Six Things Every Parent Should Know in the Digital Age

Mom and Dad need to set the example

By Joe Peters
Editor, MindEdge Learning
Occasionally, friends will ask me a question like, “What’s the safest computer to get for my kids?” or “What software will keep them safe?” To me, these questions are like asking, “What kind of tires should I buy to make sure I never get into an accident?” Sure, some tools might be more secure than others, but ultimately what really matters is not what you buy—it is how you use what you have.
That’s why I emphasize to parents that they must set the example. Safe, responsible use of the Internet should be like looking twice before crossing the road or brushing your teeth: a good habit developed at a young age, learned from our parents and enforced by them.
social media apps on a smartphone
You can’t manage it if you don’t know it’s there
Whether you are managing a small family or a multinational conglomerate, the first step to getting a handle on technology is to know what you have. Whether you do that on a spreadsheet or on a piece of a poster board taped to the inside door of a closet, you need to sit down as a family and list every network-capable device you have. If that is too daunting a task, then start getting rid of devices until it isn’t. While you’re at it, make another list of all your online accounts. Your kids should have separate accounts from you. Plan ahead so that you are not sharing an account or creating one carelessly on Christmas morning. Once a month (or so), as a family, make sure all your devices are updated and change your passwords.
Probably the most valuable part of this exercise is that it requires you to talk regularly to your kids about technology. Remember to communicate, not dictate. Your kids will tell you more about the latest trends and apps than any parenting website.
Passwords are still a problem
As you have heard plenty of times, you should have different passwords for every service, and those passwords should be complex. But the task of formulating all those passwords doesn’t need to be overwhelming. For example: make a good base password out of a phrase, not just a word. Try to make it at least 12 characters, including some numbers and special characters. Then for each service, insert the initials of that service into the base. It’s a simple variation, but it will be enough to ensure that even if one of your accounts gets compromised, the others won’t instantly be vulnerable. Kids, by the way, tend to be very good at this exercise, as it indulges their creativity and imagination. Let them run with it.
Social skills should come before social media
Determining the right age for your children to jump into the digital world should be dictated by their ability to negotiate real-world situations properly—not by how adept they are with an iPhone or XBox.
The nature of social media allows kids to choose the people with whom they will associate; most often, those will be people who share their interests, beliefs, and prejudices. Ironically, this fact of online life is more likely to encourage anti-social behavior than genuine human interaction. Think about it: the ability to initiate a conversation, engage others, listen, and speak persuasively but cordially are important human skills. But when kids surround themselves with “like”-minded individuals, they don’t have to develop those skills.
What can you do? Limit screen time. Keep all devices in a central area—never in your kids’ bedrooms. When friends come over, put the cellphones in a bowl at the door. The more you can get kids engaging in genuine social behavior, even if it is just with you, the more they will carry these skills over to their digital lives. Remember, you need to set the example.
It’s not all fun and games
When I was a kid, the most violent video game might involve firing a blip at a pixelated alien invading from space. Today, there is a near-realism to gaming violence. What’s absent, of course, is the real-world consequence of what it means to fire a gun, punch someone, jump from three stories up, or do any of the other things that gamers do dozens of times a minute. While that sparks concern in and of itself, the derivative aspect of such gaming is that kids can begin to treat all online activity as though it is a game. When they respond to some post, for example, they don’t see a human being, just an avatar, another “player” in the social media “game.”
Before you allow your child to play a video game, try it yourself to see if it is appropriate. Learn the video game rating system and follow it. Understand that so-called “teen” games are played by many adults, who can interact with your kids through in-game chats. And many of these games have very adult themes.
You’re not as anonymous, or as temporary, as you think
Services like Snapchat promote their temporary nature: anything posted will disappear in 10 seconds. While 10 seconds is plenty of time for a lot of bad things to happen (such as someone making a screen grab), there’s a larger question that every rational parent needs to ask: What positive impulse, if any, does such a service indulge?
The truth is, there is no guarantee of anonymity on the Internet. Protecting your privacy requires real effort. For instance: just as you use different passwords for different services, you should also use different screen names and, if possible, different email addresses. Never incorporate identifying data, even a ZIP code, into a screen name, and learn how to disable location services tagging. Be especially cautious about geo-tagging any images, because that will automatically incorporate your location into image information.
All that said, you are only as private as your most gossipy friend. Even if you and your child exercise proper restraint, it only takes one “friend” to make a questionable post that undermines your privacy. Kids should understand that colleges and employers often look at social media profiles in making their acceptance and hiring determinations.
There is no app for logic
This may be a blog post about the Internet, but if you want to negotiate the hazards of the misinformation superhighway, it doesn’t hurt to turn the clock back to the days of Aristotle and the study of logic. The ability to distinguish a substantive comment from a spurious one is a timeless skill.
You don’t need to be a philosophy Ph.D. to help your kids in this area. Googling “logical fallacies” can get the ball rolling. After a particular dinner conversation a year or so ago, I purchased a poster depicting the various logical fallacies, and hung it in our kitchen. While my sense of interior decorating may be lacking, it has created a useful talking point in our home.
We’re approaching the second generation of the social-media age, where decisions regarding everything from news sources to afternoon activities can be crowdsourced. While resources such as Snopes and Yelp can be useful in determining what is fake news or where to get good ice cream, it’s not a bad idea to remind your kids that civilization figured out how to negotiate such conundrums long before there was an app for that. The subtle equating of popularity and quality is perhaps the slipperiest of the slopes social media has brought. The more we can equip our kids with the resources to think independently and critically, the more it will pay dividends in all areas of their lives.
Nearly any time I talk to parents about the challenges kids face on the Internet, I point them to the story of Ryan Patrick Halligan ( While Ryan’s story is a bit dated today (15 years old, to be precise), it remains a sobering tale of how the virtual world can become the real world for kids.
Safe and Secure Online ( and ( are two great resources with loads of advice on how to speak to your kids about Internet use.
If you’re looking for trustworthy information about malware, two reliable sources are Virus Total ( and Bleeping Computer (
For a complete listing of MindEdge’s course offerings on cyber security and CISSP®, click here.

Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.

Gone Phishing? Don’t Take the Bait

As phishing and other cyber-attacks grow increasingly more sophisticated, it’s important to know how to guard against online scam artists. MindEdge’s cybersecurity team has put together a video to help you identify phishing emails and avoid getting taken to the cyber-cleaners. Rule number one: "Always initiate the transaction—never respond!"
For a complete listing of MindEdge’s cybersecurity course offerings, click here.

Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.

Survey Shows Critical Thinking Is Still a Weak Spot for Recent Grads

High Confidence but Low Scores on the MindEdge Online Quiz

By Frank Connolly
Director of Communications and Research, MindEdge Learning
After a solid year of news reports, commentary, and public debate about fake news and other deceptive online content, public awareness of the issue is sky-high. But the public’s ability to counter the fake-news epidemic is anything but clear-cut, according to the findings of MindEdge’s second annual State of Critical Thinking Study.
correct responses to critical thinking questions.
The online survey of 1,002 college students and recent graduates, aged 18 to 30, shows that most are highly confident in their critical thinking abilities and related “soft skills.” But that confidence seems woefully misplaced.
The survey included the same nine-question quiz on critical thinking and digital literacy that ran in the 2017 Critical Thinking Study. Last year’s study documented significant weaknesses in the critical-thinking skills of many millennials—and this year’s results are even more underwhelming.
Fully 52 percent of survey respondents could not answer more than five of the nine questions correctly, earning a failing grade of “F.” The proportion of failing grades jumped by eight points, up from 44 percent in 2017.
Only 19 percent earned an “A” or “B” by answering eight or nine questions correctly. The proportion of “A”s and “B”s dropped by five points, down from 24 percent a year ago. Overall, the scores for all nine questions in the quiz are lower than in 2017.
At the same time, survey respondents express high levels of confidence in their own critical thinking abilities. A clear majority (59 percent) say they are very confident in their soft skills, and 40 percent say specifically they are very confident in their ability to detect false content online. The latter measure represents a five-point increase from 2017.
This stark disjunction, between high levels of self-confidence and low performance scores, suggests that critical thinking and online literacy remain a significant issue for today’s young people.
It’s important to note that these results apply only to millennials, not to the public-at-large. Pending further research, there is no current data to indicate whether millennials are better or worse at critical thinking than older Americans are.
Indeed, it is tempting to assume that millennials—as “digital natives” who have essentially grown up online—are better able to sniff out bad online content, just as they tend to be better at many other online skills. But there’s a countervailing school of thought, which holds that millennials—precisely because they have grown up at a time when Google et al. have made information available instantaneously—may lack the patience and academic discipline to double-check sources and question assumptions, which are crucial critical-thinking skills.
So, which school of thought is correct? MindEdge will attempt to answer that question in its 2019 State of Critical Thinking study—so check back in a year.
Other survey results point to some promising findings. Respondents, for instance, recognize the importance of critical thinking and other soft skills: 50 percent say that soft skills (such as creativity and critical thinking) are just as important as hard skills (such as computer programming and analytics) in the workplace. Another 31 percent say soft skills are more important.
Interestingly, respondents are less sure of their hard skills: only 33 percent say they are very confident in their hard skills, compared to the 59 percent who profess to be very confident in their soft skills.
Overall, however, three-of-four (74 percent) survey respondents say their college education provided them with the skills they’ll need to succeed in the workforce. On this point, respondents with a two-year college degree (69 percent) are almost as positive as those with a four-year college degree (75 percent).
On a related issue, the overwhelming majority (87 percent) of respondents says that soft skills are not innate; instead, they believe these skills can be taught and learned. This finding strongly suggests that young people are open to improving their own skills—including their critical thinking abilities—through continuing education and lifetime learning.
The survey also shows that:

  • 48 percent say the problem of fake news has gotten worse over the last year; only 17 percent say it has gotten better.
  • 24 percent fault politicians for the fake-news problem; 21 percent blame partisan websites; 20 percent fault content farms that turn out false material for profit; and 17 percent blame social media.
  • Significantly, only 11 percent blame “readers who don’t have the critical thinking skills to detect false content”—a description that applies to many news consumers like themselves.
  • In assessing blame for the Cambridge Analytica data breach that exposed the personal information of up to 87 million Facebook users, most (54 percent) blame Facebook for not protecting the data in the first place.
  • Only 29 percent blame the analytics firms that allegedly misused the information.

For a complete listing of MindEdge’s course offerings on critical thinking, creativity, and innovation, click here.

Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.

Clear thinking in the Digital Age

The ability to think critically has perhaps never been more valued, and more needed. In a world grown more complex, where our digital devices inundate us with instant information and opinion, we believe that sharpening critical thinking is a must.
While definitions of “critical thinking” vary, Harvard professor Steven Pinker’s description of the skills necessary for success in the professions is a good start: “organizing one’s thoughts so that they may be communicated clearly to others, breaking a complex problem into its components, applying general principles to specific cases, discerning cause and effect, and negotiating tradeoffs between competing values.”
MindEdge Learning commissioned a recent online survey of critical thinking skills of young adults, and found that millennials need to improve their cognitive skills for their civic and professional futures.
Skills for the future
Employers seek out critical thinkers because they make better decisions and “work smarter.” The careers of the future will require people who can analyze data, arrive at conclusions, find solutions, and effectively communicate to others. By 2020, complex problem solving and critical thinking will be the top two skills workers need, according to chief human resources and strategy officers surveyed by the World Economic Forum.
On the civic front, sustaining our democratic system requires people who can intelligently debate the pros and cons of the issues, separate reality from partisan rhetoric, and make reasoned political decisions. With liberal democracy under assault around the world, we need citizens who are engaged, informed, and clear thinkers.
At the same time as these skills have grown in importance in both business and the political sphere, there are clear signs that our educational system isn’t adequately meeting the challenge. For example, fewer than half of 1,000 hiring managers surveyed by Harris Interactive in 2013 felt that recent college graduates were equipped with solid problem-solving skills—yet 69 percent of students believed they were “very or completely prepared for the workplace.”
Even more disturbing: the results of a 2016 Stanford University study of “civic online reasoning” (defined as “the ability to judge the credibility of information that floods young people’s smartphones, tablets and computers”). Some 93% of students surveyed at six different universities were unable to identify a lobbyist’s website as a biased source. Further, fewer than a third of the students could recognize how the political agendas of certain organizations might influence their social media posts.
The Stanford researchers added that “we would hope college students, who spend hours each day online, would look beyond a .org URL and ask who’s behind a site that presents only one side of a contentious issue. But in every case and at every level,we were taken aback by students’ lack of preparation.” They called this deficiency a “threat to democracy.”
Addressing the need
The need is clear, then. Some good news: we can report a renewed emphasis on teaching critical thinking skills from the universities, colleges, and community colleges that we’ve assisted with online programs. Many of them have sought not only to incorporate these vital skills across the curriculum, but also to offer stand-alone instruction in reasoning, logic, and critical thinking. We’ve seen schools emphasize evidence-based writing in their composition courses, an approach that helps students improve research skills, avoid fallacies and biases, and make logical arguments. Some of them measure their students’ progress by employing one of the three major standardized critical thinking assessments: the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) from the Council for Aid to Education (CAE); the Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency Critical Thinking Test from ACT; and the ETS Proficiency Profile’s critical thinking proficiency measures.
What more can and should be done?
Perhaps the most pressing need is to increase digital literacy, to help students move beyond the clever tweet or the first page of a Google search. As the Stanford researchers noted: “Never have we had so much information at our fingertips. Whether this bounty will make us smarter and better informed or more ignorant and narrow-minded will depend on our awareness of this problem and our educational response to it.” Students should be encouraged to “dig deeper” whenever they turn to the Internet for information. What websites are reliable? Trustworthy? How can claims about controversial topics be verified? Where can peer-reviewed studies be accessed? How can digital disagreements remain civil? These all represent questions that can be raised, and addressed, in our classrooms (both physical and virtual).
Daniel R. Porterfield, president of Franklin & Marshall College, has described the mission of higher education as “preparing intellectual leaders for a future we cannot know, and that we need them to help create.” Sharpening the critical faculties of students (which can also address the opportunity divide), so they can take their place as citizens and productive members of society, squarely meets that mission.
Jefferson Flanders is president of MindEdge Learning. He has taught at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, at Babson College, and at Boston University.

To help foster the conversation around critical thinking, MindEdge is offering access to Dig Deeper: Critical Thinking in the Digital Age, a brief online course that includes sections on website reliability, the power of social media, native advertising, and how to spot fake news — along with videos, interactive games, and an online poll.
Sign up for FREE ACCESS to the Dig Deeper course.
Copyright © 2017 MindEdge, Inc.

Frank Connolly: Fake News and Critical Thinking

Frank Connolly, MindEdge Senior Editor, discusses critical thinking as the antidote to fake news in his debut column on The HuffingtonPost:

“There Has Always Been Fake News, It’s Americans’ Inability To Read Critically That Should Be Alarming.”

Connolly’s “Dig Deeper” podcast on issues related to digital literacy and critical thinking launches later in April.

Copyright © 2017 MindEdge, Inc.