Speaking of parental anxiety. . .
Yesterday, I posted about how the Aurora movie theater shootings are, yet again, provoking unrealistic parental fears. The phenomenon might be bad for kids, but it works in favor of some, especially back-to-school merchandisers.
This year, there seems to be an even greater emphasis on gadgets and technology that blurs the line between keeping our kids safe and stoking our own anxiety.
Exhibit A: An excerpt from an e-mail I recently received with this helpful “tip” for parents sending their kids off to school for the first time:
“For those parents who want the peace of mind that their child has not left the premises of the school, there are parent-friendly devices like child-safety trackers. These safety devices. . .are simply tucked into a backpack or attached to your child’s clothing, sending an alert if a child goes outside of a pre-set geographical area. . .”
That came from a pitch for a device called Amber Alert GPS V3, which also pledges to “provide reports on a kid’s location every five minutes, as well as a history of where your child has been recently. The V3 allows parents to customize specific zone alerts around places your child frequents — school, grandma’s house, soccer field — and will send parents an alert via email or text every time your child enters or exits that zone.”
There’s more: “. . . for a small monthly fee, alerts can also be set up to track speed (allowing you to know if your child is in a car, or going faster than you would like) as well as notifications if your child comes within 500 feet of a sexual offender’s residence.”
An alert every time my kid walks near the soccer field “zone”?
Have we gone mad?
Before I get on my high horse here, I thought it best we hear from the other side. So, I contacted the developer of the V3, Russell Thornton.
Thornton, company lore goes, was inspired to design a tracking device after he lost sight of his son at an amusement park.
From the start, I told Thornton of my skepticism. He handily defended his alert and, more broadly, the new age of tracking our kids. Below is an edited version of our exchange.
JD: Are products like child tracking devices contributing to parental
RT: No, quite the opposite. We’ve found that parental anxiety most frequently comes from parents not knowing where their children are. Amber Alert GPS allows parents to instantly check and find out where their children are, without intruding on the child or restricting the child’s freedom to explore their world.
JD: So they’re not an electronic leash?
RT: Childhood is a time for kids to run, jump, dance, play and explore without parents hovering over them every minute. Independence is a core part of growing up. In an ever increasingly crowded, busy, confusing and sometimes unsafe world, products like ours allow for this independence while providing parents with the peace of mind that comes from knowing they can locate their children at any time.
JD: Most crimes against children are perpetrated by family members or known acquaintances; wouldn’t children be better off, in terms of building confidence and allowing freedom, if this generation of parents took a step back?
RT: Yes, it would, and Amber Alert GPS is actually a good way for parents to “step back.”
JD: What about the potential to fuel an over-protection instinct in parents?
RT: In practical use, parents achieve peace of mind while kids are unshackled. The behavior of over-protective parents seems to be one of never letting the child out of their site, chauffeuring them from school to events and being heavily involved in planning a child’s time. [Our product] tends to get parents to back off and let their kids be kids. For instance, parents end up letting kids walk or ride their bike to school when before they were too worried to allow that to happen.
Your turn. Is technology like this allowing parents to “let kids be kids” in our modern world or is it contributing to a culture of over-parenting?