Long gone are the days when a parent would stand behind the closed door of their teen’s room trying to catch what they were saying on the phone to their best friend. Now, most of our children’s social lives seem to transpire online, and this communication revolution has given rise to a new world of cyber danger: bullying that causes suicides, sexting that can lead to rape or dubious acquaintances that can potentially result in an abduction.
The social media that parents themselves read are full of such scary stories, which often serve as an argument for moms and dads to track their kids’ online activities.
In the past couple of years, a range of efficient and innovative apps appeared that allow one to monitor what their kids or employees do online – among the most famous are mSpy and Highster Mobile, for example. They give the subscriber an opportunity to read their children’s texts and social media posts, view all their incoming and outgoing media files, and see the list of calls.
In some cases, such apps help avert terrible things from happening (in a recent case, a teenage suicide was prevented, for instance). However, teens often get angry that parents spy on them using such software. Who is right?
Arguments for spying
- Naturally, most parents’ concern is the safety of their children, and online safety is no easy matter: over 30% of teens report being bullied online, and one study in the UK has found that up to a half of all teenage suicides can be attributed to bullying. Teenage sexting is illegal in the U.S., and of course, many parents are concerned that their young sons may be watching porn.
- One of the main arguments in favor of using spying apps is that the online sphere is very complex, and teenagers do not yet possess the knowledge or life experience to navigate it safely. When a teenager is learning to drive, they have to be accompanied by an adult; shouldn’t the same go for online activities?
- Yet another argument is that true privacy is impossible online. Whatever you write or post, anybody with a decent knowledge of hacking software can read all your communication – often with sinister goals. So if any criminal can access your online records, why shouldn’t your parents?
4) Finally, some parents believe that their kids are too young and immature to even demand privacy… especially when it is the parents who bought the kid’s smartphone in the first place!
What kids think
Of course, suddenly discovering that one’s parents are using powerful spying software such as iPhone tracking app can make an average teenager very angry and result in a nasty scene, which usually revolves around the concept of invading the child’s privacy. UNICEF supports the kids in the matter: one article of its statute says that “children have the right to privacy”.
For a child, finding out that parents have been spying on them means a lack of trust, and this realization can push the teenager to behave even more irresponsible as a sort of aggressive counter-reaction. What is even more important, however, is the potential deterioration in the parent-child relationship: studies show that the discovery of unannounced spying can lead to a decrease in trust and honesty and growing estrangement.
One should also remember that teenage years are the main period for experiments, and learn what is right and wrong sometimes requires doing something that is wrong. If you take away from your children this ability to make their own mistakes, you risk taking away something very important for their personal development.
Finally, the issue of autonomy has to be considered. The main goal of good parenting is to raise young adults who are confident, mature, responsible, and autonomous. However, the infamous “helicopter parenting” style – overbearing control of the child’s activities – is the exact opposite of promoting autonomy. How can you expect that your kids will learn to take care of themselves if you don’t let them do that?
The best solution
Surely, parents’ safety concerns are valid, but their children’s demands for respect and trust are justified, too. As a recent study shows, around 40% of parents check their kids’ phones using apps like Highster Mobile and tell their kids about it; however, a further 30% do the spying in secret. And herein lies the issue: if you inform your kids that you will monitor their online activity and stress that it is only for their safety, most probably they will understand.
You need let your child feel that you trust them, but that you are worried about all the criminals out there. Be honest about your intentions and show your kids that you consider them to be intelligent and mature; in this case, you will be able to use the spying apps without compromising the relationship with your kids.