Let’s not tell parents their children’s privacy means nothing
The founder of TeenSafe would like parents to believe there are no ethical concerns when they decide to spy on everything their children do online.
Ameeta Jain says as much in a column published by Quartz this morning. Here's the most telling line from the so-outrageous-it's-hilarious column:
Let me be clear: I honestly don’t believe parents are invading much of anything when they ask for the information that will help keep their teens safe, both online or off. At the same time, I strongly believe that privacy is a privilege, not a right, and I don’t believe that a child’s wish for privacy ever trumps our need to protect and care for them.Jain then goes on to cite examples of children being hurt because, she says, their parents weren't monitoring everything the kid posted to the Internet. (I'm paraphrasing, but that appears to be the gist of Jain's cringeworthy argument.)
It's true! Sometimes people who are hurt, or end up hurting themselves, leave clues about their torment on the Internet. Others are bullied online. And still others are targeted by predators who go online to find their potential victims.
But the idea that parents aren't "invading much of anything" or that children should be taught that "privacy is a privilege, not a right," is harmful even if -- or perhaps because -- some hurt children share their pain on various websites.
Parents are invading their children's privacy when they install TeenSafe. The tool boasts about its ability to spy on WhatsApp messages, Web search history, and other aspects of their children's lives. In what world is that not invasive?
Worse, the language used in Jain's column and on TeenSafe's website is awfully dismissive for a concerned parent. TeenSafe pitches itself as a tool to help parents protect their "most valuable treasure." The column includes this bit:
As a mother, it’s my job to do everything I can to protect my children and to give them the guidance to flourish and grow. In the end, I know they’ll thank me for it.There's a kernel of truth to that sentiment. Parents should protect their children, to an extent, and make them aware of the risks associated with whatever their preferred online service might be. But it's also harmful.
Hell, there have been entire feature stories devoted to how children these days are over-protected to a dangerous degree. In one such story, the Atlantic cites a study which showed that children have become:
less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.The Atlantic's piece goes on to explain that many children are watched all the time. Their parents know where they are, who they're with, what they're doing, and how they're doing it. Is extending this surveillance really the best idea?
Worse, should children be taught that trading something very real (their privacy) for dubious benefits (increased security) is a fair trade? If that's the case, many people have wasted a lot of breath over the last year-and-a-half.
Perhaps we should stop referring to intelligence agencies as Big Brother. A better option, based on Jain's column and her startup, might be Overprotective Mother.