Find my iPhone or find my child?

Anna Compagno

A common fear amongst most is being watched. Whether it’s walking outside alone late at night or hearing the floor creak upstairs while home alone, no one likes the idea of eyes on you at all times. Although this may be irrational and overdramatic paranoia, with today’s technology, this fear has become a reality. Smartphone users now have the ability to track and watch a person’s every move. Parents, especially, now have the power to invade their child’s privacy and monitor where they are at all times. Not only is tracking an invasion of privacy, but it also damages the relationship of trust between adolescents and adults.

With apps like Find My Friends, Find my iPhone, MySpy, Life360 and Footprints, parents have the ability to either anonymously or openly use GPS to locate their children on their own devices whenever and wherever.

Illustration by Anna Compagno

Walking through the halls at school, it’s noticeable that a large majority of students own a smartphone, meaning that many parents have the ability to track their kids. In a December Bark survey, 39 percent of students self-reported that they are tracked by their parents, along with 9 percent who are unaware if they are located or not. Almost half of the student body, 47 percent, believe that it is not okay for parents track their children’s location, whereas only 26 percent think it’s ethical.

According to Michael Ungar, a family therapist and researcher at Dalhousie University, parents today confuse the concepts of monitoring and tracking. He believes that monitoring helps children develop relationships, improve character and instill a sense of belonging in their families and communities, whereas tracking damages trust in a relationship.

“Monitoring tells our children ‘I care’ and that as their parents, we want to teach them how to keep themselves safe. Tracking says ‘You are incapable of looking after yourself.’ There’s a big difference between those two messages,” Ungar said.

One of the most important parts of growing up is learning to be independent and earning trust from your parents. I enjoy the freedom of being able to do things on my own and not having to report my every move to my parents. Being a senior in high school, I’m going off to college in less than a year, and in a month I will be a legal adult. I am more than capable of going through my day without my parents having to check my location, and I am also responsible enough to check in every few hours. Privacy is a way of developing self-sufficiency.

Part of being independent is handling responsibility. Kids shouldn’t be able to roam free all by themselves and never check in with their parents throughout the day or night, but by earning their parent’s trust, they should be allowed to have freedom. Earning trust involves responding frequently when your parents are trying to get ahold of you, and once trust is earned, maintaining it.

One of the main reasons that parents potentially track their kids is because of safety. Many feel more at ease knowing that within seconds they can locate their children and make sure they are safe. Although this is valid, what difference does it make to send a text or dial a call? Both are quick forms of communications, and teenagers know by now how to respond and check in frequently.

If someone is not communicating effectively, for instance not picking up a call or responding to a text, then parents should handle the situation in their parenting style, whether it’s taking away car keys or devices, grounding, extra chores or other forms of repercussions. There are other consequences besides tracking that teach lessons and are more effective.

Just because GPS technology is available now does not mean it needs to be used. Were our parents tracked growing up? No. When my parents were in high school, cell phones were not as common, and they were simply given the task of coming home before dinner. They were able to make it through without their parents hovering over them, and I believe the same applies to this generation.

I encourage parents to, rather than automatically default to a GPS system, communicate with their kids. A healthy relationship is built on trust, and tracking gives the impression that your child is incapable of being independent and learning to go through life on their own.