In the digital age, being a parent is harder than ever. With a new news story coming out every day about a teenager getting caught “sexting” or another teen suicide due to an online viral rumor, it can be difficult to sit idly by and let your kids put whatever they want out on the internet, for all to see.
A recent article in the New York Times outlines options parents have for monitoring their children’s actions online. It’s no longer about simply friending your kid on Facebook and watching his or her status updates; it’s now about installing software that will show you their every move:
If, a few years ago, the emphasis was on blocking children from going to inappropriate sites on the family computer, today’s technologies promise to embed Mom and Dad — and occasionally Grandma — inside every device that children are using, and gather intelligence on them wherever they go.
A smartphone application alerts Dad if his son is texting while driving. An online service helps parents keep tabs on every chat, post and photo that floats across their children’s Facebook pages. And another scans the Web in case a child decides to try a new social network that the grown-ups have not even heard of yet.
The article raises some interesting questions: is this sort of surveillance ethical? Is it the best way to protect our children? Or are we breeding a sense of distrust within our families?
No matter how we choose to monitor our children’s online activities — if we choose to do so — it’s an age-old joke that the kids will almost always be one step ahead of the adults. Parents used to be able to follow status updates on social networks. Now, with new settings that allow users to choose who sees what on sites such as Facebook and Google+, it isn’t enough just to “be friends” with your kid. This may lead some to believe that monitoring software is necessary.
On the flip side, put yourself in their shoes. If they find out that their parents are monitoring them, that can start a whole new argument about the right to privacy. Think about when you were their age; wouldn’t you have been angry if someone had broken the lock on your diary and read it? Some may argue that kids don’t have a right to privacy, but kids are people, too, and they should be allowed to explore and make mistakes, just as adults are. Just a little trust goes a long way.
Personally, I feel that this type of software is treating the symptom and not the actual disease. Monitoring a child’s activity, whether on the internet, phone, or other device, can alert you to problems. It’s good for parents to know if a child is texting while driving or posting inappropriate pictures. However, the real problem is that we are not spending enough time teaching our young people about the perils of the devices and programs they use. If we focus more on education — telling kids that everything they put on the internet is public and searchable in some way, or that texting while driving is sometimes more dangerous than driving while under the influence — we can rest easy that, given the choice, our kids will make the right decisions.
What do you think? Do you think software like this is an invasion of privacy? Would you use it if you had the chance?
Photo Credit: whiteafrican