Where Your Teens Are Hanging Out Online

By Tracey Dowdy:

As a mom, I try – try being the key word in this sentence – to keep up with trends in social media. It helps that it’s part of my job. But honestly, there are days when it feels like I’m jogging with a greyhound – there’s just no way to keep up.

Inevitably, when parents do catch up and get onboard with the latest and greatest, we immediately “mom it up” and our kids start to leave in droves.

So, in the hopes of helping you keep up without embarrassing your children, here are some of the most popular sites, what they’re about, and why they’re popular:

Twitter

Twitter isn’t new – it’s been around since 2006 – but it’s steadily gained popularity, particularly among teens. Limited to 140 characters, Twitter is a microblogging site that provides a platform to share snippets of your day and keep up with breaking news, major sporting events, and celebrity gossip.

When you join Twitter, you choose to follow other users and their tweets then show up in your Twitter feed. Your own tweets can be seen by people that choose to follow you. Tweets can be deleted but users should keep in mind that, like everything else online, our words can still come back to haunt us. Teens like Twitter it because it takes what they like best about Facebook – sharing every waking moment and detail – and shrinks it down to a manageable sentence or two.

Instagram

Instagram lets users post photos or 15 second videos either to a group of followers or publicly. Like Twitter, users can follow friends, strangers or celebrities and leave ‘likes’ or comments. Photos can be edited and filters utilized to create different effects.

Instagram recently added a private message feature, so users can post a photo to up to 15 friends and the photo won’t show up in a user’s regular feed. Likes are a big deal in the world of Instagram, so though the Terms and Conditions specify that sexually suggestive photos may not be posted, users may push the envelope of what is considered acceptable to draw more likes. Teens like it as it takes what they like about Facebook – endless selfies – and lets them filter and edit those duck-faces into artsy photos.

Snapchat

Snapchat has received a lot of negative attention as a way for teens to sext. In theory, the photos disappear after just 1-10 seconds (users determine how long recipients can view the photo) but the problem is that 1-10 seconds is plenty of time for recipients to take a screenshot. As with any form of social media, there are those who will abuse it but, for the most part, teens like Snapchat because it’s another way to connect, be silly and have fun.

Tumblr

Think of Tumblr as an online scrapbook. Users create “Tumblogs” (Tumblr blogs) of images, text and videos, and share their blogs with a list of friends or leave them public. Users can create private profiles but only after creating an initial profile that stays public. Tumblr is a lot of fun – it’s basically a cross between Twitter and Instagram – but content is far less regulated. Sexually explicit language and images are easy to find, as are posts related to self-harm, drugs or other topics parents may find objectionable. For the most part, that’s not why teens are using it. Teens like it for the obvious reason: it’s fun.

Vine

Vine allows users to create and post looping six-second video clips grouped by categories like Art, Music and Dance, Comedy or Style. Videos are intended to be fun, but again, it’s not hard to find objectionable content. Teens like Vine because it’s entertaining and users get to be creative.

Ultimately, like every other area of parenting in our digital age, it’s up to you to decide how much you need to screen and monitor your teen’s activity and what sites are appropriate.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology.

Put Down Your Remote and Pick Up Your Tablet

By Robyn Wright

In my house, the clickers (remote controls) always seem to be missing or, if we can find them, the batteries have mysteriously disappeared. This is no longer a problem though, because I can use my tablet to control all of our home entertainment devices. No more missing remotes; no more digging through the sofa cushions; no more missing batteries. Everything is in one place, right on my tablet, which I usually have in my lap anyway.

One caveat is that your home entertainment devices need to be current. You cannot control your console TV from the 70s with a tablet. Anytime you are buying a new TV, DVR, stereo, or other equipment, be sure to check out those extra features, like being able to control them with apps. Be on the lookout for devices that say they are Wi-Fi ready. Bluetooth ready and Airplay compatible are other terms you might see. My preference is for Wi-Fi, so I can almost always find an app that will turn my tablet into a remote.

Once you see what your connection capabilities are, then you can look for the apps you need. Start with the manufacturer’s website to see if they offer an app themselves. These will be the easiest to use, since they are specifically designed to work with your device.

If you cannot find a manufacturer’s app, then it’s time to search your favorite app store. Again, search for the brand name first to see what you can find and then move on to searching for terms like “TV remote,” “DVR remote,” etc. Because there are so many options and configurations, you have to find what will work with your tablet and your entertainment systems. Search for “remote control” and you will be amazed at the options.

Most of the apps are very intuitive and easy to set up. Many will allow you to control devices by room – one setup for the living room, one for the bedroom, and so forth. There can be a lot of options, just take your time, and don’t worry, you won’t break anything. One small warning: the kids (okay, and adults too) will think it is fun to add the remote apps to their devices and change the channel on you when you aren’t looking!

Robyn Wright is a social media specialist and blogs on her own blog, RobynsOnlineWorld.com, as well as several other sites. Robyn has a love for family, technology, food and lots of apps!

7 Essential Smartphone Tips

Smartphones are becoming more complicated, and that’s not always a good thing. By some estimates, barely half of all smartphone owners have ever downloaded an app, and many smartphones end up being used as point-and-shoot cameras that can also make the occasional phone call.

But even if you are a relatively savvy smartphone owner, it’s not easy to keep up with all the features that are being added to the latest devices. And that’s a missed opportunity, because many of those features can have a major impact when it comes to productivity, personal security, and even the size of your monthly phone bill.

Here are 7 tips that can make a big difference in how you use your device:

Get to know your camera

The camera is everyone’s favorite smartphone feature but photos taken with a smartphone camera can still be disappointing. Smartphone cameras have numerous settings and editing features that can help you become a better photographer. Spend a few minutes getting to know them and they will pay instant dividends.

Extend your battery life

A short battery life is still the Achilles Heel of most smartphones. Turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and other data-guzzling apps when you don’t them and find out what other battery-saving features are incorporated in your phone’s settings. Similarly, turn off data-guzzling apps – or even power-off the phone – when you are charging. You’ll find that you charging time is significantly reduced.

Manage your data

Get to know the data monitoring tools on your phone and use them to control your data costs. Android and Windows phones have built-in tools that will tell you which apps are using the most data, so you can turn them off or uninstall them when you are nearing your data limit.

Learn how to turn off mobile data completely – or switch to Airplane Mode – so you don’t incur unnecessary roaming charges when you travel overseas. It can also make sense to turn off mobile data at night or when you are out of range of your home network. Most phones will now prompt you to switch to a Wi-Fi network if one is available. Take advantage of all these data-saving options and those overage charges will be a thing of the past!

Take advantage of cloud storage

Most carriers now offer free cloud storage options for mobile users. Take advantage of these programs and make sure your contacts and other important data is backed-up at all times. Other cloud storage options (iCloud, Google Cloud, Dropbox, OneCloud) allow you to sync your data across various devices and platforms, so it’s always available whenever you need it. Again, take advantage of these options to ensure maximum security and productivity.

Use the wireless hotspot

Perhaps the most underutilized feature of your smartphone and tablet, the wireless hotspot is also the most useful, providing a high-speed Internet connection for multiple devices, including laptops, computers, and gaming consoles. That means no more searching for a Wi-Fi network or relying on expensive and unsecure hotel networks while you are traveling.

Organize your apps into folders

Finding the app you want usually means swiping through multiple home screens or searching through an ever-expanding app catalog. Instead, you can now organize your most commonly used apps in folders that reside right on the home screen. Both iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Android devices allow you to do this, with some devices now coming with certain folders already set up (Verizon apps, Amazon apps, Tools, etc.).

Install a Find Your Phone app

With so much information, photos and other data stored on our phones, protecting against a lost device is now a top priority. The latest iPhone operating software (iOS7 and iOS8) have built-in Find My iPhone apps, while there are multiple find-your-phone apps available through the Google Play and Windows Phone stores. Make sure you understand how the find-your-phone apps work and you sync all the necessary data with your computer or laptop so you are ready in an emergency.

How To Create Safe Passwords

By Stacey Ross

A few months back, I was reading an article about how to “spring clean” your online world and how various common oversights are leaving online enthusiasts vulnerable to hackers! I began to think of all of the emails, websites, and other accounts that, if in the hands of a hacker, could expose you to all sorts of nightmares.

So, what to do? For starters, consider a password make-over!

Common mistakes when making passwords

Looking at some of the most common passwords of 2015, ranging from “password” and “123456” to “football” and “login,” it is clear that hackers can access many accounts merely by repeatedly trying the most popular words or numbers.

Morgan Slain, CEO of SplashData, Inc., the computer security firm that compiled the list, shared, “If you have a password that is short or common or a word in the dictionary, it’s like leaving your door open for identity thieves.”

Be safer and sounder online

How many other common mistakes do we make? I spent a couple of hours chatting with Chris Duque, CyberSecurity Specialist/CyberSafety Advocate and a veteran of the Honolulu Police Department, who is an expert on online reputation management, cybercrime, cyber-bullying, over-sharing personal information, and much more.

I left the conversation eager to share his golden nuggets of advice, as he has a wealth of information, tips and insights that can surely lead to a safer online experience.

Seven tips for more secure passwords

There are several ways to protect our personal information and accounts, but Duque suggests a good start is to clean up our passwords.

1. Duque advises people who are active online to have five different e-mail accounts: a) family and close friends, b) the public, c) social media, d) banking, e) online shopping. Not only does it help you protect your private information, but it also helps organize your online activity.

2. Likewise, have different passwords for your various emails and online accounts. “Consider that a hacker opens one email account, he or she then has a field day that can destroy your life,” Duque shared. “You are less vulnerable if you make it harder to access your online information. If one account is compromised, it is safe to say that the others will be too. It’s best to prevent that!”

3. Steer away from using personal clues when creating passwords.  Keep personal information such as your name, location, birthday, loved-one’s name and even your sex out of the mix. Personal information is often publicly available, which leaves clues as to what your password might be, so also avoid words that share your nickname, hobbies or things you are known for.

4. Create high quality passwords, but make sure you can remember them. You don’t want to use the same password for everything, but consider changing the prefix or suffix so your passwords are not entirely different.

5. Put some thought into creating passwords. Include numbers, symbols, and both uppercase and lowercase letters. Also consider a control character and a non-English word. Replace a number for a letter, for example, “i” for 1 and “0” for O.

6. Refrain from giving out your passwords but, if you must, then change them after you receive help.  Do not email or text your passwords; rather call the person over the phone instead. Password managers such as LastPass and PasswordGenie are tools that encrypt and store passwords online, and some also help secure your information. Many people just choose to store their passwords in a safe place off the computer, like in a safe or hidden in a bookshelf (best to have them in more than one location). If you store them on your computer, be sure that they are well buried.

7. Be fake! When setting up emails and accounts, we are often asked security questions in case we forget our passwords. Duque advises us to change our passwords every six months or so and also shared this great piece of advice: “Hackers often are successful because they have clear clues as to what those answers might be, merely by studying the user’s profile. I advise creating your own questions, when that option is available, and give fake answers!” Nothing like throwing off a hacker, right?

Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.

Distracted Driving: Time to Put Down That Phone!

By Tracey Dowdy

When I was a kid, family vacation meant driving for hours and taking the ferry to Prince Edward Island for a couple of weeks of camp. The biggest distraction for the driver was the constant
“stop touching me/stay on your side/I know I am but what are you?” bickering from the back seat and the occasional wildlife that would wander out on to the highway.

Not so today. Not that kids have miraculously stopped bickering – this isn’t a Disney movie – but with handheld devices and video screens built into the headrests, the biggest distraction is no longer coming from the backseat. Now it’s right there in the hands of the driver.

Although most of us admit distracted driving is dangerous, there’s a clear disconnect between acknowledging the problem and changing our behavior. With a staggering 74 percent of Americans admitting that they talk on the phone while driving, and the fact summer sees the highest incidence of teen accidents (7 of the 10 deadliest days for teen drivers fall between Memorial Day and Labor Day), it’s time to take a hard look at our driving habits.

Consider these statistics from DoSomething.org:

  • 10% of fatal accidents involving drivers under 20 were determined to be related to distracted driving.
  • 5 seconds is the minimum amount of time that a driver takes his eyes off the road while texting. If the car is traveling at 55 mph, that’s equivalent to the length of a football field.
  • Texting makes a crash up to 23 times more likely.
  • Teens who text while driving spend 10% of the time outside their lane.
  • According to AT&T’s Teen Driver Survey, 97% of teens agree that texting while driving is dangerous, yet 43% do it anyway.
  • 19% of drivers of all ages admit to surfing the web while driving.
  • 43 states, plus D.C., prohibit all drivers from texting.
  • 40% of teens say that they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone.
  • The most recent National Occupant Protection Use Survey finds that women are more likely than men to reach for their cell phones while driving.
  • According to 77% of teens, adults tell them not to text or email while driving, yet adults do it themselves “all the time.”
  • 9 in 10 teens expect a reply to a text or email within five minutes or less, which puts pressure on them to respond while driving.

Arguably the most distressing of those statistics is the belief by teens that adults text or e-mail while driving “all the time.” We are quick to criticize and accuse teen drivers of careless driving, but what examples are we setting? Maybe we’re not texting, but we’re taking a business call instead. Maybe we’re scrolling through a playlist or getting GPS directions from Siri. Maybe we’re like the woman ahead of me in traffic yesterday who was smoking, eating a doughnut, drinking coffee and checking her eye make-up.

Whatever we’re doing, let’s stop. Let’s put the phone down, put the coffee down, and fix our make up when we get to office. The risks and the consequences are simply too high.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology.

Friday, August 22: Towards a Healthier Lifestyle

VERIZON INSIDER TWITTER PARTY

#VZWBuzz

When: TODAY, Friday, August 22, 2014
12:00-1:00 pm PT
3:00-4:00 pm ET

‘Towards a Healthier Lifestyle’

Join special host @joycecherrier and the #VZWBuzz team TODAY at 12 noon PT (3 pm ET) as we look at how mobile technology can steer us Towards a Healthier Lifestyle!
A host of new devices and smartphone apps are encouraging us to become more active. Join health and fitness guru @joycecherrier as we look at some of the available options and suggest ways in which we can all transition to a healthier lifestyle!
  RSVP and attend the party for a chance to Jawbone UP24 activity tracker or an HTC One (M8) smartphone!
(Click here to learn more about our Twitter chats. You must RSVP and attend the party to be eligible for a prize.)
To RSVP:
  1. Email RSVP@theonlinemom.com (subject line: VZWBuzz) and include your Twitter ID.
  2. Spread the word and RT this link on your Twitter feed: http://bit.ly/1lRV3BM
  3. Join us on TweetDeck or HootSuite (#VZWBuzz) today between 12 – 1 pm PT
  4. Tell your Twitter followers!
PRIZE WINNERS will be announced during the Party!

(The Online Mom LLC receives a fee for participating in certain promotional programs for Verizon Wireless.)

6 Useful Smartphone Travel Tips

By Robyn Wright

Hopefully you will be taking a vacation this summer. If you are, then your smartphone can be a great travel companion. You can use it to stay in touch with friends and family back home; it can keep you entertained while you wait at airports or take those long road trips; it can help you stay organized; and it can even capture some priceless vacation memories.

Take a few minutes before you leave to download some travel apps and learn how your smartphone can make your vacation even easier and more relaxing. Here are some suggestions:

Airplane mode

If you are flying, you can now use your smartphone in-flight but you still need to put it in airplane mode. Airplane mode disables talk, text and data but you can still play games, watch downloaded movies or listen to your playlists (see below). Airplane mode is usually found under Settings and is as simple as tapping an on/off button.

Airplane mode can also be a useful option while you are on the ground, ensuring that you don’t incur any data or roaming charges due to unexpected updates or phone calls.

Airline apps

Most of the major airlines now have mobile apps. As well as providing useful information like flight status and airport directions, they also eliminate the need to print a boarding pass. Just check in via the app and the on-screen boarding pass can be scanned at security prior to boarding your airplane. A bonus tip: take a screenshot of your boarding pass just in case you can’t get a signal at the airport when you need it. The screenshot is scannable as well.

Maps and navigation

Most smartphones have some kind of built-in map and navigation app. Plus, there are many more available in the app stores. Pick one and learn how to use it before you leave. It can be frustrating if you are somewhere new and need directions but you don’t know how to use the app. I love HERE Maps on my Nokia Lumia Icon, especially as it lets me download the maps and use them interactively, even if I have no data connection.

Download your favorite media

Rather than streaming everything, you are better off saving some media (music, movies, video, etc.) directly to your device for your travels. You may not always have a data connection and, even if you do, streaming can eat into your data plan and cost you a lot of money. Even though your airline may have on-board Internet service, you can’t normally stream movies using their connection.

Make notes

Keep all of your important phones numbers, addresses, confirmation numbers and similar items in notes on your smartphone. You don’t want to have to depend on a data connection to access this information. If you are using an app that requires an Internet connection, then take some screenshots (that save to your photo gallery), so the information is always available.

Turn on photo location services

Many of us turn off the location services on our smartphone cameras while we are at home. However, when you are on vacation you might want to turn these back on. As you snap photos, the location data will be saved and it can help you remember where you were. There are some great apps that will create albums for you, including maps that feature your pictures.

Learning how to perform these simple tasks and getting to know any apps you plan on using during your vacation will save you time and money. We are lucky to have such amazing tools in the palms of our hands that are ready to respond to our every command. Enjoy your trip with your new best travel companion!

Robyn Wright is a social media specialist and blogs on her own blog, RobynsOnlineWorld.com, as well as several other sites. Robyn has a love for family, technology, food and lots of apps!