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Best Mobile Tracking Apps for Parents

These mobile apps can help protect your family and offer you peace of mind.

By Christina Tynan-Wood

Best Mobile Tracking Apps for Parents Illustration
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Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer

Not long ago, my husband and I brought our 14-year-old daughter and her friend on an outing to Colonial Williamsburg. Like most teens, they were itching to explore on their own. I strongly believe that—helicopter-mom instincts aside—kids her age need freedom in order to truly grow up. So, even though it was dark and we were in an unfamiliar town, before Dan had time to say "No!" I said, "Yes, if you send me a Glympse." Ava whipped out her phone, loaded the Glympse app and shared her location with me. In an instant, I could see her whereabouts in real time on my smartphone.

Excited, the girls set off to visit the historic sites around the area and I kept a virtual eye on them, thanks to the map on my screen. Meanwhile, we enjoyed a pleasant teen-free meal. Each now-and-then glance at my phone assured me they were staying within the agreed-upon limits. "Looks like they're headed straight for the candy store," I told Dan. Still kids, after all.

Forty-five minutes later, Ava called. "Mom! We're lost!" She sounded panicked, but the map showed me they were only a few blocks away. "No, you aren't," I told her. "You're close by." She was anxious, though, and we stayed on the phone so I could give her turn-by-turn directions until she said, "Oh, there's the hotel. Bye!" Reassured, she hung up and they went back to wandering.

Incidentally, this same technology is personally useful to me as an avowed walker—if I want to do a few miles after dark, Dan can easily track my whereabouts. If I have to make my way home from the train station on the late side, a panic button on my phone can call 911 with a tap to the screen. And any time my son, 17, takes the car on a long or unfamiliar route, he and I both like for me to monitor his progress so I know he's arrived safely.

These days, there are many options for mobile parenting. Some apps, such as Glympse, require my kids to actively choose to share their location with me at any given time. Others track their location passively, meaning, without their taking any action. Some even alert me if my teens enter a zone I had previously flagged as dangerous.

Of course, it's possible to go overboard with technology in the name of safety. However, that's not the relationship I want with my son and daughter. My goal is to raise kids who are ultimately capable of taking care of themselves in the world. I trust them to do the right thing, even if they might make some mistakes. In my mind, these tools are no different than training wheels—smart and useful when needed.

App Options to Consider

Glympse

There's a Glympse app for just about every smartphone and the Web, which is why it's the default for my crew. Best for an older child who feels more secure with you watching her back—if she wants you to follow virtually as she walks or drives, she sends you a Glympse with a couple of taps, opting to share her location. The Glympse expires automatically after a designated period of time.
Glympse.com, free

Life360

Install this app (iOS or Android) on your teen's phone and yours, then create a circle for your family. You can see where your son is in real time and where he's been, and receive alerts if he enters or leaves any specific areas. He can see where you are too. (Anyone can turn off location tracking on their own phone at any time, though.) Premium service ($5 per month) puts a one-button emergency call on the phone to request help from a live person.
Life360.com, free

Amber Child Safety

This is a complete parental control tool for iOS, Android and BlackBerry smartphones. Install it on your child's phone and go online to get her current and past locations, set time limits, monitor social media and more. She cannot uninstall it or turn off location tracking.
Amberchildsafety.com, $9.95 per month

To keep up with Christina Tynan-Wood's latest tech-focused blog posts, go to familycircle.com/momster.

Originally published in the February 2014 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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