Madonna King: Monitoring our kids – Big Brother or sign of the times?

You can't watch your kids all the time – are tracking apps the answer?

You can't watch your kids all the time – are tracking apps the answer? Photo: Getty

Would you use an Apple AirTag to monitor your child? Under what circumstances? What about a smartphone app like Life360? Would you tell them they were being tracked?

Those questions jump out of a recent court case in which a woman used an AirTag to monitor the movement of her toddler, who was staying with her ex-husband.

Her ex-husband claimed the AirTag, hidden in their child’s stuffed toy, was aimed at following him, in contravention of a family violence restraining order he had filed.

The charges were recently dismissed, after the woman told the court her child was the reason for the AirTags because they were a “bit of a runaway’’.

Her lawyer expressed surprise that a parent could be prosecuted over a tracking device because, he said, it was both common and not illegal.

He’s right. Away from that court case, tracking tweens and teens has become a parental pastime, enabled by smartphones and new technology that allows accuracy in pinpointing a person and what they are doing on the other side of the globe.

But is tracking your child recommended? Or does it risk breeding distrust?

For a research project last year, I put that question to a string of experts. It was on the back of parents explaining that apps – like the popular Life360 – had changed their lives for the better.

It allowed parents to know where their children were, and at what time. It allowed them to know whether their child had told the truth, and were where they had promised to be. It provided guidance in picking them up late; they could watch each other on their smartphones and not wait out on a road, needlessly.

Our acceptance of CCTV cameras on street corners and in lifts and in shopping centres has also inoculated us about being watched.

Uploading photographs of ourselves on social media has provided us with a digital diary. Dashcams in our cars and home security cameras have provided an extra level of security.

Isn’t location and time monitoring of our teens the same thing, just under another name?

The answer is not clear cut. Some experts says it is intrusive; a form of stalking if it was put in the context of a partnership or marriage. It’s hard to argue with that.

But others say it fosters security. Examples were rural families where children were driving 20 kilometres, at the age of 17, to attend extracurricular activities, often at night.

Or teens with medical issues like anxiety or anaphylaxis often welcomed their parents – or someone – knowing where they were; it was a safeguard. It’s hard to argue with that either.

Certainly tracking teens is something that would have alarmed most of our own parents.

In my family, the sound of a cow bell signalled dinner time and we’d run in, like bees to honey, for food before disappearing on bikes kilometres away for hours more. It didn’t much matter of it was day or night.

But times have changed. And so has parenting.

COVID-19 is partly responsible here because many of our children have not had the opportunity to make judgment decisions in the way we might have. Parents are also more likely to mollycoddle their teens in this generation, even delighting in them living at home until they turn 30.

But is tracking more about parents’ inability to let go or a modern way to ensure their child’s safety?

For me, it comes down to whether there is an open agreement between teens and their parents; that it should be mutual and voluntary and used for practical purposes.

If not, it can be disastrous. Take the example of a teen who told me how her mother tracked her and her boyfriend on their first date – a dinner planned at a Gold Coast restaurant.

Her date forgot his wallet, and dropped into his home to pick it up. Her mother, tracking them, saw that they’d deviated from their planned path, and she quickly drove to where she could see them parked – a suburb away from the restaurant where they said they would be.

It was a private home. The mother found her daughter in the passenger side of her friend’s car, parked in his driveway. And he was not there. He was inside, trying to find his wallet – presumably so he could pay for the date.

Imagine the embarrassment the girl’s mother might have felt. But the judgment, delivered by her daughter, was particularly harsh.

She was still furious, months later, when she relayed the story.

She’d learnt that her mother didn’t trust her. And that was a high price for her mother to pay too.

And there was no second date either.

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.