Friday TechMunch: The Future of Parenting?

Last week LG unveiled a new tracking device for children. While apps and gadgets to keep tabs on kids are nothing new, LG’s device stands out because of its remarkably friendly, mass-market appeal – pink and blue wristwatches; complete with their own cartoon animated face which transmits signals to a parent’s tablet or smartphone.

But should we pay attention to the renewed Orwellian warnings about these devices, or embrace what some see as a really positive benefit of 21st century technology? And can we even completely trust this new technology in practical terms?

As early as 2003, there has been the possibility of tracking your child via GPS. But 2014 seems to be the year where the possibility is becoming a mainstream reality. Sites such as Mashable and The Huffington Post have picked up on the selection of ways that concerned parents can keep tabs on their kids. And inevitably, with big brands such as LG launching their own product, debate has ensued.

On one side of the argument, commentators are envisaging the future of childhood as something from 1984 – with parents playing Big Brother. They argue that by introducing these devices, “children are being delivered the message… That it is okay for us to absent-mindedly hand over our right to privacy.” And what about teenagers? In the future, will it be okay for them to be tracked?

Nevertheless, the CEO of LG Mobile Communications Jong-Seok Park argues his companies wearables “allow us to stay connected” with kids, “without the worry of losing a device.” Although a three-year is more than capable of losing anything, this really is the crux of the issue: if the technology presents a greater chance of kids being kept safe from the possibility of getting lost or being abducted, then this is obviously incredibly advantageous technology.

However, we have to be careful about how much faith we place in the technology. It can fail; speaking from experience I have been duped into a false sense of security when the Find My iPhone app did not really find my iPhone. Tracking devices are limited in their use – the battery can go dead, and we already know that baby monitors can be hacked. It has been argued that the same interference could happen to these new, online based tracking devices. And that’s based on the assumption that kids will not break or remove the devices.

So, regardless of the ethics, the possibility of practical failure means that technology will never have the capacity to replace good, cautious parenting. But, once kids have been taught safety lessons, it should then be up to parents to decide whether to use this emerging technology.