Image: Ali T via Flickr
The twins know that for the next several years or so, we have set up their accounts so we can see all of their online activity. They don’t have social media accounts, but they do have email that runs through my email account. And I can see their outgoing and incoming text messages. I check their iPod regularly, and peer over their shoulder while they’re typing. On one hand, they’re starting to balk at the lack of privacy. And on the other hand, they love that they never have to worry about going through anything alone. We are there to guide them as they socially make their way online, and the option of trackability is out of their hands. They get the safety net afforded by parenting while still being able to roll their eyes with their friends and complain about us. Win-win!
We know that in the future, we’ll have to turn over their accounts to them and remove these features. Hopefully, by then, they’ll know how to comport themselves online. They’ll know how to be clear to others how they want to be brought online. And they can always ask us to step in and help them solve a particular problem while keeping the rest of their communication private. But right now, we’re responsible for them, and if we’re going to be responsible, we need to be comfortable. And part of our comfort comes from tracking their online movements; knowing the sites they visit, the people they write to, and what information they are sharing.
What becomes tricky is knowing the age we pull back. It will obviously be different for each kid, but it’s hard to know when they’re really ready to be on their own. I can see that they’re not ready now, and I can assume — based on what I know about teenagers — that our particular kids will likely be ready by 16 to be on their own online. But it’s sort of like trying to figure out where the ocean meets the sky — where does the blue lighten into that shade we associate with the upper atmosphere vs. the darker blue closer to the water?
All I know is that it’s not emotionally healthy for a kid to be online at the twins’ age without any guidance, and it’s not emotionally healthy for a young adult to be online without any privacy. That in between is sort of murky.
Let’s say that you could put a device in your child that tracked their movements. You could look at a screen and know they were in school or at daycare or at their friend’s house. You could let them wander a bit more, feeling comfortable that you could find them again if they wandered too far or summon them home without panic. And if the worst ever did happen — they were kidnapped, let’s say, or separated from you in a crowded space — you could find them again with relative ease. If this device wasn’t something external that could be tossed aside but rather something internal (with proven safety in regards to health), like an RFID chip (though one that couldn’t easily be removed) it would be a priceless parenting tool.
If it were proven through years of research to be 100% safe in terms of health, I think a lot of people would opt for an RFID chip and the peace-of-mind it would bring. I mean, your child could never be lost. You would never have to go through needless worry.
But when would the right time be to remove said chip? To let them wander freely in the world without that oversight? I imagine most people would keep it through the teen years because it can be nerve-wracking to not know where your teen is, especially once they start driving. Would it be when they graduated high school? College? Would you only track your child in a worst case scenario, or would you leave it on all the time, monitoring that they got to school, got to their friend’s house, were coming back home at night? And what would you do with a child who often got into trouble? Would you simply never turn off their device, especially if they had no clue it was in their body but you could use the tracking ability to stop them from making poor decisions?
If it was 100% safe, would you ever place an RFID chip in your child’s body? Would you let them know it’s in there? And when (if ever) would you turn it off in order to give them autonomy of their movements — online and off?