By Katie Bingham-Smith
My kids are on the cusp of so many new things that I can taste the anxiety. Not theirs—mine. My oldest has graduated high school and is working full time. He’s 18, still lives at home, and spends a lot of time driving around to visit friends and his girlfriend.
My daughter also drives and she and her younger brother are both in high school. They share their days with kids older than they are and, like most teens, they test the boundaries of what they’re allowed to do. The temptations are only getting more tempting as they get older.
There are ways for me to know where my teens are every second of the day. All I have to do is install a tracking app on our phones and I can see what speed they are driving, if they have unlocked their phones while driving, if they are at the location where they tell me they are, and the exact mile marker they are on the highway.
I can also log into the school’s parent portal and see my younger two teens’ grades, when they were late to school, if they’ve handed in their work on time, and every single assignment they’ve gotten so far this school year.
Those monitoring tools sound great, in theory, and I know a lot of parents use them. They are a good way to set my mind at ease and reassure me that my kids are playing by the rules, right?
I know what will happen the moment I start checking up on my kids: my anxiety will go through the roof and I won’t be able to stop these apps from ruling my world. After all, what’s the point of having them if I’m not going to obsessively check and let them distract me from living my life? (I’m kidding. Sort of.)
While some parents may be able to use tracking apps and parent portals responsibly and in moderation, I am not one of those parents. But the bigger picture here is that I just don’t see how using technology to keep tabs on my kids will show them I trust them. If I had been watched all the time as a teen I would have thought my parents didn’t believe in me. I wouldn’t have felt like I had any kind of freedom whatsoever.
Freedoms I believe my teens deserve until they do something to prove otherwise. We all know parents have a way of finding stuff out—no apps required.
I want my kids to be successful in school and stay safe in the world. But you know what I want more? For them to start taking charge of those things themselves. If I track them now, when do I stop? I know many parents track their kids while in college. Isn’t that when you are supposed to be letting go?
My teens need to learn responsibility and how to fly solo.
And, when they leave the nest, they deserve for their lives to be their own, without me peering into a screen. If I monitor them in all the ways technology will allow, I would be hindering their growth as they become young adults—and I’d be hindering my growth, too. It would make it harder for me to let go when the time comes.
I think I’ve spent enough years tracking them. When they were toddlers and learning to walk, I trailed behind them so they wouldn’t fall and hit their head. I listened to them breathing while they napped during the day and slept at night. I’ve waited outside the school every day since 2008, watching to make sure they made it in the school safely. I’ve stayed up all night with them when they were sick. I monitor their texts and what websites they visit. I’ve watched and guided, and taught—hoping to show them the way for when they’re ready to be on their own.
As parents, we stress, we lose sleep, we put all of our energy into raising decent human beings. Our work is not done just because they gain some more independence and start driving, working, and spending more and more time away from home. But it is time to loosen our grip a bit. And while this feels like the scariest time to do it, it truly is time.
So, no tracking devices or parent portals for me and my family. I am going to rely on trust, faith, nosy neighbors, the fact my kids suck at lying, and the other mothers out there who will let me know what’s up if I miss something—and I’ll do the same for them.
I know we will all be just fine. No app required.