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Invasion of privacy or parental right?
August 13, 2013 12:38 PM   Subscribe

Matthew Ingram used the tools available to him to watch the online behaviours of his three daughters. Here is his (and his daughter's) story: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and his daughter's response.
posted by Amity (200 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
Now try it again with a dad who's a religious nutjob who you're best off keeping secrets from.
posted by jepler at 12:43 PM on August 13, 2013 [28 favorites]


I'm still looking for the coded message in the last paragraph of the daughter's suspiciously easygoing response.
posted by elizardbits at 12:48 PM on August 13, 2013 [25 favorites]


If they're under 16, not just a right but mandatory.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:48 PM on August 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


It became something of a Panopticon surveillance phenomenon: by not knowing when my dad was watching, I policed my own behaviour and came to better understand what was good or bad, and why. [...] All in all, my dad’s surveillance of my internet activities has not impacted me negatively in the slightest. I don’t know what my online experiences would have been like if my dad had been completely missing, or too involved in them.

I know this is supposed to be the positive takeaway, but I still find it both sad and a little chilling. When, exactly, are all these children who have been parented this way supposed to start thinking and making decisions on their own, without the assumption of Mom And Dad Are Watching? On their 18th birthday? Their 21st? Ever?

My Gen X lawn: get off it
posted by scody at 12:52 PM on August 13, 2013 [69 favorites]


The only impression I got from reading the daughter's response was that the author has raised a child who is okay with authorities watching her every move. Further, her thinking is to "police herself."

Horrifying.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:53 PM on August 13, 2013 [97 favorites]


by not knowing when my dad was watching, I policed my own behaviour and came to better understand what was good or bad, and why. It left me feeling much better about my experiences online knowing that my dad was there not only keeping me out of trouble, but also keeping an eye out for trouble that might be targeting me.

NSA: Your Caring Dad.
posted by dubold at 12:53 PM on August 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


GallonOfAlan: "If they're under 16, not just a right but mandatory."

???
posted by boo_radley at 12:55 PM on August 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


Haven't read through the whole thing, but this bit early on already makes me want to stop:

When I look back at it now, after almost a decade since I first began monitoring their online activity, I can see a number of lessons, some of which are more obvious than others. And I can see how in some ways it was a mistake, but in other ways it showed me things about my children — worthwhile, valuable things — that I would never have learned otherwise.

No no no no no no. This is beyond terrible. To learn something about another - worthwhile, valuable, or otherwise - without involving them is disgusting. It's forcing a relationship without consent. It's more than a simple invasion of privacy. As a child of a recovering control freak, the Internet was the only channel for freedom I had. I can't imagine how growing up and finding out everything was exposed would feel.

I wouldn't be surprised if this man has permanently damaged any chance for a future relationship with his adult children.

On preview: Didn't read the daughter's response before, but judging from others' comments, I'm not sure of which I'm more horrified: the big brother tendencies or the complacency it has evidently bred.
posted by idealist at 12:57 PM on August 13, 2013 [33 favorites]


Further, her thinking is to "police herself."

Yeah, this is what made me so queasy, I think. It reminded me of a story I heard on either This American Life or The Moth, where a former evangelical Christian guy was recalling his distress with any thoughts of sex (or even the nonsexual acknowledgment of the existence of women's bodies below the neck) that entered his mind, and how thinking became a near-constant state of self-policing.

It's unhealthy to live in such a way that you constantly monitor and censor your own thoughts, and unethical to impose such a way of living on another individual.
posted by scody at 1:00 PM on August 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


Poor kids. Now, the whole Internet knows how little this dude trusted them. I'm all for parents being involved in what their kids do online, but for gods' sake, tell them you'll be keeping an eye on them to make sure they're OK... All he's done now is raised a gaggle of girls who expect their every move to be spied upon and who seem to accept that as "okay." Disgusting.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 1:01 PM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


tell them you'll be keeping an eye on them to make sure they're OK...

To be clear, the daughter indicates that she knew her father was watching her.
posted by scody at 1:02 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, the fact that it seems he is also monitoring, by default, the activities of his childrens' friends as well...without THEIR parents' knowledge or consent.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:02 PM on August 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm all for parents being involved in what their kids do online, but for gods' sake, tell them you'll be keeping an eye on them to make sure they're OK...

If you read the last link, she says:

Dad never hid his surveillance from me; he asked for my usernames and urls on various websites, and talked to me about what he was seeing. Which — as is to be expected for a twelve-year-old girl speaking to her father — often led to some embarrassing conversations, and I admit the rebellious teenager in me resented it
posted by dubold at 1:03 PM on August 13, 2013


Well, but she doesn't mention the keylogger, and his account makes it sound like they didn't know about the monitoring until he gave up on the keylogger and started following them on Tumblr and Twitter.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 1:05 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


the author has raised a child who is okay with authorities watching her every move

Not that there aren't meaningful pro and con arguments to be had about this stuff, but can't we dial back the "OMG ITS 1984!!!" stuff a bit? There is a very significant difference between parental and governmental surveillance. Otherwise we might as well throw up our hands in horror that we're allowing parents to strip their own children naked and force them to submit to getting bathed against their will or gnash our teeth about raising a generation who will expect the government to literally clean up after them and hold their hands when they go potty or something.
posted by yoink at 1:06 PM on August 13, 2013 [24 favorites]


Most societies absolutely suck at teaching kids how to protect themselves against real dangers online. So instead of teaching skills and changing behaviors we get parents running their own dinky intelligence programs and indiscriminately using surveillance tools on their own family members.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:08 PM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is fucking disgusting.
posted by Jairus at 1:08 PM on August 13, 2013 [19 favorites]


Add this entire series to the list of reasons I'm glad I grew up in the 80s.

but way below
  • Calvin and Hobbes
  • The Muppets
  • Carl Sagan
  • Ozzie Smith
posted by DigDoug at 1:08 PM on August 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


For example, from Part 1:
The only thing remotely interesting that turned up was a conversation about smoking pot one night at a friend’s party. Since 13 seemed a little young to be encouraging that kind of behavior, my wife and I had a little chat with our daughter about the wisdom of that kind of activity — without telling her how we found out about it — and that was pretty much the end of it. Eventually, I stopped looking at the emailed chat logs that the software forwarded me (it would send them based on certain word triggers as well) and went back to not paying much attention to what my daughter did online.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 1:09 PM on August 13, 2013


There is a very significant difference between parental and governmental surveillance.

Did you read the father's account? He implies that he doesn't think it's that different at all.

allowing parents to strip their own children naked and force them to submit to getting bathed against their will

Come on. At least engage the conversation at a level of something other than ridiculous hyperbole.
posted by scody at 1:10 PM on August 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


It became something of a Panopticon surveillance phenomenon: by not knowing when my dad was watching, I policed my own behaviour and came to better understand what was good or bad, and why. [...] All in all, my dad’s surveillance of my internet activities has not impacted me negatively in the slightest. I don’t know what my online experiences would have been like if my dad had been completely missing, or too involved in them.

> I know this is supposed to be the positive takeaway, but I still find it both sad and a little chilling. When, exactly, are all these children who have been parented this way supposed to start thinking and making decisions on their own, without the assumption of Mom And Dad Are Watching? On their 18th birthday? Their 21st? Ever?


When were they not making their own decisions? They were just decisions informed of the fact that their father was watching.

One way to look at this is that he's informed his kids that their actions online aren't done in safe, walled gardens that so many youth seem to believe. I'm willing to bet that these kids won't post pictures of themselves drinking or smoking online, should they engage in those activities. He's keeping them ahead of the curve, when kids suddenly realize, "oh shit, my whole internet history is out there for anyone to see" when they come to apply to colleges or to jobs. It's a shitty way to look at this, but it makes the whole experience less crappy for the kids.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:10 PM on August 13, 2013 [19 favorites]


In other words, the internet is not an innocent place for children to explore and share.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:12 PM on August 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


To me, this is worlds better than a parent who just doesn't give a shit, though I suppose the "surveillance" flung too far in the opposite direction on the continuum of parental involvement. Personally, I was left unattended at a computer with a dial-up modem, starting at age 7 or so. It was the early days of Prodigy and AOL, and I was inadvertently exposed to some awful things and got involved with people who had no business talking to children in any context. It all could've been avoided, not with a keylogger, but if my parents had taken even a tiny bit of interest in what I was doing online or who I was talking to. I think that level of attention is really all that's needed.
posted by averageamateur at 1:12 PM on August 13, 2013


Is this okay? As with all things parenting related: depends on the kid, depends on the parents. YMMV.
posted by ColdChef at 1:12 PM on August 13, 2013 [29 favorites]


I don't advocate spying on your children but I honestly struggle with how I'll guide, monitor and mentor my kids on the internet when they get older. I don't let them watch whatever movies and tv-shows they feel like, nor do I let them play violent video games. Why should I be laissez faire about content on the internet?
posted by lucasks at 1:13 PM on August 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't let them watch whatever movies and tv-shows they feel like, nor do I let them play violent video games. Why should I be laissez faire about content on the internet?

Probably you don't put a hidden camera on their backpacks to find out if they're watching whatever movies they want at their friend's houses, though.
posted by Jairus at 1:15 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not that there aren't meaningful pro and con arguments to be had about this stuff, but can't we dial back the "OMG ITS 1984!!!" stuff a bit?

I'm sorry, I'm unable to do that. When someone comes out and states they are policing their own thoughts because their authority figure (a parent in this case) is watching literally every keystroke they enter on a computer, the comparison is apt. The social world has, for better or worse, become very electronic. Spying on your children to this degree is the complete removal of trust.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 1:15 PM on August 13, 2013 [20 favorites]


There's something about this that I struggle to explain. It's like this: I equate this behavior with physically spying. Like drilling a whole in the bathroom and watching them shower, or peeping through the keyhole and watching them undress. Children, especially teenagers, have secrets. And they should. This is so gross - like I can see this guy being the anonymous asker who was going to buy his daughter lube for college. Creepy dad is creepy.
posted by peep at 1:15 PM on August 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


I grew up with parents that did this for years. All of my interactions online were tracked and nothing I did was not seen. I had absolutely zero privacy and at one point I remember one of my parents asking my brother to assist them in hacking into one of my several email accounts. My parents never tried to talk to me about anything they discovered by "accident" but they kept folders of images and conversation logs. My father would log on to my IM accounts and talk to my friends as me to see if I was up to something or which boy I liked at the time. It was not a healthy environment for me and it's taken me years to trust people as a result.

This horrifies me.
posted by Marinara at 1:18 PM on August 13, 2013 [64 favorites]


My mom was a KGB-level snooper and it really affected how I deal with people in general; I literally cannot fucking handle having people in my home, barring one or two that I have known for years. If the internet had been a big thing when I was in my early teens I'm sure she would have wanted to do all this stuff but HA HA would not have been able to figure out how to do so.

In other words, the internet is not an innocent place for children to explore and share.

Yeah but neither is the real world. I didn't have internets when I was a teen and LOOK AT ME NOW.
posted by elizardbits at 1:18 PM on August 13, 2013 [59 favorites]


I don't let them watch whatever movies and tv-shows they feel like, nor do I let them play violent video games.

When will you allow them to? Sure, I don't think violent video games or movies are appropriate at age 4 or 6, per se. But when will they be able to watch them? 8? 10? 14? 18? Will it be different for each of your children?

Why should I be laissez faire about content on the internet?

You shouldn't. But you also need to let your kids explore the world they live in.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 1:18 PM on August 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think there are two things here: following your kids on social websites, and the keylogger thing. I think following your kids on social websites is great: it's transparent, they know you're doing it, you can keep up with what's going on in their life, and they learn not to put embarrassing stuff on the publicly accessible web. The keylogger stuff is gross, and I wish he had quit using it because of that, and not because it stopped being useful for him.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 1:18 PM on August 13, 2013 [16 favorites]


Children have always grown up with zero expectation of privacy.

A good parent isn't one who totally ignores their child's behaviour on the grounds of respect of privacy; a good parent learns to watch their children explore the world from a discreet distance. The child sometimes becomes aware that the parent is there in the background, but it's neither unexpected nor particularly unwelcome. I think that's more or less what was happening in this case.

There seems to be a real fashion for really hands-off parenting at the moment (at least where I live), and I don't particularly like how the kids are shaping up as a result.
posted by pipeski at 1:18 PM on August 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


You don't have any guarantee of privacy from your parents, you never have, and this is not Orwellian. Yes, there is a tradeoff between keeping your kids safe and stripping them of all privacy but this is not some basic violation of human rights. Keylogging may err on the side of overcaution, but if you aren't at least monitoring your child or adolescent's browsing history you're simply irresponsible. There are real dangers on the internet, and not just unlikely ones like sexual predation but common ones like exposing enough public information to make yourself a target or falling prey to identity theft. If your child runs afoul of those b/c you have some sort of highminded ideal that an adolescent's internet activities should be private that is a failure to parent. Supervision is in the job description.
posted by NathanBoy at 1:18 PM on August 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


In other words, the internet is not an innocent place for children to explore and share.

Of course, and I don't want kids to be targeted by bullies and predators any more than you do. I think it's extremely important for parents to teach a kind of internet "good hygiene" (for lack of a better term) regarding posting personal information, compromising photos, etc.

But this goes way beyond this -- it is the electronic version of (as someone suggests above) putting a camera in their backpack watching them when they're out sight, or monitoring their library usage, or installing a camera in the living room or bedroom, or tapping the phone. After all, the entire world is not always an innocent place for children to explore or share. And yet, every generation of children -- up until this one -- has largely been given some autonomy in navigating it.
posted by scody at 1:19 PM on August 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


My kid just found a GPS tracker on his Big Wheel and confronted me in the garage about it. Said my best course of action was to "tread lightly."
posted by bondcliff at 1:20 PM on August 13, 2013 [71 favorites]


You don't have any guarantee of privacy from your parents, you never have

Not if you have bad parents, no. But good parents know when to respect their children's privacy.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:21 PM on August 13, 2013 [40 favorites]


Children have always grown up with zero expectation of privacy.

Speak for yourself. I had an expectation of privacy growing up, because my parents explicitly referred to my privacy.
posted by scody at 1:22 PM on August 13, 2013 [42 favorites]


Every kid is different. My son played every violent video game known to man and had free reign on the Internet from age 11 or 12. I think for most kids free reign versus controlling parenting has little effect within the first couple of standard deviations of parent behavior. Outliers like the subject of this post are the exception.

Today my son is a 19 year old pacifist that made Dean's List his both semesters his freshman year of college, doesn't drink or smoke, and generally is one hell of a responsible young man. His 17 year old sister is following the same path.

So today I am lauded as a good parent, often by the same people that questioned our methods a few short years ago. I have no idea what that means, other than don't do like we did and expect the same results, because you don't have our kids.
posted by COD at 1:22 PM on August 13, 2013 [13 favorites]


Also, the fact that it seems he is also monitoring, by default, the activities of his childrens' friends as well...without THEIR parents' knowledge or consent.

He says he used a keylogger, which indicates that he only saw his own daughter's words (unless she copied & pasted someone else's words, I suppose -- but teens aren't real sticklers for cites on IM).
posted by wenestvedt at 1:24 PM on August 13, 2013


other than don't do like we did and expect the same results, because you don't have our kids.

This.
posted by ColdChef at 1:25 PM on August 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


My parents installed monitoring/filtering software on my computer when I was in middle school, but they did it more because they thought as parents they were supposed to protect me from the scary new Internet rather than that they actually wanted to spend hours pouring through the minutia of my browser logs. The upshot was that since I knew more about computers than they did I could easily circumvent and disable the logs and filters and they didn't notice because they never checked the logs anyway. It did directly lead to me discovering IRC (traffic on which which was neither monitored nor logged) so the annoyance was probably worth it. If they had actually been more vigilant I probably would have created a fake parent-friendly online identity and kept all of my secret activities on other sites and accounts (which I'm guessing the daughter from this post probably did to at least some extent).
posted by burnmp3s at 1:27 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Supervision is in the job description.

So is communication, so is trust.

A lot of us grew up in a world where this kind of surveillance was impossible (because no home computers, no smart phones, no Web, no twitter/tumblr/facebook). Me, my mom talked to me, and I talked to her (mostly), and I was "good" kid and never had a curfew, never got pregnant, never got arrested, never got kidnapped. She didn't have to sneak on my non-existant chat logs to find out I was curious about weed because she let me know it was okay to talk to her about stuff like that, and I believed her.

Installing keyloggers is hardly the only way to keep your kids safe.
posted by rtha at 1:28 PM on August 13, 2013 [23 favorites]


And so I did what I’m sure plenty of other parents have done in a similar situation: I more or less gave up on the automated snooping and turned to stalking, by friending them on Facebook and following them on Tumblr and Twitter. [...]

Both her response and that of her older sister — who also spent most of her time on Tumblr, live-blogging Teen Wolf and Doctor Who and other favorite shows with an online community of fans — somehow made me feel worse than I had felt before, when I was just anonymously snooping on my daughter’s IM conversations.
He says later that he stopped snooping in order to let his kids have a social life, but this sounds more like it was discomfort at no longer being invisible.
posted by postcommunism at 1:28 PM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


After all, the entire world is not always an innocent place for children to explore or share. And yet, every generation of children -- up until this one -- has largely been given some autonomy in navigating it.

This.

Not if you have bad parents, no. But good parents know when to respect their children's privacy.

...

So is communication, so is trust.

How do kids under constant surveillance even begin to learn the basics of how to trust?
posted by saulgoodman at 1:29 PM on August 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


There's something to be said for putting up a leaky wall. My parents tried putting internet-monitoring software on the family computer (more accurately, they had me install it, since I was the tech-savvy one, and it was 'to protect my siblings'. Considering how little they used the computer, the intent was clear even then) when I was young.

Now, I didn't have something I particularly wanted to do with unrestricted internet, but I didn't particularly like the idea of it being restricted on general principle either. So I quickly looked into bypassing it. Ended up learning quite a bit. Most notably was that programs work poorly when the DLLs and other files are ripped out of it. Also, that after the third or fourth time of having to reinstall the program, that any parental decree came with an implicit value of "How much effort/time is it worth to them to enforce", and anything which could be done to exceed this value would likely result in it being scrapped as 'more trouble than it's worth'. (Such lessons proved to be valuable later on)

My siblings, on the other hand, didn't take to computers quite as thoroughly. How much of that was not having the challenge in front of them, and how much of that was because I had already taken that niche, is a question I don't rightly have an answer to.

Moral of the story: If you put up walls, kids will find ways around them, and maybe that's a good thing?
posted by CrystalDave at 1:32 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the "policing your own thoughts" idea is being overblown here. What the daughter is doing, is policing her online behavior. We don't know whether or not she's smoking pot with her friends. But we know she's not posting about it in public. We won't know about their lost virginity, their tattoos, their unrequited loves and their disrespect for their boss. Not because those things won't happen, but because the things you cringe about when you come across your old yearbook don't belong in a public chronicle of your life. We don't know what she's thinking.*

The internet is NOT a private place to chat with your friends about anything and everything, to post inappropriate images/videos, etc. What this father has done is brought his children up knowing that the internet is no different from school vs. home vs. grandma's house vs. the mall vs. church vs. a football game vs. your own private idaho. You behave differently depending on where you are, with some respect for the conventions of that particular place, even more respect for those who are within earshot of what you're saying, and the most respect for yourself.


*Because that technology is still in development. She can write about that when it comes up with her daughters.
posted by headnsouth at 1:33 PM on August 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


good parents know when to respect their children's privacy

Yes, but that is different from according their children a right to privacy. You might tell your child "what you do in your bedroom is your affair" but it would trivially easy to construct scenarios in which you would consider it not only acceptable but morally required for a parent to poke around in that child's bedroom. There is no court to which the parent must appeal for a warrant in such an instance: they must simply exercise their best judgment. If the "violation" depends on the arbitrary judgment of the parent, then the privacy is not a "right" in any meaningful sense.

The question of "privacy" between parents and children is a very difficult one, in fact, and many people in this thread are simplifying it in support of their desire to express OUTRAGE. An infant has no privacy at all and no expectation of privacy, an 18 year old should expect nearly the same degree of privacy from a parent as a houseguest. How one negotiates the steps of transition between those two states--what degree of privacy is right for a given age and how and when you should encourage your child to regard their lives as "private" from your own is a complex and delicate negotiation that most families will fuck up along the way here and there.

Pretending that parents supervising their children is the same thing as governments spying on their citizens does precisely nothing to clarify this complex issue.
posted by yoink at 1:33 PM on August 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


This is disgusting - and the man really doesn't seem to have learned anything from his actions.

Add me to the list of people who are scarred by the intrusion and spying of their parents during their adolescence. I'm not sure how well I'll sleep tonight, having read this. (Among other things, mine read my diary for years, and would turn off the television when my girlfriend called me, the better to listen in on our forbidden homosexual conversation. The jerk in TFA seems to think that these actions are the everyday chores of an engaged parent. He's wrong, and he's wrong about the keylogging too.)
posted by daisyk at 1:35 PM on August 13, 2013 [29 favorites]


My mother was (and still is) incapable of understanding that I am a person and not her property. She monitored my whole life - she would ransack my room and if she found something 'suspicious' I had to explain what it meant and what it was about (except for when she would decide in advance what it was and destroy it out of hand). She refused to let me visit friends she hadn't approved, which was basically all of them. She would interrogate my cousins to find out things once I stopped sharing anything about my life and then would interrogate me based on their remarks.

Thank god there was no internet at the time. The way she behaved was a lot like this man - the exact same sense of entitlement to access to one's children's internal lives without feeling in the least obligated to earn it.

What valuable lesson did I learn from my mom's behavior? The same one this man's kids did, it seems. You say what people want to hear and keep any negative emotions buried in concrete.
posted by winna at 1:35 PM on August 13, 2013 [40 favorites]


How do kids under constant surveillance even begin to learn the basics of how to trust?

I can't think of a better way to teach them how to deceive.
posted by ogooglebar at 1:36 PM on August 13, 2013 [18 favorites]


The last installment is by far the most troubling one. She cannot realize this behavior is wrong because she's known nothing else.

On the other hand, I think having him supervise — and knowing that he was supervising — helped me not only to stay out of trouble and behave appropriately for my age

This would be totally great if she planned on living with her father for the rest of her life. You have to be willing to take risks and make mistakes if you want to grow as a person, and it seems like her father's involvement prevents her from seeing this. And the reference about how she learned more about herself thanks to the presence of a Panopticon (where she was watched constantly but did not know exactly when) tells me that someone is still looking over her shoulder (and will always be).
posted by antonymous at 1:36 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Man, I'm really glad my mom didn't have a keylogger installed when I was 13.

Because I wrote porn.

so much porn.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:37 PM on August 13, 2013 [37 favorites]


(Among other things, mine read my diary for years, and would turn off the television when my girlfriend called me, the better to listen in on our forbidden homosexual conversation.

Those are private things. The internet is NOT PRIVATE. Young people do not understand that, to their peril. Your private, ink-on-paper diary is sacred. Facebook is not even in the same universe as "privacy."
posted by headnsouth at 1:38 PM on August 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


Really? You wrote porn at 13? I was still writing non-porn Star Wars FanFic and D&D modules. I'm impressed!
posted by Mister_A at 1:38 PM on August 13, 2013


Because I wrote porn.

so much porn.


The thing is I'm pretty sure my parents knew I was writing porn too. BUT THEY DIDN'T WANT TO READ IT.

My Gen X lawn: get off it

Mowing a Gen X is so hard -- with all the shagginess and the torn flannel.

(Of course, it's such a slacker it doesn't grow very often.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:40 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mean I laugh uproariously about it now but I was forced to go to therapy for 2 years because my mom found a Jolen bleach tiny plastic stirrer and tray in my bathroom and she insisted it was a "coke spoon" and I left it out because it was "a cry for help".

On the other hand I could probably tell a barefaced lie under extreme torture now with absolutely no change in respiration or heartbeat.

tmyk
posted by elizardbits at 1:40 PM on August 13, 2013 [41 favorites]


Thanks to our snooping on internet traffic, we discovered my youngest (teenage) son was blogging about injuring himself intentionally as a way of dealing with depression/anxiety. That said, it made me feel extremely uncomfortable doing it, and very sad that we had to go that route. However, my son does a brilliant portrayal of everything being fine. We only snooped because he seemed like he was withdrawing a little bit, and wouldn't talk about it, and we were worried. The hardest thing now, I find, is that we can't tell him how amazing his blog writing was, because we weren't supposed to know about it. We can't tell him what made us get him help, only that he "seemed depressed and we were worried." The only other times we've snooped is when my oldest son was using massive bandwidth and he had no idea how it was happening. But again - I've never read chat logs (excepting the night my youngest was hospitalized for suicidal thoughts, when he asked me to tell his friends he was OK) or installed keyloggers or taken away all safe online outlets.

I believe kids need privacy. My own mom was impossible to talk to, and I have always tried to be a parent my kids can come to - and my older two sons have come to me a lot about things I never would have told my mom. But my youngest, he's the king of keeping it all inside, and we almost had to snoop just to get a window into what was happening. While I'm so grateful for the technology that allowed us to monitor where he went on the internet, the discomfort remains. I don't know if I was justified in what I did, but I wouldn't have done it any differently (barring a trip back in time to when it started, because maybe I could have helped him better then?).

The most disturbing thing for me is reading what the daughter says. My son may never forgive me when he knows what I've seen. I know that, and I wouldn't blame him for it. He is online seeking a safe place to talk, which he seems to have found. It doesn't include me. That's an issue we need to work on. Not by shutting off all safe places for him, but by making me one of them.
posted by routergirl at 1:43 PM on August 13, 2013 [43 favorites]


Man, I'm really glad my mom didn't have a keylogger installed when I was 13.

Because I wrote porn.


Oh, the '80s, when we did it the old-fashioned way: longhand, in spiral notebooks, starring members (heh!) of Duran Duran or Adam & the Ants. (I was always cast as a crusading music journalist, and my best friend was always the leading session guitarist of the era. We met A LOT of bands that way, let me tell you.)

ten miles uphill, both ways, in the snow

posted by scody at 1:43 PM on August 13, 2013 [19 favorites]


Serious question: Outside the confines of specific medical/mental health situations, do minors have any specific legal "right to privacy" from their parents?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:45 PM on August 13, 2013


when we did it the old-fashioned way: longhand, in spiral notebooks

Jeez, girls are fucking weird. We dudes, on the other hand, know the simple virtue of drawing sexy pictures of the Dark Queen from Battletoads.

Anyway, to tie this back to the article, I hope this girl has turned from making scary internet choices to drawing sexy pictures of the Dark Queen from Battletoads
posted by Greg Nog at 1:46 PM on August 13, 2013 [20 favorites]


Also had snooping, suspicious parents who were always dead certain that anything they found out behind my back was somehow truer than what I told them openly.

Things They KNEW About Me:
- I was faking it at school
- No one actually liked me (thus another reason they used to forbid me from inviting anyone over... always rational, they were)
- I was terrible with money (so they never gave me any, see above about rationality)
- I was experimenting with drugs
- All of these things put together meant that as soon as I was out from under their benevolent (their word) rule, I would be homeless and have to turn to prostitution.
- Then I would return to the family fold and they would care for me until... ?!?! this was never clear.

Thing I Told Them, Repeatedly, For Years (paraphrased, naturally, but pretty much this):
- "treating me like that without even hearing what I say or recognizing what I do makes me want to run away. I'm studying French. Maybe someday I'll move to France, and if you're still treating me like this, I won't speak to you any more."

Bonjour. Yeah. Listen to your kids.
posted by fraula at 1:46 PM on August 13, 2013 [48 favorites]


Because I wrote porn.

And look what happened to you! You became a published author! Shocking and terrible!
posted by rtha at 1:51 PM on August 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


In the olden days, lots of kids had journals/diaries. My first thought on reading this was, "Hey, that's like reading your daughter's diary!" And that ain't right. Period.

Others would read it, and now that I read comments above, I remember a few times my parents found my stash or listened to my conversation. I understand the impulse, though. This is just my visceral reaction coming from my particular child-raising years.
posted by kozad at 1:52 PM on August 13, 2013


I can't even imagine how much help I would need if anyone-- anyone-- was logging and checking in on my fanfiction.net choices at age 14 and had asked me about them. I would burn it all with fire. All of it. So much fire.

On the other hand my school (mandatory personal laptops and home internet) had a pretty good rundown of internet safety and how to go about it, something I think a lot of current kids would benefit from. Our livejournals (haah) had little identifying information, including first names. We had a cadre of proto-hackers who could get AIM around the blocking software. We knew the IT staff and there was a series of forms and honor codes around what you could and couldn't use the school's network/computers to do, with the implication that someone would notice. Parents were encouraged to know what we were up to, and boy do I know a lot of kids now with zero help whatsoever on that front-- photos of weed and red solo cups on Facebook, seriously? There's got to be a better middle ground than this.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:53 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I actually think it's way worse that they knew. How likely would a teen be to look up questions they had about sex or their body if they knew dad was watching? I have great parents who were happy to discuss those kinds of things if I wanted to (I generally didn't), but there is zero chance I'd have explored anything like that knowing there was a keylogger on my computer.

Maybe my parents were too lax (they monitored nothing), but I cannot even imagine my life or myself as a person today without that autonomy and freedom to find my own way back then. I suspect I'd have had very miserable teenage years without being able to find and interact with awesome people (of all ages) and discover new worlds online back then. Not that I couldn't have done that without my parents watching, I just wouldn't have. No way.

Some things have changed, though. Now everyone is online, things stick around much longer, and much of the internet seems far less anonymous thanks to Facebook and Instagram. I was able to say and do stupid stuff online as a teen, and, for the most part, that stuff has not followed me into adulthood. If I had kids, I think I'd stress staying as anonymous as possible and keeping their instagram and twitter accounts private. Beyond that, I'd want them to have the same opportunities I had: to watch dirty videos, find weird things, contribute to communities, feel like they could look up anything without shame, expand their social circles, play games while saying they're doing homework, start and abandon tonnes of blogs...
posted by retrograde at 1:54 PM on August 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


Yeah I have been gently telling my little cousins who are now entering college that everyone, their parents included, know what's in those red Solo cups in the party pictures they put on Facebook. There's a life lesson that needs learning.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 1:55 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


He says he used a keylogger, which indicates that he only saw his own daughter's words

"So then what happened after he stuck his finger in your pants, Pretend Teen Friend?"

Because yeah, you can't figure things out from context. STILL CREEPY.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:56 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I grew up in a small town and my parents were school teachers. In high school I had to date and be friends with kids the next county over because there was absolutely no one in my high school or local community that wouldn't casually talk about me to someone who would talk to my parents.

For example, one afternoon at a pep rally I was bored out of my mind and decided to lay down on the bleachers and take a nap. Two hours later when I got home from school, my mother asked me if I was sick. I said no and asked why she thought that, she then responded that so and so had mentioned that I was laying down during the pep rally and must be feeling bad.

If you didn't grow up in an environment where your entire public existence was monitored and reported, you just can't understand how horrifying this is to me. I know what it's like to constantly monitor your thoughts and train yourself to not react in any way to situations because you'll hear about it later. One of the joys of the internet was being able to not hide yourself from the world. I feel so sorry for his kids that they don't fully realize how beautiful it is to be free of eyes on you. My favorite adult moment was the realization that I could cry in public without my mom or dad finding out. And sometimes, you desperately want to be yourself, to let the guard down and not have to worry about how to explain it. The internet was always a perfect place for that and I'm sorry these girls never got that experience.
posted by teleri025 at 1:56 PM on August 13, 2013 [26 favorites]


Headnsouth, I agree that the internet is not private - but a keylogger installed on the computer does not only record what the girls write on the internet.

I would also argue that conversations over MSN instant messenger are not 'on the internet' and the girls should have had some expectation of privacy there - at least if they were bright enough to clear their chatlogs, heh. It's the same as a phonecall, where a teenager might have a greater or lesser expectation that the family can hear them depending the situation as a whole.

If they were using locked accounts on Twitter and Tumblr and Gaia Online they should also have had some expectation of privacy there, I think. I know and you know that information on the Internet, but behind a password, can easily leak out, especially when there's the possibility of juicy drama. I think kids should be warned about this but allowed to work out their boundaries for themselves. The father following the girls on their social networks bothers me a lot less than the idea that he had access to any posts they made that they wanted to keep private, at least for a while.

I am running the risk of projecting my own issues on this situation so I'm going to bed, but I'm pretty confident about everything I've written in this comment. Good night!
posted by daisyk at 1:57 PM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


My mom would go through garbage bins in the house to find scraps of torn up notes and tape them together...then confront me with them. A question to a friend about whether they'd seen a movie turned into a request for drugs in her eyes. To this day, in spite of me being 40 years old, she is convinced I had sex years before I really did, because she just "knew" it was going on. I enjoyed Danzig because gah, his voice was fantastic, but to her I was secretly worshipping Satan. Nothing I had was sacred, and she misunderstood it all. It was horrible. But not in a million years would I have spoken to her about what was really happening. I don't speak to her now, in fact. Haven't since 2009, and it was the best break I ever made. So yeah, maybe that explains why snooping on my own kids was such a weird uncomfortable thing to do.

My stepdad also used to go through my room for my stash. Then take it and put Oregano in its place. Then I would discover it and steal my stash back from his room and put the Oregano in its place. It became this twisted little game, and he would never admit he'd snooped, and I would never admit I did drugs, and nothing was ever talked about for real, and we all just got more twisted and secretive and mad at each other, while my mom cried and begged me to be good so my stepdad wouldn't leave her. Seriously, we were a family without trust.

And seriously, if writing porn was the worst thing my kids were doing online, I'd be A-OK with that. Maybe I'm weird.
posted by routergirl at 1:58 PM on August 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


Holy cow somehow fraula and I had the same mom! Also apparently elizardbits' mom as well!

I mean I laugh uproariously about it now but I was forced to go to therapy for 2 years because my mom found a Jolen bleach tiny plastic stirrer and tray in my bathroom and she insisted it was a "coke spoon" and I left it out because it was "a cry for help".

My mother once gave me a talk about how many Band-Aids I had. Because I don't know why. I was twenty-four and she thought that being in my kitchen alone for ten minutes was a sign I wanted her to go through my kitchen junk drawer and find the eight Band-Aids I had in there as a cry for halp.

I think part of it was that once I realized that I lived in a Panopticon, I eliminated telling her anything. There was nothing to tell, but she decided that the nothing to tell was just papering over a vast sea of drug-addled harlotry and Satanic vice which I cunningly disguised by working full time and going to college. Not that those things are incompatible with the drug-addled etc, but they do add to the Challenge Rating for the feats. And the more you protest there is nothing to hide to a certain kind of mind, the more they are convinced that what you are hiding is monstrous indeed.
posted by winna at 1:58 PM on August 13, 2013 [16 favorites]


Those are private things. The internet is NOT PRIVATE. Young people do not understand that, to their peril. Your private, ink-on-paper diary is sacred. Facebook is not even in the same universe as "privacy."

It's public in the same way that public places are public, but that doesn't mean that stalker-y behavior is less creepy. If a parent secretly followed their kid to the mall and recorded their conversations all the time that would be weird and invasive for the same sorts of reasons, even though conversations at the mall are not inherently secret and private.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:58 PM on August 13, 2013 [19 favorites]


The most bothersome thing to me is how Ingram wants to have his cake and eat it too:

"Here are the valuable lessons I learned about my wonderful kids when I monitored their internet usage. Oh, but I totally agree with all you enlightened parents that it was wrong and I shouldn't have. And you are right not to do it either, but if you did you might also learn how great your kids are, unless they aren't. Also one of my kids said it was OK anyway. In summary, the internet is a land of contrasts. Thank you."
posted by General Tonic at 2:02 PM on August 13, 2013 [31 favorites]


I would also argue that conversations over MSN instant messenger are not 'on the internet'

Perhaps not, but MSN instant messenger has morphed into facebook instant messenger and it no longer disappears. Private chats do not exist. And where they still do, they won't for long.

It's the same as a phonecall, where a teenager might have a greater or lesser expectation that the family can hear them depending the situation as a whole.

Have you heard the news? Phone calls aren't private.

I'm sorry, but we got on this slippery slope a long time ago and passed the tipping point with this generation. Privacy does not exist in the digital world. Period. It's not tinfoil hat stuff anymore.

What this father has done is taught his children to value their privacy. Conversations are private. Diaries are private. Once you are on a network of any kind, there is no longer any expectation of privacy. Anyone who is raising their children connected to modern technology and not equipping them with the tools and awareness needed to protect themselves is doing those children no favors.
posted by headnsouth at 2:03 PM on August 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm sorry, but we got on this slippery slope a long time ago and passed the tipping point with this generation.

Funny how you're seemingly blaming this inescapable sea-change in normal human cultural expectations on the generation that is currently still completely politically powerless. I must be misunderstanding.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:05 PM on August 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


What this father has done is taught his children to value their privacy.

It was necessary to violate their privacy in order to save it.
posted by winna at 2:07 PM on August 13, 2013 [39 favorites]


Mathew is a senior writer with GigaOM, where he covers media in all its forms -- social and otherwise -- as well as web culture and related issues. He is an award-winning journalist who has spent the past 15 years writing about business, technology and new media ... and stalking his daughters (and most likely his wife).

Mathew is unwell.
posted by de at 2:08 PM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Children have always grown up with zero expectation of privacy.

Speak for yourself. I had an expectation of privacy growing up, because my parents explicitly referred to my privacy.


Same here. I'll always be grateful for the freedom and privacy my parents gave me. This guy is just plain creepy.
posted by homunculus at 2:08 PM on August 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


I'm sorry, but we got on this slippery slope a long time ago and passed the tipping point with this generation. Privacy does not exist in the digital world. Period. It's not tinfoil hat stuff anymore.

Unethical behavior by government entities does not make unethical behavior by parents okay. There are actually ways to teach kids about privacy and what kinds of things it's okay to share online and with whom without spying on them, and acting like spying is the only way to teach this lesson is appalling.
posted by rtha at 2:09 PM on August 13, 2013 [19 favorites]


It's funny the people citing her response as evidence that this was all ok. Her essay is the best argument that this was deeply not ok, and why doing this to children in particular is actually worse in significant ways than doing it to adults.

It's also a bit misleading to refer to this as a parental "right". It seems like the main justification for such surveillance is utilitarian -- to protect the child. Surveillance that has no protective utility is presumably not something the parent has a right to. Or do people argue that even in cases when there is clearly no potential danger to the child or others (eg, conversations with friends in a safe setting) the parent still has a "right" to eavesdrop? But once one concedes this is a utilitarian thing, and not a right, and that the child has some privacy interests (of some sort), then the moral onus is on the parent to restrict surveillance as best as possible to balance between the utility goals and the child's interests. Thus guy clearly did not do that, and in addition, he has deeply warped his children's understanding of the privacy/utility tradeoff.
posted by chortly at 2:09 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Funny how you're seemingly blaming this inescapable sea-change in normal human cultural expectations on the generation that is currently still completely politically powerless. I must be misunderstanding.

Oh yes, I must've worded it poorly. Not blaming this generation at all! They're the frogs in the pot. Being born into an already networked world, they can't draw a distinction between a private life and a public one.
posted by headnsouth at 2:09 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Conversations are private. Diaries are private.

Not, apparently, with a keylogger installed. Also, if the kids wanted to have a non-electronic conversation, I'm sure dad could have found a shotgun microphone somewhere.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:11 PM on August 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Students in my state can now be expelled (and in some cases criminally prosecuted) for bullying behavior online, even when that isn't done on school computers or networks. We see a shocking number of cases that start with a little name-calling on facebook or IM and escalate to fist-fights, massive "whisper campaigns," self-harm, and so on. Virtually all of this starts as normal teenage interaction and gossip. It's not "the bad kids" and it's not particularly out of line with what other kids are doing.

There is a) a real problem with how teenagers behave towards one another online and its real-world repercussions; and b) a real risk that YOUR teenager will bully someone and end up expelled from school.

Parents come to these hearings and either say "I had no idea I was supposed to be keeping an eye on the internet," or else say, "But I wanted her to have her privacy."

I don't know, dude. I don't know where the line is, but responsible parenting has to involved SOME sort of online supervision because KIDS DO STUPID SHIT online and the consequences of that have not yet entered the general consciousness, nor have they penetrated teenage behavioral norms. I know some really sad cases that happened to really good kids, like one individual who will never be able to get a teaching certificate because of their interactions with another minor online which were TOTALLY NORMAL, standard, arguably harmless ... until the other minor's parents' freaked out completely, involved the state's attorney, had statuses and tweets and whatnot as evidence, and now the minor has a sex offender conviction. Before the first minor even started college, they were forbidden from pursuing their life's dream of being a teacher, because of stupid-ass sex talk that, in person, might have merited a reprimand, but online, left a trail of evidence.

Kids have the power to ruin their entire futures by behaving like morons online as teenagers, because there is no reset button on the internet when you turn 18. I think these sorts of problems will get sorted out over time and new social norms will evolve, but until then, I'd rather not have MY kid be the test case for "why this law is stupid," you know?

I also see a LOT of this stuff that comes in in bullying cases (and I rewrote our district's bullying policy this year, so we read a lot of bullying stuff generally) and the online bullying behavior is out of control, and it's universal. If your kid is online, your kid is bullying someone at least some of the time. It's ubiquitous, and they don't think anything of it, until someone self-harms or, god forbid, commits suicide, or the bullying gets to a point where there's a fist-fight on school grounds, and then there's a criminal investigation and ruined lives all around.

I don't think parents surveilling their teens constantly is the answer, but letting teenagers set the social norms of their internet interactions clearly isn't the answer either.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:11 PM on August 13, 2013 [46 favorites]


I have been doing a lot of flying, and, during landing when all electronics have been stowed, I read through Skymall and laugh at the resin garden ornaments for $69.95. Lately, though, they've been including a lot of "see what your workers/wives/children are doing/going" supplies, and it makes me pretty uneasy.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:14 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Headnsouth, I agree that the internet is not private - but a keylogger installed on the computer does not only record what the girls write on the internet.

Exactly. There may be legitimate safety reasons why certain teenagers need really intense supervision under special circumstances, but there's a huge difference between being generally informed about your children's online activities and snooping on every word they type. Independence, and privacy is a part of independence, increases with age and maturity based on safety. Similarly, a parent might want to know who their son's friends are and what kind of things they do together, but that's not remotely in the same league as following your son around all day and listening to every conversation he has. If kids are having a sleepover, the parents might keep an ear out for anything troublesome, maybe tell the kids to keep it down and go to sleep a couple dozen times, but they'd be ridiculous if they snuggled up in a sleeping bag to listen to all the pillow-talk gossip.

A parent, absent extreme safety concerns, who insists on monitoring every input and output to an from a child's life is a hyper-controlling crazy person. The addition of the internet to the picture doesn't change that.
posted by zachlipton at 2:14 PM on August 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


If your kid is online, your kid is bullying someone at least some of the time. It's ubiquitous, and they don't think anything of it, until someone self-harms or, god forbid, commits suicide, or the bullying gets to a point where there's a fist-fight on school grounds, and then there's a criminal investigation and ruined lives all around.

If kids are around other kids, there is someone getting bullied. I'm not saying it's right, but this is unchanged in all of human history. It's the current generation of parents and lawmakers that have made bullying a crime and are ruining the lives of children.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 2:15 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interesting conversation, isn't this? On this thread are young snooping victims, older parents (like me) who have our strongly-held beliefs despite having raised only one or two very different human beings ourselves...and a few other random thoughts like this one: my daughter knew about 4chan years before I did, so God know what she saw. She obviously knows the Internet's boundary lines regarding privacy.
posted by kozad at 2:18 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


If kids are around other kids, there is someone getting bullied. I'm not saying it's right, but this is unchanged in all of human history. It's the current generation of parents and lawmakers that have made bullying a crime and are ruining the lives of children.

I have to take Eyebrows McGee's side here a little bit - the ubiquity of the online presence is something new. It is true, too, that what your kids put on the internet will be there for everyone on earth to see. So I completely agree that parents need to be engaged and actively guide how their children use the internet and to make sure they understand safety practices and the importance of being aware of their potential audience.

But that type of activity stops short of (and I think it's clear that Eyebrows McGee wasn't arguing in favor of it) someone stalking his children in a way that would evoke cries of disgust and horror in any other human relationship context.
posted by winna at 2:19 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a parent this really horrifies me. I had conversations with my son about online safety, like you do, and then he shared with me things he had questions about or wanted to show off (his first page on Myspace, etc.). Children are not their parents' possessions and must be allowed private lives.
posted by jokeefe at 2:19 PM on August 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Mister Fabulous: “Further, her thinking is to 'police herself.' Horrifying.”

scody: “Yeah, this is what made me so queasy, I think. It reminded me of a story I heard on either This American Life or The Moth, where a former evangelical Christian guy was recalling his distress with any thoughts of sex (or even the nonsexual acknowledgment of the existence of women's bodies below the neck) that entered his mind, and how thinking became a near-constant state of self-policing. It's unhealthy to live in such a way that you constantly monitor and censor your own thoughts, and unethical to impose such a way of living on another individual.”

This is a very, very weird take to me.

I mean: the article bothered me immensely, granted; I think it's necessary for parents to accept that kids must have a modicum of privacy, and while parents must protect their children they also can't force themselves into every aspect of their lives. Kids really develop most in those private moments when they can discover things on their own, I think.

But – "self-policing" and "self-censorship" are good things, as far as I can tell. At the very least, they are absolutely and completely necessary for any human being living in society, particularly today. There are details you don't tell strangers on the internet, for a variety of reasons – to avoid putting yourself in danger, for example, and (particularly if you're young) to avoid putting yourself in embarrassing situations. And there are things you just don't say, even if you think them. If your friend's mother dies, you might think to yourself, "well, you should have visited her more often when she was alive," but you don't say it. And you don't just trust random strangers you meet online, no matter how nice they might seem. These are safe things to do for oneself, and policing one's own behavior is a necessary skill.

Honestly, sometimes I hear this talk about how "self-censorship" is somehow a great evil, and it makes almost no sense to me at all. Sure, it's a bad thing to drive one to distraction through some sort of moral obsessive anxiety disorder, but that strikes me as extraordinarily rare, even among egregious moralists – and even if it were common, the problem wouldn't be censoring oneself but rather not accepting oneself.

There is no sense in which complete honesty is a marker of mental health. "Self-censorship" is perfectly healthy. Who better to choose what one does and does not say than one's own self? And if making that choice makes us "censors," how can we countenance ever having privacy or keeping details of our lives from anyone?

I don't know. I mean, my reaction to this whole thing was: the snooping author was engaging in a completely unhealthy parenting style, violating his child's privacy in an egregious way; but the kid was pretty darned healthy, policing her own internet activity by keeping herself safe and not exposing herself to any danger online. I really don't think her remark about how she was "policing herself" indicated that she had some sort of inborne anxiety that had led her to obsess over whether she was a sinner. Policing our activity online and watching out for our safety is something every one of us does, and there's nothing wrong with starting early on that.
posted by koeselitz at 2:26 PM on August 13, 2013 [15 favorites]


I'm a mother, although my kids are now grown, and I would never, never do anything like this. Sometimes we tried to keep them off the internet (such as it was in the 90s) just so that they would do their homework but I never monitored what they did when they were online. I found my son's porn stash (I wasn't looking for it; i was going through directories looking for stuff to clear out since computers didn't have a lot of storage in those days) and didn't do anything about it. You know, he's turned out to be a pretty neat human being. If I'd gotten on his ass about things like that he might have never trusted me again.
posted by yellowdog at 2:28 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Okay, so disregarding the fact that the article is clearly a troll of the tiger mom variety, I definitely think that this father is within his "rights" but is probably a bad parent.

I admit that I am somewhat resistant to external parenting advice, but I clearly remember one thing our pediatrician said when our daughter was about five months old and we mentioned that she would go into extended crying fits when a toy was out of her reach even though she clearly had the ability to move herself sufficiently to reach it.

He said: "Your job as parents, basically from day one, is to help your child become an independently sufficient human."

If your kid is under 18 and living under your roof, yes, I think monitoring their online behaviour is something you have a right to do. But if you feel you have to, then you have basically followed at this fundamental goal of parenting.
posted by 256 at 2:30 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


winna: "I have to take Eyebrows McGee's side here a little bit - the ubiquity of the online presence is something new. "

Yeah, it's some combination of a totally unsupervised space (no adults even moseying by the vacant lot), the lack of face-to-face interaction (which enables many people to be much meaner than they otherwise would be), and the unrelenting ubiquity that children can't escape. It used to be that a kid being bullied at school could have a haven at home, and attempts to bother the child at home could be mediated by the parent (landline, mail, coming to the door), but cell phones and internet make the child directly available ALL THE TIME to his or her bullies with no adult intermediation at any point. It's also very easy, if a child finds a group where they are not bullied (camp friends, church friends, whatever), for the bullies to invade that virtual space online and harass the non-bully friends as well as the victim. Teachers will tell you how bad it is and how much more time they now spend dealing with out-of-school fights and interactions than they did five years ago, and child psychology people will tell you a lot of the problem for victims of bullying is the total inability to find safe social spaces now that aren't promptly invaded by their bullies because of the glories of internet connectivity. It's a tough time to be a junior high student in particular.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:30 PM on August 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Oh, and further, I totally get the idea of teaching your kids about online information security. Still, by the time my daughter is 16, I expect (and hope) that "information about me I don't want my dad to know" and "information about me I don't want the NSA to know" will be disjoint sets.
posted by 256 at 2:36 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can't believe how Mary Sue this kid is. "Oh, I knew dad was watching, so even if I'd been tempted I never added anyone strange on MSN or anything." If I was in that position, it would be more like "well, I knew he was watching, so I figured I might as well troll the fuck out of him by having my friend create a fake account as a 47 year old guy living a couple blocks away and arrange to meet up with him after school".
posted by jacalata at 2:36 PM on August 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


It used to be that a kid being bullied at school could have a haven at home, and attempts to bother the child at home could be mediated by the parent (landline, mail, coming to the door), but cell phones and internet make the child directly available ALL THE TIME to his or her bullies with no adult intermediation at any point.

Yeah. I look back on my childhood and thank Christ there wasn't an internet.
posted by yoink at 2:39 PM on August 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


There's a difference between self-restraint and self-policing. Self-restraint is a good thing, and involves the individual learning to control themselves. Self-policing, on the other hand, is the internalization of external controls, so that the person becomes their own jailer. The difference becomes clear when the person meets a new situation where there is no previous experience - the self-restrained person has the tools to handle it, where the self-policed individual finds themselves at a loss.

For an example, look at an incoming freshman class at any college.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:40 PM on August 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


OK, I take back much of my first comment. There's telling your kids that you're watching their online activities, then there's keylogging and email mining. Fuck that.

From the daughter:
In a way, it almost feels like it’s a specific kind of affection: that my dad cares enough to find out what I’m doing online, but also cares enough that he trusts me to make the right decisions without hurting myself. I think that shows a level of parenting most children would be happy to have.
Except he only trusted you after realizing you were all good kids. You earned that trust not through open and honest communication, but because of your father's snooping.

Dear Matthew, thanks for reaffirming the parenting style of my wife's parents: open and honest communication about what you did, what you learned from, and what you hope your children will take away from your experiences. I'll trust my kinds until I have a reason to not trust them.

But I will also tell them that (most of) whatever they do online is not done private or protected from others, and act accordingly. I will show them examples of kids who did stupid things online and were caught. But I will not spy on them.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:40 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


yoink: I look back on my childhood and thank Christ there wasn't an internet.

I look back on my high school years and beyond, and I'm glad there was the internet, and I'm glad my parents were (and still are) technologically clueless. Sorry mom and dad, it's true.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:42 PM on August 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


(I was lucky that the internet was smaller, less social then)
posted by filthy light thief at 2:43 PM on August 13, 2013


forcing a relationship without consent.

that's what parenting is, both literally and metaphorically.

FWIW, we will accomplish similar-ish ends by keeping the computer in public space. they won't have smart phones until they can pay for them.
posted by jpe at 2:43 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Self-policing, on the other hand, is the internalization of external controls, so that the person becomes their own jailer.

That's inventing meanings that might be useful if you are constructing terms of art in a particular argument ("I'm going to distinguish between two kinds of self-monitoring: one I will call 'self-policing' and the other I will call 'self-restraint'...") but it's not at all inherent to the terms themselves.
posted by yoink at 2:44 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ugh, as I read this story I cannot help but feel that same visceral panic and anger that I did whenever I was a kid and felt helpless against my abusive father's authority. Privacy is essential to the development of self! And a parent who violates their child's privacy seems like a pretty bad parent to me, at least in this respect.

Also--the internet is how I stopped hating myself for some of my more subversive sexual desires (mostly by reading a lot of very kinky porn when I was 13 and realizing these desires were pretty normal) and how I got information about affordable birth control when I started having sex. Even though these things were incredibly beneficial for me, somehow I don't think that my dad would have been "grateful in a sense for being able to discover this other side of my daughter."
posted by precession at 2:54 PM on August 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


I knew he was watching, so I figured I might as well troll the fuck out of him ...

You think Mathew is fully disclosing his activities? You trust this man? If a controlling father indulges his daughters in a little forward cyber banter what are we calling that these days? Investigative parenting?
posted by de at 2:55 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


But – "self-policing" and "self-censorship" are good things, as far as I can tell.

It's one thing to realize that one shouldn't post hi-larious pictures of yourself drunk as a skunk and half-naked, but it's another to realize that you could never, ever have a moment that is unsupervised. No looking up "does he love me" on Google. No going into chat rooms and talking about much life just totally sucks. No quoting the Cure on your Facebook because Dad or Grandma will take it to mean that you're depressed and now need therapy.

I think for me, the part that so incredibly uncomfortable about it was that she knew her dad was watching and thought it proved love. It just goes to show that some people react to near-constant supervision with appreciation and some of us move five states away just so the checkout lady at the grocery store can't tell our parents we bought generic brand toilet paper and must need money.* This issue is not how her reaction and mine were so very different to similar situations, the issue is that her father actively created a situation where she had no option but to submit to his surviellence. My father really couldn't do anything about the Ms. Kravitz's of the world telling him things and, as far as I know, he and my mother never intentionally sought out the information. But both happened because someone thought teenagers would only need to hide things if they were doing something wrong.


*This actually happened.
posted by teleri025 at 3:00 PM on August 13, 2013 [19 favorites]


If your kid is under 18 and living under your roof, yes, I think monitoring their online behaviour is something you have a right to do. But if you feel you have to, then you have basically followed at this fundamental goal of parenting.

For "followed", read "failed"? I don't think having am 18 year old wild child necessary equates to "bad" parenting any more than having a scholar/saint child equates to "great" parenting.

In general, I'd be curious to know from the more - judgmental - commentators whether they are parents of a <18 year old girl. (For what it's worth, I am.)

It's sort of a catch-22 situation for parents. Now that the internet has brought the worst of the world into the house, the old stand-bys of no you cannot go down to skid row are no longer possible. Privacy and trust within the confines of known geographical area are one thing, outside of that, well, that's kind of a different situation. And of course there's a whole range of what one kid can handle and another cannot.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:01 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not surprised how many people responded that they didn't monitor their kids online, but I am amused how many of those people added, "and they turned out fine!" No offense, folks, I'm sure your kids are awesome. But the point of the exercise is, you don't know. Maybe your kid has an addiction. Maybe he has a hobby.

People have secrets. More to the point, they have facets. The obvious surface issue is about monitoring your kids to keep them out of trouble, and that's fine, but the far more interesting issue is Gaia Online. Who are your kids, how much is there that you don't know—and what are the ethics of that? Your kids have to learn how to show only certain facets, because that's how the world works; but how much of your job is to serve as part of that, versus to guide it?
posted by cribcage at 3:01 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


NoxAeternum: “There's a difference between self-restraint and self-policing. Self-restraint is a good thing, and involves the individual learning to control themselves. Self-policing, on the other hand, is the internalization of external controls, so that the person becomes their own jailer.’

But plenty of "externals" are involved with self-restraint. I might restrain myself from making a crude joke in front of a friend who would find it offensive, for example; the reason for my restraint is external, and were they removed I might go ahead and make the joke.

So clearly the internality or externality of the "controls" doesn't matter at all in the distinction between good and bad here. What matters is whether the "controls" were internalized correctly, and generally for the right reasons. In short, what matters is consciousness and self-knowledge. I might "internalize" the societal dictum "do not murder people" – but that's a fine "control" to "internalize," at least if I do it because I come to the understanding that murdering people is wrong.

Again, there seems to be nothing wrong in itself with self-policing, self-restraint, and self-discipline.

“The difference becomes clear when the person meets a new situation where there is no previous experience - the self-restrained person has the tools to handle it, where the self-policed individual finds themselves at a loss. For an example, look at an incoming freshman class at any college.”

Or, uh, any human being in any situation ever. Because everyone is at a loss when meeting entirely new situations where there is no previous experience.
posted by koeselitz at 3:02 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


teleri025: “It's one thing to realize that one shouldn't post hi-larious pictures of yourself drunk as a skunk and half-naked, but it's another to realize that you could never, ever have a moment that is unsupervised. No looking up ‘does he love me’ on Google. No going into chat rooms and talking about much life just totally sucks. No quoting the Cure on your Facebook because Dad or Grandma will take it to mean that you're depressed and now need therapy.”

Which is pretty emphatically not what the girl says in her response. What she says, specifically, is that she self-policed and figured out right and wrong on her own because she had no idea he was watching her, not because she was consumed by a horror that he was watching her all the time.
posted by koeselitz at 3:06 PM on August 13, 2013


I have young kiddo, and I guess my approach so far has been that he's too young to be online alone, so I don't let him. If he needs to find something, I will get online with him and look for it.

When he gets old enough to need his own computer/access, then we will have A Talk about predators, credit card scams, Nigerian fraudsters, how pictures and anything under your real name lasts forever (bolstered by the pics of him already online, that will still be there), Facebook, and so on.

We will talk about how much sex/porn stuff there is online, how much of it is really gross, how much of it can install malware on your computer, and hey, look if you need sex info, here's Scarleteen and some other positive sites which can teach you what you need to know. As per porn, I'm going to let his dad tell him about his experiences growing up as a guy and what helped and didn't help in that department.

It will probably be more than one talk, I'm sure. I hope to teach him caution but also that there is cool stuff to be found.

But I will not install a keylogger, because I don't want to know everything he thinks and everyone he talks to. Instead, I want him to trust me enough to say "this dude I talked to is creepy," or "the girl I talked to is asking me for money and says she's dying of cancer, is it a scam?" And then we'll go online and find ways to ask around. We'll use Snopes or Mefi or any of the other sites that help you sniff out people doing dodgy stuff. I'll talk to him online.

It's more risky than surveilling him, sure, but he needs to know this stuff for himself. I could also refuse to teach him to drive without me in the car yelling TURN LEFT!! but he needs to figure that out too, and that's also risky.

Kids deserve the privacy of their thoughts even if it means they might do stupid things. My job as a parent is to help him spot things that might be harmful, or at least ask when he's not sure, and to think for himself. He will never learn that if he's constantly self-censoring to please me.
posted by emjaybee at 3:08 PM on August 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


What she says, specifically, is that she self-policed and figured out right and wrong on her own because she had no idea he was watching her,

I think you misread that, koeselitz. From the daughter's article:

having him supervise — and knowing that he was supervising — helped me not only to stay out of trouble and behave appropriately...by not knowing when my dad was watching, I policed my own behaviour
posted by jacalata at 3:09 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah – good point. Thanks, jacalata.
posted by koeselitz at 3:10 PM on August 13, 2013


Ugh. How about actually talking to your kids about what is safe online (and off) and what might follow them online in a bad way? When my kids were first using the computer online we kept it in a common space but by they time they were in around 7th grade they were using their own machines and we certainly weren't reading over their shoulders.

I've always felt that good parenting meant having enough of an honest relationship with one's kids that I could tell them what was dangerous and foolish and not be so in-their-faces about it all that they wouldn't talk to me about it. Yes we were pretty forthright about what kinds of behavior could have lasting bad consequences like the kid Eyebrows references - and we also know someone who ended up in a similarly bad situation. It's a continuum not a set of absolutes but kids leave home and you have to help them have the skill set and attitudes to protect themselves as adults and not assume you can continue to control them. And young adults need privacy and need the space to make stupid decisions too.
posted by leslies at 3:10 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


On one hand I bristle at being the on-call tech support person for my parents, but on the other thank god they didn't know enough to pull this on me. Life at home was so fucking stifling and emotionally abusive that I think I would've really hurt myself, had I not found some private outlet for my thoughts. All of the personal growth I've experienced as a teenager came from interacting with online communities and internet friendships. Had my parents told me that even this last bastion of self-expression was being policed... Oh man. I don't know. I'm getting so incredibly angry just thinking of that alternate universe.

I'm sure most people thinks they are amazing parents. And I'm sure some parents think tools like this are what makes their parenting so amazing. But that's only their version of reality, and some kids end up with serious damage from surveillance that stretches this far. It's sucks to live with the aftermath of these actions. Shit, it sucks to live with even minor instances of parents breaking an implied trust. So yeah, you learn to say "Of course I agree with you, of course you're right, of course what you've done was the best action" because otherwise it escalates and you just never win.

I made a very short comment in an AskMe a long time ago, about my sister running into a scary level of online trouble. And knowing our household, knowing the kind of shit we had to grow up with and the level of decreasing interest in our emotional well being, I'm dead certain that it could have been prevented had my parents told us they're available to talk to. Just talk to. Simple fucking conversation, in a safe and nonjudgmental environment.

I don't even know. This whole thing sucks and I'm extremely ashamed on the behalf of people who think this level of spying on your kids is warranted. Who are you people, and what do you want this world to become. Seriously.
posted by Tequila Mockingbird at 3:11 PM on August 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


It's a tough question. My parents did this without telling me (computer skills enough to install a program that wasn't obvious) and found out some extremely personal things I would never have told them, by reading chat logs and email conversations that I had thought private. I was about 16, not particularly mentally stable, and had a long-distance boyfriend, so you can imagine some of the content.

I felt, and still feel over a decade later, incredibly violated and bitter about it.

I can understand the feeling of the parents that they're justified in monitoring kids "for their own good", and I realize that a lot of kids get in trouble online, but to me it feels even more invasive than reading a diary. I said things to friends in supposedly private conversation that I would have been too paranoid to write down in a diary.
posted by randomnity at 3:13 PM on August 13, 2013 [11 favorites]


I think there is a way to monitor your kid's online activities without being a creepy creeper. I let my now 13 year old circumvent the Facebook age limit a few years ago so he could keep up with far-flung family and friends. The deal was that I had to know who he was friending. (Not know personally, but know who they were, like "this is a kid from summer camp.") I asked him to write down his password and store it with our other passwords and I promised I would never use it unless I thought something dangerous was going on and I would never use it without his knowledge. He was fine with this and I never used it. I eventually let him reset his password. I also want to continue to be his facebook friend. I do follow him on Instagram and twitter. But it's not because I'm trying to catch him doing something, it's because I think his comments and observations are funny. If I see something funny he's said or posted, I tell him so. It's one more thing to build our relationship on.

None of the rest of his activities are monitored. The only surveillance tool we have is Find My Friends, which is a condition of him having an iPhone. We negotiated the terms of its use and I am only allowed to track his whereabouts if he is late coming home and he's not answering the phone or texts. It's basically so I know if he's still hanging around at his friend's, riding home on his bike or in totally the wrong place. I am totally happy with that arrangement and it gives me some peace of mind while he is out being all free-range in the neighborhood.
posted by Biblio at 3:13 PM on August 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


Those of us who have raised kids understand what it means to be responsible for them. Up to a certain age it is our responsibility to keep an eye on them. Yes, that sounds horrifying to those of us who weren't perfect little angels when we were young....but all I can say is that in the areas my parents paid attention, I stayed safe-and their lapses had lifetime ramifications for me.

I didn't monitor my children the way this guy did but back when mine were that age the one computer in the house stayed in the public area.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:13 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Actually she says that she had no idea when he was watching her. To me that means that because she thought she could be observed at any time, she filtered all her online actions through the "Would Dad approve?" lens. In doing so she may have been able to decide on her own what was right or wrong (by her father's definition) or she may have been able to decide what things would get her a concerned talking to.

And considering she's writing this to support her dad, she's either internalized his worldview so completely that it's now her's or she still just does the thing online that will cause the least amount of drama from her father.

What saddens me is that she knew she was always being watched. And that means that there was rarely a moment that she could let her guard down and be herself. It's a hard way to grow up.
posted by teleri025 at 3:14 PM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


P.S. Diaries are for privacy. Online is not private, and should not have an expectation of privacy. Better to learn that from those who love us first.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:15 PM on August 13, 2013


P.S. Diaries are for privacy. Online is not private, and should not have an expectation of privacy. Better to learn that from those who love us first.

Should emails (sent from home) have an expectation of privacy?
posted by randomnity at 3:17 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


P.S. Diaries are for privacy. Online is not private, and should not have an expectation of privacy. Better to learn that from those who love us first.

No. Just because it is done online does not make it public. Better to learn that from those who "surveillance" has hurt.
posted by Tequila Mockingbird at 3:17 PM on August 13, 2013 [11 favorites]


In other words, the internet is not an innocent place for children to explore and share.

True. Of course it is equally true that the world is not, and has never been, an innocent place for children to explore and share. And yet we have to allow them to do it anyway or risk raising a generation of incompetent, frightened, homebodies.
posted by Justinian at 3:18 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I didn't have Internet access in high school (that wasn't until college), but I had my own computer in my bedroom, my own phone line for modem use, etc. Mom didn't ask what I was doing, and hadn't the slightest idea how to run the system (I had an Amiga 1000; her work computer was a Packard Bell PC clone with an amber monochrome monitor).

I feel incredibly fortunate to have grown up in a single-parent household where her policy was "You know what's right and what's wrong, and I trust you to make your own decisions.. but if you have any questions, ever need to talk, or have a problem, I'm always here for you" - and she meant it.

I've talked about stuff with my mother that some people wouldn't ever imagine discussing with their parents; she's said herself that our relationship is almost more one of brother and sister than mother and son. Maybe because I had to "grow up" earlier and help raise my younger brother.

Awesome: being in college, and having her tell me "I know you're going to drink. If you like, give me a list and money and I'll go buy whatever you need from the liquor store; I'd rather know where the stuff came from than have you drink something mixed up in a trash can." And the policy "If you're ever somewhere and have had too much to drink, call me. I trust you to not be stupid and try to drive impaired. I'll make sure you get a ride home somehow even if I have to come pick you up myself, and there won't be anything said of it." (college was only 20 miles away)

Slightly disturbing: I was 16, and she came home one day and handed my brother and I each a box of condoms. "You know what these are for. Use them." I said "But I don't have any use for these right now!" My brother said "I do, I'll take them!" :)

I wish more kids could have the same type of relationship with their parent(s) that I was fortunate to have with mine.
posted by mrbill at 3:20 PM on August 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


I would say the core difference between self-restraint/self-discipline and self-policing is who the target is. In the former, the control is exerted on the behalf of the individual themselves; in the latter case, it's exerted on behalf of an external authority. To take the "no murder" example, the self-disciplined person chooses not to murder because they do not see themselves as a murderer, while the self-policed person refrains because they were told that Murder Is Bad. And this is why the self-disciplined person has the tools to handle an unknown situation while the self-policed individual does not.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:21 PM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


> Actually she says that she had no idea when he was watching her. To me that means that because she thought she could be observed at any time, she filtered all her online actions through the "Would Dad approve?" lens.

It's difficult to give her part a generous reading. I want to take it at face value, but it also comes across like something a younger me would have written were I in a similar situation and didn't want to cause trouble; here's what my father did to me, here's why it's good, I know he did it because he loved me and I'm grateful. She abstracts it away a little bit (mention of governments) and doesn't bring up any specific friction except to say that she occasionally resented it in a general teenage way. Her emotional reaction is mentioned but not otherwise evident. No mention of the keyloggers or auto-screenshots.

Like some of the comments on that page pointed out, I wonder if she would have written the same thing if it weren't being reviewed and published by the same person who spent a decade spying on her, and who potentially still has a good deal of authority and control over her life.
posted by postcommunism at 3:24 PM on August 13, 2013 [19 favorites]


P.S. Diaries are for privacy. Online is not private, and should not have an expectation of privacy. Better to learn that from those who love us first.

If I didn't have the ability to explore the internet to learn without the watchful eye of my parents every second I wouldn't have my career. I make a good living today hacking apart VoIP phones. If my parents saw that I was reading hacking and phreaking articles 15 years ago, it would have been game over. Remember, he was running a keylogger. It wasn't just his daughter putting her thoughts online; all of her searches for anything would have been logged as well.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 3:33 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Online is not private, and should not have an expectation of privacy. Better to learn that from those who love us first.

It's unlikely that the NSA or whatever state security thing is tracking your online life is going to care if you, 14-year-old, are chatting in a chatroom for gay teens.

Your parents may love you in a way that will get you sent to "therapy" if they find out.

Like I said, a lack of certain kinds of privacy online does not mean a kid deserves none from their parents.
posted by rtha at 3:37 PM on August 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


P.S. Diaries are for privacy. Online is not private, and should not have an expectation of privacy. Better to learn that from those who love us first.

My takeaway from this kind of treatment was that if love meant people felt the right to interrogate me for six hours based on a poem they found concealed inside my box spring in a box glued to the hidden side of the frame, I don't want anything to do with people who claim to love me.

Everyone's mileage is different, of course.
posted by winna at 3:37 PM on August 13, 2013 [22 favorites]


In retrospect, the biggest downside to my parents' lack of interest in what I was doing online is the stuff I discovered they were looking up when I went to clear the history and manually delete temporary internet files. *shudder*. That's information I cannot unlearn. I'm happy for them that they didn't have to learn the same stuff about me.
posted by retrograde at 3:43 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd quite like to see the daughters real response in ten or so years when she's moved out and independent of her parent.
posted by Static Vagabond at 3:44 PM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think monitoring Internet and text usage is fine, as long as there are healthy boundaries involved. The problem is that neither parent nor teenager is a good judge of what constitutes "healthy boundaries" in the moment, even if they are both notionally healthy people -- which is ALSO not guaranteed.
posted by KathrynT at 3:51 PM on August 13, 2013


To everyone who argues that this is a great (or at least necessary) tool for helping your kids, who don't have any right to online privacy anyway, I would like to quote the father himself, toward the end of the third installment (emphasis mine):
I had become increasingly concerned over the years about the broader invasion of privacy that my monitoring represented, and had also come to the conclusion that all of my surveillance was achieving very little — since it didn’t actually help me understand what they were going through or where potential trouble spots might lie.
posted by scody at 3:53 PM on August 13, 2013 [11 favorites]


Tack this on to the list of things I worry about on a regular basis as a father of two young children who is heavily invested in computer security and knows of most of the unsavory places on the internet.
posted by iamabot at 3:58 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


In 2000, at the age of 15, I googled (or yahooed, or whatever) the lyrics to Blink 182's "Adam's Song", and stupidly left the browser window open on the family computer. Instead of taking pity on me and buying me some half-decent records, my parents (my mom, mostly) read the lyrics (which are about suicide) and decided that if I liked a song about suicide, I must myself be suicidal, and had me hospitalized overnight and put me in therapy for a year. It was one of the most humiliating episodes of my life.

Granted, I wasn't a happy kid, but I wasn't suicidal either. And as a result of stuff like this I value my privacy nearly to the point of pathology - I have serious trouble letting other people, even my girlfriend, use my various computing devices and like elizardbits I live alone and don't like having friends over. So I have some experience with this.

But like others have pointed out the online world really, honest-to-god does present some new-in-kind dangers for kids that go beyond the possibility of radical self-actualization. I mean yeah, if the primary motivation of a parent's snooping is to make sure their kids don't become gay, or atheist, or communist, or into BDSM, then I have no patience for that. But I think older folks - by which I mean people in their late 20's, who grew up with the internet but not this internet - don't realize is that the web isn't merely a place for mind expansion anymore, it's a hyper-speed, toy-model version of kids' own social groups. As someone mentioned, online bullying is frightening not because it's bullying, but because it can literally ruin a kid's entire life, for the foreseeable future, in the space of a half-hour or so. Sex stuff is even scarier - I had some explicit chats at the age of 16 or 17 that really could've come back to haunt me if they were in the public domain.

Surveillance in the hands of a caring, understanding, and open-minded parent is a godsend. Surveillance in the hands of a parent who doesn't "get" their kid - and who doesn't even make the effort to do so - is a tool of repression. And that's ultimately the real root cause - many parents are not willing to make an effort to connect with their kids in a non-judgmental way.
posted by downing street memo at 4:03 PM on August 13, 2013 [16 favorites]


If, by the time she's a teenager, I can successfully monitor my kid, against her will, and find out something she really doesn't want me to know, I will feel that I've made some kind of error in teaching her how to cover her tracks. And I say this as somebody who could probably get a job at the NSA tomorrow if I could pass the background check.

But if she actually badly wants to hide very much from me, I'll feel I've failed in being worthy of her trust.
posted by Hizonner at 4:11 PM on August 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


Back then the guy was snooping too much. Now he is oversharing about it too much.
posted by jfuller at 4:19 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


As a teenage girl, I had a hard enough time believing that I was actually entitled to set boundaries, to say no, and to establish a sense of self that was independent of the judgments of other people (especially my parents).

I can't imagine how much harder it would have been if my father had done this to me.
posted by argonauta at 4:22 PM on August 13, 2013 [16 favorites]


it didn’t actually help me understand what they were going through or where potential trouble spots might lie.

Too precious. Mathew needed a conventional mirror.
posted by de at 4:32 PM on August 13, 2013


I disliked the article for a number of reasons, not least because of how short and click baity the installments were.

I'm kind of horrified by the whole premise, and the false logic of "I was watching my kids all the time and they never did anything I didn't approve of" which is like a stalky parent version of tiger dust, you know that old joke:

There's a guy sprinkling a powder on the road, and another guy asks him what he's doing. "Sprinkling tiger dust," he says "to keep the tigers away." The other guy laughs and says, "But there's no tigers anywhere near here!" and the first guy says, "Shows you what good stuff this tiger dust is."

Certainly everyone knows that "the internet" isn't especially private, but surely we can expect our nearest and dearest to afford us some privacy from themselves. I'm reminded of stories from one of the Antarctic villages, where sleeping quarters have no auditory privacy - but people still have sex with one another. It's polite to avert your ears in a lot of situations, and I don't think your children have any less right to expect that their parents will afford them their privacy. No-one knocks on the connecting wall when they hear their neighbours have sex to make helpful comments, you pretend you cannot hear.

I almost think it would be better to eavesdrop on your kids and never let them know at all, if you are incapable of letting them alone. At least that way they are still free to look for information and have conversations without an invisible parent sitting on their shoulder. But this would require the stalky parent to have some restraint, and not pass comments, or interfere unless the kid was in real danger - hooking up with pedophiles or planning heists or something.

My oldest child is 17, and we have always asked him to friend us on Facebook. It's a pretty recent development that he filters what we can see, and it's one I'm pretty ok with now days. When he was younger I mostly wanted to keep an eye on the interactions he had with other kids, and some of them were slightly alarming, just the sort of peer group stuff you'd expect. He agreed, when he was younger, to furnish his passwords if asked, but we never felt we needed to. I don't rummage through his room looking for stuff, so I don't do that online, either. But if I had probable cause - and I am not at all conclusion to jumpy - I might. But it has never arisen. When we saw him acting like a jerk on Facebook, we told him it wasn't appropriate, and it seems like he stopped. Or made it more private, which is a reasonable response. When we hear him bellowing oafishly when he plays TF2 or LOL, we knock on his door and ask him to keep it down, and less objectionable. But his online life is his, not ours, for the most part, he has to moderate himself.
posted by Kaleidoscope at 4:43 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The parental protectiveness-instinct is I guess good if you think survival of lots of humans is good, but holy shit is it a major reason for our persistent failure to have nice things.
posted by kengraham at 4:57 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I see no problem with friending your 12-year-old child on Facebook and making sure they're safe (as long as the child knows about it and why you're doing it, of course).

The keylogger thing, that's just creepy, the kind of thing a diary-reading parent would do. Why not install hidden cameras in their bedroom while you're at it?
posted by pguertin at 5:26 PM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


St. Alia of the Bunnies: "Those of us who have raised kids understand what it means to be responsible for them. Up to a certain age it is our responsibility to keep an eye on them. Yes, that sounds horrifying to those of us who weren't perfect little angels when we were young....but all I can say is that in the areas my parents paid attention, I stayed safe-and their lapses had lifetime ramifications for me."

I'm kind of dumbstruck by this. I don't mean I disagree, so much - I mean, I do, but - it's more: do you really believe this, Alia? Was this really your experience?

I mean, I can say that I was very lucky that I had (and have) wonderful parents, and we had our computer in the family room, too. But the most precious experiences I had growing up were under the covers reading adventure novels or the Lord Of The Rings saga (which my mother deemed "Satanic") or St Irenaeus ("too Catholic" - and yeah, I know I was a weird kid) and generally discovering things on my own that became part of who I was. They were the first things that were truly my things - the things I didn't share with my parents. Are you honestly saying that all the private little moments when you were young, the ones you didn't tell your parents about, ultimately ended up being evil?

That somehow seems remarkably sad to me.
posted by koeselitz at 5:27 PM on August 13, 2013 [13 favorites]


There is a huge difference between "keeping an eye on your kids" by having their computer in common areas vs. installing hidden cameras and keyloggers to secretly spy on them.

Even going a step further, I have zero moral issue with parents who install monitoring software on their kid's computers and fully explain the situation to them - it's not really any different from not allowing them to use the internet without sitting next to them. Ridiculously overprotective (past very young ages) yes, unnecessary yes, harmful to the parent-child relationship yes, harmful to their children's independence and social lives yes (IMO), but not unethical. Kids should understand that their school computers and future work computers are probably monitored, too.

On the other hand, secretly invading your kids' privacy so deeply, particularly when they're old enough to have (legal and harmless) things they might legitimately want or even need to keep private, is a really ugly thing to do.
posted by randomnity at 5:54 PM on August 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


My personal take, formed by experience: monitoring your children isn't inherently bad, but it's something you have to think about the ramifications of. God knows I love my parents, but some of their interactions with my behavior online has been... problematic. Yet often their following me online led to Good Life Advice because my parents were always up-front about what they saw of mine online, what they weren't looking at, and – most importantly – why they cared about some things and not about others.

I will say that if you attempt to block your child from watching porn online, you will end up with a young man who writes deliberately uncomfortable stories about masturbation as a way of compensating for his childhood guilt. So, as much as you may not like the thought of your child looking at boobies, you might want to tread lightly there.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:12 PM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


oh my god rory are you the goyische alexander portnoy
posted by elizardbits at 6:34 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Back in the day, it was expected that is kids would have the privacy to learn things in our own without parental supervision, line where and how to get drugs, the joys of self-asphyxiation, and why middle-aged men are awesome. And today, by monitoring our children's lives, we deprive them off the joy of discovery, like traveling cross-country to meet a friend from Gaia Online. It's sad, really.
posted by happyroach at 6:47 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


cribcage: The obvious surface issue is about monitoring your kids to keep them out of trouble, and that's fine, but the far more interesting issue is Gaia Online. Who are your kids, how much is there that you don't know—and what are the ethics of that?

I get what you're saying here cribcage, but I would point out that, even as kids/teens, there are parts of us we don't necessarily want our parents to know about. I wrote sappy poetry in high school, but I didn't want my parents knowing about it or reading it. It was mine and it was private. I also didn't want my Christian parents to know that much of the Christianity I professed wasn't real to me and was there because it was what people in my circle did. I'm 31 and my parents don't know that I'm an atheist. My parents were incredibly open with me about pretty much everything and we were able to grow from parent/child to friends over time, but they didn't need to (and still don't need to) know all the things about me for this to happen.

St. Alia of the Bunnies : P.S. Diaries are for privacy. Online is not private, and should not have an expectation of privacy. Better to learn that from those who love us first.

This is true. But diaries don't offer us the chance to ask questions and learn things about ourselves like an online community does. They don't offer multicultural world views and experiences.
posted by persephone's rant at 6:53 PM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Hi, future kids. If you are reading this, it is because I have given you all my various online usernames, so you can see everything I have put up on various places on the internet; because I asked the same of you and more. This is what "the internet is forever" means, and I hope you will read the articles in the FPP and the ensuing discussion amongst this good internet community. I hope being able to find everything I've written feels like a fair exchange for the ways that I have kept track of you since you have been old enough to use a computer, and will continue to do so until you reach age 18. As we have already done, I am always willing to discuss this with you.

Love,

Dad
posted by oneironaut at 7:05 PM on August 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


I am not saying that kids shouldn't have ANY privacy. I do think that online privacy for kids, say, younger than 16, is a way trickier thing.

Because it isn't private, and can come back and bite you in ways that wouldn't even involve a parental unit. If a snoopy parent is what keeps a kid thinking about judicious selfcensoring online I can't think of that as a totally bad thing. They have the entire rest of their adult lives to revel in the illusion of online privacy.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:12 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


If a snoopy parent is what keeps a kid thinking about judicious selfcensoring online I can't think of that as a totally bad thing.

I genuinely see where you (and others who are making this argument) are coming from in terms of kids checking themselves in terms of what they post -- photos, personal info, etc. But where I think a lot of us are coming from on the BUT PRIVACY side of things doesn't necessarily concern what kids may or may not feel free to post, but rather what kids may or may not feel free to read, watch, and discover -- all things that (we are arguing) are vital to children and adolescents as they develop their senses of self.
posted by scody at 7:16 PM on August 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


I wonder if he used his key-logger to watch her write that response.
posted by goHermGO at 7:42 PM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


um, wrong Teen Wolf, dude.
posted by desjardins at 7:52 PM on August 13, 2013


But where I think a lot of us are coming from on the BUT PRIVACY side of things doesn't necessarily concern what kids may or may not feel free to post, but rather what kids may or may not feel free to read, watch, and discover...

Yeah, this is what really skeeves me out about this. I think it's within reason to keep an eye on your kids' public online profiles, especially since kids now aren't using the internet in the same way current 20-somethings did. When I was a kid, I took it as a given that anything I did online had better not be tied to anything close to my real name or location. Now with Facebook and the like being so prevalent, kids see no problem with using their real name or a profile linked to their real name. No one can link my pre-teen forays into fanfiction with my current online profile or my real name. With the way kids use the internet now, you just might be able to do that ten years down the line. So it's reasonable to me to have parents keep an eye on the kinds of things their kids are posting online, and to teach their kids about netiquette and the kinds of things they should and shouldn't share online.

But keylogging? Maintaining such close scrutiny of every single thing a kid is doing online? That's a step way too goddamn far to me. I used the internet to explore a lot of stuff I didn't necessarily want my parents to know about, not because it was wrong or bad, but because I simply didn't want every aspect of my voracious curiosity (or my taste in Sailor Moon and Harry Potter fanfiction) open to scrutiny. It's like your parent looking over your shoulder at every single thing you look at in the library, or your parent planting a camera on you so they can monitor everything you interact with on a day-to-day basis. It's creepy, feels oppressive, and is a real breach of autonomy.

And I mean, exactly what options did his daughter have in writing this response? If she unleashed a torrent of teenage rage at her father's behavior, what good would it do her? If she said, "Thanks to this level of surveillance, I don't trust that there are any boundaries I can maintain that my father will respect," what would that mean for her home life? Even creepier than the keylogging is the power imbalance and total lack of recourse for her in response to her father's behavior. She has to say she's okay with it, because what else is she going to do?
posted by yasaman at 7:53 PM on August 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


When I was about 12, I got suspended from school for 1 day when I got caught skipping gym class to go off campus to use the local University computer center. My parents asked me what was so important that I had to ditch school. So I showed it to them. They were baffled.

I spent part the day of suspension down at the computer center, happily bashing away at the keyboard of an IBM 029 Key Punch machine, which was why I ditched school in the first place.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:03 PM on August 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


imagine being a kid and you're queer or questioning your gender or your budding sexuality or something and if you even try to look up stuff or talk to people about this it is exactly the same as going to your parents and telling them immediately about this thing you haven't even figured out for yourself yet. in a world where even after you've figured it out for yourself there's a good chance your parents will be really really unhappy about it. that's one personal reason i think this is bullshit
posted by titus n. owl at 8:25 PM on August 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


I'm much more fine with it if they knew about the monitoring - and level of monitoring - than if they didn't. The degree of spying is alarming, but there are important differences between the offline world and the online world, and it's hard to imagine what it's like for those who have never known a life without the internet.

It's to be expected that the reaction in this thread includes the parents being more inclined to say things akin to, 'He might have gone too far, but...' while non-parents lean more to mapping it to their own teenage years.

It's also kind of depressing to realise that the vast majority of the people in the thread who tell of having no privacy - and more importantly, no real trust, though that usually is left implied - when growing up are women.
posted by gadge emeritus at 8:56 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Internet usage by kids was uncommon until, what, second half of the '90s? Probably closer to 2000?

Maybe earlier for MeFis than non-MeFis, but this still means that there are a lot of parents, including me, who didn't use the internet when they were kids.

Maybe this is part of why the opinions are so divisive here. Secretly installing a keylogger seems wrong to me, but I'm genuinely unsure about how to introduce my children to the internet, and I think that's partly because I have zero experience using the internet as a child.
posted by agog at 8:58 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Why can't every parental experience be as fun as introducing our kids to Byrne's Fantastic Four run? And throwing frisbees? And snowmen?)
posted by agog at 8:58 PM on August 13, 2013


imagine being a kid and you're queer or questioning your gender or your budding sexuality or something and if you even try to look up stuff or talk to people about this it is exactly the same as going to your parents and telling them immediately about this thing you haven't even figured out for yourself yet. in a world where even after you've figured it out for yourself there's a good chance your parents will be really really unhappy about it. that's one personal reason i think this is bullshit

THIS. I am surprised more people aren't raising this angle. The internet has the potential to be a source of information and support for LGBT kids, for (as someone mentioned above about birth control) teens who are sexually active, for kids being abused by their parents, etc. Or less dramatic stuff like being able to question the religion or politics in which you've been raised, which I think is super important as a teenager. My parents are kind and supportive and wouldn't have punished me for any of the stuff I did on the internet as a teen even if they had had the slightest clue how to track it, but they'd been watching over my shoulder the whole time I wouldn't have felt that intellectual freedom to discover atheism and punk rock and whatever else 14-year-old me was into.
posted by naoko at 9:29 PM on August 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


In a former life I wrote a bunch of software for a living that was for monitoring and detecting "bad" behavior in kid oriented online worlds.

I will tell you this. My experience with it disabused me of any notion of:

- kids being anywhere near as innocent as we like to think of them being
- the absolute truth that children have no sense of the ubiquity and permanence of their online behavior.
- parents unwillingness to believe any of those points when presented with transcripts of what Timmy and Suzy were saying to each other.

I don't condone programs like the NSA is running, but I have to admit, I'm a little happy that I made a small corner of the internet safer for a little while.
posted by drewbage1847 at 9:31 PM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I loved having computer-illiterate parents!
posted by ReeMonster at 12:09 AM on August 14, 2013


Pipeski: "There seems to be a real fashion for really hands-off parenting at the moment (at least where I live)".

Where I live, too...and the push for total permissiveness - in the name of "building grit" or "kids will do all this stuff anyway" or "no parents should ever say no to anything because some abusive parents say no to the wrong things!" - lasts right up until the moment something goes wrong.

If this guy had posted about how his daughter was being bullied, or photoshopped into porn, or propositioned in pushy ways by older men, or bullying other kids in her class, or taking off her clothes for guys on chatroulette, the first thing Metafilter (and the rest of the world) would say is "Where were her PARENTS?! Shouldn't they have been monitoring what she did on the net??!"
posted by Wylla at 12:10 AM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


holy shit it's almost as if there is in fact a middle ground between "never interact with the child ever" and "install a fucking keystroke logger on their computer so you can see every single thing they ever write or do" how weird
posted by titus n. owl at 12:31 AM on August 14, 2013 [25 favorites]


rtha: Unethical behavior by government entities does not make unethical behavior by parents okay. There are actually ways to teach kids about privacy and what kinds of things it's okay to share online and with whom without spying on them, and acting like spying is the only way to teach this lesson is appalling.

256: Oh, and further, I totally get the idea of teaching your kids about online information security. Still, by the time my daughter is 16, I expect (and hope) that "information about me I don't want my dad to know" and "information about me I don't want the NSA to know" will be disjoint sets.

Just wanted to pull out these comments from earlier in the thread and say how much I agree with them.

Tangential anecdote 1: when I was sixteen, my best friend and I went to the Brontë Museum in Haworth. I brought back a postcard with a quote from Jane Eyre and stuck it on my bedroom door with a bunch of other stuff. "I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will." My stepfather wrote underneath, "And then you grow up and join the real world."

I knew I wasn't 'free' in the sense of being totally unconstrained by life and society, at leisure to spend my days picking flowers. I went to school, did household chores, understood about working for a living and was polite at boring family parties. What's more, I knew that I lived in his house under his rules. He could go through my room and things at any time and used information as a means of control. I had wanted to remind myself that even in this situation, I had the freedom of my mind; he couldn't resist pushing down on any expression of it and making a point that I was wrong.

It seems to me that there is a parallel with the situation in the articles. Making sure that your children know that they must be careful on the internet, that online bullying will follow them for life and that the NSA can read their Teen Wolf Tumblr is necessary good parenting. Making sure they know that anything and everything they ever write or search for will be read and judged by their father is, well ... excessive.

Tangential anecdote 2: around the same time, in the best acting of my life, I convinced a social studies group that, though we were all totally uninterested in it, all the good topics had already been picked and we would have to do our research project on the gays and their struggle for equal rights. Well, I'm not sure how convincing it actually was, but it was a good cover story for two weeks of emotional internet searching at lunchtimes and after school.
posted by daisyk at 2:23 AM on August 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


It is true, too, that what your kids put on the internet will be there for everyone on earth to see.

No, no, no. That's the idea of the internet that the snooping freaks like normal people to believe in, but it's not true. You can only find something on the internet if you go looking for it.

It isn't a problem that teenagers put pictures of themselves drinking alcohol on facebook, it's that schools or employers decide it's their job to look for those pictures. It's that they want to regulate kids behaviour just because technology has given them the means to do so.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:39 AM on August 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


But if she actually badly wants to hide very much from me, I'll feel I've failed in being worthy of her trust.

Not necessarily. Some stuff, no matter how much you trust your parents, is just too embarassing, or upsetting, or difficult to explain or just plain none of their business, to want them to know about.

Metafilter frex
posted by MartinWisse at 3:41 AM on August 14, 2013


It's also a bit misleading to refer to this as a parental "right". It seems like the main justification for such surveillance is utilitarian -- to protect the child. Surveillance that has no protective utility is presumably not something the parent has a right to.

I disagree with the use of the word "right" too. Maybe not for the same reason. A right is something you desire, or cherish, or rely upon. Keeping an eye on the kids isn't a right, it's a responsibility. Calling it a right is a very weird justification. Imagine if some parent proclaimed that it was their "right" to wipe their infant's ass.

I also disagree with the idea that youths need "secrets". Age appropriate privacy, yes. Secrets, at least as I parse the word, not so much. I just can't imagine a scenario where something called a secret is a good, or even benign, thing. Maybe I'm just being overly sensitive about the word. Secrets lead to lies. Lies lead to unhappiness.

Specifically for surveillance, I think it takes an awfully mature person to be able to handle it. To know the difference between kids being curious, and kids veering off the guardrails. I also kind of think that the goal of a parent ought to be to teach the kid responsibility and judgement *before* they head out into the world (to whatever extent that is). I mean, you don't let a toddler wander around on their own until you are reasonably sure they won't wander into the street. It's the same thing with the computer: you don't hand them a computer and tell them not to screw up. You teach them how not to screw up. You show them how to use it, you talk about the things they can't and shouldn't do, what to do when something weird happens, and when they demonstrate appropriate maturity, off they go.
posted by gjc at 4:39 AM on August 14, 2013


This guy has done us potential future parents a real service. We can just show our kids this article, pretend to have installed shit on our devices, and go back to watching ancient reruns of Community while they act right online, without us actually having to do a damn thing. Hooray!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:47 AM on August 14, 2013


Then when they turn 18 and we reveal we never really spied on them they'll write an article titled "My Dad is A Lazy Fuck Who Couldn't Even Be Bothered To Spy On Me."
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:50 AM on August 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


> You can only find something on the internet if you go looking for it.

Are you serious? Internet searches always find a lot more than you were looking for. Including stuff that (if you aren't "self-policing" with safesearch cranked up) you will probably wish you could unsee.
posted by jfuller at 4:57 AM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hi, future kids. If you are reading this, it is because I have given you all my various online usernames, so you can see everything I have put up on various places on the internet; because I asked the same of you and more.

I have a 12-year-old and a 9-year-old who are starting to be online (Minecraft/Skype, mostly). I am going to adopt this policy immediately. I hope they are enlighted by reading discussions with other parents from my homeschool group, with whom I vent my frustration so I don't take it out on the kids, and from whom I routinely seek advice about parenting challenges. I hope my conversations with other parents about the challenges of raising gifted, sensitive kids with anxiety disorders are illuminating to them. But, most of all, I hope they enjoy my page on FetLife.
posted by not that girl at 5:08 AM on August 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


So is friending your kids on FetLife good parenting or bad parenting?

knows nothing about how FetLife works, would only buy the Vanilla Sponge Cake
posted by Elementary Penguin at 5:15 AM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


btw, that link is NSFW.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 5:20 AM on August 14, 2013


I grew up in a snooping house, but before the Internet. Once, when I was about ten I had a calculator and lost it at school. I wrote a little 'obituary' for myself, with a picture of it. My father, when going through my bag, took the piece of paper against my wishes, opened it and then accused me of selling the calculator to buy drugs.
I think there is more to parenting than a simple continuum between 'caring' and 'indifferent'.
I didn't write a diary until I was fifteen, when I would deliberately and clearly describe his terribleness in the hope he'd read it. This has led to my attitude to privacy - a sort of 'publish and be damned' attitude. People can stay overnight alone in my flat, poke where they like, read what they like online and in the room and I'll stand by it openly.
(This also stretches to the disgusting idea that work bosses can police your leisure time beyond the area of serious crime. I am willing to take to court any employer who judges what I do in my spare time. Luckily, I'm not much of a drinker)
By the way, I left home at 17. It severely affected my education, but at least I had a room with a lock on it.
posted by grapefruitzzz at 6:46 AM on August 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


I just can't imagine a scenario where something called a secret is a good, or even benign, thing.

I find this exceedingly odd. There are certainly bad secrets, but "My best friend likes that cute boy in sixth period," or "I like deeply uncool disco songs," was a typical secret for me, and was about as harmless as it can get. Other secrets included a friend who was scared of the dark at an older age. It could also be something more serious, like "my parents are headed towards divorce but I'm not ready to talk to anyone about it." "I might be gay," "I don't think I believe in God." All of them things that a kid might keep secret with good reason.
posted by emjaybee at 7:18 AM on August 14, 2013 [17 favorites]


I also disagree with the idea that youths need "secrets". Age appropriate privacy, yes. Secrets, at least as I parse the word, not so much. I just can't imagine a scenario where something called a secret is a good, or even benign, thing. Maybe I'm just being overly sensitive about the word. Secrets lead to lies. Lies lead to unhappiness.

I don't think this is overly sensitive as much as it is overly literal, judgmental, and unimaginative. Even if you never had the kinds of secrets that emjaybee gives as (excellent) examples -- from a friend who liked a certain classmate to questions about your sexuality or religious faith -- can you truly not imagine that millions of children and adolescents might have another experience? And that such experiences are entirely valid, and do not necessarily or invariably lead in a straight line to "lies" and "unhappiness" every single time?

People -- yes, even children and adolescents -- lead complex lives, and part of that complexity involves being able to choose to keep one's innermost hopes, needs, thoughts, and feelings to oneself. To reduce that extraordinary variability and complexity to some manichean construct whereby open : secret :: truth : lie :: happy : unhappy runs the risk of pathologizing one of the most essential elements of being human.
posted by scody at 7:57 AM on August 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


This style of parental surveillance just strikes me as lazy. But hey, it's easier than actually talking or listening to your kid and observing (changes in) behavior. Keeping the kid out of the loop simplifies implementation too.
posted by klarck at 8:02 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


forcing a relationship without consent.

that's what parenting is, both literally and metaphorically.


Ok, only halfway through comments but: no it aint. As a parent, if you don't put the work in, you're not going to have a relationship. That work is: talking, listening, sharing, modelling good behaviour. The times when the work of parenting consists of demanding and insisting are few (Don't run in the road!) and as the child grows they become less. Look at all the people on here who will tell you how they have no contact with their parents.

When it comes to imparting adult skills and standards of behaviour, there's a lot of negotiation that goes on between parents and children - all the better for the kid to develop their own judgement. It seems to me that what this guy has done is ensure his daughter will never come to him for help with any of the knotty, ambiguous problems of adulthood - Dad, my boyfriend twisted my arm, I'm sure he needs help, what shall I do, I love him; that sort of complicity-infused, complicated problem.

Anyway, maybe he's not even the primary parent, who knows for him? Maybe his kids are used to him being crazy and go to their mother for anything important, or sensitive.
posted by glasseyes at 9:12 AM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't think parents surveilling their teens constantly is the answer, but letting teenagers set the social norms of their internet interactions clearly isn't the answer either.

This is kind of where I fall, at least in regards to constant surveillance. Social norms? Well, they should get to set SOME of them in their internet interactions, but probably not all of them.

The Monsters have always had internet access. When they were wee, it wasn't hard to supervise them. They had some shortcuts on the desktop to the places they could go, and the computer lived in the family room, where everyone was hanging out anyway.

As they got older and everyone got their own computers, the rules were simple. Don't be an asshole, don't go anywhere online you would be upset for me to find out about, add me to your Facebook/MySpace/whatever, and know that I occasionally check the router logs. We talked about the importance of keeping your personal information protected, the importance of not posting anything you'd be upset to learn that Grandma had seen, and the importance of behaving in a civilized fashion.

Randomly, I would open the router logs. Not even regularly. Once a week, maybe, and sometimes not even that often. The most objectionable thing I found was Minecraft at 4AM on a school night. Eventually, I stopped checking the router logs altogether. It all worked out fine. They knew they were being supervised to a degree, but they also knew that I trusted them to make good decisions.

Children don't have a legal right to absolute privacy from their parents, but I believe they have a human right to it. I do not go into their rooms unless I am explicitly invited in. I do not have keyloggers on their computers. I do not touch their computers unless they ask me to fix them. If something seems Not Right with either of them, SOP is to TALK to them, not spy on them or tear their rooms or backpacks apart. This has worked quite well for me and mine.

I grew up in a household with ZERO privacy. I would regularly come home to find my room trashed, all the drawers emptied onto the floor. My school bag was searched, notebooks read, wrong conclusions jumped to. I NEVER want my kids to feel the way I felt then, and have actively worked to make sure they don't.
posted by MissySedai at 9:30 AM on August 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


I'm not a parent so I've learned that I have no right to judge the parental behaviour of others...

... on the other hand, this sounds totally fucked I and I hope I would not even CONSIDER doing this to any hypothetical kids I may one day have.
posted by modernnomad at 10:09 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why he didn't just ... talk to his kids about sex, drugs, online dangers, etc. You can assume most teenagers think about trying unsafe things without monitoring every single thing they write. You can talk to them about these things, in general, without needing to know the exact date and time they talked about maybe trying pot.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:10 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


My parents snooped. I lied to them about where I went with the car, my drug intake, etc.

I was not a snooper parent. My kid admitted trying alcohol and pot, and although she obviously had her little secrets, I would rather find out about the approximate dimensions of her life through conversations than keystroke spying. Also, we are friends on Facebook.
posted by kozad at 12:25 PM on August 14, 2013


It's really interesting to me that this parent says "While keystroke-logging software worked with a one-on-one IM conversation, it was of no real use for texting (I didn’t really investigate whether there were similar tools for phones, because that seemed a little too draconian even for me)."

Why is it OK, in this man's mind, to monitor his children's computer use but not their phone use? That's fascinating to me. Is it because the mobile phone is more clearly "theirs" - he never uses their phones, doesn't really have physical access to them much, so he feels like invading the digital bits being swapped by the phones are a different type of information? Or is it because the computers live in his home, for the most part, while the mobile phones are just that - mobile? And their mobility makes them less "his" and therefore it is more of a breach of privacy to monitor them? Or is it because his children use the phones more than they use the computer, so monitoring phone usage just seems over-the-top?

I really want to know more about why he made this choice, and about what's going on there in terms of his ideas about privacy in different media. Fascinating stuff.
posted by k8lin at 12:58 PM on August 14, 2013


I had a snooping mother. It was complicated further by the fact that she was hiding her own snooping from my Dad. So when she read about my losing my virginity in my journal she confronted me and threw a completely unbelievable fit but couldn't punish me because then Dad would know. I kept the secret to avoid being punished and felt like total shit about it.

Now I totally struggle with this as a foster parent. When we had a very troubled (and mature and funny and wonderful) 11 year old girl I felt the urge to go through her room when she was at school. Maybe it was my upbringing banging against my own beliefs but it was something I agonized over. It was made all the more difficult because she was a STRANGER to me. I did not have the benefit of thinking "well, I've taught her well, she feels loved, she will come to me if she needs me."

It was also strange because the foster care system was constantly spying on me and my husband and it was hard not to let that trickle down. Once when our sweet, sad kiddo tried to harm herself while in our care and we were investigated for a failure to supervise. No one understood how I could not have known or why I wasn't reading her diary or going through her backpack to find out something she was carefully concealing from us.
posted by Saminal at 1:07 PM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why is it OK, in this man's mind, to monitor his children's computer use but not their phone use?

I can't speak for that parent but for me as a parent, there are two main differences between phones & computers. First is that I see texting with someone as a one-on-one "conversation" and my child is mindful of the person/people on the other end. Social media is the opposite of that, by design. Reasonable people may disagree.

Second, and more significant I think is that my son's phone was his phone, not the family phone. It had his contacts and his calls, voicemails, texts. He was not allowed to have a phone until he was old enough in my view as a parent to handle it on his own. The computer he used was, in contrast, not his at all. It was a family computer, housed in the family room, with the clear understanding that nothing he did on it (or I did on it for that matter) was private. But he began using it long before he was old enough in my view as a parent to handle it on his own.

There will always be parents that snoop - this thread has many examples of pre-internet snooping and privacy-invading. But every parent who monitors their child's online activity is not a snoop. It's not the same thing at all as long as you are honest with your child and teaching them that this particular tool you are using is a public tool and redirecting them to private spaces for private conversations and journals.
posted by headnsouth at 2:29 PM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Easy way to get around this is writing "Caught dad jerking off. It was hot." in your diary and I can guaran-fucking-tee he won't be going near anything of yours ever again.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:14 PM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Easy way to get around this is writing "Caught dad jerking off. It was hot." in your diary and I can guaran-fucking-tee he won't be going near anything of yours ever again.

Yes. It is indeed impossible to imagine any way in which that plan could backfire.
posted by yoink at 3:30 PM on August 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, by god, we gotta try something!
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:34 PM on August 14, 2013


I can't speak for that parent but for me as a parent, there are two main differences between phones & computers. First is that I see texting with someone as a one-on-one "conversation" and my child is mindful of the person/people on the other end. Social media is the opposite of that, by design. Reasonable people may disagree.

How are IM conversations, which is what this man was monitoring, anything but one-on-one conversations?

I struggled with this being seen as a difference with my own mother when I was 13 or so; when my sister was that age, her constant phone use was seen as fine and socially acceptable, but when I used IMs to chat with peers and develop friendships I was an "obsessed" "addict" who would be helpfully passed the latest fear mongering newspaper clipping about internet addiction. When the truth was, the behavior wasn't really any different at all--it was only the medium that had changed.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:36 PM on August 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm sorry for your experience, PhoBWanKenobi, but this is very much a YMMV situation. And that milleage can depend as much on what year a kid joined the network as it does on the parents' values. For me as a parent, whose kids' use of IM began when they joined facebook, a company that puts more value on the privacy of its privacy policies than the privacy of its users, I wanted them to be careful. That's different than old school IM, I guess.

Right now my kids are figuring out their finances - my 17yo worked his tail off this summer and put it all in savings ... and just now learned that he got dinged $2 every time he used his debit card because his checking account had a zero balance. The way he found out? I said give me your PW and let's look at the big picture together before you head off to college. And I looked at his history ... I know now every penny he spent and I inwardly cringe but that part of it isn't my business or my job to monitor, what's my job is to teach him how to manage his money, monitor his transactions, plan ahead, etc. My logging into his account to see what he'd been up to wasn't wrong, it was my letting him lose $150 on fees before straightening him out that was wrong - a definite "where were the parents" moment! But it wasn't as though I hadn't told him how to set up his account and find the free ATMs, I had. But telling a teenager how to do something isn't always effective /understatement/

And that's how I monitored my kids' internet activity when they were younger. With the goal of protecting them until they developed the maturity and streetsmarts to manage it themselves. For example, I knew they looked at porn, but for me it was did they set up an account using their real name, did they IM/plan to connect IRL with someone from a porn site, did they clear their history. The fact of it was not something i considered my business. Again, not all parents do what I did, some clearly overstep. Your mother was wrong. But a snoopy helicopter parent doesn't need the internet to overstep & behave badly. Crappy parents preceded and will outlast this particular technology.
posted by headnsouth at 4:48 PM on August 14, 2013


For me as a parent, whose kids' use of IM began when they joined facebook, a company that puts more value on the privacy of its privacy policies than the privacy of its users, I wanted them to be careful. That's different than old school IM, I guess.

The difference between that and AIM or MSMessenger is trivial, and really, there's no way those conversations are "social networking" even if they're facilitated via technology on social networking sites. You said that teens should be redirected to "private spaces for private conversations and journals" and IMs (even facebook IMs) are precisely that--just as a password protected tumblr (or flocked LJ, back in my day) would have been the equivalent of a journal, and there's a reasonable expectation of privacy on these that even most adults would have despite the fact that they're owned by big corporations.

Many of these technologies are simply tools that are used in lieu of whatever teenagers have always been doing--drawing porn or writing down their thoughts or passing notes to their friends--and the fact that these self-expressions are made via technology that exists because of the internet doesn't really change the fact that these self-expressions should remain private.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:01 PM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


After reading through this thread, I think what I'm going to do, when my son/daughter is 10-11, is tell them, "Ok, now, congratulations, you're old enough to have unfiltered access to the internet, with this caveat - I will be watching everything you do. Everything. And if you do something I don't like, we're going to talk. Unless you can stop me. There are ways to do that, but I'm not going to tell you what they are, and when you can stop me, I'll let you go. I'm doing this because if I can do it, so can a complete stranger, and they probably want to hurt you in ways XYZ. Everyone has a right to privacy, but not everyone will respect yours, and I'd rather you learn that lesson now than when someone actually decides to steal your name and accounts or kidnap you.
posted by saysthis at 5:57 PM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Once when our sweet, sad kiddo tried to harm herself while in our care and we were investigated for a failure to supervise.
> No one understood how I could not have known or why I wasn't reading her diary or going through her backpack to find out
> something she was carefully concealing from us.

No matter whether parents are biological or adoptive or foster, no matter whether they monitor their kids tightly or loosely or not at all, there will be no shortage of people ready to go BAD PARENTS! If you monitor loosely or not at all and you roll snake-eyes and some kind of really horrible shit happens like online harassment and a suicide, among the people berating you as BAD PARENTS will be you. "How could I not have known?" If you monitor tightly and creepily and nothing really bad happens at the time but later your grown-up child tells you the reason he can't trust anyone including himself is that you obviously didn't trust him, you will lie awake asking yourself "Is this true? Did I do this to him?"

This comes with the territory. It's the terrible risk of having children in your care, and loving them, and doing what you think is best, and hoping, but not... really... knowing....
posted by jfuller at 6:14 PM on August 14, 2013


I will be watching everything you do. Everything. And if you do something I don't like, we're going to talk. Unless you can stop me. There are ways to do that, but I'm not going to tell you what they are, and when you can stop me, I'll let you go. I'm doing this because if I can do it, so can a complete stranger, and they probably want to hurt you in ways XYZ.

Not a good idea. Stranger danger, even on the internets, is highly overrated while there are always things you don't want people who know you to see you could care less about if a stranger saw it. Furthermore, that sort of heavy surveillance of your children just erodes any trust between you and them.

Mind you, it can be a good idea to sit down with your children and show how easy it is to find out "bad things" about them just from online info.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:42 PM on August 14, 2013


I grew up in a family where my privacy was respected. My parents also knew almost everything that was going on in my life. They achieved this by talking to me. Now, this was partly a personality thing. My brother kept a few more (non-serious) secrets to himself, for example. But in general, "how was your day?" was normal dinner conversation that everyone in the family participated in - and having a time each day where we sat down as a family, all together, was an important component of that.

This tactic taught us the important life skill of knowing and respecting our own boundaries. Which means that in my adult interactions, I am better equiped to ensure that my personal boundaries are respected in interpersonal relations that I have.

But none of this is the main point. Not all families have the option of family dinner time, for example - sometimes working to pay rent and put food on the table gets in the way of that. One can still treat children with respect and help teach them to insist on being treated with respect by others, but some families' circumstances make daily check-ins harder to schedule. And while it would be flattering to think that my awareness of and respect for my personal boundaries is a causative factor in my never having been sexually assaulted, that would be both morally reprehensible (hello victim-blaming) and plain old inaccurate. Sometimes, no matter how good and how careful you or your parents are, Seriously Bad Things happen.

So it seems to me that one important test of a healthy parent-child relationship is whether the child can rely on the parent's support in the event of a Seriously Bad Thing, or whether the child feels an additional burden of managing the parent's reaction. What message does complete surveillance of a child's online activities send? Probably that the parent will completely overreact to Bad Thing, maybe on behalf of the child, but certainly not allowing the child to set the level and pace of reaction that they are comfortable with and need for their own recovery from Bad Thing. Thus added source of stress, exacerbating the badness of Bad Thing. While real-life situations are too complicated to judge this across-the-board as a parenting fail, it's certainly not a parenting win.
posted by eviemath at 6:01 AM on August 15, 2013


(Lest you all get the wrong impression from my very brief description, my parents were actually more strict than most other parents of kids I knew growing up or since. We had bed time, chores, had to put one toy away before getting the next one out when little, had to let our parents know where we were/how to get ahold of us always when teenagers, did not have our own phones, etc. While living in our parents' house, we were to follow their house rules, and contribute to the household. Our physical environment was fairly well structured. But our mental and emotional environments were our own, and we were not just allowed but actively encouraged to develop our own individual personality and inner life.)
posted by eviemath at 6:13 AM on August 15, 2013


I'm 13 and none of my friends use Facebook for exactly this reason.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:39 AM on August 15, 2013


Philip Larkin - This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.
posted by chavenet at 2:36 PM on August 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Incidentally, this thread has just been referenced in The Guardian.
posted by pipeski at 12:46 PM on August 16, 2013


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