I wasn’t always honest with my parents during my adolescence. For the most part, I was a responsible teen, but I would “forget” to call my parents occasionally when plans changed. And a few times, I may have slipped out of the house to attend a school-night concert or to meet friends.
During my formative years, it was easy to “sneak” around town. For today’s teens, however, hiding one’s location poses a much bigger challenge. Most every child carries a smartphone, and these devices often have pre-loaded GPS services like Find My iPhone that let parents see where their kids are spending time. In addition, many families choose to download monitoring apps like Life360 or TeenSafe so parents can more efficiently track their teens’ behavior and cellphone use.
With such easy access to safety technology, many of my clients often ask if they should “track their teen.” I believe all parents should do whatever they need to do to ensure family safety. However, a big difference separates monitoring your children’s activities and spying on their whereabouts – which makes it important to have an appropriate conversation about how, why and when a smartphone GPS will be used.
Start the discussion by letting your children know there’s a tracking device on each of their phones. Covertly installing a monitoring program is dishonest and sends a message of distrust. Eventually, a tech-savvy teen will find the hidden app. It’s better to have a collaborative conversation now instead of a heated discussion later.
Most kids will understand the primary reason mom and dad want the tracking app: to reduce their own parental worries. The ability to electronically locate your child comforts considerably. Make sure, though, that your kids know they still must tell you where they’re going and when plans change. Modern technology in no way replaces direct communication and considerate behavior.
As another huge benefit of GPS apps, they might actually make mom and dad a bit less bothersome. Tracking a teen’s location intrudes far less on him or her than an untimely text during a social outing, and it’s also much safer than answering a parental phone call while driving home. If your kids are where they say, they shouldn’t mind you checking on where they are.
The biggest problem most teenagers have with tracking technology occurs when parents overuse the app. Just because mom and dad can see where their children are doesn’t mean they should constantly ask questions like “Why did you stop here?” or “Why did you go there?” Such pestering creates a distrusting home environment that also stifles a child’s independence.
The best way to ensure your child makes good decisions involves staying connected with face-to-face conversations. Feel free to check the app, but don’t micromanage your teen by asking too many questions. Technology can never replace parenting, but a phone locator can make life a little less stressful.
Prior to going into private practice as a psychotherapist and learning-disabilities specialist, Russell Hyken, Ph.D., Ed.S., M.A., LPC, NCC, worked for more than 15 years as an English teacher, school counselor and school administrator. Visit him online at ed-psy.com.