Today’s Family: Are you destroying trust?

The best way to know where your children are is to ask them, right?

I remember a time when I had to work late, and my kids were home alone. They were of the age when I could trust them to be by themselves but was still concerned that something could go wrong and they wouldn’t know how to take care of it. I asked them to check in with me every hour or so to reassure me they were doing okay and to ease my mind until I could get out of work.

“Sure mom,” they said. “We can do that.”

First hour no message. Second hour no message. My thoughts went from “those darn kids forgot to text me” to outright pure rage and terror that the house was burning down and I wouldn’t know it. Needless to say, by the time I did reach them they knew I was not pleased. But they are kids. And if I had a GPS tracking device, knowing they were at home would probably not have made me feel any less anxious.

I prefer to keep track of my kids the old-fashioned way: with my intuition, faith, trust and conversation. I often use the analogy that our children are like kites. We let out the string and watch them fly and flutter. When they get out of control, we reel the string back in a little. When the kite steadies, we let the string out a little more.

While parents may disagree about whether or not to use GPS tracking with their children, it is undeniable that constantly keeping tabs on our kids is time-consuming and anxiety-inducing. Some may even consider it an invasion of privacy. The effort, however, is sometimes worth it to parents who worry about the safety of their children, or perhaps to parents who suspect their children might not be honest and forthright about where they are when you or they leave the house.

In my opinion, people aren’t meant to be tracked. If it works for you, just be sure to not let it replace the bonding and trust building that needs to occur between families. Let the birds leave the nest and learn how to fly all on their own. You will still be there to catch them if they fall, and let them fall so they can build confidence. I feel if I monitor my kids in all the ways technology allows that I’m not only hindering their growth but mine as well. They need to learn to fly solo and I need to learn to let go.

Whether you are a stay-at-home parent or a work-out-of-the-home mom or dad, space away from each other is a natural and necessary part of growing up. I’m already way too into my kids’ business when they are around me. When they aren’t, I look at it as time we all need to be on our own in the world. It’s out there where we learn to navigate, make smart choices, learn from the bad ones, and enjoy time with our peer group. The freedom our kids get to experience when they are away from us is an integral part of their development.

When you question your children, they hear that you don’t trust them. Tracking devices may provide a false sense of security by making us think we know what our kids are up to at all times. The truth is, knowing your child’s location is only a small part of the picture. They might be where they said they would be, but I haven’t yet seen the app that actually tracks what they are doing while they are there.

Kids need to learn how to keep themselves safe as well. I’ve learned that when your child doesn’t respond to your text it is generally not personal. They are busy too and not always on or near their phones like you think they are. I know in theory parenting is a 24/7 kind of job, but kids need space to be kids and parents need a break from parenting.

As your kids get older you may feel the loss of them not needing you as much and tracking them can help you feel closer to them and their whereabouts. Consider that as they get more freedom, so do you. The time I gained back not having to be the solo taxi driver allows me to embrace loosening my grip a little. My job as a parent is not done. It just gets to shift to friendship, honest communication, fun and sharing.

I’m excited that my kids are learning to navigate the big scary world out there all on their own. They even help me get around town now and encourage me to spread my wings. They give me advice that I really use. They finally know that I do trust them and that my number one concern is their safety and wellbeing.

Consider how you might be keeping your kite from flying. I’d love to hear from you and know what you think about this or any other topic

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About Kim Engstrom

Kim Engstrom is a certified mental health counselor and mother of two located in Chadds Ford. Online Counseling and Walk and Talk Therapy now available. For questions or more information on this topic visit www.KimEngstrom.com or Facebook at Kim Engstrom and KE Counseling Services. A complimentary 30-minute discovery call or in office meeting is available to all first-time clients to discuss your family goals.

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