While GPS trackers are often used to find your keys, navigate while driving, or relocate lost pets, parents can also use these devices to keep a virtual eye on their children. In 2020, is a GPS tracker for kids the new parenting norm? And just because the technology is available, should parents use it?
If you choose to use a GPS to track your kids, your obvious priority is safety. However, many child and privacy rights campaigners argue that parents should instead teach children to be able to cope with risk and danger.
At a time when constant location surveillance is the new norm for individuals, government organizations, and businesses, this consideration makes sense. But also consider that in 2017 alone there were 464,324 National Crime Information Center entries for missing children in the U.S.
Ultimately, whether or not you want to track your kids is completely up to you.
Should I use GPS trackers for kids?
While there is an obvious draw to trying to keep your child safe, there are also concerns with tracking your kids.
"A big concern is that it becomes normal for children to be tracked all of the time," says Pam Cowburn, communications director of the Open Rights Group. "Children have a right to privacy as much as anyone else. They need private spaces to be able to play and grow without feeling they are constantly watched."
In addition to the privacy concerns of tracking your children, it's worth noting that, like any information, it can fall into the wrong hands if you don't take steps to secure it.
Meanwhile, it's still not a parenting decision that most parents make. A Pew Research Center study from several years ago found that only 16 percent of parents reported using monitoring tools to track a teenager's location. The study was conducted during 2014 and 2015, which means that number almost certainly has risen, but still is not likely to be widespread.
Of course, trackers can be removed and children can still get lost even if they're wearing one. But for both peace of mind and convenience, many parents opt to track their kids. If you're thinking of joining them, take a look at our picks for the best GPS tracker for kids on the market today.
Best GPS trackers for kids 2020
Best non-wearable tracker: Jiobit
Cost: From $99.99, plus $8.99 monthly subscription
Jiobit's solution is small, smart, subtle, and secure with 256-bit SSL AES encryption. The tracking device itself measures a mere 50mm tall and weighs in at 18 grams. It offers two attachment options: A built-in loop that's perfect for tying to shoelaces or drawstrings and a secure loop that works for buttonholes, belt loops, tags, and straps. The Jiobit comes with a tidy charging dock, too. When fully charged, it provides a week's worth of juice. The companion app let's you see your child's location in real time, anywhere in the world, updating every 10 seconds.
Alternatively, you can employ Jiobit's geofencing tools. You can create geofences around specific locations and receive notification when the Jiobit leaves these places. Or, if you're out and about with your child, you can set up a "mobile fence" around your phone and get alerts if your little one moves outside a certain perimeter. One other neat trick the Jiobit system offers is adding trusted people to your "Care Team" so you can ensure that your child is with their Granny/nanny/Aunt when they should be.
Without a doubt, this is the best non-wearable GPS tracker for kids.
Best wearable tracker: XPLORA 2
Cost: $169.99, SIM-free
From a European market leader in the kid's smartwatch arena, The XPLORA 2 is a clever gadget that will help you track and keep in touch with your child. Up to two administrators can view the watch's real-time location and set up and get alerts when their child enters or leaves an area. You can also store up to 12 phone numbers in the watch for two-way calls and text messages.
The "SOS" button on the side of the watch means the child can activate an emergency call to a set number, if that call is not answered, the watch works its way through the list of numbers until someone is contacted. To keep it fun, kids can also use the watch as a fitness tracker and step counter. The XPLORA 2's real selling point, though, is its integration with Amazon Echo (the first kid's wearable watch phone to offer this) meaning parents can ask Alexa to provide the latest location of their child.
All of these features make this the best wearable GPS tracker for kids.
Second best non-wearable tracker: AngelSense
Cost: $99, plus $33.33, $39.99 or $52.99 monthly subscription (price varies depending on commitment)
AngelSense's Guardian GPS tracking solution is more expensive than other options, but the system is specifically designed for children with special needs. The tracker itself can be attached to clothing with a lockable mechanism—a bit like anti-shoplifting security tags—so the child can't remove the device. The accompanying app lets you see your child's location during the day in 30-second intervals and "listen in" to your child's current situation.
The app also offers two-way voice calling without the need for the child to answer the call. You can get text messages when your child arrives and departs from specific locations, an alert if they don't leave at the correct time, and the ability to SMS message a set group of numbers with a live view of your child's location. There is also an audible alarm that the parent can trigger to help locate the child hiding in a crowd.
Second best wearable tracker: Verizon GizmoWatch
Cost: $179.99, plus $5 monthly subscription for existing Verizon customers
LG's GizmoWatch is available on Verizon, and it's a super cool choice for connected kids. For one, it's a funky touchscreen smartwatch complete with a step-counting fitness tracker. But it's also got a waterproof watch face that's trackable in real-time via the associated GizmoHub app. You can create geofences and get alerts when your child crosses a boundary, or schedule a time for the Gizmo to automatically check your child's location. This device also offers the ability to enter up to 10 trusted contacts for two-way voice calls and messaging, which you can pre-program so your little one can get in touch quickly and easily.
Third best non-wearable tracker: Amber Alert GPS
Cost: $135, plus $19.99 activation fee, plus $15 monthly subscription
Free app available for iOS
A well-established brand in the kid monitoring market, Amber Alert's GPS device is a durable unit with an IPX6 certified enclosure that comes in a black, blue, or pink pouch. The pouch has a belt clip or you can choose to use the bundled lanyard. On the safety side of things, the Amber Alert GPS will send out GPS location updates every five minutes (or more frequently, if required). It can create geofences with associated email and text alerts and lets you listen in to the wearer's surroundings. In case of an emergency, it has an SOS button that can be set up to notify multiple contacts. The device's data plan includes 30 minutes a month of two-way voice calling.
Third best wearable tracker: Omate x nanoblock
Cost: From $149 with 6 months data, $69 annual subscription thereafter
Free app available for iOS
This quirky kids GPS tracker watch comes with a customizable wristband from Japanese toy maker Nanoblock. Available in white or black, the watch has a super fun "selfie" camera feature with a built-in photo gallery. There is also a pedometer and an alarm. Parents will appreciate the real-time GPS tracking via the companion app and the ability for the child to send an SOS alert message from the watch. As a fully functional watch phone, you get two-way video and voice calling. The watch comes with a magnetic USB charger that, when fully juiced, offers four days standby battery life.
Fourth best non-wearable tracker: Samsung SmartThings Tracker
Cost: $99.99 with a year's data, $5 monthly subscription for additional data
While it's not specifically aimed at the children's tracking market, Samsung's SmartThings Tracker is an option for parents that are happy to attach a device to their child's school bag. A small white plastic square, the tracker measures in at less than 5cm but offers four to five days of battery life from a single charge. With an IP68 water resistance rating, it's a practical waterproof solution.
Via the app, you'll have the ability to track in real time and set up geofences for arrival or departure alerts. It's especially handy for parents who want to know where exactly to collect their kids from—pressing the power button twice sends the device's real-time location to the app, or there's an SOS option for more urgent situations.
Fourth best wearable tracker: Lil Tracker
Cost: $89.99 SIM free
This GPS tracker watch is available in child-friendly blue, purple and black. An IP67 waterproof rating means it can get wet and is also protected from sand, dust, and dirt. With the iOS and Android apps, you can track your child on a map and create geofences with alerts when your child leaves an area. The SOS button can notify up to three phone numbers when held down for three seconds. As a fully functional phone capable of storing 15 preset numbers, you can make calls back and forth to and from the watch. But it's even cheaper to send "Voice Chats," recorded voice messages that are billed as data. Finally, the high-sensitivity mic lets you listen in to your child's surroundings at any time.
Fifth best non-wearable tracker: PocketFinder+ Personal Tracker
Cost: $159, plus $12.95 monthly subscription
The Pocketfinder is a compact and competent option with a rugged, waterproof design. With the iOS or Android app, you can see the tracker's location on a map. Unlike other tracking devices, you can also a download its 60-day location history. You can create alerts when the tracker enters or exits an unlimited amount of specific locations. The device's SOS button will send an emergency alert to multiple contacts when pressed. The device's "Track Mode" kicks in when the device is moving, sending location data at default two-minute intervals, but it can be set to refresh as quickly as every 10 seconds.
Sixth best non-wearable tracker: Girafus Guardian Angel
Cost: RRP $90 for the kit with two slave units
The Girafus Guardian Angel isn't actually a GPS tracker, but it's an alternative that worried parents can use in the home alongside a fully fledged tracker when out and about. It's ideal for children who are allowed to play outside but stick close to the home. The system is comprised of a base, a master tag, and up to four ladybug-shaped slave unit tags.
You can set up to three alarm distances. If the child wearing a slave unit goes past the invisible boundary, a 95-decibel alarm will sound on the master unit and the base's LED lights will indicate which direction the child moved. Alternatively, slave unit tags can send a panic alarm back to the base.
Bonus: Apple Watch GPS Tracking
The latest editions of Apple Watch have GPS tracking, and as the Verge notes, it has a Family Setup service that helps set up the watch for children. Besides being able to decide which apps are available on the watch, it has a function of using the GPS functionality to track a child's location.
While there can be data policy concerns with some companies making kid-friendly GPS trackers, Apple has a fairly strong reputation for data privacy, which could quell some of those concerns. If you have a spare Apple Watch lying around, it fits the criteria for one of the best GPS trackers for kids.
Editor's note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
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