How to keep track of little ones on the loose

It’s hard not to worry when you don’t know where your child is. We explain how to pinpoint their location and save your nerves.

How to keep track of your kid: Smart watches, apps, and trackers are here to help

With some kids, it takes just a few seconds of distraction while the whole family is at the mall. If your child pops out of view, they’ll usually be right back in just as few blinks of the eye. You can’t help but worry, though.

Then, when they’re mature enough to come home alone from school but not really mindful of the time, you still probably have no need for panic if they’re 15 minutes late. Friends can be distracting, after all. So can strangers, though.

It’s hard not to worry when you don’t know where your child is. These days, however, there is a solution (or several) to this age-old problem: location-tracking devices for kids. Here, we take a closer look at some tracking solutions to help you pick one that suits you.

What kid trackers are available

Trackers come in lots of flavors, and it’s impossible to say one type is better than another. The choice depends on several factors, including your child’s age, how independent they are, whether they have a smartphone, and more. After all, it’s one thing to ensure that your toddler doesn’t scoot off in the park, another entirely to keep close tabs on a freedom-loving teenager.

Locator beacons

If your child is not yet allowed out alone, or may venture out only very close to the house, a locator beacon with a range of several hundred feet may suffice. That way, when your toddler leaves your sight, you can just press the button on the remote control and the beacon will emit a sound. Some models let you set an alarm to sound if your child moves more than a predetermined distance from the remote control.

Unlike GPS trackers, which determine location to within several feet, beacons can help you find your child quickly in a small, even crowded (though not too noisy), area. On the flip side, if your child wanders too far from the remote control, the link will be lost.

Locator beacon pros:

  • Easy to use;
  • Compact;
  • Works well in a small area;
  • The least expensive option.

Locator beacon cons:

  • Short range;
  • No SOS button;
  • Ineffective in noisy environments.

GPS trackers: Key rings, pendants, clip-ons

If your child already goes out without you, then you’re looking for a GPS tracker. The lightest and most compact options are key rings, pendants, and clip-on trackers. They can be worn as jewelry or attached to the child’s backpack or clothing. Such devices can be hidden from view easily, and some models can be fixed in place to make removing them difficult.

The functionality of miniature trackers varies from device to device. The simplest allow you to track your child’s location and set safe zones (such as school or home) that they are not allowed to leave at certain times. If they do, you’ll be notified immediately.

Many trackers have a large and obvious SOS button (often the only button on the device). Even a toddler can press it if in danger, and you’ll immediately receive a notification with location details. Some models with a built-in microphone also send a sound recording from the device so that you can evaluate the situation. You can also use the parent app to request audio from the microphone.

Other devices offer unique features. For example, in addition to location, one tracker is able to determine which relative the child is with at that particular moment. Another device’s app provides, in addition to the usual map, an augmented-reality view when you hold up the phone, showing which direction you need to go to find your son or daughter.

The main disadvantage of key rings and clip-ons is that they are attached to a backpack or jacket, so if your child takes it off to go and play, you will only see the location of the tracker. Older children might intentionally try to remove the tracker to avoid being monitored, and you may have a hard time convincing them that it’s for their own safety.

What’s more, GPS trackers are relatively expensive devices, and they require mobile Internet, so there’s also a monthly subscription fee to pay.

GPS tracker pros:

  • Easy to use;
  • Compact;
  • SOS button;
  • Securely attached.

GPS tracker cons:

  • Can be removed together with clothing or backpack.


Unlike key-ring trackers, smartwatches are worn on a child’s wrist, and therefore they’re unlikely to get taken off as readily as a backpack or jacket. And they generally have more features, including calls (with or without video), texting, step-counting, educational games, and the like. That makes the gadget more interesting for children, which is a huge advantage.

Smartwatch trackers also have an SOS button as described above, and some models have a built-in sensor to detect if the child (or someone else) attempts to remove the smartwatch. Another significant advantage of a watch (compared with phones) is that your child will not miss your call even in noisy environments.

A smartwatch is one of the most common gadgets you might use to help keep track of your kid

A smartwatch is one of the most common gadgets you might use to help keep track of your kid

Many companies produce children’s smartwatches, and the big brands do not yet dominate the segment. As such, device and app quality varies greatly. Before buying a gadget, be sure to read some reviews.

Some models suffer from poor positioning accuracy, loss of cellular signal, and other bugs. And it turns out that millions of smartwatches for kids made by various brands are not even protected against cybercriminals. Anyone can find out the child’s location, movement history, and other personal information; or even hijack the parent’s account and impersonate them.

Remember as well that to be fit for a child’s use, a device needs to be tough enough to withstand more than just hand-washing; it has to survive rough play and a child’s generally active life. If a model is not sufficiently shock-resistant or waterproof, it will break in no time — and again, most such gadgets are not cheap.

Smartwatch pros:

  • Always on your child;
  • SOS button.

Smartwatch cons:

  • Bugs in some models;
  • Relative expense.

Smartphone apps

Once your child is older and already has a smartphone, the most affordable and convenient tracking option is an app. Using an app will save your teenager from having to carry — and you from having to buy — an extra gadget. Most app stores offer simple trackers without additional features. However, for a more comprehensive solution, you might opt for a full-fledged parental control app, which kills three birds with one stone: Know where your child is, monitor their safety online, and limit device usage.

Google Play and Apple’s App Store offer parental control apps that are either totally free or require an inexpensive license or subscription. Obviously, the former are better for the family budget, but their functionality is also limited. And if the developers of a free app earn their bread from advertising, bear in mind that ad modules can be very lax with your data.

We believe that cybersecurity needs to be front of mind when choosing devices and apps for kids. That’s why we recommend that you do some online research before buying or downloading a product. If the vendor has ongoing issues with bugs and vulnerabilities, look elsewhere. Better still, opt immediately for a reliable solution from a reputable vendor renowned for its security awareness.

Kid-tracking apps pros:

  • Inexpensive;
  • Installed on any smartphone;
  • Many useful features in addition to location tracking.

Kids tracking apps cons:

  • Requires a smartphone.

Tracking your child’s safety is easy

As you can see, it’s not too hard to avoid needless worrying when your child is out of sight. With numerous location-tracking devices and apps available, the main thing is to make a good choice depending on your circumstances, and to explain to your child that wearing a tracker will make it possible for you to give them the freedom they desire.