Parental Paranoia: Why Tracking Kids with GPS is Counterintuitive

The first time I heard about this kind of technology, it was in the movie Meet The Parents. It felt very Orwellian. This relates Robert De Niro’s character in the movie, an ex-CIA official, and his spy cam invention (you can watch the scene here). The premise was parents could keep an eye on their kids when they are away from home. More importantly, they can spy on the nanny, the babysitter or anyone else that interacts with the children.

Spy Cams, from Meet The Parents

At the time, it sounded ludicrous but I was single when I watched this movie. Fast forward 12 years later: now my coworkers are showing me live footage of their apartments and baby rooms. It was not hard to understand why these were necessary for two reasons. First, both parents worked and they were distant from their offspring. The second involves my perspective: I was a brand-new dad.

This past week, a product advertisement popped up on my Facebook scroll. The product is called JioBit and it provides parents with the ability to track their children’s movements via an App. According to the video, no matter where a kid roams, the tracker can pinpoint a child’s location.

Peace of mind for a piece of your paycheck.

The cynic in me asked, what’s next – rectal poop monitors to measure an infant’s vitamin and mineral intake? Perhaps medical professionals will design a product that can be implanted beside a toddler’s larynx to measure sugar intake. I can imagine the mother’s scorn directed at some unsuspecting Au Pair if she slips and let’s sweet Gracie consume a second slice of pie.

“What were you thinking? Her blood sugar spiked an hour before bedtime!”

“I wasn’t aware she… or you… wait, how do you know about her sugar levels?” asks the innocent Au Pair.

“We just know, it’s none of your damn business. We’re always keeping an eye on things!”

Flashback to Meet The Parents and the spy cams. Here was a technology that on some level made sense, yet another level, it conveys the fact the parents who use spy cams can’t trust anyone. This movie took place in 2000, the live cameras I saw in my coworkers’ homes was back in 2014. Since then, we’ve gradually watched new technologies permeate our day-to-day lives.

And frankly, it’s made us all a little bat-shit crazy.

If you need further proof of technology’s influence on society, try this experiment. Go to Amazon, search for a product that’s outside of your normal shopping behavior. If you’re a carnivore that loves red meat, search for vegan protein powder or if the reverse applies, search for Slim Jim meat sticks. Within a day you’ll likely see an ad for one or the other pop up as you browse. Similar to Robert De Niro’s character in Meet The Parents, “They are watching.”

Do we need this level monitoring with our kids? Do we possess the means, as disciplinarians, to enforce rules that assure junior won’t run off without any warning?

The CEO of JioBit, John Renaldi, was featured in the ad I watched on Facebook. Here’s a screenshot I captured, where he asks a parent what would happen if, “they just took off and they bolted…”

Let’s just say, the C.E.O. want his bonus.

That begs the question, if the parents don’t read their kid the riot act the first time he/she takes off, are they in fact ‘parenting’ their children whatsoever? If a kid bolts towards a busy street, is it not the parents’ responsibility to raise living hell when they stop their child from throwing themselves in front of oncoming traffic? The point is to leave an indelible impression, forever, in the back of the child’s mind “Do that again and you are in a world trouble!” Expletives, in this scenario, are not a bad idea.

Are we now, as a society, ready to outsource the concerns we have for a child’s whereabouts, location and movements… to an App?

It’s not beneath JioBit to fan the flames of a parent’s worst nightmare: kidnapping. Here’s a visual from their website:

From JioBit’s website.

The officer doesn’t outright say it, but the verbiage states: “Time is critical, and very important in locating the missing.” I’m sure that statement is accurate. But for the convenience of making a sale and driving profits for JioBit, it can’t hurt to throw a little gas on the fire.

Parents represent an easy mark when it comes to making them paranoid about their kids.

Responsible parents, however, know that when your child is just beginning to walk, you can keep them within arms’ length. When they are toddlers, you keep them within eyesight. When they are young boys and girls, you start to teach them about the dangers of wandering off too far.

And when they are somewhere around eight years old, you empower them with the knowledge they need to make sure they know what to do if they get lost. You continue to educate them so they are more prepared as the years go by. You reinforce their resilience rather than reinforce your worst fears. That is unless you want to be a helicopter parent and hold your children’s hand until they graduate from college. At that point, they will be less equipped to fend for themselves in a world that will throw your children a few curve balls.

JioBit can serve a purpose in special circumstances, and it relates to kids with special needs: autistic children, mentally challenged, down syndrome or children that can’t clearly process risks or consequences. Those who parent these kinds of kids have a greater challenge compared to the rest of us. JioBit, in these cases, can provide a solution that’s grounded in common sense. But when the purpose of technology is rooted in serving a parents’ worst fears, it’s counterproductive.

The role of a parent is to empower his or her children as they grow older with the wisdom they need to make sound judgments, independent of our immediate oversight. 

*Sidenote*

A fantastic follow-up article to share and worthy of review as it relates to this subject. The author of Free-Range Kids, Lenore Skenazy, touches onparental paranoia on her spin-off site, LetGrow.org.

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