With the Easter holidays around the corner, most parents would be aware of the fact that their young ones will soon have a lot of time on their hands. With schools shut and parents occupied, any number of activities could be enjoyed by the nation’s 11,2-million schoolgoing children.
For those kids who are lucky enough to have been given a cellphone by their parents, top of the list of holiday activities is surely spending more time on social media and generally surfing the mobile web.
“Cellphones are amazing personal safety enhancers and it’s no wonder that parents are increasingly allowing their teens and preteens the freedom to use them. Especially during the frenetic annual holiday season, knowing help is literally just a call or SMS away, adds much-needed peace of mind to the life of a parent,” says Ilonka Badenhorst, GM of the Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association of SA (WASPA).
WASPA is a self-regulating body that aims to create confidence in the local mobile content and applications industry by encouraging member adherence to its Code of Conduct which, inter alia, contains provisions relating to adult content.
“However, the fact that the mobile phone is a gateway to the wider world does pose some parenting challenges. Fortunately, these are manageable if parents take a few moments now and again to involve themselves in their kid’s virtual world,” adds Badenhorst.
She outlines below some practical ways parents can help protect their children. Possibly the most immediate and tangible thing parents can do is to ask their cellular network operator what measures that they have put in place to protect children from adult content.
South Africa’s biggest mobile operators have performed admirably in this regard. Vodacom enables parents to block adult content from being received on their child’s cellphone by dialing *111*123# from the cellphone they want to block. For MTN subscribers to block certain content, all they have to do is dial *101# from the handset, select the content that needs to be barred, create a PIN number and input the parent’s mobile number.
To protect their children online, it’s important for parents to familiarise themselves with the mobile and online worlds that are occupying a large part of their kids’ time. Just as a concerned parent would find out where a teen party is happening, and under whose supervision, parents should also find out where their children are hanging out online and who else is on the same sites.
While most over the top (OTT) messaging applications like WhatsApp are free to use, or cost very little, parents should monitor their children’s data usage (a handset setting) and ask them about any spikes in usage. Adult content is frequently data-heavy and alarm bells should ring if parents notice vast quantities of data being consumed. Of course, it’s more likely the little darlings are downloading all 95 episodes of the Gummi Bears.
Obsession with anything is usually a bad thing. While parents are often being told that it’s okay for modern children to constantly have their eyes glued to their mobile phone or tablet screens, there is a line of acceptable behaviour that should not be crossed – even when it comes to teenagers. When it is crossed, this may indicate potentially harmful mobile activity. It is simply not on for a child to be 100% engaged with mobile hardware that they are 0% aware of their surroundings. Parents need to convey the message that the person in front of a child is more important than the person at the other end of a mobile phone signal. That’s just common sense and it begs reminding.
Finally, help your children understand that as much as ‘friend requests’, ‘likes’ and ’emoticons’ may help build friendship in the online world, real world interaction is, in fact, the real thing. Knowing that the kind of quality friendships that make it okay to share things are built over a long period of time will protect your children more than any software programme.
“WASPA, for its part, will continue to work with South Africa’s mobile network operators, as well as parents, to help make the mobile world as safe and secure as it is accessible,” concludes Badenhorst.