Online TV: protecting children in the digital age

By MultiChoice Namibia

TV viewing has long been a family favourite pastime, enjoyed together by parents and their children the world over. However, breakthrough technologies have moved TV viewing from the living room to the latest digital devices, often leaving children without adult supervision while they enjoy their favourite TV show online.

Children on the front seat

This, researchers, say is increasing the online vulnerability of children everywhere, including in Africa where smartphones are becoming more available and more affordable.

One South African study* showed that one in two children surveyed never or hardly ever spoke to their parents about their internet use, navigating the internet by themselves.

While many parents are aware of the dangers of their children using the internet unsupervised, they simply do not know how to protect their children. In that same study, 57% of parents of the children surveyed said they had never suggested ways for their children to safely use the internet, while only one in two parents reported having ever had any guidance on how to support their children when online.

Traditional TV vs sat-TV

Within the context of traditional TV, parents can simply change channels or switch off the TV should inappropriate programming suddenly appear on the screen. But what about on today’s digital devices? Parents may sanction their children to watch particular TV shows on their mobile phones, but what about the other TV programmes they come across while watching these ‘approved’ shows?

There is a significant burden of responsibility that falls on the shoulders of the content providers. As good corporate citizens, it is not enough to simply provide age restriction guidelines for inappropriate or potentially harmful content, especially as the very act of being online – before even consuming any content – places children at risk. Instead, proper mechanisms must be made available that allow parents to implement hard and fast actions to proactively protect their children.

Take MultiChoice for example. The satellite TV provider follows an internationally recognised standard for age-restricted ratings on programming. Its DStv and GOtv decoders have the ability to block out different levels of content according to their PG rating, enabling parents to physically control what their children see and what they don’t see.

Just as important as providing the mechanisms by which to restrict viewing, is providing ease of access to these procedures. It must be simple and straightforward for parents to restrict viewing in order for these measures to be effective. There is little point to providing protection for young viewers if it cannot be easily implemented.

MultiChoice Africa has taken the lead in this regard on its TV content, with regular adverts demonstrating exactly, step by step, how parents can successfully restrict viewing on its DStv channels.

Managing digital TV viewing

But what about its new online TV products? MultiChoice offers its DStv customers access to DStv Now. This entirely online version of DStv allows viewers to watch all their favourite TV shows and latest sports events on their smartphone, tablet or laptop via the free DStv Now app. This includes DStv’s full range of children’s entertainment channels.

Being aware of its responsibility to its customers, MultiChoice has invested in cutting-edge technology that ensures all PG blocking carried out on its DStv and GOtv decoders can also be applied to its online offering, DStv Now.

This gives families the freedom to allow children to enjoy satellite TV on every device, secure in the knowledge that their viewing experience has been safeguarded for their best interests.

Tips for protecting children online

However, MultiChoice is just one content provider; there are many others out there that don’t offer the same measures to protect children interacting with content in the online space. This doesn’t mean parents are helpless in this regard, it just means they have to be a little more proactive when it comes to securing internet browsing.

For young children aged two to five, parents can compile a ‘safe list’ of a handful of sites that they have personally checked and approved for viewing.

Children aged five to eight can quickly get bored with accessing the same sites, and might intentionally, or accidentally, venture out of their safe zone. For these children parents can disable their browser (Safari or Chrome) and install a kid-friendly browser like Mobicip, which is available for free from the app store.

Older children from the age of nine upwards need more stringent protection. Here, parents can install a filtering search engine like Google SafeSearch to use with the parental controls already activated on their digital device.

Today’s children are growing up with technology. We cannot stop the rapid rate of technological advancement, nor how children interact with it. But we can make better decisions to ensure their choice of entertainment remains just that – pure entertainment that delights, inspires, informs and educates.