Home Monitoring - Liberating not enslaving our children

Intamac, a UK-based specialist in home monitoring and control services, is one of a select group of exhibitors in the Innovators Zone next Thursday at our Digital Home Summit. Kevin Meagher, their CEO, will be doing a demo of a web-enabled platform that allows telcos to enter the lucrative home and business monitoring market in a way that complements triple-play strategies.

We asked him to give us a some context for his demo:

These are strange times for parents. We live in a world where a child is mysteriously snatched from a room whilst her holidaying parents eat dinner a few metres away whilst teenagers shoot each other in the inner cities. We know rationally that there isn't a child snatcher or gun-toting `hoodie` hiding round every corner. But we increasingly behave as if serious threats to our children are all around us, just waiting to catch us unawares.

The everyday stuff of our own youth such as walking to school alone, playing in the streets, crossing the town unaccompanied or just going off to play with friends now seems to pose huge dangers.

A recent report from the UK Children's Society warns that parents' fears about safety are stopping children from playing outdoors unsupervised. And, unsurprisingly it shows how today's parents are not giving their children the freedom to roam that they enjoyed in their own childhoods in the 1970s.

Why are we such paranoid parents? Why do we worry at the idea of our confident, outwardly worldy mobile using, Powerpoint presenting, technology-savvy kids even walking on their own to school - when we were making our own way at even younger ages?

Maybe it's because we live in a society where it's difficult to gets things in proportion and where insecurity is pushed at us from all directions.

With a background of car alarms, police sirens and the continual media diet of bad news and sensationalism we are driven to form a particular view of reality - that seldom accords actually with our own experience. What we know rationally to be the exception feels more like the norm producing an unrealistic view of the potential threats that may surround us.

But because we care most about our children, we worry most about them. And in the UK the amount of time we spend worrying about them is increased by a vigorous nanny state foisting ever more intrusive health and safety legislation upon us, fear of litigation and a growing compensation culture.

This means that parents and teachers alike are less and less likely to take the responsibility for supervising sports days, school trips or even neighbourhood activities. It's this that further isolates children from the sort of life experiences we enjoyed. Climb a tree? You can't be serious - just think of the potential consequences!

Of course there are real worries - like danger inherent in the vast increase in road traffic in the last 30 years. It's true that scores of people are injured by hit and run drivers every single week in our major cities. But then of course our offspring aren't being conscripted to be slaughtered in vast numbers in world wars or dying en masse of childhood diseases either.

What's the root cause that makes our generation of parents seemingly too fearful to let our children play out of our sight? Maybe it's because we might know a lot about the security situation in Afganistan and the current vagaries of the financial markets but do we don't know who lives in our street. We're isolated and isolation breeds suspicion. And so much of our isolation has been made possible by the technology that we surround ourselves with - cars, radio, television, video games and so on - that put up barriers to real communication.

We see this effect even in our traditional attitude to the systems we choose to monitor our own homes. Such systems certainly serve to isolate us further, so it's a moot point as to how effective they are. Sirens so loud that they are designed to attract the attention of patrolling police vehicles heighten anxiety and systems link directly to remote control centres by passing those around us. That is until the latest false alarm causes the police to refuse to attend and further activations further increasing our fear.

The last thing we think of these days is involving our neighbours in the protection of our property and, by implication, our families. Yet by using the right technology we can start to reestablish the sense of trust and mutual dependency that underpins the strongest of communities. Indeed it can give us structure and information that will keep the worst of our anxieties at bay.

We can't return to past but we can take advantage of what's available now to try and restore some balance in our lives. For instance, the same technology that often serves to divide us can be a platform to unite us. If an automated internet-based system can send you or your neighbour a simple text or drop you an email when a family member returns home and knowing this you or your neighbour can call round or even have a quick check in a web cam to see what they are up to when they return, we might start worrying a whole lot less and begin to convince ourselves that we shouldn't become prisoners of our own paranoia.

Then we might be more ready to take the risks that will enable our children to be released from being enslaved by a sedentary existence that extends little beyond the confines of the car, computer and television.

Time for us to work together so our children to get out and about again. Just don't get me started about the threat from virtual worlds...