Cyber Exploration in Families: Trading "How To" and "What Not To" Lessons Learned

Jennifer A. Kurtz, MBA

Both of my second-grade granddaughters—one in Virginia, one in Colorado—are back in school after a late-summer family gathering at my home. Raised under different house rules (one in bed at 7 pm sharp, the other in bed sometime after 8 pm), the cousins connect seamlessly in imaginative, and digital, play. They alternated taking charge of my new, first-ever, smart phone and instructed me on tools and apps with confidence and trust, encouraging me to just "figure it out."

How do I return the favor by encouraging them to withhold trust without losing that confidence to "figure it out"? How do I earn their trust that putting brackets around their digital practices (like the brackets put around their dental hygiene and table etiquette) is reasonable and responsible, and not an effort to quash their exploration of tools that have always been a part of their world and that still seem an add-on in mine?

Rather than just handing over your smart phone, tablet, or laptop as a distraction device (and perhaps suffering the consequences of accidentally changed settings, lost music files, and erased photos), consider some ground rules about use from the NetSmartz Workshopi (a program of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children):

  • Establish time (duration, time of day) and place limits (not at the dinner table!).
  • Set password protection on personal information.
  • Disable location-tagging when not using maps.
  • Keep the device's operating system up-to-date for the most recent security fixes.
  • Prevent unapproved download or deletion of apps.
    • For an iPhone, go to Settings>General>Restrictions>Enable Restrictionsii to set boundaries around the use of multiplayer games, locations, explicit content in music and podcats, advertising, access to contacts, and so forth.
    • For an Android, assess your current app status using a tool like Permission Explorer, then consider installing Google's permissions maintenance tool, Apps Ops, to specify what downloaded apps are allowed to do.iii

There are many truths in Robert Fulghum's enjoyable commentary on life, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten," including "When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together." As young people, especially those in primary school, explore both the physical and cyber worlds, we need to surround them with good examples, understand what interests them, make places (and technology) safer, and share how-to discoveries. Youth organizations like Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts promote safe technology awareness through badge programs, resource guides, and understanding of the Internet safety pledge.iv

School systems are still (sadly) caught up in measuring students' test-taking skills and not life-making skills, such as learned on the playground about being a friend, managing emotions, playing games fairly, and resolving conflicts. The list of annual K12 core curriculum objectives is too crowded to insert the responsible use of one's environment, body, and technology. Our role as interested family members and friends is to fill in those gaps and be involved as our young digital natives "figure it out." We might even learn something as well.

To learn more about Regis University’s master’s degree in information assurance, request more information or call 877-820-0581.

iAdditional information is available on the organization's website http://www.netsmartzkids.org/.
iiA useful blog by Arizona mom Becca is http://mycrazygoodlife.com.
iiiFor step-by-step instructions and recommendations, see Wang We's (15 June 2015) article in The Hacker News,"How to manage Android apps permissions to protect your privacy." http://thehackernews.com/2015/06/android-permission-manager.html.
ivFor example, see http://forgirls.girlscouts.org/internet-safety/ and http://www.scouting.org/Training/YouthProtection/CyberChip/Grades1-3.aspx.