Security firm helps parents track teens

Slipping silently through the front door past curfew, pausing to listen to parents snoring and avoiding the squeaks on the stairs – the tired and true method of sneaking in late.

And one that teens may soon find more difficult.

Big Brother won’t be watching, but across the country several alarm vendors are adding features to their systems guaranteed to rat our curfew breakers at every turn.

For example, Damar Security Systems of Sarnia, Ont., will e-mail, phone or page parents every timer their kid walks through the front door.

If the teen is a Ferris Bueller-type known to find loopholes, parents can pay a bit more for the company to install a camera and send a photo that confirms it was in fact their kid punching in before curfew. And that he or she wasn’t bringing home a keg of beer and the football team.

Sales manager Dave Lavoie said he sees the package as a great opportunity to really expand Damar’s hoe security business. “I think we could have quite a bit of success with this.

“Every parent’s lifestyle is so busy, we can’t be everywhere and checking in on the kids at all times,” he said. “With this, parents can look down at their Palm Pilot wherever they are and boom, they can tell if their child is home safe.”

In most cases, teens under surveillance aren’t told so they don’t start trying to beat the system. But for some, the whole thing smacks of something George Orwell might have dreamed up for his novel 1984.

“In a way it would make me feel violated and bad that my parents don’t trust me. I don’t want to be watched all the time,” said Jenelle Sadowski, 15, just home from school in an affluent Vancouver suburb. “It would be better if parents could just talk to their kids, because most will listen.”

Her mom agreed, but said if she had any concerns that her kids were lying to her or falling in with a wild crowd, she wouldn’t hesitate to install an invasive security equipment.

“I know they probably wouldn’t like it,” said Colleen Sadowski. “But if I felt I had to, I would. Unfortunately, that’s something I have to do as a parents and it’s because I care about their safety.”

She said she know her friends, especially those with problem children, would see the alarm system as a tool that could take the worry edge off their lives. And she believes that her daughter is growing up in a world that is far more dangerous that it was when she was a teenager.

“You know, I want my kids to be kids and have a good time and party with their friends like we used to,” she said “But today, you decide to have a party when your parents aren’t home and with cellphones and pagers the word is spread in minutes.”

He son has told her about parties getting out of control and strangers showing up with weapons. One ended with boys outside throwing beer bottles and hitting another kid in the face.

Mike Jagger, president of Vancouver’s Provident Security, has seen the same headlines and in them a need for service. He checks up on kids when parents are out of town, does a covert sweep around the house and looks in windows to make sure no rules are being broken.

He said he’s seen parties and alerts the parents who then “make a well-timed phone call.” And as more of his clients hear about the service that e-mails them when their kids are home, it is becoming increasingly popular.

“Our clients are telling their friends and it’s catching on,” he said. “One client uses it tons. They have three kids and on is a teenager who’s been causing problems and coming home quite late, especially when his parents aren’t home, and doing things he isn’t supposed to be doing.”

So Jagger programmed the alarm system to generate an alert when something’s amiss that is faxed, e-mailed or phoned to the parents who then call the house.

The youth’s parents keep the high-tech wiring secret, Jagger said.

“They want to give the impression they have eyes in the back of their head.”

He said when he was 17, he certainly wouldn’t have imagined he would be spying on teens for their parents.

“Things were a lot different then, that’s for sure. I don’t know what I would have thought of it. But on the other hand, today kids are hiring us to do security at their house parties because they know they can be crashed.

“I think this kind of monitoring can be a real help as long as it’s used properly.”

Published February 3, 2004 · Times Colonist · Written by Amy Carmichael

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