More on technologies for tracking teens

In my last post, I wrote about parents using tracking devices to find out where their children were so as to keep them out of danger. I’ve been curious about these tracking devices since I’ve been interviewing parents about how they negotiate digital and mobile media use with their teenage children.

I met a friend of a friend who wanted to talk with me about her own approach. She told me that she and her husband are both in the IT industry. They hadn’t found a use for microchips, but her daughter had complained about being constantly under surveillance anyway. The parents and daughter used phone calls to keep in touch regarding whereabouts, as most parents do. But these parents had also installed a security system earlier on that had now come to have a secondary function: every time the daughter entered the house, the lights automatically came on. Then, as she opened the door, the security system’s bell chime announced her arrival. First, her daughter said, she felt spotlighted, and then she felt as if her entrance drew all eyes to her. Couldn’t she just be allowed to come in the door without all the fanfare? We laughed at how the security measures of the house look from the dramatic perspective of the teen years: “oh no, they’re focusing on me! Don’t look at me! Don’t! No – do!”

This family also employed Microsoft’s Family Safety, so that the parents took turns reviewing all of the sites that the children had visited. The parents were quite matter-of-fact about all of this surveillance. They had good relationships with their kids, but couldn’t imagine not using the technologies made available to them. Sometimes awareness of online activities generated very useful discussions, such as when the mom learned that her slim 9-year-old had been looking at sites about dieting and weight loss. That seemed like the kind of thing I’d want to know about, too. Although on the other hand, I’m not sure I’d need to check a history to know that girls worry about weight and looks.

I continue to wonder about the ways that in that family, the technology had made what might have seemed from the teens’ perspective like a shared home into a parent-structured space.

I love that my own children feel like the house we live in is “their” house. Of course, we chose to move to this particular house specifically for what we saw as its family-friendly architecture: a big open and public room with a tv and computer where there’s freedom but also the potential for observation (I know my Foucauldian friends will recognize the panopticon-like plan there), bedrooms too small to house personal technologies, and an upstairs area where adults can read or converse away from the constant thrumming of video games or Disney sitcoms and where all technologies are parked for charging overnight. We also finally have space in the back yard for that most unsafe of all pieces of equipment: a trampoline. I wonder if I don’t feel the need to track my kids because even though they’re not constantly under my supervision, they spend a lot of time in the public spaces of our shared space, whether indoors or out. I like that they can relax in and around their house.

Conversations like the one with the IT mom and dad always make me wonder about my own naivete. My children are not quite in the middle teen years, so I’m fully aware that I could change my plans and my own children will no doubt surprise me in unpleasant ways in the years to come. But it just seems a little invasive to me to do all of this tracking.

No wonder the college students around me feel that it’s normal to engage in surveillance of each other all the time through Facebook, which they half-jokingly call cyber-stalking.

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