Last week, the Kenya Films classification Board CEO, Ezekiel Mutua issued a press release announcing the ban of various kids show airing on the Pay TV services by Multichoice for promotion and glorification of homosexuality. It was noted that the programs contain elements that are intended to introduce children to deviant behavior, against our moral values and understanding of the institution of family.
Speak to any parent and they will tell you that right now, we are not pulling our hairs over TV entertainment. Why? Parental controls exist, simple. The Pay-Tv service has sufficient parental controls that ensure a parent can lock any program they feel the kids should not watch in their presence or not.
Unfortunately, there is no such kill switch for the internet.
The internet has become the single most misunderstood and unmanageable source of anything and everything imaginable parents have ever had to deal with in relation to bringing up kids. At what age is it acceptable to give your child a mobile phone, 5, 18? Should it be a feature phone (muliza mwizi) or a smartphone? This has become a very valid question for any parent in this day and age.
As parents, do we understand the potential of that smartphone we give to our 10 year old? For those of us who have given our kids smartphones or connected gadgets, it’s, more often than not, due to pressure from society, our friends, him/her or the school.
I have 3 kids, 2 girls aged 6 and 4 and a boy who just turned 18 months. I have a technical background having worked as an end user and network support admin then IT manager for close to 10 years. Despite this, my inclinations towards how much tech runs our kids’ lives at home are similar to those of Steve Jobs. We have one tablet which has no sim card and no access to Wi-Fi. I update it once a month using the office Wi-Fi and I have equipped it with all the games and learning apps that they need at this point in their lives (thankfully, it’s not much).
The tablet is subjected to the same screen time rules that apply to the TV and as it is understood, it is a privileged that is given due to good behavior.
I know this arrangement won’t last long. With time, as they grow older, this will change. However, we are taking it one day at a time and when the time comes when the girls need their space and their own things, my husband and I will need to rethink this one tablet policy. However, we are willing to be their guide to technology and the world that the internet offers.
As parents, we often think it’s cute that we see our kids as young as 5 doing stuff on our phones that we have never tried. It is important that we understand this technology as much as we can in order to be our children’s guide to this world in a way that they will open up to us when that time comes even as we also manage their usage and access.
Reaching out to your kids as early as 6 years and introducing them to the best of the internet, information search and later on, communication apps for them to keep in touch with people they know offline -online, will help them distinguish between the good and the evil that the Internet can be.
Teaching our kids about the dangers of revealing personal information, chatting with strangers and the signs of cyberbullying at their preteen years will help them be more confident as they use certain apps and even as they interact with others online. Parental control such as monitoring, blocking certain apps and even taking away the phone/tablet/PC should be well understood as and when the item is being given either as a gift or reward for good grades.
Cases of cyber bullying, kids committing suicide due to some game they were introduced to are starting to be seen on Kenyan media as the rate of internet penetration and access to devices becomes easier.
As a parent, I would urge us to be more willing to get a basic understanding of the Internet especially the dark side of it. Times have changed, parenting is no longer as easy as providing food, clothing, shelter and a good education for our kids. Our generation of parents has the monumental task of bringing up our kids in a digital age that is both interesting and scary. As long as we know and fully understand what lurks out there, it becomes a matter of how to best deal with situations as they come by using our understanding of these technologies and our wisdom as parents.
Just like in parenting, there is no silver bullet in managing internet usage for our kids. We continually learn, show our kids we ‘get it’ and that they can come to us then deal with it as it comes.
About Njeri Wangarĩ – Wanjohi
Njeri is the founder of AfroMum.com – a leading online publication for women in Africa. She is an artist, a writer, a published poet and digital marketer based in Nairobi, Kenya. Her work and interest lies at the intersection between the arts, technology and media. She is passionate about using blogging as a platform to speak on issues affecting women & children, art and culture.
Njeri is one of Kenya’s blogging pioneers and one of the founding directors of Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE). She has been running an Arts & Culture blog – KenyanPoet.com, for over 10 years now. With a background in ICT specializing in systems support, she founded AfroMum in 2014 after realizing that there was an unserved niche for writing on family technology, issues affecting women and children and a platform to celebrate the achievements & impact of African women. Njeri is a married mother of 3 (two girls and a boy). She is currently the Marketing Manager at GeoPoll – a mobile surveying platform based at the Nairobi Garage.