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by Karen Dyke who works in advertising in Johannesburg, is married to a Clinical Psychologist and has 2 remarkably well-adjusted children. She has survived mothering teenagers. This may or may not be due to said Clinical Psychologist’s fabulous skills.  Visit her blog

I remember the first time I saw the video “Shift happens” and the enormous impact it had on me and how I thought about my children’s future. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour – the line about China having more honors kids than America has kids, puts things into perspective.

So what does this have to do with the latest MXit scare, or Facebook suicide?  How concerned should we be about our kids’ access to social media?

When my kids were little the debate was around how bad television would be for their development. They would become psychopathic overweight hermits, lacking in basic social skills if I allowed them to watch more than x supervised minutes a day. The scare-mongers who spoke about satanic music when I was a teenager now had their narrow minds firmly fixed on the evil box.

Credit: elllo.org

Credit: elllo.org

Before that it was about the dangers of letting your kids read comics instead of pre-approved literary masterpieces. Or listen to the evil radio under the covers at night. Or play pop music. Or educating your daughters.

The point is that the world changes. We grow up in a certain way and then look back in fondness at the freedom we enjoyed. We forget about the downside – like institutionalized corporal punishment masquerading as discipline in schools. With change comes fear and a desire to control our children’s lives as much as possible. Protect them from what we ourselves don’t understand.

Because I grew up in Zambia I had access to television. I watched cartoons, but I also watched the moon landing. So TV was not a new-fangled concept capable of damaging their fragile little minds. In the beginning I watched with them, explaining things that I thought needed explanation. As they grew they needed less supervision. Much like going to friends’ birthday parties or playing on the jungle gym.

The bottom line is always going to be how you manage their access and how you empower them to deal with potentially harmful situations. The key is age-appropriate access and yes, it is a pain in the neck to supervise and manage, just like car seats and seatbelts.

As they grow older they learn about the dangers (from you, hopefully) but also the fun. I “friended” my children on Facebook early on – I didn’t understand it, but wanted to see what it was about.  I contacted Mxit and spoke to them – they had really good tips for parents and answered numerous questions. I’m still friends with them on Facebook; I’m friends with some of their friends too. Sometimes I chat to them about their online profiles and the potential harm they could do themselves with inappropriate comments, photos or postings. But mostly I feel privileged to be part of their lives. I try to keep an open mind about what they post – the times they are indeed a-changing.

There be dragons out there and they will use new channels. The raincoated-paedophile with the sweets in the park hasn’t gone away. Best we teach our children well.

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