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Families at odds over kids tracking apps; psychologist offers tips

Posted at 5:11 AM, Feb 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-10 08:38:23-05

GRANDVILLE, Mich. — They are smart phone apps that could cause problems between parents and their kids.

In fact, as a parent you probably know about or use one of the tracking or parental control apps.

There’s a bunch of them out there, but are they doing more than just keeping an eye on your kids?

Grandville mother Donna Slaughter and her son Josh have a great relationship, but when it comes to the tracking app; Life 360, they don’t always see eye to eye.

“That’s kinda where we go back and forth is he thinks I don’t trust him, and me, I just, I'm worried that something is going to happen to him," Slaughter said. "I don’t ever question that he’s not where he said he was going to be, it’s more of, what if something happens?"

Tracking apps have been around for years, and there’s a lot of them. Their functio is pretty simple too; they track movement through GPS on your smart phones.

At any moment, mom and dad can see exactly where you are or at least where your cell phone is.

“i don’t like the concept of just people knowing where you are at all times," said Grandville High School junior Josh Schimke. "I always liked it the old fashion way where you were allowed to make your own mistakes where you went out and did your own thing and if you make a mistake you would learn from it and be a better person for,” he said.

For Josh and his mom, the Life 360 app came into play after he got his driver’s license almost a year ago.

“it has been valuable for me, I guess the longer it goes on the more I trust his driving," Slaughter said.

But teenagers like Josh, view tracking apps much differently than their parents. It’s a dynamic that psychologist Greg Mallis sees quite often in his practice at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services.

“What parent doesn’t want to know that their kid is safe?" Mallis said. "The problem is that for the kids, they don’t see it as a safety thing, they see it as an invasion of privacy.”

It’s an issue, Mallis says, that could build resentment and distrust in the family.

“It can create conflict and there’s been some research to show teens who feel like their parents are invading their privacy are more likely to have a lot more conflict at home.”

Mallis says there is a way the situation can be resolved, so it’s a win for both parents and their kids.

"Parents can talk to their kids and say, “we’re going to use this only when we don’t know where you are and you’re supposed to be here” so that the teenager knows they’re not just going to be pulling it up randomly to spot check where I’m at and what I’m doing," he said.

Mallis also says parents should not keep the app on their kids phones, indefinitely.

"For this amount of time, six months or a year, we’re gonna have this app. we’ll tell you when we’re going to look at it or when we have looked at it so that you know and you’re not questioning," Mallis suggested for parents.

"But if over that time we see that we can trust you then we’re gonna take the app off and you don’t have to worry about it," Mallis said.

It’s something that josh is looking forward to. He made a deal with his mom to keep the app on his phone for a year, and when he turned 17, it would come off. He’s just a few months away.