Does the Government Really Need To Help Parents Spy on Their Kids?

A robust market of monitoring technology already exists. There's no need to boost it further by government fiat.


Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D–Fla.) is drafting legislation—called the Let Parent's Choose Protection Act, or "Sammy's Law"—that would require social media platforms to let parents track their children's activity. The bill is named for Sammy Chapman, a teenager who died after taking fentanyl-laced drugs he purchased over Snapchat.

"SAMMY's Law is designed to enhance the ability of parents to protect their own children from the perils of social media such as suicide, bullying and substance abuse," Wasserman-Schultz told NBC.

It's unclear how exactly the bill will "enhance" that ability. Surveillance software is already widely available for parents concerned about their children's activity on social media. Safewise reviews dozens of such programs, many of which allow for location tracking and email or text monitoring. There are also app-monitoring and website-blocking features for various devices.

Such software can enable helicopter parenting, which poses its own risk to kids. This kind of surveillance "can undermine a kid's budding sense of independence," Lenore Skenazy wrote last year in Reason. "When someone else is in the driver's seat, all you learn is passivity."

But even if you're fine with that, there's no need to boost it further by government fiat. "The government is not the only source of moral authority in society—quite the contrary, since the proclamations of political figures are often dubious," writes Reason's Robby Soave in his book Tech Panic. When tech becomes a problem for teens, "the burden of countering it must devolve to families, teachers, coaches, pastors, and other local sources of guidance."