If a young child wanders,technology can follow

Published: November 10, 2013 5:36 am

Most parents have experienced that feeling of fear when a young child wanders off at the playground or disappears during a trip to the supermarket. New technology,in the form of voice watches and miniature sensing devices,is aimed at thwarting such distress by keeping track of children who are too young to carry a smartphone.

The new devices use GPS,Wi-Fi and other location-tracking technology and can be linked to apps on a parent’s phone. One device,a watch coming from Filip Technologies later this year,tracks a child’s location and lets him or her get voice calls from up to five people authorised by the child’s parents. (Children lift the watch to their ear or mouth when communicating.)

The watch also has a red panic button that children can push if,for example,they suddenly become separated from their parents in a crowd. Then the watch starts dialing each of the authorised people until one answers.

But the technology offered by the watches and similar products could be a mixed blessing,said Lisa Damour,a psychologist who focuses on parenting and directs the Centre for Research on Girls in Ohio,and contributes to Motherlode blog of The New York Times.

“I can understand how a parent might want to know if their child is having a problem,but I don’t think it’s necessarily helpful for children to always be able to turn to their parents when they are struggling,” she said. “We want children to develop problem-solving skills and the capacity to manage stress” as they practice drawing on their own resources,or those of teachers,friends and others around them. “I can readily imagine that it increases the child’s anxiety,” she said. “It sends a strong message that the child is at real risk .”

Another new tracking device,the tiny Trax,also pairs with a smartphone app to allow parents to find their children,particularly very young ones,said Tobias Stenberg,a co-founder of Wonder Technology Solutions,a company in Stockholm that makes the device.

The Trax,to be available later this month,costs $249 and includes a subscription for two years’ use in more than 30 countries.

After that,the company will charge a monthly fee. Parents can draw boundaries on their smartphones,creating an electronic fence within which their child can roam. But if the child crosses the digital fence,the tracker alerts the parents,Stenberg said. And if the satellite signal is lost inside a building,for example,Trax uses motion and direction sensors to determine the child’s position. The device can also keep track of dogs,he said. NYT

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