Should parents spy on their kids?

Summary:Should mothers, fathers and legal guardians be equipped with the same mobile device management technology that we seek for our enterprises?

Jason Perlow

Jason Perlow

Yes

or

No

Charlie Osborne

Charlie Osborne

82%
18%

Audience Favored: Yes (82%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

It's a parent's right to spy

Jason Perlow: To protect their children in an increasingly dangerous world, parents need to be able to monitor their use of the Internet and social networks and to restrict the use of their children's devices electronically.

In short, I think they need to be able to spy on them.

Sounds extreme? Let me put it this way: I don't believe children and teens have rights per se, because they aren't yet adults. They are afforded privileges by their parents, who nurture them, provide them with a home, clothe and feed them, and pay the bills. They also have a right to be protected by law. Period.

Parents or legal guardians should be able to observe the full data feeds of what their children post and receive via Facebook, text, email, and any other application or service used on their devices. It is a parent's right to "violate" their child's notion of "privacy".

Just like enterprises can and should dictate with BYOD policies which apps and services can be installed on devices used on their networks, parents should be able to control which applications and services can be installed on their children's mobile devices, and when as well as how they can be used.

Educate your children, don't spy on them

No. Surveillance may be part-and-parcel of the modern world, but there are other ways to keep kids safe and make sure trust between a child and parent stays intact.

Trust matters. If you feel the need to spy on your children's activities when they use a smartphone or tablet, perhaps it would be more prudent to ask yourself why you don't trust them -- or whether you believe they are old enough or not to own a device.

If you're going to monitor their emails, social media messages and onine activity, why not read their diary too?

The core issues are safety and respect. Eyes over the shoulder aren't the way to keep your children safe, especially as they are often more tech-savvy than their parents and often able to conceal activity. In addition, by spying, you demonstrate a lack of trust as a parent -- which could make a child less likely to turn to you when they really need it.

It is more important to educate your children in responsible use than track their every move. Just as you'd explain why a child shouldn't speak to strangers, it is a parent's duty to explain the dangers of the Web. If a child respects you and follows the rules, they keep the device. They don't? Take a tip from the guy that blew his daughter's laptop to pieces

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Welcome to the Great Debate

    This week's showdown pits Charlie Osborne against Jason Perlow over whether parents are spying on or supervising their children. Everybody ready?

    Posted by Zack Whittaker

    Ready

    I hope Charlie is, too.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    I'm ready

    Look out, Jason.

    Charlie Osborne

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    The right to privacy

    Is privacy a fundamental right for adults? Does it extend to children, particularly teenagers and young adults?

    Posted by Zack Whittaker

    Not for minors

    I think that we need to set our expectations for what adult privacy is. If we are talking about physical and electronic privacy from our neighbors, from our employers and other businesses and corporations, I believe we have the right to secure our own privacy as individuals using enabling technology and other means.

    However, I do not think we should expect that these entities will necessarily respect our privacy by default, so we must try to enforce it and guarantee it ourselves.

    All of this being said, I do not believe these rights extend to minors. They have the right to be protected by law from harm, they have a right to an education as well as a number of other things guaranteed under our Constitution. But not privacy while living under their parents' roof or engaged in activities on school grounds.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    It's not a fundamental right

    I don't think privacy is a fundamental right for a single member of the human race. Instead, we attribute ourselves with the idea, but change the restrictions based on the context -- for example, we may not expect to hold the same rate of privacy with our partner than with our local council, or our children in comparison to the tax man.

    Physical, emotional and data-driven privacy also changes the game of what "privacy" actually means. In this day and age, we often give away our data without realizing it (how many of us simply scroll through Terms of Service and click "I accept?" and then get angry when a more radical change, or sponsored advertising on Google, makes us realize our data has been collected?).

    We only have the level of privacy we grant ourselves, and the level our government permits us. Surveillance is part-and -parcel of modern life in the West, and it is the constant battle between privacy advocates & groups, the introduction of legislation in the name of protection and technological advances which continually changes the goalposts.

    As a result, I don't believe that privacy -- whether for adults or children -- is a fundamental right. However, in a social and family-based context, the idea of privacy and respecting personal boundaries generates trust and a level of security -- which is necessary for a cohesive family unit to survive.

    Charlie Osborne

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Mobile communications

    Do you think smartphones and mobile devices foster healthy social development?

    Posted by Zack Whittaker

    No

    No. You yourself told me in a recent conversation that they promote de-individuation, which in sociology is a group phenomenon of losing of self-awareness and thus makes it increasingly likely for individuals to commit antisocial behavior because personal values can be compromised when participating in large groups.

    This includes cyber-bullying which is becoming an epidemic in the United States, as well as the overwhelming peer-pressure for teens to engage in and expect sexual activity.

    Aside from the de-individuation I also believe that among Generation Y, mobile devices are being used to replace traditional forms of communication such as face to face or telephone conversation and e-mail, and in their intense use of social networking services may actually worsen pre-existing ASD conditions such as ADHD. It may also have a negative impact on a child's interest in reading.

    In short, there is overwhelming evidence that they may have a serious negative impact on their learning processes and overall sociological, emotional and psychological development.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    It depends

    It depends entirely on use practices and context.

    Inappropriate or excessive use of smartphones and tablets can be a negative factor in our lives, especially when you consider cyberbullying, anti-social behavior under the guise of anonymity and a potential lack of social skills in the next generation as we spend more time looking at a screen and less time physically interacting. You hear every week of employers forced to retrain staff because they don't maintain eye contact or have poor interactive skills, but actually, the technology is still so young we truly won't know the impact -- if at all -- of mobile devices on social development for some time to come.

    I think people are very quick to judge mobile phones as a means of killing off healthy social development, but neglect the fact that so much of our lives are spent in front of television screens, being blasted with advertising, forced through schools spoon-fed to pass exams rather than learn more fundamental, key social skills, no longer taught grammar or etiquette, and often parents have to both work full-time to pay the bills. Not only this, but these days, the line between work and personal lives are often merged -- and so we come to rely on our phones, no matter how grounded our social development has been, and therefore run the risk of inadvertantly ignoring our surrounding when the email alert chimes in.

    However, considering we are social animals, smartphones and tablets offer a way through the Internet to extend our social network. As children grow up with such an attractive prospect, who could resist?

    Charlie Osborne

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    The safety factor

    Can you keep children safe, and give them privacy?

    Posted by Zack Whittaker

    Protection needed

    In the modern age where the networked computer is no longer attached to a desk in the home but is instead carried in every child's pocket I am increasingly of the opinion that the answer is no.

    The use of the Internet and applications and services which use them must be monitored and curtailed in order to protect minors  from what is out there as well as to enforce positive behavior among their social groups.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Setting limits

    There is only so far you can go to keep children safe, whether in the physical world or online. Whether you start allowing your children to use the phone or quell panic as they ride their bike in the park alone for the first time. Eventually you have to let go once you deem them responsible and mature enough to think more for themselves.

    There is a fine line between giving children too much freedom and how much to relax things as they grow up. Eventually, it is likely they will want a phone or tablet (especially if you're a parent who lets a small child play with apps to entertain themselves.) When this time comes, it is up to the parent to decide on limits -- but there is no reason why you cannot afford them a level of privacy which is suitable.

    As an emerging teen, I was allowed a lock on my door on the proviso i didn't lock it at night, in case there was a fire. I was allowed to go out on my own, as long as I had a phone card on me for emergency use. I would allow my child a phone, as long as they respected limits put in place -- and they also understood if it was misused, it would be taken away.

    Charlie Osborne

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Under surveillance

    What do you think the effect on a child's behavior would be if they knew they were being watched? Would it say be any different from an adults, do you think?

    Posted by Zack Whittaker

    Expect to be monitored

    Let's look at this from an adult perspective. I have a corporate laptop that is an asset owned by my employer, which is not unusual for those of us working in technology. I also have smartphones and tablets that are enrolled in messaging and other services connected to my employer's networks, and there are policies that are enforced on them to ensure security compliance and other things if I want to continue to use those networks.

    I fully expect all communications using those assets and networks to be monitored. I also expect and I am fully aware that the social networks I participate on are also monitored. I know not to harass people nor represent myself or my employer in such a fashion that would have negative impact on my employer.

    So I am especially careful about what I say and follow a set of rules and explicit guidelines that have been set down for me because I like and wish to continue to enjoy being employed.

    I expect children who have mobile and computing assets to operate under similar rules. They should be well aware their parents, school systems and law enforcement is capable of monitoring their communications, and should conduct themselves accordingly, or face the consequences of having their privileges revoked as well as being subject to other disciplinary action.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Children are not employees

    We often accept levels of surveillance as adults, and come to expect it in the workplace, where we are representing something other than ourselves. Children, however, are often less tolerant.

    Depending on age and maturity, kids will still make mistakes -- but it is the most serious ones that parents dread. We can expect rules to be followed, but understanding of consequences may be dulled due to age. Now, this in itself can give reason for parents to spy, but again, it's better to do things in balance. There is a difference between occasionally checking what a 12 year-old is up to when they use your phone and looking at a 16 year-old's Facebook messages. While one is likely to receive an "oh, ok" response, the other is more likely to result in an explosive rage.

    There has to be reason for checking up on a minor's behavior, rather than doing it just because you can as a parent. Minors are family members, not employees. In the same way you wouldn't expect your teen to rifle through your bank statements, they don't expect you to rifle through their underwear drawer, diary, or online accounts. If there is a report of behavior justifying it, why not try and talk to a child before raising the game to the level of spying, implying you wouldn't trust what they have to say anyway?

    Charlie Osborne

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Trust factor

    A parent may not trust their children -- they are, after all, still developing socially. But a child should be able to trust their parents. Do you think surveillance undermines a child's trust in their parents?

    Posted by Zack Whittaker

    Teaching right from wrong

    I think a child should be made to understand the risks associated with using social networks and mobile technology and why their parents are so concerned about their welfare. That being said, I do not expect children of all ages to fully comprehend this or fully appreciate why it is being done.

    And while as a society may have concerns about our government monitoring our personal and business communications, the reality is that only when certain thresholds are met do we as individuals become a subject for examination "under the microscope" as it were.

    The routine texting and gossiping between teenagers are unlikely to be of interest to parents. However cyber-bullying and exchanging communications of an explicit sexual nature absolutely are. It's that small percentage of activity that a child should understand is what gives their parents concern.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Understanding risks

    I do. If parents decide to give their child gadgets which may pose a risk, they should also make sure their son or daughter understands these risks -- and are old enough to recognize them. To a growing teen, a parent rifling through emails and social media messages -- even when these messages often include childish conversations and squabbles, of no interest to adults -- can be devastating.

    At a time where parents already have to cope with hormone-filled rages and rebellion, outright spying is likely to place additional strains on a relationship. Instead, sitting down with a teen and explaining the risks of behaviour including cyberbullying and "sexting" might be more effective.

    Every minor is different, and responds to parents in different ways. Every parent deals with the same conundrum -- protect their child or let them make their own mistakes? Unless their behaviour gives you reason to believe a relationship or communication is dangerous, you often simply have to be there to pick up the pieces. But minors have to trust you, and your judgement, enough to make them want to come to you if they are in trouble, and extreme surveillance is likely to stop this from happening.

    Charlie Osborne

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Ignorance is bliss?

    "Ignorance is bliss," in regards to a child's communications and messages. Do you agree, or disagree? Explain your reasoning.

    Posted by Zack Whittaker

    Serious consequences

    I disagree. As I said, there is a threshold for the type of things a parent should and should not concern themselves with. Routine texts, tweets and Facebook posts between classmates about who likes what girl or who likes what boy or who finds who uncool are probably not the sort of things a parent should concern themselves with on a day-to-day basis.

    However, as I said, I believe there is an escalated level of activity mentioned previously that parents should be make themselves aware of.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Communicating vs. spying

    I disagree -- but there is a difference between communication and spying. No mother or father wants to know about the boy their daughter fancies or the words their son uses to describe their teacher in a text, but for a small percentage of cases, behaviour can be extreme enough to warrant investigation.

    Ignorance is never the answer, but this is where compromise and openness come into play. Rather than insisting on account passwords, if your child wants a Facebook account, why not insist you are added as a friend instead? If your minor wants a smartphone, fine, but there are limits set on phone call times -- or the removal of such devices at dinner? If a minor considers a gadget a privilege rather than right, perhaps they are less likely to abuse it.

    Charlie Osborne

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Role of education

    Should surveillance be a last resort? Where does education -- at school or at home -- come into play?

    Posted by Zack Whittaker

    Device Ed classes

    We need to stop thinking of this as surveillance and instead as tools which enable parents as well as schools to effectively manage and monitor device usage among minors.

    I agree that we need "Device Ed" classes in public and private schools that teach children as well as their parents about the dangers of the internet & social networks, cyber-bullying as well as other forms of inappropriate behavior that not only should be reported to parents but also the authorities and school administrators.

    Parents and schools can monitor, but children should also have outlets to discuss their concerns with parents and schools. It's a two way street.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Rarely needed

    It should rarely be needed, if a child understands and respects the limits of what they can do with their gadget. If we don't respect a teen's wish for privacy, we cannot necessarily expect them to follow the rules. However, in order to make this a success, both parties need to have a good understanding of the benefits and risks of mobile devices.

    As a former teacher, I'd say that classes in digital citizenship would be the right step forward, to let minors know the impact cyberbullying, social media accounts and digital footprints can have in future lives. However, in a world where spoon-feeding and cramming for exams is more important than teaching those entering the workforce what a budget or mortgage is, I'm not optimistic.

    Charlie Osborne

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Parental vs. government spying

    We already live in panopticon society, which we discovered this year as a result of the massive surveillance operations by the U.S. government. What makes a surveillance of your own child any different to the government spying on the parent?

    Posted by Zack Whittaker

    Parents set the rules

    So as you have said, from our own governments, it's obviously unrealistic to set expectations of personal privacy these days due to national security requirements and the technology they have in their own possession.

    However children are a special case. Until they become legally emancipated or no longer live in their guardian or parent's household, they are under the protection of their parents who (should) have a keen interest in their care and safety.

    Parents raising their children are analogous to being their own government in many respects, and they set the rules and laws by which their own children must obey. Protection does not equate to privacy for children.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Not on the same level

    Children are not an extension of their parents, and you can't be there to supervise every keystroke and conversation. While minors, legally, children should be under the protection of their parents -- but you cannot place governmental and parental surveillance in the same bucket.

    The government often spy for national security, policing (whether for good or ill), monetary reasons or to collect data for various projects and schemes, with or without our knowledge. Parents watch their children, or at least they should, for a purer purpose -- to keep them safe. However, keeping them "safe" can take many guises. It's not just about going through those texts or online conversations (many of which, if a minor didn't want seen, would be deleted anyway), or restricting their online time -- in order to truly protect a child, you need to establish good communication, honesty and trust.

    We often resent governmental surveillance, except in cases where that CCTV footage caught our burglar, or identified the guy who stole our motorbike. However, if you add resentment to the mix between child and parent without due cause, it's adding stress on to an often fragile relationship anyway as children become young adults.

    Charlie Osborne

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Monitoring solutions

    If you decided on a monitoring solution, what would it entail -- and why?

    Posted by Zack Whittaker

    No good solution

    Today there is no good monitoring and device management solution targeted for use with minors, as all of them are centered around corporate security and policy enforcement.

    However, this is not to say that the current SaaS solutions such as Cisco Meraki, Citrix XenMobile, Microsoft Windows Intune, Good Technology and any number of others can be adapted to solve the problems I have detailed above. A good MDM and ADM solution for family device management should include:

    •     Control over when and where devices & services may be used by parents and educators (i.e., set devices to voice and text services only when on school grounds)
    •     Service & application management which would entail setting restrictions on which applications can be used and installed, when they can be used as well as event management & logging @ service API level.
    •     Comprehensive geo-location reporting & logging
    •     Keystroke logging from every application and service as well as intelligent incident reporting and escalation when specific thresholds are met or exceeded.
    •     Self-reporting "Panic Button" that would allow the minor to alert parents, educators and authorities when they are the recipient or observer of material of a sexual nature or where cyber-bullying events are occurring.


    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Doing your homework

    There is no all-around solution currently on the market to make safe, restricted monitoring easy for parents and children to navigate. There are a number of solutions that can be customised, sure, but for the average parent who doesn't have a deep knowledge of software, there's nothing really available.

    In an ideal world, I think a system which hooked up family mobile devices to give a super user control over bills, usage and potentially a 'power off' at night system would be an interesting and useful setup. I'd like to see a system which solves problems such web filtering and keeping adult content away from children in place, and potentially a way to prevent in-app purchases -- something that more and more parents are finding a nightmare, to their bank balance's detriment.

    The point is, the use of mobile devices by minors has created a steep learning curve for parents, children and businesses alike -- and we all need to start catching up at the home, in school, and in the products we offer.

    Charlie Osborne

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Does father know best?

    Last question. Neither of you are parents. Explain, above all else and on your respective side, why you think you know better than an actual parent does?

    Posted by Zack Whittaker

    The problem goes beyond parents

    I don't presume to know better than a parent does about raising their own child. I consider myself to be pretty arrogant and opinionated, but not that much.

    What I do know is that I am frequently consulted by my friends, family and readers who are parents that are very concerned about the welfare of their children particularly when they are using all forms of technology, and that includes mobile devices and social networks.

    I also believe that it is not solely the responsibility of the parent to protect their children, it is also incumbent among law enforcement as well as educators, school systems and extended families and friends to provide assistance with this process.

    We need to return to an earlier age where communities and extended families cared collectively for children, instead of shouldering all of the responsibility on the parent, who cannot necessarily be there all of the the time for them.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    It's a collective role

    I don't presume to know more than a parent who will understand their child far better than someone looking in. However, it isn't simply the parent's responsibility to look after our children -- it is also the collective role of society, teachers and organizations.

    The thing is, that from very young ages to teens, I've found that offering a bit of trust pays dividends. As an ex-teacher, i'll give you several examples. I found that if I trusted students to use their smartphones and occasional tablet in class for the work set -- and refused to look over their shoulder every five minutes -- the work was done. This was a pattern that proved true no matter if it was a class in a basement schoolroom in Vienna or a private school in Rome. If i let students listen to their iPods while working on projects, productivity went up -- and they had no trouble summoning me when they needed help.

    In the same way as a parent, I prefered to know what devices were being used and when, rather than finding smartphones used under the desk without my knowledge.

    The only thing required to establish the boundaries when it came down to device use was laying down the rules first, and swiftly confiscating a mobile phone or two should they be broken.

    I'm not saying this technique would work perfectly for every classroom or home environment, but I do firmly believe that respect and discipline flows both ways. If you treat children as individuals who can make their own choices rather than a guilty party until proven innocent -- and discipline yourself not to give in to checking up on their every action -- you teach children to take responsibility for their own behaviour and let them know you're there if they make a mistake.

    Charlie Osborne

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Thanks everybody

    Give Jason and Charlie a cheer for their effort in this week's debate. On Wednesday, we'll post the debaters' final arguments and on Thursday, I reveal my choice for the winner. Please read the comments, add yours, and vote. Until next week...

    Posted by Zack Whittaker

Closing Statements

The question is: How much?

Jason Perlow

As I contemplated writing my closing argument for this debate, I considered Charlie's position about establishing trust and respect as a parent, and also from her point of view as a former educator and also as a British citizen who arguably has grown up in a culture of surveillance ever since the widespread installation of CCTV equipment was needed in major UK cities due to many incidents of domestic terrorism during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

So I understand where she is coming from, and why the idea of living under surveillance of any kind resonates with her so strongly.

I was going to reality check my arguments, until I came across this late-breaking news from from our own CBS News 48 Hours Crimesider site on October 15, 2013. 

Two young girls, in Lakeland, FL, ages 12 and 14, have been brought up on 3rd-degree felony charges of aggravated stalking after it was determined that their year long in-person and cyber-bullying spree on Facebook, the Kik Messenger service and Last.fm contributed to the suicide of 7th-grader Rebecca Ann Sedwick.

I have to ask myself if Sedwick's suicide could have been prevented had her mobile devices and those of the cyber-bullies and her classmates were enrolled with the mobile device management technology I describe had been in place.

It is certainly possible Sedwick may have been so terrified of her tormentors that she may never have reported them to her school and her parents, and it is still possible that her own activities of viewing the harassment which eventually sent her over the edge may have escaped detection.

We are not likely to know the full details of what happened for some time, and I expect this to be a landmark case in establishing anti-cyber bullying efforts at many school systems.

But had this enabling technology been monitoring her harassers, their parents and potentially their educators and the authorities would have been made aware of these things and they could have intervened, and stopped the bullying earlier and saved their children from having their own lives marred from making very stupid, destructive mistakes that they will have to spend their entire lives regretting. The shame that these parents will bear will be unfathomable.

In my opinion this is no longer an argument over ethics and parental trust and slippery slopes. The family mobile device management technology is going to come because parents are going to demand that it exists, period. Our prime concern and areas of discussion should now focus on how exactly the technology should be applied in individual households and in schools.

In short, it's not a "Should we" spy on our children but a "How much."

Mutual trust matters

Charlie Osborne

While monitoring a child's activity as they grow is necessary, spying is not.

Yes, trust needs to be earned, but if you believe your child is mature and responsible enough to be able to own a mobile device or use the Internet without supervision, you shouldn't feel the need to spy on them or access their accounts. I believe -- perhaps due to my generation -- that spying will only result in any inappropriate conversations or communication being deleted far before a parent can access them, and this may result in a teen failing to ask their parents for help when they need it.

Innocent until proven guilty, or guilty until proven otherwise? As you grow up, you make mistakes. But it is the relationship between parent and child that determines how the situation is handled afterwards. If you -- albeit unintentionally -- reflect distrust in your child, you cannot expect them to confide in you if things go awry.

Related stories:

 

Too close to call

Zack Whittaker

I think this debate boiled down to a few things: Education, a two-way street between the child and the parent, and -- almost above all -- trust. But also, the inability to have it both ways.

Education is a major factor here. Kids today are not educated to the extent where they can automatically protect themselves from harm. The school system is failing us. Many parents are not geared up to deal with many of the technological and cultural differences that children face. Indeed, most kids today are more in-tune with technology than their parents are.

As a result, there has to be a level of trust between a parent and their child. Where education has failed us, we need parents to educate their children in those social challenges -- such as bullying and dealing with sexual expression and development -- that have faced generations long before the internet.

Of course, we've moved along with the times a little -- we call it "cyberbullying" and "sexting" nowadays -- but it's vastly the same thing. Children should be taught not only the ways of the world, but also develop a trusting relationship with their parents in order to express these problems as they arise. It shouldn't be a one-way street from parent discovering their child is being bullied. The child should be able to go to their parents on their own volition.

Every parent will know best — or at least think they know best. Whether they're right or wrong is not up to us to decide. Yes, to a greater or lesser extent, parents know what's best for their kids. But kids, despite their age and development process, aren't stupid either. We should give them credit, and so should parents.

Mr. Perlow has the audience vote; and, and in judgment, Ms. Osborne delivered the ever-so-slightly better argument on a question-by-question basis. That said, I wasn't convinced enough by either side overall.

Nice effort on the part of the bloggers, but I'm calling this one a dead-heat.

Topics: Great Debate

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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