Protecting Kids from Online Dangers by Spying?


Filtering, monitoring, alerts, spyware—the cyber-parenting market is full of services and apps to protect kids from online dangers like cyberbullying and predators. Some services even alert parents if their own kids are being nasty or oversharing.

Ranging in cost from free to monthly subscriptions, the options are staggering: From basic DNS filters to high-tech quasi spy gear that would make James Bond green with envy.

These services are most useful for protecting seriously wayward or at-risk teens who have already eroded the trust that was extended to them. Experts warn that using them on the average “mostly good” kids can backfire.

Where there’s a (sneaky) will, there’s a (sly) way…

Tech-savvy teens who want to outwit their parents’ safety measures can usually find a way. Bypassing parental controls and filters can be as quick as doing a Google search and watching a how-to clip on YouTube. Alternative spellings and new lingo are simple ways to bypass filter detection. Higher-tech options include using VPNs, proxies and more.

State-of-the-art cyber-defences may make parents feel in control, but quite possibly the technological barriers will anger kids and trigger sneaky behaviour as they look for a circumvention. This phenomenon is so common it has a name: Psychological Reactance Theory. As Professor Sahara Byrne points out, “The angrier kids are, the more they’re going to try to restore (or assert) their freedom.”

Parenting experts suggest a better, saner approach.

Raise Cyber-Wise Kids

Educators believe the best defence lies in developing children’s critical thinking skills and training them to be aware, cautious, and respectful. In this media-saturated age, media literacy is essential. Kids have to be able to differentiate between editorial and advertising content. They need to practise evaluating sources of information and recognising pressure tactics.

Education in digital citizenship is also a must. Knowing expectations of appropriate, healthy use and behaving with respect for self and others will go a long way toward keeping kids safer and happier online.

Education and parental guidance (read: engagement) will help kids make wise decisions about what they do online. As Larry Magid editor and founder of says:

“Ultimately, the best filter runs between the child’s ears, not on a device.”


CC Image, idea_m by nic519