|By Wilmie van Tonder (Social Worker and Family Therapist, ParentsCorner
When it comes to information technology, one needs to think quickly in order to stay safe. Our children get exposed to new information and new services daily and while this creates new opportunities, it also creates new risks.
Here are a few tips that we can teach our children, that will (if nothing else) create an awareness of how to be safe when using cellphone or the internet:
Dangers related to online instant messaging and chat services all boil down to “people are not always who they say they are”. The person you think is young, vibrant and friendly may in fact be a very disturbed person – a wolf in sheep’s clothing. This applies to adults as well, that email from your bank might in fact be an email from a fraudster.
Children should refrain from doing things online for people they do not know personally. In the event where a so-called friend or relative asks them to do sexual favours (pictures, poses, words, video clips), reassure your child that it is against the Law of South Africa to take part in such activities and that this ‘friend’ is not doing them any kind of ‘favour’ by asking him/her to get involved. For teenagers this can result in a permanent criminal record.
Your child should not give out his/her name, age, address, school, phone number, picture of himself or anyone else without your permission or (if they are older) without making sure it is safe to do so. This includes chat rooms, instant messages, email, surfing the net and even entering contests or registering for clubs online. Teach them to be wary of those who want to know too much.
- Real-life friends have real lives
Children should avoid chat rooms or discussion areas that look sketchy or provocative, and shouldn’t let people online trick them into thinking of them as real-life friends if they have never met them in person.
If they get suspicious e-mails, files or pictures from someone they don’t know and trust, trash them like any other junk mail. They could have a lot to lose by trusting someone they have never even met. The same goes for clicking links or URLs that look suspicious – just don’t do it.
- Rules rule
As a parent you should have a set of rules for online safety at home. It should be non negotiable and your children must understand that they have a responsibility to also follow these rules at school, at the library or at a friend or relative’s home. Rules keep us safe from harm.
- Passwords protect
Relay the message that passwords protect us. It should not be given out to anyone but parents – not even friends.
The most important change in the digital era is that every person has become a potential publisher. The problem with this is that any person of any age from any background can post whatever he/she likes, without taking any responsibility for it. This may well result in problems such as cyber bullying, sexting, embarrassing posts and identity theft.
Teach your child to take full responsibility for his/her words posted on the internet, by thinking of the implication it might have before posting it. Children have the ability to think before they speak (most of the time) and this should not be any different.
- A picture is worth a thousand words
Remember, it is a criminal offense in South Africa to take part in exploiting people via social media – even if it is ‘just’ a video in which two girls from your child’s school kiss. Your child should clearly understand that by posing for or distributing these pictures or videos on behalf of others can get them caught up in the system.
STOP – In the event where your child is being harassed, cyber bullied or has landed up in a situation where he/she does not feel comfortable, he/she should STOP. Instead of becoming a cyber bully in turn by sending out inflaming messages to another person when he/she is angry or hurt or taking part in activities that makes him/her feel uncomfortable, STOP and do not continue.
BLOCK – BLOCK the person. Most social media allows the blocking of troublemakers. Blocking can also mean LEAVING a specific conversation, chat room or site and not returning under the same alias.
TELL – Your child should be able to trust you with the above information. Encourage them to come to you before reacting in any way. You must then assist them in handling the situation in an appropriate fashion, not avoiding it.
Put these short messages up next to your computer or where your child can see it. This could save their life!
*I Hereby give recognition to Mrs. Carmia Crause for her contribution to this article.
For more information on online safety, visit www.parentscorner.org.za