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11 Alternatives to Crimelibrary.com and Courttv.com

11 Alternatives to Crimelibrary.com and Courttv.com

Back in 1991, Court TV launched as a niche, almost novelty channel. It gave the American people an insight into what actually went on behind the closed doors of the judicial system. It wasn’t polished, it was the nuts and bolts of real court cases live on air.

Americans were glued to their sets while watching the cases of OJ Simpson, Jeffrey Dahmer, and the Mendez Brothers, which were all broadcast on Court TV. However, the company was bought by Time Warner in 2008, who rebranded the station as TruTV and switched its focus to reality TV shows such as “Operation Repo” and away from the live courtroom drama that had gripped so many Americans.

In 2001, Court TV bought the website Crime Library, a site which documented crimes of all natures but had a particular penchant for those with a violent edge. It lengthy reports on murders and trials as well as often horrific photo galleries. This site was sold as part of Court TV’s sale to Time Warner and stayed under the umbrella of TruTV until it was taken offline in 2015.

Luckily today we have an abundance of information online that can fill the gap left by these two behemoths true crime. Not restricted by channels viewers can choose to watch courts from all over the USA, rewatch cases that have already happened, and find information on the people involved.

Best sites to watch live courtroom drama

1. Wild About Trial

This site was set up in 2013 and is one of the best free ways to watch court drama unfold. You can watch live streams of cases from small local courts all the way up to the Supreme Court. Once the live stream ends the video is available on the site’s archive.

The site isn’t just for streaming courtroom videos but they also have a wealth of informative articles. Their “In-depth trials” section has bios for many of the big names in US court history. The articles aren’t confined to just the trials but give background on people involved to help readers get a more full picture. For those who want to dig even deeper, the site has all court documents available for download.

Wild About Trial is somewhat rough and ready without any real frills. It’s a great resource and wealth of information but it’s not in the neatest package. Get ready to dig through some archive lists if you’re looking for a specific case as the site doesn’t have a search function. The site does stay up to date with current trials and deals with facts in a manner of fact fashion.

2. The Law and Crime Network

While the Wild About Trial site is great for getting access to uncut, unedited footage of courtroom drama but for a cleaner, more polished view of the courts The Law and Crime Network is just the ticket. This site is almost more in keeping with Court TV with their anchors and reporters digging into court testimony and discussing the day’s events.

Fans of Court TV will remember the name Dan Abrams from his famous coverage of the OJ Simpson trial, amongst others. Abrams clearly still has an appetite for live courtroom drama as The Law and Crime Network is his brainchild and he holds the position of CEO in the company. Abrams involvement only solidifies the view that this streaming service is the new Court TV.

Not simply content reporting on proceedings, the site’s investigative reporter Brian Ross digs a little deeper into stories and presents them in hour-long exposés. Among the other content categories on the site, they have sections for celebrity, sports-related, and even one section for “Crazy cases”. These cases are genuinely some the most extreme ones out there. The stories vary from rape and murder cases to the legal ramifications of Kanye West’s latest tweet.

3. The Courtroom View Network

The Courtroom View Network is a paid version that combines the functionality of both Wild About Trial and The Law and Crime Network. While those networks are free CVN runs on a subscription model. Prices start from $24 per month but they have a bespoke service where users can subscribe to only view certain trials, almost like a trial pay-per-view.

The main reason someone would pay for this service is their back catalog of trials and how they organize it. Users can search for trials by industry, practice areas and even by people involved in a particular case.

This site would be of particular use to someone studying law or reporting on it. The results from the site’s search are broken into small videos that save hours of scrubbing through irrelevant content. Their paid model means that there are no ads to contend with, unlike the previous two streaming services making the use of the site a little more seamless. CVN is basically the Netflix of Courtroom TV.

There are some free to use elements on the site mainly short articles about trial outcomes. The articles are usually accompanied by videos of the verdict being delivered or of key testimonies from the trial.

Best sites for true crime information

4. Murderpedia

The ominously named Murderpedia is what it sounds like; a Wikipedia about murder. This rudimentary website has some basic navigation tools where users can search by country or by alphabetically organized killers. They have profiles for almost 6,000 male and 1,000 female murderers.

Each profile is a trove of information about the killers. Not content with just giving information on the murder itself, the site goes into the person’s backstory and history. They have a summary of the case at the top of the page to give an overview of the crime, the tendencies of the murderer and the punishment method.

Famous serial killers like Ted Bundy get huge in-depth profiles that include photo galleries, court documents, and profiles of the victims. In Ted Bundy’s case, the site includes a section with quotes from the infamous killer, his psychiatric evaluation and even an article that was copy and pasted from Crime Library itself. These big-name cases have multiple photo galleries that include photos used as evidence, photos from the killer’s past, and photos from around the time of the court case.

The information on the site isn’t limited to mass murderers or serial killers but the site also has reports on one-off murders. These lesser-known cases include court reports and newspaper articles about the killings but generally only have a mugshot rather than a gallery of photos.

5. Listverse

In the era of clickbait websites like Buzzfeed and Listverse have almost come to dominate the internet. With articles about crime being by their nature attention-grabbing, it only makes sense that these sites would use true crime as a source.

Listverse covers a huge amount of topics but their crime section is full of interesting content in snackable article form.

As the name of the site suggests, all of the articles are in list form and known as “listicles”. Once started these articles drag readers into a seemingly never-ending hole of information. Articles such as “10 Worst Crimes to Occur in a McDonald’s” and “10 Infamous Alcatraz Inmates” show the scope of the site.

While Listverse doesn’t have the gory details fans of Crime Library may have been used to, the site is a great place to discover new and interesting cases. Articles tend to be rather bare-bone but plentiful so readers can expect to while away a few hours digging into the archives.

6. The Crime Museum

Once a physical museum in Washington DC, The Crime Museum has moved its artifacts to Alcatraz East Crime Museum in Tennessee. Although the artifacts are gone from the museum, their site still holds on to the wealth of articles about famous crimes from the past.

The site has a resource interestingly called “Crime Library” and has sections on cold cases, mass murder, and 28 other types of crime. This allows users to hone in on their area of interest and find articles with new information

The articles on The Crime Museum are well-written and to the point. They’re not sensationalist and present the facts and would even be suited for younger readers if they’re researching a school project. They even have fun quizzes like “What Mob Boss Are You?” and then link to information about that mob boss. This is a great way to get kids interested in history without glorifying criminals.

7. True Crime Report

Updated with new stories every day, this site is where readers can keep their finger on the pulse of crime. The site doesn’t host its own articles but rather curates news mainly from the US but does some international coverage. The site is a feed of articles as they come in with links out to news organizations and sites with the full story.

The real power of the site is in its extensive categories and cataloging of crimes. The three most popular are unsolved, homicide, and Douchebag. The douchebag section is reserved for crimes perpetrated by men taking advantage of women. Needless to say, these stories make for harrowing reading and the articles linked to tend to revel in the details of crimes.

The site also has a full section for list articles, so if somehow the Listverse back catalog is too small, there are hundreds of list-based articles here too.

One thing to keep in mind with this site is the fact that it links out to many different news sites. It does link to large, reputable news sites but also to less well-known ones. This means that there is a chance that some of the articles being linked to may not be as reliable as others.

8. The Line Up

If the previous sites mentioned seemed a little vanilla, well The Line Up might the the right fit. It’s obsessed with all things creepy and gory. The True Crime section of their site is a real horror-fest and really digs into the nitty-gritty of some of the most notorious crimes in history.

Articles with titles like “6 Twisted British Serial Killers”, and “Who Really Killed Nancy Pfister with an Axe and Hammer?” are always going to lead to grim reading and they really don’t hold back on the details.

Many of the stories focus on the occult aspects of crimes, which makes sense for this website as one that is obsessed with horror movies and novels. They use police reports and medical records to talk about the killer’s motivation and tend to focus on the more bizarre elements of the crimes.

For readers interested in longer-form content the site has a list of books that cover the most notorious killers from A-Z. Their “Killer Encyclopedia” has a list of 26 books that look in-depth at the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer, The Unabomber, and The Zodiac Killer. Many of the books listed also have excerpts from the books to let readers get a taste of the novels.

9. Real Crime Daily

This is the website for a UK monthly magazine which users can pay for in printed or digital form. The site itself is designed like an old-school noticeboard with new crime content pinned up daily.

Their homepage features information feeds from the FBI and UK’s National Crime Agency with links to reports and articles on the respective agency’s website. Unlike The Line Up, this site does make their own content, mainly digging into homicide cases from the past, especially cold cases.

The stories they write about are almost editorial with the authors using colorful and emotive language to discuss the crimes rather than the usual unbiased style favored by news networks. They refer to victims and convicts by their first names, as though they personally know the people involved.

They mix in reviews of crime books and crime museums amongst the somewhat sensationalist stories which makes this site another one where hours disappear down a rabbit hole of information.

10. The Innocence Project

For readers looking for cases of justice actually being just, they need look no further than The Innocence Project. This project is dedicated to exonerating wrongly convicted people. According to the group, between 2 and 5% of people that are incarcerated in the USA have been wrongly convicted.

Their site documents the cases where people have been freed, mainly using advances in DNA testing. They often highlight misconducts and failures by judges and lawyers, making this an excellent resource for those studying law as well as those simply interested in the criminal process.

The stories are simultaneously joyous and heartbreaking as many of the recently freed people have lost decades of their life based on mistakes, lazy legal systems, and corrupt cops. The stories on here don’t end with the overturned conviction but they follow the now-innocent people on their journey to regain some kind of normal life after years in jail.

11. Parcast

With budgets for investigative journalism in traditional print media on the way south, many were worried that hard-hitting journalism had its day. However, in recent years the growth in popularity of podcasts has seen somewhat of a resurgence in investigative reporting. The world was gripped by NPR’s podcast Serial, which aimed to find out if Adnan Syed, the man convicted of murder, actually did it.

Serial was one of the most popular podcasts of all time and a sleuth of crime podcasts followed to sate the public’s appetite for true crime podcasts. Anyone looking for a new crime podcast would do well to have a look at what Parcast offer.

Not content with just one podcast, Parcast make several shows, all covering niche topics so they can really dig into the subject matter. Their crime podcasts include topics such as serial killers, female criminals, and unsolved murders.

What makes their shows stand out amongst the crowd is the way they tell the stories. These aren’t normal reporter speaking into a mic and playing recordings of interviews but rather a mash-up of reenactments, pop-psychology, and discussion of the topics between hosts.

The show’s popularity is obvious, with all of their shows ranking in the iTunes top 10 list from the first week of their release. Parcast also has several other shows about conspiracy theories, unexplained mysteries, and cults all of which have proven popular.

Job Hunt Preparation Guide

job hunt preparation

Hunting for a job is an agonizing process, but by using the right strategy and the best resources, your chances of landing the position that’s right for you increase dramatically. A methodical, step-by-step approach works best and lessens the overwhelming nature of the job search: figuring out which position is right for you, crafting your resume with said position in mind, posting your resume on the right websites, and prepping well for interviews.

We promise that while it’s never easy to find the perfect job, it’s not an unattainable goal, either. As an aspiring professional, the ball is in your court: 62% of employers and 86% of recruiters consider the labor market to be candidate-driven. So, follow this guide and the online resources within to polish up your resume and iron out those interviewing skills. You got this!

Choosing the Right Position

Sometimes it helps to be realistic: while it may be your dream to be a reputed trial lawyer or marketing manager for a major accounting firm, the odds of you landing a lofty position just might not be in your favor. Whether it be low demand in the current job market, or a CV that just doesn’t pass the muster for the caliber of firms you are applying to.

This isn’t to say that you should aim low, or give up on your goals, entirely, but a realistic frame of mind substantially increases your odds of landing a job with a decent salary and benefits while doing work that you’ll be proud of.

Selecting a position with high demand in today’s economy

While the job market is dynamic, and the need for candidates in certain positions is ever-shifting, it always pays to go after jobs that are in high demand with a relative low number of applicants. Depending on your academic background and skill-set, you should focus on a handful of positions with a lot of availability that you are confident that you can succeed in. Recently, jobs in the healthcare and software development industries have a ton of openings around the country, but those aren’t the only fields where the need for applicants is high. Below is a number of resources listing some of the most high demand jobs in 2018.

  • U.S. News and World Report: 25 Best Jobs of 2018 -- Armed with a great reputation and a slew of excellent statistical sources, U.S. News and World Report’s list of the top jobs is a great place to start in picking a job that matches your abilities while offering a salary that will allow you to live your chosen lifestyle.

  • Forbes’ Seven Top In-Demand Jobs in 2018 -- Another reputed publication with a history of shrewd economic reporting and up-to-date professional advice, Forbes’ list details the hottest jobs of the year, along with nuanced explanations of why candidates for these positions are currently sought after.

  • Trade-schools.net’s 25 High Demand Jobs in 2018 For Almost Every Type of Person -- While the previous two links are more oriented around jobs that require applicants to have a respectable academic history, and even post-graduate degrees, this list is more oriented towards people from all types of academic backgrounds. For those with only a high school degree, or trade school experience, this is a great resource to help you find the best job available that your personal experience qualifies you for.

Making the most of your skills

Want to be a surgeon but get squeamish at the sight of blood? Would love to be an actuary but statistics aren’t your strong suit? Perhaps it’s time to set your sights on a position better oriented around your specific skills and personality. Most would agree it’s much preferable to work a job you’re suited for than struggle in a role that doesn’t fit your abilities. Below are a couple resources to help you choose the position that’s best for you.

  • The Princeton Review’s Career Quiz -- A well regarded company focused on college admissions and test preparation, the Princeton Review’s career quiz is a fun and useful quiz that selects a career for which you are best suited based on your personality traits and select skills and abilities.

  • Time: Find out What Job Best Matches your Personality -- Another excellent, well thought out test published by Time Magazine and developed in cooperation with George Washington University’s Workplaces and Virtual Environments Lab. This quiz chooses a select few jobs right for you based on your skills, education level, and desired income.

Are you willing to relocate?

Though you may love where you live, or wish to stay near your hometown, family, or the friends you grew up with, the plain fact is that many jobs are in higher demand in certain states compared to others. Dedicated job seekers should be willing to relocate to other cities if they truly want to increase their chances of getting the job they are looking for. While it may take a certain amount of courage to leave the place you’ve always called home, success in today’s job market demands applicants to make sacrifices, one of which is emigrating to locales with friendly job markets. Below are a couple sources detailing the hottest job markets of 2018.

  • Indeed.com Blog: What is the Best City for Job Seekers? -- These days, the best jobs for young, aspiring professionals are in urban areas, particularly in the midwest and on the west coast. Indeed, one of the premier job search websites, uses a number of metrics, including “job market favorability” and “salary ranking” to rank the top job markets in the U.S. for thirsty candidates.

  • Wallethub’s 2018 Best Places to Find a Job -- For a different take on the job market situation, check out Wallethub’s list of the hottest job markets. Using similar metrics, their findings are decidedly different than Indeed’s, with a number of Phoenix metropolitan area cities breaking the top ten.

Perfecting Your Resume

Since it’s the principal document that employers will use to decide whether to take a chance on you or not, your resume is one of the most important factors in your job search. Since these days employers are looking through scores of online rather than printed resumes, a lot has changed in the past few years regarding preferred resume format and content.

Choosing the right format

There are three main resume formats in popular use these days: reverse chronological format, functional resume format, and the combination resume format. Generally, reverse chronological format -- putting your current job at the top of your work history and then following with older jobs in descending order -- is the most highly recommended format. This is the one most commonly used, and the one that employers are used to seeing, but there is an argument for breaking the mold. Check these sources to decide which format is right for you.

Highlighting your skills and employment history

Considering the limited space you have to work with, the goal of a resume isn’t to list every job, or achievement, that you’ve worked in your life, but, rather, the employment history and accolades most relevant to the job you’re looking to land. Don’t over stuff your resume; make your achievements and job history work for you. Lying isn’t recommended, but shaping the truth in a way that works to your advantage is just fine. These resources can help you best highlight your past to kickstart your future.

Making your resume look nice

Not only is it your career highlights and degrees that can potentially impress recruiters, but the look of your resume, as well. When employers look through hundreds of resumes, those with the right fonts and extra finishing touches pop out. Take a look at these handy sources that will help you doll up your resume.

Job Search Websites

Searching for a job online has become the norm; in 2015, 79% of Americans looking for a job used online resources in their search. As the job hunt shifts from engaging personal contacts towards an exclusively online experience, it’s good to know which job search websites are the best.

General job search sites

The most popular job search websites are, unsurprisingly, the ones that allow you to search for jobs in nearly any field, while allowing recruiters to do the same for applicants. Honestly, it doesn’t hurt to upload your resume to two or more of these sites in order to increase your chances--just be aware of the occasional, annoying spammy emails you’ll find in your inbox.

  • Indeed -- The most visited, and used job site in the world, Indeed is truly an excellent resource to find the job you’re looking for. You can upload your resume for employers to see, as well as search through scores of jobs from all industries.

  • Glassdoor -- While Indeed’s database of available jobs is the largest available, Glassdoor has its own strengths. In addition to job listings, the site’s premier draw is the detailed reviews and comparisons of companies by current employees or those that have worked for them in the past. Check out Glassdoor if you want to find out if your prospective employer fosters a positive working environment.

  • Monster -- Monster is quite similar to Indeed, although some claim it suffers from minor drawbacks, including a messy interface and a higher number of scam job postings. Nevertheless, the site’s job database is vast, and many have built careers through the site.

  • LinkedIn -- LinkedIn is a professional social network, rather than a job search database. By allowing you to post your photo and connect with friends through the network, LinkedIn has a more personal touch than other employment websites. However, you can still land an excellent job by making the right connections on the site.

Industry-specific job search sites

As the job market is so complex, with many industries asking unique demands and expectations of its applicants, it’s no surprise that many niche job search sites have grown in popularity. Tech, remote contract work, and freelance writing are some of the fields that now have their own portals serving both employers and job applicants. If you find more general job search websites too broad in their scope, or you are just looking for a temporary gig, these sites will be more your style, based on the kind of work you are looking for.

  • Dice -- A great meta search database for tech jobs, only.

  • Idealist -- Idealist is not your ordinary job search website. Rather, it is a a site where users can search for opportunities to improve the world through working for a nonprofit or volunteering through one of thousands of organizations around the world.

  • Upwork -- The top website for finding freelancing work in many industries, Upwork doesn’t let just anybody use their service. In order to weed out scammers, users need to fill out a fairly complete profile and include examples of their work. Only then can one search through the wide variety of freelance jobs listed on the site.

  • Flexjobs -- This niche website specializes in remote work, i.e., work that you can do from anywhere, in many fields. Flexjobs isn’t free, though; the service costs $14.95 a month to use, so make sure you’re committed to finding work on the site before buying a subscription.

Nailing the Interview

The nicest resume in the world won’t help you if you totally blow the subsequent interview. A lot goes into achieving success during a job interview: what you wear, how you answer the questions, which questions you ask, and even your body language. So don’t go unprepared, read up on how to ace that interview and win the job you’re this close to getting.

How to present yourself

Dressing nice for a job interview is important, but you wouldn’t go in wearing a tuxedo. How you dress says a lot about your personality and level of confidence to your potential employer, and is a detail not to be overlooked.

  • Dressing for Interviews -- Michigan State University put out this handy guide giving advice to both men and women on how to look sharp on the day of the interview. A great pointer within is the fact that the clothes you are expected to wear to an interview might be different to what you’d wear after getting the job.

  • The Art of Manliness: What to Wear to a Job Interview -- A detailed, male-oriented guide to what--and what not-- to wear to an important job interview.

Knowing how to answer the questions, and ask them

Obviously, in an interview, the most important part is going to be the questions. Knowing how to answer them correctly should be your number one concern. Many of the questions posed to you by a potential employer will be pretty predictable, although you may hear some that catch you off guard. Importantly, answers to some common questions that you think are the best may not be. Also, an employer will be impressed if you come prepared with questions of your own, so know which ones to ask. Here are some great guides on how to answer interview questions.

Following up

Even if you haven’t heard back after a job interview, it pays to follow-up. That way, you can at least discover the reasons behind an employer’s decisions. Sometimes, it’s out of your hands, while other times, the company may provide useful advice on things you can work on to become a more desirable candidate.

The Best Family Safety Apps

Managing a family can be tough gig: there’s always a ton of events on the calendar to remember, groceries to buy, and hazards for you, your partner, and your children to avoid. Luckily, these days, there a number of great mobile apps that can assist you in assuring that one vital aspect of family living is taken care of: safety and security.

With features ranging from video monitoring to GPS tracking, these 11 apps all assist in keeping your family safe and on the same page. Through their use, your family will find it easier to keep in touch, track each other’s whereabouts, share urgent information, and stick together as a unit. What’s more, they are all either free or rather affordable, and--for the most part--available on both iOS and Android devices.

So, check out our list and try out the apps that feel right for you and your family’s needs, whether you are the father of three busy teenagers, or an expectant mother pregnant with your first child. After checking them out, we promise you won’t know what you’d be able to do without at least one, or two, of the apps on this list.

Family Communication and Locator

Life 360

Nothing puts you more at ease than knowing the real-time location of your family (and friends). Life 360’s Family Locator & GPS Tracker is one of the best apps available in this niche, using the latest GPS technology to show what your family members are up to and where, with personalized icons on a private map viewable only by family members.

The app allows you to create groups known as “Circles” where everyone can communicate with each other and fill one another in on their latest up-to-the-minute life developments. You can even get real-time text alerts when members of a Circle arrive or leave destinations, which cancels out the need to send constant “Where are you?” texts requesting ETA’s. Life 360’s app makes coordinating parties and events much simpler providing you with the knowledge of where each family member is, along with a group chat for members to share last minute updates and plan alterations.

On the emergency assistance side of things, the app sends local crime alerts if you need to be on the lookout for criminals, and emergency notifications if something goes wrong with a member of your Circle. Life360 even includes a Driver Care Support feature that can connect you or your loved ones with a live representative to assist in roadside emergencies, and can arrange a tow truck to come to the site if necessary.

All in all, a stellar, overachieving tracking app.

(Free to install, $2.99 a month, $24.99 a year for Life360 Plus subscription, iOS, Android)

GPS Location Tracker

iSharing

Another excellent, highly-recommended family locator app that can ease the anxiety of having a big family with members participating in many activities in a number of locations.

Like Life 360’s family locator app, iSharing’s app shows the real-time location of family members on a private map that only they may view, and sends alerts when family members arrive or leave destinations. For parents, the location history feature is a great way to keep tabs on kids: you can know everywhere they’ve been, even if they don’t love the idea. The GPS location finder’s ability to track lost or stolen phones is another added bonus.

Some of the features exclusive to iSharing’s locator app include the ability to shake your phone to send a Panic Alert to all family members in case of emergency, and a handy setting that turns your phone into a walkie talkie.

The app comes with a great reputation, with thousands of overwhelmingly positive reviews from users on both the Apple App store and Google Play store.

(Free to Install, Premium Service $3.99 a month, in-app purchases, iOS, Android)

Baby Monitor

Cloud Baby Monitor

Lauded by CNET and Computerworld, and featured on ABC’s Good Morning America, Cloud Baby Monitor is the essential baby monitoring app. Perfect for parents who want to keep tabs on their sleeping newborn, but don’t want to shill for an expensive camera setup, Cloud Baby Monitor costs just 4 bucks and requires two Apple devices to run its two-way video and audio communication feature.

To use the app, simply download and install it on two (or more) devices: an older phone to serve as the in-crib camera, and on your own from which to monitor your child. After setup is complete, you can watch and listen to live video of your baby from anywhere through Wi-Fi, 3G, or LTE from any distance, and even sing coo’s or lullabies to lull him or her to sleep. Cloud Baby Monitor also has a remote controlled night light function so you can watch your baby sleep after the lights are out. Furthermore, if one camera isn’t enough for you, the app also supports a multi-camera setting.

For parents worried about others hacking into the video feed, the app features industry standard encryption to ensure that nobody else gains access to the crib cam.

($3.99, iOS, release for Android forthcoming)

Parenting and Baby Development Tracker

Ovia Health

Likely the best all-in-one baby development tracker on the market, the Ovia Parenting & Development Tracker has a ton of features perfect for new parents. The app allows you to track development, week-by-week, from the womb and beyond, while marking major milestones in your child’s life and saving them in your family calendar. If you like, you can upload photos and videos in your journal that coincide with each of your child’s milestones.

On the health and development tip, the app provides access to over 1,000 articles written by experts to lending advice on how to best care for your child and ensure that he or she reaches the milestones that every parent loves to bear witness to. By taking the in-app health assessment, you can make sure that your child is progressing at a positive rate.

Ovia’s great app also has a social component, allowing you to invite friends and family members to view your baby’s milestones. Another great social feature is the app’s Community, which allows to ask fellow users, parents, and caregivers anonymous questions regarding your child’s development.

In terms of what it does, no other app matches the features, customizability, and great social aspects of Ovia Parenting.

(Free, iOS, Android)

Sex Offenders Search

Log Sat Software LLC

All parents want to be familiar with every possible danger lurking in their neighborhood, and Sex Offenders Search helps let every mother and father if how safe theirs is from a peculiarly nasty section of the populace. Basically doing exactly what it says, Sex Offenders Search allows you to search sex offenders on a daily updated database by address (city or zip code), current location, name, or any address in your contacts.

This is a tough subject to broach, but if you are looking for a new home, having people of questionable character nearby can be a serious dealbreaker, and this app satisfies this function more effectively than any other. Sex Offenders Search shows you photos, physical profiles and other info about registered sex offenders in a given locale, and is the only app of its kind that allows you to search by name.

The perpetually-updated database and one-time cost render this app essential for any parent. As of right now, the app only logs offenders within the United States, so it’s not the best option for families living or traveling abroad.

($3.99, iOS, Android)

In Case of Emergency

ICE

God forbid you or your family members experience an emergency, but in the scenario that someone does, this is an important app to have on your phone.

ICE - In Case of Emergency allows you to log in detailed contact info, medical history, medications you take, allergies, blood type, emergency contacts, and just about anything else you’d like for medical professionals, or random bystanders to be privy to in the case that you or a family member is incapacitated in the aftermath of a car accident, or some other emergency.

The info stored on the app is accessible from the lockscreen, meaning that no passcode is necessary to bring it up. All someone needs to do is awaken your phone and tap the permanent notification to bring up the information necessary in an emergency. Don’t sleep on ICE - In Case of Emergency: it could very well be a lifesaver.

(Free to install, in-app purchases, Android)

Allergy Information

WebMD, LLC

Allergies range from being a mild annoyance to a serious health risk, depending on the severity of the problem. That’s why it’s wise to install this excellent app to keep track of all of you and your family members’ specific allergies. WebMD Allergy is terrific for those family members afflicted with food, skin, and drug allergies, allowing you to record symptoms when you or your child encounters a possible allergen. Managing each of your family members’ allergies is made easy through the ability to create individual profiles for everyone in your flock.

WebMD especially shines when it comes to outdoor allergies to things like pollen, with a 3-day allergen forecast feature that lets you know when the air in your area will be high in a specific allergen. You can also check different areas’ allergen forecast if you plan to travel in the near future.

For users that’d like to learn more about different allergies, the app comes with an extensive library of articles and media covering 7 categories of allergies: Drug, Skin, Food, Latex, Insect Bites and Stings, Indoor, and Outdoor. The library provides a wealth of information, just don’t be too liberal with self diagnoses; we know how easy that can be with WebMD’s website.

(Free, iOS, Android)

Heartbeat Tracker

My Baby’s Beat

One of the most creative uses of the iPhone’s microphone ever, My Baby’s Beat allows you to listen to your baby’s heartbeat while in utero without any additional accessories or devices.

The app does have some recommended conditions for use: My Baby’s Beat works best after week 30, set on airplane mode, and with your phone freed from its case, but it provides an unparalleled app experience for mothers and fathers-to-be. Hearing your child’s heartbeat through the mother’s belly with nothing but an iPhone is a comforting bonding experience that can put your mind at ease knowing your baby is developing and on its way to being born. An additional feature included with the app is the ability to store recordings and share them with family and loved ones.

It’s important to note that My Baby’s Beat is not a medical device, and won’t give you any detailed information about your baby’s health (you’ll need a doctor or midwife for that), but it’s great for what it does. Since its release in 2011, expectant mothers have spoken, and the app remains #1 in the Apple App Store Lifestyle category to this day.

($4.99, iOS)

Home Security 

Home Security Monitor Camera

A terrific home security app with a ton of great features, Master App Solutions’ Home Security Monitor Camera is a must-have for parents hoping to keep their home safe and protect their children and belongings. The app supports live, full-screen video monitoring-- coupled with terrific audio-- from an unlimited number of camera units in, or around the home. The app supports two different monitoring devices, so it is suggested that you keep one with you wherever you go, and another mounted somewhere central in the home.

There is no range limit on monitoring your camera units, so you can keep tabs on your home from anywhere using this app, even halfway across the world.

The app comes with a number of features designed to troubleshoot or notify you in case of a problem: if the battery status dips below 10% on any device, an alert will be sent to you, while if the WiFi drops out, devices can switch over to 3G (if activated).

Overall, Home Security Monitor Camera is a great budget anti-theft app.

($5.99, iOS; Free to Install, offers in-app purchases, Android)

Hidden Camera

iCam

Another great home security app, iCam allows for remote monitoring of up to 12 live audio/video feeds from your iOS or Android device. You can put the camera units in your kitchen, childrens’ bedrooms, your baby’s crib, your dog house, or any spot that you need to monitor. The feed(s) can be sent over WiFi and 3G/4G/LTE, as well.

While the app requires additional software to be downloaded from the developer’s website, the app is very user friendly and simple. Additional support for iCam Cloud (coming with a monthly subscription fee starting at $4.99 a month)--which automatically backs up logs of your feeds into cloud storage--sweetens the pot.

The app is very popular with both iPhone and Android users and has been featured on television a number of times. Don’t trust a nanny, babysitter, or cleaning lady? It’s iCam to the rescue!

($4.99, iOS, Android)

Family Organizer

Cozi, Inc.

Not a safety app, per se, but Cozi will keep you safe from forgetting your daughter’s upcoming ballet recital, or that container of blueberries from the grocery store. Cozi Family Organizer is the *best* app of its kind, bar none. The feature-loaded app gives you all the tools you need to manage your hectic schedule as a parent, from a shopping list that can be accessed by the whole family and updated on the go, to a color-coded calendar that displays everyone’s events at once, for all to see.

Also included is a to do list feature, either to use yourself to keep track of the day’s tasks, or to create a chore list for your kid, and a recipe box to store your traditional family recipes or excellent on-the-spot creations for posterity.

The app is free, but contains ads. For the best experience, the premium edition Cozi Gold is available for $29.99 a year and has additional features like a birthday tracker and a shared address book.

(Free, includes in-app purchases, iOS, Android)

That does it for our list of essential family safety apps. While they represent a collection of some of the best apps for their purposes currently available, the great thing about mobile apps is that innovations are always being made by new designers, while developers are continuously tweaking and perfecting apps that have already been released. Be sure to check back with us soon for more coverage on apps that’ll help protect your family and keep you closer together.

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How to Check If Your Tech Is Spying On You

Phones, smart assistants, and other types of tech make our lives easier, but the convenience often comes at a cost. Our personal data is often collected and exploited for a variety of purposes without our knowledge, or expressed consent. In some cases, hackers use malware to hijack our phones and spy on us. But it doesn’t have to be that way: here we’ll tell you how to avoid spies and limit nosy tech and apps.

Signs that your phone is spying on you

There are a handful of signals that indicate that your phone has been compromised, either by an app, or someone monitoring your activity. If you notice one or more of the following peculiarities, it could just be a hardware issue or software bug, but it might also be the result of malware unknowingly installed to your phone, or worse:

  • Phone feels unusually warm. When your battery heats up, and your phone is hot to the touch even when you aren’t using it, that’s a possible indicator that data is being sent to and from your phone without your knowledge.
  • Inexplicably high data usage. While newer spy apps have worked a way around this, older spyware will utilize your cellular data to transmit out collected info from your phone. A sudden uptick in data usage can be a telltale sign.
  • Battery runs out quickly. Malware working in the background can drain your battery fast. If you notice an abrupt change in battery life, the cause could be malicious software running in the background.
  • Odd text messages. Receiving text messages with unrecognizable codes is an occasional sign that spy software is operating a remote control feature. They also might indicate an attempted phishing scam.

How to end spying and tracking on an Android phone

Phones running on Android are more susceptible to malware and hacking than iPhones due to owners’ ability to download and install apps from often suspicious third-party sources.

Malware may be snuck on to your phone along with more innocuous looking apps, or even be engineered by those in cyber crime hot spots like Russia to resemble popular games and apps.

To check your phone for malicious or suspicious-looking programs or files, go to Settings -- Applications -- Manage Applications and delete any files or programs that look unusual. The problem is that a lot of spyware software is disguised under innocent looking file names, in which case installing a spyware program like Anti Spy Mobile is a more sure bet for removing malicious spy software.

However, the only surefire, guaranteed way to clear your Android phone of malware is by performing a factory reset. To perform a factory reset, go to Settings -- Backup & Reset -- Factory Data Reset - Reset Phone. Depending on the phone, the menu names may vary slightly, but the general process is the same.

How to avoid tracking on an iPhone

Luckily, iPhones aren’t nearly as prone to malware due to strong security and the fact that only Apple-approved apps are able to downloaded through the one and only App Store available to iPhone Users.

Yet, if you have purchased a second-hand, jailbroken phone, spy software may be (or already has been) downloaded and installed onto your phone. To do a check of the apps installed on your phone, simply go into Settings, and scroll to the bottom for a complete list of the apps installed on your device.

For a simple fix for getting rid of any possible spyware installed on your jailbroken iPhone, use iTunes to download the latest iOS version. The installation process will remove any non-Apple approved software from your phone. Be informed, your phone will no longer be jailbroken after the update, and you will lose the ability to download apps from rival app stores, and associated other freedoms, forever.

How mobile phone networks track people

This situation is impossible to avoid--short of trashing your cell phone entirely. Cell phones work by connecting through a cell tower, or cell for short, that beams communications through a relay of one or many other cell towers operated by your carrier.

Your phone connects to only one cell at a time, therefore your network has a pretty good idea where you are at all times. When you travel long enough, your signals will be directed to the next closest cell in the system.

Again, if this bothers you, you can either power your phone off, and take out the battery for as long as you wish to go off the radar, or stop using a cell phone. Little else can be done to avoid your wireless network from knowing your location, since that’s how the technology works. Just keep peace of mind in the fact that they generally aren’t the bad guys.

Is someone spying on you through your laptop?

It’s horrifying but true: someone might be watching you through your PC or laptop’s webcam. The vulnerability typically comes through possessing a less-than-secure variety of camera that is easily accessed through accidental user installation of malware, or through malware that was on your computer before you bought it.

How you can tell if you are being watched through your webcam:

  • The LED light next to your camera is blinking...when you aren’t using it. Sounds like something out of a modern suspense movie, but this actually happens. If the webcam light is glowing at odd times, that’s a telltale scene that the camera has been hacked. This is sort of the lucky scenario, though, as most hackers possess the knowhow to disable this function.
  • Presence of audio or video logs on your hard drive. These provide strong evidence of instances when you are being watched.
  • Slowdown, or unusual processes running when you open task manager. The malware installed to allow them to spy on you may have innocuous names, but use up a suspiciously high amount of memory.

If any of these situations apply to you, the first thing you should do is cover up the camera. Next, uninstall the webcam drivers, and do a thorough scan of your hard drives with up-to-date anti-virus software.

Is Amazon Alexa listening to conversations?

Yes, your Echo, Echo Dot, Amazon Tap, etc, is making recordings of the things you say, ostensibly to train its software to be more responsive to your voice and manner of speech. Everything spoken after, and one second before, you say one of the wake words, including “Alexa,” “Computer,” “Echo,” Amazon,” is recorded in order to analyze your speech and learn to understand it better.

Yet, you may have noticed that your Echo occasionally awakens at the sound of a word *similar* to a wake word, meaning that the backlog of recordings may be more vast than you suspect.

You’ll know when your Echo is recording since the blue ring around the product will flash momentarily. People speculate that Alexa is listening to more than just what is directly addressed towards her, although there is no proof of that. In fact, Amazon addressed a flaw in the software that allowed Alexa to listen and record indefinitely in April, 2018.

Even if Alexa is only listening when you address her with a wake word, the thought of anything being recorded is pretty concerning for some people. However, you are able to both listen to, and delete all of Alexa’s recordings, if you wish.

In order to delete Alexa’s log of recordings, open the Alexa app on your device and go to Settings -- History. There, you will be able to review each instance where you, or someone in your home, activated Alexa.

To delete recordings, simply select an entry from the same menu and press Delete. Since deleting each entry individually would take a tremendous amount of time, there is a shortcut to delete everything all at once: simply go to Manage Your Content and Devices at amazon.com/mycd and follow the instructions.

You can stop Alexa from listening entirely by muting the microphone on the device, although that will essentially render your smart assistant useless. Yet, sometimes turning it off for an evening is good for peace of mind.

Fitness tech that spies on you

Devices from popular fitness tech companies like Fitbit and Jawbone are able to tell when you are walking, exercising, going up the stairs, sleeping, and may even keep track of your caloric consumption. This is great for helping users to monitor and keep track of their fitness activity from day-to-day, but are the companies spying on you?

The University of Toronto published a study in 2016 with some alarming findings, including the fact that data from users is being exploited by top fitness tech companies in a privacy-eroding fashion while they neglect to protect user ID’s. This included the selling of data to insurance companies, court systems, possible criminals, and others. In some cases, fitness trackers took advantage of bluetooth technology to track users from place to place. This type of information can be exploited to learn more about users shopping habits and more in a coordinated attempt to best monetize user data.

In order to mitigate the tendency of fitness tech companies to use or sell your personal data, pay close attention to user agreements and terms of service, no matter how long they are, and keep track of the permissions that you grant various apps, i.e., access to photos, the microphone, etc. Since fitness tech is getting better and better at keeping track of daily activities, including when you are engaged in sexual activity, the best bet may be to swear these devices off, entirely.

Apps that track... and how to stop them

Beyond the tech that is possibly spying on you, apps are also keeping track of your location and using your personal data to their advantage.

Facebook

Facebook has gotten into a ton of heat recently, due to the Cambridge Analytica scandal where tens of millions of users’ data was taken and analyzed to influence election results. If you use Facebook, its best to know which apps are granted access to your information.

Go to Settings -- Apps for a list of the apps allowed access to your info, and click on a particular app to see the full extent of its permissions. From there, you can delete the apps, or remove their permissions.

Google

When you sign into your Gmail or Google+ and stay signed in, Google tracks your location data and stores it in the cloud. Ostensibly this information is safe there, but if someone gets a hold of your account password, they can access this detailed location information from anywhere.

For Android users, to disable location reporting, go to Settings -- Location -- Google Location Settings, and switch off both Location History and Location Reporting. You can also delete your phone’s accumulated cache by pressing Delete Location History near the bottom of the screen.

To do the same, Apple users should open Settings and go to Privacy -- Location Services, and you’ll have the option to disable location services for each installed app.

After doing this, you’ll lose the convenience factor of having your frequently visited locations stored, but the tradeoff is up to you.

Uber

Uber is another company keeping data on all of your trips through use of its app. This can be used for good; keeping data on ride histories assures that you have proof if you need to settle a dispute or opt against using a particular driver. Yet, there are several instances in the past of Uber using ride data in relatively irresponsible ways, notably in a 2012 blog post titled “Rides of Glory” detailing the number of customers using their service for one night stands.

While this is long in the past, the creepiness factor of Uber knowing so much about your comings and goings maybe be too much for you. Unfortunately, the only way to avoid them collecting data on your journeys is to stop using the service entirely. Another situation where the choice between privacy vs. convenience is a personal one.

Twitter

To see all of the information Twitter has stored on you, go to Your Twitter Data after clicking on your profile photo. There you can see how they’ve used your post history and the accounts you follow to predict your personal interests and connect you with advertisements they think you’ll respond to. Of course, this is a little scary. You can opt out of interest-based advertising in Personalization and Data Settings.

Apps that protect from spying and tracking

  • Anti Spy Mobile - A reliable and popular anti-spyware app tailored for Android users.

  • Hidden Device Admin Detector - An Android tool that combs your drive for malware and other sketchy software that can be hard to find on your own, and removes it.

  • https://donttrack.us/ - An alternative search engine that won’t store your search history or use your data for targeted ads.


Data-Driven Ways to Protect Your Home

Home security isn’t a new phenomenon. People have always wanted to protect themselves, their families, and their belongings, however, as criminals have become more sophisticated, so have home security measures.

A castle and moat were once the height of what was needed to keep a home safe, but gunpowder and ingenuity took care of these defenses pretty swiftly. Today, the threat of a cannon attack is low, but screwdrivers, hammers, and crowbars have taken their place as the tools of choice for forcible entry.

According to FBI statistics there are more than 1.5 million break-ins reported every year in the US. This amounts to one break in every 15 seconds. As a homeowner, it’s something to be concerned about, especially as only 17% have a security system installed.

The good news is that burglaries are down 30% since 2007, largely in part to online banking (less money kept at home) and improvements in home security systems.

The cost of a break-in

  • The average burglary costs the homeowner $2,361 in stolen goods. This doesn’t include the cost of refitting doors, windows, or anything else that might be damaged during a home invasion.

  • With around 4 million uninsured homes in the U.S., this cost could be catastrophic for homeowners.

  • Even though the number of Americans with bank accounts has risen, 43% of Americans are still keeping some form of savings at home. Much of this is driven by a lack of trust in banks since the 2008 crash.

  • Aside from monetary damage, one-third of all residential assaults are caused by robberies. Only 10% of robbers carry a firearm, so the chances of being robbed by gun carrying criminal might be low, but it’s still there.

How to deter burglars

On average, burglars spend 60 seconds trying to break in to a house, any longer and they risk being seen. If they do get inside, they will usually spend 8-10 minutes searching for valuables.

The first line of defense for homeowners is to make their house look unattractive to potential thieves. Houses with a security system are 33% less likely to be broken into with a home security system.

“Home security system” is a broad term that covers many different defenses, but here are some of the most effective ones that can be employed -- with the stats to back them up.

Install a home security system

According to a study by UNC Charlotte, 83% of burglars check to see if there is an alarm, and 60% look for a different target if there is one present. So even without the alarm sounding, an alarm system can protect a home. Most of these systems have a sensor on doors and windows that go off if the sensor is activated. Even simple systems that cause an alarm to go off can be enough of a deterrent to would-be burglars.

Don’t overlook the security camera

A study from Rutgers School of Criminal Justice found that the presence of security cameras reduced suspicious detections by 92% after 5 weeks. This means that the mere presence of the camera deterred crime, so it’s paramount that the camera be visible as well as in a location where burglars would gain access.

The other advantage of home security cameras is that they aid in the conviction of burglars. High quality video can aid police in identifying and finding criminals. There are also remote video systems which allows users to see a live stream of what’s happening in their house on their phones. This can allow the homeowner to call the authorities and have them catch the burglar in the act.

Save power with motion sensors

A standard 1080p HD recording will fill up 1 Terabyte of space every two weeks. Home CCTV systems add an extra layer of safety but recording 24/7 can become cumbersome. This is a huge amount of data to store and search through and this is where motion sensor cameras can be more useful.

Motion detection cameras only record when there is motion in the frame. This conserves memory and power, making them longer lasting and less cumbersome. They can also be calibrated for pets so they don’t set them off by wandering through the frame.

Deter potential break ins with indoor light timers

Convincing burglars that the house is occupied is a huge deterrent as 70% of burglaries happen when nobody is at home. Most burglars are opportunists and just want quick cash and don’t want confrontation. Another effective method of using a timer is to have one on your TV. A TV that turns on for an hour or two everyday will make a house seem more lived in and a less viable target.

Outdoor motion detecting lights

Only 12% of intruders plan their attacks, this option can have an effect on the opportunistic thief. If a house is in a particularly dark area, maybe somewhere rural or on a poorly lit street, then outdoor motion detecting lights could be an option. The theory is that a sudden beam of bright light would scare away any would-be intruder.

Put up gates and fences

Studies have shown that a house with an alarm system, motion lights, and a sturdy fence are 300% less likely to be broken into. Building a physical barrier can give great peace of mind to the homeowner and can act as a deterrent to break-ins. It’s important to be aware that although gates can be used to protect, some criminals interviewed said that they used high fences as cover for break-ins and that it indicated that the homeowner had something of value.

Improve neighborhood street lighting

A study found that improving street lighting decreased burglary by 20%. It also found that the cost of adding street lighting was less than the cost of damage caused by home invasions, making it a net gain for local authorities adding the lighting.

Although 65% of burglaries take place between 6am and 6pm, that still leaves 35% of burglaries potentially taking place under the veil of darkness. The presence of good street lighting can have an impact on burglaries, both in terms of actual break-ins and for burglars location scouting without being noticed.

Get to know your neighbors

According to a study by City Observatory, one-third of Americans don’t know their neighbors. Knowing who lives next door is crucial if a house does not have a monitored alarm system. An alarm is only useful if it notifies someone, and if it’s just making a noise neighbors are more likely to be annoyed than worried about your possessions.

Knowing your neighbors creates what is known as social cohesion , this sense of community has been shown to help create safer neighborhoods as people will look out for each other.

It’s also a good idea to ask a neighbor to park in an unoccupied driveway a few if the owners are away as burglars see an empty driveway as a clear sign that the house is empty.

Join or create a neighborhood watch

There have been many studies done on the effectiveness of Neighborhood Watch and in a study of 18 major studies on this topic they found that out of every 100 crimes, 26 crimes were prevented.

People who moved in and out frequently had less social cohesion and were less likely to look out for each other. As this is increasingly common, neighborhood watch has become increasingly common and now 40% of Americans live in an area with a neighborhood watch program. These community led projects also have the advantage of introducing neighbors to each other and creating closer communities and making it more difficult for people not from the community to break in unseen.

Get a dog

According to former burglars, the main deterrent to breaking into a house was a CCTV system, but a close second place was the presence of a dog. The type of dog also had an impact on whether or not criminals chose to proceed. The obvious type that was cited was large guard dogs. Think German Shepherd, Doberman and Pitbull types. The other type was the smaller “alert” dogs. These dogs basically act as an alarm and can notify neighbors if something is wrong.

Hire a pet-sitter

Burglars are 84% less likely to burgle a house if they believe it is occupied. This gives the homeowner peace of mind for the wellbeing on the family pet and their home. In contrast to what Home Alone would have us believe, winter is when homes are least likely to be burgled. In fact July and August are the most likely times, and this coincides with school holidays.

If homeowners are going on holidays and leaving their pet behind, they could consider a pet-sitter rather than a kennel for their pooch. Not only is this less stressful for the animal, but it also means that the house is occupied while they are away from home.

Stay silent on social

Nowadays, 84% of burglars are now using social media to find out if a target’s home will be empty. A recent revelation in the world of burglary is the use of social media pages such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Homeowners can avoid this method by taking a few simple precautions. Avoid posting about being away home until after the trip, don’t share photos of the inside of the house, and make sure your address isn’t visible on any social media.

Make sure you have strong doors and windows

In reality, 70% of burglars come through a door, either front, back or garage. The romantic image of an ingenious thief lowering themselves from the ceiling or using futuristic technology to cut a hole in a window is almost exclusive to Hollywood. The second highest entry point are first floor windows.

It’s notable that 95% of break-ins require some force, and burglars will attempt a break in for 60 seconds. If a door or windows offers huge resistance, a thief is likely to give up and move on.

Keep shrubbery low to increase visibility

According to a study by The U.S. Department of Justice, visibility is a more important factor to most burglars than which security measures are in place. If burglars feel that they are concealed, they will spend more time disarming an alarm, or breaking a door.

The reasons burglars don’t like spending more than one minute breaking into a house is the risk of being seen. As a homeowner, it’s important to do everything you can to give criminals the least amount of opportunities, and that includes visibility. This can be prevented by keeping hedges trimmed, trees low, and the view of the street unobstructed from the house’s main entry points.

Look into defensive landscaping

Defensive landscaping is the practice of using short, thorny bushes around windows, or areas where visibility can’t be improved. This is a proactive way to ensure that the most vulnerable access points have some protection, and The Crime Prevention website has a list of plants and shrubs that would create a good physical barrier.

Secure valuables in a safe

The most simple option is to have a safe. Homeowners need to avoid avoid having a freestanding safe, and they need to especially avoid keeping it in the master bedroom as this is the first place burglars look.

A hidden safe is the best option. Inaccessibility is crucial. Hidden wall safes offer the best protection, and there is a list of options to suit different homes. In general, the more expensive it is, the less likely to be stolen or broken into quickly.

Find a unique hiding place

Most people have jewelry and cash in their homes, however, 21% never hide their valuables and 37% of people leave their gadgets on when they leave home. Avoid leaving items out in plain sight, some form of hidden storage is ideal. The most common hiding places are the sock drawer, under the mattress and in the freezer so they should be avoided.

Fake bottomed drawers, false stairs and inside fake potted plants are all good hiding places where a burglar won’t bother looking. Also most burglars don’t bother with children’s rooms, so finding a secure place in a child’s room can be a good idea.

Consider smart home security

According to NextMarket, the U.S. smart security market will increase from nearly 3 million users in 2014 to over 22 million by 2020. Technology now makes it possible to control household appliances with an app - including home security systems. This projected growth is based on how integrated technology is into homes now with 39 million Americans already using a smart speaker, like the Amazon Alexa.

Adding security measures to this already integrated ecosystem is simple, and Americans are taking advantage of that to add in remote door locking, live camera feeds, and alarm notifications.

Don’t forget to protect your smart home

Cybersecurity is becoming a bigger and bigger issue with a hacker attack every 39 seconds which affects one in three Americans every year. The convenience of an interconnected smart home is obvious, but it does come with some potential issues.

With hackers potentially able to connect to people’s wireless network and monitor their activity, it opens up potential threats. A burglar could get access to a live camera stream, or be able to remotely turn off an alarm if they hacked into a smart home.

To prevent this, homeowners can invest in a firewall to protect their network. Techadvisory recommends what is known as a “Cloud firewall”. This is a piece of hardware you will have in your house that works with software to create a barrier between you and cyber threats.

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Rhetoric vs. Research: 7 Facts About Guns Every American Should Know

Rhetoric vs. Research: 7 Facts About Guns Every American Should Know

As tragedies pile up, the nation keeps delving into the supercharged debate over guns. The dysfunctional dialogue – rich in rhetoric but poor in facts – keeps polarizing the society, making it increasingly difficult to tell evidence-based facts from fiction. To separate speculation from facts, here are seven frequently asked questions about gun violence, mass shootings, and stats that you should know.

1. How do the U.S. gun ownership and homicide rate compare to that of other developed countries?

Rhetoric:

According to Sen. Christopher Murphy, the US has a gun violence rate that’s 20 times that of every other industrialized country.

So, is America in a unique situation with gun violence and mass shootings?

Facts:

Gun homicide

Sen. Murphy cited a 2016 study that found the US gun homicide rate in 2010 was 25 times higher than that of more than 20 other high-income countries combined, not individually. Not all industrialized countries were included.

Still, the gap is large. The US gun homicide rate of 3.6 deaths per 100,000 people is:

  • Seven times higher than in Canada

  • 82 times higher than in the UK

  • 513.8 times higher than in Japan

The US firearm suicide rate is eight times higher, and the unintentional gun death rate is six times higher than in other industrialized countries. Combined, 80% of all gun deaths in the studied countries occur in the US.

Mass shootings

According to an American Sociological Association study, the United States has experienced a 31% of global public mass shootings between 1966 and 2012. Between 1983 and 2013, the US accounted for a staggering 66% of mass shootings across 25 OECD nations.

Gun ownership

The US has the highest rates of gun ownership in the world – followed by Yemen – and the highest rate of gun homicides among advanced countries, according to a 2017 study Gun Violence in America.

There are an estimated 270 million civilian-owned firearms in the US, which translates to 89 guns per 100 people. Yemen has the rate of 55 guns per 100 people, Switzerland – 46, but requires military service to own a gun.

More guns don’t translate into more gun owners, however. According to the General Social Survey, three-quarters of gun owners own two or more guns, and about 3% of households own 50% of all guns in America. Today, only about 30% of the Americans own a gun., while gun sales typically go up after a mass shooting.

2. Does owning a gun make you safer?

Rhetoric:

“Owning a gun makes you safer” is the traditional NRA mantra. NRA’s Wayne LaPierre produced many quotes about how owning a gun is the only way to protect oneself and one’s family in the US, such as the one about a good woman with a gun to teach a violent rapist a good lesson.

Academics, such as John Lott and Gary Kleck, also claim that more guns reduce crime. But is this really the case?

Facts:

A growing body of statistics and research suggests that owning a gun puts you at a heightened risk of a gun-related tragedy in the home:

  • Owning a gun increases the risk of gun-related homicides and suicides, according to numerous studies.

  • Victims of domestic violence are at particularly high risk of becoming the victims of gun violence. A firearm in a household with a history of domestic violence increases a woman’s risk of being killed by 500%.

  • Guns acquired for self-defense are often involved in fatal accidents. Nationwide, higher levels of gun ownership are linked to higher occurrences of unintentional firearm deaths.

  • Criminal gun homicides outnumber self-defense related use of guns. For every self-defense gun homicide, there are 34 criminal gun homicides in the US.

  • Using a gun for self-defense during a robbery doesn’t yield significant benefits. According to the 2015 Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health of the National Crime Victimization Survey, the likelihood of being injured in a robbery was almost identical between people who tried to defend themselves with a gun and those who didn’t.

3. Are increasing gun ownership rates linked to gun violence and mass shootings?

Rhetoric:

The pro-gun rhetoric suggests video games, bad parenting, and mental illnesses cause mass shootings – “people kill people, not guns.”

Facts:

The scientific studies blame it on the civilian gun ownership, however. More guns translate into more mass shootings, not less, whereas the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent. Only 3%-5% of violent acts are attributed to mental illness, and most don’t involve guns.

The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime states that countries with higher rates of gun ownership have higher rates of firearm mass murder and homicide. The US rate is higher than that of Europe, Canada, and Australia.

According to the Gun Violence in America:

  • More than 90 Americans die by gunfire every day

  • More than 21 thousand suicides, 11 thousand homicides, and 1,200 accidental deaths occur yearly

  • People in the US are ten times more likely to be killed by guns than people in other high-income countries

Countries with the highest rate of gun violence – El Salvador, The Philippines, and Iraq – don’t compare to the US in terms of GDP, life expectancy, or education. So among developed countries, the US is a massive outlier.

Guns, mass shootings, and homicides are statistically associated. The problem is the CDC is essentially prohibited from studying the connection between gun ownership rates and violence.

Nonetheless, a country’s gun ownership rate correlation to the risk of firearm death is 0.9, a nearly perfect coefficient. A recent study of four decades of mass shootings across the globe found that a country’s civilian firearm ownership rate is the most reliable predictor of mass shootings and gun violence overall.

4. Do most mass shootings take place in public gun-free zones?

Rhetoric:

According to President Trump, “a gun-free zone is 'let's go in and let's attack because bullets aren't coming back at us.”

The kind of rhetoric is often used to attempt and halt legislative efforts to limit gun carrying in places where guns don’t belong – schools, churches, and government buildings.

For example, in the aftermath of the October 1, 2015, mass shooting in Oregon, pro-gun advocates blamed the school’s policies for the massacre, suggesting schools were specifically targeted because shooters were less likely to be confronted with armed resistance.

Facts:

According to the FBI, most of the mass shooting incidents in the US occur either in private homes or public places where civilians are free to carry guns.

There were 156 mass shootings in the US from 2009 to 2016, and only 10% occurred in gun-free zones, but 63% - in private homes.

In fact, the Umpqua Community College, where the Oregon massacre took place, wasn’t a gun-free zone, nor are any of the public colleges or universities in Oregon. There were armed students near the scene, including at least two trained military veterans.

More important is there’s no evidence whatsoever that shooters target locations because they are known to be gun-free.

True motives are always personal

A Mother Jones analysis found that the primary motive for a shooter to target a specific location is a personal or emotional grievance, such as workplace disputes, school bullying, or domestic violence.

According to the FBI study, in 63% of the mass shootings, the shooter had some type of relationship with the victims. It’s the personal motivation – not the number of guns likely to be present in a place – that defines the choice of a location in most mass shootings.

According to a 2015 analysis of gun violence data, 57% of mass shooting victims in 2010-2015 were family members and intimate partners, with women and children accounting for two-thirds of victims.

Most mass shooters are on a suicide mission

Dr. Peter Langman, a clinical psychologist, and author of School Shooters: Understanding High School, College, and Adult Perpetrators, explains that many mass shooters go on a suicide mission – either by their own hand or by cop. In which case, armed security is never a deterrent “because they’re not trying to get away with it.”

Gun-free zones are relatively safe

The “gun-free zone” rhetoric also conveniently ignores the fact that these zones are among the safest in the country. According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report, less than 2% of youth homicides and less than 1% of non-fatal gun injuries occur at gun-free schools and college campuses.

On the contrary, extensive evidence suggests that more guns lead to more firearm-related deaths and injuries in public places:

  • Crime victims who use weapons other than guns for self-defense are less likely to sustain injuries than those who use a firearm.

  • 25% of US hospital-based shootings that occurred from 2000-2011 were carried out by a gun taken from a security officer.

5. Is “the good guy with a gun” an effective strategy to stop or prevent active shooter situations?

Rhetoric:

The only thing to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, according to NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, who produced yet another gem of a phrase in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre.

President Donald Trump suggests arming teachers can make schools safer, “If you had a teacher who was adept with the firearm, they could end the attack very quickly.”

Facts:

There’s little evidence suggesting civilians can stop the so-called bad guys during active shooter situations. Armed citizens often lack training in high-risk situations and can actually make it harder for law enforcement to minimize damage.

An FBI review of active shooter incidents that occurred between 2000 and 2013 found that of 160 incidents:

  • 21 were stopped by unarmed citizens

  • Armed individuals stopped five incidents (four of them were trained security guards)

  • Two incidents were stopped by armed civilians – one was a former US Marine, and the other an off-duty police officer

Armed civilians can aggravate a mass shooting incident, as was the case during the 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, when an armed bystander almost shot the wrong person. A 2012 analysis of 62 mass shootings found that armed bystanders increased the number of innocent people injured and killed.

Unsurprisingly, law enforcement officials overwhelmingly oppose the idea of involving armed civilians in active shooter situations. It makes it far more difficult to control a situation where the first objective is to identify which of the shooters is the bad guy. Similarly, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association decidedly oppose allowing guns in schools.

6. Do stricter gun laws work?

Rhetoric:

Had gun controls worked, Chicago would have been the safest city – is one of the frequently used arguments made against stricter gun laws.

Republican Rep. Steve Scalise notes that some of the strictest gun laws in the country are in the city of Chicago, and still Chicago has the highest gun violence rate. “A lot of people want to dismiss concealed-carry permits. They do actually increase safety,” he affirmed.

While the NRA reiterates that gun availability deters potential criminals, critics argue that stricter gun control does a much better job of preventing violence.

“In states that have universal background checks, there are 35 percent fewer gun murders than in states that don’t have them. [...] States that have tougher gun laws that keep criminals from getting guns, that keep dangerous weapons like AR-15s out of the hands of civilians, have dramatically lower rates of gun violence,” said Sen. Christopher Murphy.

Who is right then?

Facts:

Evidence suggests most guns used in high profile shootings were obtained legally. According to the Annual Gun Law Scorecard by Giffords Law Center, gun laws are effective at curbing gun violence only in states that enact them. In a state-by-state comparison, the correlation between gun laws strength and gun deaths becomes evident – fewer people die from firearm violence in states with strong gun laws, such as:

Background checks

Prohibiting firearms sales at gun shows, online and in private sales helps prevent legally prohibited individuals, such as felons and domestic abusers, from obtaining guns.

The Connecticut gun homicides dropped by 40% after the state enacted its background check law. When Missouri repealed a similar law, the state’s gun homicide rate rose 25%.

Nationwide, however, 40% of gun sales still occur in the “secondary market” where federal law doesn’t require background checks.

Everytown for Gun Safety research found that states with universal background checks have significantly lower rates of femicides, gun-related suicides, and law enforcement officers killed with handguns.

Child access prevention laws

Such laws are effective at preventing unintentional death and injury and teen suicides, as well as school shootings. One-third of handguns are stored unlocked and loaded, with most children knowing where their parents keep their guns.

Concealed carry permitting

Concealed carry permitting that grants law enforcement discretion to deny carrying concealed weapons (CCW) based on factors such as the lack of good cause or dangerous behavior is only enacted in nine states.

Expansive concealed carry permitting is linked to an increase in violent crime by a 2017 study at Stanford University. Ten years after the laws were enacted, states experienced a 13-15% rise in violent crimes. With the recent gun lobby push to force states with strong CCW laws for reciprocity with the states with weak or no CCW permitting may undermine the CCW effectiveness altogether.

Surrender of firearms by prohibited possessors

29 states require domestic abusers to transfer their guns to law enforcement (or a licensed dealer) and report to the court when they've done so. Policies that prevent domestic abusers from owning firearms are among the most popular in states with strong gun cultures because they work.

An Extreme Risk Protection Order

A relatively new law, ERPO is currently enacted in three states (California, Oregon, and Washington). The law allows law enforcement and family members to petition for removal of guns from people who demonstrate signs of dangerous behavior. In Connecticut and Indiana, only law enforcement can request these orders, so it comes as no surprise that the RAND study found the evidence of ERPO’s effectiveness inconclusive. Still, ERPO laws have the potential to prevent suicide, domestic violence incidents, and mass shootings.

A ban on the sale of military-style weapons to civilians

The ban on the sale of assault weapons, silencers, and high-capacity magazines may reduce mass shootings. It’s unlikely to have any effect on the gun deaths rate overall, however. The RAND study found “inconclusive” evidence that assault-weapons ban affected mass shootings or homicides, which comes as no surprise since only six states enacted these laws fully, and four – partially.

Strong laws = fewer gun deaths

Eight of the ten states with the strongest gun laws (California, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, and Hawaii) are also among the top 10 states with the fewest gun deaths per capita. By contrast, ten states with the weakest guns laws with an aggregate gun violence level that’s three times higher than that of the ten states with strong gun laws.

So, what’s wrong with Chicago?

As far as Chicago is concerned, the city’s murder rate in 2013 was the lowest since 1972, less than half that of Detroit and New Orleans.

Interstate gun trafficking from neighboring Indiana and guns purchased within Illinois but outside of Chicago (where strict gun laws aren’t enacted) pump up the city’s violent crime rate. Between 2009-2013, 60% of guns recovered in crimes in Chicago were acquired in other states.

If anything, Chicago rates call for more stringent regulation of gun dealers, which proved effective in curbing gun trafficking.

7. How can stricter gun laws help control gun violence if they only make it harder for law-abiding citizens to buy guns, whereas criminals always buy guns illegally?

Rhetoric:

“When guns are outlawed, only the outlaws have guns” is a tired cliché that, nonetheless, continues to surface in the gun debate.

Facts:

First off, gun laws aren’t an attack on law-abiding citizens because if they were, the same argument could be made against any law. Following the same logic, we could argue that a driver’s license is unacceptable because it might lead to bicycling or walking licensing.

Second, most guns used in high profile mass shootings were obtained legally. Moreover, a survey of prison inmates found that the so-called outlaws chose not to use a gun to carry out their crime due to fear of a stiffer sentence (79%), and because it was “against the law” (59%).

Third, the United States isn’t the only nation in the world that’s suffered shooting massacres and increased gun violence rates, but it’s consistently failed to address the problem.

Although country-by-country comparisons are inherently hard to make, many countries have effectively curbed gun violence by enacting strict gun controls:

  • Australia – after the 1996 Port Arthur tragedy, the Australian government passed tough gun controls nationwide, banning a broad range of weapons, tightening licensing, and financing mandatory buyback programs, and gun amnesty, which reduced gun possession substantially. Between 1995 and 2006, gun homicides and suicides fell by 59% (notably, homicides by other means didn’t increase). There have been no mass gun massacres ever since, whereas in the 18 years before the 1996 laws there were 13 massacres.

  • The UK – after the mass shooting at the Dunblane school in Scotland in 1996, the British government banned private ownership of automatic and semiautomatic weapons and handguns. The strict UK laws cut the annual firearm homicide and suicide rates by half, gun offenses – by two-thirds. Roughly 50-60 gun deaths per year occur in the UK.

  • Japan – with a population of 127 million, the country seldom has more than ten shooting deaths per year (compare to 12,000 in the US). If you want to own a gun in Japan, you must attend an all-day class, pass a written test, a mental health evaluation at a hospital, a background check (during which law enforcement interviews your friends and family), and score at least 95% accuracy in a shooting-range test (and then retake the exams every three years). Japanese people can only buy shotguns and air rifles - no handguns.

If anything, stricter gun laws prevent outlaws from buying guns and keep guns confined to those who are mentally and physically fit to use them.

Guide to Teen Mental Health: Advice for Kids and Parents

teen mental health

A Guide to Teen Mental Health: Advice for Kids and Parents in the Internet Age

Teenagers deal with a host of unique challenges and threats to their mental well-being that earlier generations did not have to worry about, and it takes a coordinated effort on the part of both parents and teens alike in order to overcome them.

The ramifications for not dealing with a mental illness can be dramatic: the National Institute for Mental Health reports that around half of students with a mental illness over the age of 14 will drop out of school before graduating.

In this guide, we cover the main threats to teens’ mental health and how to address them properly.

Dangers to Teens’ Mental Health

Bullying

Bullying continues to affect the lives of millions of U.S. teens even as recent media and public health campaigns seek to raise awareness of the issue. Alarmingly, stopbullying.gov reports that more than 1 in 4 students in the U.S. claim to have been bullied at school.

Victims of bullying are at risk for developing serious mental health issues--and may even contemplate suicide--so its tantamount that parents identify and address bullying if they suspect their child is a victim. Some of the warning signs for bullying are:

  • Abrupt changes in sleeping or eating habits.

  • Slipping grades or school attendance. A child may fake sick or make excuses in order to not make it to school.

  • Unusual bruises or injuries.

  • Talk of attempting self-harm.

  • Coming home with missing possessions, like electronics or jewelry.

  • Ripped, or damaged clothing.

If you recognize any of these signs in your child or a friend, it’s time to take action.

  • Bullying doesn’t have to be physical: the most common types are verbal and social bullying, followed by physical bullying and cyberbullying. (stopbullying.gov)

  • Victims of bullying are 2 to 9 times more likely to contemplate suicide compared to those that haven’t experienced it. (Yale University study)

  • Female students claim to be bullied at a higher rate than male students (23% vs. 19%) (National Center for Educational Statistics)

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying--bullying that takes place on smartphones and laptops through text messaging and on social networks--is on the rise: the percentage of students that have experienced cyberbullying nearly doubled in the ten years from 2007-2016, rising from 18% to 34%. The increase correlates with the ubiquity of smartphones and easy access to the internet.

Due it taking place on screens rather than out in the open, cyberbullying can be harder to spot compared to other forms of bullying, but it helps by knowing its common manifestations. Here are some of the frequent varieties of cyberbullying:

  • Cyberstalking: Often occuring after a nasty breakup, cyberstalking victims receive a barrage of unwanted texts from a former partner, often explicit or sexual in nature, that may include threats of violence.

  • Harassment: An unrelenting stream of cruel hurtful messages via text or social media.

  • Denigration: Posting of rumors and gossip with the intent of destroying reputations or relationships.

  • Outing: The sharing of revealing information or photos on social media or another public forum. Outing often involves photos meant for a former partner, or rumors involving the victim’s sexual orientation.

  • Impersonation: Posing as another student in order to spread rumors or make them the object of ridicule.

  • 12% of students have cyberbullied another student at one point.

  • Overweight teens are much more vulnerable to instances of cyberbullying. (Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking)

  • Around 42% of LGBTQ students have been cyberbullied in their lives, which is a higher rate than other students. (GLSEN)

Relationships

While teen romance is often linked with the fondest memories of youth, unhealthy relationships--or the fallout from a bad break up--can lead to serious mental health issues for teens. Adolescents are inexperienced in romantic situations, and often respond poorly to relationship disappointments, impacting their performance at school and behavior at home.

  • According to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics, relationship issues are the most common reason behind cyberbullying. (JAMA Pediatrics).

  • Break-ups and post-relationship difficulties have been linked to resultant mental health issues (36.8%), as well as suicide (9.9%), and self-harm (22.6%). (Behavioral Sciences)

A normal level of stress isn’t a bad thing. Unfortunately, modern teens are more stressed than ever, experiencing elevated levels that lead to the development of anxiety disorders. It is unknown why stress levels are so high in today’s adolescents, yet the necessity of juggling school, extracurricular activities, sports, and relationships--with the added pressure of having to curate their social media identity--are likely to blame.

Teens often don’t have the time or tools to manage their stress: the APA reports that 42% of teens claim that they do not know how to manage their stress effectively, while 13% admit to never setting aside time for stress management.

If you think that your child is overstressed, sit them down and talk to them about lightening their activity load and taking time to relax.

  • Teens report elevated stress levels during the school year relative to vacation periods (5.8 compared to 3.9) that are also higher than adults’ average stress levels (5.1). 

  • In APA’s Stress in America survey, 30 % of teens admit to sad or depressed feelings due to stress while 31% feel overwhelmed by stress. 

Family issues and divorce

Not all of the dangers to a teen’s mental health occur at school or on the internet. In fact, adolescents dealing with family issues such as financial concerns or divorce are some of the most likely to develop mental disorders like depression and anxiety, according to numerous studies.

Parents must realize the impact that their own interpersonal conflicts and issues may have on their children. Teens have enough to worry about without having to stay up at night at night worrying about a parental separation or job layoff. Mitigate the fallout from these adult problems and let your kids know that your issues aren’t theirs to worry about.

  • A 2015 British adolescent mental health services survey concluded family relationship problems to be the number one teen mental health issue.

  • In an APA survey, family financial concerns (65%) was the third biggest stress factor for teens. 

  • A study published in the Journal of Family Psychology concluded that children of divorced families suffered from significantly higher rates of behavioral problems as compared with children from intact families. (Journal of Family Psychology)

Teen Mental Health Conditions: How to Recognize and Combat Them

Depression

Developing as a result of bullying, stressful relationships, or a genetic tendency towards the illness, depression is a serious, yet all too common disorder plaguing teens. In 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that 3 million American teens had experienced at least one major depressive episode in the preceding year.

Some of the signs your teen may be experiencing a depressive episode are:

  • Leaving or running away from home for extended periods

  • Excessive internet or smartphone use

  • Slipping grades or apathy towards social interaction

  • Bullying of peers, or other violent behavior

  • Drug and alcohol abuse, unsafe sex, or other reckless behavior.

If your child or a friend are exhibiting any of these behaviors, opening up a dialogue with them is the best course of action. Teen depression is both underreported, and under treated: around 60% of adolescents suffering from depression do not receive any form of treatment, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Teens are often reticent to share their feelings, so patience is key. However, it’s important to be persistent when you confront them, as depression can lead to reckless behavior and serious forms of self-harm.

  • Of the adolescents with major depressive episode, about 70% were severely impaired. 

  • 20 to 50% of teens that had experienced a depressive episode have a family member with depression or related mental health disorder. 

  • The frequency of depression is much more common in adolescent females (19.4%) compared to males (6.4%)

Anxiety

A common result of the stress experienced by teens is anxiety: the National Institute of Mental Health reports that approximately 20% of boys and 30% of girls (6.3 million teens, overall) have suffered from an anxiety disorder. While the condition is not considered as severe as depression, its mental and physical effects can be debilitating.

One way for teens to cope with anxiety is through practicing mindfulness: the use of meditation and other relaxation techniques to mitigate the effects of school-related stress. Many schools and youth organizations now teach students these techniques and they are proven effective. Left Brain Buddha hosts an excellent guide on getting teens started on the path to mindfulness.

  • The percentage of modern teens and college students experiencing anxiety and related mental health issues is five times that of surveyed teens and college students during the Great Depression. (Jean Twenge, San Diego State University)

  • Just 20% of youths suffering from an anxiety disorder receive proper treatment. (Child Mind Institute)

Body image issues

The perpetual media barrage of skinny models wearing expensive clothes has a considerable effect on the minds of teens, and girls in particular. An MACMH survey reported that an alarming 53% of 13 year-old girls in the U.S. express dissatisfaction with their bodies, a number that increases to 78% by age 17.

Let your teens know that they should be comfortable in their skin, and to ignore unrealistic media representations. While peer pressure and social media are tough to combat, you support goes a long way.

  • Over 30% of teen males and 50% of teen females use unhealthy methods like fasting, skipping meals, vomiting, taking laxatives and smoking to control their weight. 

  • 56% of teens claim that advertisements are the primary cause of their self-esteem issues.

Eating disorders

Teens especially dissatisfied with their bodies may develop a dangerous eating disorder. If your teen avoids meals, exhibits sudden weight loss, or excessively examines themselves in the mirror, they may be suffering from bulimia or anorexia.

Eating disorders can have serious health consequences. Dealing with them usually necessitates a coordinated approach involving therapy and family involvement, so early intervention is important.

  • 5.4% of American teens aged 13 to 18 (around 2.2 million) will be afflicted with bulimia, binge eating disorder, or anorexia in their lifetime. (National Institute of Mental Health)

  • 70% of those suffering from an eating disorder do not seek treatment.

Substance abuse & addiction

As with other age groups, teens often cope with stress and mental health issues by abusing illegal drugs and alcohol. While illicit drug use is down, overall, in the U.S., it remains a persistent concern.

  • The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) concluded that approximately 2.5 American teens between the ages 12 and 17 regularly use illicit drugs. (NSDUH)

  • In positive news, use of illicit drugs other than marijuana dropped to the lowest in two decades among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders according to a 2017 study. (NIH)

Overuse of social media and smartphone addiction

A PEW survey reported that 73% American teens own or can gain access to a smartphone. While responsible use of phones and social media is fine and even beneficial to a teen, overuse is linked to depression and unhappiness.

A recent study published in Emotion using data gathered from over a million 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in the United States concluded that teenagers who were physically active, played sports, and were social were happier than those who spent a large amount of time on their phones using social media apps and texting.

Talk to your teens about their smartphone and internet use. Make sure they know the dangers, and limit their use to 1-2 hours a day. We know that teens that spend less time on their phones are happier and healthier, and they will soon find out for themselves.

  • Teens are the most frequent users of social media platforms. (CDC)

  • Social media use has correlated with mental health issues such as sleep problems and eating disorders.

  • A recent study linked smartphone addiction to chemical imbalance in the brains of young people. (EurekAlert!)

Self harm

Teens that cut themselves, or practice some other form of self-harm, are looking for a means to manage their anxiety and emotional pain. While it doesn’t mean that the teen is suicidal, teens that harm themselves are far more likely to attempt suicide, rendering it an issue of the gravest concern.

Considering the severity of self-harm, psychotherapy or even a 30-day inpatient program may be necessary to deal with the problem. As in the case of depression, firmly, yet gently approach your teen and start a dialogue if you witness any evidence that they may be hurting themselves.

  • Teens that had been treated for forms of self-harm were found to have a 25 times greater likelihood than their peers to commit suicide within the forthcoming year. (Pediatrics)

  • 5% of cyberbullying victims report inflicting self-harm at some point.

Suicide

Suicide is the worst nightmare for the parents of a teen, and sadly, it’s on the rise in America. ANY evidence of suicidal thoughts or tendencies must be handled with utmost urgency. The signs of suicidal ideation are similar to depression, but also include:

  • Talk of suicide or unusual fascination with death.

  • Giving away cherished possessions.

  • Apathy towards activities that they previously enjoyed.

  • Reckless behavior and unnecessary risks

  • Marks or scars on the body indicative of self-injury

  • Calling old friends or estranged relatives out of the blue

If your child or a friend exhibits any of these behaviors, yet you are afraid to approach the situation alone, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-TALK) will help you through the crisis..

  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people, with about 4,400 deaths per year. 

  • For every teen suicide, there are 100 suicide attempts. 

  • Every 100 minutes a teen dies from suicide. 

Tips and Tools for Parents and Teens to Maintain Good Mental Health

Open communication

A common thread running through this guide is that communication with your teen child can help them cope with their mental health issues. Yet, it’s easy said than done. Here are some tips on how to communicate effectively with your teen:

  • Don’t lecture them. Teens respond negatively to patronizing lectures. Hit your points, but be patient, kind, and avoid coming off like a cop.

  • Listen. Yes, you are eager to let them know what you think, but listening to what your teen has to say may open your eyes to issues that you haven’t considered.

  • Let them know beforehand. Ask your kid when they are ready and open for a talk so they can mentally prepare for it and aren’t blindsided by you bringing up weighty issues.

  • Stay calm. Teens may not respond the way you want them to, but remember to keep your cool and not explode into anger, even if your teen acts dismissive or moody.

Diet and fitness

A healthy and fit teen is most often a happy teen. Unfortunately, most adolescents don’t get the right amount of exercise.

The CDC recommends 60 minutes of physical activity a day, with 3 days of moderate-to-vigorous activity a week for teens. Exercise is a proven way to relieve stress and improve mental health.

  • More than 80% of adolescents fail to meet national guidelines for physical activity. (HHS)

  • There’s a 70% chance that overweight adolescents have a 70% will become overweight or obese adults. 

Sleep

According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens need at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night for proper functioning. Unfortunately, teens may consider that unrealistic in light of their academic and social demands.

However, a good night’s sleep should take priority over almost all else, as the effects of sleep deprivation can be serious, leading to depression, anxiety and reckless behavior.

Let your kid know the benefits of sleep, and the dangers of not getting enough of it. A few consecutive nights of adequate rest may be all the convincing they need to make it a greater priority in their lives.

  • 60 to 70% of American teens live with a borderline to severe sleep debt. (CMI)

  • Lack of sleep leads to teens to impulse control issues and participation in reckless behavior such as drug use and unprotected sex. 

Therapy and medication

When all else fails to help your teen cope with their mental health issues, therapy or counseling is the next logical step. Consult with your pediatrician or general practitioner for help in scheduling an appointment with a therapist.

Sometimes all it takes is someone outside the family and friend circle to talk with about the issues they are facing, while in other cases more intensive psychotherapy or medication prescribed may be necessary.

  • 40.2% of adolescents suffering from serious mental or behavioral issues received non-medication mental health services in a community clinic within the past 6 months. (CDC)

  • Around 50% teens who take antidepressants see improvement. It may take up to six weeks of taking medication at the appropriate dose to start feeling better. 

Mental Health Resources for Teens and their Parents

  • National Institute of Mental Health: The institute’s website provides facts and information on a large swath of mental health issues.

  • Teens Health: A friendly, accessible source of doctor-approved information on the many concerns teens face, regarding mental health and otherwise.

  • American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: An excellent site with guides on coping with various mental health issues, educational videos, and a directory of places where teens can seek help for mental issues.

  • Girls Health.Gov: A government-sponsored website focusing on the specific issues facing young girls and woman, and advice on how they can navigate the traumas and feelings associated with being a teenage girl.

Center for Young Women’s Health and Young Men’s Health

Resources for Financial Hardship in the U.S.

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Being in debt is often considered a way of life in the U.S. Student loans, mortgages, credit cards and medical bills are the norm and they burden people of all ages and all walks of life. Financial hardship can be a slow, drawn-out process where debt builds up over time or it can be thrust upon people without notice.

The average American has over $6,000 of credit card debt, which isn’t a problem for some, but what happens when that debt becomes too much? What are the options when the money coming in doesn’t cover the money going out and minimum payments become a struggle?

This list of resources for financial hardship covers programs to assist with financial hardship, apps that help with basic budgeting from everyday expenses to the more serious issues surrounding bankruptcy and loan refinancing.

This handy guide covers programs that assist with debt relief and financial hardship, budgeting apps that help manage finances, and online resources with a wealth of information and advice to walk you through the difficult processes of bankruptcy and loan refinancing.

Debt Relief and Financial Hardship

If people find themselves swamped by various forms of debt and unable to pay monthly bills, there are programs that may alleviate the financial burden. While such programs vary in their qualifications, they can generally be a huge help to those without recourse.

There aren’t simple shortcuts out of massive debt, but resources do exist that will help you attack certain forms of debt with much greater ease. They range from government programs to help people refinance their mortgage, to debt settlement companies that help pay off high-interest credit card bills quickly.

HARP - Created in 2009 in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis, the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) is a federal program designed to help homeowners in negative equity refinance their mortgages. While the program was specifically set up to cover those hit hard by the collapse of the housing market a decade ago that owe more on their mortgage than the value of their house, the program was extended through December, 2018, and many in the U.S. are still eligible for assistance.

The qualifying criteria have changed several times over the years, but now specify that a homeowner’s mortgage must be owned or guaranteed by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, and was acquired by these organizations on or before May 1, 2009. Also, the property’s loan-to-value ratio has to be above 80% and the homeowner should be able to benefit from the loan by lower monthly payments.

While the number of people suffering from mortgage issues still eligible to benefit from HARP has certainly declined since its founding, it’s still possible for over 143,000 homeowners to benefit from the program, according to FHFA.gov.

Benefits.gov - Often, crippling debt and financial hardship can impede on an individual’s ability to provide the basic needs for his or her family. For a situation like this, the federal government’s site Benefits.gov is a great resource to mitigate the most severe crises related to financial hardship.

The site lists all of the government benefits one may be eligible to receive based on the state the individual resides in, including food stamps, low income energy assistance, unemployment insurance, and others. Though some are reticent to accept so-called “handouts” from the government, desperate times require people to set aside their prejudices and seek the assistance that they need. That is the reason the social safety net exists, and continues to help people when they are down-and-out.

Benefits.gov provides portals to specific programs so that people can determine whether or not they qualify for the various forms of aid offered.

InCharge Debt Solutions - A non-profit organization focused on helping people rid themselves of debt and move towards a brighter financial future, InCharge claims to have helped over 3 million people handle their debt and has been written up in such publications as The Washington Post, Bloomberg, and The New York Times.

Depending on the amount and severity of their debt, InCharge offers a number of resources to people in need of help, including credit and student loan counseling, debt management and consolidation programs, and debt relief solutions. Their non-profit status helps assure people that their financial hardship will be the focus, rather than schemes to somehow further profit off of needy individuals. The financial literacy education options offered by the organization reduce the likelihood that people will make unwise monetary decisions going forward.

To get started with InCharge, you can create an account on their website by filling your personal information and the specifics of your debt, or by calling (866) - 254-8734 and speaking to a counselor. Though emerging from a debt crisis will still be tough, utilizing the services of InCharge can ease the process significantly.

National Debt Relief - National Debt Relief is a Better Business Bureau-accredited, top-rated debt settlement company that focuses on debt settlement as a primary alternative to other routes of debt relief, such as bankruptcy or consolidation. In debt settlement, a company’s lawyers negotiate with creditors to lower outstanding balances and reduce both the number and cost of payments.

National Debt Relief is not an option for everyone, as mortgages, IRS debt, auto loans, and various other forms of debt are not able to be settled by the company. Furthermore, if a person is unable to handle the minimum monthly payment, the individual may not qualify for its services. However, for those suffering under heavy credit card debt or unable to pay large medical bills, National Debt Relief’s debt settlement option is an effective way to eliminate debt within three years. Visit the website to see if you qualify for the company’s services.

Budgeting

Whether hardship is on the horizon or if a person suddenly finds themselves in a tight spot, knowing the options and resources available to mitigate the problem is crucial.

The first step to avoiding or alleviating financial hardship is learning how to budget. Seeing where money is going is often a surprising exercise for people, with small, everyday buys purchases building up to become big expenses at the end of the month.

Take a medium Latte from Starbucks which costs on average $4. One coffee a day at five days a week works out to $80 dollars a month. This alone may not seem like a huge amount but small costs do add up.

Keeping track of spending is key to getting a hold on these costs. Luckily, there are apps that make this process easier.

Pocketguard - This app makes it possible to link checking and savings accounts, credit cards, investments, and loans. This is especially useful once users input bills as Pocketguard figures out how much disposable income there is to play with. It does this by calculating income and expenses across the whole month so even if a bill isn’t due yet, it will give a clear picture of what can and can’t be spent. It also looks at what services people are paying for and suggests switching companies or plans based on their needs and spending.

Home Budget - This app is particularly useful for managing family finances. It has a lot of the features of Pocketguard, but allows multiple users with varied budgets. This can be a great asset for single income families so they can see exactly how much each person can afford to spend and what they should be saving.

Another feature this app offers is their debt strategy management. This looks at all debts and figures out the best repayment plan for each loan. Depending on interest rates, it may make sense to pay off one loan before the other. For example, an unpaid credit card bill may come with significantly higher penalties than a late phone and utilities bill.

Home Budget also categorizes all spending into various categories automatically. Food, gas, bills, and entertainment are all recognized and organized into easy-to-read pie charts so it’s easy to see exactly where money is going.

Dollarbird - For those where timing is key in managing debt, Dollarbird is based around a calendar. It allows people to organize debts by the date they are due. It also shows days when income is expected, which can be particularly useful for those who are sending out multiple invoices

The free version allows one calendar for one user, but an upgrade to pro is $40 per year. This allows for three users and up to 20 separate calendars, which is great for freelancers and small businesses to keep their personal finances separate.

Clarity Money - This app makes use of computer AI to analyse all subscriptions and look for services that would save a person money. It looks at your interests and shows products that users may be interested in that would also save money.

They use simple graphs to show income and expenditure and it also guides people through applying for the credit card that suits their spending best.

Digit - Digit is an app for those who really aren’t sure how much they can save each month, but know they want to start saving. Digit looks at current spending and analyses how much people can send to a separate Digit savings account.

Users can set savings goals, but Digit won’t send your bank account into overdraft by only taking out what can be afforded.

It’s free for the first 30 days and then after that it’s only $2.99 per month. They also have a 1% bonus if users save for three consecutive months.

Tax returns

Tax returns can be a minefield and all too often people will file their taxes late or incorrectly resulting in fines. Filing taxes can be daunting, especially if money is already tight. However, it’s worth remembering that it’s better to be late paying a tax bill than to be late filing taxes. If taxes aren’t filed on time, interest is charged at 5% per month on what is owed. However if the taxes are filed without payment, the interest is only 0.5%.

So if a person owes $1,000, after five months they could either owe $1,250 by filing late or $1,025 by paying late. Needless to say, it’s worth getting taxes in on time, and there are ways to help get everything in order.

IRS Website - As obvious as this one is, the IRS Website is a good place to start (assuming the site is up and running properly). Surprisingly easy to navigate with articles explaining the process very clearly, it not only has all the forms you need but also explanations on why and how to file them correctly. Browsing through the articles will help anyone who is nervous about filing taxes.

H&R Block Tax Calculator - The most difficult part of the return is figuring out how much is actually owed. H&R Block has a whole host of free tools to use related to paying taxes, and they can be used along with the IRS website. There is also the option to have the company file taxes for a fee, but with all the information available for free, it’s easier than ever for an individual to submit their own returns.

Turbotax - These guys have been around for years and for good reason. The user-interface of Turbotax couldn’t be easier, it uses question-and-answer based survey rather than confusing form filing.

If people are submitting multiple W-2 wage statements their app has the ability to take a photo of the document and automatically fill in the information.

This functionality does come at a price with varied packages offering different levels of filing. They do have a free basic package but it only allows the filing of 1040EZ or 1040A forms. These forms can only used if earning less than $100,000 and the user doesn’t need to itemize any deductions.

Their most expensive package isn’t bad and comes in at $179 for Turbotax Live. This will include any form that the IRS can request, a one on one review of returns and live tax advice from on-screen CPAs or EAs.

Bankruptcy

According to a study by Comet 80% of Americans are living in debt. Much of this debt is considered a “good debt”, meaning an investment, usually in the form of mortgages for a house.

The next highest areas of debt are student loans and medical bills followed by credit card and personal loans. The problem occurs when people consistently fall behind on multiple loans and bills. If people are struggling to even make minimum payments for consecutive months then filing for bankruptcy might be the best option.

There are different procedures for personal vs business bankruptcy as well as different consequences for the sale of assets. There are a host of online tools and information available to guide people through this process and help them figure out what kind of bankruptcy filing they are going to make.

Glossary of Bankruptcy Terms - Declaring bankruptcy can be stressful enough without the extra issue of not understanding the terms used during the process. This glossary is from the U.S. Courts site and contains simple explanations of the most common terms. Knowing and understanding these terms will help expedite the process and this is a useful tool to keep bookmarked throughout the filing.

Debt.org - This organization helps people understand their debt via a huge amount of information about the specifics of the bankruptcy process, from the initial application to restructuring debts. It’s simple to use and their tools can be tailored to specific situations. The site asks a few questions about the amount of money owed along with the type of debt and comes up with options from refinancing to which forms to fill out.

Legal Match - The thought of hiring someone while broke may seem like a bizarre idea, but a specialist financial lawyer can help people hold on to their assets. For most people this means that they may be able to hold on to their home, and with the right representation loans can be written off and allow people to start fresh. Legal Match asks people for information on their debts, and helps find a lawyer in their area. There is no charge to present a case to Legal Match so it’s worth it to see if it can help.

Business Bankruptcy

Declaring bankruptcy as a business has different consequences for the individual declaring it than declaring bankruptcy as an individual. An individual may be able to protect their personal assets unless they were used as collateral for business loans. In this case, the assets may be seized and used to repay debtors. For small business owners, personal and business finance may be combined in one bank account, so it’s important to know the different processes and how to proceed.

There are two ways of declaring bankruptcy as a business:

  1. The first is to file under Chapter 7 bankruptcy where the business is liquidated and all non-exempt assets are used to pay debtors.

  2. The second is Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Chapter 11 bankruptcy allows for a restructuring and repayment plan to be put in place. This allows a business to stay operational and gives the opportunity for a business to recover.

Understanding these differences and how to approach each of these is difficult, but the following resources will make the process much easier.

Nolo.com - Nolo is an amazing resource for information on what to expect from the bankruptcy process. They aim to guide those who plan to undertake the process of declaring bankruptcy themselves. They have enough free information on their site to give people an understanding of what lies ahead of them. However, they also sell e-books that give an outline of processes and expected outcomes of bankruptcy cases.

If the DIY approach seems overly daunting, they also have a lawyer finding tool. They can put you in contact with a local lawyer who specialises in fiscal law and can make the process even smoother.

Recovering your credit score - A bankruptcy will stay on a person’s credit report for 10 years and obviously damages a credit score. However there are things that can be done to mitigate this. Hiring a credit counselling agency can help people get back to decent credit and allow them to look for credit once more. Making sure that the agency is legitimate is key here and the Department of Justice has a list of approved agencies by state.

TotalBankruptcy.com - Total Bankruptcy are a site that can put business owners in contact with financial lawyers nationwide. The advantages of having a lawyer who knows how to navigate the financial world can be invaluable and lead to a quicker recovery.

As well as their law services their site also has advice on how to rebuild after going through a bankruptcy. Following their advice can help rebuild a credit score and also help to restructure any new venture to be more fiscally responsible than the last venture.

Consolidating Loans

People will often have several different types of loans, and the constant pressure of repayments can be overwhelming. Consolidating a loan simply means combining all existing loans into one payment. Not only does this make it more manageable in terms of one payment instead of several payments, but also has other advantages.

If a person has a lot of credit card debt they most likely have quite high interest repayments. If they aren’t even making the minimum payments on those debts the penalties can be severe. By consolidating it gives people an opportunity to have a repayment plan that they know they can pay off.

USA.gov - When looking for financial advice it’s important to understand where the information is coming from. The USA.gov site has impartial advice to help people in debt know where to turn to. The site suggests where to get free counselling, how to check if organizations or companies are legitimate, and offers advice and information that is trustworthy.

The Financial Counselling Association of America - This is one of the many resources recommended by the USA.gov site. The FCAA can help people find a counsellor who can begin the process of consolidating loans. They also have a range of services that includes viewing and evaluating a credit score, repayment structures, and also a very informative blog. Going through a councillor can be beneficial to make sure that the interest rates charged on the new consolidated loan will actually be beneficial.

Lendkey - Lendkey are a company that consolidates loans through non-profit Credit Unions and banks rather than large banks and lending institutions. The biggest advantage of this is that interest rates in non-profit organizations are generally a lot lower than in for-profit banks. Lendkey searches a vast network of these non-profits and finds the best deal for consolidating loans.

Federal Student Aid - Students loans are one of the biggest debts in the U.S. and the Federal Student Aid has information on how to consolidate loans without the help of an extra agency. This is for people who have multiple federal education loans but want to make them a single payment. This site walks though the process of applying for a consolidation by themselves along with some pros and cons of it.

Loan types to avoid

Unfortunately, when people are in financial difficulty there those who try to take advantage. This practice has been around for a long time, and targets those who believe that they have very few options left.

As a general rule, if it sounds too good to be true, it is. Companies that offer loans without any collateral or don’t require a credit check can be incredibly dangerous to deal with.

Companies that offer small personal loans or “payday loans” have high interest rates or fees. These fees are usually between $15 and $30 per $100 borrowed, and if you can’t afford to pay off the loan when the date comes around, those fees will double.

Before considering these quick-fix options, people dealing with financial difficulties should look at all the options.

Credit Karma - This site is mainly for people to check their credit score, but they also have a function to see ratings of companies that are offering loans.

Companies offering short term loans often try to warn against these types of loans while also offering them, but claiming that they are different. It’s important to reiterate that if it seems too good to be true, it is.

Check the company of Credit Karma and see what others are saying about them. While on the Credit Karma site, users can look at their list of loan providers that they can apply for safely.

Find Legal help - This site is run by the American Bar Association to help people access

legal aid. This can be especially useful for anyone who has already borrowed money from a payday loan or short-term personal finance company.

These types of companies are illegal in many states and people borrowing from them should know their rights. Find Legal Help can give advice on how to proceed and even help find a lawyer to represent them if needs be.

Bankrate - Spotting a personal loan scam - Bankrate are similar to Credit Karma in that they will help find the best rates for loans, credit cards and investments. However they also have a lot of useful information on spotting scams.

Using their guide to figuring out if a loan is a scam or not, users will be able to protect themselves from getting involved with unsavoury schemes.

Moving out of debt

The main takeaway from this list of resources is that there are options for anyone going through financial hardship. Debt is a part of life and the worst thing that anyone in a tight situation can do is to pretend that the problem doesn’t exist.

The sooner that a person can get a hold of their expenses and income and figure out a viable plan for their future, the better. Understanding what services and options are available to people going through a tough financial time can go a long way to returning to a less stressful life.

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