By Brittany Carlson, Belvoir EagleOctober 31, 2013
Military youth learned how to stay safe in cyberspace during the community's first "Safe and Secure Online" class for children Oct. 22 at the USO Warrior and Family Center. The event was sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton as part of Holding Down the Homefront, a series of USO programs focused on taking care of military Families.
October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month.
The class featured two sections -- one for children ages 7-10 and another for children ages 11-14 -- and covered dealing with cyberbullies, keeping personal information private, avoiding dangerous emails, and uploading and downloading securely. It also covered texting and geotagging (adding geographical information to photos or other online media) for the older children.
"Kids are interfacing with technology devices at a much earlier age. Good practices start young," said Eric Jones, class instructor and senior associate with Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc. "It's just like building good foundations for driving. You have to teach them to put on (their) seatbelt at a young age. We want to translate that into the cyber sense in teaching good safety measures at a very young age."
The key point of the class is that children don't have to deal with cyber threats alone, said Tim Mangles, another Safe and Secure Online class instructor.
"If you have a problem, tell somebody," he said. "We have such great technology for solving problems if we know you're having a problem. If you're being cyberbullied, if something's happened to your computer, don't hold it in -- tell somebody you trust and we can fix it."
The younger section of the class used short cartoon clips called "The Adventures of Kara, Winston and the SMART Crew" to illustrate problems children could face online, including strangers asking for personal information or posting mean messages about them.
Sharday Patrick, 11, said she learned a lot from the clips.
"We learned to never tell our personal information, like our email address, our name, our zip code, our security code," she said. "We also learned that we should always tell a parent if we're being cyber-bullied or if an anonymous person sends us a message, and that we should always double-check a website because some people could lie about something on the Internet."
The class was also important to community parents.
Jeanette Benson, Marine Corps spouse, brought her son Karl, 10, to the Safe and Secure Online class because he enjoys playing "Minecraft," an interactive online game, and she wanted him to be aware of the dangers it could pose.
"It's very hard to impart onto a child how your privacy is so important. How do you protect yourself from some creep trying to get into the Minecraft server?" she said. "I was hoping that if he heard stuff from somebody else, it would sink in."
At the end of the class, Karl Benson said he learned more about the importance of keeping information from strangers.
"It's not safe to open emails that you don't know who they're from or to go to websites you don't know," he said.
He also plans to use his new knowledge when he plays Minecraft in the future: "Don't use the chat resource of the game," he said.
For more information on the USO and Holding Down the Homefront, visit www.usometrodc.org.
For more information on children's cyber safety and to view "The Adventures of Kara, Winston and the SMART Crew," visit www.childnet.com/resources/the-adventures-of-kara-winston-and-the-smart-crew.