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How to Use GPS to Track Your Children

written by: •edited by: Eric Stallsworth•updated: 9/14/2009

It's a dangerous world, and some parents want some reassurance of their children's location within it. Today's GPS technology can help you accomplish this to fit almost any situation, from wristbands to cellphones. Here's a guide.

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    To Track, Or Not To Track?

    Before anything else, make sure that tracking your children is really what you want to do. GPS tracking is a complex network of ethical quandaries, so make sure that you've explored all sides of the issue before heading forward. Privacy? Trust? Practicality?

    There are a few features that you might want to consider looking for in your tracking device:

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    Geofencing

    Basically, geofencing is the ability to set a virtual fence around a predetermined zone of your choosing. If the tracking device (and presumably the child with it) leave this area, some sort of alert is transmitted to the parent or other authorities, typically a text message. Some services allow scheduled geofencing, which have different geofences set up for different times of day on different days of the week.

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    Real Time Tracking

    Real time tracking means that you can track your child anytime, anywhere, seeing their exact location on a map. This is opposed to tracking mechanisms that can only be activated in case of emergencies, and may not be accessible by the parents themselves.

    This is often web-based, allowing the parent to track their daughter or son on a web app on their cell phone, at work on the computer, or something along those lines. The idea is that the parent can know where their child is at anytime, no matter what.

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    SOS

    Many tracking devices support the ability to make emergency SOS-style calls to parents and/or authorities with a press of a button. This is a potentially useful ability for kidnapping situations when a teenager might not necessarily have enough time for a full fledged phone call.

    There are a variety of GPS devices available for tracking purposes, which all suit slightly different needs:

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    Cell Phone Tracking

    This type of tracking is more suited towards all day, everyday tracking in real time of your child, particularly teens who are more likely to be using their cell phone on a regular basis and won't just “forget" it or leave it off.

    This is probably the most common type of tracking device available, and for most services, the cheapest. Many major phone companies offer some sort of tracking service for parents, such as Verizon's Chaperone. Other than buying a GPS-enabled phone, mostly you need to pay for the appropriate subscription service.

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    Wristbands

    While this may not go so hot with your teens, tracking wristbands are a more permanent solution that might suit very young children. They provide a reliable, tamper-proof signal that will go wherever your child will go. These are generally a bit more on the expensive side, but are extremely effective.

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    Car Tracking

    Worried that your teen might be driving too fast, or going somewhere they're not supposed to be going? There are GPS car tracking devices that can be installed in the car for purposes of locating (and possibly chastising) your child. While they're obviously no good once the teen steps out of the car or hitches a ride with somebody else, it's a good, non-invasive way to know where your teen is when they are enabled to fully do as they please.

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    Wilderness Tracking

    You don't have to assume the worst in a child to want to track them. Sometimes children really do just get lost, especially while out in the great outdoors. For this purpose, there are tracking devices that are designed specifically for when a child gets lost in the wilderness to quickly find them. These devices tend to be quite rugged, water- and shock-proofing usually the minimum for durability. Some even float!

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    Other Types Of Tracking

    GPS isn't the only way to track your child, so if you're more interested in just finding a toddler within the mall than a teen in the next city over, radio frequency (RF) tracking devices might be more of what you're looking for. Some devices also utilize combined tracking capabilities, with radio for precision at a close range and indoors and GPS for general locating on a map.

    For a great in-depth review of a variety of child tracking products, from car units to wilderness locators, check out this article.