COLUMN: How well do you know your child?

2016-06-28 06:00

South Africa recently marked Youth Day, the fortieth anniversary of the day when thousands of young South Africans took a stand to demand freedom.

Those children are now in their fifties, and living in a society they could not have imagined in their wildest dreams.

When they were their children’s age, television had just arrived in South Africa. No microwave oven, no fax machine, no personal computer, no mobile phone. Not even a Star Trek fan then could have imagined the internet.

To say that technological change since then has shaped youth culture is a massive understatement.

A young person today can get information through Google, share it with hundreds of followers on Facebook, have a chat on Whatsapp, post a picture on Instagram, send a tweet and post an update to her web page. All this in seconds, using phones that have more computing power than the supercomputers NASA used to put a man on the moon.

A 2012 Unisa study found that 85% of Western Cape high school learners had their own cell phones, on which they access the internet daily for social networking, instant messaging and to download music. Most youth have profiles on social networking sites, and many unwittingly post and access personal information that exposes them to the risk of pornography, sexting, cyberbullying, depictions of graphic violence and drug use, and even the influence of terrorist organisations.

While the fact that any person – anywhere in the world – can instantly and privately communicate with and influence children should concern parents, there is no reason to panic.

Use the internet to educate yourself and your child about the dangers. Use available technology to reduce the risks, such as downloading apps that restrict access to adult content on the internet. There are many helpful websites for parents seeking advice, such as and

If your child is using the phone obsessively, establish a reasonable daily limit on phone time and stick to it. Or restrict use by limiting money spent on airtime or data.

Along with these measures, parents can control the risks by following communication-based strategies with their children. The better you know your child, the easier it is to get them to protect themselves and use technology responsibly.

Show an interest in her daily activities and social circle. You might know the names of her best friends, but do you know where they live? Have you met their parents? What music is she listening to? Who’s her favourite artist? Does her favourite teacher know you?

Make time every day to listen to him with no distractions and no judgement.

Youth is a time of experimenting with ideas, so respect his opinions and allow them to be different from yours. Be part of his life. If he plays an organised sport, attend matches and practice sessions, or volunteer to assist the club administration.

By connecting daily with your child, you will keep the channels of communication open, build mutual trust and ensure that the technology we use helps rather than harms your child’s development.

This column was contributed by False Bay TVET College. For comments and suggestions on future articles, send an email to

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