Fort Worth, Texas,
10:48 AM

To Spy Or Not To Spy?

Information Systems Security Officer suggests best ways to monitor your child’s online activity

I see a trend that troubles me. I have kids. Two of my kids are adults and out on their own; however, I also still have two at home who need guidance as they grow. I want them to grow up to be productive adults who have the confidence to tackle life head on. I encourage them, I love them, I have conversations with them; and when I feel it is needed, I also speak firmly to them and, if challenged, I will impose punitive consequences.

The troubling trend I have noticed is with a parental mindset that more equates to a “bestie” than a mom or dad. Your child is not an adult. I am not a child psychologist, so I will not wade through those waters. But, from a perspective of someone who performs root cause analysis of incidents, I must say there are dangers associated with a lax parental structure.

I could give a thousand examples of situations where your child should not have total privacy in their lives. Do you keep up with your child’s grades in school or simply leave it up to them to pass or fail? Do you ask them where they are going when they leave the house or do they have complete privacy and freedom to go wherever they want? Would you want to know if they were getting into something dangerous or making a bad life choice?

I do not understand the opposition; but, I do recognize there are those in opposition to using spyware to keep tabs on what their kids are doing online. All I can say to such opposition is I simply do not agree. This does not mean that I am going to read every conversation they have with their friends. This does not mean I am going to keep track of every single detail of every single site they visit. I am keeping eyes on their activity and can be in a position to recognize when I may need to step in and give guidance.

In performing research on the subject and talking to experts regarding child online safety, a few things tend to float to the surface of the sea of information.

  1. You tend to get very few physical queues. Picture your child sitting on the couch with their face aglow from the light of their iPad. What are they doing? They could be watching a music video or chatting with a stranger. Switching from one activity to another does not tend to change their outward appearance or mannerisms. I call this the virtually induced poker face.
  2. They feel secure in their environment.  They say hindsight is twenty-twenty. This one can be difficult to explain, so let me put it this way: If your child were in a dark alley and was being approached by the silhouette of a large man, they may become apprehensive, keep their guard up, or become standoffish and not be willing to participate in a conversation. However, if your child feels physically secure in the comfort of your home, they may be more than willing to participate in that conversation. That could lead to them being groomed by a predator.
  3. A child doesn’t typically recognize the dangers until it is too late. Online predators are not stupid. While they are morally bankrupt, malicious, calloused, brazen and cruel, the successful ones can be rather intelligent. They are master manipulators with a ton of patience and have the tenacity to stick with a target. They find weaknesses and play on them. They weasel their way into a relationship with the child. They comfort them, take their side on issues, and lure them in. By the time your child recognizes they are in danger, it could be too late.

There are real and proven dangers to allowing a child to have complete privacy and freedom in the virtual world.

I don’t like to cite applications in articles because these articles tend to live on when apps die, the name gets changed, or something even better comes along. However, I will make an exception in this case. Currently, my top pick for spyware in regards to monitoring children is PhoneSheriff. PhoneSheriff has the ability to monitor and alert on a large variety of activity, it offers extensive alert and restriction functionality, and is compatible with any major device type.

Another really good spyware product is Mobistealth. While MobiStealth may be prettier, it is also more expensive than PhoneSheriff and, for me, it has one major weakness. MobiStealth does not give you “Geofencing”. Geofencing allows you to set alerts based on the geographical location of the device. An example of this would be setting up a geofence for your child’s school and another geofence for your home. If your child is supposed to leave school at around 4 p.m. and be home at around 4:30 p.m, you would be alerted when your child (device in hand) left the school and when they arrived home. If the times are off, you would know.

As I stated, these recommendations may change over time. Depending on when you read this, you may need to search for “Best Spyware Apps” and do a little research on your own.

Just remember, you are the parent. If your child has a phone or other device, it is because you allowed them to have that device. I do not recommend giving such devices as gifts and I make it crystal clear to my kids that they are borrowing my phone that is on my plan that is paid for by me and I can shut it off anytime I wish. I do not allow them to have passwords I do not know, I do not allow them to lock me out of the phone, I do not allow them to take the phone to the bathroom or their bedroom with the door closed, and I also have a rule that the phone must be charged at night in my bedroom.

I suggest a combination of prevention and monitoring.

Happy parenting and good luck!

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