Tech Updates for Aware Parents

Father And Son Using Laptop At Dining Table

Side view of father and son using laptop at dining table

In the ever changing world of mobile technology, it is hard to keep up with new apps and services. Fads come quickly and leave just as quickly. During the first half of this month, a few tech changes have occurred that a tech savvy parent might want to be aware of. This post is a short recap of new things and changes. If you are interested, please dig further into the apps and/or new functions.


At the beginning of the month, the founder of the video messaging app, Vine, launched a new app named Peach. This new app is more like a Twitter or Facebook than a traditional messaging app. Messages that are written are posted to a home page in real time. The app allows for video, gifs and traditional images. There is also a draw function in case you want to post a doodle. The app is officially only available for iOS systems.

Three days after it’s release, Peach was in the top ten for social networking apps in the iPhone app store. Whether it is the desire for something new or the media hype, it is clear that people are checking out the app. Only time will tell if it continues to be popular or quickly loses ground.  (


Upshot is being touted by technology bloggers as the Snapchat for events. This new app creates a cache of pictures from an event or location of an event such as a party. If the user chooses the autoshare option, any picture they take on their phone or via Snapchat will be posted on the Upshot private event stream that a user creates. The app syncs with Facebook events to make ensure a larger inclusion of photographs. Like Snapchat, the images do have a self destruct period. The stream will only be available for seven days after it has been created. The app is available for iPhones now with an Android launch in February.

The idea of Upshot sounds great. Create a private event for something like a baby shower or family reunion and everyone who is at the event (and who uses the app) can then see all of the photos of the event. I believe this is akin to the intent of the app as it is created by the same people who created the family Photosharing app called Togethera.

Upshot is given a 12+ rating for infrequent alcohol, tobacco or drug use. As with any social app, it can be used for great good. It seems like a great idea for parties and events. On the flip side, I would be concerned about the content of the Upshot albums when they are used at teen parties. We all know that some teens have used SnapChat to send sexual content. What happens if these types of images are uploaded onto Upshot from an event? Is the entire group on the private event then possibly in trouble for possessing sexual images of children? (


You may be wondering why Skype is on this list as it just celebrated its 10th anniversary. On January 12, 2016, Skype just announced that it will be offering free group video calling that will be available on nearly all mobile devices. According to the company, nearly 750 million people around the world use Skype.

Though Skype is most frequently used in business and for legitimate reasons, there are some individuals who do use Skype to engage in sexual chat online. Be aware, that this group chat can now occur.

As always, this blog post is not meant to be an in-depth look into any of these apps or advancements. For more information, please check out the company sites to determine if you think the app is appropriate for your child to use.

Yik Yak

Yik Yak is an anonymous social network app that is popular among college students. I have written about the app previously on other blog posts. The company announced yesterday that the app is now going to also be available in a web version. The web version is fundamentally the same as the app but allows a user to type out their messages on a keyboard for ease of use or for when phone battery is dying.

When Yik Yak was originally created, the app was a problem with high school students but the founders, in a responsible move, geofenced the app around high schools and middle schools so it cannot be used in those locations.

For more posts like this, please see

Family Online Safety Contracts

Father And Son Using Laptop At Home

Father And Son Using Laptop At Home

As my book, The New Age of Sex Education, how to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography, is nearing completion, I am researching resources for parents. One of these resources is the Family Online Safety Institute. This is a very helpful and informative site.

What I love most about the site are the online safety contracts I found there. These contracts not only provide boundaries and guidelines for the child, but also the parent. Here are a few tidbits from the parent contract:

      1. Parents will get to know the services and websites their child uses.

By doing this, the parent agrees to get informed and stay informed. This is critical to responsible digital parenting.

      1. I will not over react if my child tells me about something “bad” he or she finds or does on the Internet.

I LOVE THIS! If a parent can follow through on this part of the contract, they won’t shame their child. It is hard to not be reactive if your child comes to you saying he or she saw pornography or were solicited on a website they should not have been on. However, if you can be calm and talk about the issue, you will go a long way to create safety and not create an aura of shame around sexuality.

      1. I will frequently check to see where my kids have visited and talk to them about my concerns.

These are just a few of the 12 items on the parent contract. These rules facilitate calm and healthy communication between parents and their children.

The site also has Safety Cards specifically for: cell phone, smartphone, gaming systems, tablets and computers. These are designed for a parent to give to their child and discuss when they get a new device. A parent can write their own rules on the card based on their own beliefs and family values. There is also a parent’s promise section on these cards.

Parents promise not to overreact if their child views something inappropriate. The parent also agrees to learn new things and be part of their child’s digital world. Another parent promise is that they, themselves, promise to responsibly use technology. Parents need to model appropriate behaviors such as not texting while driving.

There are many sites that will provide you with resources and many are very good. I wanted to highlight this site because it does such a great job in showing us that parents need to be accountable too. Having rule sand boundaries for both parents and children creates a safe environment that fosters open and honest communication.

A Parent’s Report Card: The Pew Report on Parents, Teens and Digital Monitoring

Father And Son Using Laptop At Home

Father And Son Using Laptop At Home

Yesterday, the Pew Research Center published a report entitled “Parents, Teens and Digital Monitoring”. This survey assessed how parents are managing their parental roles around their child’s use of digital media. I prefer to call it a parental report card.

How do Parent’s Monitor Behavior?

The abundance of monitoring apps and filtering software might make you think that there are a lot of parents using these monitoring options. The survey determined that 39% of parents used some type of parental control to filter or monitor their teen’s online activity. A more hands on approach appears to be more common, with 69% of parents checking their teens’ social media profile. Parents of younger teens are more active in monitoring or policing their child’s behavior. This finding is consistent with other published research.

In total, 84% of parents are monitoring their teen’s behavior in some fashion. This leaves 16% of online teens using the web, social media and apps completely unmonitored.

Social Media

Social media use is an integral part of teen life. Parents know this. Even though 60% of parents do monitor their child’s social media use, considerably less are active social media participants with their children. Though the report tells us that 72% of parents use Facebook themselves, only 44% of those parents are friends with their teen. Only 9% of parents follow their child on twitter (other social media sites were not specifically quantified).

I find myself somewhat concerned about this finding. Several years ago I worked with an amazingly bright teenage girl whose level of anxiety and depression closely correlated with what was going on socially on twitter. Were people doing things without her? Where they bullying or mocking her? Was she followed or unfollowed? As this goes on in other social media forums (i.e. Instagram), parents need to be more aware and proactive.

Talking to Teens

As I am a staunch advocate for frequent discussions with children about sexuality and online content, I was very interested to see how many parents were talking to their teens about acceptable online content. I was a bit disappointed with the numbers.

The survey asked parents how frequently they talked to their teen about the following things: behavior in school, home or social lives; what to share online; content they should be viewing online; content to consume via TV, books, music, magazines or other media; and online behavior toward others. These discussions were categorized as never, rarely, occasionally, and frequently.

The good news is that upwards of 95% of parents have had the discussion about online content at least one time. However, once is not enough. Only 39% of parents frequently talked to their teen about online content and 40% frequently talked about what to share online. Parents appear to talk to teens 13-14 years old more frequently (49%) but that number drops dramatically (32%) for older teens.

COME ON PARENTS! You can do better than that!

The survey also indicated that moms do more of the talking than dads. Teens need these discussions with both parents together (if possible) or separately. There are some topics that a teen might be more comfortable discussing with a same (or different) gender parent. Let’s step up your game Dads.

Demographic variables appear to have some influence on how frequently a parent talks to a teen about online content. The parents who most frequently talk to their teens about the online world tend to be less affluent (making less than 30 thousand a year), and less educated (high school diploma or less). The highest educated and most affluent parents talk to their teen the least.

Digital Immigrant vs. Digital Native Parents

The survey clearly showed that younger parents (under 45) are more engaged in their child’s digital world. They monitor more, check websites more, talk more, have access to their children’s passwords and monitor their child’s social networking more. This result also coincides with newer research. As digital natives start to have families, they bring their level of tech savvy to their parenting.

In the end, parents are not doing a BAD job managing their child’s digital world. They are not doing a great job either. There is much room for improvement.

How to Protect Your Child from Being Harmed from Cybersex: Teach them Resilience

During the course of researching my book, The New Age of Sex Education: How to talk to your teens about cybersex and pornography, I came upon the research of Pamela Wisniewski and her colleagues. Dr. Wisniewski’s research focuses on teen internet safety and parental mediation styles. In non-scientific terms, her work helps us understand how teens navigate risk on the internet and how different parenting styles and parenting behaviors affect the behaviors of teens online. Her work is very timely and offers wonderful suggestions on how to help your child navigate the online world safely.

In this post, I would like to focus on data from a presentation on the topic of resilience that Dr. Wisniewski and her colleagues gave at a conference in the spring of 2015. This topic resonates strongly for me as a possible answer or at least a piece of the puzzle for my clients.

Many, if not all, of my clients often ask why they ended up with a sex addiction or a pornography addiction. We all know that some people can view pornography and have no problem with it. You can equate this to the social drinker. Some people drink socially and never develop an alcohol abuse or addiction problem while others will quickly escalate into problematic drinking. The same can be said for pornography. Some people can watch online pornography sometimes as a tool to help with masturbation or as something they do with their partner to spice up their sex life. For these people, the use can stay casual and it never escalates into a problem. In fact, for these people, the use of pornography might even be beneficial to their sex lives. My clinical practice doesn’t work with this population. The clients who come to my office who watch online pornography often quickly become addicted. They all want to know why.

The question of why someone becomes addicted to online sexual behavior is important from many perspectives. First, having some information about the “why” can sometimes help clients feel like they have a better understanding of their addiction, their behavior or themselves. Additionally, if we can figure out “why”, we have tools to work with to help the client function better in the world. Finally, answers to “why” can help our prevention efforts immensely.

One of the key factors that may influence the effects of exposure to risky online materials is the presence of psychological problems or low self efficacy. Studies have shown that kids that report more psychological issues are more affected by experiencing online risk (such as pornography, bullying, etc). Other studies have shown that compulsive use of the internet by adolescents can be linked to negative affect. Negative affect is the psychological term used to describe feelings of distress such as anxiety, guilt, fear, etc. Dr. Wisniewski’s research shows us that resilience, the ability to overcome negative experiences, is a moderator between online risk and negative affect.

So what does this mean for parents of teens who are online being exposed to risk? There are many useful implications of this research. The first is that, as parents (or educators, therapists, etc), we need to be on the look out for psychological issues in adolescents. If these issues, such as depression or anxiety, go unnoticed or untreated, there is an increased risk of the child engaging in compulsive internet use. If a child has an internet addiction, interventions need to limit exposure but also treat the underlying emotional issues.

From a prevention perspective, perhaps one of the most effective prevention tools is to teach your child how to cope with negative emotions. Creating emotional resilience in your child may inoculate them from the dangers of any type of addiction, be it drugs or the internet. We also need to teach children how to cope with negative online experiences in a healthy manner. Because you cannot shelter your child from all risk, teaching them healthy coping skills can go a long way to limit or prevent psychological harm from experiencing a negative event.

Let us circle this discussion back around to the “why” question my clients ask. For many the answer lies in resilience and negative affect. Many of my clients experienced adverse life events as children or suffered from mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or social anxiety. They did not have coping skills or resilience and no one tried to teach them these skills. They found a way to sooth their negative affect (unpleasant emotions) on the internet and through pornography or sexual chat.

For more information on ways you can help teach your child resilience, click here for the American Psychological Associations Resilience Guide (

For more information on Dr. Wisniewski’s research,

If you think your child may have a problem with cybersex, please contact our office for help.

Webcam Trolling and Children

girl and web camera

little girl look to the web camera in her hand and smile

A study recently published online in the Telematics and Informatics journal brought to light the problems of webcam trolls and how they can victimize children on chat sites.

First, let’s talk about webcam trolls. Many people are likely familiar with the term troll that is often used for people who post disruptive, mean, or harmful communication on the websites or social media sites of others. It is not uncommon to see a comment in the news about some celebrity replying to a troll who posted something on their social media site that is perhaps fat shaming, sexist, racist, homophobic etc. While this is becoming a relatively common occurrence, webcam trolls are not as well known.

A webcam troll is someone who engages in trolling in online forums, like the site Chatroulette. They may show pre-recorded video loops instead of live time video. Webcam trolls also may phish for information on these sites.

How do webcam trolls go after children? The answer is through initiating contact, often under false pretenses, and requesting erotic video chatting. The troll is often using a fake identity and a video loop. Through the chat process, the child is convinced to expose themselves on the cam or engage in sex acts on the cam for the other person. The person on the other end of the chat will record the sessions and they can be used for blackmail at a later time. The children are often threatened with exposure to peers and parents. Adults who are webcam trolled are frequently extorted for money. Children are frequently blackmailed for more erotic content.

When this type of webcam trolling occurs, children do not usually go to their parents to tell them what has happened. The children are often scared and don’t want to face the shame of telling their parents what they have done online with a stranger.

We may think that these types of things only happen on chat sites that have a reputation for being sexual or nefarious. However, this study shares the case of an 11 year old child who was playing Minecraft online. Anyone who is aware in our world knows that Minecraft is a video game that is insanely popular with kids. Part of playing this game is the ability to chat with others. In this particular case, the online chat friendship included simulated sex acts. When the online friendship went bad, the other child posted these videos online for the public to see.

The moral of this particular case is to not assume that your child is not at risk because they are not on chat sites. If they are video gaming online, they are open to this practice.

While webcam trolling does not happen frequently, it does occur. The authors suggest that prevention measures be taken such as not sharing personal data online as well as technically safeguarding the computer. They also suggest that if a person is engaging in chat with someone, they ask them to write a particular message on a piece of paper and show it in the web cam. This practice will help distinguish video loops from real people. Our long term suggestion is that computers and devices with webcam ability should always be used in a public part of the house, not in a child’s bedroom

As always, discussion and awareness help prevention as well. Talk to your child about web cam trolling.

For more information on children and cybersex risk please see our page The New Age of Sex Education.

Kopecky, K. (2016) Misuse of web cameras to manipulate children within the so called webcam trolling. Telematics and Informatics, 33, 1-7

American College of Pediatricians Position on Pornography

In October of this year, the American College of Pediatricians published a statement on their website regarding the impact of pornography on children. This statement, written by Dr. L David Perry, summarized the current research on the effects of exposure to pornography on children and concluded that pornography is harmful to children.

The position statement focused particularly on research focused on how children (not adults) are impacted by exposure to pornography. Young children appear to have emotional distress upon exposure to pornography, including embarrassment, shock, disgust or fear. There is also some evidence that children can become obsessed with the acts they have seen online and attempt to re-enact them. This can lead to the victimization of other children.

This summary does not present this data for the first time. However it is perhaps the first time that pediatricians are being exposed to the data. The statement concludes by saying that pediatricians should be equipped to discuss pornography with parents and help them limit their young children’s exposure to pornography.

This position paper brings up yet another avenue in which we need to open up the discussion of pornography and sexting. Traditionally, these issues may or may not be brought up at home or in school. If parents have a worry about their child’s behavior, they may seek professional mental health counseling. I do not think that pornography exposure is something that is traditionally brought up duruing a pediatric doctor appointment. It should be! The more we talk about these issues, the more we end up talking about sexuality with children. This reduces the risk of stigma and shame and increases the chances of your children engaging in healthy sexual behavior throughout their lifetime.

This post is truly just to say thank you to the American College of Pediatricians for being forward thinking and taking the risk to talk about pornography exposure and children. If more doctors come to understand these issues, we will have one more venue in which we can educate children and help those who may be struggling.

For more articles on this topic, please see The New Age of Sex Education.

Burnbook: Latest Anonymous App for teens

Friends Using Smart Phone While Leaning Against Wall

Anyone who has seen the movie Mean Girls instantly knows what this new app is all about. It is the latest in a series of apps that are designed for teens or young adults and offers a platform for anonymous posting.

This app is new, published only about two months ago. It is specifically targeted at high schoolers and allows them to engage in anonymous posting that is organized by their school. As with any of the app’s predecessors, there are already issues with its use among teens. The only rules seem to be these three: 1. a user is responsible for their content. 2. no nudity or violence and 3. don’t harass other people.

There have already been issues in schools in Oregon, Texas and California with issues of cyberbullying to bomb threats. Already, petitions have been created to remove the app from availability. The owner and creator of the app, Jonathan Lucas has had an interesting response. News sources have reported that the creator is turning the blame around. The app has a 17+ rating. He questions why children under 17 are using the app. Lucas stated that if a parent sets restrictions on the phone of their child, the child won’t be able to use it

In theory, these types of apps are great. Give teens a place to share thoughts and secrets anonymously. It is kind of like “dear diary” but with no worries about your sibling or mom or dad finding the diary and reading it. The problem is that the reality of these apps does not match their theoretical purpose. Perhaps it is human nature or at least adolescent nature to use these apps to share nasty comments, to bully, threaten or exclude others.

Though I am not a fan of these types of apps, I do feel that the founder, Mr. Lucas, has a very valid point. Is it not the duty of the parents to know what their children are doing on their phones? Wouldn’t it be better if parents understood what their children were doing online and paid closer attention? We live in a capitalist-driven technological world. Though a petition may shut down one app, another is sure to pop up in it’s stead.

The common denominator with all of these apps is: parents need to be more involved with their children’s digital lives. They need to know what is going on and to talk to their children about the apps they use and how they use them.

For more information on tech savvy parenting see our new book:  The New Age of Sex Education: How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography.  

The New Age of Sex Education: How to Talk to Your Teen About Cybersex and Pornography

Sex (1)

Yesterday I launched the indiegogo crowd funding campaign for my new book, The New Age of Sex Education: How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography.

I view this book as a prevention project. In other addictions, we see tons of prevention programs, advertisements and initiatives. Public education and public service announcements are very common for alcohol addiction, drug addiction and even gambling addiction. In my field, sexual addiction and pornography addiction, we have no prevention ads or programs. I feel this is a huge disservice.

The age demographic of my clients keeps getting younger. When I started in this field, most of my clients were men aged from their 40’s on up. These were mostly white collar men in relationships. As the years have gone by, the average age of my clients keeps getting younger. Young men and women are now faced with much more intense exposure to sexual imagery due to technology. These intense experiences can cause much greater problems than the print exposure of the older generations.

Most of my clients received little to no sex education from their parents. Most parents didn’t talk about sex and they surely didn’t talk about pornography. This trend continues today. The change is that today’s teens are much more knowledgeable about what goes on online than their parents. They know so much more and many adults are rather ignorant of all the realms of digital sexual media. Parents need to be proactive and prepare their children for what they will encounter on the internet so they won’t have to do damage control after the fact.

The goals of this book are multifold. First, I want to educate parents about what their children are doing online when it comes to sex. Second, we discuss the effects of exposure to digital sexual media on developing children. The book addresses the potential legal issues faced by teens who sext and look at online pornography. I address the reasons why parents don’t talk about sex. What is the baggage that parents carry that gets in the way? The New Age of Sex Education discusses how to talk to adolescents about digital sexuality and finally address what to do if the child has a problem with pornography addiction.

The book publishers I approached and everyone to whom I described the project loved the concept and felt it something that was really needed at this time. However, no one wanted to touch it due to the topic. They felt it was just too risky. I confess this makes me upset. Sex addiction lives in secrecy and shame. The entire reason that the book is needed is the reason that the publishers won’t touch it. I want to get rid of the shame about sexuality and discussing it with adolescents and I also want to get rid of the secrets. Without both, we will have a healthier generation who are in touch with healthy sexuality!

I hope that you will join me in this prevention project by supporting our indiegogo crowd funding campaign.

Click the link for more information.

Thank you so much for your support!

SnapChat Safety Center


(Image from Snapchat website)

News across the tech blogs yesterday informed us that Snap Chat has partnered with three non-profit safety organizations to help raise awareness of the safe use of its app. They also launched a safety center ( which has sections for users as well as parents.

The page is a great resource for adult users. I imagine that the teens are not going to go to the safety site to check things out. There are separate resource pages for community rules, safety and for parents and teachers.

The safety section is limited. It does provide a link for setting up privacy settings and a link to report cyberbullying. The section does link to’s page for cyberbullying. Connect Safely’s page on Cyberbullying is quite a wonderful resource. It provides information for kids on how to deal with bullies and it also clearly tells them it is not their fault. There is also a very nice section for parents that provides help and advice on how to deal with situations in which their child may be the recipient of cyberbullying.

The section for parents and children sends them to the ConnectSafely’s Parent’s Guide to Snapchat ( As wonderful a job as ConnectSafely does in their guide for bullying, they drop the ball when it comes to sexting. The comments in the guide about sexting fall short. The guide states that news coverage calls Snapchat the sexting app (which is true) but most teens don’t share racy pictures on Snapchat. “But most people – including most teens — don’t use Snapchat that way. They use it because it’s fun.” In a later section on sexting the document repeats the statement that sexting is not as common as the media reports suggest. They do refer users to yet another page about sexting.

The advice on this page, Tips for Dealing with Sexting, tells parents to delete the pictures so they don’t risk having child pornography on their phone. Then parents are directed to have a conversation with the child about the pictures as well as the possible psychological and legal impacts. The rest of the advice is about whether or not to involve the school or call the police.

.Their advice on sexting falls woefully short of adequate. Parents should talk to their children about more than the legal aspects of possibly being charged with possessing child pornography. Shouldn’t parents also then talk to their children about sexting itself? Why do some teens engage in the practice? What does it mean in their social circle? What role does it play in their adolescent culture? What is the child’s own beliefs on sexuality and the practice?

I might sound nit picky, because Snapchat is at least doing something. This is definitely a step in the right direction. ConnectSafely is doing great work and trying to get the message out there. I simply wish that even among organizations that talk about sexting and sexuality on the internet, there was more of a discussion of actual sexuality and sex education as opposed to legal consequences.

What do kids worry about online?

iStock_000007152788_Small (1)

Most research that I review is written by adults from a very adult perspective.  The research topics are based on adult concerns regarding the effects of cyber bullying, sexting and internet pornography on kids, which makes sense because the scientists who are conducting this research are no longer kids.  However, it stands to reason that the adults might be asking the wrong questions and be concerned about the wrong things.  We might wonder why the scientists don’t just ask the teens themselves.

This September, a group of European scientists published a paper in the European Journal of Communication that finally looked at these issues from the perspectives of children.  The report, entitled: In their own words:  What bothers children online? asked nearly 10,000 children aged 9 to 16 about their own perceptions of risk online.  One thing that makes this study really useful is that they didn’t just have kids answer close ended questions.  They allowed them, in their own words, to talk about the things that bothered them online.  These open ended answers were then coded and categorized to provide the data we will discuss.

So what bothers kids online?

The answer is, well a lot.  So to help us understand the authors broke things down into categories:  Content Risk, Conduct Risk, Contact Risk and Other.  The most frequently mentioned type of risk mentioned by kids was Content Risk.  This included many things but the two most common were pornographic content and violent content.

Pornography ranked the highest of all risks mentioned by children.  There was no gender difference, meaning boys and girls both mentioned pornographic content first as the thing they worry about.  Children appear to become worried about pornography as they enter the teen years.  This concern declines as they get older.  A nine year old Irish girl reported that “one time I was looking for a game and rude pictures came on the computer, people without clothes on.”  As evidenced by this quote, the age of exposure to pornography is commonly quite young.

Violent content was the second highest type of content mentioned by the children in the study.  Boys were more concerned about violent content than were girls.  Children between 9 and 10 were most concerned about seeing violent content.  Young children are upset by violence that is fictional, such as seen in fairy tales or movies.  As the children get older and become adolescents, they start to become afraid of real violence such as war and disaster. The findings on violence are worth paying attention to.  Our public policy and mass media pay much more attention to exposure to sexual content online and pay less attention to the exposure to violence by children.

I find this study very interesting as a person who spends a lot of writing about sexting and teens.  Looking at the breakout of what percentage of these 10,000 children were worried about provides great insight.  While 20.5% of the children were worried about pornographic contact, only .7% were worried about unwelcome sexting.  Our American culture also spends a lot of time worrying about pedophiles contacting our children on facebook or via some other means.  Though the adults worry about this, kids don’t.  3.2% of kids worry about unwanted sexual contact online.  More kids worry about bullying.  More kids worry about seeing drug content online.  Five times as many kids worry about seeing violent content.

Though we can assume that American children are similar to European children, I would love to see this study done here as well as in other countries and other cultures.  I agree with the authors.  We need to spend more time talking to children about what really worries them.  We know what worries us.  Our worries guide prevention programs and policies.  Our worries guide what we talk to our children about.

Maybe we are spending too much time talking about the wrong things.  We need to spend more time talking to kids about online pornography and violent online content.