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Keep Your Kids Safe Online

The World Wide Web has integrated itself firmly into our lives - and into our children's lives. It is an invaluable tool for learning and connecting, but there are downsides - cyber bullying, violence, pornography, identity theft and child predators. It is essential that parents take an active role in their children's online safety.

Be Part of Your Child's
Online Activities

Being actively engaged in your child's technology activities will give you more access to what they are doing on the online. Watch videos or play games together. Have them show you their favorite websites and teach you how to use them. If your child uses social media such as Facebook or Twitter, "follow" or "friend" them. Consider setting a rule that your child may only use social media as long as you are able to see their posts (no "unfriending" or blocking). Some parents choose to have log-in information to their child's social media and e-mail accounts in order to check messages periodically.

Educate Your Children on Safety

Children and teens can be smart when it comes to knowing how to use electronics, but they need to learn online safety online and privacy protection. Teach them not to give out personal information like passwords, home address and school name. Be as anonymous as possible. Keep social media accounts private or limit their group of "friends." Teach them to think before making a post - once something is posted online, it may be impossible to later remove it. Have them recognize that not everyone is who they say they are. Consider a rule that they not chat with strangers or people you don't know. Of course, children should respect others online and report bullying or online activity that makes them uncomfortable.

Establish House Rules

Create and enforce family technology rules. Some examples include limiting computer and game time each day; keeping technology in rooms where parents can observe computer use; creating docking stations and family times when no technology is permitted; having parents control the WiFi password and providing it only after homework and chores are completed; having your child sign a technology contract when receiving a new gadget or computer.

Become Educated

Learn how to use your children's technology devices so you have an understanding about how they will be using them. If you need help, watch tutorials online, read the manual or even have your child give you a lesson. I

Understand that most devices are connected to one another through the Internet. Many gadgets can access the Internet - iPods, tablets, Xbox, Playstation, Wii, even handheld game systems like the Nintendo 3DS. These items also have chat features. Just because your child isn't text messaging from a cell phone doesn't mean they aren't chatting online using another device.

Be acquainted with and know the purpose of the technology, websites and apps your child is using. Suppose, for example, you find an app called "ooVoo" on your child's phone or tablet. What is it and what does it do? If you aren't sure, Google it and you will get a description and links to articles with additional information. Look at one of the websites specifically designed for parents to ask these questions. Common Sense Media for example. On this site, parents can search books, games, websites, apps and music for information which also includes other parent comments. Understand computer and Internet safeguards and your child's school, public library and friends' homes. Ask if they use web filtering and whether or not their web usage is monitored.

Use Parental Controls

1. For PCs, there are many products that can block inappropriate web content, set time limits, and monitor your child's computer usage and web history. See: Cyberpatrol, Qustodio or NetNanny.
2. For iOS smartphones and tablets, there is a feature called "restrictions." Go to Settings, then General, then Restrictions. Here you can disable or enable in-app purchases (such as those for games); disable songs with explicit lyrics; disallow movies with certain ratings; disable app installation; disable the camera; and more. Restrictions are protected by a passcode lock which is separate from the phone's entry passcode.
3. Android has similar options to to those offered in iOS devices. There is a helpful guide to assist with Android security. 4. All of the major game systems offer parental controls. Restrictions can be set for playback of games and DVDs with specified ratings, web browsing and chat usage.
See Parental Controls: Playstation 3, Playstation 4, XBOX and Nintendo.

Always remember that kids may learn to maneuver parental controls. When implementing technology security, it is wise to check periodically to ensure the products and systems are current and working properly. Research a product before buying it and read the reviews for guidance on effectiveness.

The FBI's Parent's Guide to Internet Safety is a great resource. It discusses warning signs of a child at risk online, suggested practices and additional information about online safety.
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Going Paperless (or Paper-Lite) 
How can technology help decrease your paper consumption?

March is here, and it's time for Spring Cleaning! For most of us, de-cluttering your home or office can be a big chore, and if you have a lot of clutter, it can be overwhelming. If you have ever considered going paperless, now is a great time to start!
Making the decision to go paperless (virtually no paper at all) or paper-lite (using some paper) doesn't mean you need to immediately cease all usage of paper. For nearly all individuals, that's not possible, and going completely paperless may not be a feasible goal for your business if you handle a lot of documents such as contracts and forms. Instead, think about some small steps you can make towards decreasing overall paper usage in your home or business over time. 
Some of the benefits of decreasing paper usage are obvious!
Save Money! Storing and transmitting documents with your computer is more cost effective than printing and faxing or mailing. Ink, toner and paper can be expensive, as well as maintenance requirements for printers/copiers. Additionally, the cost of stamps and envelopes adds up over time. 
Free up your filing cabinet! Physical paper takes up a lot of room and can be quite heavy. You could fit dozens of file cabinets onto a single hard drive. 
Looking for something? Provided you organize your electronic files and use a sensible naming/foldering scheme, it can be much easier to locate documents on a computer than sorting through paper storage. 
Go Green! Of course, a big reason to be cautious of paper usage is to decrease some of the environmental impact that happens as a result of paper and ink/toner manufacturing. 
Are there drawbacks to going paperless/paper-lite?
Data backups - If you don't have a good backup system in place, your paperless data is at risk of hardware failure or corruption. Implementing a new data backup system can come at a price. 
Computer hardware/storage space - You need to have adequate storage space for all of those electronic files, plus computer hardware capable of storing and delivering your documents efficiently. 
New organizational habits - As mentioned above, a paperless system can be difficult to navigate and find items if your files are not organized and named well. 
How can technology help?
Invest in extra screen space - Instead of printing out a paper document to compare or re-type, why not view documents side by side on your monitor? Dual monitors are an easy way to do this, but in Windows 7 and 8, you can put two windows side by side on the same monitor with the Windows Key + left or right arrow key. 
Reviewing documents - When reviewing documents away from the computer, load them onto a tablet or smartphone instead. Services like Dropbox or Google Docs can help keep your documents synced and give you access to them from multiple devices. 
Scan and shred - Consider if you can scan important mail or documents into electronic format, then shred the paper document. Receipts are a good example - these small slips of paper can quickly pile up. Check out a lightweight scanner, like NeatReceipts. Small scanners like this can scan receipts, business cards and small amounts of documents quickly. 
Manage your to-do list electronically - Windows 7 and 8 have a great feature called Sticky Notes, virtual post-it notes for your desktop. Similarly, apps like the popular Evernote app are great for managing to-do lists, and will sync across multiple devices.
Online billpay and paperless statements - Go through your monthly bills and statements and see if there is an option to receive statements online rather than through the mail. Also, consider if you need to keep a backlog of paper statements in your filing cabinet - many banks and businesses allow you to view your past statements through an online account. 
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