Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Family Locator Makes Me Mad.

There was this Verizon ad on TV that sparked a long conversation between my wife and me. It was showcasing an app called Family Locator, which tracks your family members via their cell phones. The point of the ad was that this worrisome mom could track her daughter (who looked somewhere between 10 and 12) on her very first solo outing (with friends) in an indoor shopping mall.

I can't show you the ad, because Verizon has made it private, in its own channel, for some reason.

We saw pros and cons to this child-tracking software. On one hand, a parent armed with this technology may allow their child out of their sight sooner, possibly allowing a child to take the bus alone before a parent would have ordinarily let them.

On the other had, this app could be seen as a staggering and possibly development-stunting invasion of privacy; a technological cashing-in on modern parental paranoia. A real idiot's breakfast, if you will.

So many parents I've met are so terrified of letting children out of their sight that they simply don't. Parents can hardly be blamed for feeling like this--my parenting peers and I were raised at the dawn of cable news, which turned local, isolated incidents of child abduction into apparently pandemic national nightmares. I'm sure there's more to it than that. Maybe they love their kids more than I do mine. They way I see it, though, it's an irrational fear, and we have a duty to our children to overcome our irrational fears for the sake of our their mental health and development.

But what if your child gets abducted? Stranger Danger. Ugh. When I hear moms my age trading helpful tips on how to make their children terrified of strangers, I have to bite my tongue to keep from reminding them that their children have more to fear from their own family members than from real strangers [citation needed]. Maybe this is a case of parents just doing what they can to protect their children, but it really feels like a blunt and stupid shortcut to teaching their kids real skills for evaluating situations. Resorting to tracking their location is even lazier.

Moreover, what does it do a kid's brain, knowing that your mom or dad is monitoring your every move, ready at the drop of a hat to swoop in for immediate evac the moment things get even slightly out of hand? So much of growing up, for me, depended on being somewhere my parents may not have approved of--or even just being out on my own, knowing that I was the only one who knew where I was. Sure, I was alone or with friends in the tiny streams connecting suburban backyards, but even if independence is an illusion, I believe it's an important game for a child to play.

I'm not exempt from this, by the way--my instincts are to protect my boys in any way I can. I get nervous when I can't see them. I'm also a little scared of the dark, because I suspect there's a gorilla with human intelligence standing a few inches from my face. Again, though, there's a duty to understand and overcome fears like this, not to simply pass them on unexamined. All's I'm saying is that just because the technology exists to take advantage of your every whim don't mean you got's ta use it. I mean, in an emergency, sure. But all the time? As a matter of course? If you can put a chip in your daughter's brain so you can switch her off if she thinks about climbing a fence or smells alcohol or looks at a boy, are you protecting her? Yes, maybe, but in a really assy way. And you're robbing her of the ability to make a real decision on her own. There's also the larger (possibly smaller) question of the rightness of an action changing (or not changing) is that action becomes easier to perform, but that's probably another conversation.

Or maybe not. Maybe I'm being reckless. Maybe my kids won't grow up to be mighty and self-reliant adventurers or captains of industry. Maybe they'll be captured and enslaved by a cult. I know while there aren't too many parents among you, a great many of you are former children. I'm interested to know what you think, despite the rantiness of this post, which started off as a 140-character tweet.


EDIT: If I'd seen this, I might have just linked to it. Lenore Skenazi, Author of Free Range Kids has written a more focused and succinct response to the same ad. The commenters are all similarly appalled, although to be fair, they are commenting on a blog called Free Range Kids. Some do make the interesting point that this app would be very useful if you lost your cell phone.


Lungclops said...

I was just talking to my dad about this. My parents were very laissez faire. I'm not sure how much it contributed to or detracted from my mental growth, but I sure appreciated the hell out of it at the time. I pitied the fools who had to check in for every little thing. I have three brothers, all older. All of us have dodged marriage (shudder). I can't help but think my parents' benign neglect had something to do with this happy turn of events. Four out of four. That, my friends, is a goocher.

Looking back, the one drawback I can see is that I never really felt a need to rebel against them. I think that that may be an important developmental milestone. I'unno. Probably our brains are basically set by age 8 anyway.

Lungclops said...

I'd also like to add: not one major broken bone among us four. Okay, one of us eventually broke a thumb at like 16, but that was during a totally sanctioned ski trip.

Galspanic said...

I am a hybrid. I had very hands-free parenting pre-adolescence and then at the age of teen, my mom became a hyper-vigilant anti-drug czar. I'm pretty sure it had something to do with being force-fed republican values day and night from her darling new husband.
But it was weird because they traveled a lot. So two weeks out of every month I had Big Brother breathing down my neck, and then the rest of the month it was just me and my old world grandmother (who was slow-moving, omniscient, and cantankerous, but surprisingly tolerant of my lifestyle choices.)

My dad always seemed to believe that true learning happens alone, so he didn't really "parent" me in the traditional sense, but then maybe he did. How are dads supposed to do that anyway? I've been meaning to ask Mr. Pony that. I'm kinda glad to see he's about as confounded by it as I am. Kinda.

My mom never really quit being the monkey on my back, even after she divorced her darling husband, so I became quite the mama's man. Now I am a hypochondriac paranoid people-phobe.

I definitely liked having the freedom my dad allowed me, but I also liked the level of comfort knowing my mom was always around to confide in.
And that all gets changed up again now that I have kids. I wish I had my mom as a confidant, and I kind of bum out not getting more fatherly input from my dad. My boys will probably enjoy hanging with their grandfather because he'll let them go nuts, which will in turn make me nuts.

I also suffer from a lack of broken bones. And I grew up in a pretty dangerous environment. I did break a finger punching someone's elbow. Elbows are hard!

I think a sign of good parenting is maybe not being one side or the other about issues like this. Because if you were on one side of the issue...well, you'd be wrong.

Fugu said...

Slapping a GPS on a kid when he goes out sounds like outsourcing responsibility, and leaves the door open for parents to stop going through all the trouble of being parents.

Sorry for the medical analogy, but this seems remarkably similar to the prevention versus treatment issue. Foster an environment where your child is safe and responsible, and he or she will have the best chance of being safe and responsible. Don't bother with that part; then hope he has his phone on when he gets into trouble so you can explain to the cops how to get to 21°20'25.24"N by 157°44'57.77"W.

I'm not a child owner, but I'm currently in the camp that rules and curfews and GPSs aren't going to stop a kid from doing drugs or joining in key parties with strangers. There's genes that will predispose you to addiction and environments that put crack rocks in your hand. If a kid has a computer in his bedroom, the parent shouldn't get all huffy when pedobear knocks on the door looking for his new friend. If at least one of parent hasn't developed a relationship with the child where they can freely discuss the dangers of teen pregnancy, consider saving up some money for that second abortion. Responsible parenting leads to responsible children. Except when it doesn't. The reverse also seems true.

Also, our brains are actually still pretty mushy until our early 20s. Knowing right and wrong doesn't really set in until then, which is why there's such a wonderful mix of sluttiness and moral highbrowness in college.

eviil said...

I first heard about the concept of "family-tracking" many years ago when I read about an elderly man with mild dementia whose children were tracking via his GPS phone.
This man enjoyed taking walks in the neighborhood, but had started to get lost every now and then. The tracking allowed him to continue to have his freedom and go for walks whenever he wanted, instead of being locked inside for his own protection. If he didn't return home as expected his children would check where he was and go to pick him up.

Tracking your teenagers as they are trying to develop an identity independent of their parents seems to me as an invasion of their privacy and not a way to build trust and respect. However I would like to track my cats as I wonder where their adventures take them...

Fugu said...

Appropriate. Increasing Number Of Parents Opting To Have Children School-Homed:

""Simply put, it's not the job of parents to raise these kids," Dufrense added."

odori said...

I'll join the chorus and say I'm not a fan of GPS parenting. It's creepy.