The web is not private

THE adolescent urge to introspection and diary keeping is nothing new.

But in the internet age, where a blog or a Facebook page substitutes for the old-fashioned private diary, the implications of on-line confessions, revelations or midnight jottings can be further-reaching than a diary entry ever was.

That’s why it’s appropriate to be concerned about teenagers posting material about themselves on-line that they might profoundly regret in future.

All people seek affirmation and approval from their peers. It is an accepted truism that teenagers and adolescents are especially hungry for reassurance that they belong and that their insecurities are natural and normal.

Before the internet, people wrestling with issues of identity and personality might have confided their fears, hopes and anxieties to a small circle of close friends in a mutual exchange. Choosing the wrong confidant could be embarrassing, but usually the consequences of the mistake could be contained.

But now that the social media have entered the adolescent environment, those consequences have the potential to be magnified both in reach and in time.

A young girl, for example, who posts a compromising photograph of the kind apparently uploaded by some in response to a Facebook ‘‘contest’’ set up by some teenage boys, has limited control over where that photograph might go and how it might be used in perpetuity.

She also exposes herself to all the well-documented risks of ‘‘cyber-bullying’’, where rivals or hostile strangers can attack her at her most vulnerable.

For reasons that aren’t well understood, body image has become a major issue for many young people, spawning serious self-esteem problems and eating disorders that now affect an extraordinary number of victims.

Premature sexualisation of young people is often cited as a social concern and this appears to be a central worry in the case of the contest reported in this newspaper today.

Parents and teachers ought to redouble their efforts to warn young people in their care of the risks involved in participating in such ‘‘competitions’’ and of entrusting too much of the wrong kind of information to the internet.

Disability reform

IT would make sense for the Hunter to be a pilot region for the federal government’s proposed disability insurance scheme. The region has a higher than average percentage of people with disabilities and a well-documented history of attempting to co-ordinate resources to meet the needs of these people under the existing fragmented and inefficient system of care and funding.

As things stand, whether people with identical disabilities have access to excellent privately funded services or are left to queue for scarce public resources can be a matter of luck. A proper universal insurance scheme could level the field for all, by making it easier for families to chart their own courses through a menu of care options.

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