Why I'll Never Virtually Track My Child

What happened to the concept of trust?

One balmy summer evening I sat among other parents in the school library, fanning my face as I cooled myself physically -- and emotionally. I was attending a high school information night, and my blood was boiling.

I learned that our school had a virtual system that would allow us, as guardians, to sign in to view our children's work, to prowl through their essays, make edits, monitor progress, look at their emails. And we could do this all without our children's agreement.

The school was excited. The other parents seemed excited.

But not me.

I was uneasy. What subtle message would I be sending to my children if I were to check on their progress each night? So I chose not to use the password provided, and did not enter my child's electronic school world.

Now, two years on, not only can we access our children's virtual desk, but parents can install apps onto devices to track their child's every movement.

What year are we living in -- 1984? For thousands of years, we've brought up children without knowing their every movement. Am I the only person who balks at electronically stalking their children?

Advantages Of Tracking Adolescents

Don't get me wrong, I can see the attraction. Number one is safety and reassurance. A tracking app would ensure my child was on his way home, or had made it to school.

Being on the virtual desk of my child would keep me engaged with her school and her homework, to share and understand what is happening in his school world, and make sure she was studying to her full potential.

By having virtual access to their diaries, their school work, I could look for alerts as to whether my child might be depressed, or being groomed, or engaging in self-harm.

Why then, on balance, am I avoiding the temptation to virtually monitor my child's life?

1. The Effect On Trust And The Relationship

For me, the most disturbing aspect of virtual monitoring is the potential effect on trust, and the parent-adolescent relationship.

Study after study shows that teenagers value their relationship with their parents. If their relationship is strong and mutually respectful, young people will look to their parents for guidance. Trust is fundamental to building and maintaining that relationship.

When we place trust in our teenager we are saying: 'I know you, I value you, and I trust you to do what's best'.

For me, the most disturbing aspect of virtual monitoring is the potential effect on trust, and the parent-adolescent relationship.

What are we telling them if we choose to enter their virtual classroom (uninvited), and edit their assignments, investigate their emails, check their maths?

What are we saying when our eyes are glued to the dot on their virtual 'Marauders Map', as we track their developing lives?

My guess is that our children would receive the messages: I don't trust you; I don't trust you to be able to write your own essay; I don't trust you to be where you said you would be...

A child not trusted might become a child who lives down to that expectation.

2. Potential For Conflict

Now, I might be alone in this, but in my household homework is already a source of friction. And this is when my child requests my help! I can only imagine the depth of discord if I hopped in to his or her essay, uninvited, merrily editing to my adult standard, and imposing my views.

I wonder, then, whether unlimited, unasked for access to a young person's life may serve as a flash point for conflict? I see the potential for us to make immediate judgement without seeking to understand our child's reasons and points of view.

"I checked your homework, and it's just not up to scratch." (We don't know how difficult it has been to source references for that subject.)

"You said you would be home by five, but I saw you were still at the shops." (We are unaware that they were protecting their friend from bullying, by staying in a public place.)

I fear for the potential damage to the relationship when we make assumptions on what we see, without looking for reasons behind the behaviour.

3. Keeps Young People Dependent on Parents

I am trying to bring up young people who are motivated, autonomous, empathetic and considerate problem-solvers and decision-makers. I want to help prepare them for the adult world, where they feel competent in their chosen field.

If I were to continually monitor my children's work, hassle them to do a better job, crack the whip, watch every movement, then how will my children learn to monitor themselves? How will they learn self-discipline? How will they learn to be responsible for their own study, their own outcomes, their own time-management, or discover their own abilities? How will they learn to show initiative, trust their own judgement?

My concern is that, by tracking my young people when they are under my roof, they will continue to depend on my judgement and my thoughts into their adulthood. When they haven't had the experience of me trusting them, how can they learn to trust themselves?

I will always offer to help, to guide, to support my children. But my children need to be responsible for themselves and their own study.

4. Privacy And Abuse Of Power

Why is my child's right to privacy less than my neighbour's, my friend's, or my work colleague's? I would never open a letter addressed to my husband, unless he gave me permission. In fact, if I did I would be breaking the law. Adults that install tracking apps onto another adult's device, without their permission, are setting the stage for being accused of stalking and abuse.

Why then is it okay for me to follow the life of my child, without first gaining his agreement? And even if I do have permission, will I always ensure that I am snooping only for my child's benefit, rather than my own?

Why is my child's right to privacy less than my neighbour's, my friend's, or my work colleague's? I would never open a letter addressed to my husband, unless he gave me permission.

I wonder how I would feel if someone with power over me, such as my boss, insisted that they had the right to arbitrarily track my report writing, or emails from friends and colleagues, or where I went during my lunch breaks?

In today's world, these actions by a person with greater power could be seen as abusive.

5. Increase My Anxiety

Merely having the opportunity to monitor my child and his performance will increase my anxiety. Should I check his work tonight? Email her teacher? Where is he now? Why isn't she home? I can envision me looking at my screen constantly, and frothing myself into a frenzy of worry. I don't need that source of fear, and neither does my family.

Rely On Relationship Rather Than Tracking.

To help our young people get through the challenging high school years, we need to build and maintain warm, open and respectful relationships. Rather than track our emerging adult, we could trust that our relationship will bring our child to us, when they need help with those big, and little, struggles in life.


Larissa is a parent educator and writer/blogger at Parent Skills. She invites you to join the Parent Skills Facebook community.