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Equipping toddlers with GPS: Safe or lazy?

Alyn Stafford/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Those pesky toddlers - they sure can run fast on pudgy little legs. Now, daycares in Sweden are testing out a new way to keep tabs on them during outings: vests equipped with GPS.

Yes, the same technology that tells you to steer your car into that dodgy cul-de-sac is being relied on to prevent missing children.

The Associated Press reports that some parents are worried day care centres will use the technology to replace staff and others are concerned about the broader implications to the increased surveillance.

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Certainly, GPS is already being used on kids - many of them delinquent. In Florida earlier this year, GPS was being piloted as a way to keep track of, and presumably motivate kids who habitually play hooky.

The GPS vests in the Swedish daycares appear to be akin to early warning systems, alerting childcare workers when a child has breached a given perimeter. In one centre, the GPS vests are characterized as "extra security" by three preschool teachers watching around 20 children, to quickly discover if one of them strays away from the group during walks in the forest, Monica Blank-Hedqvist, the principal, told The Associated Press.

"It is excellent, it has been only positive for us," Ms. Blank-Hedqvist said.

It's hard not to picture teachers looking at GPS screens instead of the children - which in turn could increase the likelihood that a child strays, unnoticed. And then, the GPS comes in handy to fix things.

Blogger Monica Bielanko frames the paradox another way: "On the one hand, if something did happen to a child, well then, hey. You can track them. On the other hand, is a GPS device an excuse to not watch the children as thoroughly?"

The news might resonate with parents of three toddlers who left a Markham daycare centre's playground, crossed a busy parking lot and were found in a nearby drugstore earlier this month, according to this account in the Toronto Star.

In that case, the kids would have to have been wearing GPS devices even when they weren't off centre grounds.

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But as our reliance on GPS devices grows, where do we draw the line? Will children soon just be a computer click away?

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