Apps to Monitor Your Child’s Online Activity
By Tracey Dowdy
As our kids grow and mature, we begin to give them more responsibility. Perhaps you’ll add folding laundry to their list of chores or clean the cat’s litter box. With greater responsibility comes greater privileges – maybe their first smartphone or tablet or perhaps an extra hour of screen time. Part of maturing is being given greater leeway in making decisions, and that includes their online activity.
Of course, it’s always wise to have a Family Technology Contract that you’ve worked together to create, and open, honest conversation is essential. However, sometimes, either as they’re starting out or as a consequence of poor choices, you may need to monitor the content your children are accessing.
These apps are a great resource for helping you set safe and reasonable boundaries, establish trust, and develop healthy online behavior.
PocketGuardian states their purpose is “NOT for spying on individuals! Its purpose is to help prevent the devastating consequences of Sexting and Cyberbullying!” That’s an important distinction to make clear to your child, otherwise your attempt at protection can feel punitive. PocketGuardian tracks content on your child’s social media and text messages and will text you an alert if questionable behavior is flagged. They don’t store your data or messages on their servers but will forward the questionable content to you in the alert. Its algorithms are intuitive, so they not only search for keywords, it “thinks.” Try it for 30 days for free – after that it’s $12.99 a month. (Available for Android and iPhone)
Similarly, bark uses algorithms to flag content that may mean risky behavior such as cyberbullying, sexting, drug-related content, and even signs of anxiety and depression. Should questionable content appear, bark immediately sends you a text alerting you to the issue and includes tips and suggestions for how to address the behavior. Signing up is easy, and you can link all your social media, text, and email accounts. Try it free for 30 days, and if you like it, it’s $9.99 a month or $99 a year. (Available for Android and iPhone)
TrackKidz is more comprehensive. It won’t flag and forward specific content like bark or PocketGuardian, but it will track any apps that are downloaded, allow you to blacklist apps or browsers and set time limits, see who your child is talking to, track locations and set a Geo Fence, and alert you if your child’s phone is turned off. Currently, it’s method for flagging cyberbullying is by alerting you if usage drops suddenly and for an unusual amount of time – a sign your child may be avoiding social media or text messages. You can block usage so you can finally enjoy that device-free dinner you’ve been dreaming about. Of course, that means you’ll need to turn off your phone too. Perhaps best of all, kids can send an emergency alert to parents by tapping 8-12 times on the power button on their phone. Parents can then tap on the message and immediately see their child’s location. TrackKidz is free. (Available for Android and iPhone)
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.