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Do you know what your child is watching online?

Jacob Mutisi
From pornography, violence and online dating these are now readily available on cyberspace.  Today’s children love phones, computers and the internet; it is really that simple.

Many parents know their kids would be on devices all day if they were allowed and that is because all children see is the good stuff. Games, videos, animals, chatting to friends, answers to any question one could possibly think of, made up celebrity gossip, pop music, Google Earth and sport.

But like so many things in life it is what they do not know that is the danger. They have no idea about password security, trolling and “netiquette”, phishing, cybercrime, hacking and the myriad other security and safety issues most adults take for granted.

The internet can be a wild and unregulated place, an environment totally at odds with the desire we all have to protect our kids, but one they cannot wait to dive into, so where do you begin?

All applications come with safety settings, get to know them. There are also some powerful, dedicated software programmes available that can allow a parent/guardian to filter access to specific sites and programmes, receive email alerts if restricted sites are viewed and even record keystrokes.

Many children probably do not need that level of surveillance but do some research to see what is available and use what is appropriate. But remember, no system can deliver 100% safety.

The most effective form of child safety is to “stay together”. If your children are young, never, ever, let them surf the net alone. You would not take them to a new city and let them run free, in and out of stranger’s houses all day long, would you? So do not leave them alone online, no matter how strong your security settings.

Have an honest conversation; most parents want to retain their children’s innocence while still letting them have some freedom. It is a delicate balance but you can start to achieve it by having a genuine and open discussion about the dangers they could run into.

How direct you want to be is up to you, and depends, of course, on the child, but it is important to at least start to talk about the idea of inappropriate content and the existence of bad people.

You do not have to scare them, just try to prepare them with the basics before one of their friends or an older brother or sister tells them to do something silly.

Train a mini ‘cyber security agent’

Children are so often interested in the things their parents and older siblings are enthusiastic about, so try to show them that being switched-on about digital security is for the smart kids.

Next time you have to update your system software or install a security patch, get your kids to do it with you and tell them why it is necessary and how it could help. Then when they have done it, congratulate them on being the family’s first ever digital security agent (you could even give them a codename).

Do some security investigating online together; show them how to create strong passwords, make a game out of it and tell them how much more grown-up and better prepared they are than other kids their age and while you are doing it, you may even learn something yourself.

Remember your children can be online victims. Remember, too much exposure to bad content reduces moral values in children.

This can cause stress and mental instability that you may struggle to control as a parent. By understanding these risks you can help keep your children safe in cyberspace.

  • Mutisi is the CEO of Hansole Investments (Pvt) Ltd and the current chairperson of Zimbabwe Information & Communication Technology, a division of Zimbabwe Institution for Engineers. — +263772278161

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