How to spy on your kids

These days, children have technology all around them and many parents are worried about what their children get up to online. However, technology also helps you to keep a ‘watchful eye’ on your children.

Moneybags journalist, Ashleigh Brown, finds out how you can use technology to spy on your kids and keep them safe.

There is no set rule book on how-to keep your children safe. In the ‘real’ world, you can tell them not speak to strangers, to look both ways before crossing the road, and to never accept something from random people.

But the online world is a whole different ball game, and there is definitely no how-to guide to read.

I was part of those first generations that grew up in a world filled with technology. From dial-up codes, to playing Pac Man on Windows 95, and being amazed by a fax machine, to now literally carrying the world around in my hand. I have never been in a world where there wasn’t technology, or easy access to information and people.

But now, looking at all the gadgets out there, and knowing what one can be capable of doing on the internet, and also the harm it can do, I can only imagine the struggle many parents have to go through when children start surfing.

Having said that, nobody likes to be spied on, and I would have been pretty angry as a teenager if my parents had monitored my web use. To me, ‘spying’ on my personal blogs, or reading all my messages was the same as picking up my diary and flipping through the pages.

There should be a line between spying on your children, and just making sure that they are kept safe. It also depends a lot on their age, and if you think that they might be involved in potentially dangerous activities or not.

For example, one writer took it upon himself to monitor his daughter’s activities online, and was pleasantly surprised to find out that she was a talented writer.

However, he was at the brunt of a lot of anger from readers, and his daughters, as they believed he was invading their privacy rather than just monitoring their activity.

“There’s a difference between monitoring your children and seriously invading your children’s privacy,” said one commentator on the article.

But nobody can tell you what is best for your children, or how you should monitor their online socialisations.

If you don’t care about some backlash from your kids or feel it’s more important to ‘look’ over their shoulder while they surf the web devices and apps to help you do just that and hopefully they will ensure that you don’t get caught. However, there’s always the chance that your children will find out.

And when they do Moneybags will certainly not take any responsibility for that.

Life360

Life360 is a location and communication based app. It allows you to add people, like you would on BBM or Whatsapp to your contact list. You then have the ability to see where they are, and to talk to them.

However, the person you are stalking has to ‘check-in’ on the app for you to know where they are. So, if everyone is okay with the idea, then you no longer need to send that “I arrived safely” message and can simply log it on the app.

“Location sharing is up to you. Not everyone needs to know where you are at all times. Location sharing is specific to each Circle, and you can turn it off and on whenever you want,” explained the app’s website.

The app was launched in 2008, and is available for Android and iPhones.

Mamabear

This app is similar to Life360, but it also gives you the ability to monitor you child’s Facebook and Twitter activity. This is mainly to see if there has been any explicit content posted, or if your child has been subjected to cyber bullying.

Last year, McAfee, the online security software company released a report saying that cyber bulling had tripled since 2013.

There are three steps to Mamabear:

  • Parents download the parent’s version of Mamabear on their smart phones.
  • Your children download the children’s version of Mamabear – which has only three buttons: Come Get Me, Call for Help, and Call Mama.
  • You can then change your alert settings so that you can get the exact information that you want.

Family Safety

This is a feature for Windows users to help monitor your child’s internet usage on their computer.

You can turn on this feature for your child’s Windows or Outlook account, which will then monitor all their web activity.

“Family Safety sends regular activity report emails to your Microsoft account, summarising how much time the child spent on the PC, the websites they visited, the games and apps they used, and the terms they’ve looked up in search engines like Bing, Google, or Yahoo!,” said Windows in an article.

Footprints

Footprints is a location based service that can be used to see where any of your contacts are. However, this app is only for iPhone and iPad users, and cannot be used on Android devices, like Samsungs or HTCs.

The parental control feature allows for sharing locations at all times, without a disabling option. You will need iOS 4.3 or later. “Footprints must be installed on all devices tracking or sharing locations, and each device must have a valid subscription,” explained the website.

Join in

Children under 13 can’t join Facebook but there is no real way of Facebook enforcing this and there are always other sites that kids under the age of 13 can use to socialise. So what can you do? Well there’s the saying ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’.

So find out what social media websites your children are using and become friends with them. You won’t be alone. According to Education Database Online half the parents on Facebook joined the social media website just to monitor their kids.

Don’t let them hide

Yes they are entitled to some privacy but experts recommend you keep the laptops, computers and other online devices in the lounge where you can literally peek over their shoulder.

Teach them about privacy

Tell your children that there are companies out there that will sell your information. So teach them about online best practice where they should not impart with their personal information for every competition and deal that they see.

Also, ask your children to ask you first before they sign up for anything.

There are other web based services, such as Net Nanny, that will allow you to see exactly what sites your children go on, how often, and sometimes who they chat to.

Though, these might take a little savvy to get right, and they normally cost money. Net Nanny, for example, costs $39.99 (R487) a year.

But these may not always be helpful because many children also access the internet form their cell phones, or tablets, at friends’ places or at school. Home desktops can therefore be easily avoided.

But, before you take any action, sit down with your children and talk to them about safety in the ‘real’ world, and the online one. This way you can both have peace of mind. Communication is key.