Spying on kids online?

The premier of the show Can Of Worms aired today. The ads made it look better than it actually was (ain’t that always the case) and I probably won’t be tuning in again. One of the questions asked though was “Is is okay to spy on your kids online?” A survey revealed that over 60% thought that it is okay to spy on kids online. When you raise issues with cyberbullying and online paedophiles I suppose I can see why parents may think they need to keep an eye on their child’s activities on the web. But I also come from a mental health perspective and my own experiences.

I struggled for years before I ever sought face to face help for my mental health issues. The first time I cut myself was in year 8. I saw the school counsellor for it for the first time in year 12. The information and support I received in that period in between was invaluable. I remember going on websites such as Reach Out. The fact sheets provided me with a source of information about what I was going through and the stories by young people gave me so much inspiration and helped me to feel less alone. The first time I used Kids Help Line was through their online web chat- I was too scared to pick up the phone and call.

My most visited website in those high school days however was the gURL Cutting and Self-Mutilation Recovery Board. I ended up with a few thousand posts all up in the end. I stumbled upon it accidentally one day and it was there I found a community of girls who were also struggling with self harm. It offered a place where I could vent, offer support and have others, who understood to some extent, support me. Friendships in high school were not the easiest for me. I have memories of being in tears because I felt left out and friendless. Times when I spent the period before school, recess or lunch hiding in the toilets because the alternative was to hung out with a bunch of people who ignored me and made me feel unwanted and there’s no way you could sit on the grass by yourself because nobody did that, and I’d feel as though everyone would be thinking ‘Gosh, what a loner.’ And so it’s online where I found my friendships in those days.

It would have been awful had my parents monitored me online. I was horrified at the idea that my parents find out I was cutting and struggling with my mental health. I would not have felt able to access those websites if my parents were tracking my online activity. And I’m sure I’m not the only teenager to have been thinking along those lines. I came across loads of posts from gURLs stating they were terrified of their parents finding out and not understanding at all why someone would purposely hurt themselves. It’s through NOT being spied on online that I was able to access information and help, as well as form online friendships and support, which otherwise could not have happened.

Whilst discussing this topic, the case of a teenager who completed suicide as a result of cyberbullying was brought up. A comment made by one of the panel members really got me angry. He said that suicide is the most selfish act a person can do. It’s not that simple! Grrrrr! No wonder people are afraid to talk about it and admit they’re contemplating suicide when there are views floating around that they’re being ‘selfish.’

On that same topic of suicide but on a more positive note, I saw a link posted on Facebook by Lifeline and Suicide Prevention Australia linking to the Parliamentary Report into Youth Suicide Prevention. I attended the roundtable forum for this parliamentary enquiry into youth suicide prevention all the way back in January this year, along with representatives from other organisations and of course, MPs. My name is in Hansard as a result…even if I did only say one sentence throughout the whole thing, besides my introduction! Good to know they cut out the ‘umms’ and ‘ahhhs’. So I clicked on the link and noted with pleasure that my name is also mentioned once in this report as one of the people who attended the roundtable. It’s awesome when I get the opportunity to attend these things and advocate for mental health. 🙂

6 thoughts on “Spying on kids online?

  1. It’s such a tough issue. My two nieces have their own laptops (very small ones called netbooks here) and they are 13 and 15. Their use of the computer is monitored by child-safety programs that are checked randomly by their parents. These are very good kids and I don’t think they’d get into anything inappropriate online, but I can understand how parents would want to have control. I guess it all speaks to the importance of having that emotional connection with your children to where they can come to you. At the same time, a lot of growing up has to do with learning things YOURSELF by your choices.

    I’m glad I had the internet. Would never have found out what “sex” actually was since I was never told, school info sessions never explained how sperm got to the egg, and it wasn’t something friends talked about at that time.

  2. That’s a complicated issue, and I have mixed thoughts. I think it depends somewhat on age (the younger the child, the less the “right” to privacy) and the intent of the parents (protection, not control). When things were worst for me, my mother didn’t care one way or the other, and while my internet activities would definitely appear destructive (I wasn’t exactly visiting recovery sites), it wasn’t causing any destructive behavior, I just found safe places to talk about what was already going on.

  3. This one is quite tricky. I have the same experience- went on ReachOut, visited Kids Helpline online- and I was always quite terrified that my parents would somehow.. just know. But if my parents had found out, would they have sought help for me? Would things have been different? Would I have gotten help sooner?

    I dunno. Just some thoughts 😛

  4. I’m against monitoring for the same reasons you are (though in my case the sites I visited were anorexia-related). And frankly, most kids are much more internet-savvy than their parents and can get around controls or mess with monitoring systems. Instead of tight monitoring and censorship, which will often push kids to rebel intentionally, parents should just stay engaged and alert to their children’s behavior, and keep the dialogue open about things kids can encounter online AND “irl”.

    Great post–thanks!

  5. I do not monitor my kids online. I grew up before the internet, but my parents found and read my diary back in the day and to this day I still feel weird around them sometimes when I think they read everything about my most intimate issues, not to mention my budding sex life. I trust that my girls are finding their own way and I try to keep the lines of communication open as best I can.

    I disagree with you about suicide tho. When I was younger I did go thru horrible times and often dreamed about suicide. As a mom, I know parents who have lost children to suicide. It leaves a hole that reverberates through the whole family and that can never go away. Most kids who commit this act do have people who love them and now that I am older I can appreciate that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

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