Track and Protect: Parents Turn to Safety Gadgets

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CLEVELAND -- From the moment a child is born parents begin worrying about how to best protect them.

“All the time,” said Melissa, a mother of four, “I worry about them all the time.”

And that concern is warranted.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, there are nearly 800,000 children under the age of 18 missing each year in the United States.

The center says an average of 2,185 children are reported missing each day.

The crimes range from an acquaintance holding the child overnight to far worse crimes involving torture and murder.

For parents like Melissa, protecting their children is priority one.

“Cause if it happened and I didn’t do something to prevent it, you know I’d feel horrible,” Melissa said.

There are a number of tools parents can utilize from a “nanny camera” near the crib to much more sophisticated devices.

Derek Meister from Best Buy’s Geek Squad says, “There’s a bunch of items out there – everything from software as well as hardware.”

Some gadgets are specifically designed for younger children under the age of 6.

The GiggleBug, which is sold by Intelent Technologies, clips on clothing and uses the same technology as cordless phone finders.

The company says for about $20 a parent can locate their child in a crowd or neighborhood up to 150 feet away.

More advanced GPS units and watches are also available at a higher price point, but they can follow or track a child through their teen years.

The Amber Alert GPS device costs between one and two hundred dollars, plus monthly monitoring fees, but the technology grows with the child.

“You can actually bring up your smartphone and see where the kid is.  They also have an alert if they leave certain zones at school, it will automatically send you an alert,” said Meister.  “They have speed controls in them. You can set them so if it goes above a certain speed it will send you a text alert.”

The Land-Air-Sea device is another way to track your teenager behind the wheel.

This product has been used for years on law enforcement and rescue vehicles and it provides real-time data on things like location and speed.

The Wherifone also offers GPS and two-way real-time talk as well as a 911 panic button.

The Wherifone also has a strong signal capable of calling for help even in dense wooded areas or buildings.

Both items cost under $150 dollars.

“I would consider it all,” said Melissa.

She generally trusts her four girls and says, “I think I know everything, but I’m probably being naïve.  I’m sure there are things they don’t tell me.”

Meister says one of the biggest threats to young people is the Internet, but there are ways to track your child on both the web and their cell phones.

“You can literally watch as much or as little as possible depending on the software you get and at different price points, different levels of how much control you actually have,” said Meister.

He recommends two well-known computer anti-virus and tracking software companies.

They are Norton and Kaspersky and prices vary depending on the level of software protection purchased.

Microsoft also offers a free program for users.

The SnoopStick from CYBERsitter is another option.

For about $60, this product claims to allow parents to monitor their child’s Internet activity in real-time.  Parents can even shut down conversations from a remote location.

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with that,” said Kenneth Trump, a national school safety expert.  “Parents have not only the right but responsibility – children do not have a constitutional right to privacy as long as they are children in their parents’ home.”

However, Mr. Trump is concerned that some parents might put too much emphasis on the technology.

He says there are some simpler solutions, for example, putting the computer in a public family room.

“Where everyone can see what’s going on,” said Trump.

And he adds that gadgets are never a replacement for good parenting.

“We can use some of those tools to supplement the relationship, but you have to have a core foundation of trust, education, relationship, mentoring and guidance in place or you're just dancing around with a bunch of electronic devices,” said Trump.

He advised parents to talk openly with their children and teach them how to handle threats, so that they are truly prepared if they should ever face trouble.