How to Teach Children to Respect Privacy

The Supreme Court of India has declared that the Right to Privacy is a fundamental right. Here's how to teach about the Right to Privacy and respect for others' personal space to your child.

By Arun Sharma

How to Teach Children to Respect Privacy

'Unanimous ruling by nine-judge bench says privacy is a fundamental right' —The Indian Express

'Supreme Court rules Right to Privacy as Fundamental Right' — The Economic Times

'Privacy is a fundamental right under Article 21: Supreme Court' — The Hindu Business Line

These are the headlines published in some of the leading newspapers of India right after the Supreme Court passed its judgment on the Right to Privacy.

The Supreme Court’s judgement on privacy pertains to every individual in India. Therefore, every person needs to be educated on this right from childhood. As a parent, you need to explain to your children what this right is all about.

But, how would you do that? It may be a bit of a challenge because the way you perceive privacy is quite difficult for a child to understand. However, don’t worry. There are certain fundamental rules that you can teach your child to help his little mind understand what privacy is and how to go about respecting it.

Let’s look at how you can explain privacy to your child and teach him how to respect privacy.

1. Emphasise respect for personal space: One of the first rules of respecting privacy is to respect the personal space of others. But, children don’t understand this fact. They love getting close to others. Therefore, it is important to teach them to maintain a certain distance from others, as getting too close can make individuals feel uncomfortable. There are many ways you can make your child understand how to stay at a comfortable distance from anyone. For example, if your child is too young to understand the units of length, ask him to stand with his hands on his hips and make sure that his elbows don’t touch others around him. But, if your child is old enough to understand the concept, then ask him to stay at a distance of two feet from others. Make him practise keeping a safe distance when interacting with others at home.

2. Model through role-play: Some children are unable to or find it difficult to understand the concept of personal space. Such children can be made to understand through role-play. Here are some of the scenarios you can enact. Get all the family members to form a queue for getting into the bus and ask your child to stand behind you at a distance you consider appropriate. Or, ask your child to fetch you the TV remote. When she comes to give it to you, stop her at the preferred distance and take it from her. While you are doing these activities, keep reinforcing to your child that she needs to keep a decent distance between herself and others.

3. Use social scripts: Children can be taught this concept with the help of social scripts. Write what your child should do to respect privacy on a sheet of paper. For example, “I should not touch others when I am talking to them”, “I must close the bathroom door when I am using the bathroom”, “I must seek permission before I enter a room.” Stick this paper in a place where your child can read it multiple times during the day. You can also write different rules on different sheets of paper. Once your child starts following a particular rule diligently, remove the sheet which has that rule written on it.

Most of the time, senior family members or even school authorities put up information about children in the public domain – shots taken during family outings, birthday parties, cultural programmes in schools and so on. What they fail to understand is that any information about children – picture, address or demographics – can be misused.
Even sharing on social media pictures or videos of children being abused and imploring viewers to help them get justice is illegal.
To help children understand privacy, it is important to teach them that when they talk about someone, they should talk about them respectfully. Also, parents should teach their children that discussing and revealing details about someone in their absence is gossiping. Children should be made aware that this is not a healthy habit.
—Sonal S. Raja, Clinical Psychologist, Child and Parent Expert

4. Explain private conversations: Most children, when they grow a little older, want to be around adults. They like to take part in activities that adults do or chip in with their views when adults are conversing. Some children also like to overhear conversations between adults. Make your child understand that when people are speaking softly to each other, it is a sign that they don’t want others to hear it. On the other hand, when people are conversing loudly, he can join them, but should seek their permission before doing so. The concept of privacy nowadays extends to mobile phones and personal computers as well. Children find these gadgets very attractive and often try to look at the screens when others are using them. Teach your child that doing so is disrespectful.

5. Encourage seeking permission: Most young children like to pick up whatever they find attractive, be it at someone's home or in a shop. Teach your child the difference between what belongs to her and what doesn’t. And, tell her that if she does want to take a look at something that belongs to someone else, she should seek permission. Also, teach your child that she should knock on the door and seek permission before entering a room.

6. Be a good role model: Children tend to learn most life skills from their parents. Therefore, as a parent, model privacy before your children. Seek permission before you handle things that belong to them like their school bag, or entering their room, or joining a conversation your child is having with his friend. These will help him understand that respecting privacy is a must and how he should go about doing it.

The only way parents can instil in their children a sense of respect for boundaries and privacy is by modelling the same. As parents and other adults in a child's life, it is our responsibility to show respect to other people's privacy, and be mindful of not overstepping our boundaries. For example, we need to stop being nosy and asking personal questions like, 'What is your salary?', 'Why aren’t you married yet?' and 'Why no children yet?' Respect for privacy has to begin at home.
— Mina Dilip, Child Psychologist, Trainee Practitioner in Therapeutic Play Skills (PTUK)

As children grow up, their personal boundaries expand and they need more privacy. But, while they cherish their privacy, they should also learn to respect the boundaries set by others. Teaching your child early on about personal boundaries will help him stay on good terms with others without making him feel awkward.