It’s a digital world out there, and our children live in it. Here’s a brief tour through gaming, surfing the web, Mxit and cellphones.
It’s a digital world out there, and our children live in it. Here’s a brief tour:
Cellphones and communications technology
Cellphones allow children and parents to keep in contact and can contribute to increased security and convenience. Together with Internet telephony, voice-over IP (e.g. Skype), email and instant messaging (IM), they allow children to keep in contact with each other and develop those friendships irrespective of geography. Today’s young people do have broader groups of friends than previous generations.
Children are able to develop relationships with members of the opposite sex far easier than ever before, and are starting younger.
This may be because it is so much easier to communicate via SMS and email than to go through the initially awkward face-to-face, get-to-know you phase. They are getting into relationships far earlier as a result and phone “sex” between young teens is now quite common.
These media encourage anonymous communication. It is an unfortunate fact that those who wish to prey on unsuspecting young people have much easier access to them than ever before. We need to teach young people about these dangers, and provide safeguards for them.
On the positive side, airtime has become a new currency. Parents often use it as a reward or in lieu of pocket money and it can be used to help teach good financial management and resource allocation.
MXit is a popular chat service that allows kids to have lengthy conversations at very minimal prices on their cellphones.
With more than 300 000 users from ages 12-17, MXit was at the centre of a media and parent brouhaha when it was found that kids could access porn sites and pictures – and strange people could try to access kids.
Parent's guide to Mxit
The Parent’s Guide to MXit is now available to explain MXit in simple terms and covers aspects like how MXit impacts on relationships, coping with addiction, dealing with abuse and navigation of the MXit universe.
Ramon Thomas, online behaviour expert at NETucation produced this guide after the spate of negative publicity. He says, "Once you understand MXit it is very important to note the impact on your relationship with your child and the possibility and probability of addiction and abuse."
To request your copy of the Parents Guide to MXit go to http://netucation.co.za or SMS your name and email address to 076 191 0405.
Digital games are those played on computers, TV or hand-held devices. Many are interactive and multi-player, often requiring broadband Internet access to play against many other people around the world.
Children can learn great strategy, planning, problem solving, risk taking, collaboration and communication skills, and can develop a sense of personal mastery. They don’t mind failure – they just start again and make sure they don’t make the same mistake again. All of these are crucial skills for the future world of work.
The problems with gaming
However, there are similar problems to TV viewing, especially issues with brain activity related to staring close-up at flickering screens, exposure to violence, bad language and inappropriate content.
In addition, some soundtracks have beats way above normal heart rate which can actually put children under physical stress.
Some games are designed by marketers to push their products and the rise in advertising in games exposes children to more marketing messages.
Even primary school children are using the Internet for research and education, and using computers to do homework assignments. They develop and practice digital skills essential for the future world of work, from typing to knowing where to find information, how to access it, how to filter it and repackage it.
The problem with the internet
The danger lies in unsupervised children accessing inappropriate content, being influenced by subtle digital marketing, and even being induced to give out personal details to strangers.
There is also a danger of children plagiarising, not learning to be independent thinkers and not having the skills to differentiate between good and bad content.