Is it okay to monitor your child’s phone? And what’s the best way to give your child freedom without giving them too much freedom? Amelia Peck, LMFT has some great tips on achieving the right balance.
Can You Trust Your Child But Still Monitor Their Phone?
My son turns 13 next month. It may seem young, but he is getting more involved in sports and after school activities and I want him to be able to call us when he needs to. However, I know that getting him a phone opens the door to all kinds of other stuff he can have access to. A friend suggested I install monitoring apps but not tell him. I feel weird about that. He’s a good kid, but I worry if I tell him I start to monitor his phone he’ll think we don’t trust him.
Dear Monitoring Mama,
There is absolutely nothing wrong with monitoring your child’s cell phone. Especially a 13-year-old. There are so many other factors to think about than trust. A big one is your child’s brain development. Too much screen time can impact the pathways his brain develops. Also, if he is exposed to content he is not mature enough to process (but thinks he is) can also impact those brain pathways. So cell phone monitoring is definitely a positive parenting step to take, and it can look a few different ways.
Which Cell Phone Is Right?
Your 13-year-old does not need an iPhone. You may need to tell yourself that regularly because your kid might feel otherwise. But a smartphone may not need to be his first phone. There are flip phones and others that work just fine. They might not use an iOS operating system, but they can definitely send SMS messages and make calls! What you need to know is what is the purpose of the phone. Is it only so he can call or send text messages when he needs to? Is there an element of you wanting him to level up his technology access? Is there a social desire for him to have a smartphone? There can be other factors at play. Make sure you are clear on your reasons for him having this phone.
Make a Contract
Set your boundaries with the phone before you purchase it. Explain to your kid how much it costs to have a cell phone. Based on the phone and plan you let them have access to, you can even let them know that if they exceed whatever the plan offers (data or text message limits) they will be responsible to pay the difference.
If you do offer the smartphone options, make tangible lists of what apps they can download onto the phone. WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Instagram privileges do not have to be automatic. Set limits on social media and require that they share all passwords with both parents. Social media is always a fight worth having. There are lots of social pressures for kids to be on certain apps, but some can be breeding grounds for bullying and secrecy, especially for younger kids.
Setting Up a System to Monitor the Phone
Monitoring your child’s cell phone does not mean they are a bad kid or you don’t trust them. Some of the intentions behind parental controls and monitoring are that you don’t trust the world and what someone in the world might send them or turn them onto. A smartphone with internet access can expose your 13-year-old up to many things he is not ready for or mature enough to handle. His brain has a lot of developing left to do!
Tell them what you are monitoring and why. If part of the intention is to know where they are, tell them you are installing GPS tracking on the device. Talk to them about the responsibility of having a cell phone like you are giving and what risks are involved. Have them involved in the discussion around screen time limits and other restrictions you are putting in place. Be direct. Let them know that you will be alerted about anything containing inappropriate content like pornography or if they visit certain websites. If you are setting filters, let them know that, too. If you are ultimately aiming for transparency from your child, you must be transparent with them.
Apps to Monitor Your Child’s Phone
There are many options for Android and iOS devices. Many consider FamiSafe iPhone Monitoring to be one of the top free applications for parental controls. You can check their browser history, block certain apps, monitor their location with GPS tracker, and use it remotely from your own smartphone. This app also allows for what is called geofencing on the device. This limits the phone’s virtual reach to a real-world geographic area. It’s another way to set a perimeter on content the phone has access to.
Qustoido is another great option. It gives extended reports on the use of screen time and provides notifications to parents when your kid is online. It allows for customization options and other perks parents like. It is not free like FamiSafe, but it can monitor Facebook, which FamiSafe does not.
FootPrints may be best if location is your biggest concern. It shows you where your child is and how they got there. Currently, it is only available for iOS devices, but if that’s what you’re getting, it’s worth checking out.
On your child’s phone, you can also set screen time limits in the settings applications, and when you initially set up the device you can indicate that it is a child’s phone. The limits will shut down apps and screen times when indicated times are met.
While these are just a few options, there are others out there for you to research. Some apps like FlexiSpy and mSpyallow you to monitor your child’s activity undetected, and that is your personal choice. I do think that having the hard conversations about monitoring software, tracking, and parental control apps are important. It can also avoid conflict later on if you have to intervene and confront your child about what is happening on their mobile device.
Remember the Goal
Remind yourself that the intention behind giving your kid a phone is for them to be connected and safe. If the situation begins to appear too much for them to handle, downgrade the phone, limit the access. Don’t let it be a device that triggers conflict and arguing. It’s an opportunity to teach your kid some responsibility that comes with privilege and even enjoy some of the fun benefits that can happen when those responsibilities are taken seriously.