Fitting a child with a tracking device is far more sinister than 'the single man down the road'.
An image of an anguished mother dangling her toddler over the edge of a cliff always springs to mind when I hear the phrase ‘learning to let go of your children’.
It’s a common preoccupation of soap-opera angst, agony-aunt columns and parenting advice books. But is allowing children a bit of freedom really such a risky affair?
Anyone who remembers being a teenager remembers the screeches of ‘where have you been?’ upon returning home from where they weren’t supposed to be – or from where they were supposed to be, but several hours late.
Anyone who has kids probably remembers when they sat watching the clock as their child walked home from school alone for the first time, or screeching ‘where have you been?’ when their teenager skulked in guiltily in the early hours of the morning.
There is, of course, a reason for this. Young people, when not accompanied by an adult, go to a secret place that only they know the location of. In this place, time is not a universal constant, and mobile phones do not work. Parents will never pinpoint this place on the map, nor are they meant to. Part of growing up is learning that you can do some things on your own. I think they call it independence.
Unfortunately, nobody told 11-year-old Danielle Duvall’s parents about the secret place. She is being fitted with a microchip which will inform her parents of her location at any given time. ‘I will feel so much safer knowing that Mum and Dad could find me’, said Danielle (1).
I can understand why an 11-year-old, especially after the hysteria surrounding the deaths of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, might feel reassured by wearing a microchip. Were I a mother, though, I don’t think I’d encourage my child to believe that having omnipresent parents was the only way to go about life safely.
The Times (London) recently reported on ‘My Child Tracker’, a device that works through the child’s mobile phone. Parents can put a code word and their child’s phone number into a website, and they will receive a map pointing out the child’s position. The article, written by a parent and child who had road-tested the tracker, said that the device allowed for a parent to discover where their teenager really goes after he has told them where he is pretending to go (2).
The aim seems to be less that the child can be found and rescued from imminent danger than that they can be given a suitable bollocking when they return home. Fair enough, but as the teenager in question pointed out: ‘It’s also slightly sinister having your parents being able to pinpoint your position at any time of the day at the touch of a button.’
I’d have to agree. Imagine being at a mate’s place with a 16-year-old Danielle Duvall, when her parents (informed by her microchip), and yours (informed by My Child Tracker), burst through the door, axes swinging, to find you in a clinch.
Danielle Duvall’s story was also reported on the TV programme London Tonight. According to the reporter, her parents believed that microchips should not be necessary, but felt that ‘the world she lives in presents a threat’. Of course it is a worrying thought that your child could be abducted or hurt – but the chances are minute.
In any case, it isn’t a good idea to impress upon your child a view of a world in which danger is lurking around every corner – and a view of herself as an abduction, rape or murder waiting to happen.
Unless your daughter’s name is Heather Donahue, and she tells you she’s off hiking in the Black Hills for the weekend to make a documentary about the Blair Witch, there is nothing to be gained from microchipping or child-tracking kids…although it might make them too nervous to go with friends to a music festival, and too cautious to buy sweets from the stranger in the corner shop.
There is something far more dangerous than the single man who lives down the road – namely, forgetting that the world Danielle Duvall lives in does not present a threat to her, but an opportunity.
spiked-issue: Parents and kids
(1) ‘Girl, 11, to be fitted with tracker chip’, Evening Standard, 2 September 2002
(2) ‘The end of teenage kicks?’, The Times (London), 28 August 2002
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