Prying or Protecting; Online Software for Parents to Monitor their Teenagers
It is hard to imagine these days an American adolescent that is not connected in some way to the internet. Whether by smart phone, personal laptop, school computer, or shared-family computer; adolescents are “plugged in.” The internet is of course a useful learning tool that in this day and age is necessary in classrooms and homes across America, but the internet also has a Pandora’s box of hidden issues that makes it seem dangerous.
Because of these hidden dangers some parents of adolescents feel the need to use cellular and internet monitoring software to supervise how their child interacts on the internet.
The New York Times recently published an online piece titled “‘Big Brother’?, No It’s Parents,” which posed the question: “Is surveillance the best way to protect children? Or should parents trust them to share if they are scared or bewildered by something online? ”
According to the article the average American family uses five Internet-enabled devices at home, including smartphones, a recent survey by Cox Communications and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found, while barely one in five parents uses parental controls on those devices.
Parents can gain access to their child’s online footprint with apps created to monitor texting while driving, software set to track a child’s browsing history and internet use, and software that tracks their social media use.
Parent Point of View
Dan Sherman of Jackson, N.J., is what you might call the alpha monitor of his children’s digital lives, which is not surprising considering that he works in computer security.
At home, he has installed a filter that blocks pornographic sites and software that tracks Web visits. He has set parental controls on the iPhones of his 8- and 13-year-old daughters so they cannot download applications. Access to the app store on the 8-year-old’s Kindle Fire is protected with a password. And the older daughter’s Facebook account is tracked by MinorMonitor, which alerts Mr. Sherman if there are references to bullying or alcohol.
Does he worry that his daughters think he does not trust them? Mr. Sherman says they should learn that they will be monitored throughout their lives: “It’s not any different from any employer.”
Adolescents Point of View
The article points out that teens are aware that there parents are using monitoring tools and take steps to evade their parents watchful eye with maneuvers like deactivating their Facebook accounts except at night, when they know their parents are not likely to be logging on; rolling over to new sites, often using pseudonyms. Very often they speak in code designed to stump parents.
Alexis Sherman, daughter of Dan Sherman (read quote above “Parents Point of View”) sees her parents surveying her online use as a way to think twice about what she is posting, “Recently, for example, she was tempted to rail on Facebook against a friend who had spread rumors about her, but she checked herself when she thought about what her mother might say. “Having your parents monitor makes you think twice about what you put,” Alexis said. ”
The issue of adolescent online monitoring is front and center for most parents raising kids these days and will continue to be an issue for parents of the future. The New York Times article does not answer the question as to whether it is right or wrong, but asks all parents of teens to think about what monitoring says about trust.
“Ms. Clark, who has written a book about parenting styles and technology called “The Parent App,” says she was relieved her child had confided in her. She hopes she will continue to confide, so she does not have to track everything her daughter does online. “It’s too easy to get involved in surveillance,” Ms. Clark said. “That undermines our influence as parents. Kids interpret that as a lack of trust.””