South Africa’s youth are faced with a multitude of issues as they grow up in country surrounded by an ever-increasing, more and more accessible world of technology.
From cellphones to the worldwide web, our youth are being bombarded with information, most of which is educational and fun. But there is a darker side to this technological world that should keep parents awake at night.
smsweb, a Cape Town-based company, has for several years now been investing money and technology to develop ways of giving parents more control and understanding of what their children are being exposed to in the online world.
Any child with an internet-enabled cell phone has full access to the internet. The internet opens up a world to them that is unrestricted, mostly ungoverned and most definitely under-legislated.
Chat platforms such as MXit, enable users to chat directly with their friends or to access so-called chat rooms where they can directly interact with complete strangers who may or may not be who they say they are. Many of these chat-rooms are frequented by people who are masters in the art of manipulation, and as parents, we know that, particularly our teenagers, are most vulnerable to this form of enticement.
“One of the most effective ways of preventing children from accessing inappropriate websites, chatting with complete strangers or even meeting up with them, is through educating their parents”, says Salah Elbaba of smsweb.
“As parents, we often feel that technology is so intimidating that it is beyond our understanding exactly what we are exposing our children to. Whether it is an internet-enabled cell phone or unsupervised internet access, our comprehension is often lacking. If parents understood that this technology we allow our children to access could be compared to a loaded gun, we would definitely think twice”, continues Elbaba
With parent education probably the key to a better understanding of the power of the tools we give our youth, smsweb - sponsored in part by Sanlam Liquid - has launched a website (www.esafety.co.za) to address this problem. The e-Safety website has a series of programmes aimed at empowering parents to better understand the role of technology in helping to improve the lives of their children.
Parents can register on the website (www.esafety.co.za) for a free email newsletter series that will provide them with information, helpful hints and danger signs to look out for. The e-Safety newsletter is sent out on a regular basis to keep parents up to date with any advances in technology, new programmes, games or sites that may be detrimental to their children, as well as offering advice on what steps parents can take to practice e-Safe parenting.
As well as the e-Safety newsletter, smsweb has been working closely with child psychologists who are offering advice on subjects such as building children’s emotional maturity, the appropriate age to inform children of the dangers surrounding technology and the invasion of their privacy.
As responsible parents, we tell our children at an early age not to talk to strangers; surely – in light of what we know - we should view cellphones and the internet in the same serious manner?
Another of smsweb’s offerings specifically targets access to inappropriate content on the internet from a home computer. Smsweb has software which enables parents to identify keywords that they don’t want their children exposed to. If the child does look up or view a site using any of those words, an sms is sent directly to the parent, and the parent can then remotely shut down the computer or directly confront their child.
“We would really like to access schools via a workshop platform where we will speak to parents: parent evenings or even school orientation evenings would be the ideal starting point for this venture. Knowledge is power, and power is the safety of our children”, ends Elbaba.
As parents, we are all responsible for the safety of our children. We cannot stand by and be passive enablers - we need to take the time to understand and know exactly what our children are doing online. “If only” is often too little, too late.
(Lionel Lelyveld, Realcor Media, April 2010)