It seems simple enough. Put some kind of tracker on our kids, and we know they will be safe. We can check up on them and find out where they are whenever we feel like it. Job Done.
…but is it? When thinking about using a GPS location tracker for children, it’s a decision you shouldn’t take lightly and warrants some deep, forward thinking.
There’s a good chance you are here because your toddler hid behind a tree at the park and you couldn’t see him for 30 seconds, which aged you a decade. Maybe your daughter went out at lunchtime for an hour, and turned up at dinner time, just as you were about to start ringing around all the hospitals. You’re here because whatever the scenario, it scared the wits out of you, and you NEVER want to feel like that again! Technology seems to be able to do anything these days, so surely it can help?
Well, technology CAN help, and in many instances GPS tracking devices may offer the perfect solution for your family. However, there are a few points you should to take into consideration before deciding to take the plunge, and I’d like to arm you with the information you need to make an informed decision about whether bringing GPS technology into your child’s life will bring you the peace of mind you are looking for.
Do you have the right?
Let’s get the legalities out of the way. Is it legal to GPS track another person, either with our without their knowledge?
Different countries and states have varying laws when it comes to GPS tracking. It’s a fairly new technology, and there haven’t been a huge amount of cases hit the courts relating to tracking another person, so as it stands at the time of writing this article, the law is quite loose. Thankfully, what is there, follows common sense.
In the US, generally most states recognize you as an adult at 21. In Europe and Australasia, you are classed as an adult at 18. So as I use the words ‘Adult’ and ‘Child’, please keep your location in mind as I am referring to the western world in general, as the lay of the land in regard to GPS tracking laws are similar in all these continents.
You absolutely cannot GPS track an adult without their permission. There are some exceptions to this rule of course, but we are not here to discuss adults, and if you came here wanting to know if you can covertly track your boyfriend or wife, the short answer is no, you can’t. Move on, this article isn’t for you.
It is legal however for a parent to GPS track their child without their permission. Not because the courts have ruled that it is, but rather, because the courts have not yet ruled that you can’t. Parents have a duty to care for and look after their children, which includes knowing their whereabouts. Unless neglect or abuse are involved, children are legally bound to obey their parents. Therefore, using a GPS tracker to locate your child without their knowledge is perfectly legal. So although legal, please read on to help you decide for yourself if you believe it is also ethical, or even good parenting.
I would recommend that if you are thinking of using GPS location tracker on your child or teenager, you check the current law in the country or state in which you live. Children’s Rights to Privacy groups are very active around the world, it’s a hot topic, and this author believes that GPS Location Tracking laws will hit the spotlight in the near future.
Peace of Mind vs. Stifling Independence
As modern parent and a fan of technology, keeping an electronic journal of our children’s movements and activities appears at first glance to be a natural evolution into the 21st century. Technology is fantastic, it frees up our time, makes us efficient, and generally makes life easier. The internet tells us what we need, why we need it and before we know it, we have incorporated these ‘things’ into our lives with barely a thought.
If you are any kind of responsible parent, you wouldn’t just throw your child into any old school, you monitor your child’s internet usage and you censor their exposure to the outside world to what you believe is age appropriate. This is because we are aware that a child’s brain is constantly developing, and what happens during these formative years directly affects their development and what kind of adult they ultimately grow into.
While you are at the park with little Billy and his GPS bracelet, with peace of mind that you will easily find him while playing an innocent game of hide-n-seek, what effect is it having on little Billy? I think all of us will have the memory of being separated from our parents at the market or park or fair as children. It was scary. All on our own for the first time, terrified and alone. The moment we were reunited with Mommy, we grabbed her hand and held on so tight, promising ourselves we would never let go again. Of course, we did let go…. at a time when WE felt it was safe to do so. That first moment we got lost taught us a huge lesson. It taught us about independence and confidence – and that we were young and vulnerable, and that we shouldn’t stray from Mommy’s side.
As a child grows up, they test their independence (and our patience), over and over again, until they reach the point where they start feeling more confident about the big wide world. Independence and confidence are skills that are learned, often as children by learning from their mistakes. We fell off that bike 10 times before we finally rode it by ourselves…. And behind us was Mum or Dad calling “You don’t need me! You can do it on your own!”.
So back to the tracker… if your toddler learns that every time he needs Mum or Dad, he can simply press a button and they will come running, then he may be lulled into a false sense of security. If you child knows that every time he runs off to explore another aisle, or the river at the back of the park, or the drain at the end of the street, that Mum or Dad will soon be there to collect him, then he will never develop that scary feeling of being alone and lost and will never understand that it is also his own responsibility to stay safe and close to home. You may also find you are becoming more and more dependent on that tracker, and using it more and more than you ever hoped you would, as your child has accepted it as an item that allows him or her to explore further and longer than his own natural instincts would otherwise allow him to do.
This is 2018, not 1984
If you went down the route of baby monitor, nanny-cam, toddler tracker, school bag tag, teen vehicle tracker…. your child has literally been ‘under surveillance’ since the moment they were born. This is 2018, not 1984, and this kind of snowball effect through technology can happen without us even realizing it.
Using tracking devices on teenagers opens up a whole new can of worms, and rather than give you peace of mind, can actually rip families apart. Trust, respect, confidence, independence – these are qualities we want to inspire in our teens, and a single GPS tracker can reduce all of this to rubble faster than you can say “You’re grounded!”.
As our children move through their teenage years, we are compelled to give them more freedom and to support their growing independence, but this does’t stop us as parents from worrying. Perhaps moreso than we ever had up until this time in their lives. To use location devices at this age becomes even more appealing as we find ourselves wondering more and more what our teens are up to. Although technically it is legal, some teenagers may feel that this is an invasion of their privacy, and shows lack of trust, and so is a topic that requires much discussion, thought and understanding between family members in order to be an effective tool rather than a dramatic argument maker.
My article, Teen GPS Tracking Devices – Would You Dare to Track your Teenager? goes into this in much more detail, and is definitely worth a read if you are considering tracking your teen.
When using your GPS Location device with your child, ask yourself, is this situation appropriate? Is the tracker going to provide value on this trip or journey? Am I being over protective? How will this affect the relationship I have with my child?
We want our children to grow up strong, independent, confident beings… And letting go is one of the hardest parts of being a parent, but it’s essential in order for our kids to learn. So don’t become dependent on your tracker. It’s not the same as putting a gps collar on your dog, or a tag on your phone.
Ultimately, the healthy development of our children is more important than our own peace of mind. So take your eyes off your phone and newspaper, and actually WATCH your child on the slide or the see-saw from time to time… if nothing else, these are wonderful moments we should take notice of and cherish.
If you have access to Netflix, I highly recommend watching “Arkangel” – the second episode of season four of Black Mirror – a standalone story about a GPS Location Tracker chip that parents can implant in their children. It all starts innocently enough, a momentarily lost child, and a worried parent looking for solutions. As the story slowly turns darker we begin to understand how a device like this might affect family relationships. Written by Charlie Brooker and directed by Jodie Foster, it is personally my favorite episode in this brilliant series and relates perfectly to the information you have read above.