Children are now connecting to the Internet from a young age. And, with the increase of schools integrating smart devices into their curriculum, parents need to know what security measures need to be in place to protect their children. By Fundiswa Nkwa
Ensure your child’s safety online
The Internet can be a dangerous place for children. Findings from a study that was released in 2016, conducted by UNICEF South Africa into children’s (aged between 9 and 17) internet use and online activities, titled South Africa’s Kids Online, found that 1 in 3 has been exposed to hate speech and inappropriate images on the Internet. And, one in five has met a stranger that they first encountered online. It also found that they tend to not receive enough support from parents, teachers and friends around internet usage, and are free to use it without supervision.
KIDS INTERNET SAFETY
Arthur Zwane* often gives his four-year-old daughter his smartphone to play educational games. He once found her watching pornography from a website tab he had forgotten to close. Barbara Eaton, the academic development adviser for the pre-primary schools division at ADvTECH, believes that leaving a child unsupervised with a smartphone that is connected to the Internet is irresponsible, and could cause irreversible harm. “Parents should not encourage the use of these devices for children under the age of six,” Barbara says. She adds that children that have early exposure to smart devices and the Internet grow up to have eyesight problems, a short concentration span, are unimaginative and antisocial. “I have noticed that when parents want to keep toddlers quiet or entertained, they give them a smart device,” Barbara
says. Even though there are online interactive and educational games that can be beneficial to their development, allowing them to play should be kept to a bare minimum and preferably avoided, she adds. She believes there should be adult supervision at all times because what children do online needs to be monitored. “They also need to make sure that internet-connected devices are not easily accessible, and that the parental control options are activated. Internet safety needs to be discussed with the child as soon as they are granted access,“she concludes.
TEENAGERS INTERNET SAFETY
Teenagers use digital technologies everyday, and at this inquisitive age they believe that the Internet is a place where their questions can be answered. Through it, they stay connected with friends and family, get involved in volunteer work, share ideas and gain access to educational tools. However, the Internet is not a safe space for uninformed teenagers because they can fall victim to cyberbullying, cyber predators and phishing scams. Maryanne
Lester, a mother to a teenager, says her son struggled in school, but is now a straight-A student because she bought him a tablet and connected it to the
Internet to help with his schoolwork.
“I was concerned about exposing him to security threats and information that is beyond his capacity to handle. So, I installed parental security software that blocks inappropriate websites,” Maryanne says. The software gives her an update of all the websites he visits, and the amount of time spent on the Internet. Victor Johnson, a former life skills high school educator, said that through his work, he noticed that pupils with unlimited and unmonitored internet access struggled with self-regulation, peer pressure and sexting. “Many teenagers that I taught said their parents did not talk to them about internet safety, and that they knew nothing about online security risks,” Victor says. They engage in risky behaviour such as downloading illegal copies of movies and music, and communicating with strangers. Victor adds that it’s the parents’ responsibility to inform children about the importance of creating strong passwords, and not sharing personal information to avoid identity theft. Their internet access must be closely monitored, and parents must instal software that blocks websites that children should not access. Social media platforms only allow children over 13 years old to open accounts, but many use wrong dates of birth. “As a parent, if you know that your child is on social media, you need to talk to them about how to use it safely,” Victor advises. A safety measure that you can implement is to check privacy settings as default security settings are often not tight. SAFETY
FOR PARENTS Victor and Barbara both agree that parents need to know more about the Internet than their children, and ways of protecting them online. “It is frightening that most teenagers now know about parental controls and how to unlock them, as well as other website restrictions,” Victor says. Therefore, you must stay ahead by checking that the security measures in place are working and monitored. “Parents need to continue talking to their children about the pros and cons of using the Internet, so that children can modify their online behaviour and security accordingly,” Barbara says. Online predators target unsuspecting children, and lure them into meeting with them, which can lead to kidnapping.
South Africa is proactive when it comes to keeping children safe online, and there are organisations that have been established to facilitate this. In 2012, UNICEF together with government, civil society, media companies and Google launched a South African version of the
Google Online Family Safety Centre website. It guides you on how to help your child navigate the Internet safely. Another useful website is cybercrime.org.za – it gives you a platform to report cybercrimes.
The South African Police Service website has information on cyberbullying, internet safety and sexting. Another important website is crimeline.co.za as it allows you to give anonymous crime tip-offs when you suspect criminal activity.