Child abductions have been in the news in recent months -- more so than ever, it seems. With every new case, the anxiety of parents across the country increases, and many are exploring the possibility of using micro-transmitters as a means of locating their children should they become lost.
One wearable system, known as Digital Angel, has been developed by Applied Digital Solutions. The system works with a watch-like transmitter that sends a signal through a cell-phone network. It can be linked to a global positioning system to locate the wearer.
Digital Angel can be programmed so that alarms go off if the wearer moves beyond a certain area. Parents or caregivers would then be notified by phone, email, or a message to a personal digital assistant. The transmitter also comes with a monitor that can read a person's vital signs. The Digital Angel costs $399 plus a $29.95 monthly service charge.
Taking technology one step further, Applied Digital Solutions has also developed an implantable device, known as VeriChip, which uses radio frequencies to transmit information to an external electronic reader. The company has recently applied to the FDA for permission to begin testing the device in humans.
Distorted World View
On the surface, these alternatives sound like a good idea. But when it comes to keeping kids safe, is technology really the answer? Not according to Frank Furedi, PhD. "It's a pretty bad thing," says Furedi, author of Paranoid Parenting. "It's bad for the children, and bad for the parents."
Implanting chips into children, says Furedi, will only encourage them to view the world in a distorted way. "They won't see the world as happy and yes, even challenging, but instead will see it as a war zone." And for most of us, that's just not reality, says Furedi. For all the problems we hear about today, the U.S. is still a relatively safe society, he says.
Statistics bear him out. According to the FBI, while approximately 2,000 children are reported missing every day, most of those children are found quickly. In 2001, the FBI investigated just 93 cases where children were taken by people not related to them.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children investigates 5,000-7,000 active cases at any given time; about 93% of those children are recovered.
Furedi adds that instead of providing parents with peace of mind, high-tech alternatives will turn them into 24-hour-a-day supervisors who are "on call" all the time. "It will make parenting an impossible task," he says. "If you become that focused on your children, your whole life becomes compromised. It creates a cycle of obsession."
And the idea of surgery, however minor, to implant a chip, says Furedi, is also "quite objectionable."
Adult Supervision: The Best Defense
Instead of seeing technology as a means to managing risk, Furedi recommends creating a network of adult support. "Talk to other adults," he suggests. "Have a system in place where you're all expected to alert each other ... to look after all the children in the neighborhood."
When Furedi was teaching his 7-year-old son how to go to the store alone for the first time, for example, he also visited the shop owner to alert him that his son was coming in and to look out for him.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children agrees that adult supervision is the key to child protection. It offers these safety tips for parents:
- Discuss with your children whose homes they can visit when you're not with them and where they can and can't go in the neighborhood.
- Teach your children how to get out of dangerous or uncomfortable situations, and practice basic safety skills with them.
- Teach your children in whose car they may ride. Children should be taught never to approach a vehicle unless they're with a parent or other trusted adult.
- Make sure your children know their name, address, telephone number, and how to use the phone.
- Be careful whom you choose to babysit. Check references from family, friends, and neighbors.
And it's never too soon for kids to be aware of these safety tips:
- Check with your parents or the adult in charge before you go anywhere or do anything.
- Don't go anywhere alone; always take a friend.
- Don't be tricked by adults who offer you treats or gifts or ask for your help.
- Don't be afraid to get away from any situation that makes you uncomfortable or confused. Trust your instincts.
- Don't get into a car or go near a car unless you are with your parents or another adult you trust.
- Don't ever take a ride from someone without asking your parents first.
- Don't go into a public restroom by yourself.
- Don't go alone to the mall, movies, video arcade, or parks.
- Keep the door locked when you're home alone. Don't open the door or talk to anyone who stops by unless that person is a trusted family friend of relative.