Trust and parental monitoring

At 1:30 a.m. and in the wet I could see what was coming. The car was 30-40 yards away. It was doing at least 50 mph. Skidding, fishtailing towards me. Out of control. I was trapped. Parked cars on both sides of the road hemmed me in. Nowhere to go. Just waiting for the impact. It came, as I knew it would, with a deadening, muted, metal boom-ph.

Next thing I knew was the steering wheel bent out of shape and pushed up against my ribs; the front of my car arched up; and my passenger trapped from the waist down. I couldn’t open the door to get out, but managed somehow to climb through the window. Two drunk men were emerging from the vehicle that had crashed into me. Cursing, they staggered over to beat me up, but failing to catch me, turned on my stranded friend. I ran, found a phone booth, and called the police. They came within a minute. Miraculously, a squad car was in the neighborhood.

An hour later I was told that an ‘eyewitness’ claimed to have been on the sidewalk and to have seen the whole incident. Apparently, I was at fault. I had recklessly careened into the other vehicle. The police didn’t believe it. The other driver, his passengers, and the ‘eyewitness’ were so inebriated they had to lean on the police car to remain standing.

It turned out the driver was already disqualified for drunk driving and that he had no insurance. And the ‘eyewitness’ changed his story when the police pressed him, admitting he had been a passenger in the car, too.

The experience was nasty, costly, painful and time-consuming (re insurance claims). But I was alive and uninjured, and thankfully my passenger recovered quickly. The police were superb. Quick, probing, decisive and reassuring. I had, and still have, nothing but admiration for them.

As enforcers of the rule of law, the police have a pivotal role in maintaining civil society. I was surprised, therefore, to find myself in disagreement with the opinion recently expressed by one of Australia’s leading police officers. A detective inspector from Task Force ‘Argos’ (dedicated to protecting children) raised doubts about parental monitoring and parental control apps. And the more I have thought about his worries, the more interested I have become in them.

The inspector’s main concern, born out of personal experience, is the parental monitoring of children produces a breach of trust between parent and child. His premise is that trust is essential for relationships. Without it, relationships flounder. And therefore, as the parent-child relationship is the most basic relationship in civil society (apart from marriage), businesses, educators and legislators should do everything possible to strengthen and preserve it.

I agree. But I do not think parental monitoring apps necessarily lead to the weakening or collapse of trust in parent-child relationships. On the contrary, I hold they can actually strengthen them.

The issue’s complexities revolve around a child’s right of privacy and the competing rights or claims of parents. It is not simply a matter of trust. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC, 1989) states that: ‘No child shall be subject to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, or to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation’ (Article 16). Children have rights. But these rights are balanced by the rights and duties of parents to nurture, protect and educate children. Something UNCROC recognizes. Law makes it clear, that children are not actually free to do as they like. And they are not to be treated always as adults.

The law of criminal responsibility, for instance, presumes children between the ages of 7 to 13 neither fully understand what they are always doing, nor that what they are doing might be wrong. The presumption can be overruled if a prosecution can show beyond reasonable doubt that a child, of say 10, knew exactly what he was doing when he committed a crime, and that he knew it was wrong, but the burden of proof rests on the prosecution to do so. In principle, both law and society has granted children the defense of infancy—an argument that runs along the lines ‘they were too young to know what they were doing.’

Something of this is reflected in sexual relations and in marriage. Two different laws frame childhood and adulthood on these matters. In the West the age of consent is generally 18 (in some jurisdictions, 16). The age of marriage is the same; 18—with some exceptions (Scotland, 16—hence all the infamous elopements to Gretna Green, just across from the English border).

In a number of countries marriageable age for a female is two to three years younger than it is for a male (India, 18 and 21; South Africa, 15 and 18). The point is sexual and marital relations, traditionally and legally, are tied to age: thus a nine-year-old is not free to marry in the West, nor is a seven-year-old free to have sex. Society and law ring-fences these commitments and activities as the domain of adults. Children’s rights are balanced by social standards, parental duties, and intuitions on when a child ‘comes of age’. Until that time, parents play a vital role in nurturing their children, enabling them to become responsible citizens.

That role is also supported legally. In the USA, Europe, Australia and New Zealand children are minors till they reach the age of majority at 18. They are in ‘minority’ until then. They are considered children. But at 18, the legal control of parents and guardians over them ceases. They reach ‘majority’.

And then of course, there are legal ages for voting, drinking, driving, and leaving school. These range from 16 to 21. With each, there has been a lot of lobbying, research, debate and heart-searching as to the best age a person is responsible enough to take on a particular duty or activity. I was not allowed legally to drive until I was 17, but my youngest daughter started (legally) when she was 15. Many developmental experts consider that too early (especially for boys) and are seeking a change in the law. I voted at 18, but wonder if the voting age should be older!

My point in discussing the ages of infancy, consent, marriage, majority, etc.—is to suggest that the law and society recognizes that childhood is different to adulthood. That children cannot always be held responsible for their actions, or be depended on to make wise decisions. The latter is something they need modelled and to be taught.

Hence the value of parental monitoring apps and software which affirm good decision-making by children, and keep them from personally corrosive environments or dangerous situations (stalkers/predators). Just as responsible parents don’t give children free reign to go where they want, when they want in the physical world, so parental monitoring programs close off harmful avenues in the digital world.

The detective inspector of Task Force Argos, who raised concerns regarding parental monitoring focused particularly on trust. Parental controls/monitoring, he argued (from personal experience) undermined trust between parent and child. And the loss of trust in any relationship usually proves fatal to it.

I agree with critics that trust is essential to any genuine relationship, but I disagree that parental monitoring necessarily undermines trust between parent and child. We do not trust children with alcohol or permit them legally to vote, marry, have sex or drive until they reach a certain age. We monitor them and place limits on what they can do. Young children do not understand this, but they accept it. Older children can see some of the reasoning behind it. It is for their good and for society’s good.

Likewise, parents who are transparent about the technology they employ to protect or constrain their children, do not experience a breakdown in trust. And if they ‘snoop’ (a very emotive term) on their kids, they might be right to do so. As much as we hate snoops, responsible parenting will see levels of so called ‘snooping’ on a teenage child. Rotten relations, eating disorders and illegal drug purchases have all come to light through such care.

After the initial heartache and relational conflagration that follows, a sense that this (snooping) was the right thing to do usually pervades. Does this mean the ends justify the means? No. Responsible parenting has always, from its inception, had a monitoring and corrective part to it. Monitoring has never been an arbitrary tool picked up for a particular end—rather, it is integral to parenting (and education). When, for instance, a child chooses to date someone suspicious online, she has already violated her parents trust and confirmed the need for careful parenting. This is not helicopter parenting. It is nurturing. The aim is not stunting or punitive but formative: is not about catching out your children, or limiting their fun and punishing them. It is actually helping them make good life choices. Done with transparency, it also enables them to adopt habits that will be invaluable for raising their own children in years to come.

Take away points: an augment has been put forward that parental monitoring apps, etc.—, breach parent-child trust, which in turn undermines parent-child relationships. Trust is essential to relationships, but parental monitoring does not necessarily erode trust. When parents are transparent about the technology they use to monitor their children’s activities, they are setting guidelines for behaviour, in much the same way society does around drinking, voting, sexual relations and driving. While UNCROC recognizes children’s need for privacy, it also acknowledges the competing rights of parents to nurture their children and help educate them to be good and productive citizens. As parental monitoring apps become more commonplace, they should be seen as an aid rather than a threat to parent-child relationships.

Research: Parental monitoring apps in the market:,review-2258.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+tg1+%28Tom%27s+Guide%29&KLKxd#xtor=RSS-100

Trust, families and parental monitoring:

UNCROC—children’s rights:

Hope springs eternal: essential listening. Antonio Vivaldi composed for orphans.



  1. Very well said. Parents have a responsibility to protect the safety and well-being of their children. I doubt any parent would thoughtfully disagree.

    The music is also stunning.


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