Modern technology lets parents keep track of their children, but does this actually mean that they have the right to know where their kids are at any given time, or do kids have the right to keep their location from their parents?
While it is not possible for parents to keep their children in sight at all times, GPS technology allows them to track the location almost anywhere. Many emerging products even put their focus specifically on children. With the GPS technology made available and making their way to retail shelves, parents will have it in their power to keep track of their teenagers and the use of vehicles, including the safety precautions that the teens may or may not take when on the road—especially when they miss curfew.
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There are GPS trackers specifically made for children. The younger kids could be given tracker bracelets, for instance, to help parents track them down in case they get lost in public spaces, like the mall.
Some companies even have GPS-connected wristwatches that can help parents locate their children within a minute by simply making a telephone call. The same technology is also available as an option for pets as they are also made for collars.
Implanting chips on children for GPS purposes also came to mind to some concerned parents, especially those who are concerned about kidnapping. A tracker that criminals can’t take off easily could buy parents and officials time to track down abducted children.
Teenagers are a different story, however, as many of them are learning to express their opinions and are trying to find their place in the world, and GPS tracking may not be the best solution to improve your relationship with your own teens. They will grapple with the issue and will try to negotiate other ways for them to feel a bit of independence, like counting on them coming home at designated times or following up with phone calls. It’s a long talk, but ultimately, do parents have the right—legally—to track their children’s every move?
Legal Issues Regarding GPS Devices
Children, like adults, have privacy rights, although theirs are limited due to their minority status. However, there is nothing legally wrong with parents who ask their children to bring or wear GPS tracking devices—not in legislation, nor in any other type of writing.
However, concerns about child privacy have been raised in several places. For instance, there was an outrage in Europe over identity cards that may carry data like health information about a child.
In the US, the Children’s Privacy Protection Act of 1998 limits the ways that Web site operators, among other, can collect and disseminate information pertaining customers under the age of 13.
Child privacy is concern more for outsiders—like possible pedophiles, sex offenders, and potential abductors—not their parents. The use of the GPS system does, however, affect parent-child relationships. For instance, in the medical arena, parents are still required to make decisions for their children.
So what is there to it in GPS tracking for manufacturers and parents? To understand this, we have to look back at the basics:
Children are considered legal adults at 21, but different states have different laws that limit their actions before they are 18, which means that as a parent, you have to search for yourself the local rules regarding children’s privacy in your state.
There may not be any clear rules protecting children from their parents who want to use surveillance devices on them. Parents have the legal right for extensive control over their children, and that would include the right for them to make decisions regarding their offspring.
Children, on the other hand, generally owe their parents to be obedient, and these rights are not to be taken away from parents except in the instance of parental neglect, abuse, and absence—in short, when it comes to their safety, parents’ decisions take precedence over their desire for privacy.
In fact, courts, from the United States Supreme Court on down, have recognized that children’s rights are different than those of adults. In the 1979 Bellotti case, the Supreme Court said, “We have recognized three reasons justifying the conclusion that the constitutional rights of children cannot be equated with those of adults: the peculiar vulnerability of children; their inability to make critical decisions in an informed, mature manner; and the importance of the parental role in child rearing.”
This leads, according to their view, a tradition in the United States of enforcing parental authority unless there are exceptional circumstances.
The courts, however, have gone against tradition regarding limited parental rights in areas like abortion, but it is usually only done after paying deference to the rights of the parents, determining that in the court’s point of view, more important issues are at stake. One area where parental rights have been limited slightly involves their “location.” Generally, the courts allow youth curfew statutes, even against the wishes of their parents.
These decisions will not likely stand in the way of parents wanting to track down their children, however, so there is still the notion that children may be limited in their rights as far as their location is concerned.
The Bottom Line
There is little law on the subject, but a parent’s desire to track down their teens, especially when it comes to their car usage or keeping a young child from getting lost in public places does not mean they are breaching their kids’ right to privacy. Rather than looking for the courts for relief, these teens are likely to resort to old-fashioned negotiation with their parents to take them off GPS tracking or abide by their curfews.
If you’re dead-set on GPS tracking, however, there are a lot of devices—like Trackimo, for instance—that are small and inexpensive, which you could attach to your car or let your children wear. Teens could have them in their purses, while the kids could wear them as bracelets. Whatever the case, proper communication with your children is necessary when it comes to discussing safety measures that your family has to take.