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    The Checkup:

Your Parents Are Watching ... and Watching ... and Watching

Mom: What did you do today?

Child: Nothing

Mom: Who did you play with?

Child: No one

Mom: What did x teacher do in x class?

Child: Blah

Anyone else have this conversation play out regularly in their house? The more detailed I can get in the types of questions I ask, the more likely I'm able to surprise my son enough to learn bits and pieces about his day.

And that's why the New York Times' weekend piece "I Know What You Did Last Math Class" is so intriguing. On the one hand, online programs like Edline and ParentConnect give parents another starting point to further those daily conversations. On the other, kids can't escape the grip of watchful parents even for a second these days.

Take the question further and the debate continues. Cameras installed in some preschools allow parents to monitor their little ones on the computer from work. MyLunchMoney.com lets parents see what their children are eating at school. DriveCam monitors teens' driving behaviors. Cell phone GPS trackers pinpoint kids' exact location for Mom and Dad.

Makes me wonder how any of us ever grew up given that our parents actually had to -- gasp -- trust us to tell them what really was going on.

What kinds of child monitoring do you find useful and what kinds go too far? How do your children react when you reveal information about their days without them telling you about it -- whether that's learned from another parent, a teacher or more technological means?

On washingtonpost.com today: 'Supernanny' Jo Frost will take parenting questions live at 1:30 p.m. ET. You can submit your questions early or join the chat while it's going on.

By Stacey Garfinkle |  May 7, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Teens
Previous: Will Travel ... With Kids | Next: Fair Play?

Comments


I think spying on your kids is a sick behavior.

Posted by: DandyLion | May 7, 2008 7:30 AM | Report abuse

I believe that my daughter signed a non-disclosure agreement after she entered Kindergarten.

But gaining the trust of your child to get the information of what goes on during their day is far more valuable than the information itself.

Posted by: Honestly | May 7, 2008 7:38 AM | Report abuse

Agreed, Dandy.

But unfortunately, my kid did the same thing! I try to ask questions he can answer (he loves to tell me who gets in trouble, that he knows). I try to ask him what he did, if he has gym then I ask about that, etc. But I think he doesn't want to talk about it, but I keep asking!

I don't think I'd monitor the kids though. That seems a little strange.

Posted by: atlmom | May 7, 2008 7:57 AM | Report abuse

I can understand some spying when kids are too little to talk for themselves -- for example, the daycare cameras: I don't think I'd use one if my daycare had it, but I'd hope that the very fact they installed it would show that they weren't afraid of parental oversight.

After that, though, it gets kinda creepy. Kids need to have their own spheres, without a parent's constant presence, a place that's their own, that they learn to navigate on their own, and that they can choose to share or not.

I'd consider something like the math tracker only if my kid was really struggling with something specific. For ex., if I had an A student who suddenly started bringing home Cs and Ds, I'd consider signing up for a month or two to see if it helps me identify the problem. Or if I had a kid with ADHD, and was in the process of learning coping skills, I'd consider it so I could doublecheck that he didn't just forget to turn the homework in. Otherwise, I think it just puts too much pressure on kids to be perfect every day.

Posted by: Laura | May 7, 2008 8:10 AM | Report abuse

Colour me Gen X because - wow. I find the concept of tracking my child's every move frightening. I learned so much by being on my own - even in math class.

But I'm guessing that kids who grow up with the reach of Google and cell phones and Twitter and things may end up feeling very differently.

Posted by: Shandra | May 7, 2008 8:13 AM | Report abuse

It's funny this topic came up because I am reading a book called Little Brother by Cory Doctorow that addresses this phenomenon in the context of a science fiction story. The book is set in the near future where schools have security cameras and tracking systems so parents AND school officials can monitor them. It is also about the DHS and their monitoring of citizens to keep up us "safe."

Kids who grow up being monitored can become complacent as citizens who don't mind the government monitoring them.

Posted by: BurkeMom | May 7, 2008 8:28 AM | Report abuse

I think it speaks to a parent's lack of faith in himself/herself if they don't trust their child(ren), especially an older child. In theory, our job is to raise them well to be(hopefully) good and decent and contributing people. In the best scenario, we're setting a good example and raising them to be like us, and if not -- well, we get to serve as a horrible warning.

Did anyone see the article in the NY Times about parents tracking their kids' grades in real time? The first mother mentioned is seriously scary.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/04/fashion/04edline.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=edline&st=cse&oref=slogin

Posted by: WorkingMomX | May 7, 2008 8:34 AM | Report abuse

.....Or they will raise holy heck about it........

Posted by: BurkeMom | May 7, 2008 8:42 AM | Report abuse

I like the idea of being able to download my kid's driving behavior. Way too many teens take risks behind the wheel that turn deadly to the shock of their parents who don't understand that even "good kids" speed, drive distracted, etc. This gives you a chance to intervene if needed before the cops call you to give you the bad news.

Posted by: Olney | May 7, 2008 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Duh, I didn't read all of Stacey's piece to see that she'd posted a link to the same article. Must. consume. coffee.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | May 7, 2008 8:46 AM | Report abuse

I have never used any electronic tracking devices to "watch" my kids. Although there is enough bickering happening this morning I might appreciate watching them from afar with the mute button on!

In my house the sure fire way to get one kid to start talking is to get a different one talking first. Then the info comes pouring out of all of them.

Posted by: Momof5 | May 7, 2008 9:25 AM | Report abuse

I read that NYT article - and did find the first mom really scary.

My daughter is in high school, and all her teachers are on mygradebook. Both of us can track her grades whenever we want. (It makes the mid-quarter progress report obsolete, but that's another story.) As long as the teachers are diligent about entering grades (only one of hers is not - and that one has other issues anyway), it's a great tool. But even if I were at home after school, I would not interrogate my kids like that.

My son will enter middle school in the fall, and because of a) my prior experience with that school and b) his ADHD, I know I will have to be especially diligent. But it will mostly be via the teachers rather than my son. I have no qualms about emailing them regularly.

Posted by: just me | May 7, 2008 9:35 AM | Report abuse

spying is a sick thing, but on the other hand only a foolish parent blindly trusts any teenager.........

Posted by: Anonymous | May 7, 2008 9:53 AM | Report abuse

My daughter is in high school, and all her teachers are on mygradebook. Both of us can track her grades whenever we want. (It makes the mid-quarter progress report obsolete, but that's another story.) As long as the teachers are diligent about entering grades (only one of hers is not - and that one has other issues anyway), it's a great tool"

This is a great idea. It would eliminate kids like me who forged their parents signature when the mid term progress reports went out. ;)

Posted by: Anonymous | May 7, 2008 9:55 AM | Report abuse

I have just been talking with friends about some of this recently.

Like - hey - why are we so involved in our kids' lives? I did not have homework until I could do it on my own (2nd or 3rd grade, or so) - but my kindergartener has homework. It's so annoying cause he can't do it himself. So it's now MY responsibility to make sure it's done.

Ya know, my parents, not once, helped me with my homework. They were never involved with when I had a book report or whatever. They just gave me their values - i.e., education is important. I was only 11 when my sister went to college, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever - so I was incredibly motivated to do well in school - so that I could go to college.

So it's a very disturbing trend that parents are so involved. I mean, how are kids going to learn to do things on their own when the parents are always there to do things for them?

It only starts with monitoring their every move (and it indicates trust issues as well) then continues with everything else.

And, as a side note, my DH and I think hey, why did we work so hard to go to CSS when we could have just worked hard and gotten scholarships to something like the U of Hawaii or U or puerto rico/ What would have been the difference??? ;)

Posted by: atlmom | May 7, 2008 9:56 AM | Report abuse

This is a great idea. It would eliminate kids like me who forged their parents signature when the mid term progress reports went out. ;)

Posted by: | May 7, 2008 9:55 AM

Actually, my sister changed the grade on the report card once. She erased it and put something else in. That was back when the report cards were computer printed, but probably dot matrix or something else easily changeable. Parents figured it out anyway.

Posted by: atlmom | May 7, 2008 10:01 AM | Report abuse

"Like - hey - why are we so involved in our kids' lives? I did not have homework until I could do it on my own (2nd or 3rd grade, or so) - but my kindergartener has homework. It's so annoying cause he can't do it himself. So it's now MY responsibility to make sure it's done."

Hah! Just this week, when my daughter brought home her graded science reports and dioramas, my husband congratulated me. I asked why? He said, "because your diorama got a 98." :-)

Posted by: Laura | May 7, 2008 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Sounds Big Brotherish.

How to kids learn to tell the truth and face consequences when they are being spied on and black mailed? Are mom and dad going to follow them through life demanding information on their college grades and first job reviews?

Information is good, but for the most part kids need to learn how to share it and communicate with their parents. Some parents in this article are raising robots, not children.

Posted by: Get Real | May 7, 2008 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Wow. 1984, anyone?

I had enough trouble in high school, because my mother taught at the school I attended. She knew every grade before I did; she knew everything that happened all day. It was called "the Teachers' Lounge." I wouldn't wish that on others.

I don't want to spy on my kids to that degree.

That being said, our son's school does use Edline and we do occasionally check grades or assignments. If he tells us that he has no homework, and we suspect that he does have it and doesn't know about it because he was zoning out in class, we can check with him. His classic line, after discovering that a major project had been assigned and he didn't know: "Oh, so that's what the teacher was babbling on about."

Over his years in high school, we've had to check less and less as his performance gets better on its own.

What happens when he goes away to college? He succeeds or fails on his own.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | May 7, 2008 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Doesn't anyone else find it strange that state laws allow your child to get birth control and have an abortion without your knowledge -- but you can track their whereabouts with a GPS cellphone, monitor their eating habits, find out who they're calling on the phone, watch them at school and daycare, read their grades on-line, etc. etc. etc. Basically they have privacy in no areas of their lives -- except sexually? They're not old enough or wise enough to monitor their eating habits but they have the right to sexual autonomy? I, for one, would like to see more consistency on the subject.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 7, 2008 10:49 AM | Report abuse

I'm a huge believer in giving my kids (16 and 13) the space to decide things for themselves ... succeed on their own and feel the pride ... mess up and experience the consequences. I've used the school's
online homework system to help with family planning and show interest in their schoolwork (versus as a monitoring tool).

I've got great kids and I'm around a lot during non-school hours. I never saw myself needing GPS trackers or computer spyware to monitor my kids' activities.

BUT - and this is a big but! - I've recently stumbled across info that life is not as rosy as I thought. My older teen is engaging in risky behavior that I was completely, totally unaware of (I can't even figure out WHEN she's been doing it since she has a pretty structured life with little to no time without an adult around.)

Now my parental challenge is to redefine how/when I give her "space" and which (if any) of these "monitoring" tools will help in that process.

Bottom line - never say never.

Posted by: Elaine, Wise Woman#2 | May 7, 2008 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Elaine, Finding information that reveals something dangerous is one thing, monitoring a child 24/7 is another. I am all for playing detective when there is drinking, drugs, sex or other dangerous behaviour detected.

Posted by: Get Real | May 7, 2008 11:10 AM | Report abuse

My sister and I have a name for parents like the one in the article who highlights the bad grades and leaves it on her child's desk. We call them Racehorse Parents, and our dad was one. He used to tell us that our job was to get good grades and we always felt quite clearly that affection and love was tied to how we performed. I'm disturbed by the lady who meets the kids at the bus stop and doesn't chat with them about their day or offer them a snack or ask about their friends, but rather hones right in on their grades. I have a vision of this poor child counting down the days until she can be free of her micromanaging mother who doles out love according to her grades. In the short term this might help her GPA but it will clearly have unintended longterm effects.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 7, 2008 11:11 AM | Report abuse

The sad thing is that by managing everything these kids do they don't develop the skill set to solve and manage things on their own. So the irony is that by not allowing them to fall when they are younger, they are actually setting them up to fall farther and harder when they are older! These are the same kinds of parents who end up in courthouses explaining why little Jimmy wasn't "dealing" drugs, he was simply "holding" them for a friend.

Posted by: moxiemom | May 7, 2008 11:34 AM | Report abuse

In 2nd and 3rd grades, I never wanted to talk about school when I got home. My answer to "How was ___" was always "Fine." My parents expected me to do my own homework, although they were always willing to provide help if I didn't understand something, and would review it to make sure that I had completed the assignment. They also emphasized making sure I understood _how_ to do things. My mother definitely guided me through my first book report (4th grade) and my first major report in social studies (7th grade), but once she'd done that, she expected me to know how to do the work myself. By the time I got to high school, I wouldn't even let her look at my work before I turned it in.

Similarly, my dad helped me when I got stumped by my math homework. By the time I got to calculus, his help largely consisted of, "Walk me through the process as far as you understand it." And then partway through explaining it, I'd figure out the rest of the process myself.

They were very involved in our lives in any number of ways, but it rarely seemed overbearing or dictatorial. I can't imagine that today they'd use academic surveillance techniques.

Posted by: KateNonymous | May 7, 2008 11:40 AM | Report abuse

These are the same kinds of parents who end up in courthouses explaining why little Jimmy wasn't "dealing" drugs, he was simply "holding" them for a friend.


Actually that is not true. It is the parents who never checked on their kids, never asked, believed whatever was told to them. Then when the FBI shows up and says "did you know Johnny was building a 2000 lb bomb out of fertilizer in his room and had an arsenal in the closet? act completely surprised.....

Posted by: keep your eyes open | May 7, 2008 11:46 AM | Report abuse

"I have a vision of this poor child counting down the days until she can be free of her micromanaging mother who doles out love according to her grades. In the short term this might help her GPA but it will clearly have unintended longterm effects. "

Yup.

Posted by: Jake | May 7, 2008 12:24 PM | Report abuse

moxiemom

"These are the same kinds of parents who end up in courthouses explaining why little Jimmy wasn't "dealing" drugs, he was simply "holding" them for a friend."

How many times have you actualy been in a courthouse?

Posted by: Jake | May 7, 2008 12:26 PM | Report abuse

spelling correction - "actually been in a courthouse"

Posted by: Jake | May 7, 2008 12:27 PM | Report abuse

There are actually pros on both sides. I teach, and have my classes on edline (I'm not always up to date with grades). I *hate* parents like the first one mentioned. Doesn't help the learning at all, and just sets up a bad attitude. Then again, if you're e-mailing me about your child's progress, I do expect you to have checked edline.

I also really hate when teachers post grades online before handing them out to students. High school students should have a chance to look over their work before they get reamed out for it. Hey, maybe I didn't add correctly. Once I forgot to add in an entire page of a math test!

Off to post today's assignment online....

Posted by: inBoston | May 7, 2008 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Wow, these parents are zany. I think there may be some pros to the system. Like reducing time the teacher has to spend on talking to each parent. But to use it as a tool to scream at your kid each night is nuts. Also, it seems as if the parents in the article never took the time to find out why the kid failed the test. Maybe they just did not understand the material.

I have to say a truly informed parent would know when a test was coming up. They could see for themselves if the child was studying. If they were and still failed the test, I don't see the point at screaming at them.

Not sure what these totally neurotic parents plan to do when the kid goes to college. Call them up on the cell phone and scream at them.

Posted by: foamgnome | May 7, 2008 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Keep your eyes open, You are right about the kids with no parental involvement being the most disturbing, and I'll add the shy loner kid as well.

The kids that have over-protective, helicoperish parents are the ones that can't make decisions, are stunted emotionally and usually have very little initiative since their parents have been prompting them their whole lives. They are Dilberts.

Posted by: Get Real | May 7, 2008 1:44 PM | Report abuse

"They are Dilberts."

Get your geeks straight! They'd be more Wallys than Dilberts.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | May 7, 2008 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Get Real

"The kids that have over-protective, helicoperish parents are the ones that can't make decisions, are stunted emotionally and usually have very little initiative since their parents have been prompting them their whole lives. They are Dilberts."

Yup. I have several in my building. Lots of books smarts and not a lick of common sense.


They need constant supervison/approval because they haven't been taught by their parents to be STRONG enough to take actions without being spoon fed everything.

Posted by: Jake | May 7, 2008 2:14 PM | Report abuse

There is nothing worse than a person who has to be constantly approved by someone else

Posted by: Anonymous | May 7, 2008 3:24 PM | Report abuse

"There is nothing worse than a person who has to be constantly approved by someone else"

In the bedroom...

Posted by: Anonymous | May 7, 2008 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Elaine, that's hard. But honestly - even though I think there are definitely times to monitor - I believe what will get you and your daughter through this is your relationship, not your tech gadgets for tracking her. Hope it turns out ok!

Posted by: Shandra | May 7, 2008 3:42 PM | Report abuse

I think parents tend to ask the wrong questions at the wrong times.

Posted by: Liz D | May 7, 2008 3:47 PM | Report abuse

They are Dilberts."

You have never once read that comic strip. Have you? You'd think a person would use cultural references with which he's familiar, but no, not on this blog.

Posted by: Sigh | May 8, 2008 8:28 PM | Report abuse

What did Mom say? Everything in moderation.

Well, maybe we should all just take a chill pill and be moderate about keeping tabs on our kids.

I mean, it's great, obviously, to know what's going on in your child's life. But surveillance cameras? I'm sorry, but if you can't use more traditional methods of information gathering in regards to your child's life . . . well, maybe something is off? You might need to up your game a bit? I think we need to have *some* limit to the extent we'll go, right?


meredith
todayisfun.com

Posted by: todayisfun | May 11, 2008 1:11 AM | Report abuse

I guess the debate here is about "spying." That's the wrong debate. The correct issue, when it comes to teen driving, is keeping your child safe and alive. Every day about 16 kids die behind the wheel. That's 5,000+ dead teens with nothing to commemorate them but a roadside cross or a memorial tree planted at the high school -- and of course the life-long suffering by parents who wonder "what if" I had done something different that day?

About 820 end up in an ER every day, many with life changing injuries. That's 300,000 ER visits per year, BTW. The cost of this is about $40 billion each year. But that doesn't matter to the parents who forever have to set one less place at the dinner table.

So doesn't it just make sense to set some WRITTEN driving rules for the teens in the family. Then enforce them with a simple, low cost GPS vehicle tracker in the car? I don't think this is about spying at all. I think it's about recognizing that teens will be teens. They'll do their best, but when it comes to driving there is very little margin for error. A GPS system in the car is a powerful deterrent against all kinds of risky driving that leads to crashes, injury and death.

Sure, no kid will like the idea. But then again, they probably didn't like a lot of the rules you set as they grew up. It's a parent's job to be responsible for their kids -- to keep them safe and alive.

If I have to choose between being a friend to my child so as not to "insult" him -- or keeping them safe -- there's no question which I choose. Take a look at http://www.squidoo.com/safeteendrivingclub to see if that perspective doesn't help clarify the issue.

Thanks for listening.

Posted by: Allan | May 17, 2008 3:30 PM | Report abuse

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