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When I Monitor My Teen's Driving...Am I Spying?
Published: Sunday, May 3, 2009

By: Dr. Robin Kirby, PhD, Clinical Psychologist


When those of us who are now parents of teens were teens ourselves, the way we communicated with our parents was either face to face (often at the dinner table), from a pay phone, or from a phone wired to a wall. Now our children are able to "IM" us, text message us, e-mail us, or phone us from the middle of a field three states away. My, how times have changed!

Fast Forward to Now

With both parents working outside of the home, and the tendency of teens to have more after school commitments, in many families parents rarely spend more than a few minutes at a time with their teen children. More and more I hear parents say "I spend quality-time with my child in the car, where we have no other distractions." Once teens start driving however, conversations are often limited to a few minutes at a time via cell phone. Our children who drive have much more freedom and much less accountability than we did at their age.

All of this means that we as parents have greater challenges when faced with ensuring that we are raising our teens to keep themselves safe when we can't see them.

Let's face a few facts about ourselves: We are a busier generation than our parents were. We rely on our teens to drive themselves (and their siblings) more than our parents did. We are less certain about where our children are than our parents were about us, depending more on phone "check-ins" than on our physical presence with them for information.


Take a moment to Listen to Dr. Kirby.


We Used to Watch Them Take "First Steps"

When our teens were young children we played in the yard with them, showing them how to play safely. As they grew we let them go outside by themselves, but we stayed near the window watching and ready to intervene in the face of danger, until a time when we felt assured that they were capable of staying safe on their own in this limited environment. Fast forward to teens and driving. We put our children in driver's education classes so that they learn safe driving practices, laws regarding driving, and skills required to drive a car. We sit beside them as they practice supervised driving. They take a test, pass the test, and they're off! The analogous step that is missing in the teen driving process is the "sit by the window and watch" step.

Fortunately, technology has provided a device, the GPS Tracker, that can be installed in a car that is monitored and can phone parents when the car is being driven at unsafe speeds. A GPS Tracking Device also transmits information about time, locations, starts and stops. FINALLY, we have a way to fill that gap and have that "sit by the window and watch" experience! [Learn more about the Tracker.]

Monitoring or Spying?

To my disappointment, I have heard parents express discomfort about how the use of GPS Trackers is "spying" and communicates parental mistrust in their children. In all of our earlier experiences in parenting our children to independence, we have had ample occasion to watch them "test their wings" before we let them fly. When a teen begins to drive, everything changes for them at once. This is a totally new and entirely different experience. This is not an issue of trust or mistrust, nor an issue of spying. This device answers questions about how well our child has learned to keep him or herself safe. In my opinion, allowing our teens to move from completely supervised driving to completely unsupervised driving in one step, is simply withdrawing from the parenting process way too soon.

When we choose to monitor our children until we have proof that they have a track record of safety, we choose assurance for ourselves. We also provide our children with a means to buck peer pressure. Now they have excuses to behave well by saying things like; "I can't drive any faster, I'm being watched." "I have to go where I told my parents I would go." "I have to call my parents if our plans change."

What the Experts All Agree Upon

All of the child rearing experts agree that children grow into healthier and more responsible young adults when 1) their parents stay engaged with them until they leave home, and 2) when parents set and adhere to clear limits for their children.

SO...tell your teens that you monitor them. Tell them why it is important for you to be certain that they are keeping themselves safe (because you L-O-V-E them, duh!). Tell them how these services can be useful to them when peer pressure rears its ugly head. Most importantly, stress to your child how monitoring them is not a matter of mistrust, it is an opportunity to create trust in a totally new situation.



Is the GPS Tracker right for you? Learn More Here

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