Spy parents who stalk their kids
Should parents be able to read every single word their kids write online?
Mathew Ingram is a regular dad to three daughters, yet he differs in one significant way; in a recent post on Gigacom entitled "Snooping on your kids: If the NSA’s tools were available, I probably would have used them", he admits to this:

 “I spent close to a decade using a variety of surveillance tools to spy on, stalk and otherwise monitor my three daughters’ online behaviour as teenagers. Am I proud of that? No. But I learned a lot.”

He goes on to chat about how he installed keystroke software which allowed him to monitor his daughter’s chats and emails online, discussing at length what he found out. Mostly, he admits, his daughter’s online conversations were typically mundane and had very few indications of bad behaviour, but his methods of finding this out have drawn criticism from other parents and internet users.

Ethics and disclosure

Ingram brings up what he calls a social and ethical dilemma for many parents- whether or not it’s ok to eavesdrop on your own children- comparing it to the National Security Agency’s surveillance programme which defenders call a necessary defence in threat detection, even if it infringes on rights to privacy.

Those criticising Ingram are horrified that he would do this without disclosing it to his children, and suggest it’s a terrible breach of trust which could potentially destroy their relationship. Some suggest that he should rather have spent time working on their personal development and helping them to become better equipped at online etiquette.

In the comments section Ingram states that while what he did was a “necessary evil”, and that his perspective is this: “My house… My network… My computer… My rules. Don’t like it kid? Get a job and fund your own account, device and pay for your own phone bills. Oh, and since your underage and expect me to co-sign… I still have all rights to know what you’re doing.”

Another commenter goes as far as to call his behaviour narcissistic and psychopathic, suggesting that this kind of stalking is sick and controlling.

Ingram does say that he hinted to his kids that he would know what they’re doing online, but did not disclose that he could read every single word they wrote. This prompts one commenter to admit to telling his kids that he could read everything they did online, and yet this didn’t seem to worry them, and they’d continue to be “unfiltered” in what they said, so he’d just step in and get them to delete certain posts he deemed to be unsuitable- he suggests rude and bullying posts. This same commenter, Salted, makes an interesting statement:

“They both made mistakes, got into online fights, provided too much information at times, and had social media drama that consumed them. It was a lot of work but it was our job as parents in the same way we monitor our kids when they are young, gradually expanding their boundaries and curfews as they show us they are ready. The internet is another community and kids do not automatically understand how to manage it”.

How much is too much?

It’s a topic which most parents will have to deal with: If your child has access to the internet via computers or smart phones, how will you ensure that what they’re doing online is acceptable? This could be in terms of content viewed, social media interactions or statuses and comments written. Do you have to physically monitor each site visited and each chat shared, or do you rather talk to them about what is acceptable and teach them judgement and online etiquette?

Is it acceptable for parents to spy on their kids online?

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