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Why are parents GPS-tracking their children?

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opinion Dickinson, 58602
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

This weekend I was out doing errands for a few hours, and it turned out I forgot my cell phone. It was fantastic! My kids couldn't bug me every eight minutes with "Where are you, when are you coming home, and can you please get to the store for 'fill in the blank?'"

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I thought of that when I heard about the new "Little Buddy Child Tracker" by Insignia. Best Buy's description of "Little Buddy" says, "Keep tabs on your child at all times with this small but sophisticated device that combines GPS and cellular technology to provide you with real-time location updates."

Yikes -- talk about too much information. What if my children could turn the tables and find me more easily than they do now? OK, that's not really a serious concern. My other concerns are:

First, what a waste of money. All a child or teen has to do is leave the device at school or a friend's house while he skips "out of bounds." To the extent he does that, it's useless. If a parent has to secretly attach it, he already has much bigger problems than Little Buddy can solve.

And potential abductors? Who knows how they might be able to hack into the technology and tracking system to use them to their own advantage?

But let's say none of these things happens. Is tracking a child's every move a good idea? Well, Little Buddy is a tool like anything else, and there might be some uses for it that really make sense. Teens and cars suggest one possibility I might be interested in.

Any objection I have, by the way, has nothing to do with concerns about children's privacy. I don't think they deserve much privacy. Period.

Nor do my objections have to do with a need to trust my kids. There are a whole lot of reasons we shouldn't trust our children. Mainly, it starts with the fact that they are our children. Which means that for the most part they are foolish. It's our job as parents to try to train them out of that.

But in the main what Little Buddy does is to bring parental helicoptering to new heights. For starters, it's surely going to make already nervous parents unnecessarily psycho as they watch their child's every step and misstep.

Worse, it might give some parents a sense of false security because they put their faith in external controls. I think many parents reverse the right time to do this. Today when children are very little, it's choices all day long. A tantrum happens without consequence. Spanking is out. And on it goes.

The child gets to middle and high school having very little experience with having had external controls imposed in such a way that he's learned self-control. Suddenly, parents think "uh-oh" and start limiting his choices and imposing outside controls because it's the only way they know to keep him safe.

Good luck with that.

In contrast, if more external controls like discipline and limiting choices are applied very early on, they can be better used to help the child develop self-control.

These things need to be coupled with a moral sense of right and wrong. Not just "make good choices which lead to good consequences." But "here's what's right and what's wrong and why -- regardless of any consequences in the moment." That then helps prepare a young person to have more and more external controls fall away, and for him to be given more choices as he gets older and proves himself more trustworthy. It also gets him ready for the real world.

In short we can give our children "roots and wings," as a friend of mine puts it, and help our children develop into responsible, self-controlled adults. Or I suppose we can get ready for a world full of Big Buddy Trackers.

-- Hart hosts the "It Takes a Parent" radio show on WYLL-AM 1160 in Chicago. E-mail her at hartmailbox-mycolumn@yahoo.com.

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