Is it Ethical to Track Your Child Using GPS?

In many countries, parents are using GPS products to track the location of their children. One such product is Wherifone created by WherifyWireless. Wherifone only allows children to call the number pre-programmed by their parents and the parents can find out the location of their child by using the website. Also, a South Australian school uses GPS tracking system on their school buses so that parents are able to check the bus’ route, when it stops, the speed at which it is driving and where their child is dropped off. It also includes a database with detailed information about each child such as their name, address, disabilities, allergies, and more.

What was written above are only a couple of the many examples of adults using GPS to track the movements of children. Why do people want to track the movements of children in the first place? A few possible reasons could include locating the child in the case of kidnapping, rape, or even when he wonders off in the forest, mall or in the city.

While having these systems in place can be very helpful in locating a child, an important concern was raised. What would happen if someone hacks into the system and use this system to stalk the movements of the child instead? The results could be very devastating as this would in turn backfire against parents when the kidnappers are also able to track the movements of the child.

Also, where does one draw the line? Should parents still track the activities of their child when they are teenagers? Are such practices ethical?

Now, I will move on to answer these concerns by discussing the ethical issues using the ethical theories of Act Utilitarianism, Rule Utilitarianism and Kantianism.


Act Utilitarianism

The parties involved here are the children who are being monitored and the adults who use the GPS tracking system to track the activities of the children.

Judging from the adults’ point of view, they would be very happy to use such systems as they are able to have a sense of security. This is owing to the fact that they are able to find out about their child’s whereabouts whenever they want to or when they have trouble locating them, and they will never have to worry about losing their child when shopping in the mall or having a field trip in a forest and city. They are also able to locate the child in the case when they are kidnapped or abducted.

For example, the principal of a day care centre in the city of Borlange that uses this technology commented that the use of GPS “has only been positive for us [them]”, as they are understaffed and using the GPS tracking system allows the staff to monitor large number of children during field trips. They will also be alerted whenever a child wanders off too far.

To the adults, other than having to incur monetary costs to purchase the technology, they have nothing to lose and are generally happy with the use of GPS tracking system.

Now, looking from the child’s point of view, they would probably be happy too as they are also able to feel a sense of security when they know that there is always someone to turn to whenever they needed help. However, this level of happiness is quickly overshadowed by many other issues that might cause the child much unhappiness.

One way that the use of GPS tracking system will lead to a child’s unhappiness happens when his privacy is being compromised. He may not always be happy as being constantly monitored actually restricts his freedom and nobody likes it when their freedom is restricted. This is especially so for teenagers, where they have might have a greater aversion to the idea of being tracked and monitored constantly as they expect a greater level of privacy than most child do.

Another way that the child’s level of happiness may be decreased is that being monitored constantly may impede the child’s growth and affect his journey in learning to be independent. The child will be deprived of the opportunity to learn how to manage their own lives and learn to grow up without the protection of their parents. The child will also be deprived of the possibility to lie, which is essential in helping him understand the weight and importance of telling the truth. He may also grow up living with the negative notion that his life is constantly being threatened as he needs to be monitored for his safety throughout his childhood.  Overall, the child will be living in an over-secured and restricted environment, which in the long run may have detrimental effects on both his social life and maturity process.

Perhaps one way that the total happiness of both parents and the child will be decreased is when such tracking activities harm the parent-child relationship. The child might feel that their parents do not trust them enough to allow them to adventure and have freedom, and they might argue with their parents over this, thus causing the relationship between the parent and child to be strained.

Relationships between parents might also be estranged. For example, some parents may prohibit their child to go over to a friend’s house, but when the GPS tracking system shows that the child is at his friend’s house, the parents of both families might get into a conflict. This will reduce the happiness level of both families.

As we can see, the overall unhappiness caused by the use of GPS tracking system to track the activities of children outweighs the overall happiness. Thus, using the ethical theory of Act Utilitarianism, tracking of children using the GPS tracking system is unethical.


Rule Utilitarianism

What would happen if everyone starts to monitor their child using the GPS tracking system?

Every parent in the world will never have to fear losing their child ever again and every child will have the comfort of knowing that they are constantly under the protection of their parents. Both parents and child will benefit from this and their level of happiness increases.

However, imagine what it would be like for every child to be constantly monitored by their parents. According to the reasons discussed in Act Utilitarianism, every child on earth is going to be unhappy that their freedom of adventure is restricted. Every child is going to grow up hating their parents and parents around the world will have conflicts with one another.

The growth of every child in the world will also be impeded. Imagine the kind of world that we will be living in when the children grows up to be adults. Society will be adversely affected as everyone has trust issues and are thus less sociable.

Also, since everyone is using the GPS tracking system, this technology will be heavily researched upon and there may be major leaps and radical advancements in this technology. Who knows, soon the GPS tracking system could not only tell you about the location of the person being tracked, but also what he is doing and possibly even thinking. By then, everyone might even have a tracking chip implanted in them. How would you like to have a tracking chip implanted in you and know that someone else is be able to constantly read you like an open book; to always know where you are and what you are doing? Probably not very much I guess.

In general, the level of unhappiness will be much higher than the level of happiness. Therefore, according to the ethical theory of rule utilitarianism, I can also conclude that using the GPS tracking system to monitor the activities of the child is unethical.



Ultimately, the purpose of adults using the GPS tracking system on their kids is to make themselves feel secure that their child is always accounted for. After all, it is their responsibility to keep their child safe. While this is beneficial for the safety of the child, the parents actually sacrificed their child’s privacy as a means to allow themselves to feel a sense of security. According to the ethical theory of Kantianism, this is morally wrong as the second formulation of the Categorical Imperative says that it is wrong for one person to “use” another solely as a means to an end (Quinn, 2012).

Expanding on the issue of privacy, monitoring a person’s movements and activities is in a way being disrespectful to the person being monitored and at the same time, this makes them lose the ability to act autonomously. Being able to act according to one’s free will should be one of the basic rights of a human being. Thus, this is morally wrong as according to the ethical theory of Kantianism, the second formulation of the Categorical Imperative also states that every interaction with other people must respect them as rational beings (Quinn, 2012), and that all humans are equal.

Therefore, it is conclusive that according to the ethical theory of Kantianism, using the GPS tracking system to monitor the activities of children is unethical.



In conclusion, based on the ethical theories of Act Utilitarianism, Rule Utilitarianism and Kantianism, it is unethical for adults to use the GPS tracking system to constantly monitor the activities of their child.

While I understand that it is the responsibility of the adults to ensure the safety of the children, they should not resort to extreme measure such as using the GPS tracking system, even though it is perfectly legal to do so. This is an infringement to the child’s privacy and it might cause negative implications such as impairing the child’s growth and causing him to live in constant fear.

If the adults really want to find out more about the location and activities of the child, it is probably more acceptable to use more subtle means such as mobile phones or through contacting their guardians or custodians (e.g. teachers). Alternatively, parents should also try to keep an open communication with their child and also teach their child to solve problems and make rational choices on their own. Being over-protective in this case might not necessarily be best for their child.

As the saying goes, “experience is the teacher of all things”. Don’t deprive your child of his chance to learn by limiting his freedom and right to adventure.



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