Should Parents Track Their College Kids On Smart Phones?

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Your young adult is in college, perhaps far from home, and you worry. Parenting and worrying go hand-in-hand, and as our kids get older, our worries often get bigger. Sending our kids away to live, learn and grow on their own is as much an adjustment for us as it is for them - in fact, for some parents, it's much more difficult than it is for their children. 

Some of our college kids are good about staying in touch, and we will breath sighs of relief to hear from them, safe and sound, on a Sunday morning after a Saturday night party.

Others, however, don't feel the same need or sense of obligation to check in with mom and dad on a regular basis, and those kids can cause us more headaches than we might anticipate. 

Technology has given us tools we can use to check in - or in other words, "stalk" - our children when they are not at home. When our kids are teens - experimenting, newly driving, dating for the first time - it is understandable and even advisable to use apps to make sure rules are being followed and our kids are telling us the truth about how they are spending their time. Life 360 is a very popular app that allows families to check in with each other from their phones, and for busy moms and dads and kids with complex schedules, it is a lifesaver.

Once our kids have left home, is it a good idea to continue to track them as they embark on adulthood?

Randi Olin, founder of the website Motherwell, thinks not. As she said in her article "Why I Won’t Be GPS Tracking My College Freshmanon the Washington Post:

"So I wait for her to come to me, and believe that these unexpected, authentic snippets—a quick call on the way back from the gym, a late night text telling me about sorority rush, a brief FaceTime call on the walk back from the library—far outweigh any round-the-clock location tracker."

This brings up a good point.

If your child knows that you have access to his or her whereabouts any time of day or night, the incentive to talk to you may not be as great as if he or she has news to share or simply misses you. Even though there's no real contact, knowing you are always keeping an eye on your college student may give him or her a false sense of security - or irritation, in some cases. 

Letting your young adult explore the world and make his or her own mistakes is a critical part of letting go and allowing him or her to not only find their own path but also, for better or worse, make their own mistakes. Think back to when you were in college and made a questionable choice - would you want your parents knowing, in real time, that it was happening?

Tracking your college student's progress in class

The high cost of college has many parents understandably worried about their young adults succeeding and graduating on time. 

According to 2013 data from the University of Texas at Austin, students who graduate on time will spend 40% less than those who graduate in six years. - USA Today

In fact, there are apps that have been developed specifically to allow parents to track their college students' progress, including going to class.

As tempting as this may sound, it is probably not the best idea, except for the most extreme circumstances. If your young adult hasn't learned to be responsible for his or her successes and failures by the time they leave for college, there's a very good chance the lesson will be learned quickly. Just like with personal missteps, academic failures and flubs are part of the educational process and the development of self-reliance and a sense of personal responsibility. 

The term helicopter parenting has become ubiquitous, but it can be detrimental to the mental health of both parent and young adult if that helicopter is not landed by the time the young adult heads off to college. College students know their parents are there if they need them, and parents should understand that letting their college students come to them, instead of tracking them down via app or some other method, is an important part of letting their children become the self-sufficient adults they are meant to be.