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Crowd safety: kid tats, GPS

Parents who fear getting separated from their children at amusement parks, beaches and other vacation spots are turning more often to new high- and low-tech safety devices.

GPS tracking devices with wander alerts emit beeps or vibrations when a child strays too far. Digital watches and apparel have high-decibel alarms. And there's the SafetyTat, a waterproof tattoo created by a Baltimore-area mom who wanted to attach her phone number to her child; a half-million have been sold.

LOSING TRACK

According to the Center to Prevent Lost Children:
  • 90 percent of families will momentarily lose track of a child in a public place
  • 20 percent have lost a child more than once
  • 45 percent of the children become separated from parents in malls and stores
  • 27 percent in get separated from parents at amusement parks

Most are reunited with their families within minutes.

But even as these products allow adults to breathe more easily, experts caution that they shouldn't replace parental monitoring -- and common sense.

"Obviously it's another layer of protection, but nothing takes the place of supervising kids,'' said Debra Holtzman, a Florida-based safety expert, herself a mother of two and author of the new book The Safe Baby: A Do It Yourself Guide To Home Safety and Healthy Living. She added, "The most important thing is keeping an eye on them at all times.''

But often parents believe they can rely upon monitoring devices more than they should, said Alyssa Dver, executive director of the Center to Prevent Lost Children.

Six years ago, she launched Wander Wear, clip-on tags for kids on which parents can write their cell-phone numbers. She was surprised to hear how often parents let their guards down once they began using the tags.

"I found parents who would stick the tag on their kids and say, 'Everything's cool,' '' she said. "I say this: You might install LoJack on your car, but you don't then leave it in an unsafe place with the doors open. The reality is that the parent, the caregiver and the child need to know what to do'' if a child and parent are separated, she said.

Michele Welsh of Phoenix, Md., wrote her cellphone number on her kids' wrists in marker on a visit to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania. After parents at the park marveled at her idea, she invented SafetyTat, a temporary tattoo on which parents can write their cellphone numbers. The tattoo is waterproof and lasts up to two weeks. She has sold 500,000 SafetyTats.

Some child-safety items are designed to be hidden until activated.

The AmberWatch child alarm is made for digital watches and backpacks. When activated, it emits a 110-decibel alarm that can be heard 400 yards away. The digital watches sell for about $30, while the backpack sells for about $35.

Safety 1st offers a Keep Child Close Tracker, a two-unit set (one for parent, one for child) that alerts the parent when a child wanders out of 80-foot range; it sells for about $25.

Hand-held GPS devices, meanwhile, allow parents to track a child's whereabouts on a digital display screen with a press of a button. Some allow children to activate distress signals as well. The devices sell for about $250.


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