Children don’t have any right to keep secret their text messages, social media contacts and internet emails, Marlborough’s Tory MP Claire Perry has insisted.
The 48-year-old mother of three was appointed last month by David Cameron as his adviser on childhood following the government’s refusal to legislate to control computer pornography.
In her first interview – in today’s Daily Mail – Mrs Perry points out that in a world where young people are surrounded by online dangers, parents should challenge the “bizarre” idea that their children have the right to keep their messages private away from any form of policing.
She declared 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.
Parents should feel more empowered to challenge their children over their phone and internet usage and read their messages because “sexting” – where children send each other explicit images of themselves – went on in “pretty much every school in the country”.
Parents had to take clearer responsibility for internet access on their children’s laptops and mobile phones.
“So many people say “I have got children on their laptop at 2am – what do I do?” Well, turn the router off when you go to bed,’ insisted Mrs Perry.”
She has set out a range of proposals on the sexualisation and commercialisation of childhood, which include a better, well-advertised system for parents and children to report inappropriate behaviour online, a crackdown on raunchy music videos and children’s access to ‘lads’ mags, and a shake-up of the school curriculum so that internet safety is taught in IT classes.
“We’ve given our children all these opportunities to communicate in private, but we’ve lost the confidence to actually get involved in that,” she said on the issue of children’s texts and internet exchanges.
“We have to feel more empowered to ask. Make sure your kids allow you to be friends with them on Facebook, ask them whether what they are doing is appropriate.”
She called too for internet safety taught in the classroom and added: “We have got to be much franker, much more open and upfront about it.”
“I don’t want it to sound like harking back to Victorian values, but parents should sit down with their kids and say ‘are you aware of what’s out there?’”