The advancement in ICT and proliferation of the Internet has resulted in a significant increase in information resources, communication channels and access to interactive devices.
Annette Carrick, a director at Carrick Holdings, says the onus is on parents and authorities to be more proactive in exercising responsibility over what children are exposed to: when, where and how.
Carrick is the chairperson of Safekids (www.safekids.co.za), a not-for-profit organisation established to help children and their parents or guardians better understand the Internet and how to safely engage the digital world.
The organisation was established in 1999 as a secure gateway to an online community where children could be introduced to the Internet, surf the Web, interact with each other and enhance digital skills in a risk-free environment.
“This initiative was established as a result of us not being able to source acceptable Web sites for our children to log on to. Today there is every reason to ensure that children are introduced to this medium in a responsible, safe way.
“Safekids allows parents to discover the Internet and learn with their children and do this with complete peace of mind,” comments Carrick.
The Safekids initiative was also established to promote ICT and PC literacy amongst the youth. Seven years later there is a greater sense of purpose and need for the initiative, Carrick says.
“Like many other parents and guardians in South Africa, we are concerned about how technology, like the Internet and mobile phones, continues to affect our children.
“The reality is that we live in a digital world and it would be careless to not allow your children any contact with technology whatsoever.
“However, as we have seen recently, there is a disturbing trend among children of school-going age to use interactive multi-media devices to download, record and review material without any form of regulation or control. This is where we need to step in, take responsibility and exercise a more proactive approach to the situation,” Carrick says.
“While it is a fact that the so-called ‘generation Y’ is far more technologically aware and advanced in terms of their interest in and understanding of communication infrastructure, it is equally true that there are pros and cons to this knowledge,” she adds.
The Safekids Web site features a product section that offers information on various software products available that can be installed to ensure safe surfing and online chatting.
The company is in negotiation with a potential partner to establish a safe online chat service that will allow for risk-free interaction with other children around the world.
Classroom exchange programs are also a service offered for members.
The exchange program participants get their own private community, under the banner of Cyber Safe Kids, so the students can participate in ‘one-on-one’ discussions with their “matched” classroom.
Free E-mail, game sites, search engines and other child safe sites are all accessed through the gates of Cyber Safe Kids. Cyber Safe Kids is also available in six different languages.
“If you allow your child on to the Internet, there is no sure-fire way to prevent them from encountering strangers. You can use software to block downloads, chat and E-mail, but none of these programs are completely foolproof.
“Even online games for children have chat software running under the games so players can talk to each other. This can lead to an invitation to speak in other rooms, possibly even on the telephone or in public.
“The only foolproof way to eliminate the threat is to remove the modem so that your child can not reach the Internet. But this is drastic and unrealistic. If your child cannot reach the Internet, they cannot do the research they need for schoolwork.
“Because they have to be online to keep up, parents are compelled to supervise their behavior. This can be done in person, or with software, or both. Software that works based on Web addresses is much less effective than software that works on content,” Carrick adds.
“Making the Internet a safe and rewarding place for our children is a responsibility shared by the entire community, from industry to parents, from teachers to government representatives.”