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Protecting children from the dark side of cellphone use

Released: 22 July 2011

The cellphone today has reached the point of ubiquity, with virtually every adult and teen in the country possessing one. While this is a blessing for youngsters wishing to stay in touch with their friends, plan social gatherings or just 'shoot the breeze', it is a potential challenge for parents if not managed correctly.

Being a parent in the modern world is a frightening task, as the massive changes we have seen in technology over the past 20 years mean that there is no precedent for how to deal with the dark side of this technology explosion. Parents find themselves grappling with a wide variety of cellphone-related issues, from the moment their child starts using one.

Leon Perlman, Chairman of the Wireless Application Service Providers' Association (WASPA) says that cellphones are an unavoidable part of modern culture. Parents, he says, soon feel pressured to provide their child with one, although the reasons for this may vary. It may be driven by a concern for the child's safety, as a means of enabling them to fit in with their peers or it may be to provide the child with a means to learn how to budget.

"Whatever your reason for wanting your child to have access to a cellphone, the fact remains that there is a down side to such ownership. Parents often worry about the possibility of their child gaining access to adult material. Other concerns include the dangers of cyberbullying and of meeting strangers in chat rooms. There are also monetary concerns around premium-rated services," he says.

"Although the most obvious and effective way of preventing the above is for parents to carefully educate their children, most parents would feel more secure if they had some level of control over the content the child sees themselves. This is not as difficult as it may seem, and there are ways for adults to block children from browsing adult sites or to completely disable the Internet on a phone."

Perlman suggests that concerned parents spend some time researching safe cellphone usage for children as there are a number of websites already created for parents that bring together useful information in one place. WASPA's can only advise parents on issues relating to cellphone safety as its primary mandate relates to enforcing our Code of Conduct. For this reason, parental web research is vital.

"Whatever web resource parents use, they all preach a very similar gospel to WASPA's own message that parents should not be afraid of technology and should certainly embrace it. At the same time, however, they must take steps to avoid any unnecessary harm befalling the family," states Perlman.

These sites offer parents a wide array of practical information in one place that can help successfully negotiate a potential minefield. Examples of the kind of advice offered on the web includes:

  • If parents do come across evidence of inappropriate mobile contact with a child, keep a thorough record and if need be, report it as quickly as possible to the local authorities. Remember: Printouts are not sustainable evidence, you need electronic evidence and live data.
  • Parents should encourage their children to think carefully about the messages, photographs and other content about themselves that they post via social networking and what message that sends out to the world about them.
  • Parents may want to block access to certain inappropriate material if this facility is offered by the mobile operator.

"We must be prepared to put rules in place for our children, talk to and educate them around technology, and most crucially, put in the time and effort to learn and use the selfsame technological tools they do. After all, understanding what they are doing and how they are doing it will more easily enable you to be a parental protector, rather than a 'big brother'," concluded Perlman.

Two useful websites specifically relevant to the South African environment are http://www.cellphonesafety.co.za and http://www.parentscorner.org.za.



WASPA represents the mobile development; value added services and content services community in South Africa. After lobbying the mobile operators and WASPs in late 2003 for an industry body, WASPA's formative meeting was held in August 2004. Membership of WASPA was made mandatory by the mobile operators and TV stations for any company doing value added services in South Africa.

WASPA's remit is to promote and self-regulate the WASP industry. As part of the self-regulatory component of WASPA, there is the now internationally recognized and emulated self-regulatory regime for mobile value added services that includes the WASPA Code of Conduct & Advertising Rules. WASPA's Code of Conduct regulates inter alia, competitions, chat, adult services, spam, CRM, advertising of services,subscription services and pricing. The first version of the Code was passed in June 2004 and implemented on 1 September 2005. It has been updated numerous times as the need has arisen.

Enforcement of the Code & Advertising Rules is achieved by a novel quasi-judicial system that consists of a procedure for lodging and responding to complaints where it is thought the Code is being contravened. Adherence to the Code and the Advertising rules is mandatory for all providers operating in South Africa.

ICT lawyers acting as WASPA adjudicators will find on the merits and have the power to suspend, fine, expel any WASP or Information Provider found to contravene the Code rules. Adjudications are enforced through contractual provisions in all WASP agreements. There is also a 3-person appeals panel as well as an emergency panel.

Issued by:

Ivan Booth
Reliable Sources PR
082 851 7419
ivan (at) reliablesources.co.za