Child monitoring apps have been the news quite a bit recently. Some simply track the location of your child, while others go as far as letting you remotely read their messages. Many of these apps are marketed at middle-class mothers with the promise of peace of mind. However, is this invasion of privacy really necessary in order to be assured of your child’s safety? What happened to straightforward ‘Mum, I’m on my way home’ texts?
I see why geo-tagging can be useful. When your child is out with their friends, remembering to check in with you via text is not going to be on the top of their to-do list and they’ll probably forget. Geo-tagging can help reassure over-protective worried parents that you’re no wandering off into the unknown. Also, if you’re blessed with a child that has a tendency to run away, you locate them without too much fuss (providing they took their phone).
I’ve had experience being on the receiving end of geo-tagging. The night before a trip to see a friend in London my Dad requested that I either turn on the ‘Find My Friends’ feature on my iPhone or I don’t go. I was not a happy teenager. I wanted my independence and I felt this lame request made a trip to London on my own much less cool.
Messages and other data
If you’re going to use an app to read your child’s messages you have two ways of going about it. You can a) do it behind their back or b) be upfront about it. No matter which method you choose, the outcome usually isn’t great (unless your child is a complete good-two-shoes with no secrets).
Doing it behind their back
So you’re going to look through your child’s messages, but what are you going to do if you do find something? I think this is a little bit like looking through your partner’s phone in that if you confront them, you’re forced to admit you were snooping and if you don’t; what you’ve found will eat away inside at you and you’d have invaded their privacy for nothing. If your child learns that you’ve been accessing their personal messages (either via confrontation or otherwise), they will probably feel betrayed and unable to trust you, which can be very harmful to a parent-child relationship. You may not even find anything and while that may make you feel relieved, if they find out the result will most likely be the same as if you had (relationship-wise).
Being upfront about it
Despite reading my blog and my tweets throughout my teenage years, my parents never looked through or even asked to look through my phone. Nevertheless, I still had a second phone for when they decided to take mine away.
If my parents ever told me a few years ago they were going to be reading all my messages, I’d have felt I had no place to get away from them. I wouldn’t be able to talk about boys with my besties or the fact that I hadn’t done my English homework or anything without being conscious of the fact that they were reading each and every word. To me, parents should be the people you share things with when you want to. Being forced to share each and every detail of your life with them is likely to create distance between parent and child. Puberty makes you hate your parents enough without the added stress of not being able get away from them. Also, if your parents are watching everything their child does it can make the child more likely to do things behind their back such as getting a second (crappy) phone or making ‘Let’s get lunch’ a codeword for ‘Let’s fuck’. Would you rather your teenager send sexy photos or lose their virginity in a field because they can’t even sext anymore?
Overall, while child-monitoring apps may provide parents with a peace of mind, they can be damaging to parent-child relationships. I believe friendly (and sometimes firm) communication is much more effective. For example, requiring your child to let you know where they’re going, who with and what time they’ll be back with the condition that they text you if there’s a change of plan. Of course, they can lie, but if your relationship with your kid is healthy they shouldn’t feel the need to.
Parents are often worried about their kids meeting strangers off the internet. Trust me, there ARE paedophiles out there and they may groom your kids, but parents need to give today’s teenagers a bit more credit. While they may be sucked in to the charade of a middle-aged man, they’re not completely stupid. These days cyber safety is drummed into pupils at school from an early age and there are more and more ways of verifying someone’s identity.
Open and friendly parenting will also make your child more likely to come to you with things (instead of you having to pester them). A puberty-stricken teenager actively seeking out their parent for a chat about their life is sometimes thought of as a myth, but I think that with the right kind of communication and mutual trust and respect it’s possible. And this includes respecting their privacy!
What do you think of child monitoring apps? Drop your thoughts in a comment below!