GPS Tracking, Online Monitoring, And Parental Controls Don’t Teach Your Teens Responsibility

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On my daughter’s second birthday, I made a bold move. Well, my baby monitor made a bold move for me. It stopped working. But I didn’t replace it, and that took a lot of self-restraint. Baby monitors give parents a window into their children’s world. It’s a way for nervous parents to make sure that their little ones are safe and sound in their beds. Plus, once those babies start climbing, it’s a way to make sure that they haven’t fallen out of their cribs.

At two years old, once she could start telling me her problems or vocalizing what she needed on her own, I decided that my daughter was ready to ditch the monitor. But it wasn’t easy. I worried and stressed. I can admit that I peaked in way more than was necessary. In the next couple of months though, I learned to operate and even sleep without constantly listening in on my child’s bedroom.

Parents, I would like to suggest that you back off and start the withdrawal process when it comes to GPS tracking, online monitoring and parental controls. These child-monitoring tools aren’t as innocuous as baby monitors for infants. And the children your using them on are old enough to make their decisions and discuss those choices with you. That’s right, I think it’s time that we stop the voyeurism and refrain from monitoring our children from afar.

Some friends of mine were discussing buying a cell phone for their tween-aged daughter. While the mother was discussing her daughter’s maturity level and responsible nature, the father seemed swayed by a single factor. “The thing has to have GPS.” He wasn’t worried about his little girl getting lost. He meant that he wanted to be able to track his daughter wherever she went. The more detailed the conversation went, the more interested this dad was with checking in on his 11-year-old. “You can have the phone company send transcripts of her texts too,” he informed me.

He’s not wrong. There are a million ways to monitor your children’s activities. Through a little technology and cyber-stalking, you can see where they go, who they go with and what stupid pictures they take while they’re there. Parents routinely scroll through their kids browser histories and phone records, looking for nefarious activity or questionable contacts. It’s like our own little Jason Bourne moment from the comfort of our homes.

Except there’s one thing that’s missing from all of this monitoring and controlling, the part where we teach our children responsible and acceptable behavior. What’s missing? The idea of establishing trust between a child and an adult.

No, I’m not a naive idiot who assumes that teenagers will behave simply because we ask them to. I was a teenage girl once and I did plenty of things that my parents wouldn’t have been happy to know about it. And I did a couple of things that they found out about and punished me for. I snuck out of the house with a boy who was four years older than me. I drank alcohol with my friends. I pretended I was staying at a friend’s house and instead heading to a party or a boy’s basement.

I did all of those horrible things, and yet I still ended up a reasonably successful adult with a loving husband and a stable job. In fact, those little acts of rebellion taught me a lot of lessons about myself as a person. And being punished for them made me learn that there were consequences for my actions.

Having rules and then choosing whether to break them or respect them taught me about responsibility. And I think that by monitoring our children’s every move, we take that lesson away from them. We make them follow our guidelines not because they respect us or trust our judgment, but because they can’t find a way around it. (And teenagers will always find a way after a while, so it won’t even work for too long.)

You don’t create trust in your relationship with your children by monitoring their every move. And they don’t learn responsibility by being followed around by technological watchdogs. Just because we have the ability to spy on our children doesn’t mean that we should. I may come to regret it later, but I plan to allow my daughter the respect of privacy and trust. It will take a lot more work to talk to her about being safe online and telling me where she’s going than it would to flip a switch and watch from my laptop, but I think those talks are important.

What about you? What do you think about reading phone records and GPS tracking? Are you planning on monitoring your kids?