Parenting: teens

Parents can spy on their kids more easily than ever. But should they?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 February, 2015, 6:09am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 April, 2015, 1:15pm

Parents may not have the resources of security agencies, but it's not that hard for them to snoop on their smartphone-addicted children.

A booming array of gadgets are being marketed to harried parents who want to keep tabs on their children, whether they are speeding in mum's car or texting after hours when they should be asleep.

There are watches and bracelets with location-sensing capabilities. Smart anklets track the ever-changing moods of babies. There is even a SleepIQ Kids Bed that can tip parents off when kids are up after hours.

Many of these devices - especially the ones designed to track older children - are reliant on the smartphones that teens hold so dear, given their location-tracking features.

"Parents want to feel more safe and in control of the situation; its a sort of feel-good thing that parents can do," says Florida Atlantic University criminology professor Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the US Cyberbullying Research Centre.

The six-year-old daughter of Frank Lee, a senior marketing manager at South Korean consumer electronics powerhouse LG, sports playfully coloured GizmoPal wrist wear.

The LG device designed for children lets them make mobile phone calls to pre-programmed numbers by pushing a button, and also taps into GPS capabilities to let parents easily check whether they arrived safely at their expected destination.

GizmoPal can also receive calls, but only from select pre-designated numbers.

"At first she was a little excessive in calling us," Lee says. "I told her to let me know when she wants to stop wearing it, but she doesn't even like to take it off to let me charge it."

It feels like hacking life. People shouldn't think there is software to make them a better parent, because there isn't
Sameer Hinduja

Applications that run in the background on teens' smartphones or tablets can access camera rolls, messages, web browsing activity and more, according to Hinduja.

Software can even capture occasional screen shots of webpages being viewed.

In some cases, parents can set boundaries, or "geo-fences", that will trigger text message or email alerts if children stray into areas that grown-ups have designated off-limits.

Hinduja, however, expressed concern that people might be sabotaging themselves with what they think are parenting shortcuts.

"In a perfect world, we want to have great relationships between parents and children so they will talk," Hinduja says. "If parents are going behind kids' backs with this software, it basically kills any lines of communication."

He recommended that parents wait until older children prove they cannot be trusted before they resort to cyber-snooping technology.

"It feels like hacking life," Hinduja says. "People shouldn't think there is software to make them a better parent, because there isn't."

Lee and Lowery agree that good parenting trumps technology, which is best viewed as a helpful tool for keeping children safe and fostering communication in families. "It is about teaching responsibility, regardless of the toy or tool," says Lee.

Agence France-Presse