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Common Sense and Smart-Home Technology Help Protect Latchkey Kids

latchkey

It’s not easy being the parent of a “latchkey kid,” a child who’s left at home alone during the period after school but before Mom or Dad get home from work. It’s a time when they’re vulnerable not just to intruders, but also to the temptations that go along with having an extra little bit of freedom – even if it’s only for a couple of hours.

School’s back in session, so it’s a good time to talk about what parents can do to make sure their children remain safe – and out of trouble – while they’re home alone. Safety and security is what Monitronics does best, so (naturally) we have some ideas that will help ease everyone’s mind.

Start with the basics

It’d be nice if kids would sit quietly and waited for their parents to get home, but it just doesn’t work that way. That’s why it’s important to set ground rules. Much of it is common sense, like making sure that homework is complete before video games begin, or letting them know that certain parts of the house are off-limits when they’re alone.

But don’t be afraid to dig deeper. For example, it seems drastic to limit the number of friends who are allowed in the house after school, or even to specifically call out which “friends” aren’t welcome. But it doesn’t take long for peer pressure to build, and for mild temptations to become serious situations.

Have an honest, candid dialogue to discuss everyone’s expectations. There may be some room for compromise; don’t hesitate to meet your kids halfway, but stick to your guns.

Trust, but verify

Once the ground rules have been established, how do you know that everything is going according to plan? One easy way is through video security cameras at strategic locations throughout the house.

Everyone knows that video surveillance is a proven deterrent to burglars when no one is home. But it’s also a valuable way of keeping tabs on what’s happening when the kids are on their own. You not only make sure that the rules are being followed, but you also can be alerted to any trouble at a moment’s notice through text and email. Plus, there’s always recorded video that can help settle any disputes about what “really happened.”

Accessing live video through your smartphone doesn’t make you a spy. It doesn’t make you a distrustful parent. It makes you feel secure knowing that everything is OK.

Security starts at the door

Video also extends to the front door, with video doorbells like SkyBell HD. You can see who’s at the front door any time of day, which is especially important when your kids are home alone. You can get an alert on your smartphone, check out the video, and even speak to the person remotely. It’s a simple but powerful security tool.

Ultimately, though, the most important thing is knowing they arrived home safely. SkyBell (which can track visitors even when they don’t ring the doorbell) can play an important role, but you can also get real-time alerts through smart-home door locks. Plus, if they accidentally get locked out, you can let them in with a swipe of your finger.

Those are just a few of the ways that you can help make your kids safer when you can’t be home. Call Monitronics today and we’ll give you some more ideas.

Learn More About Neighborhood Crime with our Interactive Report

neighborhood crime

It’s understood that buying a home is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make. That’s why smart buyers consider a lengthy list of factors – everything from the age and condition of the home to the quality of the school district – before making an offer.

Buyers who want to dig deeper will learn more about the neighborhood, and not just what it looks like while they’re driving through it. Appearances can sometimes be deceiving, and that’s where we can help.

Monitronics offers a useful tool that looks below the surface by examining neighborhood crime reports. It’s our way of showing that we care about your safety and security, even when you’re beyond the reach of your home security system.

Using data from CrimeReports.com, we put together an up-to-date interactive map showing crimes that relate to the neighborhood around any given address, or in a particular ZIP code. Even if you’re already living in an area, it’s wise to understand any potential threats not just to homes, but to your kids who hang out with their friends down the street.

It’s a comprehensive list that shows not just residential and commercial property crimes such as burglary, or breaking and entering, but also:

  • Assaults (with or without a deadly weapon).
  • Weapons and drug offenses.
  • Robberies and theft, including vehicles that are stolen or broken into.
  • Domestic violence.
  • Sexual assault, as well as the location of registered sex offenders.

The list also includes the enforcement side of the equation, mapping out instances of proactive policing such as pedestrian stops and vehicle stops.

Understanding crime in your neighborhood isn’t just a great way to learn more about the home you want to move into, or the one you already live in. It’s not just about home security either. It’s figuring out how to protect yourself and your loved ones once you step out the front door.

Take Simple Steps to Protect Yourself Online

online

Doing any kind of business online can put you at risk, especially since Internet-related crimes and hacking are now more common than ever. Consumers owe it to themselves and their families to be extra diligent in order to minimize the risks of being victimized.

According to 2015 statistics, there are now more than 3.17 billion internet users worldwide. If just one-half of 1 percent of those users goes online with criminal intent, that will work out to as many as 15 million people just looking for victims.

Consumers need to be just as diligent about protecting themselves online as they are about preventing burglary, property crimes, and the like. In fact, anyone with a home security system or home automation that depends on a wireless network also needs to engage in safe practices to avoid being compromised. Home security and home automation systems from Monitronics authorized dealers are designed to be secure, but you can take positive steps to help keep them that way.

Guard Personal Information

We hear warnings all the time, yet the importance of guarding personal information is still lost on far too many people.

  • Never transmit information online unless you are positive you are working with a reputable merchant with adequate security policies. That means credit card numbers, social security numbers or any other personal information.
  • Never share your passwords with anyone, even your best friends or family members. This especially applies to your network and any smartphone apps you use for your home.
  • Be sure to change all of your passwords on a regular basis, and use a combination of capital and small characters, numbers, and punctuation marks. The more complicated the password, the more difficult it is to hack.
  • Should you receive unsolicited e-mails from any company, even if you trust that company, take a minute to hover your cursor over all of the links in that e-mail to see where they lead. This is a good way to tell if an unsolicited e-mail is a scam. Also be aware of “phishing scams” that try to convince you to provide sensitive information online.
  • When it comes to doing business with websites or answering emails that you’re unsure about, the simple rule is: If you’re in doubt, don’t.

Keep an Eye on Your Monthly Bill

Credit card hackers love people who simply leave their monthly bank or credit card statement unopened on the desk or countertop each month. It takes time to go through it, and it’s easy to put it off. But just a cursory glance at your statement can show you potential trouble spots. If there’s a charge that you’re not sure about, it means you may have been hacked. Often, hackers will try a small charge with a well-known company – just to see if you’re paying attention – before trying a big transaction.

Only Use Secured Websites

Any websites that require you to enter personal information should be encrypted and secure. Look at the web address in your browser. If the address begins with “https,” the site is secure and encrypted. If it starts with “http,” the site is not secure.

Use Social Media Wisely

When you use social media to tell the world you are on vacation, or you have just checked in at a café downtown, you’re also telling criminals that you are not home. It’s tempting to think that your social media “friends” would never take advantage of the situation, but it’s more common than you think. You’re also susceptible if your social media account (or one of your friends) is hacked. The less information you make publicly available, the more secure you will be.

Take Advantage of Credit Monitoring

The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the nationwide credit reporting companies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – to provide you with a free credit report at your request once every 12 months. There are other sources of credit reporting as well, including banks, credit card companies, and other providers, though they may include hidden charges or upsell opportunities. Consider enrolling in an ongoing credit monitoring service, which keeps track of your accounts and warns you if someone is trying to use your information fraudulently.

Don’t take your online security for granted. Being careful and diligent will help to keep you one step ahead of the hackers.

Sources:

1. Satista – http://www.statista.com/statistics/273018/number-of-internet-users-worldwide/

Quick and Easy Home Improvements Add Value Before the Sale

Home Improvements

Your home is probably the single biggest investment you’ll ever make, so you want it to retain – and even improve – its value for as long as you own it. If you’re willing to put in a little bit of time and effort, there are a number of quick and easy home improvements that will add value when it comes time to sell. Even better, they don’t cost a lot of money, which means you’ll enjoy maximum return on your dollar by investing more elbow grease than actual cash.

Keep Your Yard Neat and Trimmed

What potential buyers see from the curb will create the first impression of your home in their mind, so keep your home looking neat from the outside. For several weeks before listing your home, make a point to regularly cut the grass, remove any and all clutter, replace worn flowerpots, remove unattractive lawn ornaments, and so on.

Trim and shape the shrubs so that they do not block first-floor windows or the front entryway. This not only improves the curb appeal of your house, but also makes it difficult for would-be burglars to do their business unnoticed. A quick application of mulch around the base of your shrubs will spruce things up quickly and easily.

Give the Kitchen Some Class

Real estate experts say that the kitchen is the most important room in your home, so start by doing a thorough cleaning that includes countertops, stove, floors and cupboards. Look at easy ways to make other areas look sharp; for example, if the caulking around the kitchen sink is looking old and ratty, you can scrape it off and put down new caulk in a matter of minutes.

It’s relatively easy and inexpensive to replace a linoleum floor with something brand-new. Update your cupboards with new hardware and, in the case of worn paint or stain, a quick refinish that you can accomplish over the weekend. Applying matching cosmetic panels to appliances creates a coordinated look in the kitchen. The panels are inexpensive and a breeze to install.

Brighten up the Bathroom

The second-most important room in your home is the bathroom. Unfortunately, it’s often the most neglected area. Start by sprucing it up with a new toilet seat and a re-grout, if necessary. You can purchase an inexpensive pedestal sink to replace your current unit if it’s looking worn. You’ll want to replace any chipped tiles on the floor or walls. Finally, hit all of the painted walls with a fresh coat of gloss or semi-gloss.

New Paint Makes Everything Look Great

Most homeowners are surprised by how much better things look after a new coat of paint. A freshly painted house looks clean and new as long as you buy good quality paint, take your time, and be sure to use painter’s tape to create clean lines in the finished product.

A fresh coat of paint in the family room, living room, and all of the bedrooms will instantly give new life to your house. Best of all, paint is relatively inexpensive compared to replacing carpets and buying all new appliances.

With a small investment of time and money, you can add value to your house that will make it easier sell, and command a higher price.

 

Learning a Language: Easier for the Young, Beneficial for Everyone

second-language

There was a day when kids in junior high and high school took foreign language classes as a requirement. Once students reached seventh or eighth grade, they had to start thinking about taking Spanish, French, German or whatever other languages the school offered.

Perhaps previous generations were onto something. It turns out that learning a second language when you are young is not only beneficial, but also easier.

Studies have consistently shown over the years that younger brains are more capable of learning more things in shorter amounts of time. We all instinctively know this to be true. Young brains process information more readily than older brains, which is why it’s easier to teach young people how to use technology while older people struggle.

This suggests that the best time to learn a foreign language is during the elementary and junior high years. For adults, though, the younger vs. older principle still applies. The earlier you get started, the easier it is to learn a foreign language.

Mental and Social Benefits

Learning a second language is about learning to think and communicate in a new way. Yet there are additional benefits that go above and beyond just being able to travel to another country and speak the language. Below is a list of some of those benefits as explained by Procter & Gamble, Medical Daily, and Be Brain Fit:

  • Increased Mental Acuity – A 2014 study published by Brain and Language indicates that people who speak more than one language are able to complete difficult mental tasks more easily. Researchers attribute this increased mental acuity to the fact that learning foreign languages is excellent mental exercise.
  • Increased Cognition – Studies also suggest that overall cognition is better in people who speak multiple languages. Bilingual people tend to be more focused, have better memory, have greater mental flexibility, and are able to switch mental tasks more quickly and fluidly.
  • Increased Brain Size – Other studies have shown that learning and using multiple languages increases the size and density of the brain. Areas of the brain that deal specifically with our language skills benefit the most.
  • Possible Alzheimer’s Protection – Though the jury is still out on this benefit, studies are beginning to indicate that learning and using multiple languages might help reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease – or slow down its onset – by helping the brain work more efficiently.
  • Better Grasp of Native Language – People who study second languages tend to come away with a better grasp of their own language as a result. You can often learn more about English grammar in a foreign language class then you would in a standard English class.
  • Better Social Skills – Kids who learn a second language tend to have better social skills by virtue of learning about other cultures and societies. Learning a second language gives kids an appreciation of the world around them.
  • Connection to Heritage – When people learn a second or third language once spoken by their direct ancestors, it can connect them to those ancestors and their heritage. This can be immense and helpful in teaching young people where they come from.

Who knew that learning a second language could be so helpful both mentally and socially? Although it’s definitely easier for younger people, remember that you’re never too old to learn.

Sources:

1. P & G Everyday – https://www.pgeveryday.com/family-life/parenting/article/5-reasons-all-children-should-learn-a-foreign-language
2. Medical Daily – http://www.medicaldaily.com/pulse/bilingualism-and-brain-health-learning-second-language-boosts-cognitive-function-even-343132
3. Be Brain Fit – http://bebrainfit.com/brain-benefits-learning-second-language/