When we were growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, we had one TV station (UTV) and one Radio station, Radio Uganda, which were both state-owned. Our parents did not have to worry about what we watched because we watched with them. UTV opened broadcast at 6pm and closed at midnight. I recall the days we watched The Riviera, Good Times, Another Life, and WWE (most of which were family-friendly programmes).
Many years later, that has changed. According to Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), there are 54 television stations and more than 300 radio stations in Uganda. Children are spoilt for choice. I often catch my children briskly changing channels when they hear me turning the door knob to the living room because they know they are watching a programme I would not approve of.
In the corridors of our apartment, I often see our neighbourhood children with tablets watching Tiktok videos some of which are not age-appropriate. Others binge on play station and game obsessively while their parents are too tired or too uninvolved to be aware of the dangers of potential computer abuse.
Some parents have chosen to deny their children the use of technology until they are old enough. Other parents have given their children free reign in these matters. This is destructive. Obsessive use of technology leads to addiction, sleep deprivation, low productivity at school or home.
In this place, your children will encounter crime and violence, stalkers, bullies and abusers. How then should a parent guide their children to keep the balance in this digital world called online?
Expose them to safe technology
Acquaint yourself with some commonly used terms and have an idea about what is good or bad. Or if you do not know, find someone who knows who can help them. “When you are the first to expose them, you can hold them accountable for what you taught them,” says Eric Keba, an information technology professional.
There is enormous credible and profitable information on the Internet. But there is equally a lot of garbage and traps that you as a parent cannot afford to pay a blind eye to.
You have to monitor and protect your children from harm from cyberbullying, pornography, violence and racism.
Technology can also be addictive so, parents must purpose to limit its usage, say to only evenings after school or weekends when children have done their home chores and homework.
You can create their accounts with restricted content access on their smartphones or tablet computers such as creating logins (through which you can track and review their online activity.
Install network protection
For parents who are barely home with their children who have computers with Internet access, installing protection such as internet filters, and firewalls to prevent access to offensive content on some sites will go a long way in keeping them safe online. Beware that some sharp children can bypass this with evasive technologies such as VPN.
Children will need technology for all the good and convenience it offers in education, communication, entertainment and work, name it. Technology is, therefore, here to stay.
But you can teach them to make good value judgments that even when you are not present, they are empowered enough to separate the profitable from the profane content and choose correctly.
In modern parenting, you cannot afford to be absent. This may need you to watch what they watch and not allow them to just by themselves to watch everything. A child addicted to online gaming will most likely spend your money without your knowledge.
Keep a keen eye on them. Of course, you cannot do this all the time, but once in a while, watch their online activities. You will discover that some of their favourite programmes might have questionable content.
Children work well in structures. Schedule their online time; such as no using phones on the dinner table or beyond a certain time. Be exemplary.
If you are the one who overuses your smartphone and computer, then it will become difficult to set a contrary rule. Swimming, nature walks, and playing football as opposed to the sedentary lifestyle that technology brings, should be adopted by parents.
Know their online community
If you have allowed your children to have social media accounts, then take the trouble to know who their friends are. Who do they follow? The trouble with social media is that it breaks or bypasses all the natural social, civil, and family protection rules for children.
Some of our children’s future careers lie in technology use such as extensive research, computer programming, data science, information systems, network security, web development and software engineering. We should, therefore, guide them well so they can use technology productively.