Experts say baby monitors can provide a useful early warning if something is amiss, but caution that they should never substitute for adult supervision.
Parents are warned not to rely on monitors to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and they should be sure that the monitors’ electrical cords are kept away from cribs. Earlier this year, about 1.7 million Summer Infant video monitors were recalled after being linked to the strangulation deaths of two infants.
Of the roughly 800,000 children reported missing in the U.S. each year, the vast majority are runaways or were abducted by a parent. But there are enough kidnappings by strangers _ including a few each year that make national news _ to fuel a large, evolving market for products catering to apprehensive parents.
The devices range from clip-on alarms to GPS locators that can be put in a backpack or stuffed in a doll, but they have limited range and can raise safety concerns of their own.
Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, says the devices can be helpful in some circumstances but worries about overreliance on them.
“Some of them encourage parents, perhaps unwittingly, to forget their basic responsibilities,” he said. “There are parents who think they can depend on the technology, not on themselves.”
He recounted the case of one little girl who activated her wristband alarm when she was abducted. The abductor cut off the device, left it behind and later killed the girl.
Allen said the child might have been better off yelling for help, rather than focusing on the alarm.
“Some of the new technology is extraordinary,” Allen said. “But these shouldn’t be used as substitutes for good old-fashioned parenting.”
Generally, the gadgets are in two parts _ a main device carried by the parent and a small alarm attached to the child. If a child vanishes, the parent can activate the alarm.
Other gadgets use GPS technology, relying on satellite signals, that allows parents using a Web browser to track the location of an enabled device such as a cell phone.
One company, BrickHouse Security, offers a GPS child locater for $200 that functions as a digital watch and can be locked into the child’s wrist. If forcibly removed, an alert is sent to the parent’s cell phone and email.
Some anxious parents wonder if a satellite-enabled tracking device could be implanted in their child _ a technology now expanding in Mexico among people rattled by a kidnapping epidemic there. But Allen says such implantation, for children, could have grim consequences _ a child who ran away from home or a noncustodial parent who abducted a child might make a grisly attempt to extract the device.