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Parents Step Up Online Surveillance to Counteract Cyberbullying

darkened keyboardToday's teenage bullies may conduct the majority of their schoolyard terrorism on Facebook, but parents are quickly catching on, and doing their best to mitigate cyberbullying. The New York Times Magazine recently investigated what some parents are doing to counteract online bullying, and, not surprisingly, found a pretty wide variety of approaches. Some run to the police, while others choose to engage directly with a bully's parents. Many, however, have adopted a more Orwellian approach to parenting, and have begun monitoring their teens' online behavior with renewed vigor.

A program called MobileSpy, for example, gives parents complete access to every text their teen sends, and uses GPS technology to track his or her whereabouts. Parents can also use keystroke loggers to keep an eye on anything their child sends or posts online. A recent study from the Pew Research Center Internet and American Life Project found that roughly two-thirds of all parents admit to regularly monitoring their teenagers' cell phones. Half of them say they use phones to verify their children's whereabouts.

Others, meanwhile, use monitoring software only to scare their kids into rational online behavior. NetFamilyNews editor Anne Collier, for example, says she installed keystroke logger software on her home computers, but adds that she hardly ever uses it to monitor her kids. Instead, she stuck a Post-it note on her kids' computers, which reads: 'Don't Forget That Mom Sees Everything You Do Online.' The threat of surveillance, she believes, can do more to deter reckless online behavior than actual surveillance ever could.

The risk, of course, is that overbearing parenting could engender even more animosity from teenagers. "If you're monitoring your child secretly," Collier said, "what do you say to the kid when you find something untoward? Then the conversation turns into 'you invaded my privacy,' which is not what you intended to talk about." An April report from Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society found that parents who engage in online monitoring are often viewed by their kids as "controlling, invasive and 'clueless.'" Researchers also found that many teens still conceive of the Internet as a space "that excludes the family."

Clearly, though, that's not the case. Many school and law enforcement officials say it's nearly impossible for them to fully monitor online regulations placed on teens -- meaning, of course, that parents must step up to fill in the regulatory void. The psychological damage wreaked by cyberbullies is well documented. The question remains, however, whether or not well-intentioned parents may be doing just as much harm in their attempts to protect their kin.

Tags: CyberBullying, facebook, monitor, parenting, parents, privacy, school, security, SocialNetworking, teens, Texting, top, web

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