Tracking Kids Like Felons
Pretty much every week, there's another tech company out to solve a problem that does not exist: how to keep tabs on our children every second of every day in order to keep them "safe."
This week, I heard of one called FamilySignal. It's an app that alerts a parent to a child's whereabouts at any given time on a little map and sounds an alarm if the kid wanders beyond the virtual "fence" the parents have determined. So, for instance, if on the way home from school a kid sneaks off to the candy store a block off track, the mom's phone is instantly alerted. He's busted.
The device also takes note whenever a child leaves to go somewhere — a piano lesson, for instance — and estimates the amount of time it should take to get there. If the kid is late, once again, the parent is alerted.
Why does all this stalking make my heart sink and stomach churn? Because products such as these are teaching our kids that they are never safe unless they are supervised — in person or electronically — by their parents. At the same time, they are teaching parents that letting their kids have any unsupervised time is something no good mom or dad does anymore. Too dangerous.
Even though we are back to the crime rate, nationally, of 1963, we are supposed to go about our day as if these are the end times and evil forces are aswirl around our kids.
Just as disturbing are the political implications. Gradually, a whole generation is getting used to being under constant surveillance. Someday soon, it may feel "weird" (or, worse, become illegal) to venture out in the world untracked and unobserved.
I was just having a conversation about this yesterday with a tech-savvy woman, who told me she wishes there'd been this kind of thing when her kids were going to high school via subway, even though:
1) They obviously made it just fine.
2) What would this have enabled her to do if her kids were in trouble, apparate herself to the spot and nuke the bad guys?
And as for granting "peace of mind":
3) When the child's estimated time of arrival is 3:05 and a kid has not checked in by 3:12, it's a license to freak out, meaning that any spontaneity — the kid stopping to talk to a friend, pet a dog or play tag — is taboo, unless a kid wants to give his mom a heart attack.
In the official FamilySignal demonstration video, we see a mom enter a coffee shop and settle in with a cup of java and her computer. Then she glances at her phone and RED ALERT! Her son's practice has ended early. "Pick me up?" he texts. Immediately, she slams shut her laptop and grabs her coffee, and off she flies, determined her son will not spend one single second longer stranded without his ride.
This is something we want? (And besides, come to think of it, how is it any different from texting?)
Remember, this kind of device was originally used to track felons under house arrest.
Childhood is not a crime. Down time is not dangerous. In fact, it's the fertile soil where creativity takes root. Do you wish you'd grown up with your mom tracking your every move? If not, don't do it to your own kid.
Lenore Skenazy is author of the book and blog "Free-Range Kids" and a keynote speaker at conferences, companies and schools. Her TV show, "World's Worst Mom," airs on Discovery Life Channel. To find out more about Lenore Skenazy (firstname.lastname@example.org) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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