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Tracking Teens

We can, but should we?

Andria
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TO SPY OR NOT TO SPY

TO SPY OR NOT TO SPY Today's technology makes it easy to track our children and each other. (Photo: istockphoto.com/kali9)

Google “monitoring kids,” and you’ll hit a jackpot of relevant sites: Internet filtering, GPS tracking, social-media monitoring, text-message “spying.” There’s even a GPS tracking device made for kids to wear. One New York Times headline asks, “Should You Spy on Your Kids?”

It’s a big question these days. As with so many other high-tech tools, being able to track your kids’ every move is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because, hey, if we’ve got the ability to figure out exactly where our kids are when they’re late for curfew and haven’t called, why not use that? And a curse because the slope is crazy slippery to becoming an obsessive parent who takes away a child’s ability to make choices and grow the wings we’re supposed to be giving them.

The spying – ahem, tracking – comes awfully close to traversing some boundaries that contemporary society is just now trying to navigate. We’re all speculating – and complaining – about Alexa and Siri listening to our conversations and Big Brother watching our purchases and finances and habits of all kinds. But are we doing precisely that in the smaller enclaves of our own families?

“Of course I spy on my kids and their friends,” one West University mother of a 24-year-old daughter says. “I check out boyfriends on social media, and I even look at their families. My daughter will ask, ‘Mom, did I tell you he was [insert descriptor]?’ And I’ll just say, ‘No, but if you’re going to visit him in another state, I’m going to know who he is and where you are. You don’t share these things with me, but I’m not going to be the mom who gets a call asking where my child is in another state and I don’t know what to say.’”

If you’re over 35 and reading this, you remember leaving home untethered. Like going to Europe with a bare-bones itinerary and only the occasional collect call home from a pay phone. That’s a foreign (no pun intended) concept these days – both to parents and their children. Untethered? Unplugged? Unconnected? What?

Flash-forward 35 years, and we not only keep tabs on our kids when they’re visiting other countries, but we do it when they’re in our backyards. “I was in my friend’s car, and we were driving on a highway at about 11 at night,” a 17-year-old Bellaire boy says. “My friend accidentally went over 80, and within two seconds his mom was texting telling him he’d better slow down or he was going to get in trouble. I wasn’t raised with that same intensity.”

The passenger’s mom says it was an upsetting moment for her son. “He was upset not about getting caught, but that we live in a world where parents are so untrusting that they can and will track their kids’ every move.”

“I guess there’s a lot of pressure for the parents to use these apps,” the Bellaire boy says. “They help you feel more secure about where your kids are and what they’re doing. But it’s still unpredictable. Just because you’re looking at how fast your kids are going doesn’t mean you can prevent something from happening. There’s always a way to get around it. People will turn off location services or leave their phones places.”

According to some studies, 48 percent of parents with teenagers look through their calls and texts, and 39 percent track their teens’ whereabouts. Still, two-thirds say that we should be giving our teenagers the freedom to make their own mistakes.

The question of whether or not to “spy on your kids” may soon be a moot point. Tracking is becoming such a standard that teens may just come to expect it. “I have about 15 friends who I track on Find My Friends,” says a 21-year-old TCU senior. “We kind of do it for fun, but we also track each other to see where everyone is. Like if I want to play [the video game] Fortnite with my friend, I can see where he is and whether he can play. Or I can find my friends at TCU and see if they’re at class or at work, particularly if I want to go to dinner, and then I can make a judgment about whether I should wait for dinner.”

For now, though, the older ones of us are trying to figure all of this out and make our own judgments about bigger pictures than dinner, like just how much length to give those leashes.

Editor’s note: Parents, we want to hear your thoughts on this subject. Comment online below or look out for a poll on The Buzz Magazines Facebook page.

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