Apps And Services To Monitor Your Child

In the days before the advent of the mobile phone, imposing curfew times and having a chat about safety and propriety were the only options available for keeping kids out of trouble. The dramatic evolution of connected mobile devices has expanded not only a parent's reach, but also that natural aptitude for getting into trouble online.

One thing is certain — gadgets and mobile devices are a part of our everyday lives, and it is up to parents to teach young people how to be responsible users. It is also up to us to keep them safe from the dangers they may encounter through overuse of technology and access to the Internet. Many parents have also found that their kids are a step ahead of them when it comes to technology. Parents, however, can fall back on professional help from apps and services - both free and paid - for limiting gadget use and monitoring one's children.

Make your Android or iPhone device "childproof" by creating a sandbox of activities suitable for your toddler or preschooler. Famigo prevents ad clicks and purchases, blocking Internet access, calls, and texting, as well as automatically sorting through what's on your phone to show only kid-friendly material. The Plus subscription ($5 a month) sends $20 worth of apps, games and educational material deemed suitable for your toddler or child every month.

VideoMonster's staff have compiled an excellent collection of movies and videos for different age groups, from two years old to teenagers. VideoMonster allows you to choose a compilation or create your list for your kids. Best of all, VideoMonster blocks ads and links to undesirable sites, ensuring an uninterrupted and safe viewing experience. A built-in timer prevents your children from watching for too long, and you can download videos so that you don't need Internet access for viewing. The app runs on all iPads including first generation, iPad mini, iPod touch, and iPhones up to iPhone 5.

Ignore No More
Got a new teenager, or two or three? You can get your errant teen to respond to your calls and texts. Unless they call Mom or Dad for a four-digit code, favorite smartphone activities such as playing games, web browsing or looking at Facebook will remain blocked, while emergency phone calls to you or 911 are allowed. Ignore No More costs $5.99 per phone. While not a monitoring device, this app can help emphasize the importance of checking in on Mom and Dad periodically throughout the day, as well as limit unnecessary time children spend on their mobile devices.

MobSafety Ranger Browser
A free app that limits internet use to the times you want to allow it, while "whitelisting" (allowing) or "blacklisting" (blocking) specific sites. MobSafety Ranger Browser also allows you to see a device's browsing history. It does not offer the comprehensive features one finds in other paid services, but it's a good starting option.

This app could help form good "device habits." OurPact gives parents the ability to control access to the Internet and apps by blocking according to the schedule set by the parent, as well as allowing parents to remotely manage apps and browsing, from anywhere and at any time. This app helps establish regular schedules of school hours, study time, meal times, and bedtime. You can block Facebook, SnapChat, Twitter and the like, although this is not truly a monitoring or filtering system. This "guidance-based" management solution introduces responsible device ownership and ensures mindful online behavior. Premier subscription is $1.99 a month.

Teenagers don't like to account for his or her whereabouts, while that very issue is top of mind for parents of teens. A real-time location-sharing system for friends and family, Life360 removes the guesswork and shows the location of different circles of friends and family in real time (you can create as many circles or groups as you like). Additional features include seeing past locations, geofencing (you receive a notice when one of your kids has left the boundaries of school and home), checking whether the family's newest driver is speeding, and a mobile phone tracker. The latest feature in its Driver Protect option is a Crash Detection service that allows you to know if your child has been in a car accident, and can even dispatch emergency assistance to the location of the accident. BMW's test laboratory developed the software based on data analysis of real car crashes. The free version is very limited; to get the full benefits, you need to subscribe to Life360 Plus at $24.99 per year and Driver Protect at $69.99 per year.

Recent developments in TeenSafe allow a parent to monitor messages and activity on the go, no longer needing to log on to your TeenSafe account via desktop or laptop. You can check messages sent and received, including deleted texts and group text chats from your mobile phone. Other features include viewing your location, all saved contacts, web activity, and third-party activity such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Kik Messenger. In the age where cyberbullying can drive teens to suicide, apps like TeenSafe give parents a way to keep track.

Symantec Norton Family Premier
PC Magazine rated this as one of the top monitoring services alongside NetNanny and Qustodio. Although its settings are designed for Windows, Android and iOS devices, it offers limited iOS support. There is no limit to the number of children or devices, which make it ideal for large families. Flexible content filtering is easy when you create an individual profile. The software blocks content according to your child's age, which you can customize further if you wish. One can also limit time spent online per profile. A unique feature is a tracking device that gives a log of all the videos watched on YouTube or Hulu. Search topics can also be accessed. If a child wants to access a site you have blocked, he or she can send you a request to allow access, and you can decide whether to allow it or not. Parents can monitor online activity from a desktop or their mobile device.

Norton's free service is surprisingly good, with only the video monitoring capability accessible via Premier subscription which costs $49.99 per year.

ContentWatch Net Nanny
Another top pick by PC Magazine, Net Nanny protects users from pornography, online predators, cyberbullying, and other threats. NetNanny blocks undesired content while allowing access to the Internet. A dynamic filter scans each website to determine if it is acceptable based on your specifications. You can even mask profanity so that your child can read articles with protection from uncouth events in the comments section. A Family Pass that allows up to five devices costs $59.99, and for ten devices it costs $89.99 per year.

Qustodio is installed on your child's device, and you monitor activity via a simple dashboard on your device. The Premium version allows parents to track calls and read texts sent and received on the device, track location, filter Internet content in real time and block certain apps altogether. In an emergency, your child can press a Panic Button to call for help. The free version allows parents to monitor social network activity and set limits to time spent on games and specific apps. Qustodio Premium Parental Control was an Editor's Choice by PC Magazine in 2015. Plans start at $49.99 per year for five children or five devices.

Some parents may simply want to know where family members are at any given time. Others may not only want to filter internet content and block sites and apps but also to get alerts when certain words are sent to or sent by children. Most of the services reviewed in this article require agreement between parents and their children in the hopes of keeping communication lines open and building a healthy understanding of the limits, and what it means to behave responsibly online. These apps and services are tools for parents and should not take the place of healthy discussions on responsibility, whether online or in the real world.