Protect by becoming technologically savvy

On Saturday, a Cape Town radio station held a lively discussion about Internet chat rooms.

On Saturday, a Cape Town radio station held a lively discussion about Internet chat rooms.

It started off innocently enough, but as the calls began to flood in there was no mistaking that something serious was going on here.

That serious thing was that many parents have absolutely no clue about what their children are doing on the Internet.

The reality is that for many of us, when we see children playing with their computers and probably hooked up to the Internet, we feel proud.

After all, we grew up under a system that denied us access to such things.

Indeed, walk into many corporations today and the people sitting in front of computers and other technological gadgets are most probably white, while the blacks around are still confined to the menial jobs.

We see this and want it to change - and so it should.

So then, when we see our children in front of a computer, and when we have managed to buy one for our children, there is a sense of achievement.

It means we believe that things are changing and that our children can, and will, become like all those in our offices who are knowledge workers.

This kind of ambition is to be lauded. Indeed, our children's access to computers and other gadgets opens up the possibility for them to dream bigger dreams than we could ever have imagined.

The more exposed to other worlds they are, the better equipped they will be to deal with the many challenges that lie ahead for our country.

But there is a downside to the advancement of technology of which parents need to be aware.

There are many ways in which paedophiles, pornographers and other seedy types can lure young people into their clutches through the Internet.

In chat rooms, for example, young girls and boys get to meet total strangers and innocently start chatting to them, which could then lead to personal meetings in places the parents know nothing about.

It has happened in the past that a young girl goes off to meet her chat partner, but ends up meeting some hairy old man who wants to use her for sex. Indeed, elsewhere in the world, children have disappeared after going off to meet people they had met on Internet chat rooms.

Technology is constantly advancing further and faster. For example, all the advantages of a computer are now even available on your cellphone.

But are parents aware of these advances in technology and their implications?

I would never advocate for parents to stop their children using the Internet.

In fact, I actively encourage our children to go forth and acquire as much knowledge as they possibly can.

But parents have a responsibility to know what is happening on their home computers as their children tap away at the keys.

They need to keep up with what their children are doing on their computers. The days when we would say: "Ngwana o o botlhale!" (This child is very clever) are gone forever.

Parents must be as bright as the child now. If they do not keep up with what their children are doing, they will lose them without even knowing what happened. We must all advance, but we must advance carefully.