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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 October, 2003, 03:45 GMT
Tracking down your child
By Clare Murphy
BBC News Online

The careless motorist, the paedophile and the drug pusher are the spectres which haunt modern day parents.

It gave me peace of mind and made me feel closer to him. It made me feel more involved with what he was doing
Linda Toledo
Mother
In North America, technology has successfully been harnessed to enable anxious parents to follow the moves of their offspring, using satellite positioning systems which children can carry within watches or backpacks. "Peace of mind" is the marketing cry of the manufacturers.

Now Finland, the home of the mobile phone, is considering legislation that would allow parents to track the moves of their children on an internet page at home, using a system which locates their child's phone.

If the bill is passed, Finland would become one of the first European countries to allow individuals to track others without their consent and could serve as an EU benchmark.

"People don't think of Finland as being dangerous, but things have changed a lot since I was growing up - there's more traffic, more violence, more drugs," says Maria Sjobloem, a mother of four who lives in a town some 600km from Helsinki.

"It's very hard not to worry about the kids, where they are and what they're doing. As parents we have a responsibility, and if the technology is there I think you should probably use it."

'Involved'

The Finnish bill must still be approved by the parliament but it has already been unanimously accepted by the country's coalition government.

If it is passed, Finland would follow on the heels of the United States, where both parents and schools are increasingly making use of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to track children.

A Silicon Valley company, Wherify Wireless, has in the past two years developed a wristwatch which contains a tracking device. Parents with $200 to spare and a willing child can track their offspring's location and movements within a minute over the internet.

Christ Lutheran School in California recently sent 35 fourteen-year-old students to Washington DC wearing Wherify Wireless wristwatches.

"It was great," said Linda Toledo, school secretary and mother to one of the children on the trip.

Ms Toledo was not on the trip, but was able to track the movements of her son as he roamed the capital with his classmates from her California home. "I don't think of myself as overly anxious but after the 9/11 attacks and the sniper shootings I think we all worry more.

"It gave me peace of mind and made me feel closer to him. It made me feel more involved with what he was doing."

Risk awareness

The desire by caring parents to track a child's every move, is not, however, without controversy.

Some social commentators argue that that far from protecting children, such surveillance is potentially damaging.

Following your child in this way is not real engagement, it's pseudo involvement
Dr Lisa Firestone
Glendon Association
"We are teaching children that society is a very dangerous place. We're telling them to be scared of life, to distrust everyone. And that has to have a negative impact in the long term," says Frank Furedi, author of Paranoid Parenting.

"In part this is being driven by the manufacturers, which peddle such devices to parents and make them feel irresponsible if they don't use them. But at the same time Western culture is very hospitable to such marketing because there is currently a heightened perception of risk."

Clinical psychologist Lisa Firestone of California's Glendon Association is less damning of the arrangement, but agrees that parents' fears for their children have little relation to the actual threat.

"School shootings, abductions - none of these are happening any more now than 10 or 20 years ago. But there's definitely a raised awareness of them that's not actually that helpful."

Across the Western world, debate rages about what constitutes "good parenting". In a number of countries parents are offered classes in how best to raise their offspring.

"Parenting has to a certain extent been made more complicated than it should be, and people worry about it much more," says Dr Firestone.

"On the one hand, these tracking devices show that parents care, and that's not a sentiment we should attack. On the other hand, following your child in this way is not real engagement, it's pseudo involvement.

"I wouldn't tell parents not to buy these devices, but I would ask them to think about why they're doing it. It shouldn't be a substitute for having a real conversation with your child, for spending time with them."

Note: Cell layout in graphic is figurative. Cells are normally irregularly spaced and overlap each other

1. Mobile phones work by transmitting radio signals to and from base stations located in cells. These stations relay calls between users across the cell network.

2. The positioning system works by searching for the signal from an individual phone and triangulating its position from the nearest base stations.

3. When the target phone is located, the system generates and sends a map to the phone of the enquirer showing its position. The signal can also be directed to a computer via the internet.




SEE ALSO:
Baby-sitting via satellite
12 Aug 02  |  Technology
Pocket tracker monitors children
14 Apr 03  |  Technology


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