CHILDREN today are rapidly outsmarting parents in Internet savvy and use.
Most young people have grown up in a world that takes networking and inter-connectivity for granted - computers, social networks, cellphones and online programmes is second nature to them.
The older generations are increasingly being left behind. Sam Paddock, co-author of the new University of Cape Town Internet Super-User Course, believes that parents have a responsibility towards their children to learn about the Internet.
He says parents can't help children understand the Internet or protect them from online threats if they haven't educated themselves. For the 5 million South Africans who are online, getting an Internet education is invaluable.
For parents who want to keep their children safe, learning the ins and outs of the online world is essential. But the fast evolving, unfamiliar technology can be daunting for many.
This uncertainty leads to confusion and misunderstanding. The result is that many parents view the Internet as "the enemy" and never fully explore the amazing tools it offers. The Internet, when approached practically, can help parents protect, connect with and assist their children.
The marvellous thing about the Internet is that everybody in the world can connect and communicate across all physical boundaries. But this freedom carries the corresponding risk that unsavoury content becomes accessible to all.
Internet threats can take many forms.
Hackers can send viruses that can damage the files on a computer or steal private information. Online predators can target children by building relationships with them over chat programmes. Children can unwittingly stumble over illegal or inappropriate material.
The best way for parents to protect their children is to educate themselves about the threats. Often, the solutions are easy to discover and quick to implement. For example, there are many free, easy-to-use antivirus programmes that will protect a computer from attacks.
Many web browsers have built-in tools that allow parents to select websites that their children may visit and the ones that are automatically blocked.
Protecting children should be a priority for all parents. Just like in the world outside, the Internet has child-friendly spaces and ones that are not suitable for children - or that are even dangerous. Parents need to learn how to navigate these challenges in order to steer their children to beneficial online spaces.
lMalczyk is an executive at GetSmarter.