Thursday, October 07, 2004

The mucky puddle known as "too much information"

The NYT has taken it upon itself to let parents know how to invade their children's privacy as efficiently as possible. Rather than suggesting that parents advise their children on the dangers of meeting strangers, online or off, the Times offers parents a detailed explanation of how they can, possibly without their kids' knowledge, keep track of at least whom they're chatting with, if not more:

"No matter which Internet service provider you use, you can also purchase and install parental control software....Cybersitter (; $40) has a similar feature, and it also allows parents to record the complete text of a child's IM conversations. Unlike the recording feature in the MSN and Yahoo messenger software, it cannot be disabled without a parent's password. Although to some people, recording a child's conversations constitutes an invasion of privacy, others believe that it is justified in the interest of protection. Spectorsoft specializes in software designed to record all e-mail, instant messages and chat conversations. Its eBlaster program (; $100) can keep parents informed of their children's activity by e-mail, so you can keep track of what your children are doing online even when you are away from home."

Scary stuff.

Children don't have the same legal rights as adults, fine. A world of drunken 7-year-olds is not one most Americans want to live in, I understand. But all this monitoring in the name of protection had a name, well before the Internet came to be: snooping. That's when parents, searching for, say, pot in a kid's room, accidentally discover his love letters to his imaginary boyfriend, or her diary in which she complains about her overprotective parents. Under the guise of looking for the "dangerous"--chats with 45-year-old pedophiles, gang members, and all that--parents will find themselves knee-deep in the mucky puddle known as "too much information." Most of what 10-to-17-year-olds keep from their parents isn't the stuff that would cause parents to go into high alert mode. No, it's things like, "My parents are annoying" or "I'd totally do her," or "Dude, we should skip gym class today," all of which are things a kid doesn't want his parents seeing, and that parents shouldn't have to encounter.

If a kid knows his parents can read his email, he will write things he'd explicitly want them to see, and will be prevented not only from meeting sketchy adults, but also from having honest, maturity-building relationships with his friends. And if a kid is unaware of his parents' special software, he will inevitably find that his parents think less of him than before, and he won't have any idea why, that it's all because they found an AIM of his in which he listed all the girls he'd "bang" if he had the chance. Realistically, no parent with any interest whatsoever in their children would be able to screen the AIM chats and emails only for high-risk situations.

No one looks good when monitored 24/7, and not even an irresponsible 13-year-old ought to have to live up to such high expectations.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree completely. A friend of mine snoops on her son's AIM stuff and some other site (perhaps a blog; she describes it as a diary) that he doesn't know she is aware of. She has found out things that she'd rather not know -- like a drinking party at their house when she was away on a trip. She thinks that "forewarned is forearmed," but I agree with you that she is damaging her relationship with her son even if he is not aware of her snooping. Not sure when she started doing this, but he is now 18. I know that I wouldn't be able to act "innocent" if I had such knowledge of my son's private life. I also have a problem with the ethics of spying even if done for a "good" reason. Without sufficient cause,i.e. evidence of destructive behavior, snooping is wrong regardless of the age or role of the snooper. And bad manners. --JM