To snoop or not to snoop? With modern technology, full surveillance of your child is as simple as installing a few apps. You can read every text message that your child sends to his girlfriend, or track his every movement to ensure that he really is going "to the library." You can monitor the sites he visits, the music he listens to, and read every Facebook and Twitter post that he makes.
Is that really a good idea?
The New York Times stirred the debate with the stories of a few helicopter parents that were using software to snoop. With story after story of children engaging in dangerous activities online, and social networking apps such as Skout accidentally making connections between rapists and children, monitoring your child's online activity almost seems like a necessity. As for GPS tracking, isn't it every parent's right to know where her child is at all times?
While you might be tempted to err on the side of safety and surveillance, there's another factor that needs to be taken into consideration. Your children are often smarter than you, at least in regards to technology. The more you snoop, and the more they know you are snooping, the more they will sneak their activities underground.
Skout, the app that made headlines after three children were sexually assaulted by pedophiles that met them online, is an app that you've probably never heard of. It's not anywhere near as mainstream as Facebook and Twitter and it's only available on mobile devices. It was designed as a way for people to "flirt" with each other via a simple app that finds people that are close to you geographically. How many kids would jump ship to that app, or another like it, if they knew that their parent was monitoring their Facebook?
The Times mentions TextPlus, which is an app that can be set to copy you on all texts that your child sends. However, there are other chatting apps that can be installed with the click of a button, such as Google Voice and gChat. Besides, can you imagine what your teenage years would have been like if your parent listened in on your phone calls to your significant other?
Even if you install parental locking software on your child's phone to prevent app installation, odds are that either they, or a friend at school, will be able to hack around it within a few hours and re-enable parts of the phone that you locked out. Instructions for jailbreaking can be found online and the process only takes about 15 minutes. Did we mention that jailbreaking is fully legal?
The best solution, it seems, is trust. Talk to your children. Your children are more likely to trust you if you trust them. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter, where you can see what they choose to share. And perhaps, with their permission, and an agreement to use it only in emergencies, you can still install that GPS tracking software.
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