August 21, 2008

Phones, Families and Parental Control

author_janis By Janis Prince Inniss

clip_image003[6]A few weeks ago, I woke up at 4:30 in the morning to find my eighteen-year-old house guest chatting on her cell phone! She was laughing and talking like it was 4:30 in the afternoon. I had to force myself to close my gaping mouth. I’ve had teenagers in my home so I know many like talking on the phone late at night, but this was 4:30! 

Even if you’re young, you probably grew up in a home with one phone line—a landline. Although at home, telephone calls were “public”: Usually the phones were in public areas such as the family room or living room. Anybody was liable to answer incoming telephone calls, so friends might have an encounter with parents calling for their children. Parents could, and some did ask, “Who is calling please?” For many years, few homes had extra extensions and if they did, if a teen was speaking from the privacy of his or her bedroom, there was always the possibility that Mom or Dad might pick up the other extension and hear what she hoped would be a private exchange. 

For privacy, kids hung around the phone to try to keep their parents from answering calls that might land them in trouble, and used the phones when their parents were not at home or were sleeping. When kids monopolized the telephone, in the pre-call waiting days, how much time 'tweens and teens spent on the phone was more than an issue of how they occupied their time; it also impacted parents’ ability to use the telephone.
clip_image006Ah, but technology churns on. During the 1990s many households started installing multiple landlines to have dedicated lines for dial-up internet service, and during that time many kids got their own telephone numbers and phones in their rooms. Kids could talk to whomever, whenever, with much less parental “interference”. 

Today, many homes don’t even have landline phones. Cell phone use has skyrocketed in this century and about half of all children aged 10 to 13, and 83 percent of teenagers in the U.S. have their own. Having cell phones takes the ability to communicate wherever and whenever to new heights. Today’s kids can talk from just about anywhere-- including while driving or sitting in a classroom. Increasingly, kids are using cell phones for text messaging, even more than for voice calls. Armed with the unlimited texting plans that parents have selected (after being shell shocked by exorbitant bills), many teens text into the wee hours of the morning, averaging 50-70 texts per day. Texting allows for even more covert communication than talking on the phone as it can’t be overheard. Researchers found that one quarter of kids in relationships admitted communicating with their partner by voice or text hourly between midnight and 5 a.m. Just as I would have been without my trip to the kitchen that morning, parents are pretty clueless about this all of this; 82% were unaware that their kids were being contacted 30 times an hour by text or email. 

J0283967_2 How do cell phones and the freedoms that come with them affect parents’ ability to supervise their kids? Tipping my hand at my belief that parents should be authoritative—mind you, not authoritarian—shouldn’t parents know who their kids are spending their time with? How do parents do this in the cell phone age? 

Hopefully, the telephone was never the main way that parents met their children’s friends, but it kept them in the loop. “Nicole and Suzy seem pretty close. They talk on the phone most days after school.” Or, “Roger and his girlfriend Marilyn must be having a fight because she hasn’t called in a week.” Sometimes younger siblings gave up the goods with announcements such as, “It’s for Mary! And it’s Derek again!” 

clip_image009The flip-side of all of this is that today, parents can read a transcript of their teenagers’ thoughts! Modern technology permits parents to peer at the backstage lives of their kids in ways that used to be impossible. GPS technology for cell phones allows parents to monitor kids’ every movement. Snooping parents scroll through text messages or purchase software that gives them transcripts of instant messages. At first glance, the cell phone seems to be a tool of independence for kids. They can communicate with anybody just about anytime and parents may be clueless about it. But considering the techno-trail that parents may follow, teenagers are knowable in a way that they never were in the past. How does a parent’s ability to know about these “private” communications affect their relationships with their teenagers? And for those parents who refrain from such spying, does it matter that they may be out of the loop? Does it matter if parents know who their kids are spending time with on the phone?


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Phones, Families and Parental Control:


Might not parents peering into the private "backstage" of their children be damaging? Being spied on might encourage teenagers to constantly maintain an exterior "mask", preventing them from dropping their guard even in private.

Of course, there's also the ethical question to consider. You mention downloading instant messaging transcripts. Some progams keep logs of conversations, but it seems like a breach of privacy for parents to access such files.

Teenagers are in the process of making and remaking their identities, and as such, any perceived invasion of privacy could be very detrimental. Perhaps it would be better for concerned parents to indeed, talk to their children and meet their friends, rather than indulging in 007-esque data gathering.

I do believe that parents have the right to know what is going on in their children's lives, but i also believe everyone should have a little bit of privacy. Parents do not need to know everyone their child is talking to or everything their child is talking about. However, if the parent is worried about their child, i do believe it is okay for them to check out their text messages (especially younger kids with cell phones.)Usually parents only "spy" on their kids to make sure their children are doing okay. Parents are just worried about their child's well being and there is nothing wrong with that!:)

I want to start off by saying that to me cell phones have reached the point of total power over young teens. You can literally do just about anything on a cell phone and here are just a few examples: text messaging, instant messenger, pictures, videos, play all types of games, gamble, surf the web, email, and you can even do homework assignments from your cell phone. In my opinion, phones truly are distancing family members rather than keeping them close. How ironic right? Well the sad fact is that cell phones have so much power that there is no longer a need to sit around with family and spend quality time. Quality time nowadays is being on your phone. In addition, how can one sit at a dinner table and have a family talk when some crazy ringtone goes off every couple of minutes. And heaven forbid we turn our cell phones off, because nobody wants to miss that call or text from their significant other.
I personally hate what cell phones are doing to society. Granted they do have numerous benefits and are one of the greatest advances technology will ever see, but they are in essence tearing society apart. I use my cell phone to make important phone calls or text when I need to but to me all the other junk is brain frying material.
As far as parents spying on their kid’s by looking through recent calls or text messaging, I think it is appropriate to a certain extent. Obviously it is expected and parents should be monitoring their ten year old daughter will a cell phone to make sure she is not getting into unnecessary or unwanted trouble. On the other hand, there is a certain point where kids need to be left alone and learn to grow by themselves. At a certain age parents need to hope that they raised their child properly and he or she will make the right decisions based on that. Another funny thing about having a cell phone is that it is just another way for a couple to fight. The phone was designed to keep people in touch and to be able to communicate in a timely manner but the phone is also a way to stir up drama.
In conclusion, I think that the advancement from land line phones to cell phones has many pros and many cons but somehow in my mind the way we abuse the cell phone these days and the way we prioritize them in front of family is greatly outweighing those cons.

Hi, I was just reading an article in my Sociology textbook at school, and it had something to do with this. The article was about a guy placing a camera in a woman's bedroom and spying on her, which is completely creepy. So, the article is asking, has technology made privacy obsolete?
I think that privacy just might have made privacy a never-have. I mean, I'm a teenager myself, so it's hard to decide whether or not parents should check their children's cellphone logs and read their text messages. To a certain degree, I agree that parents should be in the loop: they should know who their kids are talking to, but I don't think it really concerns them what their kids are talking to that person about. The only time I would think it ethical for a parent to spy is if something really dramatic is going on in their kid's life and they think the kid is hanging out with bad company, and by that, I mean this kid is making some seriously life-threatening decisions. For example, a girl with an eating disorder is texting back and forth with another anorexic friend, or a boy with some alcoholic problems is making plans to cut class or hang out at a bar. If a parent happens to intercept a message like that, then he or she should probably spy.

I think that parents have the right to know what is going on in their children's lives. If the children are doing what they are supposed to be then it shouldn’t bother them to let their parents see what they are talking about and with whom. Parents should be in the loop and know about what is happening to their children.

Families and social control has changed a lot since I was younger. I am only 18, but I would never chat it up with someone at 4:30 in the morning unless it was an emergency. I was usually in bed by 12, even in the summer. It was one of our "family rules" that if we woke anyone else in the house up after 11 that we had to get up at 4:30 with my dad, no naps, no nothing. I feel parents today let their kids get away with a lot more.
Part of it may be that they know they don't get to spend much time together and they feel bad, but regardless families still need to know their boundaries.

What are the reasons for parents to know exactly everything that their children do? Do they have the right to know, so that they can protect their children? The other day, as I was going to check my e-mail, I noticed that my boyfriend had forgotten to log out from his account. I now faced the choice between two options; either, I could log out from his account without looking at any of the e-mails and thereby avoid snooping in his privacy, or, I could look through his messages. As we had been in a fight the day before, in which I confronted him for spending more time with other girls than with me, I chose option number two. I wanted to see if his e-mails confirmed any of my suspicions of him cheating on me. I found the words “I love you”, not directed toward me, but to someone else. Again, I confronted him, but he told me he had not meant it in the same way that he would say it to me. Hence my snooping around in his e-mail didn’t really get me anywhere.

So how does my story relate to telephone technology and parental control? First of all, I have to say that I don’t think what I did was right; everybody has the right to privacy. Children and teenagers need to have their own lives, separate from their parents. I personally had a very good relationship with my parents, but even though I didn’t hide anything from them, I still didn’t want them to know about every little conversation I had with my friends. Technology does allow us to do almost anything we want, but that doesn’t mean we should do it. Moreover, just like we misinterpret body language, we can also misinterpret written words. My interpretation of “I love you” may be different from the way my boyfriend meant it when he said it to the other person, who could just be a friend.

In my opinion, we should trust what we see in real life rather than the things we read. Invading someone’s privacy is not going to make anything better. Parents need to raise their children and establish a good, trusting relationship with them, rather than control what they do in their own private time. When the parents die, there will be nobody else to control the children, so why not try to raise the children into independent persons from the start?

I think it is good that parents don't pry into their children's lives, but I do think there are some things that parents should know about. I know, coming from experience, that I use the phone late and when my parents found out I had a phone curfew. I had to be off the phone at 11 on week nights when I was 16 and after I turned 17 I could be on the phone until midnight during the week.
I think that if more family time was spent together then parents wouldn't have to worry about their children being on the phone. If parents spent more time worrying about being with their children and talking to them and just reassuring them that they can be comfortable and tell them things then parents wouldn't get a big shock when they find out their teen is on the phone into the wee hours of the morning.
I just think that if families spent more time together their children could open up and talk to them and tell them what they are talking about at 4 in the morning.

I think that parents have a right to know what their kids are doing but they should do it in a respectful way and not spy and sneak around to find out what we are doing it is like you are just trying to find something to punish us for. Ok our parents hate it when we sneak around doing something. What makes you think that we won't be mad when you sneak around. Then you get mad at us for being upset at you. Parents need to respect the privacy of their children.

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. Anyway, I'm been looking for topics as interesting as this. Looking forward to your next post.


Being "spied" on as a child will definitely cause them to want to hide things more and more from their parents. Children want to be able to share certain things with their parents in their own time and they get threatened when parents try to force things out of them. Cell phone use has grown a lot and even though I've only been using one for four years, I feel like I can't live without it. Parents should be able to snoop on whatever they pay for. If they pay for the cell phone bill, technically its their phone and they have the right to check on it whenever they want to.

I loved reading your blog about Parental Control. I am a parent and I agree that we should control our children in using their phones. I know that children are now exposed from technology but as a parent we should be aware the bad effect of overusing it. I hope most of the parents found and now reading your blog so that they are aware of the possible outcomes of too much using phones.

I firmly believe that parental control has been a major issue everywhere not just in USA. As a single parent, I know how much difficult it was to raise a kid without having to worry about what he will do next day.. With technology rising above people's imagination, it's really important to at least take precautions.

what a crap message. totally against this

As many commenters here are commenting against this article but I support the message here. Because sometimes your kids are not that aware and conscious of the consequences of the relationships they are in. These relationships might break their heart or may even get them in bigger problems.

I know it's a bit of much to some kids if their parents are spying on them but these apps or tools have proved to be very helpful in saving children from bad influence. I have linked in my name the apps any parent can try to keep their kids safe.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Become a Fan

The Society Pages Community Blogs

Interested in Submitting a Guest Post?

If you're a sociology instructor or student and would like us to consider your guest post for please .

Norton Sociology Books

The Everyday Sociology Reader

Learn More

The Real World

Learn More

You May Ask Yourself

Learn More

Introduction to Sociology

Learn More

Essentials of Sociology

Learn More

Race in America

Learn More

The Family

Learn More


Learn More

The Art and Science of Social Research

Learn More

« T-Shirts, Symbols and Assumptions | Main | Status and Sociology »