Social Media App Ratings: Can Parents Trust Them?

Social Media App Ratings: Can Parents Trust Them?

If your 13 year old wants to download Snapchat or Instagram, how do you know if these apps are age-appropriate? In the App Store, both Snapchat and Instagram are rated “12+.” But who’s doing the rating? (Good question!) Do Snapchat and Instagram allow harmful content? (Umm …YES!) And can parents filter the content? (Nope!)

is social media safe for kids - can parents trust social media app ratings?

Where’s the accountability?

Turns out that the app developers are responsible for rating their own apps! Movies are rated by the MPAA and video games are rated by the independent Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), but no independent organization is rating the apps.

In fact, no one is holding big tech accountable for the impact their technology is having on young people. App ratings are inconsistent and misleading, parental controls are difficult and lacking, and social media companies are not exercising an acceptable level of “duty of care” for young people.

Other countries, like the UK, are calling for social media companies to take more accountability for how their platforms, and the content on them, are affecting teens. You may remember the sad case of 14 year-old Molly Russell who took her life in 2014. Her father later shared that Instagram “helped kill my daughter.”

is social media safe for kids #fixappratings infograph

It’s a mess!

What happens in many popular apps?

Suicide is glorified, animal cruelty and violence is promoted, and porn performers post lots of porn!

I sat down one afternoon with Melissa McKay, an amazing activist mom who helped initiate the #fixappratings campaign. She showed me account after account of porn performers on Snapchat where kids are invited, through lots of “teaser videos” with full nudity and sexual behavior, to “swipe up” to see the hardcore stuff. Soul-crushing. I knew intellectually that there was porn on these apps, but it shocked another whole side of my brain to see the evidence!

Here is a very mild sample of some of the images sent to the Discovery section of a 13-year-old’s Snapchat account.

social media discover image for esquire magazine

social media discover image for seventeen magazine "planning to have sex on prom night" social media discover image for Vice magazine six word advice for anyone about to lose their virginity

Let’s fix app ratings!

We at Protect Young Minds join with the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Protect Young Eyes and many other organizations to say loudly and clearly: It’s time to fix app ratings!

Here are just a few more reasons:

  • Children are being groomed by predators through Instagram.
  • Violence in sex (that’s porn!) is glamorized through Netflix.
  • Snapchat and Instagram offer monetized accounts for porn performers.
  • Traditional parental control solutions don’t work within these apps.

What specific changes are we hoping for?

  • The creation of an independent app ratings board. This board would have powers similar to the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, which uses a rating system that is clearly understood, enforced, trustworthy, and exists to protect minors.
  • The release of intuitive parental controls on iOS, Android, and Chrome operating systems. These controls should at a minimum include default settings based on a child’s age, be easy to set up, and include one-touch screen time controls (e.g., school and bedtime selective app shut-off).

Make sure your kids are ready to reject pornography wherever they find it! Read Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids with kids ages 6-11 and Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr.: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds with ages 3-7.

“Have you wanted to talk to your kids about pornography, but didn’t know what to say?! I’ve felt that way for quite some time and finally found a solution – Good Pictures Bad Pictures. . . I highly recommend this book to all people with children. A must have for all parents!” – Amazon Review. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.

Here’s what YOU CAN DO!

Go to www.fixappratings.com and scroll down to:

  1. Sign the statement that you want to fix app ratings and make sure they reflect what’s really available on the app;
  2. Help pass a resolution in your state by downloading a draft resolution that you can send to your state legislators;
  3. Share on social media by posting some of the memes provided;
  4. Join the Facebook group for FixAppRatings and keep updated!

Now you can feel really good! You’re helping to make the world a better place for kids!

I support #Fixappratings badge

So can parents trust the current app ratings?

The answer is No! If your child wants to download a social media app onto their smartphone or tablet, or if they already have, please download the app yourself. Start poking around. Search for hashtags a curious young person might look for. See what they are seeing. Live with the app for 7 days. Then make up your mind.

You’ll be convinced that not only do we need to #fixappratings, but we need to convince kids to install their own internal filter!

Get your free guide to the Top 10 Easy Conversation Starters! Click the image below.

Your Daughter’s Body Image – Healthy or Shameful? 4 Ways to Counteract Toxic Media

Your Daughter’s Body Image – Healthy or Shameful? 4 Ways to Counteract Toxic Media

Both of my daughters dance. They have an incredible ability (that I don’t share!) to communicate their emotions and ideas through the power of movement. They practice hours on end at home and the studio to push their bodies to new levels. They celebrate their growth and accomplishments, and I sit in the audience amazed at what they can do.

But it’s also soul-crushing when they compare their bodies to those of another teammate – or to an Instagram photo of a ballerina or contemporary dancer they admire. Their achievements and beauty seem to immediately fade in their own eyes when they are confronted with something they are not, and think they should be.

Comparison is the thief of joy

Unfortunately, my daughters’ reactions to immediately compare instead of celebrate is common. Think of the incredible numbers of images we see daily of women in advertisements, social media, and television/film. How many of them portray women as objects of beauty based on their physical bodies alone? Isn’t the message to be younger, fitter, sexier? Do we celebrate much beyond what is skin-deep? How do we go up against something so pervasive?

This enormity of this issue reminds me of the saying about eating an elephant. How do you do it? One bite at a time.

We may not be able to radically change society’s perception of women overnight, but we can make a measurable difference in our homes, our neighborhoods, and local communities.

We recently asked one of the directors of Beauty Redefined, Lexie Kite, PhD, a few questions to help us promote a different definition of beauty. She and her sister, Lindsey, started their organization to help girls and women improve their body image and self-worth as they wade through harmful cultural ideals.

Beauty Redefined: How to help girls have healthy body image

1. What are the most powerful voices children hear that determine how they see themselves and ultimately define beauty?

Two influential voices kids hear:

  1. Their family and caretakers, and
  2. The characters they watch on screen.

The voice of family members

If you say something negative about your body or your looks (or any other woman — celebrity or otherwise), that child near you WILL HEAR. It will negatively affect her view of her own body. She will learn that her value is based on how she looks.

But here’s the kicker: Even if you say something positive about a woman’s body, it can still have a negative impact on your child. She will learn that what is noticed and admired is how a woman looks — herself included.

We can consciously be aware of what we say, and move the conversation beyond appearances. The results are powerful and immediate!

What’s a parent to do?

  • Start now to change the conversation. First priority? No more rude comments about your own looks. Second? Evaluate how you talk about others’ appearances and what motivates you to do so.
  • Discuss the power of words — both positive and negative.
  • Don’t pretend like your daughter’s body doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter — teach her that it matters a lot, but not for the reasons she’s been taught.
  • Explain that companies try to convince people that their appearance needs to be “fixed” so they will buy their products. But nothing we could ever buy will truly help us feel worthy of love, happiness, and success.
  • Teach them what to say when they hear snide comments.
  • Make a list of things your family can compliment each other on other than physical appearance.
  • Encourage girls to participate in sports and enjoyable physical activities. Did you hear about the most recent female football player?

The voice of media

It’s wildly important to help your kids choose appropriate shows and critically consider what they are seeing. Many girls and women are featured on TV, in movies, or in magazines purely as props to be ogled.

In children’s animated movies, female characters are barely represented – and when they are, they are wearing just as little clothing as women in R-rated films. Did you know male characters outnumber females 3:1 (in group scenes it’s 5:1) in kids’ movies? Let’s show our girls media that uplifts them and shows them what they can be.

What’s a parent to do?

  • Read girls stories about girls. Did you know there’s a whole website dedicated to books that highlight true strength of girls?
  • Help your daughter decide if she is ready for social media, especially Instagram. Use the questions in this article to lead a discussion.
  • Check out sites like Common Sense Media to help you determine what movies, books, and apps may directly influence how your daughter defines beauty.

Related: Lingerie Ads and Little Eyes: 5 Easy Ways Protect Kids from Porn (in Ads)

2. What are some indicators that our children may need us to help develop a new working definition of beauty?

If she uses the “F” Word – “Fat”: If your child calls herself or someone else “fat” in a disparaging way, that is a sign she has learned some harmful messages that some bodies are more valuable than other bodies.

What’s a parent to do?

  • Respond without putting a value on fat. It’s not good or bad. It just is. The second you respond to her calling someone “fat” by telling her “That’s not nice!” you are teaching her that fat is bad.
  • Be a champion for body diversity.
  • Talk openly about how some bodies have more fat than others for a variety of different reasons, and that isn’t an indication of of health. (The Health at Every Size movement is incredible.)
  • If your child is called “fat,” don’t automatically respond by assuring them they are not fat. Telling a child they really are thin will not protect them from the pain of being called “fat.” If we give size-based comments the power to build us up, we reinforce their power to tear us down.
  • Teach her that her body is an instrument, not an ornament. Treat your own body the same way.

She Uses the “D” Word – Diet: Another indicator of poor body image might be when your child wants to go on a diet or you see that she is restricting food.

What’s a parent to do?

  • Let her know that many people and companies in this world try to convince little girls and grown women that they should shrink and take up less space, but it’s a mean lie. This lie is intended to get girls to spend money and time worrying about their bodies.
  • Talk to her about how our bodies need and want food for lots of reasons, including for fuel and enjoyment. By paying attention to how she feels when she eats, she can take better care of her body and trust that her body will lead her toward choices that are good for her.
  • Let her know strict diets can hurt our bodies and almost never lead to sustained weight loss.

3. How does society’s definition of beauty contribute to the anxiety many kids feel today?

When kids grow up surrounded by appearance-obsessed messages such as “Weigh Less, Smile More!!” and “Perfect Your Parts, Perfect Your Life!!” plastered everywhere, those messages rake in billions but get us nowhere closer to real health and happiness. Instead, these messages become so normal — SO unquestioned — that we believe and act as we’re told.

The point here is not to villainize makeup, hair care, or any industry, but to understand the ways these ever-present messages ask us to view ourselves. That view is an outsider’s gaze – from the outside looking in on ourselves. It’s called self-objectification and it’s a normal part of most females’ lives now, whether we know it or not.

What research and real-life experiences make very clear is that when we see ourselves as more than our bodies, we get closer to finding health, fitness, and happiness.

What’s a parent to do?

  • Make a list with your daughter of all the wonderful inner traits you both have. Celebrate those!
  • Talk about goals and dreams you both have where you can use those traits. If we are so focused on our physical bodies, it stunts our progress in every way that really matters. Research shows us that when we live “to be looked at”, we are left with fewer mental and physical resources to do what can really bring happiness.

4. How does pornography specifically shape the way we as a society define beauty? What impact does this have on boys? On girls?

We live in a media-driven world that teaches boys and men from a young age that girls and women are, first and foremost, objects of sexual pleasure. This lesson is taught in lots of ways, ranging from the seemingly harmless lack of female characters in TV shows, books, movies, and video games targeted at boys and men, to the most popular pornography saturating the internet.

“Have you wanted to talk to your kids about pornography, but didn’t know what to say?! I’ve felt that way for quite some time and finally found a solution – Good Pictures Bad Pictures. . . I highly recommend this book to all people with children. A must have for all parents!” – Amazon Review. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.

When female characters rarely have speaking roles or do anything to move the plot forward in media, that sends a clear message that they are primarily valued for the way they appear or for their relationship to men (love interests, most often). When female characters do appear in children’s media, they most often resemble the sexualized beauty ideals of the rest of media.

What message could this possibly send to boys other than that girls are valuable for their bodies, but nothing more?

The normalization of pornography and sexual objectification in the media is everywhere. Yet it is largely invisible to people who have slowly become accustomed to seeing idealized female bodies in all states of undress. Women are much more likely than men to be naked or nearly naked in every form of media imaginable. Women are also much more likely to be sexually objectified in violent ways (rape, assault, abuse) in every form of media.

Objectification is dehumanization. As media literacy expert Jean Kilbourne says, “Turning a person into a thing is almost always the first step toward justifying violence against that person.”

We can talk to our kids about what they are seeing and why it is wrong.

Related: It’s Awkward and It’s Okay: You CAN Talk to Your Kids about Pornography

Conclusion: We CAN raise girls who love themselves – the whole package

As we watch what we say about women, and call out all the harmful media messages surrounding our girls, they will learn to respect their bodies as instruments that can do amazing things! We can help them re-frame their self-image and reclaim their power. That benefits everyone, girls and boys, men and women!

Get your free guide to 11 Startling Stats Most Parents Don’t Know About Porn – Click the image below!

Click here for your guide

Parent Alert! YouTube’s Pedophile Problem + How Clever Kids Misuse Google Docs

Parent Alert! YouTube’s Pedophile Problem + How Clever Kids Misuse Google Docs

Our regular Parent Alert! news updates help parents stay ahead of the trends affecting kids in our hypersexualized culture.

Here’s what’s going on in March 2019.

YouTube caught enabling child sexual exploitation!

Eleven-year-old Corie loved to share her gymnastics competitions on her YouTube channel.

She was proud of her accomplishments and eagerly read the comments: “Great job on the double backflip!”  “You’ve worked so hard and it’s paying off!”

While scrolling through the comments she was surprised to find that one viewer had left just a timestamp and the word “hot” next to it.  The comment had 30 upvotes.

Weird?  Scary?

It’s actually child sexual exploitation!  And it’s just the tip of the latest YouTube child sexploitation crisis.

A YouTuber discovers a pedophile “wormhole”

YouTube’s child sexploitation problem is not new.

In 2017, YouTube was in hot water for allowing videos with pornographic cartoon characters to be monetized. The scandal earned the name “Elsagate”.

Fast forward to February 2019.  A YouTuber named Matt Watson uploaded his own research on YouTube’s pedophile problem.

His findings?  YouTube’s recommendation algorithms enable pedophiles to share and access child pornography.

Some examples of what he discovered:

  • Pedophiles are using kids’ YouTube videos to network with each other and trade social media contacts.
  • Pedophiles timestamp kids’ videos at points where girls or boys are in compromising situations (e.g., while doing a yoga pose or a stretch).
  • If a viewer watches a video that is heavily timestamped with suggestive comments, the recommended videos on the sidebar become increasingly lewd.  This helps pedophiles find other videos with explicit content and connect with other pedophiles to share content and contact information.
  • There is advertising from major brands on many of these videos.

This comment from Matt Watson’s YouTube video tells the story from a sibling’s perspective. (Note: edited for minor spelling and punctuation.)

“This happened to my sister. [She] and her friend were making a challenge video about 3 years ago; they were 12 at the time. This video blew up – it got like 25,000 views. I was confused why it blew up because it wasn’t a very good video. I watched the video and checked the comments and it was a bunch of timestamps with smiley face emojis. I watched the video again and saw they were wearing skirts and the timestamps were points where you could see under the skirt. The video currently has the comments disabled. I don’t know if it was Youtube or [my sister] that did this as I haven’t confronted her about the situation. Parents, please make sure your children are being safe on the internet and not putting themselves in vulnerable situations.”

Major brands jump the YouTube ship

In response to this expose, major brands have removed or paused their advertising on YouTube, including Disney, Nestle, Kellogg, and AT&T.

YouTube has since pulled 400 channels and disabled comments on tens of millions of videos featuring lewd or exploitative comments on kids’ videos.

These shocking numbers expose what a huge problem this has been!

The company has also said that it will no longer allow comments on videos featuring young children or “risky behavior” by minors.

How to make YouTube safer and protect kids online

Should your family also “jump ship” when it comes to YouTube?  Many parents are deciding that social media is not a good idea for their middle schooler.

Here are some positive parenting steps to help you protect kids online:

  1. Common Sense Media provides a great video on five ways to make YouTube safer for your kids.  There’s also an ultimate guide that answers many questions about YouTube settings.
  2. Of course, no filter or privacy setting is 100% foolproof.  But you can do something else! Build up your child’s digital citizenship to help them be confident and make wise decisions on the Internet.
  3. Siblings can provide a lot of insight into their brother or sister’s online activities because they are using the same spaces.  This isn’t to promote “tattling” on each other but to get help quickly when needed!

Check out this Common Sense Media video:

Are your kids using Google Docs as a secret chat room?

Why would kids use a word processor to communicate with each other when there’s Snapchat, Instagram, and Whatsapp – all of which are specifically designed as social media tools?

Well, it turns out that when kids are blocked or grounded from using their apps, they will find a way around that.  And in some cases, it’s by using web-based Google Docs.

It’s rather genius if you think about it! Use a “boring” software that’s normally not on parents’ radar to secretly share information and then quickly delete it all.

As Michelle Woo, Parenting editor at Lifehacker puts it:

“All they need to do is open up a document, invite their friends to become collaborators, and boom—they have a private space to chat, draw, share links, upload photos and post memes.”

The not-so-genius part of getting around parental controls is when kids use the software to cyberbully their classmates.  Unfortunately, this is happening with Google Docs.

“We’ve seen more than 60,000 cases of kids ganging up on other children in Google Docs.” Bark App Team

Parenting Tips

  1. Use a good parent monitoring app such as Bark to help you to see what your child is doing, creating, and uploading on her Google Drive. Monitoring kids is so important to keep kids safe online.
  2. A lot of the news about kids on Google Docs revolves around cyberbullying, such as who’s on the “in” or “out” list at school. Cyberbullying may also include sextortion, which involves using sexual photos as a form of blackmail. This is an opportunity to have good conversations with your kids about their digital citizenship. We can talk about not participating in conversations or activities that may hurt others – and can stay with your child for a long time.
“Have you wanted to talk to your kids about pornography, but didn’t know what to say?! I’ve felt that way for quite some time and finally found a solution – Good Pictures Bad Pictures. . . I highly recommend this book to all people with children. A must have for all parents!” – Amazon Review. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.

The Dirty Dozen List for 2019:  Guess who is at the top of the list?

The National Centre on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) has released its Dirty Dozen List for 2019.

Who landed on the number one spot this year?   Amazon.

Let’s take a quick look at the top twelve offenders and why they were chosen:

CompanySexual Exploitation Problems
1. AmazonLargest online retailer profiting from sexual exploitation:
  • Childlike sex dolls
  • Erotic child nude photography
  • How-to books on sex trafficking
  • Softcore porn in TV/movies
2. EBSCO Information ServicesLeading provider of online databases to schools:
  • High school databases contain non-academic, sexually explicit material
  • How-to sex act material and live links to pornography
3. GoogleGoogle Chromebooks used in schools:
  • Unfiltered and unprotected from porn

Google Images:

  • Pictures of sex acts are easily found

YouTube:

  • Pornography and sexual violence left to the public to deal with
4. HBOInfluential cable/TV network:
  • Graphic scenes, eroticized rape scenes (e.g., TheDeuce, True Blood, Game of Thrones)
  • Ineffective parental controls
5. Massage EnvyBiggest massage chain:
  • Sexual harassment lawsuits by hundreds of clients
6. NetflixAt-home entertainment provider:
  • Graphic sex acts, eroticized depictions of children, lewd shows directed to teens (e.g., Big Mouth)
7. Nevada
  • Only U.S. state that has legalized prostitution; magnet for sex trafficking
8. RokuLeading media streaming company:
  • Provides hardcore pornography channels
9. Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue
  • Hypersexualizing and objectifying women
10. SteamOnline videogame distributor:
  • Sexually graphic and violent games
  • 35 million users under 18 years old
11. TwitterSocial media outlet:
  • Hardcore pornography, prostitution, sex trafficking
12. United Airlines
  • Pornography use allowed on airplanes, sexual harassment complaints

There’s no getting around it:  we live in a sexualized, porn-saturated world. How can we protect kids online when these major businesses are helping create a sexually toxic culture?

We CAN push back!

Tap into the power of social media
Share the Dirty Dozen list and your concerns online. Corporations pay careful attention to their brand image. Help motivate them to clean up their business practices! You can quickly send a Tweet or post, ready-to-go graphics on any social media channels here.

Are you part of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) or PTO at your school?
You can influence a safer environment by sharing the problems with EBSCO database with other parents and school administrators.  More school-specific resources can be found on the NCOSE website.

5 Body Safety Rules Every 5-Year-Old Should Know

5 Body Safety Rules Every 5-Year-Old Should Know

It seems like the number of things you need to talk to your children about in order to keep them safe just keeps growing! One issue that should be at the top of your list is protecting kids from sexual abuse.

Why? The CDC reports that 1 in every 5 children will experience sexual abuse. That’s 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys.

By talking to your kids about personal safety, they will be more prepared to stay safe and get help when needed.

The link between pornography and child sexual abuse

Unfortunately, pornography fuels sexual abuse.

Protecting kids from child sexual abuse includes teaching them what pornography is and what to do if they see it. This not only helps prevent them from becoming a victim of non-physical sexual abuse (such as being shown pornography), but also potentially from becoming an abuser themselves. An estimated 23% of reported cases of child sexual abuse are perpetrated by children.

Here’s an example of what can happen: a child sees pornography without any idea of what is normal and not normal sexual activity. Not understanding that what they see is harmful, they act these scenes out on other children.

Sometimes adults are motivated by pornography to abuse others, including children. Adult abusers will often show pornography to children to groom them for further abuse. According to Defend Innocence, perpetrators will test boundaries and “see how a child reacts when privacy is violated.” Pornography is a tool they use to see how a child responds. The child’s reaction could mean the difference between safety (the abuser backs off) and extreme danger (the abuser feels like the child can be manipulated).

What’s the problem with the idea of “stranger danger”?

It was drilled into every 80’s kid’s mind: “Don’t take candy from a stranger.” For decades the message was so focused on strangers, that we failed to warn children that sometimes people we know and trust turn out to be dangerous too.

Are strangers the main danger? Statistics tell us NO. The National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) reveals that in 90% of sexual abuse cases, victims know their abuser.

60% of perpetrators are not family members, but someone the child knows: a babysitter, a babysitter’s boyfriend (whom you didn’t know was at your home), an older sibling at a friend’s sleepover, or a long-time family friend. Sexual abuse happens during playdates behind closed doors and in bathrooms at school. Yes, elementary school.

Surely we can trust our children with members of our family? The NSOPW reports that 30% of perpetrators of sexual abuse crimes are family members. It’s hard to swallow, isn’t it? A mistake we make as parents and adults is trusting people just because they’re family.

Here’s what you can do to protect kids from sexual abuse

You might be thinking to yourself, I’m never leaving my children alone again. Don’t worry, there’s hope. You can become an educated and proactive parent who does everything in their power to protect children from sexual abuse.

Let’s start by learning about body safety rules. While it’s not your child’s responsibility to protect themselves from sexual abuse, he or she should be taught important boundaries about their body. The guidelines below are adapted from the non-profit organization, The Mama Bear Effect.

The basics of body safety

  1. Use actual names of body parts
    While you’re teaching nose, elbow, and knee, also teach your children the correct names of their private body parts: penis for boys and vagina, vulva (the name for female external genitalia) and breasts for girls. Now your child has the vocabulary to tell you if someone touches or shows them private parts. If they start calling their private parts a different name, ask them where they learned it from.
  2. Appropriate and inappropriate touch
    While you are teaching your child the names of body parts, also tell them that no one should touch or show private parts (the ones covered by a swimsuit). Talk about a couple of exceptions. Explain how a parent, babysitter, or grandma (etc) may need to help you wipe after going to the bathroom. A doctor may have to look at your private parts to make sure everything is healthy – but you will always have a parent with you in a doctor’s appointment.
  3. Discuss with your child what an appropriate touch is, like hugs and high fives
    Find out what kind of touch they’re comfortable sharing with people they care about. Create family guidelines about the appropriate people to share affection with (hugging, kissing, cuddling, etc). Inappropriate touches happen when someone touches your private parts, or even hugs too long, touches somewhere near a private part, or an inappropriate kiss. It’s important to tell an adult if someone touches a private part, or does something you feel uncomfortable with.Practice using the terms appropriate and inappropriate touch. It may seem easier to say good touch or bad touch, but this can be confusing for kids. Sometimes, inappropriate touches might feel good.
    Prepare your young kids to be safe with Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds CLICK HERE to learn how to protect kids ages 3-6 from the dangers of pornography.
  4. Consent
    Now that you have helped your child identify appropriate touches they feel comfortable sharing with others, help them enforce the boundaries they have set. If they don’t like to kiss people on the cheek as a farewell, don’t force them to kiss anyone, even a family member. Encourage them to share a high five instead, an appropriate touch they’ve identified as okay. Never force anyone to give or receive affection they don’t want. Consider having a family rule that you ask (and receive) permission before giving affection. Within the walls of your own home, it’s easy to practice consent by saying, “Do you want a hug?” or “Do you want to come cuddle during the movie?”Set a rule in your home that No Means No and Stop Means Stop. If siblings are wrestling or tickling each other, and someone says, “Please stop!” – make sure everyone stops immediately.Conversations about consent should evolve as your child gets older. What do you do if someone taps your bum while walking down the hallway at school? Discuss this and other issues, like your family standards around affection between a boyfriend and girlfriend. What do you do if your boyfriend and you are kissing and he touches your breast? Preparing your teenagers for these issues (whether they happen or not) teaches them valuable lessons about consent – they are the boss of their body.
  5. No secrets – surprises instead
    You don’t want a predator to encourage your child to keep a secret from you. A conversation with your kid about secrets might sound like this:A secret is something that is kept unknown from certain people. If someone tells you to keep a secret from me, it might be because they are trying to hurt you. We don’t keep secrets in our family so that everyone is safe. If anyone tells you to keep a secret, you will not be in trouble for telling me. In fact, I will be so happy you told me so that I can make sure everyone we love is safe, including you. Instead of secrets, we keep surprises in our family. Do you know what’s great about a surprise? Everyone finds out what’s going on! So you and I might buy your dad a surprise chocolate candy bar for his birthday. He will be so surprised when we give it to him!

Bonus rule! Build a body safety network
Help your child choose 3-5 adults they could go to if someone breaks a body safety rule. Help them identify people both within and outside your family. Make it clear that children do not get in trouble if someone else breaks a body safety rule; it’s important that they tell someone in their body safety network. Make sure you tell the adults who have been selected as part of your child’s safety network. Tell these adults what you would like them to do if your child comes to them for help. Explain how important it is that they believe your child, should they tell them something.

Related: 3 Big Red Flags of Sexual Abuse

Protecting kids from sexual abuse by minimizing opportunity

Teaching body safety is ONE PART of the equation for protecting kids from child sexual abuse. Adrianne Simeone, of The Mama Bear Effect, compares body safety to a seatbelt,

“It’s there to protect them in case of disaster – it’s not a guarantee they won’t get hurt.”

Simeone emphasizes the key role adults have in anticipating and minimizing risk for child sexual abuse:

 “The point of teaching children body safety should not be so that we can leave them responsible for protecting themselves from abusers. Ultimately, we have the responsibility to reduce opportunity for abuse by being educated and making conscious decisions as to who and when we allow people alone with our children, verifying that trust continuously, and communicating to those people that our child’s safety is a priority.”

Here are a few ways you can minimize opportunity:

  • Have an open-door policy during the day: no one plays behind a closed door. Pop your head in often when your child is playing with a sibling or friend. Tell other parents about your open-door policy.
  • Tell everyone your child has contact with that they have been trained in body safety – coaches, teachers, babysitters, church members, scout leaders, other parents, etc. Predators are less likely to target an educated kid who has an educated parent.
  • One mom describes her heartbreaking journey learning that her six-year-old has been sexually abused by a babysitter. She recommends you post your body safety rules in your home, visible to kids, babysitters, and visiting family/friends. Again, this lets people know that your children are not easy prey.
  • Read this article from The Mama Bear Effect on Minimizing Opportunity. This goes over it all- professional service providers, school personnel, babysitters, peers, sports coaches, playdates and sleepovers.

Here’s an example of an adult minimizing opportunity for child sexual abuse. I have a friend who lives 15 minutes from a busy airport. She often has family and friends ask to stay overnight before an early-morning airplane trip. She is a gracious host.

Anytime someone stays the night, she pulls out a small mattress and has her only child sleep in her parent’s bedroom. This mama feels that while her daughter has ongoing lessons on body safety, for now she is going to minimize the risk of harm befalling her young child. For her, it is easier to not make an exception to the rule for anyone, even trusted family members.

For the record, this mom DOES leave her child with other people on occasion. They are not glued to the hip 24/7. Minimize opportunity to the best of your ability, and be mindful about who you leave your child within a 1:1 situation. Don’t take trust for granted – check in with your child after a family party, a cousin sleepover, time with a babysitter, etc.

Ask your child the right questions

It’s a good idea to check in with your child after every party, playdate, or any time spent with others. In an article titled, How Good Parents Miss Child Sexual Abuse, Lauren Book recommends parents ask their child questions like these in private where they won’t feel pressured by other people:

  1. Did you enjoy yourself?
  2. How did you spend your time?
  3. What was your favorite part?
  4. What was the least favorite part?
  5. Did you feel safe?
  6. Was there anything else that you wanted to share?

I would add, after establishing body safety rules, that it’s okay to ask:

Did everyone follow the body safety rules?

Instead of trusting family members, neighbors, or close friends because you know them well, trust them because your child has positive responses to these questions over and over after spending time with them. As Adrianne Simeone suggested, “verify that trust continuously” by checking in with your children and reminding everyone around you that your child’s safety is your number one priority.

Related: #MeToo — 10 Ways Predators Are Grooming Kids

Talk to other adults about body safety rules

Opportunities come up all the time to talk with other adults about protecting kids from child sexual abuse. Don’t be afraid to bring light to a subject that some people feel more comfortable leaving in the dark. Discussions like these need to happen more often in order to protect the people you love:

  • You may be discussing a surprise party with your sister for your brother-in-law. You can remind her to use the word “surprise” instead of “secret” to describe the party around your kids, because they may end up telling about it! You can explain your body safety rules about the word “secret,” and why it’s important to your children’s safety.
  • You might be renting a cabin for the first time with friends, and propose an open-door policy during the day while children play in various rooms. Explain that it’s one of the rules you use at home to minimize opportunity for sexual abuse.
  • Your face is turning beet red because your 3-year-old just asked her preschool teacher if she has a vagina. Instead of brushing it off with a quick apology, explain that you are following a body safety plan and teaching her correct names for her body parts.

You are taking important steps educating yourself about protecting kids from child sexual abuse. May I issue two challenges? First, share something you learned with another adult, preferably someone in your inner circle. Second, no matter how old your children are, start doing one new thing this week to protect them from child sexual abuse. If you need a little help, Defend Innocence has easy-to-use activities about topics discussed in this post.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take comfort in the words of pediatrician and author Benjamin Spock, “You know more than you think you do.” Don’t let fear of saying or doing the wrong thing prevent you from taking action to protect your child from sexual abuse. Teaching body safety rules is an important job for parents. Your intuition will guide you to the right plan of action for your family.

Get your free Body Safety Toolkit!

Click on the image below for your guide to help you teach your kids personal safety!

Social Media and FOMO: What the Fear of Missing Out is Doing to Your Family

Social Media and FOMO: What the Fear of Missing Out is Doing to Your Family

There were a few times over this past holiday season where I seriously debated about whether or not to post pictures of our family’s adventures. It’s not that they were extravagant or unique, but my thoughts kept returning to the people who would see my pictures and wonder why their own lives couldn’t be *this* happy or *this* fun.

We all know that happy pictures capture a moment, but somehow the concept of “moment” doesn’t apply when we gaze into the social media world. “Moment” translates into “always” in the blink of a Facebook or Instagram refresh.

When I think of why I originally signed up for Facebook over a decade ago, I can honestly say it was to reconnect with people I thought were lost to me. It was fun to catch up, to see what people were doing, to watch families created, and witness adventures unfolding. But somewhere along the way, this ceased to be the full extent of my motivation.

Get a free 21-Day Gratitude Journal to help your kids be more aware of the good things in their life at the end of this post!

Does social media influence your mood?

A darker side emerged as I realized how my emotional state could easily pull my feelings in one direction or another. I could get on Facebook perfectly happy and close the tab grumpy, irritated, and disgruntled.

I could also use it as a tool to improve my emotional state – that is if my community played along with me in my game. By posting a picture, I could let the comments and likes fill up what was empty and lacking in my heart. Look what I did! Look how happy we are! #Blessed!

We essentially expect people to affirm what we already appear to know. But do we really know? If we did, would we need this much external affirmation?

It’s hard not to compare our pictures with those of others. We post a picture, so full, alive, and content, but our feed refreshes and we see someone so full, so alive, and so content, too, but on the beaches of Maui when we were on a lake in Kentucky.

We post a picture of ourselves at home on New Year’s Eve celebrating with those we love in pajamas and plastic champagne flutes. We are so happy to have such good friends! But our feed refreshes and there we find others celebrating with their loved ones, but all dressed up, maybe on Times Square with crystal champagne flutes. We were excited to spend a cozy night at home with hot tea and Netflix, but our feed refreshes and we realize we weren’t invited to the party down the street.

“As a psychologist and mother of four, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.” – Amazon Review by Mary. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.

There’s a name for this—FOMO

Social media can make what we were grateful for pale in comparison to what others have or experience. We are left questioning—is there something better out there for me, too? If so, we don’t want to miss it.

As a result, we spend hours perusing, continually checking, inhibiting our very ability to have a better quality of life with the very people who are truly invested in us. The name for this is FOMO, or fear of missing out.

One study defined FOMO as ‘‘the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out – that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you.’’

We’re doing this as 30-year-olds – and 40, 50, and 60-year-olds. And our brains are completely developed! We have an entire generation under us that doesn’t have that luxury yet. We should be able to see there is unending cycle at work here that, if left unchecked, will leave us hungry, fearful, and discontent with the things we do have and do experience.

As parents, we need to make sure we can disengage from this cycle so we can teach our kids how to disengage, too.

Related: 5 Reasons Why Social Media is Not Smart for Middle School Kids

Why FOMO really is a problem in social media

Let’s pause and think about our social media habits. We can probably remember feeling FOMO at some point. Maybe often. Did you know there is actual research on this phenomenon? Consider these facts:

Letting FOMO go unchecked can lead to a variety of issues in ourselves and our children—depression, anxiety, sleep deprivation—to name a few. It can also greatly increase other dangers, such as finding and viewing pornography.

Research shows that FOMO originates from unhappiness. Guess what else often has a root in unhappiness? Using pornography. Part of the draw of pornography is that it transports users into a world of fantasy where they can pretend to be or do most anything. Unhappy with the real world? Find your happiness in the fantasy world of pornography. At least that’s what the world tells us—and our children.

And let’s face it: social media increases the risk of our kids being exposed to pornography. Instagram, Youtube, and Snapchat are the top three social media platforms used by tweens and teens. Although it markets itself as family-friendly, Instagram did not respond when Protect Young Eyes filed 50 reports in 5 days on hashtags that featured pornographic content. YouTube is being called out for rampant child exploitation on its platform. When I logged into Snapchat, my recommended story in the “For You” section was entitled “Kim and Kanye’s $14 Million butt grab.”

Related: Instagram and Your Kids: 5 Hidden Dangers

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How to curb FOMO—in you and your kids

FOMO is a problem, but it’s not unsolvable! Choosing to tackle this personally and as a family will bring more peace, contentment and gratitude in our lives. We can start by being more aware of our time spent and our motivations for using social media. Here are some tips and talking points to minimize FOMO:

  1. Be conscientious of what and how much you’re posting. When we host birthday parties, our rule for our kids and their guests is no posting pictures of the party on social media. Being left out is one of the worst feelings for kids (and adults, too) and we don’t want anyone to feel hurt because they weren’t included. Also, teach kids to be aware of posting things that can come across as bragging or prideful. It’s okay to celebrate, but listening to that inner conscience that tells you when it’s not appropriate is key.
  2. Notice attitudes and behaviors that come along with using social media. Do you find your kids self-medicate with social media when they are struggling at school or with relationships? Do they turn to it when they are feeling anxious or sad? It can be hard to draw our tweens and teens away from their devices, but real relationships and connection are such an important part of mental and emotional health. Plan some fun outings. Even if they roll their eyes at some “forced family fun,” know you’re making a positive impact on them.
  3. Create alternatives: Have everyone brainstorm a list of healthy alternatives to using social media when you’re feeling down. That can help your family turn away from the quick fix you may get from social media. If you’re feeling less-than, depressed, or in need of a pick-me-up, having a list of alternatives makes turning down social media a tad easier. What goes on the list? Things like, taking a walk, reading a book, calling a friend, writing a handwritten note, and creating something with your hands, are all feel-good activities.
  4. Find gratitude. Gratitude is the king of happiness. If FOMO is due to unhappiness, gratitude is the antidote. Simply teaching yourself and your kids to pay attention to what you do have and experience drives contentment and appreciation. This reduces comparison with others, which is what social media highlights. Each of us has so much we can find to be thankful for. What better way to keep our attention than to make a family gratitude chart or jar? At your next family dinner, grab a chalkboard and take turns writing down things you’re grateful for. We’ve got a Gratitude Journal you can download at the end of this post! Alternatively, put a jar in the living room with some scraps of paper next to it. Ask your family members to contribute three things to the jar each week. At the end of the week, read them aloud.

Social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And honestly, social media can be extremely helpful for certain things. As with most things in this world, moderation and balance are key to helping us keep things in the right perspective – and for helping our kids do the same.

Get your free 21-Day Gratitude Journal!

This simple chart helps kids think about the good things in their life. They can train their brain to be happier and more content!

Parent Alert!  Is “After” the New “50 Shades of Grey” for Kids? (Watch out – It’s Coming to the Big Screen!)

Parent Alert! Is “After” the New “50 Shades of Grey” for Kids? (Watch out – It’s Coming to the Big Screen!)

Our regular Parent Alert! news updates help parents stay ahead of the trends affecting kids in our hypersexualized culture.

This month we’re covering headlines from around the world: a twisted erotic fiction series popular with teens is coming to a theatre near you; a global study compares how countries are combating the child sexual abuse epidemic; and, Microsoft Bing has been suggesting child sexual abuse images in search!

Here’s what’s Trending in February 2019

Movie Alert! Is After the New 50 Shades of Grey for Kids?

Have you heard about the new movie coming out this April called After?

It’s yet another toxic relationship series that is barrelling straight for your kids on the big screen this spring.

So, what’s the problem with After?

The movie is based on a book with this plot synopsis: “Tessa Young is an 18-year-old college student with a simple life, excellent grades, and a sweet boyfriend. She always has things planned out ahead of time, until she meets a rude boy named Harry, with too many tattoos and piercings, who shatters her plans.”

That’s the mild version.

The author’s own warning on her Wattpad page should alarm parents with tweens or teenagers:

“This series contains mature content, including explicit and suggestive language, sexual themes, drug use, addiction, and overall mature themes throughout the entire series … Before you read – again, this story is not your typical romance and is suited for readers who prefer darker themes in fiction.”

Indeed.

I read through half of the first book in the series on the Wattpad site. Here’s my scoop:

Both main characters – Tessa and Harry [changed to Hardin in the movie] – are on a roller coaster ride of lust, pride, deception, betrayal, and cheating. The focus of their relationship is sex and mind games – not love.

Some of the scenes are so explicit that they should be considered pornographic.

In the beginning, Tessa is mocked by her college friends for her chaste relationship with her high school boyfriend and her overall “prudishness.” She quickly sheds that image by making repeated foolish and dangerous choices that endanger her physical, mental, and emotional health.

Parents, if you have tween/teen girls, please don’t ignore this book/movie trend.

  • The first three books in the series have garnered over 1.5 billion reads on Wattpad. This popular digital publishing platform allows first-time authors to share their work with readers online for free. After has since been published by Simon & Schuster.
  • The series is fan fiction based on Harry Styles, the musician who got started as a teen heartthrob in the boy band One Direction.
  • The author has been called “the biggest literary phenomenon of her generation” by Cosmopolitan. The series is getting viral-level traffic on YouTube, Twitter, and other social media.
  • The movie is set to be released on April 12, 2019.
  • The MPAA rating has not yet been officially released.

To young people who have read the books, the movie is a big deal. And to those who haven’t read the books, the movie may pique their interest.

Could you use some help explaining what pornography is to kids of different ages? Get your free guide to 3 Simple Definitions of Pornography Kids Can Understand at the end of this post!

Many people are concerned about the real message

Comments on the movie trailer on YouTube:

  • “From the looks of it this seems to be some teenage version of 50 Shades of Grey
  • “It’s a really good story if you like feeling mentally and emotionally drained every 3 – 4 chapters … the relationship is really, really toxic.”

Review of the book on Amazon:

  • “This book portrays nothing but a toxic and abusive relationship that the author will have you wanting to believe is love but is sick obsession.”

Unfortunately, judging by the comments online, many of the fans are younger teens.

Our strongest suggestion is to keep your kids away from this one.

Want more interesting, healthier role models? Try some classics like Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, or The Princess Bride.

Tips for parents:

  1. Talk to your tweens and teens about this movie. They will hear about it, as it has become a huge teen trend (even though it’s called a “young adult romance.”) Help your teen understand the different forms of abuse that can occur in a relationship and how they can know what a healthy relationship is. Face the lies head-on, and your teen will be better armed to recognize and reject the corruption that is being pushed through the media.
  2. Boys also need to learn about healthy relationships from us. They are unfairly stereotyped in movies like 50 Shades of Grey and After as brooding, angry, and “misunderstood”. These movies make it seem like abusing girls is attractive and manly. Let’s do better for our boys and get talking.

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Microsoft’s Bing Search Engine Found to be Suggesting Child Sexual Abuse Keywords and Images!

Last month, Microsoft came under fire for both showing and recommending child sexual abuse images (aka child pornography) through its search engine, Bing.

This is disappointing, especially coming from a company that has helped to fight online child sexual exploitation!

How did this happen?

TechCrunch received an anonymous tip regarding the Bing search engine. The company hired an internet safety company – AntiToxin – to investigate.

The report from AntiToxin found that certain keywords brought up illegal child sexual abuse images. Not all keywords were necessarily porn-related. When researchers used search terms related to Omegle Kids (a video app chat popular with teens), Bing’s auto-complete suggestions brought up illegal child sexual abuse content!

What’s worse is that even after the report was published and Microsoft claimed to have fixed the problem, TechCrunch was still finding pornographic images on Bing.

A word of warning to parents: AntiToxin worked closely with legal counsel and law enforcement to perform the keyword searches. Do not search for the terms yourself, as you could be committing a crime.

Key take-aways:

  1. Use internet filters and parental controls to help screen out and monitor dangerous and exploitive content. Browsers and apps can’t be trusted to do that for you.
  2. At the same time, we can’t just rely on technology and internet filters to do all the work. There isn’t a foolproof safety net yet. And they can be circumvented – even by your own kids!
  3. The real power comes when kids are prepared to recognize and turn away from sexualized content right away. Develop strategies to talk to your kids about pornography – and why it’s harmful to them. As part of your family’s internet safety plan, discuss with your kids what to do if they encounter unwanted images.

“Speaking as a parent, we should expect responsible technology companies to double, and even triple-down to ensure they are not adding toxicity to an already perilous online environment for children.” Zohar Levkovitz, CEO AntiToxin

Prepare your child to reject pornography right away by reading these kid-friendly books together – Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids for ages 6-11 and Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr.: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds for ages 3-7.

“As a psychologist and mother of four, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.” – Amazon Review by Mary. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.

How Does the United States Measure Up Against Other Countries on Child Sexual Abuse?

It seems that we’re at a major crossroads when it comes to tackling child sexual abuse.

On one hand, the advanced technology that is used to find, track, and remove child sexual abuse images is encouraging.

On the other hand, the prevalence of child sexual abuse seems to be rising. So much so, that countries like Canada, for example, are having a hard time keeping up.

The universal threat of our time

Child sexual abuse has aptly been named the “universal threat.” It knows no bounds, either by gender or by socioeconomics. This abuse takes place mostly in the shadows and is enabled by our digital connectivity and mobility.

A close look at this problem around the world is captured in a recent report, Out of the Shadows, released by the Economist Intelligence Unit research programme.

What does the benchmark tell us?

The report compares child sexual abuse against a variety of indicators in 40 different countries to show how child sexual abuse is being addressed. The benchmark represents every socioeconomic level around the world on every continent (e.g., Mongolia, Rwanda, Brazil, Australia).

How significant are the findings? These 40 countries represent 70% of the global population of children.

A weighted average score was assigned to each country in these four categories:

  • Environment: How stable and open a country is to tackling child sexual abuse. (29.2% of final score.)
  • Legal framework: Considers legal protections for kids. (16.7% of final score.)
  • Government commitment and capacity: How prepared a government is through programs, data collection and qualified people. (33.3% of final score.)
  • Engagement of industry, civil society and media: How well the private sector is working together to address child sexual abuse. (20.8% of final score.)

Key findings from the report

Here are just some of the highlights from the study:

Child sexual abuse is truly a global problem.

  • Both rich and poor countries have gaps in providing protection and safeguards to children against sexual abuse and exploitation.
  • Only three out of the top ten highest-scoring countries (see below) received a score above 75 (100 is a perfect score and indicates the safest environment for kids). Some lower-income countries performed better than higher-income ones.

Consistent laws protecting children from sexual abuse are lacking.

  • Only 21 countries have laws that explicitly ban the sexual touching of minors.
  • Less than half have laws that explicitly ban people from engaging in sexual activity in front of children.

Consistent data on online child sexual abuse is lacking.

  • Only 20 countries collect data on child sexual abuse and only five collect data on child sexual exploitation. (For this study, child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation are each separately defined and divided into touch and non-touch abuse.)
  • Only 5 countries collect data on the sexual abuse of boys.

The top ten best-scoring of the 40 countries are shown below. These countries scored highest in their ability to tackle child sexual abuse. Notice that there is still quite a bit of room for improvement in the scores (100 is a perfect score for the safest environment for kids).

OVERALL SCORE
RankCountryScore
1United Kingdom82.7
2Sweden81.5
3Canada75.3
4Australia74.9
5United States73.7
6Germany73.1
7South Korea71.6
8Italy69.7
9France65.2
10Japan63.8

Source: www.outoftheshadows.eiu.com

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the United States?

The overall score for the U.S. was 73.7% (100 = best environment for kids).

Let’s take a closer look at areas of strengths and weaknesses:

StrengthsRoom for Improvement
Comprehensive laws prohibiting sexual offenses against children, which are enforced at both the federal and state level.A comprehensive survey on the prevalence of child sexual exploitation does not exist.
Variety of civil support services for child victims of sexual offenses.No federal system of support for victims of child sexual violence.
National strategy launched (2016) involving various federal agencies.State-by-state variations on child sexual abuse laws. Nothing in federal constitution.
Private technology, news media, and travel and tourism industries working together against child sexual abuse.

“We can, and we must, protect children from all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation in all settings. Children deserve nothing less.” Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative to the Secretary General on Violence Against Children, United Nations

What can parents take away from the global trends we see in the study?

  1. Strengthen the protective factors in your family to build resilient kids.
  2. Continue to educate yourself about the changing world of digital media.
    • As technology continues to develop and include children in its sphere, our motto is “Be Prepared, Not Scared.
    • Share relevant tips and news with other like-minded parents on your social media. You can help spread societal awareness of the issues, which is a key area for improvement recommended by this study.

“Family connectedness and adult supervision are important lines of defence, and are protective for youth.” Greta Massetti, senior scientist in the Division of Violence Prevention at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Get your free guide to 3 Simple Definitions of Pornography Kids Can Understand

Need some help explaining what pornography is to your kids? It isn’t as hard as you think! Click below for your guide: