Should we be spying on our kids?

Without very good reason, the answer (in my opinion) is no!  But I do think we need to be careful with the word ‘spying’.

Think about it from a real-world perspective; do we follow our children around the streets to make sure they’re not getting into trouble or making sure they’re not getting into risk?  I would be doubtful of that, and certainly I wouldn’t do it to my own children, so why is online any different?

What about monitoring then?

The online world has opened up enormous opportunities for all of us, but with those opportunities come risks.  These online risks are not something that you and I were exposed to when we were growing up and therefore this can seem a really difficult aspect of parenting.

Monitoring your child’s online activity is very different to spying, for example:

  • For younger children you might want the assurance that they are not being exposed to inappropriate material.  If children see something on the internet that upsets them they may not always tell you.  This could be due to embarrassment, or they may be frightened that you will take their technology away from them.
  • As they get a little older, you would like to give them a little freedom, much as we do in the real world, but again with the assurance that they aren’t being exposed to material of an adult or inappropriate nature;
  • Perhaps you have sanctions in place due to a behaviour concern, for example they’re not allowed to go on social media or speak to/associate with a particular person.

Monitoring by default is never a good idea, but there are occasions such as those above where monitoring our child’s internet activity can be a good idea.  If children see something they’re not meant to, it will allow you to strike up a reassuring conversation with them to talk it through.  However there are a number of things to consider:

  • Children have a right to privacy too, however that right needs to be earned through trust.
  • As they get older there are some things that you really don’t want to see.  Remember when you were growing up, it’s a difficult time.
  • Context is important – you may be horrified by what you see, only to flip out and then realise it’s completely innocent.  Be careful with what you see, it isn’t always what is meant!

Is there any good software for monitoring?

Monitoring online activities is one of the most commonly asked questions I get from parents and the answer is never a simple one, neither is the same answer common to different parents.  One of the more difficult aspects in the past is due to the number of different devices children will use, particularly if they’ve got a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet, however more modern software is making things easier for parents and my favourite product that I always advise parents to take a look at is Mobile Guardian