Tracking Your Teen: the controversy rages on

I track my 17-year-old son on his phone. Yes, I am one of those parents.

When my son drives to school, to parties, to concerts, to friend’s home, I often look at the tracking app on my phone to know where he is or see if he is on his way home.

I am grateful for these apps because by tracking him, I don’t have to call him while he’s driving.

tracking devices for teenagers

My son knows I track him.  (He claims that’s why he doesn’t need to tell me where he is going!) I  don’t use the tracking app to follow his every move, but it has given me peace of mind at times. When he worked late at night this summer, I knew when he was still at work and when he had left for home. I am a worrier and having a teenager on the road at night scares me.

Yet, I realize that tracking teens is super controversial.

As the New York Times points out: “Plenty of adults balk at the idea of remotely following an adolescent’s movements, while others question why any loving parent wouldn’t.”

With the new school year kicking in, lots of teens are driving to school for the first time. It feels comforting to look at your phone and see your teen arrive safely without having to let your teen driver  know you are worried.

This is my favorite part of the NYT article because it hit home for me:

“Indeed, the ability to locate our children using GPS technology touches on some of the most loaded topics in all of parenting: questions of trust and safety, a young person’s right to privacy and autonomy, and the gut-wrenching truth that to be a parent is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

Yes, being the parent of a teenager is terrifying and tracking apps are our way of gaining some control over our teenagers’ safety. My friend Cindy says when she is at work, she tracks her son, a new driver, to make she he didn’t forget appointments or to know he made it home from school safely.

Pew Research Center says about 6 percent of parents track or “digitally monitor” their teens. I would say it’s actually much higher and parents don’t want to publicly admit it.

Tracking doesn’t mean I don’t trust my teens. When my teenagers are out on a Friday or Saturday night, I don’t trust the situation that puts them in — even after they become college age. Think about who is is on the road late at night in the other cars. Scary, right?

reasons to track your teenager

I know some parents are totally AGAINST tracking. In the NYT article, one mom said she feels that learning to manage without adult supervision “is an important part of the growing up process.”

Psychologist Lisa Damour said in the article that if parents decide against using location tracking, she encourages them to talk with their teenager about why. They might say, for example, “When you are not with us, you are in charge of yourself.”

When it comes to knowing what is going on with a teenager, having their location cannot take the place of having a sturdy, working relationship, she notes. One mom I know believes that viewpoint so much that she requires her teens to call her with their whereabouts or when they change locations and tells them it is an alternative to tracking them on her phone.

When my daughter went to college, she felt it was an “invasion of her privacy” to track her. She said her friends and roommates knew where she was and she would let them know her whereabouts. I wanted to give her  independence and I had to be okay with her denial of my adding her to my tracking app.

Initially, I started out with Sprint Family Locator, which doesn’t require permission to track location. You can add anyone on your phone plan. However it’s pretty far from precise. I now use Life360, which is more accurate, but requires your teen accept your request to track him or her. I have convinced my both my sons they need me to track their phones if they want me to pay for their phones and cell plans.

Qustodio is an interesting free parental control app because not only can you track your teens’ location, in an emergency he or she can use the panic button to call for help. Some of my friends like the Find my Friends app as another option. I recently came across a fantastic post titled 11 Free Family Locator Apps on AndroidIt lists some apps I was not aware of that might make sense for some of you. 

So, which side are you on in the tracking debate. Do you track or are you against tracking? If you track, what app do you use? Please comment below!

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  1. C September 27, 2018 at 3:46 am

    Yes I track my teens on Find Friends. If they ever stop sharing their location with me then they lose their phone. As long as they are on my cell phone plan, I will require tracking.

    1. raisingteensblogger (Cindy) September 27, 2018 at 12:00 pm

      I know many parents feel that way…if they pay for phone, teens must agree to have tracker on it. The find friends app seems like a good one.


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