It was a typical work day for me, chaotic and intense, as we all have experienced in the information
systems security field, as we go to our offices each day and perform our duties as information security professionals. The job can be very rewarding when you prevent a breach, catch an intruder on your company’s network, or have an incident that you quickly contained and prevented further data loss and exploitation to your company. I truly love what I do, especially the fact that I work in a position where I protect the national security of this wonderful country we live in. Ultimately, at the end of my work day, I know my efforts go toward protecting the war fighter that defends our freedom and liberty every day.
On this day, I was checking my personal email at lunch, nothing out of the ordinary for me to do, and I noticed some emails from ISC2. I had been thinking of the fact that I needed to check on my CPEs for my CISSP certification, so I decided to take a look at these emails to see if there were any new CPE opportunities. One email in particular caught my eye. It was a call for volunteers in my state, to sign up for the Safe & Secure Online program. I had not heard of this program, so I went out to the ISC2
website mentioned in the email to check it out. I have a younger sister, who is now 19, and I have watched her grow up with the Internet through her teenage years. Being that I am in the information systems field, I have always been called upon to fix her computer, answer questions, and provide guidance as she explored the World Wide Web. Along the way, I did my best to educate her of
online dangers, the importance of privacy of personal information, and the repercussions of what can result if caution is not exercised. I feel that my guidance was beneficial to her, but I am also aware of the power of manipulation of those who prey on children and young adults, the strong influence of peer pressure, as well as the desire to be accepted by others, especially those in one’s relative age group.
After reading about the program, I felt very compelled to participate. Speaking to children on this very important topic definitely seemed worthy of my time and efforts. I proceeded to sign up for the program and for my first school presentation. Before I even conducted my first presentation, I signed up for a second one. I had been preparing for the first, and the videos and presentation material were very powerful to me and created a strong drive inside of me to make a difference and really put a lot of work into the presentations. Over the course of that week, I ended up doing 4 presentations total. A fellow presenter needed coverage due to a work emergency, and I was more than happy to take on two more presentations. I am writing this blog because I want to share my experience and encourage others to get involved. The experience was very rewarding, and covering 4 different grades (5 through 8), in each of the 4 presentations, was truly an eye opener. The value of being able to educate those who are so susceptible to online dangers, but who are also very eager to learn to do the right thing, is something that I would encourage anyone to engage in.
From one presentation to the next, the experience varied in some ways but was also consistent in others. The children love to answer questions and share stories. Let their voices be heard. You will be surprised at some of the questions they may ask you. This is good, though, because what better way to make an impression, than by having a child ask you a question in front of their entire class. For example, I had a student ask me if it was okay to playfully call his friend names online, as long as his friend was okay with it. Their questions are very straightforward and honest, especially the younger students, and they are really looking at you as an expert. This is a great feeling. Another example was a student asking me if they could talk to strangers online, even if they never agreed to meet the person face to face. Imagine the amount of influence you can have just by a student in the room of 120 other children, asking you a question such as this. My point here is that you can really feel the opportunity to guide a child down the right path in life just by giving them the chance to ask you a question. And, think of how many others in the room who were too shy to ask, but benefit from their question and your answer nonetheless. It is truly an amazing feeling. As the age group becomes older, you may get fewer questions, but more stories of situations they have been in and want to share. This is great too. Sometimes I have found that they do not want to ask a question, but instead tell a story (even if they suggest it is about someone other than themselves) in order to solicit your response. Be mindful of this, and always give some feedback and direction.
Another experience I had several times among my groups of children, was that some students will be struggling with something such as cyberbullying, and want to ask for help, but do not want to expose themselves. Many times they will be the child in the audience that raises their hand multiple times and asks the same question more than once, but in different ways. This is where you really have to be on your toes. Recognize it, and do not single them out or ask them anything direct, but provide them with the best guidance possible. Take the attention away from them directly and engage the crowd for suggestions. This will make them feel more comfortable and allow you to guide them at the same time. One example of this was a young girl who raised her hand at least 3 times, speaking in a hypothetical sense, but asking who “someone” could turn to if they needed to make cyberbullying stop. Another time she asked how to make it stop for her “friend.” And yet another time, she asked
who someone could go to if they do not want to tell their teacher or parents. It seemed to me like a cry for help, and I learned quickly to keep her engaged in the conversation and get her the information that she was seeking, without drawing too much attention to her. Again, the opportunity to be able to guide a young life like this was powerful.
One final example that I want to share is in regard to cyberbullying. This is a topic that strikes me deeply. It always bothered me to see anyone be bullied, ever since I was a child myself. It has happened to me, and I’ve seen it happen to many others, but I vowed to always step in when I saw it take place and do the right thing. This brings me to an experience that was very touching and I will never forget. I was presenting to an 8th grade class, and at the end of the presentation, a few students came to me to share stories and ask questions. In the midst of that, a young man came to me and told me he could really relate to a youtube video I had shown of a boy his age who committed suicide due to cyberbullying. This of course caught my attention and I spoke with him for a few moments. He informed me that he once was where the young man in the video was emotionally and mentally, but decided to seek help from his mom and then his pastor, and wanted to let me know that he was glad he chose that path of seeking help. He said he was glad that he didn’t go through with suicide which would cause pain to his family and friends, as he saw in the video. And he stated he was much healthier and happier now and that he would never consider that permanent option to cyberbullying, again. I cannot begin to tell you how this affected me in that moment. I thanked him for sharing his story, told him how brave he was for asking for help, and asked him if he had ever seen someone else be bullied like was. He said he had, and I asked him to please use that courage and experience to help someone else so that they too can have a chance to see that things really do get better, and that there is always hope and someone to help. He looked me right in the eyes and grinned proudly, and said he promised he would. That moment alone was worth every minute of time that I put into this program.
I plan to take part in more presentations soon, and encourage anyone out there to join in and make a difference to this very important cause. Even if your time is limited, and you can only do a presentation once in a while, it will be well worth your time. Just think, you could direct the course of a young person who sees you as the wise one that they look up to, and that short period of time that you spend with them, could guide them on the path to a bright future. And, there are many
other students that you may never speak to in the audience, but who gain powerful advice from the hour or so that you spend educating them and showing them how to be safe and do the right thing.
then, sign up for a presentation and use your ability and knowledge to make a difference!!