Some of those who decide not to monitor family members argue that using such technologies undermines trust, effectively declaring that ordinary human connections are insufficient.
Jessica Beliveau, a junior at Broad Run High School and Julie Beliveau's niece, said she appreciates her mother Lynne's decision not to track her whereabouts. "I feel there should be some things that parents don't necessarily know," Jessica said. "And anyway, in the past, before all this technology, most kids turned out just fine."
But many parents say they would be shirking their responsibility if they did not take advantage of available technology to monitor their children's online behavior.
One mother in Ashburn who asked not to be named, to avoid embarrassing her child, said she and her husband read through their middle-school-age daughter's Facebook chat transcripts and discovered that boys had been pressuring her to send revealing photos of herself. The parents intervened and prevented a sexting incident; now, a few years later, they have decided not to monitor their daughter's Facebook account, to teach her the benefits of trust.
The struggle over just how much to watch varies from family to family, and no clear guidelines have emerged, according to school counselors. Some teens are now being monitored not only by parents but also by their schools, a few thousand of which have contracted with a California company, Geo Listening, to sift through students' social-media postings to look for potentially dangerous situations.
As attitudes shift, businesses keep coming up with new ways for consumers to keep tabs on relatives, friends and colleagues.
Although The Washington Post's poll found that only 6 percent of those surveyed use "granny cams" to monitor elderly relatives, market research indicates that the popularity of such products is likely to grow sharply. Life360, an app that allows families or friends to share their locations on their phones, has been downloaded more than 60 million times. "More children than adults say they feel safer" when their location is being monitored, said Amanda Zweerink, a Life360 vice president.