Parents order GPS devices in droves after fatal kidnapping

On the day 9-year-old Gino van der Straeten’s body was found, children’s GPS watch sales rose across the Netherlands. Many parents are turning to these gadgets as a preventative measure against kidnapping, but experts cautioned RTL Nieuws that they are not a “holy grail.”

GPS watches allow parents to track their children, and often allow the children to make calls or send a distress signal in an emergency. Besides webshops reporting increased sales, Google searches also show a spike in interest toward the watches.

Experts said these watches can be a good precaution, but they are not guaranteed to save children from dangerous situations. After all, people who mean children harm would be unlikely to leave the watch on the child, experts point out.

“It’s especially important that you tell your children not to go with strangers,” parenting expert Krista Okma told RTL Nieuws. “And that they should walk away if something doesn’t feel right.”

And, although what happened to Gino is “every parent’s worst nightmare,” so-called “stranger danger” kidnappings are statistically rare, said Remco Pijpers of the Kennisnet foundation. Usually, perpetrators of abuse are acquaintances who might be trusted by the family –– and GPS watches would serve no purpose in this scenario.

“You know the location of your child and you think that he is in good hands there,” Pijpers said. “But a GPS watch is not going to tell you that abuse is taking place there.”

Putting a GPS watch on a child can also affect the relationship between parent and child. It is also important that older children feel trusted and don’t feel “spied on,” and to remember that technology can be used in positive and negative ways, Pijpers added. 

However, for Dominique Tempelaars of Rhoon, giving her 8-year-old daughter a GPS watch has increased her child’s sense of freedom. “She likes that she gets a watch,” Tempelaars told RTL Nieuws. “I think she’s too young for a cellphone, but she can call me with it. It’s a nice idea that I can reach her.”

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