Today’s youth are spending more time than ever using digital media for education, research, socializing, and fun. To help families and volunteers keep youth safe while online, the Boy Scouts of America introduces the Cyber Chip. In developing this exciting new tool, the BSA teamed up with content expert NetSmartz®, part of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children® and training expert for many law enforcement agencies.
Netsmartz® has created a Scouting portal showcasing Cyber Chip resources, including grade-specific videos, for each level. Topics include cyberbullying, cell phone use, texting, blogging, gaming, and identity theft.
The Cyber Chip has been around for a few years (at least since 2012) but with the new Cub Scout program it is now required for each Cub Scout rank. There are four different levels or requirements a boy must pass off depending on his grade in school. The Cyber Chip is broken into grades 1-3, 4-5, 6-8, and 9-12. So the first two levels are for Cub Scouts generally and the last two for Boy Scouts, Varsity and Venturing – although some Webelos may still be in the 6th grade. Which they complete would depend on their grade. It’s good for one year and then they need to “recharge” it.
So what’s it like? Well, I sat down with my 4th grade daughter the other day just to find out. We started with the 1st-3rd grade level and I was surprised (thought I suppose I should not have been) that she seemed to recognize the characters. She has seen some of this at school. (I’m assuming during “White Ribbon/Internet Safety Week” but I don’t know that for sure.) Personally I found the 1st -3rd grade stuff really hard to take—quite immature and childish—Oh wait, I guess that would be just perfect for the Cub Scout ages. The 4th-5th grade wasn’t quite so bad but still kinda cartoony and… well, I guess very age appropriate also. The older levels got more bearable. And to be honest I think by the time we hit the 9th-12 grade level she had lost interest, which was okay since she is only starting 4th grade. They were talking about “big kid” stuff that didn’t really apply to her life. So, overall I would say it all seemed very targeted towards the specific age groups. If you want to check it out for yourself I would suggest you do so with a child, it makes it a little more bearable as an adult.
So, what exactly do they do to earn this Cyber Chip? What do they learn? There are some basic “Cyber” or “Internet Safety” rules that are taught. In the 1-3 grade video kids are taught about the “netiquette” or Cyber etiquette. They are told not to be rude or mean online. To ask a trusted adult before giving out personal information like your name, address or phone number. To never meet anyone from the internet face to face. Tell a trusted adult if anything you see online makes you feel sad, scared, uncomfortable or confused. They also learn 4 safety rule for the real world. Check first. Take a friend. Tell people No! and Tell a trusted adult. They even have to watch a video and play a game to learn who they should and should not consider “a trusted adult.” In the 4-5 grade level they learn about passwords, why they are important, how to create one and how to protect it. There are lots of videos, games and even ebooks to help kids to learn more about how to be safe online. Things like computer viruses, scams, spam, who is a “friend”. There is even a game and song about being safe on your way to and from school.
The Cyber Chip can be used as great tool for parents to discuss and even make their own family rules about computer and internet usage. It also provides some opportunities for boys to teach what they have learned. A leader can also use this tool to help make rules about cell phone usage at den meetings and other ways that cyber safety might impact the den or pack. There is an internet safety pledge that needs to be signed and SO much more.
You can find a recent article in the June Boys Life Magazine with even more information about the Cub Scout Cyber Chip. There was also an article geared to the older youth. And of course you can go to the Netsmartz website and look around at all the resources they have available there for kids, parents and leaders too. There is even a list of ways that the Scout Law can be used to teach Cyber Safety.
Remember the Cyber Chip is now required for every Cub Scout rank advancement (It will soon be required for some of the Boy Scout ranks also). Check it out for yourself. Learn what is taught because when you know what the boys need to know, you can help them remember how to be safer online. And that’s what we all want, boys who know how to be safe both online and in the real world.
Author: Annaleis Smith | Assistant Council Commissioner for Cub Scouting, Utah National Parks Council, BSA