We live in a dangerous world, of course. And child access to the Internet has made their world both smaller, more interesting, and even more dangerous. Tweens and teens who are vulnerable, impressionable, and prone to taking chances, are most at risk for dangerous consequences of Internet use. At the same time, parents need to begin to "let go" by this age, and provide some independence of action, so that kids can explore their world, make decisions, and often live by the consequences of those decisions. It's a scary time for parents who must find the balance between monitoring their kids' activities and yet not be seen as "stalkers."
Smart Phones, now in the hands of 80% of U.S. tweens and teens, enable kids to be online with friends and strangers 24-hours a day. But those very smart phones can also enable parents to have some control over their activities and their whereabouts, through the use of parenting apps. Here are five popular apps that parents are using. The descriptions entail all of the functions and features of these apps; however, parents can modify and select from among these features, depending upon their levels of trust and specific circumstances.
1. Family Orbit
A perfect name. You have a home base in the center, and family members are orbiting around that home base in many different directions.Family Orbit (iOS and Android) lets everyone keep track of everyone else in real time. Just select the family member and geo-locate them, day or night. But it is much more than a location-monitoring tool. Other features include:
Shared address books
Alerts so kids can let mom/dad know if they missed the bus, got in a car accident, will be delayed, etc. Same for parents to their kids.
Setting of geo-parameters for children, with alerts if they move outside of those
Monitor your kids calendar events and Internet data usage
Panic alerts if a child is in trouble
Location history for the past 30 days
Monitoring of teen driving behavior, especially speeding
This app is really an all-in-one package for families. While your teen may not love all of the features, s/he will appreciate its alert feature when an emergency arises. It goes a long way toward peace of mind for parents and provides a great level of security for kids too.
2. Surf Balance
This app is exactly what its name implies. Parents can limit, monitor, and verify where their kids have been online or are currently online. The app is available for both iOS and Android. Parents are able to do the following:
Parents can block sites that have words that indicate inappropriate content, and unlock those sites, as kids request and they determine that they are okay
Parents can track kids' use and receive email reports – those reports show where and how long kids are on what sites.
Parents can set time limits and block Internet access during certain times of the day or night.
This tool does not include geo-location or monitoring of kids' phone calls, emails, or texts. It is strictly for controlling and monitoring where kids go online, when they do so, and how long they stay where they do go.
There are certainly many other good apps for web controls, but this one has the added feature of time budgeting – a good skill for kids to learn.
3. Norton Family and Norton Family Premier
Here is an all-in-one app that lets parents choose from among a long list of safety and monitoring features. In addition to controlling and monitoring Internet use:
Parents can monitor social media platforms and posts, in fact, all of a kid's activity on social media
They can monitor ad read all text messages and emails that are sent and received
They can monitor all phone numbers going out and coming in
They can block calls, texts and emails from specific individuals
They can obtain a list of all YouTube videos, through regular emails
They can locate their kids' physical whereabouts and map their locations
They can obtain a listing of all apps their kids have downloaded and allows blocking of those apps
Kids cannot override any of these controls without a password, and this is one of just many apps that will put parents in charge, even rewarding and punishing via phones.
This app is obviously one of the most intrusive on the market. But the other side of that coin is that parents can pick and choose which controls and what monitoring they want to install. And Norton suggests strongly that parents explain to their kids exactly which features they are going to install. And, as kids demonstrate that they are maturing and becoming more trustworthy, features can be deleted.
4. Smart Ice4 Family
Family/parenting apps are not just for "spying." Many are designed for safety, and parents should have such an app installed on every family member's phone. One of the best on the market right now is Smart Ice4 Family.
Here are its many features:
If any family member has a medical condition, the app will contain critical information for ES and hospital personnel
The app contains information regarding insurance and information for emergency contacts.
Information may be recorded and accessed with just a tap.
Parents may record the information and include all sorts of detail about their kids' allergies, their doctors, and the preferred hospital to be used.
The app will store information on up to 8 family members
This is a lot of peace of mind for parents who teens are driving or out with other teen drivers. Especially during the first few years of driving, a majority of teens will be involved in at least one accident.
This is the most comprehensive Internet monitoring system on the market today. Again, however, parents can pick and choose among the many features, and it is recommended that kids are told exactly which features have been activated.
That is only fair – otherwise, it just becomes a parental CIA operation. In addition to controlling where and when Internet use occurs, this app will do the following:
Allows parents to view all posts on social media, texts, and emails, and even those that have been deleted.
Allows parents to access entire browsing histories
This app can be important in bullying situations, for example, when kids want to hide the fact that they are being bullied or are bullying themselves.
This is certainly not a comprehensive listing of all of the good apps out there for control and monitoring. Parents should decide exactly what they need to monitor, get the right app(s) for those controls, and definitely, inform their kids what and why they are using their chosen features.