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Big Mother Is Watching You

By Karen Austin

My son who just graduated from high school decided he was going to drive 630 miles by himself. Porter had never driven more than 15 miles by himself before, so I was a bit nervous.

But this last fall, he was driving from Indiana to Kansas to baptize a friend from high school who specifically requested that Porter come back to perform that ordinance.

I took some comfort in the fact that my son had just accepted my five month old invitation to join the family app that tracks GPS location. He didn’t want me to know that much about him. However, he was texting me several times a day, asking, “Mom, where are you and when are you coming home?”

I pointed out that if he accepted my invitation, then he could also track me!

When I mentioned on Facebook that I was monitoring my son’s progress driving through four states alone, an acquaintance commented, “Delete that app now! You are inhibiting his progress to adulthood.”  She works professionally with adolescents and referenced her expertise in imploring me to back off.

I disagreed.  Parenting is complex.  At that particular time, I felt that it was appropriate to have him on the family GPS app.

Yes, he needs more independence. However, we had just moved from Kansas to Indiana, and he didn’t have a network of friends in our new state. I strongly feel as though individuals need to check in daily with someone—a neighbor, a roommate, a coworker. It’s an issue of safety. And until my son has a social support network beyond his family of origin, I don’t think it’s smothering for him to be on the family GPS app.  And he can always delete me off the family GPS app if he feels I’m hovering.  And he’s a recent high school graduate still transitioning from adolescence to young adulthood; he’s not 28 years old.

I don’t look at the app unless he’s late coming back from school, work or church. Checking the family GPS app prevents my calling him or texting him while he’s driving. I can just check the app.  Or if it the roads are icy.

I am very careful never to make comments to him about his whereabouts. I never say anything if I see that he has left church right after sacrament meeting or in other ways is “off task.”  I will point out that he’ll check the app and send me cheeky text messages such as “Tell Brooke ‘hi'” when I’m visiting my gal pal, or “We need milk” when he sees that I’m at the grocery store.

As an aside, I like knowing when my husband leaves work (pictured), and I like knowing when my 15-year-old daughter gets off the bus in our neighborhood.

What do you think are the pros and cons of adult children being on GPS tracking apps with their parents and underage siblings?

About Karen Austin

After living in UT, HI, CA, VA, DC, WI, WV & KS, Karen now lives in Newburgh, IN with her husband and two children. She's been a BYU writing tutor, an English teacher, technical writer, director of academic support services, and aging studies adjunct. She's reinventing herself--again. New role still pending, but mature athlete, thrift store fashionista, and court jester are strong candidates. She maintains the blog The Generation Above Me.

6 thoughts on “Big Mother Is Watching You”

  1. I agree with you, & I completely disagree with your credentialed friend. These type of apps are "appropriately" used, when, as you say, one never comments on "off- task" behavior, but uses it to check on people, safety-wise. If your son were to have an accident, that app on your phone could save his life, directing first responders in an emergency, especially in remote or rural areas. For your friend to assume that you are "hovering" is unprofessional on her part, since people who work professionally with adolescents generally work with those who are already off-track. Your son does not sound off- track, & he CHOSE to use the app, which is huge. You are not requiring him to utilize the app, or else he can't drive the car, or get his license, etc, etc, etc… he chose to use it.

    Our children utilize an app like that, & it saves a lot of phone calls for them. Before my daughter's husband calls her to see if she can pick up milk on the way home, he can tell if she is still in clinic – she is a physician – & if she is with a patient, she will not be picking up the call. He can also see if she is already past the store, if she has started home. When they drove down to visit over Christmas, they added us to their app for a week. Roads were closing right & left due to weather, & they did not always have reception good enough to phone, but as long as the car kept moving, we knew they were ok, & when they needed to stop for the night, we knew that, too, & did not worry.

  2. We just added my 67 year old dad to our tracking app. We don't use it all the time, but if someone is running late it's nice to know where they are. It's also nice to know if my 11-year-old made it to her friends house.

  3. Marivene: Thanks for sharing the examples of how the app helps you manage your household and check on safety.

    M2theH: Thanks for pointing out that this can be a way to maintain communication about travel activity with parents without asking them to text or call during their drive. Good idea! And the tween monitoring. My then-14-yo went to Manhattan on a school trip. We didn't have the app yet, but I certainly used "find my iphone" app to see if she made curtain time. She and 3 other 14 yos were walking around midtown between noon and midnight sans-chaperone (the adult;teen ratio was too high). She was the younger person on the high school trip (as a freshman with a summer birthday). Being able to monitor her made me more willing to let her go

  4. I think the biggest issue is that your son feels the need to check on where you are all the time. I agree with your friend. You are preventing him from growing up. It made sense for a long drive, for safety reasons. But he isn't using it for safety reasons.

  5. JKS: I'd worry about that, but we recently moved here from another state, and he's leaving this summer for a mission. So he's just basically connected to me and his dad–whom he checks in with daily, too. He goes out with the missionaries, but they are a revolving door (and limited in how they can connect with him). He's just in this weird no man's land post-HS and pre mission (and in a different state, bereft of his peer group formed over 8 years in KS). And there are few YA his age in this area. Most are on missions are away at church schools in UT / ID.

  6. I just don't think we can judge another family's choices. You've clearly thought this through and it's working for you. My kids don't have smart phones, but they would probably love that app– they like to know where I am all the time! I also have a son leaving on a mission this summer and he seems to be soaking up every drop of parenting and family time.


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