No doubt, your kids can give you palpitations when they are late for dinner, don't answer the phone, or scamper off in the blink of an eye in a crowded mall. However, a GPS tracker will spare everyone a lot of drama, and in an unthinkable emergency, potentially save your child.
How Trackers Work
A Global Positioning System, more commonly known as a GPS tracker, is technology that coordinates with satellites to allow a monitor to locate someone. It operates on a simple model. The device is a transmitter that bounces a signal off a satellite to show its location with deadly accuracy. The super-sturdy, small device translates location information to a visible map, usually on your phone. Activate it and you've got your charge's whereabouts in a matter of seconds.
You can often use the GPS to set "zones" so an alarm on the device will go off, alerting you when the tracker crosses a zone boundary, such as a playground enclosure. You can also set the device for regular location updates. Each tracker has a cellular radio transmitter and a built-in GPS receiver. The data goes to your cellular provider's network so you can access it. Thus you do need to purchase lifetime or monthly service for the tracker. These are generally cheaper than cellphone data plans but still cost anywhere from $4 to $40 and up per month.
Pros and Cons
The features of trackers may or may not meet your needs for extra security and connection. Dig deeper to find the option that makes sense for your family.
- A dedicated tracker, with its long-lasting battery life, is a cheaper, more reliable alternative to using a smartphone. Although you can activate your cellphone as a GPS tracker with the addition of an app for the phone app to work, it has to be turned on. This means that you'll be using data, which can get expensive. It will also drain the phone's battery faster.
- In the awful event that a child is abducted, a kidnapper will disable a cellphone first. A wearable tracker hidden in a watch or a bracelet, or even in clothing, is unexpected. An assailant might overlook a small disc or tag in a pocket. A tracker has an advantage over a lost or stolen cellphone in that it's still there and still operable.
- A mandatory tracker that travels with the car keys is a constant reminder to a young driver to drive safetly.
- A latchkey kid can take comfort in the connection to a parent at work. The tracker is a stand-in for your physical presence when you can't, or shouldn't, be there in person.
- Some trackers have panic buttons that send you a text alert or an email in an emergency, others will call 9-1-1 at the touch of a button, and some let you voice-connect between preset numbers. These are all features you'll find especially handy if your child doesn't have a cellphone.
- You're not the police, so there is the uncomfortable "spying" charge to deal with. You and your family will have to discuss the use of trackers and determine what all of you can live with.
- Cost can be an issue. A device may hit you in the $100 to $200 range and then there's the monthly data fee, contract, and maybe replacement insurance because anything not directly soldered to your child is probably going to get lost at some point. It adds up.
- A sense of complacency is a natural progression from a newfound sense of security. However, GPS trackers are no substitute for attentive and careful parents or kids who are mastering responsible independence.
Types and Age Ranges
Kid-friendly, wearable GPS trackers come in all configurations. Most are adaptable for any age, based on the type of protection you need and the daily activities of the child. While older teens may prefer GPS tracking via their cellphone, you can get a GPS device that stays in the car and alerts you when the family chariot is exceeding the legal limit.
- Watches and bracelets are common choices, designed in bright, kid-friendly colors. They are ideal because they are rugged and waterproof. They come in bright-colored, fun styles for preschool to school-aged kids, as well as more sophisticated, subdued and sleek models for your 'tweens and teens.
- Wristbands are useful for keeping tabs on younger children in relatively confined spaces - especially in yards or play areas with pools. They tend to work with apps and often let you set safety zones and get alerts when the wearer submerges it in water for five seconds.
- A child can wear a pocket medallion or plastic tag on the wrist, but these types of GPS trackers are usually tucked into a pocket, pinned to clothing or attached to a backpack. These are indestructible, waterproof, compatible with global GPS systems and target young and school-age kids for always-on monitoring. Most of the popular models work well outdoors but may not update reliably indoors.
- A cartridge-shaped device that hangs on a lanyard or is tucked into a backpack provides two-way voice communication, a durable waterproof case, the ability to set safety zones, Amber Alert capabilities and a warning if a child is within 500 feet of a registered sex offender. This type of GPS is mostly for younger kids, but it's useful for school-age children who travel unsupervised to school or after-school activities.
- Clip-ons are small, unobtrusive and uncomplicated. They will often let you know if your car is going too fast, will let you set zones, You can't use them to talk to your child, but you get alerts when a walking child is suddenly moving at transportation speed, or a young driver blows through a safe speed limit. A good place for one of these speed-minders is the dashboard of the car.
- Clothing that transmits location was originally designed for extreme sports and protection in adverse conditions such as avalanches or hiking in the remote wilderness. Now kids' threads come wired for safety with GPS trackers sewn into shirts, pants, outerwear and dresses. GPS-enabled clothing is for babies, toddlers and very young children, and reassures parents if they believe kidnapping is a threat.
A Few of the Best Picks
There is a wealth of GPS kid-tracking stock available. The following samples are well-regarded, reliable, and even stylish. Remember to factor in the ongoing expense of a service plan when you're calculating the best choice.
Amber Alert GPS Smart Locator
Top Ten Reviews 2016 Gold Award Winner is the Amber Alert GPS. This feature-rich tracker boasts:
- Two-way calling
- Live tracking
- A panic button
- Customizable safe-zone alerts
- Predator alert (notifies you when a registered sex offender is within range)
- Listening-in capabilities.
It's suggested age range is five to ten. This GPS is designed for someone who is concerned about keeping her child safe. It's a great choice for kids who have to walk home alone, or even for your younger tween who wants to explore the mall.
The $135.00 device has an interchangeable colored faceplate (green, pink or blue), matching pouch for carrying as well as a wrist/ankle pouch, and lanyard. It is iOS and Android compatible. Generous monthly service plans are $15.00 to $18.00, and you can purchase the tracker and plan directly from the manufacturer by calling 855.368.8555. You'll find numerous awards listed on the website, along with a lot of user-friendly information.
Tom's Guide (formerly Gear Digest) chose Trax Play as one of the "Best GPS Trackers for Kids 2017." Trax updated its former model and slashed the price. It costs about $100 on Amazon, and shipping is free, but you will need a contract with T-Mobile network for data use. Trax Play is tiny, weighs about an ounce, clips or threads onto a belt or clothing, slips into a pocket or a backpack, and has a long-lasting lithium battery, depending on the update frequency you set. It's useful for playground toddlers and preschoolers, latch-key kids, teens who drive - and pets. It also features:
- Live outdoor tracking as often as every ten seconds
- Geo-fence setting
- Speed alerts with real-time notifications
- Augmented reality phone-panning so you can move your phone around to find the direction and distance from you to the tracker
- History of the tracker's movements, with a timeline, so you can see where it's been
Purchasers gave it high marks for tracking commuter kids and monitoring children anywhere outdoors, including in cars. Trax Play probably isn't your pick for the kid who never saw a shopping mall she couldn't get lost in. The tracker comes in white with blue or pink trim.
A Family Affair
You don't need to be surveilling your kids like Big Brother to make good use of a GPS tracker. Involve them in the action. Show little ones how to hit the alarm button when they don't see you. Swap the device with your school-age child for practice so he can try locating you. Once he understands the safety and convenience a tracker represents, the device is less of an annoyance. Make the GPS protocol a condition of the driver's license or the extended curfew. Then, you don't feel like you have to hover. The correct response to a little-bit-late teen who was clearly proceeding homeward at a safe speed is a hug. When you're not half-frozen in fear, that hug is easy.