Sometimes mother's intuition and eyes in the back of your head aren't enough to keep track of young children. Any mom who has frantically raced through a store calling her child's name while he hides in a rack of clothing can attest to this. Perhaps a parent's greatest fear is that her child will be lost or abducted. Tracking devices can be helpful weapons in your parenting arsenal, but remember that they can't take the place of common sense and close supervision.
What They Are
Child tracking devices emit signals that allow parents to follow their children's movements and pinpoint their location at any given time. This can be reassuring for parents of children who like to wander off, which describes most toddlers and preschoolers. They also might help locate a child who has been abducted, although stranger abductions are relatively rare. Trackers can be fitted into watches, clothing, backpacks and other common items, and some can even be implanted under the child's skin.
How They Work
Most child tracking devices use either a global positioning system or radio frequency identification. GPS trackers work with satellite technology to calculate the child's position. RFID trackers use radio towers to send a signal, like a homing beacon, to the parent's receiver. Some hybrid devices include both technologies to take advantage of each one's particular abilities.
GPS trackers are perhaps better known than RFID trackers, but they aren't always the best choice for every situation. GPS devices usually require an ongoing fee-based tracking service for the parents to be able to retrieve the information from their child's unit. In addition, GPS coverage is spotty indoors or under heavy cloud cover. As long as there is clear access to satellites, however, the coverage is extensive.
RFID trackers have a much more limited range than GPS trackers -- sometimes as small as 30 feet -- but because they use radio towers, they can pinpoint your child's position precisely, even indoors. Parents can receive the signal directly on their receiver without paying for a tracking service. Because of the small range, RFID trackers are most helpful for locating your child locally, within an enclosed area. RFID technology is prone to radio interference.
An Ethical Dilemma
If you have a cell phone, you probably have a GPS tracker already. Most cell phones contain a GPS chip to help emergency responders find you. However, choosing to use a device that can track your own movements is one thing; choosing to place a similar device on your child is another. This moral quandary gets thornier with implantable chips. An implanted chip can't be lost, turned off or easily removed, which gives it an advantage over the other types, but it is invasive. What seems reasonable for safety in a young child might become a serious invasion of privacy as the child grows older. Only you can decide where you draw the line with your own child.