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Parenting tech — a tech too far?

Posted by Debby Penton on 18th June 2019

Last week, Swedish TV company visited Wildfire to do some filming for a documentary about digitalisation and technology, and how it affects society, human behaviour, integrity and democracy.

They specifically wanted to talk to me about how we can monitor and track our loved ones with new tech because of my (somewhat controversial, and rather public) admission to using an iPhone app to keep an eye on the whereabouts of my kids.

Now, I can imagine there are those out there who think this is a bit ‘big brother’, and you’d be right to an extent. When I was young, I disappeared for hours on my own and turned out OK so why should I treat my kids differently? And you’ve probably seen that disturbing “Black Mirror” Arkangel episode, where kid surveillance really crosses the line.

But I’m a fan of the tracking app. It gave me peace of mind when my eldest went off to secondary school on his own, and it will do the same when my youngest starts getting the bus to school in September.

I don’t think I’m an over-anxious parent, and I’m far too busy to be tracking them 24×7 (and it would be a pretty boring pastime) but there are times when it’s pretty handy for me to know where they are. Like when they are on their way back from an away game of football, so I can time my arrival at school to pick them up.

It’s also reassuring to know who has arrived home safely when I’m busy in a meeting — I get a little buzz on my Apple Watch when everyone crosses the “home” geo-fence. It’s the modern-day equivalent of “give me three rings when you get home.”

It’s starting to work in the kids’ favour too. My youngest could see how far away I was when I needed to collect him early from school the other day. And my eldest gets an alert when I’m nearly home so he knows to stop illegal midweek use of the PS4 before I catch him!

Life360 is not the only app I use to help me parent. I’ve set up Apple Family settings so that I can basically hit a “kill” button on their favourite, non-native, apps if a bit of discipline is required. It’s like a little electric shock treatment, but far more painful to have Instagram disappear from their phone in a heartbeat.

It certainly beats trying to wrestle the actual handset from a son who is bigger and faster than you. Much better to calmly reach for your phone with a knowing look!

Now, I realise I’m opening myself to criticism about my parenting techniques here, but I imagine many of you with teenagers will 100% understand. Obviously, there are plenty of non-tech ways to manage kids, but we live in a technology-led world and, for me, it makes sense to take advantage of the tools out there.

Of course, I agree that the use of tech should also be moderated. And my kids repeatedly tell me that I’m literally the worst mother in the world for insisting all devices must be removed and charging by 7pm on a school night. I’m less good at moderating my own use!

However, the best example of tech-related parenting I’ve seen so far is a mum who was so infuriated with her tech-savvy kids finding ways to get around all the technology controls that she just ripped out the Wi-Fi router, put it in her handbag and took it to work! Sometimes old school methods are the best!

Debby Penton

Motivated, competitive and highly experienced, Debby drives excellence across the agency and leads by example, going the extra mile to create stand-out campaigns and a dynamic agency culture. As CEO, Debby champions a new breed of PR that meets the evolving communication needs of today’s tech companies.