Monitoring Kids in Digital Age

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

A ping goes off as the mother glances down at her smart phone and notices that her son just lost a behavior point in his class. She makes a mental note to talk him about it when he gets home from school.

Later in the day, while the mother is waiting in line, she checks to see what her son had to eat at school. She noted that he only got curly fries and had nothing else to eat. Well, he should know that he needs to eat more for lunch than that.

When her son finally gets home from school, his mother sits him down and asks about his behavior and why he is not eating better at school. After that, she asks him about his homework. When he says he does not have any homework, she checks online to see if the teacher has noted if there was indeed any homework or not.

Thanks to technology, parents can now constantly monitor their children remotely while they are at school. There are apps that allow for real-time updates of children’s behavior such as Class Dojo. There are school website portals like Infinite Campus that parents can access to see their children’s grades and whether they have turned assignments in. Finally, services such as My School Bucks lets parents put money on their children’s food accounts and lets them see what their children are buying at school.

The issue that parents need to wrestle with is whether this much monitoring of children’s behavior by their parents is helpful or harmful. There is no one right answer on this as parents need to carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of such all-encompassing behavior monitoring.

The advantage of utilizing this monitoring technology is that it opens up home-school communication. Parents often feel like they do not truly know what is going on with their children at school other than every nine weeks when report cards come home. Many times behaviors have gotten out of hand before the parents are contacted and are even aware there is a problem.

These technologies help to break down the communication barriers and allow parents to start addressing problem behaviors during the early stages. It can also encourage better dialogue between the school and parents so a problem can be addressed both at home and school.

On the other hand, this level of monitoring could make children feel like they are under constant surveillance. There is something to be said in allowing children to make mistakes and not be corrected and reminded every time they mess up. After all, part of growing up is being able to make mistakes and learn from them. Often children learn from an incident without their parents needing to remind them about it.

Another issue is in respect to children learning to obey authorities who are not their parents. While it is important for children to obey their parents, they also need to learn that they need to obey other authority figures. If parents are able to constantly monitor their children’s behaviors at home and school, will it then diminish the authority of the teachers at school?

As more and more technologies allow for closer monitoring of children’s behaviors at school, parents will need to start considering where the line is regarding an appropriate amount of monitoring and when it becomes too intrusive. Each child will require different amounts of monitoring depending on their temperament and personality. Parents will need to consider that even though the technology exists to closely monitor every part of their children’s school experience, should they?

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on March 22, 2015

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