The Bare Minimum You Should Do to Protect Your Family’s Data
By Caroline Knorr
For a lot of families, technology is the glue that holds everything together. There’s your kid’s Instagram feed you follow to see what they’re up to. There’s your school’s online network you check for homework and grades. There’s the mapping app that gets you to your kids’ playdates. And then there are the regular old texts from your kids that say “hi Mom” and let you know all is well. But this connection and convenience comes at a price — and that’s your data. With increasing frequency, we’re seeing large privacy violations — when hackers get access to people’s online data or companies misuse it or fail to protect it — and we all realize how vulnerable we are to identity theft, the publication of sensitive information, and stolen credit card numbers. A new Common Sense and Survey Monkey poll reveals that most parents and teens think it’s important that sites clearly label what data they collect. Technology use comes with privacy risks, but don’t worry — the answer isn’t living the life of a Luddite.
The thing is, most of us are far too reliant on technology to stop using it now. You may delete Facebook for a while … but you always go back, because how else are you going to see your cousin’s new baby? And how can you tell your kid’s teacher your kid can’t sign up for Google Classroom when that’s how the students work on group projects? It may be a stretch to say we need technology, but we sure don’t want to live without it. Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to reach a higher level of safety and security. It’s important that the whole family is on board with these privacy best practices, because your data is only as strong as the weakest link. Do these now:
Use strict privacy settings in apps and on websites. When you or your kid signs up for a new website or app, establish your privacy preferences immediately. The default settings on most apps usually aren’t super private, but on popular social media such as Instagram, Musical.ly, and Snapchat, you can control things like who can see what you post, who can contact you, and whose posts you can see.
Enable two-factor authentication. For an added layer of protection, enable two-factor authentication on apps and sites (like Gmail or Facebook) when available. This will help protect your accounts from hackers by sending a code to your phone when you log in from an unfamiliar device.
Beware of phishing scams. Don’t open emails, texts, online “security” alerts, text notifications, or other things from anyone you don’t know, don’t recognize, or weren’t expecting. Often this is “phishing” — companies sending out enticements hoping someone will click on them, thereby allowing entry to your device. Phishers can make their messages look authentic by copying logos from companies such as Amazon, Google, or even the IRS. But they often make mistakes such as using unusual grammar, weird punctuation, or threatening language.
Use antivirus protection. Buy and download antivirus software from a reputable source such as McAfee, Norton, or Symantec. Beware of free antivirus software, as it can contain malware. The iOS operating system has antivirus software built in, but it can still be vulnerable, so make sure you update your OS when prompted, as the updates can fix security holes.
Don’t use unsecure Wi-Fi networks. Make sure any Wi-Fi you connect to has the little lock sign next to it and requires a password. Hackers are notorious for sneaking into unsecured Wi-Fi. Even better, get a VPN (virtual private network) — but, just like with antivirus software, don’t use a free VPN.
Fine-tune your browser settings. Take a look at the privacy settings offered in your browser (usually in the Tools or Settings menus.) Most browsers let you turn off certain features — for example, the “cookies” that websites install on your computer that track your movements. Some cookies, such as those that remember your login names or items in your online shopping cart, can be beneficial. But some cookies are designed to remember everything you do online, build a profile of your personal information and habits, and sell that information to advertisers and other companies. Consider using plug-ins like Privacy Badger or HTTPS Everywhere to block tracking or keep your activity safer from snoops.
Turn off location services. Unless you use an app that lets you track your kid’s location for safety reasons, turn off location services on your phone and your kid’s phone. You can turn them on again if you want to find local businesses or use your mapping program.
Don’t let apps share data. When you download a social app, it will ask if it can access information stored on your phone, such as your contacts, photos, music, and calendar. Say no. If the app won’t work without this data, consider whether you can share some of what it’s requesting but not all. Or find a similar app that doesn’t overreach.
Be careful with social logins. When you log onto a site or app with your Facebook or Google username and password, you may be agreeing to share certain information from your profile. Read the fine print to know what you’re sharing, and edit if possible. Even if you limit what’s shared with the third party, your social network will continue to track your behavior.
Do regular privacy checks. Get in the habit of regularly checking your privacy settings on all social apps you use. Do this in front of your kids and narrate the experience to demonstrate how important keeping track of your information is. You can also download all your data from Google or Facebook, for example, to see what’s been collected.
Use tough passwords and change them frequently. The best practice for passwords is to use real words or phrases you can remember easily — but spell them incorrectly. They should be at least eight characters and have a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters, such as 5pEAzhawh$ for “five pizzas.” Even better, use a password manager like eWallet. Get more password tips.
Tweak your home assistants. Keep Alexa and Google Home’s microphones off if you’re not using them. Also, periodically comb through the settings either on the apps or in your online profile to see what you’ve shared and whether you need to delete recordings or make other privacy changes. You can even pause your Internet using Netgear Orbi and Circle.
Cover your cameras. Whether it’s with a Post-it or a cute customized cover, block your webcam from potential spies. It might seem paranoid, but even Mark Zuckerberg does it.
About the Author – Carline Knorr
As Common Sense Media’s parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids’ media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you’re wondering “what’s the right age for…?” Caroline can help you make the decision that works best for your family. She has more than 20 years of editorial and creative marketing writing experience and has held senior-level positions at Walmart.com, Walmart stores, Cnet, and Bay Area Parent
magazine. She specializes in translating complex information into bite-sized chunks to help families make informed choices about what their kids watch, play, read, and do. And she’s the proud mom of a teenage son whose media passions include Star Wars
, graphic novels
, and the radio program This American Life
. Email Caroline at email@example.com
By: Frannie Ucciferri
Tired of listening to music in the car? Want to teach your kids instead of having them passively learn? Seven great podcasts for kids preschool and beyond.
Your kid’s new favorite magazine might just be … a podcast? That’s right, Goofus and Gallant from Highlights magazine are going high-tech, and they’re not alone. They’re joining rebel girls, talking cats and dogs, and even pirate comedians on this list of some of the best podcasts you and your little kids might not be listening to yet.
From toothbrushing tips to fabulous folktales, these fresh podcasts prove without a doubt that audio shows have come into their own. With creative offerings featuring lively narration, original songs, and occasional big-name guest stars, even the youngest listeners can get in on the action. Now road trips and activities that used to be a chore can be transformed into fun, educational experiences for the whole family.
If you’re a podcast newbie, check out 20 Podcasts for Kids, which offers tips for how to listen plus more recommendations for all ages. Otherwise open up your favorite audio app and dive into these age-appropriate picks for preschoolers and little kids.
How to Listen
It can be daunting for a first-timer to enter the world of podcasts, but digital tools have made it easier than ever to start listening. Podcasts are available to stream online or with a “podcatcher,” an app you can download specifically for podcasts. Here are some popular options for listening:
- Podcasts. The original podcast app (only available for Apple iOS). FREE!
- Stitcher Radio for Podcasts. “Stitch” together custom podcast playlists with this mobile app
- Pocket Casts. A mobile app with a sleek, easy-to-use interface
- SoundCloud. An online audio-streaming platform for podcasts as well as music (also an app)
- Podbay.fm. Streaming platform specifically for podcasts (app available for Android, but iOS coming soon)
- NPR One. Download content and stream via Bluetooth in your car. Many of the podcasts below are from NPR content
Once you have your favorite app or website, search its library by topic and start exploring everything from science to sports to movies and more. And don’t forget to subscribe! Subscribing lets the app push new episodes directly to your device as soon as they’re available, so you’ll always have the latest update at your fingertips.
Pros and Cons of Podcasts for Kids
On the plus side, podcasts:
- Boost learning. With engaging hosts and compelling stories, podcasts can be great tools to teach kids about science, history, ethics, and more. Listening to stories helps kids build vocabulary, improve reading skills, and even become more empathetic.
- Reduce screen time. With podcasts, families can enjoy the same level of engagement, entertainment, and education as screen-based activities without worrying about staring at a screen.
- Go anywhere. Podcasts are completely portable. You can listen in the car, on the bus, or in a classroom or even while doing chores around the house.
- Cost nothing. Podcasts don’t have subscription or download fees, so anyone with internet access can listen and download for free. Most podcatcher apps are free, too.
- Get two thumbs up from kids! Podcasts are designed to hook kids with music, jokes, compelling stories, and more. Some are designed in a serial format with cliffhangers at the end to get kids to tune back in.
On the downside, podcasts:
- Play lots of ads. Many podcasts run several minutes of ads at the beginning or end. Because they’re often read by the podcast host, the ads can feel like a hard sell.
- Can be confusing. Many podcasts update regularly, so you can jump right in and start listening. Others are styled like radio or TV shows, so the most recent episode is actually the end of a season. Check whether something is serialized or long-form before listening to the most recent update.
- Vary in age-appropriateness. The iTunes Store labels podcasts “Explicit” or “Clean,” but even a “Clean” label doesn’t guarantee kid-friendly content. When in doubt, listen first before sharing with your kids.
Chompers is a bite-sized, twice-daily podcast meant to encourage kids to brush their teeth for the full dentist-recommended two minutes. Each morning and night, kids can enjoy short quizzes, fun facts, stories, riddles, and jokes, all with gentle reminders to get the front, back, and tops of their teeth. There are even morning cliffhangers to encourage you to come back for your nighttime brush.
Circle Round is an engaging, gentle storytime podcast aimed at kids. In every episode, narrator Rebecca Sheir tells a lesser-known folktale or story from around the world, helped by a rotating voice cast of talented stage-and-screen actors. The stories are captivating and compelling and nearly always accompanied by a positive message or moral.
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls
Rebels of all genders will be enthralled by this podcast, based on the best-selling book by the same name, with inspiring biographies of historical women read by inspiring modern women. These true stories are fascinating bits of history told simply enough that kids will be able to follow them. It’s hard not to feel empowered after listening to a few episodes.
The minds behind the kids’ podcast Wow in the World have transformed the popular magazine Highlights into a high-energy audio series. Classic favorites from the magazine like “Goofus and Gallant,” “Ask Arizona,” and “Hidden Pictures” (or, in this case, “The Hidden Sounds Game”) are reimagined as variety show segments, cheerfully guided along by hosts Tim and Juanita.
Little Stories for Tiny People
The whimsical, soothing stories on this podcast are perfect for preschoolers, but “big people” will appreciate them, too. Host Rhea Pechter’s melodic voice and the recurring cast of animal friends will delight young kids. And the clever, well-crafted stories touch on age-appropriate messages and topics.
Nothing can really match a kid’s original story in terms of absurd comedy. And that’s what’s at the heart of this wacky, wild, imaginative podcast. In each episode, the Story Pirates crew — a group of talented improvisers pretending to be pirates — read short stories written and submitted by kids, then reenact them with hilarious results. There are even original songs, famous guest stars, and interviews with the young authors about how it feels to have their work adapted.
This Podcast Has Fleas
With a hilarious concept and a fantastic voice cast, This Podcast Has Fleas is a delight for all ages. The premise is that two family pets — an exuberant dog named Waffles and a cool cat named Jones — have dueling podcasts where they talk about what’s going on in the house from their (obviously superior) perspectives. Dog people and cat people will be howling with laughter.
About the author
As associate managing editor, Frannie Ucciferri makes sure each of Common Sense Media’s more than 30,000 reviews
and 700 curated lists
is as complete and comprehensive as possible. Frannie is a graduate of UC Berkeley, where she earned a degree in cognitive science and taught a class on her favorite TV show ever, Arrested Development
. Her passion for reading and writing is paralleled only by her love of Bay Area sports, especially baseball. When she isn’t playing with her dogs or trying out San Francisco restaurants, you can probably find her watching Pixar movies
, Parks and Rec
, or one of her favorite girl power movies
and TV shows
Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices. Check out our ratings and recommendations at www.commonsensemedia.org
Today’s interview is with Carolyn Saper and Alice Letvin of ReadAskChat. Visit their website.
Thank you for participating our interview. Please tell us a little about yourself.
Carolyn: Alice and I have been colleagues for the last 35 years. Early in my career I taught first and second grade (and a little kindergarten) before joining the Great Books Foundation, where I met Alice. Eventually I became the editorial director. After leaving Great Books, I joined the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute as the senior editor of curriculum and assessment. I was one of the authors of its STEP Literacy Assessment. One of my most pleasurable recent activities—in addition to ReadAskChat, of course!—was to serve on the national advisory committee of the American Writers Museum—another startup education venture. My AB in English literature and MST in K–9 curriculum and instruction are both from the University of Chicago.
Alice: As a child and throughout my life, reading and sharing literature with others has been my passion. After earning my PhD in Comparative Literature from Washington University in St. Louis, I joined the editorial staff at the Great Books Foundation, later serving as president for ten years. While there, we created and implemented nationwide an exemplary interpretive reading, writing, and discussion program to extend the benefits of literature-based, open-ended inquiry to the regular classroom,. Subsequently, as editorial director of the Cricket Magazine Group, I led the publication of its series of world-class literary and science magazines for toddlers through teens, including the beloved Cricket magazine, which has inspired so many young writers, artists, and thinkers. Collaborating with Carolyn on ReadAskChat is the culmination of all that we have learned about engaging both children and adults in the pleasures of imagination and sharing ideas with each other.
Art for “Itsy Bitsy Spider” (c) 2017 by John Sandford for ReadAskChat.
How did the idea for your app come about?
Carolyn: The inspiration for ReadAskChat comes from personal experience. My husband and I are adoptive parents, and when our daughter Jiji came home at 9 months, she was clinically failure to thrive. She couldn’t hold her little head up or babble, or reach for shiny objects—things that 9-month-olds should be doing. But after only one month of reading picture books, singing songs, playing and snuggling, and “chatting” about anything and everything, Jiji was a fully caught up and happy 10-month-old. (And now she’s about to graduate from college with a degree in philosophy.) For years, Alice and I have shared a love of reading and discussing books, so when the stars aligned and we were both ready to pursue a new project, we put our experience of making inspiring literature accessible to children and developed ReadAskChat. Jiji’s cognitive and emotional blossoming as a baby was never far from our memory. We both marveled that the simple act of creating a routine of sharing wonderful stories with a very young child seemed so immediately impactful, with lasting effects. We believe in the potential of ReadAskChat to enable all families to have a similarly joyful and brain-building learning experience with their own babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.
How do you suggest parents help limit kids screen time?
Carolyn: Our child grew up in the digital age, so I recognize that parents can find this challenging. But my husband and I grew up in the age of TV, and our parents simply established TV-viewing limits early—which became the accepted family value. In our home, we simply removed devices from our daughter’s room at a set time of day, and said—“light’s out.” But I’m convinced that because we also established a norm of reading and conversation (starting before our daughter was even capable of conversation!) that we set a pattern of live—not virtual—deep communication that continues to this day.
Alice: I want to make the point that we don’t consider engaging with ReadAskChat as traditional “screen time.” ReadAskChat is a digital library and is meant to be used by children and parents together. It’s actually the very opposite of a “babysitting app” that parents hand off to their kids, which would constitute passive “screen time.” ReadAskChat is anything but passive. Our aim is to replicate the picture-book experience in which parents read with their children. We guide parents in a method of interactive reading that involves reading, rereading, asking text-specific questions, and engaging in back-and-forth exchanges. While our selections are short (because our audiences are so young), they are content rich, with illustrations that can support close observation and reward extended conversation.
Reading comes in many forms – digital, physical, storytelling and more. Which of these ways is the best for kids to learn?
Alice: Very young children—the ReadAskChat audience—only learn language from other people. So reading with children, rather than turning on an audiobook or video—is the best way to build reading readiness. But the difference between a digital book and a physical book shouldn’t make any difference. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently revised its guidelines for recommended screen time with the caveat that digital experiences should be parent-mediated. What’s important is that parents and children read together—sharing ideas, having fun, being silly, taking turns making up stories about characters, and generally having a warm, enjoyable time with each other. There’s more and more research evidence supporting the importance of social-emotional learning. We tell parents: Watch your child’s reactions. Build on what your child says or seems curious about. Talking about richly drawn fictional characters—of the kind we include in ReadAskChat—helps your child practice reading the emotions of others—to understand what is going on under the surface. This is also an important thinking and comprehension skill. Stories teach empathy and the ability to relate to others. This is key because getting along with others is the single most important school readiness skill, according to most kindergarten teachers.
Carolyn: Our background is in print publishing, so we are occasionally asked why we created a digital library. Our primary reason is that we wanted to increase access to high-quality children’s books to families who for many reasons (including income level) may not have high-quality children’s books in their homes. But smartphone and tablet technology now makes it possible for almost all families to have easy access to an app like ReadAskChat. The technology also makes it possible for us to embed suggestions for how to engage with each story at three developmental levels—babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard someone say, “I know I’m supposed to read and talk with my little kid about books, but I have no idea how to do that!” ReadAskChat is particularly designed for those parents.
Art for “Naughty or Nice” (c) 2012 by Jon Goodell. Text (c) 2017 by ReadAskChat.
Tell me more about how parents can help their kids learn?
Carolyn: The research is pretty clear that the single most important learning activity that parents can do with their children is reading and talking about books together. What we would add is that whatever parents do, it should be joyful. This is why we took great care in making sure that the stories and illustrations in ReadAskChat appeal to both child and adult. (Alice and I still laugh at the frogs in Naughty or Nice? and at the hilarious observations of the Animal Tails narrator.) Our long experience has shown us time and time again that when the parent is having fun, the child will too. And we fervently believe that learning should always be fun!
From “Animal Tails,” an African American folk rhyme. (c) 2017 by ReadAskChat.
Can you give an example of how parents can integrate ReadAskChat into their daily routines?
Alice: Children appreciate consistency and routines, so reading and chatting together every night at bedtime is a wonderful opportunity for bonding with your child. Such early shared experiences set the pattern for enjoying reading over a lifetime, and are often our most treasured memories of childhood. I’ll never forget hearing the magical “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” for the first time, as my mother read it to me. But ReadAskChat is also designed to be integrated into busy schedules. While sitting in a waiting room or riding a bus, a parent can make best use of the time by pulling out the ReadAskChat library on her smartphone and engaging her child in conversation inspired by our short but content-rich selections. In addition, the ReadAskChat MORE! activities encourage parents to “keep the conversation going” through hands-on exploration—looking for animal footprints, for example, or by applying story concepts, such as indoor fun, to their own lives. After reading and chatting about “Kitchen Drums,” for example, we suggest parents give their child pots, pans, and spoons to make loud and soft “music” like the children in the story.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Carolyn: Our original vision for ReadAskChat was based on a social justice mission. Our own families have so benefited from a culture of reading and exploration of ideas that we wanted more families to share in those benefits. We have grave inequities in our country, and access to good children’s books is one that we thought we could address. So we actively seek out organizations that focus on early learning, literacy, and/or parenting education and work with them to implement ReadAskChat with their constituencies. We recently developed a robust set of training materials and offer those to organizations. Our app also gives families the option to read all the conversation starters in Spanish because talking about the stories is what we’re all about. The stories remain in English because our mission is to foster school readiness, which in the U.S. means having some exposure to English.
Alice: Carolyn and I share the conviction that all children should be given the opportunity to realize their full potential as lifelong learners and empathic human beings. To achieve this result, ReadAskChat focuses on the first four years of life, when 80 percent of brain development occurs. Because parents play the first and most critical role in their children’s education, we aim to engage parents early on. Rather than dreary skills drills, the distinctive contribution of ReadAskChat is its emphasis on open-ended, imaginative, and joyful exploration of ideas. If parents and children are having fun, both will be learning about each other and the world around them.
Thank you so much for talking with us today and sharing a bit about your company. We really appreciated the chance to get to know you!