Spying on your kids? Protecting your kids? The debate on The Wonder of Tech started with Poll: Do You Spy on Your Kids’ Text Messages? and has continued behind the scenes as Wonder of Tech readers have been discussing the issues briefly addressed in the poll. So The Wonder of Tech is revisiting the issue of using technology to monitor your kids’ behavior.
Spying is when your kids don’t know that you are reading their text messages, going on their Facebook pages, reading their emails, etc. Monitoring is when you are checking up on them, but you have told them what you will be doing.
There are moral concerns with discovering information through technology. The issue of trust is vitally important between a parent and a child. How you handle spying vs. monitoring can have a big impact on the trust between you and your child. Does your child see you as a loving parent who is watching over him to keep him safe? Or does your child see you as an intrusive parent who won’t stay out of his business?
Do you monitor/spy constantly or only when you suspect a problem? If your kid is a straight A student with delightful friends who is pleasant and helpful, maybe you don’t feel a need to delve into this territory. But if that straight A student suddenly starts hanging out with kids you don’t like, starts failing classes and won’t look you in the eye, you may want to turn to technology to help figure out what the problem is.
Do you really want to know everything that is going on with your child? Think back, would you have wanted your parents to know everything that you did as a teenager? How would you have felt if you had discovered that your parents were listening to your teenage phone calls?
Perhaps some minor indiscretions are best left undetected. Ask yourself if you will sleep better at night knowing or not knowing what your child is doing. A child can’t learn from his mistakes if he isn’t given the freedom to make any.
What will you do with the information you discover? If you have been truly spying, will you break your child’s trust in you when you reveal you have been spying? If you don’t reveal what you have discovered, will you be tormented by the information? If another child is involved, do you tell that child’s parents?
The question of whether you should be a parent de-tech-tive can only be answered by you. But please consider these factors before deciding how to monitor/spy on your kids’ tech.
How To Be A Parent De-Tech-Tive
Quite a few Wonder of Tech readers informed me that the poll didn’t apply to them because either they didn’t know enough about tech to monitor their kids or they figured their kids knew enough about tech to hide whatever they wanted to keep secret. Your kids might not be as tech-savvy as you assume they are. Not all teenagers are into tech, even if they text, are on Facebook and instant message their friends. Even if your kids are into tech, you as a parent can still set ground rules as long as your kids are living in your house and/or you are paying the bills.
Password protection is your biggest obstacle to obtaining the information you seek. If your kid has password protected his phone or computer, you will have great difficulty accessing his information. Your child may have very good reasons for using passwords, such as keeping younger siblings or prankster friends away from his tech. Some websites, such as Facebook and email accounts require passwords. So a kid using password protection doesn’t necessarily mean that he has secrets to hide from you.
There are ways around passwords, but in some cases, that can mean wiping out data. Sometimes that data is retrievable (iPhone), sometimes it’s not (Android). Instead of advising you on how to get around password protection, I suggest, if you want to monitor your kid’s password-protected tech, that you ask/insist your child provide you with his passwords. Of course, this means that you won’t be spying, since your kid will then know you are monitoring his tech.
With Facebook, you can monitor your child’s activity even if you don’t have his password. You need a Facebook account and your child to accept your Friend Request. Then you can go on his profile page and see what he has been posting. Not all kids are active on Facebook, but for those who are, Facebook postings can be a treasure trove of information about what is going on in someone’s life.
Some Facebook posts might seem innocent, but are actually dangerous, such as a post that says you are about to embark on a two week vacation out of the country. Your child might be excitedly telling his friends about your family’s eagerly anticipated African safari, but do you really want the world to know that your house will be unoccupied for those two weeks?
Internet browsing is another area of concern for parents. I know of more than one family whose computer was infected by viruses from a kid downloading files from a disreputable website.
To see which websites your child has been visiting, go to the address bar at the top of the browser and click on the Down Arrow. Alternatively, you can click Control + h to see the history of websites visited on any browser. You can also see the history by clicking on the History button on the browser. On Firefox, look for the History button by clicking on Firefox in the upper left hand corner of your screen. On Internet Explorer, find the Favorites and then click on the History tab. In Chrome, go to Tools and click on the History button. In Safari, click on the Bookmarks icon and choose History.
Your child can avoid having his browsing history discovered by clearing his history or browsing in private from any browser. But unless your birthday is around the corner and your child is an avid online shopper, your child taking steps to protect his browser history should be a big red flag for you.
“Trust but verify” is how President Reagan dealt with the Soviet Union. That philosophy worked well for him and for our country. Whether that is the road you choose with your kids is an important decision, and you should at least be aware that you have options when monitoring your kids’ tech. You may not need these options now, but someday you might.
Yesterday’s big tech news was that a company called Epsilon had their databases hacked and email addresses and names were stolen. You probably haven’t heard of Epsilon so you may not be concerned. Why you should be concerned is that Epsilon is one of the largest email marketing companies in the world with major clients including banks, such as JP Morgan Chase, Barclays, US Bancorp, Capital One, Citibank, and stores, such as Target, Walgreens, Best Buy, as well as hundreds of other companies.
The good news is that no passwords or account numbers were revealed. The bad news is that identification of fake emails will be nearly impossible from now on.
You may be aware of “phishing” where someone sends you an email pretending to be from a company such as a bank, asking you to click on a link and log in with your account number and password. These emails have been easy to identify because they didn’t use your name and may not have even been from a bank you use.
“Spear phishing” is where the email includes your name and is from a company where you have an account. Spear phishing is much trickier to identify because there may be no way to easily determine whether the email is from your bank or a thief.
What can you do? First, don’t click on any email links asking you to verify any user names, passwords or account information. Second,bookmark the website address for your bank. If you ever need to go to your bank’s website, you won’t be tempted to just click on an email link. Third, if you have been fooled by a spear phishing email, notify your bank immediately.
You may be one of the fortunate ones whose email and name weren’t stolen. But taking the suggested precautions will help ensure that you won’t be a victim of spear phishing.
* Image by Pablo Lizardo
** Image by Frank G.
***Image by Dutchbaby