The “mother” of all Gadgets!

The launch of a watch designed to track the movements of children is the latest gadget in the wealth of “child monitoring” technology currently on the market, but are these devices actually giving children greater freedom? Or are they actually encouraging parents to impede their children’s freedom by obsessively monitoring their every move?

It is every parent’s worse nightmare, their child being snatched from under their nose and end up at the mercy of a stranger. For the McCann’s this nightmare was a horrifying reality and one which has caused parents worldwide to nervously tighten the leash on their children’s activities.

Increasingly parents are turning to technology to monitor their children’s movements and consequently there is a growing stream of innovative products on the market, easing parents anguish and aiding children’s freedom.

The latest device that accomplishes this alleged “child liberty” is the Num8 digital wristwatch which enables parents to keep track of their children via satellite. The state-of-the-art gadget has been designed by the British company Lok8u. For a mere £149 worried parents can keep an eye on their children’s whereabouts through a GPS chip hidden inside the watch, similar to the chip inside a satnav. The chip can transmit the location of the child and alert parents by text as accurately as the name of the road the child is sited.

Steve Salmon, Lok8u’s chief executive feels confident the watch will give children more freedom. He said,

“It is my profound hope that Num8 will help parents feel more comfortable about letting their children go out and play”.

In today’s culture, children being allowed to play on the streets are becoming more and more a thing of the past. The fact that only 20 percent of children are permitted to go out and play these days means there is a growing demand for technology establishing their whereabouts. It is unsurprising therefore that out of the 2,500 companies that attended the Consumer Electric Show in Las Vegas this week, many of the products on offer were aimed at parents.

However, this “child tracker” technology is nothing new. After the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in 2002, Professor Kevin Warwick developed a microchip in Britain which tells a computer where the child who is wearing the chip is within a few meters.

A company based in Lancashire recently launched the “Toddler Tag”, a “tag” which monitors the safety of a child and comes in the form of a badge or bracelet, or can even be sewn into the allocated child’s clothes.

For older children mobile phones are a particularly popular device to monitor their movements. There are established products on the market such as Kids OK mobile phone tracking, Teddy-phone, and i-Kids which enables parents to listen in to what is happening around their child.

Parental anxiety is not confined to the streets outside - computers can also be a dangerous place for children. Social networking sites and computer chat rooms have come under scrutiny for causing vulnerable children to befriend complete strangers. According to a recent survey by Garlik, one in five children admitted to meeting these online “friends” offline. Consequently parents are increasingly installing monitoring and filtering software systems into their computer such as Eblaster, which ‘spies’ as children surf websites.

It is this ‘spying’ on children that has highlighted the ethics of tagging children and caused many to be critical of the technology. Sally Crummick, a Cheshire based child psychologist commented on the surge of this kind of technology,

“Whilst it is a natural emotion for parents to worry about their children, they need to consider the message these devices are sending out to children. Making them believe they live in a society where they need to be tagged is not a positive signal to convey to a child”.

Children themselves however seem to have conflicting opinions about the subject. On the one hand many children do not want to be constantly watched by their parents but at the same time they realize the world is a dangerous place and respect the concerns of their parents. As ten-year-old Alicia Huyton from North Manchester said,

“My Mum worries a lot about me and my brother, so I would gladly wear a monitoring watch if it stopped her worrying. I just wished we didn’t live in a place where she needs to worry about us being kidnapped or something. But sadly we do.”

Classmate Jake Townsend is not as sympathetic, stating,

“I’d hate it if my Mum and Dad could always know where I was. It would feel like they were spying on me.”

Primary school Head Teacher and mother of two, Mary Cooper believes the devices such as the Num8 watch may cause nonchalant behavior within parents.

“It may give children more freedom than they actually have which may result in parents relying too heavily on the watches and becoming blasť,” she commented.

Even certain child welfare groups, including Barnardo’s and Kidscape, believe this level of monitoring children is a neurotic overreaction that would not benefit children in the long run.

The days of parents glancing nervously at their own watch because their child is late home may be a thing of the past with products such as the Num8 watch available, but by encouraging this “Big Brother” culture that society is progressively advancing towards, parents may be inadvertently depleting their children’s respect for the privacy of others and creating a whole new set of problems. (Russia Today, 1.19.2009, Gabrielle Pickard)

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