I first became a stalker last year on a trip to Mexico.
We were on holiday and I’d texted my daughter, who’d just turned 15, reminding her she’d missed her curfew and asking where she was. The text she sent in return said At the beach. On my back.
My heart leapt into my mouth until the little grey bubbles started dancing on the screen and a new message popped up saying, On my WAY back. Lol.
When I recounted this to our friends the next morning, they plucked their phones from their pockets and each and every one of the four families we were holidaying with showed me an app they used for tracking their kids.
‘They allow this?’ I asked.
‘If they want us to keep paying for their phones, they have no choice.’
Cue the tricky conversation in our room after breakfast. There was refusal and shouting, accusations of stalking, lack of trust and Big Brother tactics…but within an hour, myself and my two daughters had Life360 installed on our phones.
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Is tracking the right thing to do for our family? Hell yeah.
Glossing over recent months, where the kids only moved from one side of the sofa to the other, I think it has provided a really valuable service.
For example, soon after starting secondary school my younger daughter missed the bus stop and got off as soon as she realised, but then couldn’t find her way home. She was distraught. Because of the app, I could pin-point exactly where she was, direct her to a safe place to wait and pick her up.
During a disillusioned period in Year 11, my eldest was arriving at school late most mornings. The app allowed me to see to the minute when she entered the school’s grounds. It gave me the evidence to prove my point and apply sanctions if that lackadaisical attitude to timing continued. It didn’t.
A friend found his son’s extortionately expensive phone under a playground slide using his tracker, possibly saving the boy from a lifetime’s bullying when his parents made him take a Nokia brick to school as penance for losing his fancy phone.
It works both ways, too
The other useful element is that my kids can see where I am if I’m due to pick them up and the traffic is bad. I suppose they could also see when I’m likely to be back if I’m out of the house, allowing them time to get away with things on a predictable timescale, but let’s not focus on that.
My eldest is now 16 and is due to start sixth form college on the other side of London. She’ll have to take a bus and two trains to get to there and I’m extremely nervous about her travelling alone on dark mornings and winter afternoons. I’m additionally worried about the unavoidable fact that she will be extending her social life beyond the boundaries of our cosy, familiar area.
Some of the students she’ll meet will have moved away from home to attend this specialised college and be living independently. It’s going to be incredibly difficult to justify tracking her movements when some of her friends don’t even live with their parents anymore.
Will it be good for either of us if I do insist on her keeping the app? Is it worse to wonder where your 17-year-old is and when they’ll be home, or to know they’re in lock-in in a pub in Brixton? I am about to figure that out.
A Motherload Poll recently showed that these tracking apps are popular. The poll also showed a relatively high number of MOLOs would pair their devices with their children’s, to monitor their online behaviour and usage.
I’ve written before about installing software on my younger daughter’s phone to limit her hours after she struggled to manage her screen time effectively, and I will occasionally do a sweep through to check there’s nothing worrying. But I haven’t linked any of their devices to mine to closely monitor their interactions.
Invasion of Privacy?
For some reason I see that as an invasion of privacy. I wouldn’t hesitate to investigate if I thought something troubling was happening, but to routinely read their private messages seems wrong to me. From comments on the poll, my tracking them seems equally wrong to some of you.
I try to justify my parental decisions by insisting we talk about everything (often met by Olympic-standard eye-rolling). They know why I insist on having Life360 on their phones and I don’t pretend it’s just to keep them safe – although that is, without doubt, the primary reason. They know that I want to make sure they are where they say they’re going to be. I want the peace of mind of knowing my children’s locations are only a click away. At the same time, I’m delighted my mother didn’t have the same option when I was 16.
Am I a hypocrite? Yes.
Am I a stalker? Yes.
Do I care? No.
Will I continue to insist my older daughter uses the app? I have absolutely no idea.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments!