Many parents — maybe even the vast majority of them — will disagree with what I’m about to say.
As parents, we should never routinely monitor what our kids are doing online. We shouldn’t browse through their social media accounts, read their texts or emails, or inspect their phones. We shouldn’t expect them to hand over the passwords to their online profiles and email accounts. Sounds crazy? Let me explain.
I firmly believe that children need to learn how to manage their own online presence — what to say, share, download, upload, and what not to say, share, and upload. As parents, we have a duty to teach our kids how to be good digital citizens, just like we’re responsible for showing them how to behave appropriately offline. Relying on cyberspying is, in a way, an admission of failure. It’s at least a failure of communication and certainly a failure of teaching.
The reality is that most kids know a lot more about technology than their parents. They will find a way to hide their online activities if they’re really motivated, and if they don’t know how, Google is always here to help.
Besides, most of the chats and posts your kids are making are rather routine and, honestly, quite boring. The time it takes to go through their endless online chatter is unwieldy and unlikely to reveal anything important.
Of course, as a parent of three kids, I understand why parents want to monitor their children’s online activity. The internet has its dark places, and we’ve all read media accounts of kids being victimized. They can be bullied by classmates. They can be lured by online predators trolling Snapchat, Kik, Afterschool, and other anonymous chat apps.
They can make bad decisions like sharing photos with only “one friend” that quickly finds itself viewed by everyone at school. They can be cyberbullies themselves. Besides being victimized, they can also be exposed to all kinds of inappropriate content, from adult websites to foul language and inappropriate videos. I understand that even though many parents completely trust their own children’s online activities, they don’t trust the random people they might be chatting with. Maybe it’s some child molester or just some creep looking for some kicks on our kids’ expense?
I get it. As a tech entrepreneur, I surf the web all day, every day. I know it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. I also know that many of the dangers have been overblown by the media. I know that most teens will never be the victim of an online predator, they will not be kidnapped, and their lives will not be destroyed by seeing the F-word or a naked picture online.
My main point is that by relying on cyberspying, we allow ourselves to do things that we would have never tolerated from our own parents. For example, them reading our private journal would have been absolutely off-limits. It would have been unacceptable for them to pick up the phone in the kitchen and listen in on our calls. We would think them insane if we caught them hiding behind some bushes watching us hanging out with our friends or driving behind us watching our every move in case someone tries to kidnap us.
And yet, this is exactly what many parents want to do digitally and more, if possible.
Did America really become this unsafe for our kids in the past few decades? Are we actually helping our children to make better decisions by electronically hovering over them? Are we building a lifelong relationship of trust with our kids by cyberspying on them? The answer to all of these questions is an absolute NO.
When we were kids, our parents told us, again and again, to never talk to strangers, never take candy from random people, never get into someone’s car, always look both ways when crossing the street, and other important and life-saving tips. Those same tips apply today only in the online world. A stranger is a stranger even when they have a cute avatar!
No amount of spying on our kids is going to make them safer. In fact, it can lead to a host of unwanted consequences, like building mutual distrust between you and your children. It can backfire and encourage them to try even harder to hide risky behavior because they know you’re looking for it.
Yet, surveys say it’s quite common for parents to digitally snoop on their kids. According to a recent Pew Research study, more than 60 percent of parents monitor what websites their children are visiting and what they’re doing on social media. Another 35 percent of parents actually have the passwords to their kids’ social media accounts.
Imagine if someone invented an app that allowed parents to secretly turn on the microphone on their kids’ phones like the CIA and NSA can apparently do? This app can then send parents a transcript of every conversation that their kids have, wherever they are. How about listening to every phone conversation they have? Get a complete transcript of the call, who they talk with and their relationship? After all, we can now track their exact location, why not every conversation? I’m sure there are plenty of parents who can rationalize this level of spying. After all, if we can track every conversation, every call, every text message, and every step our kids take, we can protect them from the harsh reality outside, right? Wrong.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
I created unGlue because I believe the best way to teach my kids about anything is to give them the tools to learn how to do it themselves. Technology has a place in helping parents and their children become smarter about the digital world — both its benefits and its dangers. It is our role as parents.
My point is to remind parents that they shouldn’t blindly rely on any solution to keep their kids safe, rather they should play an active role.
Technology can help but we should build an open, honest, and trusting relationship with our children which will lean them to us when they experience something inappropriate online. That’s what we expect them to do in their offline life, it should be the same in their online life.
Alon Shwartz is the co-founder & CEO of unGlue, co-founder of Docstoc (acquired by Intuit), and father of three. Check out unGlue at the app store and on Google Play. This article was syndicated from Medium.