Should parents use apps to track their children's whereabouts, like Jamie Oliver?

Jamie Oliver has admitted to using an app to track his daughter’s whereabouts [Photos: Getty/Life360]

Jamie Oliver has sparked a parenting debate after revealing he uses an app to track his daughters’ whereabouts.

The 43-year-old TV chef shares children – Poppy, 16, Daisy, 15, Petal, nine, Buddy, seven, and two-year-old River – with his wife Jools Oliver.

Opening up about his decision to keep track of his children’s movements, he told Woman Magazine: “We use an app to keep track of our kids’ whereabouts.”

“The older girls, Jools and I are all on an app called Life360, which means we can see exactly where everybody is and the route they’ve gone.

“So if one of the girls says, ‘I’m going to Camden Town’ and I can see they’ve gone to Reading, then we have a problem,” he adds.

“They can check on me, too, and see how fast I’m driving. It’s brilliant.”

According to its website, the app is designed to “give peace of mind to families” by allowing them to keep tabs on the location of those in their circle.

“With hectic schedules and long to do lists, managing the day to day for your family can feel like a full time job. Life360 is here to help!” the site reads.

“Whether you’re making dinner plans, coordinating carpools, or just ensuring everyone arrived home safe, Life360 gives you simplified communication and peace of mind right at your fingertips.”

The revelation about Jamie’s tab-keeping parenting divided social media with some parents agreeing the app could help provide peace of mind, while others expressed concern it could hinder children’s independence.

“Just when I thought Jamie Oliver couldn’t get any worse after all this healthy eating malarkey he’s now admitted he uses a device to spy and track where his children are,” one user wrote on Twitter.

“How are those kids gonna grow up and have any independence?”

But some could understand the TV chef’s need to want to know about his children’s whereabouts.

“I think sadly this is an indictment of the world we live in. As a public figure, @jamieoliver‘s family are potentially vulnerable so he probably tracks his family due to security as much as anything else. I personally I think it’s a good idea,” one user commented.

The TV chef certainly isn’t the only parent to turn to technology to keep track of their children’s movements.

A recent survey found that the majority of Brits (66%) are comfortable with children from 10 years upwards wearing tracking devices that keep record of their whereabouts.

The survey, of more than 1,000 Brits conducted by trends agency Trajectory for AVG Technologies, also found that over two thirds (67%) of Brits felt information about a child’s whereabouts was important for parents to see.

Commenting on the findings, Joe Lemonnier, Consumer Security Expert at AVG Technologies, said: “In the debate around whether the lives of children should be quantified, this survey reveals the tensions pulling parenthood in different directions.

“The question is, do parents have enough information? On the one hand, parents feel (rightfully) concerned about the information being collected about their children. On the other hand, the perceived increase in safety offered by location tracking technologies – which promises peace of mind – clearly holds a deep appeal for parents. Like all facets of parenting, this is ultimately about making an informed personal choice.”

For Sten Kirkbak, Co-founder of XPLORA, the watch phone designed to keep children safe when out and about, it was a frightening experience of losing his son that lead to him setting up the device.

“When my eldest child was five, he wandered off in a shopping centre and I had no means of immediately contacting him, nor him me,” he tells Yahoo Style UK. “After 20 minutes we were finally reunited, and both of us were shaken and upset. I knew he was too young to own a smartphone, but we needed to avoid such a situation again.”

So what are the pros and cons of using technology to track your child’s whereabouts?

Tracking apps: Extra security or a breach of children’s privacy? [Photo: Getty]

The case for tracking children

While many experts have expressed concerns that tracking your kids is a breach of their privacy Sten Kirkbak believes children don’t necessarily feel spied upon. “Especially if the parent is transparent with them about why the tracking is necessary: for their safety, as well as reassurance that if they somehow get lost, they can be found easily by the parent,” he explains.

“This fosters a sense of mutual safety, which is important – especially in the wake of new research by Girl Guiding UK, that shows that nearly two-thirds of 13 to 21 year-olds either feel unsafe, or know someone who is fearful walking home alone.”

Kirkbak also points out that the option to track their children gives parents peace of mind. “They don’t need to ring them continuously to know where they are, or worry when they don’t answer their phone,” he says.

According to Kirkbak it is understandable that Jamie Oliver would want to be aware of where his children are.

“As a parent, when your children are younger, you are criticised if you are not keeping both eyes on your child when they are playing in the park. You instinctively know that you need to know their exact whereabouts, and your child expects you to come running immediately if they get into trouble.

“Suddenly, as some stage, you are then expected to let your child go out alone, without your reassuring watchful gaze, which is scary for both parent and child.” Kirkbak continues.

He argues that the modern world now offers parents the opportunity to know where your children are.

“You are not listening to their conversations, tracking who they are with or watching them but you are able to know how to get to them if they get lost or if they need you. You, as a parent, want your child to be safe, and technology allows you to add this extra layer of safety,” he says.

Should parents track their children? [Photo: Getty]

The case against

“Tracking apps can be counter-intuitive,” says Kirkbak. “While giving a child a smartphone might make them physically safer; it also opens them up to the dangers associated with social media (cyber-bullying, inappropriate stranger contact), as well as unsupervised internet access.”

Plus according to some parenting experts tracking apps can hinder children’s development of independence.

“When a parent tracks their child, the child feels monitored, spied-on and controlled,” parenting expert Elizabeth O’Shea tells The Independent.

“The child knows that parents are watching them, and doesn’t feel it’s okay to make mistakes.” 

It isn’t the first time Jamie Oliver has courted controversy recently. Last month he was accused of cultural appropriation after releasing a ‘punchy jerk rice’ dish which many claim has no characteristics of traditional Jamaican jerk recipes.

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