Using location tracking software can be a great way to make sure your teen is safe, but this technology can also introduce new problems such as tension with your teen or a dangerous overreliance. To get the most out of location tracking without falling into the typical pitfalls, make sure you follow these 6 rules.
- Be Transparent with Your Teen
If you decide to track your teens location, you have to make sure that your teen is aware of it. If you try to hide it, they will find out sooner or later and feel like you’re invading their privacy, causing tension at home. This is true for any parental settings you install without permission. Your teen will probably resist being tracked afterwards and will likely devise ways to beat the system.
Instead, have a conversation with your teen about why you think location tracking is important, so you are on the same page. If you can find a way to speak to your teen’s values, you can decrease their defiance. We recommend you come up with an agreement with your teen so they don’t feel that you are spying on them or using the technology unfairly. Together you can lay out the limits and expectations that will allow you to be a better parent, without overriding your teen’s sense of freedom.
- Talk Before You Track
This next rule is to communicate with your teen before you check their location. I don’t mean that you should ask for their permission every time you need to find out where they are, but you should send them a call or text first to check in before you rely on tracking software. Simply asking your teen where they are going after school shows that you trust them enough to have healthy communication about their plans. You could always check your software to get the information, but your teen will appreciate that you would check in with them as your primary approach. This way, you can always check the software to confirm your teen’s whereabouts, but you’ll have the added bonus of building trust along the way.
- Don’t Let Tracking Replace Permission
Another unintended consequence of relying on tracking software is that your teen might not ask your permission to go somewhere or do something since they know you can always look up their location anyway. This is a dangerous habit because your teen could go somewhere you consider off-limits, or get into trouble, because they don’t feel the need to communicate information you can get through the software. This is another reason why you should prioritize other forms of communication such as face-to-face dialogue or a phone call over the tracking software. We advise that you require your teen to check in with you before they go out and make plans so the software doesn’t replace valuable conversations in which you can explain your ground rules, set appropriate limitations, and provide or deny permission.
- Beware a False Sense of Security
It can be dangerous to rely solely on location tracking to ensure your teen is safe. If you make the habit of checking their location instead of talking with them, you might assume that they are safe just because the software is showing you what you expect to see. However, your teen could be making unsafe choices. They’re location might say that they are at soccer practice, but what if they are smoking in the parking lot next to the field instead of working out? Or what if they planted the device in a gym bag and drove off somewhere else? Over relying on location tracking software can make you feel like you’re doing your job as a parent, when really it can make you more distant from the truth.
- Don’t Check Constantly
When you check your teen’s location every few minutes, you can start to become paranoid. Checking every change in location could be stressful for you as you formulate why they’re moving and what they might be doing. It can become obsessive as the ability to always know your teen’s location starts to become a need to know their location at all times. This can introduce fears when your teen makes even the smallest variation in their routine, which is probably harmless. Plus, you don’t want your teen to feel stressed out when you decide to call them every time they go somewhere different. We recommend that you make limits for yourself so you don’t form negative habits, overthink your teen’s every move, or waste too much time worrying.
- Establish Goals for Uninstalling
We suggest that you set certain goals with your teen that indicate when it’s time to stop using location tracking. This is all part of learning how to let go as a parent and to learn to trust your teen as an individual. If your teen has no problem with you tracking them indefinitely and feels more safe with it, you might not need to uninstall the software, but we recommend that you at least ease off it as they demonstrate responsibility. Some benchmarks you might want to look for include your teen’s honesty about where they plan to go, their ability to meet curfew on their own, and managing their daily schedules responsibly. If your teen meets all of your pre-established goals and earns your trust, you might feel safe turning off the software and giving your teen an increased sense of autonomy and independence.
We hope these rules for effectively using location tracking software prevent any unintended consequences. Tracking can be a lifesaver when you need to find out where your is teen, but overusing it can be very problematic. It’s important to have clear communication with your teenager above anything else, especially if you want this software to work to your advantage.
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.