Parents face a difficult challenge trying to keep on top of what their children do online. Ever younger kids now have a smartphone in their pocket and a laptop in their school bag, but with so many forms of communication available this means a variety of ways to keeps things hidden and access websites they may not be mature enough to understand.
Privacy is an important right, but at the same time parents may need to keep a watchful eye over who their kids are talking with and what they do online. Each child is different, and their circumstances change as they grow up – but it is useful for parents to have a way of monitoring their kids’ communications and access to the web if they believe they may be in trouble and struggle to talk about the issues they are facing.
Apps such as Hoverwatch have emerged to offer parents some piece of mind when giving their children smartphones and laptops. On Android, the app lets parents monitor messaging apps such as WhatsApp, alongside text messages, call logs, and GPS location – so they can find out where their child if they are concerned. On PC and Mac, the software also lets parents monitor their child’s browsing history, webcam, Skype communications to make sure they have not struck up an online “friendship” with someone of concern or accessing adult or other material they should not see at their age.
How much freedom to give a child is always a balancing act, but it is hard to ignore the fact that while the most adult material a 14-year-old would have seen two decades ago was a stash of their Dad’s Playboy, but now 94% of children have seen hardcore material online by the same age.
Similarly, digital communication has given predators new ways to contact children and try to convince children to meet – so parents are right to be concerned.
In these pages we have railed against the government trying to monitor what everyone does online and interfere and censor sites with content of which it does not approve. In the UK especially, successive Conservative governments have attempted to invade personal privacy – but our opposition to government interference only works if parents take responsibility for their children’s internet access.
Children also have a right to privacy, but until they are mature enough to make the right decisions it is the parents’ responsibility to keep them on the right track and away from harmful material and people – and services like Hoverwatch can help with that. A dialogue about how one should act online is part of modern parenting, and the limited use of tools like Hoverwatch can provide an important backup for parents to use when they are concerned.
Photograph by Răzvan Băltărețu