Raleigh parents test childrens' cellphone tracking apps
Posted February 25, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — When parents give their children cellphones, many are left wondering what the kids are texting, posting on social media, looking at online and downloading. But there are ways parents can track all of that information, even the things children delete.
Cyberparenting, or spying as some call it, has become easier thanks to web applications that allow parents to monitor their children’s online lives. WRAL News asked Marty and Kelly Hogan of Raleigh to try out some of the apps to see how their oldest children, Thomas, 14, and Tyler, 13, were using their cellphones.
“These are our oldest (children), so they’re kind of like our guinea pigs,” Kelly Hogan said. “You kind of want to protect them to a certain extent but also not shelter them. That’s the key.”
There's already a Hogan Family Electronic Devices Contract in effect. The kids can't download any apps without their parents' permission. Phones are subject to random checks, and they're docked in the parents' room at night. Unlike their friends, Thomas and Tyler do not have any social media profiles.
“I only have an email, so I feel a little left out,” Tyler said.
But there is texting, gaming and Internet surfing. The Hogans first tried a free trial of Parent Kit, an app that costs $24.99 for a six-month subscription. It allows parents to control and schedule access to features on their child’s phone from their own phone.
“The ability to say, after 10 o’clock at night, give it a break and it just cuts off access to everything … that was good,” Marty Hogan said.
Parents can also use the app to block apps, movies and music based on age ratings. The Hogans said that feature was a little too heavy-handed.
“Tommy’s 14, but it’s OK to play this war game even though it’s rated 17-plus,” Marty Hogan said. “I’ve made the decision that he can play that one. Parent Kit is not set up to be where you can be that selective.”
The Hogans also tried a free trial of Teen Safe, a web-based program that costs $14.95 a month. It tracks kids' texts, calls, web browsing and social media posts. Parents can even see what texts they deleted, but seeing the data can take hours to update because it requires an iCloud backup.
“It’s a great way to go back and review, to see what’s going on, but it’s not real-time information that it’s giving you,” Marty Hogan said.
“It’s almost overkill,” Kelly Hogan added. “In a way, I kind of feel guilty, you know, looking at everything. I just want to make sure that everything is OK, kind of a general glance and go on, and I do trust them.”
Parenting expert Toqui Kennedy says trust starts with laying out clear expectations. She suggests letting your child know if you are using apps to track their activity.
“You have to know your child,” Kennedy said. “If you child is demonstrating responsible behavior, you may want to monitor a little less. If you have a child who is unable to get enough sleep, grades are suffering, things of that nature, you want to heighten that monitoring.”
In the end, the Hogans said they aren't going to pay for apps to cyberparent. They'll stick with old-school parenting.
“I think just keeping an open dialogue and talking with them on a consistent basis about what’s going on and being available when they’re ready to talk,” Kelly Hogan said.