For those of us here in the US (with those of you in the UK and Europe close behind), its the school summer holidays. Weeks of freedom, beckoning seductively to our kids, while parents spend our time ferrying and tracking our adventurous offspring. As the parent of a 14 year old girl who rarely spends a day at home, I’m struggling to keep track of where she is, where she’s going and where I need to be to pick her up. And while technology can’t replace common sense and parenting instincts when it comes to their extra curricular life, there are some brilliant apps and hacks that let us keep tabs on our kids without requiring MI5 training and a fake moustache.

1. iPhone Messaging: Share my location

I discovered this incredibly useful feature quite by accident, and have been inundating my nearest and dearest ever since. Simply put, it’s the ability within the iPhone messaging app to share your location via a live map – meaning that the recipient can not only see where you are, but also get directions by clicking on the image. So, if you have ever been sitting alone in a cafe while your best friend from college wandered the neighborhood in search of you, or regularly lose your car in town, this is the one for you. Start a message, and click on ‘details’ in the top right hand corner, then share your location. It will send an immediate message and map, which you can refer back to when you need to retrace your steps.

It works brilliantly for letting kids know where you have left the car, showing friends and family where there is fun to be had, or notifying the world that you have indeed climbed Mt Kilimajaro. I’ll be using it to create our own version of geocaching this Christmas, so if you happen to be in Golden Gate park on Christmas Eve, let me know…

5 Best Location, Navigation and Tracking Apps for expat Parenting Independent Kids2. Life 360: Navigating Family and Friends 

Life 360 is a great location app that lets you organize the different people in your life into circles which you can then track locations and message to each group individually. It’s great for notifying you when the kids get home (because when do kids ever remember??), when your group have all arrived at the beach, or when you need to notify a group of a change in plans. It has a one-tap check-in button, a private messaging function and the ability to send an alert out to the entire circle at the push of a button.

It’s a more interactive version of the Find my iPhone strategy that many parents sneakily rely on, but for me, the simplicity it brings to checking in or getting help is huge. I once pressed the ‘alert’ button out of sheer curiosity, and was promptly inundated with calls and texts to check that I was ok.

I wish this app had been around when we lived in Nairobi, where the less developed infrastructure, frequent road closures and sometime security issues meant we relied heavily on each other when things got sticky. Being able to check where people were, contact them easily and know they could shout for help if they needed would have been brilliant.

3. Waze: Tracking Journeys and Arrival Times

For those of you who have teenage drivers, get them to download Waze. It’s a social navigation app, meaning that the drive times are based on actual Waze users rather than speed limits, and hazards, accidents and traffic conditions can be reported and shared easily.

However, it’s not the navigation part (however wonderful that might be) that really floats my parenting boat – it’s the ability to send an estimated arrival time to anyone at the start of a journey, and know that if you hit traffic, Waze will send that person an update. It stops the pressure to let mom know when you are going to be home – or have to answer those worried texts. Recipients can track the progress of their teen on the Waze app, so you can see if they are on route and where they are at any given time.

It works just as well for passengers, meaning that your child can send the ETA from their seat on the school bus, and you know exactly when you need to be at the pickup point, without constant texting, or sitting in car parks at 4am. Bliss.

4. Find My iPhone: Tracking and Training…

Parenting at its most brutal. I find it hilarious, the number of kids who have been busted by the Find My iPhone function (and yes, it works on other devices too), but the bit I really love is when parents get really serious and engage the ‘Lost phone’ function – tracking not just the location now, but where it has been… You can even lock the phone/laptop/desktop down and display a message (perfect for when they are local but unresponsive to calls for dinner / laundry / visiting Grandma), but my absolute favorite is the ‘play sound’ feature. Designed to be loud enough to be heard when it’s lost in the house, it is devilishly effective (i.e. loud) in letting your kids know that they need to report in. Now.

5. The Lassy Project: Empowering Your Parenting Networks When Kids Go AWOL

If you have children who walk to school or follow regular routes independently, the Lassy Project App is for you. It’s advertised as “the free service that gives parents and guardians the ability to notify an entire local community about their missing loved one in seconds.” The good news is that you can control the ‘community’ that is notified, the level of alert and most notably, send an image to your trusted networks.

5 Best Location, Navigation and Tracking Apps for Parenting expat KidsAs someone who believes that we have a shared community responsibility to safeguard children, I love this app. It’s a low key version of the Amber alert – but allows you to let friends and family know that your kid has wandered off track, without having to start a full scale panic. For those of us whose children are *ahem* ‘free spirits’, and can frequently be located in a neighbors backyard, it’s a Godsend. Previously, we would have had to contact neighbors, friends and family individually to track them down, losing valuable time if something is genuinely wrong: now the Lassy app does the calling for you.

To be clear; it doesn’t replace notifying the police if your child has gone missing, but instead provides an extra layer of help from those around the community who you know and trust. It can be a brilliant tool for groups of parents on field trips, for school walk or cycle trains or in neighborhood parks and recreation areas. If you want to see it in action, check out the video here.