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Review: CleanBrowsing – DNS Content filtering

Review: CleanBrowsing – DNS Content filtering

cleanbrowsing dns review

Deploying an effective parental control solution is hard, in fact it seems to be getting harder as technology in this area does not seem to be progressing to cope with the ever-growing number of internet-connected devices we have in our home.

In my house, we have over 25 internet-connected devices. Multiple Amazon fire devices, tablets, phones, games consoles, and PC’s. All of which I have to make sure are kid-safe by default.

In the case of my Fire TV/sticks, there is no simple solution, as there is no security apps to install, and even putting a pin on the devices does not stop any apps being installed (such as browsers or youtube) if they have been previously installed on ANY device in your amazon account.

As you will know if you have read my other articles on parental control, I have tried out quite a lot of products and services in my quest to find the perfect parental control solution.

I have tried several DNS content filtering services, including the popular OpenDNS. In most cases, they are either lacking n features, most commonly no way to lock down safe search or are corporate solutions and either was not suitable for parental controls or were prohibitively expensive.

Then I recently came across CleanBrowsing, which is specifically aimed at family filtering and at a reasonable price too. In my initial tests using the free service, it seemed like it was exactly what I was looking for, it had all the filters I needed, safe searching for google and youtube and custom profiles, so my hopes were high.

So based on my initial tests, I decided to upgrade to the paid service, naturally assuming this would be superior to the free service and the ability to create a separate profile for each child or device would give me everything I need.

Sadly this is where everything started to go downhill and the service did not perform as expected.

Review: CleanBrowsing - DNS Content filtering 2

I created a default profile that would be applied to the router and thus used by all devices in my house by default. This profile would block everything not safe for kids, but alas this is where the problems started.

The primary devices I wanted to use the default profile were all the Amazon fire devices since they have no way to install the cleanbrowsing VPN and I had no way to lock down the DNS settings.

This is where I first noticed the issues. My kids were able to access sites and services via the FireTV which were supposed to be blocked as were some of the mobile devices. I even did a complete factory reset on a couple of old phones to test, and they also were able to access blocked services using the default profile.

I had also created separate profiles for my older kids, allowing them access to some of the blocked services, such as social media and youtube. In this case it was having the complete opposite issue. Services & sites which I had allowed, were still being blocked.

bad tech support

Sadly support were no help at all in resolving these issues. I exchanged dozens of emails trying to solve this but got nowhere. I seemed to spend far too much of my time going round n circles repeating information I had already provided and referring to previous emails and screenshots.

In the end they just gave up and said they had no idea why it was not working, and refunded me.

The only part that seemed to work properly was the VPN. So far I have not had any issues with the phones running the CleanBrowsing VPN app.

Although the one very annoying issue with the app is that it is not available on the Google Play, you have to disable security and allow external apps to be installed (not mentioned in the docs) and download it from their website.

There is no app available for iPhones, you have to perform a PITA manual DNS configuration that you must perform with a 3rd party app (DNS cloak), which frankly is likely going to be too difficult for any parents who are not very tech savvy. But then I do not recommend giving iPhones to kids anyway, due to the lack of security and parental control in general.

CleanBrowsing support claim that I am the only person ever to have these problems and that it works perfectly for everyone else. This smells like Deja-Moo to me (when you have smelt this Bullsh*t before) and I don’t believe this for a second.

I won’t say don’t use CleanBrowsing, as maybe the free service is sufficient for you, and that worked fine for me, as did the mobile VPN and you may find that you do not suffer from the same issues as me with the paid service.

However, given my experience, it is definitely not a set it and forget it service, and I would not trust CleanBrowsing to be doing its job unchecked and would recommend regular weekly checks of your devices to make sure the filtering rules are still being applied.

The search continues.

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Free content filtering for your kids and family

Free content filtering for your kids and family

Free content filtering for your kids and family 3

I have been on a mission for quite a long time now to find a reliable parental control solution and content filtering solution and created a detailed post on the subject a few years ago.

I have tried all kinds of software, most of which has been lacklustre or simply unreliable as it will randomly stop working (Microsoft Family Safety, Bitdefender Parental Controls) or simply doesn’t do what it claims and gives you a false sense of security (Qustodio).

Avoid iPhones

Many parents cannot afford to pay for software for all their devices as it is, and Apple has now made this an even more difficult solution for parents by blocking all 3rd party software vendors from using parental controls on iPhones and iPads or by crippling their software and making it useless.

So if you are thinking of buying your child an iPhone or iPad, I would suggest you consider an Android device instead if you want any kind of parental control.

DNS Filtering

Lately, I have been trying out a number of DNS filtering services and I believe I have finally found one that not only works, but is also FREE, at least for the basic service. It is called CleanBrowsing DNS.

How DNS works
How DNS Works

What this basically does is that it takes you DNS requests and instead of just return the IP address to your device as normal DNS would, it will process the request itself and returns the website content with any filtering applied.

So it will either completely block any website on the not allowed list, or will enforce the SAFE SEARCH mode on sites like youtube and google, thus overriding local settings on your devices.

Using DNS filtering is a simple case of changing the DNS servers on your broadband router admin, which will affect every device in your house that is using WIFI or connected to the router via cable.

If you have older kids with mobile phones, then you would also need to apply the cleanbrowsing DNS settings to their phones directly, otherwise, it would have no effect when they are connected to the mobile network.

You can find various setup guides over on the CleanBrowsing website for most devices.

Other Considerations

Please bear in mind that DNS filtering is very easy to bypass for any kids that are quite computer literate or even just know how to use google to search for a workaround.

So for older kids, you will need to have some parental control software on their devices in order to stop them changing the DNS settings, and be sure to check for yourself that it cannot be changed. I recommend MMGuardian.

On Windows computers/laptops, you simply need to make sure that your kids are not administrators, and only standard users, then they will not be able to change network or DNS settings. You should make yourself the only administrator.

The free version of CleanBrowsing will not block social media sites. If you want to do this, then you will need to purchase the paid plan so that you can add your own filters to block those sites or others which are not blocked by default, you can also create separate profiles for each child if required.

If you have set the DNS filtering at router level and want to bypass the DNS filtering on your own devices, then simply set different dns servers on those devices. I recommend using CloudFlare DNS rather than your ISP.

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Parents Beware: Playstation4 is not suitable for kids

Parents Beware: Playstation4 is not suitable for kids

Parents Beware: Playstation4 is not suitable for kids 4A couple of years ago my son Bret was begging for a PS4, based on the premise that most of his friends had or were getting a PS4, so he would be able to play online with them, so I bought him one for Christmas, and it has caused nothing but problems due to the ridiculous dictatorship that Sony imposes and the terrible attitude of Playstation support towards its users.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not particularly a Microsoft or an XBOX fanboy either, I could complain all day long about Microsoft and Xbox support and all the problems they have caused us over the years with their incompetence. I owned a PlayStation 1 back in the day, and several Playstation 2’s, in fact I only got rid of my PS2’s last year. But the issues with kids and parental controls did not affect those consoles, these issues really only really began once consoles were doing everything online.

We have had XBOX 360’s in the house for as long as I have had kids, one of the things I have always liked about the Xbox is the extensive and granular parental controls it allows. You as the parent have full control over what your kids can and cannot do, the amount of play time, whether they can play online or accept friend requests, age restrictions etc, the decisions are yours, nothing is forced upon you.

Herein lies the problem with the PlayStation. First off, the parental controls are a joke. Sony has decided in their dictator style wisdom, that they will determine what is and is not suitable for your children and how they will use the Playstation, and you as the parent will not be given any choice in the matter.

In order to use your Playstation properly or play online games, you first need signup for a Sony/Playstation account, for which you must be over 18. If your kid’s signup then they have to lie about their age and of course would have access to 18+ content as well as no protection from abusive users or predators. Also, if Sony finds out they are a child, the account will be blocked forever, and they will lose all their games and content. It seems Sony will pretty much ban any account for any reason why see fit, no matter how daft.

So to stay within the rules, you as the parent must signup, and then you create child sub-accounts inside your parent account. This is where your problems start.

The first thing we discovered on Christmas day was that child accounts cannot play online, there is no way to override this, it is Sony’s rule, they have decided that nobody unde rthe age of 18 is allowed to play online, period. So if you purchased the PS4 and games specifically so your kids could play online with their friends, you are now screwed. We could not find this information actually mentioned anywhere and had to wait until after Xmas to contact support to find out this was the reason why online gaming would not work. Needless to say that Bret’s Christmas was completely ruined by this. Had I known about this in advance, I would never have purchased him a PS4.

Despite their anti-child rules, Sony will happily sell you games intended for under 18’s which have online play, knowing full well that your kids will never be able to play online.

We have had numerous issues since with support screwing us around. Such as a controller which stopped working properly, while it was still within warranty, but PlayStation support messed us about for months until the warranty had passed, and then refused to help.

The next nightmare we had to deal with was the PSN PLUS subscription, which allows you to play online and gives you a number of downloadable games each month. Due to the initial issues mentioned above, I created the subscription on my own account, which means that I owned all the downloaded games. However, any other user on the console could benefit from my subscription and could also play those games and have online gaming access as long as my subscription remained active and this was set as my primary console.
If you cancel your subscription, then you lose access to all the games you downloaded, which is another limitation that I find very unfriendly and also very greedy of Sony. The equivalent on XBOX is the XBOX Live Gold subscription, but any games you download while subscribed are yours forever. So even if you cancel your subscription, you still get to play all the games you downloaded.

Obviously, the inability to play online was a complete show stopper and not something we could live with, otherwise, I may as well of just sold the PS4. So like most other people I had no choice but to create an adult account for my son to use. This unfortunately still incurred some issues with the PSN PLUS subscription being on my account, there were things he still could not do.
So we contacted PlayStation support and asked them what would happen if I cancelled my subscription and moved it over to his account. They informed us that we would still have access to all the games I had downloaded, because they were assigned to the console, and it only required any user to have an active subscription. So base on this advise, I set up a new subscription for my son, and allowed mine to expire.

I’m sure you can probably guess what happened when my subscription expired, yes the support agent was an incompetent idiot and had gotten it completely wrong or had told us a bunch of porky pies. As soon as my subscription expired, all the games vanished from the console. I contacted PlayStation support once again, but of course, they denied all responsibility and refused to resolve the situation in their usual unhelpful style. I asked them if they would just transfer all my games licenses to my son’s account, but no, of course, that would too easy and helpful. So now the only solution is to maintain 2 subscriptions, which is a complete waste of money, as  I do not even use the PlayStation.

We have also had several instances where my son has contacted PlayStation support, and they have been quite rude and unhelpful to him and he has come away not only upset but also thinking they are complete idiots. If a 10 year old thinks you are an idiot, then you have a problem LOL.

On one occasion, after he had been in the support queue for over 30 minutes, they simply refused to speak to him because he was a child, he even told them that his dad was standing right next to him, and they could speak to me, but they just said “no thanks” and hung up on him. He was of course pretty upset about this after waiting so long to get through. Again no apology when I complained, just complete denial.

Definately should have gone for an Xbox One instead.

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A Parents Guide to Cyberbullying

A Parents Guide to Cyberbullying

A Parents Guide to Cyberbullying 5

An Introduction to Cyberbullying.

Digital technology is quickly becoming ubiquitous in our society. The vast majority of individuals now travel with at least one device on their person. This has its advantages, as people can gain access to real time information as well as communicate with social contacts and business associates. It is also useful for day to day activities such as travel times, geolocation and weather information. And this trend is going to continue as new technology continues to be developed.

68% of Americans own smartphones as of 2015, with 45% owning tablets, according to the PEW Research Center. This number has no doubt grown. 85% of mothers say that they use technology in order to keep their children busy. 83% of American households have tablets while 77% have smartphones. 86% of those aged 18-29 have smartphones. Many children and teenagers will have a smartphone and a tablet, while simultaneously having access to a computer either at home, at school or in internet cafes. Technological devices are here to stay, and they can have either positive or negative effects depending on how they are used.

Unfortunately, continual access to digital information comes with a series of disadvantages. And one of these is the rise of cyberbullying. 24/7 access to digital technology is not an advantage when the technology is being used to harass or discriminate against an individual. It can be a terrible situation where children are bullied around the clock, afraid to turn on their device for what they might find on it. The role of parents is to stay alert to the dangers of over exposure to these types of technology.

What is Cyberbullying?

It can be difficult to supply a technical definition of what constitutes cyberbullying. This is due to the fact that cyberbullying is often a subjective phenomenon. The bully may not be aware that what he or she is doing is actually cyberbullying, and may even think that it is a joke. And the child could simply be more sensitive than others. Cyberbullying, like bullying in person, can be very difficult to understand and troubleshoot.

Tulane University has provided a simple definition, saying that cyberbullying is simply a form of bullying that takes place over digital mediums. These digital mediums primarily include social media forums and chat services. Cyber bullies are often anonymous and can be performed in groups as well as individually.

Standard bullying has now gone online, and it is easier for bullies to carry out their operations. What is especially worrying is that the child will often have no refuge at home or anywhere else. If he or she is carrying a device, there may be no escape. What was once a playground phenomenon can now take place anywhere, anytime, thanks to technology.

Currently, there is no law that prevents cyberbullying. There is no remedy at the Federal level, however most US states have added wording to existing bullying laws to include digital bullying. The nature of cyberbullying can be difficult to resolve. It involves two people who are both very young and do not know the consequences of their actions, and thus legal remedies are usually very inappropriate even if there is a case. It is the responsibility of the school to do as best as they can to spread cyberbullying awareness and to prevent it where possible. Social media and other sites should certainly be restricted at schools. Where cyberbullying is reported, all schools are expected to perform a thorough investigation and follow through. Support is to be provided to parents and guardians throughout the process.

Cyberbullying can be especially prevalent for kids aged between 9-14 and according to Cyber Bully 411, 40% of cyberbullying takes place on instant messaging services, 29% takes place on online games and 30% takes place on social networking sites. With video games, cyberbullying is usually not personal. Older users often engage in abusive language if they get “killed” by somebody in shooter games or if another player does not act in accordance with generally accepted principles as perceived by that particular gamer. These video games often have an adverse effect on an individual’s personality which turns them more aggressive, particularly shooter games. Because this abuse is usually verbal through a head piece, there is no real record of its occurrence, and the child or adolescent may not even know the person. The bully could be located anywhere in the world.

There are a number of cyberbullying statistics to take note of, and they are a strong indicate that it is becoming something of an epidemic. It is a very serious concern and not something to be taken lightly, or that the child will “grow out of”.

  • 34% of academic students will experience cyberbullying during their lifetime
  • Girls are twice as likely to be the victims of cyberbullying.
  • Victims of cyberbullying have a higher risk of depression, even compared to victims of traditional bullying face to face.
  • Children are 7 times more likely to be cyber bullied by friends than by strangers.
  • Children who are bullied are 9 times more likely to be the victim of identity fraud as well.
  • 70% of students report seeing frequent bullying online

Cyber bullies do not actually use the internet to find victims, but they use digital technology to bully people who they are already bullying at school. According to a Warwick study, 99% of students would have been bullied regardless of new technology, so digitalization has only added an extra percent. What this really represents is that digital technology is not the problem by itself. But it does make an existing problem far worst. If the issue can be resolved in school, then it will not happen at home. Digital platforms are simply a tool to reach existing victims. The statistics for adolescents that are bullied online and in person are very similar. The most common reasons reported by students for bullying are appearance (27%), race (10%), ethnicity (7%) gender (7%), disability (4%), religion (4%) and sexual orientation (3%) as reported by the National Center for Educational Statistics in 2017.

Another trend that continually plays itself out is that those who are bullied typically go on to bully more people. Girls are more likely to report that they are being cyber bullied. Most commonly, cyberbullying occurs when the other person is seen as different in some way. The cultural context of the particular school may have an influence on whether or not the child is bullied.

Generally, there are 4 major types of bullying. These are social media, harassment, flaming and exclusion. Social media bullying is all forms of bullying that takes place on social media platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter. Harassment is the repetition of negative threats that can occur via different channels, either in groups or alone. Flaming is the public shaming and humiliation of certain individuals, so other people can see, either online or offline. And exclusion is where the individual is ignored or not invited to social events. The victim can then be made fun of among the group without the victim knowing. Flaming is the most humiliating and can stay with the child or adolescent the longest, depending on how long it lasts. But exclusion can be the most difficult to gain evidence of and troubleshoot, as it is nearly impossible to prove. For example, somebody might be deleted from a friends list or not invited to an event, which is not exactly an offense on behalf of the child or student.

On a more positive note, while cyberbullying is on the rise, physical bullying has been on a strict decline for many years. While this was far more common in previous decades, there is currently far less physical violence than in the past. According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, violent crimes against adolescents reached an all-time low in 2014. Additionally, a study conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education found a 22% decline in bullying in Massachusetts between 2003 and 2011. The difficulty with cyberbullying is that it most frequently takes place on instant messaging services. These messages are encrypted and private, such as Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, Line, WeChat and Snapchat. So there is no real record unless you physically take the device from your child and look at the messages, taking a screenshot. Emails are public comments are much more easily recorded.

According to the Center for Disease Control, 15% of high school students are cyber bullied and 20% are bullied on school property. The percentage of people who have experienced cyberbullying at some stage in their lives has nearly doubled since 2007 to 2016, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center.

How to Prevent Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is becoming a matter of increasing concern. Thankfully, it has been brought to the public awareness and there are a number of steps that can be taken to prevent its occurrence.

The role of a parent is to be in touch with the emotions and thoughts of the child or adolescent, and to notice if the child is depressed or otherwise acting strangely. If your child actually says to you that they are being bullied online or in school, then you can consider yourself quite lucky. The majority of adolescents and children never admit it to their parents, and statistics show if they do tell someone, it is more likely to be peers or siblings. Males are less likely to confide in anyone when they are being bullied. There could be a large number of reasons why the person is acting the way they are acting aside from cyberbullying. The first step is always identification of the issue. And the earlier that the activity is identified and brought under scrutiny, the better. You may have to ask your child if they are being bullied. Or you can ask the teacher, who also has a responsibility to report these events in the school, where they originate.

Depending on the age of the child or adolescent, the best preventative measure may be to restrict technology to as large an extent as possible. There is an increasing amount of evidence to suggest that children under the age or 7 or so should not have too much access to any kind of technological device. The fact is that these devices increase the chances of cyberbullying, and the online world is simply not a place that the child is ready for. Additionally, there could be multiple adverse health consequences to having children and adolescents using these types of technological devices for extended time periods. Because of the rate at which technology is progressing and the recency of digital devices, there have been no longitudinal studies conducted on the consequences of continued exposure to smart phones, WiFi, iPads and other types of technology. Young children in particular should be massively restricted in the use of such devices.

An alternative to restricting devices outright is to restrict the sites that are allowed to be viewed by your child or adolescent. You can do this at the level of your internet service provider, which means that all devices that use your home internet must follow its rules in relation to what sites are restricted. This is similar to what happens in corporations which have lists of allowed sites and rules regarding downloading particular files and applications. If you are buying your child a smartphone, there are a number of parental control applications that can be downloaded on the phone. Keepers is an application that notifies parents about suspicious or harmful messages and also includes a tracking device to show the child’s location in real time. It is actually very easy to put controls in place to prevent children from accessing particular sites. There are few technical barriers to doing this. These controls include:

  • Using parental controls on video game consoles. Players often talk to and message each other in video games. Set up an account for your child, limiting who they can talk to and monitor the content of particular games.
  • Becoming familiar with parental controls of all social media sites, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
  • Teaching your children about these controls. It is easy to block other people on social media sites, video games consoles and even phone calls. If your child feels bullied online, tell him or her to simply block that person. Emails addresses can also be blocked.
  • If somebody has hacked your child’s account and is pretending to be them online, you can change the password or contact the site itself and report the behavior. Most recognized sites are quite helpful when it comes to security issues.

Aside from cyberbullying, it can be a good idea to set up guidelines for children and young adults to follow in general when using technology. These guidelines could include information on storing passwords, being careful about whom is contacted, refusing to accept friend requests from strangers, not using the phone late at night, not using the phone when driving or doing other tasks and not giving away email addresses, date of birth or names online or offline. It is also a good idea to set an example to children and adolescents. This is because they often take cues from their parents, and follow their lead. These habits and examples can follow them for the rest of their lives, so it is good to follow best practices early on to prevent any incidents down the line.

One of the best ways to ensure online protection for a child or young adult is with a high quality Virtual Private Network (VPN). These VPN’s are now very easy to setup and are quite cheap. What they do is encrypt network traffic, so hackers are not able to spy on the child or student when they are online. It will also hide information from ISP’s so that their data is not harvested and sold by commercial entities, and also hides information from sites which try to gather data on all online activity. There is currently a wide variety of VPN options available to customers and they all have configurable settings for maximum protection. Teaching a child how to use a VPN is possibly one of the best things they can get familiar with in terms of online security and is a technology that will help them for years to come. It has been identified by security experts as one the best techniques with regard to online safety and anonymity. Good VPNs include IP VanishExpress VPN and Nord VPN and more.

What to Do if Your Child is Being Cyber Bullied

The following is a guide for parents who need to ensure the well being of their child in the event of cyberbullying. If cyberbullying is already occurring, then preventative measures are not very effective. Of course, it can still be a good idea to take away the devices or remove access from social media sites where the damage is being done. These steps could still be taken.

But when cyberbullying is ongoing, the first step is obviously to talk to the child to make sure they are mentally, emotionally and physically well. There are a number of modalities, and it could be a good idea to take the child or adolescent out for a treat or to an enjoyable event. They are more likely to open up this way, and it is important to gain access to the nature of the cyberbullying itself. You can also advise your child that it is ok to stand up for himself or herself if the situation continues. And most importantly, tell them to feel free to report cyberbullying as it occurs. In some cases it can be a good idea to take the child from school for a few days. Bullying and cyberbullying are very much individual situations and parents, along with the children and teachers, will have to work together to find the most appropriate remedy.

Once you have gathered as much information as possible, it is best to have a talk to the school teacher to understand the situation better. You can also talk to the parent of the child involved if possible and come to terms. This is a very important procedure, as the bully’s parents need to know what their child is up to. It could be far more effective for the parent of the bully to prevent their child from access to digital technology, so that they are not able to continue these activities. If the teacher and/or the parent are not cooperative in resolving the issue, then the only alternative may be to relocate to a different institution.

Additionally, the bully can easily be removed from social media sites as a friend or contact, and all sites provide the option to block contacts, including email providers. If you are not getting any assistance from the school teacher or the parent in resolving the issue, then only so much can be done. The school is the source from where the cyberbullying originates. There are few occurrences as harmful to a child’s wellbeing as cyberbullying, and even moving schools is far better that letting the situation continue.

There are some pieces of information that you can share with your child in the event of bullying. The first thing is to let them know that it is common and it can and does happen to different people. Reinforce to the child or teenager that it is not their fault and there are a number of resources available to help them if they wish. Research has shown that if the child believes it is his or her fault, it is more likely to happen, and the self-esteem of the child is likely to sink further. It is also very important to be as transparent as possible with your child. If you organize a meeting with school authorities and the children find out, it could lead to further marginalization.

Victims say that the thing that helps most is simply when they are listened to by other people. This helps them to release trapped emotions which could be making them depressed and very unhappy. It can be good to reinforce to the child that the event has taught them something and that they are now stronger as a result.

Remember to save and document all evidence where possible. This is an advantage that cyberbullying has over physical bullying, and it can be shown to the teacher and to the parent. Two children will likely have vastly different opinions on what happened, and it can be very difficult to know what exactly is going on. Take screenshots with your phone or device and save all of the data down in a secure folder. This is similar to how a police operative would act when gathering incriminating information. However it should be borne in mind that the aim is not to get “justice” by getting the other child “punished”. It is more about conflict resolution than dishing out punishment to “offenders”.

While it might seem like a good idea to simply block all accounts and take away the phone in an effort to prevent cyberbullying, this is not the appropriate solution in most instances. First, it is really punishing the child or young adult despite the fact that he or she has done nothing wrong. They will then wonder why they are being punished if they are doing nothing wrong, and it will simply reinforce this idea to them. Additionally, it may not work, given that digital technology is so prevalent everywhere. And third, when one social media outlet gets banned the problem will simply move elsewhere. The core issue itself has to be dealt with. It will not simply go away if it is ignored, and this is not a good standard to set for children and adolescents.

Further, it is never good to act rashly and quickly. Because the “bully” that posted a comment might actually be a victim reacting to physical bullying in the school. It is always best to be upfront and transparent as much as possible, bringing together the parents, the teachers and the two children to get a clearer picture of what is involved.

It can also help to understand some of the remedies identified by studies as the most effective in terms of preventing and stopping bullying and cyberbullying. One of these statistics is that 57% of cyberbullying actually stops when a peer intervenes on behalf of the student. So making sure that the child has a network of friends to count on could be a useful preventative step. In many cases, bullying a particular child can be seen as the norm, and children who refuse to participate in the group action can be afraid of then being seen as an outsider, in a loop. But all it takes is one peer to break this cycle and show others that bullying is not fashionable. Peer actions are viewed by those who are bullied as more helpful than teacher or adult intervention and even by self action to correct the situation. If peers listen to the victim, help them to get away, talk to them, spend time with them, distract them, tell an adult or ask the perpetrator to stop, it is viewed as very helpful through the eyes of the victim. All the research indicates that the worse effect of bullying is that the victim perceives himself or herself as alone in some way, and any kind of action by a peer can massively help with this self image of being alone and isolated. Actions that are aimed at making the bully change behaviour is less effective than peer or adult intervention.

Along with intervention by a peer, which can be very difficult to orchestrate in the face of bullying, school based prevention systems can decrease bullying by up to 20-23% So if your school has no system in place, get vocal in your concerns and start demanding that such a system is established. If you believe serious consequences have ensued due to cyberbullying or bullying, there are a number of services available to children and adolescents in the form of help centers and counselling.

The Effects of Bullying

Bullying and cyberbullying is well proven to have a number of adverse health effects on the emotional and mental wellbeing of the individual in question. Those who experience bullying will get poorer grades in school, and are at increased risk for anxiety, sleep difficulties and depression. They are at greater risk for mental and general behavioral disorders and most say that bullying has an adverse effect on how the victims feel about themselves. Their relationships are likely to suffer, and they are twice as likely to endure negative health effects. There is a proven and significant relationship between being bullied and psychosomatic disorders. What is interesting is that even observing bullying has proven to have negative health effects for the viewers

Vulnerable Groups

As already mentioned, those who are bullied tend to be perceived as different in some way. While bullying is mainly an individual event taking place, there are certain groups that are more likely to be bullied than others. One particular group that currently stands out is the LGBT community. This group is actually twice as likely to be bullied as compared to other groups. Other groups which are at risk are young people with special needs or learning disabilities. Parents are advised to be extra vigilant if their children fall into any of these categories, and to take extra precautions to prevent cyberbullying and encourage social cohesion with other children where possible. Though these groups are more vulnerable than others, cyberbullying can take place regardless of the personality of the individual. Shy people, confident people, beauty pageant winners, celebrities, obese people, skinny people, all can be the victims of cyberbullying.

It is worth noting that bullying is not limited to children and teenagers. A 2014 survey in the USA outlined how 27% of American workers reported being bullied at work, though adults are less likely to be bullied online afterwards, for various reasons.

Cyberbullying Guide for Parents – Prevention Summary

The following is a list of steps to take in order to minimize cyberbullying.

  1. For young children, restrict access to all types of technological devices for as long as possible. These devices can have adverse health effects that are not commonly known.
  2. Put parental controls on all devices and set times when devices can be used. Be mindful with regard to what your child or teenager is taking in on video games. Adult sites should be prevented on your home network.
  3. Make sure your child has a network of friends to rely on and strong social ties. This can be achieved through play dates, sport or any type of activity. This can be one of the most effective tools in preventing cyberbullying as it will reduce the child’s perception of themselves as different through participation in something where everybody is just a player in the game. Having a network of friends will increase the prevention of bullying which leads to cyberbullying. It will also result in an increased likelihood of intervention in the event of bullying online or offline, as proven by the vast majority of available research.
  4. Ask the school what kind of bullying and cyberbullying prevention measures are in place. If there are none, ask why.

Cyberbullying Guide for Parents – Summary

If your child is being cyber bullied, then you can follow these steps.

  1. Talk to your child and give them some extra attention. Make sure to let them know they have done nothing wrong.
  2. Listen to your child to understand the situation. This has been identified by children and young adults as the thing that helps the most. And the more people they can talk to, the better.
  3. Collect as much information as you can and then talk to teachers and parents. Do not act rashly, try to understand the situation better. Now that the situation is being looked at, it will most likely get resolved.
  4. Give the situation a few weeks to resolve. In rare cases, the teacher and parent may not be helpful. If this is the case, then moving the child to a different school may be the only option, with a more friendly and proactive approach towards the issue. There are few things as toxic as bullying to the health and wellbeing of a child or teenager.

The Solution to Cyberbullying

In a world where digital technology is becoming more and more prevalent, parents and guardians have an added responsibility to pay heed to the dangers. This means being proactive and restricting access to devices as well as putting strict parental controls on all technology, depending on the age and personality of the child or student. Access can and should be restricted, with set times and monitoring of what is viewed and not viewed. There is no need to sit back and let children and students live their lives in a cyber world just because the technology is becoming ubiquitous.

However, the best approach remains a face to face and engaging collaboration between parents of both the bully and the bullied, with the school acting as a mediator. Strong social ties are also of the utmost importance in any community and in the mental and emotional makeup of the individuals within this community.

source: wizcase.com

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Qustodio Review

Qustodio Review

Qustodio Review 6

If your kids have multiple devices on different OS’s (Apple, Android, Amazon, Windows, Mac, Linux), then parental control can be a real nightmare, as most apps are not available on all platforms.

For desktop security, I was using Microsoft Family Safety for time limits and activity reporting plus BitDefender for cybersecurity + openDNS for an additional level of content filtering at the router level.

For my kids mobile devices, I was using MMGuardian + Kid-Control. If your devices support these 2 apps, then I would recommend using these over Qustodio.

Last year I bought Amazon Fire tablets for my eldest boys, and due to their age I could not use the built-in “fire for kids” mode as it was too childish and restrictive, and they just refused to use the tablets.
Sadly MMGuardian is not available on Amazon marketplace, so I had to look for something else, as It quickly becomes very confusing and a lot of hassle if you are using different products on different devices, so I started looking at the limited options available on the Amazon store.

Due to the ongoing issues with Microsoft family safety. I was also looking for an alternative solution for my kids desktop PC’s as well.



There was little choice on Amazon marketplace, so I decided to give Qustodio another try.

TL/DR summary: Qustodio has very poor security and is easy for kids to bypass or simply uninstall the app. You definiately cannot rely on Qustodio and will need to be diligent and technically aware enough to also manually check and monitor your kids devices every single day to make sure they have not tampered with Qustodio.

I tried out the trial version of Qustodio a few years back when I wrote my article Cyber Security: How to protect your kids online, but it was lacking in several areas so didn’t bother installing it on my kids devices and  opted to go for MMGuardian + Kid Control at the time, as MMGuardian had better monitoring, better activity tracking, better security and more control but lousy GPS tracking, which is why I used kid-Control as well.

Overall, the first impression of Qustodio is that it seems to do a fairly decent job at blocking content and controlling screen time. It blocks dangerous sites, it enforces safe search in all browsers and on youtube, it allows you to block or allow specific apps and websites either globally or per device, and it also allows you to set time limits.

The interface is not especially intuitive, and until you get used to the app, it is quite an effort to figure out how some features work and where to find the settings as some options are rather disjointed and the web interface does not match the Android app. My wife still struggles to find where or why something is blocked or disabled.

With the screen time, you can enable/disable time controls, by setting which hours of the day the device can be used and you can also set allowed number of hours each say. So you could, for example, say that they can use their tablet for 4 hours per day between 9am – 7pm.

Since I have started using Qustodio, they do seem to have implemented one of my suggestions, and you can now set time limits on specific apps as well, which means you can limit time on games or social media only for example.

All access levels is very much an all or nothing solution though, so you cannot make a change that applies today only for example, so if you block access on Tuesday, it will be blocked every Tuesday until you undo it.

What I really wanted is a time quota solution like Microsoft Family safety, allowing time to added ad-hoc on a daily basis,  so kids have no time by default,  they have to come home from school, do their chores etc, and then they could request time, at which point I would grant the request and give them x number of hours screen time. This was very flexible and very easy to manage and meant that if they were banned for being naughty, I just did not give them any time that day.

Lack of Monitoring

One huge issue is the complete lack of any social media or chat app monitoring. Qustodio claims on their website to have social media monitoring, but this is not true. The only option they have is for Facebook on desktop pc, which requires the child to install the Qustodio facebook app, which can just as easily be removed by your child, so is essentially useless. There doesn’t seem to be any support for the facebook mobile app or monitoring for the many other social media websites or apps on mobile devices such as Twitter, Instagram, Google+ or any of the myriad of chat apps such as WhatsApp, Skype, Saraha and all the others.

The whole reason for monitoring your kid’s online activities is to make sure they are not being harassed, threatened, bullied or getting involved with bad people.  In this respect, Qustodio completely fails and is essentially useless. They could be chatting to paedophiles or being groomed by drug dealers, and you will never know.

Location Tracking is Unreliable

Most times I tried to use the location tracking to find out where my kids were, it gave a completely wrong location or was still reporting an old location from hours or even days ago.

For this reason, I do not rely on a single product, as none of them has been perfect. I primary used kid-control for the location tracking, but this has also become unreliable, so I am again looking for alternatives.

Changes require a reboot

This one really does defy logic for me. If you make any changes to your child’s settings, such as block/allowing an app, adding/removing time etc, this will often not take effect until the next day unless you reboot the device.

So let’s say your child is being naughty or has not done their chores, and you lock their phone as punishment, you think they now have no access. In fact they are sitting up in their room using their phone as normal.

Tomorrow comes, the block has now kicked in, but your child has now gone out with the friends. You remove the lock, but of course, it has no effect. So unless your child thinks to reboot their phone, they are now stuck unable to use their phone or make calls think you have done it on purpose.

Poor Security, Easy for kids to bypass

Sadly, any good features about Qustodio are rendered completely moot by the fact that the security is terrible and it is very easy for kids to bypass.

The first thing I noticed, is that when the screen time runs out, Qustodio locks the screen whenever you try to do anything, but it takes a few seconds for it to kick in. This means that the kids can still use the device in those few seconds, as they just continually keep opening the apps for a few seconds to read messages etc. It is also possible for them to perform blocked actions if they are quick enough, as they can perform the action before Qustodio blocks it.

For example, even if you have blocked access to the play store, so they cannot arbitrarily install apps, this can be bypassed. Granted it is repetitive and arduous, but kids will go to any lengths to get around restrictions.

All my kids are quite IT literate, and since I wrote this review originally, one of my boys figured out how to completely uninstall Qustodio and told his brother how to do it. Frankly, it wasn’t hard, a quick Google search brings up a youtube video showing you how to do it. It took me a couple of weeks to notice since Qustodio does not alert you that the app has been removed and is no longer being monitored, so that was 2 weeks of unrestricted access for both my boys.

Since then I have discovered an even easier method. You simply uninstall Qustodio in the usual way (hold icon, drag to uninstall link), but if you do it quick enough then you will bypass the anti-tampering, as it takes a couple of seconds to kick in.

There is no easy way to stop your kids from doing this either, so my only option was to tell them I was now monitoring for the app being removed and to regularly check their phones. I did contact Qustodio a few months back to report this issue, but they don’t really seem to care.

A few weeks later my kids had then figured out how to bypass Qustodio instead by using the android Guest account, meaning that when I checked their phones, everything seemed fine to me. I only found out about this due to them slipping up and using their phones right in front of me after bedtime when they were supposed to be locked and forced them to show me what they had done. If not for this slip-up, then I would have been oblivious for who knows how long.

I advised Qustodio support about this issue too, and again no real feeling that they care and clealry nothing has been done to address this as it is not exactly a new hack. The best they do is offer a workaround, which is to make yourself the primary user on your kids phones, and then add them as guest accounts. Not ideal.

So if your kids are good with IT and computers, or are even just savvy enough to use Google to search for “how to hack Qustodio”, then they are going to get around Qustodio easily, and it might potentially take you months until you twig.

Since I did not have these issues with MMGuardian, which seems to be more secure overall, I would have to recommend MMGuardian over  Qustodio, which while not perfect, is more secure and does have better monitoring. I will be switching back to mmguardian myself and finding something else for the Amazon tablets.

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Drugging your kids to make them behave is not the solution

Drugging your kids to make them behave is not the solution

Drugging your kids to make them behave is not the solution 8Proving once again that medication is not the answer to getting inattentive kids to do well in school, four Fort Worth area public schools are finding success with the LiiNK program. This revolutionary approach to schooling and counteracting ADHD is based on the idea that offering kids more unstructured play can help them focus and do better in the classroom.

It seems silly to label the concept of allowing kids to be kids as “revolutionary,” but we have gotten so far away from letting children enjoy life that the idea is indeed raising a lot of eyebrows. In fact, some teachers in the school districts involved initially resisted the idea because they feared they would be unable to teach the children everything they needed to learn in the amount of time available until they saw the results.  Although this again is another case of common sense not kicking in, since how much of that time do teachers actually spend teaching vs dealing with disruption and bad behaviour.

At Fort Worth’s Eagle Mountain Elementary, kindergarten and first-grade students are now being given two 15-minute breaks in the morning and another two in the afternoon. The total recess time of one hour per day is three times the amount they were given previously. They go outside regardless of the weather to play games or use the playground equipment.

Just five months into the new schedule, teachers found that their students were more attentive listeners who were better able to focus, follow directions, and solve their own problems. They were also less fidgety. Even parents are noticing the changes, commenting that their kids seem to be more creative and independent.

The pressures of public education are immense, with young children being increasingly pushed to do well on standardized tests, and subjects like physical education, music and art getting the short shrift. It’s easy to imagine how kids with more active dispositions would struggle in such a restrictive environment.

In today’s quick-fix-obsessed society, the answer for many has been to give these energetic kids an ADHD diagnosis and some pills in an effort to get them to sit still. There are countless reasons that drugging young children is not the best route to take despite Big Pharma’s claims to the contrary, not the least of which is the likelihood of suffering a number of unpleasant side effects from ADHD meds and screwing up your kids future.

Contrast this with the simple concept of a recess, which has been shown in studies to give kids a number of vital physical, emotional, social and cognitive benefits. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics calls it a “crucial and necessary component of a child’s development.”

The LiiNK program was inspired by the education system in Finland, where students earn some of the best scores in the world in science, math and reading. Experts say that giving kids recess essentially “reboots” their systems. When they return to the classroom afterwards, they have renewed focus and are more receptive to learning.

Maximizing the benefits of recess

The breaks need to be outside to be effective. Texas Christian University Kinesiology Professor Debbie Rhea says that natural light, fresh air and vivid colors all have a positive effect on the brain and its functioning. Spending time in “green outdoor activities” has been shown in studies to reduce ADHD symptoms.

It is also essential that the students’ recess entails unstructured play, she says, which means they can run around, play together and invent games or use their imagination. Teachers should take a limited role, staying nearby to ensure everyone is safe.

The program has been so successful in Texas that other schools across the nation are hoping to implement it soon. It’s amazing how such a simple concept – giving kids time to run around outdoors – can have such a transformative effect. With this approach, everybody wins… except, of course, Big Pharma, who won’t be selling as many poisonous ADHD meds to parents who have been fooled into believing their only option is drugging their kids.





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