Privacy, Child's Right to
Privacy, Child's Right to
Laws and guidelines concerning who should have access to a child's privacy.
Privacy is viewed in most democratic societies as a necessary element in the development of healthy, active individuals. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." The amendment allows for search and seizure "upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to seized." Many psychologists recognize that privacy is a cornerstone of a free society. In fact, prisons systematically eliminate privacy for their inmates to reinforce the fact that they have lost the privilege of control over their environment.
Children do not begin to understand issues of privacy until around the age of five or six. At this stage until age 10 or 11, parents can establish the atmosphere of mutual trust and communication that will carry the parent-child relationship through the pre-adolescent and adolescent years. Between ages 10 and 12, the pre-adolescent may want to establish his or her independence. Signs of this include a desire to keep his or her bedroom door closed and to seek privacy for telephone conversations, time with friends, and time alone. Parents should avoid challenging this behavior unless they have reason to suspect that the child is engaged in dangerous or destructive
Parents can also gather information about their children's world without intruding on their privacy by volunteering at their school; getting acquainted with teachers, principals, guidance counselors, and the school nurse; getting to know their children's friends and the friends' parents; and becoming involved in children's extracurricular activities by attending such events as concerts and sports activities. Many school systems routinely contact parents whose children cut classes or are absent. Parents can express their support of such policies and act immediately if the school contacts them about a problem.
Adolescents in the United States are especially sensitive to any actions that they feel may infringe on their privacy rights. In the late 1990s, concerns about access to inappropriate material on the Internet fostered a lively debate among adolescents, library users, parents, and concerned citizens about ways to limit access to pornographic, violent, or subversive material that is available through the Internet. Filters that limit access are especially offensive to adolescents, but libraries continue to seek ways to selectively access Internet sites, just as they selectively build their book, video, and audio collections.
Privacy at school
There are several aspects to privacy at school. Schools must balance their responsibility to maintain a safe, healthy environment for all students against the privacy rights of the individual student. In addition, schools control access to important personal information about their students. Since 1975, a number of legislative actions have been taken by the U.S. Congress, state, and local governments to address these privacy issues.
In 1976, the Family Educational Records Protection Act (FERPA) was passed to guarantee parents free access to their child's school records. FERPA, a federal law, grants the Secretary of Education the right to withhold federal funds from schools that deny parents access to their children's records. The Act provides specific guidelines for access to a student's records. Access is guaranteed to the following: parents; government officials for the purpose of auditing public assistance programs; researchers engaged in data gathering for studies of education, testing, curriculum, or other legitimate inquiry; and school administrators or officials of institutions who have been granted access by students or their parents as part of a college admission or employment application.
Many states have set guidelines for privacy protection and access to student records that often go beyond those established by FERPA. For example, some states allow communications between a student and certain school personnel to be kept confidential, even from parents. Examples might include discussion between a student and the school nurse relating to alcohol or drugs, or between a student and a counselor. Some states have provisions whereby the student or parents can designate information as confidential when communicating with the school, thus preventing access to that portion of the student's portfolio by any other parties. Many states have implemented specific guidelines to allow access to a student's records by both the custodial and non-custodial parent.
Random personal searches and drug testing
Random personal searches and drug testing of students have both been tested in state and federal courts. A court case in Washington state found that school officials must meet only a "reasonable suspicion" standard to justify a search, as distinct from the "probable cause" standard that is constitutionally required of law enforcement officials. Such suspicion must be particular to the individual being searched. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority opinion in a case that allowed random drug testing for school athletes, asserted that Fourth Amendment rights are different in public schools because athletes have less expectation of privacy and expose themselves to regulation by joining the team. The push for schools to be able to search and test has not abated, however. By the late 1990s, societal pressures had spurred schools to assume an aggressive strategy in the development of programs to stop violence and the use of alcohol and drugs in schools. School officials must develop reasonable policies in these two areas, since education law no longer provides a clear rule to follow in deciding when student searches and drug testing are permissible. Both sides of the debate on these issues usually agree that reasonable suspicion remains the general guideline.
Privacy protection for minors
The federal government is interested in protecting the privacy of minor children from exploitation by advertising and marketing concerns. Children are attractive consumers to retailers and other marketers. Online services, television, and other emerging media make it easier for marketers to advertise their products and services to children. The Federal Telecommunications Commission (FTC) investigates ways to protect the privacy of online service users, especially the privacy of children. The FTC monitors the techniques used by online marketers to gather and use information about potential customers.
Another aspect of privacy relates to researchers and others gathering information from children to use in studies. This issue became of interest to the U.S. Congress in 1995, when the Family Privacy Protection Act, HR 1271, passed the House of Representatives. Because the bill did not pass the Senate, it had not become law as of this writing. The bill was based on the notion that parents have a fundamental right to choose whether their children participate in research studies. Under the terms of the bill, researchers receiving federal funding would be required to obtain written consent from parents before using minors in studies involving such issues as weight management, tobacco, sexual behavior, illegal or antisocial behavior, psychological problems, and alcohol and illegal drug use. Sixteen federal agencies conduct or support research using human subjects. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse's "Monitoring the Future" survey obtains data on the substance abuse patterns of 50,000 eighth through tenth graders in 420 schools per year. Researchers opposed the bill, arguing that requirement would impede the federal government's ability to collect vital information. Over 30 leading medical and science advocacy groups, including the American Psychological Association, American Public Health Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, joined together to form the Research and Privacy Coalition to oppose the bill. Although the Family Privacy Protection Act is not law, it does reflect a growing concern among many citizens about who has access to information about minor children.
Both families and society must balance the child's need for privacy and independence against the society's need for order. Parents have the responsibility to supervise their minor children to keep them from harming themselves or others in society, while encouraging them to become independent decision-makers.
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