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Spying on your kids: How far is too far?

A 360 look at parenting in a digital world
Posted at 8:06 AM, Nov 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-06 19:42:48-05

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DENVER -- Most Americans don't like the idea of government or big tech like Google and Facebook tracking your every move. But, what about parents tracking their kids in this digital age? Parental monitoring has changed a great deal as technology advanced in the past few years.

So, we’re going 360 on the idea of spying on your kids, while still giving them freedom to make their own choices.

No one ever said parenting was easy.

Denver7 talked with Bijal Choksi, who has two boys, and Blythe Kingsbury, who's a mother of three.

These parents already have their hands full with their children, but technology had made it even harder.

Choksi said her sons use their phones very often. Kingsbury added that social media has been horrifying.

This has become parent trap of sorts: Parents are trying to strike the balance between giving kids freedom and hovering too much. The latter gave rise to the term "helicopter parents."

"It refers to the idea of us hovering over our kids, getting ready to swoop in anytime something bad happens and just rescue them from everything," said Dr. Debra Berry at Lone Tree Pediatrics.

There are now dozens of apps for tracking and keeping tabs on your kids, like Bark, Life360, Netnanny, Spyzie and Qustodio.

But, is that always the right move?

We start with Choksi who recently began locking up her 11-year-old's phone at night in a safe in their kitchen.

"I know that probably sounds extreme,” Choksi said.

But, it's what works for them. Choksi said she and her husband would catch their 11-year-old on the phone late at night, so they took action. She said they take his phone for his safety and health, and to ensure he gets enough sleep.

They also track their older son and monitor his activities on the phone. They use the iPhone tracking system.

Other apps like Bark show your child's location, all the calls they make, their text messages and even the photos and videos they capture.

"My approach has been to lay out structure, almost like scaffolding," Choksi said.

And she even occasionally looks through their bedrooms.

“I do go through their rooms and this was advice given to me by my mom," she said.

Law enforcement officers said it's a no-brainer.

"I say, be nosy," said Arvada Police School Resource Officer Kelly Lechuga.

Lechuga said searching your child's bedroom is not an invasion of privacy.

"In all reality, it's still their (the parents') house and they still have access to that and they still can go search. And they should be searching,” Lechuga said. “They should be aware."

The Arvada Police Department recently rolled out its mobile bedroom, which is a replica of a teenager's room filled with examples of how they can hide items like vape pens, drugs and alcohol. Some are hidden in obvious places, like drawers. Others are not-so-typical, like inside a sliced tennis ball of on the back of a picture frame.

"You have a right to access any piece of their bedroom,” Lechuga said.

Lechuga said if you trust your child you may not need to search, but she encourages parents to keep an eye out for signs, like if they’re tired all the time, their grades start slipping or they start pushing away good friends for new ones.

"Asking questions is the best way to get answers," she said.

And that brings us to the clinical side.

"There are studies that suggest kids with helicopter parents do have more social anxiety and more anxiety and depression in general," Berry said.

Berry said it all goes back to the early years. She said parents can be too involved.

"When my kid was in kindergarten, (the parents) were all talking about how they all got this teacher and they had all gotten together and made sure their kid got this teacher. And I felt like, 'Oh, was I supposed to do that?’" she said.

Berry said ideally, you want to let your kid get whatever teacher gets assigned and learn how to deal with that personality.

"We're not letting them cope,” Berry said. “We’re not letting them fail in 2nd grade when their friend is mad at them and they have to work it out. They're supposed to learn from that and realize it's OK."

Berry said letting kids fail teaches them how to cope, make better decisions and ultimately helps them grow into sensible teens and adults.

“Having them be happy kids, but also learn to be productive adults," she said.

And that brings us full-circle — back to parents, like Kingsbury. She has a freshman in high school, a 6th grader and a 3rd grader.

She started to track her oldest son when his behavior changed.

"He started hanging out with a crew who were dabbling in vaping and smoking cannabis," Kingsbury said. “I gave him warnings and it got to the point where I said, 'This is for your safety and our sanity.'"

They now monitor which apps and programs he's using and for how long.

"This is our charging station," she said, pointing to a bunch of cords on her counter.

Everyone in the house must dock their devices by 8 p.m., no exceptions, she said.

"You don't get to talk on it after that,” Kingsbury said. “There's no reason."

It's a delicate balancing act for parents trying to navigate a changing world.

"We tend to parent pretty middle of the road, but it's very important for us to know what's going on," Kingsbury said.

Choksi said she tells her sons that she doesn't want to be suspicious of them, so they shouldn't give her a reason to be.

"My choices as a parent are to teach him how to cope with people that are making poor choices, so he doesn't feel the same need to do that,” Kingsbury said.