Cameras capture large portions of our day-to-day lives, but as surveillance moves beyond public spaces and into the home, the effects of constant watching on kids may extend well beyond childhood.
In many ways, childhood is defined by a prevailing sense of surveillance. Whether it is the watchful gaze of a parent, teacher, or nanny, children are under constant observation by the adults around them from the moment they enter the world. While observation is unquestionably necessary for a child’s well-being, safety, and education, growing research suggests that the prevalence of surveillance technologies in the home may have a detrimental effect on children’s long-term emotional and cognitive development.
As surveillance technologies have become more accessible and affordable to consumers, monitoring has become a primary feature of modern childcare. It is now common for nurseries and daycares to broadcast children in their care on camera so that they may be monitored remotely by parents and caregivers. Video monitors have replaced sound monitoring in baby’s rooms, and increasingly parents are leaving these monitors in place well past infancy.
However, nothing in a child’s environment is neutral, least of all even the most well-intentioned surveillance of the adults in their lives. As surveillance technology continues to inhabit more and more of children’s everyday spaces, children are becoming increasingly aware of being watched and adapting to that gaze accordingly.
A New York Times parenting column feature on the use of nanny cams for checking in on kids revealed that even very young children are aware of the surveillance, and adapt their behaviours in response to being observed. Of the families profiled, one young subject at three years of age described the monitor in her room, saying “It’s used for Mommy and Daddy, so if I bang, they are going to talk through the camera”.
Childhood psychologists have also expressed concerns that being surveilled at such a young age may condition children to grow desensitised and immune to being filmed and watched in other spaces, and normalise the abnormal practice of having their every move recorded and observed. Privacy is not something children can touch or see, and therefore when it is not discussed or thought about, they may not even notice its gone.
Tonya Rooney, a lecturer and research fellow at the University of New England, Australia, has done significant research on the evolution of the experience of childhood in relation to technology, and while this area of scholarship is still evolving, Rooney and others interested in childhood psychology have suggested that the effects of near-constant surveillance in schools, public spaces, and now increasingly the home environment may have far-reaching consequences for the children growing up under this watchful gaze.
Rooney describes monitoring children with cameras in the home as a symptom of modern parenting that is driven by paranoia. Technology allows parents to keep tabs on their children’s every move, tracking their location and staying in near-constant contact, tools which have not previously been available to parents. A desire to keep our children safe is healthy and normal, but Rooney argues that at a certain point this desire for safety can border on mania.
Rooney argues that by constantly watching children and monitoring their every move, we are depriving them of some of the defining features of childhood, including developing a sense of autonomy and independence in a space of their own. We also communicate to our children that no space is private, and they should not expect solitude in any areas of their lives. Perhaps most insidiously, we are suggesting that no one is to be trusted, and the outside world and even the home is a place of danger and unknowns, impeding their ability to rationally assess and respond to the risks that occur all around. Most importantly, we deprive children of those special moments of solitude where they can enter a world of their own with imagination and adventure.
“Without a surveillance gaze, children have the opportunity to be trusted, to learn how to trust others, and perhaps to show others they can live up to this trust. Once the surveillance is in place, this opportunity is greatly reduced… if surveillance is applied as a response to fear rather than a more balanced response to any actual risks involved, then arguably both adults and children become reactive agents, contributing to a cycle of suspicion and anxiety, robbing childhood of valuable opportunities to trust and be trusted”. — Tanya Rooney
Cameras cannot replace or stand-in for a sense of trust, and nor do they help to make our homes safer. By watching children constantly we are feeding a vicious cycle of fear and anxiety, and teaching children that even the home isn’t entirely safe. By reinforcing the idea an attitude of constant vigilance, we are sending the message to our children that no space is sacred, that people are not to be trusted. Of all the spaces to be cautious and fearful, the home should not be among them, especially in the context of a child’s formative years.
Our smart home monitoring system very intentionally omits cameras for many of the reasons mentioned, but ultimately we believe that the home should be a place of privacy for you and your family. The intentional exclusion of cameras from our device was done to protect everyone’s privacy, but for families, in particular, this feature ensures that the home remains a place where children can exist without the control of surveillance. Keeping your children safe doesn’t have to mean watching their every move, and with our device’s capabilities, it is possible to monitor your children’s environment when you can’t be with them in a way that still allows them autonomy and independence.
Our system is an alarm, but it’s also a tool for ensuring that your home stays healthy and peaceful and that the environment is a happy one for your family. You can ensure that your children and home and safe, without depriving them of the opportunity to grow and exist in a room of their own.