Teaching kids they have no privacy?

Today’s Daily Mail carries a suitably sensational story courtesy of the Government’s new advisor on childhood. iStock_000017522162Small

According to the piece, “Claire Perry said that in a world where youngsters are surrounded by online dangers, parents should challenge the ‘bizarre’ idea that their children have the right to keep their messages private.” In other words (as the paper’s headline suggests) if you’re a parent, you should “Snoop on your child’s texts”.

We’re not entirely sure how a Conservative MP and a newspaper usually committed to reducing state interference in our lives are able to square away issuing parenting diktats, but more concerning is the total lack of any evidence to support these claims.

No research on how many parents feel they are not able to discuss this with their children. No evidence of how many children are allowed unrestricted access to the internet in their bedrooms. We’ve seen the dodgy stats underpinning this Mary Whitehouse 2.0 campaign before and now they seem to have given up on evidence-based policy altogether.

When the Bemillo service launched, which allows parents to read their kids texts, decide who they can call and control when a phone can be used, we argued that spying was not parenting. During the ensuing debate, the overwhelming majority of parents who spoke on radio phone-ins, emailed us, tweeted about the story and commented on media articles thought the idea was absurd.

Simply, they shared our view – parenting is dependent on a relationship of trust, and spying only undermines the parent-child relationship. Whether reading a diary or reading a text message, privacy is not something to be brushed aside in a wave of hysteria and cheap headlines.

At a time when our lives are recorded and analysed by countless services, organisations and the state, educating young people about the importance of privacy and considering what information they share should be high on the agenda. We are seeing the first cases now of people being forced to hand over social media passwords before they are offered employment, cyber-bullying is a clear issue and the communications data bill may dramatically change the nature of the information the state can access about us.

Now is the time to educate young people about controlling the information about them, not berate parents for respecting their children’s privacy.

The piece includes a reference to a situation where a parent is asking what they can do to stop their child using a laptop in their bedroom at 2am. It seems allowing parents to decide whether their child should have a laptop in their room at 2am eluded both the Mail and Mrs Perry.