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March 7, 2009

Line blurry on privacy, safety of kids

Parents today have more ways than ever to keep tabs on their children.

With the right gadgets, it only takes a few clicks for tech-savvy parents to find out exactly where their teen driver is, how fast he is driving and whether he's wearing a seat belt. Parents have the technology to monitor where their children go on the Internet, who they e-mail, text and talk to; and even whether they bought ice cream or chips with their school lunch.

Every parent wants to keep his or her child safe, and these new tools have the potential to help. But they also pose new challenges for parents struggling to negotiate the already fine line between setting limits and giving kids enough freedom to grow.

My kids are only 11 and 5, and already, these issues are starting to surface. I recently signed up to monitor my kindergartner's lunch account online after she struggled with "remembering" she could only get ice cream on Fridays; cybersafety was the featured topic at our sixth-grade parent night last fall.

The line between safety and privacy is becoming increasingly blurry. When are we truly looking out for our children's best interests, and when are we invading their privacy? How much invasion is justified in the name of protection?

Statistics about teen driving fatalities make a compelling case for GPS tracking devices, "black box" event data recorders and miniature cameras in cars. With car crashes the leading cause of death among teens, parents are right to want to use any means necessary to keep their kids safe. We know teen drivers are inexperienced, more likely to be distracted and more prone to risk-taking. We also know they're more likely to be better drivers with Mom or Dad inside the car.

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