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Yes, I Track My Kids With Tracking Apps—And I’m Not Sorry

I first heard about Life360 from another mom. She was relaying a story to me about how the app had saved the son of a mutual friend.

He was at college and called his mother to tell her he had a horrible headache. Concerned, she told him to go immediately to health services. She called him back thirty minutes later to see what the doctor said. When he didn’t pick up his phone, she checked his location on Life 360 and discovered he had never left his dorm room.  She immediately called campus security, who rushed to her son’s room and found him unconscious.

Her quick thinking, the school’s rapid response, and the Life360 app saved his life.

Life360 is a web and mobile family networking app with a GPS locator. It’s designed to keep families connected and allows family members to see where each person is at any given time. The basic version is free and users have the option of buying additional features. In addition to current location, the app lets users know where family members have been throughout the day, how long they stayed at each place, and even how fast they drove to get there.

I trust my kids, I really do, but I also am a worrier.

I worry when they are driving, especially when they were new drivers or were away on a long trip for the first time. Yes, I could tell them to text when they got there, but they sometimes forget. A tracking app offers peace of mind for me and less nagging for them.

So I insisted my husband and three kids join. Not just my 15-year-old high school freshman son, but also my grown 21- and 24-year-old kids too.

Unsurprisingly, they were very resistant to the idea of their dad and me having access to their exact whereabouts at all times. They’re adults, after all. I understood why my adult daughters felt it would be an invasion of their privacy.

I gave them a choice: pay for your own phone and usage minutes, or continue having me foot the bill and sign up for Life360. They may be legal adults with ability to drive and the right to vote, but they are also adults on my family cell phone plan. In this case, money talked and they both reluctantly agreed to install Life360 on their phones.

The app has been useful for our family.

When my son’s school bus broke down over the winter, I knew exactly where to go to pick him up. When my daughter took a four-hour trip home from college and wasn’t home after five hours, I was able to check her location instead of freaking out or calling and texting her while she was driving. Next month, my daughter is hiking in Peru and I will definitely be relying on Life360 to keep me sane.

While I think it’s fine to use Life360 for emergency situations and matters of convenience, it’s important to me to resist the urge to check in on things that are really none of my business. For example, when my daughter went to her college formal, the thought may have crossed my mind to see if she slept in her own dorm room that night. But I resisted infringing on her rights, not only because it’s wrong, but because trust and respect should be a two-way street.

Speaking of trust and respect, Life360 not only allows me to see where my kids are; it allows them to know where I am, too. My son was recently playing video games with a friend who wasn’t supposed to be online during the week. But his friend was tracking his mother with Life360 and knew he could keep playing because it would be another 20 minutes until she got home. And my daughter once questioned why I was at the maternity shop in town, when I was actually at the restaurant next door.

Of course, a tracking app can’t prevent bad things from happening.

Last year, I got a notification that my daughter had arrived safely at her location, but thirty minutes later she called to tell me she had been in a car accident. And when my daughter is in Peru, the app will only work when she has Wi-Fi. So when she is hiking Machu Picchu, the most dangerous part of her journey, I won’t have any idea where she is.

While Life360 gives me some peace of mind, I know it’s not a guarantee my children are safe or that no harm will come to them. I still need to teach my kids to be smart, cautious, and responsible—and there’s no app for that.

Randi Mazzella

Randi Mazzella is a freelance writer specializing in parenting, midlife issues, and family life. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including The Washington Post, The Fine Line and The Girlfriend. She is a frequent contributor to Your Teen for Parents. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.