My teenage son has a smartphone and I have an app that allows us to track where he is.
The other night he said he was going to a movie with friends at a local mall. As my wife and I were going to bed, she wondered if he was on his way home. I discovered he was on the opposite end of town. It wasn't anywhere dangerous, but he had to take the freeway to get there, outside our comfort zone for his driving. He did get home safely.
When my wife and I were teens there were no cellphones and we did crazy stupid dangerous things our parents never knew about.
Our son is a very good kid who gets excellent grades. After we learned that he had lied to us we debated what to do and decided to call him out. He was remorseful, but he was also angry that we were spying on him. We told him that if he turns the app off he'll lose the phone.
He wanted to know why he can't have the same freedom we did when we were young? We didn't punish him, we just told him we wanted the truth moving forward. He's going to be a senior this year, and we know we're going to have to loosen the reins a bit. Of course at this point, we can't really believe him when he says he's going to a movie. What do you think? If the technology is there, is it good to track where your kids are?
I've Got an App
The other day I was talking to my teenager about what it was like for me to be a teenager in the 1970s; I might as well have been talking about the 1870s. She found it hard to fathom that when my friends and I went out the door our parents had no idea where we were, that when we were in a car, we were beyond the reach of any parents' supervision.
Now parents are their own private NSA, able to track their kids' movements in real-time. Sure, I find it infinitely reassuring that I can reach my daughter on her cellphone, but it's not just my technophobia that keeps me from downloading that app you have.
She and her friends keep vampire hours, but I don't monitor where she is because I need to practice letting her go, and she needs to learn to make her way in the world.
I'm not defending your son's lying. But you acknowledge your own mildly reprobate youth, so you can imagine the thrill for him of being on the forbidden side of town, of successfully navigating the highway at night. You are right to drive the point home (about his driving home) that you have to be able to trust each other.
So sit down with him and draw up some rules for the coming year. Say that you're keeping the app on for now, and if you find he's lied to you, there will be consequences. But you know that he's a senior and things are changing, so if he is straight with you, by October you will turn off the tracking.
* Emily Yoffe is an advice columnist, using the name Prudence. Please send your questions for publication to email@example.com. Questions may be edited.