PM’s Children’s Advisor calls for ‘no privacy’ attitude towards children’s communications

Over Christmas, Claire Perry was appointed as a special advisor to David Cameron to advise on the prevention of sexualisation and commercialisation of childhood. However, she has caused a massive storm this week by insisting that parents should monitor their children’s texts, emails and internet histories during an interview with the Daily Mail.

In that interview, she said that ‘society as a whole has been ‘complicit’ in allowing a culture where youngsters can make inappropriate contact with strangers at all hours of the day and night.’

She insists that she is not advocating snooping though: ‘I like everyone feel very uncomfortable because I absolutely think children should have their private space. But equally, if my child started behaving in a strange way, or there were all the signs that you might have if they’re doing drugs or something, I’d sort of feel like I ought to be able to go on and look at that.’ Although she says she is not encouraging spying, she went on to say that parents should know the password to their children’s phone, since they are the ones paying the bills. One reason for this could be the rise in ‘sexting’ which Perry says is ‘going on in pretty much every school in the country.’ Furthermore, she has even held talks with a software developer to talk about the possibility of a remote which would allow parents to switch off their children’s phone when they start lessons and also thinks parents should switch off the internet router at bedtime so children can’t stay online into the small hours. Last month, a government consultation rejected an opt-in filter for online pornography, so Perry is not exploring a new idea for a filter that checks the ages of children browsing, as well as an automatic block on adult material on all public wi-fi networks.

Whilst I agree with the general gist of what Perry is saying, it must be noted that there is a fine line between parental concern and plain invasion of privacy. A parent is perfectly within their right to want to read their child’s communications if they suspect that they are being caught up in the wrong crowd but simply knowing all their passwords means that a parent can read up on their children’s private lives whenever they want. I think it would be very hard for a parent to not snoop regularly if they knew their child’s password. This attitude makes it seem like children simply cannot do the right thing by themselves. Parents should teach their children about right and wrong and expose them to the world, under some supervision. By blocking everything and wrapping them in cotton wool, when children become teenagers, they will naturally want to see ‘the forbidden fruit’.

Children have free will and their own minds, it’s not right for a parent to be able to control their children by switching off their phones remotely. Instead of just blocking anything to do with sex, perhaps the nation’s attitude towards sex should change. This country is very tight-lipped when it comes to anything related to sex. Contrast us to many countries in Europe where the attitude towards sex is much more relaxed and you will see that they also have lower teenage pregnancy rates. Whether this is due to a more relaxed attitude has yet to be proven but from my own experiences, I think teenagers with more relaxed and open parents are actually the most level headed. I have friends with very laid back parents and they are normally the ones that are the least sexualised. There is no thrill of disobeying parents for them and because their parents are laid back, they can talk to them about these things and instead of laying down the law, they simply discuss with them their feelings and facts before letting their children come to a rational decision. Perhaps instead of just shutting out all adult material to children, a change in parental attitude towards adult material would work better. However, I’ve only just finished my teenage years and so a parent probably has a completely different response to Perry’s interview.