The Ethical Aspects of Monitoring Your Child's Online Activity
Tue, April 20, 2021

The Ethical Aspects of Monitoring Your Child's Online Activity



In 2015, Microsoft debuted its new Windows 10 feature that allowed parents to see their child’s online behavior, narrated Bella Qvist of The Guardian, a British newspaper. Microsoft received feedback and promised a new update that would feature more appropriate default settings for teens. However, most security software firms sell “family” products, which include reports, notifications, and video supervision.

Your teen may need more privacy because it is a part of growing up, stated Denise Witmer of VeryWell Family, a website dedicated to parenting and family. As they get older, they start to face challenges like learning about who they are, where they fit in, and what they want to do in the future. Parents may also need to make huge adjustments.

Your child will venture into the unknown, which can be unsettling. However, you should acknowledge that wanting more privacy doesn’t mean your child wants to hide something from you. There are dangers lurking in the online world, but is it possible to strike a balance between privacy and trust? 


Teenagers, Parents, and Online Privacy (2012)

Mary Madden and colleagues of Pew Research Center, a non-partisan think tank, surveyed 802 parents and their teens about what they do online and how their behavior could be monitored by people. They found that 53% of parents were “very concerned” about how their teen interacts with strangers, with 19% and 10% saying they are “somewhat concerned” or “not too concerned,” respectively.

49% of parents were “very concerned” about how their teen manages their reputation online, compared to those who said they were “somewhat concerned” (20%) and “not too concerned” (16%). 46% were “very concerned” about how much information advertisers can learn from their kid’s behavior (versus 35% of parents who said “somewhat concerned” and 12% of those answering “not too concerned”). 44% were also “very concerned” about the impacts of their teen’s future educational and employment opportunities (versus 26% and 18%).

63% of parents of teens aged 12-13 said they were “very concerned” about their child’s interaction with strangers. 57% of parents of teens aged 12-13 said they were “very concerned” about how their teenager manages their reputation online. A number of parents, especially parents of younger teens, were trying to address such concerns.



For instance, 59% of parents of teen users of social networking sites (SNS) have spoken to their child because they were concerned about something they posted to their profile or account, translating to 46% of parents of all online teens. 39% helped their child toggle their privacy settings for a social networking site, comprising 31% of parents of all online teens.

Further, parents were also monitoring their kids on family computers and in online searches. For example, 50% of parents of online teens (not only those who use SNS) have used parental controls or other means of blocking, filtering, or monitoring their child’s online activities. 

46% talked with their kids about their online profiles, 44% read a privacy policy, 42% searched their child’s name online, and 31% toggled their teen’s SNS privacy settings. 66% of parents who have a child between 12-17-years-old said they used a social networking platform, up from 58% from 2011.   


Teens’ Desire to be Reliable and Trustworthy

Your teen wants you to see them as mature, responsible, and independent. They also want you to trust them as they do more things than they did in their younger years. Seeing them as responsible and trustworthy helps your teen to feel capable and confident. If your teen wants some personal space, it doesn’t mean they are hiding something, explained Raising, an Australian parenting website.

But extreme secrecy can be a red flag. If your child spends hours in their room, seems withdrawn, or doesn’t want to even talk, it could be a sign of depression, anxiety, smoking, alcohol or drug abuse, or other problem activities. Extreme secrecy could also mean that your teen spends too much time on the computer or the internet.

“If [children] feel they are being monitored that undermines any kind of relationship of trust,” said cyber security consultant Dr. Jessica Barker. She added that kids might use the internet in a healthy way to gain information and support, and feel that they can’t open up with their families because they are being spied on.

Dr. Barker cited the issue of a teen’s desire to explore their gender or sexuality in private. Parents who use filters to block LGBT websites could prevent their teen from accessing helpful content, a privilege previous generations did not have. One young man, who remained anonymous, said his homosexuality was found out by his unsupportive parents who use parental control software. Dr. Barker added, “There’s certainly evidence that suggests that teenagers who know they are being monitored at home will look at a friend’s device. And then they don’t have someone to talk to about it.”



Respecting Your Teen’s Privacy

Trust and open lines of communication enable your child to open up more to you. Teenagers are not always equipped to face the realities of the world alone. They still need you to guide them, as teens tend to make quick decisions and think of the consequences of their actions. Bear in mind that giving your teen privacy doesn’t equate to “giving them free rein,” which often leads to problems down the road. Hence, it is your responsibility to mentor them to ensure they know what behavior is safe and appropriate online. 

After all, the internet offers both positive and negative opportunities for children. For example, you can also encourage your child to use the internet to help develop their critical thinking skills. “There’s a difference between credible, reliable sources and those that aren’t,” Larry Magid, co-director of, told WebMD, an online publisher of human health and well-being, cited Joanne Barker. 

Likewise, you can instruct your child to compare drug information online. If your child shows you a pro-drug website, tell them to compare that to information provided on credible websites hosted by organizations. Monitoring your child’s online activity is debatable. However, it is important for parents to establish an open line of communication to encourage children to open up. Children are growing up and it is important for parents to guide them on how to act appropriately online and to think critically.  While the internet is full of dangers, parents should also acknowledge that it can be used as an educational tool and a gateway to a plethora of helpful information.