Parenting has always had its challenges, but the challenges that parents face today are not the same as they were in the past. I’m talking about parental supervision on the internet. Whether it’s keeping them out of unsafe chat rooms, adult websites or just protecting them on social media, today’s parents face unique obstacles. Fortunately, there are tools to help.
Bark is a tool that can detect messages containing cyberbullying, sexting and even signs of depression and suicide. According to the website, Bark has their own exclusive technology:
- Intelligently analyzes your child’s social activity behind the scenes
- Sends you and your child an alert about possible issues (text/email)
- Provides recommended actions on how to deal with issues
- Doesn’t interfere with “safe behaviors.”
- Uses data science and machine learning, and are able to do more than just keyword scanning
Bark is a platform that connects fifteen different online accounts, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+, Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, YouTube, Vine, Pinterest, Tumblr, Apple and Android.
Bark is $9/month for each family.
Circle and Circle Go are both products that let parents track their kids’ activity on their devices, and even keep them protected on the go. Last November, Circle partnered with Disney to release the Circle with Disney product.
Circle with Disney allows parents to “manage screen time and filter content for every device in the home while also giving users access to digital entertainment from Disney.” Think of it as a parental control filter on the web, except that it’s a filter for all smartphone apps since it’s a system-level control.
Circle with Disney Features
- Time Limits: Set daily time limits on any app or content category. For example, parents can limit how much time kids spend on Facebook each day.
- Filter: Parents can set individual filters for each child. The device has four age-level presets and lets you further customize them.
- Insights: Want to know what your child does online? Circle with Disney allows you to see your child’s total time spent online and where they spent it.
- Pause The Internet: With this option, a parent can temporarily pause their home internet, and use it as a reward for finishing chores and/or homework.
- BedTime: This feature makes sure that when you tuck your children in at night, they’re not secretly using their phone or tablet. Set the bedtime, which devices to disconnect automatically from the network, and set a wake time when they will be automatically restored.
- Guest Devices: The device can recognize when a guest joins the network, perhaps your child’s friends.
- Block Ads: Circle with Disney will block ads on all devices.
The Circle with Disney device is $99 while Circle Go is $9.95/month. The regular Circle Home app is free.
- Block apps and manage limits: Restrict apps or block them entirely. Limit individual apps for any amount of time, and leave some apps free, such as educational apps.
- Schedule device use: Set a timetable that your child can use daily, and block their phone usage at school or at bedtime.
- Customize messages: Send your child a special text message reminding them about homework, chores, etc.
- Review stats: Get detail app usage reports to find out how much time your child spends using each app, and how many times your app limits have been reached.
- Set quarantine mode: Prevent your children from downloading apps that you haven’t reviewed and approved.
- Categorize apps: Automatically categorize apps by Music, Games, Social, Messengers, etc., and block an entire category.
mSpy is probably the ultimate in surveillance software, short of the NSA. It’s available for phones and computers and is marketed towards families and corporations alike. Maybe you want to monitor your employees to make sure they’re not stealing company secrets, or just track your teenager.
Features of mSpy for Phones
- Social Networks
- GPS Tracking
- Photos & Videos
- Internet Usage
- Calendar & Address Book
- Apps & Programs
- View Multimedia Files
- Remote Control
- Generate detailed reports
Features of mSpy for Computers
- User Activity
- Applications Use
- Web Mailer
- Installed Applications
- Browser History & Bookmarks
mSpy for smartphones ranges from $29.99-$84.99, depending on the software package.
PocketGuardian lets you monitor your child’s phone and online activities without being too intrusive. Parents will automatically receive an alert if the software detects bullying, sexting or explicit images, but you won’t actually see the content to verify, or even who it’s from. The app is “meant to spark a conversation.” The company has an online blog with resources like digital parenting, digital citizenship and internet resources.
PocketGuardian is $9.99-$12.99/month.
TrackKidz is an Android app with a bunch of features to track and monitor your child’s smartphone and internet activity.
- Safe browsing: block all browsers except the parents’ preferred browser
- Screen time management: set a maximum time for apps and total allowed time per day
- Family time: set block schedules for bedtime, school, dinner, etc.
- Bonus time and timeout: use bonus time as a way to reward your child’s good behavior, and use timeout as a form of punishment.
- Monitor usage: keep track of your child’s device usage, even when offline
- Geo-fence: set up a geo-fence and get alerted whenever your child enters or leaves the fence, e.g., your house
- GPS location: track your child’s location at all times
- Emergency message: this lets your child sent their parent an emergency notification in case of trouble
- Remote control: Remotely control your child’s device from your smartphone or tablet
- Child’s contacts: see who your child adds to his/her contact list
- Block unwanted apps: block any app you choose, and even if your child deletes the app and then reinstalls it, it will still remain blocked
- Phone-off alert: get a notification if your child’s phone is turned off
- Cyberbullying: find out if your child is cyberbullied
- Uninstall protection: make sure your child can’t uninstall the TracKidz app
- Track webpages: monitor the websites that your child visits
- Monitor new apps: see what apps your child downloads each week
- Find lost phone: find your child’s lost phone
Visr is an app billed as “the essential 21st-century parenting tool.” Unlike most of the other apps, Visr seems like more of a passive surveillance tool. It automatically tracks and notifies in over 23 categories, like bullying, drug usage, explicit content, violence, etc. The app will send the parent a notification if a category has been detected, and will keep everything else private in the meantime.
When you receive an alert, parents can tell Visr whether they want to see less or more of that type of alert. The company uses data science and machine learning to ensure that no human ever sees your child’s usage, only algorithms.
Visr has a blog with helpful articles like Advice From Our Fathers, 3 Commonly Asked Questions on Cyberbullying Answered (by a police detective), and more. The app is free to download, but the website says that in the future they plan to charge users $5/month.
It’s up to each parent to decide whether it’s ethical to monitor, a.k.a. spy on their children. These apps and services only go so far. The most important thing you can do is sit down with your child and teach them about proper internet safety, cyber bullying, etc.