Clearwater cybersafety nonprofit protects, informs children

In today’s digitally-oriented age, times have changed. Patrick Craven, director of the Clearwater-based Center for Cyber Safety and Education, is all too aware of that fact.

“When we were growing up,” he says, “the stranger we were warned of wore a trench coat in a dark alley. But today, that dark alley is the internet.”

Enter Garfield’s Cyber Safety Adventures educator kits, the creation of Craven and his long-time personal friend Jim Davis, creator of the iconic Garfield comic strip. Since launching the first kit in October 2016, Garfield the comic strip cat has helped the center deliver more than 100,000 cybersafety lessons to elementary school children in 22 countries worldwide. These kits have playfully and comically informed and entertained children with lessons featuring not only the cat, but also two new characters that Davis concocted for the kits: Dr. Cybrina and her robot assistant, B.I.S.B., the Basic Internet Safety Bot.

“We have to be able to begin teaching our children how to be safe from the very beginning, and that’s what we’re trying to do with this program: to teach them from the beginning good habits that will keep them safe for the rest of life,” Craven says.

As Craven knows, these days, children are vulnerable.

In an era when the average child has a smartphone by age 10, “40 percent of [elementary-school kids] have chatted with a stranger online … over 53 percent of them gave their phone number,” he says. “Twenty-one percent of those have actually spoken with a stranger [by phone]. Fifteen percent actually tried to meet the stranger.”

Despite children’s vulnerability, Craven hopes to strike a balance between allowing kids freedom to use the internet and regulating its use, by teaching them good habits that will keep them safe no matter how the internet evolves.

“We’re not trying to get people off of the internet,” he says. “We’re just trying to teach these guys better ways to use it and how to be safer when they’re on there.”

These cybersafety lessons will keep children safe no matter the platform.

“We’re trying to teach them basic principles that they can use on any platform. It doesn’t matter because kids today, they’re not on Facebook. It’s us old people on Facebook, right?” Craven says. “A couple years ago, it was Snapchat, now it’s Instagram. It’ll be something different in two more years.”

The Garfield’s Cyber Safety Adventures educator kit is a box of educational materials about cybersafety for elementary-school children, designed to be taught by any kind of educator. The lesson encompasses various perspectives on cybersafety, including three distinct lessons about privacy, safe posting and cyberbullying. Each $65 kit contains one lesson with enough materials to teach 30 children. More specifically, the kit contains 30 comic books that actually serve as activity books, each of which has eight pages of puzzles, games and quizzes. The kits also contain posters, stickers, trading cards and letters addressed to parents.

Each lesson comes with a USB drive featuring a cartoon that uses the voices from the televised Garfield cartoon. Unlike the original cartoon, though, this version features the two newly introduced characters. Craven noted that making Dr. Cybrina female was an intentional decision.

“We purposely made it a female character as a way to hopefully encourage young girls to consider STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics]) careers because we know they’re not doing that,” he says. “That’s a challenge that the industries are having. Not enough girls are going into STEM careers. We thought this was a small, subtle way for a young girl to see somebody who’s a really cool character, who’s a lot of fun, and say, ‘Oh, I could do that. I could be like Dr. Cybrina.’ ”

Besides Garfield and company, the other uniquely defining characteristic of the kits is the people who make them. The content for the kits is partly created by cybersecurity professionals from Clearwater-based (ISC)2, of which the Center for Cyber Safety and Education is the charitable foundation.

Craven said that some of (ISC)2’s 150,000 certified members, in more than 170 countries, contribute to the production and improvement of the content. These cybersafety professionals provide their expertise about the topic under discussion, that the Center for Cyber Safety and Education then uses to craft educational materials.

“All of our content,” Craven says, “whether it’s Garfield, our parents, our seniors, everything that we create here, is literally put together and vetted by the best cybersecurity professionals in the world … and we go to them, saying, ‘OK, here’s the problem, what’s out there? How would you suggest this be handled?’ Maybe it’s a scam that a senior is falling victim to, we go to them and say, ‘All right, how do we help them fix this?’ ” ♦

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