GPS Trackers for Kids: What Parents Need To Know

Modern Parenting
January 18, 2021
Lindsay Slutzky
The Jiobit Blog

If you were born anytime after 1970, it’s probably safe to say that you’ve heard about tracking devices. More specifically: tracking devices for kids or GPS trackers for kids. Technology is making its way into every facet of our lives, including the way we parent and keep track of our kids. But with so many product options combined with differing opinions about kid trackers in general, how are parents supposed to know what to look for when considering a tracking device for their child?

In full transparency, I’m a founding team member of Jiobit where we’ve created our own tracking device for kids. That means I’ve done a ton of research and have fielded questions from many parents interested in the technology. I’m also a mom who is no stranger to keeping tabs on a bunch of kids - both teens and toddlers. With the help of my team and pulling from research and personal experiences, I’ll provide you with a guide to help inform your decision as you consider using a GPS tracker for your kids.

Read on to get answers to the most common questions from parents in search of this technology.

What is the difference between Bluetooth tracking and real-time tracking?

“Oh it’s just like Tile.” We hear this most often from folks who are initially learning about Jiobit. Jiobit is not “just like Tile.” That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with Tile and, in fact, if you’re looking for a Bluetooth-only tracker, then Tile is a great option. So what does that mean? Basically, in order to track using a Bluetooth tracker, you need to be connected to… you guessed… Bluetooth. Tile relies on a Bluetooth connection either between your phone or other Tiles nearby. Two things to note: That connection can max out at 100 feet, and you will not see the device’s location  in real-time. You’re only going to see the last known location. This might be good enough for your bicycle or keys (things that cannot walk on their own), but certainly not for your child.

For real-time tracking, the device will require Global Positioning Systems (or GPS) to identify the location, as well as a cellular connection to deliver that data to the parent’s phone. Since it uses a cellular connection, real-time tracking will require some kind of data plan or subscription.

How do GPS trackers for kids work?

A tracker like Jiobit, which has quite a robust set of monitoring features, will use GPS to obtain the location, which is then transmitted to the cloud using a cellular network. That data is then delivered to the parent’s smartphone. You may find that some GPS trackers also have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities and this helps to improve the overall experience. For one, GPS can be tough on the battery. If you’re constantly looking for a location in real-time, you’re going to drain the battery much faster. If there’s an option to derive location via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, that’s going to help preserve battery life. Jiobit will know to look for the lowest power radio, so if your smartphone is connected to Jiobit over Bluetooth, it will show your phone’s location. If Bluetooth is not available but Wi-Fi is, then Jiobit will use Wi-Fi access points to determine location.  

What are the benefits of a GPS tracker for kids?

These days, kids as young as 10 (and some even younger) are being given smartphones. For many parents it’s a way to stay in touch with their kids who are going from home to school to after-school activities and everything in between. Let’s face it:It’s not the ideal solution for many and research would indicate that there are benefits to delaying that first smartphone. An alternative for parents who want to keep track of their over-scheduled kids would be a tracker.

Let’s talk about the benefits of a GPS tracker for kids:

  • Peace of mind: Parents worry. It’s part of the job description. If there are ways to eliminate parent anxiety, I’m all for it. Receiving a notification that my child has arrived home after school is something my mental health requires. I also love it when we’re in crowded places and I know I can find them quickly if they wander off. Yes, this has happened.
  • Keep kids smartphone-free longer: I’m sure you’ve heard of the Wait Until 8th pledge - a movement that empowers parents to delay giving their child a smartphone until at least 8th grade. The idea behind it is that smartphones are interfering with kids being kids. Playing outside, reading, and socializing with friends and family are being replaced by smartphone-related activities. A tracker for your child lets you know what they’re up to without having to put a smartphone in their hand.
  • Encouraging independence: It’s hard to let go but at some point you have to give your kids a little more freedom. Being able to walk to the park or a friend’s house alone is exciting for kids in grade school and also teaches important lessons. When given the opportunity, kids can develop a sense of direction, safety skills, and resourcefulness that is critical to development. If your child is wearing a tracker, it’s a lot easier for the parent to encourage this type of independence.

When should you use a GPS tracker for kids?

If you’re wondering how a tracker for your kids will fit into your daily life, I have some thoughts. I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking with Jiobit customers to better understand how it’s used, and here’s a list of scenarios that have surfaced:

  • Your child takes the bus or commutes to school without you: I’m sure you’ve heard horror stories about school bus safety. Kids may accidentally jump on the wrong bus or, in more worrisome scenarios, be left on the bus like what happened to a 5-year-old earlier this year in Delaware. Whether you have a Kindergartener taking the bus for the first time or a 5th grader who has a routine, it’s nice to be able to track the bus route and get confirmation once they arrive at or leave school.
  • You travel with your kids or visit crowded places: Safety while traveling with kids or safety in crowds is a concern for many parents. I’m sure either you or someone you know has said the words, “I just turned my back for a second…” You can fill in the blank with countless scenarios that can happen when you take your eyes off a child. In the event they wander away from you in an unfamiliar place, a tracker will help you find them immediately.
  • Your child has a tendency to elope or wander: This is more common than you think, especially for children with autism. For families with a child with a tendency to wander, a GPS tracker for kids or a child locator is a must have. Locators also allow you to set up boundaries around safe places so you’re alerted immediately if your child wanders.
  • You want to give your child more freedom: If your child is ready for a little more independence but you’re not quite ready to hand them a smartphone, a tracker is a great option. It will bring you peace of mind as they head down the street to the park or a friend’s house - you’ll see exactly where they are and be notified when they arrive.

Features to look for when purchasing a GPS tracker for kids:

Different trackers come with different bells and whistles. It’s hard to know exactly what you need and what you could live without. Here is a list of features to consider when purchasing a tracker for your kids:

Location tracking:

Probably the most obvious, but you’re going to want to find a product that does this well. Earlier I mentioned how Bluetooth trackers work and their limitations. While it’s true they can tell you where something is (or in most times where something was), you’re not going to get real-time location updates. If you’re tracking a loved one, it’s important that you have real-time information available to you.

Size and design:

GPS trackers for kids come in all shapes and sizes. Some questions to ask yourself when considering would be: Where will my child want to wear it? How heavy is it? Do you prefer it be concealed or not? Is my child more likely to wear it if it’s colorful? Some trackers come in the form of a wristwatch like GizmoPal. Others can be strapped to the body or clothing, like AngelSense. Jiobit offers multiple ways to attach to clothing and can be hidden in whatever the child is wearing.

Durability and water-resistance:

Kids are messy, active and sometimes destructive, so keep that in mind when selecting a tracker that they’re going to wear. You’ll likely want something that is durable and waterproof. Whether you’re headed to the beach or water park, or the tracker accidentally gets tossed in the washing machine, you’ll want it to survive.

Geofencing or boundary setting:

Being able to set up boundaries around safe places is a great feature. When you do this, you’ll be notified via your smartphone app when they arrive or leave those safe places. These departure and arrival notifications can bring peace of mind to parents of children commuting to and from school or other activities on their own.

Proximity alerts:

This is where Bluetooth comes in handy. If you want to keep your child close to you (perfect at theme parks or crowded places) you can set notifications if they wander too far. At Jiobit, we call this a “mobile geofence” because you’re setting a boundary around you (the parent).

Adding family members or caregivers to your account:

It’s great to give other parents, grandparents, and babysitters access to your child’s location when your child is in their care. You’re going to want your caregivers to have the same tools as you do. To take it a step further, wouldn’t it be great if you were notified once your babysitter arrived to pick your child up from school? We haven’t found another device that does this, however, Jiobit will tell you who your child is with and when.

2-way calling:

Some trackers, like GizmoPal, will allow you to communicate with your child. This could be a good option if your child is a bit older and not ready for a smartphone. However, if this isn’t important to you, or if your child is too young to operate a phone, you may consider another option. The calling feature will definitely impact the size of the device and the battery life.

Listen-in feature:

This will give the parent the ability to hear what is going on around the child. AngelSense offers this capability and some parents of children with special needs find it helpful to understand how their child is being treated. The downside is many school administrators have banned products with this feature from their buildings.

Location history:

Do you want to see what your child has been up to or where the babysitter took them throughout the day? A location history or timeline feature will give you this information right in your app.

Battery Life:

The battery life on any electronic device is going to be dependent on how you use it. For example a tracking product will drain faster the more you request location information. If you’re using real-time or live tracking constantly, you will see an impact to battery performance. However you decide to use it, chances are you’re not going to want to worry about charging it every night. If you can get up to 4-7 days on one charge that’s pretty good.

Security and privacy:

Who else can see my child’s location? This is a legitimate question given how common data breaches have been. But here’s the thing… technology isn’t going anywhere, especially for our kids. Toddlers can operate iPhones and iPads better than most adults. Whether it’s a location tracker or toy, our job as parents is to be diligent when selecting what  tech our kids are using and make sure it’s secure. I’m comfortable using a location tracker for my kids because I’m confident in the security measures that have been put in place - I’m talking about Jiobit of course, which has a very robust security architecture. For more information about what parents need to look for to ensure their child’s data privacy, check out this article in CPO Magazine.

Why would I need to pay a monthly fee?

It’s a question we get often. To start this discussion, let’s talk about the economics of Jiobit.

Going back to Bluetooth trackers like Tile—they don’t require a subscription and you can purchase them in multi-unit packs. The limitation is that you must be within range (about 100 ft) of your phone or another Bluetooth tracker in order to retrieve a location. What does this mean? You cannot track in real-time and your range is limited by the Bluetooth connection.

If you want to track your child’s location in real-time you’re going to need a fully connected cellular device like Jiobit for example. When you purchase a Jiobit, you subscribe to our network which allows you to securely and accurately track your child in real-time at any distance almost anywhere in the world. In order for us to deliver this type of service to our customers we have to purchase data, similar to your cell phone carrier. Hence the monthly subscription.

So how can you justify another subscription service? Think of it this way: If it brings you peace of mind knowing where your young child is, when they arrive at or leave certain locations, and who they’re with (depending on the kid tracker you choose), then it might just be worth it. And in the rare case that your child gets lost or wanders off, you’ll be able to find them quickly.

Is tracking a child an invasion of privacy?

If the child is under 18, then legally you are doing nothing wrong. Knowing where our kids are is a parent’s responsibility. Two of my kids are 3 and 5 and there’s no such thing as privacy, especially while I’m still wiping their butts. My older kids are 14 and 16 and of course we give them privacy, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t monitoring their cell phones or checking where they are. It’s parenting, not a breach of privacy. That said, a GPS tracker for kids is generally for younger kids who do not have a cell phone. Young kids WANT their parents to know where they are.

Clearly there is a lot to consider when purchasing a GPS tracker for kids. While it’s great to have new tools available for modern parents, it can also be daunting and scary. It’s important to do your research and find out what best suits the needs of your family and children.  

At Jiobit, our mission was to create a small and lightweight tracker without sacrificing battery life or tracking capabilities. We’re proud to say that thousands of families are using Jiobit across the country. The reviews would indicate that we’ve done what we promised and are helping to make parenting just a little bit easier.

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