Would you track your toddler?

Toddlers can move fast.
Toddlers can move fast.  Photo: Shutterstock

Every parent is unfortunately familiar with that heart-stopping feeling you get when you're out with your child, turn around for a second and then look back to find they've gone.

Wearable technology for children is working on eliminating that situation. With one in five Australian adults already using wearables, the kids' market is next in line to explode.

The features of kids' wearables (usually watches) are getting super sophisticated. "Geo-fencing" allows you to set up virtual barriers which alarm if your child leaves the perimeter. Most watches can receive and make phone calls to preset numbers and come with accurate GPS tracking.

The advantages of using tracking devices on roving kids seem pretty clear. Megan, mum-of-two from Sydney, decided to buy a Moochies watch for her six year old after she heard about an attempted abduction at Sydney's Centennial Park.

"I got it for safety," she says. "I take my six and two-year-old regularly to Centennial Park bike track and despite swivelling my head constantly, I often can't see the six year old as she speeds round the track while I'm helping the two year old up a ladder or down a pole."

Megan uses the watch in busy areas and at large public events but stresses it is a backup, not a substitute to watching her kids. "I would prefer kids could grow up like we did, free and with independence, but it seems like there are more and more vulnerable adults about who pose a threat to a young children."

Kate Shelby, Brisbane blogger at australianmum.com, also sees the benefits. Her son is autistic and would often take flight at busy events if something spooked him.

"He's now ten and has his own phone," she says, "but I would much rather a wearable as I always fear he will lose his phone or drop it."

Does she see any disadvantages to trackers?

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"It's simply a way to adapt to an environment that's becoming more populated. Metro areas are very busy and more reliant on communication devices," she says. "I can imagine people will say 'Why can't people just keep an eye on their kids?'. Well, most of us do, but there's nothing wrong with having a backup for peace of mind."

But despite our best intentions, are there risks associated with kids' wearable technology?

Dr Kristy Goodwin, Digital parenting educator, has concerns about these tracking devices.

"Sadly, data breaches aren't uncommon. They're a reality in a digital world, even with the best security systems in place," she says, citing a recent case with VTech where 6 million children's and 5 million parent's accounts were leaked online. "Leaked records of personal family exchanges, photos of children and video recordings are potentially very damaging."

She is also concerned about WiFi exposure. "As 'cautious Kristy' I recommend that parents err on the side of caution when it comes to kids wearing internet-enabled devices on their physical body, especially if they are sleeping with them," Dr Goodwin says. "We don't yet have a complete scientific understanding of the long-term health implications associated with young children's exposure to electromagnetic radiation that comes from using internet-enabled devices, so we're conducting a bit of a living experiment."

Daniel Lewkovitz, CEO of electronic security and life-safety monitoring firm Calamity Monitoring, thinks that this sort of technology is a double-edged sword for parents.

"Tracking devices require charging and are prone to failure under key circumstances," he says. "If you become reliant on technology to make you a good parent or a more responsible parent, there is a danger that if it fails, as technology surely must, you may end up with a higher risk than you would have in the first instance had you never gone down that path."

Daniel quotes research that shows that higher visible risk actually leads to safer children. For example, water parks with very shallow pools suffer more childhood drownings that those with deeper water because parents are more vigilant as a result of the clear and present danger.

Ironically, responsible parents with the best intentions who use this technology could unwittingly become less responsible. "A false sense of security is worse than no security," he says. "When you have no security, you acknowledge the weakness and either live with them or do something about them."

However you feel about wearables for kids, they aren't going anywhere, in fact their scope is expanding. The next generation of kids' wearables such as the Kiddo, tracks your child's temperature, activity levels and sleep to give you insights into their health and wellbeing. Parental demand has already allowed it to raise over $50K on Kickstarter but there will be many who see this as helicopter parenting on steroids.

As with any new technology, it will be up to the individuals to decide how these digital advances inform and influence their parenting style and philosophies.