Parental privacy: kids, we need to talk about Facetime

Little boy using digital tablet
Little boy using digital tablet Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

​Many moons ago I'd come in from school and sit on the phone for hours to my friends. It didn't matter that we'd only just left each other. We had so much to catch up on. Homework, gossip and, of course, boys.

For our children, nothing much has changed. But technology has. The twirling of the phone cord has been replaced with texting thumbs and interpretation of tone and mood from voice has been replaced by a visual.

FaceTime is fast becoming one of our kid's preferred forms of communication.

However, it's not proving quite as popular with some parents.

Trisha Holloway is mum to two children, a daughter aged 12 and a son, aged 10. She says that since her children have been using FaceTime, she's felt that her privacy and home has been invaded.

"There have been so many times when one or both of them have been FaceTiming friends at an unreasonable hour," she says. "Sometimes it's been late at night and other times first thing before school. A lot of those times we've been unaware of it and that's led to some embarrassing situations."

Holloway recalls coming out from the bathroom in a state of undress to find her daughter's best friend staring at her from the screen. Other times she's been having personal family discussions with her husband, unaware that there are more than family' ears listening.

"The other week I was talking to my husband about our budget and some financial concerns," she says. "I suddenly realised that my daughter had gone quiet as her and her friend listened in. Other times I've started telling my children off for something, only to be embarrassed to see their friend/s on the screen laughing."

Holloway isn't alone. Many more parents told me of their frustrations with FaceTime.

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In fact, for some it takes being 'put on the spot' to a whole new level.

"My 11 year old was FaceTiming a friend in his bedroom and the pair of them decided to try to organise a play date," says Laura Burke.

"My son's friend put his mum on, while my son walked up to me with his iPad so I could talk to her. I was walking out of the bathroom after getting out of the shower with a towel on my head and I've never met this woman before."

Martine Oglethorpe is an online safety and digital wellbeing educator at themodernparent.net. She says that FaceTime and any form of live streaming is beneficial in a number of ways.

"FaceTime means that we're experiencing something in 'real time' with the added value of intimacy that comes with seeing something visually as well," she says. "For many, it can be a greater way to stay in touch when far away to get a feel for someone's surroundings and environment and what's happening in their lives."

Oglethorpe notes that seeing someone visually can result in more connected conversations where non-verbal cues are more evident and more easily interpreted than a written conversation sent via text or chat.

However, that's not to say that there aren't downsides, particularly when it comes to our children's use of FaceTime or live streaming.

"Sometimes young people are not always aware of their surroundings when they're going live,' notes Oglethorpe. "They're not always aware of the other information they may be sharing, what they're wearing, what others in the room are doing and who else could possibly be viewing the FaceTime as well as the intended recipient.

"There's also the risk that screen shots can be taken when young people send intimate videos to partners or others who they believe are the only ones watching.

"These have been known to be more widely shared, causing great embarrassment and distress."

When it comes to the family home and using live streaming, Oglethorpe says that it's a good idea to have some boundaries and rules for your children.

"It may be that you keep FaceTime out of the bedroom and only in certain areas of the house," she suggests. "It may be telling other people in the house when you're going to FaceTime to ensure other family members don't do or say anything in the background they don't want shared.

"We also want young people to remember that despite FaceTiming being something that's generally done with one other person, we always lose control of our audience every time we do something online."

As for Holloway, she's implemented some rules of her own around FaceTime and so far it's been well received by her children.

"They've got a clearer understanding of what is and isn't acceptable, and have a better appreciation about how we feel and that our home should be a place where we can relax and have some privacy," she says.