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Parents: To spy or not to spy on kids

Today’s technology leaves parents facing a dilemma: do they use the very technology they are trying to monitor their kids’ usage of, to in fact monitor their children?

Do they use “find my iphone” to track their movements?

Do they stalk their children on Facebook and other social media websites?

Should they monitor their home with webcams?

DAVE WENZELShould they install monitoring equipment — including camera — inside the vehicle their teen is driving? (One insurance company offers a discount if you do.) Software will help you read your kids text messages and email, and you can easily stalk them on social media.

You can do all that. But should you?

Before I jump in here with my opinion, I’d like to note that there are parents with valid opinions all over the spectrum on this issue. Whatever position is presented in this brief column can certainly be critiqued with legitimate concerns and objections.

This is not an easy issue, nor is it one that is going to go away.

In fact, at the current rate of our loss of privacy, I am not sure it will even be an issue in five years as all of us may be monitored in virtually all we do.

It seems the one factor George Orwell failed to accurately predict (in his book “1984”) was that we would, for the most part, willingly install all of the recording devices in our lives.

Not only would we willing install them, we would willing hit record, willingly go online, upload and count our “views.”

In Orwell’s book, the main character lived under great oppression with society’s lack of privacy. We, on the other hand, relish having several thousand views or hits on our lack of privacy.

With that said, I’d like to simplify this discussion by focusing on one word: spy. Inherent to that word is engaging in some activity that includes monitoring without the person who is being monitored knowing about it.

At a very base level, I believe spying strongly implies a foundational distrust in a relationship.

I would further argue that if a relationship is in a spot where “spying” is happening, then there is something more fundamentally wrong than whatever activity is being watched.

Family relationships are built on trust, and spying indicates a lack thereof.

So, am I saying you should do none of the above? That you should not use any of the tools of technology to manage your kids?

I am not.

What I am saying is this: Whatever approach you use in parenting, you should use will the full knowledge (and consent whenever possible) of your children. Spying, which is monitoring without their knowledge, implies distrust. Distrust corrodes a relationship.

How does this work? Here are a few examples.

Any social media site can be thought of as a “virtual neighborhood.” If your child was hanging out in a new neighborhood, especially one that had known predators lurking around, you would insist on visiting that neighborhood and seeing for yourself what is going on there.

So, regardless of whether the neighborhood is literal or virtual, you need to hang out there too.

Hence, if they are on Facebook, you also should be. And you should set the parameter that if they have an account, then you need to be “friends.”

Instagram? You follow them.

Twitter? Same deal.

I can hear some of your objections: I can’t possibly follow all their accounts; in fact, they probably have multiple ones.

Yes, but the goal is to hang around the neighborhood, not monitor their every movement.

I can pretty much guarantee you that if you “hang around” and they are involved in non-sanctioned activity, you’ll find out soon enough.

The key? Involvement. Be around. Listen well. Watch.

The same principle would apply to cameras and passwords for email, etc. Tell them what you are doing. (The insurance company that installs the monitoring equipment in the teen’s vehicle actually has a very good program that coaches the young person in driving, using data from the equipment, including video.)

The young people know exactly what is going on. And you wouldn’t believe what they sometimes do on camera. Or maybe you would.

Explain that you won’t check daily on their email or texts, but that you might look on occasion.

Take a similar approach to the “graduated license” issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The more responsible you are, the more freedom you get.

Our goal? To launch you into becoming a fully responsible adult.

Until then, we will collaborate and cooperate to get you there, and I am going to hang around the neighborhoods where you hang out.

Longtime Sandy resident Dr. Dave Wenzel is a parent, a professor of counseling, and a Licensed Professional Counselor. He works with children, individuals, families and couples. His office, River Ridge Counseling, is located in Sandy. He may be reached at 503-803-0444 or at davidwenzel@riverridgecounseling.com.


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