A Cell Phone Responsibility Contract for Kids

For many parents, one of the toughest decisions they’ll ever have to make is whether their child is ready to handle the responsibility having of a cell phone yet.  Today, children as young as first and second grade are asking for their own phone and, in some cases, they are getting it.  With the rise in school violence and mall shootings, parents seem to feel a sense of relief by giving their children a cell phone and being able to monitor their location at all times. Regardless of the reason and age you deem appropriate to give your child his or her own cell phone, it is wise to give them a cell phone contract to go with it.  By giving them a cell phone contract and having them sign on the dotted line, agreeing to all terms and conditions, you are putting the responsibility in their hands.  If rules in the contract are broken, consequences will follow, as they do in many real life situations.  Below is a general contract that I’ve created for my own daughter and have shared with many friends and family!  Use it, make changes to it and add or delete items as you see fit.

Kids and cell phones at school.

  1. I will not give my phone number to anyone that I do not personally know well and completely trust.
  2. I will have my phone with me at all times.  It will remain in my backpack while I am at school and will not come out until school lets out.
  3. While I am at church, a movie theater, the library or any other area that requires silence, my phone will be on vibrate or silenced completely.
  4. If my parents call or text me, I must answer and/or reply, regardless of where I am.
  5. If my phone is protected with a password, I must always provide my parents with it.
  6. My parents are allowed to check my phone at any time, day or night.
  7. The cell phone is not to be brought to the dinner table at home or while at a restaurant.
  8. My phone will be shut off from 9 p.m. until 7 a.m.
  9. When I return home from school, I will not use my phone until my homework and chores are completed.
  10. I will not use my cell phone to send threatening messages or any inappropriate messages of any kind.
  11. If I go over my minutes and/or text messages at any time during the month, I will give my parents the phone until the next billing cycle begins.
  12. I will not use my cell phone to take embarrassing photos of myself, my friends or anyone else.
  13. I will not use my phone to go on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media site unless I have received permission from my parents.
  14. I will not download any apps without first asking my parents for permission.
  15. I will always accept text messages from family locator services so that my parents can know where I am.
  16. If my voice mail is full, I will delete them.
  17. If I receive a message or phone call that scares me, threatens me or offends me in any way, I will talk to my parents about it and show it to them if possible.
  18. I will not let anyone else borrow or use my cell phone. If someone needs to make a phone call from your phone for emergency purposes, make sure YOU are dialing the number so YOU know that it is local and not a call that will add charges to your account.
  19. If I break the phone, drop it in water, lose it or damage it in any way, I will replace it with my own allowance and/or money earned.
  20. If I break one of the rules above, I agree to talk about it with my parents and decide how to make positive changes so it does not happen again.

Top 3 Mobile Phone Apps to Help Protect Your Children!

Cell phones today have evolved to serve as much more than simply devices to communicate with.  Decades ago, all you could do with your phone was make a phone call. Today, you can send photos, video, email, links to websites, make a movie and so much more.   Now, with the evolvement of smartphones and the wide range of possibilities with apps and websites, parents can even use their phone as a tool to help keep their children safe.  How do you ask?  Take a look at our list of the top 3 apps below!

Nearparent

Nearparent is a community comprised of trusted individuals established by the parent to be there for their children and provide care and support wherever children may be.  Parents add names and mobile numbers of trusted individuals known as “helpers” (i.e., family members, friends, relatives, etc) that can come to the aid of their child should the need arise. The names and numbers are entered as “helpers” along with your child’s name and mobile number and the service can  begin to be used. Children can send alerts that are emergent (i.e., feels unsafe, was approached by a stranger) or can wait (i.e., needs to be picked up, needs to be dropped off, etc) and all of the trusted helpers in the network will receive the alert.  It will appear on a map interface, similar to those on locator services, and any of the trusted helpers can respond.  Once a response is received, the child responds by clicking “I’m ok now” and the rest of the helpers network will know that help is on its way.  This type of app is ideal for a working mom or dad that may not work near the area they live.  If their child needs emergent help while they are at work and unable to arrive quickly, one of the helpers can arrive and put the parent’s mind at ease.  The app is free but, once an alert is answered and handled, they ask that you make a donation to one of the charities funded by Nearparent. Quite fair if you ask me!

Nearparent Child Safety App

FBI Child ID 

This is one of my favorite’s and one that I have recently installed and activated myself.  The FBI’s app allows parents to store information their children along with photos in order to have all of it readily accessible in case of an emergency.  Information such as a height, weight, hair color eye color, date of birth and disabilities is available instantly and can be sent directly to a local police station or law enforcement agency if the child is missing.  In addition, the app provides tips on overall family safety and step by step instructions on what to do immediately if you realize your child is missing.  When you think about it, kids can go missing all of the time.  Trips to the mall, amusement parks and school trips often result in temporary cases of missing children.  These are ideal times to use this app and find your child as soon as possible. The best thing about this app is that it was created by the FBI and it’s absolutely free!

FBI Child ID App

Hero

This app is similar to Nearparent but much more involved and with many more features. It is also exclusive to iPhone users.  Hero has the capabilities to send parents, friends, family and neighbors real time streaming video, audio and GPS directly from your child’s phone.  This is an invaluable tool when your child is older and may drive home late at night, have a long walk from a friend’s home or school or is the victim of a crime and needs to alert someone immediately.  With Hero, your child simply taps the “Hero” button and an alert is sent out immediately to anyone around and in the trusted community in seconds.  Similar to Nearparent, the parent sets up the trusted list of people that receive the alert and are able to respond.  If the child is lost or missing, an alert with the child’s picture and location goes to anyone within a five mile radius.  Once the child is found and help has arrived, the alert is solved and data erased.  Best of all, the alert sent (i.e., video, GPS location or audio) is saved in the infamous Apple Cloud, so it is accessible even if the child’s phone is damaged or misplaced.  For now, the app is absolutely free. I’m assuming this may change since it has received rave reviews and is very popular many parents.  This is one app that is tempting me to switch from an Android to an iPhone asap!

Hero Child Safety App

With so many different ways to use your smartphone as a valuable family safety tool, it’d be a shame for all parents not to take advantage of these, often free, tools. The apps above can literally save your child’s life one day.  In addition, there are also a wide variety of family locator apps and services that can be used even without a smartphone, such as LociLoci.  These can give you real time GPS location of where your child is at or was most recently at.  This information can help you and law enforcement in the instance that your child needs to be found immediately.

Social Media Tips for Kids

While some parents believe allowing kids to have a social media account of any kinds is absurd, the reality is that many kids today have one as soon as they’re old enough to. All too often, kids get a Facebook, Myspace, Twitter or Instagram account even before they’re old enough simply by lying about their age and going behind their parents’ backs.  Parents tend to work long hours, leaving their children home alone, in the care of a relative or friend or waiting at a local library after school.  Even parents that are home with their children may not be aware that their children are online and chatting with hundreds of strangers online each and every day.  Whether you allow your children to be online or not, the best choice is to be proactive and provide them with ways to be safe online while they’re at home, at school o r at a friend’s house.  Below are my top 5 social media tips for kids, compiled with information from the FBI and the Amber Alert GPS website:

1. NEVER give out personal information.  If your parents allow you to get a Facebook account, it is because they trust that you’ll be responsible and keep your family’s safety in mind. In order to do this, you have to be sure not to share any personal information on your Facebook page that may tell a stranger where you live, how to contact you or what your full name is.  You can have a nickname on your Facebook profile that your family and friends will recognize to protect your identity from strangers.

2. DON’T add anyone that you don’t personally know and consider a good friend. If someone sends you a friend request and you don’t know them personally, do not accept them as a friend.  Believe it or not, many people on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites are lying about who they are and the pictures they use are not really them.  They may look cute, they may say they go to your high school but all of it may be lies.  Bottom line is, if you don’t recognize the picture and don’t know for sure who they person really is, do not add them as a friend.  Someone that says they are a 16 year old boy on their page may really be a 60 year old man waiting for the chance to cause you harm.

Social Media Tips for Your Kids

3. NEVER agree to meet anyone in person. If your friends on Facebook and Twitter are really your friends, they’ll call you when they want to meet you at the mall, go to a movie or hang out at the park.  Do not agree to meet anyone that you meet online, regardless of what they may offer.  Some perpetrators (people that want to cause harm to others) lie and say they are directors, producers and celebrities that want to hire you as a model or actor.  Do not believe this and immediately stop all contact with this individual.

4. TELL. If you encounter anyone online, whether in a chat room, on Facebook or in an email, that scares you and makes you feel uncomfortable, immediately tell an adult.  Not only will you be saving yourself and your family from harm but you’ll also be helping protect other children online, If you do not feel comfortable telling your parents, tell an adult.  It can be a teacher, a counselor, a police officer or anyone that you and your parents would trust.

5. DON’T TAG PHOTOS and don’t allow others to tag you. This may be a really fun feature on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram but what it really does is tell strangers where you are, where you live, what area you hang out in and where they can find you.  Set your account settings to prevent anyone from tagging you on their photos and do not ever tag yourself.  Your friends will know where you are by simply seeing the photo and asking you in person.

For more information on safety tips and online protection for your family, see our article titled Internet Safety Tips for Your Family.

Top 5 Tips on Keeping Your Kids Safe To, From and At School

Now seems like a more appropriate time than ever to discuss safety for our kids in schools.  With the recent shooting in the United States at Sandy Hook Elementary and kidnappings across the globe, it has become all too real to parents that children are not safe anywhere.  Although we’d like to think they are safe at school, evil can strike everywhere.  This can be on their way into class, while inside the classroom itself and even on the playground among other kids and teachers.  Knowledge is power and it is our job as parents to teach our kids safety for any situation that may arise.  Below is a list of my top 5 school safety tips.  Read them, implement them and practice them regularly!

1. Safety in numbers. If your children walk to school, take the bus or ride their bike, make sure it is always in pairs or in groups of two or more.  Perpetrators are less likely to go after children when they are in groups.  Children walking alone are targets for those looking to abduct or molest children in public places.

Childrens safety from and to school

2.  Travel the same route. Whether you drive to school, take the bus or walk, try to take the same route each time you go.  If your kids go with a friend or a sibling, ensure that they do the same.  This will make their route familiar and, should anything happen along the way, they’ll easily be able to identify where they were when it happened. Neighbors and businesses in the area will also recognize them and will be able to recognize them should anything suspicious happen along the way.

3.  Say no to strangers. Ensure that your children know now to talk to any strangers at any time.  If it is someone they do not know well, such as a friend’s parent, a teacher, a school staff member or a crossing guard, it is best they avoid conversation.  Remind them not to accept rides or gifts, regardless of what is being offered.

Say no to strangers

Say no to strangers

4.  Cellphones CAN be ok at school. Although most schools discourage cell phone use, there’s no harm in allowing your child to take his or her cell phone to school as long as it is not used.  With so many family locator services available to track mobile phones, it is a great way to know where your kids are at all times. Pre-teens and teens tend to wander away from school at lunch and, at times, do not return.  Having a cell phone to track from a computer or other mobile device will allow you to check up on your kids at all times, even when you can’t call them because they may be in class.

Every child in school should have a family locator app/service

5.  Tell. If your child sees or hears anything suspicious at school, such as another child or adult with a weapon they should not have in their possession or a plan to bring one to school in the future, encourage him or her to tell another adult about it as soon as possible.  Often times, children or adults tell their peers of plans they have to bring a weapon to school and possibly use it on others.  Some take it as a joke or dismiss it but it’s best not to take that chance.  Telling may prevent a situation that could take the lives of many, including that of your own child.

More tips to follow in part two of this article.   Check back soon for the remaining 5 school safety tips and additional information on keeping you and your family safe.

Internet Safety for Your Family

With the extent of information available on the Internet, it’s important to do your job as a parent and ensure your children are browsing the Internet safely. You need to be informed and ensure that your child is well aware of the dangers of communicating online. Take a look at some of the statistics below (Source: Crimes Against Children Research Center factsheet & FBI Parents Guide to Internet Safety) related to the dangers your children face while surfing the net:

  • There are more than five million online predators targeting children between 10-14 years old.
  • There’s almost a 100% chance that your child will encounter an online predator while chatting online.
  • About ¼ of the children that ended up communicating with a sexual predator told their parents.
  • It takes between two to four weeks for a sexual predator to lure your child from a strictly online relationship to a personal, one on one meeting.
  • More than 60% of the websites online have some form of elicit, pornographic content.
  • Only 15% of children said their parents know the sites they visit online and regular monitor them using the computer.
  • 1/2 of all children have dealt with bullying online and 25% of them have had to endure it repeatedly.
  • Almost ¾ of all children lured by sexual predators were teens between twelve and fifteen. About 30% of them began communication through social networking.
  • Over 70% of children receive messages online from people they do not know.
  • Almost 70% of children, both boys and girls, admitted to sending nude and semi nude photos and sexually explicit messages to friends.

    With such shocking statistics, it’s surprising that so many parents are still unaware of what their children are doing while spending hours in front of their computers and surfing the Internet from their smart phones. With so many resources available to parents today, it has become easier to keep track of your child’s whereabouts online, even without them knowing about it. There are countless Internet monitoring software programs that will keep track of sites your children visit, messages they are sending and even what they are writing and posting on social media sites.

    Social Media Monitoring: Twitter, Facebook etc.

    True Care: Social Media Monitoring software

    I have been using the same software, True Care, for years and believe whole heartedly that it helps me keep my child safe while using the Internet. There are many programs out there so do your research and choose the best one to suit your family’s needs.

    True Care is a program that offers a wide variety of useful features when it comes to social media monitoring. It helps protect your children from potentially dangerous interactions on Facebook, YouTube, MySpace and Twitter.

    It is specifically for monitoring one of the most dangerous aspects of the Internet, social media networks. True Care provides email alerts that send you notifications of any suspicious online behavior. With this software, you’ll be able to access names, pictures and profiles of all friends on your children’s Facebook page and other social media outlets. It also features access to screening tools that help identify online predators before they contact your child further. With True Care, you’ll be able to monitor your child’s online social media usage and communication regardless of the computer or mobile device they are accessing it from.

    If you have a difficult time understanding what your children are writing online, possibly because of the slang terms they use or the words common in teenage language, True Care can help. It provides an online dictionary that is updated regularly with commonly used slang terms and acronyms. This program is also very easy to use, even if you are not so computer literate. It also provides a 30 day risk free trial.

    Get More Tips on Your Child’s Safety Online

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation also offers helpful tips and plenty of education for parents to help keep their children safe online. By going to their page, you can learn about signs to look for that your child may be at risk online, what you should do if you suspect your child is communicating with an online predator and how to minimize the possibility that your child will fall prey to an online predator in the future.

    Take advantage of any and all resources available to protect your children. There are many available and they are all available at your finger tips from your computer or mobile device. For more information and statistics on crimes against children, visit the Crimes Against Children Research Center.

Top 10 Tips to Keep Your Family Safe at Home

Many families today tend to have a false sense of security. They seem to think that their so called “great neighborhoods” are immune to crime solely because they are considered some of the safest cities in America. I live in one of those cities and I know all too well that crime happens everywhere, regardless of your zip code. For that reason, families need to take a proactive approach to keep their loved ones safe. Below are 10 tips to keep your family safe at home.

1

Lock everything

Whether you are home, or not, make it a habit to keep all of your doors and windows locked. It is okay to leave a window or two open for air but avoid leaving windows open all throughout the house for extended periods of time. If the house is quiet and there aren’t any vehicles parked outside, a thief may think there’s no one home and will take this as an opportunity to let himself in. When you leave for the day, lock all windows and doors and check them to make sure they’re locked.

2

Park in the Driveway

If at all possible, try to always have a vehicle parked in the driveway. A thief will not know if this means someone is home or not but he is more likely to move onto the next house where there is an empty driveway.

3

Get Timers

Use light timers to have lights turn on and off throughout the day while you’re away. This will give the appearance that there are people home at different times even when the home is empty.

4

Get an Alarm or Pretend To

If you do not have a burglar alarm, pretend you do with a yard sign. Burglar alarms cost upwards of $40 per month for monitoring so it may be expensive. A yard sign for an alarm company will cost about $10 on eBay and will provide just about the same protection. A criminal will see it on the lawn and likely move onto the next house that does not appear to be protected.

5

Have a Plan: Get a Family Locator

In the case of an emergency, make sure your family members know what to do. It’s important to always be prepared. All family members should know all of the possible escape routes should there be an intruder or a natural disaster. They should also all know how to dial 9-1-1 and have numbers to other family members either written down or programmed on a cell phone. Another way to enhance your family’s safety plan would be to subscribe to a family locator service such as LociLoci. If your family members become separated or are not all home during an emergent situation, you’ll be able to know where they are by simply checking your phone or checking the website from any computer.

6

Get in on Video

Similar to burglar alarms, video surveillance cameras provide extra protection against criminals entering your home. They not only catch crimes in your home but they can also catch crimes within view of the cameras that can take place next door or across the street at a neighbor’s residence. If surveillance cameras are too costly for your budget, buy mock cameras to install on the exterior. A thief won’t know if they’re real or not and most will not take a chance.

7

Go to the Post Office

If you have to send out bills or other mail with personal information on it, take it to the post office and deliver it from there. Mail boxes that do not have locks are gold mines for criminals looking for information on your household and your financial institutions.

8

Install carbon monoxide detectors

Most homes have plenty of fire alarms but carbon monoxide detectors are much less common. They can save your family’s life should there be a carbon monoxide leak in a heater, store, gas fireplace or anywhere else in the home. Carbon monoxide cannot be detected by scent until it is lethal and too late.

9

Child Proof

Many parents say that there is no need to child proof because their child doesn’t open cabinets or doors. Well, while this may be true, it often changes. Children explore new things every day and, while your little ones may not be trying to escape out the front door or search through your medicine cabinets today, they may tomorrow. Put childproof doorknobs on all doors leading to the exterior and put child proof locks on any cabinets or drawers that contain materials that will be hazardous if ingested.

10

Keep it Simple Outside

If you tend to have plenty of plants, bushes or shrubbery in general around your doorway, try to clear it up. The doorway to your home should be well lit and visible to the street. If it is not, it gives a criminal the perfect opportunity to enter your residence without being seen by neighbors. It is also possible that a criminal may hide until someone comes to the door and take this as an opportunity to make entry.

It is never too late to start taking steps to make your home a safer one. You never know when someone will try to violate your family’s rights and you do not want to gamble with that.

December 19, 2012|Family Safety