I still remember having a police officer ask if I was Devorah Heitner when I was 13 and walking around with a friend in NYC. Turns out, his parents were holding a surprise 13th birthday party for him, but he wasn’t there. We had gone into the city to celebrate his birthday and were wandering around the village like the suburban kids we were trying on sunglasses and eating 1 dollar slices of pizza. They were annoyed but also amused. They did call the police to find us, but this scenario is unthinkable today--the parents would have just texted their child-in the unlikely event their kid was in an unknown location in the first place!
The problem with geotagging is that you are leaving a trail which could be used to threaten you or to bother other people. Perhaps your child has a simple carefree life like many kids, but their good friend has parents in a bitter custody battle. The geotags from your kid’s photographs could lead the wrong person to your child and her friends.
What Can I do?
You may want to know where your kids are, but do you want everyone to know where they are?
Learn how to turn it off in specific apps--look for a youtube video about how to do it or challenge your child to figure it out and then to teach you. You could even have your kid mentor you and a few friends and pay them a small fee! In Snapchat, Ghost Mode offers a way out of geo-tracking.
● You can talk with your child and see how they feel, see if they can come up with some reasons it might not be great to let everyone know where you are at every share. Have they considered the hurt feelings possibilities? Sometimes sharing not in real time is a strategy that kids use to diffuse some of the intensity of being excluded from things...but with geo-tagging, even knowing where you were yesterday or an hour ago can be problematic or at least unnecessary.
We really don’t need to geotrack our kids. When I spoke at a high school recently, I had a dad who confessed that he still geotracks his oldest kids, who are presently in college. He knows when they’ve missed class, for instance, as he can geotrack their phones to their dorms. I get worried about such behavior. Another dad said, “my kid would be in jail if I didn’t geotrack him.” To me, this seems not too far away from making the child wear a “house arrest” ankle bracelets—I don’t think that this is the way to go. Someone else doesn’t need to know where your child is all the time, while a true stalker or bad guy is unlikely, it is not a good idea for any of us to post our whereabouts all the time. WE want to cultivate in our kids an appreciation for the right to privacy.
Devorah Heitner, PhD founded Raising Digital Natives to inspire parents and teachers to mentor children thrive in a world of digital connectedness. She is the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive and Survive in Their Digital World
RESOURCES (click on text)
The Scary New SnapChat Feature All Parents MUST Know About from For Every Mom
NBC 5 News: Geotagging Allows for Real-Time Surveillance (Nov. 2012)