I’m the mother of two constantly moving, always excited little boys who live year-round in the mountains. In spite, or perhaps because of where we live, I’ve yet to lose them in a public place. Friends back in the real world recount stories of the sickening, heart-wrenching moment they lose sight of a little one for a few moments in Tesco. I’m told it feels like hours and there’s no doubt I still have this parental rite of passage to come.
But would I make little Hamish, aged 3, wear a tracking device while in ski school? Location monitoring for children is a big deal these days, with one ski school elsewhere in the Alps fitting devices to all their littlies during their lessons. “It’s so parents can see where their children have skied” they justify. The cynics out there (moi? Non…) wonder whether this ‘added extra’ is nothing more than a marketing ploy, pulling on the heart strings of modern parents and fuelling paranoia.
One of the most popular GPS watches on the market sells itself as ‘ensuring your kids are safe when out of sight’. But how can this be possible? Last time I checked, my smart watch didn’t have the super hero powers required to stop me skiing off a cliff in a whiteout and I’m fairly sure the kid’s version doesn’t either. And then there are the arguments about limiting children’s privacy and personal freedom, which I tend to agree with when it comes to older kids and teenagers.
So interested was I in this whole child-tracking phenomenon, I initiated a very simple poll on the Morzine Source Magazine Facebook page a little while back. ‘Are wearable tracking devices for kids on ski holidays a good idea?’ I asked. 84% responded yes, while 16% responded no. One typical response was that GPS trackers give parents the peace of mind they need to enjoy their own ski day while their little ones were in ski school. Cue the mother of little Johnny, at the side of the piste, checking her iPhone for the tenth time in an hour to see how many times he’s lapped Procolu this morning. Cue the father of little Tilly, desperately looking for a better signal on a chairlift to check that her ski group have moved on from their hot chocolate / toilet break. Does being able to track your children on the mountain enhance or inhibit your holiday experience? That’s the question.
Sally Lee Duffy of The Snow Institute can see some serious pros and cons when it comes to loading up your kids with tech. “GPS trackers can be great for parents when skiing with their kids, giving them some responsibility to do a run on their own for example, and giving them independence and confidence” Sally told us. “Trackers can also be a great tool for children, helping them learn about navigation at the end of their ski day on the mountain”. At the same time, if you’re paying a top-level instructor, you need to trust them not to lose your child. “Parents shouldn’t need to keep an eye on, or obsess about what their kids are doing in ski school” Sally believes. “Sometimes we stay on the same run for a whole lesson, perfecting technique and making learning fun. Trackers could mean that parents misunderstand what their child has been doing in ski school”.
In a world where we’re already tracking our shopping, our luggage and our pets, why shouldn’t we track our children? It might all be a bit Big Brother, but with devices ranging in complexity from a simple tiny gadget stuffed into a pocket or backpack, to Bluetooth wristbands and on to GPS watches, there is arguably a location-monitoring device for all. Some even have geo-fencing capabilities, allowing parents to create a virtual geographic boundary on a device that sends an alert when a child leaves the designated area. But won’t all this carry on make children think they are in danger? Could it scare them into thinking skiing or snowboarding in the beautiful mountains might be harmful?
We need to keep our fears in proportion to the risk (statistically, very few children go missing across the ski area each winter), and we shouldn’t be transferring these fears to our children. I probably will tag Hamish with a simple GPS tracker once he breaks the limits of Morzine’s Piou Piou in future winters, but he won’t know it’s there. I’ll resist the urge to follow his every move, but I probably will take a sneak peek on a Saturday evening, most likely over a gin and tonic. After all, he’s too little to tell me where he’s been skiing, and I want to know when he’s better than me.