I’m starting this week with a philosophical question. Is it justifiable to monitor your child’s whereabouts using their mobile phone and a location tracker app?
With our eldest daughter starting school later this year, we recently crossed the Rubicon and gave her a mobile phone. We held out for as long as we could but figured that in the 21st Century, sending a kid to high school without a phone would be like sending her to school in a clown outfit: She’d stand out and would be a target.
There is a logic behind giving her a phone now. We’ll spend the next few months establishing ground rules. If she makes any mistakes (posting silly messages to group chats or that kind of thing), we have a little time to gently put her right before she enters the less forgiving teenage world.
Also, one of the schools she could attend would involve a commute. As a parent, it would be very reassuring to have the ability to monitor her progress on the way home.
Just to deviate for a moment and tell a story from my youth, as a primary school child I caught a school bus but had to walk the last mile of my journey home along an isolated, single track road. To notify my family I had been dropped off by the bus and was now on the final leg of the journey, I had to leave a bright red toy in the shape of a Wellington boot on a fence post. If someone in my family drove past at 4pm and there was no boot, they knew to go looking for me.
How times and technology change, hey? The thought of a child having a location tracker back then was unreal. Anyway, back to the question I have posed.
Is there a risk that using some kind of security or location tracker could do more harm than good? Would it give Helen the message we didn’t trust her?
I have heard tracking apps can backfire spectacularly with older children. Children can feel they aren’t trusted, so they become withdrawn and secretive. The one thing I’m learning very quickly with tweenage children is to always keep your cool, especially when it comes to technology. You want a relationship where they can come to you and talk to you, no matter what’s bothering them and regardless of whether they have made a big mistake.
Telling kids off for making a mistake using tech will get you nowhere. They’ll freeze you out and you’ll have no idea what they’re getting up to. Unfortunately I’ve seen the impact of this on other families and the results are not pretty.
Alternatively, children can feel claustrophobic if they know a tracker app is on their phone. They might sneak out to the park to meet friends and drink contraband cider, but leave their phone at the local monastery or animal rescue charity to give the impression they’re doing something constructive.
Okay, suggesting kids might leave their phone at a monastery or animal rescue centre is poetic licence, but you get the idea. They’ll leave their phone at a trusted friend’s house and head off to drink their cider. They’re then left with no way to contact you if things go awry and they need urgent help.
Teenagers have pushed boundaries and limits since time immemorial. Better they do it with the ability to contact you if they get in real trouble than to leave them high and dry when they need help.
Of course, I have got to this point without mentioning the obvious. If your child has an iPhone, the pre-installed ‘Find my iPhone’ function can be used as a basic device tracker and if they have an Android device, Google’s ‘Find My Device’ will do the same job.
Neither is as good as the paid-for security or tracker apps, but you’ll get the basics of their location and you don’t have to pay for it. The question is whether you should you use of tech like this simply because it exists?
I’ll be honest, I’m torn. In the early days while Helen gets used to commuting to school, I would feel happier and reassured if I could monitor her progress on the way home. Emphasis on the word “I,” I wouldn’t see a huge benefit for her.
I wouldn’t want to do it forever for the reasons outlined. I don’t want her to get secretive or think she has to hide things from Mrs Adams and I.
Many parents think mobile phones are safety devices. I think that’s very misleading. I know they give a sense of security but if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s the convenience they provide that is their real appeal.
As I say, I can see a benefit to monitoring a child’s whereabouts when they’re younger and maybe travelling to school on their own for the first time. Monitoring whereabouts long term, however, well, I can easily see how that could go very, very wrong and I would have no wish to do it.
What do you think? Maybe you have used tracker devices or apps or use Find My iPhone or Device to keep an eye on your kids’ whereabouts? If so, what’s your experience? Do leave a comment, I’m really interested to know how it works for you, or indeed, if you’ve had a bad experience.