Does this new technology create more harm than good?
Ronda Kaysen: Parents worried about sex offenders in their neighborhood can now download an application on their iPhone that tells them if any sex offenders are in a 10-mile radius. Nervous moms use the application to track sex offenders who encroach upon their every move, whether it's soccer practice or the grocery store or the gym.
"I am constantly worrying about the well-being of my family," Tracy Rodriguez, a Houston-based mom who uses the app several times daily, told CNN. "You can't be too careful."
The Offender Locator app is one of the 10 most popular iPhone apps, and it's been downloaded more than 1 million times.
Let's stop and think about that for a minute: More than 1 million people out there spend their time figuring out where sexual predators may lurk at any given minute. Is it me, or is this totally nuts?
I'd like to put stranger kidnapping in a bit of perspective, especially given all the recent hype about it. Kidnappings make up less than two percent of all violent crimes committed against children, according to the KlaasKids Foundation. Of the children who are snatched, 76 percent are taken by a parent or acquaintance, not by bogeymen like Phillip Garrido. This means of the few parents who endure the nightmare of a missing child, more than three quarters of them would not benefit at all from the Offender Locator.
So why are parents obsessively checking where every sex offender lives? Many of these people pose zero threat to our kids, since registries cast a wide net when registering offenders. People can end up on these registries for sexting, or having underage sex with a girlfriend, or urinating in public, or having sex in public -- things we don't necessarily condone, but also don't pose a threat to the safety and well-being of our kids.
It's not even clear how effective apps like this actually are. Public records can have errors, information can be outdated, court records can be expunged, addresses can change, and the threat of an offender can be unclear. "It's turning everyone into a police officer," Lillie Coney, associate director at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told CNN. "Is that the way society's resources should be used?"
What is clear is that these apps make people prisoners to their own fear. Rodriguez of Houston checks the app repeatedly throughout the day and alters her family's plans to steer clear of perceived threats from strangers. What message are we sending our children by doing this?
It seems to me that we're telling our kids that the world is not safe -- not school, not the soccer field, and not the front yard. I could see how that could make a child terribly anxious. I'm not sure how it would help him learn to make intelligent choices about his personal safety. Yes, we need to be vigilant with our kids and protect them from harm. But this seems to be veering into the terrain of paranoia.
|Ronda Kaysen is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, BusinessWeek.com, Architectural Record, Huffington Post, New York Observer and AM New York. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.|