By Lenore Skenazy: Harry is a 19-year-old British student who plans to travel across Australia, Thailand and South Africa this season — with a GPS tracking device called the "Traakit" in his pocket.
Summer beckons, with its eternal promise of freedom.
Unless you are Harry Wilder.
Harry is a 19-year-old British student who plans to travel across Australia, Thailand and South Africa this season ... with a GPS tracking device called the "Traakit" in his pocket. The Traakit will let his mom pinpoint his location to within 15 feet and see him as a dolt, excuse me, dot on a map. For geeks, let me explain that the system seems to use coordinates from four satellite readings, which get fed into a computer program that also allows his mom to phone or text him no matter where he wanders.
For non-geeks and those of us just wondering what this world is coming to, let me say that the mom, Rachel Wilder, is only doing this because she believes that her high-tech hovering will keep her son "safe."
As she told the Daily Mail, "I can tell which street he is in so I can make sure he doesn't wander into any dangerous areas."
Because I'm sure she knows every single street on three different continents, right? "Oh, he's heading up West Street in Eukebanai province, is he? Place gives me the creeps!"
But anyway, say she does somehow "see" him going someplace "dangerous." What can she do to "help"? Send a guided missile? Shake in her shoes? Pray?
She probably will do two out of three — at least until we get iPhone-detonated long-range missiles. (Please don't tell me there's an app for that.) But the fact is worrying from afar is still what it always has been: a great way to go gray without helping anyone one iota. It's like the old joke about the Jewish telegram (a joke I can tell because I am Jewish and fairly old myself): "Start worrying. Details to follow."
What's different is that with the Traakit, this mom can have the ILLUSION that she is keeping her child safe, which just happens to be the mass parental delusion of this century — that we can and should watch our kids every second of every day with whatever device we can afford (cell phones and nanny cams, anyone?) and that people who do not do this are putting their kids in dire peril.
That's a lot to ask of parents — 24-hour surveillance for, well, I guess the new standard is for 19 years.
The Traakit was invented by the boy's uncle. (See? I'm calling him a boy when he's 19 years old, probably because he still is tied firmly to his mom's GPS strings.) This may explain why Harry himself professes to find it not at all annoying — or infantilizing or babe-demagnetizing — to have his mom watching his every move (from his pocket!) even though he is old enough to fight for his country.
Or at least rent an R-rated movie.
Harry even defended the device by saying that his friend had died a few months earlier falling off a waterfall. As if the Traakit would have prevented that! Better his friend had been carrying a life preserver. Or rope! But the logic seems to be: If only that boy had stayed connected to his mother, he'd be alive today.
That's not GPS. That's magic.
Nothing wrong with magic, of course. I'd like some myself. I'd like it even more for my kids. But if Harry really wants to have a magical summer?
Time to give that Traakit to a nice, hungry dingo. (And run.)
Lenore Skenazy is a columnist at Advertising Age. She is the founder of FreeRangeKids.com and the author of the upcoming book "Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry."