Scouter Spotlight: Getting the most out of your Scouting experience!
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What Scouting is Doing to Keep Our Kids Safe Online
By John Hovanesian, M.D.

Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Orange County Council, Boy Scouts of America, Dr. John Hovanesian, is a seasoned Scouter and blogger who shares tips and tricks to help your family get the most out of your Scouting experience.

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When I was a 12 year old First Class Scout, one summer camp I was teaching some new campers how to identify poison ivy. In Michigan where I lived, there were lots of plants with "leaves of three" that looked a lot like the rash-causing pest, but I'd been taught by my Scoutmaster, a veteran of the woods and amateur botanist, how to identify the genuine article. A group of boys brought me a sprig of three leaves they held with a paper towel, and they asked me, "Is this poison ivy?"  

I took the plant in my bare hands and began wiping it on my cheeks, confidently saying, "If this were poison ivy, would I be rubbing it on my face?"  

My scoutmaster, who was standing nearby, laughed and said, "John, I guess they get the badge and you don't, because that's poison ivy!"

That’s just one way my Scout leader was for me a compass, a tool for keeping me humble and guiding me back to my path when I drifted off.

But things were different then.

We didn’t have the Internet. School was easier.

I now have a seventh grade son, and he is learning things I didn’t have to know until college. Our children today have more interesting things to do than we did but also more pressure, more schedules, and far more external influences than we had. The Internet is rife with ever-changing threats to our vulnerable youth.

When most of us parents grew up, a kid was safe if he was at home at night, but today an unsupervised, unguided child with a smartphone and a WiFi connection has a whole world ready to corrupt him or her. Bullying, invasions of privacy, pornography, and predators. They are all age-old dangers that can more easily reach our kids now than ever before.

In Scouting we recognize that teaching kids to navigate this terrain is as important as teaching them the Heimlich maneuver. And maybe just as life-saving.

A Pew Research study from 2011 lists the most common words kids ages 12 to 17 used to describe how their peers behave online. They most frequently report their peers are rude. Mean. Fake. And, crucially, different from how they act face-to-face.

So these kids know they are living in a world that lacks authenticity.

They know that they’re chasing Likes. Follows. Tweets. Shares. that are never fulfilling and are always steering them in conflicting directions.

They know they’re in an endless cycle of reacting to and performing for an audience rather than finding their own path.

And they don’t have time to develop that internal compass.

Scouting has the infrastructure and values to take a leading role in teaching digital safety and citizenship, and now we are doing so.

What Scouting in Orange County is Doing

I’d proudly like to announce a joint effort of the Orange County Boy Scouts and Law Enforcement Explorer Advisors association of OC. Our two organizations are embarking on an education program that will bring the BSA’s award-winning BSA Cyber Chip online safety program to kids in public schools. The program, named similarly to Totin’ Chip for knife and ax safety, teaches strategies to help children at all levels of grade school to honor principles taught in the Scout Law when they’re online and to balance screen time with real-life experiences.  

What’s best about the new program is that the teachers will be law enforcement Explorers, boys and girls aged 14-21 in Scouting’s career exploration program. Using proven teaching materials, these trained youth will gain confidence and public speaking experience by teaching younger school kids how to stay safe online. Who is better to teacher a younger student to police his own behavior than an articulate, enthusiastic older peer wearing a law enforcement Explorer uniform?

This program is just beginning, and further details will be announced in the months ahead. Meanwhile, you can learn more about the BSA’s Cyber Chip program here.

Copyright © 2016 Orange County Council, BSA, All rights reserved.

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