How I Keep My Teenagers Safe by Minimally Annoying Them within our Smart Home

 

Having two teenage daughters is simultaneously a father’s proudest achievement and worst nightmare. A double-edged sword that is a blessing and a curse all packed into one shining symbol of authority and protection. On one end, a hope to shape young women to be kind, smart, and independent; on the other end, a silent wish to put them under house arrest so they can never be harmed or much worse, speak to boys.

You could say I’m a proud Dad who is still learning the art of trusting my teenagers with the help of smart technology in our home. Devices and apps make it a little easier by eliminating the guesswork and worry, all while curbing what teenagers are famous for: bad decisions.

Taking cues from the LivingWise Home, I took steps to create my own smart home with technologies that will hopefully be an ally in our parenting efforts.

Being a connected family has its benefits and consequences. Our schedules are shared and updated through Google calendars. If one of my girls forgets to input that she needs a ride home from rehearsal on Tuesday, she is walking home!

Not to worry, on her walk home, I have the ability to track my girl’s every move with the Find my iPhone app.  Unless of course she leaves her phone at home, which is unlikely seeing how it is an extension of her very being. And should she turn off the location services, despite her better judgment, I receive a friendly alarm: “Claire’s 7 has turned off Find my iPhone.” This results in two things: I am suspicious and Claire is grounded. This rule applies to her sister as well.

Our home is smartly furnished with four Nests (and also regular furniture too). They say that smart cameras are the windows into your home’s soul. (I already fact checked this famous metaphor, so no need to bother if it sounds a little off.) While my goal is to protect my home and my family, this also translates to “I can see if you sneak out of the house, touch my motorcycle, or even glance at my keg of Guinness!”

Not only can I check on the girls from my phone or laptop, but also the cameras are equipped with intelligent activity detection, which sends text alerts when certain activity zones are being breeched, such as my keg of fine Irish dry stout. I also get a text if the Nests fall out of the tree so to speak (are unplugged).

Because I am a natural overachiever, I also bought the DVR option for the Nests, which allows me to access 7 days of footage should there be any missed episodes. It’s basically TiVo for real life. And punishments and lectures are retroactive in our house.

My daughters often challenge my tech parenting and the smart devices I rode in on. They ask questions that are remarks: “Dad, exactly how long are you going to be able to track our phones?” But I still answer, “Until you can pay your own cellphone bill.” Or, “How long are we going to have the cameras?”  Wait for it…“Until you can pay rent somewhere else!”

I am certain that this is annoying and perhaps a slight invasion of their privacy in their eyes. It is truly to protect them. You never want to give your children advice too late. I mean it’s one thing if they bump their head and you say, “be careful” afterwards. But for bigger matters, when it comes to security both outside and inside the house, having a smart home leverages instantaneousness. I make parenting calls sooner rather than later.

Undoubtedly, since the Internet is basically a new realm that kids enter everyday, I set parental controls on our home computers and my daughters’ phones. That way, I have more control over infinite click-throughs by limiting sites.  Like reality, the online world has good and bad content. They call it “going into an internet hole” because you literally fall into another place, just like our friend Alice In Wonderland.

But some of us don’t want to worry about our daughters meeting hookah-smoking caterpillars posing existential questions. My parents’ biggest worry was if I would be home in time for dinner and whose house I was playing football at. A teenager in 2017 faces much scarier scenarios online in their own home.

As parents, my wife and I have a trusting relationship with our daughters, but we also enjoy the peace of mind that our smart home affords us. Like most parents, our efforts are a work in progress and a balancing act. We trust our daughters to communicate when and why our smart devices are bothering them. And we trust ourselves to know when to dial usage back or when it is perfectly justified. Bottom line: just because a device can text me an alert or show me what is going on at home doesn’t mean I stop communicating with my teenagers. (Though I am sure sometimes they might prefer it that way.)

The consequences of growing up online are not fully available to us.  But the facts of teenage suicide due to online bullying point to our jobs as parents as not being fully perfected. Instagram and Snap Chat platforms complicate it even more, not to mention recent innovations to Facebook and Instagram of “going live.” So having a home with virtual eyes and ears makes us more aware as parents.

We as a family live in an equipped smart home that we feel will ultimately help our daughters make sound choices and become successful young adults…hopefully without annoying them too terribly. It takes a village, and Google calendars, and synched iPhones, and four Nest devices to raise children these days. (Again, no need to fact check that Igbo and Yoruba proverb.)

Written by: “Cyber Dad”