September 27th, 2021


Surveillance Parenting

Lenore Skenazy

By Lenore Skenazy

Published Dec. 3, 2018

 Surveillance Parenting

After you bring that bouncing baby of yours home from the hospital, forget about hand-knit booties. Today's trendy tots are sporting the Smart Sock 2.

This $299 sock contains sensors that track your baby's heart rate and blood oxygen level from your phone.

Thanks to a sock filled with "the same technology used in hospitals," you now have the ability to monitor your healthy baby with the level of scrutiny she would have gotten if she'd been born without a liver. Promises the ad copy, "Peace of mind in parenting is closer than you think."

Yeah — if you throw out the sock.

You see, the sock is just the first baby step into the un-brave new world of constant child monitoring, a world filled with gadgets that let parents watch literally everything their kids do — what they read, eat, see, visit and even excrete. (One tech company's "smart diapers" will analyze a baby's output for signs of disease.)

But of course, once you think you have to monitor all those things, it changes the very essence of parenting. Instead of worrying when your kids are actually sick, you are being told to worry that they are just seconds away from death all the time.

Parents are being offered a granular level of knowledge never before afforded to humans. But now that you can obsess about every aspect of your child's life, you're likely to assume you must.

There are devices that send parents reports of their child's "sleep behavior" all night long. (What that does to a parent's sleep behavior is not mentioned.)

Other monitors alert parents when anyone enters or leaves the nursery.

Summer Infant's Baby Wave Deluxe digital audio monitor streams to parents the temperature and noise level in their child's room.

Then there's the Happy Gadget, still in the crowdfunding stage. It will let parents know if their child, out of sight, ever falls down.

Just how "happy" is the dad at work who hears a thud on his gadget? Little Zeke has fallen somewhere. Oh, no! But seeing as there's really very little a faraway parent can do other than wince, it sounds as if the gadget is simply guaranteeing parents that they are not missing a single untoward event in their child's life.

Welcome to the new parenting paradigm. You must be all-seeing, all-knowing when it comes to your kids — a job formerly filled by, um, God.

So a 1980s mom who sent her kids off to bike till the streetlights came on would be considered negligent by today's standards because she didn't know the exact whereabouts (or blood oxygen level) of her kids at all times.

Now that that kind of knowledge is possible, anyone opting out is suspect. Parents are getting arrested for letting their kids walk home or play outside unsupervised, because the new assumption is that only nonstop

As for the kids, the electronic supervision doesn't stop. Uncountable are the devices you clap onto your kids' wrists or tie onto their shoes to track their steps anytime they leave the house. God forbid a child go to pet a dog and detour beyond the approved safety zone. The parents receive instant notification. Then they can call the child and scream, "Get back on track!"

It's all the freedom a felon with an ankle monitor has.

As the kids get older, there are devices that read their texts, analyze their photos, report their internet activity and scan their correspondence for words that some algorithm says may indicate unsafe behavior or thoughts.

Children raised under the parental panopticon may come to resent it. But it's just as likely they will expect and maybe even depend on it.

If you're wondering why kids on campus feel unsafe and seem to demand ever more administrative oversight, perhaps the answer is that when you've grown up in prison, freedom is terrifying.