Technology has made it easier than ever for parents to know where their children are, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And there are many options, from covert software that the child does not know to keyloggers that track everything they type as well as “Find my iPhone”. But is it really a good idea to use this software? And how does it differ from stalkers?
The answer according to child psychologist Catalina Knibbs, who specializes in cyber trauma, tells that “there is a huge difference between covert and overt tracking.” “It’s always about the intention,” says Knibbs. “When it comes to stalking, there are usually other intentions and modus operandi.”
She also believes that there are certain circumstances in certain families where some types of monitoring software are absolutely necessary, for example, if there are doctors with problems such as with a patient of hers who has a disorder that causes him to lose consciousness, or as a patient who walks home without knowing the route. “In those circumstances, yes,” says Knibbs. “Because it’s really about taking care of the child, rather than being an authoritarian parent.”
However, if there are no extenuating circumstances, then “maybe it’s a bit intrusive for those kids,” Knibbs says. Furthermore, in the USA, if the child is not 13 years of age or older, installing a child tracking app without their knowledge could be breaking the law.
How to Talk to Your Child About Tracking App
But there are a wide variety of reasons why a parent may choose to use tracking app on their children’s phone, and if that’s you, Knibbs says you should have a conversation with your child about it. And while those conversations focus on software, “it’s not about software at all.” “It’s not about the technology,” says Knibbs. “It’s about relationships, it’s about humanity.”
Installing software without talking to your child about it, Knibbs says, “creates mistrust between the child and the parents, just like in romantic relationships.” “That is really a violation of freedom, limits, and consent,” says Knibbs. “It is a betrayal. And it also reinforces the idea that their parents do not trust them in the world, so the behavior becomes secret. At the end that is not very useful.” Knibbs focuses on attention, rather than “tracking” or “stalking” or lack of confidence.
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It is also important to emphasize your role as a parent and be clear about what children can expect, they probably won’t like it, but knowing and maintaining your limits and the reasons for them are essential. “It’s my job as a parent to make sure you’re safe – legally, morally, and ethically,” Knibbs suggests saying, “And if I don’t do my job well, you could suffer some harm.”
Parents can also frame the conversation around a step toward independence, rather than an additional restriction on a child’s life. Knibbs uses the term “facilitating independence” to describe the process of a child gradually withdrawing from their parents in a way that is safe, trustworthy and that allows them to grow. “You can’t learn to be independent until you are independent,” says Knibbs. “It’s like you want to learn to walk a tightrope, you have to walk a tightrope, you can’t just think about it and then claim that you know how to do it.”
In the case of child tracking app on a phone, the facilitated independence could be seen as software that tracks where a child is at all times when they are in elementary school and move on to a conversation about why a mom might use Find My iPhone if her child 15 years does not arrive at the time it should. It’s a gradual, age-appropriate relaxation from digital monitoring and restraint accompanied by frank and open conversation every step of the way. The process can be compared to other changes in restrictions that occur as children get older, such as a late arrival time or being able to go out with their friends on their own.
Excessive monitoring can have serious negative effects
Many parents put a lot of hope in the kids tracking app, rationalizing that they will protect children as if they were a “digital babysitter.” But in reality, tracking software can’t prevent something bad from happening to your kids. It might help later, but it is not really a preventive tool. And excessive or unnecessary monitoring of a child can lead to behaviors and outcomes for the child. For example, a child who knows that his phone has the tracking software may choose to leave it at a friend’s house or even at his own house.
Kids Tracking App can also hamper a child’s ability to grow and become independent. Knibbs says that having such software on their phone can make a child or adolescent feel like “Mom is standing next to you while you are with your peers.” And if your friends’ parents aren’t tracking their kids, it can also make you feel like something is wrong with them that makes your parents feel the need to keep track. “Let them grow,” says Knibbs. “Let them try it themselves.”
Ultimately, what happens in our childhood becomes how we act as adults. Knibbs thinks it’s possible that children who are covertly or exaggeratedly followed by their parents could reenact such behavior with a romantic partner in the future. They will probably have trust issues, sneak into their partner’s phone, or check if their partner is dragging them.
“What happens in our childhood becomes how we act as adults,” Knibbs warns. It’s scary not knowing where your children are. And it’s tempting to lead a technology solution instead of having the tough conversations and negotiations with your child. But, says Knibbs, “it’s not about technology. It’s about parenting.” Or, to think of it another way: technology-assisted parenting.