GPS Tracking For Teens

by Joe Mueller on March 4, 2009

For some reason, once our children hit their teenage years they can become rebellious and obstinate, rejecting the care and oversight of their parents. Not all teens fall into this trap of our culture, but even the most well behaved teen is going to get into some trouble now and then as they experiment with their new found freedom and grow into mature adults. We all make mistakes on our road to maturity.

GPS tracking can be a useful tool in the hands of a concerned or watchful parent – and it doesn’t have to be used only to monitor the behavioral issues a teenager may be expressing. These devices can help empower parents to give their teens even more freedom once they become aware of how careful, law abiding, and respectful their teenagers are. The information gathered by a device could also aid a parent in making an informed decision about about dangers presented by poor driving habits, skipping school, or the neighborhoods that life can take their kids into. Despite their larger size, high mental capabilities, and maturing bodies, teenagers are still children in many respects and parents still feel a degree of responsibility to keep their child safe.

If you have a teen with behavioral problems or you just like to know where your child is for safety’s sake then there are some real solutions for you and your family that can included GPS tracking. A solution’s success for your situation will undoubtedly depend on your own specific needs and desires, so be sure that you think about your solution carefully before purchasing a device. These things can be expensive and you don’t want to waste money on something when other relational steps could be taken to solve the problem.

In general, there are three main categories that any tracking device will fall into – car tracking, cell phone tracking, and covert tracking.

Tracking Your Teen’s Car With GPS


Learning to drive has long been a “coming of age” event for teens and driving represents a significant portion of their travel time. If your teen is anything like the one’s I’ve met then as soon as they are able they are hounding their parents for the keys at every opportunity.  They want to drive to and from school; to drive to their friends house; to go out to the movies.  They want to go out on dates. They even want you to pay for gas!

What they are essentially after is the freedom to do what they want when they want to.  This is a pretty normal thing for teenagers to experience since they are just at the beginning stages of becoming an adult and will try to emulate many of the things adults can do with their freedoms.

Many teens even have their own car these days; given to them by parents who enjoy the freedom that having a driving, mobile teen provides.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it can create some challenges in keeping tabs on your kid if they are (secretly) rebellious.  In some ways, when a teen has a car it becomes much harder to know where they are, even if they are obedient and well behaved, and can create a safety nightmare for parents prone to worry.


How Does GPS Tracking A Car Work?

Tracking a car is fundamentally no different from tracking anything else with GPS, except that there are devices that have been manufactured and marketed specifically for this purpose. These devices are sometimes referred to as data pushers or real-time tracking devices. They work by gathering and calculating location data from the Global Positioning Satellites orbiting the earth and transmitting that data via radio or cellular frequencies. Your tracking provider takes this data, makes it look pretty, and makes it available to you from a (generally) web-based interface.

Your GPS device will be able to report the vector of the vehicle (both speed and direction). Many companies will also keep the data sent to it by the tracker and organize it into a useful “history” report. A driving “history” can be very helpful to a parent trying to verify a teen’s story about their whereabouts or driving practices. They won’t be able to so much as speed without you knowing it!  And that is a big deal when it comes to keeping them safe.

What Are The Limitations On Tracking A Teen By Car?

There are some limitations to this method of tracking.  The first is that it only works on teenagers who are legally eligible to drive.  In most states this is at the age of 16 1/2 while in others it can be as old as 18.  By the time they are 18 most teens should be sufficiently mature to make good decisions about how fast they drive, who they hang out with, and what activities they participate in without their parent’s watchful eye hanging over them.

However, that does not mean that a GPS tracking device installed in the car is not going to be useful – it just might be less of a parenting tool and more and an emergency tool.  It can still help you locate a stolen car.  It can still help you find the location of the car in case of a medical emergency.  It will still help you find the scene of a crash or a lost vehicle.  It just might not be used to make sure your teen isn’t speeding.

The second limitation is that it only works when your teen is using the car.  This is probably a much bigger limitation than most people realize.  Cars can easily be ditched by savvy teens or sinister assailants, negating the effectiveness of the tracker for the purpose that you intended.

Imagine for a second that the teen you want to track is aware that their car has a GPS unit installed in it.  They tell you that they are going over to a friend’s to hang out and watch some teen flick like Epic Movie.  However, what they tell you is not really what they are going to do.  They have really planned on going to a drinking party with this friend in the friend’s automobile, leaving the car with the GPS tracking unit safely at the friend’s house.

When you check up on your teen in your web-based account that provides real-time data on their whereabouts you find that the car is at the friend’s house.  You breathe a sigh of relief, but your teen is out making some bad peer-to-teen choice behaviors at the drinking party and you will be none the wiser.  That is where the next teen tracking device comes into play – the cell phone.

Tracking Your Teen’s Cell Phone


This is probably going to be the most useful and the most widely used method of using tracking a position of a teenager with GPS.  Unlike cars, cell phones appear to be in the hands of 99% of teenagers.  This is an unprecedented proliferation, but is not surprising given how useful they are for communicating between family members and for entertaining their users.

Most teens will use their phones to text friends, others will use it to take pictures, others to chat, and still others to browse the internet or update their Facebook page.  But now parents can use the same cell phones that are already in their teen’s hands to track their whereabouts and keep them safe.

Tapping Into To The Power of Cell Phones To Track Your Teen

Because cellar phones are everywhere, big wigs in the telecommunications industry decided that they wanted to compete with GPS companies like Garmin, TomTom, and Magellan in the navigation market with their cell phones.  They have since made some pretty significant inroads here because GPS technology and the radio positioning technology that cell phones use works off the same basic mathematical principle – trilateration.

Once that market was penetrated, cell phone providers realized that they could leverage the technology that they produced for GPS navigation for GPS tracking.  This birthed specialized phones designed specifically for kids that would enable parents and law enforcement to recover missing children by tracking their cell phone.

Many cell phone providers now offer plans that let you begin to track your child’s position information.  These planes also record vector information (speed and location), fulfilling one of the most important features of a car tracking device discussed above.  Cell phones are generally going to be with your child at all times, thus avoiding some of the limitations of car based tracking.  Cell phones have the added feature of allowing parents to verify that your child is with their phone simply by calling them up – their voice on the other end of the line is the proof.

Another great benefit is that your teen has every incentive to keep their cell phone charged and ready for use – they want to use it to talk to their friends!  This means you won’t have to change the tracking device’s battery because your teenager has a very large incentive to do it for you.  Its a win-win for both of you.

Cell Phone Tracking Limitations

Despite cell phone tracking’s relative superiority over car based tracking there are still some serious limitations to tracking your child in this fashion.  The first is that in some circumstances – like abduction – your child is probably going to get their cell phone taken away by their abductor.  This is probably the most dire of situations where you would want the tracking device to work perfectly, but because of the knowledge that cell phones can be used by the authorities to locate individuals it is probably going to be the first thing searched for and gotten ride of by an assailant.

The other limitation is that cell phones do not always receive signals from cell towers.  This is particularly problematic in remote areas where cell phone penetration is less established.  If a phone is unable to make a connection to its network then any location data gathered by the phone cannot be communicated to you, the parent. The data may be still be stored on the phone, but it does not do you any good until you can get your hands on it.

In the end though, the cell phone is probably the cheapest, easiest, and most reliable of all the tracking options available to parents on the market today.  It should definitely be a strong contender in your quest to use GPS tracking for your teen.

Tracking Your Teen With Covert GPS


The last method I am aware of is using more covert methods of tracking your teen.  This is different than tracking the car they use or utilizing their cell phone to keep tabs on them.  While you may track them in these ways without them knowing (i.e. in a covert way) I like to think of covert tracking as something rather different.

It is more spy-like in my mind and has more to do with sticking a GPS tracker in a shoe, or a bag, or an iPod.  These types of trackers are designed specifically to avoid detection – by the person who the device is tracking or by someone who would steal the asset or abduct the assets bearer.

Covert GPS devices are small, compact, battery operated, and extremely powerful.

What Types of Covert GPS Are Available?

You’d be surprised at the large number of GPS tracking devices that fall into this category.  They can range from stuffed animals to watches to shoes to jackets.   Almost anything a teenager carries can be turned into a set of watchful eyes.

When thinking about where you want to install a covert device it is important that you pick items that your teen uses every day, like shoes or a winter jacket, since these devices will have the highest probability of staying on your child no matter what happens to them.

Why Choose Covert GPS Tracking For Teens?

The only reason to go with covert devices is if your teenager they are at high risk for abduction and you want to be able to locate them quickly and efficiently.  This is the situation when cell phones simply won’t do since they will be quickly destroyed by attackers.

Another good reason to use covert devices is that they can go without detection for longer periods of time – but they do suffer from battery life limitations so be careful how you use them.  The last thing you want to do it so get caught while you change the tracker’s battery!

Should I Be Secret Or Open About Tracking My Teen?

Now that we have discussed some of the options that can help you keep track of your teen it is really important that we evaluate any moral problems with using GPS tracking on a teenager.  Is it wrong to track them at all?  If I think it is right, do I need to tell them that I am doing it or can I ‘keep it secret?’

I think that each person is going to end up answering this question differently, but my take on it is this – it is okay to track a teen without their knowledge.  This is also my answer when thinking about tracking a child.  It is an okay and acceptable practice given certain circumstances.

My reasons for this is threefold:

  1. Parents have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their child.  It is even my opinion that parents are supposed to protect their children even if the child expresses a desire not to be protected.  If a teen is going to engage in activity that directly affects their safety – such as speeding, drinking, doing drugs, having sex before marriage – then it is a parents obligation to take measures that help them ensure their teenager’s safety.
  2. Teens are still under the care of their parents.  The main source of the parents obligation to their teen is that the teen still lives under the care and provision of the parent.  If the teen was self-sufficient I could definitely see an argument for restricting a parents right to know the location of a child at all times.  However, this is often not the case for children between the ages of 13 and 18 – and is often not even the case for kids between 18 and 22.  They often still rely heavily on their parents for financial and moral support.
  3. Many teens do not own their cell phones and cars.  At the very least you have to give parents the right to track their assets, right?  The car is the property of the parents so they should know where it is and how it is being driven.  The cell phone is paid for and provided by the parents, so they have a stake in where it is and how it is treated.  The fact that they are also able to track their teen’s location is merely a consequence of the teen using something that the parent owns.  If they want to avoid this type of tracking then they should buy their own phone and car.

With all that said, I don’t think it is always in the parent’s or the teen’s best interest to keep the GPS tracking a secret.  In many, many instances it will work out much better for both parties if the device is clearly explained and accounted for.  Tracking teen with GPS is just a tool in the hands of parents and teenagers to make life safer for everyone – communication should always be clear and honest where appropriate.  Without that, no amount of GPS tracking is going to do teens or parents any good.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jay April 12, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Hi just wondering if you know a company that can provide GPS tracking on my son’s cellphone to me via the internet??? I have spent hours trying to find a company but have gotten nowhere!!!! Any info would be greatly appreciated! Thanks…

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2 Joe April 13, 2010 at 6:07 am

Hi Jay,

I have made two lists of of cell phone tracking applications that you can download to a cell phone in order to enable tracking via the internet. They are:

Free GPS Tracking Applications and Software
Free GPS Cell Phone Tracking

I hope that helps!

-Joe

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3 David Pen May 12, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Can you give me some models of “Covert GPS” Devices. My kid takes off all day long and does not come back till after late at night I need to know where he is at and what he is doing.

Thanks

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4 First June 6, 2010 at 9:51 am

Kajeet has a gps feature for cell phones for $10/month

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5 Joe June 6, 2010 at 10:56 am

Hi First,

Why pay $10 a month for a tracking service when you can get it for free someplace else?

-Joe

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6 Concerned Parent August 30, 2010 at 7:21 am

We got the GoTrack EZ unit and it works great for tracking our teen driver. No install…it just plugs in to the diagnostics port. http://www.gotrackez.com

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7 Joe August 30, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Concerned Parent,

I would love to hear more about what you think about the GoTrack EZ. How user friendly is the tracker? Does it have a web app that you can use? Does it have a smartphone app for the iPhone, Android, Blackberry, or Windows Mobile? Is it expensive? What do you like about it?

Your thoughts on it would be appreciated.

-Joe

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8 annoyed teen September 29, 2010 at 8:55 am

This bothers me. Why are you people tracking your children. This website disgusts me. Do you not trust your children enough to not have to track them? Have they ever given you a reason not to? I mean sure if your woried about them because they arent home and its past curfew and they always are. But all the time? Give them space. No wonder they are sneaking! YOU ARE ALWAYS ON TOP OF THEM! AND IN THEIR PERSONAL BUSINESS!!! If they wanted you to know they would tell, other wise its clearly something they can handle themselves. I cant believe you guys, expecially you Concerned Parent! Why are you so concerned!?! If they have given you reason to be concerned maybe you shouldnt let them drive. You tell your kids think before they act. I know i always do. Maybe you should give your kids a little more room to grow and make their own mistakes. No ones perfect.

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9 John October 2, 2010 at 11:29 am

I use the services of gps4teens.com. I have been very satisfied and their instant alerts are perfect for my needs.

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10 Beth October 2, 2010 at 8:30 pm

To Annoyed Teen…check back in 10 years, and especially once you’ve had your own kid. Your ignorance is very apparent, and it’ s something you’ll learn in time. If you don’t like answering to your parents, maybe you should move out and take care of yourself! Good luck annoyed teen.

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11 annoyed teen October 6, 2010 at 8:42 am

I do answer my parents, and i do understand they are in charge of me until I am 18, but this doesnt mean i cant make my own decisions. I am a straight A student, havn’t ever even thought about touching drugs and not to be rude but is it your children that dont like answering to you? Is that why you taking this out on me?? And Im not ignorant, I’m just simply stickining up for what i believe in and for you kids who I’m sure have no idea that you are traking them and I’m sure if they find out they will be moving out of your house. Beth Your kids are probly fed up with you being a control freak and that may be why they are sneaking around and probly makes them want to do it more. Not saying Im perfect but are you maybe expecting a bbit too much from your kids?

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12 Bill November 6, 2010 at 12:44 pm

The problem with gotracker and others is that you get charged for each “hit”

I like fleetmatics better. You can either lease or buy the device and then pay a monthly fee. It also sends out alerts

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13 joe November 12, 2010 at 8:33 pm

i am a teen my parents tryd tracking me first with the fone yhen by following me “secretly”alto there not too smart for sending me to bootcamp i spotted them and about the phone just kept replaceing my com card and the tracker only works if u phone the text msg anyway i got them to stop by catching them several times i dont understand why i cant have my personal space you people need to back off before you lose your kids think about it would you like someone lording over you watching your every move, dident think so

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14 Joe November 14, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Hi Joe,

I definitely appreciate your opinion. For a lot of teens it is a question of personal space. They feel like parents are somehow violating them by tracking them. To be honest, sometimes this is the case. Teens that have at other times been completely responsible are tracked for no reason with no result.

Then there are the teens who regularly violate their parents trust, get into trouble, break the law, and generally cause their parents a great amount of stress, heartache, and legal concern. These are the types of teens that parents will want to track. But let’s be honest – the parents are not tracking the teens themselves. They are just tracking the cell phone that the parents own or the car that the parents own. What is wrong with that?

If a teen doesn’t like they can stop using their parents stuff. Just my two cents.

-Joe

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15 LeinardSmith December 3, 2010 at 11:34 am

Hi JAY, I would highly recommend you to this SafeTrec application I have with my teenage son it will help me to locate his whereabouts anytime. This application is really very useful not just as a GPS locator but also during emergency situations because it allows your kids to ask for immediate help when they are in danger, if you want to check it out go to: SafeTREC.com

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16 Mel January 6, 2011 at 5:49 am

I am looking for a covert device for my nephew. He is 14 and keeps leaving the house and after school youth group where he has been instructed to remain until his mom picks him up after work. He does not come home until the middle of the night. He also leaves in the middle of the night so when she wakes up to take him to school he is gone. Now, he is on probation for stealing. The police have told her that it is her responsibility to know where he is at all times. She is an excellent parent, but this boy has recently become so difficult to manage. She spends several hours each evening driving around from place to place looking for him. She works 7 days a week until 6pm. According to the authorities, if something happens to him, she will be charged with criminal neglect. She would definitely need a covert device as the police have tried to find him on his cell phone but he leaves it behind. Any ideas are appreciated.

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17 Joe January 13, 2011 at 9:28 am

He Mel,

I am sorry to hear about the situation. It is always hard for parents to deal with a teenager who does not want to be helped.

In terms of a technological solution I don’t really think there is going to be one. If he doesn’t even take a cell phone what chance is there that he will take a GPS tracker? Probably not very much.

With that said, what does he leave the home with? At 14 he probably doesn’t drive so you can’t track his car. But does he take a bag or have a jacket he is always wearing? They are much harder to conceal a tracker in and suffer from always having to recharge tha battery.

I would honestly just try to traditional approach and discipline / talk to the boy. You will probably get farther in the long run.

- Joe

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18 worried mom February 23, 2011 at 9:30 am

I just have to say especially to “annoyed teen”, I am sitting here today by myself worried sick because my son has been missing for 2 days. His phone is turned off and his friends haven’t seen him. So your freaking out about why parents are investing into a tracker for their children. Well this is why! We don’t know if you’re laying in a ditch somewhere and if this device helps track that person down then I am all for it. We have a good relationship and we don’t know why he would just not call or text to let us know that he is ok. You “annoyed teen”, may not like the idea about this device, but it could save you!

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19 Joe February 24, 2011 at 8:18 pm

Hi worried mom,

Wow. I would be freaking out right now if I were in your shoes. I really, really hope everything turns out well and that it is something silly that you will be able to look back on and laugh about.

- Joe

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20 worried mom 2 April 6, 2011 at 8:41 am

i love rice

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21 worried mom 3 April 6, 2011 at 8:44 am

um i think that was very inapropriate! Potatos are BETTER!!! and i am young and reckless

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22 Joe April 7, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Hi worried mom 2 & 3,

Lol! Wha???

- Joe

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23 MOTOCROSS November 21, 2011 at 9:01 am

u guys r stupid. rice sucks and potatoes are awesome

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24 Chuck June 9, 2011 at 9:06 am

All of these software solutions are fine and dandy but software can be uninstalled. My father had his office broken into and they took a laptop and flatscreen TV. The person who broke in is probably not smart enough to reinstall the OS of the computer…..so something like Hidden (hiddenapp.com) should work. However, I need a small hardware device to plant inside of a flatscreen. And recommendations?

PS. I realize that everyone here is more interested in tracking their kids, but hey…. flatscreens are people too, you know.

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25 Joe June 11, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Hi Chuck,

There does seem to be something out there in terms of tracking devices for tvs, but any search I could think of to do on the internet did not lead me to any actual products. They seem to be a mystery.

- Joe

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26 alonso August 4, 2011 at 6:44 pm

alguien me puede explicar como le hago para que este servicio de gps sea gratiuto en mi celular

es un sony ericsson w200 porfavor alguien ayudeme ya que mi hijo llega muy noche a casa y me preocupa demasiado que algo le pueda suceder.

muchas gracias por sus respuestas

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27 HOLMAN GUTIERREZ February 14, 2012 at 11:28 am

hola queria saber como hago para saber acceder al servicio de gps celular. o mejor dicho como hago para lo0calizar otras personas

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28 Ira April 3, 2012 at 6:27 pm

This came out just in time for back to school. I’m aalyws after my kids to call and let me know where they are. Now this finally has made living life so much easier for all of us.

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29 Joe April 13, 2012 at 4:56 am

Hi Ira,

Glad I could help!

- Joe

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30 Arei April 4, 2012 at 12:33 am

This app is great. This can take away texting while trniyg to find my friends. Just like when texting first came out. Everyone started texting. Now2 this will help us really keeping in touch and knowing where your close ones are. It’s just great. Saw this first on GMA. Then my friend told me he used it. Thank you my friend for letting me know how well it works. N ow I have it on my IPhone.

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31 Joe April 13, 2012 at 4:57 am

Hi Arei,

That is great. It makes me happy to think of my site helping people.

- Joe

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32 Kim April 28, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Hi,
Do you know of a device that can be put on a person that is not easily removable like the traditional GPS house arrest device? We work with suicidal teens and it would be very helpful to have a tracking device that they can’t take off without a code or key. Thank you.

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