privacy online

Teaching kids to be private in a public world: Is it possible?

“A child born today will grow up with no perception of privacy at all……they’ll never know what its like to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, unanalysed thought” Edward Snowden, 2013.

Some rather somber words from Mr Snowden, but is he right? Do you think those babies born in the last few years will ever know real privacy?

If privacy is about having control over the flow of information and the control you have within the contextual settings, then certainly it would seem a life lived immersed in the online world and within social networks, suggests that privacy is compromised. When a message can be forwarded to recipients unintended, when a photo can be screenshot and when a comment with no tone of voice or context can be construed as something different, then the control is gone. If the control is gone, then the privacy is gone.

We are constantly telling our kids “Remember nothing you do online is ever private?

”If you wont say something in real life don’t say it online” and

“What goes online stays online for all to see”.

These statements are all very true but sometimes very difficult to get through to our kids. They have hundreds of followers on their social networks but then appear shocked when you tell them you saw something they posted online.

The dilemma for kids today is that they want to be private but they are doing so in the most public of places. They want to hangout with their friends like we did when we were young. They want to flirt and gossip and have conversations that are separate from those they have in the presence of adults. Not necessarily ‘bad’ conversations, just ones that they have with their mates and not with their parents listening in. We have handed them the technology, and now we watch as they struggle to engage in normal, once private socialisation, in this space that is so very public.

I know when I talk about monitoring what my kids do online they have this feeling that I should know by now that they are behaving well online. Just because other kids might be doing stuff I don’t like I should ‘trust’ that they won’t be doing those things. They feel a little like I’m sitting on their bed with them whilst they hangout with their mates in their room. I would never do that in their bedroom so why would I do that on their Instagram feed or look at their Snapchat photos?

The difference however, is that what they say in their bedroom with their mates, can be relatively private. What they say on their social networks, cannot be so. We have all lost some of that control.

So what do we do? Do we continually try to monitor our kids, pull them up when we see the stuff they shouldn’t be doing and hope that eventually they realise that they need to be more aware of who is watching? Do we continue to hope these lessons are getting through so that when we no longer have the ability to monitor, that they already have a far greater understanding of what it means to be private in a public place?

Or do we accept that life is very different for our kids today. Maybe the notion of privacy as we know it has changed forever. We know that there is a mountain of data on all of us who have ever logged on to the internet, stored away for the powers that be. And maybe openness and honesty and sharing are going to continue to reveal so much more of ourselves that our standards will change.

What we all want from privacy and publicity can be very different too. Some are very happy to put themselves on display, whilst others would rather be shielded from the prying eyes.

I do believe however that it is less about the ‘hiding’ of information that allows us to be private, and far more about the control over that information.

Either way, recognising that nothing is really private anymore doesn’t mean we can’t still be vigilant about ensuring this public persona of ours is the best representation of ourselves that we can put on display.

And that is what we need to be talking about with our kids. Talking with them about how they are wanting to be perceived. Who they think is listening. How they are being interpreted. Who they are wanting to hear them, and what they are wanting them to hear.

As the environment changes, so too must our teaching and our conversation. Like all things parenting today, keeping up the dialogue that involves conversation, connection, listening, understanding and perspective must remain the focus, as we all endeavour to navigate this new world.

What do you think? Is privacy still possible?

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. natalie

    Privacy is a tough question. I often say to my children that I know everything about them as I know them better than they know themselves. And most of the time this is true. But sometimes I know things because I see pics or read comments as we are linked on instragram. My eldest child is becoming very aware of what should be placed out in cyberland and I think controls ‘her’ levels of privacy well. My other child are not so good at it. They are happy to broadcast information and then when pointed out many delete it but often too late.

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