The year I was fifteen, a seven-year-old girl in my brother’s class was bike riding with her friend when both girls were snatched by a stranger. The friend got away. Melissa’s body was found several days later. She had turned eight in the days she was missing.
The town Melissa and I called home was a small town—smaller than most suburban high schools. This made her disappearance possibly more difficult for everyone who knew her. Small towns are like family, and a tragedy to one is a tragedy to all.
It has been almost twenty-five years since Melissa’s disappearance and subsequent death. I now have three young children of my own. And every time one of them wants to take a new step toward independence—going to the park alone, staying home alone, and especially bike riding alone—I am briefly thrown back to 1985, when an innocent little girl lost her life for doing exactly what my child is begging me to do.
And now I am asked the question, “Would you use a GPS to track your child’s whereabouts?”
There are products that now exist, not futuristic, cost-prohibitive, science fiction inventions, but real, live products which cost about the same as an iPod or a plane ride to Florida, which can be hidden on your child and will track his whereabouts at all times. That means if a bad person takes your child, you will know where that bad person takes your child, and you can go and get him.
So am I going to run out tomorrow and buy three?
I just don’t know.
The fifteen-year-old in me, who still cries for Melissa and the life that was stolen from her, thinks YES! Yes, give me three trackers now, so I will always know my babies are safe. Take away that feeling of panic I feel when I turn around in Target and my son has run off, or the tightening in my stomach when my daughter wants to ride her bike to her friend’s house all by herself.
But another part of me says no. I don’t really know why. Partly because, as soon as these battery-sized objects become commonplace, they will be the first thing a predator looks for on their prey, making the whole effort irrelevant. But also partly because being able to track a person, any person, is a slippery slope. Once we track our children in order to keep them safe, where will we draw the line? Will we decide that it’s OK to track our husbands and wives? How about our parents with Alzheimer’s? Maybe we should implant a tracker in the sex offender who lives down the street. And if him, then what about the other felons? If we know where people are, we can know what they’re doing. We can make sure they aren’t doing anything wrong. Maybe we should just track everyone—then if a crime is committed, we’ll know exactly who is responsible.
My final answer is … I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about it since I first heard of this amazing little contraption, and I just don’t know. It scares me to consider this option – to crack open the door and let Big Brother have a glimpse. But the ghost of a seven-year-old girl keeps telling me that if this device existed in 1985, she’d be thirty years old now. She’d probably have her own children now, who would be begging her to go for a bike ride on their own.
And she’d let them.