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The Privacy Dilemma

Last month the research agency Childwise released statistics which showed that now for the first time ever young people are spending more time online than watching TV. We now live in a digital age where tweeting and #hashtagging has become the new norm! Our world is dominated by a 24/7 social media presence and there are endless bloggers and vloggers providing us with their thoughts on every day topics.

In some ways this can be seen as a positive thing in that, now online platforms are filled with an eclectic mix of voices and opinions on topical issues. And as I am sure many of you will also have found some of the But at the same time it also presents some unique challenges for parents and carers in all settings.

Should we be checking how young people are using the internet? What they are posting on Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat and Instagram? If so, then how often? And should we have access to their passwords?

In January I attended the Children in Care Council where I was able to meet with some young people to talk about social media and the issue of privacy.

I heard from young people themselves on the topic and their views were very mixed. Some understood why carers and adults working with them would need to check they were safe online. Others said it was an invasion of their privacy and felt that they should be trusted. And didn’t want adults ‘checking up on them’.

However, all the young people understood the risks, such as sexting and being groomed online for child sexual exploitation and radicalisation. Their awareness can only be seen as a positive thing. But the questions remain. How much privacy should we give to our children? What about young people in residential or foster care? Sadly, we know that for children in care these risks are exacerbated because the very fact they are in care makes them more vulnerable than their non-looked after peers.

As a director of children’s services my role is to safeguard and promote the best interests of children, young people and their families living in Kirklees. And as a mother of two sons who are now in their 20s I am all too familiar with the worries that any parent or carer has when trying to keep young people safe from harm.

But the world children are growing up in has changed since my own two children were young and technology has now become an integral part of children and young people’s lives. We must now consider how best to manage young people’s time online and how to make sure that they are keeping themselves safe across social media sites.

We have all heard of the risks associated with the internet. Perpetrators using sites to contact vulnerable young people. And young people being able to send and receive images of themselves and others instantly. Images that can never truly be deleted and for victims of online grooming coming to terms with this is a real challenge.

For those young people who have been harmed online we must make sure we can help them recover so that they are able to go on to lead happy and successful lives. But it is clear that managing young people’s use of social media has become even more difficult with the rise of different online platforms such as smart phones and iPads. Of course it will be difficult to find the right balance between giving young people the right to privacy and keeping them safe online and the balance will be different for each young person dependent on their own personal circumstances.

But I believe that the best way to approach the privacy dilemma is through open and honest discussion. And by giving young people the opportunity to tell us their own thoughts on the issue.

No doubt finding a way to keep our children and young people safe online will continue to be a challenge for us all in the future as the range of technology available to young people continues to develop but we all have a shared responsibility to ensure that children and young people are able to enjoy a safe and healthy amount of time online.


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