Think! Before you cross your digital road …

I often wonder what’s the best way to protect my daughter from the impact of technology, as it becomes ever more pervasive and permanent in our world. Skipping back a few decades, a similar dilemma faced parents as motor cars became a common sight on the roads as the latest must have tech. And I wonder how many accidents did it take before parents taught their children to look left and right before crossing the road? How long did it take before the first public safety campaign about motor cars made its appearance?

As the mother of a daughter who is tomboyish, I often ask myself another question: Should I take her to a Judo club or the Sea Cadets? Could a dojo be the right place for her to learn the how of defending herself physically, and as a group of like minded people and her peers, help her understand that just because you have the power to do something, it does not automatically mean you should do it?

These are the typical thoughts of a parent wanting to keep their child safe. But how best to walk the line between informing and empowering our children, and our instinctive need to protect them? Do we really have to wrap them in cotton wool? And if so how will that impact their resillence to what life has to throw at them? How much information is too much? Is it socially acceptable to teach my daughter how a coffee shop cyber ‘man-in-the-middle’ attack works? Is it OK to go further and talk about how vulnerable she is? As to do that I also have to show her “How” it’s done so she can understand the process of how she could easily become the target. The general consensus of society (and indeed our government) is that the less children know about this kind of thing the better, even if they openly enquire about it. And to enlighten them on the darker side of the digital world would be the actions of an irresponsible parent, in the eyes of many.

Then again, parents can’t protect their children from something they don’t know exists themselves, nor from something that they have failed to grasp the dangers of. How many children ended up in hospital following automobile accidents back in the early 20th Century, simply because their parents did not even think to warn them about cars; danger was not the thing at the forefront of people’s minds back then when dad came home with a brand new car.

Today the topic of car safety is a regularly debated matter. We have endless car safety campaigns, laws enforcing the wearing of seatbelts, MOT tests, and driving tests that require us to know the basics of how to maintain our car. We require senior citizens to retake tests upon reaching a certain age, and radio shows remind me daily that in Kent, there are 16 car accidents each day, some faitally wounded, so could I please share the road responsibly. We have come a long way since the days of Henry Ford, and while we are still just as drawn to the power and aesthetics of a well-made car, we now also openly acknowledge their deadly potential.

So why do we hide the truth away from the minds of our young people? If we don’t teach them how they could get Hacked and Pwned (Be it in the real world or in a game) and show them how vulnerable they can be in the digital world, how will they learn to protect themselves online? How can they take responsibility for themselves, and develop the common sense and creativity that will eventually see us hand over the baton, and ask for their help in staying safe online? How are we to share the road responsibly?

This year for the first time we are placing young people at the heart of MozFest, by inviting them to lead sessions with their peers. From ‘Data permanence’ to ‘Think before you click’, to an ‘Emergency rescue kit after getting Pwned’, we are making the topics of Cyber Safety and Cyber Security fully transparent and practical — with discussions suitable for those who already have knowledge on the subject, through to those who have never even considered it.

Ask yourself — when did knowledge become dirty, rather than a tool that can empower? Knowledge can aid us to make informed choices in an increasingly complex world. My objective is to help my child stay safe by looking left and right before she crosses the road. And that’s just common sense, to be applied as much in the digital world as in the physical one.

List of Cyber Sec sessions at MozFest 2016

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