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Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Teens and technology: Should you track your kids?

Posted March 10, 2020 8:47 p.m. EDT
Updated March 10, 2020 8:48 p.m. EDT

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Editor's note: Laura Tierney is the founder of the Durham-based The Social Institute, which helps kids and families navigate social media.

As a social media coach, I travel the country meeting with students and their parents. Without a doubt, one of the questions I’m always asked in my parent presentation is “Should I track my child’s location?“

It’s a loaded question and one that often starts a debate. Sure, our parents couldn’t track us when we were teens and we turned out just fine. But now that we have the technology and ability to do so, should we? It’s a topic Amanda Lamb recently wrote about for Go Ask Mom. As Amanda writes, “It’s easy to argue that we shouldn’t track our children, that it’s an invasion of privacy. But the converse of this is that the genie is out of the bottle. Why would you not want to know where your child is when technology has made it possible to have this information?”

While all families are different and there may be special circumstances, my general thought is that it’s OK to track kids, but not to spy. In other words, be upfront with your intentions. If you want to track each other as a family for safety and peace of mind, that’s fair game as long as it’s done respectfully and out in the open. That means don’t hover over your phone, watching every movement your child makes. But if curfew has come and gone, or you just need peace of mind, then this technology can be a blessing.

Students need some degree of autonomy and privacy, and parents need to know their kids are safe. Here at The Social Institute, we advise parents to “huddle, not helicopter”— that means leaning in with your kids and having proactive conversations about expectations, family standards, and yes, how and when you will be monitoring them.

Lisa Damour, psychologist and the author of “Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood,” suggested in a New York Times article that parents treat tracking as temporary — perhaps to rebuild trust that was broken, or just to ensure readiness. “Parents might help their tween or teenager move toward independence by saying, ‘We expect you to tell us where you’ll be, to let us know if your plans change and to respond if we reach out. We’ll confirm your location by phone for a while, but once we feel that you’re on top of things, we’ll stop looking over your shoulder.’”

Finally, keep in mind that our teens will always be one step ahead of us when it comes to technology. According to a Business Insider article, teens are finding ways to outsmart their parents' location-tracking apps, and it's turning into a meme on TikTok. Bottom line — don’t rely solely on tracking devices, but on frequent huddles and building trust with your children.

Laura Tierney is the Founder and CEO of The Social Institute, empowering students and their role models to navigate social media and technology in positive, high character ways. Within two years, her team’s unique gamified social media curriculum, co-created with over 50,000 students at 60 schools nationwide, has been touted as the gold standard in the country. Their positive, student-led approach has been applauded by Melinda Gates on Twitter and featured by The Washington Post, NPR, and USA Today.