Cyber spying on your kids

To spy or not to spy, that is the personal question that more and more parents of technology-savvy kids are asking themselves.

parental control software

“What are you doing?” I asked my 8-year-old.

“Listening to Miley Cyrus on Youtube.”

“Who?” My fault, not keeping up with the primary school trends.

My daughter rolled her eyes. “Oh, Mum, you know. She sings I Won’t Be Tamed.”

Call me a helicopter parent, but I’d like to be involved in deciding whether I Won’t Be Tamed is appropriate viewing material for an 8-year old and her younger brother.

Nowadays, the kids’ computer is controlled by software that allows only the websites I approve, shuts down at 7pm and limits each child’s daily screen-time allowance. That’s not cyber spying, though. That’s prohibition.

cyber spying

Cyber spying is when you read the emails your children send and the emails they receive, when you check their browsing history and, in extreme cases, record every keystroke they type.

the case for

If your child refuses to talk to you, yet you sense something is going wrong in their life, it’s okay to read their emails and check what sites they’ve been visiting (making bombs, depression clinics, suicide pack pages), just as it’s okay to read their diary, their poems, their school essays, their blog, their Facebook updates. What they write can be a warning or a cry for help. If you read it in time, you can prevent disaster.

Screening your child’s mobile messages is also a good way to nip cyber bullying in the bud and protect them against sex predators.

Allan Freeth, TelstraClear chief executive, says: “Almost one in seven 8- to 17-year-olds have come across potentially harmful or inappropriate material in the past six months.”

the case against

School essays, Facebook and blogs are meant for public viewing. If your child writes something alarming in one of those, it’s because they want help, or perhaps just need to get your attention.

Emails and texts, though, are private conversations, particularly for tween-agers and teens. The diary is like the child’s personal psychotherapist, and therefore strictly confidential.

Mobile phone messages are private communication. Children have a right to privacy in this respect.

Rather than monitor blindly, talk to your children and explain that the world is not a safe place and to beware of the spiders on the worldwide web.

Teach them about internet safety and mobile phone safety the same way you’ve taught them about road safety, and don’t hold them on a leash – literally or metaphorically.

kids will find a way

Children are resourceful. If your child wants unmonitored cyber activity, they’ll use an Internet Café or a friend’s mobile phone. They’ll create a Facebook ID under a fake name, known only to their friends, so that they don’t have to worry about you reading every word and censoring every photo.

no conclusion

Harlan Coben devoted his entire thriller Hold Tight to the controversial issue of cyber spying without reaching a recommendation. The author himself decided to install spying software on the kids’ computer, but he also chose to inform them about it. Other parents may opt to install parental control of web browsing but keep out of their children’s emails. Or give them the use of a family mobile phone with the understanding all the activity is potentially monitored. Or lock up the phone after 8pm.

Your own decision will depend on your family’s unique circumstances.

useful tools:

  • SuperClubsPLUS – a monitored social networking site for children.
  • K9 Web Protection – free parental control software.
  • Hector’s World Safety Button – screen blackout for younger children.

legislation: Cyber bullying can be a criminal offence under a range of different laws, including sections 249-252 of the Crimes Act.

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