Category Archives: Family

His Gift – another Ramirez Christmas video card

This year’s 8th annual Ramirez Christmas video card is dedicated to those who serve Him by serving others.  Merry Christmas!

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Windows Family Safety – Free Web Filter/Activity Reporting Tool

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One of the most common questions parents ask me is, “How do you filter/monitor your kids’ Internet activity?” In our house, it’s through the utilization of Microsoft’s free Windows Family Safety software.

This only works on Windows PCs, but since my wife is the only one for which I’ve ponied up the money for a Macbook, the kids all still have basic Windows laptops, so this option works well for us. We’re also still using Windows 7, so I can’t quite speak to the cool new Windows 8 solutions either.  That said, I can tell you about my experience with Windows 7 and Windows Family Safety.

Overall, our family is very pleased with the experience. The kids do get annoyed sometimes when the filter gets a bit over ambitious on the Pinterest posts (almost anything with any sort of skin gets blocked – i.e. cute bracelets and ring photos). But I’d rather have it error on that side than the alternative.

Family Safety does an admirable job of filtering out all the bad stuff the Internet has to offer. It provides a number of “levels” of filtering, as well as a very comprehensive reporting tool listing everything your kids visit online. It’s cloud based, which lets you log on from any computer to check on things, and it even has tools to set time limits and such for each child.

And my favorite feature: it’s FREE! Yeah, I’m geeky and cheap.

Click here to learn all the details of Windows Family Safety, including how to install it on your computers.

NOTE: This only helps protect your kid’s computers.  Don’t forget about the rest of your Internet-enabled devices.  Read this post for more details on DNS Filters for your Internet router, and this post for more info on locking up your iPhones, iPods, and iPads.

And don’t be shy, please share this with other parents so they can learn how to better protect their kids from the nasty underbelly of the Internet.

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Instagram Adds Tagging to Photos – Change Your Child’s Settings to Avoid Unwanted Public Tags

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Instagram released an update to their app today featuring new “tagging” functionality. Dubbed “Photos of You”, the new feature is much like the photo tagging function on Facebook, allowing Instagram users to tag photos of themselves and other users. All of the photos you’re tagged in will show up in a new tab on your Instagram profile.

This is important for parents to understand because it means your kids may be tagged by others and those photos will (by default) automatically show up on your kid’s “Photos of You” tab. Now, if you’re already on top of it, your kid’s Instagram account should be set up as private (if not, here’s how). And if your account is set as private, only people who you accept as followers will get to see all the great “selfies” your child rushes to tag. BUT, if your child’s account is set to public, then any photo they tag of themselves AND any photo ANYONE ELSE tags of them will show up and be visible to the public.

Fortunately, Instagram allows you to control whether your tagged photos are added automatically or manually to your “Photos of You” tab. Unfortunately, they set the default to “Add Automatically”. So here’s a quick run-down on how to see the new feature, and how to change the settings to “Add Manually.”

Once you update your app, this is where you’ll find the new “Photos of You” tab:

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And, once you’re on the “Photos of You” tab, this is the button you push to edit your settings:

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In the settings area, simply select the “Add Manually” option and Instagram will now ask your permission before posting any photos tagged as you:

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For more information about “Photos of You” functionality, visit Instagram’s support page on the topic.

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6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Using Ask.fm

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Is anonymous posting encouraged?  Anyone – a classmate, colleague, ex-boyfriend, pedophile, next door neighbor, that creepy guy at the mall – anyone can post a question on your page, anonymously.

Are your questions/answers public?  There are no privacy settings on this site. ALL your “answers” are available for anyone with internet access (2.4 BILLION people!) to view at their leisure.

Are your answers permanent?  Those fun, goofy questions you’re answering may well come back to haunt you later in life (think of your future children, employers, spouse, the media if you ever become famous). You might also be surprised to learn that most web pages are “cached” or archived daily and old versions can be searched at any time (http://archive.org/web/web.php). So even if you “delete” an answer, it’s likely cached somewhere for life.

Is the site run by two Russian guys in the Republic of Latvia?  Do you really want to share your personal “answers”, connect your Facebook account, or trust your data with a company run in a former Russian province you probably can’t even point out on a map?

Were upwards of 6 suicides allegedly tied to bullying on the site?  This news article outlines the awful stories of several teens who were allegedly hurt so bad via the site that they ultimately took their own lives: http://bit.ly/10sLHAz.

Is it a magnet for sick, twisted, vulgar individuals?  Because it’s anonymous, people who have nothing but awful, hurtful, obscene things to say are drawn to it like flies to manure. Who wants to converse with gutless scum like that?

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Ask.fm – The ugly, anonymous, vulgar, bullying social site that kids are joining at an alarming rate.

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So my wife follows a slew of middle school girls on Instagram and Facebook. Recently she noticed a new site called Ask.fm popping up on several “about me” sections. We started doing a little research and what we learned is VERY alarming. To the point where I immediately blocked the entire ask.fm domain using our Open DNS and Windows Family Safety filters (read this post for more info re: installing good Internet filters on your home network).

What’s so alarming you ask? If you haven’t already, take a quick peak at the small sampling of “questions” and answers on a random 15 year old girl’s Ask.fm page in the image above. These are the PG-13 examples. I literally had to cut and paste to avoid sharing the extremely vulgar posts interspersed throughout the 800+ questions this one girl answered.

At first glance the site seems innocent enough. It’s a simple place to ask a fun or interesting question and get back immediate answers. However, the problem centers around the site’s decision to allow anonymous posts –  letting any malicious, horny, vindictive, or twisted individual post WHATEVER they want on your page. This could be a friend from school, an ex-boyfriend, a jealous peer, or an incarcerated pedophile. There is no way to tell who is posting what.

The site claims more than 40 million users and is run by Russian entrepreneurs based in Latvia. It’s also been named in various lawsuits associated with upwards of 6 teen suicides allegedly due to aggressive bullying on the site.

Because the site is so new, most parents are clueless. Please take a moment to share this post with other parents so we can address the dangers with our children before they are needlessly hurt by it (or worse). And, please take a moment to sit down with your kids to be sure they understand the dangers themselves. More than anything else teens need to know how to identify dangerous sites like these themselves – to be able to see through the hype and to recognize a concerning site on their own. Use this new knowledge as an opportunity to educate on the ways to do just that.

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Password Best Practices & 2-Step Verification

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There have been an alarming number of recent high-profile password hacking incidents among some of the largest online services such as Twitter, Apple, Facebook, and Dropbox. The latest being Evernote. Considering how lazy most of us are with our passwords, this is a very scary trend. To highlight the seriousness, let me toss out a quick scenario:

So, let’s assume you are smarter than 94% of us and have a nice, long, alphanumeric password with punctuation (something like “Ih@t3MyP@ssw0rd!”) for your gmail account. This is a very good first step. The problem occurs when you decide to use that same password for say Facebook, Twitter, your bank, and perhaps Amazon. Or maybe you even go so far as to use it everywhere, including that new dog grooming forum you joined last month. So what happens when one of these sites are hacked? Suddenly, that super strong uncrackable password is now as naked as your two year old in the kiddie pool. And, suddenly, someone has taken that password and cleaned out your bank account.

So what ARE the best password practices?  

If you have time, please read this great post on password best practices. If you’re like most everyone else, just keep reading and hopefully you’ll soak in a couple of the most basic points:

  • Make your passwords (yes, it stinks, but you have to have a bunch of them) nice and long (8 characters is bare minimum, 16 is considered pretty good) and as random as possible (no, your birthday/anniversary/kid’s initials are NOT random). Include capitalized letters and special characters whenever possible.
  • Your email and banking passwords are SUPER important. You need an unique password for these accounts. ONE per account. Not one per account type (i.e. all my bank accounts use this one password), but ONE specific password for EACH individual banking and/or email account. Banking accounts include anything you’ve tied your checking accounts to such as PayPal or Amazon. Email is especially important, because all those great “forgotten password” tools use your EMAIL to help you reset your password.
  • Your data accounts are nearly just as important. Most people are using the “cloud” to store more and more files these days. Services like Apple iCloud, DropBox, Box.net, Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, Carbonite, etc. are popping up everywhere. They are super convenient, and yet, a poor password on any of these accounts is a recipe for disaster.
  • Use a strong password for anything tied to your credit card. There are probably more of these than you realize. Good examples are your Apple ID, your Google Account (Google Checkout), Amazon, eBay, BestBuy, OfficeDepot, AmericanAirlines, etc. Again, individual passwords are best, but if you must duplicate these, at least pick a good one to copy.
  • Don’t forget your computer password. It’s tempting to keep the login password(s) for your actual computer(s) simple and quick to type in. This can be one of the most devastating passwords to have hacked, as it opens up your entire home network to trouble. And, while you’re updating your computer password, go ahead and strengthen the password on your router (which is actually the very first door a hacker has to open).
  • Use 2-step verification. The most advanced sites are now offering a process called 2-step verification. I’ll be honest, turning this on can be an annoyance, but it’s well worth the small hassle. Basically, this forces you to enter a special code sent via text to your cell phone in order to log in a particular site from a new device. Not everyone offers this (yet), but here are links to a few of the most important ones: Google, Dropbox, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, and LastPass.
  • Remember all your passwords SECURELY with a password manager. Instead of writing your passwords down and “hiding” them on the shelf next to your monitor, consider a password management service. There are a number of these tools, and I’m not really qualified to assess their security, so I’ll refer you instead to a great  Lifehacker article on the topic. Per their recommendations I prefer to use LastPass.
  • Teach your kids. While they may not yet have an online bank account, nor any credit cards to hack, teaching your kids good password practices is a very important life skill. It’ll also help keep other kids (and predators) from hacking their social sites, email, etc.

Now that you know some best practices for password security, enjoy the following info-graphic highlighting just how smart you are compared to the rest of the world.

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The Internet is a Dangerous Place for Kids

What parents need to know before letting their kids online.

Most parents acknowledge that unrestricted Internet access can be dangerous for children. But few realize just how dangerous. It’s shocking to learn just how many households leave unrestricted computers, iPads, gaming consoles, etc. laying around for their kids to explore. For the sake of my kids, I thought I’d post some of the scariest stats I’ve found on the topic. Perhaps this will help get more families to consider installing filters and locking down their iOS devices to protect their own kids (and mine/yours when they’re visiting).

And finally, to bring it all home, let me share a much more personal example. This is an actual email my daughter received from her 12 year old friend. Yes, this stuff can happen to anyone!

Let that one sink in for a bit. This was a huge wake-up call in our house. After reading this email, these weren’t just scary stats anymore. It quickly became a sickening reality.

I should also point out a few very important things about this specific example:

  1. This happened while playing chess. All those cute iPods you’ve “locked-up” by turning off the Internet browser? Yeah, they’re still a dangerous link to pedophiles if you have something as simple as a chess game that has a chatting option.
  2. This happened to a girl right here in our neighborhood.  Just because we live in one of the safest suburbs in the nation, all a sexual predator needs is a tiny pipeline into your Internet enabled devices to reach your kids.
  3. Within minutes of my daughter reading this, my wife had also read it and was reaching out to the girls’ parents. Our kids’ email is set up to send copies of everything they send and receive to Mom.
  4. This friend did some dumb stuff, but ultimately, she knew enough to reach out for help. Regardless of all the tools and settings and precautions we take, the most important one is teaching your kids the following important online safety tips.

Online Safety Tips

For more details about the stats in this email visit:  www.internetsafety101.org/Pornographystatistics.htm

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Facebook Family Contract

In our home we have an informal agreement with our daughters when it comes to Facebook. It goes something like this:

  1. Minimum 13 years old
  2. We always have the password
  3. No geo-tagging or checking-in to locations
  4. No public posts
  5. We reserve the right to veto friends
  6. We promise not to embarrass you too bad (because you MUST friend us)

I recently ran across one family’s formal written Facebook contract.  If your family does not yet have a Facebook agreement of some sort in place, you should check it out.  It’s pretty detailed and provides a great starting point for any family figuring out how to handle teens and Facebook.  It includes:

  • General ground rules for parents and kids
  • Non-negotiable rules for kids
  • Commitment by parents
  • Access and curfew

Click here to download a PDF copy for your own family to consider.

 

What rules does your family have in place for Facebook?

 

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Who Sees What on Facebook?


Figuring out who sees what on Facebook is an ever-changing art form. Facebook’s platform seems to always be changing, and keeping up can be a very tough task for most kids, let alone their parents. But understanding the innuendoes of Facebook’s privacy settings can help you ensure your teen’s photos, comments, etc are not accidentally being broadcast beyond their defined network of friends.

To help illustrate, let me share a quick story of a colleague. This co-worker, with whom I am friends on Facebook, was enjoying a fun vacation in the Bahamas with his two tween daughters. They were taking photos of the trip, including shots of his girls in their swimwear. His girls posted the photos on Facebook and tagged their dad in several of them.  Since his girls’ Facebook photo privacy settings were marked as “Friends of Friends”, every time they tagged their dad, all of his friends were seeing the photos of him and his daughters in their news feeds. When I asked him about his trip, he was surprised that I (and all his co-workers) were seeing these photos. It was definitely not his intention, nor his daughters, that everyone at Dad’s work would see his vacation pool photos in their Facebook news feeds.

 

The key to understanding Facebook’s privacy settings is paying attention to the tiny icons displayed next to the date/time stamp on every post. There are 4 specific icons to look for.  Here are what each of them mean:

[Globe] Public (or Everyone)
Anybody, regardless if they are your friend or not, can see these posts.

[Silhouette of 3 Heads] Friends of Friends
All your Facebook friends and ALL OF THEIR FRIENDS can see these posts. Keep in mind, that many of your friends may have hundreds or even thousands of Facebook friends. Friends from work, school, fraternities, etc. Grandma may prefer this setting as this will let all her friends see the cute photos of her grandkids, but beware that selecting this option is not that much different from selecting “Public”.

[Silhouette of 2 Heads] Friends
Only your Facebook friends can see these posts. If someone shares a post you’ve set as “Friends”, only their friends who are also your Facebook friends will see the contents of this post.

[Gear Circle] Custom
This icon indicates that the post privacy settings have been customized. That it could be any combination of the options above. Perhaps the post was set as “Friends”, but with a certain list of friends excluded. Or, it could be set to “Public” with another parameter added. Therefore, when you see a “gear” icon next to any post you’re thinking about sharing or commenting on, you should always treat that post as a public one.

 

I highly recommend taking the time to read the following much more detailed posts on Facebook security and privacy settings. They include step-by-step illustrated instructions to help you ensure the posts of you and your kids are only being seen by those you specifically want to see them.

Facebook Security – Are Your Comments/Likes Public or Private?

How to Manage Facebook Privacy Options

 

 

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Instagram + Kik = DANGER!

If you’ve got any sort of smartphone, you probably know all about Instagram. It’s an iPhone/Android app that helps you make your average photos look “semi-pro”. I’m pretty addicted to it, actually. In fact, I think I’ll give myself a shameless plug just to get more followers and coveted likes. @keneramirez is my Instagram handle.

Everybody wants to be liked. Especially insecure kids and youth. This insatiable desire to be liked, combined with an ever-present Internet-connected camera phone is what’s made this simple app so incredibly popular. It’s also what makes it so dangerous for your kids. Unfortunately, kids don’t always have the wisdom to know what is appropriate and safe to share online. And Instagram conveniently installs itself preset to make all your photos public. That’s right, out of the box, Instagram takes every photo you take with it and makes it available for anyone who wants to see it. It also lets you “geo-tag” any photo you want. While this can seem cool at first, imagine what a child predator can learn about your kid with a handful of photos that have been plotted out on a map. What happens if several of those photos were taken at your home?

But wait, this gets even scarier…  Now there is a growing group of Instagram users who are sharing their “kik” instant messenger profiles with each other. From the fun logo you’d think this was just another simple chatting site. Unfortunately, the majority of the people sharing kik addresses with each other on Instagram are less interested in chatting and more interested in sharing photos that Instagram desperately tries to keep off it’s family-friendly network.

If you’ve got kids or youth who are on Instagram (or who are begging to get on), you need to read this detailed experience with Instagram & Kik by Michael Sheehan over at HighTechDad.com. Sheehan describes his daughter’s foray into Instagram and his shocking discovery of Kik. He also outlines a number of helpful best practices every Instagram user should know.

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