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November 12, 2019

Why We Should Start Teaching Cybersafe Practices at an Early Age

How early should we teach kids about cybersafe practices? High school? Middle school? Kindergarten?


How about 3 years old?


Randi Parker, senior director, partner engagement, for Creating IT Futures believes the younger we start teaching kids safe cybersecurity practices, the better.


Speaking as a guest during a recent episode of our Technologist Talk Radio podcast, Parker explains why kids should pick up cybersafe habits as soon as they pick up gadgets – and how Creating IT Futures partners and programs such as the Technology Student Association (TSA) and TechGirlz pick up this cause as young people progress through schooling.


But is teaching toddlers a reasonable approach to cybersecurity?


Yes, Parker tells Technologist Talk Radio host R.C. “Bob” Dirkes...


Randi:  …Because that's ultimately where the [cybersecurity talent] pipeline is going to come from. And the sooner that we can introduce kids as young as kindergarten – even earlier than that, even a 3-year-old has personal information – and make sure that this information is only shared in an appropriate manner [the better]… because, realistically, there are a lot of 2- and 3-year-olds with iPads.


Bob:  When we talk about security issues, we talk about exposures, risks… and the development of a young person is a similar process. As they start to grow and learn, they realize that the world is bigger than they once believed. Even a child as young as 3 is going through that process on a regular basis. It's the same sort of process that we experience with cybersecurity. We keep finding out that there are more risks, or there are more areas for exposure, and we're more connected. [What] makes a lot of sense is that we start developing the thinking around it before we develop the tactics and not the other way around.


Randi:  Especially since social engineering is such a big piece of cyber security.


If you have someone that works at, say, ABC, XYZ Corporation… and they're really high up… and they have a kid… and their kid has an iPad… and that, if there's a way for something to pop up, and the kid clicks, and then you can get into that person's personal network… it's not out of the realm of possibility. And so, making sure that there's this awareness of using passwords, not clicking on things, as early as we can [makes sense.]


Bob:  So, let's go back to the idea of focusing on curriculum and focusing on school systems.


Is that too much pressure to put on a school system? What role do other organizations play? Like our partner, the Technology Student Association – the other TSA, as I like to call it. Is it too much to expect school systems to evolve? Don't we need… organizations like TSA to be helping [school systems], to be working in complement with [school systems]?


Randi:  I think it's both. I think that you need to have the schools leading and showing that this is a priority, and school districts and school boards ensuring that there's funding for these sorts of activities and these sorts of changes. When you're making changes to curriculum… then need to have technology in the classroom for students to use, that is an investment.


And so, I think you need to have that coming from the top of the school district or state. So that we make sure that there's proper funding. So these things can move forward and be successful. But also, to have supporting groups like TSA, like TechGirlz, which are not affiliated with state boards of education.


…In school, it's important to have technology and cyber security and all these things as part of the curriculum… but to give students the [extracurricular] opportunity to express themselves, and learn, and shine, and find people that have the same interests… helps create the next generation of workers.


Bob:  Why must young women, in particular, become a larger part of efforts to narrow the cyber security talent gap? Why is that a critical issue?


Randi:  The one that always comes to my mind first is that our [cybersecurity] adversaries are not all white males. They look different. They have different interests, and we need to make sure that our workforce that's protecting against some of these things is looking at it with a different perspective, seeing it with a different set of eyes.


It's also about equal opportunity. These jobs are above-average-paying wages. They have a lot of great perks in terms of the ability to work remotely, which particularly for women who might be moms might really value…. making sure that women are given the chance to enter this [cybersecurity] workforce at the same rate that men are… And it's beyond women. It's people of color, people from different economic backgrounds. We really need to open the floodgates and to find a way to let all different people from all different walks of life into this industry because it's just going to improve it.


Bob:  How does TechGirlz make a big difference in this mission that you just described?


Randi:  For girls to keep their interest in technology, they need to feel like there are other people that are like them, and not be standing alone awkwardly in the corner in a room full of boys.


TechGirlz is a really great way to help level the playing fields and give these young girlsTG1 blog copy an opportunity to really develop an interest in [technology] in a place where they feel safe, where they can express themselves comfortably. It's an incredible way to help keep girls interested and help build their confidence, seeing that they can succeed. If they can do that in a room full of girls, it won't stop them from doing it in a room full of boys… but they need to build that confidence somewhere.


…We shouldn't just default to doing things remotely because we can and because it's easier. We really need to make the effort to give people an opportunity to do this work together in the same place and to make it fun.


Technologist Talk Radio is a podcast from CompTIA’s tech workforce charity, Creating IT Futures, where we share stories about nurturing the next generation of technology talent – aspiring technologists from teens in middle and high school to adults in career transition.


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