Is it Okay for Parents to ‘Spy’ on Children?

You can’t resist reading your child’s personal diary, breaking into his email account, or eavesdropping on his phone conversations. Ask yourself, is it okay for you to play ‘I spy’ with your child?

By Arun Sharma

Is it Okay for Parents to ‘Spy’ on Children?

Parents of every generation have held the firm belief that their child’s gullible nature makes him vulnerable to fall victim to anything and everything bad – from the proverbial ‘bad’ habits to ‘bad’ influence.

Until not so long ago, the ‘keep our child safe’ mission of parents received sincere and valuable assistance from uncles, aunts, grandparents, neighbours, friends and many others.

Together, they did a fine job of keeping a hawk’s eye on not only their ‘own’ child but also those around him, especially his peers. The network made it almost nigh impossible for a child to do anything without being detected, often ‘in the nick of time’.

In fact, the names of some of these snoopers could surely find mention beside great fictional detectives like Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.

Is the situation today any different from yesterday?

Times have changed, and with it have changed a lot of things. Social bonds are weaker, social circles are wider, the Internet and mobile phone are ubiquitous, and individual liberty has become more important than ever.

All these changes have also had their impact on the parent–child relationship. So, while the modern-day parents are willing to give their children a far higher level of autonomy and privacy, they also suffer from a heightened sense of insecurity. Parents are wary of their children misusing their freedom and privacy to engage in undesirable activities and behaviours.

So, as the saying goes, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Like the generations of parents before them, modern-day parents also keep their eyes open and their ears to the ground, although a majority of them do so in an unobtrusive manner.

Why parents spy

Childhood is a work in progress. Children are constantly gaining knowledge and experimenting with everything around them – from toys to relationships to substances and what not. This makes parents feel concerned and prompts them to keep a watch on their child. Most parents resort to monitoring as a preventive measure aimed at stopping their child from:

  • Unintentionally inflicting physical harm on himself or others (this is especially, in the case of toddlers and pre-schoolers)
  • Picking up bad habits as he begins socialising with others his age (in the case of primary schoolers)
  • Falling into bad company and landing in serious trouble like substance addiction or breaking the law (especially, during preteen and teenage years)

Should parents spy on their children?

Ask any parent how they view the act of ‘spying’ on their child and most would stare back with incredulous indignation. To a majority of parents, keeping a tab on their child is ‘just a part’ of normal everyday parenting practices.

But, not everyone agrees with that logic as is evident from the compelling arguments advanced both in favour of and against parents spying on their children. Let’s look at both sides of the coin and decide for ourselves.

The arguments in favour

  • Children are naïve; so, they need to be kept under observation
  • It helps to keep a child away from danger he may be unaware of
  • It helps parents intervene before things go out of hand
  • It helps parents learn about their child and guide him
  • It is the responsibility of parents to keep their child safe and protected
  • It gives parents a measure of peace and reassurance

The arguments against it

  • It violates the child’s right to privacy
  • It doesn’t allow a child to become independent, as he is under constant supervision
  • It doesn’t foster trust in the parent–child relationship
  • It can alienate the child from parents
  • Too much surveillance can make a child rebel against parents
  • It gives parents a false sense of security, as children eventually learn how to evade monitoring

What do children feel

It would be unfair to conclude without taking into account the child’s perspective. After a certain age, children begin to understand the fact that their parents are discreetly watching them or gathering information about them. Being under constant spotlight may make children feel isolated within the family. They may also feel that their parents are unwilling to trust and support them. Also, almost every child resents being kept under observation, though most children may never directly bring up the issue of why they are being kept under surveillance with their parents.

While children don’t like parents intruding into their privacy, supervision on the part of parents does go a long way in making childhood safe, especially at a time when crimes against children are rising. However, with numerous other responsibilities to handle, keeping an eye on their child can prove to be a demanding exercise for parents. But, by educating their children to be more responsible and setting reasonable boundaries, parents can reduce their intervention in the lives of their children, which can be a win–win situation for both sides.

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