Family Surveillance: Understanding Parental Monitoring, Reciprocal Practices, and Digital Resilience

Authors Anouk Mols, Jorge Pereira Campos, Jason Pridmore
Published in Surveillance & Society
Publication date 2023
Research groups Communication in Digital Transition
Type Article


Parents who grew up without digital monitoring have a plethora of parental monitoring opportunities at their disposal. While they can engage in surveillance practices to safeguard their children, they also have to balance freedom against control. This research is based on in-depth interviews with eleven early adolescents and eleven parents to investigate everyday negotiations of parental monitoring. Parental monitoring is presented as a form of lateral surveillance because it entails parents engaging in surveillance practices to monitor their children. The results indicate that some parents are motivated to use digital monitoring tools to safeguard and guide their children, while others refrain from surveillance practices to prioritise freedom and trust. The most common forms of surveillance are location tracking and the monitoring of digital behaviour and screen time. Moreover, we provide unique insights into the use of student tracking systems as an impactful form of control. Early adolescents negotiate these parental monitoring practices, with responses ranging from acceptance to active forms of resistance. Some children also monitor their parents, showcasing a reciprocal form of lateral surveillance. In all families, monitoring practices are negotiated in open conversations that also foster digital resilience. This study shows that the concepts of parental monitoring and lateral surveillance fall short in grasping the reciprocal character of monitoring and the power dynamics in parent-child relations. We therefore propose that monitoring practices in families can best be understood as family surveillance, providing a novel concept to understand how surveillance is embedded in contemporary media practices among interconnected family members.

On this publication contributed

Language English
Published in Surveillance & Society
Year and volume 21 4
Key words parental monitoring, digital monitoring tools , digital surveillance, family surveillance, digital behaviour
Digital Object Identifier 10.24908/ss.v21i4.15645
Page range 469-484