Social media monitoring: Is it good or bad parenting?(Read article summary)
Social media monitoring for your kids is becoming easier, thanks to new child-tracking apps for parents. Striking a balance between trusting and protecting your child's online activity may not be so easy.
Reuters Photo/Beck Diefenbach
"Reflecting on a cellphone app developerās claim, Iām thinking that tracking our kidsā movements, moment by moment, isnāt the best way to enhance āfamily awareness.ā Those are the words of Chris Hull, CEO of the company that developed the Life360 tracking app, in an interview forĀ Time. Is that āawarenessā as in āsurveillanceā? Oddly, Time interpreted Hullās reference to family awareness as āfamilial communication,ā a stretch the app marketer doesnāt even make.
āThe parents we spoke with were beleaguered by fear of danger and exhausted from the burden of constant vigilance. Although the exact nature of [the] danger is poorly defined, many parents told us that surveillance is now equated with good parenting, and that the days of trusting their children and providing them with space to explore the world and make mistakes are long goneā (linked toĀ here). I so agree with MediaSmarts.caās co-director Jane Tallim that surveillance āruns counter to the mutual trust, confidence and communication between parents and their kids that is so essential to helping children develop the skills they need for digital life.ā Thatās the foundation for safety that lasts way beyond childhood.
What about a call or text?
Sure there are times, such as after a natural disaster (Life360ā²s developers invoke Hurricane Katrina in their corporate story) or if someoneās being stalked, when family members need to keep track of each other. But most of the time, is it not enough to call or text? What kind of message are we sending our kids when tracking their every move? How do they respond?
Actually,Ā MediaSmarts foundĀ that constant monitoring can have the opposite effect parents are seeking: āThe teenagers who did share the details of their lives with their parents were the ones who were not routinely monitored. Trust in this case was mutual,ā indicating that āmonitoring alone may work against open family dialogue.ā So itās a balance we need to strike. I love the way media professor and parentĀ Henry Jenkins puts it: We need to watch their backs, not look over their shoulders.
Finding the right balance is never easy, but itās good to know that constant tracking hardly helps us find and maintain it. And if the motivation is fear, what impact does that have? It could make a child more fearful or send the message that itās okay to let fear rule. It could also reduce our credibility and parent-child communication (if the child feels the fear is irrelevant or overwrought) and send a kid into stealth mode or into seeking workarounds, which is all too easy online and with portable, pocket-size devices. And, of course, delivers exactly what marketers of surveillance tools are looking for: a bigger market.
Software or parenting?
The Time article lists half a dozen other child-tracking apps for parents who prefer constant silent tracking to giving their kid a call or tapping out a quick text. Some also record every text a child types or just lock a kidās phone down so he or she canāt use it.
A newer app not listed in the Time article āĀ MMGuardianĀ ā can lock a kidās phone when it senses that child and phone are moving faster than 10 miles per hour, a way to ensure teens arenāt texting while driving. Thatās fine, but it can also be a little clumsy, because the feature could lock a kidās phone when he or she is a passenger in a car someone else is driving, too ā even a parent. Which means the parent should pull over to use her phone to unlock the kidās! Kind of kidding, but there are good features in MMGuardian, including the one that turns off phones at bedtime so kids get their sleep and the ability to locate a lost phone and lock it so no one else can use it. Other features coming soon to MMGuardian (only on Android phones for now) will allow parents to manage kidsā contact list and detect what apps theyāve downloaded.
But I still maintain that most parents donāt really need software to parent.
- Anyway, as author and parent Michael Levin points out in theĀ Huffington Post, what kids are doing online is mostly good.
- Think about this in the context of (acting from or using fear in) parenting: AĀ research paperĀ from the University of Torontoās Center for Health Promotion that tells when fear does and doesnāt change behavior (i.e., increase safety). Very basically, a fear appeal works when two things are present:Ā relevanceĀ andĀ efficacyĀ (when the listener sees its relevance to him personally and feels able to do something about it). When those areĀ notĀ present, he moves from ādanger controlā (behavior change) to āfear controlā: denying heās at risk; avoiding or mocking the message; or becoming angry at the source of the message (e.g., a parent) or the issue. This is why itās so important that we try to understand or be informed about our childrenās experiences with tech (relevance) and give them a sense of agency and efficacy (seeĀ thisĀ about that). [Thanks to my ConnectSafely.org co-director Larry Magid for pointing this paper out inĀ this talk.]
- āWhat does āsafeā really look like in a digital age?ā
- āWhatās wrong with Net safety ed ā¦ and what we can do about itā
- My thanks to Amy Jussel ofĀ ShapingYouth.orgĀ for pointing the Time piece out ā Iāll add a link here as soon as she posts about this.
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