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How Closely Should We Monitor Our Children?

Parents are equipping children with GPS devices and acquiring spyware to monitor their online and phone activity.

We just got a new puppy. One of the first things I did was take him to the vet who inserted a chip in his ear so if he ever makes a run for it, we can track his whereabouts. Dogs are one thing, but can chipping our kids be far off?

I recently read an article about how some parents are equipping toddlers and grade-schoolers with GPS devices that enable them to know the kids' locations at all times. In addition, some parents who have teens are acquiring spyware to monitor their children's online and cell phone activity. Others are resorting to home drug-testing kits. New York Sen. Eric Adams stars in a YouTube video that offers tips on how to search your children's bedrooms for drugs and weapons. He insists children have no constitutional right to privacy at home, and shows how contraband could be hidden in backpacks, jewelry boxes, and under a doll's dress.

After viewing the YouTube video, I did a sweep of my own. I found some very incriminating evidence in Saxon's Lego box. There, buried among his Star Wars Legos, were a dozen contraband mini-Snickers bars wrappers. This kid is so busted. He has been sneaking candy behind my back. What's next? Heroin? While we're on the subject of snooping, I don't need any fancy-pants spy gadgets to monitor my kid's cell phone activity. I'll just conduct my detective work the old fashioned way—by scrolling through his texts after he goes to sleep.

Truthfully, I am more of the Lenore Skenazy mindset anyway. She is the author of a book called “Free Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry).” My husband and I keep the lines of communication open with our kids, strive for a good balance in our family life, and ultimately trust them. And if we suspect a problem, we address the situation.

How about you? Do you think parenting has reached a state of paranoia? Should we watch over our children Big Brother-style?

Thanks to our newest Mom's Talk contributor, Maaliea Wilbur for last week's question about the challenges of planning a modern-day party for young chlldren.

Here's the sage advice offered by Mom's Talk contributor Dyan Chan:

"I say when your baby is turning one, the party is still for the parents! Do what you want and invite the folks who are important to you as a parent. You're celebrating a successful first year of new-momhood! Beckett will probably be asleep (or crying) when it's time to blow out the candles, but everyone will still ooh and ahh and congratulate you for making it through the first sleepless year. Now, when your child hits five or so and has strong opinions about theme, color scheme, refreshments, activities, what kind of cake to have and where it should come from, which friends he's friends with that day/week--then you have more to worry about! But then again, I have girls, so maybe it's different. :)The challenges of planning a modern-day party for a new child can be daunting."

Louise Leprohon September 07, 2011 at 01:47 PM
Did you let Saxon know that you found the candy wrappers?
Kristina Strand September 07, 2011 at 03:46 PM
I have three sons, all of whom look very much alike, but who might as well be from three different planets. I do not think on-size-fits-all. My response to each of them when I hear: "that's not fair, you didn't make so-and-so do that!", is "you are different people and we parent each of you as best we can". That being said, thus far trust has worked out pretty well for us, so long as it is not violated. We provide clear boundaries, which widen as each of our sons develop (this is not always at the same chronological speed). Our boys know we care, that we are watching, and that when there is a consequence (whether natural or imposed by us) it is almost certainly because they have overstepped a boundary which was clear to them, and which they chose to overstep. For us, parenting is neither policing nor is it closing our eyes. For us it is an every-changing job which requires communication, love, trust and vigilance. Kristina
LG2010 September 07, 2011 at 04:16 PM
Obviously your child is young and you can joke about it. But just wait until he is in high school - things will change. Kids are much smarter and more resourceful today. There is an abundance of drugs at Los Gatos High School, and anyone who disagrees is in denial. They say they are going to a friend's house, then end up at a party. I've even heard of parents who allow their kids to drink at home "because at least they are safe here." Yes, you have to aware of your kids moods and activities. Verify and confirm everything. You may think that your kid is a "good kid" but even the good kids are doing stupid things!
Kim Ratcliff September 07, 2011 at 07:18 PM
Well said, Kristina. I couldn't agree more with providing clear boundaries. Our kids yearn for them, don't they? (Even if unconsciously.) Sounds like you have found the perfect parenting balance. Thanks for commenting.
Kim Ratcliff September 07, 2011 at 07:26 PM
Actually I do have a freshman. He is so much more innocent than I was at his age, at least for now. Back in my days at LGHS in the '80s, drugs were a part of the high school fabric. It's a different world now, though. I agree that vigilance and good communication are key components to parenting. We can't afford to bury our heads in the sand when it comes to drugs and alcohol.
Mary Smith September 07, 2011 at 08:07 PM
When my daughter was in high school, she had a friend who stole from me. I will call this friend Kathy. She was 15 at the time. What Kathy stole was not valuable - only a blush compact from my medicine cabinet. But it was brand new, and it's disappearance was hugely obvious - especially since I went into the bathroom and noticed it was gone immediately after Kathy came out of the bathroom! I confronted her right on the spot. She was embarrassed, started crying, but was actually relieved and grateful! Kathy's mother had let her do whatever she pleased. Kathy had no boundaries or curfews. And you know what? Kathy HATED it! She had all this freedom, which kids THINK they want. But she didn't have the maturity to manage her life. She WANTED the structure and she said so! She truly wished her mother "would care enough to say no once in a while". Kids not only NEED boundaried - they WANT them. They just don't always know it!
LG2010 September 08, 2011 at 12:43 AM
You're correct, that we, as parents, can't bury our heads in the sand when it comes to drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, the school is burying their heads. There are kids everyday at school who are under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. They bring it on campus, and blatantly smoke on campus, in their cars, etc, and the administration does nothing. There are many kids who have medicinal marijuana cards and share their "medicine" with other students. The school should treat medicinal marijuana just like any other medication a student has to take while on campus - it must be regulated. Ask any police officer or local psychologist about the drugs and their effects on our children at this school and they will acknowledge there is a huge problem. Now if we can only get the administration to admit and work with us parents, and the community, to do something about it!
Maaliea Wilbur September 08, 2011 at 04:49 AM
What a great conversation you started Kim! I think monitoring children and teens in today's society is a must! Working as a teen therapist in LG, it has become clear that teens crave boundaries and structure in all areas of their lives. Unfortunately, due to the high demands of modern day parents, teens aren't getting what they need and are having to learn the hard way...eventually making their way into my office and onto my couch. I agree that as a community, it is time to not only recognize the drug and alcohol problem amongst our teens but to do something about it. Due to my passion for this concern, I recently launched an intensive therapeutic substance abuse program for teens and their families. To learn more go to www.therapyworksoflosgatos.com
LG2010 September 08, 2011 at 05:00 AM
Nothing personal, but therapy for teens in Los Gatos seems to be big business. LGHS recommended several therapists for our freshman, but not surprisingly, they were completely booked! It may sound corny, but maybe it does take a village to raise a kid. This community is so worried about its image that it denies there are problems. These kids need our help. They are in so much pain that they turn to alcohol and drugs. I know of 3 students from LGHS that attempted suicide in the past week. WE have a problem that needs to be addressed before one more child dies. Wake up Los Gatos!!
Dyan Chan September 12, 2011 at 11:36 PM
I agree with Kristina that the best thing to do is try to maintain open, trusting relationships with our kids. That gets harder as they want more privacy, but we keep trying, we ask them about their lives, we share our values, we set the guidelines. We also try to get to know and talk with their friends, and their friends' parents. Beyond that, I hope I never have to find out!
Chigiy Binell September 16, 2011 at 07:46 PM
I like your free range idea Kim. Teaching a child to be independent is the best thing you can do for him/her. I struggle with that every day. That being said, I believe that as parents, we have to change as society changes. Technology has altered our lives. It is a much different world than when we were kids. There is a never ending stream of information available to our kids and ABOUT our kids and I think we have to keep this in mind as we raise them.

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