Big Mother is Watching You - Even on the School Bus

Filed under: In The News, Gadgets, Health & Safety: Big Kids, Health & Safety: Tweens

GPS on School bus with audio and video recording

The students of the Chippewa Elementary School are carrying tracking cards so officials are able to pinpoint exactly where and when they stepped aboard the school bus. Credit: Zbigniew Bzdak, Chicago Tribune / MCT


Santa Claus would love to score the surveillance gizmos some helicopter parents are hovering about with these days.

He may see you when you're sleeping. He may know when you're awake. But up until now, you could get on and off the school bus without showing up on anyone's radar.

Not anymore. Big Mother is watching you.

Parents in the Chicago suburb of Palos Heights know exactly when their kids get on and off the bus. The Chicago Tribune reports kids carry ID cards they must have scanned as they board.

A flash and a beep tells Mom and Dad the child is safely on the bus. Likewise, when the child arrives at school, another flash and beep assures parents he wasn't abducted by aliens en route.

Palos Heights is the second school district in Illinois to employ a little high-tech to reassure jittery parents.

"I felt it was a responsibility on our part to do what we can," Superintendent Kathleen Casey tells the Tribune.

The newspaper reports parents' jitters stem, in part, from an incident last year when a first-grader missed his stop. He remained on the bus as it passed his waiting grandmother. The child never left the bus, but for 20 minutes, school officials and family members were frantic.

"It's a terrifying experience," Casey tells the Tribune. "I wondered if this technology would give us the ability to identify, 'Did a child get on the bus? Did they get off? If they got off, did they get off at the right stop?' "

About 5 percent of the nation's 490,000 school buses use student tracking technology, according to the National Association for Pupil Transportation.

"It's absolutely growing, and I think exponentially," Executive Director Mike Martin tells the Tribune.

The Freeport School District in northern Illinois also uses the system. It costs about $16,000 for every 10 school buses.

It's worth it, therapist David Klow with the Family Institute at Northwestern University, tells the Tribune.

"If technological advances make the parent feel less anxious and more at ease, then I think that can help," he says. "Whatever it's going to take for the parent to feel relaxed, because the child feeds off the parent."

So the parent gets peace of mind. But are the children really better off?

A survey of college freshmen by researchers at the Association of Psychological Science Convention held in Boston last May concludes children of fretful, safety-obsessed parents tend to be dependent and neurotic.

"We have a person who is dependent, who is vulnerable, who is self-conscious, who is anxious, who is impulsive, not open to new actions or ideas," lead researcher Neil Montgomery, a psychologist at Keene State College in New Hampshire, told MSNBC at the time.

"Is that going to make a successful college student?" he asked. "No, not exactly. It's really a horrible story at the end of the day."

Related: Want to Win Custody? Become a Helicopter Parent

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.