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Spying on Your kids

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

Invasion of the Privacy Snatchers continued...

"I think electronic spying, if used at all, should be limited to kids who are on 'probation' because of serious offenses against parental trust," says Betsy Schwartz, of Arlington, Mass., the mother of a 4-year-old. "A curfew and a cell phone should do it for most kids."

Sorting out appropriate and inappropriate uses of technological aids means tracing a fuzzy line, Hilfer says. "When are you doing something useful and helpful for your child's well-being? When are you indulging your own suspicious or intrusive nature?"

A Matter of Trust

If a day care center integrates a webcam into their work with parents, that probably feels good to everyone, says Jonathan Brush, PhD, a child psychologist with Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Boston and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. "Children may feel pleased that their parents can see them while they're at work."

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.'"

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