Say No to 'Kooth' in Pennsylvania’s Schools
Strangers talking to schoolchildren on the Internet – what could possibly go wrong? If that’s not bad enough, how about parents having no idea that it’s even happening?
The newest threat to parental rights is entering our school districts behind closed doors. Kooth is a for-profit business from the U.K. that claims to offer mental-health services for kids. Kooth now has a presence in nearly 25 school districts across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – though no school board has ever voted on the matter. A $3 million grant from Harrisburg to this tech business enabled the decision to be made without any public conversation.
In Philadelphia, kids can begin using Kooth as young as 11 years old, but in most school districts, the starting age is 14. That also happens to be the age in Pennsylvania at which parents are no longer given access to their children’s mental health records. If your child says anything of concern on Kooth’s website, Kooth does not notify the parent – only the school district. This, simply put, is a vehicle to take away parental rights and try to keep even more information about their own children away from parents.
Its website states that Kooth is for 14-18-year-old students in specific districts. Kooth’s website contains no safeguards to prevent anyone of any age, from anywhere in the world, from creating an account, logging in, and gaining access to the same discussion boards as our children. Visitors don’t even need to say what district or school they’re affiliated with; Kooth allows users to fill out and complete profiles with no verification of identity or other background information. It is an open door for child predators.
Kooth clearly states, on one hand, that it cannot diagnose or treat mental-health issues, while on the other telling schools that it offers mental-health tools that will help students. How can both of those things be true? The truth is that Kooth is a new form of social media, funded by our tax dollars. By now, most parents know how to discuss and set boundaries with their kids regarding social media and other websites, but Kooth is new, it’s being pushed in schools, and its contents are not being shared first with parents. Parents cannot set limits, monitor accounts, and discuss guidelines with their children regarding a social media site that intentionally excludes them.
I am not trying to minimize the mental-health problem we have in this country. I agree that our schools need more help and support in this area, but this is not the way to do it. Parents should be involved in all decisions regarding their minor-age children. Parents should decide whether their child will be allowed to participate in programs like Kooth is offering. Decisions regarding children’s health and safety should never be made without parental involvement or without community knowledge.
Wouldn’t the $3 million be better spent, for example, supporting school guidance counselors who already know our children personally, rather than giving money to strangers on the Internet?