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Protect Your Pets—Remember to Include Them in Your Evacuation and Disaster Planning

July 28, 2011 5:01 pm

All too often when a disaster strikes pets are left to fend for themselves and end up lost, injured or killed. The best way to avoid this tragic scenario is to have a well thought out disaster plan that includes your pet, so that you know where to go and what to take, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

"Many public shelters that are set up for disaster victims don't accept pets, so you need to find out in advance which shelters or hotels along your evacuation route will accept pets," says Jeanne M. Salvatore, senior vice president and consumer spokesperson for the I.I.I. "It is tragic, but people have actually died because they were ordered to evacuate and did not want to leave their pets behind."

Disasters do happen—and advance planning is best way for everyone to survive the catastrophe and get their lives back to normal as soon as possible.
The I.I.I. offers the following tips to protect you, your loved ones and your pets in the event of a disaster:

1. Have a Disaster Plan
• Plan in advance where you will go and how you plan to get there.
• Map out your primary route and a backup route in case roads are blocked or impassable. Make sure you have a map of the area available.
• Put together a list of boarding facilities and veterinarians along the evacuation route and outside your area that might be able to shelter your pets in an emergency. Include emergency phone numbers.
• Talk to your vet, the humane society or the local emergency management agency for information regarding community evacuation plans that include pets.
• Make advance arrangements to have a friend or neighbor pick up your pets in the event you are not at home when a disaster strikes. And, plan where you will meet or how you will reach each other.
• Review the I.I.I.'s five step evacuation plan and consider downloading the I.I.I. podcast on evacuation so you have it for easy reference on your PDA.
• Take the Ten Minute Challenge to seeing how long it would take to get you, your family, your pets and all of your important items out of the house.

Make a Grab-and-Go Disaster Kit for Your Pets
• Medication and medical records (including proof of rabies vaccination) in a waterproof container.
• Pet first aid kit
• Leashes, harnesses, crates and carriers for transporting pets
• A muzzle, if your pet requires one
• Food and water for at least three days; a manual can opener
• Cat litter and litter box
• Comfort toys
• Recent photo of you and your pet in case you become separated
• Name and phone number of your veterinarian
• If you have pet insurance, the insurance company contact information and policy number

3. If You Must Evacuate, Take Your Pets
• Be prepared to leave early; do not wait for an official evacuation as you might be ordered to leave your pets behind.
• Keep pets on leashes or in carriers at all times.
• Make sure your pet is wearing up-to-date identification. Include the phone number of a friend or relative outside your area in case your pet gets lost and you cannot be reached. And mark the crate or carrier with similar information.
• Birds should be transported in a secure travel cage or carrier. During warm weather, carry a plant mister to mist the bird's feathers periodically. Do not put water inside the carrier during transport; instead provide a few slices of fresh fruit or vegetables with high water content.
• Review the I.I.I.'s article on pet evacuation which includes more detailed information as well as evacuation tips for reptiles and pocket pets such as hamsters and gerbils.

4. After the Disaster
• Once you return to your home, do not allow your pets to roam loose right away. While you assess the damage, keep dogs on a leash and other animals in their carriers.
• Familiar landmarks and smells might be gone, and your pet may become disoriented. Pets can easily get lost in such situations, so give them some time to get used to their "new" surroundings.
• Be patient. Try to get your pets back into their normal routines as soon as possible, and be on the lookout for stress-related behavioral problems; if these persist, talk to your veterinarian.

For more information, please visit www.iii.org.


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Managing Your Mortgage with an App

July 28, 2011 5:01 pm

In our last segment, we looked at smartphone technology and apps for prospective home buyers as suggested by REALTOR® Barry Twynam (barrytwynam.com), who blogged on the subject recently.

In this segment we’ll look at an app to consider if you are in the market for a mortgage.

Barry says there are plenty of good mortgage calculator apps out there including RECalc - a Real Estate Mortgage Loan Calculator that is also a traditional Mathematical Calculator. You can use RECalc to calculate the monthly payment, term, interest rate or loan amount for a mortgage, as well as standard mathematical calculations as you would in any other calculator.

Once you modify any of the calculation variables you can re-calculate any of the other values. You can also figure in annual property tax, homeowner’s insurance and mortgage insurance, as well as a down payment amount/percentage. RECalc supports semi-annual compounding in addition to normal monthly compounding.

Maggie Falvey at Texas-based austinhome.com also penned a recent post promoting Mortgage Calc Pro. She says this app will even show possible US tax deductions. One of the top 10 finance apps in 2010, you can calculate mortgages and other fixed rate loans and it allows you to email calculations to yourself. And it comes with an impressive feature list.

She also suggested Karls Mortgage Calculator—an Android app which will help you calculate and understand mortgage payments with charts and graphs. It calculates mortgage payments given principal, interest, and term and can reverse calculate mortgage using inputs for those three.

One of the miscellaneous apps Barry likes is Awesome Note (+ToDo)—a versatile and customizable app that allows you to create regular notes, notes with photo attachments, To Do notes, Post-It style Quick Memo for quick jotting, daily diary, travel diary checklists, shopping lists, schedules, and more. You can send notes as email and even synchronize your notes with Google Docs and Evernote.

The free Evernote for all smartphones and computers allows you to create and save all kinds of documents: text notes, web pages, video clips, your digital photo scrapbook, and much more. Text-recognition software makes for easy searching.

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Parents Fighting ‘Chore Wars:’ Survey Shows Half of U.S. Kids Will Do ‘Anything’ to Avoid Cleaning

July 28, 2011 5:01 pm

Do you feel like the only person in the house that tackles the housework? According to the CLR Chore Wars Survey, nearly half of kids admit they'll do anything to get out of doing chores, despite parents' best efforts to encourage the entire family to help around the house. Plus, half of parents admit they spend just as much time arguing with their children about chores as they spend doing them. 

To help parents avoid these battles, CLR is partnering with parenting expert Dr. Michele Borba to turn some of the conventional wisdom about chores on its head and provide families with practical, solution-based strategies to strengthen communication and cooperation when tackling household chores.

Chores Are Not Punishments
More than forty percent of kids reported that parents have "taken away a valued possession" as a strategy to getting them to help with chores. Kids were also three times as likely as parents to say that parents have used chores as a form of punishment (37 percent verses 13 percent). Contrary to how most parents present chores, Borba says to make cleaning less of a "chore" or punishment and more of a family activity.

"Assign a room, hand out cleaning supplies, set a buzzer for five minutes and then dash to your designated area to clean things 'spick and span' before the timer goes off," said child psychologist Dr. Michele Borba. "Kids love to try and 'beat the clock' and you'll have the house back in order in minutes!"

No one knows this better than Alison Gutterman, president of Jelmar, LLC, the company that created the CLR brand of cleaners. As the third generation to run the family business, Gutterman has seen firsthand the struggles that parents encounter. Gutterman, a firm believer in listening to consumers through extensive research, created CLR Chore Wars as a way to make a parent's life just a little easier.

"As a mom and woman business owner, I understand how maintaining a home can be a strain on a family," says Alison Gutterman, president of Jelmar, LLC. "That's why we teamed up with Dr. Borba to shed national spotlight on the issues surrounding chores and offer simple solutions to keep parents and children happy and their homes spick and span!"

"Part of a 60-year-old family business dedicated to clean, CLR Cleaners help families with their toughest cleaning needs—from making kitchens sparkle to convincing children to help with chores," adds Gutterman.

Start Early
Dr. Borba also tells parents that the earlier you expect your kids to take an active role in helping around the house, the easier you'll find it is to get them to lend a hand. Borba states, "Even kids as young as three can help out! Though it's never too late for basic training, it's sure easier to begin earlier."

Assign Responsibilities
Kids admit that they aren't as helpful as they could be around the house, with six in 10 kids admitting they don't typically help with chores unless their parents ask them to.
"It's important to regulate chore requirements for younger kids so they're not overwhelmed," says Borba. "Distribute chores so little kids and bigger family members are assigned responsibilities aimed at their ability and everyone is contributing their fair share."

One study found if kids weren't taught how to do the chore by a parent they usually gave up in frustration. Introducing each task by using three steps is simple but important. Teach: Go through the task as you explain each step so your child knows what to do; Supervise: Now watch him to ensure he can handle the job. Inspect: Your child does the chore independently, but knows to anticipate a surprise inspection from you to ensure he's succeeding at the level you expect. 

Additional survey highlights include:
• No matter who you are, everyone agrees that cleaning bathrooms is the worst!
• Cleaning the bathroom tops the list of chores both parents (49 percent) and kids (28 percent) dislike doing the most. Although, kids are twice as likely as parents to say that washing dishes is the chore that they dislike the most (27 percent vs. 12 percent).
• And the MVP Cleaning Award goes to…Mom!
• On average, parents report spending 8.6 hours each week doing household chores while children report spending only 4.9 hours on chores weekly. Not surprisingly, mothers report spending significantly more time than fathers on household chores each week (9.9 hours vs. 7.0 hours).

For more information, visit www.clrchorewars.com.

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Two-Thirds of Consumers Are Confused by Online Sales-Tax Compliance

July 28, 2011 5:01 pm

Sixty-four percent of U.S. consumers in states that require their residents to pay a sales tax on purchases either do not know or do not believe they are required to pay sales tax on Internet purchases if not collected by the vendor, according to a new survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC). The survey was conducted by Opinion Research Corporation among 1,000 consumers polled nationally to gain insight into consumer beliefs about online and traditional retail spending.

"The results of this study point out that there are widespread consumer misperceptions about the requirement to pay sales tax on Internet purchases," says Michael Kercheval, president and CEO of ICSC. "The data shows people are confused as to whether or not they are—or should be—paying tax on online purchases."

The ICSC study identified a number of key findings, including:
• 93% of consumers would continue to shop online if taxes were collected at the point of purchase.
• More than 50% of respondents cited "price" as the most important factor when making a purchase - both online and at a local store.
• Nearly 75% of consumers believe that brick-and-mortar stores have an important role to play in the 21st century marketplace.

The study also found that:
Collecting online sales tax would not deter shoppers
. The data reveals that if there was 100 percent compliance with vendor collection of sales taxes on online purchases, consumer shopping behavior on the Internet would not be materially or substantively impacted.

Consumer choice, convenience and price are key decision criteria in the purchase decision. Whether buying online or in stores, "convenience" and "choice" are important factors in addition to price.

Americans want local retail. Most Americans place continued importance on traditional brick-and-mortar retail. However, local businesses have been at risk from pure online retailers, which do not collect sales tax because they do not have any physical presence in the state in which merchandise is shipped and hope that the consumer will comply with the states' sales and use taxes.

However, consumer compliance with the use tax payment on online purchases is generally low. A key reason for this, as the ICSC study found, is that consumers expect the vendor to collect sales taxes if they owe them. This consumer misperception has led to an unfair tax loophole that gives pure online vendors a tremendous advantage over local businesses and harms local communities that depend on sales taxes as a key revenue source to fund services for its residents. 

The creation of a sales tax collection system that is vibrant, viable and equitable for all retailers is critical to ensuring that local retail can flourish.

"Exacting sales tax on goods and services sold over the Internet is not creating a new tax," said Dr. William F. Fox, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee. "Rather, it is a means for states to collect revenue already due at the point of purchase to fund essential public services. Without a simple and fair system to collect taxes on remote sales, cities and states looking for alternatives to close budget gaps must evaluate higher business, income and property taxes."

The Main Street Fairness Act is the first step toward establishing a marketplace for the 21st century – one that accommodates both traditional and online retail. Closing the online sales tax loophole would give Main Street stores a chance to compete on level ground with e-retailers around the country.

For more information, please visit www.icsc.org.

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Word of the Day

July 28, 2011 5:01 pm

Cooperative. Land and building owned or leased by a corporation which in turn leases space to its shareholders, who are also part owners of the building and have a proprietary lease. In lieu of rent, they each pay a proportionate monthly or quarterly fixed rate to cover operating costs, mortgage payments, taxes, etc.

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Question of the Day

July 28, 2011 5:01 pm

Q: Should I lock in the mortgage rate?

A: Because the interest rate market fluctuates constantly and is subject to quick movements without notice, locking in a mortgage rate with a lender certainly protects you from the time your lock is confirmed to the day it expires.

Lock-ins make sense in a rapidly-rising rate environment or when borrowers expect rates to climb during the next 30 to 60 days, which is typically the amount of time a lock-in remains in effect.

A lock-in given at the time of application is useful because it may take the lender several weeks to prepare a loan application. These days, however, automated loan practices have cut the time quite a bit.

Lock-ins are not necessarily free. Some lenders require you to pay a lock-in fee to guarantee both the rate and the terms.

If your lock-in expires before you close on the loan, most lenders will base the loan rate on current market interest rates and points.

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Sharpen Up Good Health Habits

July 27, 2011 8:01 pm

As the kids head back to school this fall, pencils aren't the only things that families can take time to sharpen. While parents work to establish new routines for the school year, they can also help the younger members of the household sharpen up good health habits to last a lifetime. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, students' academic achievement and their health are directly correlated. As you head into this school year, use these tips to teach new healthy habits that can become a way of life for the whole family. 

Germ-Free Hands. One of the most significant—and simple—health habits to teach is washing hands. Kidshealth.org, a website filled with family-friendly health tips, calls hand washing the first line of defense to keep germs at bay. 

To help youngsters learn the habit, enforce rules for the entire family. Insist on washing hands before every meal, after using the bathroom, after handling pets, after cleaning chores, after playing outside, and, of course, after blowing noses, sneezing and coughing. Several brands have created kid-friendly soap dispensers that are both fun and functional to inspire little ones to participate. 

Food as Fuel. Mornings may be hectic, but avoid the temptation to take shortcuts on breakfast. Kids need fuel to power through the day. Making breakfast part of the daily routine is also important for weight management. A nutritious morning meal helps fire up the metabolism, and it helps prevent over-eating to compensate for a hungry tummy later in the day. 

The experts at kidshealth.org recommend selecting foods that contain whole grains, fiber and protein with little added sugar in order to improve kids' attention span, concentration and memory. 

Sound Slumber. Although naptimes gradually diminish as children grow older, adequate sleep is still critically important. Too little sleep translates into irritability and other behavior problems, as well as difficulty paying attention in school. While the specific needs of each child will vary to some degree, school-age children and preteens should get between 10 and 12 hours of sleep each night. Implementing a consistent bedtime, especially on school nights, can help ensure your child's sleep needs are consistently met. Be sure to build in time for children to unwind before bed to help keep that nightly target on track with less stress for all involved. 

Balanced Immune System. Believe it or not, 70 percent of your immune system is in your digestive tract. The immune cells in the digestive tract share their space with a community of over 500 species of naturally-occurring bacteria. Keeping these bacteria in balance is what's important to boosting digestive and immune health. Taking a daily probiotic helps boost your immune system by keeping these bacteria in balance.
Probiotics are "friendly" bacteria that help balance the digestive system. Yogurt is a common source of probiotics, but many varieties contain a significant amount of sugar that may be off-putting, especially if you are aiming for a daily dose. However, there are products available, such as Sustenex Probiotic Gummy Bears and Soft Chews, which offer a lower calorie alternative for a daily dose of probiotics while also appealing to picky eaters and lactose intolerant youngsters. 

To learn more, visit www.sustenex.com. 

Treat this back to school season as an opportunity to reinforce healthy habits and set the stage for a successful year in the classroom, on the playground and at home.

For more information, please visit www.editors.familyfeatures.com.


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Don't Let Heat Exhaustion Affect Your Wallet during the Heat Wave

July 27, 2011 8:01 pm

Temperatures are high across North America, and air conditioners are a major player in keeping cool, which also means higher energy consumption and ultimately higher cooling bills. 

"Recent temperatures have been through the roof, and with the kids home on summer vacation, overall energy consumption is typically much higher," says Dave Walton, Director of Home Ideas at Direct Energy. "But you don't have to break out into a sweat about your energy bills, by implementing a few easy tips, you can keep your summer energy costs in check without having to sacrifice comfort." 

Direct Energy offers ten simple tips under ten dollars to help lower your energy bill this summer, without having to resort to wearing a swimsuit indoors. 

• Increase your thermostat by two degrees. Save up to $253 on your annual energy bill(1) by increasing the thermostat from 22 degrees to 24 degrees during the summer months
Cost: Free
• Close curtains or blinds on windows that are receiving direct sunlight to keep the heat out of the house
Cost: Free
• Replace the light bulbs in your home to compact fluorescents. Use energy-saving light bulbs that can last up to ten times longer than a normal bulb and use significantly less energy. A single 20- to 25-watt energy-saving bulb provides as much light as a 100-watt ordinary bulb
Cost: $2 - $8/bulb
• Seal your doors, windows and air ducts with weather stripping or caulk. Up to 30% of cooling can be lost through holes and cracks throughout your home. This can save you up to $150 a year on your energy bills
Cost: $5.00 – 10.00 for Weather Stripping, $3.00 – 5.00 for Caulk
• Unplug vampire electronics when not in use – items like cell phones, iPod, and computer chargers tend to suck energy even when they are not being used 
Cost: Free
• Defrost your freezer regularly. When ice builds up, your freezer uses more electricity
Cost: Free
• Microwaves use substantially less energy than ovens. Use one when cooking and reheating items. Even better, use the outdoor grill and have yourself a summer barbeque
Cost: Free
• If you're going to be away from home for a long time, say, on summer vacation, turn the temperature up. Better yet, turn the air conditioning unit off
Cost: Free
• Clean or replace your air conditioner's filter every month. Not only will it prevent wear-and-tear on your system, it can save up to 5% on your energy bills. Some filters cost more, make sure to follow the manufacturer specs for your equipment Cost: $3.00 - $10/per filter
• Close doors to less used rooms so your air conditioner doesn't have to work harder to cool unused spaces Cost: Free

For more information, please visit www.directenergy.com.

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Think Like a Plant during Drought: Gardening Techniques for Hot Weather

July 27, 2011 8:01 pm

When gardening in a drought it can be very difficult to make sure the plants in our gardens and landscape get the water they require to survive, much less thrive. With severe drought in most of the U.S. and water bans in effect in many areas, gardeners have no choice but to minimize the amount of water given to plants.
Understanding when to water and how plants function also helps gardeners understand the three premises of smart watering: focusing water delivery, increasing water retention and minimizing water loss. 

"It's possible to dramatically reduce your water consumption, lower your water bill and still have a beautiful, productive garden, just follow our Seven Tips to Save Water," said Maree Gaetani, gardening relations, Gardener's Supply. 

1. Deliver water directly to the roots.
Drip irrigation and soaker hoses ensure that up to 90 percent of the water you apply to your garden is actually available to your plants. Sprinklers can claim only a 40 to 50 percent efficiency. Drip irrigation minimizes evaporation loss and keeps the areas between plants dry, which also helps limit weed growth. Patented Aqua Cones are an economical and effective way to get water directly to the roots of individual plants. Water timers combined with soaker hoses are key to ensuring plants get the correct amount of water. 

2. Use mulch to retain water and reduce evaporation.
A six to eight-inch layer of organic mulch can cut water needs in half by smothering thirsty weeds and reducing evaporation. Organic mulches retain some water themselves and increase the humidity level around plants. 

Organic mulches include chopped or shredded leaves, straw, compost, salt hay, shredded newspaper, grass clippings and rotted hay. You can also use inorganic mulches such as Weed Matting, and to help save trees during a drought, use Coco Fiber Tree Rings or Recycled Rubber Tree Rings. 

3. Enhance Your Soil with Organic Matter and Other Soil Helpers.
Adding organic matter to your soil helps all types of soil, from sand to clay. Organic matter, in the form of compost, chopped up leaves or composted manure will improve the texture and water-holding capacity of your soil. Add at least an inch of compost each year. 

Terra-Sorb water-absorbing crystals can be mixed into the soil in your planters or even in a garden bed. As the soil around them dries, the crystals shrink, releasing their water to the soil. 

4. Reduce your lawn.
Turfgrass is one of the most water and labor-intensive types of "gardens" you can have. Consider planting groundcovers or low-maintenance perennials instead. 

5. Use free water.
Rainwater is the best choice for your plants and it's easy to harvest rainwater with rain barrels. It's clear, unchlorinated and free. Use rain barrels or a cistern to collect water from your downspouts. A 1,000 square foot roof will yield 625 gallons of water from one inch of rain. To figure out how much you can collect from your roof, use the Rainfall Harvest Calculator. 

6. Don't get Discouraged - Next Year Plan Before You Plant
By planning your garden before you plant, you can take advantage of the characteristics of your site, such as sun, shade, wind and soil. Group plants with similar water needs. Also consider how your plants will get the water they need. Planning will save you time and energy down the road. 

7. Take good care of your plants.
Healthy plants need less water, fertilizer and pest controls than stressed plants. By keeping on top of tasks, such as weeding, thinning, pruning and monitoring pests, a homeowner will be able to ease off on watering.

For more information, visit www.gardeners.com.

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8 Tips for Protecting Kids from Cyberbullies

July 27, 2011 8:01 pm

Cyber Safety month is now behind us and the hype of internet safety will quickly die down. To keep internet safety top of mind for parents, TrueCare announced 8 easy best practices for monitoring kids' social media sites and internet usage. 

TrueCare, a social media monitoring service for parents, allows parents to monitor their child's online social networking activity without invading their child's privacy. More importantly, TrueCare helps parents identify potential online dangers and offers tools and resources to help them navigate parenting in the super social age. 

"It's never too early to start talking to your kids about internet dangers, it's important to keep an open dialogue and these conversations need to happen often," says TrueCare advisor and national family safety expert Alison Rhodes, "The Safety Mom." "Bullying, specifically cyberbullying, is an issue that's growing at epidemic proportions." 

Back to Basics; Eight common sense tips for maintaining a safe internet environment in your home. 

1. Discussion. Discussion. Discussion.
Parents must have a good sense about what's going on in their kids' online worlds. Since Facebooking has become a daily routine for kids, it needs to be part of the daily conversation. The more open you are with your kids and facilitate a safe and non-judgmental environment for conversation, the more likely they are to tell you if they come across an issue. While the idea of openness and parenting sometimes seem like they shouldn't go together, imagine this: do you want to talk about things at the dining room table in a calm atmosphere or after something forces the issue? 

2. Keep the Computer in a Common Area
Laptops, smart phones, and tablets have allowed us to overlook the cardinal rule of kids on the internet—keep the communication vehicles in a common area where parents can monitor websites and time allocated to internet activity. Making them mobile makes it even more difficult to monitor and manage. We all grew up without access to the internet on our phones and still managed to survive. Your kids can too. 

3. Manners for Texting, E-Mailing or Chatting Online
As you do in other aspects of your child's life, set the expectations for manners and appropriate behavior in their digital world. Coach them to be respectful and to think carefully before they put their thoughts into written words. Remember, typed communications are not the same as verbal communications. Typed communications can easily be forwarded along to others and can last forever. 

4. Understand the Privacy Settings of Social Media Sites
While privacy settings can sometimes be difficult to find and hard to navigate, understanding the privacy settings can save you time and heartache down the road. They control what information people can and can't see and what information is sent out upon posting. Be certain that any settings are set to your preferences. Also remember that Facebook prohibits children under the age of 13 from even having a Facebook account. 

5. Posting Pictures -- Interpretation is in the Mind of the Beholder
A picture posted online is not private. A photo sent between cell phones is not private. Make sure that your children are aware that mistakes do happen and so-called private messages go public, or that sometimes people you trust make mistakes in judgment. Once a photo hits Facebook it can be downloaded and reposted across the entire web within hours. Explain that on the internet, nothing is really ever gone, and the consequences of an immature decision will be viewable for years to come. 

6. Kids and Adults Should Not be Friends
You and your kids should be connected in social media so you can monitor their behavior. However, you may need to be careful with their connections to other adults because of the adult content that person and their friends can bring to your kids' social networks. 

7. Teach Children What to do If They Get an Offensive or Threatening IM, e-mail, or Chat Room Post
According to the National Crime Prevention Center, in 2010 over 40% of children were the victim of an online bully. Of that number, 90% never discussed the situation with their parents. The more conversations you have with your kids about what occurs online, the more likely they will be to talk to you about what's going on. Take every opportunity to teach them how to manage themselves in confusing situations. 

8. If Your Child Has a Social Media Account, They Are at Risk.
No one can hide on the internet. A social media account means that a child's personal information is available in a search engine. Be certain that content is managed appropriately. Performing a Google search every once in a while may be a good idea to make sure that you're aware of your kids' online presence. 

For more information, please visit www.truecare.com. 



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