Saturday, January 12, 2008

Surveillance no substitute for responsibility

A couple days ago I saw this article on breathalyzer tests being mandatory for all students at a New Jersey high school. A few days later I saw this about speed cameras being installed on mountains in Switzerland to catch people skiing to fast. It occurred to me that people are no longer expected to act responsibly because it is the right thing to do. They are expected to act responsibly because they are under surveillance and they might get caught.

Question. Does providing 24 hour surveillance of your children make you a good parent? Well, if your criteria for being a good parent is that your kids never get into major trouble and you deliver them to adulthood without the chance to ever screw up then yeah, I guess so. If you want to make sure your child never takes a sip of alcohol before they are 21 and you breathalyze them everyday I guess you could in theory make sure that this does not happen. But what have you accomplished really? Have you taught them how to use alcohol responsibly or have you just avoided having to deal with the issue on your watch? You can pat yourself on the back and say my kid never drank in my home meanwhile that kid is suddenly an adult learning about alcohol without any helpful guidance from you.

This isn't really about alcohol or people speeding on snow, but these stories are good illustrations of how people are no longer expected to act responsibly. As surveillance becomes more common, people think less about right and wrong. The focus becomes not getting caught. The difference seems small but is huge in terms of attitude and outlook. An individual looking to do what is right has a positive goal. They are using their moral framework to make a decision that will benefit first themselves and, as a result, society. Trying not to get caught results in decisions made out of expediency and any morality is coincidental. Worse it does nothing help develop one's moral framework. Society has little expectation for people to do the right thing anymore.

As parents we should be raising our kids to be adults and finding ways to trust them more, not less. People rise or fall to the expectations that you have for them. When I say trust, I don't mean blind trust. I don't mean saying "here's the keys to the car, see you in the morning". Trust takes work, it has to be built and it requires parents to take risks. It is simpler and becoming easier all the time to monitor our kids. If you don't believe me, here is an article about devices to monitor your kids when they start driving. Here is an article about parents buying breathalyzers to test their kids. You can monitor their location with GPS enabled cell phones. You can give them credit cards a monitor their purchases. In short we as parents have the ability to monitor our children far greater than our parents ever could and this will only increase as technology advances. Pretty soon there will be few decisions our kids can make without our knowledge. If we are relying on surveillance alone in raising our kids, we are only doing part of the job.

The real problem is we are raising a generation that is accustomed to being watched, to having guardrails in place to protect them. Individuals with morals, with a motivation to go out and build a life for themselves will make the right decisions out of a desire to do what is right. And when they are in situations where the guardrails don't exist they will be better equipped to handle it. It is part of our job as parents to help our children develop the tools to make the right decisions. This has to be done through experiencing life, not hiding life from them. Our goal as parents should be to produce an adult who does not need to be breathalyzed to see if they have been drinking, who does not need 24 hour surveillance, in short an adult who is responsible.

Our civilization has only two paths it can take as I see it. The first path, the one we are on now will gradually diminish our individual responsibilities to the point where we will have few or no decisions to make in life. What you eat, drink, think and do will be determined for you. This is not hyperbole. The guardrails will gradually become fences. As our decision making decreases and technology increasingly has the ability to make its own decisions, the value of humanity will diminish. The second path, the one we need to be on involves increasing individual responsibility and control over our own lives. Individuals are responsible for their own survival. As much decision making as possible is put back on the individual as well as the consequences of those decisions. Ultimately we will become more responsible for our individual existence or we will cease to be individuals and become a nameless faceless mass of humanity for whom the decisions are made.


Tony said...

As a parent I have a right to monitor what my kids are doing. With all the child molesters and stuff these days you have to protect your kids.

Freadom said...

I like to provide my child opportunities to prove to me that he can be trusted. When he makes a mistake, we deal with the consequenses and use that as a learning tool. And that's exactly what we did when my 9YO discovered he could find porn on the internet.

He asked me one day why I still let him go on the Internet when I'm not right there to watch him, and I tell him it's because I trust that he won't make the same mistake twice.

The end result is he learns to be responsible for the decisions he makes, which should be a good skill when I'm no longer around to protect him.

Add to Technorati Favorites