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Tips and concerns when tracking your kids using smartphone apps

As schools and jobs slowly begin reopening, after months of being home together with family, there will likely be an adjustment period for parents and kids in learning how to be apart again. Some parents are turning to smartphone apps to help alleviate anxiety as their children go back out into the world.

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Mandy Mitchell
, WRAL Durham reporter

Like a lot of moms, Ronda Hintermeister has enjoyed having her kids back home recently. One is a student at NC State, and the other is a student at Appalachian State. They’ve been back around the house since the pandemic started and campuses closed.

But during more traditional times, Hintermeister uses the app called 'Find My' on her iPhone to keep an eye on her children when they are away at school.

"Sometimes it’s just curiosity too. It’s like, you know, what are you up to?" she said.

The Find My app uses GPS location and allows Hintermeister to see exactly where her kids are when they are on campus or driving home to Raleigh.

Along with other popular apps like Life 360 and Famisafe, Find My has become popular with parents who want to make sure their kids are safe.

All three apps can be set up to notify you when a child or family member leaves or arrives at a certain place.

While using locator apps may be tempting, especially with a pandemic, when parents worry about health risks of certain activities, you may want to take certain steps before installing these apps.

1. Tell your child you are using this app

"So it’s really important that if somebody is going to be using one of those apps to, number one, tell their child," said Megan Davis, a psychotherapist at Third Wave Psychotherapy in Raleigh.

Davis warns apps like these could erode trust and hurt relationships between parents and kids if they are not handled properly.

"Have an open conversation about it, and just really set up the expectations for what it will look like," she said. "How often they will be checking in and what the actual intention is for using the app."

2. Privacy concerns

Then there’s the privacy problem. Many apps sell your data to third-party companies.

"When you are installing an app, try to think about the long-term benefits here. If you need the app, you can verify what kind of data the app is collecting," said Anupam Das, computer science professor at NC State.

You can do this by reading the app’s privacy agreement thoroughly.

3. More freedom for kids, less anxiety for parents

As schools and jobs slowly begin reopening, after months of being home together with family, there will likely be an adjustment period in learning how to be apart again. Tracking apps could play a role in that.

Experts say if you take proper steps, the apps can help ease anxiety of parents and can help younger children gain more independence.

Therefore, talking your kids about the extra freedom and protection they may have as a result of the app can help both parties feel more comfortable with the use of tracking apps.


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