HOUSTON - Apple AirTags, a small tracking device that can be attached to belongings, are increasingly being used by parents to track their children. The small device, priced at $29, can be tracked anywhere in the world as long as it's within Bluetooth range of another iPhone device.
One parent, Jana Miller of Katy, uses an AirTag to track her son, Joseph, who is diagnosed with non-verbal autism. Miller said she feels more comfortable letting Joseph go on school trips knowing that she can track his location.
"When he's on his field trips, we can track him and see, yes, he's at the hardware store. Yes, he's at the restaurant now. Yes, he's back at school," Miller said. "And that just gives us such peace of mind. There are so many children with autism that go missing. We didn't want him to become a statistic."
Other parents, whose children can communicate verbally, tell FOX 26 they use AirTags to track their children's movements in case they wander off or are kidnapped.
Data from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children shows Texas ranks second in the U.S. for active missing children cases. Texas has 338 active cases, while California has 431.
In a February 2022 announcement on Apple's website, the company condemned any use of AirTags to track people:
"AirTag was designed to help people locate their personal belongings, not to track people or another person’s property, and we condemn in the strongest possible terms any malicious use of our products. Unwanted tracking has long been a societal problem, and we took this concern seriously in the design of AirTag."
Some parenting experts caution against using AirTags to track children. Lenore Skenazy, the President of Let Grow, an organization that advocates for free-range parenting, said that tracking children can make them feel like they are being watched all the time.
"A kid who's being watched all the time is not a kid who has a chance to prove to themselves, and to their parents that they really are responsible," Skenazy said. "It changes the relationship between you and the child, even subtly. Most of your viewers will remember a time when they were lost, and they couldn't summon their parents, and they had to figure it out. Those are the little experiences that actually add up to a feeling of, ‘something bad happened, and I can handle it.’"
Raina Mankarious, the CEO of Crime Stoppers Houston said that she understands parents wanting to keep their kids safe with the use of technology like AirTags and tracking devices.
"Kids are more mobile than we were back then," said Mankarious. "They have after-school activities. Going here and there, so we want to keep tabs on them. Technology helps us do that. The problem is, I don't want to give parents a false sense of security. With any type of technology, there are ways around it. Kids are very savvy. Tags can be lost, stolen, or left somewhere else."
Mankarious also encourages parents to start having conversations with their children about being aware of their surroundings and how to avoid potentially dangerous situations.
"Start young. You can start sharing stories as young as five years old. You can make sure they understand their physical whereabouts are really important. And also making sure they're not using technology to set themselves up for potential threats," she said. You can find more helpful tips from Crimestoppers here.
Ultimately, the decision of whether to use an AirTag to track a child is a personal one. Jana Miller said she will continue to use an AirTag to make sure her sons get home safely every day.
"When your children are living at home, they're your responsibility. I think it's a good thing to do, and a responsible thing to do," said Miller.