Child safety: Rise in Gold Coast parents using GPS trackers to monitor kids

Gold Coast parents are spending hundreds of dollars to keep track of their kids, but a leading child safety group warns they are being lured into a “false sense of security”.

The sales of GPS wrist watches have exploded by up to 600 per cent in the past three years as parents look to new ways to monitor their children.

A 2019 Royal Children’s Hospital study revealed one in five Australian parents used a tracking device to keep an eye on their kids when they travelled solo.

But Bravehearts’ director of research Carol Ronken said while she understood the need, she feared it may not address the whole problem.

“It is a concern that some may gain a false sense of security and that simply because they know where their child is, that their child is safe from harm,” Ms Ronken said.

“While there might be some circumstances where these GPS trackers provide a level of safety, our concern, particularly in respect to child sexual assault, is that these approaches to personal safety, provide little in reality as most perpetrators of sexual harm against children are known to the child and the family.”

TicTocTrack says it has sold about 10,000 devices and interest is booming in New Zealand and America. The company was recently given a $1 million grant by the Queensland Government to continue its work.

The device looks like a watch, acts as a phone and can follow the wearer’s movement, sending an alert if the child breaches a boundary or gets into trouble.

“For so many parents both mum and dad are working,” said TicTocTrack creator Karen Cantwell. “They are time-poor and many children are doing after-school care or activities.

“Giving the parents peace of mind actually means the kids are allowed to go out and do more things because the parent feels more comfortable.”

Ms Cantwell said interest in the tracker often peaked following high-profile threats, including the abduction of a Brisbane child from a North Lakes shopping centre last year, as parents scramble for new ways to protect their kids.

“We’re registered on the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) so we’ve had children with special needs or autism that are prone to running off, there are adults who use it when they go horseriding and don’t want to take a phone, early on-set dementia patients, people wanting it for their cat, all sorts.”

Gold Coast clinical psychologist Cliff Battley gave the technology a cautious tick of approval, but warned parents not to rely on them too heavily.

“If it enhances their security and gives the parent the mental assurance that they could reach their child in an emergency it would be hard to argue against that. An insane amount of children go missing and we now have technology to help save a child’s life.”

Dr Battley said he had witnessed a small handful of “temper tantrums” from young kids who did not want to wear GPS devices, but the “jury was out” on whether tracking children would affect them in later life.

“Because it’s so new there’s no evidence yet because you need long-term data. Parents who use them need to have a conversation with their kids and be coached about how to have that conversation. It needs to be a discussion about what would be so handy about keeping in contact.”

Mother of two Maggie Micallef has been using a TicTocTrack watch for her eldest son, aged 8, for more than a year.

“He had started getting invited to parties and I was a little cautious about leaving him,” she said. “With the watch he can’t lose it or leave it in a bag.

“If (my son) didn’t have the watch I’d probably still be in the corner at parties keeping an eye on what’s going on, so this is better for him.”

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