Newsletter Signup

emailEnter your email address to receive our FREE weekly parenting newsletter
  View Email Archive

Sponsored Link

The Total Transformation®
Skeptical? Now’s the time to see
why parents love it!
Child Consequences Guide
Give kids consequences that work w/
James Lehman’s how-to video program.
Program for ADD/ADHD Kids
Easy 1-2-3 instructions for helping
ADD/ADHD kids. Free trial.
Get Through to Your Child
Step-by-Step video program shows
you how to change tough behaviors.

Is Big Brother watching your child?

Blake Robbins, a 15-year-old student at Harriton High School in suburban Philadelphia, is saying that his school administrators have been spying on him outside of school, via a school-owned laptop —and now he and his family have filed a federal lawsuit.

Apparently, Blake was approached by a school official who said they'd seen him with pills via the webcam installed on his school computer. The school used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence, and accused him of selling drugs.(As it turned out, the "drugs" in question were Mike & Ike candies.) Blake and his family are maintaining that his privacy has been violated, and the FBI is now conducting a criminal investigation. In fact, some say this case might go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Personally, I don't much like the idea of Big Brother watching me — even if the big brother in question is my child's high school. It's one thing to let students and parents know that surveillance is taking place via webcam (although I still wouldn't go along with that, I have to admit) but to not tell the students is another matter altogether. So far, the school isn't talking, but you have to wonder—whose idea was it to spy on the students at this particular high school? They did say the laptop policy of two-way webcams came about in order to trace stolen computers, but in that case…who was watching 15-year-old Blake Robbins as he ate his Mike & Ike's And how many other students have been spied on during the course of the school year

Another parent from the school district said that her daughter used to have her latptop on and in her room at all times—even when she dressed for school. These days, her teenager puts a bandage over the webcam, as do most other students.

I have to admit that I'm uneasy about the idea of anyone spying on my child at all—even me. If he ever gives me reason to do so when he hits the adolescent years, I'm going to tell him straight up, "You broke my trust. Now I'm going to be checking up on you." The unfair thing to me in this case is that nobody was ever given that choice—not even the parents.

Where do you stand on this issue Should schools be allowed to watch the students, or is this a violation of privacy

Elisabeth Wilkins is the mother of an 11-year-old son and the Editor of Empowering Parents. She and her family live in Maine.


If you find any comments that are rude or inappropriate, please contact us immediately.

  • Melody Says:

    Wow! I surely do hope that this becomes a supreme court case! Talk about walking all over a persons civil liberties, yikes. It sounds like an e-book (which is available for FREE)that has been recently published, entitled Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow. If you are interested here is the link to download it for free:

  • Dale Sadler Says:

    Schools should take necessary steps to protect students and catch them if they’re doing something wrong, but I think this went a bit too far to say the least.

    Using the technology to round up stolen laptops is a good idea, but the little girl example above is just one indication of how it can go dreadfully wrong.

  • Tammy Says:

    If we are not doing anything wrong we shouldn’t be worried who is seeing us. I definately don’t think the school should be monitoring what is being done in our homes but on school property I believe this is fair game. Keep your nose clean and you won’t have any problems.

  • AJ Says:

    I cannot believe any school district or school would allow (or even think of allowing) the invasion of privacy!
    If the student is not abusing the computer, the school should NOT be involved – AT ALL! Was this computer reported stolen? If not, and the reason for the spying is to recover stolen computers, why were they watching?

    If the student is at home, they should enjoy the privacy of their own home! They should not be worried that a bean counter may be watching their every move, and misinterpreting it the wrong way (and now there is evidence this can be done).

    Do students hang around with “the wrong” kids? Do they have private conversations with parents, friends or siblings to get something off their chest, or to get answers about things? What if the student spent a half hour watching a “stupid show” instead of studying for that math test? What if you rented a computer at RentACenter, do they have the right to watch you?

    There are better technologies for tracking stolen computers. There are “LoJack” type programs that can “Phone Home”. There are also software programs and settings to prevent accessing certain sites.

    I am sure the ACLU as well as a whole bunch of other lawyers are willing to take on the school about this.

    Is there anyone out there that thinks that the school is entitled to spy on kids?

    This just makes me sick.

  • Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Says:

    Melody, I hadn’t heard about that book — thanks for the info!

  • Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Says:

    Dale and Tammy: I actually agree with you both. Schools should take the necessary steps to protect students, and I also understand the need to track computers. I think surveilling students off-campus was a huge mistake, though. (If school officials were completely set on doing this, I believe the students and their parents should have been notified ahead of time.) I’m also wondering why the school had to use a two-way camera system “to track stolen computers,” when they could have just as easily placed RFID chips in the laptops. Something just sounds fishy here to me…as Dale said, it’s an example of how this kind of thing can go horribly wrong.

  • Annita Woz Says:

    Good post Elisabeth. Privacy is something worth protecting on every level, regardless of whether we are doing good things all the time or not! I’m hoping this whole thing will be revealed as a misunderstanding but I still seek transparent processes be put into place for webcam use of this type. There are plenty of GPS tracking systems that can do the same thing without compromising privacy. Skype and webcams are going to continue to come up in the list of media technology worries. For example, have you read about how the webcam is being integrated into social networking sites (especially dating sites)? I can see how live video will soon be introduced to younger audiences and can only imagine the power of visual imagery combined with manipulation of young minds. It is called ChatRoullette and it is going to be a challenge for parents at home and elsewhere.

  • Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Says:

    AJ, you make a good point. To say that because you own a piece of property, you have the right to spy on someone’s private life is just crazy. And where does it end? Thanks for commenting.

  • Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Says:

    Annita, I hadn’t heard about ChatRoullette. Oh boy, hang on to your hats, everyone! Technology is really a
    two-edged sword, isn’t it? It brings so much to our lives, but as a parent you really have to be careful what you allow your child to have access to.

    I think that’s why what this school did bothered me so much. The parents’ rights were taken away, along with the kids’ rights.

  • Says:

    No problem as long as the tracking policy is clear when the school’s computer is handed out to the parents. They should be signing that they understand the policy. The problem is many parents do not read what they sign. A school pc supplied with a web cam and the parents are surprised to find out it is used!! Duh!
    This is another example of what others around the world are saying about us..”Americans..dumb and dumber; fat and fatter”.

  • Susan Engel Says:

    Bravo, Elisabeth, for throwing this bone out there for us to knaw on! ;-) It is a sticky subject — a double-edged sword, as you later commented. Personally, I like my privacy, as well as the privacy of my kids. Indeed, it will be interesting to follow this case …

    Thanks again for providing us with some great food for thought, my dear! (How do you always manage to do that, anyway? Oh, yeah — I remember — TALENT!! That darn thing that I seem to misplace now that I’ve got my life so “together” — ah-hahahaha) :-)