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Sunday, November 4, 2007

Instant Messaging - Privacy & Supervision Issues

OK, so assuming a basic understanding now of what instant messaging provides and its attraction to the young (and even some of us who are shy but aren't so young). Now come the hard issues ... parental control vs. a child's right to privacy.

One thing parents should note is that most IM clients include the option for storing chat sessions. This means that you can, should you choose, read the interactions that your child has with others. I personally am very torn about this. On the one hand I want to protect my children from the loonatics of the world, but on the other hand I think trust is an important value as well. In my house we have one computer for all the kids and it is situated in a central location. All the kids repeatedly hear the rules about interacting only with people they know - both in the real world and on the internet. You could say that if I truly trusted them they would be allowed to use computers in their rooms. However, I feel that while my children want to follow the rules they can be tempted to do otherwise. The approach we have taken is to decrease the temptations but without snooping on them.
An interesting article from the Media Awareness Network provides some guidelines about supervising use of IM. Note that while the article does provide tips about how to help your child set up an IM account such that details about their identity are not revealed and that only people they authorize can contact them, it does not recommend reading their chat transcripts without their knowledge.

Below are screen shots from the ICQ registration process indicating the key areas to note. The ones crossed out indicate information which I feel is unnecessary to provide for children. The radio buttons I circled are extremely important if you don't want strangers to be able to contact your child freely. Please note that while I used ICQ as an example, other IM programs have similar registration processes.

One of the areas of Research that interest me is how to provide real-time supervision and control of children's IM interactions without invading their privacy.


Risa Davis-Ganel, LCMFT said...

This is a very interesting topic. We have had discussions about this issue in our household as well. While snooping without the child knowing goes against building trust in a relationship, we have considered another idea. That is to inform the kids that we will monitor their usage from time to time by checking what is written, what websites are visited etc. This way, the kids are fully aware that this will occur and nothing is being done behind their backs. It also allows for open discussions to occur about their online lives. While we have discussed this with our kids and made them aware we were going to do it, I must admit we never have! Hmmm...wonder what that means :-)

Zane Sheldon said...

Your blog is most appropriate with the ever increasing ways & methods of communications.
The key word in your blog is "communications", and particularly among children.
The best way to know the "who and what" about children's communications is for the parents to communicate often and directly with their own children. It doesn't have to be an interrogation, but it should inquire about what they are doing and thinking and with whom they are sharing that with. With a child of 5 to 10 years old, such casual conversations will usually reveal the truth. Once they reach their teens, it is more problamatic because they want to protect their "privacy" and there is often some concerns about how their thoughts and actions will be interpreted by their parents. But even with these older children, frequent and open discussions will usually reveal the types of communications they are involved in, and with whom.
From the parents' point of view, such frequent and and open conversations are often deferred because: it is not the right time, they are too busy, there are outside pressures in earning a living, and a host of other reasons that were considered valid at the time. And lo and behold, they are not children anymore. Now they are adults who want to demonstrate their own independence. Their childhood experiences that they favored, they will repeat with their own children. Their childhood experiences that they were disappointed with, they will avoid with their own children (and then disappoint them in some other way).
Beyond discussing with your children about their communications with the outside world, children learn the most by the example of their parents. It is no different with even the lowest levels of animal life. With all of the emerging toys of worldwide communications, children should be encouraged to learn and use any and all forms of communications. Don't hide it from them, don't scare them away from it because it is sometimes abused. Teach them right from wrong, and they will apply it here as well. Their contact with the outside world thru communications will make them more knowledgeable and worldly in every way. Success in almost any endeavor is often based on a person's ability to communicate with others - accross a table, or across a continent. Disagreements between parties (or nations) is often the result of a lack of communications.
Instant messaging and driving a car can both lead to tragic events. Don't prevent your children from properly using either of these technologies. They both open their world to marvelous life fulfilling opportunities.