Safety steps: Should you track your child's journey to school?

Photo: Alamy
Photo: Alamy 

I was about six years old when I started walking to school without adult supervision. My nine-year-old brother was supposed to walk with me, but more often than not, he'd abandon me as soon as we were out of our mum's line of sight to hang with his mates.

Cut to today, and I still accompany my eight- and six-year-old children through the school gate. Only my 14-year-old is allowed to travel on her own. I'm more risk averse than my mother was – partly because I haven't forgotten some of the dangerous situations I found myself in as a child, and partly because this is the time we now live in: the age of the helicopter parent.

I like to think I'm more relaxed than many – I'm somewhere comfortably in the middle of the free-range and helicopter parenting philosophy – but I'm not ready to let my kids make their own way to school yet.

Many parents who want to take the leap, but also want to keep tabs on their kids to check they're all right, are using electronic tracking devices to ensure their kids make it to school safely.

In fact, a recent study found a staggering one in five parents are using some kind of app to track their kids.

Travelling to school: Habits of Australian Families by the Royal Children's Hospital found 18 per cent of parents reported using a tracking device when their children were travelling independently, with the majority citing concerns such as stranger danger, bullying and traffic hazards.

Daria Jelcic from The Nanny Collective says she sees many families employing help to get their kids to and from school, with the main concern being road safety.

"Many of the families I work with live so close to their children's school but are extremely nervous about their children's safety when it comes to crossing the road, walking over driveways, or the visibility of their children to drivers on the road," she says.

"The other issue of concern is stranger danger. Whilst parents and schools do their best to educate their children about stranger danger, parents still have to live with fear and concern by exposing children to these situations that are so important to their growth and independence."

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For those who are ready to let their kids go but want the peace of mind of knowing where they are, tracking apps could be the answer.

McAfee's "Cybermum" Alex Merton-McCann says apps can be helpful to parents when children are making the transition from travelling with an adult to travelling alone.

"Allowing a child to travel to and from school by themselves does come with a few risks. While parents can do their best to educate their children on the likes of road safety and stranger danger, tracking their child's movements on their journey through an app can help create extra peace of mind for some parents."

Jelcic warns an app is no replacement for supervision though.

"Where I think parents should invest is in educating their children about stranger danger, road safety, how to respond to certain situations and how to make well thought out choices when not under the supervision of an adult," she warns.

"With young children these safety messages need to be repeated consistently over a period of time. Parents need to ask their children hypothetical questions to gauge their understanding and eventually after much discussion and practice need to trust their children and slowly allow them the independence to manage these tasks on their own - this will be at a different age for each child."

Once you're convinced your child is equipped to handle travelling to school on their own, and if you'd like to try a tracking app, Merton-McCann says it's important to prepare.

"It may go without saying but parents should make sure they take the time to familiarise themselves with the tracking app they choose to use, and how to use it," she says.

"Getting your child's buy-in crucial to building trust. Work with your children to develop rules around how the tracking app will be used to ensure they understand why it's important. This will help build trust between you and your child, which will be invaluable as they mature and you no longer feel it's appropriate to be tracking their whereabouts."

Merton-McCann says it's equally important to know when to stop using the app.

"Parents should also make sure they are using tracking apps age-appropriately. Once a good level of trust has been established between you and your child, and once your child is nearing the end of school, it is probably time to reassess your approach to tracking."