Sunday, July 09, 2006

Spying? Or Good Parenting?

Car: Devices can record distance, speed and driving behavior, such as hard braking and sharp turning. Some pinpoint a car's location using Global Positioning System technology and alert parents if a teen driver exceeds a certain speed or leaves a defined geographic area. One, the CarChip, costs $139. Monthly services cost $20 and up.

Cell phones: GPS enables parents to locate a child's phone on an online map. One service will text message parents if the phone leaves a predetermined zone. Monthly services typically cost $10 to $20.

Software: Various programs can track Web activity and record online chats, instant messages and e-mail. Parents can receive reports and alerts by e-mail and, in some cases, by phone or text message. Prices range from $40 to $100 in one-time or annual fees.

I'm of the "good parenting" camp. We humans learn from our mistakes, and if parents can catch their kids in the midst of making a bad decision, that's even better. I'm not convinced we need to put our children in harm's way.

Those who know me will marvel at these statements, since I'm constantly telling my son to go out and play and I chastise him when he calls every ten minutes asking if he can do this or that or walk 10 feet to someone else's house (no, I didn't give him his cell phone). However, there's a difference of degree here--how much trouble might he get into if he goes to another friend's house for awhile, vs. how much trouble could he get into if he were of driving age, or surfing the internet as a teenage boy? I want him to learn to make good decisions now, while he's young, and he won't learn to do that if I don't let him make any decisions on his own. Usually, I tell him that if he has to call and ask if he can do something or go somewhere in our neighborhood, I'll just tell him no. Learn to make decisions on your own, and if I find out you've made bad decisions, well, we'll learn from those....

So back to the story:

Paige White was surprised when her parents figured out soon after she started driving last year that she'd gone 9 miles to a party, not 4 miles to the friend's house she'd told them she was visiting. It seemed to her almost as if her car was bugged.

It was.

Paige's parents had installed a device in their daughter's SUV that can tell them not only how far she's driven, but how fast and whether she's made any sudden stops or hard turns.

"I was kind of mad because I felt it was an invasion of my privacy," said the Los Gatos resident, now 17.

If you're lying to your parents about driving to a party, hon, you've got bigger issues to deal with than an invasion of your privacy. Why does she think it's ok for her to lie, but not for her parents to catch her in that lie? What kind of thought process is going through that girl's head?

Here's another story from the article, one that is clearly good parenting.

One Pleasant Hill mother has been using SpectorSoft's eBlaster for about a year to track her sons' online activity, including instant messaging. She's found the boys, 14 and 16, looking at "light porn" and discussing oral sex, and she's ferreted out weekend parties where no adults were going to be home. In those cases, she's made family plans without telling her sons what she knew.

Bravo, mom! Excellent way to handle the situation. In addition to her "soft" way of handling it, she's keeping her "intelligence source" secret. BTW, mom, don't let the New York Times in on your identity.

I know the teenagers won't be the biggest fans of this type of gadgetry, but I'd be interested in hearing their opinions. And parents? What do you think?

Update, 7/15/06: Here's another story about how parents are trying to influence their teenagers' driving. I like this quote:

"Parents will say, 'I have a good teen, I trust my teen,' " said Gary Direnfeld, founder of the "I Promise Program" for teen driving safety. "But, the issue isn't trust. The issue is lack of judgment, lack of experience."

As a wise man once said, "Trust, but verify."


EllenK said...

I have to laugh at the moral outrage of teenagers that lie to their parents. It used to be common practice, but then again, the stakes have been raised. Fights that use to be fists, are now knives and guns. Drinking has morphed into X and meth and far more unknown and sinister vectors. The things you see in movies such as "American Graffiti" have become "American Pie". I think that parents MUST make themselves aware of not only what their kids are doing, but the dangers that lurk to pounce on innocent teens. And there are innocent teens out there. They quite often are the ones that end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. The saddest aspect of this whole scenario is that the parents that SHOULD be spying on their kids are not. As a teacher I can't tell a parent that I think their kid is showing up to school fried. I can talk about behavior I am seeing and hope that they connect the dots and ask questions. In my area, the parents are big into what I call The Ostrich Syndrome. They give their kids material things, take them to church, give them cars, money and a nice home and then they assume that Suzy and Johnny aren't going hog wild. I have intercepted numerous fliers for parties that offer things the worst fraternity on my university campus would not offer. And we also have parents who are too busy being freinds, and trusting their kids when they need to be invading privacy all over the place. I could tell you about the parties that happened while parents were in Mexico, or the street racing that happens when the kids sneak out of alarmed houses after having disarmed the security system while parents slept. I am not saying all kids are bad. But I am saying that not enough parents are taking time to ask the right questions. Maybe it is because they really don't want to know the answers.

freethinker_LIRN said...

Well there are a few problems with those things, and i can think of 3 important ones:

1.- Good parents already watch over their kids, notice sudden changes in their attitudes, and are involved actively in their education. I'm not saying good parents can always tell truth from lie, i'm saying good parents KNOW their kids, no amount of gadgets will substitute good parenting.

2.- If you think you're the only one that can access that information, you'd be wise to think again. The same technology that you use to know where your kids are can be used by kidnappers, terrorists, pedophiles or basically anyone else with an incentive and the know-how to do it.

3.- Every one of us was a teenager at some point, and every single one of us lied to our parents growing up or did things that they would find objectionable, it's part of growing up. Wether we like it or not, our kids will eventually make mistakes and suffer the consequences, that builds moral character and makes individuals aware that if they make mistakes there will be a price. If parents could be with their children and supervise them 24/7 thanks to modern technology, a large chunk of the normal process of "growing up" would be lost, probably forever.

Basically the problem i see in here is that obsessive, excessively strict parents will get a huge boost to their powers, while bad parents (the kind who know their kid is flunking out of high school and don't do anything about it) will just ignore the new technology.

Darren said...

I definitely like the stuff that can be put into vehicles nowadays. We all know how teenagers drive, and the insurance companies know, too! When there's that much kinetic energy being dealt with, I'm ok with having the kids know that they're being monitored.

The other stuff, though? In the right hands it's good stuff. In the wrong hands, anything can be bad.

Nick Lopez said...

I had this whole long thing written out, but I got kind of stuck as to what I wanted it to all say.

I don't really know how I feel about this.

Ronnie said...

The problem with all of this is how much money the parents will end up spending and how any one of these could be countered with a little bit of work. I hope your summer is going as well as mine and what were you doing at the mall? :D

Darren said...

They *might* be defeated *if* the kid knows they're being employed. Kinda like that SWIFT money-tracking program the NYT just ratted out.

Darren said...

Oh, and I was just wandering around the mall to get out of the house for awhile!

Nick Lopez said...

hahaha, how could you forget his last name? It was written all over school for weeks.

Darren said...


Nick Lopez said...

Katherine B. said...

I know this is a rather old post but i haven't visited in a while. As to parents spying on their children...i agree with the person above who said that good parents shouldn't need fancy technology to tell if their kid is out of line. The parents who buy this stuff are the parents who already obsessed with their children and what they are doing every minute of the day. The parents who buy thier kid a car, give them a huge allowance and take them to church once a week (thinking thus that they have done their job as parents) will not take advantage of such technology because they are already oblivious. Part of being a good parent is developing a relationship with you children which means that they trust you enough to ask to do certain things and you trust them enough to let them.

Darren said...

When teenagers and cars mix, all bets are off. I need only think of my own experiences, combining vehicles and youthful stupidity, to remember that every day is a gift from God (or whatever deity you may or may not believe in). This teacher's pet, unweighted 4.00 GPA, fearful/respectful of authority student almost took two brothers over a cliff, drove a truck over rural mailboxes (on posts at the ends of driveways), raced 92 mph down a dead-end, hilly street without knowing exactly which hill was the last before the dead end, and even cruised downtown drunk one summer night when my mother was out of town.

It wasn't that my parents didn't have a good relationship with me--it's that I was going to live forever, couldn't ever get caught, and could hide my mistakes well. *I* was deceiving them and doing a good job at it.

I'm not quite sure how to handle web surfing and such, but I have absolutely *no* problem with sensors of some type mounted in a couple thousand pounds of steel moving down the road with lots and lots of kinetic energy. Using a balancing act, the threat to self and others outweighs some perceived lack of privacy or trust in a vehicle.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your last comment, Darren. I, too, was a "good" kid--good grades, played sports, had nice friends, worked in the summers to save for college, etc. I also drove like a maniac and had several close calls. So I, too, am all for doing what it takes to keep my kids safe. I'd be naiive if I just blindly trusted them. The trick is to watch out for your kids without being overprotective. That, in iself, is an issue today. If parents are concerned about "spying" on their kids, why not tell them you put the device on the car? If they don't like it, let them walk instead. If they know it's on there, and that they will lose driving privileges if it reports back any unsafe driving, then they will be much less likely to risk it. If you don't want to drop all the money for the device maybe a little white lie is in order--tell your kid you put one on--when you really didn't. Depending on how techno savvy your kid is you just might get away with it!

Darren said...

I agree completely. If you're going to install a device, tell the kids. Then it's *not* spying, it's actually good parenting.