There has always been this debate, openly or silently, that parents are violating their children's privacy by monitoring their online and offline activities.
Children, being the more digitised group amongst the two have complained about their parents in platforms like debate.org, saying that such monitoring only makes children despise their parents, "deeply and bitterly".
Perhaps thirty years ago parents were not like this, but then came the internet- the widely recognised wonder of modern science serving as an instant communication and information platform to people of all walks- and quickly became the worst nightmare for parents, and for good reason.
Since the usefulness of the internet depends on the person using it, it is very natural for under-aged children to use it for various purposes, mostly lamentable ones, especially when they need minimal movement of their fingers to do so.
With the pandemic around, this has only gotten worse since children who have little to no knowledge of handling the internet are somewhat obliged to use it for their primary activity i.e. education.
As this pressing issue leads many parents to monitor their children's online activities, it is imperative that the society understands the difference between violation of children's privacy and the imperativeness of protecting them from negativity.
It is not unknown that the internet is filled with dark content, the most addictive one being pornography.
Blackmailers, trolls, bullies and stalkers wait for an opportunity to take advantage of the children addicted or exposed to online porn. These children often end up facing online harassment and suffering from serious emotional distress.
Furthermore, computer hackers and criminals often target kids and teenagers to collect personal information as they are more likely to give out such information than adults.
This information is later used to commit serious offences such as identity theft. Identifying child identity theft as a growing problem, CNBC reported that in 2017 more than one million children were victims of identity theft or fraud in the United States alone.
However, the worst part as pointed out in the book "Cyber Bullying: Bullying in the digital age" is that children are so addicted to their devices that they are not able to open up to their parents about such harassment, fearing their devices (their access to the internet) will be desisted. Hence, parents voluntarily choosing to monitor their children's activities becomes crucial.
Even if these children do not face cyber bullying, the unhealthy habits and sexual interests they develop is toxic and cripples the minds of future generations. It pushes them away from their culture, religion and in some cases, the law.
Thus, by monitoring the online activities of children, parents can stop them from being exposed to such content and easily identify individuals trying to collect data with a dishonest intent.
However, it should be understood that strangers are not always the only bad influence, friends may as well encourage children to get into harmful activities such as usage of drugs and alcohol.
Statistics from the National Centre for Drug Abuse Statistics highlighted that in the US, 23.9 percent of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 had tried illicit drugs in 2018 whereas in 2020, 47 percent of young people had used an illegal drug by the time they graduated from high school. [AH1]
If parents monitor online activities, they may have the opportunity to identify these bad influences and prevent them from spoiling the lives of their precious children.
With many independent research suggesting that excessive screen time can cause problems such as thinning of the area of the brain related to critical thinking and reasoning, obesity, and insomnia, it is only reasonable to expect parents during this pandemic to limit screen time for children while making sure that they make full use of the internet for their online classes and other productive causes only.
From a legal perspective, one should respect what Edward Snowden famously noted- privacy is about something to protect, that's who you are, that's what you believe in. But one may rightly ask if this privacy is worth more than the safety of our children's life and future?
The answer to this question cannot be given by simply saying yes or no, rather it lies in balancing the competing interests of ensuring both privacy and safety of children.
As a parent, one can achieve this balance by being selective of situations in which one needs to interfere while letting the trivial ones go, respecting the need for privacy.
Also, it is important that parents make their children understand that their main objective behind monitoring their online activities is not to invade their personal space, or because they have no faith in them, rather it is to save them from becoming another victim of the vices of internet.
However, if it is still felt that parents should not be the ones to choose when to interfere, then it is advised that parents take an initiative to educate children about internet safety and privacy, especially when internet has become the only means of education and thus, a primary necessity. Schools could help out parents in this matter as well.
The ultimate goal of this article is not only to help children understand that parents are not the enemy when they monitor children's activities but also to assist the society understand that a balance can be achieved between privacy and protection and sometimes, it is important that parents take note of what their children do while they stay online.
Anusha Islam Raha is an LLB graduate from BPP University, UK. She is currently studying LLM at Eastern University and pursuing her career as a teacher.
Arafat Reza is an LLB graduate from BPP University, UK. He is currently employed as a Teaching Assistant at London College of Legal Studies (South).