Tracking Kids on the School Bus?!

Readers: It seems like in ancient times — that is, pre-iPhone — nervous parents just had to suck it up. Now, they create apps. The latest is an, “I’m on board the school bus!” alert, the brainchild of Manhattan mom who, according to this article, went into a “panic” when her 10-year-old son’s school bus was half an hour late one day in the second week of school.

Now, I understand that not knowing your kid’s whereabouts can be a miserable moment in parenting. But if you’ve been around the block (or your kid has!), you know that at the beginning of the school year the bus drivers haven’t gotten the hang of the route yet. Some of them take the long way home. It’s annoying, but does that mean the kids on the bus are in danger? Or that this new app does anything more than give the worried parent a new GPS’d dot on a map to obsess about on a daily basis?

My worry is that this app will go from novelty to must-have in a matter of years, and once again we will have a new layer of parental supervision that will start to FEEL necessary, though in reality, it isn’t. It’s just a new twist on the current cultural notion that if a parent somehow has his or her eyes on a kid, that kid is magically protected from everything bad. And if the parents’ eyes are NOT on the kid at all times, well, that indicates a bad parent. I still believe you can be a perfectly good parent and not track your kid like a shipment of plutonium (that happens to ride the school bus). — L.

Do we really have to know where our kids are every second of the day?

Trick or Treat or Track Your Kid?

Hi Readers! Trick or treat or track? Those are the three Halloween options this year, according to this piece in the Orlando Sentinel, thanks to an app that allows parents to track their kids as they go trick or treating (or as they go anywhere,  any day. It’s not like the app only works on Oct. 31.)

According to Trick or Tracker’s website, the app “enables responsible parents to know the exact whereabouts of their trick-or-treating kids…”

So I guess it’s only IRRESPONSIBLE parents who allow their kids to go around the neighborhood without the equivalent of an electronic parole bracelet, eh? Now it’s nuts to trust our kids and our communities?

The company presents the app as a lifesaver…for parents who would otherwise trail their kids in a car, and thus end up “risking the lives of others that may stray into their paths, as they are distracted by the task of diligently watching their children from the car window.”

The idea that maybe kids can trick or treat on their own without their parents diligently watching in person or on a screen must seem hopelessly outdated to some. And yet, I vote for it. Why?

Because a lot of kids today rarely walk around their neighborhood at all. Only about one in ten walks to school.  Halloween night is the perfect time to break the ice, since a whole lot of kids are out. And, as I reported last year, professors who pored over sex crime stats found Halloween to be one of the safest days of the year. It’s also a night time holiday — at least when kids get a little older — and a kid who goes out without a parent at night is a kid who walks a little taller the next day.

Yes, walk your young kids around the neighborhood (or have an older kid do it). But when they get to the age that you went trick or treating without your parents, let your kids have that same empowering, en-candying experience. Tricks? Yes. Treats? Yes. Tracking? Boo. –L.

From My Mailbox: “10 Ways to Use Technology to Spy on Your Kids”

Hi Readers — Out of the blue I got this “tip” sheet with a request to post it. As I replied to the sender: “I have a feeling you are not very familiar with my blog.”

Those of you who ARE familiar with the basic Free-Range Kids concept that our kids are less endangered and more capable than pop culture suggests, may be surprised to see just how far the over-protection faction seems willing to go:

10 Ways to Use Technology to Spy on Your Teen

On October 10, 2011, in in my area, by admin

Teens have access to unprecedented amounts of technology, and the problem is, they usually know how to use it better than their parents. With sexting, cyberstalking, cyberbullying and internet predators in abundance, parents need to closely monitor what their teens are doing on the internet and beyond. The best way to do this is to use the newest technology available to spy on their teens. Kids may not appreciate it, but it’s important for parents to know what their teens are up to at this impressionable age when they don’t always make good decisions. Here are 10 ways to use technology to spy on your teen.

  1. Nanny cam – Originally used to monitor in-home caregivers, nanny cams can be used to spy on your teens as well. These hidden cameras can be installed in common household objects and placed strategically throughout your home. Parents of teens may consider putting one in their teen’s bedroom to make sure their child is not engaging in inappropriate behavior when they’re not home.
  2. Facebook – Friend your teens on facebook to monitor what they’re posting on their facebook page. If you suspect they are blocking you from some of their postings, you could get sneaky and pose as someone else, such as another teen, to find out what they’re really up to.
  3. Twitter – It’s also a good idea to follow your kids on Twitter to see what they’re tweeting about. Your teen will be more likely to be careful about what they tweet if they know you’re watching. This can help prevent inappropriate pictures being sent into cyberspace where they will live on forever.
  4. Internet search history – Periodically check your teen’s internet search history on their computer to see what they looking at when they surf the web. Are they doing research for homework or just watching You Tube? Make sure you block any porn sights and check to see if the blocks are still in place. Teens will find ways to get around your parental controls, so hold them accountable if they do.
  5. Email – While you’re at it, check on their email history too. Teens won’t like the fact that you’re doing this and will accuse you of invading their privacy. This is a legitimate concern, but so is your concern for their safety. Unless you know that they’re using the computer responsibly, they shouldn’t be allowed to use it unsupervised.
  6. Computer monitor – If you want to know what your teen is doing on their computer and are concerned they will delete any information they don’t want you to see, you can install a monitor to keep track of their computer activity. These monitors can record every keystroke, websites visited, take screen snapshots and give you detailed reports. This is the best way to monitor chat rooms, email and any social networking your teen is engaging in.
  7. Remote monitoring – The technology is also available to have these monitoring reports sent to your email so you can stay informed of your teen’s activities while you’re away from home. This is a great feature if you travel a lot for business. It’s also a good way for your child to let you know instantly if they’re in trouble.
  8. Cell phone monitor – You can get a similar monitoring system to track your child’s cell phone activity. These devices will send you reports on their calls, texting, location, web history and any pictures taken. Teens with mobile phone technology are more likely to use it than their home computers. This is also a great way to deter teen abductions and know instantly if anything goes wrong.
  9. Car monitor – Teens don’t always use good judgment when they get behind the wheel, so a car monitor is another way to use technology to spy on them. These GPS devices not only track where your kids are going, but what speed they’re driving and if they’re out past their curfew. They can even be set to give your teen an audible warning if they’re driving recklessly and emit an ear piercing sound if they’re driving too fast or staying out too late.
  10. Home security – Many people have security systems installed in their homes that can be used to spy on their teens. Security cameras can be reviewed plus checking the alarm history can let you know the exact time your child enters and leaves the house.

Of course your teen is not going to like all this spying, especially if you are doing it on the sly, so be sure to let them know what you’re doing and why. Be careful not to overreact over every little piece of information you get or your teen will find ways to get around your monitoring. There’s a delicate balance between ensuring your child’s safety and just plain being snoopy. Give them as much privacy as you can, but be ready to broach their boundaries if you think they’re in real danger.

LENORE HERE AGAIN: So let’s get this straight: We should put video cameras in our kids’ bedrooms and GPS devices in their cars, even as we follow them on the web and monitor their emails and phone calls?

Isn’t this what the government does with suspected terrorists?

The jolly publicist who sent me these suggestions concluded her email request for me to post them by saying, “It has been a sincere pleasure to read your great content.”

Something tells me she has not really had that pleasure, ever. But maybe now she’ll read your comments. — L 

6 Dumbest Things Schools Do to “Protect Kids”

Hi Readers — This “Dumbest Things” piece by the folks at Cracked is so perfect, click and enjoy. And remember, back when Cracked used to be the runner-up to Mad, I wrote scads of articles for it. (Just not recently, when it became brilliant social commentary.)

Favorite Dumbest Thing schools are doing to “protect” kids? Well, it’s a toss up between the school banning ALL photography (lest it lead to and/or become child porn), and the individual radio frequency i.d. tags that a school purchased to track kids…except that if a kid IS somehow abducted from the school grounds, the signal stops beeping 100 feet away.

Fight the madness, and enjoy the captions. They’re the best. — L.

Oh Please! “Terrifying”? The Latest “Alarming!” News?

Readers: This “service” piece on NBC Over-Reaction News — sorry, NBC Action News —  tells us that because there is a GPS locator embedded in the pix we take on our cell phones, “the bad guys” can NOW SEE where our children live, where they “recreate” (such a police verb — it means play), and where they “go to school.” It can even “locate their bedrooms!”

Which means that if you are a predator who could not possibly OTHERWISE ever figure out where there is a park, or a school, or a house with a trike in the front yard, at LAST you can find yourself a child, using sophisticated technology.

SUDDENLY our children are unsafe — and it is all technology’s fault. And how GRATEFUL we must be to the TV reporters who dwell and dwell and dwell on the fact that now we parents must be even MORE vigilant, because so many predators are busy using GPS embeds to “cherry pick” (TV’s word) and track down the ONLY kid worth taking: YOURS. Because her smile is so irresistibly sweet!

Shake, shake, shake. Those are your marching orders for today: SHAKE IN YOUR SHOES. They are watching your every move! If you love your children, be MORE CAREFUL! (And if you DON’T love your children, go ahead and take their pictures, you dreadful parent. You will suffer the consequences!!!!!) — L.

You Know You’re Making an Impact When…

Hi Readers! You know you’re making an impact when marketers start to try to make a buck off you, as did this one. A friend who runs a parenting magazine got this public relations pitch:

Dear _______:

There has been a lot of discussion about “free range parenting” — letting your kids wander to the park or take the subway alone to build independence. I’m wondering if you’re be interested in writing an article about how cell phone GPS locator services make it easier for parents to let go.

A recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project revealed that 75% of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 own a cell phone — and some 48% of parents use a cell phone to monitor their kid’s whereabouts.

On Tuesday, our company [I took out its name. I’m not giving them free publicity here!] will announce its latest cell phone Safety Plan for kids. In addition to other features, the plan offers unlimited online GPS locator services for parents. Would you be interested in speaking with a mom who relies on our company’s unlimited GPS locator services to make sure her 6th grade daughter is safe throughout the day? This parent perfectly illustrates the challenges faced by busy modern families. In an era where sending even 6th graders to the park without an adult can feel risky, GPS locator services are giving kids greater freedom and parents much-needed peace of mind.

Please let me know if you are interested in talking to our CEO and this parent. Thanks, I look forward to hearing from you.

Hi — Lenore here again. Grrrr! Only with kiddie GPS does a parent have ANY peace of mind? Otherwise, the mom is constantly worried that her 6th grader is in harm’s way? Otherwise, letting her 6th grader play in the park is too dangerous? And how does a GPS prevent anything “terrible” from happening, anyway, you fearmongerers out to make a buck?

I understand how Free-Rangers can embrace cell phones some times. My kids have them now and it’s helpful to connect, from time to time. But I am not tracking them throughout the day and I sure don’t think I need to that, for me to be a “good” parent or for them to be “safe.”

So no free publicity here, guys! Go stalk parents someplace else! — L.

Life in Wartime (Is What Companies are Trying to Make Childhood Feel Like)

Readers — Sometimes I get so fed up with our fearmongering culture, I almost can’t take pen to blog. Or pixel to blog. Or whatever. But here I am. A reader sent in this link to an extremely popular app that not only TRACKS all your family members, it also alerts you to when they are anywhere near a registered sex offender. This might be helpful, were the registry not jammed with folks who pose no threat to kids at all, chiefly teens who had sex with their slightly underage teenage girlfriends.  (More on that here.)

Anyway, there are other buttons to press that announce the equivalent of , “I made it home safely!” as if the entire walk home from school, or to a friend’s house, was the equivalent of infiltrating behind enemy lines, bullets flying, landmines along the way.

I KNOW the argument is, “Better safe than sorry,” but, how can I put this? We ARE safe. Incredibly safe! Not PERFECTLY safe, but to act as if our children are under seige when we live in one of the safest times in human history is almost saying, “F&$# you!” to all the effort and pain that has brought us to this glorious time.

And so, I must grrrr. Grrrr.

But! Later on today or early tomorrow I have a very nice story to report. So come down off the ledge. As will I. — L