The Bare Minimum You Should Do to Protect Your Family’s Data
By Caroline Knorr
For a lot of families, technology is the glue that holds everything together. There’s your kid’s Instagram feed you follow to see what they’re up to. There’s your school’s online network you check for homework and grades. There’s the mapping app that gets you to your kids’ playdates. And then there are the regular old texts from your kids that say “hi Mom” and let you know all is well. But this connection and convenience comes at a price — and that’s your data. With increasing frequency, we’re seeing large privacy violations — when hackers get access to people’s online data or companies misuse it or fail to protect it — and we all realize how vulnerable we are to identity theft, the publication of sensitive information, and stolen credit card numbers. A new Common Sense and Survey Monkey poll reveals that most parents and teens think it’s important that sites clearly label what data they collect. Technology use comes with privacy risks, but don’t worry — the answer isn’t living the life of a Luddite.
The thing is, most of us are far too reliant on technology to stop using it now. You may delete Facebook for a while … but you always go back, because how else are you going to see your cousin’s new baby? And how can you tell your kid’s teacher your kid can’t sign up for Google Classroom when that’s how the students work on group projects? It may be a stretch to say we need technology, but we sure don’t want to live without it. Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to reach a higher level of safety and security. It’s important that the whole family is on board with these privacy best practices, because your data is only as strong as the weakest link. Do these now:
Use strict privacy settings in apps and on websites. When you or your kid signs up for a new website or app, establish your privacy preferences immediately. The default settings on most apps usually aren’t super private, but on popular social media such as Instagram, Musical.ly, and Snapchat, you can control things like who can see what you post, who can contact you, and whose posts you can see.
Enable two-factor authentication. For an added layer of protection, enable two-factor authentication on apps and sites (like Gmail or Facebook) when available. This will help protect your accounts from hackers by sending a code to your phone when you log in from an unfamiliar device.
Beware of phishing scams. Don’t open emails, texts, online “security” alerts, text notifications, or other things from anyone you don’t know, don’t recognize, or weren’t expecting. Often this is “phishing” — companies sending out enticements hoping someone will click on them, thereby allowing entry to your device. Phishers can make their messages look authentic by copying logos from companies such as Amazon, Google, or even the IRS. But they often make mistakes such as using unusual grammar, weird punctuation, or threatening language.
Use antivirus protection. Buy and download antivirus software from a reputable source such as McAfee, Norton, or Symantec. Beware of free antivirus software, as it can contain malware. The iOS operating system has antivirus software built in, but it can still be vulnerable, so make sure you update your OS when prompted, as the updates can fix security holes.
Don’t use unsecure Wi-Fi networks. Make sure any Wi-Fi you connect to has the little lock sign next to it and requires a password. Hackers are notorious for sneaking into unsecured Wi-Fi. Even better, get a VPN (virtual private network) — but, just like with antivirus software, don’t use a free VPN.
Fine-tune your browser settings. Take a look at the privacy settings offered in your browser (usually in the Tools or Settings menus.) Most browsers let you turn off certain features — for example, the “cookies” that websites install on your computer that track your movements. Some cookies, such as those that remember your login names or items in your online shopping cart, can be beneficial. But some cookies are designed to remember everything you do online, build a profile of your personal information and habits, and sell that information to advertisers and other companies. Consider using plug-ins like Privacy Badger or HTTPS Everywhere to block tracking or keep your activity safer from snoops.
Turn off location services. Unless you use an app that lets you track your kid’s location for safety reasons, turn off location services on your phone and your kid’s phone. You can turn them on again if you want to find local businesses or use your mapping program.
Don’t let apps share data. When you download a social app, it will ask if it can access information stored on your phone, such as your contacts, photos, music, and calendar. Say no. If the app won’t work without this data, consider whether you can share some of what it’s requesting but not all. Or find a similar app that doesn’t overreach.
Be careful with social logins. When you log onto a site or app with your Facebook or Google username and password, you may be agreeing to share certain information from your profile. Read the fine print to know what you’re sharing, and edit if possible. Even if you limit what’s shared with the third party, your social network will continue to track your behavior.
Do regular privacy checks. Get in the habit of regularly checking your privacy settings on all social apps you use. Do this in front of your kids and narrate the experience to demonstrate how important keeping track of your information is. You can also download all your data from Google or Facebook, for example, to see what’s been collected.
Use tough passwords and change them frequently. The best practice for passwords is to use real words or phrases you can remember easily — but spell them incorrectly. They should be at least eight characters and have a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters, such as 5pEAzhawh$ for “five pizzas.” Even better, use a password manager like eWallet. Get more password tips.
Tweak your home assistants. Keep Alexa and Google Home’s microphones off if you’re not using them. Also, periodically comb through the settings either on the apps or in your online profile to see what you’ve shared and whether you need to delete recordings or make other privacy changes. You can even pause your Internet using Netgear Orbi and Circle.
Cover your cameras. Whether it’s with a Post-it or a cute customized cover, block your webcam from potential spies. It might seem paranoid, but even Mark Zuckerberg does it.
About the Author – Carline Knorr
As Common Sense Media’s parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids’ media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you’re wondering “what’s the right age for…?” Caroline can help you make the decision that works best for your family. She has more than 20 years of editorial and creative marketing writing experience and has held senior-level positions at Walmart.com, Walmart stores, Cnet, and Bay Area Parent magazine. She specializes in translating complex information into bite-sized chunks to help families make informed choices about what their kids watch, play, read, and do. And she’s the proud mom of a teenage son whose media passions include Star Wars, StarCraft, graphic novels, and the radio program This American Life. Email Caroline at email@example.com.
MYNT ES by Slightech is a great solution if you are always losing your keys! I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten home and not put my keys and wallet in their designated spot – this usually results in a frantic morning when we are looking for my keys and trying to get my kids out the door quickly. Luckily, MYNT ES has a Bluetooth app and I can attach it to my keys so it will play a sound much like the “find my iPhone” so that searching is no more.
What we love…
easy to use solution to help you find everything quickly and easily using your tech
What we’d love to see…
way to prevent battery drain on your devices
MYNT ES is a great tech solution for an everyday problem. I really liked being able to find my keys quickly with just a tap of the MYNT app.
We recently tried MYNT ES when we were travelling just to make sure it kept track of our belongings. I had one MYNT ES attached to my keys which I carried on the plane with us and slipped the other MYNT ES into my checked bag. It was interesting to see my bag as it traveled through the airport on the way to be loaded onto our plane. I can see this being super helpful if someone travels frequently and is afraid of losing their bag. I also slipped one into my son’s swim bag because he seems to leave it behind frequently – this way I could find it quickly and easily without having to search since I was able to get an approximate location. Batteries inside the MYNT ES last about a year according to the manufacturer and are easily replaceable. You can use up to 8 MYNT devices at a time with the app. I also appreciated that MYNT ES was able to be used in the rain without having to worry that it would get wet like if it was raining when I was outside. In addition you can set a MYNT safe zone like at work or home so that your device is not constantly being tracked.
When you need help locating your belongings, you can simply open the app – tap it and it will send a loud sound signal to your device. The app is user friendly and quick to set up for your first time. From the time I opened the box to using MYNT was less than 10 minutes — and that included setting up two devices.
IF you lose a MYNT ES device, the information will be shared with the MYNT community and if your device is located by another MYNT user information is shared with you so you can locate it. A MYNT will last one to two months, and will decrease after that time.
In terms of enhancements, I did find that using MYNT ES decreased my battery life on my cell phone — this could be coincidental as I have an older device, but if I was using it frequently I found significant drain. Usually I would launch it once a day when I got home and then I could easily locate my keys on the off chance I didn’t hang them up where they were supposed to be.
Item Weight 0.32 ounces
Product Dimensions 1.1 x 2 x 0.2 inches
Item model number MYNTES
Batteries 1 CR2 batteries required. (included)
As a mom, I appreciated this MYNT ES help to find my keys and make for much less stressful mornings. I also put one on my wallet and tested them out in a variety of different locations to ensure they worked. It was great to see where my items were and not feel frantic as I looked for my keys or wallet. I also appreciated that it was easy to keep track of my items and ensured that we misplaced them much less frequently. Available for $20 USD from Amazon. Available in black and white to coordinate with your items.
NOTE: A product was supplied by the company for review purposes, no other form of compensation was received, all opinions stated in the review are those of the author and have been offered honestly.The links in this post may contain affiliate links where The iMums will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on our link, this helps to support the costs of running this site and we appreciate your support.
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Tired of listening to music in the car? Want to teach your kids instead of having them passively learn? Seven great podcasts for kids preschool and beyond.
Your kid’s new favorite magazine might just be … a podcast? That’s right, Goofus and Gallant from Highlights magazine are going high-tech, and they’re not alone. They’re joining rebel girls, talking cats and dogs, and even pirate comedians on this list of some of the best podcasts you and your little kids might not be listening to yet.
From toothbrushing tips to fabulous folktales, these fresh podcasts prove without a doubt that audio shows have come into their own. With creative offerings featuring lively narration, original songs, and occasional big-name guest stars, even the youngest listeners can get in on the action. Now road trips and activities that used to be a chore can be transformed into fun, educational experiences for the whole family.
If you’re a podcast newbie, check out 20 Podcasts for Kids, which offers tips for how to listen plus more recommendations for all ages. Otherwise open up your favorite audio app and dive into these age-appropriate picks for preschoolers and little kids.
How to Listen
It can be daunting for a first-timer to enter the world of podcasts, but digital tools have made it easier than ever to start listening. Podcasts are available to stream online or with a “podcatcher,” an app you can download specifically for podcasts. Here are some popular options for listening:
Podcasts. The original podcast app (only available for Apple iOS). FREE!
Podbay.fm. Streaming platform specifically for podcasts (app available for Android, but iOS coming soon)
NPR One. Download content and stream via Bluetooth in your car. Many of the podcasts below are from NPR content
Once you have your favorite app or website, search its library by topic and start exploring everything from science to sports to movies and more. And don’t forget to subscribe! Subscribing lets the app push new episodes directly to your device as soon as they’re available, so you’ll always have the latest update at your fingertips.
Reduce screen time. With podcasts, families can enjoy the same level of engagement, entertainment, and education as screen-based activities without worrying about staring at a screen.
Go anywhere. Podcasts are completely portable. You can listen in the car, on the bus, or in a classroom or even while doing chores around the house.
Cost nothing. Podcasts don’t have subscription or download fees, so anyone with internet access can listen and download for free. Most podcatcher apps are free, too.
Get two thumbs up from kids! Podcasts are designed to hook kids with music, jokes, compelling stories, and more. Some are designed in a serial format with cliffhangers at the end to get kids to tune back in.
On the downside, podcasts:
Play lots of ads. Many podcasts run several minutes of ads at the beginning or end. Because they’re often read by the podcast host, the ads can feel like a hard sell.
Can be confusing. Many podcasts update regularly, so you can jump right in and start listening. Others are styled like radio or TV shows, so the most recent episode is actually the end of a season. Check whether something is serialized or long-form before listening to the most recent update.
Vary in age-appropriateness. The iTunes Store labels podcasts “Explicit” or “Clean,” but even a “Clean” label doesn’t guarantee kid-friendly content. When in doubt, listen first before sharing with your kids.
Chompers is a bite-sized, twice-daily podcast meant to encourage kids to brush their teeth for the full dentist-recommended two minutes. Each morning and night, kids can enjoy short quizzes, fun facts, stories, riddles, and jokes, all with gentle reminders to get the front, back, and tops of their teeth. There are even morning cliffhangers to encourage you to come back for your nighttime brush.
Circle Round is an engaging, gentle storytime podcast aimed at kids. In every episode, narrator Rebecca Sheir tells a lesser-known folktale or story from around the world, helped by a rotating voice cast of talented stage-and-screen actors. The stories are captivating and compelling and nearly always accompanied by a positive message or moral.
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls
Rebels of all genders will be enthralled by this podcast, based on the best-selling book by the same name, with inspiring biographies of historical women read by inspiring modern women. These true stories are fascinating bits of history told simply enough that kids will be able to follow them. It’s hard not to feel empowered after listening to a few episodes.
The minds behind the kids’ podcast Wow in the World have transformed the popular magazine Highlights into a high-energy audio series. Classic favorites from the magazine like “Goofus and Gallant,” “Ask Arizona,” and “Hidden Pictures” (or, in this case, “The Hidden Sounds Game”) are reimagined as variety show segments, cheerfully guided along by hosts Tim and Juanita.
Little Stories for Tiny People
The whimsical, soothing stories on this podcast are perfect for preschoolers, but “big people” will appreciate them, too. Host Rhea Pechter’s melodic voice and the recurring cast of animal friends will delight young kids. And the clever, well-crafted stories touch on age-appropriate messages and topics.
Nothing can really match a kid’s original story in terms of absurd comedy. And that’s what’s at the heart of this wacky, wild, imaginative podcast. In each episode, the Story Pirates crew — a group of talented improvisers pretending to be pirates — read short stories written and submitted by kids, then reenact them with hilarious results. There are even original songs, famous guest stars, and interviews with the young authors about how it feels to have their work adapted.
This Podcast Has Fleas
With a hilarious concept and a fantastic voice cast, This Podcast Has Fleas is a delight for all ages. The premise is that two family pets — an exuberant dog named Waffles and a cool cat named Jones — have dueling podcasts where they talk about what’s going on in the house from their (obviously superior) perspectives. Dog people and cat people will be howling with laughter.
About the author
As associate managing editor, Frannie Ucciferri makes sure each of Common Sense Media’s more than 30,000 reviews and 700 curated lists is as complete and comprehensive as possible. Frannie is a graduate of UC Berkeley, where she earned a degree in cognitive science and taught a class on her favorite TV show ever, Arrested Development. Her passion for reading and writing is paralleled only by her love of Bay Area sports, especially baseball. When she isn’t playing with her dogs or trying out San Francisco restaurants, you can probably find her watching Pixar movies, Parks and Rec, or one of her favorite girl power movies and TV shows.
Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices. Check out our ratings and recommendations at www.commonsensemedia.org.
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