Should You Track Your Child’s Every Move?
All-knowing GPS technology may seem like a good idea, but there are drawbacks
When you were growing up, did your parents always know where you were? Every minute? Mine didn’t. Maybe that’s a good thing. If your child has a phone, GPS technology makes it possible to actually see where your children are all the time. Just because we can do something with technology, doesn’t mean we should.
The obvious benefit to tracking your children is that you know where they are. This comforting knowledge may feel like a good danger prevention measure, especially for families with younger kids. If you have young kids, chances are that when they are not with you, they are with another trusted adult. Tracking kids when they are with trusted adults may cause unnecessary feelings of mistrust with the adults in charge, who may feel like you are checking up on them rather than the kids.
Tracking children also creates unnecessary stress for you, as it makes you feel compelled to check your phone to see if the little green dots are still at after-school care or piano lessons. This stress comes with a cost as our kids follow our emotional lead, becoming more stressed when we’re stressed.
Tweens and Teens
While some parents say that they intend to build trust, tracking tweens and teens may cause problems in the parent-child relationship. Kids often feel that their parents are trying to control them by watching every move and not trusting them to make decisions. Secretly tracking them can easily weaken a relationship and, in some cases, cause a division that can last for many years.
Tracking can be used as a way to gather information so parents don’t have to check in with their kids to adjust schedules. While this seems like a good policy up front, it can further reduce communication with your child. Science supports the idea that to build attachment and connection with our kids, they need to hear our voice more than receiving a text. Tracking can also fuel your child’s desire to outsmart the system by simply trading phones with a friend to throw off their parents.
As with all technology, the use of GPS for tracking children is not bad in itself. But the questions are: How are you using it and what is it replacing? Conversation? Personal responsibility and accountability? When GPS tracking becomes how you do life, it may be time to take a vacation from the technology — remove it from your phone and talk more with your teens. Consider replacing the smartphone with a basic phone to foster more independence. Discuss daily plans with your kids, stay in touch during the day when needed, and raise your expectations for their behavior when they’re not with you.
Melanie Hempe is the founder of Families Managing Media, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families reduce screen overuse. She also has a nursing degree, and is Mom to four children. Find more resources at familiesmanagingmedia.com.
When to Use Tracking
Consider these tips for making GPS tracking useful.
* Use tracking on an as-needed basis only for an extenuating circumstance.
* Never use tracking to spy on your kids. Replace that urge with open, in-person communication.
* Be diligent about teaching safety skills, so they don’t become dependent on you using tracking skills.
* Don’t use it for convenience when a phone call will do.