State Student Privacy Laws

Parent Supervision or Surveillance?

When I was 16 years old, I told my mom that I was going on my first date ever with a boy to a nearby ice cream parlor. He picked me up at my house, and we drove away. Ten minutes later, I received a text message from my mom saying, “I’m at the ice cream parlor and you aren’t here.” She wanted to make sure this stranger wasn’t taking her little girl to a strange place, so she followed me. 

What she didn’t know was that we had decided to go to a different ice cream place, which was the reason for her confusion. At first, I remember having feelings of anxiety. Was I supposed to tell her that our location changed? Should I have told the boy that I needed to confirm with my mom before we switched the plan? After thinking about it for a bit, however, those feelings turned to anger. I remember thinking, “Why was my mom following me on a date? Did she not trust me?” This situation probably explained why, for the remainder of high school, I was dishonest with my parents when I went out with someone they didn’t know. I didn’t want the same thing to happen again. I wanted my privacy. 

Five years have passed since that first date, and luckily for nervous parents everywhere, technology can now help them track their kids without having to get in the car and physically follow them.

Many parents dread the day their child will become socially independent. For me, this meant getting in a car with someone my parents did not know. But it could also mean getting a driver’s license and having endless, unknown destinations to explore. The unknown can be very worrisome for parents, and some have a harder time than others letting go of the reigns. Now, technology has given parents the ability to monitor their childrens’ whereabouts at all times. When a parent gives a child a cell phone, that excited tween doesn’t know that they have actually been given a tracking device. Of the many options allowing parents to connect with their kids’ devices are programs that can track more than location; for example, Life360 can detect driving speed, car accidents, and phone battery monitoring, making the Black Mirror “Arkangel” episode not too far off from reality. 

A parent’s micromanagement of their child’s life risks losing an honest, open relationship due to a clear lack of trust.

So where should we draw the line? Parents have the best intentions when surveilling their kids. They just want to keep them safe. But even when parents download trackers, kids and young adults will find loopholes and will probably be more dishonest and resentful than if the parent had just asked them where they were going. A parent’s micromanagement of their child’s life risks losing an honest, open relationship due to a clear lack of trust. 

In addition, parents should understand that no technology company has an invincible security program. Specifically, several spyware companies that market to parents have experienced data breaches that exposed pictures, texts, location, and passwords. Creating a pathway for data to exit a child’s device in order to be tracked on another makes it easier for hackers to intercept. The type of data hosted on these apps is extremely sensitive and could lead to detrimental consequences if breached. To avoid subjecting their children to these risks, parents need to be confident in how they raise their children and allow them to both make mistakes and discover new things without being constantly surveilled. As a newly independent adult, I offer this advice to parents: if you want to know what’s up in your kids’ lives, follow them on social media where you are not watching them any more than their hundreds of other followers do. Your kids would not dare miss an opportunity to post a picture when they do something worth sharing.

There are no positive outcomes of technology-aided parental surveillance of teenagers trying to be independent. Children whose parents invest in these applications will either rebel when they have the opportunity or avoid situations that would help them discover new things. Parents must give children their privacy, not put them under constant watch, so that those children can grow into responsible adults. 

Alexis Shore is a recent graduate from Cornell University with a B.S. in Communication. She is currently pursuing an MA/PhD at Boston University in Emerging Media Studies with research interests in education privacy as well as the societal effects of increased biometric technology and surveillance.


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