Nov 2, 2011

The Amazing Race: The Irony of Halloween

I decided to watch the most recent episode of The Amazing Race after a night of walking the neighborhood streets with my six-year-old in search of the house with the best candy.  The more I watched the show in hopes of finding an online safety, security, or privacy lesson, the more I was distracted by my son sitting on the carpet, still in full Halloween gear, sorting through his loot.  As I watched him, watched the show, and watched him again, it occurred to me the dramatic irony of Halloween.

Every day we try to teach our kids to navigate life safely, securely, conscious of how we impact others, and aware of the reputation that will precede us wherever we go.  We remind our kids not to take candy from strangers, to be truthful to who we are, to respect those around us, and to be honest about who we are.  I’ve written many articles in which I have tried to highlight what we must teach our kids about staying safe online.  We hope that our kids will understand that the Internet is like the real world – full of the good and the bad – and we hope they will live in the good, avoid the bad, and stay away from the scary.

Then comes Halloween.  We tell our kids to dress up like someone else and do it really well so no one can figure out who is behind the mask.  We then take them out into the world and ask them to ring the bell on houses filled with strangers and ask for candy.  And when they are too scared to go up to a house that is particularly scary, we tell them to suck it up and get up there, that it’s no big deal.  In fact, we feel as though we must push them forward into the scary situation that lies before them, despite what we might have learned about in articles like mine from last week.

And herein lies an opportunity to think about how similar what we do on Halloween is to what many parents will do or not do online.  It is easy to feel a sense of comfort when your child sits at home in front of a computer exploring the world.  They are at home after all.  The reality is that they are exploring the world and need all the guidance we can give them and that we provide to them daily in their offline lives…well, except on Halloween.

So next time your child goes online, ask yourself, “Are they going out trick or treating?”

Oct 29, 2011

Halloween Help: Gadgets, Apps to Keep Your Kids Safer

We’re all gearing up for Halloween treats. As kids travel around the neighborhoods for Halloween this year, dressed in costumes and grabbing candy, parents are left wondering about their safety.   Thanks to valuable gadgets, new and old, and a few home-grown safety tips, you can spend time passing out candy instead of worrying this Halloween

Devices and applications that can track our children and help to keep them safe are multiplying by the year.  We took the guesswork out of the search and have compiled a list of some helpful, and easy, gadgets to help keep your child safe.

Free FBI app  The FBI app is free app that’s supposed to provide a convenient location to electronically store photos and vital information about your children so that it’s immediately available if you need it.

Google Latitude   Parents can type in their children’s cell number into Google Latitude to find out where they are.

Temporary tattoos   Tattoos for children that has their parents’ contact information.

Backpacks  Backpacks that have alarms built into them can be used for trick or treating, school, sleep overs, hiking, camping, etc.

Amber Alert and My Child ID offer Child ID Kit

Smart Phone GPS  Different GPS locators offered by different service providers and different smart phone platforms give families a way to keep each other safe by turning their cell phones into safety devices.

•  Life360  Life360 enables families to see where their loved ones are located, when they need help and what the threats might be around them.

•  Verizon Wireless Offers family locator service.

•  Blackberry e-mobile family locator

•  AT&T – FamilyMap service.

•  Android Market – Family Locator.

Have a great Halloween.  Trick or Treat safely.

Oct 27, 2011

The Amazing Race: Back to Basics

The last episode of The Amazing Race brought us back to life as we used to know it and how much of the world still knows it.  The contestants walked, rode elephants, took the bus, hitch-hiked, and rode in taxi cabs.  They took notes on simple notepads to remember the placement of figures on temple replicas and they asked pedestrians and office workers for directions just by stopping them on the streets.  The twins, Liz and Marie, even convinced two separate cab drivers to give them a ride for free when they ran out of money.  In essence, they hitch-hiked in Bangkok, Thailand.

All of this ‘back to basics’ reminded me of a trip I took to India, Nepal, and Bangladesh with a U.S. delegation tasked by the White House to find ways to reduce the trafficking of women and children in that region.  As an envoy for the U.S. government, we traveled in Land Rovers driven by well-trained drivers.  Each time we stopped at a police controlled traffic signal, we would see the line of traffic that appears nothing like what we see in the U.S.  Instead of a line of cars waiting for the green, we saw a line of ‘vehicles’ consisting of horse drawn carriages, air-conditioned Mercedes, ox-drawn carts, passenger buses, bicycles, and rickshaws, all waiting for the policeman to blow the whistle.

It was a stark reminder of how in America we shed the old when we adopt the new.  We do it in all sorts of ways from new cars to new iPhones.  In fact, Steve Jobs’ creative genius put this ‘out with old, in with the new’ consumer buying habit on steroids.  With every new iPhone release, lines form around Apple stores with folks willing to spend hundreds of dollars just to get the latest gadget the minute it hits the market.

And yet, for some reason this phenomenon hasn’t traversed to the other side of the world.  In many other countries, we see the adoption of the new being intertwined with the retention of the old – the old of hundreds of years ago.  Placed in this setting, our Amazing Race contestants did just fine even though they were forced into using tools of a world they no longer live in – a world full of GPS devices, Google maps, cell phones, iPads, and iPhones.  And most importantly, they did it with a sense of patience.

Is it possible that our quick to consume society is starting to replace a time of thoughtful relaxation?