In this case, it isn't Big Brother who's watching — it's Big Mother (or Father). Increasingly, parents are using high-tech methods...
CHICAGO — In this case, it isn’t Big Brother who’s watching — it’s Big Mother (or Father).
Increasingly, parents are using high-tech methods to track everything from where their children are and how far they are driving to what they buy, what they eat and whether they’ve shown up for class.
Often, the gadget involved is a cellphone that transmits location data. The details get delivered by e-mail, cellphone text message or the Web.
Other times, the tech tool is a debitlike card used at a school lunch counter, or a device that lets parents know not only how far and fast the car is going, but also whether their child has been braking too hard or making jackrabbit starts.
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Ted Schmidt, a father in suburban Burr Ridge, Ill., uses the cellphone method to track his four children, including two in college.
“Here’s the story,” Schmidt told them when he decided to begin tracking them about a year ago. “24/7, I can tell where your phone is, what speed it’s going. … So (even) days later, I can look and see that ‘Oh my gosh, you were going 80 miles an hour on the interstate at 2 o’clock in the morning.” ‘
Schmidt is convinced it’s keeping his kids safer — partly because they know they’re being watched.
His 15-year-old son, Noah, who’s been caught a few places he wasn’t supposed to be, isn’t nearly as pleased.
“It’s annoying,” the high-school sophomore complains. “It gives the parents too much control.”
The Schmidts’ older daughters are, however, more accepting. Ciarra Schmidt, 18, a New York University freshman, likes to know her parents could find her in an emergency.
“You never know what could happen,” she says. “It’s a nice kind of security blanket.”
The Schmidts use a service called Teen Arrive Alive, one of a few companies that work with Nextel wireless phones and a tracking service from uLocate Communications.
Other devices that track on-the-go kids include the Wherifone, a specialized locator phone that uses the Global Positioning System, and the CarChip, a device about the size of two 9-volt batteries stacked together that, installed in a vehicle, monitors speed, distance and driving habits.
Interest in the United States is growing quickly, as it already has in other countries — Canada and the United Kingdom included.
Teen Arrive Alive, which began offering its tracking service in May 2004, now has subscribers in every state.
These days, it’s just one way technology is helping parents monitor their kids.
Parenting experts have mixed views on such techniques.
In general, monitoring a child is a good thing, says Christy Buchanan, an associate professor of psychology at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.
“But parents have to strike some balance between knowing what their kids are up to without the adolescent feeling like they’re having their every move controlled,” says Buchanan, who is involved in a multiyear study of teens and parents.
“Parents shouldn’t fool themselves into thinking that they can keep their kids from making mistakes, which is part of growing up and learning,” she said.
Sometimes, young people find ways around technological monitoring.
Kate Kelly, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Parenting a Teenager,” doesn’t blame them.
“Normal spouses don’t hire private detectives to track the whereabouts of their mates, and parents who have done their jobs in establishing good relationships with their teens shouldn’t be using extraordinary high-tech devices to follow their teens,” Kelly says.