When I was a kid in the 80s and 90s, there was a public service announcement that played every night before the news: “It’s 10 p.m., an ominous voice would intone. “Do you know where your children are? This nocturnal reprimand was such a cultural sensation that Andy Warhol and Joan Rivers recorded versions of it. Irony of ironies, it even inspired a michael jackson song.
It also perfectly illustrates how much parenthood has changed in a single generation. Now, with phones and smartwatches enabling geo-tracking, and even devices that allow parents to monitor their teen’s driving speed Where turn off their child’s car music remotely, we are equipped with the tools to communicate with our children every moment we are apart. Can you imagine parents today not know where their children are at 10 p.m.? Absurd. Especially since they are probably in their roomsscrolling TikTok.
But is this really progress? What are the consequences of constantly monitoring our children? What do we gain from it? And what are they losing? How do families reasonably deal with the possibilities that surveillance technology has unleashed? How to set limits around it? Does this help or hurt our children?
Recently my 10 year old son, the new owner of a Gizmo Smartwatch – went on a regular after-school play date. Suddenly drunk with communicative power, I started texting him several times during this 90 minute outing. “Are you having fun??” “I love you!” and “Let me know if you want me to pick you up!” I think it returned an emoji of a hot dog or a pig’s snout (Gizmo’s outgoing messages menu is limited).
Just to be clear, even as I bombarded him for emotional updates, I knew that was overkill. My need to assuage my own nebulous anxiety was, in fact, to distract her from the business of being a child. Back then, when I was chatting at a friend’s house or riding down steep hills without a bike helmet in jelly sandals, I was only responsible for myself – not to assuage my mother’s neurotic fear. that I was somehow less than ok. If a social interaction went wrong (and they did!), or if I hurt myself (and I did!), at least I had the right to feel and recover from my own pain. I wasn’t burdened with the added task of making sure my parents were both informed and ok. What message was I sending my son with all these recordings? I do not have Actually thinks he was in physical or emotional danger. I also didn’t think – and this is key – that he wasn’t equipped to navigate his situation. But my constant communiques implied otherwise.
Lenore Skenazy, President of let growa non-profit organization promoting children’s independence and author of Children at large, believes that tracking our children undermines family trust. Plus, knowing that mom or dad is always just a push of a button robs kids of opportunities to develop self-efficacy, which experts say is vital to their mental health and well-being. be. But we all follow them anyway, because “we have lost all tolerance for uncertainty”. Skenazy Highlights the story of a 9-year-old girl whose bicycle chain shifted while she was riding alone. Rather than troubleshoot, such as bringing the bike home or figuring out how to fix the chain herself, she called her dad, who ran to fix it.
“No skills were developed,” says Skenazy. “No resilience created. No creativity involved. And no agency, except to press a button and call dad. Are we hindering our children as they take their first steps towards independence? Is freedom with a digital connection really enough for them? “The people we used to track, until recently, were criminals on the loose,” Skenazy notes.
Yet she acknowledges that it is practically impossible not to follow our children. “We’re getting to the point where we think not knowing is crazy. And to some extent, when you box know, it’s hard to say, ‘I choose not to.’ So the idea of a child stepping out into the world without this beeping tracking device seems foolhardy. And once it seems normal, it sounds like a crazy person saying, “I know there are airbags, but I turned them off.” Who’s gonna do this? The difference is that “airbags don’t change your driving. They don’t change anything, unless you’re in an accident, they’re there. But tracking changes everything. Rather than creating a sense of security, monitoring traps parents in perpetual crisis mode, always on the lookout, forever anticipating the accident.
Ask any parent what they fear most when their child steps out into the world alone for the first time, and you’ll hear a variation of “kidnappers” or “getting hit by a Fresh Direct truck.” Although statistically improbable, the concerns raised by such occurrences are not without merit. As we continue to reel from the untold tragedies in Texas and Illinois – the latest in a nightmarish procession of parenting horrors – it is with shaken faith that we encourage our children to achieve independence.
However, for many of us, it also comes down to control: the urge to somehow manage what they’ll say or do when we’re not there to “support” them. But if it is our children’s poor choices that we fear, it should be noted that greater independence and responsibility can actually lead to better behavior. “Studies have related autonomy to long-term motivation, independence, confidence, and better executive function,” writes NPR Science correspondent Michaeline Doucleff, PhD, author of Hunt, Gather, Parent. “As the child grows, autonomy is associated with better school results and a reduced risk of drug and alcohol abuse.
Tracking apps “eviscerate our trust,” says Skenazy. “There is something troubling to me about the emotional relationship between you and your children if there is no way they can separate themselves from you and do something successfully on their own – or unsuccessfully. and fend for themselves – without you being there to watch, help, step in, assess, and use your adult intelligence to get them out of a childish situation. There’s simply no escaping letting our children make mistakes. But there is a price to pay for soothing our parental anxiety. Teenagers who know they are being followed may find it pointless to stay out of curfew or go to the illicit party. But the decision to comply was not theirs.
Instead, Skenazy argues, “adolescents should internalize responsibility and even some of the irresponsibility it goes hand in hand with growth. Parents who think they can “trust but verify” their children’s decisions might want to re-examine this paradox. “Without risk, there is no trust,” says Skenazy. “There is no trust if you check. It’s the contrary. Teenagers often tell him that they just want the chance to show their parents what good and responsible young adults they are becoming. But a child can’t show you what you’re “watching” all along.
Moreover, childhood eventually ends. When do the children end their follow-up? When do you cut the wireless cord? Do teenagers go off to college and suddenly their exhausted, hyper-vigilant, helicopter parents turn off the propellers and stop tracking their every move? Seems like it would be hard to lose the leash after being connected for so long. Is there a happy medium? Is the answer, as with all things parenting, balance? Should we begin the laborious process of letting go? Perhaps we are reframing this surveillance network as a safety net, useful for logistics (“Mom, pick me up at 5”) or for real emergencies only. We can now monitor our children’s every move even when they are studying abroad in Australia. We released the kraken. There is no question of putting the horse back in the stable. But we can try not to smother the horse’s life with a digital bridle.
Recently, I swallowed my (many) fears and allowed my son to ride a bike (with a helmet!) to school (on roads with cars!). I religiously check the Gizmo app to make sure it arrived in one piece. But I don’t text him. I’m learning that because I love her, I have to stop telling her all the time.
Suzanne Zuckerman is a freelance writer in New York.