I'm a firm believer in using technology to aid in parenting. I'm a "Big Brother is watching you" kind of mom. My son is a tech savvy kid; he has a cell phone, he now has his own computer, he's in a program that will teach him computer animation, website design, how to write mobile phone apps, digital photography, digital movie making/editing, and he's on the computer a lot for both educational and recreational purposes. We are a "techie" family. So it just makes sense to me to use that technology to keep an eye on my kid and make sure he's not getting into something he shouldn't be before it's too late.
For example, as those of you who read my blog know, I recently used the GPS tracking feature on my son's cell phone to track it down when it was stolen from his school. Within 20 minutes of its being stolen, it had been recovered (thanks again, Xena*!). This feature is also great to use for me to know exactly where Jamie is at all times. I know some parents may find this a little extreme of me. But, I remember what it was like to be just a little older than Jamie is now. I frequently lied about where I was and what I was doing. If my mom had ever had this kind of technology to bust me for lying about where I was and what I was doing, I wouldn't have gotten into nearly as many bad things as I did as a kid. Jamie is my child. Lying comes very (too!) easily to him. Not only do I like the fact that I can look on either the computer or my cell phone at any time and know exactly where he is - via his cell phone, I also like the fact that he knows I can do this. This means he is much less likely to lie about where he is. Also, he knows I can and will call him at any moment to ask him a question or clarify instructions about when to be home. This means he can't just turn his cell phone off or pass it off to someone else to make it look like he was somewhere other than he was. He knows if he fails to answer, he's in deep doo-doo, so he better take the phone with him. He also knows if he takes the phone with him and I "ping" his location (as I often do) and he isn't where he's supposed to be, he's in even deeper doo-doo.
The new computer I got for him has a similar feature, called "Lojack for Laptops." Through it, if his computer is ever stolen, I can put a trace on it and track it down within minutes. That information is then conveyed to the police, who can retrieve it. This feature came free for the first year, but I am sure I will renew it yearly after that. I don't know how much it costs, but I think it will be worth it.
Because Jamie is on the computer so much, I also have parental controls enacted on all computers he uses. I limit what sites he can go to, what he can download, and how long he is allowed to be online. If he's doing homework and needs more time on the Internet for research, it's very simple for me to grant him more time. If he's just playing around, he doesn't need to be on "Club Penguin" more than 30 minutes, anyway. I don't want him to turn into one of those kids who spend all day playing some online game. If the sun is shining and the air quality is good that day, he should be outside. If it's raining or the air quality is bad, he can read a book/build LEGOs/do chores inside or whatever.
I also don't want him nosing his way onto sites where he'll see stuff he shouldn't. There's a lot of nasty stuff on the web - some have URLs that are remarkably similar to that of kid-friendly sites. For my spelling-challenged son, it is too easy for him to accidentally mistype a URL and get somewhere I really don't want him to be. It is much easier for me to just have a list of approved websites he can visit, and block all others. If he finds a new site he wants to visit, he has to tell me the URL and I'll go look at it myself on my computer. If it's harmless and has features set up to limit the amount of pervs who will have access to my child, then I'll add it to his list. If you don't know what I mean about limiting perverts/pedophiles' access to kids, I'll explain a bit. Club Penguin, NeoPets and several other kid-oriented sites have a delay chat feature. Basically, when members try to chat, there's a delay between when the person types a message and when the other members can see it. During this delay, a filter is applied to the message to make sure there's no objectionable content. Sexually suggestive comments, invitations to meet, and personal information (address, phone number, real name, etc.) are blocked from being seen by others. This is a wonderful thing!
Many of my regular readers have children who are still too young for such measures, or your children are grown up and you have grandchildren who are still too young. Some of you have children about the same age as Jamie. Tell me, what do you think about digital parenting? Is it something you'll do when your child(ren) gets old enough to regularly use technology? Is it something you use now for your child(ren)? To what degree? Do you think any of it goes too far? Not far enough? Please leave me a comment in the comments section. I'd like to hear your thoughts on the subject!
*name changed to protect the innocent