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.
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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