Tracking Your Teen
Q: My 15-year-old is never where she says she’ll be when I check. She always has a great reason, always gives me the best plans, yet trust is disappearing. I am afraid for her safety. What should I do?
A: This is an age where parents often feel in a bind between trusting their kids, knowing that many things will never be known, and fearing for their safety and judgment. Your fears sound well-grounded from your experience and the developmental age of your daughter. Yet the core questions are: How will she learn for herself, and how great a risk is she running with her current choices?
These questions have two perspectives: What would your daughter say, and what do you and her father think? When your child is getting closer to leaving home, you want to be a safety net for her more than being in charge of every decision. It is up to you to determine what your safety net looks like.
Talking with your daughter about your fears is the best first step. Basic communication theory will always say talk first to the person. This is respect in action, something you would want her to do with you. When you talk, be sure to listen before you ever take positions so that she feels fully understood and knows that you are willing to hear her out.
This conversation must include your fears and what behaviors have occurred in the past that have invited those fears. Make sure you give her plenty of time to reassure you and develop ways she can be a reliable source of information. If past issues have not been addressed, ask her to plan for those also. You want to build a long-term, trusting relationship with her, and the first choice is to have her be the architect of that plan.
If you develop a plan that you are willing to pilot, make it your top priority to reinforce each success of the plan. Remember, all good relationships are based on a ratio of 7 positive comments to 1 negative. This is the pattern you would like her to have not only with her family, but her friends, co-workers, and eventually her boyfriend and mate. Hopefully, this measure may address your needs, but if it doesn’t, you have other options.
These other options include ways for you to get information which might not be forthcoming from your daughter. There are at least three ways that tracking your daughter is technologically available to you should you feel that her choices, behavior, and the risk deem it necessary. Remember, you want to weigh carefully how “at risk” she is, your willingness to share the information you learn from these methods with her, and the long-term impact taking these steps will have on your relationship.
The first step includes monitoring her computer online activity; conversations in chat rooms, Instant Messages, as well as having access to all her online accounts. Often software (spyware of its own sort) can do this for you. The second step includes the use of her cell phone, should she have one, as a GPS tracking device. You may already be able to track and, if necessary, limit the use of the phone. Most cell phone companies have the option of parental controls as part of the package, which can be activated by the parent’s computer. The GPS element involves purchasing a specific program for the phone. Again, the parents can go online to see where their child is when the phone is on. The third option is a tracking device placed on her car once she turns 16.
Through GPS technology, parents now can have the power to know exactly where their children are and where they are going in real time. They can even be alerted if their child leaves a certain area at a certain time of the day.
This technology has been used for years for medical monitoring of patients at home as well as older people living alone. Now advanced products, if they are on, can even send a measure of a teen’s heart rate and body temperature back home.
Some of these products have been used to observe child care in the home as well as track a spouse’s behavior. On Star is frequently advertised as the element of safety in case of an auto accident. We live in an age where technology can assist us in protecting one another. Our job is to know when we need it and what the best use of the technology is.
If your daughter likes the idea of you being able to believe her and wants you to be able to see what she tells you is true, then two programs might fit very well into your planning. The computer programs, Loopt and Glympse, which aren’t actually made specifically for parents and children (but more for social networking), might be great resources for you. Loopt, which can be used from a computer or smart phone, is a sort of GPS social networking program. Loopt allows you to choose privacy settings allowing only people of your choosing, to track your location.
Glympse enables you to send a message to specific people to let them know where you are in real time for a certain period of time. To make sure your child gets to her destination safely, you could ask her to “glympse you.” You’ll be able to watch on a road map her exact path, how fast she’s going on the road, and where she is headed. Many parents and kids might like the fact that Glympse does not require an application and that it is in line with the current move away from texting and talking on the cell phone. Teens can tell parents and friends when they are on their way.
There are many additional resources available to you and your daughter. Communication, counselors, friends, and technology can be part of this conversation. Good luck!