Creepy or Caring? High-Tech Tracking Devices Take Kid Monitoring Up a Notch

The promised safety benefits of these devices can come with some very costly downsides indeed

Germany banned them last year, according to Tech Crunch. They’re still, though, perfectly legal in America.

Kiddie wearables — bracelet-style smart watch-type devices, for example — enable parents to track their kids’ every movement via an app on the parents’ smartphones. They’re touted as the latest and greatest means for ensuring children’s safety. But in our zeal to protect our kids, could we actually be doing more harm than good?

Lenore Skenazy, founder of the Free Range Kids movement and the Let Grow organization, thinks so.

“There are phones you can slap onto your kids’ wrist that they can’t take off — just like felons [on work-release programs],” she told LifeZette in an interview. “If your kids don’t pick up the phone when you’re calling them and you’re so worried that you must know what’s going on, there’s a thing that you can press so that you can hear what’s going on. You can bug the child. It’s like the child is wearing a wire.”

It was that bit — and possibly more — that went over the top for the Germans. Germany’s Federal Network Agency, a telecom regulatory body, banned the sale of these devices last year, describing them as spying devices, according to the BBC. It concerned them enough that they advised parents who’d already purchased such devices to destroy them.

The Germans, it seems, don’t play around when it comes to spying — or hacking, for that matter.

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Nor does the Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC). The European watchdog group warned that some GPS-enabled, kid-targeted wearables parents buy, thinking one will help keep their kids safe, actually present some serious safety concerns of their own.

Related: Let Kids Be Kids, Says Utah Governor — and This Mom Agrees

Many are easily hacked due to insecure transmission and poor encryption of stored data, a report by the BBC noted. In practical terms, that means that someone who does not have your child’s best interest at heart could track your child’s movements — or even manipulate the data to make it appear that a child is somewhere he or she is not.

Simply saying that the purpose of a device, ostensibly, is to enhance kids’ safety didn’t cut it for the Germans. The fact that you can use the device surreptitiously to eavesdrop on conversations (and much more) means that the GPS-enabled tracking watches present unacceptable privacy-related concerns.

For Skenazy and for a growing number of parents embracing “free-range parenting” approaches (that is, the way most older Americans grew up), the privacy and hacking concerns are only the tip of the iceberg. These individuals cite broader, deeply troubling concerns with the use of the devices in general.

The false sense of security parents may garner from using the tracking devices is mostly smoke and mirrors.

First, for Skenazy, the supposed need for the trackers is based on a false premise. Many parents wrongly assume that today’s American children are living in more dangerous times than when they grew up, thus rendering such extreme safety measures a necessary evil. Quite the opposite is true, though. Statistically speaking, children are safer now than they ever have been. Crime peaked in the ’90s and it’s been decreasing ever since.

Further, Skenazy says that the false sense of security parents may garner from using the tracking devices is mostly smoke and mirrors. It masks an even scarier reality that uncontrollable accidents happen on occasion — and that no number of tracking devices or other helicopter parenting strategies can ever stop that.

It’s harsh but true.

Related: Three Secrets of Raising Emotionally Healthy Kids

Further, because parents’ largely unfounded fears are played upon so heavily in the media and by those who are marketed “safety” devices, parents end up unwittingly holding their children back from becoming self-sufficient, self-confident youngsters who can play a significant role in keeping themselves safe.

Skenazy’s Let Grow Project aims to remedy the problem. Her nutshell version of the project, as she explained to LifeZette, is “the teachers telling the kids to go home and do one thing on their own that they haven’t done yet. It could be wash the dog, make dinner, run an errand, ride your bike to the library, play outside.”

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The beauty of the project is its simplicity. And it’s been met with accolades from parents, children, and teachers who have been involved with it. The above video is a great testament to its success.

A small-scale study of 33 participants in the Let Grow Project at Eastside Middle School in Manhattan found that parent participants reported a 10 percent drop in anxiety. And more than half of the sixth-graders who participated reported that they were happier.

Happy kids, less anxious parents, and a free program for schools just for the asking — who could pass that up?

Related: Adventureless Kids Aren’t Kids

The Let Grow Project sounds like a much better solution to enhancing kids’ safety and self-confidence than hackable smart watches that create a creepy, disturbing, and dystopian vibe you can’t quite shake.

Schools or parents interested in starting a Let Grow Project can visit Skenazy’s website or contact her at [email protected]

Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and regular contributor to LifeZette.

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