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Spying on Your kids

The technology to spy on your kids is out there. But should you?

A Matter of Trust continued...

But there has to be a clear distinction between young children, who don't have a great sense of privacy, and teenagers, who're in the process of separating themselves from their parents.

"Young children don't have so much need for a private life," Hilfer says. "But in early adolescence children begin to experiment with more freedom. They need to become more independent, and now they have the emotional tools to begin that process. They make mistakes, but that's how they learn, so a parent has to give them space."

In general, Jonathan Pochyly, PhD, agrees. But when an adolescent has already broken rules and seems to be in trouble, then these devices may play a useful role.

"When I see these children in the office with their parents, they often disagree about the facts, so a source of additional objective information is helpful," says Pochyly, a staff psychologist at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

But parents shouldn't use these devices on the sly, Pochyly believes, and they should never spy on their children.

"But these devices could be part of an explicit program to recover lost trust between parent and child," he says. "The parent should discuss the issue with the child, and explain why monitoring is needed 'until I can trust you again.'"

Brush agrees.

"Adolescents are trying to separate from their parents, and that's developmentally appropriate," he says. "For normal adolescents, these devices would be intrusive and possibly damaging to the parents' relationship with the child. That means people who want to use these devices need to look carefully at their concerns. Is there some particular reason this child needs extra supervision, such as a drug problem, or drinking and driving? In those cases it may be appropriate to explain that you have to keep a closer eye on them."

Legalities

Another question should be: Are we legally allowed to monitor our children?

Dean Kaufman, a lawyer who practices in Eugene, Ore., says in his state if you record a conversation without letting all participants know about it first, it's a Class A misdemeanor, subject to a fine or as much as a year in jail. However, the prohibition doesn't apply if you record members of your own family within your own home.

Which means, in Oregon, at least, children could theoretically file civil lawsuits against their parents for harassment and invasion of privacy. The lawsuit would be more plausible if use of monitoring devices was secret, Kaufman says, less plausible if it was part of a management program discussed with the child.

Since each state makes its own laws on these issues, parents would be well-served to consult a lawyer for information on local laws on childhood monitoring, he says.

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