they don’t fit academic standards, such as news sources and trade journals.

3. Khan Academy

Parents of younger children may already be aware of Khan Academy. Our daughter was using it at an early age after using it in grade school. For those that haven’t used it, Khan Academy is a non-profit organization that provides free lessons and educational videos for students of all ages.

4. Wikipedia

My students were always surprised when I told them that they could actually use Wikipedia to help write their papers for my classes. They were never allowed to cite Wikipedia, as it could very well be providing false information, but it is often right – probably even right more often than it’s wrong. The trick is to take advantage of the work done by the people who wrote the pages by looking down at the bottom of the page at their references. Many of them include links to other sources and if those sources are reliable, then Wikipedia was helpful even if it wasn’t listed as a source itself.

5. Microsoft Word References

I found that one of the best kept secrets that my students didn’t know about was how much Microsoft Word can help students by making sure that their papers are written to academic standards, including APA and MLA requirements. Almost all my students were in at least their sophomore or junior years, but many knew nothing about how Word can take out most of the “grunt work” when it comes to writing a paper to APA or MLA standards. This is especially true when it comes to listing all of their sources.

Students should always check with their teacher/professor about which optional information should be included as well. For example, I always required that students include the URL link to any online sources even though it’s not an MLA requirement. Using Word’s Reference features will make their papers much easier to do and help ensure that they meet the technical requirements of the assignment.

6. But What about ChatGPT?

My students always liked that I never gave tests. I never considered them to be realistic, as no boss ever told me to clear off my desk and take a test. They gave me assignments and I had to complete them. That’s what artificial intelligence platforms like ChatGPT can do, but at the expense of having the students learn, which is the real reason the students are in school. Additionally, these sites are not infallible, especially if the request isn’t written in the proper way. That means that students still need to qualify the results provided by them. So, like Wikipedia, it may provide some benefit, but it should never be accepted at face value or used as provided by the platform.

And even if ChatGPT is accurate, students still run the risk of being discovered as not having done the work themselves. Faculty have access to a host of AI checkers – here is just one example. Additionally, what comes out of an AI will not be written in the student’s “voice” and will be easy to identify as such.

In one of my first semesters as an adjunct professor, I had a student submit a paper that clearly wasn’t written by her. The grammar and tone were more like a doctoral thesis. With a quick search, I found three sites that were selling the exact same paper for less than $10. All of them had disclaimers that they were meant as a guide but should not be used in place of a student’s work. As a result, she failed the assignment.

Where AI platforms like ChatGPT can help students is by helping them brainstorm ideas, a critical part of most assignments, especially in the early stages of the work. For example, when I entered, “give me a list of 5 topics related to global warming for a high school report” into the platform, I was provided with five solid ideas that I could use to write a paper or create a presentation. It all depends on how you phrase your query and students should be prepared to try variations on their original query to see how it affects the results.

The Bottom Line

The benefits that technology can provide to students are very real. On top of that, most of what’s shown here uses technology that is already familiar to most students. By using any of these resources, students can generate better quality work in less time than they would otherwise.

Shame Nation: Choose To Be Part Of “The Solution”

It was July 2017 and I was at home when I got a call from my niece. She and my sister were driving somewhere, and this particular call went something like this…

    • “Hey Aunt Stef…you’ve got to check this out…it’s the funniest thing…You remember when we did that show Legally Blonde? Well there’s this group of young kids, and I guess they did a performance of it too, only their teacher video-taped it and posted it on YouTube and oh my G-d Aunt Stef, it’s AWFUL. I mean it’s so bad it’s funny. You’ve got to watch it. Here let me text you some of it.”
    • No that’s ok babe, I don’t need to see it”…
    • “Really Aunt Stef, it’s sooo funny, mom watched it and she thought it was hysterical. I can’t believe their teacher posted this. It went viral so fast it’s incredible. Look I know it’s really long but you can fast forward through some of it, I’ll tell you where the funniest parts are”.
    • Honey…how old are these kids?”
    • “I don’t know…I think they’re in middle school… Look Aunt Stef I’ve got to go, I just texted it to you…watch it later and tell me what you think. You’re going to die laughing…. I love you!!”

I didn’t check it out. But I also didn’t tell her not to. And that bothered me. Something felt really wrong with this video. I was worried about those little kids…I was worried FOR those little kids. How old were they? How long had this been going viral, and how many people around the world were laughing at them? I knew for a fact my niece and her friends at school were laughing…and still, even though it bothered me…I said and did nothing.

When I look back at it now, I think it bothered me so much because my niece and her friends weren’t bad or mean kids. Actually quite the opposite. My niece is a gifted and talented young actress studying at a high school for the arts, and I am incredibly proud of her, but for a very different reason. I can say without a doubt that she is one of the nicest, kindest people I know, and she would NEVER deliberately hurt someone! In fact, she feels things very deeply. Yet she missed this! She didn’t see the pain she and the other people watching and laughing over that video were causing.

How the heck did we get here??? To this place where we can sit in a room and make fun of someone who is not there to defend themselves and have no sense at all that our laughing could be hurting them.

That is EXACTLY what nationally recognized speaker, parent advocate, and Internet safety expert Sue Scheff explores with the help of journalist, YA author, and blogger Melissa Schorr in her newly released book Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate. Sue knows firsthand how devastating cyber shaming can be. In 2006 she won a landmark case for Internet defamation and invasion of privacy. Now a leader in the movement against cyber bullying, she focuses on teaching others how to avoid virtual cruelty and how to effectively react when it occurs.

According to Shame Nation, psychologists point to several factors that have allowed online cruelty like this to flourish:

  • the anonymity of the Internet;
  • the distance, or lack of face-to-face contact, with a victim,
  • mob mentality run amok,
  • lack of gatekeepers and
  • lack of consequences.

Taken together these factors have become known as the “online disinhibition effect”; the notion that people behave far differently online than they would in reality.

But there’s more than a lack of inhibition happening here. It’s also due in part to our failure to instill empathy in young people, and Shame Nation explores this as well. Parenting expert Dr. Michele Borba, EdD, author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World makes a strong case that a decrease in basic empathy has created a culture ripe for online attacks. The inability to see those on the other side of the computer screen as people deserving of our compassion is a huge driver. Instead of feeling sad for their pain, we make it funny. We sit at home and watch the “People of Walmart” and laugh as people are publicly shamed. You don’t see or feel the hurt…it’s so far removed, it’s not “real”.

That was what happened with the middle-school performance of Legally Blonde. My niece missed the ball on this one. There was an opportunity to be an “Upstander” …not just a bystander…or worse, add to the teasing and humiliation, and she missed it. But whose fault was that really? If I’m being honest, it was mine

I’m the adult, I set the example. This means I and the other adults in her life need to know what’s happening out in the cyber-world so we can educate her. So she knows what to look for to avoid becoming a victim…or inadvertently a bully.

And while we’re on this subject, I know some of you may be thinking “lock her in her room and for anything other than schoolwork, shut off the internet and all those damn devices” is the answer. But while it may sound good on paper, realistically, I can’t tell her to stay off-line. No-one can. For better or worse, this is a connected world we live in…all of us… kids and adults. Going off the grid is just not an option – and it won’t save her. As Nancy Jo Sales describes in her book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, “I spoke to girls who said, “Social media is destroying our lives. But we can’t go off it, because then we’d have no life.”

So my niece is on the grid (and I am guessing if you are reading this, so is a child you care about), and she is not getting off any time soon – not as a child, and realistically not as an adult. But I can help her. I can:

  • Teach her how to avoid trouble: give her guidelines for online sharing; show her how to protect her online identify and run regular checkups to make sure no-one is damaging her reputation
  • Teach her how to control a disaster if things go wrong: how to document, block, report and identify someone trying to harm her.
  • Teach her how to get support: to take advantage of resources like HeartMob and Crisis Text Line and Online SOS…and know there are systems in place providing help, from simple letters of support to full-on legal aid, if she finds herself a victim of a digital attack.

Because that’s what I learned from Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate.

And finally, I can Teach her to be an Upstander. I can explain what that word is, why it’s important to stand-up for someone else. And then I can apologize for not doing that…and for failing her and those kids. And that’s when I realized if I didn’t do something right at that moment, I would be failing them both again.

So I picked up the phone and called her. And it was a difficult call. Because while it was about something she had done, in truth, it was more about what I hadn’t done. And my very sensitive niece brought up an excellent argument – one I’m betting every one of you will have to deal with at some point, because it’s really fundamental to the Upstander / bystander question:

  • “But Aunt Stef, I don’t think there’s really anything I could have done…there were millions of people…that post went viral”.

She had a point – but then again, that’s the battle every single person faces when they’re being bullied online. They’re one person and it feels like they’re fighting the world. That’s what made this book so insightful, and so powerful, at least for me. What do you do…what can you do…if you come up against this situation… Whether you are living this or just witnessing this. This was my answer…

“Well, hon, what do you think about this”…and I gave her an example I had read (thank you Sue) about a heavy-set middle-aged man who was being publicly humiliated. All he did was dance at a local bar with friends, but someone captured it on video and posted it and the rude comments started coming in from all over. Until two women in LA created a #FindDancingMan twitter campaign, said “I’d dance with that guy”, and created a movement that turned the shaming into a party of compassion.

    • “I’m not saying you have to create a “dancing man campaign” but do you think you and your friends could come up with something creative that might make those kids feel even just a little bit better?”

 

    • I don’t know…maybe”.

And just like that, this HUGE weight came off my shoulders. She didn’t have to have an answer… that wasn’t the magic pill here. She’s a brilliant kid with a big heart and this hit home. I stood up for those kids…and for her …and I think when she has an opportunity, she will stand up for someone else.

It has to start somewhere… That day, it started with us…

Should You ‘Friend’ Your Teens Online?

A decade ago, reading your teen’s diary would have been the ultimate form of privacy invasion. Nowadays, checking out their Facebook page or Twitter feed can yield the same sense of betrayal — if they don’t know you’re doing so. So how does a parent protect their kids from the dangers lurking on the Internet? The answer may be to join them online.

Sites like Facebook are appealing to kids and adults alike (as evidenced by the number of your old high school classmates who’ll inevitably friend you when you sign up), so your kids won’t take issue with you having an account. The question is whether your should “friend” them. If you’re worried about the amount of time they’re spending online (and what parent isn’t?), go ahead and send them a friend request or start following them on Twitter. But do so with the agreement that you won’t do the following:

  1. Scold or reprimand them on their wall. You may be upset that they forgot to unload the dishwasher or didn’t take out the garbage, but Facebook and Twitter is not the place to air those feelings. Discuss the issue the old-fashioned way — face to face.
  2. Comment on their posts. You may be proud of the “A” they got on their latest math test or think the YouTube video of a cat singing the national anthem is just as hilarious as they do, but there’s no need to voice your opinion online. The more unobtrusive you are, the more likely your kids are to forget that you’re monitoring their activity.
  3. Friend or follow their friends. Your own kids probably aren’t thrilled that you’re a part of their social network, but they don’t really have a choice in the matter. But their friends are off-limits. Not only can friending their friends be a little creepy, but it’s also unnecessary. If you’re connected to your own child’s account, you’ll be able to see what their friends are posting as well.

In the end, even though the Internet can seem so anonymous, be transparent with your kids about your wanting to connect with them online. And when in doubt, follow the golden rule of friending them or commenting on their wall: Treat them how you’d want to be treated if you were them.

Computer Vision Syndrome: Can Tech Harm Your Family’s Vision?

*Editor’s Note: Given the extensive amount of time many of our families are spending “sheltering in place”, it seemed like the right time to revisit MomRN’s article on Computer Vision Syndrome. Stay Safe Everyone!

Computer vision syndrome symptomsIn today’s technological society, most of us have become accustomed to using multiple devices that have screens – televisions, computer monitors, tablets, smartphones, hand-held gaming consoles, and the list goes on.

And as the number of screen devices has increased, so has our time spent staring at these devices. It’s not unusual to spend several hours of each day looking at these various screens and this has led to concerns about what affect all this screen time may be having on our vision…and on our kid’s vision.

Could your technology harm your vision? I was asked to address this concern on Fox 23’s Great Day Green Country.

According to the American Optometric Association, the vision problems associated with Computer Vision Syndrome or Digital Eye Strain can be reduced or possibly even prevented by “taking steps to control lighting and glare on the device screen, establishing proper working distances and posture for screen viewing, and assuring that even minor vision problems are properly corrected”. For more information, see their article on the causes, diagnosis and treatment of Computer Vision Syndrome here.

The Techniques of a Predator: Part II – Bribery and Threats

In The Techniques of a Predator: Part I we discussed how online predators groom children for both online and offline sexual attacks using trust and romance to manipulate them. Now, we will conclude this discussion by talking about how predators can use bribery and threats as well and we will give you additional ways to protect your children.

Bribery

Here, predators offer gifts to the other person in exchange for getting what they want. This often takes the form of gift cards that can be redeemed online. For younger victims, gift cards to Google Play or iOS App Store are popular. For older children, Amazon gift cards are popular, as are those to gaming platforms. They are easily obtained and the redemption codes can be sent via text or by taking a picture of the card’s unique code. They can also be difficult to trace, especially when bought in a store and sent as a picture.

Similar to the stereotypical drug dealer exchange, the first “gift” may be provided for free. After that, the predator suggests that since they did something for the victim, then the victim should do something in return before they give them another gift.

Threats

Once an intimate image is sent, it is easily used as leverage to get more. However, another type of threat is becoming more common. In this case, a predator takes their time to groom their target over an extended period of time. All during this time, there is nothing done or said that could be construed as troubling. Everything seems safe and risk-free.

During this time, the predator is learning about their target through seemingly innocent conversation, asking questions such as:

  • “Where do you go to school?”
  • “Where do you live?”
  • “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

Depending on the app being used, their privacy settings, and if they’ve actually friended/connected this person, the predator has complete access to everything they’ve posted. They can see who their friends and family member are through their Facebook profile, for example. They can see who they follow on Instagram and who follows them. They can see who they’ve tagged in images and who has tagged them.

This all leads up to the predator threatening to physically hurt the people that their victim knows if they do not send pictures or videos to the predator. Scared and not sure whom to trust, minors often send the pictures to protect their family and friends. This only makes the situation worse, leading to more cases of sextortion.

In the case of Ashley Reynolds, she was contacted by a man who said that he had naked photos of her and would send them to her friends if she didn’t send him more pictures. Ashley was confident that nobody had such pictures of her like that, as she’d never sent any pics like that to anyone. She was 14 at the time.

Even if the images were not of her though, Ashley worried that people would not believe her if she denied it. Doubting herself, she yielded to his demands, which led to months of anguish, until her parents found out what was happening. She was sending as many as 60 pictures per day to her attacker. Eventually, her attacker made a mistake that led to his arrest. According to the FBI, he was a 31 year old man from Florida, with over 80,000 images on his computer from 350 girls, across 26 states, Canada and the U.K. He was sentenced to 105 years in prison for his crimes.

Had Ashley never sent the image to her attacker, she could very well have gotten through the situation, even if he had followed through on his threat to send pictures that were reportedly of her. By giving in, the opened the door to not being able to deny the pictures were of her.

How You Can Protect Your Family

Talk to your child about how sharing intimate photos online can affect them.

Parents need to discuss the realities of what can happen if such images ever make it to the Internet. One of those realities is that the images may never go away. They become part of their Digital Footprint – the impressions left behind long after the person does something online.

Wisdom comes with time, something that by their very nature, children lack.

Parents need to have “the talk” with their kids earlier than they expect to about what is acceptable and responsible with regards to online behavior. This may be more difficult to do than some parents would expect.

In the world where kids feel like they have to send such pictures or feel that it’s no big deal to show off their bodies, a “scared straight” approach might be what it takes to get through to them.

In Shame Nation, the Global Epidemic of Online Hate, the authors interviewed people involving a case coming from an affluent town in Massachusetts. Using Dropbox, an online storage site for file sharing, several high school boys reportedly starting posting intimate images of girls from the school. Even after the story broke, girls continued to send pictures to boys, knowing that they would likely end up on the site. They considered it an honor, with one mother saying, “It was a bit of a beauty contest… Some are mortified, some are proud.”

Encourage them to consider who could see what they share online.

In business classes that I teach, we discuss the Four P’s of Marketing. I took that approach and turned it into the Four P’s of Social Media:

  1. Parents (or other family members)
  2. Principal (or employer)
  3. Police
  4. Predator

Everyone should consider how they’d feel if any of the Four P’s of Social Media saw what people did online. Parents need to discuss what is acceptable and unacceptable to do online with their children – probably far earlier than they expect to have to do so.

Understand how important it is that you talk to your child about sex and consent.

Last year, I gave a presentation to all of the principals and guidance counselors in my own district’s schools. This originated after a district administrator noticed an increase in sexting at the grade school level! Even before that, when our daughter was in third grade, a classmate announced that she posts inappropriate pictures of herself on Instagram. It turned out to be not true in this case, but that statement was a cry for attention. A cry for help!

As Dr. Mary Anne Franks, the tech policy director at the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative explains, “Parents have to be willing to talk to their children about sex and the importance of sexual consent. Otherwise, they leave children to learn about sex from peers, porn, and predators.” When we choose to teach them about sex ourselves, we can limit the sexual influences of other people and teach them how to deal with pressure from outside sources, like predators.

Whether parents like it or not, sexting is the new norm for this generation. Forbidding them from doing it won’t stop them. If that were the case, children would always do as their told. Is that the way it works? In most homes, the answer is no. Some treat sexting as comparable to dating – before their parents will actually let them go out on a date. Others see it as “getting to first base”.

The old saying, “Do as I say, not as I do,” is no longer acceptable.

Be a role model.

Additionally, parents need to realize that they are role models to their kids 24/7. When they see adults or older siblings do things, they expect that it’s acceptable behavior and will not realize it may not be good for them. In a new study that just came out from the founders of the Cyberbullying Research Center, boys, not girls, were more likely to be targeted for sextortion. This surprised them and would probably shock many parents, who tend to think more about protecting girls from online sexual predators.

In conclusion, by speaking to our children clearly and openly about sexuality and online dangers, we give them the knowledge they need to make healthier decisions. And when we begin the dialogue with them, they are more likely to be open with us when they are facing a questionable situation.

Prevention here is not worth an ounce of cure. It’s worth an immeasurable amount of cure!

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