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Teenagers want computer security lessons

'But don't talk down to us'

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High-school students have a message for their parents: Trust us with technology. Security and privacy? We have it covered.

A panel of teenagers speaking at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy Conference told attendees on Friday that they are far more in tune with technology than their parents and have come to understand the issues of security and privacy on the internet largely without any guidance from educators or their parents.

"We don't go over internet security, we don't go after 'Watch out for that, because your identity can be stolen,'" said Elizabeth, a 16-year-old junior at Seattle Prepatory School. "I don't know that a school should be giving courses in computer ethics, but they should talk about computer security. If you are going to have a computer in the classroom, talk to kids about - hey, you might see an adult site, that there are internet predators out there, they exist, you kids need to be careful - you know, give them the basic education."

The panel of five teenagers described the benefits of growing up in the internet Age as well as how they deal with the dangers. Because the teenagers are all minors, their last names will not be used.

The group said that they had to learn about many of the pitfalls on the internet on their own. Parents and schools tended not to know how to address the subject of security and privacy on the internet.

"Every kid, when they reach a certain age, have The Talk with their parents," said Steven, a 16-year-old junior at Sammanish High School. "We need to have the same sort of discussion in terms of privacy. The majority of teenagers know about the sexual diseases out there because of this conversation that they have with their parents or because of they have the talk in the school in sex ed. I think (security) needs to be addressed the same as well."

A major problem for the kids is that they are, in general, far ahead of their parents in terms of internet usage. The teenagers blogged regularly, used instant messaging to keep up with their friends, and were usually able to circumvent any computer security measures at school, they said.

"I think it is hard for the parents and educators because we are moving at a different pace than they are... no offense," said Elizabeth. "It feels like we are done and on to the next thing by the time other people are aware of it."

Yet, the teenagers also admitted that the group of five and their friends were more savvy than many other students. For example, some students at their schools blogged under their real names and included many real life details, which the panel of teenagers believed was a danger.

"If you want to give out you first name, then go ahead, nobody is going to stop you," Cathy, a 17-year-old senior from Bellevue High School, said on the topic of the students' concerns about sexual predators. "But you should know that there are so-and-so types of people out there."

The teenagers had mixed opinions on how much should be taught at school regarding internet safety. Some believed that ethics in the digital world should be a required topic, while others thought that only basic safety should be taught. However, they did agree that parents and schools should be talking about the internet with their kids far sooner than they do today - by the age of 10 at the latest, they said.

However, when parents' fear for their children's safety turns into what the teenagers see as violations of privacy, then it is definitely not cool, they said.

"My mom has blocked the TV, the computer and I'm not allowed to listen to a lot of radio stations right now," said Elizabeth. "It is a very bizarre experience for me. I really feel like she doesn't trust me anymore. She hasn't demanded my password, but I know that she knows it, and I'm pretty sure she has gone onto my computer."

Other panellists saw such tactics as easily circumvented security measures. Some suggested they would have an e-mail that the parents would not know about in order to protect their own privacy.

"My parents wanted to check my computer, so I stopped using that computer," said Morgan, a 17-year-old senior at Mountlake Terrace High School. "I use the computers at school. There are things that they don't need to know."

Such opinions and view points should be kept in mind by parents, as they try to protect their children from digital dangers, said one privacy expert.

"In general, society does not pay enough attention to what young people think, particularly in policy questions involving students and schools," said Kevin Bankson, an attorney and fellow with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a moderator at the panel.

The general feeling among the teenagers, however, was that parents should talk about the issues with their kids.

"The most important thing is don't talk down to us," said Morgan. "For the most part, we are not dumb."

Copyright © 2005, SecurityFocus logo

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