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On Parenting
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 10/06/2011

Spying on kids: Not yes or no, but how much?

In today’s Post, my colleague Tracy Grant takes on the dicey question so many parents face, particularly when their kids hit the tween years: To spy or not. She comes down forcefully on the side of spying:

“In a world in which 6-year-olds can play online games with faceless strangers, 10-year-olds have cellphones and 13-year-olds (and younger) have Facebook profiles, I posit that spying has never been a more important arrow in a parent’s quiver.

As a matter of fairness, kids should know their parents are spying on them, just like the Soviets knew we were spying on them.”

She braces herself for arguments from parents who might disagree: “...parents who rebelled against their parents’ strictures and who want nothing more than to be Little Johnny’s confidant and friend. “What about trust?” comes the collective cry.”

That’s a broad brush to use with anti-spying folks. There are certainly many parents who might believe their kids deserve more respect. But there’s another parenting philosophy that cautions against reading over a kid’s shoulder.

It comes from those who want to establish clear boundaries between their lives and their kids’ lives. It’s a group I tend to identify myself with (though I have yet to face the spying question head-on since my girls still compulsively tell me if they’ve been timed-out). It’s this perspective that considers intense spying as an extension of helicoptering.

The goal for this hands-off crowd, though, perhaps sometimes unrealistic, is not to ignore their children’s online habits. It’s to limit computer use and avoid buying kids cell phones for as long as possible. Then push them outside where they can establish their own unplugged, un-monitored lives.

The poster parent for this philosophy is Lenore Skenazy, whose “Free Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry),” (Jossey-Bass, 2009), triggered its own movement.

Skenazy is famously critical of spying, “The idea is that the only good parent is a parent who’s somehow watching over their child 24/7,” she recently told the Boston Globe. “You feel nothing should take precedence over monitoring your child’s well-being every second of the day … from time they’re born to when they go off to college.”

Certainly, there’s a parental role to be played when it comes to monitoring kids use of technology. But what’s the line between wedging ourselves too tightly into our kids lives and being too hands-off? Another way to pose the question: How much to spy?

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 10/06/2011

Tags:  spying, kids and technology, free-range kids, helicoptering

 
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