3 Top Mobile Tracking Apps for Parents
These mobile apps can help protect your family and offer you peace of mind.
Not long ago, my husband and I brought our daughter and a friend on an outing to Colonial Williamsburg. Like most teens, they were itching to explore. I strongly believe that—helicopter-mom instincts aside—teens need freedom in order to grow into adulthood. So, even though it was dark and we were in an unfamiliar town, I allowed them to leave the hotel and go explore alone. When Ava asked, I said, "Yes, if you send me a Glympse." She 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. The adults enjoyed an uninterrupted-by-teens drink in the hotel bar. Once in a while, though, I glanced at my phone and was assured by Glympse that they were staying within our 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 a few blocks away. Though they were headed in the wrong direction. "No, you aren't," I told her. "You're close. You are just turned around." She was scared, though, so we stayed on the phone while I gave her turn-by-turn directions back to us. "Oh!” She announced suddenly when she was out front. “There's the hotel! Bye!" Reassured that she knew her way back, she hung up and they went back to wandering.
I find this same app quite useful when dealing with adults. If I am meeting someone at a café, for example, I can send a Glympse so they can see on a map exactly when I will arrive. It saves us from having to text while driving. And if I’m taking a long drive alone, I always send someone a Glympse so they know where I am if something terrible happens along the way.
Glympse is not the only app that does this. There are many terrific options for real-time location tracking. When dealing with tweens and teens, I prefer apps that let my kids choose to share their location with me. But some of those do so passively and constantly. And they offer safety and convenience features that make them well worth the install.
It is possible to go overboard with technology in the name of safety. It might be appropriate to stick a tracker on a small child. But it’s not the relationship I want (or have) with my son and daughter. I am trying to raise kids who will capable of taking care of themselves. I trust them to do the right thing, even if they make some mistakes. These tools offer my kids more freedom, not less. And they bring us together, mentally, in a way we all enjoy.
App Options to Consider
There's a Glympse app for Android, iPhone, and the Web. It shares your location only for short time – up to 12 hours. So it’s best for an older child who wants you to watch her back as she drives somewhere alone or braves a new territory. She chooses to send you Glympse with a couple of taps and tells the app how long you have access to her location and what alerts to give you. This is great for keeping track of people at family reunions, weddings, and other events, too. Or if you are meeting someone and want a precise idea of when they will arrive. You can chat within the app if you want to.
Install Life360 (iOS or Android) on your teen's phone and yours, then create a circle for your family. Now you can see where everyone is in real time. You can also see where they have been in the last couple of days. You can receive alerts when someone enters or leaves a specific area such as school, home, work, or – very handy – the grocery store. Everyone can see where everyone is at all times so be sure you trust each other. (Though anyone can turn off location tracking on their own phone at any time.) The Plus service ($2.99 a month) lets you add an unlimited number of places. (The free service maxes out at two places per circle.) It also lets you see 30 days of location history. If your teen is driving, consider the Driver Protect service ($7.99 a month.) It will alert you if your teen crashes the car or drives recklessly. In the case of a crash, it will also call emergency services.
If you already use Google Maps, it’s very easy – and free – to turn location tracking on for everyone in your life. Each person has to do this from their own phone. And once they do, you will all see where your family is on the map every time you use Google Maps to navigate. I find it very reassuring to glance at a map and see that people are where I think they should be and that their phone is charged.
From your phone, open Google Maps and from the menu, choose Share. Then add the people you want to share location with.
Updated in July, 2019. Originally published in the February 2014 issue of Family Circle magazine.