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updated: 8/28/2012 5:32 AM

Does a 'perfect world' include 24-7 monitoring of kids?

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  • We often gripe about seeing these red-light cameras throughout the suburbs, but some suburban schools tout surveillance cameras that let parents log on to a website to watch their children.

      We often gripe about seeing these red-light cameras throughout the suburbs, but some suburban schools tout surveillance cameras that let parents log on to a website to watch their children.
    Daily Herald file photo

  • Video: Does video surveillance help?

 
 

The small puddle under the first-grader's desk that morning might have gone unnoticed by most of us kids in Mrs. Illingsworth's class. Even though I watched the mysterious puddle spread and knew that the only plausible explanation was that the girl who sat in front of me had just wet her pants, I couldn't be sure. The liquid was gone when we came back from recess. The girl's mother gave no indication anything was amiss when she arrived with Rice Krispies Treats for her daughter's birthday celebration after lunch. I am sure her mom never knew about that incident.

But if that girl had been enrolled at the new Children of America Educational Childcare & Academy in St. Charles, her parents could have watched the liquid drama unfold live on their computers at work or maybe on their cellphones during lunch. Perhaps they would have rushed to school with a new outfit and a counselor versed in how to handle such situations.

Children of America, whose other suburban locations include South Elgin and a new facility in Bolingbrook, prominently advertises that its schools are "equipped with an Internet video surveillance program that allows parents to monitor their children and classroom activities throughout the day."

"Parents use it," says Brittany Schwartz, assistant director of the Children of America facility in South Elgin, who adds that teachers and caretakers don't mind being watched at work. Officials don't track when parents log into the system or how long they watch, but Schwartz says parents say they like the AlwaysCloseBy technology.

"In a perfect world, one would have the ability to keep an eye on their most important assets 24/7 -- children, aging parents, and the businesses that fuel their family's economy," the Florida company's website proclaims. "Welcome to the perfect world of AlwaysCloseBy.com, where technology has been melded with the needs and desires of consumers and businesses to create the ultimate peace-of-mind experience."

While I am sure video surveillance is a selling point to parents, I'm not sure it makes for a perfect world. We want to protect kids, but do we really want to monitor them all the time? Do we really want to see everything they do? Doesn't the ability to watch your kids 24-7 make you feel guilty when you don't?

Early in my parenthood, I embraced the baby-monitor technology for safety reasons. I don't remember a single time when the monitor alerted me to danger. It often amplified a cough or odd noise to the point where I'd run upstairs to discover everything was fine. Other times, complete silence propelled me up the stairs to discover everything was fine. The monitor did give me about a 10-second warning on whimpers that would turn into cries I'd hear without the monitor. Its most memorable value was allowing me to eavesdrop on the cellphone conversations of the 7-Eleven clerk across the street. And even that generally was relegated to dry conversations about selling his car, often conducted in a language I couldn't understand.

Friends who had a video baby monitor said the constant pressure of watching a baby sleep was too great for them to handle. Our beloved sitter, Consuelo, who operated entirely on trust and wasn't subject to a nanny-cam, didn't need any technology because she'd sit next to the cribs and watch our babies sleep, even though we told her she didn't need to be that vigilant.

When it came time to ship the kids off to school, we rejected the Global Positioning System tracking device that clipped to a belt. We didn't bother with the cellphone technology that tracks a kid's every move. I think we have the ability to see what websites our kids visit or check the text messages they send, but we haven't felt the need to do so. We also took a pass on the key chain that not only tells a parent every place a kid has been, but also for how long and how fast he drove while getting there.

Had we had used this surveillance technology, my wife and I would have known when one of our three teenagers went to a New Year's Eve party without permission. But then we would have missed his guilt-inspired, heartfelt confession later. If we had high-tech key chains, we probably would know exactly who was driving when our car got the smashed-in bumper that our two new drivers say they know nothing about. I suspect that confession will be forthcoming, at least sometime in the next 20 years.

The stories kids remember from their early school years might be better than the videos. I bet the girl who wet her pants in our first grade probably could tell a pretty entertaining story about the day in fourth grade when a boy threw up red worm medicine and Pop Tarts all over the homework assignments on Miss McGraw's desk. Had there been video surveillance in those days, that video of me might be posted on her Facebook page.

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