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By Dana Barrett It’s a new year, and if you’re like me – you’ll want to check out some new strategies for keeping your internet data safe. Rama Arya, Founder of Elevated Life Solutions is an IT specialist mastering the world of technology for the last 30 years. Here are his original tips for 2022 to stay ahead of the corporations and hackers who are desperate for your personal information. 1. Password Safety Now’s the time to refresh and retire some of those password favorites you’ve been using - like forever. I know it’s a no-brainer, but when creating new passwords, don’t use easily decipherable personal information. Reworking the umpteenth version of your cat’s name with new symbols and numbers simply won’t cut it. The best password strategy is to use unique passwords for all your apps and websites. I know what you’re thinking – how will I remember all those passwords? Rama highly recommends enlisting the help of a Password Manager or a Password Keeper. Rama’s favorite is an app called Dashlane. Their free version stores 50 passwords for one device, and premium versions have more options. My teenager is a big fan of Lastpass which is a free Google extension. It also has a free plan. This one allows unlimited password storage for one device. Again the premium versions offer more options. 2. Browser and Search Engine Privacy Do you use Google Chrome or Safari for most of your web surfing? You probably do. I do. 66% of the global desktop population uses Chrome. 18% of the global population uses Safari. That’s 84% of the market! It’s time to learn some new tricks! It may sound like a headache – but you should consider using browsers that don’t track your activity for daily use and for different types of searches. You know how you might search for towels to buy, and then you are inundated with towel ads on every site you visit thereafter for days? That’s because your search was tracked by Google or Apple and immediately sold to advertisers in real time. We like Firefox as a very safe and popular browser option. Rama particularly recommends Vivaldi. Vivaldi is Chromium based browser, without the tracking. Founded in Norway, the designers are much more privacy conscious than their American counterparts. Additional good news is that Vivaldi will work with just about every extension built for Chrome, as it’s modeled on Chrome. For search engines Rama ditches Google (because he doesn’t want them to know when he’s buying towels) and he suggests Startpage which is a search engine that dubs itself ‘The world’s private search engine’. Startpage was founded in Europe, where they are equally security and privacy conscious as their Norwegian neighbors. For an added level of privacy, Rama recommends multiple browsers for different types of searches. 3. Avoid Phish Traps! Have you heard of phishing? It’s a technique that cybercriminals use to attempt to access personal and private information. You may not realize it but somewhere across the globe, people are getting paid a dollar a day to try to hack you. 96% of phishing attacks are delivered via email so you need to be extremely careful when scrolling through emails that are new, some may seem business oriented and innocent, some may shout a warning, and some will be completely unfamiliar. Even worse, some will feel safe and familiar – like an email from a trusted friend - BUT if there is no message – just a hyperlink that you can click...? DO NOT CLICK IT. Cybercriminals use sophisticated techniques that can mimic anyone’s email address – including those of your closest friends and family. They can also hijack a friend’s computer so that it sends out phishing emails using the friend’s address book One never knows. And if you take the bait, and click the link, what’s downloaded is malware that hackers can use to infiltrate your PC. It might be spyware or ransomware, either of which can steal personal info or worse – completely corrupt all your data. One of my co-workers had his entire desktop computer completely wiped out by a seemingly innocent email he clicked the link of which came from a client. In retrospect what was odd, was that there was no message, just a clickable hyperlink. When his entire computer was locked down a message demanding a ransom to liberate his data appeared with instructions to pay in cryptocurrency. Of course he didn’t pay. Sadly, he lost everything - invaluable documents and the worst, 20 years of digital pictures of his kids. So please be careful! When it comes to email – you can never be too safe. Remember:  • Never click on links or attachments from unknown sources • Don’t download or open content that looks suspicious  • Don’t ever give out personal information to anyone who contacts you via email, or otherwise with any kind of threat! F.Y.I. the I.R.S., the Social Security Administration, PayPal, cell phone companies, banks, any financial institution will NEVER EVER send out emails with warnings to reset your password or request personal information to secure your account, period. Best practice tip! If you come across a questionable email – forward it to a tech- savvy friend so they can check out the headers to determine whether the note is legit. Rama’s Email Rule of Thumb: If in doubt – don’t. 4. Remember your Backups! If you haven’t heard of cloud backups – now’s the time to get on board! There are many great options to choose from, and they all offer different plans and pricing. Rama uses pCloud. pCloud’s home base is Switzerland, so the storage service must adhere to stringent Swiss privacy laws. I’m on an annual storage plan with the highly-rated Carbonite service.

Whichever cloud storage you decide to go with – make certain that your back-ups are fully encrypted. Additional Back-up Tips: • Use an old computer and/or cell phone to back up your current computer and cell phone. If you don’t have old hardware – look to eBay for economical backup devices. • Have multiple email accounts from different providers.  • Be sure to back up your bookmarks so you can always find your work.  • If you are backing up to an external hard drive – disconnect it after your backup is complete. 5. Get Familiar with Technology – Make it your Friend, not your Enemy Just like in the real world, internet privacy is something that you need to be constantly conscious of - It’s not on the internet companies to keep you safe – it’s up to you to protect your data. We at Elevated Life Solutions are passionate about sharing technology and education with those who are underserved. In 2021 – ELS gave away 120 laptops that were refurbished and donated to disadvantaged families and students in Los Angeles County (a great way of reducing our carbon footprint while helping those in need). Here are the highlights! • 35 laptops went to Augustus Hawkins High School students as Black Achievement Awards  • 55 total were presented at other graduation ceremonies • 30 were donated to support a new S.T.E.M. program at the New Power of Love Church in South Central L.A. supervised by Bishop Edward Turner. Any donation you make is tax-deductible! And can put technology in the hands of those in need without today. We call it a gift to uplift, because you’re helping others to get elevated. And we believe when you elevate others, you elevate yourself. Your gift can give kids and families opportunities they might never have had otherwise.

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By Dana Barrett You can’t win. The holidays are upon us, and in addition to our children clamoring for the latest video game or gadget – many of them (especially the Tween set) are hoping for their first cell phone. As we all know – owning a cell phone has very little to do with making calls, and everything to do with the freedom to connect - mostly via social media.

So, what’s a parent to do when their 10-year-old pleads that, “Everyone else in the class has one and I’m the only one being left out!”?

I don’t know about you, but I watched the Facebook whistleblower hearings with great concern. It’s frustrating (but not entirely surprising) to hear that the social media giants are well-aware of the deleterious effects of their prize product (Instagram) on your child’s psyche. As we all know, social media companies greed doesn’t seem to have an age limit. And now they’re mining ever younger user data so they can turn it into big bucks. Unfortunately, the memos that surfaced as part of the Facebook hearings actually discuss tapping into children’s play date time to try and get them on screens!

An enlightening New York Times video entitled, “What’s One of the Most Dangerous Toys for Kids? The Internet” is filled with adorable children sharing their ideas about going online. The video also discusses user statistics, shedding light on some of the safety issues with Instagram and YouTube:

• One study had adult researchers create new Instagram accounts posing as 13 to 15 year-olds. Within the first 24 hours of use, every account the researchers created received private messages (DM’s) from adult strangers. Just as disturbing, the more posts that a teen liked – the more extreme the content that the Instagram algorithm exposed them to - including sexual content, violence, and extreme dieting sites.

• Even though social media platforms have a disclaimer that says, “You must be 13 to use this site”, one study from the last year indicates that 40% of 9- to 12- year-olds reported that they visit Instagram every day, and 78% of that same group reported watching videos across all of YouTube and not on YouTube Kids, a site designed specifically for children’s video content back in 2015.

The regular version of YouTube still has a wealth of content designed for young children since most of the channels were established prior to the creation of YouTube Kids.

According to research in the New York Times video, a large majority of the ads that run during children’s animated programming on YouTube are for things like dating sites, alcohol, and even political opinions – does that make any sense to you?

Google has worked harder to safeguard the content on their YouTube Kids video platform, however, in March of this year Commonsense Media reported: “YouTube Kids is mostly safe, but there's a small chance that kids could see • Nudity • Violence • or just weird stuff, as well as ads for stuff like junk food.”

A small chance that your kids could see nudity? Does that make any sense to you?

Our children are a gift – the most precious thing in our lives. We, as parents, have to develop strategies to protect our kids online and especially on their phones. Until big social media companies agree to dedicate resources to creating solutions designed specifically to produce positive engagement and protect their adolescent audience, we need to be just as vigilant online, as when we are protecting them in the real world.

But just like in the real world, we can’t always be with them when they’re on the internet during classes, searching the web for homework, taking mini-breaks, or having downtime in solitude.

So, how do you win? At holiday time do you purchase that phone your Tween’s pleading for? Every parent has their own version of what ‘feels correct’ and has to stay true to that. For me I think the answer is always found on the middle path, where you establish a clear set of boundaries. If you decide to get them a phone, explain to them your feelings and what level of use you’re comfortable with. If they agree, you have a deal. If not, they don’t get a phone. I’ve also found that establishing respect for your child and demanding the same respect in return is the foundation of any healthy agreement around social media. If your agreement is respected, they have their freedom. If they break those boundaries, then they’ve broken the agreement and you get to re-establish stricter rules. That has always worked for me.

Finding a path forward for your family involves a delicate balancing act that can only succeed with a real-time, ongoing dialogue with your child. Being present and interested in what they are experiencing on social media and the internet will be meaningful to them. Your connection to them trumps everything else. It’s the only thing that matters.

At Elevated Life Solutions, we feel very strongly about connecting, providing and protecting for those who don’t even have technology, so that they can join the rapidly advancing world and not be left behind. It’s why we have also partnered with Cybersmarties, which is the only secure, fully monitored social network that is for school children only, and has ended cyberbullying and ended predatory behavior completely on their platform since 2017.

They are also a member of the UNICEF/ Global Partnership to End Violence against Children, and currently protect over 300,000 children in 3 different countries.

You can donate once and help twice. Help put technology in the hands of those without, so that families and children don’t fall behind in our rapidly advancing world, and know that you’re supporting children going onto a protected locked down social network designed for children only, to play in safely and securely.

Our fundraising efforts support both goals. Please help today! Donate once, to help twice.

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By Dana Barrett

Struggling with how to be a good parent these days – especially when it comes to cell phones and technology? Rest assured that you aren’t alone. The vastness of the internet creates new problems for managing our kid’s emotional health and their online safety, but with all the warnings, the irony is sometimes social media provides more emotional support than the real world.

As a parent, it’s heartbreaking to see your child struggle with school bullying and social isolation just because their interests are unique or different.

My daughter spent her elementary years at a Waldorf charter school where student groups rolled forward year after year in small pods – this meant that every child in each grade was stuck with the same group of 20 or so kids for 6 years. That concept is supposed to be socially beneficial – creating a small village of love and support. But it only works if all the kids have similar interests and dispositions. This was not the case for my kid – she was a little light that shined in her own sweet way, and the other girls who were more mainstream and generic kept her on the fringes of most feminine social interaction. Oh, there were one or two good eggs who were occasionally kind, but for the rest of the group – think Mean Girls or Pretty Little Liars but wearing child-sized Keds and only slightly less lipstick.

Technology was shunned by the Waldorf School, and parents were lectured regularly on the virtues of cell phone abstinence. I went through a divorce when my daughter was about 11 years old. I decided to buy her a cell phone so she could stay connected with both mom and dad at all times.

As she slowly waded into the online world – she found small chat groups with like-minded girls from all over the state. Her creativity blossomed as she found support and encouragement. She wrote short stories and posted fan-fiction – connecting with even more kids who had a similar light. I watched her confidence grow as she started to feel valued for her opinions and interests, instead of being ostracized for not fitting it. She found her best friend – some 400 miles away, something that never would have happened without her cell phone.

That’s an example of social media literally saving someone’s life. While at the same time we know of many stories that are 180 degrees opposite. Clearly lives have been ruined by social media as well. It’s a massive network with no rules and where no one is trained how to use it. Yet social media is a part of our children’s lives now – and there’s no turning back.

When problems do happen or safety issues arise, parents can feel out of their depths, powerless and unsure how to help a child who may be suffering, the same way I felt with my daughter off social media but in her peer group at school.

Parents only want to help. But the irony is that removing your child from social media, or their online world if they’re being bullied, isn’t necessarily the answer. That forces isolation, which feels like its own punishment one and the same.

So, what’s a good parent to do?

These are some suggestions for managing your child's internet and social media use - but every situation is different, and as a parent you should decide what is ultimately best for your child.

The best way to protect kids while they use technology is to limit screen time and encourage ‘off screen’ time, while also teaching them to be mindful, thoughtful, and responsible. For example:

• Don’t ever just grab your child’s phone and start scrolling through it – reading all of their personal content. Think about how you would feel if someone did that to you! Instead, treat your kids with respect and let them know that you are ready to help the minute an uncomfortable situation comes up.

• Make an agreement with your child regarding how time limits on social media will work at home (after homework, only in the evenings, establish boundaries, etc.) and collaborate with them on those boundaries. I’ve always found mutual respect makes one likely to honor the rules. (But if that respect can’t be honored, then the rules have to change.)

• Educate your children regarding what is inappropriate on social media. Teach them to recognize signs of bullying or predatory behavior.

• Create family connection time in your weekly schedule. A shared meal if possible at dinner where phones are off and the actual old fashioned communication system of talking to one another is encouraged. Asking children questions spurs answers. Asking about their day, or current likes and dislikes is a good way to start. Questions to make them think are always plus, like ‘if dogs could talk, what do you think is the first thing they’d say? If people could not talk but could only bark, how would you ask me for something?”

If things have gotten serious with your child on social media, and you know threatening behavior has happened either towards your child, or from your child towards another, you may need stricter boundaries.

• Once or twice a month, sit with your child to review which apps or websites they have access to on both their phone or computer.

• Work together to review usernames or screen names of people they are in contact with - but don’t read private messages or texts. If a user looks suspicious – ask the child to show you more information on that particular user.

Elevated life Solutions believes strongly in teaching kids to use social media kindly, safely, and constructively. That is why we have partnered with CyberSmarties – a completely secure social media platform designed for school children only, ages 7-12. The Cybersmarties social network has ended cyberbullying and ended predatory behavior on their platform completely since 2017. They currently protect over 200,000 school children in three different countries and are continuing to expand.

We are raising funds to help CyberSmarties continue to expand their network, so that school children on their platform can learn and play in a protective environment, that has none of the short fallings of social media. Your donation can protect a child right now, who might need someone to look out for them. Perhaps as you might wish someone to be looking out for yours.

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