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Doing Life Together

navigation-2049643_1280We all know how tough it is to parent teenagers in this technology driven world. There are a host of concerns that we have to navigate that are new to parenting. One of those concerns has to do with tracking our kids using locator features on cell phones.

You’ve probably seen the television commercial with the parents looking at their phone and realizing their son is not at college orientation. They laugh and find it amusing. We watched and didn’t laugh. Instead it sparked conversation-is this something we parents really want to do? Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should? (A message we have also instilled into our kids!)  And how do our teens and young adults feel about parents following their every move? I personally find it a bit unsettling, especially the older my children become.

The two main issues around tracking your kids are trust and safety. Let’s tackle the upside first. We have always told both of our children that if they ever find themselves in an unsafe or uncomfortable situation, call or text us and we will come and get you. We’ve had to do this once. And it was up to our teen to make that judgment call. It was a good call and we were proud of her for problem-solving and making that decision. Hopefully, we will not have to make good on this promise too many times, but the location finder could be a life saver if we needed to find our children fast.

Other teens and young adults I know have diabetes, allergies and other medical conditions that might need immediate attention in a crisis situation.  The location tracking could again be an important aid in getting to them quickly. So tracking gets big points for increasing safety.

The downside of tracking is the trust issue. For example, a tracking mom was furious when her daughter was located in a part of town she was told to avoid. What the tracking device couldn’t tell the mom was that her daughter was lost. Siri was rerouting her all over the place due to construction but eventually she found her way to her friend’s house. The daughter was upset that her mom didn’t trust her. The mom was fuming because she thought her daughter was being disobedient. The incident blew up and trust was broken.

That said, when you have a teen who has broken trust, tracking for a period of time can be a way to rebuild that trust. Broken trust requires accountability in order to repair relationships. Tracking locators could help that process. In cases of trust violations, I would be comfortable using the tracking for a period of time.

Generally speaking, the older a child becomes, the less tracking I would ever want to do. I prefer to discuss expectations with my children and build their autonomy. Their time to go it alone comes faster than most of us realize and they need to practice making decisions without parents hovering over their shoulders (or phones in this case) all the time.

I think back at my own development and was happy to have a little anonymity when it came to making stupid mistakes. Would I have wanted my parents to know I hitch hiked to another college campus in my cheerleading outfit one night after a game? No, but when I did it, I realized how stupid and unsafe it was and never did it again. Why? Because my parents taught me well. I had a moral code and compass and was expected to use it when I was out of their sight. Trust me, when parenting is done right, your voice is the head of that child when they are acting out. It is true that teens and young adults, because of their undeveloped brains, won’t always make the best decisions, but they need a little space to fail and learn from their mistakes.

My best advice is to use location trackers for safety reasons only. We have a device that my young adult can turn on if she needs to and wants us to know where she is. Sit down with your teens and young adults and talk about when it would be appropriate to track and how those features will be used. Then be true to your word!

Next, tell them you could track them but won’t because you want to trust them. Add a little guilt and say, “I need to be able to trust you. Don’t let me down. You are a great kid and can make good decisions.” Tell them you expect them to practice good sense and think before they act. Unless they have given you reasons not to trust, let them try. Build their independence.

Whatever you decide to do about tracking, be upfront with your children. The worse thing is to track them and not tell them. When they find out (and they will because they are more tech savvy), you have broken their trust.

If you do parent well, even when they mess up, they will tell you. Then, you can use the situation as a teaching moment and extend grace.

Do you agree or disagree? Parents, love to have you weigh in this one.  

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