I "Tracked" My Kid. Here's Why You Should Too.
One mother's case for being big brother
Lifestyle journalist and television commentator Trae Bodge wanted a way to keep tabs on her 12-year-old daughter as she learned to enjoy her independence—so she downloaded an app to track her location. Ultimately, doing so increased the level of trust between mother and daughter. This is her story, as told to Best Life.
The spring before my daughter graduated fifth grade, she and her friends asked if they could hang out by themselves in the downtown area of our New Jersey suburb. This was a first for me. My daughter is my only child, and the thought of her being out and about by herself made me nervous. I know she and her friends are a smart group of kids, but like every mother, I worry.
Around the time my daughter asked me about hanging out, a friend introduced me to the Life360 App. That's an app that uses the GPS on your child's phone to show their location. You can set specific locations on the app, and then receive notifications when your child (or their phone, at least!) leaves or arrives at that location. I found this super helpful, especially when my daughter was out late in the afternoon and had been asked to head back to a friend's house before dark.
I'll admit that I looked at the app quite a bit in those early days. For about six months, I checked her location a few times whenever she was out without an adult, which was about once a week during the school year and more frequently during the summer. I felt like I was allowing her a reasonable amount of independence, but it was also a huge comfort for me to know where she was. Even if I wasn't looking, I knew it was an option.
One time, in the summer after my daughter graduated fifth grade, a friend of mine allowed her daughter to walk around town with my daughter. It was her daughter's first time doing this, but my friend felt comfortable with it because my daughter had already done it a few times. Turns out, my friend got so nervous that she followed them in her car. The girls caught her in the act and had a good laugh at her expense. Now, it's hilarious—but obviously, I could totally relate.
To be clear, my daughter has always known I was tracking her. Allowing me to see her location was part of the deal. I don't think she minded, especially since she was so young when we started.
Most of the time, my daughter was right where she said she'd be when she said she'd be there. But sometimes, if it was getting dark and I'd see that she wasn't heading home or to a friend's house, I'd text her to remind her. I think she appreciated that I was looking out for her. To this day, we haven't had a negative conversation about the app.
As time went on, I checked her location less and less. These days, I still have alerts for different locations, like her school bus, her school, her friends' houses, and her after-school activities, but I don't check the app much unless it's getting dark and she's still out.
I started checking less frequently because I felt she had adequate experience being out on her own. She clearly understood the rules and was good about following them, so there was a trust aspect to it as well.
Of course, my daughter is only 12, so we haven't reached those teenage years where she'll want complete independence. When the time comes, I'm sure we'll revisit the idea of location sharing.
I think it's a good idea for parents to track their child's location. No matter their age, knowing where your kids are can add an extra layer of protection. I do, however, think it's imperative for the child to be aware they are being tracked. Parents and children should have a relationship built on trust, rather than one where they are sneaking around behind each other's backs.
I think if children know their parent can see their location at any given time, they might be more likely to make smarter decisions. But for now, I'll be using the mindset that less tracking is more. And for more on how to be a great parent in the era of smartphones and social media, check out the 30 Things Parents Have to Worry About Now That They Didn't 30 Years Ago.
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