We are clearly living in a smartphone world, which, in turn, has led to a world of child surveillance. With 80% of teenagers having their own phone, there’s been a huge rise in apps like Life 360, offering to track, monitor, and Big Brother your children.
While apps like this may give some parents peace of mind, we have to wonder what life is like for kids who are being electronically watched 24/7 for “their safety.” Some kids even report that teen phone monitoring invades their privacy.
So what is Life 360 anyway?
The app has both free and paid versions. It includes basic services, like location sharing and history, as well as more advanced features, like crash detection and driver reports. Of course, the second you start thinking you need “crash detection” anytime your kid is driving anywhere, you are already on the road to anxiety.
The website says this app brings families closer together and offers them more security. And it’s certainly not the only company that makes this type of claim. Do a quick search for “phone monitoring and location monitoring services,” and you’ll be swamped with options.
Some go the subtle route with names like FamiSafe. But others call it like it is with names like PhoneSheriff, MamaBear, and Spyzie. These services vary from one to the next, but basically they share and celebrate the goal of tracking and monitoring.
But what do the tracked teens think? Actually, what does anyone being monitored think? How does it feel to live under constant surveillance? Let Grow has been leery of apps like Life 360 for a while, and we’ve heard from kids and parents who agree. Take a look:
From a mom trying to co-parent with her ex and his new wife ...
My stepkids’ mom is like this. They all—the kids (17 and 15) and her husband—are required to have Life 360 on their phones. They aren’t allowed to turn the phones off or remove the stupid app. My husband and I were over there recently, and her phone pinged all the time—Bruce left school. Benji arrived home. Bruce arrived home. Husband arrived home. He drove 15 miles at 67 MPH. It took him 7 minutes to get home from work. Benji left school. Both kids hate it. Her husband hates it. My husband and I have tried telling the kids that their mom doesn’t do it because she doesn’t trust them or has control issues but because it soothes and comforts her for some reason. But they know that's BS and we're just putting a softer face on the control-freak-with-boundary-issues behavior.
From the teen who says it’s ruined her relationship with her parents ...
I am going to be real. I'm 17, and my parents have the Life 360 app, and some of my friends’ parents have [it], too. I promise you it has ruined my relationship with them. It has honestly made me be MORE reckless by leaving my phone places so I am not constantly tracked. I understand that people want to know where their kids are, but honestly just use find my iPhone in states of emergency. If you want to have trust with your kid and really want to know what’s going on, build a relationship so they actually feel comfortable talking to you about stuff.
From the college student whose dad has threatened to cut her off if she doesn’t use it …
I am 20. I'm studying in another city from my parents’ home. My dad forces me to have this insane app for my "safety.” He needs to know where I am and what I am doing every second. One day I went out with my friends and arrived home around 9 p.m. My phone died, I had no battery, and my dad got crazy. He thought I was trying to escape. He told me that the next time, he would cut off my money. Then I would have to pay for my studies on my own.
There have to be better ways to find peace of mind.
If you keep reading some of the comments below, you’ll see that there are people who are using the Life 360 app in a less-controlling way. But I’d argue that the app gives parents less peace of mind and more fear that kids are in constant danger.
Life happens. God forbid the phone falls out of a pocket or gets left on the bus as it heads to depot; mom and dad will think the kid is dead at the side of the road or being spirited away. Normalizing constant contact means that the second contact is interrupted, parents dive into panic mode. It is anxiety producing. And it is new. When we were young, most of us left the house without our parents knowing our location every second, and this worked fine for both them and us.
Kids deserve to practice their independence. There are better ways to achieve peace of mind, and they don’t involve an app. They involve trusting your kids, having an emergency plan, and just going the old-fashioned route of “call when you get there.”
At Let Grow, we hope parents will think twice about ultra-monitoring and seriously consider these two questions: How are kids supposed to learn self-reliance when there’s always an adult watching, worrying, and ready to swoop in? And how would you like to be tracked every second of the day?
Remember, until now, the only people who lived under 24/7 surveillance were incarcerated people.