How Location Tracking Apps Are Helping Anxious Teens
Anxiety in young people is rampant, which has led to a rise in location tracking, but in a twist, instead of parents pushing for it, kids are asking to be tracked.
Gen Z is now using family location-sharing apps in an effort to give them a sense of control and security at a time when scenes of war, the pandemic, and social media are all affecting their mental health.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, nearly 40% of young Australians aged 16 to 24 (more than 1 million people) have experienced some type of mental health disorder in the previous year, with anxiety disorders being the most common condition experienced by two in five young women and one in four young men.
The Life360 app alone has seen a spike in users, which now has 33 million monthly active users in the U.S. and 20 million more internationally, but still other tools are used to share location, such as Apple’s Find My, Google’s Family Link, Snapchat’s Snap Map and GPS-equipped smartwatches.
Using tracking apps is one way teens, and youngsters can feel slightly more in control in a world that can be chaotic.
After a 10-year-old girl was kidnapped and murdered in July 2020, Emery Littig’s biggest fear was being abducted.
The victim was from the same hometown as Emery, and after the kidnapping, she asked her parents to track her on Life360 like 1,500 other students at her school who said they used the app in a recent survey.
“If something happened to me, I think it would be useful for my parents to know my last location,” she says.
Emery said that the app notified her parents when she was in a car accident (she was fine), and when she asked to pick her up at a party where the 16-year-old felt uncomfortable, her parents didn’t need to ask for the address and were there in 20 minutes.
According to the U.S. Surgeon General, youth mental health has reached a crisis level, with the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now suggesting yearly anxiety screenings for children eight and older.
“Kids have so much access on so many different platforms to every ounce of news, whether it’s happening locally or across the world,” says Emery’s mom, Shelby Littig.
“To have news constantly in your face, on your phone and tablet and TV, would make anyone anxious.”
An educational psychologist, Michele Borba, who has written several books about kids and parenting and is a spokeswoman for Life360, says modern parenting habits like helicoptering, snowploughing, and bubble-wrapping kids could contribute to their anxiety.
Obviously, location tracking is not a magic bullet that will keep all kids from danger but it can be a lifeboat for anxious kids.
“It offers the psychological comfort of feeling connected,” says Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, an independent research organization.
“When you feel safer, you can relax and have a better time.”
Another Life360 user, Larken Hendricks, a 17-year-old high-school senior, started using the app when she started driving the winding roads near her home, but she also uses it when just hanging out in town where she goes to school at the University of Virginia.
“Being a young woman in a college town brings its own set of concerns,” she says.