New Tech Lets Parents Spy on Their Kids

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Every once in a while, a rumor crops up on some extreme fringe of the Internet that the government will soon require children to have microchips implanted under their skin for more effective monitoring.

These rumors may seem like science fiction, but the reality is that some parents might just go for the idea, especially those of college-age children heading off to campus for the first time.

“There’s an argument that when kids go to college, it is a rite of passage, a time for increased independence and responsibility,” says Steven Roy Goodman, an educational consultant in Washington, D.C. “Is it absolute independence? Some argue that if the parents are paying, then no, but that it should be some independence. But just how much is the question.”

Goodman says that with technological advances, there is the opportunity to keep in touch with kids when they leave the nest easily two or more times a day through Skype and cellphones, something that wasn’t possible just a generation ago.

The question is, as Goodman says, just how much parents should use technology to monitor their children, who, let’s remember, the law recognizes as adults.

Dr. Fran Walfish, a Hollywood, Calif.-based child and family psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent, says that parents who scramble to monitor their children’s behavior and whereabouts while they’re in college may be trying to compensate for not helping their child build his or her own sense of independence. “If a parent hasn’t developed a sense of trust in a child’s character, in their morals and values by then, it is probably too late,” says Walfish.

Sarah Schupp, founder of University Parent, a company in Boulder, Colo., that produces informational materials for universities to help parents deal with sending a child to college, says that she really discourages parents from using technology to monitor their kids. “I encourage parents to allow their children to be independent,” says Schupp. “I think that some of these devices parents may use creates mistrust and is dangerous for the parent-student relationship.”

Goodman, the educational consultant, disagrees – to a point. While he acknowledges there are certain age-appropriate developmental markers that parents should support, there may be times when some amount of monitoring may be useful.

“It’s a little bit like a red light camera or radar,” says Goodman. “If you’ve been given notice, then that doesn’t bother me: If parents tell their children they’re using technology to monitor them, then students have been given notice. I think it’s a two way street, the parents and students should decide together.”

MainStreet compiled a list of five gadgets parents today can use to track their kids:

  1. Guard Dog GPS manufactures GPS devices for cars and is also coming up with a key fob tracking device to track kids. The company also makes a device that monitors the child’s car that can provide detailed reporting and statistical information not only for location information but also speed, distance and the ability to disable the vehicle. The basic Guard Dog GPS costs $160 with an annual web agreement of $14.95 per month.
  2. Omkno Social Media Monitoring App monitors social networks and gives real-time push notifications whenever someone changes their relationship status. It is geared toward both high school and college students, and their parents. “We've found that the first hurdle for commitment amongst dating youth is the changing of one's public relationship status. This is a very big step for a teenager or young adult, to publicly admit a relationship, or one that has ended,” says Nick Cawthon, co-founder of the app. “This allows the parent to stay abreast of this occasion.” The app is free to download and anonymous.
  3. Life360 Mobile Tracking Device is another tracking device that works on any type of mobile phone, kids can use Life360 to send a text message and their parents immediately get information on their GPS coordinates and told that they're safe. A company spokesperson says, “instead of kids calling their parents when they go on road trips with their friends, they can simply click a button and their parents know they have made it safely to their latest destination, without infringing on kids' independence or sacrificing the sense of safety that parents need.” The app is free, though the GPS device costs $99 plus a $10 per month monitoring fee.
  4. LiveWatch Security allows parents to set up security systems in their children’s dorms (provided the school allows it) or off-campus housing that will notify a parent when their child comes or goes. Security systems such as this start at $249 with monthly charges of $9.95-$29.95 for customized alerts and texts. Parents can also install monitoring cameras beginning at $199-$299 plus a monthly service fee.
  5. Spy Parent is a website that parents can join to receive information on the best high-tech monitoring gadgets on the market. “When we originally launched the site back in 2008 we thought that mainly parents of tweens would buy our products. There is now an increase of parents of college students that buy our products,” says Sedgrid Lewis, CEO of Spy Parent. The most popular? Lewis says it is the GPS tracking devices.

If these gadgets are just a little too “Big Brother is watching you” for you and your family, Schupp, the founder of University Parent, has these suggestions for parents who miss their children or are concerned about their safety or success in college:

  • If you just miss your kids, stay involved in their lives and stay at the top of your kids’ minds by sending postcards, handwritten letters and care packages. “Kids love getting stuff in the mail and getting a care package can literally give them a taste of home,” says Schupp. “It also helps the parents too by sending something off to their kids.”
  • Getting a subscription to the community newspaper and college newspaper where the student is going to school, Schupp says, will give you ideas for conversation starters. “You can ask them if they went to the football game,” says Schupp. “It gives you something lighthearted to talk about, rather than starting the conversation with scary questions such as grades.”
  • If you’re concerned with security, make sure you, as a parent, read up on what campus security services are available, such as escorts who walk students home from the library after dark. Schupp says to make sure your student knows about these services and feels comfortable using them.
  • Make sure your student has an in case of emergency button set up on his or her phone so you will be immediately notified if there is an emergency.
  • Get to know your student’s roommates. Include them on some outings when you go visit your student. Know their contact information, but Schupp warns, “Don’t contact the roommate unless it is a real emergency.”
  • Get to know the resident adviser at your student’s dorm and the office of parent services or parent relations. Opt into newsletters and alerts. Participate in parent weekends.
  • Friend your students on social networks and monitor them from a distance. This is really the best way to get the scoop on what your kids are actually doing.

Are you interested in helping your student do well in college in addition to monitoring their every move? Check out MainStreet's look at the best back-to-school smartphone apps!

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