OPINION | Life360 enables helicopter parenting of college students

Olivia Barnes, Contributing Columnist

(Will Embree)

Life360, created by Chris Hulls in 2008, is a communication app that allows families to track one another’s locations through their phones or in some cases, through their cars. The company states that they “simplify safety so families can live fully.”

However, controversy surrounding parental use of the app has some questioning if the service enables helicopter parents to track their kids to an unhealthy extreme, especially after kids leave for college.

The idea of Life360 came about in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and intended to allow families to “feel free of daily worry” so they can “explore, adventure, try new things, and trust themselves and one another.” 

Some of the app’s safety features include location history, current location alerts, SOS with emergency dispatch, crime reports, crash detection, individual driver reports, identification theft protection, credit monitoring, medical assistance, disaster response and so much more.

 On its surface, the app seems like an affordable, stress-free way to ease parent anxieties as it pertains to their children’s whereabouts. What parent wouldn’t want to take certain measures to ensure their child’s safety? 

However, the app has been heavily criticized for giving parents an outlet to digitally helicopter their children. Some children even say that Life360 has ruined their relationship with their parents. 

Teenagers have resorted to sharing tips with one another over TikTok to deceive the app’s tracking abilities. These hacks include turning off one’s wifi and data to freeze their location, connecting the app solely to their home computer and even warning parents that Life360 is really an app for hackers to access information. 

Teenagers all over the nation are going to great lengths to protect their privacy and outsmart an app designed for safety and trust between family members.

College students have voiced their concerns about the lack of freedom they feel when their phones are constantly being monitored away from home. A 20-year old who attends university  far from her hometown claims her dad “threatened to cut her off if she doesn’t use [Life360].” 

Another college student discussed how “Life360 was extending a troubled childhood with controlling parents” and that “her parents insist she has Life360 turned on at all times at college as a condition of paying for her to go.”

Life360 has become notorious for giving controlling parents a platform to micromanage their children well into adulthood. The app, originally designed to implement trust and safety into the lives of busy families, has caused teenagers — and in some cases, older children — to feel trapped by the watchful eye of their helicopter parents. 

However, although the app may be used indecently by countless parents around the globe, is Life360 itself to blame, or does it simply provide an outlet for insecure relationships between individual family units?

The fact of the matter is that not all parents use Life360 to get their kids in trouble, relentlessly spy on them or threaten their education. One sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says that “because [her] parents don’t track [her] with the intention of micromanaging [her], but for safety, [she doesn’t] mind it.” 

As a sophomore in college myself whose parents track me on Life360, I can attest to this statement. Life360, in my household, is solely used for safety purposes. As my mom likes to say, “sometimes it just makes me feel good to see that you’re safe in your dorm.”

It is safe to say that most people can agree the initial goals of Life360 are unproblematic. However, it is also safe to say that “in the hands of an abusive parent, a tracking app like Life360 may have serious implications for a child’s interpersonal adjustment.”

Is Life360 inherently bad? Most would likely doubt that an app itself is responsible for user misuse. In certain households in which parents are overcontrolling, Life360 can have detrimental effects on child-parent relationships which may extend into college, when students naturally seek more independence.

The app either allows children and parents to garner trust in one another, or the opposite. Like many aspects of this world, well-intended innovations can have adverse effects when they fall into the wrong hands.