From the October 2018 issue

No, Parents Shouldn’t Track Their Kids’ Location and Activity – Build Trust Instead

A Detroit mom of one teen and one tween argues that parents should build trust with their kids, rather than spying through their tech.

parents should not track their kids

Today’s teens have had their lives chronicled on social media since the positive pregnancy test, so it’s no wonder that as soon as they are old enough to get phones, they’re constantly texting, Snapchatting, Instagramming and whatever new thing that’s come out in the five minutes since I typed this sentence.

I’m a Generation X mom, so all this technology seems like a miracle to me in a lot of ways. My teen can keep up with her middle school friends, now that they’re all at different high schools, without tying up my phone for hours. I can text her a picture of a shirt I think she’d like, and avoid the “moooommmmm” and eye roll if I guessed wrong.

But all this convenience means our teens can be a lot more secretive than we could when our main means of communication was a kitchen phone in the middle of the house, or – if we were lucky – a cordless we could carry into our rooms. Because she’s had her own phone for a year or so, I don’t really know exactly who my daughter is interacting with – something I worry about all the time, despite plenty of evidence she has nice friends and a good head on her shoulders. But the answer to allaying my anxiety over her growing independence is not to sneak a “stalkerware” app on her phone that lets me read every text, see all her activity and know exactly where she goes. I know that nice kids can start wandering down some bad paths. But I don’t think snooping on her every move will stop that. And these apps don’t truly protect privacy – Retina-X, maker of one of the more popular apps, shut down its services after hackers were able to get users’ photos.

I’m not a marshmallow mom about this stuff. She is monitored in lots of ways – I get an email from her school detailing her attendance status for each class and alerting me to any missing assignments. I have Find My iPhone enabled so I can track the phone’s location. I insist on having her account name and password for her social media accounts, and she loses her phone if she tries to get around that. She is required to hand the phone in by 9 p.m. every night, and she knows I can (and sometimes do) scan her texts. She hates all this, of course, but I’ve made clear to her she is too young to be wandering the darker corners of the online world all alone.

That said, she does have a right to a degree of privacy. If I don’t have reason to be concerned, I swallow hard and let her be. I want her to know she can set firm boundaries, with me or anyone else, and not have them violated because she’s just a kid. I want her to learn how to assess a situation, and how to get out of a bad spot. I want her to learn to say “no.” And I want her to do all of this because I’ve taught her how, not because she knows she’ll get caught if she steps out of line.

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I’ve worked on establishing that my kids can trust me to protect and care for them since the very first time I picked up and soothed them as crying newborns. Now, it’s my turn to trust them – that they can make good choices, choose good friends and know how to say “no.” I know parenting a teen is terrifying – but turning your home into a police state does not make it any less so.

Do you think that it’s a violation of privacy to track your kids? Would you ever do it? Let us know in the comments and be sure to take a peek at another mom’s perspective and why she would track her kids

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