One of the lowest hanging fruits on the parenting tree are those ubiquitous apps that keep track of your kids for you. Notice I didn't say "spy" on your kids? I choose to regard apps that let me peek at my kids' texts and social media posts and tell me via GPS where they are merely as tools in my arsenal in the war against teenage bad choices. But is parental use of these apps a bad choice in itself?
I'm fairly certain that it was a smart Dad whose app use led him to catch his teenage daughter making a weed run with some friends. The dad, divorced and living in North Carolina, said he got the monitoring app to help him protect his daughters from cyberbullies; the last thing in the world he expected was the alert it sent him about a suspicious text his daughter sent -- right after telling him she was spending the night at a friend's house. The text went to someone he didn't know and read, "Yes we’re coming over, have to stop to get some bud,’” he told Yahoo. “I thought it could be Budweiser beer. But then I realized, no, it’s probably not. It’s probably marijuana.”
It was probably equally smart of him to only let his first name be used in the media interviews that followed. I can already hear the tsk-tsking about how kids need to know we trust them, blah blah blah.
I don't see it as a matter of trust. I see it as an alternative to the answer "nothing," when you ask your kids "what's going on?" Parents can't fix what we don't know about. It's for the same reason that I applaud my kids' school for posting grades online (password protected). Just knowing I will find out about that D in science becomes the impetus for coming to me and asking for studying help. Knowledge is always power, and that's certainly true when it comes to parenting.
Technology has created a brave new world -- one that didn't fully exist when parents of teenagers today were teenagers themselves. Issues and dangers lurk that we ourselves have no experience with. There is cyberbullying so extreme that it pushes kids to take their own lives; scams and identity thieves who specifically target children; and strangers who enter your child's life online who you don't know a thing about and who often aren't who they say they are.
And yet there are some who insist that using apps to track teenagers' actions is evidence that a parent doesn't know their kid very well or hasn't done a good job of parenting. I, on the other hand, think it's the highest form of parenting to not live with your head in the sand.
Like the Dad who was alerted by an app that his daughter wasn't where she said she was going to be, indiscretions provide teachable moments. When he showed his daughter the alert and asked for the truth, he got it. He also got an opportunity to remind her that being the driver of a car that just took someone to buy marijuana likely wouldn't bode well in the eyes of the law. Plus, like my school's policy to post grades, once your kids figure out that you are in all likelihood going to find out about what they are up to, it serves as a deterrent.
As for trusting my kids, I do so implicitly. We talk openly and freely about things -- including the fact that I'm looking over their shoulders, just in case they need my help.
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