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The Undercover Parent – New York Times

Paul Banas
Author Paul Banas
Submitted 16-03-2008

The New York Times had a good article today on spyware for kids’ computers. What a debate it is…. Do you spy on your kids and undercut your own notions of privacy? Do you break the bond of trust between two people by watching their every move? Would you spy on your spouse in this way?

The article is fascinating because it runs through the negative connotations of spyware: we all hate the idea of spying, etc, and then goes on to talk about parenting responsibility. There is a difference between the government reading our mail and monitoring your own little children. In the same way that we don’t let them watch whatever TV they want or eat cookies all day, we have a special responsiblity to watch over their behavior.

I like to think we are pretty enlightened parents, but we are strict in some ways. We don’t go overboard on liberty at the expense of saying “please” and “thank you” or avoiding practicing piano or playing video games all day long. Then again, our kids are four and eight and are still easily controlled with a minimum of eye-rolling. We keep the family computer in plain sight in the kitchen with the screen turned toward the room. We also have individual accounts so that when my daughter is using the computer she can’t access Google, and can only see a limited number of specific dad-approved websites.

We also believe that we have to be involved with what she’s doing and seeing. Every moment of interaction is a chance to discuss values and societal influences. But we know that when she’s twelve, all bets are off. She’ll be much more under the spell of friends. That’s why I tend to agree with this article. I wouldn’t install spyware and ready every IM discussion, but I might scan URLs visited and watch over other on-line interactions. A twelve year old or sixteen year-old can’t be counted on to have the same risk awareness as adults (as discussed in this other fantastic NYT piece on teenagers and risk).

It makes me wonder if I’d install a car-monitoring device to see whether my little boy (in twelve years!) is driving too fast or erratically. Yeah, I might, because I love him so much and want to make sure he makes it through all of these risk-prone years.

Check out the article and let me know what you think.

NOT long ago, friends of mine confessed over dinner that they had put spyware on their 15-year-old son’s computer so they could monitor all he did online. At first I was repelled at this invasion of privacy. Now, after doing a fair amount of research, I get it.

[From The Undercover Parent – New York Times]