In the Harry Potter series, the character of Mad Eye Moody, was fond of saying, “Constant vigilance!”
While Mad Eye was referring to a different time and place, his apt phrase applies to nearly every aspect of parenting.
I am reminded of him as I ponder the parental role with regard to technology use by children. As increasing levels of technology come into the hands of children at younger ages, parents struggle with questions of monitoring.
How much is too much and how much is not enough? At what ages should it start and stop and should it be constant?
There was a time when a parent felt vigilant if she took the occasional peek into her child’s cell phone. Maybe others felt they were “strict” because they kept a list of their child’s passwords for the occasional spot check of email or Facebook.
Snooping into technology feels akin to reading a diary to some parents. When my children first started, I didn’t see the similarity. If everyone else could see something online, I thought I should be able see it too. No parent wants to be the last to know something that is plastered all over the Internet.
A diary stays under lock and key. An online post is more like an announcement on a loudspeaker.
Some parents snoop overtly, demanding passwords and telling their children to expect some level of surveillance. Others sneak around or ask siblings and friends to do their dirty work.
Then, there is the matter of parental sanity. How can you monitor so much technology for multiple children without making yourself insane?
Check a few texts and you may end up reading a stream of mind-numbing, totally innocent “conversations” that go something like this:
You will wonder about the point of this conversation and how much this costs you or your child, but it's not dangerous. You may also learn that your child is not where he say he was or that some form of bullying is taking place. You may get an "eyeful" of foul language.
That is just the texts. What about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the things you may not even know they have? Many a parent has turned on their child’s computer to discover accounts like Formspring or things they didn’t know about. Even if you know, checking it all can be overwhelming. Who has that much time or expertise?
If we monitor, we need to have an idea of what we are looking for. We want to make sure our children are safe and happy. We don’t want them to be rude or mean to others and we want to know if others are being nasty to them.
I would prefer if they kept their knee-jerk emotions or feelings about school, teachers, bosses, coaches and yes, parents, out of cyberspace.
We want to make sure they are not getting into any real trouble, communicating with inappropriate people and so forth. But, there are a host of things we, as parents, should stay away from.
I do think they are entitled to have normal and private conversations with their friends without constant parental vigilance. Parents should not confuse vigilance with nosiness.
At some point, we have to create standards, counsel, set positive examples with our own online use and trust them to apply it all in this brave new world.