Traditionally, Boy Scouts were trained in fire and knife skills, preparing them to be ready for outdoor adventures. Along the way, they also learned how to be good stewards of the wilderness, to safely traverse rugged terrain, and to recognize dangers along the way.
In the 21st century, the Boy Scouts of America continues to instill those skills and mindset but for a different wilderness. The Cyber Chip program replaces fire and knife training with smartphone, internet chat and video game behavior training.
The principles are the same. The program wants to teach Scouts how to be safe on the internet, recognize the dangers from random chats, and how to behave responsibly.
Aaron Chusid, communications director for the National Capital Area Council of Boy Scouts of America, said the Cyber Chip program is just a natural evolution in the scouting program to change with the times and stay as current as possible.
“The core of the scouting program is about leadership and development,” Chusid said. “We want to help young people be prepared for the world they are living in. If you go back and look at the first edition of the Boy Scouts Handbook, among the how-to guides in there, there is a guide on how to stop a runaway horse and carriage. That used to be a vital skill. Not so much today.”
The Cyber Chip program is taught in stages based on the age and school grade of the scout. Topics of cyberbullying, cellphone use, texting, blogging, gaming and identity theft are presented at a graduated pace for the needs of the different age groups.
Cyber Chip Requirements
The tools were developed with NetSmartz, part of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and a training expert for many law enforcement agencies.
Chusid said the program for first-grade scouts is vastly different from the program for high school seniors, because their needs are different. The example he gave highlighted responses to chat requests from unknown individuals. The younger child is taught to reject those requests and talk to their parents.
The older scout is taught how to evaluate the request safely and respond appropriately, because older teens and college-aged scouts use the internet to meet new people.
“The principles we teach the scouts apply to every part of your life,” Chusid said. “Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent. That’s whether you are sitting in church or talking to someone on the internet.”
The chip is a patch the scouts earn, but it is one they must renew every year to gain additional knowledge in an ever-changing web environment. Scout troops can also tailor the program to fit their needs.
The program extends beyond the scout troop and leadership by drawing in parents to help them understand the goals and create open dialogue about internet safety and use between the adults and the child.
Pete Murray, a father of a scout in Troop 965 in Havre de Grace, Maryland, said he and his son, Simon, 13, have a contract that spells out, specifically, the expectations between scouts and parents about good behavior online. He said the Cyber Chip program teaches the scouts the skills, but it is up to the family to decide how best to use them.
“It is up to the parents and the scouts to come up with what they agree on,” Pete Murray said. “It helps me articulate what I do to try and be a responsible adult online and teach it in a way that he’s going to understand it. It proves to be very, very helpful in having that conversation.”
For example, the contract for the Murrays states that Simon won’t download in-app purchases without his parents’ permission, avoiding the surprise of a huge credit card bill. If there is something Simon wants, he knows he can go to his parents and ask them for permission, because they have already talked about the situation.
Murray works in a technology field, so the contract worked out with his son was very detailed. Other parents, who are not as tech-savvy, read the contract and realized how much they didn’t know about the internet and its dangers. He helped them understand how the web and technology are being learned and used by the kids of today.
Simon, a Second Class scout, said the contract helps his family stay on the same page about safe and smart online usage. The Cyber Chip program lets the scouts in Troop 965 use electronic devices that could connect with the internet when out at scouting events. The training, tools and skills opened new ways for the scouts to complete their duties and tasks.
“We get the freedom to use our phones to look up recipes for something when we have to cook something on an outing or take notes during the meetings using out phones, because beforehand, we weren’t allowed to take them in,” Simon said. “(We) take pictures on the outings (using our smartphones). We have to put together a photo collage at the end, and I feel like using our technology allows us to benefit for scouts.”
For Simon, his Cyber Chip program includes video game behavior and how to protect himself when chatting online. Establishing the contract allowed him to play online video games with other people because of the framework spelled out in the agreement with his parents.
He said the program makes him a better person overall. By using the parameters and understanding the consequences of going outside those parameter, he said he has more freedom to interact on the internet during chats with his friends and while playing games online.
“It helps me not be a jerk on the internet, which a lot of people are, and it allows me to have better interactions with people,” Simon said.