High-Tech Spying Parents Force Kids to Get Sneakier

Parenting is now officially a world of espionage.

As an only child born in the 1990s, I’m well aware of so-called “helicopter parents,” or parents who become overly involved in the lives of their children. This parenting style has gotten even more out of control with recent advancements in technology. A recent New York Times article describes several parents who are overstepping boundaries and completely invading their children’s privacy, in the form of new websites and smartphone apps.

I’ve been on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter for more than seven years, and it wasn’t until I started college that I “friended” my parents. They’re not the most technology-savvy (sorry, Mom and Dad) and use Facebook very rarely, and even then only for birthday wishes and bragging about their precious daughter. Sure, it can get awkward sometimes—recently, my dad was the one to inform me that a friend got engaged—but for the most part, my parents stay out of my way on the Internet. Apparently not all parents share the same philosophy.

The article mentions a few different “parental monitoring” websites, such as uKnowKids.com and MinorMonitor. These sites allow parents to watch over every move their child makes online, whether it be a Facebook post or a Foursquare check-in. I’m sorry, but this is creepy.

Sure, some new advances in technology can definitely help parents keep children safe. An app that alerts parents when their kids are texting and driving, or websites that let parents know if their children are lying about their age online. But what about the dad from Colorado who receives a copy of every text his 13-year-old son sends his girlfriend? Lots of parents are getting copies of their children’s texts to monitor “sexting,” but I’m willing to bet that 13-year-olds aren’t doing much of that (though I may be wrong—when I was 13, most kids didn’t even have texting-enabled phones, and sexting wasn’t yet a word). And what about the features of websites like uKnowkids.com that let you see whole conversations between your child and a friend, through both wall posts and private messages? That allows parents to spy on two kids at once, one of whom isn’t even their own (which sounds illegal, or at least highly frowned upon).

I don’t know how many parents have the time to spend hours per week spying on their kids, but it may not even be effective. Some kids are outsmarting their parents, speaking in code words with their friends, using fake names for their online profiles, and even deactivating their accounts during the day and logging on at night when their parents are fast asleep. (I don’t condone this, but you’ve got to hand it to the kids for creative thinking.)

Whether or not you agree with this (overly) protective parenting style, some of the safety concerns for kids on the Internet are the parents’ own fault. The Times article mentions a father who sets parental controls on his daughters’ iPhones. Okay, this sounds reasonable, but did I mention that the daughters are eight and 13? What kind of dad buys an eight-year-old an iPhone? Parents like this are the ones putting their kids in danger. If kids didn’t have constant access to technology, there wouldn’t be the need for such severe monitoring in the first place. If you’re worried about what kind of information your 10-year-old has access to online, maybe the kid doesn’t need a smartphone, a laptop and an iPad.

A word of advice for all the teenagers out there: Don’t put stuff on your Facebook or Twitter accounts that could get you in trouble; it’s not worth it. To the parents: Give your kids a little privacy, and they’ll be more willing to be honest with you in the first place. (Also, don’t give your eight-year-old an iPhone.)