Alex Massie

The Cheney School of Parenting

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Harlan Coben takes to the op-ed pages of The New York Times to recommend parents install spyware on their kids' computers.

Make no mistake: If you put spyware on your computer, you have the ability to log every keystroke your child makes and thus a good portion of his or her private world. That’s what spyware is — at least the parental monitoring kind. You don’t have to be an expert to put it on your computer. You just download the software from a vendor and you will receive reports — weekly, daily, whatever — showing you everything your child is doing on the machine.

Scary. But a good idea. Most parents won’t even consider it.

Maybe it’s the word: spyware. It brings up associations of Dick Cheney sitting in a dark room, rubbing his hands together and reading your most private thoughts. But this isn’t the government we are talking about — this is your family. It’s a mistake to confuse the two. Loving parents are doing the surveillance here, not faceless bureaucrats. And most parents already monitor their children, watching over their home environment, their school.

Today’s overprotective parents fight their kids’ battles on the playground, berate coaches about playing time and fill out college applications — yet when it comes to chatting with pedophiles or watching beheadings or gambling away their entire life savings, then...then their children deserve independence?

Alternatively, the chance that your children are conversing with paedophiles is vanishingly small. Ditto gambling away their (or your for that matter) "life savings". Which might lead one to think that the problem actually elsewhere. Clue, its the "over-protective" bit. Still, what's a bit of ludicrous scaremongering among friends?

Now, granted, I might well think rather differently if I had kids myself. But I can't help but suspect that most teenagers discovering that their parents are spying on them will indeed view their parents as "Dick Cheney sitting in a dark room, rubbing his hands together and reading your most private thoughts".  That being so, I'd have thought it would tend to erode trust between teenagers and their parents, rather than, as Coben seems to believe, build it.

[Hat-tip: Ruth Franklin, who also observes that on the very same page Caitlin Flanagan argues that far from consorting with paedophiles, American teenagers are too timid to even want to learn how to drive*...]

*Standard disclaimer: I don't drive either. But that's a public safety issue.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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