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Should You Set Parental Controls on Devices?

We get many requests to address parental control apps in our social media classes. In fact, recently a friend of mine had asked me how to handle an incident she had with her 15 year old son. While confiscating his phone after getting in trouble, she saw that he had messaged every girl in his contact list on Snap Chat to "exchange nudes".

She was livid and needed advice on how to handle this!! She decided to delete the app off his device and take his phone away for a few weeks. During that time he downloaded the app on a different device and was accessing his account. 

This got me thinking A LOT! What do parents do in situations like this?  What would you do in a situation like this?  The question of how much monitoring should I do is a gray area for parents and we struggle with the right answer.  And really the right answer is, it depends.  That can be the frustrating part.  What I mean is ideally when a child gets a device (e.g. cell phone, tablet, laptop) parents need to consider their family values, beliefs, and rules for device use. I'd also recommend using a contract and having conversations (yes that is plural) with kids about how trust can be built and broken using their devices, establishing agreed upon consequences if rules are broken. Clearly communicate boundaries and expectations before there is a problem.

Now, if its after the fact and your child has done something that surprised or upset you, there are things to consider.  Like in the story above, many parents take away phone privileges and may consider increasing monitoring their child's devices.  A great book to consider reading written by researchers is Parental Monitoring of Adolescents: Current Perspectives for Researchers and Practitioners

Clear communication about your expectations is especially important. Research shows that teens who believe their parents disapprove of risky behaviors are less likely to choose those behaviors. In case you go the route of installing a monitoring app I thought I'd share and review a few in case you don't have the time to research them.

Parental Monitoring Apps
Below is in no way an exhaustive list, but just a few programs I am familiar with or have heard about.  If you have others you'd like to recommend that you have had success with, please share in the comments.

The first interesting app I came across was Forcefield. Parents can see all websites your kids visit from multiple devices and use blocking to protect your kids from objectionable sites. It features an App Report where you can see all apps on your kids' mobile devices, get alerts when new apps are added. App Sleeper allows parents to remotely turn apps off on your kids' mobile devices, or sleep them on a schedule. Give your kids access to over 400 curated premium websites and app recommendations. A photo report with copies of photos and videos your kids post and share on social networks. They even offer free setup help and a guided tour with a live technician for you non-techies out there!

Compatible Devices: Forcefield currently supports kids on Apple devices. Parents can use Forcefield from Apple, Android and Windows devices.

Cost: 30-day free trial. If you continue beyond 30 days, you will be charged $11.99/month which includes two parents, one child and all computers and mobile devices. Each additional child is $3.00/month.

Watch the video below for a preview.



True Motion
True Motion, formerly Canary, is another app (this one is free) worth noting for those of you who have teenage drivers in the house.  A quote from it's website, “Parents have always worried about their teens on the road, but texting, social media and other mobile apps make it even worse,” said TrueMotion CEO Vance Loiselle. “We can’t be in the car all the time with our kids, so TrueMotion Family is the next best thing. It will make parents feel better about their kids behind the wheel, help them become better drivers and increase safety for everyone on the road.” It includes features like a driver scoring, distracted driving detection, location awareness, on-demand road side assistance, and best of all family engagement.

What I liked most about this app is in engages the whole family to become safe and responsible drivers by tracking behaviors, scoring and ranking each driver and sharing the results to the whole family (or other group). This shows teens that parents are also willing to be accountable for their actions and lets face it, we ALL need to be safer behind the wheel. And it doesn't hurt to practice what we preach. 

Compatible Devices: I believe only iPhone

Cost: FREE - At least download and check it out!

Teen Safe
Teen Safe looks like an app a parent might use with young children getting their first cell phone. According to the TeenSafe website, "It helps you detect the hidden dangers lurking inside your child's smartphone. Whether your child uses an iPhone or Android device, TeenSafe can help you keep tabs on what they are doing, who they are talking to and where they are. Track your child’s location in real-time, view web history of your child's visited sites, SMS and iMessages, even those that have been deleted." 

It also features a pause button where you can block all phone functions except calls. Parents can set schedules for homework, dinner, even bedtime and make sure they are not always glued to their phone. They differentiate between monitoring and control and it seems they have programs for both.

Reviews of the app in the App Store are mixed.  Some parents reported errors and glitches with the app on their phones but many gave rave reviews about being able to still parent while their kids are online.

This program leaves very little privacy, actually none for kids. Perhaps for a first smart phone this is appropriate.

Compatible Devices: iPhone and Android

Cost: After a 7 day free trial, TeenSafe monitoring costs $14.95/month. Cancel anytime. The TeenSafe Control mobile app costs $9.99/month through the Apple App Store.


Norton Family Premier
This award winning app has features the whole family could benefit from but for kids it protects from unsafe content and guards against over sharing online. It also helps parents manage and balance kids’ time online and offline. With web-filtering, app-monitoring and location-tracking features, you'll have enough control to remind them to responsibly use their mobile devices. Families with several children — and even more mobile devices — will welcome Norton Family Premier, an excellent parental-control tool for phones. Norton makes it easy for parents to set up Web-content filters, locate their children and stay informed with weekly reports and email notifications of attempted misbehaviors. 

Compatible Devices: Android and Some features for iPhone

Cost: $39.99-$59.99/yr depending on the number of devices

UnGlue lets parents easily set limits to screen time on their kid's devices. This screen time management app invites your family to develop healthy relationships with technology. Transform your kids' screen behavior with a palette of innovative features that encourages time management responsibility covering social media, video, games, websites, adult content and apps.

I love that this is more than a parental control app. Empower your kids to learn better screen time habits by customizing chores so kids can earn more Entertainment time (you and your kids will love this). Create internet schedules, wake up and bed times and you can monitor game and website activity with usage reports for each device. You can even remotely turn the internet off to any one device or to all devices in your family with a single click!

Devices:  All that connect to the internet

Cost: Very limited Free features or $9.99/mo

Parent Wise
ParentWise is a software parenting tool that proactively helps parents keep pace with the ever-expanding ways children are using their mobile devices. Receive ALERTS If your child leaves a designated area, if your child enters an unwanted area, if your child is not where they should be, or if your child is moving at a high rate of speed.

MONITOR YOUR CHILD'S PHONE USAGE & APP ACTIVITY.  Receive ALERTS if your child's phone battery is low, if your child's phone is shutdown or unavailable, if your child downloads or removes apps, and review % of phone usage for texting, gaming, music, pictures, videos, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Etc.

MONITOR YOUR CHILD'S TEXT & CALL ACTIVITY. Receive ALERTS if your child is using their phone after-hours, see who your child is texting or calling, and review % of texts and calls broken down by person.

Devices: The ParentWise app currently works on Android smartphones and is coming soon for iOS smartphones. Parents can view information from ANY computer, tablet, or mobile device where an internet browser can be accessed.

Cost: Free trial and $10 for the first child + $5 for each additional child per month

To Sum it Up...
You have a ton of choices of programs to help depending on the amount of monitoring or control you wish to have.  Parental-control apps work best when they're part of a comprehensive approach to teaching your kids about behaving responsibly online. That means talking to your kids about what they should and shouldn't do with their mobile devices, clearly communicating how you expect them to act and making clear that you will be monitoring what they do with their phones.

Explain it is for their safety not to invade their privacy. Because you care and need to feel good about them managing the responsibilities entailed in having a personal device. Oh, and that they are not the only kid at their entire school who has restrictions. 

Kids need to feel trusted by their parents, especially as they enter into adolescences when wanting and needing privacy becomes part of their growth and development. Try looking for ways for them to earn trust with you and small freedoms. For some kids when things are too strict they may rebel. Some parents experience this after a child or teen makes a mistake and privileges and privacy are taken away. It's easy to get angry and not have a conversation about why this privilege was removed. This is key though. If you already have a contract you can refer to it for the agreed upon punishment. If you don't make one today!

As you are dealing with the roller coaster of emotions that go along with situations like lying about where they are, sexting, or using apps they are not allowed to use be careful to label the behavior as bad, not your kid is bad. We don't want kids thinking they are bad because when you are bad there is no sense in doing good things.  You may feel disappointed, scared, shocked, embarrassed, or even disgusted by a behavior. If you can't keep your cool, wait to discuss it with your child so you can respond and not react to the situation.  Call up a great friend or take some time to process what has happened to decide what to say or do next.

If you have any suggestions of other apps, programs, or tips on parental controls please share the wealth in the comments below or on social media.


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