How to Find Your Kids With a Cell Phone

By Erica Loop
Todd Warnock/Photodisc/Getty Images

Long-gone are the times when you had to rely on a pay phone call to know where your child was. Seventy-eight percent of kids ages 12 through 17 have cell phones, according to the Pew Research Internet Project. Even though kids use their phones to connect with their friends, browse the Internet and keep up with social media, parents can also use these mobile devices to track their kids. Through GPS and tracking apps, you can know where your child is whenever she has her cell turned on.

GPS Facts

Smartphone apps and tracking companies use global positioning system -- or GPS -- to locate cell phones. GPS uses satellites to provide information on positioning, navigation and timing, according to the U.S. government's GPS.gov website. You, or your child, can turn the phone's GPS feature on or off through the cell's settings. Doing so makes tracking impossible.

App Tracking

Roughly half of all kids who own cell phones have smartphones, according to Pew’s 2012 statistics. If you and your child have smartphones, you can download an app that tracks your child’s movements. You can also download these to prepaid phones that have Internet connectivity options. There are a growing number of apps for both Android and Apple phones that keep track of your child and his phone. They use real-time GPS to automatically find your child, notes Parents magazine.

The specific app that you choose depends on what kind of phone you have and what other services you want the app to provide. Some are basic trackers, while others include more. Some apps also include a messaging system that is separate from the phone’s regular texting service. This allows you to message your child through the locator app and get back a notification when he reads it.

Install the App

Most tracking apps require the other person – in this case, your child – to accept a request. This can become complicated with an independence-seeking teen, who refuses your request.

You could bargain and barter for her permission. But, that forces you to give up some of your authority. Instead, keep in mind who is paying for phone. Tell your child that she can let you install the app or she can give back the phone. If that sounds harsh, remember that phones aren’t necessities, they're luxuries. That However, you may want to think twice before you violate your child’s privacy by sneaking the app onto her phone. This may break your child’s trust and put up a wall when it comes to any future open communications.

Paid Provider Subscriptions

Apps aren’t the only way to track your child. While they are easy-to-use and work with prepaid phones that have Internet access, you have other options. Some cell phone providers offer an extra service that allows you to track any phone in your plan. These typically don’t require the other person to accept a tracking request. As long as your child’s phone is part of what you’re paying for, you can use the service. With this service you can track your child’s phone from your cell, a computer or a tablet. With an Internet-connected device, you can pinpoint your child on a map in real time using GPS. Unlike a free app, cell phone provider tracking services are subscription plans that add an extra fee to your bill.

Social Media Status

While GPS-based apps and services are sure-fire ways to locate your child through his cell, you can take a more creative approach. In a 2012 survey of children ages 13 through 17, Common Sense Media found that 75 percent of kids have some sort of social media profile. You can check up on your child by logging into your own social media account and seeing what he saying. If he constantly updates his status, posts pics or is tweeting up a storm, you’ll know where he is, who he’s with and what he’s doing. You can also look to see if he’s tagged his post with a specific business location such as a restaurant or movie theater.

Non-Smartphone Tracking

If your child doesn't have a smartphone, you can still use GPS to track her. You can purchase a subscription service, from your cell phone provider or elsewhere, that allows you to track both smart and traditional phones.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.