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Building a safer online world for South Africa’s children: Tips for parents and teachers

By , Channel Manager, Fortinet.
18 Jun 2024
Julie Noizeux, Channel Manager at Fortinet.
Julie Noizeux, Channel Manager at Fortinet.

As South Africa commemorates 30 years of democracy, this year’s Youth Day and Youth Month revolve around the theme of “Actively embracing the socioeconomic gains of our democracy”. This milestone signifies not only a celebration of progress but also a reflection of the pivotal advancements that have shaped the youth of our nation over the past three decades.

Among the most transformative developments during this period has been the rise of digital technology. With the proliferation of internet connectivity and digital devices, South Africa’s children and young adults now navigate a new digital landscape that permeates their school, leisure, and home environments.

Is this new digital world safe?

Cyber dangers are everywhere, with criminals continuously looking to exploit and deceive individuals, including kids. Online platforms can also be breeding grounds for cyberbullying and predators. Studies in the UK show that about one in 20 children has faced online risks.

It’s also worth pointing out that although we are making great advancements, tech and cybersecurity education still remains a privilege, which makes it mostly accessible to the more affluent communities in South Africa. A large proportion of youths are still not exposed to tech regularly from an early age due to socio-economic challenges, and when they do get the exposure, they have not received the adequate awareness training around the possible dangers. This means that they can become targets much more easily.

At Fortinet, we believe that educating and training staff is crucial for securing the enterprise. The same principle applies to schools and homes. It’s crucial to teach young people from an early age about the risks of the online world and the importance of safeguarding their personal information.

Even though governments and companies often implement cybersecurity measures for employees, if we want to make the online world safer for our children and teens, we need everyone—governments, schools, and tech companies—to team up and take action.

What can teachers and parents do?

One big step would be to weave cybersecurity and online safety lessons into school curricula, giving students the digital smarts they need. These lessons should cover things like managing your online presence, keeping your privacy intact, behaving ethically online, understanding cybersecurity basics, and spotting real online content from fakes. By making cybersecurity a part of school life, we not only protect kids better but also open doors for young individuals to explore careers in cybersecurity, an industry hungry for fresh talent and full of opportunities.

Open and honest communication is also crucial. Parents and teachers should offer a safe space for children to raise concerns or report content and interactions that make them uncomfortable. Children should also be taught not to engage with harmful or suspicious posts, avoid opening emails or attachments from unfamiliar sources, and never meet in person with individuals they have only interacted with online, without discussing it with their parents first.

To create a safer online environment for children, parents and teachers can adopt the following practical strategies:

  1. Teach kids about online safety early on: Help them understand why it’s important not to share personal info like their name, address, or school details with strangers online.
  2. Create a safe space for conversations: Encourage kids to talk openly about anything online that bothers or upsets them.
  3. Set clear rules and boundaries: Establish guidelines for how much time kids spend online, what sites they can visit, and how they should behave online.
  4. Use parental controls and monitoring tools: Keep tabs on what your kids are doing online and use tools that block inappropriate content.
  5. Teach good digital manners: Show kids how to be respectful online, treat others kindly, and make responsible choices.
  6. Include kids in decision-making: Involve them in discussions about online safety rules so they understand and follow them better.
  7. Work with schools and communities: Partner with schools and groups to ensure a united effort in teaching kids about online safety.
  8. Report any issues: If your child faces cyberbullying or any online problems, report them to the right authorities and keep a record for possible legal action.
  9. Teach kids about online safety early on: Help them understand why it’s important not to share personal info like their name, address, or school details with strangers online.
  10. Create a safe space for conversations: Encourage kids to talk openly about anything online that bothers or upsets them.
  11. Set clear rules and boundaries: Establish guidelines for how much time kids spend online, what sites they can visit, and how they should behave online.
  12. Use parental controls and monitoring tools: Keep tabs on what your kids are doing online and use tools that block inappropriate content.
  13. Teach good digital manners: Show kids how to be respectful online, treat others kindly, and make responsible choices.
  14. Include kids in decision-making: Involve them in discussions about online safety rules so they understand and follow them better.
  15. Work with schools and communities: Partner with schools and groups to ensure a united effort in teaching kids about online safety.
  16. Report any issues: If your child faces cyberbullying or any online problems, report them to the right authorities and keep a record for possible legal action.

Together, by putting these ideas into action, we can build a digital world where South Africa’s youth can flourish, benefit from the internet’s opportunities, and stay shielded from its risks. Equipping our young ones with the right skills and understanding is key to safeguarding their online experiences and readying them for a future where being digitally savvy is essential.

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