Technology makes it possible for parents to track children and teens through devices and mobile applications. But in addition to deciding whether they should follow their children remotely, parents have to weigh differing opinions about the line between safety and privacy.
“I'd rather catch huge mistakes early on than when it's too late,” said Amanda Berry, an Edmond mother who recently won a tracking device in a raffle and now is deciding which of her children needs tracking the most and why.
She's not alone among those parents who want to use devices or mobile applications to keep an eye on their children, whether they're riding bicycles around the neighborhood or to school, or they are new drivers who go out with friends.
Children are growing up in a world where they are in constant touch with their friends through texting and social media; they also know their parents can have that same access.
Now that Kelly Moody's 16-year-old son is driving, she and her husband like the idea of using a mobile app to track his location as a safety net, since teens always have their phones with them. The Moodys use the Life360 app (www.life360.com), which has a free basic membership and a premium membership, for both Android devices and iPhones.
“It's been a winning situation. They are all aware we have it,” the Oklahoma City mother said, adding that her children can check her whereabouts, too. “As long as they're honest, I don't even feel the need to go and pull them up on their app.”
But Suzanne Chew, of Edmond, has a different perspective about the freedom she gives her son, a high school senior. She said she would rather see him make mistakes and suffer logical consequences while he's still living at home.
“I don't read his texts. I don't follow where he's going,” she said.
“By the time that they're driving, it's my job to have taught them the right and the wrong things before they get to that point.”
She said she might take a different view if her children were reckless, hurting others or gave her a reason not to trust them.
“They are entitled to that trust until they have lost it,” she said, adding that she and her driving-age son have open lines of communication, which helps. “So far it's worked.”
Lenore Skenazy, of New York, agrees and addresses these issues on her popular blog “Free-Range Kids” (www.freerangekids.com) and in public speaking.
“The idea of parenting is somehow that if we don't have our eyes literally and electronically on our children at all times, they are in grave danger and we are bad parents,” Skenazy said. “This is a radical new idea of what parenting is supposed to be.”
GPS tracking company Securus Inc. offers the eZoom, a small rectangular device that people can put in a car or backpack or attach to a bicycle. The device then sends data back to a smartphone app so parents can see real-time tracking and location history and monitor driving speeds.
Parents can be alerted if teens go over a certain speed or travel outside a certain area, said Amanda Goldfarb, marketing coordinator for Securus. It can trace a stolen vehicle, and children can hit an “SOS” button if they feel they are in danger. They also can check in when they reach their destination.
“The children still have freedom. They can still move around,” Goldfarb said, “But parents are able to keep an eye on them even when they're not right next to them.”
Whatever parents' views on this issue, several agreed that communication was essential in protecting children as they gained more freedom. And as Moody noted, if parents have the technology, they should use it as another parenting tool.
“As long as I'm not doing anything like this in secret, I don't feel like it's violating any sort of trust with my kids. I don't feel like I'm hovering. It's a piece of technology that's advantageous,” she said.