Good Digital Parenting
July 8, 2019

Considerations Before Location-Sharing with Your Teenager

Summer Intern, Family Online Safety Institute

Now more than ever, the vast majority of teenagers have access to or own a smartphone. With that comes the instinct for many parents to want to track their teenager’s smartphone. Location-sharing with your teenager can come with many benefits, the foremost reasons being safety and convenience. Examples of this include checking their location when your child is driving or in class, both instances in which they cannot send a text message or answer a phone call. However, it is important to establish some boundaries with your teenager, so they do not feel resentful that they are digitally being followed. Personally, I decided to location-share with my mom in high school so that she could relax when I went out with friends. Here are some considerations we discussed before taking this step:

Consensual Sharing

It is important to make sure your child is aware and has agreed to share locations with you. If they are not aware and later discover that they were forced to location-share without their knowledge, then this can lead to feelings of resentment and a breakdown of trust in your relationship. If your child is aware but has not agreed to it, then they may act evasive so you cannot find them, such as disabling the location-tracking feature, “spoofing” their GPS location, or leaving their phone behind. This evasive behavior will undermine the objective of location-sharing, particularly for situations when you absolutely need to locate your teen. Thus, it is necessary that both you and your teen discuss location-sharing and consensually agree to it with certain limitations, such as where your teen is allowed to go, how many times you will check the app, what your intent behind location-sharing is, etc.

Trust versus Safety

Parents should clarify their intentions behind deciding to implement a location-sharing service in their family. In the discussion with my mom, she agreed to only check my location for convenience or safety reasons, such as estimating my time of arrival before she needed to pick me up or when I did not respond to her texts in over a day. For my mom, the app is not used with the intention of catching me doing something or being somewhere I am not allowed to be. If it was, then this would contribute to a breakdown of trust in our relationship and I would be more inclined to act evasively so that she cannot find out what I am doing. As a result, a balance must be struck between ensuring my safety while also preserving a trusting relationship. 

Guaranteeing Your Teenager’s Autonomy

It is important to maintain a culture of respect when setting boundaries. In high school, I was ready for more independence and wanted to feel responsible for myself. That is why it was important to me that my mom resisted the urge to constantly check my location, with the exception of very circumstantial situations. Her assurance that she would use the app sparingly meant that I did not feel like I was always being followed. Instead, we came to the understanding that it was useful only when she could not find me. 

My Continued Use of Location-Sharing

Even as a university student, I continue to share my location with my mom which is particularly useful to her when I travel abroad alone. She is still committed to rarely checking the app and only when she feels it is absolutely necessary. On occasion, I check her location as well before I FaceTime her to make sure she is at home and not at the grocery store or driving. What I have come to realize is that it is most important to discuss the reasoning and intent behind location-sharing and that the limitations put into place are necessary so that this convenient service does not become damaging to our parent-teenager relationship. 

Location-Sharing Apps

  • Find My Friends - This free app is exclusive to Apple users, and allows you to easily share your location with family and friends using either your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. 

  • Life 360 - This is more of a family-orientated location sharing app. It allows users to not only share location, but also send group messages and call for roadside assistance. 

  • Google Maps - Within the Google Maps app on your smartphone, there is an option to share location with any other users that also have this app. 

  • Glympse - This app works on iPhones, Androids and Blackberrys and allows you to share your location in real time via email, SMS, Facebook or Twitter.