Parents should resist the urge to snoop
Last week, a 14-year-old boy was interviewed by police for sending a naked picture of himself to a school friend using the photo-sharing app Snapchat. There was widespread public outcry regarding the heavy-handed police response to the case. The general consensus was that a child should not be punished for such a, well, childish act. Children should be able to learn from such silly mistakes without the police becoming involved.
However, in the same week, it was revealed that Parentinfo.org, a site set up by the Department for Education to help parents better understand their children’s online world, had published a new list of teen acronyms. Acronyms like ‘MOS’ (mum over shoulder) are used by kids to keep parents from eavesdropping on online conversations. Although it is understandable that parents would be concerned about their children’s online safety, this state-led encouragement to spy on our kids falls into the same trap as the police response to the 14-year-old. It attempts to prevent children learning from their own mistakes.
Parentinfo is a website very much of its era. Parents are increasingly nervous about letting their children explore the online and offline world unsupervised. In many ways, it is heartening so see children fighting to maintain some degree of independence from their parents – it’s also an extremely normal teenage thing to do. A quarter of the acronyms used by children, such as ‘P999’ (parent alert) demonstrate the desire to have conversations with their peers away from prying adult eyes. If parents gave their children a degree of freedom in their online lives, teens wouldn’t need to invent these acronyms in the first place.
As all adults will remember from their younger days, teenagers can be obsessively secret – and for good reason. Don’t you remember the rubbish you used to talk about when you were 15? It is crucial that in an increasingly panicked culture, we allow children the space to make their own mistakes and develop an independent life. So perhaps we should take example from the teens, and give Parentinfo a P999.
Guy Pierce is a writer and researcher based in London.
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