Should parents spy on their kids?

Moderated by Zack Whittaker | October 14, 2013 -- 07:00 GMT (00:00 PDT)

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




Charlie Osborne

Charlie Osborne


Audience Favored: Yes (82%)

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 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.

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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.


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  • Trust is not an entitlement

    it is earned. My teenagers need to EARN my trust. Until they do, they don't get it.

    Secondly, it is irresponsible to toss a teenager out into the world WITHOUT your parental backup. Perlow has this spot on. Teens do not have the mental or emotional maturity to face the world unprotected. Your job as a parent is to protect and nuture, not to blindly trust.

    Third, YOUR kids may be more tech savvy than you. Mine aren't.

    Fourth, when your teen successfully EARNS your trust, he or she will treat that trust with proper appreciation and guard it accordingly.

    Fifth, your teen will learn the valuable life lesson that trust in the real world must also be earned.

    Sixth, knowing that Mom and Dad may look into the teen's stuff at any time is a great deterrent.

    Seventh, my place, my stuff, my rules, is a good life lesson to learn when you get out into the real world and work with others using their places, their stuff and their rules.

    Eighth, the great irony is that as you do the above, the need to spy disappears.
    Reply 28 Votes I'm for Yes
    • It depends on the child

      To me, trust is the default position... but they must work to maintain that trust. If they do something that arouses my suspicions or alarms me, then it is my duty to address that issue, and to spy if I feel it is warranted. At some point, probably 8 or 9, have a talk about privacy. Let them know that YOU respect THEM and will respect their privacy .... as long as you feel comfortable their their behavior. But also let them know that you will not hesitate to read their emails, search their room, or whatever IF you feel there is a need to. And that this decision is entirely up to your discretion. If possible, avoid breaking their trust. If you've already said you have this right (duty, even), then they know in advance. But also make an effort to trust and respect them as individuals. Again, all dependent on their behavior and what you hear about them.
      Reply 14 Votes I'm Undecided
      • Never think you know your child

        Trust me, and thousands of other parents when I say that you don't really know you child.
        My teen daughter is highly respected in the community. Loved by all her family, who think she is absolutely wonderful and polite and well bought up. She is very popular in school, both amongst students and teachers. The teachers say she is one of the most sensible and well mannered pupils thay have in their classrooms.
        Her Facebook and cellphone activity says something completely different to that.
        Reply 11 Votes I'm Undecided
    • I've never agreed so much with a comment...

      I'm speechless at how accurately you have conveyed pretty much every single thought I had on this topic. Respect, baggins, respect.

      If there's anything I could add, it's that having the ability to keep an eye on my kid does not mean I'll be monitoring them 24/7. I do have other things to do. But it does mean I can take a look every now and then, to make sure the tech is being used responsibly. imaginative said it well: "Let them know that YOU respect THEM and will respect their privacy .... as long as you feel comfortable their their behavior."
      Reply 8 Votes I'm Undecided
    • @bagginz_z

      You summed up my thoughts on this perfectly for the most part. My default position is one of trust until that trust is abused. By the time my daughter was a teen I had a good handle on what I could trust her with and what I could not... and I allow her restricted and monitored internet at first and gradually lessened the both the monitoring and restrictions until I did not feel the need to do either.
      Reply 10 Votes I'm Undecided
    • Ignorant Masses

      Seeing how 82% of the respondents are clearly WRONG here, it only demonstrates what the progressives have been saying for years - people aren't smart enough to make their own choices in life, whether it is something that only affects them or child rearing.

      Thank goodness that in the USA we have the rollout of Common Core to educate our children in an enlightened way. Kids can be exposed to everything without the shroud of secrecy from their ignorant parents. And we'll finally have a level playing field for learning, where the greedy rich won't be able to continue holding down the rest of the population for their own gain. Bill and Melinda Gates should be commended for supporting Common Core with their foundation.
      Reply 8 Votes I'm Undecided
      • What?

        What does this have to do with education, the rich oppressing the poor or anything else you mentioned? This is about parents spying on their kids to make sure they aren't doing stupid or illegal things.

        I have friends who use the GPS on their kid's phone to make sure their kid stays away from the dangerous part of town and away from the homes of kids they don't want their kids associating with.

        Kids aren't known for making wise decisions, that's why parents are supposed to make the decisions.
        Reply 3 Votes I'm Undecided
  • Well as I learned in the Navy, you get what you inspect, not what you

    Well as I learned in the Navy, you get what you inspect, not what you expect.

    Its only spying if they have some expectation of privacy. I'm the father of 3 teenagers, 2 boys and a girl. They do not own cell phones. We have a family track phone that is shared when needed. Internet connected electronics are not allowed in their bed rooms. Laptops and such are only used in the family living areas. All laptops are set up with me as the admin, children as users. I can and will access them anytime.

    Those are the rules. Their mother and I are unbending in this.
    Reply 22 Votes I'm for Yes
  • poor comparison

    diary vs email.
    Its pretty hard to break the law by writing in your diary.
    Its trivial to do with an email (attachment of copyrighted material)

    I do monitor, but I'd never respond in an intense manner unless the teen's life was being placed in jeopardy. Other forms of poor online behavior I respond to with after-the-fact, casual voiced advice, and let it go. Had a great teaching moment when she wrote, played (trumpet / piano), and mixed some music; and then asked her how she'd feel about someone else using all that work without asking her... nice little lightbulb! :-D
    Reply 16 Votes I'm for Yes
  • when do we know they understand what they do online is not private

    Reading their diary is a blatent violation of their privacy, them doing something potentially illegal or damaging on MY data plan (ISP or mobile) is my business. And when I say damage, I refer to their/my character or social standing. Do they understand that people act differntly online because of the feeling of the anonyminity? Do they understand that they may not actually have formed their idenity in the real world, and shouldn't let it be influenced by people they will never meet who don't care
    I want to prevent big problems instead of fixing them or even potentially be able to see it coming befor it happens.
    Reply 13 Votes I'm for Yes