Devices like the Safe Driver can track your teen's driv... Devices like the Safe Driver can track your teen's driving habits, but is it really the right thing to do? (Lemur Vehicle Monitors)
There are dozens of devices that can track the whereabouts of your car, and we recently spent time testing a simple and inexpensive unit called the Safe Driver from Lemur Vehicle Monitors. Safe Driver is intended as a tattletale for parents to monitor how their teens are driving. But unlike GPS-based systems that require downloading to computers, subscribing to a satellite service, or hiding somewhere on the car, the Lemur system is cheap (about $60), easy to install (a tiny box plugs into the car's OBDII port under the dash and transmits wirelessly to a key fob attached to the car's keyring), and simple.

The company makes a trio of monitors, one that allows you to set a speed limit and sound an alarm if you exceed it, one that tells you your fuel economy and cost per trip, and this one, which records the distance driven, any stop that activates the anti-lock brakes, and the maximum speed reached by the car. If the device is unplugged, it will display a "Tamper" message, so the parent will know that the teen has deactivated the unit. During a week's driving in the mountains of northern California, we found it works as promised. But using this device, or other more complex tracking systems, raises other questions -- like whether parents should be surveilling their children at all.

Anthony E. Wolf, an expert on teen behavior and author of the book "Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me And Cheryl to the Mall," says that electronic surveillance is neither good nor bad, but parents should be aware of why they want to have electronics keeping tabs on their kids. If the goal is to teach safe driving skills and to help a teen gain experience in the first year of driving, there is a benefit in using these tracking devices. However, he cautions, if the parents don't trust a teen and use the devices to circumscribe autonomy, they run the risk of creating even more emotional distance between themselves and their child.

How Using The Device Can Work -- For Both Parent And Teen

"If you use the tracking devices as a driver training tool, and you share safe driving discussions with the teen, and if the teen is actually looking at the data from the device with the parent, and if the parent says 'I want you to be a safer driver,' I think that's a good thing," says Wolf. "If the parent doesn't trust the teen, [and is] using the device just to see where the kids are going -- what is different about that than putting a chip inside the kid to monitor where the kid goes?"

Massachusetts family therapist Carleton Kendrick, who co-wrote the book "Take Out Your Nose Ring, Honey, We Are Going to Grandma's," tells Disney's website that attempts to spy on kids with tracking devices in cars will increase rebellion. He also told the site that parents resort to tracking devices because they are frightened of a changing world. Kendrick suggests treating teens with the same respect as an adult friend, which means being honest and communicating.

Michael Thompson, co-author of "The Pressured Child: Helping Your Child Find Success in School and Life," says the two biggest issues today in parent-teen relationships are the increasing autonomy teens have today, and how to deal with the increasing anxiety that parents have about their children's safety. Other experts suggest that setting boundaries such as using tracking devices on some trips but not every time the child leaves the house are a way of balancing between too much and too little control.

"Teens are absolutely going to take chances when they think that they will be okay with taking chances," Wolf says. "A better way of monitoring teens is to have as much back-and-forth communication as possible from when the child is little."

Ultimately, different parents have differing opinions about how to raise their children -- just as they always have. The kids, on the other hand, are more unified in their opposition to monitoring.

"I was once on a panel that was set up by an insurance company to ask kids what they thought of being monitored this way," says Wolf. "The kids were all smart and articulate, and they were all unwaivering in being against any monitoring device in their cars. Of course that doesn't mean they are bad devices, but that good kids, bad kids, and in-between kids universally were against the devices."

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