Let “little buddy” spy on your kids

Euphemisms abound in modern America and consumer advertising seems to love them. One I saw in Sunday’s Best Buy ad, though, took me beyond a double take and left me pondering our views of privacy and parent-child trust.

The ad was for the “LittleBuddy Child Tracker.” To me, it could just as well be called “Little Brother” (with a nod of the head to Cory Doctorow’s award-winning novel of the same name). That’s because the ad blares that “LittleBuddy” will allow you to “KEEP TRACK OF YOUR KIDS 24/7”.

That’s right, “LittleBuddy” uses “the latest GPS and cellular technology” to provide you with “real-time” updates of your child’s location. Not only that, it will notify you if your child “enters or leaves customizable safety zones.” The online description of the device explains what those “safety zones” might be. “Customizable safety checks allow you to establish specific times and locations where your child is supposed to be — for example, in school — causing the device to alert you with a text message if your child leaves the designated area during that time.”

Now nothing mandates a right of privacy in a parent-child relationship. I also realize that we don’t live in Mayberry and there’s freaks and weirdos out there who may harm children. Still, I always believed that for a child to become a responsible adult it is absolutely necessary that a parent and child can trust each other in the course of increasing degrees of freedom.

That doesn’t mean anything goes and, of course, the level and nature of trust is somewhat age dependent. Yet I didn’t — and don’t — go searching through their rooms or backpacks or possessions. As long as I knew who they were with, where they were going and when they would be back, I had to trust them and their judgment. Did they break the rules and occasionally exercise bad judgment? Sure they did — and so did all of us on the road to adulthood. But, to me, “trust but verify” doesn’t include random drug testing or keeping tabs on a child’s exact location every minute of the day.

Perhaps I’ve been lucky. I know some kids get caught up with “the wrong crowd” or engage in unacceptable behavior. Perhaps there comes a time where location tracking might be contemplated. Yet even then it doesn’t take a honor student to figure out that putting the device in your school locker and leaving it there during the day lets you wherever you want. As a result, promoting tracking your kid’s every movement by calling a GPS device their “little buddy” is far too Orwellian for me — and certainly doesn’t help encourage the trust necessary for strong families and relationships.

Those who trust us educate us.

George Eliot, Daniel Deronda

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