Among the losses in a culture that places the virtues of youth and wealth above all others is the wisdom of elders. If grandparents still lived around the corner to advise and help with raising the kids, if the experience that can be gained only through decades of living were considered valuable, Crabby Old Lady probably would not need to be as alarmed as she is.
Earlier this week on National Public Radio, Crabby listened in shock to parents describing how they monitor their children’s email, computer passwords, chat and IM conversations, and watch their kids browse the Web, in real time, from other computers such as at work. Alternately, the so-called “security” software they use can save all this information for parental perusal at a more convenient time.
Parents can do this openly, letting their children know up front that nothing they do on their computers is private. Or, they can do it on the sly and the kid never knows his or her parents are reading those deepest teenage secrets kids keep to themselves or share only with their peers. One surveillance company boasts that its software can be installed without the knowledge of the computer owner, “runs in complete stealth and cloaks itself to hide from the remote user.”
The NPR story also described cell phone GPS software by which parents track children’s movements when away from home, including online maps showing the routes the kids are walking or driving, and even the speed at which the children are moving. Thus, a mother explained on the program, if the car her daughter’s friend is driving is going faster than mom approves, she phones her daughter to get out and wait for mom to pick her up.
There was no indication in this NPR story that any of the children being spied upon were special case kids of any kind - poor students, incipient criminals, drug users or emotionally crippled; no indication they were anything but normal teenagers. The parents said they spy on their kids to save them from sexual and other predators. One father described reading this message from a 14-year-old schoolmate of his daughter: “Are you humping your pillow now?”
The father piously told NPR that because he monitored this instant message conversation, he was able to stop his daughter from carrying on such talk, and that the boy’s parents were grateful to know that their son had typed such terrible language into his computer.
To which Crabby Old Lady can say only, "oh, come on," and she wants to know if these two sets of parents have lost their reason. Teens with raging hormones talking of pillow humping is so dangerous they must spy on their children? Crabby is a lot more worried about those parents than the kids.
A quick Google search easily turns up such as this:
“Concerned moms like Cristina Bedoya of Miami uses the same computer her 15-year-old daughter does to peek at who she's emailing or sending instant messages. All it takes is knowledge of your child's password or a click on the history button to see where they've visited on the Web…she refuses to feel guilty.”
- - azcentral.com, 29 October 2004
Well, that mother should feel guilty and she should stop spying. Just knowing this stuff goes on makes Crabby Old Lady feel dirty. It may be legal, but it is - pure and simple - morally wrong.
If parents, as those on the NPR program insisted, believe they are protecting their children from all bad things by spying on them, they need to know it won’t work. Shit happens. Kids get hurt sometimes and secret surveillance will not change that.
But what spying on kids will do is teach them to not trust their parents. It will teach them to accept authoritarian surveillance and intrusion from other sources like the government and companies they will work for one day. It will teach them that to be watched at all times is an acceptable way to live in a free society.
Crabby wants to know how many times these lessons need to be taught. Older folks remember Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in which citizens were so successfully indoctrinated into the “correct” way of thinking and behaving that children were commonly known to turn in their parents to the secret police for their political opinions.
Think carefully, parents, when you are tempted invade your kids’ privacy, Keep it up, says Crabby Old Lady, and it won’t be too long until it’s your email the government is reading; your employer is already doing so.