A friend contacted me looking for some advice for keeping track of her daughter’s cell phone activity. Her teen is very active on her phone (not a big surprise!), and like many parents she had a few concerns and wondered what kinds of tools might be out there. I pulled a list together based on services I have either reviewed or bookmarked to review at a later date. I realized that Be Web Smart is lacking a list of resources for parents who want to monitor mobile activity. So here you go!
What cell phone activity do you want to monitor?
Are you most concerned with:
- Text message monitoring
- Phone call monitoring (i.e. who is my child speaking with on the phone?)
- Apps – what apps are they using on the phone; is social media activity appropriate, or is there any sign of sexting or bullying
- Location monitoring – is my teen where she said she’d be?
- Inappropriate content – are websites appropriate
- Driving – is my teen staying safe when behind the wheel? No texting and driving!
It is difficult to find a service that “does it all” – and those that cover all will generally cost more. But depending on your needs, the price might be worth the peace of mind!
Start with your cell phone service provider
First off, all the wireless companies (Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, etc.) offer parental control options, so those are worth checking out. Some of them may already be included depending on your plan. This is a page that lists the major services with links to their webpages: http://www.growingwireless.com/learn-engage/parental-control-tools/parental-controls-features-and-resources
Remember that the cell phone services may not block or monitor activity over WiFi. If your teen has an iPhone and uses iMessage for texting other friends with iPhones (or iPads or iPods) you may need to look into some of the other options.
Are you monitoring an Android, iPhone, other smart phone or basic phone?
Depending on the make and model of the phone, you will find different options are available to you. In general, it does seem that Android operating system makes it easier for developers to offer comprehensive choices. Apple is a bit more “tight-laced” if you will, and some services only work if you jailbreak your phone, which I do not recommend. So when looking into any purchased service or software, read all the fine print to make sure it will work with your child’s phone.
Parental Control services and software for cell phones
There are a slew of options available, which I have recently summarized here: Parental Controls for Phones, Computers and Devices – a Comprehensive list
Some are free, and many offer free trials so you can try them out. One that I did not include on that list is PhoneSheriff. This one has a lot of features, perhaps the most comprehensive I’ve seen. For example, you can set time limits, review call and text history, block contacts, use GPS location monitoring, and filter website content. PhoneSherrif is compatible with Android and has a new version called “Investigator” for iPhones, without jailbreaking the phone (previously PhoneSheriff on an iPhone required jailbreaking the phone). The new iPhone version looks like it works a lot like TeenSafe which I reviewed recently. Be sure to check their website for compatibility for a particular model.
Visit their website at http://www.phonesheriff.com to learn more. While they don’t offer a free trial, you can visit their website and click the “Demo” link to get an idea of what the parental dashboard looks like. This one is one of the more expensive services but does offer many features for the price. (I couldn’t find an up-to-date review, except for one here but it almost seems like they work for the company!)
Content monitoring for phones as well as tablets and iPod touch
There are also apps that can be installed if you are concerned with inappropriate content on the phone’s web browser. You can restrict the Safari browser and install a “kid-safe” browser. I have a list of those for iPhones/iPads and many have Android versions too. In particular I’d take a look at Mobicip.
In addition to the products listed there, many of the parental control software programs I’ve reviewed have companion apps for phones and devices. So you may also want to take a look at Covenant Eyes and Qustodio too.
iOS parental control restrictions and Android parental controls
Also available are the parental controls within the device. iPhones have a number of restriction settings available that I’ve written about in detail on the site. Android phones have some options with more available from the Google Play store.
So you can see there are a lot of options, the key being finding the one that gives you the information you need at a reasonable price. I don’t really like the idea of “spying”, I like the term “monitoring” and I think it makes sense as a parent to have an idea of what’s going on, especially since so much activity happens online. And so much of what happens online, happens using a teens’ phone.