Should Parents Track Their Children?

Last updated: 03-12-2020

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Should Parents Track Their Children?

Find all our Student Opinion questions here.

Do your parents use your phone or some other device to track you? If yes, does it make you feel safer that they know where you are? Does it limit your freedom? Do you care one way or the other?

And if they monitor your location, do you know why? Is it because GPS tracking reassures them that you are safe? Is it because they don’t fully trust you? Is there another reason?

Do you have siblings or friends whose parents track them?

In general, do you think parental use of location trackers is a good use of technology? Does it make children safer and relieve parental anxiety? Does it make teenagers behave more responsibly? Or, does it negatively affect children’s sense of freedom and independence?

In “The Rise of Location Trackers for Kids as Young as 3,” Jessica Grose writes:

One of my fondest memories from late elementary school is walking a mile home with a pack of friends. It’s a composite of many days when we’d stop at a park next to the train station on our way home and play tag or swing, our legs pumping in the cool fall air. Our parents didn’t know our exact coordinates, and they didn’t seem to care that we didn’t come home at the same time every day. I recall feeling high on that freedom — it’s a feeling I want my kids to have, too. This vision of childhood seems harder and harder to realize today.

Many of the products marketed to parents include some texting, phone call and pedometer features, but one of their major selling points is safety. For example: “The Wizard lets kids be kids and gives parents the confidence to allow their children to explore the world outside, without the stress and fear of wondering where they are or if they are safe.” Parents in online reviews echo the latter sentiment, about assuaging parental anxiety — “Nowadays you just can’t be too safe!” these parents are saying, and, “You want to know where they are and that they are safe at every moment.” But these products miss the point of what it means to be a kid, hampering children on the road to independence. And more heartbreakingly, trackers may prevent our kids from feeling truly free.

Ms. Grose writes about why her friend uses the Gizmo watch to track his daughter:

He described his fear as a “vague paranoia,” something deep within his lizard brain that’s calmed by knowing where she is. To him, the Gizmo provides a compromise for his family. Deep down he does want to give his daughter freedom like he had, because he started walking to school in second grade, but he still feels the need to find “a middle way” between giving her total independence and keeping her on the parental leash. “I think helicopter parenting has a real cost” for children, he said. GPS tracking of such young children is so new, there isn’t reliable research on it — most of the research about children and smartwatches is about weight loss using the pedometer function. With that caveat in mind, the child development experts I spoke to were concerned that tracking young children may get in the way of their developing autonomy and responsibility, and it may also make them more anxious. After all, adults feel completely freaked out when they discover their location is being tracked without their active consent — why wouldn’t kids? During the elementary school years, children should become more and more responsible and independent, and we need to give them appropriate boundaries. If you tell them that they’re not allowed to leave the neighborhood, and they need to be home at a certain time but you’re still monitoring their movements, that’s a problem. “You’re trusting a device instead of trusting your child,” said Sally Beville Hunter, assistant clinical professor in child and family studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. They might not be learning critical skills like knowing where they are and keeping track of time, if they know their parents will be yelling at them through a smartwatch to come home for dinner, Dr. Hunter said. Children’s brains are still developing. If you don’t let them develop these skills, she said, “The part of their brain that’s supposed to be maturing in a more responsible way has shifted.” Dr. Joseph F. Hagan Jr., a clinical professor in pediatrics at the University of Vermont, was also concerned about the subliminal messages this kind of monitoring may be sending children. The risk to their social and emotional development isn’t just about threats to their autonomy; it’s also about the anxiety that can arise from “being exposed to a world being painted to them as dangerous, when it’s not all that dangerous,” Dr. Hagan said. There is some evidence that anxiety among children is on the rise — a study published in 2018 showed that diagnoses of anxiety for children 6 to 17 rose nearly 20 percent from 2003 to 2012 — and we don’t need to add to it, especially considering that children are far safer by many measures than they were 50 years ago.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

What is your reaction to the article? Do you think parents and caregivers should use GPS devices to track their children? Are these trackers beneficial to parents? Are they helpful to children? Why? Do you think there is an age at which it is appropriate or necessary for children to be tracked by their parents using GPS? Do you think trackers keep children safe? Do they make kids and teenagers more responsible and accountable because they know their parents are watching them? Do you think there are downsides to parents tracking their children using technology? Do you think the use of GPS trackers might negatively impact child development? Do you think they erode trust between parents and children? How protective are your own parents or guardians? Do you think their fears about your safety are reasonable, or do you think they are overly concerned? Do they generally worry about where you go and with whom you spend time? In general, how do your parents know if you are where you are supposed to be? When you are out, do they have a way of tracking you or getting in touch with you? Do you have agreements about when and how frequently you have to check in with them? Should your parents just trust that you are where you say you are, or do they have cause to be worried? Would you characterize your childhood as one with a lot of freedom? What about now that you are a teenager? Are you allowed to go out alone in your neighborhood? With friends? To school? Do you wish that you had more freedom, or do you think your parents give you the appropriate amount of independence?

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.


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