I recently took my daughter Ava and her friend on a mini-vacation to Colonial Williamsburg. Ever a multi-tasker, I asked them to help me try out some tracking tools while we were there. I wanted to let them run free in this safe environment. But I also wanted to keep an eye on them. So I managed to convince them they were helping me with my work. It was a clever ploy. And it worked well. Here are the tools I used.
Tracking the Cell Phone
I already use my cell carrier’s family tracking service ($10 a month for both kids). (Your carrier very likely offers something similar.) If I don’t know where she is, I only have to pull up an app on my smart phone, tap her name, and wait a minute and the app will show me approximately where she is (or at least where her phone is, which is never far from her) right now. It won’t tell me that she is sulking in her bedroom only that she is in or near our house.
eZoom Tracking Device
But she had a friend in tow, a lovely innocent girl that I wanted to be no part of losing while we were so far from home. So I had brought an eZoom tracking device ($99 plus service plan) from SecurUs to try out. (The company makes a suite of tracking devices for pets, elders, and – this one – for kids and teens.) I came clean and said to my daughter, “I can already find you if I need to, so let’s get M. (her friend) to carry this. That way I can try it out and if she happens to get lost, we can find her.” The girls were both surprisingly easy to talk into this. They apparently wanted their freedom. But they also wanted to know I had their back.
“You are free to go,” I told them after we arrived and had eaten dinner together. They looked at each other, amazed at the unbridled freedom of a hotel stay, and left before I could change my mind.
A few minutes later I got a text from the eZoom telling me they were traveling at 1.5 miles per hour and offering me a very accurate address for their location – right outside our restaurant. “Wow,” I said to my husband. “I think they are running!” This was good news. Our daughter had recently developed an aversion to activities that get her heart rate up. Sure enough, they ran past the window a few seconds later.
We didn't hear from them for a while after that. But I could see (with a glance at my phone) that they weren't far away and were staying well within the safe and historic Revolutionary City area.
After we finished our meal, we went for a walk and back to our room. And then my phone rang. It was Ava and she was scared. “We are lost!” she screeched, completely losing her cool. “Can you look up where we are and tell us?
This took me only a minute. “You are on Ireland St. The hotel is on England Street. It isn't far.” I gave her directions and she calmed down.
I saw this moment where she wanted to know where I was as an opportunity. I like the Glympse tracking app. It’s free, works on most smart phones, and only lets people know where you are for limited amounts of time. It’s great if you are walking or driving and want someone to keep tabs on you till you get home safely. I’d like it if she would use it but she has – so far – been unwilling, insisting I’m “stalking” her. (Isn’t that also called mothering?) I sent her a “Glympse” from the app so she could see where I was in relation to her. She used it to guide her and her friend to me. I’m hoping -- now that she has tried it -- she will be more willing next time I ask her to "Send me a Glympse." before she walks somewhere.
The next day, my husband and I left the teens sleeping in the room and went out for coffee. I sent them both a text saying that they could find us simply by installing the free FourSquare app and accepting my invite. I would check in when we found a good place for breakfast and that way they would know where we were – and what was on the menu. FourSquare is a location-aware app/game that makes it fun to find your friends in the real world. Whenever you check in, it updates your FourSquare friends on your location, shows tips previous visitors have left, and provides details about the establishment (menus etc,). Some merchants offer discounts to players who check in at their store or restaurant. (It doesn't track where you are if you don’t check in.) It can be very dangerous if you overshare your location and accept friend invites from strangers, or if you constantly post your location to Facebook or other social networks where you may have no privacy or "friends" you don’t know well. So you may be wondering why I was encouraging my daughter to use it.
Here’s why: My daughter is a social girl who likes Facebook. I wanted to talk to her about location-aware social media. I find she listens to me better if I know what I’m talking about. And since I already use FourSquare -- it’s fun! – I thought I’d pull her into my network so I could play the game with her and explain the safety rules while I was at it.
When the girls found us in the restaurant, they pointed out that there were some “specials.” (Using the app to check in also nets you deals in the form of “specials.”) So I made them listen to a few rules, we discussed what might go wrong if someone untrusted or creepy could locate you through the app, and how you would avoid “oversharing.” A smart pair, they were clear on the dangers and how to avoid them before our food arrived.
I don’t track my kids very often and I always tell them I’m doing it. But I do like knowing that if she gets in a car (eZoom will text me if my daughter is suddenly traveling faster than she can walk), I will know about it immediately. I also like to – when my Spidey Sense tells me something is wrong – check that my son – who is driving -- is actually where he says he is. So far, though they accuse me of stalking, they don't really seem to mind. I think they like feeling safe and watched over even when I’m nowhere in sight.