Monday, January 07, 2013

Should Mom and Dad play Big Brother?

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Starshine Roshell

Award-winning journalist and overwhelmed mother of two, Starshine Roshell waxes sassy on family, kids and fashion in her twice-monthly column for The Roanoke Times.

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I was a pretty good teenager. Straight-A student. Didn't smoke pot. Never had a tussle with the fuzz. But I was a dirty little liar.

I lied as all teens lie, and for the same reasons: I wanted to be somewhere, and do something, and see someone, that my parents wanted me not to. I wanted those things more than I wanted to be good, or trustworthy, or deserving of respect.

And so I said I was sleeping at Michelle's house when I was really at my boyfriend's. And I zoomed home at 89 miles per hour to avoid breaking my curfew. And I once drank vodka out of a paper bag in a park in the dark with a very-bad-influence friend and a McDonald's strawberry shake chaser.

Most of the things I lied about were merely stupid (duh, pour the vodka into the shake, rookie), but some were outright dangerous. And my parents never knew about them until right this second (hi, Mom!) because they had to take me at my worthless adolescent word.

But today's parents don't have to do that. Technology now lets parents track nearly every move their teenagers make. Even beyond lurking on their kids' Facebook pages and peeking at their text messages, parents can buy devices and subscribe to services that:

n track a teen's location on a map at any given moment and alert parents when said teen crosses an agreed-upon "geo-fence"

n notify mom or dad when a teen posts something online that "you wouldn't want your kids' college recruiter finding"

n monitor seatbelt usage, speeding, and "harsh braking" by teen drivers, and block calls and texts when the car is in motion.

SafetyWeb, for example, will scan your teen's phone and Internet activity for keywords related to drugs, bullying, and even eating disorders, and for online "friends" whose are significantly older.

"We report it all to you using timely alerts," says the company's website, "so you can see accounts, photos, friends, tweets, posts, texting/calling frequency and more, all in one place."

Having once been judgment-impaired teens ourselves, parents can't help but see the appeal of this stuff. But having also been teens who pined for privacy and yearned for independence, I think we have to ask: Is all this really necessary? Technology has changed to allow such surveillance - but has the world changed so much that we need it?

"I don't remember hearing about child abductions when we were growing up," says Dan Rudich, the founder of FamZee, an app and website that lets parents track their kids' locations and lock their cellphone usage at any time of day. "Kids certainly weren't texting and driving."

But it wasn't safety concerns that inspired Rudich, 42, to create FamZee. It was his daughter's after-hours texting. "Every night I'd see her still typing away on it way past her bedtime. It was a daily battle and I figured there had to be an easier way."

With FamZee, he can lock her phone at bedtime and also when she's in class, end of discussion. He recommends that parents start off with minimal monitoring and stay that way as long as their kids behave responsibly - a parenting philosophy that's not so new, really.

"My sister had a diary growing up," Rudich says. "My parents knew where it was and they chose not to read it. She was a good kid. If you're a good kid and you're not getting into any trouble, your diary is safe."

To be clear, though, if you come home stinking of Smirnoff and McStrawberry, all bets are off.

Starshine Roshell is the mother of two in Santa Barbara, Calif., and author of "Keep Your Skirt On" and "Wife on the Edge."

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