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How Concerned Should Parents Be About Reddit?

Let me start off by saying that Reddit is not one of the most well-known apps used by kids. For that reason, many parents may not have investigated the risks involved with their children using Reddit. As far as apps go, it has some terrific opportunities for people to learn on the app. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there is plenty on Reddit that many parents would not like their children to see.

Officially, Reddit’s a site designed around the concept of free speech. Unofficially, what I’ve seen on the app would make many parents cringe. I use it myself to find out things happening near where I live, about some of my hobbies (boardgames, flyfishing, gardening, etc.)

What most people would call chat rooms or groups are called communities on Reddit and there are lots of communities on every topic you might consider. People post questions and others can reply to answer them, either publicly or privately. Users are free to post just about anything that they like. The feedback from other users comes in the form of comments and voting a post up or down.

Take a look at the graph below to see how I rate Reddit on several key areas of concern for parents. In my article for Pediatric Safety on Instagram, I explain in much more detail what the values on the graph mean and how using an app might endanger a child, but here it is in short form:

What the Numbers Mean:

The numbers / ratings represent the likelihood that you will see the risky behavior occur within this app.

  • Rating < 5 is minimal risk and is highly unlikely to occur on the platform, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen.
  • A rating of 5-6 is average risk – it should concern parents, but not overly so.
  • A rating of 7 or 8 is problematic and should concern parents quite a bit.
  • A 9 or 10 rating is very troubling as that behavior is almost a certainty within this app, and involves issues that are likely of extreme concern to parents, such as sextortion and child pornography.

Catfishing (6 out of 10)

The potential is clearly here, but I have to say that the posts that I’ve seen which are most likely catfishing are often those that include adult content. Users can easily see the same pictures and videos of what are supposed to be users on multiple accounts.

In fact, I considered giving this a higher score, but only chose not to because the majority of what I’ve seen on the app is obviously people trying to help other people, so it’s not as bad as Kik or Whisper, which are meant to be use anonymously and often result in extremely insensitive or hurtful comments.

Cyberbullying (7 out of 10)

To qualify as cyberbullying, the Cyberbullying Research Center requires that the behavior meets four criteria. One of them is that it must be repeated – a single incident may not be nice, but it’s not cyberbullying.

Many of the comments I have seen on Reddit are single comments by one user, but when multiplied by the sheer number of people who jump on the bandwagon so to speak, the results are the same. It’s what’s known as a “roast” – when multiple people attack a person where they are sure to see it.

Language (7 out of 10)

Overall, most people mind their manners on Reddit, but that’s not always the case, especially in some of the more adult-appropriate communities. I’ve seen comments to posts that would get people arrested if they actually committed the acts they mentioned in their comment. The same is true about some of the original posts and what they’re asking for/about.

Nudity (10 out of 10)

Reddit is filled with nudity, including images and videos. Hard core nudity. It’s that simple. What surprised me the most is how quickly I was recommended to see posts or communities that included such content. I’m not saying that nudity and pornography is everywhere on Reddit, but it definitely exists and it’s not hard to find. The images below, however, were posted in a Reddit Community where explicit images may not have been expected.

And while these images still have the people wearing at least some clothes, there are plenty of cases where the images and videos are far more graphic in nature.

For what it’s worth, communities that are known for adult content typically, but not always, have a warning pop-up so that users can’t enter them without a chance to prevent it from being seen.

Privacy (7 out of 10)

Users don’t need to even sign into Reddit or even have an account to view what’s posted on it. That’s probably the best way to maintain a person’s privacy, but of course, that also means that they can’t engage in the discussions and that’s a shame, because there is a lot of good content on Reddit.

Sexting (7 out of 10)

Plenty of the communities that contain adult content generate extremely crude and inappropriate comments by users – statements that would most definitely get children in trouble for saying such things at home or at school. This often results in long threads (reply after reply) about sexual activity. That’s just what’s publicly available from the posts themselves. Direct messaging between users is not available to see but most likely continues this type of behavior.

Sextortion (7 out of 10)

Any place where kids can meet strangers and engage in sexting has the potential to lead to sextortion – blackmailing others to perform sexual acts. This typically begins after the victim sends a single inappropriate picture to force them to continue doing it. Considering that the FBI estimates that at any given moment, there are 750,000 child predators online, parents need to treat even the potential for this happening very seriously.

Stalking (7 out of 10)

The best way to prevent stalking on Reddit is the proper use of privacy settings. Reddit has the ability to establish “friends” on the app, as well as block users that people no longer wish to be in contact with. This also helps with privacy concerns.

That’s not to say that if your child blocks someone that the other person won’t create a new account and try to contact them again, often catfishing them as another person so that your child doesn’t know their true identity. For this reason, it’s so important that we all use privacy settings to prevent even one bad person from getting into our inner circle.

Viruses (8 out of 10)

It’s very common for people to include links in posts or as a reply to a post. Many of those that I have seen, even in what should be a “safe” community such as a gardening community, use URL shorteners like TinyURL or Bitly to make long URLs less intimidating, but they can also be used to disguise where a link is going. My advice is that nobody should ever follow a link that they can’t say with 100% confidence where it’s going. That usually means trusting the source of who posted it. For more information on this, please read my previous article for Pediatric Safety.

The Bottom Line

Reddit can be a very helpful site. Of all the social media apps that I’ve used, I can say that I find Reddit to be the most useful when it comes to learning things from other people. It can let them engage with others to get different points of view and share knowledge. But that’s a double-edged sword. It also opens us up to the worst parts of social media. To help keep safe on Reddit, we and our kids need to do the following:

  1. Remind your kids to be very careful about what they do on Reddit – and any other apps as well. Have frequent and honest discussions with your children about their online actions. Let them know that it’s not because you don’t trust them, but because you can’t trust everyone else out there.
  2. As parents, it’s always a good idea to know what apps your children have installed onto their devices. As it’s pretty easy to hide them from being seen on the desktop, the best way is to try and download the app onto the device. If it allows you to download it, then it’s not already there. If it offers you the option to open the app, then it’s already there, even if you can’t find it on a list of apps on the device.

Overall, Reddit can be a good platform for people of all ages to use. Just keep in mind that although you’re less likely to encounter cyberbullying and several other issues, it has far more nudity/pornography than most parents want their children to see.

When “Going Viral” is a Bad Thing: What Parents Need To Know

We’ve all heard the term, “going viral” and we all know what it means. What we may not realize is just how quickly it can happen.

It’s fine when it’s a cute video, but what about when it’s a picture or video of someone in a way that they wouldn’t want themselves seen? Or a story that paints a person (true or false), maybe your child, in a bad way.

That’s when it can get even worse. It’s bad enough that someone has to see the post about themselves, but knowing that people are talking about them behind their back makes the pain increase exponentially. The comments will likely not remain “just online”, either. Too often, the targets of the bad behavior are attacked offline as well.

When I’m presenting to students or parents, I always use the example of Six Degrees of Separation, which states that that everyone is six relationships (or less) away from any other person in the world. The scary part is just how quickly this can happen!

Making this as conservative as possible, we’re going to pretend that each person who sees a picture shares it with just one other person in each round, but in reality, it could be sent out to dozens of people in seconds. Maybe hundreds. Here’s how it works:

  1. One person takes a pic and sends it to a friend. Two people have now seen the pic.
  2. Both of them decide to share the pic to just one person. Now, four people have seen the pic.
  3. Each of them repeats the process. Now, eight people have seen it.
  4. Each of them repeats the process. Now, 16 people have seen it.
  5. Each of them repeats the process. Now, 32 people have seen it.
  6. Each of them repeats the process. Now, 64 people have seen it.
  7. Each of them repeats the process. Now, 128 people have seen it.
  8. Each of them repeats the process. Now, 256 people have seen it.
  9. Each of them repeats the process. Now, 512 people have seen it.
  10. Each of them repeats the process. Now, 1,024 people have seen it.

In only ten rounds, over a thousand people have seen the picture. In another 10 rounds, it will be over a million people. And this entire process may take only a few minutes!

 

Why This Matters

What we do and say, as well as what other people say about us, can affect us offline. It can affect us as soon as it happens or years later, when we’ve long forgotten about it.

From schools looking for new admissions to employers looking for potential new hires to people curious about who they may be about to go on a date with, people need to realize that the #OnlineMeetsOffline lesson can cause real problems or open new opportunities for them. What they find largely falls upon us.

Social media sites, especially Twitter, are very easy to search if you know how to do it. Human Resources employees and Admissions Officers are well versed in how to do it.

What’s the Solution?

To be perfectly honest, there really isn’t one. At least, not a full proof one. With today’s graphics software, it’s very easy to manipulate an image that can be very convincing to most people. That said, a good start is to minimize your child’s pictures online.

We all want to show our kids off, but we may be doing them more harm than good. In France, parents can actually be arrested or sued for posting pics of their children online – it’s considered an invasion of their privacy if it’s done without their consent.

Make sure that your kids avoid posting images that can be taken the wrong way. – Yes, that’s almost impossible. They can start by never sending any inappropriate pictures of themselves with anyone – ever! I recently watched “Do Revenge” on Netflix. It’s a new release and the problems all start when a senior girl sends a topless video to her boyfriend, only for it to be seen by every kid in the school. That’s when the problems start for the girl, and she becomes a pariah bent on revenge.

The best advice that I can give on this topic is that an ounce of prevention is not worth a pound of cure – it’s worth an immeasurable amount of cure!

We all need to realize that what we do online can have long-term consequences. If we realize that what we say online may be read in open-court one day, we may choose not to do some of the things that we might do otherwise. It may take some of the fun away from using social media, but it can prevent a lot of problems down the line!

Hidden in Plain Sight: a Parent’s Guide to Teen Texting

One of the most common things that kids do with technology is send text messages. Even as far back as 2010, Pew Research reported that 72% of teens engaged in texting. And while some parents may review the messages sent on their kids’ phones, it’s all too easy to avoid leaving incriminating messages behind. One of the trickiest ways that they do this is by using “secret code words” that are really everyday words, but with hidden meanings. These messages look completely harmless, but have a darker meaning that is usually only known by teens.

One of the earliest ways that teens texted in code was using Leetspeak, a method of using similar looking letters and numbers. This is still used widely in social media apps to try to avoid online monitors, both human and automated, from identifying inappropriate words. For example:

The downside to this approach is that if someone happens to be looking over their shoulder and sees text like that, their mind notices it and it could cause them to ask questions that the teens don’t want to answer. By using everyday words with a meaning known only to them, the teens are less likely to bring unwanted attention to themselves.

Hiding in Plain Sight

Before you continue with this, please know that some of the examples I’m about to use may be uncomfortable for parents to read. Also know that my examples aren’t mean to imply that these words/phrases are always used in this way. Sometimes, when a teen says that they want pizza, it means nothing more than a visit to a local pizza shop is imminent.

Below are some of the examples of code words using by teens, with their explanation and an example of how it might be used:

BOB: An acronym for Battery Operated Boyfriend.
Example: She’s been spending a lot of time with BOB lately.

Bunny: An abbreviated form of a “Rope Bunny” – someone who likes being tied up.
Example: I’ve been hoping to find a cute bunny lately, but no such luck!

Chocolate: A black person.
Example: I’ve been craving chocolate a lot lately!

Headache: When a person, usually a male, is aroused and looking for sex.
Example: Man, I wish that I could do something about this headache. It just won’t go away.

Little: A person who pretends to be much younger than they are chronologically. The difference can be years or even decades. This person is often in search of someone who is looking to take care of them (not always sexually).
Example: I woke up feeling very little today.

Mary Jane: Another word for marijuana. Also known as MJ.
Example: Has anyone seen MJ lately? I’m looking for her.

Pet: A person who likes to be cared for, often in a submissive role.
Example: I’m looking for the perfect pet. Anyone? [Done in a chat room]

Pizza: A euphemism for sex. The idea is that there is no such thing as bad pizza and there is no such thing as bad sex.
Example: I really need to get some pizza today!

Smash: To have casual sex.
Example: Whenever I see him, I just want to smash him.

Your Turn

Below are three possible texts that have very different meanings compared to what they appear to be. Also included are multiple choice answers with their real meanings indicated afterwards.

Self-Test #1: I absolutely love corn, no matter how it’s done.

  1. Male genitalia.
  2. Pornography
  3. Something without alcohol.

Self-Test #2: Turtles are my favorite pet. Who doesn’t love them?

  1. A shy, introverted person.
  2. A person with a tough shell (personality).
  3. A person who will spend a lot of time on their pack (having sex).

Self-Test #3: I’d really love some spaghetti right about now.

  1. Someone who is straight when dry (sober), but gay when wet (drunk or high).
  2. Someone without a backbone – an easy pushover.
  3. A person of Italian ancestry.

Answers to Self-Tests #1:B. #2: C, #3: A

Takeaway

It can be very difficult to decode such messages because they look so innocent. And many times, they are innocent. It may take seeing several exchanges to finally understand the true nature of what’s being said between the people. The most likely place parents should watch out for these kinds of code words is on social media apps like Whisper or in a chat room.

My best advice is to confirm the intent by looking at an ongoing exchange, rather than after seeing only one possible coded message. The next is to focus more on educating them on the potential dangers involved with sexting, including sextortion and revenge porn. This video shows the potential consequences of sexting when images are included. It shows just how quickly and easily the images can go viral, being seen by many people, perhaps even by the original sender’s friends and family.

Once such images are distributed, getting them removed from the Internet is virtually impossible. It’s one reason why I say that when it comes to technology problems like sexting, an ounce of prevention isn’t worth a pound of cure, but an immeasurable amount of cure. And like any other activity that teens may do with technology, parents can teach their children a better way with patience and by keeping informed on what the risks are to their children.

What Happens at Home CAN Cause Problems at School

Can your child get into trouble at school for what they do online at home?

While the answer to that question depends on where you live, the most likely answer to this is that a school can discipline a student for off-campus activities in some cases. The majority of U.S. states allow for it, reports the Cyberbullying Research Center. The rationale for this is for when activities off-campus negatively effect on-campus life beyond a reasonable amount.

That means that when a student engages in inappropriate behavior online, such as bullying a student or sending out racy images of another student, the school may have the right to take disciplinary action. While students (and parents) may argue that their actions don’t fall under the school’s province, the courts have decided otherwise.

And this is not just limited to actions taken by students. The same rules apply to staff/faculty as well. In my own county, a teacher was fired for comments made on her blog under an assumed identity that was derogatory towards her students. Her lawyers argued that she had the right to free speech, but a federal appeals court agreed with the school district for firing her, saying that her actions were “so disruptive at school as to tip the Pickering balance in the school district’s favor.” The Pickering balance refers to a 1968 case that determined that an employee’s right to free speech is protected IF it is a matter of public concern AND if the employee’s interest outweighs the public employer’s interest in an efficient workplace.

When my daughter was in sixth grade, I spoke with the vice-principal about this: kids using social media and how it affects the school environment. He told me that a day didn’t go by when he didn’t have students in his office, discussing something that happened online that caused a problem when the students saw each other again.

What makes that even more troublesome is that this was a grade school, going up to sixth grade. At this point, the students are almost certainly no older than 12 years old. This is important because most social media companies out there require that users be at least 13 years old to use their apps in order to avoid violating the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Rule of 1998, more commonly known as COPPA. This act was designed to limit the amount and type of data that companies can data-mine from them. In reality, it is one of the most broken laws we have, as millions of minors use apps that they should not be using.

How to Avoid Problems

Let’s be honest – most children have at least one incident through their school years that requires the school to take corrective action of some kind. One way to minimize that from happening is to follow the T.H.I.N.K. Principle, as recommended by Fifty Shades of Purple against Bullying, an organization designed to help families who have been affected by bullying in any form. The T.H.I.N.K. Principle helps teach everyone to avoid doing or saying something that could cause problems for them later by focusing on five key points:

  • TRUE Is what I’m saying True?
  • HELPFUL Is what I’m saying Helpful to the situation?
  • INSPIRING Is what I’m saying Inspiring to others?
  • NECESSARY Is what I’m saying Necessary?
  • KIND Is what I’m saying Kind?

It always amazes me as to what I see people post online, especially on Twitter. People say things online that they would never do in person, sometimes hiding behind the anonymity of an app. If we can’t honestly answer yes to these five questions, then we probably shouldn’t post it.

Maybe a better way to consider it is that we should dance like nobody else is watching, but post like we expect it to be read in the principal’s office or even open court someday.

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…

One Wrong Click! Your Kid’s in Trouble Now!

We hear in the news that companies get hacked all the time, but we rarely hear about when it happens to people like us. Trust me, it happens a lot!

Ransomware is more common than people realize, making its way into a device, such as a laptop, phone or tablet. Its name comes from the demand from the hacker to have their victim pay a fee to regain control of their device.

For private citizens, the danger includes targeting our children via emails and on social media. Even the most innocuous looking link can be a Trojan Horse, just waiting to infect a device. Kids may not realize the dangers inherent in clicking links and without meaning to, introduce malware onto their device or maybe even onto your device if family members share a device.

About eight years ago, Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf’s laptop was infected with malware. As a result, her laptop’s camera was recording her in her dorm room without her knowledge. Another teenager contacted Miss Wolf and threatened to release the intimate pictures of her unless she sent him more pictures. According to the records, he threatened to turn her “dream of being a model…into a porn star.”

That’s why I always keep a cover over my laptop’s camera unless I’m actively using it! Covering the microphone isn’t a bad idea, either.

To show you how easy it is to be tricked, all three of the links below appear as though they will take you to Google’s home page. The truth is that only one of them actually does what it appears to do. Can you tell which one that is? Don’t worry if you’re wrong, because the others take you to safe sites, I promise.

https://www.google.com/

https://www.google.com/

https://www.google.com/

On a laptop or tablet, you may be able to move the mouse/pointer over the link and see its destination before you click on it. Maybe. But on cellphones, that’s not an option and once you click on it, it’s too late – you’re in trouble and may not even realize it until it’s too late.

If infected with malware, the FBI’s official policy is to not pay the ransom, but many people feel it’s the only way that they will get access to their technology again. The key is to avoid getting infected in the first place.

Here are five steps that you and your kids can take to avoid potential malware problems:

  1. Explain to your children why they should never click on unknown links or download files from a source that is not completely trustworthy.
  2. Either design your devices so that they backup your data automatically or teach your children how to make backups of your data regularly, probably onto a flash drive.
  3. Teach them why they should never plug an unknown flash drive into your device.
  4. Install anti-virus software and keep it up to date and make sure that your children let you know about any warnings or messages that pop up on their devices BEFORE they act upon them.
  5. Make sure that your kids know to avoid letting others use their equipment, as they may not follow the same steps mentioned here and could introduce a virus onto the device.

Even by following these steps, keep in mind that nothing is foolproof, but anything you can do to help prevent your devices from being infected with viruses are well worth the effort. Even if no critical school or work files are lost, imagine the inconvenience of not having the devices available until they are fixed or maybe, replaced!

Hackers quickly come up with new coding that works around existing anti-virus software. The companies that make it are often playing catch up, learning about the new virus only after it has affected someone. Even Microsoft, one of the biggest tech companies in the world, has paid millions to hackers, paying them to expose weaknesses in their security. Like most problems involving both technology and our children, an ounce of prevention isn’t just worth a pound of cure – it’s worth an immeasurable amount of cure!

So where do you start??

Go back to the basics and remind your kids to not click on links from people that they don’t know. Even links sent by friends could be a problem if they’re just forwarding on a link from an untrustworthy source. Many hackers or predators will use the same technique that I used above to trick people into following links that look perfectly safe, but aren’t.

The best analogy that I can give you to use is to tell your kids to treat their computer like your own home. Just as you wouldn’t give a stranger the keys to your house, letting malware into your computer can give them access into plenty of personal information, including banking and credit card accounts, control over your device’s microphone/camera and a lot more…all without you even realizing that you’ve been attacked!

By following the steps above, you and your family will be far less likely to have malware introduced onto your devices and avoiding the problems in the first place is by far, the best possible outcome.

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