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Opt-ions Two

So… yeah… still looking closely at the blogosphere and social media world.


 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?


1 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 06.18.14 at 9:20 am }

Whoa! So ok. Cool.

I would balk at placing a chip, just because I’ve read too many dystopian novels. I’m mildly uncomfortable with store membership cards (but then I do blog online and use social media so maybe that’s just my dislike of shopping).

I think the tricky thing is that at some point too much oversight can be the cause of problems, not the solution to them. Thinking back to my own childhood, two things: first, if I hadn’t had my chip removed when I was almost exactly fourteen, I would have made serious trouble. So yes, your age range gels from my own personal experience, I can see what you mean.

Second, I remember my mother constantly saying, “If you want to make your own decisions you have to prove you’re capable!” to which I’d always reply, “If you want me to start making capable decisions stop HANGING OVER MY SHOULDER SO MUCH!” so, er, I can’t remember what point I was trying to make with that but it seems to broadly fit my previous point.

I do want to know what software you’re using. We’ve set up a “sub account” for P on twitter where he basically has his own “list” but of course any replies he makes it’s still our account, which is awkward, and he’s been banging on about getting his own twitter account a lot lately. Also some of his school friends are on Facebook and want to friend him (?!) . He’s six so I’m not sure how close we’re going to get to 16 before he starts making an issue…

2 Peg { 06.18.14 at 11:31 am }

We have two 14 year olds. Our son has had two youtube accounts (one herping and one skateboarding) for a few years. He has subscribers all around the country for each and regularly comments on others and responds to comments on his. His email account, as well as the youtube accounts are attached to my email so I see all of his activity. I have not worries what so ever. Our niece, however, was caught with an instagram acount, IM and gmail account without our knowledge and I quickly knew she was not ready for any sort of social media account…first that she lied to us and second that her activities were completely inappropriate. Do I think she’s ready now? No. I have told her we can see if she wants another gmail account but it must be attached to our email like her cousins and she says no. That in and of itself shows me she doesn’t have the maturity yet. I feel bad having two standards, but in this case one has the maturity and one doesn’t. They are getting phones this summer, so we’ll finally let her started texting but will let her know this will be monitored also.

3 Pam/wordgirl { 06.18.14 at 11:37 am }

Hi Mel,
You’ve known me for a long time… Back when my son was eight or nine and I started blogging well he’s now 14. I stopped writing about him some kind time ago–in part because of the exquisitely complicated situation when one is in a blended family but also just because he reached the threshold of owning his own story. I hesitate to even comment here in part because of that… Because my particular take on children and social media is shaped by our experience as a family.

What I will say is that we have seriously considered getting essentially spyware that monitors every single activity on our child’s phone. This is not a decision we took lightly or without reason. I’ve come to believe there’s a great goal of understanding for people of our generation who are not digital natives as comfortable as we maybe… We look on media as essentially benign something we can take or leave we have a whole cache of life experiences that have developed outside of the media glare. My son was born in 2000 and is really The first generation of children so fully in the digital world. I have to tell you that when I view his world through his eyes I am utterly gobsmacked at how young kids, children essentially — barely into their teen years comport themselves online. He understands that we monitor him from with in his counts though he doesn’t know when or how often. Perhaps he supposes that we forget about it. I’ve begun to ask myself how you prepare children for this world. We have essentially given a Pandora’s box no matter how we feel we have safeguarded them… Everything of the world is contained within these boxes good and bad. They are being shaped by those images whether through their music videos, YouTube, the things they stumble across online, the constant commodification of self. I find myself continually talking about things I never would’ve imagined I would be addressing with a 14-year-old. So I suppose the answer to your question is yes. I think we have to safeguard her children with whatever is available because I don’t believe technology is working in our favor.

I don’t mean to hijack your comment section but one other thing I would say is that every parent of a preteen young teen involved in social media should get into the world through the eyes of that teens community. It’s only then that you can truly understand the world there immersed in. It’s a pretty brutal one.

On that light note… I should probably read your previous posts I hope I’m not too off-topic,

4 Pam/wordgirl { 06.18.14 at 11:39 am }

And sorry for all the typos. I am dictating this on my phone and can’t really proofread. Hopefully the intended message comes across. XOXO

5 Life Breath Present { 06.18.14 at 12:01 pm }

We would not use an RFID chip. I don’t believe in them. It’s not that I don’t believe they can be helpful for others, if that’s what they choose to for their lives and their children, I just don’t believe in the notion of having to know pretty much every little thing about my child(ren). There is a certain sense of calm that one may be able to achieve as a parent by having such a device in their child(ren), but I would say it’s a false sense of security. Like so many other things that give us a false sense of security, when really it’s not as much as we’d like it to be. For instance, seatbelts and vehicles driven at safe speeds provide us with a false sense of security. When it really comes down to it though, those things are simply a matter of circumstance in that they do no prevent accidents or injury from occurring.

Back to the topic of privacy though. I believe in giving my children privacy that is “age-appropriate”, which as you have pointed out can be different for different children and even families. I don’t think it’s something that just happens though, it’s a form of trust. One in which is built and maintained overtime. It also has to do with honesty, honesty aids a relationship built on trust.

Besides that, parenting is about letting go and allowing my child(ren) to make choices and decisions on their own, while knowing (or at least hoping) that I’ve given them guidance and understanding enough to make good decisions. Now, this obviously isn’t as cut and dry as one would like, but overall I do believe in it. So, this trumps keeping track of my child at all times, other than the respectable distance type of tracking (where are you going, when will you be there, when are you returning, are their parents home, etc.).

In today’s society, I’m hoping to teach to Baby Boy about respect (self and others) and privacy through my actions and inclusion of him in those actions – especially as it relates to social media/the internet.

6 andy { 06.18.14 at 12:59 pm }

The chip idea reminds me of the ids we currently implant in dogs/cats. Those don’t have GPS, but no reason they couldn’t. They certainly do for other animal tracking, so I’m sure the health/safety issue has already been figured out. I don’t know though if I would consider one for my kid and I certainly don’t know when I would turn it off…. things to think about.

My son is 12 and has his own email, that I monitor, his own skype , that he uses in the dining room so I can listen in and watch, and his own You tube account that I also monitor. Our computer is kept in a public spot and he knows that we keep an eye on what he is up to. He is very much at the eye rolling stage, but I think he too appreciates knowing that we are there if/when things go south.

7 a { 06.18.14 at 3:04 pm }

I would not have a chip implanted in my child. I don’t think people can effectively process how to make a good, moral decision when they don’t have the option to make the opposite choice. What I mean is, while I want to know where my child is, how will she ever learn that it’s better to follow my advice if she never reaps the consequences of not following that advice? If she knows she’s always being watched, she’s not likely to exercise her independence and create learning experiences.

I monitor (somewhat) my daughter’s online habits. Or, I have to now, because her father has introduced her to some questionable things (competitive eaters, mostly). We’ll see where things go from here, but she’s pretty tame in her interests so far.

8 Lori Lavender Luz { 06.19.14 at 7:06 pm }

Nope to the RFID chip, but yes to monitoring them in obtrusive and non-obtrusive ways.

Pam’s comment has really stuck with me.

9 Mali { 06.19.14 at 8:43 pm }

Well, this is an issue I’m kind of glad I don’t have to deal with it. Except that, because I am the most digitally savvy of all my friends and family (bar one) I have frequently given advice to them, and have been horrified at the lack of awareness/understanding of social media and sometimes even deliberate ignorance that various friends and family members have displayed around the online activities of their children. One friend who did take my advice about Fbk (that she needed access to his account, NOT just as a “friend”), discovered that her son was being actively groomed by his soccer coach, who had moved to some very inappropriate conversational topics that her son didn’t quite understand. He was around 12. (It is shocking to me to learn – through a number of family/friends – that 12-14 year old boys think that “rape” is just sex. They think they know the mechanics of sex, but have no understanding of the moral/ethical/emotional issues around it. But that’s an aside.) Said soccer coach, it was discovered, had been grooming and offending against a number of other boys, and has I believe been arrested.

On the other hand, another big issue for parents would be when to relax their surveillance and control. I travelled overseas when I was 17 for a year. That year was important to me to grow and learn. Yet I know another young woman who has been living overseas (first at university) since she was 18 (she’s now 22 and working) and her mother still insists on skyping with her almost every day. The same mother wasn’t concerned at certain on-line activities of her daughter when she was in her early/mid-teens. And then we hear about the helicopter parents that get involved with their children’s professors at university and their managers at their first jobs! I can imagine those parents never relinquishing control/surveillance.

I really don’t understand some parents. And I don’t think that’s because I don’t have children myself either!

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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