Teens are speaking out over claims they are being controlled by overbearing parents through a sophisticated tracking app.
Hundreds of young people say they feel parents are invading their privacy using the Life360 app, sharing screenshots of texts with parents to Reddit.
The app allows parents to follow their children on a map so they can see their recent locations whenever they log on. In some cases, the app also lets parents see if children are driving irresponsibly or texting behind the wheel by measuring activity through the app and sending notifications to parents.
According to Life360, at the end of 2018 the app had 18 million monthly active users.
One 19-year-old posted on Reddit they were told to install Life360 by their parents and believed it was a way to control them.
“They don’t let me go out with my friends and now they want to track me even though I am in school,” the teen wrote.
“I have a long ass break from 10-2 and I want to hang out with my friends outside of the campus. Is that too much to ask? For me, it’s just an invasion of privacy.
“My parents told me that if I don’t download the app, they wouldn’t let me use their car (I pay for the lease every month) to drive to school.
“They tell me it’s for safety purposes. It may be true but I feel like it’s more to control me.”
The 19-year-old claimed their dad also threatened to kick them out of the house if they did not do what he said.
In another post, a 16-year-old said they were tracked despite never breaking their parents’ trust.
“I seriously don’t like that I’m 16-years-old and perfectly responsible, but I have to be tracked,” the teen wrote.
“I live in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, where I’m not going to be kidnapped.
“If I try to explain why me needing the app is BS, [my dad] just threatens to take my phone.”
A number of people commented, saying the app was being used to control children.
“Three words. Creepy, stalkerish, boundaries,” one said.
Others have claimed while their parents tracked their location, they didn’t allow their children to view theirs in return.
A 19-year-old woman who attends university said her mum tracks her using the app, and angrily texts her when she goes somewhere without telling her.
“I’m moved out to college ... but is it right to have a tracker on your 18+ child, and does anyone else have one on their phones?” she said.
Many were shocked an adult child would be tracked by a family member.
“This is not normal and is a huge invasion of your privacy,” one said.
Tracking app can ‘cause anxiety’
Emma Spencer, principal clinical psychologist and director at Child Development Solutions Australia and Sydney Psychology Centre, told Yahoo News Australia using the app to control children could cause them to suffer long-term issues.
“It hinders independence and curiosity, and causes anxiety,” she said.
“It can cause tension in the relationship between a parent and a child if the parent is constantly saying, ‘no, no, no’.
“The child may feel like the world is not a safe place, they are not capable of looking after themselves and that you are the only one who can keep them safe.”
Ms Spencer said following children on the Life360 app was similar to being a helicopter parent at the park.
“The kids are going to feel like they’re being watched all the time and can’t make mistakes and spread their wings,” she said.
However, Ms Spencer claimed the app could have a positive effect if used by parents for safety and not control.
“If you see your child up to something like speeding or using their phone while driving, it’s about how you address it. How do you bring that up and have a helpful conversation?” she said.
“It’s not about catching them out and punishing them, it’s about how you use the information to teach them and deliver a lesson in a helpful way.”
‘As a parent it’s a my favourite app of all time’
Alex Merton-McCann, McAfee Australia’s ‘Cybermum’, told Yahoo News Australia Life360 was a valuable app if used properly and reasonably.
“It’s about being appropriate and it being moderately used,” she said.
“The most important point I would make is when you first introduce it to your family, explain in a totally transparent manner, and be open and honest about why you want to use the apps.”
Ms Merton-McCann, who has four children herself, said she had heard stories of some parents downloading the app on their children’s phones without them knowing.
“This is a big no no,” she said.
“It can’t be us and them, there’s no way you’re going to have that trust. I reckon as a parent the biggest priority should be establishing trust.”
Ms Merton-McCann said she had used the app to ensure her son was safe on a night out after recently turning 18, and check another son had arrived safely after a long drive.
She says for her 16-year-old son, it gives him more freedom to move between locations because his mother does not need to check in constantly.
“It’s actually very empowering for him,” she said.
Ms Merton-McCann advised parents to talk to their children about why they wanted to use the app.
“As a parent it’s my favourite app of all time. My kid hated the idea of it initially but now it’s empowering him,” she said.
“Just keep it age appropriate, there will come a point in time if a child is still 19 and you’re still using it everyday – you need to know as a parent when to back off. Our fundamental role as parents is to create independent adults.
“These apps can make waters a bit muddy but use this as a tool to empower them and you but keep it reasonable and wean off it as the trust is established.”
Life360 says it is educating parents
Life360 told Yahoo News Australia in a statement it was educating parents on how to best use the app.
“Life360’s family expert partnered with the company in early 2019 and is a registered psychologist and parents expert who helps further Life360’s mission of keeping families safe and connected,” a spokesperson said.
“Through this partnership, Life360 has developed resources to assist families around best practices when using the app which are available through our blog.
“Users can also easily control their own privacy thanks to built-in features like the option to opt-on or opt-out of location sharing at the touch of a button.”
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