April is an important month for us in South Africa, in which our nation commemorates Freedom Day. When we at The Love Trust consider freedom, and what that means to us in the 21st Century, what stands out is the freedom we all have as digital citizens.
Access to information is widespread, but we need to consider what this means for the younger generation who don’t know or recognise a time period, before the ‘digital age’.
What is the ‘Digital Age’? – The digital age is also known as the ‘information age’ or ‘the new media age’, and is the time period from the 1970s onwards, with the introduction of the first personal computer.
Whatever name it goes by, this is the period in history when we started to move away from traditional industry to an economy based on information and communication technologies.
For most of us, it’s hard to remember a time before smartphones, tablets and the myriad of applications that make our life ‘work’; particularly in the past decade, where remote working became the ‘norm’.
Zoom, Google Meet, Tik Tok and Instagram are a part of daily life, and in turn, those of our children’s lives. For many children, daily moments are being captured and shared online, and they are seeing their parents or carers tied to their digital devices. Some educational institutions are also introducing digital aids from a young age.
Graph illustrating the introduction of the Digital Age.
Imagine, being a child that has never known anything outside of this time, where there is a record of every milestone, and a published digital catalogue of your life online – consider the fact that many of today’s youths either have a digital identity that they didn’t even consent to, and on the flip side of that, some children still don’t have enough access to information yet i.e. the internet.
The Love Trust has a desire to explore this area in depth, to gain a thorough understanding around how we can make the digital age safer for our children. One of our teachers, Sheila Madzikana, says that, “By integrating technologies into the classroom set-up and teaching methods, learners will also be better equipped for life outside of the classroom as technology forms part of their daily lives.”
How can we safely give children access to quality information online? The internet is a powerful tool, and with great power comes great responsibility. It is our job, as educators and parents, to protect our children’s freedom in this regard. Freedom to quality information can be life-changing, and on the reverse side, responsible use of the internet should be considered as important a life skill as being taught water-safety. It’s that critical.
According to research by the 5Rights Foundation, there are four principles of children’s rights in the online space that will keep it being a safe place for them to learn and explore. It’s important to know that these rights were commented on by the youth themselves in the revised United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 2021.
In short they are:
- Non-discrimination: Children need to be protected from unfair bias online.
- Protection of their interests: Any decision making on the behalf of children, be it by parents or educators, needs to serve the best interests of the child at all times.
- Survival and development: Children need to have freedom to grow into themselves, without interference or intimidation.
- Respect for their viewpoints: Children’s opinions need to be taken into account and considered to be of equal importance to anyone else’s’.
You can read the full report here.
How do we equip them to be responsible with their online freedom?
We need to set responsible boundaries as caregivers or educators, making it clear what appropriate online behaviour looks like, and setting parameters on applications, to keep them safe.
Use research as your guideline for age appropriateness and time-limits for screen-time. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the biggest online risks can be put into four main categories, known as the ‘4 C’s’:
- Content Risks: A content risk refers to a situation where a child could potentially be the recipient of hateful or even illegal content.
- Conduct Risks: A conduct risk occurs where children partake in peer-to-peer exchanges, either sharing harmful or shaming content i.e. having a participatory part in potential bullying.
- Contract Risks: A contract risk can take place if a child is exposed to inappropriate targeted messaging, digital scams or fraudulent activity.
- Contact Risks: This type of risk is where a child is targeted in online grooming, harassment or personal data misuse.
Many have fallen victim to hacking, banking scams, false news, fraudulent duplicate social accounts and even at times, online hate.
It is our duty to teach our children how to not partake in spreading online viruses, mass hysteria or even cyber-bullying. And further to that, we need to help them understand what to do should they come across something that could potentially cause harm.
At the Love Trust, we know that there is a myriad of good things to be said about technology and its place in our lives, particularly as educators, but, we also know that there are many risks out there that can be presented under a seemingly innocuous facade, so let’s teach our children how to use technology wisely.
Online Presence is a form of Freedom. Now, how do we use it? Bill Gates once said that, “The internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.” Powerful words by the man who started Microsoft, changing life as we know it.
Knowing our children need our support and guidance to safely navigate the internet is of paramount importance. We need to teach them critical thinking skills and lead by example, and show them what a healthy relationship with the internet looks like.
Having directly impacted four hundred and sixty children in the past ten years, The Love Trust understands that bridging the digital divide is of paramount importance.
Making technological tools more widely available to children in vulnerable communities is a large part of closing that gap, and further to that, providing them with the knowledge on exploring their freedom wisely in the digital world.
Well, that’s freedom in the truest sense – education is truly the key to opening the door to a better life.
Behind the scenes: The Love Trust
- Founded in 2009, we are a South African charitable not for profit organisation (NPO) with a vision to nurture future generations of servant leaders.
- Providing vulnerable children with quality Christian education and social care that includes academic excellence, spiritual strength, and moral integrity.
- Creating a resilient organisation together with our partners to benefit the communities we serve.