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Revisiting Tech Safety at Back to School Time

At the beginning of a new school year, we all can benefit from a quick tech safety brush-up

Back to school time is about new beginnings. It is a chance to get started on the right foot or readjust habits that we have all slipped into.

Don't Text & Drive!

Texting while driving is dangerous and unfortunately incredibly common. In a recent survey, 97 percent of teens say that texting and driving is dangerous but 43 percent admit to doing it. And it isn't just teens, kids learn from their parents and their parents are texting. 77 percent of teens have seen their parents text and drive. AT&T is making a push to heighten awareness of the dangers of texting and driving called "It Can Wait". They will be promoting September 19th as "No Text on Board Day" with a pledge to not text and drive.

Take the time to talk to your whole family, those who drive and those who don't.  Revisit your own habits. It is tempting in a region where we spend so much time on the road, so much time in traffic to use that time behind the wheel as a time to get in touch. Urgent messages of missed buses, forgotten lunches and unexpected overtime seem less urgent if the distraction from driving leads to disastrous consequences. Practice ways to confront a distracted driver from the passenger seat and have your family and friends promise to keep each other in check when it is hard to ignore the buzzing of an incoming text.

Be Smart Online 

The focus on internet safety used to be on the dangers of strangers luring our children into dangerous situations but online safety is better served with an attitude of honesty, skepticism and forethought. It might be helpful to think that everything you are writing, sharing, tweeting or showing in photograph form is visible to your grandmother even if it is marked as private.

People often are lured into thinking their communication is private even when it isn't and relying on the privacy settings of app makers and social media sites to keep your interests at the forefront. Being anonymous also can encourage people to be meaner online to attract attention or to live out impulses that they would control if the conversation was face to face.

If you are a parent, remember that your kids aren't likely to be honest in describing their online life with you. If you are providing the internet connection, the computer, the data plan, the cell phone or the ride to the library, you should feel comfortable having "observer status" over their online life. That first Facebook page should include you as a friend. Don't assume that they will share all of their online life, but let them know that you do have ways to keep an eye out. Take a look at your monthly cellphone bill. Are they texting after bedtime? Should you take your internet connection down at night?

If you earn their trust on Facebook and other matters, you can talk about interactions you observe there. Questions like "Do you think what you said to Amanda was a little mean?" might help you understand bigger problems going on in their social circle. Seeing that your child is posting pictures that you think are crossing the lines of appropriateness can help you talk about setting boundaries and the messages conveyed by how you portray yourself.

Whenever you observe something that goes against your rules, you have the responsibility to address it and tighten the digital reins. But don't dismiss the important role that online communication plays in your child's life and in yours as well. You can talk about how an email often isn't the best way to deal with a complicated business or social matter and let them hear your experience in handling difficult situations.

The Family Online Safety Institute (fosi.org) is an excellent starting point for researching the best way to foster good online habits for users of all ages.

Protect Your Data and Your Privacy

Some quick tips to cover the basics of protecting your online life.

  • Don't forget your backup regime! A failed hard-drive or lost smartphone can mean the loss of irreplaceable photos, months of hard work and access to your accounts.
  • Use good passwords and don't use the same one everywhere.
  • Don't fall for phishing scams in your email. Keep a skeptical eye.
  • Ignore tweets or Facebook messages that say "You've won a new iPad" or "Is this video of you?"
  • If a friend reaches out to you in need of quick money, call them. Scammers are pretty good at pretending to be someone else and are hoping to prey on your being a good friend.
  • Check your financial accounts regularly, if you catch problems early they are much easier to fix then when things spiral out of control.

Got any other tips? Include them in the comments box below!

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