Big Mother is watching you

Bummer about the government spying on American citizens. People started feeling like Big Brother was watching them, keeping tabs on their movements, knowing who they talked to on the phone. Hmm, sounds a bit like Big Mother. She certainly is watching — just ask any parent.


Parental spying begins in a child’s infancy, as a natural state of affairs. Like 007, new parents turn to high-tech tools to keep an eye, or an ear, on their newborns. Baby monitors come in audio only, or full video plus audio modes. We can listen for our baby’s tiny little cries, or peek on the screen to see if Junior has spit up on his onesie for the 15th time that day. Round-the-clock surveillance is the norm for new babies. We don’t think of it as spying, so much as “monitoring,” and few would argue against its usefulness. Thus the stage is set for a lifetime of parental espionage.

As the child grows, parents must refine their surveillance methods. Sadly, most school age kids rebel at the suggestion of carrying a baby monitor to school with them in their backpacks. In order for parents to keep close tabs on their kids, they need to find a new set of spy tools. Sometimes the low-tech option works best. Parents rely heavily on teachers and other adults at school to pass on tidbits of information about their offspring. Kids, beware! The Parent Teacher Conference may sound like an innocuous opportunity for your parents to see your artwork and hear your teacher praise your behavior, but in reality it’s a high-level information exchange that can have serious repercussions on your screen time and allowance. On top of that, the dreaded report card handoff takes place at this top-secret summit. Forget about privacy here, kids! At the end of a 20-minute chat with your teacher, your parents know all there is to know about your grades, behavior, friendships, and lunchroom mishaps at school.

As their child enters the teen years, parents often turn back to more high-tech methods of surveillance. With larger class sizes and more homework to grade, high school teachers encourage the use of a comprehensive spying tool known as PowerSchool, which allows parents to check up on their teens over the Internet in the comfort of their own homes. Parents are instructed to “create a parent account that allows you to view all of your students with one account,” to check grades, absences and tardies, and how many trips to the bathroom the student makes during class. Kids, forget about “losing” your report card on the way home — your parents have already seen your grades before you did. Big Mother is watching you.

Of course, parents keep tabs on their teens outside of school as well. Like the U.S. government, parents always want to know who their kids are associating with. Luckily, someone invented cell phones for parents to keep their children under observation. Come on, kids, did you really think your mom and dad got you that cell phone so you could text your friends all day and night? Hardly! They got you the phone so they could call you to discern your whereabouts at any point in time, and so they could call you home for supper without straining their vocal chords. But more than that, they use your cell phone to find out who you associate with. In case you didn’t know this, your parents’ phone bill comes in a big manila envelope these days, with page after page listing each one of your texts as a separate phone call, phone number and time of day included. Your mom and dad know all about (fill in the blank). You can count on it.

The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).” Starting with baby monitors and moving through teacher tattling to PowerSchool and cell phone bill scrutiny, parents train their kids to accept a state of near-constant surveillance in their lives. Don’t worry, kids — we only do it because we love you. I doubt the U.S. government could say the same.

• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother and aspiring author. She likes to look at the bright side of life.


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