Smart devices are a massive part of our children’s lives. They spend much of their time devoted to communicating with their friends and peers through cell phones and social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Sadly, the lack of boundaries combined with too much freedom and a dash of ignorance has resulted in children becoming more vulnerable to cyber bullying and cybercrime than ever before. In fact, a study by the World Economic Forum puts South Africa in the list of top 10 countries that are at risk when it comes to children and cybercrime. It comes as no surprise then that some schools and parents have taken to ban these devices altogether.
On the other hand, there is no denying that smart devices provide a powerful learning platform with a wealth of information available at your fingertips. And then of course there is the comfort that comes with knowing that you can contact (and keep track) of your child, where ever, whenever. “Because it’s not only the cyber criminals that you need to be protecting your child from, it’s the real-life ones too!” says Erika Truscott, Owner and Founder of PingMe. “Just last month, two incidents of intended abduction of children by strangers from shopping centres in Pretoria East went viral,” she adds.
So, what do parents do? Is there a way to protect our children from the dangers that lurk in cyber space whist still reaping the advantages that come with these devices in the real world? Erika believes there is. She offers the following smart device advice to parents:
1. Add social media accounts to your phone: As a rule of thumb, children younger than 13 shouldn’t have social media profiles – they simply don’t possess the skills to discern potential threats. If your older child is on social media, insist that you have their account on your phone so that you have instant access to chats and posts.
2. Check privacy settings: Automatically set all your child’s social media profiles to private, non-negotiable.
3. Download filtering, blocking and information security software: Control unwanted content and apps by investing in software that allows you to selectively filter what your children are exposed to.
4. Watch WhatsApp: Much of the cyber bullying that takes place, happens on WhatsApp. You can use the WhatsApp web/desktop application to track your child’s history and messages.
5. Get them safety savvy: Teach your child that the ‘Stranger Danger’ rule applies for cyberspace as much as it does for ‘real life’ and remind them not to give out any personal information like phone numbers, home address etc. (even to friends) over social platforms.
“It may seem intrusive to have your child’s social media profiles on your phone or to watch their WhatsApp, but as moms and dads, our number one responsibility is to protect and nurture our children. It is integral that all these interventions are not done in isolation of an open and loving conversation with your child. Trust is the basis of every relationship and this is no different,” says Erika.
She adds that for parents who are still erring on the side of caution in terms of smart devices that perhaps they should consider a Smart Watch. “That way, the internet is completely restricted BUT you can still contact your child (and they can contact you!) plus you have the added benefit of being able to know where your child is at any given moment.