Grandparents will tell you of their younger days when the kids were allowed to roam free, play on abandoned construction sites, ride their tricycles down motorways and generally remain unobserved for hours, only to reappear in time for dinner with their mum and dad having no idea where they’d been.
Whilst this era of innocence and potentially fatal injury seems romantic, things are different today. Now, you can monitor where your children are going thanks to their smartphones and some special apps or gadgets. Here’s our selection of the best tools for tracking a child’s whereabouts.
One of the most popular tracking apps is Life360. This is available on Android and iOS, with a free tier that can show you not only the location of your child, but everyone in your family. Life360 allows you to organise people into Circles, which are essentially groups. The map displays where all the people are at all times.
You can have up to a recommended maximum of 10 people in a group, each of which have to have the app installed on their phone for the tracking to work, and multiple Circles that you can switch between.
Alongside the current location, you can also set specific areas as favourite places. So, when your child gets to school or their best friend’s house you’re immediately notified. The free tier allows two places, while the Premium version has no limits. There are also additional features such as instant directions to the person’s location (so you can go and pick them up), a battery monitor to see how much charge is left on everyone’s phones, a silent Help signal which alerts all circle members that the person is in trouble and shows where they are, plus the ability to set Custom Zones, so you’ll be alerted if your child, for example, leaves the park without your permission.
US users have additional tiers that include travel assistance to deal with lost luggage and translators, plus medical support that features a 24-hour nurse helpline and other benefits.
If you want a free and easy way to keep up with where your kids are going, Google Maps has a built-in feature you probably don't know about that allows people to share their location with others for an hour or indefinitely. It all works within the Google Maps app, so there’s no need to add any additional software or pay any fees.
As it's not like the other dedicated apps here it may not be something you'd want to rely on and a tech-savvy child could easily revoke permission for sharing their location (which, admittedly, applies to some of the other options here).
Take a look at our guide on how to share your location on Google Maps for a step-by-step tutorial on using this handy feature.
Apple Find My
Apple has its own alternative to Google Maps location sharing, albeit one that is limited to iPhones and other Apple products, so it's only an option if both parents and child have iPhones.
What was once Find My Friends is now Find My as it also encompasses Find My iPhone. The app comes preinstalled on iPhones and uses GPS to track their location and display them on Apple Maps.
Aside from the location of your children, it can also help you find your iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch or AirPods by getting them to make a loud noise, enabling you to find them when they slip down the back of the sofa.
To see exactly how it all works and the best way to set up the app, take a look at how to use Find My iPhone.
Find My Kids
As the name suggests, this app will track your child’s location and report back to the app on your phone, so you know where they are at all times. You can set specific locations, such as school, and be notified when they’ve arrived there, plus it records the route they took, allowing you to know if they take any unwanted detours along the way.
Find My Kids has an interesting feature for Android phones, where the parent can remotely turn on the microphone and hear what’s going on around their child. While this might seem a bit creepy, it could be a valuable tool if you fear that they have fallen in with a bad crowd or are being bullied when out and about. Or simply if they don't respond to messages and calls.
For worst case scenarios, there’s also an alert button so the child can instantly send a distress signal which not only lets you know they are in danger, but also shows their precise location and records the sounds around them.
The app is compatible with Android and iPhone, plus it also works with a wide variety of GPS child-tracker watches.
Vodaphone Curve GPS Tracker
If your child doesn’t have a smartphone then you can always use one of Vodaphone’s new Curve GPS-Trackers instead. The circular device was recently launched in the UK and can be used as a keyring or attached to a bag, allowing you to know the location of your child.
The Curve has a waterproof rating of IP67, so it will survive a quick dunk, and the seven-day battery charge also allows a greater life-span if your kid is having a sleep over or short break with school or family.
An accompanying smartphone app allows parents to set up zones, with automatic alerts if the Curve is detected leaving one. The device also features a ‘quick-alert’ button, so the child can send their current location to your phone with a message letting you know they need help.
In the UK you’ll be paying £20 ($26) up front for the device itself, with an additional £2 ($2.60) if you sign a 24-month contract or £3 ($3.90) for 12 months of the necessary SIM plan that comes with the Curve.
If you want to have additional features alongside general location tracking, take a look at our roundup of the best parental control software.