The Stranger Danger: Exploring Surveillance, Autonomy, and Privacy in Children’s Use of Social Media

  • Jason Nolan Director of the Experiential Design and Gaming Environments (EDGE) Lab
  • Kate Raynes-Goldie PhD candidate in the Department of Internet Studies at Curtin University, Australia, and a Research Associate at the Experiential Design and Gaming Environments Lab at Ryerson, Canada.
  • Melanie McBride


In this paper, we argue that censorware is one of the bogeymen that instills fear in parents whose children have access to the Internet. It is a fear that has the potential to restrict children’s autonomy and opportunities for engagement in social media. Fear regarding children’s online activities is one of the issues surrounding children’s Internet safety that does not appear to be situated in any particular social or cultural context. Among the most popular means of monitoring children online, censorware may prove even more harmful to children’s socioemotional wellbeing and development than any other form of monitoring (Boyd & Jenkins, 2006; Cloke & Jones, 2005; Helwig, 2006; Kamii, 1991; Laufer & Wolfe, 1977; Marx & Steeves, 2010; Pettit & Laird, 2002; Rooney, 2010). Inherent in the design and use of censorware are structures that inhibit children’s online and offline social interactions, their ability to develop fully as social actors, and their experience of being empowered to make informed and critical decisions about their lives, including choices relating to privacy. As well, reliance on surveillance-based approach-es to monitoring online activities of chil-dren (aged 5-14) may actually be leading to a greater danger: a decrease in oppor-tunities for children to have experiences that help them develop autonomy and independence. Our inquiry is located within a growing body of research that addresses the social implications of restricting, surveilling and controlling young children’s online activities versus nurturing individual autonomy through parental mentoring and critically reflec-tive software and social technology use.


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Author Biography

Melanie McBride
Melanie McBride is an educator and digital content specialist who has cre-ated interactive and transmedia stories for government, national media, museums and educational clients including The CBC, Phantom Compass, Trapeze, Learning Agents and Mystus Exhibits. She has taught digital media communications at the secondary, post secondary and indus-try level. She is working on a book about critical strategies for digital teaching and learning.
How to Cite
Nolan, J., Raynes-Goldie, K., & McBride, M. (2011). The Stranger Danger: Exploring Surveillance, Autonomy, and Privacy in Children’s Use of Social Media. Journal of Childhood Studies, 36(2), 24-32.