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The Dos and Don’ts of Monitoring Your Children Online

The Dos and Don’ts of Monitoring Your Children Online 1151 661 Jason Stadtlander

I have been asked about monitoring children for decades. It’s a very real concern that parents, educators and privacy advocates have. Although I do bring it up every few years here on my blog, I thought I would re-approach the topic and shed some light on monitoring today’s children.


The primary concern most parents come to me with is “I want to respect my child’s privacy and I don’t really feel it’s ethical to monitor what they are doing.”

Let me be blunt here, and this comes from years of working with educators and law enforcement:

 there is and should never be any expectation of complete privacy when it comes to a child living under your guardianship.

If you are their parent or guardian, your primary responsibility is their well being and also teaching them right from wrong. Before the Internet did our parents just leave us to our own devices for days on end? No, of course not. If we were going out (even if it was all day) we would let our parents know where we are going and our parents, being responsible would reply “Ok, but I want you back by [fill in the blank].”

Why should this be any different online? In today’s world, social media and our online presence are just as important as our physical one and children are finding ways to assert and understand this online presence early on. We as parents need to understand that this is normal behavior and it is how our children are communicating with their peers and ultimately how they learn to communicate online will reflect how they function in today’s society. We as parents must know (and explain to our children) that we are not ‘dictating’ terms for their online use, but we are guiding and ensuring that they show respect and communicate in channels that are safe for them.

Reasons to Monitor

When I first started working in computers and parents first came to me, they had concerns that their child might be communicating with a child predator or visiting porn sites. We have moved way beyond this when it comes to our children being online. I’m not downplaying either of these concerns, but in today’s world, watching what children do online is more about understanding the people that they are becoming with their online presence. How they behave online can have long term repercussions with their future schooling and even their job employment.

We have moved from a generation of parents that don’t understand why or how children chat online to a generation of parents who not only understand chatting online but do it themselves. We are now not as overly concerned with our children being online as much as where they are going online and what they are posting. Monitoring your child is not solely about installing software on their computer or phone. It’s about communicating with your child, asking them up front, where are they going? What are they using the Internet for? And then checking yourself with their Twitter account, Facebook account or Instagram posts.

Here are some important facts to consider when monitoring your child:

  • Who are they talking to online? Do they know them in person? – This is one of my personal rules with my children (who are under 16). I have no problem with them chatting with friends. But they have to be friends that they know in real life (at least at this point). Stranger Danger is a real concern and it’s something that most schools teach. It’s important to know exactly who your children are talking to. There are times I have seen my children talking online with someone and I regularly will walk up and ask “who are you talking to”. If they can instantly tell me the name and it’s someone they go to school with then I am ok. If there is hesitation, then I know they are thinking up a lie and that it will need further investigation.
  • What apps are they using to chat with? Some of the more popular apps out there are Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, Kik, GroupMe, WhatsApp, Instagram, Tik-Tok, Tumblr, Twitter, Houseparty, Live.me, YouNow and MeetMe are just a few of the apps children are embracing for social connections.
  • What are they talking about? – Most parents that monitor their children’s online activities find they are completely innocent, searching for things that they are curious about, chatting with friends about other friends and activities at school. It’s about being aware, not reading every line of text that flows through their fingers.
  • What are they posting? Ensure that they aren’t posting anything in a public space that can reveal personally identifiable information. Make sure that what they are posting is age appropriate for them. If it is not, ask them to take it down.

Monitoring vs Awareness

As my two previous points have summarized, it really all boils down to you as a parent knowing where your children are going and what they are doing online. It’s not about watching their every move. Children do absolutely need a small amount of privacy, otherwise, they cannot discover who they are and how they fit into this ever-changing world.

Communication is key with children. If they know you will talk to them at any point about anything, then they will be more likely to make sure they aren’t doing something that would be inappropriate. In turn, they also will be more likely to come to you if they have a problem.

I monitor my children with a small piece of software that allows me to control what they access (if I choose) and it allows me to see what they search for online, and what chat apps they are using and even who they are chatting with. I do not generally look at it unless I have cause for concern (changes in their behavior or acting evasively). There are times I have gone in and quickly scanned it just to make sure it’s still on par with their normal online presence, but I generally give them their freedom to be themselves.

My children know I have monitoring software and that I can use it if I need to. But they also know that if they keep an open line of communication with me, I will give them more personal space.

Software Available

There are several good parental software on the market. One of my favorites is Mobicip as it forces all of their network traffic through a single VPN proxy (routes all of their online use through a single entry point). It’s not completely free, though it does have free options, I believe you get what you pay for when it comes to technology. It cannot be removed without the parent removing it (and believe me, my kids have tried). A few others that I have personally worked with are Net Nanny and  Kaspersky.

Generally, when it comes to software, you want software that will help you look back at a history of what your child has been doing online – not necessarily monitor them in real time. You also should look for software that has reviews from a reputable source such as PC Magazine or even check with your local law enforcement.

YouTube addition with children

What Your Child is Watching on YouTube Might Surprise You

What Your Child is Watching on YouTube Might Surprise You 2124 1416 Jason Stadtlander

Tech addiction is a serious problem and any parent in today’s age is aware of this. YouTube is the drug of choice for most children. Dr. David Greenfield, founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction explains that children (and anyone spending a lot of time on the internet) are often just “Looking for a little bit of dopamine.

If you have a child that is old enough to hold a mobile device, you most likely have a child that watches YouTube. Children are not watching television like we did growing up, they are watching their favorite YouTuber. I’m not going to go off and be an old ‘fart’ and say “when we were kids we played outside all the time and we never would have been stuck to the screen.” for two reasons, 1. It would be a partial lie. One of my favorite past times as a kid coming home from school was putting on the TV and watching HeMan or Transformers. 2. No matter how much any parent wants to admit it, times change and so does the entertainment for children – almost on a generational basis.

Whether you have a little girl or a little boy, nearly all the kids like the YouTube stars that do silly skits, funny songs or real-time video game commentary. Often times (unbeknownst to parents) the YouTube stars (especially the more amateur ones) use inappropriate language or discuss things that are outside the realm of what a child should be listening to (topics, discussions, etc.).

Now there are plenty of YouTube stars out there that are respectable and work hard to make sure that they stick to their audience. It’s very important that parents look at what YouTube shows their kids are watching and that they watch some of them on their own time (at least a few minutes). I also highly advise installing a parent monitoring software such as MobiCip that will let you see what videos your children are watching when you’re not around or that you might have missed them watching. It does cost a little bit of money but it’s a small price to pay to help keep an eye on your children’s technology.

One important note on parent monitoring apps such as MobiCip: Tell your children that you are monitoring them. My son is well aware that I can see what he views on the internet, I don’t hide that from him but I also don’t hover over him either. I respect his privacy and only if I feel he’s being sneaky or might be viewing something he should not be viewing, do I actually go look through the history.

Words of Wisdom

  • MOST IMPORTANT: Talk to your child calmly. Ask them what they are watching and why they enjoy watching it. Diving straight in and stopping them from watching any YouTube is not the answer (no matter how much you might like to do that). That will just force them to go watch something on a friends device (when you’re not around) giving you no knowledge of what they are watching.
  • Google your child’s favorite YouTube stars. You are bound to find an overview of what the YouTuber talks about, what kind of language they use and what their target audience is.
  • There are several good video blocker extensions in Chrome and Internet Explorer that can be added to block specific YouTube channels. If you if you see something your child shouldn’t be watching, block it with one of these utilities.


Social Media is Building a Culture of Public Judgement

Social Media is Building a Culture of Public Judgement

Social Media is Building a Culture of Public Judgement 2000 1125 Jason Stadtlander

Social media allows us to have the world at our finger tips, news, and information on everything around us including family, politics and natural disasters.

Instant news and instant response is a two edge sword we now live with on a daily, hourly and sometimes minute by minute basis. Not only are we given a chance to instantly (and hopefully relatively unobtrusively) contact someone, but we also tend to feel the need to instantly respond to them in turn. When an event happens, we know about it within minutes, sometimes we know about it in real time.

For example, take the Brett Kavanaugh hearings regarding the sexual allegations toward Christine Blasey Ford. Kavanaugh, who was on the shortlist of nominees for the Supreme Court faced accusations that he sexually assaulted Ford. Within minutes of the story being leaked to the press, it began spreading on Twitter and Facebook. Granted the tumultuous relations between Republicans and Democrats and further fueled by many people’s contempt of President Trump (who nominated Kavanaugh) created a strong burning fire. There is no doubt that this was leaked as a political maneuver.

Immediately as the hearings were going on, minute by minute public judgments were being made and altered before the entire world stage. Even the U.S. president was injecting his opinions before the world on Twitter (without filters).

Do I see a benefit in this? Yes and no. As I said, it’s a two-edged sword. From a fellow U.S. citizen who has very little ability to control any of these situations, it’s nice to be able to see what’s going on while it’s going on, rather than find out after it’s already affecting me. This instantaneousness method of communication allows us as a world citizen to at least feel like we are part of the decision-making process (even if we are not). On the flip side, we can also garner enough people together to indeed make a voice about an issue (take the #metoo movement for example).

Now, on the other side of the sword, social media may impede the ability for jobs to get done because the people making the choices are no longer leading as much as waiting to hear what the consensus is among the people.

Court of Public OpinionMy personal opinion? I don’t like it. It opens up anyone to summary public ridicule and judgments without accurate presentation of evidence. Am I saying that Kavanaugh wasn’t guilty or that Ford didn’t experience what she experienced? No. What I’m saying is that I don’t think it should have been put out there for anyone other than those who can make decisions regarding it. Primarily because it was of a sensitive nature (to all parties) and loops in families with children, spouses, etc.

I think we are too rapidly moving toward a ‘public judgment’ without trial culture with the use of social media.

Eight Things Every Independent Author Should Know

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Being an indie author is not exactly something I wanted to do. I wanted the more traditional route; find an agent who will in turn find a publisher that will dump bucket loads of money into marketing for my wonderful stories.

Sounds easy enough, right?

Well, one year later and 600+ query letters (10% which were rejected and another 90% that were never responded to) I decided to try the indie route with Ruins of the Mind. What an eye opener that was.

I had a rough idea of what I was getting into. I knew that I would need to hire an editor, an illustrator and find a print-on-demand company to put out the books. What I (and most indie authors) neglected to do was think about the marketing side. I know what you’re thinking, “I’ll just tweet it like crazy and mention it on Facebook as much as possible.”

Those are important, but it’s going to take a lot more rubber burning than a little social media blitzing. So I’ve come up with some important key facts that I have discovered in getting my two books (and two upcoming novels) out.

You will see links at the bottom to sources that I have personally used and will discuss throughout the article.

1. Marketing is critical

Word of mouth will by far be the best advertisement for you, but word of mouth won’t take off with you only getting your books into the hands of a few dozen people. You need to get it into the hands of hundreds or thousands of people.

  • Publicity trumps Advertising. Ads are generally a waste of money. You spend a lot of money, reaching a few people and of those few people you get even fewer who are actually interested in your book. A targeted publicity campaign is a lot more bang for your buck and it gets news agencies to make some noise about you which is what you really want. It costs some money up front, but it’s worth it. It should run you anywhere from $2000 – $3500 for a good international campaign. Be forewarned, you’ll be sending out a few books for reviews – most likely 50 – 100, so budget accordingly.
  • Go social media crazy, but do it logically. Don’t settle for just Twitter and Facebook. Use everything at your disposal: Google+, StumbleUpon, Digg, Goodreads, Pinterest, YouTube, etc.
    • Do not post constantly. Social media works best if you schedule your posts (through a service such as HootSuite) for every four to six hours. If you post too often then sites will see your posts as spam, if you don’t post often enough, your readers won’t see the posts.
    • Every post counts. Always keep your professional image in mind when posting. Do not post things like “I’m depressed. My books never sell.” Your readers want to see exciting things that are going on with your writing world. Always keep upbeat and match your genre. For example, if you’re a horror author – talk about the gore and the insanity of reality. If you’re a romance author – keep your audience hot and bothered. If you’re a humor author – post some funny quips.
  • Provide a professional image. Set up author profiles on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and anywhere else you can. IMPORTANT: Include a real picture of you. Fake people, cartoon characters, abstract images, etc., do nothing for your professional image. Your readers want to see you. If you don’t like getting your photo taken, get over it. You’re in a public business now and you are your best sales image. Hire a good photographer or get someone who knows what they are doing to take a good picture of you.

2. Hire an editor

Nothing is more valuable that an experienced editor and they are not astronomically expensive. Your book could be the first thing your readers ever see from you. You want every word, every sentence and every nuance of your writing to be reflected in a professional manner.

Now, I have done professional typesetting, so I was able to save money there by laying out my own books, chapter headings, etc. But the editing, I hired out to Written Word Savvy and it was well worth the money.

One thing that a lot of authors don’t think about is the fact that an editor not only needs to edit the content of the book and check for grammatical and spelling errors, but they also need to not lose your ‘voice’ in the process. Nothing sounds worse than having one writing style throughout a book and then switching from time to time to a different writing style because an editor doesn’t know how to maintain an author’s voice. This comes from experience. The reality is you will also develop a rapport with your editor. The more you work together, the more streamlined and effective your final product will be.

3. Hire a Professional Illustrator

An ideal illustrator should know book design, what captures someone’s eye and what doesn’t. If your cover doesn’t grab your eye, chances are it won’t grab anyone else’s either. So don’t be afraid to criticize your illustrator’s work. It is your book after all and it’s their job to represent that.

4. Rome wasn’t built-in a day

I am not a patient man. I want things to happen now and when publishing a book, you see lots of money going out and nothing coming in for what feels like forever. I was certain that word of mouth would get around about my books, but I wanted it, needed it…now!

Then a friend said to me, “Jason, how long does it take you to read a book?” to which I responded, “I don’t know, a few weeks.”

They then said, “So, it’s okay for you take a few weeks to read an author’s book, but everyone else should be reading your book within a week?”

Good point. It takes time for people to read a book and then it takes time for them to tell their friends about it. Be patient, if it’s good…it will take off.

5. Do not order batches of printed books; use Print on Demand

I have known too many authors who order 1000 or 5000 books to get caught with a massive stock, money invested and possibly even discovering errors after the book was produced that they now have to live with. Use a high quality Print on Demand service. This means that every time someone orders a book on Amazon or a bookstore orders 20 books, that is all that is printed. It costs a little more per book, but it’s negligible. Then they simply send you the royalties every month, quarter or semi-annually depending on what you setup.

Another huge benefit is, if you find an error, you simply upload the new revision and only those books that were ordered before the revision will have the error.

6. Do Not Use CreateSpace to print your book

Companies like CreateSpace and LuLu are great for vanity press or for printing a rough draft of your book, but they lack one critical thing if you plan on your book getting into bookstores – return-ability.

I printed my first book with CreateSpace. Don’t get me wrong, they have tons of very helpful people and their process is very well designed, but the fact that bookstores can’t return the books will prevent most stores from ordering it. They will require you to sell them on consignment and then you get into paying for shipping, stocking and everything you wanted to avoid with Print on Demand in the first place.

My recommendation is to use LightningSource which is owned by the major book distributor Ingram. They have printing facilities in each region (U.S., U.K., Australia, etc.) and can ship locally for each region. They also accept returns.

7. If it sounds too good to be true, it is

There are literally hundreds of companies that will try to take your money and will give you little to nothing in return. I’ve seen almost all of them and have sampled the waters as well. If you ever aren’t sure about something, email me (using the contact form at the top of this site) and I will look into it for you.

8. Pay it forward

I can honestly say that I wouldn’t know half of what I know if it weren’t for my fellow authors. People like Joshua Graham, Ashley Fontainne and so many more that have helped me along the way. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help or ask questions. Most of us have been in your shoes.

The major advantage of being an independent author is, your competition can help you and you can help them. Get to know fellow authors, network with them and get news out about their books and in turn they will get information out about yours. I regularly interview authors on my YouTube show Author in the Headlights as well as interview for my blog various authors. Help out fellow authors and they will help you out.

Wrapping it up

It’s not cheap to get your book out there, but there are great crowd-funding sources like IndieGoGo and Kickstarter that can help you raise funds for your book. Just keep in mind that projects should only be in the $1000-$3000 goal for optimum success.

Here are some services I’ve used and highly recommend:

  • Smith Publicity: Awesome publicity firm and very good at communication (five star as far as I’m concerned)
  • Lighting Source: The best POD (Print on Demand) service I’ve found yet.
  • Bowker: Buy your ISBN numbers direct from Bowker. It saves you money and you have control over what shows up out on the databases.
  • Written Word Savvy: The owner Linda Sickinger is a phenomenal editor and works hard to make sure that your work comes out sounding like you.
  • Hootsuite: Lets you connect all your social media together so that you can blast out a message to all social media at once. Also lets you schedule your posts.
  • Blue Harvest Creative: Very good illustration company that will design your book covers and more.
  • Book Bub – Great service to get your book out, but extremely picky about what they choose.
  • Book Daily – Another book marketing channel. They transmit blurbs about your book along with links. I have seen a real increase in sales since I started using them.
  • Babelcube.com – A service that translates your book to other languages.
  • Ebook Services to Publish on:

Places to steer clear of:

  • Xlibris: Complete rip off and extremely pushy.
  • CreateSpace: Not a bad company and Amazon owned, but their books are not returnable and often are frowned on by bookstores.
  • LuLu: A good vanity press (creating books for family, or friends) but not a professional choice. Their books are not returnable.
  • “Award” companies – There a ton of companies out there offering “book awards” that you can paste on the cover of your book. Basically, you’re just paying for a no-name award to put on your book. Try and get real quality reviews by major newspapers and media for your cover. That will carry more weight with readers.


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