By Julie Schuler
When I was in college, my mom called my dorm room very early one Saturday (no cellphones, this was the olden days). My roommate answered in a daze and told my mom, “I don’t know where she is. I haven’t seen her all night.”
While it was true that my roommate hadn’t seen me, it was only because she had been gone all night and I was, in fact, at that early hour, working the breakfast shift at the dining hall.
I was mortified when I heard about the phone call, and I called my mom back to explain. She, however, didn’t mention it, probably because I was the youngest of four and she assumed I was out there making good decisions, or (as my siblings jokingly tell me), she was worn down by the antics of my brother and sisters and didn’t want to know details. That was just the way she was.
My son is not so lucky. He’s the oldest, and I’m learning about the life of a teenager right alongside him. Also, cellphones are now a thing.
Which brings me to this past year. When my son got his driver’s license, the cellphone became both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because it’s a tool that can help in an emergency. But also a curse, because it can cause a distraction.
When he drove with his permit, my son put his phone in the back seat, following a similar routine set by me and his dad. As parents, we strive to be good role models for our children. Forbidding cellphone use while driving is no different — we need to practice what we preach.
Another habit we’ve continued to develop over many years — tracking each other. I work from home; my husband doesn’t. Several years ago, when the kids were little and I was ready for a relief pitcher, I realized that instead of calling my husband to ask if he was on his way home, I could use the handy little “Find My iPhone” app to tell me his whereabouts. I also used it when my kids asked (repeatedly), “Is Dad almost home?” Using tracking features became a handy way to know loved ones were en route, not an authoritarian tool.
Today, monitoring apps often get a bad rap for enabling helicopter parenting, but my husband and I never used a monitoring app that way. My son knows we use the app to check in on his whereabouts, so he doesn’t have to call us on his way home from soccer practice or school.
Focusing on Teen Driver Safety
Driving also meant we needed to re-evaluate insurance options (if you haven’t been there, be warned, teen drivers are $$$$). New coverage came with “discounts” for using a driver tracking app. Using a tracking app became non-negotiable. We needed all the discounts we could get.
My husband and I installed the tracking apps first — and then we complained. “Of course, I hit the brakes hard. I didn’t want to hit the person who cut me off!” We monitored ourselves and each other, trying to get the best rating we could. When my son installed the app, he wound up monitoring it more than we did, checking his scores against ours, and yes, also complaining. “They dinged me for hard braking, but that was when someone ran the light!” My son didn’t always like how the driving locator app scored him, but he understood that tracking his driving was the price to pay for the freedom of using the car.
The app doesn’t only track driving; it also tracks distractions. Basically, it knows when my son picks up his phone. This extra layer of tracking gives me peace of mind and helps him understand that his actions have consequences, in this case in terms of his insurance rates.
Our insurance agent told me driver tracking apps for parents will eventually become the norm, and there’s no getting around it. Apple, for example, recently announced that their latest phone will include crash detection software. Tracking apps may not be perfect, but they’re certainly a useful family safety tool that parents of new drivers can appreciate. Myself included.