Category Archives: General Parenting

A Look at Life Insurance: The Many Benefits of Whole Life Insurance

Financially Speaking

By Eric D. Brotman, CFP®, AEP®, MSFS

Many families buy life insurance to make certain their spouses and/or children will be taken care of financially in the unfortunate event of a parent’s untimely death. It is an unpleasant topic to consider, for sure, but it’s always best to plan ahead and be prepared.

However, what many parents don’t realize is that owning life insurance policies may have more financial advantages than just the death benefit. For families with significant portfolios who are looking to do tax and estate planning, whole life insurance can be a fantastic tool to help build net worth. Beyond simply providing a lump sum payout on death, there are a variety of ways your family might benefit from holding life insurance, even if you and your spouse both live to the age of 105.

When saving for a college education, many times it is the grandparents who are able to “save the day” to make an education possible. In addition to contributing to 529 College Savings Plans1 or making tuition payments directly to a college or university, having the parents own permanent life insurance on one or more grandparents may be an effective strategy. If the insured grandparent passes away before your child starts college, the proceeds are received income tax-free and are available for school. If your child doesn’t go to college, or if the grandparents are fortunate enough to enjoy a very long life, the funds will still be available for other uses. Both of these options allow flexibility with the money saved – it can be used for college or for other family needs. In our family, we used this strategy personally, in addition to funding a 529 College Savings Plan at a level designed to pay for in-state tuition.

If you are purchasing whole life insurance, I would say to plan not to touch it for the first 10 years as you pay the premiums and allow its cash value to grow. After that point, if you find yourself in a situation where you need access to additional cash, you can access your policy in one of two ways. You can make withdrawals from the cash value of your policy, or you can take out a policy loan2. These sorts of loans never have to be paid back, as long as the policy still has enough value in it to cover the cost of the loan interest each year.

Whole life insurance grows tax deferred, meaning there are no capital gains or income taxes as the policy builds cash value. And when cash values in whole life insurances are withdrawn during the lifetime of the policyholder, they are not taxable income as long as the policy is not surrendered. This means you have ways to access your cash, later in life, tax-free and can leave behind a death benefit that is also income tax-free to your beneficiaries, net of any loans or withdrawals.

Today, some companies are offering whole life insurance in a 10-payment format that will require you to pay annual premiums for just 10 years, and then never to contribute another nickel assuming that no loans or withdrawals are taken against the policy. At that point, you can decide to keep the policy and allow the cash value and death benefit to continue to grow for the rest of your life, or to begin making withdrawals from the policy at some future time for use of the cash values. This is a great option that could allow you and/or your spouse to pay for your life insurance in full before you retire. Of course, the younger you are when you get started, the better off you’ll be in terms of cost and time to accrue your return.

Investing in whole life insurance is not right for everyone, however. If your family is not fully funding retirement or has any debt issues, deal with those first. As always, you need to be careful in how you allocate your assets, so be sure to work closely with a financial and tax advisor to determine what strategies and policies are best for you. But if you already own a sizable portfolio and have fully-funded retirement (or are on track to do so), participating whole life insurance purchased from a mutual insurer – Guardian and Mass Mutual are my personal favorites – may make sense.

1 – There is no guarantee that the plan will grow to cover college expenses. In addition, depending upon the laws of your home state or designated beneficiary, favorable state tax treatment or other benefits offered by such home state for investing in 529 college savings plans may be available only if you invest in the home state’s 529 college savings plan. Any state-based benefit offered with respect to a particular 529 college savings plan should be one of many appropriately weighted factors to be considered in making an investment decision. You should consult with your financial, tax, or other adviser to learn more about how state-based benefits (including any limitations) would apply to your specific circumstances and also may wish to contact your home state or any other 529 college savings plan to learn more about the features, benefits, and limitations of that state’s 529 college savings plan. You may also go to http://collegesavings.org for more information.

2 – Loans and withdrawals from an insurance policy may generate an income tax liability, reduce available cash value, and reduce the death benefit or cause the policy to lapse.

All guarantees are based on the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect those held by NFP Securities, Inc. This is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific investment advice or recommendations for any individual. It is suggested that you consult your financial professional, attorney, or tax advisor with regard to your individual situation. Comments concerning the past performance are not intended to be forward-looking and should not be viewed as an indication of future results.

One Way to Save for College

One of the major concerns many parents have is how to pay for college. Some put it off until their children are visiting schools, while others start the moment their child is born. While it’s always best to save early, college savings is one place where being smart about where you save, and how much, can be crucial.

Many parents opt to open 529 College Savings Plans for their children. Named after Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code which created these types of savings plans in 1996, 529 Plans are offered by every state and allow families and relatives to set aside money for education. What many people don’t realize is that they are not obligated to invest in a 529 Plan in the state in which they reside. Where you open your plan has nothing to do with where your child can choose to go to school, so it’s smart to investigate all options to find the best plan for your situation.

Note that 529 Plans cannot be jointly owned, so one parent or the other will own any given plan. It is important to name a successor owner on the plan (usually the non owner spouse or other relative) to make sure the funds do not become property of a minor child in the event a parent dies. There are financial aid reasons, and flexibility benefits to making sure this doesn’t happen.

529 Plan contributions are not tax deductible on federal income tax returns, but they may be tax deductible at the state level, depending where the contributor resides. Naturally, individual states have different rules. Maryland, for example, does not allow tax parity–you must use the Maryland 529 Plan to deduct the contribution, and it is limited to $2,500 annually per parent, per child.Other states allow you to receive a tax deduction for any plan. Be sure to consult with your tax advisor before making a choice.

It’s important not to over fund a 529 Plan you don’t want to have funds earmarked for school if they aren’t needed due to scholarships, grants, or even a child’s change of plans. One option is to put the most money into the oldest child’s account. Any unused funds can be transferred to siblings without penalty. While it is impossible to know at age three what a child’s future plans might be, it helps to have a game plan as early as possible in their lives.

While 529 Plans do allow the option to save as much or as little as is comfortable, there are other options to fund college that could make more sense. If it’s possible, consider saving enough money to cover the projected cost of four years at an in state school. If you can do this and your child chooses to stay in state, the cost is covered. If not, you only have to make up the difference between the state tuition and the school chosen.

If you are fortunate enough to have benevolent grandparents who want to help pay for school, there are two primary ways to do so. First, they can open and fund their own 529 Plans for their grandchildren. This has potential income tax and estate tax benefits, so consult your tax advisor. Secondly, they can write checks directly to colleges or universities, without limitation or gift tax implications. Thus, if they want to pay for school, let them write the tuition checks directly, rather than having them gift the money to their children or grandchildren.

In my opinion, one thing parents should not do is finance their children’s college costs at the expense of funding their own retirement. Unless you want to tell your children that you’ll be living with them someday when you run out of money, don’t do it! Planning for and funding retirement should be a priority over funding college for your children.
And last, don’t overspend on college. In the real world, with the possible exception of a top ten university, it won’t really matter what school they attend for their undergraduate education, so don’t go into debt for it. You’ll be teaching them an important lesson about value by saving, and spending, wisely.

Eric

Securities and Investment Advisory Services offered through NFP Securities, Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC. NFP Securities, Inc. is not affiliated with Brotman Financial Group or Parentesource.com. NFP Securities, Inc. does not provide tax or legal advice.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect those help by NFP Securities, Inc. This is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific investment advice or recommendations for any individual. It is suggested that you consult your financial professional, attorney, or tax advisor with regard to your individual situation. Comments concerning past performance are not intended to be forward-looking and should not be viewed as an indication of future results.

There is no guarantee that the plan will grow to cover college expenses. In addition, depending upon the laws of your home state or designated beneficiary, favorable state tax treatment or other benefits offered by such home state for investing in 529 college savings plans may be available only if you invest in the home state’s 529 college savings plan. Any state-based benefit offered with respect to a particular 529 college savings plan should be one of many appropriately weighted factors to be considered in making an investment decision. You should consult with your financial, tax or other adviser to learn more about how state-based benefits (including any limitations) would apply to your specific circumstances and also may wish to contact your home state or any other 29 college savings plan to learn more about the features, benefits and limitations of that state’s 529 college savings plan. You may also go to http://www.collegesavings.org for more information.

Circular 230 Disclosure: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS under Circular 230, we inform you that any U.S. Federal tax advice contained in this communication, unless otherwise specifically stated, was not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (2) promoting, marketing, or recommending to another party any matters addressed herein.

How to Use Social Media to Get Closer to Your Teen

The holidays are drawing to a close, and now your teenager is devoting time and energy to new electronic devices. It seems like she’s tweeting, facebooking her day away, and you only see the side of her head as she’s walking away texting. How do you get a word in edgewise through all of this technological chatter? Social media doesn’t have to be the enemy pushing you out of your teen’s life. Here are a few tips for becoming more involved in your technology connected teen’s life.

  • Subscribing on Facebook: According to the Pew Internet and Resource American Life Project, 93 percent of teens use Facebook as their primary social media outlet. As we told you in an earlier article, Facebook does allow you to subscribe to public messages on its site. This means you can receive all of the public messages your child is putting out there in cyberspace. As an added bonus, if your child is may be putting too much information out there, you can advise him on that as well.
  • Join the conversation in other social media outlets: Don’t forget there’s other sites such as Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr and Flickr where your teen can post updates, upload videos and pictures to the internet. Become familiar with these sites yourself. Talk to your teens about the sites they visit and what they like to do on the internet. This would also be a good way to segment into talking about inappropriate sites they may visit. Keep tabs on your kid’s internet use by using web browser tools and software designed to block certain sites. Also, many cell phone companies offer options to monitor the sites your teen visits. Check with your provider.
  •  Set boundaries: Try to keep and enforce certain rules for utilizing social media such as: “No phones during dinner.” If you’re family is having dinner, everyone has to put their phones away. That includes you, Mom and Dad. As you know, your teens will be the first to point out any discrepancies in behavior. It’s part of their charm. Also, having a set time for family time on the weekend could be helpful too. You can set up Facebook events for family time, and send your teen a private e-vite (electronic invitation) as a reminder. And even in this technologically advanced world, homework and house chores exist. Time limits for completing their work before their play will assist in stopping social media from being just useless time suckers.
  • You want to say it: text it: It may seem silly, but sometimes it’s easier to just text your teen when you want to talk to him or her, especially if their out with friends. You don’t necessarily have to use the teen abbreviations, but it’ll be an easy way to keep a constant conversation going with your child. Think of it as an advanced way of passing notes.

Tell us about your experiences. Do you think its possible to use (or not use) the media in ways to draw your family closer? How are you using social media to get closer to your teen?

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What does COPPA mean to you?

The Federal Trade Commission enacted The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule more than ten years ago, long before children even knew what a smartphone was.  This Rule requires that operators of websites obtain consent from parents before collecting, using, or disclosing information from children under the age of 13.   For most websites, including Facebook, this means they require users to check a box indicating they are over the age of 13.  This “check-the-box” method is no longer enough to ensure children’s online safety.  Last month, the FTC announced proposed revisions to COPPA and are now asking for feedback on these changes from the public.

The Commission proposed modifications to the Rule in five main areas:

  1. Definitions: This includes altering the definitions of “personal information” and “collection” which would require parental consent to advertise to a child.
  2. Parental Notice: This is intended to force companies to streamline and clarify their privacy practices before collecting a child’s information.  This means to provide this information upfront, not in a lengthy and hidden privacy policy.
  3. Parental Consent: This would require new methods to obtain parental approval such as signed consent forms or checking government-issued IDs against a database.
  4. Confidentiality and Security: This would require website operators to keep personal information in their database only as long as is reasonably necessary and would require them to properly delete that information and take reasonable measures to protect against unauthorized access.
  5. Self-Regulatory “Safe Harbor” Programs: The FTC would require annual audits on any website operators obtaining personal information of children.

So what does this mean for you and your kids? If enacted, and upheld, the new changes could allow more enforcement on underage kids on Facebook, online chat rooms, and other social outlets.

“In this era of rapid technological change, kids are often tech savvy but judgment poor. We want to ensure that the COPPA Rule is effective in helping parents protect their children online, without unnecessarily burdening online businesses.” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said.

If the changes are upheld, you will probably see more websites requiring more restrictions rather than just “checking the box” to ensure users are over the age of 13.  However, these changes do not apply simply to websites.  The FTC clarified that COPPA applies also to any technology that can be considered “online services including mobile apps that permit children to play network-connected games, engage in social networking activities, and some text messages from online businesses.

Despite the restrictions, the rules also would add some flexibility for online business owners. The restrictions proposed would still allow sites to let children less than 13 years old participate in the website, without parental consent as long as the site owner takes “reasonable measures to delete all or virtually all children’s personal information before it is made public.”

While the amendment would help parents know what their children are doing online, and would help protect children’s information, it remains to be seen whether companies will be able to actually obtain reliable parental consent, whether online services will adhere to the regulations and what enforcement will be in place to ensure these protections remain secure.

The FTC is welcoming written comments regarding these proposed changes.  This is an opportunity to let your voice be heard and have your opinion count regarding your child’s online safety.  All comments must be received on or before November 28, 2011.

Write “COPPA Rule Review, 16 CFR Part 312, Project No. P-104503” on comments, and file your comment online at https://ftcpublic.commentworks.com/ftc/2011copparulereview by following the instructions on the web-based form. To file comments on paper, mail or deliver comments to: Federal Trade Commission, Office of the Secretary, Room H-113 (Annex E) 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580.

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FREE Webinar: Internet Safety, How to Keep Your Family Safe on the Internet

Note, this event is now archived for viewing at your convenience.  Click Here for Details: http://prnt.es/PDPandora

Internet safety is a topic that every parent needs to pay attention to in the 21st century, but it is especially important for parents that have kids who have started to live a digital lifestyle.This is a new age of parenting and new tools and tactics must be used to keep our kids safe online. Ken Shallcross with PC Pandora has lots of great tips and advice for parents of today’s digital children.

Join Parent eSource and Ken Shallcross of PC Pandora, as they present

The Ultimate Webinar: How to Keep Your Family Safe on the Internet

This FREE 45-minute Webinar on Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 7:30 PM EST (6:30 PM CST) will introduce you to:

  • Know and become familiar with the most popular social networking websites.
  • What is Cyberbullying and Sexting !
  • What should I be aware of with AOL IM’ing and Chat Rooms
  • What is On-line Gaming and what are the Gambling Pitfalls.
  • Educate, Discuss and Protect .
  • The Safe Surfing Family Contract.

REGISTER NOW: http://prnt.es/PDPandora

And we’ll save a few minutes for your questions at the end of Ken’s presentation. All registrants will get a downloadable pdf of the presentation

Register now by clicking below, seats are limited. 

http://prnt.es/PDPandora

More Information About PC Pandora: 

Pandora Corp. is the maker of PC Pandora computer monitoring software, which allows parents to have full knowledge of everything their child is doing on the computer. The program records snapshots of all screen content like a DVR for the PC. Parents will also have full access to web histories, messenger chats, social network activity, search queries, peer-to-peer activity, passwords and more. First released in mid 2005, PC Pandora has been constantly upgraded to industry-leading specifications and has received accolades from users, reviewers and even school districts and law enforcement agencies, who use the program to help in the day-to-day supervision of the children and citizens they are charged with protecting

More Information About Parent eSource: www.parentesource.com

Parent eSource is a global interactive parenting resource and network for parents with pre-adolescent and teen children. Our purpose is to support parents through a combination of expert advice and parent driven online communities. We help parents navigate the ever changing landscape and daily challenges our young adults face in today’s world.Our goal is to deliver useful insights, parent to parent tips, shared learning experiences, all the while removing the fear and uncertainty by providing parents with the information and support to make the decision making process a guilt and worry free one. Helping Parents Stay Connected to Their Connected T(w)eens

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Successful Co-parenting in a Blended Family

You’ve said good-bye to your ex, and have embarked on an exciting life with your new spouse and a blended family. But- your ex is still in your life. You continue to maintain contact with him or her because it is in the best interest of the children. Successful co-parenting requires some extra effort, but is very important for your kids.

Keep it Focused on the Kids
Communication should be limited to conversations about the kids. It’s no longer necessary to share day-to-day events with your ex, vent about your day, or talk about anything not related to your kids. Your relationship with you ex is now based solely on the kids.

Keep it Sane
Don’t take your ex-spouse’s emotions personally. Sometimes your ex will express inappropriate or exaggerated feelings. An example may be that you can’t show up for your son’s softball game, and this results in a 10-minute yelling, screaming message left on your answering machine. Just step away from the emotions, and realize that she is expressing her feelings that you are not attending the event, and believes your son will be disappointed. These feelings are O.K.- but not the yelling and screaming. Don’t respond to these exaggerated emotions- just let it go.

Keep it Organized
Prepare a visitation calendar in advance. Follow the guidelines set by your separation agreement and schedule special events as far in advance as possible. Kids like to know where they are going to be. It’s helpful to give each child a pocket calendar so they can keep up with their visits to mom and dad. Blended families can get complicated, so it’s helpful to keep all dates written down.

Keep it Fair
Remember that you are doing what’s best for the kids by arranging for them to spend time with both mom and dad. Don’t cheat your ex out of visitation time, nor should you opt-out of your assigned time. Don’t speak negatively about their new step parents or step family.

Remember to alternate the holidays each year. Reassure your kids that Christmas on the 26th, or their birthday on the following Saturday, is still a special event. Make it fun to switch the days, and still enjoy the holidays together.

Keep it Flexible
Things happen, special events arrive at the last minute. Be flexible if your ex wants to change the visitation schedule. If you notice that this happens frequently, remind him that you need at least a month’s notice to properly rearrange your schedule. With a month’s notice, you will be happy to make the changes. When emergencies or special events pop up, both mom and dad will need to “flex” their schedules to accommodate.

Conclusion: Keep it Focused on the Kids

Do what’s best for your kids. Talk with them, ask them about their upcoming events and encourage them to keep you informed so that you can stay an active part of their lives.

Shirley Cress Dudley is a licensed professional counselor with a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Counseling, and a master’s degree in Education. She has a passion for helping blended families grow strong and be successful. Visit our website for more help with your blended family issues.
http://www.BlendedFamilyAdvice.com/

Rosalind Sedacca, CCT is a relationship seminar facilitator and author of the ebook, How Do I Tell the Kids … about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love! For free articles, her blog, coaching, valuable resources  on child-centered divorce or to subscribe to her free ezine, go to: www.childcentereddivorce.com.

Teaching Teens Financial Responsibility

Teens today face pressures like never before to buy, consume and run up debt. Kids are bombarded with advertisements for the latest gadgets and pressured to “keep up with the Joneses” by having the latest fashions and toys.

Technology has elevated buying-on-a-whim to an art form. Sitting at their computers or thumbing the keys on their smart phones, today’s teens can download or order a world of music, entertainment, games, books and services that either didn’t exist a decade ago or at least required the teen to leave the house to purchase.

The need to drive – or be driven – to a retail store sometimes created a sufficient buffer to quell a teen’s impulse to spend, or at least presented the prospect of giving mom and dad an opportunity to intervene. But no longer. These days, money in and money out is mostly electronic. Direct deposit, debit cards and online banking have each accelerated the pace of money – and accordingly, the speed at which our children must make the right or wrong financial choices. New services such as Google Wallet allow people to turn their phone into a wallet. This makes it even easier for teens to spend money, often without any concept of what that means.

Teens need to be given a clear, alternative vision to the “spend, spend, spend” mentality that surrounds them. Fortunately there are many things parents can do to teach their kids sound money management. The key is in helping kids understand the difference between a “need” and a “want.”

Here are some tips for parents to teach their teens about financial responsibility:

  • Expose teens to your full family financial picture – including what you earn, what you spend, what you borrow, and how you invest and save. Hold regular “family night” discussions with the whole family during which you go over the family budget and review where the money is going.  You may wish to have them participate by writing checks, reconciling accounts and helping to set and monitor your family budget.
  • Put your kids to work. To truly value money, teens need to earn their own income, whether through outside jobs, entrepreneurial ventures or by getting paid for family chores.
  • Teach kids to save: I recommend the “40/30/20/10 Saving Rule:” 40 percent of their earnings can be used for spending, 30 percent should be set aside for short-term savings, 20 percent for long-term savings and 10 percent for donating. Teens who sort their money into these categories every week will develop responsible lifelong money-management skills.
  • Don’t forget charity. Encourage your kids to set aside a regular portion of their earnings and income for a good cause, be it church or other worthy non-profits. Such gifting will be returned to them many times over in terms of the character it builds.
  • Have fun with it. Talking to teens, and getting them interested in proper money management, need not be all spreadsheets and financial reports. Some parents use games such as the classic Monopoly and Robert Kiyosaki’s popular CASHFLOW 101 to broach the subject of money management. Teen-friendly movies, television programs, books and even songs, such as Gwen Stefani’s hit Rich Girl – “No man could test me, impress me, my cash flow would never end…” – can be a jumping off point to a meaningful conversation about dollars and good sense.
  • Paint a vibrant picture of your adolescent’s fiscal future – one free from the money worries that envelop so many young adults and their parents. Help teens formulate their own vision of what a life of financial self-reliance and freedom will mean for them.

Teaching by example is absolutely critical. If you tell your kids one thing, but do another, they will catch on very quickly. Explain how there are things you’d like to buy that you decided to forego and why. And don’t be afraid to openly discuss the mistakes you’ve made and what you’ve learned from them.

Nothing builds a young person’s self-esteem faster than learning the lessons that can help them become financially independent for life. And the teenage years are the perfect time to teach kids the saving, spending, earning and investing habits they’ll require to enjoy a lifetime free of financial strain and worry.

Signs of Cyberbullying

You may very well remember bullies from the playgrounds–they would use unwarranted verbal and/or physical attacks on other students. But these days, there’s a new kind of bullying–cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying is the “new bullying.” Since this generation of children are much more in-tuned with technology when it comes to communicating, it makes perfect sense that bullies would utilize technological devices such as computers and cell phones to threaten other teenagers and children. Just like the classic form of bullying, cyberbullying is intended to hurt, target, or harass another person, just through the means of instant messages, cell phone text messages, emails, social media posts, or any of the other technological means of communication.

The problem continues to grow as children and teens are using technology as their main form of communication. In fact, according to a research by the Cyberbullying Research Center in 2010, 1 out of 5 children and teens have been victimized by cyberbullying. As technology continues to become more accessible for the younger generation, it doesn’t take much to figure out that this form of bullying will continue to become a problem for children and teenagers.

But how do you know if your child is a victim of cyberbullying?

* If your child has always been interested in using the computer for games, research, and socialization, and suddenly shows a lack of interest in using the computer or unexpectedly stops utilizing it altogether, this is a red flag that something has occurred.

* Watch for signs of your child becoming angry or withdrawn after using the computer.

* Pay attention to the reaction of your child when an incoming instant message or email comes in. If they appear uncomfortable or nervous when this occurs, they may be expecting a message from someone who is cyberbullying them.

* Ask your child often what they are doing on the computer. You should already be consistently aware of their computer habits, anyway, but if you haven’t been, now is the time to start. If they avoid talking to you about what they are doing, or you find them constantly closing screens and programs when you walk by or approach, they may be hiding something from you.

* Be aware of how your child acts when getting ready to go to school. If they seem very nervous or uneasy about going to school every day, they may be a victim of cyberbullying. This avoidance of school, events, and other activities that your child used to find enjoyable could be a sign that something is going on.

* Check with teachers if there are issues concerning your child’s grades or behavior at home or school. Anger and outbursts can stem from the frustration they may feel and their need to protect themselves.

There can be long-term effects of cyberbullying, both for the bully themselves and for the victim. The victim could develop low self-esteem, high anxiety, and depression. In most severe cases, such as the student who was being harassed about coming out as a homosexual, some teenagers will turn to suicide as a “way out” from the constant harassment. The bully may have a lifetime of self-esteem issues and could take their cyberbullying to another level as an adult–to cyber-stalking or cyber-harassment. These actions, as adults, are illegal crimes and can result in jail time or fines.

Don’t Let Your Computer Be Pandora’s Box for Your T(w)een

Product Review: Is Your Computer Pandora’s Box for Your T(w)een?

As a parent, you want your children to have the best possible online experience available, however, you realize that you must take certain security precautions to keep your family safe from online predators or unsavory content.

PC Pandora, helps caregivers filter unwarranted content as well as monitor your t(w)eens usage. Some of you may be thinking, “doesn’t this really undermine the trust you have with your teen”. I too have mixed feelings when it comes to “secretly” monitoring my children’s on-line activity; yet it definitely plays a key role in providing my husband and I peace of mind in keeping our families safety protected on line.

PC Pandora works in the shadows (like a DVR) and is able to record everything that your teenager is searching for on the internet. It captures search queries from all of the major search engines (i.e. Google, etc) to let you know what your kiddos curiosity turns up. These days, teens are able to search the gamut on line; including topics, from how to make a homemade bomb to suicide. This product is able to warn you in advance of  any potentially harmful topic search’s and keep them safe from the unthinkable.

PC Pandora actually takes snapshots of your PC screen. Gone then are the days of aimlessly scrolling though lines of text and website URL’s. In the most recent version, PC Pandora also included a webcam recording feature so you can see exactly who is using the computer at any given time . Two other key components within the software are, you can block your teens chat activities, track file creation and deletion. For example, if your child decides to download a racy video from YouTube and then deletes it (in hopes of not getting caught); you’ll be able to see the indecent material that they downloaded to the desktop and be able to have that much needed online safety discussion with them.

Now for the cons, this program doesn’t provide parents the ability to restrict the actual time spent on line or allow them to block certain hours of the day where they don’t want their child to be online. For instance, surfing during homework time is a NO, NO in many houses. The other item that I found while reviewing the product, that the program didn’t offer is a per user control of blocked web-site categories. I would like to be able to allow access to each of my kids dependent on the age appropriateness of the the site. PC Pandora doesn’t offer this feature yet.

The Meat and Potatoes: If you want to secretly monitor every bit of what your kids are doing on the computer, PC Pandora will definitely help you keep a watchful eye.

The folks at PC Pandora are offering us one hot little give away this week to 6 of our lucky readers. How do you win? Well first you have to bribe me with chocolate (just kidding) and then you need to click through to comment. To enter, comment below or on our Facebook wall about how PC Pandora would be helpful in protecting you and your family and we’ll pick 6 winners on Monday at five o clock Eastern time. The “keys” can be used one time only and they have no time limit.

A couple of screen shots of the PC Pandora software:

The Viewer Application let’s you see everything that has been done on your computer. While the “snapshot” screen shows you what searches or queries have been done on your computer.

***FYI: I spoke with Ken Shallcross, a PC Pandora representative which stated, “the good news is, this summer, the next version will include this per user control as well as the timer function you mentioned… I’ll make sure that your contest winners get a free upgrade when that happens”.

Thanks Ken, we’ll look forward to the next version.