The one thing that made me question using a tracking app on my kids.

When the time came for my eldest son to venture out on his own for the first time, I was nervous. Would he be safe? Would he get lost? Would he be where he said he was going to be?

I'm a worrier at the best of times, but my eldest also has a mischievous streak. A tendency towards risk-taking. And that made me worry more.

So I downloaded Life360 to his phone, and mine. The app works by linking phones together so you can see each other's locations. You can also send messages to each other, or click a map and be given directions to where the other person is. 

We've used it to find my son's phone after he lost it for the 75th time. And we've used it to pick up the kids when they can't quite explain where they've landed after missing their bus stop. 

What's not to like? 

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As the rest of my kids got older and were given phones and the ability to venture out on their own or catch public transport to school, they each had the same app downloaded to their phones. 

There are five of them – two tweens, three teens, three schools, many buses, and active social lives – so they're not always easy to keep track of.


You can also set specific destinations for alerts, so I know when kids have left home or arrived at school, meaning I can be sure no one has missed the bus. 

For me, Life360 has been a Godsend for a bunch of reasons – convenience, peace of mind and safety. 

Then I went to Sydney. I was there to film a television segment on technology – specifically, technology-facilitated abuse and online stalking, a topic I'm passionate about. But the subject digressed to tracking apps – not just for partners (which I oppose), but for children. 

A paediatrician, also a guest on the show, shared a perspective that gave me pause. 

This paediatrician doesn't use tracking apps on her children, she said, while shooting me a distinctly authoritarian look of disapproval. I was half expecting her to fold her arms and tap her foot. Where had I gone wrong?

These apps, she said, crush youth independence, teaching them to be lazy, relying on the fact that their parents can come and get them if they get lost or lose track of where they are. It teaches them not to be accountable for their own whereabouts. 

They also make parents obsessed, she said. Repetitively checking their children's location and freaking out if the settings have been switched turned off. 

Granted, her kids were younger than mine, the eldest being 13, but it did make me stop and think – particularly given my strong stance on internet-based stalking.

Am I stunting their growth? Teaching them co-dependence?


So I asked a psychologist and psychotherapist for their views. 

"I think they can be helpful if used to manage safety and foster connection, respect, openness and communication," psychologist, Phoebe Rogers, told me.

"I know my psychologist friend and parent uses one really successfully with her teenager. Ond one client used this with his teen daughter, and saved her from several sticky/unsafe situations too."

For me, this last point is key, and outweighs everything else. Surely, our children's safety is the most important thing, and for young teens – whose whereabouts parents really should know – if they're where they're supposed to be, why should they mind? 

According to psychotherapist, Karen Phillip, for kids who are planning to do the right thing, the issue may be in their perception of the app as a sign of trust issues, rather than a safety precaution. 

"Ensuring the well-being of your children and maintaining open communication about the purpose behind using these apps is crucial," says Dr Phillip.

Continuous tracking might make children and teens feel their every move is being scrutinised, which can strain trust and relationships, she says. 

"Constant monitoring can lead to misunderstandings or conflicts, as it may create feelings of mistrust or infringement on personal space."

While I believe parents do have the right to know what's going on in their children's lives – and phones – to ensure the safe use of social media for example, I can relate to this second point. 

If a child forgets their phone at one location, they may appear to be somewhere they're not supposed to be, when they're not. Similarly, you might get an alert that the child has left school, when the back of the oval happens to sit outside the GPS coordinates, making it look as though they've left.


The paediatrician's perspective that these apps hinder a child's ability to develop independence skills is valid to some extent, says Dr Phillip. 

"It is essential to strike a balance between ensuring safety and allowing space for personal responsibility. Over reliance on tracking apps might impede a child's ability to learn how to navigate and make decisions independently."

Overall though, Dr Phillip says using tracking apps for safety, convenience, and monitoring your teens' whereabouts aligns with their intended purpose.

"These apps provide a layer of safety and security by allowing parents to know the whereabouts of their children in real-time. This can be particularly useful in emergencies or unexpected situations," she says. 

"Tracking apps offer convenience for families in coordinating plans, ensuring everyone is on the same page regarding schedules, and facilitating smoother communication. Parents often use these apps to have peace of mind, especially when their children are out and about. It helps alleviate anxiety about their wellbeing."

So, while I understand the paediatrician's perspective, for now, I'm sticking with the apps. I'll just have to use some willpower not to check them every five minutes. 

Feature Image: Getty.

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