Parents, You Need to Know About These Apps to Keep Your Kids Safe
In our potentially dangerous high-tech world, these parental control apps can be your child's bouncer, filter, GPS, and chaperone, for cyber safety now and down the line.
Before you go shopping at the App Store for apps to keep your kids and teens safe online, take a look at the built-in safety settings on your phones and devices, an important first step all parents should take, according to commonsensemedia.org, a nonprofit dedicated to keeping families safe while using the internet. One of the most important protections for children and teens using smartphones is to disable the location setting so that the apps your kid is using can’t track his or her location, which can be dangerous information in the wrong hands. Next you’ll want to review and approve any app purchases before your child downloads them. Be sure to read the privacy and sharing options for the app, making sure they don’t share data, which can include contacts stored on the phone. If your child uses social media apps such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, make sure that the privacy settings have been set as tightly as possible and that you’ve taken advantage of any parental controls that come built in. “Both Apple phones and Androids have an extensive set of parental controls that allow parents to have control over location services, to monitor apps being downloaded and deleted, and to disable in app purchases,” explains Augusta Nissly, program coordinator of the Good Digital Parenting program at the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI). “There are Wi-Fi routers available that have parental controls built in too.”
Zoodles, a browser for young kids age 3 and older, comes highly recommended by the commonsensemedia.org experts. It allows parents to restrict their child’s web surfing to only approved websites, and only to areas within those sites that parents have allowed in advance. There is a premium version of this app that allows parents to block ads and monitor the activity within the browser as well. The app can also be used to restrict and allow games and videos within the browser. Zoodles allows children the freedom to explore through educational games and activities that are both age-appropriate and controlled by parents. Parents using the premium feature are also given the ability to promote certain educational subjects for their children such as reading, math, or science.
KidsClick!, a site directory and search engine created and maintained by librarians, compiles informational sites for children. The librarians behind this site strive to include only pages that do not request personal information or payment. The site provides well-rounded access to information on all topics, even those deemed controversial. It offers the option for children to search for digital media such as videos, images, and sounds pertaining to their chosen topic. It also allows them to search the Dewey Decimal System to find topics and information. Common Sense Media lists the recommended age for this site as 8 and older. Nissly suggests that parents and children alike be aware of how to report inappropriate content to filtered sites. “Make sure children know how to report inappropriate content in apps and online sites. Review this process with your child.” Also make sure whenever possible that your child’s profile is set to private and is not public, and turn off location-based services, she adds. Though it’s valuable to understand how location-based services, because in some instances they’re useful, but in others they give out info you might not want others to know. A good rule is to turn off the location service until you determine that there’s a valid reason for your child to use it and that he or she understands how to use it safely.
For kids and teens who insist they need an email account, Zilladog is the answer. A browser that filters pornography, spam, and chat rooms, Zilladog also comes with a built-in email program that parents can control. Emails sent and received are carbon copied to parents, and a password-protected area provides parents with access to any blocked emails and contacts. Though this is a safe browser for children and teens, it does allow links to popular movies, ads, and games. Zillamail and Zillachat features both have profanity filters. Zillachat allows chat privileges only to those currently on the child’s buddy list that has been approved by parents. “Take the time to educate yourself on all devices, apps, and services that your child is using,” Nissly says. The FOSI website has a lot of great resources for parents. Parents can also search online to find information and videos describing how different programs work. “Talk to other parents and also ask your child to show you how to use certain programs,” Nissly adds. “This opens up a great opportunity for conversation.” She also advises parents to try out apps and online programs to make sure you understand how they work, how users are able to communicate with one another, and that as a parent you know the terms of service.
For parents who want as much access as possible to the cell phone activity of their teens, PhoneSheriff can provide incredible peace of mind. Sites such as TomsGuide.com and commonsensemedia.org recommend this computer program, which gives parents full control over and access to their teen’s cell phone activity. The program features the ability to track the location of the cell user, view all text messages and calls, as well as block texts and calls from specified contacts. It provides real-time GPS tracking, logs all photos taken with the phone, records internet history, displays all apps that have been downloaded on the device, and also logs imessages for viewing. PhoneSheriff also boasts the ability to “geofence” in your child, alerting parents when the phone is taken outside of a preset parameter. It filters websites and apps and can restrict the amount of time spent on a device. The program is compatible with iPhone and Android phones.
The teenage years are notoriously stressful for parents, so tech companies have come to the rescue with apps that help minimize the worrying. One such option is the TeenSafe computer program, which monitors and logs cell phone activity. Commonsensemedia.org lists this program as one for parents hoping to control and view their child’s online activity. It allows parents to view calls, texts, web history, phone location, as well as downloaded third party apps. Once installed, it also allows parents to view messages in the WhatsApp and KiK messenger apps. TeenSafe is compatible with iPhone and Android phones.
Some cell service carriers such at AT&T provide parental monitoring as additional options to their base packages. AT&T’s DriveMode provides parents of new drivers the comfort of knowing not only that their child is not texting or talking on their phone while driving, but also the speed of the vehicle. DriveMode silences text message alerts and automatically responds to those received while the app is in use. The app activates once a vehicle is in motion, and also texts parents to let them know if the app has been turned off. Verizon customers will find the FamilyBase option helpful in monitoring cell phone use. FamilyBase has an app for installation on both the parent and child’s phone, which allows parents to see apps downloaded on the child’s phone as well as contact lists. Parents are also able to set time limits for phone use as well as the acceptable hours that phone use is allowed. This prevents teens from suffering lack of sleep as a result of all night texting and talking sessions with friends without parent permission.
The best tool that parents have at their disposal for the protection of their children is always going to be open and honest communication. Letting children and teens know that you trust them, but that you’re also aware of the very real dangers lurking on social media and common appscan provide the balance families are looking for when working to maintain safety online. Augusta Nissly told Reader’s Digest about the importance of communication with children about internet safety: “It is important to remember that parental controls do not replace the need to have ongoing discussions about online safety and acceptable use and behavior with your children. We recommend that parents use the 7 Steps to Good Digital Parenting to lay the groundwork for healthy and safe technology use within the home.” The first step is to talk with your kids early and often, being open and honest about online safety. Most important, if your child tells you about something that made them feel uncomfortable online, don’t get upset—or you could discourage them from sharing next time. Instead, remain calm, listen, and let them know you’re here to help.