Cybernaut 

Spying out of love

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I was pretty lucky growing up – my parents didn’t ask too many questions and I didn’t have to tell them too many lies. As long as I made it to school every day and brought home decent grades they gave me a long leash.

Other friends weren’t so lucky. One friend had to call home at midnight to check in, then every hour after that. Why exactly his parents wanted to be woken every hour I have no idea, but I suspect they didn’t get much sleep anyway when they didn’t know where their baby boy was.

Others friends ran the risk of being grounded, of punishment chores, of lost car privileges, and of generally being torn a new one if they came home even half an hour after curfew or were somehow caught in a lie.

It was usually worse for the girls we hung out with, although they typically got around the rules by having sleepovers at the home of whatever girl had the most lenient parents or whose parents were away.

These days parents, if they choose, can easily regain the upper hand in the adult-teen relationship, thanks to new technology that lets them snoop on their kids through the family car, cell phones and the internet.

Some of the technology is low tech. One company sells bumper stickers that let other motorists anonymously tattle on a teens bad driving habits via a 1-800 number.

More tech-savvy parents can also install web-based GPS locaters in vehicles, allowing parents to see exactly where their teens go, and how fast they drove to get there.

Because they won’t always have the car, parents can also get their teens GPS cell phones that do generally the same thing.

For smaller kids, parents can now buy GPS watches, RFD tags and another devices that let them know when their child leaves a certain pre-defined area. These devices are for younger kids and have less to do with keeping kids honest than the fear of kidnapping.

Another way parents are snooping on kids is through an array of software programs that track websites their teens are visiting, as well as record e-mail and chat conversations. Growing concern about sexual predators hanging out in teen chat rooms or venues like MySpace.com are fuelling interest in these programs.

It’s an interesting and unprecedented development in the always-evolving parent-teen relationship. Most parents don’t want to spy on their teens, but don’t always trust them or their judgment. They’re also concerned that today’s world is more dangerous and depraved than the world they grew up in.

And while some could argue that teens should have the opportunity to go out and make their own mistakes and learn from them, free of interference, some of the mistakes that kids are making these days are not exactly harmless.

For example, I doubt many parents would be impressed to find their teens street racing, or to discover that their 13-year-old daughter is chatting online with a 25-year-old man, but these things happen. The tech tools available can also help parents find out if their children are on drugs, in trouble, depressed, or are becoming sexually active.

There’s no question it’s an invasion or privacy, on par with parents reading their children’s diaries, but since teens don’t really have many rights under their parents’ roofs until they turn 18 the snooping is perfectly legal.

Experts still say the best solution is for parents to foster trusting relationships with their children, and talk openly and honestly about all of the issues affecting teens – drugs, sex, bullying, etc. – and then equip them to make the right decisions. No teen will appreciate being spied on, even if you have their best interests at heart – I guarantee they won’t see it that way.

But if you want know more about the different technologies out there, here’s a short list of links.

Car Trackers – Most companies are American but sell their products in Canada as well. CarChip www.carchip.comis the most basic, recording data on speed, distance, etc. to get an idea of teens’ driving habits. If you want to add global positioning to the arrangement, check out companies like TrimTrac www.trimtrac.com/ or SafeTrac www.safetracgps.com.

Cell Phones – Due to regulations, most cell phones can be located these days by GPS, providing the phones are turned on, but to have tracking ability at home you generally have to pay for an additional service. You’ll have to go through your cellular service provider to find out just what’s available in your area. Some examples include AccuTracking www.accutracking.com, Wherify www.wherifywireless.com and Disney Mobile through their Family Tracking service.

For snooping software, parents have several options. One of the most popular is SpectorSoft’s eBlaster and Spector Pro, which monitor everything from e-mail to chats to web surfing, without letting kids know they’re being spied on. Other software includes IM Einstein www.im-protector.com which records instant messenger sessions, Net Detective www.netdetective.com/, and Guardian Monitor www.guardiansoftware.com.

Website of the Week

www.gamespot.com

With revenues bigger than Hollywood, there are literally dozens of new games for computers and consoles released each month, making it harder for gamers to separate the wheat from the chaff. So let GameSpot do it for you. As well as both customer and critic scores for each game, there are previews, advice on beating the harder aspects of games, special features like Burning Questions, Matt Rorie, Boss of Bosses, and reviews on new technology.

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