Now that school is back in session, many kids are using laptops, iPads, smart phones and other electronic devices to take notes and complete homework.

But of course they’re also using these gizmos to text, email, watch videos and share pictures with their friends.

So do parents have the right to be checking their children’s devices on a regular basis, even if the kids object?

According to Dr. Steven Tobias, director of the Center for Child & Family Development in Morristown, parents have a right and a duty to do so.

“These can be very dangerous devices. Kids can get themselves into a lot of trouble with these devices, parents should always be aware of what their kids are doing,” he said.

“It’s like dropping a kid off at somebody’s house and you don’t know who they are and the parents aren’t home, I doubt many parents would be comfortable doing that. If parents aren’t monitoring who the kids are talking to and what they’re doing over the internet or a cell phone, they’re basically doing the same thing.”

Tobias said when it comes to parental monitoring, a good philosophy to follow is one put forth by former President Ronald Regan – trust, but verify.

“Parents want to trust their kids but they also need to verify that the kids are following the rules, that they are being responsible in terms of their use, and that’s really parental responsibility to do that,” he said.

He also stressed it’s very important for everyone to understand that the smart phones, laptops and other assorted devices being used by the kids belong to the parents.

“And because it’s the property of the parent, the parent can take it, check it, do whatever they want with it.”

He noted kids obviously want their privacy and will feel like parents are intruding. “But the parent really needs to explain to the child that they’re doing it to keep them safe.”

Tobias pointed out some parents are afraid to exert their parental authority because they want to be friends with the kid.

“Some parents are afraid that if they set too strict limits on the kid it’s going to interfere with the kid’s social life because so much of a kid’s social life unfortunately is conducted through technology. But it’s the parents responsibility to keep children safe, and that does require monitoring.”

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He suggested parents talk to their kids about what all the rules are when it comes to all uses of cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices.

“Parents really need to set the limits and make sure kids are very clear about what those limits and expectations are,” he said.

But what happens if a parent is concerned about a child’s behavior beyond the electronic devices and wants to know exactly what’s going on in their room? Is installing a “nanny cam” within the acceptable bounds of parental concern?

Tobias suggested that would be a pretty extreme step.

“I can’t think of a situation that would warrant that and I do think that’s an invasion of the child’s privacy,” he said.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

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