Students react to the popular location-sharing app, Life 360.
By Ben Rigney-Carroll, ’21 and Noah Mizer, ’21
Senior Anna Shrader was attending a friend’s birthday party out of town when she received a text from her parents.
“Why are you in a bad neighborhood?” the text read, despite Shrader mentioning her plans prior to the event.
Shrader’s parents were aware of their daughter’s whereabouts thanks to the live tracking provided by Life360, a family location-sharing app that was released on the Apple App Store in 2009.
“The reason why we have it in my family is because my mom would text me asking where I was, and I would not text her back,” Shrader said. “It’s not because I didn’t want her to know where I was; I just am forgetful and would not look at my phone.”
Conversely, many parents use Life360 more as a back-up rather than a consistent way to track the location of their children. One such parent, Jane Smith*, who has a daughter that graduated from UAHS, has Life360 on her daughter’s phone even though Smith says they have a trusting relationship.
“I have ‘find my phone’, and she is on Life360, but those are only as backups in case of an emergency or one off situation,” Smith said.
Because the app is never more than a few clicks away on parents’ phones, the ease of access makes tracking apps for the peace of mind provided by knowing their children’s location.
Why Life 360?
Though it did not reach peak popularity until recently, Life360’s focus is and has always been providing families a means to connect and sync with each other’s schedules and whereabouts in real time. On the app store, it is advertised as a lifestyle app, rather than most students’ use focused on safety.
Some students see Life360 as benefiting their safety, seeing as that parents can help their kids in the event that they get into trouble.
“I feel if your parents can track you, and you send them a secret message, they can come and get you or call for help.” freshman Sydney Hollern said.
Though the actual relevance of Life360 as a safety app is subject to debate, many families certainly enjoy having the knowledge that a tracking service provides.
“I feel that there is a degree of safety that comes with tracking apps,” freshman Liam Fimmen said. “There are very rare situations where it can be helpful. In general, it’s something that parents use to make sure their kid is doing the right thing at the right time.
Fimmen isn’t alone in the value he places on the comfort Life360 can provide. According to a voluntary Arlingtonian survey of 228 students, 38 percent have Life360 installed on their phone.
With many families relying on Life360 as their “backup” or emergency contingency plan, it must be asked if there is a better alternative for emergency services. For example, apps like bSafe and SOS StaySafe allow alternative means of secretly contacting friends and family in an emergency. For IOS users, an alternative is SafeTrek, an app that provides a button that’s held down in a potentially dangerous situation. When your finger is removed from the button, the device gives you 10 seconds to type in a pin before your location is sent to emergency services and 911 is called.
Though apps like these do not offer all the same features that Life360 can, they do provide less invasive alternatives to 24/7 tracking apps that could possibly provide the same peace of mind.
While many parents see Life360 as a necessary safety measure, some students feel that being forced to use the app signifies a lack of trust.
“It does [feel like] she can’t trust me to so she has to bypass human interaction to find out what I’m doing, and that does hurt a little bit,” Shrader said.
However, Shrader understands that her mom uses Life360 as a means of providing a better upbringing for her daughter than she had herself.
“I guess she’s trying to protect us from any of the mistakes she made as a kid, but I think it’s really important to learn through those mistakes,” Shrader said.
Though many use Life360 as assurance of their kids’ safety, senior June Postalakis explains how she believes her parents could adopt a more progressive parenting style to allow her more freedom.
“While I don’t [believe in] letting kids do whatever they want, we should not be punishing them for doing things that [parents] know teenagers want to do, and instead teach them how to be safe while doing those behaviors instead of just prohibiting them,” Postalakis said.
Other students believe in a parent’s right to track his or her children.
“If you’re somewhere else or you left your friend’s house without telling them, then it might be needed. Trust is kind of a two-way thing,” Hollern said.
Smith believes trust must be built by both parent and child. She believes the key to this is successful communication.
“[It’s important to] keep lines of communication open and let [kids] know they may not be punished if they tell the truth. There is a very fine line here though. It’s hard to say how other children will react,” Smith said.
While some see added tracking as an important safety measure, others worry that apps such as Life360 may be doing the opposite.
Shrader has fears that Life360 encourages students to leave their phones at home to avoid being tracked, but ultimately they will not be able to call someone for help or dial 911 in a potentially unsafe situation.
“[Students] will leave their phone at home or wherever they are supposed to be and go to places that could be dangerous, and they don’t have a phone to help if they do need help. I see the appeal of it from a parent’s standpoint, but I think it causes more harm than it does good,” said Shrader.
Some even fear the possibility of strangers accessing your location through Life360 and being able to find users in person.
“If a hacker or somebody breaks into that with malicious intent, then they are basically watching where you go. They can find where you live and where you are most vulnerable, and that is not good,” sophomore Carter Anderson said.
However, to date, Life360 has not reported a security breach of its users’ location data. The only devices able to access your location via Life360 are those predesignated as part of your family “Circle,” leaving it out of reach of hackers or strangers.
GENERATION ON TRACK
Today’s high school and middle school students are the first to see this type of tracking technology implemented on something as common as a mobile phone.
Many students’ parents grew up in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, and were teenagers in an era before this level of tracking seemed possible. As such, many parents now are exercising a level of control over their children’s unsupervised time that they didn’t experience themselves.
As a proponent for giving her kids the freedom they earn, Smith explains that she understands why parents use the apps in ways that become overbearing.
“It’s hard to judge parents just because they love and want to protect their child,” Smith said.
Smith attempts to provide her children as much freedom as she safely can to allow them to grow. Though she acknowledges that this both requires trust and can fail at times, she explains that by overusing tools like Life360, a lack of trust results.
Many students seem to agree with this sentiment, including Anderson.
“Learning is a big part of it. Making mistakes is natural. If you don’t learn from making mistakes, you aren’t going to be a very well-developed person,” Anderson said. “You are just going to know to avoid something instead of what will happen.”
Shrader agrees with this sentiment, believing that indepence helps students to grow into adults.
“[Parents] need to accept that their children are going to be adults one day,” Shrader said. “[Parents have to let them take their own first steps into the world.”