Cyberstrong Kids gives parents tools for online security | TheUnion.com

Cyberstrong Kids gives parents tools for online security

Cyberstrong Kids, a new Grass Valley cyber education company, is equipping parents with the essentials of teaching their kids how to take control of their digital footprints.

Through an online tutorial, parents learn how to keep their children's Internet activity secure, away from strangers and online pariahs.

"It's too dangerous for parents not to take an active role in what their kids are doing online," Cyberstrong Kids founder Marlene Mahurin said. "So this is a program that parents do together with their kids online, so they do it at home when they purchase the program. It takes an hour, and I created a video where I have interviews of local kids and they do role plays and we talk about all the ways kids can take control of their digital lives."

A Bay Area native, Mahurin and her family moved to Grass Valley 12 years ago. As a former sixth-grade teacher Mahurin would often head her classes sex education curriculum and her students would frequently come to her to talk about pressing issues.

"I just thought it would be better for them to talk to their parents," Mahurin said. "So my goal was to get parents and kids to be comfortable talking about tough stuff."

Five years ago, Mahurin launched a teaching program called "Time for the Talk," a five-week sex education program that gets parents comfortable talking to their kids about uncomfortable issues. Mahurin, though, noticed that every time she would teach the program to families in the area, parents would approach her with concerns about how to educate their kids on using social media and online technology.

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"We've all heard the horror stories and trouble kids can get into online," Mahurin said. "So out of that I created Cyberstrong Kids."

Mahurin launched the cyber education program Sept. 3, and offered a free class for parents to call her up and ask questions about understanding their kid's online activity. The online program is geared toward kids ages 9-14, and includes a video that covers ways in which kids can control what type of information about themselves is available online.

"It also comes with worksheets that they do together where they look at different scenarios, and how they would deal with certain situations," Mahurin said. "A huge focus for the program is what would you want people to know about you if they were to Google you. What images would you want to have come up, what text, and to think about that when they are interacting in the digital world."

Mahurin said the program is not just about educating parents and their kids, but it's about empowering kids to put out a positive profile into the digital world.

"Instead of being scared, if you're a dancer or into sports then you can post things that they are proud of about themselves, instead of the silly stuff that kids tend to put up there that later they might be embarrassed by," Mahurin said. "If you talk to parents, most of us are glad we don't have a public record of our teen years, but kids nowadays are growing up in a different time where there will be one. So it's about educating them and empowering them."

With evolving modes of online communication and information dissemination, it has become easier for an individual's online activity, including their physical locations, to be tracked by anyone.

"Instagram, which is probably the most popular for middle school-aged kids, there's a feature called Map My Photo," Mahurin said. "Where if they're putting up a picture of themselves, that tags the picture of where it's taken. The other day a friend of my daughter took a picture of herself in the backyard, and clicked on the feature and it showed her house. So somebody could know where she lives just because of the photo."

Mahurin said Cyberstrong Kids aims to inform both parents and kids about new and evolving online programs, to know what to do to prevent someone from tracking their whereabouts.

"But this basic idea for parents and kids is to trust their instincts," Mahurin said. "If they wouldn't want their grandma to see it then not to send it, to apply those rules to any program or social media site is more helpful then understanding every program that there is, which is unrealistic."

Mahurin said she is marketing the $39.99 online video program to families in the area as well as school districts.

Grass Valley parent Elisa Parker has gone through the Cyberstrong Kids program with her 11-year-old daughter and said it was useful for her to start the ongoing conversation about her daughter's online activity.

"Most of these kids don't understand what they're doing online," Mahurin said. "Kids are online at such a young age, it's a great way for them to understand how they are creating their digital footprint. And it's great to have that time to sit down with my daughter and learn from each other."

For more information go to http://www.cyberstrongkids.com.

To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email inatividad@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.