Cyber-Snooping On Our Kids
Since we entered the digital age in earnest, there has been an explosion of high-tech gadgets parents can get to keep an eye on their kids. From debit cards that allow parents to control their teens’ spending and limit where the card can be used, to GPS locators that can be attached to kids or sewn into their clothing, to boxes that are installed in cars to monitor how fast teens are driving and whether or not they’re using their cell phones behind the wheel, parents have many, many options for snooping.
But is any of this a good idea?
Perhaps this makes us pine for the days of our own childhood when we needed a quarter to make a call and there was no such thing as texting. Or perhaps we see it as a necessary evil in order to make sure that we’re keeping one step ahead of the predators who would do our kids harm, whether they’re in chat rooms or in the seat next to our child in the classroom. Parents argue for both sides of the privacy issue. Some parents feel “my house, my right” and others felt that invading their child’s privacy this way just results in kids feeling as though their parents assume they are untrustworthy and encourages kids to be sneaky .
One problem with this kind of surveillance is that while it creates a sense of security for the parents, it keeps kids from being in a position to make their own decisions, which can catch up with them later in life. I’m not advocating a complete “do what you want, it’s your life” attitude toward our children, just that we have to balance their safety needs with their need to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills.
This balancing act has always been an ongoing challenge for parents; now, we’re just doing it digitally too. Privacy is a big issue for kids, and once you’ve crossed that line into being considered a “snoop”, it can be difficult to be seen as someone your kids can talk to about anything.
This is a big issue, and one that evolves over time, not just as our children age, but also as technology advances. Keeping the door open to honest communication is the only way to meet safety and developmental needs, but how do we do that?
Dr. Jodi Gold’s book Screen-Smart Parenting offers Family Digital Technology Agreements, tailored to the age of the children. For teens, for example, her agreement includes the following:
- when and where teens can use technology
- what teens can do online
- a description of who teens want to be online (such as being kind and not a bully, and telling parents if anything makes them feel uncomfortable online)
- what parents agree to, and
- provisions, agreed upon upfront, as to what will happen if they agreement is not honoured.
These agreements give parents a great starting point to talk about what’s acceptable, what’s not, and what each party, parents and kids, need to be help accountable to.
Sue Scheff, who is an internet safety expert, has a great article on Snooping Versus Monitoring Your Teen’s Online Behavior. She gives a list of warning signs that parents should be concerned about, and points out, “Remember writing can be very healthy for teens (and adults for that matter), so if your teen isn’t giving you any valid reasons to “invade their privacy” – respect it. When safety trumps privacy – it may be time to pry – but every day you should be monitoring your child’s online activity – it’s called parenting.”
We’re writing the rule book as we go here, and there are no easy answers to complicated questions. Remember that the net result we’re looking for is to empower our kids to make good choices for themselves and to feel ready to do that. They’re going to need a little hand-holding during that process, so as Sue points out, don’t hesitate to value safety over privacy, and see all of this as a teachable moment. Start by having a conversation about what your family rules are, and stay connected.
Look for the balance between monitoring everything they do and letting them do whatever they want, and they’ll be better able to make some of those good decisions for themselves as time passes, with or without a tracker sewn into their coats.