- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2005

CHICAGO (AP) — In this case, it isn’t Big Brother who’s watching — it’s Big Mother or Big Father.

Increasingly, parents are using high-tech methods to track everything from where their children are and how far they are driving to what they buy, what they eat and whether they have shown up for class.

Often, the gadget involved is a simple cell phone that transmits location data. The details get delivered by e-mail, cell phone text message or the Web.

Other times, the tech tool is a card like a debit card used at a school lunch counter, or a device that lets parents know not only how far and fast their child is driving, but also whether he or she has been braking too hard or making jackrabbit starts.

Ted Schmidt, of suburban Burr Ridge, Ill., uses the cell phone method to track his four children, including two in college.

“Here’s the story,” Mr. Schmidt told them when he decided to begin tracking them about a year ago. “Twenty-four/seven, I can tell where your phone is, what speed [your car is] going. … So [even] days later, I can look and see that ‘Oh my gosh, you were going 80 miles an hour on the interstate at 2 o’clock in the morning.’”

It might sound invasive, but Mr. Schmidt is convinced that it is keeping his children safer — partly because they know they are being watched.

His 15-year-old son, Noah, who has been caught a few places he wasn’t supposed to be, thinks it gives parents too much control.

The Schmidts use a service called Teen Arrive Alive, one of a few companies that work with Nextel wireless phones and a tracking service from ULocate Communications Inc.

Other devices that track on-the-go youngsters include the Wherifone, a specialized locator phone that uses the Global Positioning System, and the CarChip, a device about the size of two 9-volt batteries stacked together that, when installed in a vehicle, monitors speed, distance and driving habits.

Interest in the United States is growing quickly, as it has in countries such as Canada and Britain. Teen Arrive Alive, which began offering its tracking service in May 2004, has subscribers in every state and is particularly popular in the South and the East, company officials say.

These days, its one-way technology is helping parents monitor their children.

Georgia-based Mealpay.com began two years ago as a way for parents to electronically prepay school lunches. Now — at the request of some parents — the service allows them to monitor what their youngsters order in the cafeteria.

“Spying on kids is not the motive,” says Teen Arrive Alive spokesman Jack Church, who lost a teenage son in a car crash. “To me, as a parent, this is peace of mind. It’s saying, ‘I want you to stay alive to see your graduation.’”

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