Parents have been warned that children who have cellphones that can access the internet are in danger of “lurking” paedophiles, sexting and cyberbullying.
Addressing parents at Gordon Road Girls’ School in Morningside on Wednesday night, Marc Hardwick, a former police officer and now a private child abuse investigator, said “more and more” children with cellphones were coming into contact with paedophiles.
“Our children are being approached by people we do not know through social media sites on the internet and their cellphones,” he said.
One of the major threats to children was “sexting”, the sending and receiving of sexually explicit images via cellphone.
“There has been an increase in the number of teens involved in this,” he warned.
“Children are receiving these images – often of classmates or friends – and then forwarding them on to others,” said Hardwick.
“Girls are being pressured by their boyfriends to have (explicit) photos taken and then to send these images on to them.”
Hardwick warned parents that their children would not tell them what they were up to.
“They are likely to tell friends, (maybe) their teacher, and the parent is only in third place,” he said.
Cyberbullying was also fast becoming a major problem. This was when a child was harassed on social network sites and chat rooms, often by other children but sometimes by adults.
“There was an incident where a child chatted to a guy on Mxit until she did not have airtime.
“He sent her a R150 voucher and then threatened to tell her father that she had stolen it,” he said.
“The man then demanded that she send him a picture of herself wearing a bra.”
He continued to threaten her, demanding she send pictures of herself wearing a bra and panties.
“The child’s father eventually got involved when he found his daughter had left a suicide note.
He enlisted Hardwick’s help and the girl was rescued.
“Luckily the note had her location.”
All a parent could do to combat the online scourge that was invading children’s lives was to “be a parent”.
“If you want your children to be safe on the internet then get involved,” he said.
“Even if you do not have a clue. Be their friend on Facebook and Mxit,” he said, adding that parents should advise children not to meet people in person who they connected with on the internet or give out their personal information.
Parents admitted they were worried that their children were addicted to cellphones.
Durban attorney Asif Latib echoed Hardwick’s sentiments, saying parents were “too relaxed”.
“As parents we need to do more. We saw what happened with the 14-year-old Durban North pupil,” he said.
In this case the girl was abducted by a man she met online and was held hostage.
He told parents that the law was not sophisticated enough.
“The law will say you are the parent and your child is your responsibility.
“If your child is a victim of cyberbullying, the law will not help you,” he said.
The law did not have power to protect your child if you did not protect your child, he said. - The Mercury