Subscribe to this Blog
Today's Blogs
    The Checkup:

Want to know where the kids are? Ask their Buddy

We live in a dangerous world. We all know this. Many parents probably would go to any lengths to keep their kids safe, or at least to have better tabs on where they are at any given moment.

Enter the Little Buddy, a new child-tracking device that moms and dads can place in backpacks, lunch boxes or coat pockets, thereby enabling them to follow their kids' every move, every day. That's right: if giving your children their own cell phones, following them on Twitter and constantly refreshing their Facebook status updates isn't enough, well, now you can essentially bug 'em, turning you into the CIA of your own household.

Look, I understand why plenty of people might love the idea of this GPS gadget. It sounds like a foolproof way to keep your kid out of trouble and the clutches of potential kidnappers. That might explain why both the blue and green versions of the Little Buddy -- which retails for $100 and is being sold exclusively by Best Buy -- are already on back order.

But it just seems sad that this is what we've come to as a society. Forcing our kids to carry tracking devices strikes me as just a sneeze away from putting chips in their heads. "Sure it's Orwellian, disturbing and could cause brain cancer. But at least now I never have to worry that Ethan has ditched school and gone to Dylan's house to play 'Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars'!"

Already I can visualize the comments on this post: "Of course Jen Chaney doesn't think we need an affordable tracking device. Her son is only two. She's not a *real* parent yet. Wait 'til her kid gets older and starts going rogue on her."

Well, while I am pretty sure that I am a genuine, bona fide mother, it's true that I haven't experienced the dreaded adolescent years, when kids have a tendency to do their own thing and -- out of spite, carelessness or sometimes both -- neglect to tell their parents where they are.

I guess I'm just not sure that dropping 100 bucks in exchange for the privilege of planting a device on our offspring is the answer. Although I will admit that the Little Buddy is just a darling name for this thing. (Obviously My Buddy was taken. And I guess Lil' Bit 'o Evidence of Mommy's Paranoia just didn't have the same ring.)

Tell me what you think. Is the Little Buddy a bad idea or a product you would happily use to maintain peace of parental mind?

Jen Chaney oversees movie coverage for the Post's Web site, contributes to Babble's Strollerderby blog and would only use a tracking device if it has been personally endorsed by Jason Bourne.

Local Living

Stories from the newly launched Local Living section:

  • Coming together for those who have split
  • Washington might look to Baltimore for innovative ideas in special education

    By Jen Chaney |  October 29, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  The Debate
    Previous: Getting the 'brace face' at a younger age | Next: Reflecting on past -- and future -- Cabbage Nights


    "Tell me what you think."


    As of today's guest blog, you are officially an idiot.

    Posted by: jezebel3 | October 29, 2009 7:36 AM | Report abuse

    "Tell me what you think."

    Kudos to you on being on top of current trends.

    To me, a tracking device is just too over the top. Wonder how our parents ever raised us without one? Trust. Seriously. And if it became evident that we weren't trustworthy, then consequences ensued.

    Posted by: scottiedog | October 29, 2009 7:39 AM | Report abuse

    If you have a good kid that doesn't skip school, drink, do drugs, lie, cheat, steal, etc., I suppose you wouldn't see a need for the "Little Buddy". If I had a tweener or teen that is hanging with the wrong crowd and is going down a path that is dangerous, darned tootin I'd consider slipping in a little buddy in their coat or backpack. I don't know at what point I'd do it, but I would never rule it out.

    I know too family families that are dealing with a kid that is sliding and if they need to "spy" to save their kid's lives, so be it. Intervention is completely acceptable, you are the parent.

    Posted by: cheekymonkey | October 29, 2009 8:06 AM | Report abuse

    Jen, while I wouldn't say that you aren't a "real" parent I do think you are a little to quick to dismiss the concerns other parents whose children actually leave their sight may or may not have. It would be wise my dear, to reserve ones judgement just a little bit until you have a little more experience. One of the primary lessons of parenting is that many things you think you know and feel will change on a dime.

    I would argue that the reason some parents feel compelled to resort to these kinds of devices is because there has been a significant loss of community. People don't know each other anymore, people don't feel accountable to their neighbors anymore, people don't welcome other people correcting or providing negative reports on their children's behavior. More parents (mostly moms) used to be home and were the eyes and ears of the community, today you could probably lay naked in your front yard for hours before someone noticed. So I don't think its necessarily an overreaction to danger as much as a reaction to the sense that the safety net is gone.

    Posted by: moxiemom1 | October 29, 2009 8:11 AM | Report abuse

    jezebel3 - do you ever have anything positive to say or do you like to just get on here to rag on posters and commenters alike? You have a disturbing trend on this board.

    Posted by: hokie_girl91 | October 29, 2009 8:24 AM | Report abuse

    While agree with Moxie (naked on the front lawn made me snicker, tho), I'll add that there are plenty of circusmtance where kids fall through the cracks even in the closest knit communities.

    My opinion is the point at which to catch kids before they get into deep trouble is on the way down, not after they have an established a pattern of behavior that is at critical mass. You can define "deep trouble" as you wish, you are the parent and the threshold will be different for us all. Let's just say, I learned not to say "I'd never" a long time ago. If you have watched a kid in trouble and the toll it takes on a family, and said to yourself "if only they had... (fill in the blank)", you will realize "little buddy" is tool and should not be so easily dismissed as "over the top". Being "over the top" might save your kid's life.

    Posted by: cheekymonkey | October 29, 2009 8:29 AM | Report abuse

    Lojacking your kid? seriously????

    Posted by: Catwhowalked | October 29, 2009 8:31 AM | Report abuse

    Hey cat, nobody said that everybody should or shouldn't do this. It's up to the parent. If your kid is smoking pot or doing crystal meth during school hours, little buddy will look pretty good.

    Posted by: cheekymonkey | October 29, 2009 8:38 AM | Report abuse

    I would hope that I never have to use this item. It sounds very over the top. But if you are dealing with a problem child who is over the top then sometimes over the top solutions are necessary.

    This gives the creeps in a general sense but I too will never say "never".

    Posted by: Billie_R | October 29, 2009 8:42 AM | Report abuse

    What moxie said.

    And I don't really think this device is meant for tweens or older kids although I recall seening something similar that you can put in their car, if they have one. I think this is meant more for the elementary age kids so that, for example, when they disappear on the walk home from school you can maybe find them before they end up in a might be paranoid, but it also wouldn't seem so over the top if your kid was the one in a million (or whatever the stat is).

    My kid is only two as well, but I would not rule out using something like this in a couple of years so that I can feel more comfortable letting him run a bit more free.

    As my Dad told me (more than once), "It's not that I don't trust you, it's that I don't trust everyone else."

    Posted by: VaLGaL | October 29, 2009 8:46 AM | Report abuse

    A teen could easily figure out how to subvert this thing. If they wanted to skip school they could just stick their backpack in the locker and then leave campus for the day. Or they could get someone else to carry it around for them. The device is probably most helpful for kids a little younger who want to go to the playground or somewhere else by themselves.

    Posted by: GroovisMaximus61 | October 29, 2009 9:01 AM | Report abuse

    I agree with Moxie. And while I think it would be a little ridiculous to use this on with a teenager, I'm also firmly in the camp that will never say never.

    For little ones, I can definitely see a point to this device. I KNOW that cases of abduction are extremely rare, but I can't help but think that if little Somer Thompson had had this device in her backpack, a very different outcome might have occurred in her case.

    Posted by: stephs98 | October 29, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

    Doing the "engineering geek analysis" I don't see any benefit to this.

    1. Does the kid know she's got this? If so, and she wants to subvert it, that's trivial. Leave it in the locker; lose it in a trash can; leave it at home. Slip it in a friend's backpack or pocket. Come on, use your imagination here. If the kid doesn't know she's got it, why not? And how are you going to explain it when she finds it?

    2. Does this bring any value that a cheap cell phone doesn't? It can't even call 911 in an emergency. I say "no".

    Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | October 29, 2009 9:24 AM | Report abuse

    If you want to know where your kids are, just ask them. If you can't get a strait answer, you've most likely already lost the battle of control over your kid. The key essentials of keeping a kid out of trouble is communication and parental involvement. In my opinion, resorting to snooping through emails, eavesdropping on conversations, installing hidden cameras..., and now tracking their movements through this thing called a Little Buddy to impose "consequences" only serves as backhanded control measures to regain control where communication has failed. Nobody likes to be controled and using these techniques will most likely push your kid further and further away from what they really need in the first place - a parent to be there.

    I can't see the Little Buddy being a life saving device. OK, maybe when going camping so they don't get lost in the woods, but for a troubled teenager? C'mon, teens are smarter than that. I can just see a teenager say, "Bye Mom, I'm going to the library." and sneaky mom who thinks she is clever by slipping one of these devices in her kid's backpack to in fact, make sure that her kid is at the library. Of course, the kid will go to the library, hide the bug on a shelf between some books, and sneak off to smoke a joint with his/her friends and have a good laugh at clever mom...

    or throw it off a bridge, down a well or into the back of somebody's pickup truck for kicks and grins.

    Seriously though, I see many other uses for this device, - tracking spouses, dogs that like to jump fences, and I can see it becoming the favorite tool of stalkers... Ugh!

    Posted by: WhackyWeasel | October 29, 2009 9:55 AM | Report abuse

    As others have said, by the time a kid is old enough for a parent to *want* to use something like this, it would be easy enough to figure a way around it- give it to a friend, stick in in a locker, etc. Seems pretty useless to me if you are using it to keep tabs on your kid.

    That said, I am very worried about my 4-year old. Very gregarious kid who loves talking to *anyone*, and I'm convinced that despite my best efforts, she's totally capable of taking off with a stranger. The last time I tried talking to her about this (after she snuck out of the house while I was putting her sister to bed), I told her there are some bad people in the world who might try to hurt or steal a child, and she looked at me like I was crazy and said, "no, people are nice." So now I'm just trying to focus on telling her that you never go anyplace with someone you don't know- not sure how else to handle it. (I also made sure she can't open the front door by herself anymore.)

    Posted by: floof | October 29, 2009 9:57 AM | Report abuse

    To floof:

    It sounds like it's time to start really talking to your kid about stranger danger. What it means, that some people seem nice, but aren't really, etc. Tell her she's right, and most people are nice. But that some people pretend to be nice, the way she might pretend she's a mommy when she plays with her dolls. It's also important to have a family password - something that's hard to guess. And teach her she is NEVER to go with anyone who doesn't tell her that password. No matter how nice they seem. Obviously you don't want to make her afraid of every new person she ever meets, but it sounds like you've got to focus on the password type of thing, so that she knows that she's not even supposed to go with nice people. Good luck.

    And I don't know about this Little Buddy. Maybe if my kid wanted to walk home from school alone (if that were even an option), etc. It seems like the best age group would be 7-11 year olds, as they're gaining more independence, but still have a ways to go on maturity.

    Posted by: JHBVA | October 29, 2009 10:37 AM | Report abuse

    Great. Now I'm going to have the "My Buddy" song in my head all day.

    Posted by: J2-D2 | October 29, 2009 11:33 AM | Report abuse

    You know, my wife went to Best Buy last weekend (not sure why); I wonder if she saw this thing. We don't have kids though.

    Wait a minute -- what is this thing in my jacket pocket? Some kind of ... the hell? It's a.... She wouldn't....

    How dare she! What was she thinking! I'm calling her and telling her off as soon as the guys and I get back from Hooters.

    Posted by: tomtildrum | October 29, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

    I thought about something like this back when DD was toddling; she was so gregarious and trusting, and I became irrationally worried about losing her, her wandering off with someone, etc. I joked with DH that he should invent a microchip implant so we could Lojack our kid.

    Then about a year later, I started hearing about things like watches with locator chips for kids. And I ultimately decided not to go down that path. I decided that my fear was irrational -- not that it never happens, but that the fear was all out of proportion to the real risk involved. So instead, I focused on the things we can do -- for her, teaching stranger danger stuff; and for me, learning to talk my own irrational self off the ledge.

    Posted by: laura33 | October 29, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

    Thanks J2-D2. Was doing fine until your comment. Thanks for dragging me into the hell of 80's TV commercials ;).

    Posted by: firemom35 | October 29, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

    I think devices such as these are pretty useless. They give you a false sense of security and control. Your kid could be at home having sex, smoking pot, for example. And there you are, smugly thinking that they can't be up to any shenanigans because you know exactly where they are.

    In the end, little buddy or whatever is no substitute for alert and involved parents. And I think that the false sense of control they provide is actually a danger, because it can trick a parent into thinking that things are fine when they really are not. So no, I will not be buying this garbage. It's worthless.

    Posted by: emily8 | October 29, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

    I think marketers can work successfully with cable news channels to convince many parents that their children are in constant peril.

    Posted by: KS100H | October 29, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

    I don't really see the usefulness of this device as far as actually protecting a kid from harm. Unless you are going to constantly monitor the device (which some people would), by the time the child is taken, the damage is done. Lojack only tells you where you can find the stolen car and by the time you get to it, it's already damaged and stripped down (I won't insert the kid comparison here). So the best method is to prevent the abduction in the first place by educating the child about strangers.

    Posted by: pipe1 | October 29, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

    Count on it. I can see the taglines now -
    "What price, peace of mind?"

    I bet it also sells well for people wanting to track a wayward spouse.

    Posted by: KS100H | October 29, 2009 1:22 PM I think marketers can work successfully with cable news channels to convince many parents that their children are in constant peril.

    Posted by: RobertinAustin | October 29, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

    It's another safety and like-insurance precaution to take with young kids. Also check out the wrist watch versions:

    Happy parenting,


    Posted by: KatLuvsShoes | October 29, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

    Would never have worked with my boys. When they were young enough to have cooperated, they were also scatter-brained enough to lose the thing, unless it were epoxied to their flesh. And even then older son would have picked at the silly thing until he removed it, taking multiple layers of skin along.

    Now that they're older and don't lose everything that isn't welded to their bodies, they're also smart enough to stay out of trouble (older son), or sneaky/smart enough to use one of the parent-fake-out methods everyone is coming up with (younger son).

    I was like both my boys at different times - a really good, trustworthy kid until I was out of high school, and then sneaky enough that my parents didn't know what I was up to unless I wanted them to know about something.

    So, I just can't see wasting my money on one of those things.

    Posted by: SueMc | October 29, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

    Why not go all the way and get them microchipped at birth, like a cat or dog?

    Posted by: di89 | October 29, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

    Yes, a teenager will know if there is a device, but the tweener/young teen that is lying will not assume anything. This device may well be good for younger children, but they loose just about everything.

    Wacky, I'm glad you think communication is the key but you are way off base. Some kids are perfectly capable of saying one thing and doing another. I know kids that are extremely artful liars, be glad you don't have one. By the time they have gotten to this stage it is too late to use a tracking device, but if you catch them on the way down, you have a fighting chance. The "way down" usually starts in Middle School, sadly.

    AB and Wacky, you both seem to have great, truthful kids. Surely you know families that would give their left arm to have tried the "little buddy" and had the slim to none opportunity to have caught on to behavior they knew little about.

    Sometimes I wonder, am I the only person on here that personally knows deviant children/teens? If so, can I have your magic shield or bubble, because seeing kids in trouble is sad and makes you realize much of what you think on handling a true crisis with a preteen or teen is fluff. Communication! Shared Trust! Believe in your children! Be Positive! My ass.

    Posted by: cheekymonkey | October 29, 2009 5:48 PM | Report abuse

    Hey, Cheeky - younger son would be one of those "deviant children/teens" if we didn't keep busting him. It helps a lot that DH was the same way, so we already know how the kid is going to act out. It was terrible for DH, because nobody was on him, and he took a lot of terrible consequences.

    Younger son will complain bitterly when he (rarely) gets a punishment for something he didn't do (at least not the time he's getting punished for), and the answer is always: "Well, you got away with it before, didn't you? So, just think of this as delayed consequences for when we didn't catch you last time."

    He's figuring out that he may not get caught every time, but he gets caught a whole lot of the time, and it's easier on him to not do whatever-it-is and run the risk of getting caught.

    I hope it works. Mental hospitals and juvenile detentions centers were really *harsh* consequences that DH had to get through - we'd rather younger son missed those experiences.

    But as my Grandma used to say: "The burned hand teaches best."

    If he spends a night in a holding cell sometime before he's out of high school, it would be just like when Grandma was raising my oldest cousin - he couldn't stay out of trouble at home, but *she* turned him around real quick with some help from her friendly neighborhood small-town sheriff.

    Posted by: SueMc | October 29, 2009 7:11 PM | Report abuse

    I hear ya Sue. The "keep busting him" is the key, and unless you have a deviant or deviant-prone child you may never see the truth to this. When you are living it, you know it to be true.

    I wouldn't wish lock up or detention on any juvenile, but the term "scared straight" is true in some cases. Sadly, in others they acclimate and it is a life of incarceration.

    My best to you and your boys.

    Posted by: cheekymonkey | October 29, 2009 7:32 PM | Report abuse

    Sue Mc, what if a cop pulls you over when you're not speeding and tells you it doesn't matter, the ticket is for all the other times you must have been speeding and he didn't catch you? You'd be mighty ticked off, no?

    Sounds like you enjoy getting even with the kid for getting away with things you didn't see.

    Posted by: di89 | October 29, 2009 10:32 PM | Report abuse

    Yes, with the number of children that go missing each year, every parent should use a personal GPS tracking device, but you dont have to be a parent to need or benefit from owning one of these devices. Motorcycles, skis, musical instruments, laptop computers, purses & luggage, even the family dog: EVERYBODY has SOMETHING they want to protect!!!

    When considering the purchase of a tracking device, do your homework because not all GPS systems are alike. Aside from features such as Geofencing, speed-alerts and so on, the one thing you really need to look into is the COST. Most GPS devices I've looked into have HIDDEN costs such as monthly/annual renewal fees or charge you per track ontop of the purchase price. When I called Best-Buy to get more info on the "Little Buddy" they couldn't even tell what the OTHER costs of thier system were.

    I ended up buying a system called "The GPS Guadian" at . Not only did I get the device for FREE by purchasing 3 years of service up front, but I got the 4th and 5th year of service for FREE as well.

    Posted by: Jojo1369 | October 30, 2009 12:10 PM | Report abuse

    Sue Mc, what if a cop pulls you over when you're not speeding and tells you it doesn't matter, the ticket is for all the other times you must have been speeding and he didn't catch you? You'd be mighty ticked off, no?

    Sounds like you enjoy getting even with the kid for getting away with things you didn't see.

    Posted by: di89 | October 29, 2009 10:32 PM

    Actually, something very much like that happened to DH many, many years ago when we lived in St. Louis. He was driving home from work in a very congested section of downtown highway and the officer gave him two tickets - for speeding, which wasn't possible with the traffic in that section of road - and for failing to signal before changing lanes, which also wasn't possible since DH automatically reaches for the turn signal always, even in driveways and parking lots in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. We figured it was because of the two new bumperstickers we'd put on the car: "Pagan and Proud" and "My Other Car is a Broom" - not such a good idea in such a Catholic city, back in the 80's. One of the *many* good reasons for moving to CA.

    Anyway, the point of that digression is that our religion teaches that everything one does returns to the do-er, three times over. Just because we get away with speeding sometimes (and we all do it), or just because a kid got away with putting something over on a parent, sometimes, doesn't mean there's never going to be a consequence.

    When younger son got away with lying about his homework (and other things) last school year, the consequence for the lying *and* *getting* *away* *with* *it* for a while, is that now his statements are checked and verified, and if we can't verify the truth (even though it may well be true this time) is that we default to the caught-you-in-a-lie response. It's like the old fable of the boy who cried wolf - the consequences *will* come. His history of lying has a consequence that now he's not always believed even when he might be telling the truth.

    And I think that kids who are acting out and out of control are kids who somehow got away without consequences for a while - not necessarily because of poor parently - and when the consequences finally do come along, they're much worse than they might have been earlier.

    Posted by: SueMc | October 30, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

    The comments to this entry are closed.


    © 2010 The Washington Post Company