Lose a phone? No problem. Change of plans on a pick-up after school? Same. Why parents use location trackers and apps for their children varies from practical to personal. For co-parents, it can be a way to feel connected to their child when they miss them. For others, it can be about keeping tabs on a new driver.
Location sharing, when done properly, can be a good idea for protecting your child. However, it’s possible to overshare location information and allow too many people to know where you or your child is.
Whether you turn on the location settings on your smartphone, or choose to use Verizon’s Smart Family, here are five tips to make the most of this feature while keeping your child safe:
- Make guidelines with your family about location sharing. Talk to your child about which location-sharing apps they are allowed to use, when they can use them and what settings they should have enabled. Not all apps are created equal and it’s important they use apps that are geared toward family safety. Determine if there are any times during the day (or week) when your child must turn their location sharing on or off.
- Decide who can have access to your child’s location. While it is safe for some family and friends to know your child’s location, your child should not broadcast their location to their entire contact list. As a parent, you may want to limit which of your child’s contacts may view their location. Many location-sharing apps allow users to handpick which contacts can have access to their location rather than sharing it with everyone.
- Use apps that have clear policies about where location information is going. Companies like Snapchat provide information about how they handle the location information they collect through their location-sharing apps. Be careful to avoid any location-tracking app that does not specifically address what it does with the information it gathers.
- Remember when your location settings are on. If your child chooses to have location settings on, it is important they keep in mind that there are others who can see where they are. This has some implications. For example, before your child changes their plans and makes a last-minute stop at the mall or at a friend’s house, it can be a good idea to notify those who follow their location to prevent confusion and worry. Also, they may want to remember to turn it off before heading to a surprise party.
- Remind them to be mindful of other users’ locations. While there are challenges to monitoring how your child shares their location on these apps, there are also potential issues on the receiving end of friends’ locations. By permitting users to see where their friends are, these apps can facilitate the feeling of being excluded should your child see that friends are gathered in a place without them. This presents another important conversation to have with your child. While it is tempting for teenagers to check in on what their friends are doing, your child should understand that just because they can see their friends’ locations does not mean they should check their locations all the time. Further, you can remind your child to avoid reading too far into what their friends are doing without them. Perhaps discouraging your child from exchanging location information with all of their friends can be a good idea.
Overall, while location-sharing technology provides parents a new way to keep children safe, it can be potentially harmful to kids as well, from oversharing location information to becoming too invested in checking friends’ locations. As parents, by remembering the risks that exist and being careful when allowing children to use these apps, you can prevent the apps from becoming a danger rather than the safety tools they should be.
This article was authored by staff at the Family Online Safety Institute, a nonprofit organization that works to empower parents to confidently navigate the digital world with their kids. It was originally posted on their Good Digital Parenting blog and republished here with permission.