Youth today are being raised in a connected world, yet they lack the knowledge and instincts necessary to keep themselves safe and secure online. Tablets, laptops, and smart devices are now the norm at home and school. One of the shortcomings in K-12 education is that students are taught to use various technologies, but they are not introduced to the threats they face while using them. When it comes to cybersecurity and safety, youth are one of the weakest links and teachers are not cybersecurity experts, nor should schools expect them to be. In 2016, the nonprofit Center for Cyber Safety and Education released the Children’s Internet Usage Study of elementary school children in grades 4-8 to better understand their internet usage habits. The findings include:
- 90% have at least one device (phone, tablet, or computer in their bedroom) to access the internet.
- 40% have connected or chatted with a stranger online. Of those youth, 53% shared their phone number, 30% texted the stranger, and 15% tried to meet the stranger.
- 91% of teens are sharing photos of themselves.
According to a Pew study, many teens are sharing personal information on their social media pages. In fact:
- 92% are sharing their real name
- 82% are sharing their birth date
- 71% are sharing their school name
- 71% are sharing the name of the city/town where they live
- 53% are sharing their email address
- 20% are sharing their cell phone number
Educators are also faced with the challenge of teaching the current and future generation of students about cybersecurity and privacy, fields which for most of them are relatively new and challenging to learn. Furthermore, engaging students to start considering careers in cybersecurity—much less getting them interested and talking about it—is another hurdle to conquer. Additionally, in their 2017 review, Multi-State Information Sharing & Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) reported local K-12 schools to have the least mature cybersecurity risk management practices of any state, local, tribal, or territorial government agency.  There is currently no comprehensive, ready-to-teach, K-12 cybersecurity and safety educational platform that engages young students to learn, share, and apply these skills to real world scenarios.
The current K-12 Generation Z students cover anyone who was born between 1995 to the mid 2000s, and this demographic makes up 32% of the global population, and they don’t remember a time before the internet. The attention span of a Generation Zer is just eight seconds, thus first impressions really do count. You either grab their attention in that short space of time, or you’ll be forgotten forever. Similarly, K-12 Generation Alpha students (anyone born after 2010), haven’t just grown up with technology — they’ve been completely immersed in it since birth. Early in their formative years, these children are comfortable speaking to voice assistants and swiping on smartphones. They don’t consider technologies to be tools used to help achieve tasks, but rather as deeply integrated parts of everyday life.
In short, these study made it clear that more needs to be done to protect and educate children and parents and that is why the nonprofit Center for Cyber Safety and Education teamed up with the cybersecurity professionals at (ISC)² and legendary cartoonist Jim Davis to create a fun, entertaining and interactive way for the children to learn how to be safe and secure online called Garfield’s Cyber Safety Adventures. Garfield and his friends share real life cyber situations and with the help of Dr. Cybrina and her sidekick BISBY, learn what they should and shouldn’t be doing on the internet.
This year we are turning the January 28 Data Privacy Day into Cyber Safety Day Tampa Bay. Thanks to the support of companies like AWS, Yum! Brands, KnowBe4 and others, some 10,000 third grade students in the Tampa Bay region of Florida will be receiving the first of three cyber safety lessons with the help of Garfield and friends. The program has already won several prestigious educational awards including Learning® Magazine 2019 Teachers’ Choice Award for the Classroom and the 2019 Academics’ Choice Smart Media Award.
The Cyber Safety Day program was piloted in 2018 in New Orleans where in one day we delivered some 2,500 Garfield inspired cyber safety lessons to children in 17 different schools. Last fall we took it to Orlando and provided training to some 6,500 third grader at 67 schools. The January 28th Tampa Bay effort will reach some 10,000 students at an estimated 100 elementary schools. This is done in coordination with local businesses and school districts. Each classroom will receive an be All-in-One activity kit equipped to teach 30 children the basics of internet safety. Each Educator Kit includes a USB with original Garfield cartoon, comic books with activity pages, stickers, trading cards, pledge stickers, pledge poster, Garfield classroom poster, parent letters and a lesson plan.
When it comes to cybersecurity education, teaching priorities don’t align with what kids are facing. A study of educators by the National Cyber Security Alliance found that 81% of school administrators believed their districts do an adequate job of preparing students in areas related to cybersecurity and ethical internet usage. Teachers, however, have a different view – less than one-third of teachers reported teaching online security, safety, and ethics over the last 12 months. This includes topics such as networking fundamentals, scams, respecting privacy, and cyberbullying. More than two-thirds of teachers express that they do not feel prepared to teach these topics.
This Data Privacy Day the Center for Cyber Safety and Education is committed to helping provide teachers in Tampa Bay with the tools and training to make it a safer cyber world for their students and families. And this is just the start!