Tracking apps: Keeping kids safe?

Finding the proper balance between privacy, security


Graphic by Baeyoung Yoo

In a world where technology continues to seep further into everyday life, parents’ methods of monitoring children have evolved. Some have turned to tracking apps to ensure their children’s safety, leading to conversation about whether these apps truly keep kids safe or invade their privacy.

“I’ve left my phone at home while driving to go drop off a friend at an unreasonable hour so my parents don’t see that I left the house,” junior Alyssa Welke said. 

Simona Cirio, licensed family and marriage therapist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, said in a phone interview that tracking apps can strengthen relationships between parents and children if used properly. 

“If a child is tracked frequently because they did something that got them into trouble, then the parents should say for how long they will be tracked and why,” said Cirio. “[Parents] should always be transparent with their children about what to expect.

“I think there should be a conversation between the child and parents,” said Cirio. “There should be a consensus.”

Lorrie Cranor, director of the CyLab Security and Privacy Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, said in a phone interview that the usage of tracking apps on kids can be beneficial or harmful depending on the intended use of the app.

“It may help with safety, kind of easing parents’ mind that [their child] is safe and where they should be,” said Cranor. “But there’s also a lot of times where they’re being used because a parent is trying to catch their kid doing something wrong and spy on them, which is really problematic and can be abusive.” 

Glenbrook North parent Teri Robins said in a phone interview that she uses a tracking app with her family, and its features have allowed her to feel better about her family members’ safety. When her daughter was involved in a car accident, the app was able to detect the accident, notify Robins and alert emergency services, Robins said.

“It’s not about spying,” said Robins. “It’s just about that extra level of security.”

According to Cirio, there needs to be a balance between safety and trust when using tracking apps. 

“[Children] need to know that sometimes we parents worry, not because we don’t trust our children but because of other conditions around them,” Cirio said. 

According to Welke, she generally feels safer knowing her parents have her location if she ends up in a dangerous situation.

She would feel less trusted if her parents were checking her location constantly, Welke said.

“I definitely would not like the app if my parents tracked me a lot,” said Welke. “My parents trust me and they don’t check where I am frequently because of that.”