Parents are using AirTags to keep track of their kids, but it could stop them from learning important habits

Shadow of a child on a playground swing
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  • A viral TikTok post shows a mom making her kids' AirTags beep and having them come back to her.

  • Experts say that tracking can be helpful but that too much can be harmful.

  • If kids don't know they're being tracked, it could turn into a trust issue.

Many parents use tracking devices, such as Apple AirTags, to keep tabs on their kids' whereabouts in public places — and some are using them to make parenting easier in other ways.

In a recent viral TikTok post, a mom explains how she's "training" her two young children with AirTag bracelets.

"You can track them and make a beeping noise, and you can train your kids to come when they hear the beeping noise," the creator said in the video.

While tracking can be a useful safety tool in certain scenarios, child-development experts say parents who rely too much on tracking technology could be unknowingly interfering with their kids' development and even hindering their relationship with them.

AirTags and trackers can be useful in specific situations

Some parents use them to keep track of their kids on vacation or in busy places where they could get easily separated.

"When you're in a crowded place, there are real safety concerns in which having some way to see where your kid is could certainly make sense," Rebekah Diamond, a professor of pediatrics at Columbia University and the author of "Parent Like a Pediatrician," said.

It could also be helpful to use location-tracking technology if you have a child or teen who's repeatedly sneaking out of the house and you have genuine concerns about their safety, Meagan Turner, a licensed associate professional counselor who regularly works with kids and families, said.

Too much supervision could hinder a kid's development

Kids need supervision to stay safe, but they also need to experience a certain amount of independence and free play to learn how to be safe on their own.

"I'm a big fan of allowing as much free play as possible once I set the limits to make the situation as safe as possible," Diamond said.

For example, once you ensure your child's play area is safe — there aren't any open windows or wobbly furniture — you can supervise them from a distance as they explore their space.

"I think constant technological limit setting could interfere with the play itself and with the child's sense of being able to explore on their own what's a safe limit and not," Diamond said. "To me, that seems like the risk would outweigh the reward."

The same risks are present with tracking older kids or teens. Keeping track of your kids' whereabouts all the time may reduce your anxiety as a parent, but you may be impeding their ability to learn important safety and communication habits, Turner said.

Privacy is an issue, too

If your kids don't know you're tracking them, you could be unintentionally violating their trust — which could cause them to withhold important information from you in the future.  Diamond says they need to know they are being tracked and understand they have a role in agreeing to it.

On the other hand, Turner said, even when kids know they're being tracked, or if you're using the tracker to communicate with your kids, they could experience anxiety.

"It's almost like being on call for your boss, wondering when your parents are going to call," she said.

Using trackers to condition kids interferes with important opportunities for communication and connection 

Parenting involves many important teaching moments that involve communication and connection. Using tech to "train" kids in certain behaviors, though, takes the human element out of the equation.

"It takes away that human connection of calling your kid's name, so you're missing out on opportunities to connect with them," Turner said.

Similarly, if you train your kids to come when they hear a beep, they may not learn how to express their own needs or desires. Turner likens the method to Ivan Pavlov's classical-conditioning theory, or Pavlov's dogs — the child hears the beep, and they're conditioned to come no matter what, even if they're in the middle of something else or don't know what the parent will ask.

"I see a lot of drawbacks, such as the kid not learning to speak up about their needs in the moment," Turner said. "There's not much benefit other than the parent's convenience."

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