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Keeping E-Track of the Kids

Today's forest of electronic media is a beckoning frontier for youth. Kids stuck in city apartments, packed into suburban tracts, isolated in the exurbs - many can hop online, fire up the cellphone, or tap into satellite TV.

How can parents guide children on the proper use of the new media - or just be able to control what's being viewed, keep tabs on Web wanderings, or even track a teen's whereabouts?

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The scene may be set for a hot generational debate over parents' rights versus children's privacy.

That debate will bring only some minor tantrums at the younger end of the spectrum. Parents who purchase a programmable "Weemote" (see story, page 14) are just making sure that their three- to eight-year-olds see nothing on television they shouldn't, while giving the kids a sense of control over what they can see.

The squawks are likely to be louder - and the competition for electronic supremacy fiercer - when the goal is to monitor a 14-year-old's late-night e-mail or trace a 16-year-old's travels via her cellphone.

The electronic gear to do just that and more is at hand in the marketplace - a boon to watchful parents, perhaps, but also a cause for second thoughts.

Electronic one-upmanship is no substitute for family communication. Censorship is no substitute for judgment. Great tracking ability is no substitute for trust.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society