18/05/09. More and more school children are using the internet. Picture: Damaris Helwig

Pretoria - The worldwide web, with all its hazards, is the new playground for children, a Google SA official said on Wednesday.

“Like in any playground, you don't abandon your children, but supervise and check how they are playing there,” the search engine's public manager Fortune Sibanda told a conference on child abuse in Pretoria.

He urged guardians to take stringent steps, including adjusting search settings, to protect children from negative content on the internet.

“This is the new playground, parents have to be involved and supervise it,” he said.

Sibanda said computers should be kept and used from a central place in the home.

“If the computer is in a central place, you can be able to know when your children go online. Help them to navigate safely.”

Minors had novel ways of searching for and accessing websites from which they had been blocked.

“Parents should talk to children and help them understand the dangers. Parents and caregivers should also adjust the settings and block unwanted stuff when the kids search.”

Sibanda said it was advantageous for guardians to allow children internet access in the home, but with monitoring.

“The benefits of the internet are immense. If we try to block children from accessing it, we can only be disadvantaging them. Most parents have this gut reaction and believe the online world is a very dangerous space and they try to block internet usage. Children become more vulnerable when they use their own means to access the internet.”

Sibanda sought to dispel the notion that the web was for chatting and playing games.

“Children can access their school work on the net. They use it to research and find answers to their homework. That is a major benefit.”

Sibanda said Google SA, working with concerned parties and the government, had embarked on a major drive to educate South Africans on internet safety.

“The campaign promotes safe search of the internet. It teaches parents and caregivers to be cautious and protect children from unwanted material.”

The internet, if not used cautiously, would be risky, not only for children, but for every member of society.

“We need to be careful of the places where we check in on social networks. It is not safe for one to be announcing online that I am now in Pretoria, I am now at the CSIR. That information can be dangerous,” Sibanda said.

“Offline and online worlds are not completely separate. We grew up being told not to talk to strangers. That is very useful when one uses the web.”

The three-day conference, which ended on Wednesday, was hosted by the SA Professional Society on the Abuse of Children at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) convention centre, east of Pretoria. - Sapa