Is It Careful Parenting or Spying?

June 26th, 2008 by Kathy McManus

Proponents of stealth-tracking say that protecting kids has no limits.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

If you electronically monitor every website your kids view, secretly read all their instant messages, filter their TV viewing, restrict their incoming and outgoing calls, and track their movements by GPS devices lurking in their backpacks and cell phones, are you parenting, or spying?

Spying, and proud of it, say parental proponents of stealth, who insist that protecting their children has no limits. "If I’m responsible for their actions, then I should be able to snoop," says a mother in Tennessee. A Texas mom is point-blank: "I have made it perfectly clear there is no privacy in my house."

And no difficulty violating it. Just a single piece of spy ware makes subterfuge simple, allowing parents to view everything their kid does online, including both sides of IM conversations. Parents who don’t like what they see can secretly shut down the kid’s computer by remote, then blame it on a mysterious network problem.

"I can see why some people worry that parents will become too controlling," says a Texas father of five, "but I’ve found that technology actually lets you give kids more freedom." By controlling what his kids do and see, he says, he hopes to "eliminate" the possibility that they’ll make bad decisions that could bring lasting harm.

Care or control? Insight or intrusion? The debate continues, especially in the increasingly popular grade-tracking programs that allow parents almost hourly access to their child’s progress in school, with the cooperation of teachers. Depending on the software, parents can check test and homework grades, disciplinary notices, attendance, missed assignments, and their child’s daily class ranking, on command.

A Georgia mother who used to incessantly check her child’s school progress by logging on each day at 6AM, has re-thought her dependence on electronically tracking every aspect of her daughter’s daily life. “It speaks to all your neuroses as a parent, all this need to control, that pressure to make sure everything is perfect,” she said. “How are these kids going to learn to be responsible adults?”

Tell us what you think: Should parents use technology to monitor their kids? Is it parenting, spying, responsible, or something else?