Should we spy on our kids?
Claire Perry, the former banker and current Conservative MP is always getting into trouble, generally for appearing to be way too happy and successful. She is a comprehensive school girl who made good and this week is the subject of a sneer campaign for suggesting that parents keep tabs on their children’s text messages and online chitchat. As a mother of three children, she admitted that when she suggested to her 13-year-old daughter that she be able to read her texts her daughter “looked at her as if she was insane”.
I know that look, and so do most mothers of teenagers in this country. And to be honest I don’t think Mrs Perry is seriously suggesting we spend cosy mother and daughter time scrolling through reams of text speak or wait to wrench it out of their cold clenched hands as they sleep to spy on our children. Generally we know what we will find, a mountain of trivial chit chat, some unwelcome glimpses into our child’s soul and almost certainly language that would make a sailor wince.
But by drawing attention to the dangers of the internet Mrs Perry, as the Prime Minister’s advisor on childhood, is reminding us, as so many have in the past, that childhood is another country. Until recently, that was fine, they could visit this ‘other country’ during and after school and make the occasional unsuitable overnight trip, but they couldn’t get too far, they could only talk in private for as long as they could bear the smell in the phone box, and they had to come home when they were hungry.
With computers, smart phones and the Internet children now have the equivalent of Dr Who’s Tardis and Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility at their disposal. They can go anywhere any time, any place and we can do very little about it.
Spying on them is about as practical – or possible – as hiring a helicopter to follow them to school. Much as we’d love to, we can’t travel the Internet with them than we could sit behind them on the bus to stop the bullies flicking fags at them in days gone by. But knowing what’s out there means we can warn them, embarrass them, attempt to be a positive influence, and be there for them if or when it all comes crashing down around their ears.
As parents yourselves I’d love to know what you think? Should we monitor our children’s calls? Or just brace ourselves for the fallout when things go wrong? Have you ever had to deal with the latter. Let me know.