The global pandemic has certainly proved to be a challenge for not only adults, but children as well. It’s become even more apparent over the last tumultuous year that while children may be required and, in many cases, enthusiastically adopting new technology and applications, they may not have the knowledge and practice to keep themselves safe and secure online. Tablets, laptops, and smart devices are now the norm in-school and at home for fun AND education. But as we’ve certainly seen in the news and many have experienced first-hand, moving children’s lives to a completely digital world has come with extreme challenges, not the least having to teach children how to stay safe online amidst the confusion.
One of the clear weaknesses we have found over the years in K-12 education is that students are being rapidly required to use various technologies, but they are not being taught how to safely do so, including how to handle their personal information online. The current pandemic has accelerated this need for children to quickly adopt new technology in school and their home. While the majority of our youth’s teachers are not cybersecurity experts, they shouldn’t have to be as long as they are using a tried-and-true program to teach cyber safety. Giving children these devices without teaching them how to handle their personal information properly is like handing over a car to a teenager without first teaching the rules of the road. We know at the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, we can do better as a whole to teach our youth how to protect themselves and have a positive, safer experience online.
In the nonprofit Center for Cyber Safety and Education’s Children’s Internet Usage Study of elementary school children in grades 4-8, 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
It’s clear to see that even before the pandemic, children have ample opportunity to be online and when they are, they don’t always make the safest choices when it comes to data privacy. Can you imagine what our most vulnerable have been up to online since their entire lives, including social situations and friendships, have gone nearly completely digital? Between March and June 2020, Children’s Hospital of Chicago polled 2,909 Americans who are either current parents of teenagers, or were parents of teenagers in the past five years of children between the ages of thirteen and nineteen years old. 44% of those parents realize oversharing of personal information is affecting their teen. In general, 58% of parents surveyed believe social media is negatively affecting their teen with 63% saying their children’s use of social media has risen since the pandemic.
Since the pandemic, numbers have slowly started to trickle in that are confirming what we can all guess- the numbers are only going to get higher. Children are playing online games like Fortnite and Roblox, where they can and do talk to people of all ages. Apps like TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram have skyrocketed in popularity. For example, the New York Times is reporting that Roblox in particular averaged 31.1 million users a day during the first nine months of 2020, an increase of 82 percent over the year before. Patrick Craven, Director of the Center explains that “while these incoming and new data points are simply noting the increases in technology and app usage, its safe to assume the more opportunities children have online, the higher the chances they will make a mistake in data privacy without proper education and teamwork amongst homes, schools, and businesses alike.”
At the Center, we strongly believe that more must, and importantly CAN, be done to protect and educate the most vulnerable amongst us. We’ve teamed up with legendary cartoonist Jim Davis to create a fun and entertaining way for children to learn how to be safe and secure online with everyone’s favorite, fun-loving cat, Garfield. In the multi-award-winning Garfield’s Cyber Safety Adventures, Garfield and his friends share practical advice on various cyber situations with the help of a quirky but knowledgeable cyber security expert (who happens to be a Siamese cat), Dr. Cybrina, and her sidekick robot BISBY. The program strives to teach children at a young age what they should and shouldn’t be doing on the internet.
We also have several free tools online for parents and teachers to help educate children in their care on how to keep their personal information private and manage their digital footprint. In addition to these resources, we host city-wide events done in coordination with local businesses and school districts to provide an entire cyber safety curriculum FREE of charge to the schools and students. Each classroom receives an All-in-One activity kit equipped to teach 30 children the basics of internet safety. Each Educator Kit includes access to an original Garfield cartoon, comic books, stickers, trading cards, stickers, posters, and, parent letters. Due to Covid concerns and remote education gaining steam, we even have a virtual edition to support children remotely.
For the second year in a row, we are coordinating our Cyber Safety Day Tampa Bay efforts to coincide during the week of Data Privacy Day. Thanks to the support of companies like KnowBe4, Colorfast Printing, Comply Up, Abacode, Microsoft, and Moffitt Cancer Centers, over 5,000 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 for FREE. 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 and most recently, the 2020 Modern Library Award.
The Center for Cyber Safety and Education is committed to helping the community stay safe online. We are proud to provide teachers in Tampa Bay and around the world with the tools and training they need to keep their students safe online. To access the free materials and learn more about bringing Garfield to your community go to www.IAmCyberSafe.org or contact us at [email protected] .