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By Dr Pieter Streicher, MD of BulkSMS.com. Uploaded on: 01 November 2010.
When we were children the standing joke was that the kids, had to set the video machine for their non-technical parents. We’d grown up with video machines, while for our parents they were still new-fangled devices.
Fast forward to today and consider cell phones, the Internet, Skype, instant
messaging, Facebook, Twitter, Mxit, PVRs, Xboxes, e-books and the endless list
of new communication technologies. These are all things that our children have
grown up with, and take to like fish to water - while we probably only got our
first cell phone when we started our first job, and then only used it for
Every generation’s children complain bitterly that their parents just don’t
understand them, with their parents muttering about how they did things better
in their day. But never has a generation gap been as wide as it is today, with
parents having very little understanding of the opportunities and the risks
involved with the digital environments their children are growing up in.
A lack of understanding of the risks and dangers involved often results in two
extremes in response from parents, neither of which is ideal. On the one hand
parents might bury their heads in the sand because of the apparent technical
complexity and leave their children to fend for themselves in the face of some
very real dangers, and navigate important rites of passage unsupported and
Or, alternatively, a parent might over react because they don’t understand the
dangers involved and simply ban all things digital. Which not only leads to
unnecessary conflict with the child and cuts them off from their social circle,
but also disadvantages them in their adult life and careers, due to lack of
experience communicating in a digital environment.
Parents have to educate themselves to understand both the opportunities and the
dangers associated with digital communication technology in order to better
guide their children and protect them from harm.
Some of the vital things parents and children need to learn include:
People aren’t always who they say they are. Just as adults fall for email
phishing scams, children can get taken in by people misrepresenting themselves
online with harmful intent.
Think before you post. In our day, playground conversations with our friends,
complaining about teachers perhaps, ended as soon as the bell rang for the end
of break. Today however, these conversations take place on Facebook, for anyone
to read or forward even years later, and are almost impossible to delete.
Likewise, children need to think before they respond to things that other
people have posted. A casual jokey comment about someone can very quickly
escalate into an orchestrated cyber-bullying attack, with bystanders becoming
accomplices at the click of mouse.
It’s not just about computers. Many parents don’t understand that the Internet
their children can access via their cell phones is the same Internet, warts and
all, accessed via a computer. Not only that, it is so much easier to make
purchases on the Internet via cell phone as it just takes the click on a link,
rather than entering credit card details.
Unfortunately though, too many technology companies simply release their
products into the world, and don’t take responsibility for educating customers
on how to use them safely. One of the places parents can go to educate
themselves is www.parentscorner.org.za, a BulkSMS.com initiative aimed at
informing parents about children and mobile phones. The blog contains advice
from a family therapist; discussions around difficult topics such as whether
you should monitor your children’s online activities; and useful links to other
resources. The blog is complemented by a lecture series for schools and other
At the end of the day, it is worth remembering that the technology itself is
neither good nor bad, but how it is used can have positive or negative
consequences. Think of some of the benefits technology gives parents, for
instance, thanks to cell phones children can easily call their parents in an
emergency. But to benefit from these positives, parents have a responsibility
to educate themselves about the technology, and protect their children from the