There is no escaping the power of technology in our modern lives. We rely on it heavily to get by on a daily basis in our homes and workplaces. Our education system has not been left untouched by this phenomenon; the department of basic education has a policy in place to integrate and promote the use of technology as a teaching tool. Gauteng MEC of education Panyaza Lesufi has publicly vowed to eliminate conventional classroom teaching aids such as the chalkboard and replace them with the latest technologies to enhance teaching and learning in the province’s schools.
But online technology also has its own shortcomings, especially if it falls into the wrong hands. However, these can be mitigated through a set of protocols, which provide responsible ways to safeguard the innocent and vulnerable.
Last month was Safer Internet Day, a global initiative to promote secure and more responsible use of online technology and mobile phones, particularly among children. As part of the celebrations, Google South Africa has put together some tips on how to learners can be taught to be “vigilant and responsible, to ensure the internet becomes a valuable household resource, and not a hazard”. Here are some of the tips and techniques on how parents and teachers can keep learners safe:
The first step is to open the lines of communication about online safety, the rules and expectations around online use, what sites are appropriate or not, and the consequences if those rules are broken. It’s important to make your children feel comfortable discussing these issues so that they will have no qualms about coming to you when they have questions or are unsure of how to handle a situation online.
It may seem obvious, but the most effective course of action is to get involved. The younger your children are, the more strongly you will need to co-pilot their web use. This might involve more than simply installing a parental control on your home browser. Think of it like this: if you allow your child into a public playground with all kinds of possible threats, you won’t let them out of your sight. The internet is no different — you need to use the technology together, and learn about it together.
Stay Up To Date
Many adults are not fully aware of what new devices and apps can do. If your children are old enough to own their own devices, it’s best to understand what’s installed on their phones or tablets, and of course, what they’re capable of. Most modern gaming consoles also connect to the web, and allow for direct communication with apps like Skype and other direct communication services.
The internet has a number of protocols that can help you child-proof your home computer and its access to less desirable parts of the web. The Google Safety Centre is a good place to start. Set up secure passwords for your family, and remind children not to give them out to anyone. Ensure they are in the habit of signing out of online accounts if they use them outside the home, for example at school or in the library.
Instilling responsible internet conduct is really first prize. Kids need to know from an early age exactly what kinds of information should never be revealed. Names, addresses, details of family and friends, and so on are the kinds of things that predators feed on. The “stranger danger” approach of old applies to the web more than ever.
Get to know the privacy settings on sites you and your children use, and make use of these to decide who can see content before you post it. Talk about what should or shouldn’t be shared on social media sites; some sites have age restrictions. For example, Google has an age restriction of 18 on certain products.
Encourage responsible online communication by teaching your children that if they wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, they shouldn’t say it online, over instant message or on text.
You also need to guide your child on what to do if they feel uncomfortable with an interaction or experience on the web. Cyber-bullying, for example, has become a serious issue around the world, and may have legal implications.
Assuring your child that they can tell you when something feels wrong is important. You may need to report to your child’s school if the incident involves peers, or in extreme cases to the police. In general, maintaining an open line of communication and being aware of where your children are — even online — is key to ensuring safe and responsible net citizenry. Stay active and involved. Technology is evolving, and so is the way we use it, so it’s important to stay up to date and to review and revise your ground rules as your children grow up.