New Online Parental Controls

July 11th, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

Apps and software let Mom and Dad play Big Brother. But should they?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

I have a friend whom I’ve noticed becomes Facebook friends with his 15-year-old daughter every couple of weeks or so. When I asked him why their relationship appears so erratic, he told me that it’s because he shuts down her account for (apparently frequent) chat sessions with boys that he deems inappropriate. They have a deal: She can use Facebook, but he has her password and checks up on her activity whenever he likes. When her penance for online misbehavior is done, they reactivate her account.

But according to The New York Times, plenty of parents are monitoring without their kids’ knowledge, and a burgeoning market of software now allows them to control, block, read and watch their kids’ activity online.

Parental anxiety in the digital age has “spawned a mini-industry,” the Times article states. “Because children are glued to smartphones, the technology can allow parents to track their physical whereabouts and even monitor their driving speed.”

A related sidebar gives these examples of new technologies: A new Apple mobile operating system called BubCap has a built-in tool that locks kids into one app, while applications like Mobiflock and SecuraFone turn off devices when kids are supposed to be sleeping and also disable cameras and keep them from downloading questionable apps. To monitor social networks regardless of where kids are logging in, watches who has befriended a child on Facebook. Some security companies, including F-Secure, K9, Norton and Trend Micro allow parents to block sites and/or track every site their child visits and every application they try to download.

A survey by the Pew Research Center conducted late last year found that two-thirds of parents check their kids’ digital activity, and nearly 40 percent follow them on Facebook and Twitter. But as the Times notes, the Pew study also suggests that this monitoring is likely to lead to arguments between parent and child (especially, we can assume, when parents are doing their surveillance secretly, and can’t hold back on comments any longer). 

Of course, since kids forever seem to be one step ahead of parents, the Times article relates how kids deactivate their Facebook accounts except at night when they know their parents are not likely to be logging on, or use pseudonyms or “speak in code designed to stump parents.” 

But as software designed to track kids gets increasingly clever, as do the kids who are looking to sidestep nosy parents, is surveillance really the best way to protect your kids, or does the answer lie in keeping an open dialog? Weigh in. And for more information on navigating the world of social media with your children, read our Social Media Survival Tips for Parents.