Some food for thought

The protection of your own personal data and privacy is not an easy question.

Anonymity often seems to be the basic rule when it comes to online communication: be as anonymous as possible because you never know for sure who is on the other side. But this is not feasible. Online communication remains communication and in communication it is essential that you bring personal elements into the relationship. Friendships even appear to be more intense if they have an (additional) online component. If you really want to communicate online, anonymity is not feasible nor desirable.

Often the key for this puzzle is in a good use of the privacy-settings of the SNS you are using. It asks for a little time and energy, but it is definitely worth it. Thanks to these privacy settings or the buddy-list on MSN, you can make sure that people you can really trust and with whom you really want to have a personal online communication, have access to more personal information or photo’s than strangers. Young people use these technical supports too lightly, so educators and youth workers should help them.

And we as a youth worker? Do we communicate online with the young people we are working with? And if the answer is yes, how personal should we make this communication? Maybe we want to be part of their online group of friends on a SNS to be able to communicate with them online. But what with our own profile? Should the young people you work with have access to your holiday pictures? And can we even expect from the young people that they communicate with us online, without receiving the same level of disclosure in return?

Sometimes, young people find it very difficult when an educator sends them a ‘friend request’. They might not feel like giving him or her access to their intimate communication with their friends, but on the other hand, they don’t dare to ignore the request. Try to avoid these situation by not initiating this online communication yourself. Wait for them to send you a friend request which they will often send. That way you avoid difficult situations and the privacy-right of the child towards you as a professional, is safeguarded. When you do become online friends with one of the teenagers you work with, set out some rules and agreements on how you will communicate online and which level of disclosure you can expect from each other.

So not only young people should be looking for a balance. Also you as a professional will have to balance professionalism with self-disclosure. Set out a strategy for yourself. Because online communication is often more personal and intimate then its offline variant. With all its positive and negative aspects…