To Track or Not to Track?

Across the U.S., colleges are getting ready to start a new academic year. For recent high school graduates, and their parents, it is a momentous occasion.

For many of these students, it will be their first time away from parental supervision, and for some of the parents, it will be the first time they won’t be able to keep close tabs on their children.

Such a situation makes many parents nervous, and so it’s no surprise that some companies have developed technologies that can allegedly help to calm such fears.

I’m talking of tracking apps, such as Life360, as well as a smartphone’s built-in tracking capability. These apps allow users to know exactly where someone is, how fast they are driving, or how much battery life is left in a person’s phone, as well as other features.

The decision to use such an app, as you might imagine, has both supporters and critics.

Those in favor of such apps claim it is a way to keep their kids safe, to know if they have been in an accident, or if they are lost. Critics claim such apps create a false sense of security for parents, and it delays the importance of allowing children to become independent. Mental-health experts say that all this tracking can hamper young adults’ ability to mature and that it signals to kids that the world is unsafe.

The apps seem to be popular – Life360 has more than 32 million monthly active users.

Here’s what Life360 Chief Executive Chris Hulls has to say: “What we find is that younger college kids have grown up in the smartphone era, and they actually want the connection to their parents. Life360 makes them feel safer, and parents naturally are less intrusive about it because there isn’t the ‘mom waiting up looking out the window’ stereotype to worry about.”

It should also be noted that the tracking can work in reverse; children can track their parents’ actions. (no more surprise visit to campus!)

In addition, it appears that many of these apps can be fooled, rendering them fairly useless.

I’m on the fence with this one, and if I had college-age children I would let them decide if they want to use the app. My guess is that if they did want it, the desire or novelty to have it would likely wear off fairly quickly and they would want to delete the app.

Personally, I would have no problem being tracked, and I am fully aware that many of the apps on my phone are already doing so to some extent. I like taking pictures with geo-tracking; I like when Google Maps tracks all my driving, I like that my Apple Watch keeps tabs on what my heart rate is and how many steps I’ve taken, and let’s just say my iPhone probably knows more about me than I do.

But that’s a 63-year old speaking.

An 18-year old may feel very different, and that may be a good thing…

*image from Parentology


Wall Street Journal

84 thoughts on “To Track or Not to Track?

  1. Like you, I have no problem being tracked. Because of our travels, our kids tend to track us more than we track them, and they too share their location with us when they travel. I can totally see why a fresh out of high school young adult would feel that their independence is being squashed if they are being tracked, but I think that it depends on the individual and on their relationship with their parents. On another note, I can’t believe it’s already a new school year. Wasn’t it only just last month that you wrote about school starting and you had to figure out how to teach with all of the restrictions? Where does time go?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I am torn on this. Somewhere between ignorance is bliss and wanting to know all the details. I can think of circumstances for both positions. My son made good decisions and I trusted him when he was growing up. He also had/has a strong independent streak and probably wouldn’t have given in to being tracked. Pretty sure he got that from his mother.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I see the pros and cons to it. I think for the “helicopter” parents that have a hard time letting go this will make it even harder! Like the experts say, will make it harder for kids to learn independence.

    On the other hand my parents have the app for each other. They are 80 years old. What if one of them doesn’t come home from an appointment or errand when expected? The spouse at home can see where they are at.
    Just a little extra safety measure.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. I don’t like the idea of being tracked. It could jeopardize some of my missions, with the secret job I have at the CIA. Wait a second, I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about that. Your blog will self-destruct in 5 seconds.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I don’t know what KAOS actually stands for, but it’s a Delaware corporation, for tax purposes, that promotes evil throughout the world. It is countered by CONTROL agents. One of the most famous CONTROL agents was a man named Maxwell Smart, who teamed up with Agent 99, to fight KAOS.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Like most issues, I can see both sides of the argument. I think it’s a bit of a leap to think this will keep kids safe, but I can see its applications. I believe most young people I know would not want to be tracked. It would be interesting to see the data from different age groups on this one.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think you’re right Pete. I don’t think to teens/young adults would want to be tracked. But for me, I’m happy if my wife knows where I am at. I mean Google already does…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. One of the funny things that my phone does is tell me how far away I am from one of those coffee drive-up places. I’ve maybe been there once in my life, so it took me a bit to comprehend what was going on. My gym is right across the street from it.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. How nice, Tandy, to go to University abroad. I worked and saved the money for my first year at UNISA and then I had a full scholarship for the rest of my time. I worked throughout my University years. My son is going to WITS next year, but I want him to enjoy his Uni life and not spend all his time working and worrying about money.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I am always impressed with studnets who work while going to college. It’s not easy to balance both, but it creates a great work ethic, and I think you appreciate your education even more…

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I, too, can see both sides of this issue. Just keep in mind, your are tracking your child’s cell phone, not them physically. Unless, of course, you can hack into the microchips delivered in our vaccines.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Hi Jim, I think this is a terrible idea. I can’t think of anything more invasive than tracking University kids. They have to grow up and make their own lives. How can they do that with helicopter parents looking over their shoulders all the time. I think the world have gone a bit mad. Tracking your heart rate and steps in a day, isn’t the same thing at all.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree Robbie; it’s a matter of trust and independence. And while tracking personal data isn’t quite the same; I do let Google track my travels, and I am fine with that. It’s fun to go back and see where I’ve been. Of course, they aren’t going to ground me if I stay out to late one night 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Can you imagine the laughs the CIA would get if they were tracking guys like us, Jim? “My god! Is this what this guy does for fun?”🤣🤣🤣

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I think our phones track us without apps or Google. The info just isn’t reported. If the apps can be fooled, I don’t see the point. I let my auto insurance company track how I drive my car to get the best rate. I would not want this app if I was in college. It seems like the parents don’t trust the kids, and these apps don’t say what people are doing anyway. That’s probably the next step.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. i could care less if someone wanted to track me, they would fall asleep and we are already being tracked with many of our own devices. that being said, i’m on the anti-track train for parents of college students. let them learn and grown as they go on their own

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I said the same thing to my students to day about how people would fall asleep if they tracked me. and yes, I agree that it does not seem like a good tool for tracking teens/young adults…

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I guess I’m not pro or con. Some kids (like 17 year old me away at college) are horribly immature and could probably benefit from some parental oversight. Still, they are technically adults (sort of, their right to keep vices are rapidly disappearing and my daughter couldn’t rent a car last spring) and by now should have a good basis of experiences to help guide them. With my college age daughter, tracking would never cross my mind. My son, still two years out from college, is already far more mature than I was. I doubt I’ll be doing any tracking. However, I’d like reliable tracking on my phone since I head out into the state forest to run and bike frequently.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. your examples are all right on point. it is a matter of trust and maturity. And I agree that if were going out for a long run or bike, I’d want someone to know where I’m at, besides my fitness app…


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