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On the rise of youth surveillance via digital tracking: 2 perspectives

By Toni De Guzman and Jaqueline McLeod Rogers


With the advances of technology, privacy is being compromised to a greater extent through tracking-based applications such as Find My, Life360, and others. How does this affect parental relationships with children? Some parents may think they are protecting their children by tracking their activity, but in turn they may be infringing on their rights.  It’s hard to  draw the line when determining children’s rights in the digital age.

Life360 is an application that may offer parents  peace of mind, merely a swipe away.  This application can send notifications if the person being tracked arrives at a location or leaves a location. This may reassure some parents who like monitoring family activities. For children, however, it may feel invasive knowing they are constantly being watched. Apple’s Find My application provides the same features.

In addition, Life360 can also detect if a battery is running low and tracking cannot continue. This application can also expose driving habits, for example, driving speed, top speed, total miles, and how many destinations visited.Some traditional  parenting practices have evolved due to the introduction of tracking-based applications. Parents may feel like they are protecting children with the implementation of these apps. Yet depending on how parents utilize the app, and whether  they tend to be overprotective or easygoing, this app can pose a threat to PARENT/ CHILD dynamics. Perhaps this can happen regardless of parental  intentions, for children are bound to feel undermined if they are not allowed to be independent.

Having access to a child’s location 24/7 can limit real-life meaningful catching up conversations. Parents know too much about the comings and goings of their kids or may make assumptions based on groundless worries. Tracking applications can be addictive. They can also be misused if introduced to children as a punishment, or to gain their trust back. A simple “How was your day?” could be replaced with a more invasive question like “Why were you at…?” –which can lead to negative conversations. These applications may ease some parental responsibilities of supervising — but at what cost? On top of location access, additional features such as driving speed, and notifications of departure can create an environment of trust barriers.  Being micromanaged can make people feel as if they are completely controlled and have no say regarding their privacy. Parents tracking children as a way of punishment may prevent healthy conversations about limitations and rules.

Here’s my view as a young adult, no longer under parental protection and without the experience of trying to protect kids of my own. Children don’t stay young forever. They are meant to make mistakes and learn from them. They require plenty of privacy and autonomy. Kids should be allowed to be kids, without surveillance.

In a nutshell, here’s a question for parents to consider: Are you really protecting your children or straining the relationship by implementing tracking-based technologies?

Leupe, Jonas. “Photo by Jonas Leupe on Unsplash.” Beautiful Free Images & Pictures, 23 June 2020, 

JAQUELINE: A Parent’s Response

Toni raises many good points about the value of trust and the need for parent/child conversations. But the reality is that we live busy lives, often in congested cities, and while parents may want to give children opportunities to explore the world and exercise freedom,  many would feel more responsible and confident if they do this with a backup plan in place. Many probably feel it would be irresponsible not to use information-gathering devices that are now so available.

Most parents know that trackers aren’t fail safes. But if a child doesn’t come home and it’s getting late or if there’s car trouble–or any kind of situation where help is needed–it is likely all for the good if I as a parent have the advantage of being able offer timely help or intervention.

When children reach adulthood, many still call out for help from time to time. How many parents have received a latenight calls letting us know our child wants support in some form?  Maybe denying that we have bonds and responsibilities holding us together is not the way to go. 

We can’t keep each other in chains, but many parents experience life with children as a voyage of connection, sometimes close and sometimes more distant. Defining independence as a chief right of passage that children deserve—and hiking this above other values to consider—may not address the fullness of family dynamics.

Toni asked a question of parents at the end of her piece: “Are you really protecting your children or adding stress to the relationship by implementing tracking-based technologies?” I call on Ursula Franklin—drawing from the Introduction to her Massey Lectures in 1989, “The Real World of Technology” — to help support my response. She said all technologies can be used either to help us or control us, and that we should strive to put the former application in play.  If we relate this to trackers, we can note they are useful tools if they support our best efforts and less good if they are simply used to surveille and punish.

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