To Monitor or Not to Monitor: Phone App Ethics for Worried Parents
In this age of cyberbullying and the increasing number of available cell phone apps, parents can feel like it is hard to keep up with changes in the technology that their kids use on a regular basis. Parents, who are legally and morally responsible for the healthy development of their kids, can utilize one of a dozen phone apps available to track their children’s cell phones. But at what cost?
What are the ethical implications of a parent’s ability to track his or her child’s cell phone, and what does this action do to the relationship regardless of the good intentions behind it?
Is it Ethical to Track Kids’ Cell Phones?
Parents will never be able to control one hundred percent of what kids do when parents aren’t around, and this is how it should be. The primary task of parents is to work themselves out of the job of parenting by raising up confident, independent, responsible kids who develop into adults with those qualities.
Fortunately or unfortunately – depending on how you look at it – kids require time away from parents in order to develop those characteristics. If parents continue to rescue their kids from uncomfortable or sticky situations, then the kids will never learn how to be responsible and independent on their own. They need opportunities to make mistakes and learn from their experiences.
However, the dilemma is that parents also have an obligation to keep their children safe and provide boundaries that promote learning and growth. Part of this obligation is the process of parents building trust with their kids at each stage of development. Trust is a cornerstone of any good relationship.
Parents practicing trust with their growing children does not mean that trustworthiness doesn’t need to be proven through behavior. If kids say that they have completed their homework, parents are naturally going to want to see that finished homework. And if kids say that they are being responsible on a cell phone that has been entrusted to their care, parents are naturally going to want to see that the kids are, indeed, acting responsibly with the technology they have been given.
Parents using a phone app to check up on kids can be another step in the development of trust between them and their children. Technology does not – and should not – be separate from the moral and ethical development of children. Rather, the use of cell phones can be another vehicle with which to teach kids about their moral compasses and responsible behavior.
Like other important aspects of social behavior and relationship building, respectful and thoughtful behavior while using technology is an increasingly important skill in our culture. Important considerations for parents to consider include:
- Creating a cell phone contract. This kind of document spells out the responsibilities and boundaries that come with a cell phone given to a child of any age, including what kind of monitoring will be enforced.
- Teaching kids about cell phone safety. This behavior involves keeping passwords private and not giving out personal information online.
- Warning kids about cyberbullying and predators. Anybody who participates online is at risk for attracting those who want to hurt us. Giving kids the skills to deal with these situations now can only help them.
- Instructing kids about how to treat people. This includes not using the cell phone when around other people, taking advantage of building relationships in person with others, as well as not using the phone to hurt or bully their peers.
- Providing down time. Keep cell phones out of children’s hands at night. If parents have their kids charge the phones in a specific place each night, then parents can use that time to take a quick look.
Instead of being afraid for what trouble their kids might get into and overdoing cell phone monitoring, parents can actively teach their kids about the benefits and pitfalls, preparing them for the practical and moral responsibilities that come along with this privilege.
Parents need to decide why they are giving their children a cell phone to begin with so that they can talk open with their kids about the point of the cell phone. Reasons could include:
- Being able to contact their children in case of emergency.
- The ability to text to coordinate schedules, like pick-ups from after-school practice.
- The technology to track their kids’ movements in a general area.
- To build skills of responsibility.
When it comes right down to it, there simply aren’t a lot of reasons for parents to give their children cell phones, especially smartphones. To keep from having to over-monitor their kids, parents could train children by giving them a simple cell phone that only allows phone calls and perhaps texting. These kinds of phones are also easier for parents to monitor with or without a phone app.
If parents give kids smartphones, a phone app would probably be required for parents to be able to keep up with all of the media their children would access on a daily basis. This kind of cell phone monitoring doesn’t need to be kept secret. Parents need to talk with kids about how cell phone tracking helps them earn trust and practice respect for others, as well as helping parents to make sure that their kids are safe.
It is one of the jobs of parents to make sure that their kids are behaving responsibly, are safe and, whenever possible, that their children are making good choices. Parents who work at building trust and keeping communication open with their children can successfully monitor their children’s cell phones without squelching their natural need to become independent and responsible as they develop.