Recent media reports indicate another spike in MXit related incidents ranging from teen abductions to children spreading pornography. On the business side MXit is entering online payments and mobile banking arena and will probably continue it’s relationship with MNET Idols reality TV show facilitating voting for the contestants. Families, schools and communities have always been up in arms over the last three years. In my public talks to schools and church groups I have tried my best to explain both the pro’s and the con’s to my audiences.
When children get access to technology like cellphones or the Internet at an early age, they often do so without any guidelines. So it becomes very important for parents to understand what those guidelines are and to adopt them from an early age. If not they run the risk of these online incidents that take place on MXit or Facebook for that matter to spill over into their daily lives. The incidents appear to be on the increase because MXit user base has continued to grow and now has over 11 million registered users. The number of international users are also on the increase, which wides the possibilities for abuse from people in other countries with your children in South Africa.
Unlike computers there is no software available to block or track what people do on cellphones. Each make of a cellphone practically runs a different operating system, which makes it difficult for software developers to create these software so freely available on the Internet for PC users. Both Vodacom and MTN have some limited mechanism for parental control. In all cases I encourage parents to install those options where avaialable. Please remember it will not block or control what children can do on MXit. The MXit platform exists outside of these parent control measures. So it sounds like you’re back to square one.
What parents can do is focus on open and regular dialogue with your children. All I’m saying is the basics of parenting. One specific thing I encourage parents to do is to begin using MXit themselves. In the first place it begins to demystify the technology for the parents themselves and it also shows the kids that parents are willing or able to learn and understand. In many cases I believe children are very open to showing their family members how to benefit from these fun technologies. In most cases the approach from the parents is one of control because of a lack of understanding.
Anyway here’s some basic guidelines to follow from MSNBC slightly adapted.
Teach your children to:
# Think before they click: With whom are they chatting (MXit) or e-mailing (Facebook), what are they saying and how are they saying it? Will the person on the other end know they are joking?
# Walk away from the computer or put the cellphone down and “Take 5” before responding to something that upsets them online
# Avoid spreading rumours, assisting in cyberbullying or sharing private communications online.
# Follow the golden rule of cyberspace: Don’t do anything online that you wouldn’t do in real life!
Follow responsible safety practices yourself on your computer:
# Install spyware and adware blocking software on your computer
# Make sure you have a working firewall on your computer
# Install anti-virus software and update it regularly
# Take advantage of spam-blocking tools offered by your Internet provider or e-mail software