The Latest Trend: “Alcatraz Parenting”!

Hey Readers! ALCATRAZ PARENTING. Let’s popularize that term, okay? We need it, because we’re getting to the point when children are monitored by GPS, cell phone and camera in ways prison wardens can only dream of! Check out this ad:

The mom says she  has cameras “in the playroom, the living room, the kitchen. And from my mobile phone and computer I can check in on them any time and it just gives me some added peace of mind.”

Great. And just what does it give the children? That added sense that Big Mother is watching. That sense that they are never safe without her electronic eye upon them. (It doesn’t MAKE them any safer, of course. It just reassures the mom.) It also tells them they are never free and never completely to be trusted. Just like prisoners, except with refrigerator privileges.


Just as I was going to end my post,I got this letter in my email:

Dear Free-Range Kids:

I just got two tickets for child abuse because my 7 yo and her friend were playing in the complex when 2 older girls tried to hit them with sticks. They ran away and my daughter, being frantic, got lost. The police found her and brought her home. They then  gave me a ticket for both girls but not the other girls parents! One officer said I could not let her out to play at all without me. The other said she could but needs to stay close and tell me where she will be, which she always does. There are many children in this complex who play outside alone! They said children under 16 must be supervised.

How are these topics — the cameras in home and the tickets for unsupervised kids — related? They both start with the assumption that children are never safe without an adult by their side, either physically (if they’re outside) or electronically (if they’re inside).

That is a RADICALLY NEW, DYSTOPIAN VISION OF CHILDHOOD! It is not based on reality, as the reality is our children are safer today than at almost any time in history. It is based on FEAR.

The result? Alcatraz Parenting, either by choice, if you buy into it, or by force if you don’t…but the authorities do. – L

85 Responses

  1. I’m having trouble with a world where it’s OK to hit younger kids with sticks, but letting kids play outside is a citable offense? (Unless of course we’re missing details such as the girls with sticks and their parents were cited also…..)

  2. That added sense that Big Mother is watching.

    A little bit off topic, but I was at an event with my son on the weekend with lots of sponsor booths. One was a life insurance company doing ‘child ID kits’. We were at the same table with one of the reps as my son enjoyed a shaved ice. She asked if we were going to do it, and I explained how I don’t really need my son’s fingerprints to ID his dead body, and that’s all the kit is good for. She got a shocked look, tried to protest, and then finally said “Just don’t tell anyone else, ok?” We did go to the booth later to spin their wheel for free stuff, and she asked again, and I said “It’s up to him, if he wants to, I don’t think it hurts it’s just not useful.

    But later I got to thinking, how much am I training my kid to just acquiesce whenever someone tells him to do something dumb? How many parents are getting the ID kit, without thinking through what it actually is?

    We had a case recently where police took a bunch of kids’ DNA without parent consent.–abc-news-topstories.html They informed the parents, but only after the fact. Now I’d probably encourage my kid to comply in that situation, but I’d like him to think about it first and understand what he’s doing.

  3. Added peace of mind? I strongly disagree. This is flat out INSANE.

    Plus, the kids will figure out where the cameras are and do what they should not be doing in THOSE rooms. To love your kids means you have to trust them and putting cameras up is the exact opposite of trust.

  4. Unless the mother is somehow disabled, there is no reason she can’t WALK FROM ONE ROOM TO ANOTHER to check on her kids.

    Unless, of course, the assumption is that they must be watched every single second — which it probably is.

    “Just like prisoners, except with refrigerator privileges.”

    You’re kidding, right, Lenore? You think this kind of Mom lets her kids GET THEIR OWN SNACKS? Come on, they might choke, impale themselves with a butter knife, or worst of all, ingest a few calories’ worth of non-optimized food!

    Just like prisoners period, I should think.

  5. […] Hey Readers! ALCATRAZ PARENTING. Lets popularize that term, okay? We need it, because were getting to the point when children are monitored by GPS, cell phone and camera in ways prison wardens can only dream of! Check out this ad: The mom says she  has cameras in the playroom, the living room, the kitchen. And from … Read more: […]

  6. […] Hey Readers! ALCATRAZ PARENTING. Lets popularize that term, okay? We need it, because were getting to the point when children are monitored by GPS, cell phone and camera in ways prison wardens can only dream of! Check out this ad: The mom says she  has cameras in the playroom, the living room, the kitchen. And from … Read more: […]

  7. […] Hey Readers! ALCATRAZ PARENTING. Lets popularize that term, okay? We need it, because were getting to the point when children are monitored by GPS, cell phone and camera in ways prison wardens can only dream of! Check out this ad: The mom says she  has cameras in the playroom, the living room, the kitchen. And from … Read more: […]

  8. @pentamom, or more horribly, they might want macaroni and cheese!! (sarcasm off)

  9. I was at a barbecue over the weekend and one of the moms was reminiscing about having pizza and orange soda as a kid. Then she said “It’s a shame our kids won’t have that memory.” And I’m thinking: Why? I mean, ok, not for every meal, but clearly you grew to adulthood after being allowed to ingest soda, pizza, and other non-optimized, non-organic food. Yes, you should feed your kids healthy stuff. But you don’t need to suck all the joy out of life to try to prove what a perfect parent you are. My kids eat their veggies, but occasionally indulge in root beer and chips. The horror.

  10. Ick. I can’t even imagine having surveillance cameras in my house. At least they don’t appear to be in the kids’ bedrooms – which is where I’d spend all my time if I were her kids.

    I wonder how many people buy these things and then never look at them. My daughter went to a daycare with cameras in every classroom. I watched occasionally for the first few weeks. Not because I was afraid of anything but because it was neat that I could. Once the newness wore off, I don’t think I logged in more than once or twice for the next 4 years.

  11. That’s really creepy. Can’t a person be allowed a butt scratch or nose pick without The Man (or The Mom) watching every single move?

    I really have issues with the article linked in the comment above about the dna samples being collected without consent. That is so incredibly invasive and disturbing. Also, a line in the article said something to the effect of “they were explained and gave their consent” as to why the children had their dna taken without parental consent. Soooo…. an 8th grader is adult enough to understand the implications of having their dna taken for a murder investigation, but not adult enough to consent to: sex, alcohol consumption, or smoking cigarettes… An 8th grader is suddenly adult enough to give consent without parental permission for something as intense as a police investigation?? Would they then go to adult prison if found guilty for murder?

  12. If you need surveillance cameras in your home, then I think “you” have the problem, not the kids.
    As to the letter…
    When I was 7 years old, myself, and all of my playmates would always be together, down the street, in the street, in a neighbors yard, somewhere, but we were always together. The rule was the same for all of us..we had to be in earshot of one of the fathers whistle….then it was time to come home.

    None of us got lost, killed, maimed, raped or even injured. My son is brought up the same way I was, with the exception of the “playing in the street” as the big difference today is that no one stops or looks for kids. When I was growing up, the automobile drivers stopped or at least slowed down for the pedestrians… so much!

  13. Mine is at that age when I don’t want to look at her 24/7. I relish the freedom of having time to myself while she’s outside playing unattended or even while sulking in her room and plotting my demise. The 24/7 parents are the ones that end up on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs and become closet drinkers. 24/7 isn’t normal or healthy for anyone involved.

  14. I’d like to see a different take on her “safety” commercial. SInce 95% of child sexual abuse is from family members or someone your child knows, don’t you want to monitor your very own family members? What if THEY are the pervs? Keep your constant guard up and most of all, NEVER TRUST ANYONE. Especially those that are part of your family and community.
    This Stepford Mom in her busy, distracting dress and that animal that looks like a mini-Eeyore (is it a cat? Why does it look like a donkey to me?) on the camera show what a dangerous place home sweet home can be.
    Why take your kid’s word that everything’s fine? No, spy on them! Watch your home like you’re filming a bad Bravo reality show and see if they vote you off next.
    I would advise these children to head outside and play. House arrest sucks and no one should need to be under constant surveilance unless you suspect you are raising Charles Manson, which with this type of parenting, you probably are.

  15. Just wait until her sons are 12 or 13…. she may get quite a shock from those cameras.

  16. The children will never learn to do anything for its intrinsic value. All motivation will be extrinsic. Don’t do it because you think it’s right. Do it because someone is watching. Let’s all make sure that new parents don’t think this is the way it has to be. It does not at all.

  17. It’s better for all concerned if I don’t see everything my child does. Because there are things you think would be good for them to experience but you cannot condone it outright, so turning a blind eye is sometimes best…

  18. @BMS – this long weekend (its Victoria Day today in Canada) we let the kids pick out a bottle of pop …& they chose orange soda!

  19. I think part of the problem is suburban houses are too damn big. In my house, if I suddenly wonder what’s happening with the kids, I can listen for what’s going on in all four corners. But if I had a 2500 square foot McMansion, (and I was neurotic) I’d feel like I needed video cameras.

  20. Here’s a novel idea:

    Talk to your kids. Have them tell you what they’re doing. Show interest in their lives and cultivate trust.

    Then you don’t need cameras; they will tell you the things you need to know. And they won’t have to learn how to hide from you.

    Those cameras show that the all-too-perfect mother has real trust and control issues; everyone is suspect and no one can be trusted, and everyone must be controlled. She’s really teaching her kids that appearances are important, and she’s also teaching them how to really hide and keep secrets.

  21. normalizing a constant state of surveillance does not co-exist with freedom. It is compatible with a lack of respect for personal privacy and property rights, like you are subtly committing a crime by being unwatched. It encourages us to further give up our liberty for supposed security……all the while making us less competent to handle liberty, and more dependent. Brings to mind Winston and his criminally secret journal of private thoughts, furtively stolen moments of rebellion in a world where thought police roam…..

  22. “Children under 16 must be supervised?” Weird…..I distinctly remember taking a babysitting course when I was twelve. Do they not do that anymore?

  23. This makes me so sad for these spied-on kids. I remember how relaxing and liberating it was to be home alone as a kid/teenager. Making up and performing crazy dances for a riveted stuffed animal audience, eating as many oreo cookies as I could (but not so many that my mom would notice), sneaking a half hour of Saved by the Bell BEFORE starting my homework….those were the days! Knowing that my mom trusted me prevented me from embarking on any majorly bad behavior. At the same time, having that privacy gave me space to indulge a little bit, away from prying and probably disapproving eyes. This Big Mother style surveillance seems like a great way to turn a kid into an irresponsible, defiant basket case.

  24. This is insane – let the children play! A few weeks ago I was at my stepsons baseball game and my stepdaughter (aged 6) and a friend (aged 7) wanted to go to the park. The friends non said no because “it’s just too dangerous”. The park was about 100 meters away from where us parents were sitting. Even my DH’s ex was okay with it (which is saying a lot considering how over protective she is).

  25. They do still teach the classes at 12

  26. Emily – my daughter turns 12 this summer and I called the Red Cross to see about getting her into a babysitting class – mostly because I was looking for “summer camp” type things she could do and figured basic first aid and safety tips would be something good for her – not that she would ever babysit. I remember taking it and babysitting kids when I was 12, so figured this would be a good summer for her to take it. At age 12, I even used to keep two little boys – age 3 and 5 – and the parents were ok with us using the pool while they were gone. Full size pool, not kiddie pool. Anyway, I was told by the Red Cross that the minimum age is 14 for the half day class and 16 for the full day class (which includes more advanced first aid). I was shocked. I don’t know if that is everywhere or just in our area or possibly has something to do with it being a high-demand class in the summer.

  27. There was an article on Slashdot a few days back on how these internet-connected surveillance cameras have little to no security. I wonder how these 24/7 moms would react if they realized they were letting everyone and their dog watch what the kids are doing?

  28. I can’t imagine having cameras throughout my house to watch my kids. They’re plenty good at getting me if one needs help, or crying loudly if they’re hurt. Sure there’s the occasional bit of mischief, but it’s really not that bad. Cameras wouldn’t add significantly to their safety, and they sure wouldn’t help build confidence or trust.

  29. It’s 90 degrees where I live today and I decided to take my 3 year old daughter to a very safe children’s garden with spash fountains and mist rooms to cool the kids. All the other parents are following their kids around I’m the blazing sun looking miserable. I am the only parent sitting on a bench in the shade reading a book and blogs on her phone. My daughter, by the way, is having a great time exploring on het own.

  30. Teri, our neighborhood babysitter took the babysitting course when she was 11. She is 12 now and watches a ton of kids in the neighborhood. She’s such a responsible person and I trust her with my kids more then some 20 year olds I know.
    I find it so unfortunate to put such focus on a specific age and not just see what kid is ready for what.

  31. I am imagining a parent staring intently at a phone or computer watching a child in another room on the camera while the one at his/her feet just wants to read and book and snuggle. In the same time/energy needed to watch the cameras you could , you know, spend some time playing with the kids…

  32. @Teri: Just sign up with her and go. It’s a one day class; both my kids took the full AED/CPR/first aid when they were 11. The age limits are the same here. It has to do with body weight (I think) – a child doesn’t have the body weight to do chest compressions. But both of mine passed and have their full Adult First Aid/CPR/AED cert.

    The baby sitter one is a joke. You really want the full cert class even if they don’t pass it they still learn more than they would in the babysitter class.

  33. Agree with Christine, some of this might be coming from houses just being plain too big these days. Having a box myself too (well, still huge compared with my mum-in-law’s 20foot by 20foot, which wildly off topic still contains two bedrooms!) I relish those times of quiet, when I know the kids are up to something that I’m sure I don’t want to know about (did that even make sense?!).Usually I hear way too much, LOL, particularly now that the two girls are at that ‘let’s rip each other’s eyeballs out’ stage of pre-adolescence. Video cameras – no way!

    @Ellie, you go, girl! Am sure your girl is having way more fun than if you trailled after her the whole time.

    And just had to add my own quick ‘bathroom’ story….Was at a mall on Sunday and an older woman was standing outside the male toilets looking a little perturbed. “It’s a little hard, when they’re too old to go in to the women’s toilet,” she said,”and I’m not sure whether he can get the door open in these ones.” When I came out she was in the women’s cubicles herself, and grandson was waiting outside in the corridor. Grandson would have been four! Thank the good Lord that there are some people in the world still granting their littlies independence….

  34. However, speaking of independence, and not watching our children’s every move, has anyone else made assumptions about their kids and what they can do, and been mistaken about what they are actually capable of? If I was more of a vigilant parent, maybe I would have realised before today that Midge, the 12 year old, cannot actually open the door to our house from the outside! She is very small, and it seems that we have all been doing it for her – I didn’t realise this until this morning, when I sent her back into the house to pick up a cheque she needed, and she couldn’t actually turn the key in the lock…(It is winter, and the lock is pretty stiff right now, but still – the 11 year old has been able to for years……)

    Feeling pretty stupid right now….:-(

  35. craig and Mark, Imagine what would happen if the parents knew that anyone could watch their 13 year old do that. We could never have a camera system not only because we respect our kids privacy but because I don’t want *our* extra-curricular activities broadcast.

  36. Wow. I’m seventeen now, and I began babysitting neighbors kids at age eleven. Without my parents or siblings around.
    On a side note, I am beyond happy I live with a father who doesn’t think it’s necessary to watch me and my seven siblings every second of the day. (Though I would be impressed if he somehow managed to!) My two brothers and I live in the basement of our house, putting a full two floors in between us and the rest of the family. If we did have a parent electronically watching our every move…

  37. Good points about the possibility that the surveillance cams may expose our kids to more risk by broadcasting their activities! Injury added to insult 😉 Unintended consequences once again…..

  38. I’m not a mom, so I think: Don’t you have a life? Or you’ll wait ’till your kids are 18?

  39. Just checked — our local Red Cross still offers the babysitter class for 11-15. It sounds like they don’t even want 16+ there!

  40. Maricruz. You must have missed the memo. Good mom’s don’t have a life anymore. Everything is about the kids.

  41. That ticketed parent should check the law books. If she hasn’t physically assaulted those kids herself, she can’t be written up for abuse. If the police are extremely helicoptery, they might consider neglect, but abuse doesn’t actually fit the facts no matter how you spin them.

  42. Would like to prove there are sane cops in the world. A couple of years ago, I had a very disturbed student. He and his brothers were abused – the youngest was murdered in front of them.

    The surviving boys were adopted by a very loving, courageous couple. The boys had serious emotional issues – who wouldn’t. My student had serious ADHD, and was on other mental health medication. He had self harmed. He had physical scars.

    One day a ball went over the fence. The older boys boosted my student over the fence, expecting him to get the ball, walk down the back fence, around to the front of the house.

    The ADHD and other issues sometimes caused him to get confused or lost. This happened. The family went looking for him when he didn’t turn up in a reasonable amount of time. After an hour they called the cops – not because they thought he was abducted, but because he could go pretty far and get more lost.

    He wandered about a mile away. He was on a corner. Opposite was a gas station. One of the workers saw this scared 10 yo kid obviously lost. He told the child to come into the station. They tried to call his parents, but he was scared upset and was transposing the last 4 digits. (gave MOm’s last four with Dad’s first 6 and vise versa).

    A cop stopped in at the store to get some coffee. The store clerk told him, what was up with the boy. The cop realized this was the lost child they were looking for. He did notice some of the scars on the child’s arm. The boy explained those people (he refused to call them parents good for him) did it, but they were in jail and he was with good parents now.

    The only comment from the cops was that they might want to look into getting some type of ID bracelet for him. That way if this happened again – he could give it to someone to call his parents. They ended up getting the necklace kind of ID – because he could hide it under his shirt. (He didn’t want the other kids to know about it).

  43. Oh dear. Reading this and hearing on NPR about the student who used cameras to spy on his roommate who later committed suicide when the student tweeted about it.

    “Just because this spiraled out of control does not let him off the hook.” Said by the brother of the dead young man.

    I can’t help but see similarities between what this young man did and what the parents are doing.

  44. My daughter took a school sponsored babysitting class that was open to 11 year olds. She had just turned 12. Has not had a job yet, but we are working on a neighbor mom telling her she needs more time out without her little angel. Who usually doesn’t act like an angel.

  45. Regarding the babysitting class: there are several eleven-year-old kids in my neighborhood who have taken a babysitting class. But their parents won’t let them watch my kids without me here. They’re only allowed to be “mother’s helpers,” with me around. Which is nice and all, but gee, if I’m gonna pay a babysitter I want to be able to leave the house!

    There was a thirteen year old who babysat my daughter when she was a baby over four years ago. She lived next door to me, and I would usually leave my daughter at her house, and her mom was usually home. Her mom was (is) also very free range, so she had no problem with her teenager watching my baby. Sigh. Wish she had another daughter who wasn’t off to college and could babysit for me now.

    When I was eleven I babysat without adult supervision all the time. In the evening and everything.

  46. I’ve read where studies in recent years have shown that happiness goes down when you have children. I wonder if things like this are why. I know I’d be burnt out on parenting if I felt that I had to watch my kid 24/7, even through cameras while at work, until she goes to college (and then knock down to only close monitoring). It’s exhausting just thinking about it.

  47. The crazy thing is that we used to trust our kids. I remember reading a story about a big snow storm in the Smokies back in the 20s???

    Anyway, the families in the smokies would get paid to graze cattle. The cattle ranged over the mountains. A big snow storm blew in; the father and the big brothers were busy taking care of the farm, so the youngest brother got the duty of driving a mule train to the cattle with feed to make sure they survived. In a snow storm, he drove 4 mules up a mountain, fed the cattle, spent the night, came home, and did it again. The cattle survived and so did he.

    He pulled the muletrain duty because he was too small to manhandle the work needed at the farm; he was 9 years old.

    We really need to trust our kids more. they can do so much more if we give them our faith and trust.

  48. There are things kids do that parents shouldn’t know about! Tonight I went on a walk around our neighborhood with my 10 year old. She points to a drainage sewer and tell me that she and her friends walk through it, under a street, under houses, and it comes out in a dry creek. Now that I have this information, I feel the need to tell her she shouldn’t do this and point out that it is disgusting water that runs through it. I wish I didn’t know, I remember my friends and I exploring the same type of sewers around that age, but we never told our parents!!! My 8 year old son has a phone and he called me the other day while he was out playing to excitedly tell me that he was 100 foot up in a tree (in reality I’m sure it was only 20 or so). I told him to be sure not to break anything or it wound ruin our trip to Great Wolf Lodge next week. When I got off the phone I told my husband I liked the old days better when parents just didn’t know, the kids came back for dinner and kept their mouths shut about where they had been 🙂

  49. Great story, Nanci.

    Here’s a neat question, though: Why didn’t you tell your parents when you were that age? Answer: Because your mom probably would have had the same reaction you had–“Don’t go in there, you’ll get sick!”

    So start telling your kid not to do stuff. It won’t stop them from doing it, but it will stop them from telling you. 🙂

    The tree story reminds me of my favorite climbing tree as kid. It was up at the top of a very steep hill in our backyard. It was a space-station that constantly had to be repaired in the nick of time or else disaster would occur (I grew up in the days of Skylab, so…) The tall steep hill worked pretty well as the curvature of the Earth with me climbing around on the tree trying to get to whatever mythical component was failing.

    So there I was about 15 feet up an old maple tree which was about 20 feet up from the backyard. And my Mom looking out the kitchen window hoping that I didn’t fall off.

    At that age, all I got from her was a “Be careful about dead branches.” Later on, she mentioned how scared she got whenever she saw me up that tree. But she never let on.

  50. @Nanci: Rather than telling your kids that the water is nasty, teach them about safety, and make sure they understand not to go in there if it’s been raining or looks like it’s about to rain, or if it looks like there’s a dead animal in there.

    I wake up sometimes having nightmares about the places my kids have been. But I keep an open channel so they do tell me, and I can stop their worst excesses and let the milder ones slide. 😉

  51. My mom was the type to go into the house when we kids started climbing the huge old maple trees. She didn’t say much, but hanging upside down 20 feet in the air was not as much fun for her as it was for us. As a mom, I certainly get why she went inside.

    We did things that we shouldn’t have done too – like oh, climb up the silo and sit on the top. My brother did this with his friend who has epilepsy. My mom and I had gone to the store (with no friend at the house) and came home to find them on the silo, about 5 stories in the air. My brother really got chewed out – the meds for this boy were not great at that point in time, had he had an episode, it would have been bad. On the other hand, the kid, who probably never was able to drive a car due to his condition, probably still remembers the thrill. It wasn’t smart, but it was probably a once in a lifetime thing for him.

    And even if we had had the cameras, they still could have climbed up before my mom could get home. My brother did rationalize stuff like that – is it worth the chewing out if we do it and get caught type of stuff.

  52. Nearly everyone I know prefers younger babysitters. They’re cheaper and their schedules are usually more open. The only downside is we tend to get sitters we go to church with, which means they may not live close, and with younger ones you have to pick them up. I know a lot of people with large families, and their kids start baby-sitting siblings at around ten years old.

  53. So kids shouldn’t be outside unsupervised until the age of 16.

    That means, of course, they can go from not being allowed outside without an adult in attendance to being able to drive a car in one step.

  54. I may be really obtuse, but I still fail to see the advantages of being able to witness my children electrocuting themselves on-line. I mean, where’s the peace of mind in THAT?

  55. I just have to say PANOPTIMOM is the better epithet.

    And you know what the best thing is to say to aspiring PANOPTIMOMS?

    “Wait, you’re putting that through the internet? Don’t you know that a pedophile with sufficient technical skills could hack into that and watch your children in your sleep?

  56. I saw a commercial recently for a similar home-security video-camera system. It showed a woman at work, watching her teenage daughter from the webcam. Just as the woman was about to start chairing a meeting, she watched as the daughter left a plate of food unattended and the dog ate it instead. She rolled her eyes in amusement.
    Really? We have to watch our teenagers via webcam to make sure they eat (instead of the dog)? And we have to do it while conducting business meetings?

  57. The one plus side to these cameras to consider, though, is that it may encourage some parents to leave their kids at home alone at a younger age. For example, imagine this senerio: Mom and Dad both work and 12 year old Susan wants to be able to come home after school alone and be in her home for 2 hours every day until mom gets home versus having a sitter. Mom is reluctant but decides to let her and installs the camera. Most likely what will happen at this point is the first couple of weeks, mom will be checking in all the time. She will then see Susan is responsible and begin to relax. Eventually she will forget about the camera and Susan will have gained a bit more self sufficiency/independent skills. Mom will start letting her do more things on her own since she can now see how mature and responsible she is. If there was no camera, mom may have said “no” in the first place and Susan would be going to next door after school to Mrs. Jone’s home. So there could be some positives here in helping parents literally SEE their kids are more capable than they think. 🙂

  58. Being able to constantly see what my kids are up to would give me anything BUT peace of mind. My style of parenting is more like “what I don’t know won’t hurt me” and “don’t ask don’t tell”.

  59. The whole video camera thing baffles me. I see moms to be running out to buy the video baby monitors all the time and gushing about how great it will be to see their baby all the time with it. Which to me is only the beginning of this paranoid insanity of wanting to raise our kids as prisoners(my husband is a CO, we both cringe at all the similarities between how some people parent today and how many public school environments mirror prison life more and more). If my kids need me they are quite capable of fussing loud enough for me to hear. I leave them in their room alone to play, so i can get some housework done or even *gasp* a shower! Yes, it’s all baby proofed and has a gate so they can’t be running all around the house(my kids are 2 yrs and 1 yr old) and I see no point of having my eye on them, or even my ear, on them 24/7…maybe I’m just not paranoid enough? I like to think as they get older I will be even less watchful of them. Of course I am now being they are so young, but I have noticed many parents don’t give their kids the freedom to explore like I do mine and seem terrified when strangers speak to them(I like when people decide to chat with my girls, I mean really I am right there with them!) …I know I am rambling I just really don’t understand things like this. I feel really bad for the parents who allow such fear and paranoia to creep into their minds that they think their school age kids need supervised constantly. the fact that the police are trying to force this insane fear onto people is disgusting as well. I just shake my head and hope sanity prevails against all the craziness.

  60. @Elizabeth–You bring up a good point, if hypothetical Susan’s hypothetical parents are reasonable people (although, my parents let me come home alone after school starting when I was twelve, with no cameras–I just had to call them at work when I got home to check in), but that’s often not the case. A lot of the people who buy video baby monitors, surveillance cameras, etc., are the kind of overprotective parents who end up on Bubble Wrap Kids. So, I can see the Peepingtom family thinking along these lines:

    AGE 1: “We have to use the camera to make sure Susan doesn’t stick her finger in an electrical outlet.”

    AGE 3: “We have to use the camera to make sure Susan doesn’t fall down the stairs/into the pool.”

    AGE 7: “We have to use the camera to make sure Susan doesn’t sneak cookies and become a childhood obesity statistic.”

    AGE 12: “We have to use the camera to make sure Susan doesn’t burn herself on the stove, cut herself slicing vegetables, or go outside and let people know she’s home alone.”

    AGE 14: “We have to use the camera to make sure Susan doesn’t invite all her school friends over for a drunken orgy.”

    AGE 18: “Susan’s off at university, but we have to track her by GPS*
    to make sure she’s going to her classes, and not to the bars.”

    Meanwhile, Susan has no intention of doing the wrong thing, but she feels incredibly stifled, because she’s never had the chance to prove she can do the right thing.

  61. I sympathize with the letter-writer. Last week my 9-year-old went home with a friend after school and didn’t phone to tell us she was doing so (well, she says she phoned but didn’t leave a message — we said, ALWAYS LEAVE A MESSAGE). So we got home from work at five-something … no kid. No voicemail message from kid. No note from kid. I went out on my bike to check all the local playgrounds, while DH stayed home in case she called. She did call, of course, and she was fine. But the thing is … when I was that age, if my mum didn’t know where I was she’d ring all my friends’ houses until she found me, and if she by any chance didn’t find me I don’t think she’d have had any hesitation at all in calling the police. I was reluctant to do those things, because letting a 9-year-old walk home from school and stay alone for an hour has become such a fringe parenting choice that I was honestly afraid some of DD’s friends’ parents would stop letting their kids come over here and that if we called the police, they’d charge us with child neglect. I’m not saying I think we should have called the police — she was only “missing” for an hour, and then only in the sense that *we* didn’t know where she was — but the switch from the neighbourhood police patrol as parents’ ally in keeping their kids reasonably safe to parents’ enemy in any attempt to allow their kids some freedom and responsibility really bothers me.

  62. My daughters, ages 8 and 5, are both miserably ill with bad colds. I am planning to take their toddler brother down to the grocery store this morning to get some of his jumpies out and give them a brief period of peace and quiet. Yes, we will be a whole block away for possibly an entire hour. Horrors!

    (Mind you, I wouldn’t do this if my cell phone weren’t fully charged and they didn’t have my number memorized, but still.)

  63. magnuminsp “the big difference today is that no one stops or looks for kids”

    So true. When my kids and I walk to the library, we cross a turn-in for a kindergarten parking lot (basically a car’s width break in the sidewalk, a small “street” surrounded by grass, attached a playground on one side and leads to the parking lot on the other). EVERY SINGLE TIME, there is a parent turning in, above the speed limit, not looking out for walkers, usually talking on their cell phone. It’s insane; I’d think that if nothing else, people would be watching out for their own children, which may be in the path! I guess the assumption (and probably the truth) is that their kids will be watched by an adult or two at all times, and they won’t be playing on the playground, so they assume everyone elses’ kids are the same…

  64. And we’re back! Nobody got hurt or even scared. No messes.

  65. Off topic, but this floored me:
    A bunch of high school seniors who participated in a “senior prank” of riding their bikes in two mile procession to school – accompanied by the mayor and with a police escort – were suspended by their principal. Just plain nuts.

  66. Jane W, that principal is an idiot. If I were a rising senior, I would start planning a prank worthy of suspension.

  67. Regarding the letter: I imagine that if things like this keep happening, the majority of helicopter parents will become overprotective not out of misplaced fear for their kids safety but out of fear that they may be legally reprimanded! Disgusting.

  68. You know, when I first started elementary school in 1989, riding bikes to school wasn’t a prank, it was just par for the course–a lot of kids either walked to school, or rode bikes, scooters, or skateboards, and when Rollerblades became popular, kids Rollerbladed to school as well. I know I did at least a few times.

  69. Yes, that stuck out at me too. The kids . . . go to school in a usual, accepted fashion, except all together with a police escort and the mayor riding along . . . which sounds to me like a parade . . . and get . . . suspended? For . . . ?

    What, is the principal just all pissy because he/she doesn’t like teenagers having ideas that he/she didn’t put there? Or frightened because they (gasp! pearlclutch!) behaved in a coordinated, organized way?

  70. I guess she was just sour ’cause they didn’t invite her to join in…

  71. I think Lenore said this in her twitter feed earlier this week, but I’ll say it again. Is there anything a kid can do that DOESN’T get him/her suspended? Why is suspension the first go-to in any disciplinary situation, instead of the last?

  72. They are pretty much negating a suspension as punishment. The kids get some approved time off school, parents won’t care because the reasons are too stupid to back up the school and college administrators won’t care because the reasons are so stupid. The only time that it will become an issue is for kids on the edge of exceeding their absences for a year.

    I wonder if this is just a phase. When I was in high school, in-school suspension was the en vogue punishment. It was used for everything. I also wonder if schools are largely out of other options. Can’t hit kids anymore. Many have gotten rid of late buses due to budget cuts so detention is not an option (and “find your way home” is no longer how we deal with kids and simply not feasible in many cases). Free time to take away is dwingling and what they have is often defined as “mandatory” and can’t be taken away. The old favorite of writing lines has gone the way of paddling for some reason. Conferences with parents get hostile now with parents defending even the stupidest move by Snowflake and many parents not following up with any consequence. In-school suspension takes resources. I’m not really sure what other options they have.

  73. You know what I’d do if I were one of those suspended kids?

    I’d go ride my bike. And laugh.

  74. […] Lenore Skenazy: The Latest Trend: “Alcatraz Parenting” […]

  75. Ironically, Alcatraz did not have video surveillance as the use of video surveillance did not come about until the late 1960s, whereas the prison was shut down in 1963.

    So actually the video surveillance is actually worse than Alcatraz LOL. I still love the term and only a strict historian like myself would nitpick.

    You could market this. Make Alcatraz parenting Tshirts, a limited edition, each in orange with their own prison numbers =p

  76. On a more serious note, if you capture your kids in the nude that would a be a child pornography charge. The way the law is written, each image is a separate count, and videos, even digital videos, use individual frames. If your camera has a frame rate of 30 per second, that’s potentially 30 charges per second.

  77. Is it a child porn charge if you don’t distribute the images to anyone?

  78. pentamom – I can be. Child porn is simply pornographic images of children. Whether simply possessing them is illegal or not is going to depend on how your state’s laws are written. But, if having child porn on your computer is illegal, having it on your video surveillance equipment would be as well. I’ve never represented a client who distributed porn. I’ve represented many who had a computer full of porn distributed to them.

    But, not all naked pictures of kids are child porn. There needs to be sexual overtones to them. And they would have to prove that you intended to record what you recorded, not that your kid wandered in front of a camera. Catching your kid walking naked from bathroom to bedroom in front of a known camera is unlikely to be prosecuted (unless you subsequently distribute it or keep for your own viewing enjoyment). Secretly posting cameras in bathroom aimed at the shower so you can watch your teenage daughter shower likely would be. A video of your son getting happy on the living room couch in front of a known camera would not be prosecuted (unless you distribute it or keep it for your own viewing pleasure). A video taken from a camera aimed at your son’s bed may very well be.

  79. When you consider the cases of people getting CP charges for innocent pics of their kids in the bathtub, then yes, what i described is not farfetched.

  80. I’m sure it has happened, but I’ve never seen a person who got child porn charges for pictures of their kids in the bath. I’ve represented many clients charged with child porn and seen way too much child porn (although one image is really way too much). There was never anything sweet and innocent about any of it.

    I’m not advocating cameras anywhere, but fearing being prosecuted because your security camera caught your teenager walking nude out of the bathroom is as ridiculous as worrying about your kid being kidnapped while playing in the front yard. Yes, both have probably happened but both are extremely rare. The same mentality applies. “A child has been kidnapped from their yard, therefore, no children should ever be allowed in the yard” is no different from “a parent has been prosecuted for innocent pictures of their kids in the bath so nobody should have a camera because they might accidentally take a picture of a naked child.”

  81. “The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live — did live, from habit that became instinct — in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.” –George Orwell

  82. Oncefallen, I don’t doubt that it has happened. “Has happened” does not equal “is common practice.” I’ve worked criminal justice in two states (one red and one blue) and a US territory and know prosecutors from all over the country. Prosecuting people for bath pictures of their toddlers/preschoolers is not common practice. This is no different than people saying “Etan Patz, Adam Walsh, et al” to prove that the world is unsafe.

    Even if the courts were prone to prosecute these things (they’re not), how exactly are they going to find out about your security footage? This is a live feed to a computer, not pictures to be developed at Walmart. There are only 4 ways that this is getting reported to the police. (1) You set up cameras, see your son jacking off on the couch and call the police on yourself; (2) you have a psychopath for a child who jacks off in front of a camera and then reports you for having child porn; (3) you give others access to your live computer feed or you record the images and show them to people who then report it; or (4) the police seize your computer for other reasons and find this video (that you’ve saved from the live feed). Number one is idiotic. Two is extremely rare. Three actually IS distributing child porn. Four means you probably have bigger fish to fry than a video from your security camera.

    I’m not saying that anyone should put cameras in their house. But they should not put cameras in their house because watching your children at home while you’re out is creepy, not because they’re afraid of possibly catching some naked kid and going to prison for child porn.

  83. Lately there’s been a Comcast commercial about their new home security system, and one of the shots in the commercial is a parent at work watching their kids come in the front door from school. Every time it comes on, I start ranting. How hard is it to have your kid check in with you when they get home? If you’re so worried that they’ll call from their cell from a friend’s house where they’re not supposed to be, have a landline put in for them to call from. I do not need cameras on my kid. (And I let her walk home from school in 5th grade, when she was 11. The woman around the corner from me drove her SUV the six blocks to the school to pick her three kids up, rather than have them walk home together. To this day, with the two oldest ones juniors and sophmores in high school, when she drops them off at school (we’re often right behind them), she sits and waits until she sees them walk the 20 feet into the building before she pulls away.

    What does that accomplish? If they wanted to ditch school they could turn around and walk right back out the minute she drove off.

  84. Finding this post is timely. I have an almost 7 yo boy and a 3.5 yo girl. They have 6 friends on the street, ranging from 13 down to my little one. All the kids play together fabulously, most of the time. There are 2 older, childless couples on our street – which is a dead end street – who are always trying to control the way that I, and the other mothers, raise our kids. Today I was informed by one of them that if she didn’t see an adult, outside, the whole time the kids are out from now on, she will call Child Protective Services. This makes me sick and pissed off for several reasons. It’s important to me that my children learn to have that independence and self-reliance that playing outside without mom can bring. I also have a lot to get done, during the day, and having the kids gone and playing allows for some freedom.

    There is no reasoning with this woman. It’s frustrating because I check on the kids about every 30 min, or they check in with me. I leave the front door open, as well as the front curtains, so I can always look out and see and hear what’s going on. The kids NEVER go near her yard, that she’s told me. So the only thing that makes sense is that she’s an obnoxious busy body who just has to be involved and have a say in everything.

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