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Wise Tech Choices initiative seeks to educate 21st century Scouts

SALT LAKE CITY — Twenty-first century Scouting involves more than teaching boys how to tie knots.

With an increase in technology, the Boy Scouts of America's Great Salt Lake Council is working to educate Scouts on internet safety.

The nonprofit organization Internet Keep Safe Coalition, or iKeepSafe, joined the Great Salt Lake Council on Monday to launch Wise Tech Choices, a new initiative promoting digital balance and healthy content usage for Scouts.

The pilot program is underway in District 18, which includes about 100 Scout troops in Riverton, Herriman and Bluffdale, according to project manager Emily Ensign. Plans call for Wise Tech Choices to be expanded to reach Utah's 288,000 Scouts and eventually Scouts across the nation.

Jackie Leavitt, former first lady of Utah and iKeepSafe founder, shared one of the program's resources by reading "Faux Paw the Techno Cat and a Time to ACT — Making Healthy Content Choices" to Scouts. The book teaches Scouts to be proactive if they happen upon pornography online by turning off the device and telling an adult.

Wise Tech Choices was launched in response to an increase in daily media usage in 21st century Scouting, according to Mark Griffin, Scout executive with the Great Salt Lake Council.

"'Be prepared' is our Scout motto," Griffin said in a statement. "Scouts have the benefits and power of a connected world, but without giving guidance regarding 'cyberbalance' and healthy content choices, they do not have the necessary proactive skills to navigate this connected world."

The program provides resources to teach those "necessary proactive skills" to today's youths, he said. The pilot program will prepare Scouts to "thrive in the digital world," Griffin said.

With a growing number of Scouts having access to personal mobile devices, Griffin said the goal is to educate all Scouts about cybersafety so they can make wise choices.

Scout Elisha Holladay, 9, of West Jordan, said he had heard just a "teeny bit" about cybersafety before attending Monday's event. Now, he said he's confident he would turn off his computer immediately if he were to encounter inappropriate material online.

"We live in an age of communication and screens," said Cub Scout leader Meredith Balmforth, of West Jordan, and it is important to have a program to help "curve them and kick (the Scouts) in the right direction."

Balmforth said the pilot program is great for the kids in her pack, who are between 8 and 10 years old, because it helps them in moments when they might encounter something on the internet they "shouldn't be thinking or feeling or seeing."

Balmforth, who leads nearly 70 Scouts, said Boy Scouts need to be educated on how to use the internet responsibly.

"They are right at the age when they are making choices on their own," she said.