Although using social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and MXit can be a convenient and cheap way of communication, parents and others should take care as they also have a dark side.
Millions around the globe now have access to the internet and other forms of modern technology, many of them young adults and children.
However, recent media reports on the Facebook Rapist, who allegedly raped a woman in KwaZulu-Natal and is wanted in connection with the murder of a Joburg woman in Cape Town last week, provide an example of the dangers of social media.
Leon Pearlman, chairman of the Wireless Application Services Providers Association (Waspa), said cellphones had reached a point of ubiquity, with virtually every adult and teen in the country owning one.
He said they were an unavoidable part of modern culture.
“While this is a blessing for youngsters wishing to stay in touch with their friends, plan social gatherings or just shoot the breeze, it is a potential challenge for parents if not managed correctly.”
Pearlman said being a parent in the modern world was a frightening task as changes in technology over the past 20 years meant there was no precedent on how to deal with the dark side of the technology explosion.
“Parents find themselves grappling with a wide variety of cellphone-related issues, from the moment their child starts using one.
“Parents often worry about the possibility of their child gaining access to adult material. Other concerns include the dangers of cyberbullying and of meeting strangers in chat rooms.”
Pearlman added that the most obvious and effective way of preventing this was for parents to educate their children.
He said most parents would feel more secure if they had a level of control over the content their children could access on their phones.
“This is not as difficult as it may seem, and there are ways for adults to block children from browsing adult sites or to completely disable the internet of a phone.”
He advised concerned parents to do research on safe cellphone use as there were a number of websites created for them.
Laurence Seberini, an expert in the mobile industry, echoed Pearlman’s views.
He said cellphones were indispensable tools for today’s children and were an inescapable fact of life as they offered parents a way to stay in contact with their children in an increasingly dangerous world.
At the same time, however, cellphones could represent a safety risk, providing access to inappropriate content and a way for adult stalkers to prey on inexperienced children.
He has recently launched a website, Cellphone Safety, that brings both those areas of life together. It aims to help parents understand how to use the existing technology to protect their children.
“Cellphones are here to stay and, properly used, are a great technology that can help our kids communicate, explore the world and stay in touch with us. But children are by nature vulnerable, and so I wanted to bring together all the safety advice out there into one easy-to-use resource for my fellow parents,” said Seberini.
He added that the new site offered articles that kept parents up to date with various aspects of mobile parenting, including one which offered parents a guide to cellphone addiction.
“The Cellphone Safety website goes to great pains to provide step-by-step instructions that empower parents… The main aim is to help families embrace the positive aspects of technology while giving them the information they need to avoid… harm to children.”