A recent article in the New York Times described some of the latest software developments which enable parents to monitor their kids’ online activity. Software like this is nothing new and while cynics might claim this to be preying on the fear of parents, others celebrate it as a way to protect children from the evils of online predators.
But the article wasn’t about the software nor was it a review of its individual features. The article talked more about the parents who use the software, and had a very biased headline: “‘Big Brother’? No, It’s Parents.”
Big Brother? Really?
I was surprised by the number of people commenting on the article who bashed the software and the parents who use it. Many claimed moral superiority, stating that establishing good, open communication with their children keeps the kids from hiding things. Another made the usual comment about kids and technology, stating that if kids aren’t mature enough to handle the rules of the Internet, they shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet. Then there was the guy writing from his bunker of paranoia:
“That these intrusions are happily being helped along by corporatists, ever intent on making money on every single turn in our society, is not surprising. Corporations like Facebook, Google through YouTube, and associated ‘third parties’ as well as our own government are scanning and processing endless amounts of data about each one of us, very often without our express knowledge.”
Most of the comments in the con category centered around invasion of privacy. Huh? Since when do kids get any expectation of privacy? One of the jobs of a parent is to protect their kids from any trouble and to keep them from getting into any. This was a lot easier to do before the Internet. Neighborhoods would watch out for each other’s kids. Finding out what was going on was as easy as making a phone call to a teacher or another parent. When a kid goes online, there’s no one to call to check up on things. There’s no adult monitoring the conversation or warning users when something is out of line. Kids (and I know I’m generalizing and not necessarily talking about your kids) don’t have the ability to stay away from trouble. While they probably know right from wrong, curiosity usually wins out in the end. So does peer pressure. And there are apps which seem designed for the purpose of outsmarting parents (come on app developers, give a dad a break). So how is a 21st century parent supposed to keep up? That’s where this software comes in.
I’ve never used any of this software and while I completely disagree with anyone claiming that the use of said software violates all kinds of parenting rules, I also mock the parents
who need to rely on it. Software? I don’t need no stinkin’ software. My Facebook-tracking software is The Boy’s mother who watches his Facebook page like an overprotective hawk. My Internet-monitoring software is the honesty of The Girl and the predictability of The Boy. I’m not sure when this software expires but it’s pretty effective so far. The Boy doesn’t have the knowledge or the patience to solve any problems that come up with his phone so he gives it to me. And that’s when I see the screen shots from Naked News (no link–find it yourself!) and the obviously-Photoshopped pictures of naked celebrities he has on his phone. My problem isn’t with the content. My fear is that he’ll be showing the pictures to a friend in school and then get busted for trafficking in pornography (and for having his phone in school).
The Girl has been surprisingly honest with me, which means she hasn’t picked up The Boy’s natural desire for deception (but when she does, I’m screwed). Poptropica always seemed harmless and while I still have concerns about Minecraft, she tells me about the different servers she’s been on and shows me various texting apps she uses. And she lets me delete the one’s I don’t trust. So I don’t need any software for her.
I don’t see the software as enabling parents to spy and I don’t see it as a bad thing. In the never-ending battle for paternal supremacy over increasingly devious children, the software is a trusted ally. But not for me, thanks. I’m too smart for them. You can have your tracking programs. Me? I have years of experience hiding things from people. And I…hang on, there’s a policeman at my door…