Much attention has been paid to how technology is changing kids’ relationships with each other. Less attention has been focused on what it means to grow up under unprecedented surveillance, thanks to tech-enabled, terrified parents.
This essay comes to us from a college student who wishes to remain anonymous.
I remember clearly when one of my strongest friendships became a casualty to the fact that my mother started reading my texts.
Mallory, a girl who massively enriched my life, had gotten drunk on a few occasions. My mom casually mentioned this, saying, “I heard about it from other parents in the community.” Oh, really? Had the local moms started a group chat for high school gossip? It seemed far more likely that my mom had somehow been scrolling through my phone. After all, I had texted Mallory about her experiences just the day before.
My mom thought it was just “wise” and “caring” to demand my passwords, look through my conversations and social media, and make me install an app where she could constantly track my location. Now that she knew everything I was up to and had access to every text and email I received, she told me, among other things, that I should stop spending time with Mallory because she was a “bad influence.”
But! But! They had raised me to be an independent woman who made my own clear-headed decisions! They knew I was not a partier! And yet, once they forced open a window into my life, they stopped trusting me and what they’d taught me.
If you read some of the parenting advice out there, you’ll see that parents are told they should read their children’s emails and texts and messages — all our online activity — to be on the “safe side.” But what those articles don’t tell you is what it’s like to be a son or daughter whose parents are rifling through their life and friendships and secrets as if these belong to them. Somehow it’s kosher, because the parents are worried and the kid’s information is on a phone instead of locked in a diary.
This snooping can become as addictive to parents as social media is to kids. After a while, simply reading my texts wasn’t enough. My parents asked me to show them messages confirming where I’d be and with whom, before I left home. Sometimes they even watched my dot move on their tracker map while I was out. All of this was happening while I was succeeding in school and staying healthy and involved – there were no red flags indicating that they needed to stalk me.
I appreciate how much my parents care for me, and I know their protectiveness came out of love. But I would wholeheartedly argue that their actions hurt me, and my relationship with them.
When they were growing up, kids were allowed to go outside and play freely as long as they got home by dinner. Teens could bike or drive to the mall. Now, my parents are anxious about me every time I leave the house — and always watching me, electronically. And ironically, instead of feeling calmer, they feel more scared for me BECAUSE they are watching every. Single. Move.
I refuse to see this new development as normal. Parents in the 21st century may love their children, but by constantly tracking them, reading their texts, and eavesdropping on their lives, they refuse to give them the ultimate respect of privacy and boundaries.
In situations of domestic abuse, we are taught that affection and protectiveness are no excuse for hyper-controlling behavior. So why should teens be forced to accept that that surveillance and prying are fine coming from their own parents?
My mom and dad are wonderful people, and I understand why they adopted their “helicopter parent” tendencies. But if I ever have children, I hope to show them my love by giving them the privacy to live their lives and make their friends, even ones who may get drunk once in a while.