Thursday, 27 September 2012

Curiosity Killed the Cat: Parental Control and Smart Phones

Image by Riley Alexandra, flickr
We all succumb to a basic and fundamental need of Facebook stalking, but would we actually spy on our own family members? We'd all like to say no, but there's a growing trend of parents eager to monitor their children's every technological move.

TIME Magazine published an article this month by Victor Luckerson which claimed that 70 million people by 2016 will be using monitoring apps in Europe and North America. Some of the most popular apps include SMS Tracker which allows the user to read texts and see photos from their child's phone, and Mobiflock which blocks specific apps on smart phones. There is a security in these apps, especially the GPS apps which track the specific location of the smart phone owner. There's a safety in this, but where do we draw the line between protective and intrusive?

Like listening to conversations or rummaging through someone's diary, parental control apps are a one way flow of information which breaks down the basic barriers of trust between parent and child. There is an old theory that defines the relationship between parents and their children, being that overbearing parents and a strict upbringing ultimately lead to rebellious behaviour from their offspring. 

The generation of technology adoring teens are criticised for being slaves to information, continually attached to technology. Although their online lives are an extension of their physical selves, it seems as though they are becoming encased in a glass box of freely available information that parents can know become a silent witness to.

It comes down to the debate of content versus control, how far can it go and when does it become unacceptable? A trend of parental dominance which escapes the confines of the parental home and stretches into the private lives and social experience of their teen can lead to destructive effects on the relationship with their child.

Parental controls have their pros, as they do with the internet. They  protect children from material which may be deemed unsuitable, and even tracking apps have their upside. For example, a parent worried if their child is lost or has run away or been attacked can trace the location of their son or daughter, especially if that child is young. But if that child also has blocking apps installed on their phone, one must wonder what the child is doing with a smart phone in the first place. What's wrong with a good old black and white Nokia anyway?

The line between protective and intrusive becomes increasingly blurred, especially if we're dealing with teenagers. In one way, we can see the useful side, and the practical. You have a ticking time bomb teenager anxiously waiting to rebel and down shots of Jagermeister, when this moment happens, or if they decide to not come home- you can send out the cavalry and bring them back to the safety of the maternal nest. But if your son or daughter has a good track record of sensible behaviour, why risk shattering that fragile and breakable trust?

We have to wonder, when is the right age for parents to let go and let their little bird fly? How much information is too much? It might be time to go back to the basics. Parents, repeat after me "Be home by 11, kids."

Side Note: Aren't there some things you'd be better off not knowing? I think my mother would rather eat her own arm than read my teenage sister's text messages. Like the saying goes, ignorance is bliss.

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