### Monitoring App Installed on Teens’ Phones: Responsible Parenting or Overbearing Surveillance?

Parenting Insights from Ash Jurberg

Essay by Ash Jurberg

2024-02-06T12:06:01Z

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Close up of hands of teen boy in white sweater texting on phone

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  • Requesting my teenage sons to utilize a location tracking app initiated a crucial family dialogue.
  • The ethical dilemma of whether this practice bordered on stalking or constituted responsible parenting was thoroughly debated.
  • The use of the tracking app unveiled a scenario that prompted me to contemplate my children’s behavior and level of respect.

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Several months back, I tasked my 17-year-old twin sons with installing the Life360 app on their smartphones to enable me to monitor their whereabouts.

My partner and I engaged in extensive deliberations regarding the ethical implications of employing such technology and whether it breached their privacy rights. Ultimately, we concluded that the safety advantages offered by the app justified any privacy concerns.

Residing in Australia, where individuals must be 18 to acquire a driver’s license, our sons heavily rely on public transportation and ride-sharing services for commuting. Given their attendance at late-night social gatherings, we deemed it necessary to track their locations and provide assistance if needed to ensure their safe return home.

The request sparked heated discussions with our sons, who felt that our monitoring approach verged on intrusive surveillance. However, considering their status as minors and our responsibility for their mobile expenses, we asserted our parental authority. Moreover, I conducted thorough research on the app to confirm that it did not engage in the unauthorized sale of user data—an issue that had previously raised concerns. We collectively ensured that the “Do Not Sell” or “Share My Personal Information” settings within the app were activated.

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The app generates a wealth of data, including detailed information on dwell times at specific locations, travel routes, and travel speeds.

The abundance of data collected by the app could potentially incite an unhealthy obsession with monitoring every move, akin to a voyeuristic “Big Brother” surveillance. To uphold their privacy, I agreed to only track their locations during late outings or extended journeys to confirm their safe arrival.

While I could monitor their whereabouts, they retained the ability to track mine. This mutual tracking feature proved beneficial, particularly when they awaited my arrival, enabling them to anticipate my exact location and estimated time of arrival without the need for frequent calls or messages.

Unforeseen Situations Arising from Tracking

During the Christmas period, my partner and I traveled to the United States, leaving our sons in Australia under their mother’s care. On one occasion, I activated the app during early hours in the US and was surprised to discover Charlie and Thomas at our residence in Australia at 2 a.m. They had never stayed overnight unsupervised at our home and lacked a spare key.

Curious about their unexpected presence, I reached out to them, only to learn that they had attended a local party and decided to spend the night at our place with some friends, having scaled the back fence to retrieve the spare key for entry.

While we trust our sons, we felt that their actions demonstrated a lack of consideration by not seeking permission to host friends at our home. Feeling somewhat betrayed, I monitored their locations daily during our absence and was dismayed when a similar incident occurred the following week: one of the twins stayed overnight at our house without prior notification.

Despite my reservations about the app’s usage, I view it as a valuable tool for parents until their children reach adulthood. Once my sons attain legal maturity, I will contemplate discontinuing the app’s monitoring capabilities.

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