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GPS Tracking Kids is not the Same as Monitoring Them

Our children do better when they know adults are watching

How much should parents monitor and check up on their kids? From both my clinical experience, and a careful read of the research, the answer is "plenty." Our children do best when there is an adult who knows where they are.

But in an age of cell phones and soon, GPS tracking, we may confuse tracking our kids with monitoring them. Tracking them is intrusive and teaches them irresponsibility (don't think they won't lie to you or find ways around your surveillance). But monitoring is about relationship building. It's about asking our child where he is going, and what he is doing, and maybe even what is special about being there, with those friends. Monitoring tells our children "I care" and that as their parents, we want to teach them how to keep themselves safe. Tracking says "You are incapable of looking after yourself." There's a big difference between those two messages.

The interesting thing about monitoring and ensuring our families have a high degree of family cohesion (meaning people who know a lot about each other and share their lives together) is that both together predict better school engagement. Research shows that a child who comes from a family where they feel they belong (rather than terrorized by over-protection) and whose parents show an interest in what they are doing, with whom, and where they spend their time, is a child who is more likely to feel connected at school too! That's a child who is less likely to skip class, get detentions, or act out in class.

Now before we celebrate and assume that monitoring is going to also mean better grades, think again. Research done by Diane Annunziata and her colleagues at Fordham University shows us that kids who are monitored may feel better about being at school, but that monitoring by parents doesn't necessarily raise children's GPA's. In other words, monitoring helps our children develop relationships, improve their character, and instils in them a sense of belonging in their families and communities. Getting good grades is about other things that I'll wait to discuss in another blog.

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