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Annie's Mailbox

Ask Amy column

Q. I have two girls in the seventh and ninth grades. I love them dearly and often worry about their whereabouts. I would like to install one of those GPS location tracking programs on their cellphones, but my wife says that it is deceitful to do it without telling them. Telling them would probably compromise the technology. My wife would rather believe them and trust their explanation. I don’t see “trust” as being the issue if they don’t come home one night.

I would like to know where they are instead of relying upon where they say they are. So what do you advise on the electronic monitoring of minor children?

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A. I am completely, totally, and utterly opposed to installing tracking or monitoring technology on kids’ devices without their knowledge. This sort of tracking device can create unintended and dangerous consequences. For instance, let’s imagine the worst happens and your child is abducted. This tracking technology can easily be used to throw anyone searching off course, wasting valuable time.

Most important, it creates the dangerous illusion and a false sense of security that you can use technology in place of teaching values and instead of doing the hard parenting work of trusting and verifying.

You cannot use technology to mitigate the work (or risks) of parenting. Your kids need to believe that you expect them to be truthful, and if they are not you will find out and they will bear the consequences.

You should confirm their whereabouts the old-fashioned way — by getting to know their friends, calling other parents to verify plans, and by driving them from place to place and occasionally showing up early.

For a professional perspective on issues of trust, safety, and security, read security expert Gavin de Becker’s important book, “Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane)” (Dell). I once interviewed de Becker on the topic of tracking devices for kids and he stressed that these devices help suppress the greatest safety tool: our instincts.

Q. I’m stressed about Christmas and it isn’t even Thanksgiving! We have a large family and extended family. We have invited everyone over to our house on Christmas Day for dinner.

We love having them for dinner — our house is packed to the limit — but we feel weird having them sit around while we open our gifts to one another. Shouldn’t they leave when we start opening our gifts? And shouldn’t they contribute to the meal? None of them do.

Can you give me some direction, please?

A. It is quite awkward — and a little rude — to perform your gift exchange and open gifts in front of guests (unless you are at a bridal or baby shower).

The answer seems obvious: You should schedule your large family dinner to happen after, not before, your gift exchange. That way you won’t feel compelled to kick people out of your house in order to rip into your own presents.

If your Christmas Day schedule is too crazy to fit everything in, you might want to have a mellower gift exchange with your immediate family on Christmas Eve.

Your holiday guests might not know what to contribute to a holiday meal. If you want them to pitch in, you’ll have to give them some direction. Ask for something easy to prepare and transport and trust that your guests will do their best.

Send questions via e-mail to or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.

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