The controversial tool that lets kids spy on their parents

This is a role reversal. But is it a good role reversal?
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

Little brother is watching you.

Image: iStock/ Borislav

Parents worry all the time.

Where are there kids right now? Who are they with? What sorts of controversial views and, well, sights, are they exploring on the iniquitous web?

Some parents resort to spying on their kids -- or rather on their devices -- one way or another. The alleged reality is that most parents don't. Or, rather, that they don't tell research companies that they don't.

When, though, should kids spy on their parents?

I merely ask because of a new tool that may give one or two parents -- and many, many kids -- pause for thought.

It's called Parent Track and it's the mindchild of environmentally caring soap brand Gelo.

The idea is that kids can install the Parent Track ad tracker onto their parents' devices. This will, well, guilt them into not buying environmentally questionable products and drive them to eco-positive awareness tools. We all need those.

Not everyone will be positively moved by the message Gelo sends when a parent's device is signed up. 

It reads: "You just signed up this device, allowing us to follow your parents around the internet, reminding them to quit single-use plastics for good. By doing so, you set them on a more sustainable path and may very well have saved the planet. Our thanks just don't feel like enough."

Perhaps more parents buying Gelo products -- so that Gelo would make more money -- would feel like enough.

I can sense a certain dramatic tension here. Especially when I offer the words of Kevin Mulroy, who works for Gelo's ad agency. (You just knew an ad agency was involved, didn't you?)

He told Adweek: "We wanted to give kids a tool that will follow their parents around and tap them on the shoulder every time they buy a grill brush or hiking sandals or a new loofah."

I'm not sure about you, but a tap on my shoulder isn't often the most persuasive way you can talk to me. I tend to associate it with police officers.

Some may worry, too, about an excess of sanctimony. Why, Gelo's founder and CEO Curan Mehra intoned: "It's hoped that this somewhat annoying drive for awareness will convert to tangible change in households across America and beyond."

It is somewhat annoying, isn't it?

Of course Gelo isn't the first brand to believe that annoyance is the best way to sell. Even organizations with pure goodness at heart stoop to expressly teeth-grating ads. Every time I see a Kars For Kids ad, I can't mute it quickly enough.

Still, on its site Gelo does attempt wit. It offers "a guide to having 'the talk' with your parents about sustainability and single-use plastic waste."

Sample: "Start by asking them if they know where plastic waste comes from. (It's not a stork)."

They're here, all weak.

Though Adweek presents this in all seriousness, I can't help but imagine it might be a joke.

Some parents may indeed, just to ingratiate themselves with their kids, find the Parent Track wholly amusing. They want their kids to live a long and happy life, after all. Even more than that, they want their kids to love them uncontrollably.

I wonder, though, how many parents will -- in retaliation -- confiscate their kids' devices and make them write the word 'recycle' 500 times on the kitchen whiteboard. Yes, with their finger and non eco-friendly dishwashing liquid.

The parent-child relationship is such a delicate thing. Perhaps brands shouldn't try to interfere with it too much.

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