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The tools every parent must know to keep your kids safe on the Internet

One of the parents from my daughter’s class, Chris Roberts, created this checklist for ensuring our younger “web surfers” remain safe. I think it’s a great list, so, with his permission, I am sharing it here for safe explorations.

 For the younger children – 12 and under:

1.    Create separate user accounts for each child on the home computer.

2.    Enable strict content filtering on the computer.

3.    Install anti-virus, malware software, etc.

4.    Establish a select list of sites they’re allowed to visit. (We talk about the sites they want to visit, spend time on them together, and then I go through the sites and click through as deep as I can to understand the site content, culture, links, and ads, if they have them.) If I think they’re okay, then they’re added to the list.

5.    Enable YouTube Safe Mode on all web browsers (no matter what the age of user). Remember, you have to enable the safe mode per child, per account set up.    

How worried should parents be about location and geotagging services?

Recently, while chatting with my sister about posting photos of our kids on sites like Facebook and Instagram, she told me that she’d heard that other people can sometimes divine the location where the photo was taken.

To prevent strangers and lurkers in the seedy underbelly of the Internet from figuring out where she lives while viewing pictures of her cute-as-a-button 3-year-old, she says she turns off the location settings on her phone when she’s not using it for navigation.

I vaguely remembered a news report on the same issue a while back.

Ironically, even though I’m all over social media – I have accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+ – I still want to pretend like I have some control over my privacy. I disabled the location sharing setting on my various accounts so that followers and friends don’t see where I’m posting from. (Frankly, it’s always odd to know when an acquaintance has just entered the Starbucks down the road – do I need to know that?) And, of course, when it comes to my kids, I’d prefer to keep their specific whereabouts off the radar, so I, too, turned off the location settings.

But then I decided to do some poking around on the subject.

How worried should I be about geotagging and location services?

Snopes offers a great overview on the topic of geotagging on your photos.

Here are the basics:

Every time you snap a picture with a digital camera or your phone, a variety of information about the photo is stored with the picture. This information is called metadata, and includes things like the time and date the photo was taken, the type of camera you used, the settings and – if your device has a built-in GPS receiver – the location.

When posted online to a personal website or blog, this data attached to the photo might allow someone to track the specific location where photos were taken. But posting to sites like Twitter or Facebook is less risky because many social media sites automatically strip metadata like geotracking from a photo to protect user privacy.

To ensure this data isn’t attached to your photos, you can turn off the GPS feature on your device. You can also remove or change the information stored with your photos using an EXIF metadata editor or by using a photo editor or converter program to save pictures in a format that doesn’t support EXIF metadata.

So if you’re not careful, then yes, everyone who has access to photos you post online could figure out your whereabouts. And in the age of Edward Snowden, NSA metadata collection and general paranoia about identity theft and online criminals, this only creates more anxiety among parents about how to keep their kids safe.

Which is why I think it’s also important to read posts like this on Free-Range Kids. Author Lenore Skenazy bemoans over-reactive news media and overprotective parents for freaking out about phantom predators using location data from cell phone pictures.

“How GRATEFUL we must be to the TV reporters who dwell and dwell and dwell on the fact that now we parents must be even MORE vigilant, because so many predators are busy using GPS embeds to ‘cherry pick’ (TV’s word) and track down the ONLY kid worth taking: YOURS,” she writes.

The commenters offer a bit of levity as well.

“My Facebook feed is full of links to this and everyone freaking out,” one writes. “My life became a lot easier once I realized that my kids just aren’t that special and no one wants to kidnap them.”


-Susan Jennings

Mama Drama: How to Grow Independent Problem Solvers

Dear Mama Drama:

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I’m afraid I’ve created a monster (or two) by being an overprotective mom. My kids can’t seem to solve even the smallest problem by themselves. If something doesn’t turn out the way they think it should, they fall apart and for every little thing it’s “Mom, mom, mom!”

How can I help them become more independent?

~Overprotective Mama

Dear Overprotective:

Good for you for realizing that you are the link in this chain of helplessness that you have the control to change. It’s hard to admit when our behavior has led to difficult behavior in our children.

There are many small things you can do to help your children increase their independent problem solving skills. It just takes a shift in thinking, a lot of teaching, and a bucketful of patience. 🙂

First, help your children develop problem solving language:

  • Be a loud thinker (talk out loud about how you are solving everyday problems). Kids often think everything is easy for adults because they don’t hear all the problem solving we are doing in our head.
  • Prompt your child to say what s/he wants and wait, “My turn, please.” “I want the car, please.” “Can I join your game?”
  • Teach problem solving options such as asking politely, sharing, playing together, taking turns, doing something else, and asking for help (make this the last resort unless it’s something dangerous).

Increase problem solving confidence:

  • Ask your child for help in solving everyday problems, such “How many plates will we need at the table?” “I only have one apple, how can we all have some of it?” “We both have a show we want to watch, how can we solve that?”
  • When s/he shares a problem, ask your child what s/he can do to solve it. Make sure you do this with kindness, not sarcasm.
  • Allow your child time to think and find solutions without taking over or solving it for him/her.
  • Allow your child to try out solutions you don’t think will work. Learning from mistakes is a great way to become a better problem solver.
  • Recognize when s/he has solved a problem with specific verbal praise, “You used your thinking brain.” “That was hard, but you kept trying and figured it out.”

Support safety and self-advocacy strategies when peers or others are physically or emotionally hurtful:

  • Teach your child to say “Stop! I don’t like that.” “Stop! Be gentle.” “Please ask first.”
  • Remind him/her to ask a grown up for help if needed.
  • Teach them to tell a trusted grown up right away if someone’s behavior feels uncomfortable to them.

Congratulate your kids as you see them using their problem solving skills.

Congratulate yourself as you notice yourself teaching, waiting, and providing the space and support for your children to grow.

Remember to be gentle with them and with yourself. There will be some bumps in the road, but that’s how you’ll all learn from mistakes and find better solutions the next time.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Thursdays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in the next column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential. Read more of Lisa’s parenting perspective at her Laughing Yoga Mama blog.


How can I address the trauma of tragedy?

Dear Mama Drama:
With one traumatic event after another in the headlines I am struggling to manage my own anxieties much less those of my children. We are all sad, angry, and afraid, and struggling to maintain our emotions and get through our daily routines. What advice do you have to help us?
~Stressed Out Mama

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Dear Stressed:
While news of violent acts often leads to a mild increase in anxiety and fear, the recent string of tragedies has overwhelmed many children and adults. You and your family are not alone. Following are some ideas to support you through these difficult times.

Limit exposure to news media. Hearing and seeing the information and images related to tragic events can be traumatic and intensify anxieties and fears. There is a difference between being informed and being overwhelmed. Be thoughtful about what you choose to watch and listen to. Then, share the information with your children in an age appropriate manner. If they are older, watch and listen together so you are there to help them to interpret what they hear on television, radio, and the web.

Allow time to grieve and express feelings and fears. It is natural to want to move on and avoid the pain of tuning into our feelings about these tragic events. However, allowing time to cry and feel the sadness, anger, and fear can keep it from overwhelming us. Sometimes talking feels too difficult or the words are not there, so use music, drawing, painting, and sculpting as ways to express feelings, too. You don’t have to make it better or have all the answers, just be there to love and support each other.

Recognize all the ways you are safe and the steps in place to maintain that safety. Acknowledge the ways you are all safe right now. Then talk with your kids about the safety measures in place at home, school, and other places you frequent. If you don’t know what these are, investigate and find out. Knowing what is going on behind the scenes can help all of you feel more secure.

Find the balance between safety and trust. Help your children remember that most people are kind and willing to help. Discuss the people in the community who they can trust such as teachers, police officers, neighbors, etc., and make sure they have a plan for what to do if they feel unsafe.

Look for joy. Take time to notice and acknowledge the little and big moments of joy throughout each day. Tuning into your own light and joy helps to dissipate the effects of the dark acts around us. Notice and practice acts of kindness, demonstrate compassion for yourself and others, and honor each person for who they are.

Take action. Feeling helpless can exacerbate your sense of fear and anxiety, so take action to voice your concerns or stand up for a change you think will make a difference. Light a candle, write a letter, make a phone call, or join a group that supports your beliefs.

Seek professional help. If you or your children are still overwhelmed in your daily life and unable to return to your normal functioning, seek the support of a professional counselor, social worker, or psychologist. Even though you were not part of the tragic events, you have been traumatized by them. That trauma is real and you need support to get through it.

A good book to read with children is Jenny is Scared: When Sad Things Happen in the World by Carol Shuman. For children who have witnessed scary events either in person or through watching them on television the book A Terrible Thing Happened by Margaret M. Holmes can also be helpful.

As people returned to more typical routines this week a journalist on NPR noted, “Everything is normal, but nothing is the same.” This is true for all of us as we find the strength and courage to move forward in the aftermath of tragic events.

What do you do to care for yourself and your families when news of tragedy strikes?

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential. Read more of Lisa’s parenting perspective at her Laughing Yoga Mama blog.

Mama Drama: 3rd Anniversary Advice Round Up

It’s October, which means falling leaves, Halloween, and the 3rd Anniversary of our Mama Drama advice column. We’ve rounded up and sorted out the advice over this last year so it’s easy to find what you need. Bookmark it and send it to your mama friends!

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Keep the questions coming ([email protected]) and remember the more we ask, the smarter we get at navigating this amazing journey called Motherhood.

Daily Routines

Ending Morning Madness

New Safety Standards for Cribs Aim to Better Protect Children: Tips for Making Sure Your Crib Is Safe

Crib-related accidents send 26 children to U.S. emergency rooms each day and result in more than 110 deaths annually, according to a recent study in the journal Pediatrics. And for the first time in nearly 30 years, federal mandatory crib standards have been updated. Beginning June 28, 2011, anyone that manufactures or sells baby cribs will be required to meet new and improved crib safety standards approved by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) on Dec. 15, 2010.

These mandatory standards will: 1) stop the manufacture and sale of dangerous, traditional drop-side cribs; 2) make mattress supports stronger; 3) improve slat strength; 4) make crib hardware

Mama Drama: Grocery Grabbers and Independent Eights

Dear Mama Drama:

Every time we go to the grocery store my two-year-old daughter climbs all over the cart. She stands up and grabs at things and has nearly fallen out several times. I have talked with her over and over, bribed her with treats, and threatened to leave the store, but nothing has worked. What else can I do?

~At my wits end!

Dear Wits End:

The first thing to do is buckle your daughter into the cart every time she is in one. She may fuss and whine, but this should be a non-negotiable point.

Next, give her something to do while she is in the cart. Sitting for long, seemingly endless trips to the store can be very frustrating for a child. Let her hold the shopping list and help you cross off items. Give her a drawing pad or magnet drawing toy and have her make her own list. Bring a small bag of board books she can read.

Try to keep shopping trips brief. Create a list of ten items and have her help you count them down. As you go through the store to find your items, enlist her help. “I’m looking for something blue (show her what blue is if she doesn’t know). Do you see it?” “We need bananas. Do you know where they are?” Stick to the ten items on the list for that trip, so she knows when the shopping is done.

Having an incentive at the end of the shopping trip is okay, but make sure the treat is an interactive activity most of the time. Tell your daughter, “We’re going to the store to get ten items. If you stay safe in the cart, we will play at the park when we’re done.” Be sure to describe what safe in the cart specifically means, i.e., strap stays buckled, bottom is on the seat, hands stay in the cart, etc.

Throughout the shopping trip frequently notice when she is being safe, “You are keeping your hands in the cart. Thank you.” If she is struggling, restate your expectations and her incentive, “If you want to go to the park, your bottom must stay on the seat.” When you reach the check out line (with all the tempting candies), remind her of her incentive and the expected behaviors, “You have been so safe in the cart. Keep your hands in the cart and stay on your bottom and we can go to the park.”

Finally, before you threaten to leave the store, be sure you are prepared to do so. Empty threats will only reinforce the unwanted behavior. If your daughter is not being safe in the cart, restate your expectations of what she is to do (see above). If she continues to be unsafe, park the cart and leave. Do this calmly, saying, “Uh-oh, you aren’t being safe in the cart so we have to leave. It’s so sad we won’t be able to go to the park today.” Expect a fit, but don’t react. You can empathize with her by saying, “I know. It’s so sad.” Then hold her hand or pick her up and walk out the door.

Dear Mama Drama:

My eight-year-old son is very rude to me in front of his friends. He says he wants me to volunteer in his classroom, but won’t acknowledge me when I am there. He wants me to walk behind him in the hallway and snaps at me when he does talk to me at school. At home he is all hugs and kisses.

~Confused Mama

Dear Confused Mama:

Your son is at the age where he is beginning to see himself as separate from you and seek more independence. Eight to nine is a typical stage for boys to begin this process. It is important to guide your son through this phase and set limits about his behavior.

Have a direct conversation about this issue with you son. Tell him you have noticed that at home he is kind and loving, but at school he is rude and distant. Let him know that all boys go through a phase of seeking independence and creating an identity separate from their mothers. Emphasize that this is a typical part of growing up. Be clear with him, however, there is no need for this to be done in a rude or disrespectful manner.

Discuss ways in which he would like to be more independent and make a plan to support him with this. Then, discuss how you expect him to treat you at school and other public places. Let him know that the manner in which he treats you will teach his peers how he wants them to treat you. Also, tell him that when he acts disrespectfully, he does not look cool, he looks rude.

While girls tend to like face-to-face conversations, this often makes boys uncomfortable. When you talk with your son, sit side by side with him or have the conversation while out on a walk or riding in the car. This will feel less threatening for him.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.

It’s better to be safe (and appear crazy) than sorry…

Do you believe in Instinct? Do you believe in the validity behind that funny feeling you get in your stomach when you just know something isn’t right? Do you act on it, or do you convince yourself that you’re being crazy?

It doesn’t make rational sense. It isn’t logical. You’re probably just being silly…or so you tell yourself. But what if you’re not?

Back in May of 2008, I had something really freaky happen. It was so powerful that I’ve remembered it all this time. I didn’t write about it on the blog, because part of me was scared: scared that people would roll their eyes and call me crazy, scared that I would inadvertently give people the wrong impression of our neighborhood, scared of what could have happened. And, if truth be told, I was still kicking myself for not getting a license plate number. How many Law & Order episodes have I logged?! Entirely too many, if you ask my husband, but not enough to remember something as simple as that.

It was a day like any other. The sun was shining, and Claire and I had been on a mission to the grocery store. As we were heading home, we were waiting at a stop sign by our house, and this car drives by, all slow. There were two youngish guys (my age or a little younger), and I’d never seen them before. They looked a little rough. I know looks aren’t everything, but they made me very uneasy.

The first thought I had was, “Why aren’t they at work?” Ironically enough, I had just quit my work-from-home-job a few months before, but in my mind it was different. These two didn’t fit the “stay at home mom” description. Maybe they have the day off, my rational side said. Maybe they work nights.

The second thought I had was, “Why are they driving so slowly, and why are they looking over everything in such detail? Are they casing the joint?” Like I said, I’ve watched too many Law & Order shows. Maybe they’re just out for a drive, crazy lady. My rational side is sometimes blunt.

I was forced to turn and follow them, because they were going the same way I was.

Then, to my surprise,