I used to judge parents who strapped leashes to their children. Can’t they handle their kids without treating them like some kind of animal?
Then I wandered around the zoo with one hooked to my nephew — via an adorable backpack; I’m not a monster — and wondered why anyone would choose to go without a leash. They’re wonderful. They make it easier to keep an eye on flighty children, offer more than enough leeway to ensure that the kid doesn’t feel trapped, and make trips that much easier.
This was on my mind when I saw that AT&T and Filip Technology announced FiLIP, a new smartwatch made for parents and children. The device, which is available in a variety of colors, allows parents to call or text their kids, view their location, and receive notifications when they leave designated “safezones.” Children can use FiLIP to make calls, but only to five pre-determined numbers.
FiLIP has already been called an electronic leash that “takes helicopter parenting to an excessive level.” Humans have survived for millennia without strapping location-aware devices to children’s wrists — why can’t these goddamn millennials handle their kids without some gadget?
From where I sit, though, FiLIP seems like the first smartwatch to make sense for the mass market. It doesn’t try to do everything a smartphone does like the Samsung Galaxy Gear, a smartwatch so off-putting that I dubbed it a “disservice to the word ‘smart.’” It doesn’t rely on other devices like the Pebble smartwatch or other products that serve mostly as glorified notification systems. It’s a simple product meant to serve a simple function: helping parents make sure their kids are safe.
And I would rather offer my nephew (or, eventually, my own kids) a smartwatch that I can use to monitor his location or contact him in an emergency than hand him a smartphone. Teaching him how to be responsible with a device like FiLIP seems like a good first step towards teaching him responsibility with other devices and, hopefully, preventing technology from ruining his brain.
Leashes, electronic or otherwise, are simply another tool in a parent’s arsenal. They make life a little easier. Anyone who would begrudge a parent that is either blissfully unaware of the challenges associated with raising a tiny human seemingly hell-bent on ending its own life or bitter because they didn’t have such tools available when they were raising their own kids. Trust me — I’ve been there.