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Technology is not another parent

The Economist has a great article defending videogames, which I agree with. Yesterday C found a link to a Salon article on Schneier's web log about parents using the technology to monitor their children. I bet the same parents who use the spying technology probably won't let their children play violent videogames.

They fall into the trap of what call the omniscience of technology. Somehow technology substitutes for actual thinking and adult supervision. Technology becomes another parent.

In the case of video games, children are seduced by evil videogames into violent behaviour and turned into addicted zombies. The Economist does a good job of pointing out the benefits and that some children may have violent and addictive tendencies to begin with. Children's use of videogames should be monitored. Perhaps some children shouldn't play videogames. We played violent videogames as children and turned out okay. But each child is different, so individual parents, not the government, should be responsible for this monitoring. This same type of argument hold true for any type of technology including spying technology.

Spying technology supposedly provides a benefit, because the technology somehow protects the child. It provides a false sense of security. For the most horrifying events such as kidnapping and sexual abuse, statistically, the greatest threat comes from someone the child already knows. Most accidents and bad events occur within the child's home or familiar stomping grounds.

The best preventions are adult supervision and teaching the child how to avoid such situations, and what to do if the situation occurs. Street smarts, and common sense are necessary skills for adulthood unless the parents plan to watch their children their entire life. Until children develop these skills, adults need to supervise children. I agree with the Schneider that relying on technology rather than other adults to supervise makes your children less safe.

Most strangers are ordinary people and will help a child who's in trouble. Often they'll go out of the way to do so. A few people are dangerous. But technology provides no reliable way to spot these people. You must learn to do that on your own or have your parents help you.

When I was a child, my parents would call the other parents if I was going to someone's house. They would insist on meeting my friends. They would randomly drop by where I said I was going to be. GPS tracking would take care of knowing my location, but dropping by also let my parents know what I was doing and who was supervising. I'm sure GPS tracking can be useful, but I'm far less concerned with where my children are than what they're doing. I'm not prepared to have a video camera on them 24x7. That's too much an invasion of privacy. And I need to let my children learn how to live without my constant supervision.

So I must use the "old fashioned" methods my parents used. I have to talk to other people. I must spot check and provide a safety net as I gradually decrease my supervision. I may use technology to do so, but in the end technology is merely a tool. It can never substitute for me as a parent.