The latest proposal from David Cameron’s ‘Advisor on Childhood’, Claire Perry, is that parents should ‘snoop’ on their children’s texts. Apparently it’s ‘bizarre that parents treat youngsters’ internet and mobile exchanges as private’, as reported in the Daily Mail.
For those of us who work in the privacy field – and indeed for anyone who works or has knowledge of children’s rights – it’s Claire Perry’s ideas that are bizarre. In fact, I’d go a lot further: to anyone who pays any real attention to their children, that kind of idea should be bizarre. Children have a right to privacy – and not in the technical, legal sense (though in that too, because it’s enshrined in Article 16 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the UK has both signed and ratified) but in what I would call the real, natural, sense. They want privacy. They need privacy. They demand privacy. Anyone who has children, who spends time with and listens to their children, who respects their children should be able to see that.
Part of that privacy – perhaps the most important part of that privacy – relates to privacy from their parents. That’s the part that children are most likely to care about too – they’re not so worried about the government snooping on them, or companies gathering their personal details for marketing purposes – but they do care about, and need to have some control over, what their parents know about their private thoughts. And we, as parents, need to understand that and respect that – if we are to understand and respect our children. If you want to know what your child is thinking about and caring about, and what they might be doing in their private lives, the best way, as the excellent @SturdyAlex tweeted this morning, is to ‘foster a relationship with them where they trust you enough to tell you’.
Of course the extent to which this is true varies from child to child and from age to age, but children all want and need privacy, and if we don’t understand and respect that all we’ll do is make them less likely to respect and to trust us – and hence more likely to find ways to hide the stuff that really matters from us.
So, Mr Cameron, and Ms Perry, don’t snoop on your children’s texts – or encourage anyone else to. Encourage them to listen to their children more, to respect their children more, to build better relationships to their children. Help your children to help themselves…