Is Tracking My Child a Benefit or a Burden?

Should I be tracking my child? And to what degree? Parents now have access to numerous apps that provide real-time tracking of locations, driving data, battery life, and more. One particular tracking app advertises that it “lets parents just be parents” and allows parents to “take back your peace of mind.” They even go as far as saying, “when your safety bases are covered, you’re free to explore, adventure, and enjoy the best parts of life.” Wow! This sounds amazing.

Just so I am clear… Once we download one of these apps and start tracking the every move of our child, our worries, our risks, and our stress will disappear? Yes, I know, this is just really great marketing that is tapping into the fears we all share as parents. But the real question is: Do we, as parents and as consumers, have realistic expectations for these apps? These tracking apps have millions and millions of members; indeed, these apps are meeting a market demand and certainly have the potential to be a valuable tool in our parenting tool-belt. But, again, it all goes back to expectations.

Do we really expect these apps to be fool-proof? They’re not. Log into TikTok or other social media outlets and you will see countless videos educating kids on how to change their phone settings to trick the apps into freezing their location. Let’s not kid ourselves; as tracking tools get more sophisticated, teens are finding increasingly clever (and sneaky) ways to get around them. Most parents feel much more comfortable being away from their child, with or without the tracking apps, if they know their child has a phone with them, for example. But more and more teens are leaving their phones where their parents think they are and then going wherever they want—with no phone at all.

Although many of these tracking apps are marketed as a “family social networking app,” we have to recognize that monitoring our loved ones is not synonymous with relational closeness. While these apps promise to keep us connected and safe, we must acknowledge that ultimately, feelings of connection and safety are not the role of an app but instead the role of us as humans. Trust is a basic human need and a central component to all relationships as it depicts our belief in someone’s abilities, judgment, and transparency. Although breeches of trust are to be expected (and forgiven), especially as our children start pushing those boundaries as they test their own comfort levels of independence, humans desire to trust and be trusted. Undoubtedly, as our children age and become more independent, it can be difficult to find the balance between their innate desire for independence, privacy, and trust with our parental desire to keep them safe.

While tracking apps assure us our “safety bases are covered,” we must acknowledge that they are not a replacement for critical thinking skill and values. It is our role as parents to raise humans who feel loved, trusted, and empowered to go out into the world confidently and independently. For some, parent-child relationships, tracking apps may make sense if it is a consensual, respected agreement with realistic expectations. For other parent-child relationships, it may not be a good fit. Regardless, just as we ask our kids to be critical thinkers, we too should be critical thinkers regarding the tools available to us as parents. Just because a tool is available to us as parents does not require us to use it.

As we evaluate our own expectations, let us also vow not to question the expectations of other parents. Those who track obsessively, you do you. Those who do not track at all, you do you. Those who meet in the middle and have siblings track each other, you do you. Being a teenager is really, really hard. If being tracked 24/7 is adding more stress to an already stressed-out teen, is it the right choice? Being a parent to a teenager is really, really hard. If having the ability to track our kids 24/7 is adding more stress to an already-stressed out parent, is it the right choice?

The good news is, as parents, we have choices. Lots and lots of choices. We have more resources, books, blogs, apps, tools, and opinions than we could possibly consume. Just like most parenting, tracking apps aren’t all or nothing. You can use it a little, a lot, or not at all. But, when it comes down to it, no one knows you, your child, or your relationship better than you.

Choices are good. Realistic expectations are good. And, regardless of what you choose, you do you. You are doing great.

Jacquelyn Eidson
Hello, I’m Jacque (pronounced Jackie!). I have been married to my high school sweetheart for nearly 23 years (we have 3 years of really bad prom pictures to prove it!). We have 4 children that keep us on our toes; Allie is 17, Caroline 15, Jane 13, and Wade is 9. After 12 years of being away from the full-time workforce, I returned just over a year ago as a small business coach for Mizzou’s Business Development Program. I also teach part-time for the UMKC Bloch School of Management. In the very early mornings, I am finishing up the final stretch of an Organizational Psychology PhD program; my dissertation research is the impact of mentorship on identity and self-efficacy in mothers returning to work after an extended child-rearing leave. I love being involved in this incredible community and especially love volunteering for educational initiatives. I am happy to be here and happy to meet each of you!