Monitoring Kids

by Tina Holmboe 13th of August 2010 (archive)

Been reading a little this week as well. One item that caught my attention was an article by Jill Walker Rettberg, associate professor at the University of Bergen, Norway. It explores the new «mobile phone service» Bipper, which allow for extensive monitoring of the users whereabouts.

Without necessarily telling the user. Who is presumably a kid. Which, again presumably, people suddenly find acceptable. She’s not so certain. I am: if these were adults, the press and every politician we’ve ever had, dead or alive, would be up and screaming about it. In some cases it wouldn’t be easy to tell the two types apart.

Prof. Rettberg asks how this could possibly be adhering to the UN convention on the rights of children, and I confess I can’t see that it does.

But…. I am, on reading her article, asking myself if this is not yet another cultural import — from the US, specifically. Our friends on the other side of the pond are many things, and appear to have a vastly different philosophy regarding children.

First, the mandatory child–abuse angle: those who kidnap children are a few sandwiches short of a picnic to start with, but even they know enough in 2010 to ditch the bloomin’ cellphone first opportunity. So Blipper won’t do the kids any good.

In Norway, traditionally (for various subjective definitions of), a child is considered a miniature adult with specific rights and obligations (less of the latter and more of the former).

We’ve not been consistent about it, of course; frequently the rights bit need stand in line, pointlessly, after the religious rights of the parent for example. If an adult person drags his adult son to the hospital to have a piece of the latter’s penis cut off, the Collective would howl. Loudly. About the latter’s right to self–determination.

When a child is dragged, the only howl we hear is from the people who claim that stopping it would violate the parents rights.

But let’s leave that inconsistency with a suggestion to study Article 24 section 3 of the above UN Convention. A good, hard look at Article 37(a) is also recommended.

Back to the US. In my experience with the place — no, I’ve not lived there for decades ’pon decades — they (again, with subjective definition of whom that might be) tend to see things differently: children are somehow the «property» of parents, and within certain very broad limits theirs to do with as they wish.

Monitoring their every move is, with that ’tude in the back of the head, not at all surprising, but quite logical. If a child is a small–ish individual, he, she or it has the rights of an individual, adjusted for context. More on that later.

If, on the other hand, it is a sort of belonging, then — like pets – it needs monitoring and control. What to wear, what to say, where to go, what to talk about, what to read, who to meet, and, let’s not forget, when to have a religion and which types to love.

«Of course I can monitor! It’s my child after all». It’s not a person. It’s a child. Not my kind of attitude, nor as I remember Norway as a kid the way people thought when I grew up.

«We do it out of love!» — is another argument. Here’s where I have to stop and think.

Perhaps we should monitor children because children can’t monitor themselves, and need a firm, adult hand to guide and shape their morals and behaviour? Because we love them. See?

The problem is, of course, traffic regulations. Let’s savour the confusion for a moment, before I explain. :)

Why do Norway, and most other civilised countries, have rules and regulations for how to act in traffic? First we can, rather quickly, discount any idea that the Government (note the upper–case, Big Brotherish, «G») introduce rules to make more money. Let’s face it, there are easier ways.

No, the reason we have rules in traffic is that whilst a great many people manage to pass the test for their driver’s license, a large number of them promptly forget how to use it.

In other words: that forty–five year old executive in his/her new Porche and the thirty–five year old salesperson in her/his Audi (with family!) knows very well indeed that the faster they drive, the worse the consequences should an accident happen.

They also know — unless they wear tin–foil permanently — that roads, in particular turns, are graded and, no, they ain’t Nikki Lauda. Their car, no matter how modern, isn’t a hoover–equipped F1 either. Too much speed and they will drive off the road. Ice? Happens in Norway, albeit rarely — off to be part of the geography they go. Them and their children alike.

They know this.

And still they drive too fast, turn without indicating, keep too close too others, and ignore motorcycles and lorries alike. (Hint: don’t change lane just in front of an 18–tonne lorry without using your lights. If you have to emergency break, you’re purée no matter what the driver behind you does).

They act like children, by wilfully ignoring what they have been taught. It’s not ignorance. So we need adults — cops — to come in and give them a damned good talking to. Because we love them, and because we recognise they can’t do the Right Thing without a little bit of help. Good child–rearing practise, that.

A surprisingly good friend tend to drag up the in absurdum principle when I do this, oddly enough.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I want to add that, no, I don’t have kids. This will disqualify me in the eyes of some — tho there are so few who’ll read this I wouldn’t worry.

I am also disqualified, according to some, ’cause I’m gay. Well, bisexual, but let’s not use words bigger than those same people can handle.

Yet I am adult. Past forty, actually. What I notice around me, in adult society, is behaviour no child would ever get away with. We don’t do too well a job with either discipline or attitudes, no matter how many actual years we are.

We break our own rules. We break eachother’s rules. We break society’s rules. We are impolite, loud, and obnoxious. We throw temper tantrums when we’re caught at it, and blame everyone but ourselves.

But just as the idiot with his lead foot on the highway can be a responsible, caring individual in another walk of life, that rather immature kid who can’t be trusted to make her own lunch can be responsible enough in her dealings with other people to the degree that her privacy and integrity need not be violated by monitoring.

Perhaps, just perhaps, even kids are people and individuals, with rights and obligations adjusted for circumstance and context — just like all the rest of us?

What do you do to prepare your child for an adult life? What do you teach?