Wooton: Programs need to protect the kids they’re helping

By Will Wooton

I was asked by an ethical review committee to write my opinion on a topic I’ve never thought about. The question is not as cut-and-dry as “Should kids use drugs?” or “Is child pornography dangerous?” Those are easy and most would agree on the answer without much thought. This ethical question is not a legal question — two very different things.

Will Wooton

Treatment programs are bound by confidentiality in order to protect clients from unseen issues that may arise in the future. Non-clinical settings are not legally bound by such restrictions. I believe, after much thought and discussion with colleagues, that they should be. The question posed to me is this: Should a company (public or private) be ethically or morally allowed to use pictures or videos of kids for marketing or outreach?

I receive at least 10 emails weekly from wilderness programs, private schools, support groups, etc. who all use the latest in technology to market their services and showcase what they can do for teens. Many of these emails have links to websites, Twitter and Facebook pages with a large majority using pictures and videos of kids from their programs. While most companies do this with the best of intentions, how can they or anyone else know the long-term implications of using these images? Above all else, don’t they have an obligation to protect the kids they are being paid to work with? What type of oversight is there? From what I can find, there is none. These for-profit companies are permitted to self-regulate what they feel are appropriate uses of the pictures on websites and brochures.

The full impact of social media is not yet known. With companies like Facebook owning images or videos once they are uploaded, what are the potential dangers down the line? Could they be used to limit or hurt a teen’s future? Could they be sold to the highest bidder? It is not possible to know how this may affect a teenager down the road. Erring on the side of caution seems to be the smartest and only way to go. Every company believes they have a good program and mean no harm by doing this. Many claim that the kids want to participate, that they want to show how much they have changed, or how fun the place is. This may all be true, however, I don’t think a child can make that decision given they don’t fully understand the potential repercussions.

I asked many former clients of mine their thoughts. I received 35 responses from individuals who had all participated in this type of advertising and all stated at the time they were happy to do it. Now, as adults, they wish they had not. Some did videos talking about drug use, fighting with their parents as a teen at home, and how a specific place turned it around for them, while others were shown in brochures. None understood what impact it could have on their future.

I believe that even with the parents’ permission, these programs need to look out for the child’s best interest long-term and not exploit them to market their company’s offerings. Every program feels they are unique and offer something exciting. If we leave it up to them to choose what’s most effective for their marketing, I don’t see how anyone, especially the kids, will win. I believe if you are being paid for a service, then you should perform that service the best you can and not exploit your clients for the business’ gain.

Wooton is director of Pacific Treatment Services and co-author of “Bring Your Teen Back From The Brink.” PTS is a substance abuse company working with teens and young adults. Website: www.PacificTreatmentServices.com.

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Posted by Staff on Mar 13 2013. Filed under Columnists. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

11 Comments for “Wooton: Programs need to protect the kids they’re helping”

  1. Alan

    This is so true. I as a teenager had my share of troubles. Running away and smoking pot. I was sent to a 30 day rehab and did great. I followed up in the programs aftercare and with in a few months things were much better. My life turned around I'm so greatful I experienced getting help. I also at the time was filmed at the program as part of the positive stories. I was 15. I was happy to share personal life experiences without thinking it through. It wasn't really till after high school when I was in the service and looking into my options and was asked about my life time drug use that I thought about I'm on tape somewhere saying I did all these crazy things. Needless to say I didn't go into that position. I wouldn't say it's the programs fault but my participating in this type of activities limited my choices as a adult. Thank you Will for discussing this.

  2. Andy G

    That's shameful, and wrong. Are there any schools or programs in San Diego that do this type if thing? I need to avoid this potential problem for my kids…

  3. Dr. Janice Knight

    If there are any programs in San Diego County please disclose what and where they are. As a child Psychologist I can attest that there are legal violations as well as ethical violations and I would be happy to report them. I assume these are privately owned non public programs. I can say that any licensed therapist working at these places are risking their licenses and if nothing a suspension for ethical review. These practices have been happening for years and are disgusting.

    • Dr. Knight I was able to locate more of these programs then I ever thought just by Googling "adolescent drug treatment/schools" what I found is the ones with the most common uses of video technology are the same with paid ads on the right hand side. once on there site there is usually video sections if not direct YouTube feeds. VERY disturbing. I will not post links to programs as I don't want to add to the abuse of kids but email me directly and we can talk.

  4. Anonymous

    I wasn't the best kid when I was a teenager. Smoking pot, experimenting with other drugs, being disrespectful, etc. I got some help from a treatment center who agreed to have a film crew come in and do a documentary, including interviews to pitch to some TV program. Even though I said I didn't want to be filmed they ended up filming the reunion with my parents, heckling me for an interview, etc. I have no idea where that footage is today. After treatment, I got my life back on track and was in a very good place. I was very involved in sharing my story with others and probably would have gladly given an image/footage of myself in regards to my experience, but the person I am today would regret that decision. Like Will said, I don't think kids understand the impact it could have on their future. I am a completely different person than I was a few years ago and I would be extremely uncomfortable if there was some company marketing their services with my picture.

  5. Terry Daniels

    What's the dilemma? Asked and answered. "Erring on the side of caution…..(is) smartest and only way to go." When in doubt, don't – especially with children and / or on behalf of another you have ultimate responsibility for. Who's going to argue your points with any positive results to back it up?

    Never in the history of the world have so many people gone so pervasively public so fast and so young as in these last very few years. Once released to the public – pictures, videos and personal information is out there permanently. The power of uncontrollable and extensive publicity to crush lives is already well established in the celebrity business. This monster doesn't care – kid or adult – it eats whatever it can catch.

  6. Michele

    It's a well known fact that minors have undeveloped frontal lobes and lack the ability to make important future decisions. I don't think it's a good idea to film these kids, even if they say it's ok at the time. For this reason I am in agreement here, that ethically they shouldn't do this kind of thing. With the media today more and more kids are discovering that things they did as kids can really come back to haunt them. They shouldn't even be given the choice.

  7. Pernille Kruse

    Before reading the article, I probably would have been more liberal on my opinion of facilities using photos of minors to promote their businesses. But after reading it, I'm more so leaning towards facilities refraining from using said photos and relying more on stock photography or photos that are shot in such a way that the client/patients cannot be recognized.

  8. Poway Mom and Dad

    Never gave this much thought, but after reading this article, we did some investigation and found that our son was used (without our permission) in a You Tube video to market a private school that he attended. Not too happy about this and will be contacting the school on Monday! Thank you for this eye-opening article.

  9. Erica

    This article is really interesting. I never really thought about it that way. These pictures really can come back to haunt them years to come.

  10. Dr. Scott Koenig

    Fantastic article Will and thank you once again for raising awareness on issues that are not commonly discussed. I especially liked this quote, “I believe that even with the parents’ permission, these programs need to look out for the child’s best interest long-term and not exploit them to market their company’s offerings.” I think that we are often conditioned to believing that as long as we obtain parental consent that we are acting ethically, and we often fail to consider the long-term ramifications. Thank you Will and please continue to increase our social consciousness on topics (such as this) that many of us are afraid to discuss.

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