Every Step You Take: The Unintentional (and Dangerous) Consequences of Using Tracking Technology on Kids

Kids & Tracking Technology via The Risky Kids

Tracking devices: don’t let your pets or kids leave home without one.

 

It was only a matter of time. That’s what I thought as I read this article in the New York Times, which discusses ways in which GPS, Wi-Fi, and other tracking technologies are now being applied to parenting.

Specifically, the article mentions the Filip and the Trax. The Filip is worn like a watch, but acts as a tracking device. Beyond being able to map a child’s location, a parent can make voice calls to the device. And just in case things get real dicey, the watch comes equipped with a panic button that the child can push, which then activates the system to call parents or other authorized caregivers.

The Trax looks like a mini pager and clips onto the child’s clothing. Parents pair it with an app, which allows them to monitor exactly where the child is at all times. Parents have the ability to draw boundaries in which their children are free to roam. Wander outside the invisible fence and parents will be notified.  It’s not quite the same as micro-chipping our children shortly after they’re born, but I wouldn’t put it beyond anyone to try and sell us that “benefit” either.

As a parent who has experienced that sick, panicked feeling of not knowing where her child is, I can see the appeal of these technologies. And in certain situations, I can understand how devices such as these could be really helpful – the ability to rent one for a day while visiting an amusement park, for instance. But peer just below the surface and think about the ramifications of making tracking technologies a part of daily life. It’s murky, and the unintended consequences of tracking our kids’ every movement are swimming all around us.

Once such consequence is the undertone of anxiety it places on daily life. Sending a child into the world with a technology for “just in case” situations teaches them that the world is a dangerous place. We don’t have to say a word. By slapping on a watch or any other device, we’re implying that the possibility of something really bad happening is very real. When the CEO of Filip Technologies was asked about this very issue, he agreed that his product might increase a child’s anxiety, but said “… I would question whether that’s a bad thing.”  Kids need a lot of things these days – more free time, opportunities for open-ended play, unconditional love, good schools, safe and loving homes. They do not need anxiety added to that list.

Then there is the issue of trust. These devices imply to our kids that not only are we wary of the world around them, it sends a message that we don’t trust them.  In her independent endeavors, Elena has done a few things that haven’t been the best choices. She’s disappointed us, and yes, she’s broken our trust. But it is a far more memorable thing for a child to have experienced what it feels like to lose a privilege as a consequence of broken trust than to hear the implied message these Big Brother-type devices send to them: We never trusted you in the first place. Critics will ask if I’m okay with the possibility that these poor choices my child makes might result in injury or a dangerous situation. And my reply is always the same. Far better that she experience the negative consequence of a poor choice when the stakes are relatively small, and learn from it, than to wait for her to grow up and think she will magically know how to conduct herself as an adult when the stakes are high.

This kind of technology creates a false sense of security, and I’m afraid dependence on them will replace one of our most valuable and trusted human characteristics – our gut instinct. It’s that feeling in the pit of your stomach that something just isn’t right … whether it comes from you or your child, that so often saves us from doing something potentially dangerous. When we let a device decide for us, what happens to that instinct? I fear that it’s like a muscle. When we don’t use it, when we fail to listen to it, it loses its strength.

If any of the above reasons weren’t enough to convince a parent that maybe, just maybe, this isn’t the best idea we’ve come up with, let me point out that the makers of the Trax tout the dual benefit of the device … it can also be used to keep tabs on the family pet. Yes, son, we think you are about as responsible and capable of good judgement as Fido here. Don’t you just feel so empowered to make good decisions now?

Parents, when it comes to tracking devices for kids, save your money. Instead, choose to invest your time, effort and patience into showing your kids how to be independent and responsible … without someone or something watching over them every step of the way.

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