Social media is a huge presence in our daily lives. How many nights have you spent lying in bed and scrolling through Facebook or Instagram? This fascination is even stronger for teenagers, who use all these platforms to both connect socially and express themselves creatively.
With all the positives that can come from an online presence, there are also dangers, such as cyberbullying, child grooming, scams, and the glorification of unhealthy lifestyle choices. As modern parents, we are having to learn how to strike a balance between providing internet safety and respecting our child’s privacy.
Should teens have privacy?
Maybe you’re wondering why your teen needs privacy. After all, we all begin as parents of young children who require very little privacy or personal space. They follow you in the bathroom or climb into bed with you. As the years go by, they become a bit shyer, start locking the bathroom door, and ditch you for their friends.
This is a normal and healthy part of growing up, but it can cause some confusion and anxiety in parents, who have to adjust to this new phase of teen life. Preteens and teenagers seek to explore and show independence, and parents are left walking a fine line between being intrusive and too detached. This will often leave you wondering when you should invade your teen’s privacy. Most parents will instinctively get involved to prevent smoking, drinking alcohol, and underage sex.
What about all the other stuff? Should parents monitor their child’s internet use, read through their text messages, and routinely check their social media? These are problems that modern parents have to navigate. Most big tech companies have also realized this problem, and internet service providers, TV companies, cell phone manufacturers, and other tech gadget vendors now offer some form of parental controls. These may range from blocking questionable websites to limiting the amount of screen time your child has.
Why is parental monitoring important?
Research shows that parental monitoring is essential for reducing risky teen behavior. The most important factor in parental monitoring is clear communication about what behaviors you expect of your teen. You then need to have some form of parental monitoring that allows you to keep track of your teen to know when the rules are broken. There should also be consequences for risky behavior.
In a Pew Research survey, as many as 61% of parents routinely checked what websites their teen was visiting, and 65% used cellphone privileges as punishment for unwanted behavior. Most of these parents were using physical means to check their child’s phone (i.e., unlocked the device and looked through it). This can feel extremely invasive to a teenager, and you probably wouldn’t unlock your phone and hand it to your teen.
A healthy middle ground can be found with the numerous parental control apps that allow parents to monitor from a distance.
9 best parental control apps
What is parental control? This is a setting that puts you in control of what content your child can see. Most of the apps allow this to be done remotely, so you can use your own phone to see what is happening on your kid’s device. This can be as detailed or as hands-free as you like, depending on what you feel is healthy for you and your child
The main idea is to allow teens freedom and independence while providing a safety net to support them in a positive way. Using a parental monitoring app lets you set restrictions and monitor your teen’s online presence without being overly intrusive. Here is a list of the best parental control apps for Android and Apple devices in 2021.
Qustodio can monitor multiple devices, and its features vary depending on the device, but it will block inappropriate content, control cyber threats, and limit screen time. On some devices, it also offers location tracking, call and text monitoring, and panic button alerts.
Qustodio can be downloaded from the App Store, Google Play, and its website and has versions for iPhones/Macs, Android devices, Chromebooks, Kindle, and Windows devices. It is recommended that you first download the Qustodio Parental Control App on your device before the kids’ version on your child’s device.
It offers a 30-day free trial, after which you can choose a free or a premium version depending on which features you prefer. You can read about the different options here. One downside is that a tech-savvy teen may be able to get around some of Qustodio‘s web filter restrictions by using a VPN.
This app is great because you don’t have to read every text message, email, or post-it will automatically highlight any dangerous or abusive content for you to review. Bark can’t monitor things like Snapchat pictures, but it does monitor Snapchat private messages and can even retrieve some deleted text messages.
The company claims to have stopped 213,000 severe self-harm situations and 1.6 million severe bullying scenarios. It monitors over 30 different social media platforms, text messages, emails, and YouTube.
The Bark app, which is available in both App Store and Google Play, is created in partnership with parents and schools. It offers a 7-day free trial, after which you can choose from two subscription plans.
3. Google Family Link for parents
This is the one I use for my two oldest children. It allows me to monitor their screen time, set limits, or lock them out of their phones if they are grounded.
It also asks my permission for any app downloads and allows me to track their location if they leave the house. Each child can use one device, but you can add multiple children to the parental control app.
Google Family Link for parents is completely free and available on Google Play and App Store. The downside of it being free is that it has weak filtering and blocking capabilities online and doesn’t monitor calls, texts, or app messages, so it might not be as suitable for older teens.
4. Safe Lagoon
Safe Lagoon lets you filter websites, manage screen time, and monitor messengers and social media accounts. It also allows remote parental control and family GPS tracking to keep you informed of your child’s movements.
Limited functionality for 1 profile is free, but if you want more profiles or features, you need a subscription. This app is good for monitoring social media apps like Instagram, Whatsapp, Skype, and Messenger, but it doesn’t monitor Facebook. Also, photo and video monitoring come with additional costs.
This is a PC/laptop monitoring app that offers no direct control or blocking options. The premise isn’t so much to control what your child is doing but to see what they have been up to. While you can’t directly control what they do with this app, it’s highly effective at what it does.
Kidlogger will record everything your child opens or types into the computer, and it’s probably best used as a deterrent. It’s like saying to your children, “You are being watched, so you’d better behave.” The pricing is based on the number of devices and how long the data is stored.
It’s free for up to 5 devices with a history of 9 days and 9 Mb of memory. After that, you pay for additional devices, a longer history, or increased space. Kidlogger is available for Windows, Android, and Mac devices.
6. Norton Family
Norton Family offers outstanding website filtering, time supervision, location tracking, and app blocks, and it allows you to monitor which videos your child watches on Youtube and Hulu.
On the downside, it does seem a bit limited on social media and text tracking. After the free trial, there is an annual subscription model, but the app can be used on an unlimited number of devices.
7. Net Nanny
Net Nanny allows you to monitor your child’s digital footprint, protect them from harmful content, limit screen time, and filter websites. It offers real-time alerts to things like porn, suicide, weapons, or drug-related content.
Prices vary depending on the number of devices you need to be monitored. Most users find it simple to set up with a great deal of control, but it has limited location tracking, and web filters can be avoided with Tor.
This is advertised as a parental control app that gets the kids involved. You can schedule screen time and manually block or grant access to the internet and apps on your child’s device remotely. One nice feature of OurPact is that you can set up a schedule for when children can use apps, so no more late-night Tik-Toking!
It’s free for one device, but more devices and features come at a monthly cost. Most users praise the powerful app blocking and getting the kids involved but are disappointed by the lack of call or text monitoring.
9. Nintendo Switch Parental Control App
This is one of the very few apps I’ve found that allow you to set both online and gaming restrictions for the Nintendo switch. It lets you limit the sharing of in-game text or images and restricts the ability to post screenshots or other information to social media.
The app also makes it possible to set restrictions on which games your child can access or when they can play. One downside is that there are no easy ways to grant “extra time,” and it can be hard to impose separate time limits for children sharing a device.
Striking a balance
If you decide to use one of these apps, you might want to consider having an honest conversation with your young child or teen. Explain to them that you’re always on their side and want to support them as they grow and become more independent. Make sure they understand that while you trust them to do this safely, there are dangers they can’t protect themselves from, and you need to do it for them.
Describe how the app will allow both of you to feel safer and more secure in this period of change. When I had this discussion with my daughter, I was completely honest with her, allowed her to ask any questions, and explained all the whys. She didn’t always like the answers I gave her, but she respected the openness and honesty.
She doesn’t see the app as a spying contraption or an intrusion on her but more as a tool where she can “ask me” for games or more screen time. It has worked great because we see it as a communication tool in our house. Admittedly, results may vary with older children.
Hopefully, one of these apps helps you strike that delicate balance between allowing your teen their independence and having your peace of mind. Every family is unique, but keeping it safe is always a top priority.