27 Ways to Spy on Your Kids
As parents, we want to know our children's whereabouts, what they're browsing and sharing online, the types of video games they're playing, how they're driving, and what they're spending. While it's best to encourage open communication and trust your kids as much as possible, enlisting today's widely available resources can help ensure their safety -- day or night. We've rounded up the best online services, apps, and products that can help parents protect their kids while also protecting themselves.
Kids today have never known a time when they couldn't connect to the world through the internet. They probably spend more time online than anyone else -- certainly more than their parents. But you can't supervise every moment they're online on your own. Parental control services give you the ability to block unwanted web content, limit screen time, restrict the use of risky applications, and more to keep your kids safe on their computers and mobile devices.
Price: $50 for a year
Norton Family Premier's easy-to-use web interface and features make it simple for parents to track and manage their kid's activity across many devices. Parental controls can block access to inappropriate web content and mobile apps and prevent unsafe texting and social media use (you can even track Facebook logins). Parents can set up custom email alerts to notify them when their child attempts to access blocked sites (kids can also send access requests to unblock sites), and opt to receive regular activity reports.
Price: $13 per month for Complete Home Protection plan; $20 per month for Premium
The Clean Router allows parents to manage all of the devices in the house with one central control. It filters and manages everything connected to your home Wi-Fi. Additionally, the Time Restriction tool makes it easy to set times when internet access is allowed on your devices, so parents can better enforce internet-free bedtimes, homework-sessions, and quiet hours.
Price: $9 per device for 10-device or $12 per device for 5-device Family Pass; $40 per PC or Mac for a year
Net Nanny has been on the radar of parents concerned about digital security for their children since 1996, and its suite of features includes an internet filter, porn blocker, time scheduler, activity alerts, and usage reports for kids' phones and other devices. While it doesn't boast many app-specific controls for monitoring games and social media, the platform has a profanity filter for websites, and parents can set up alerts if their child types in certain keywords like "suicide."
Price: Free for basic plan; $15 for 3-month and $25 for 6-month premium plans
All-in-one family safety app MamaBear keeps parents updated on their child's whereabouts and monitors phone use. It's particularly good for kids who are first-time smartphone users or new to social media, but also for teen drivers. Parents won't have to worry as much with features that monitor relevant social media updates like new friends, photo uploads, and restricted words, share their child's current and recent locations, set up arrival and departure alerts for places like school, home, and practice, or alert them when their child exceeds a preset driving speed. Kids can even send parents notifications via check-in buttons ("Come Get Me" and "Emergency").
Price: $99 for basic plan; $199 for premium and no-jailbreak iPhone monitoring plans for a year (monthly subscriptions available)
Top-notch smartphone and computer monitoring software mSpy's main selling point is its ability to track multiple key factors via kids' phones -- who they call, what they text, which apps they use, the number of contacts, current GPS location, etc. It'll even cover WhatsApp, Snapchat, Facebook, and other commonly used messaging apps.
Price: $35 per Android phone, $15 per Android tablet, and $20 per iPhone or iPad for a year; $70 for a yearly Android/iPhone family plan
MMGuardian Parental Control enables parents to block incoming calls and texts and monitor alarming text messages, and even lock their child's phone with a simple text message. They can also implement restrictions to limit phone use -- and control specific apps -- during certain times like when their child is at school or on the road. It'll generate daily phone usage reports as well.
Price: $15 per month or $140 per year
A uKnowKids Premier subscription gives parents a comprehensive overview of their child's social communication via smartphone and popular social networks. It'll keep tabs on text messages, even deleted ones, and even intervene when your child captures or shares questionable photos. The platform will zero in on current social network activity and also monitor new accounts that your child might have created under a fake identity.
Price: $99 for Circle Home; $5/month for Circle Go (up to 10 devices)
Installing parental control coverage on each of your family's devices can be daunting. Fortunately, there are whole-network solutions like Circle with Disney. Through a simple device, Circle Home filters content and imposes time limits at the router level, so the parental settings affect every device on your home network. Another product, Circle Go, manages mobile devices across all networks while kids are on the go.
Price: $54.95 and up for a year
Parental control app Qustodio is an effective option for parents who are short on time. The highly configurable, user-friendly tool has a dashboard displaying all recent mobile activity for any connected device, including time spent on services like Instagram. Parents can filter websites, track phone calls and messages like texts and social media posts, and set time limits for any apps or games across many devices -- Windows, Mac OS X, Android, iOS, Kindle, and Nook. The SOS feature even helps parents locate their child during an emergency.
Price: Free basic plan or $4 per month ($40 per year) for Premium
As the name suggests, the parental control software Screen Time supervises the time your teenagers and younger children spend on their smartphones and tablets. Manage your family's device use by setting study time and bedtime restrictions and using the app blocker feature. You can even use your own device to pause your child's device or provide additional screen time, and invite others (like grandparents or babysitters) to take command in your absence.
Price: Free for basic plan; $27 for one device, $35 for two devices, or $69 for five devices per year for Premium
The FamilyTime software is an everything-in-one, customizable control app for parents, particularly those who have teens. Ensure your kids aren't exposed to cyber-bullying or inappropriate content, and keep an eye on them via the geo-fencing and location-tracking feature (you get alerts when their phone enters or leaves a specific area). It also has plenty of other features like app blocking, SMS tracking, SOS and pickup alerts, time restrictions, etc.
Price: $40 per year (for up to three devices)
SecureTeen helps parents control mobile devices and desktop computers by filtering unsavory and harmful online content and monitoring day-to-day phone activities. It's an effective way to protect your children from cyber-bullies and mature content. It's also easy to block or unblock your child's device from anywhere (also a nice touch in the event that it's lost or stolen).
Price: $99 for device; $4-$9 per month for data plan
The small, reliable Trax Play GPS Tracker, which slips in a pocket or clips onto a belt, helps parents track their children easily. It updates their location several times per minute when your child is on the go, and you can monitor a specific area during certain times, such as their route to and from school. An augmented reality feature gives parents a leg up when searching for kids in certain open space surroundings like a crowded amusement park or museum.
The dokiWatch S, the second-generation smartwatch from Doki Technologies designed for children ages 6-12, allows parents to keep track of their children with its Smart Locator and Alert Area functionalities. Smart Locator utilizes the device's GSM, GPS, and Wi-Fi support to pinpoint the child's exact location and an Alert Area functionality notifies parents when their children go outside certain parameters. Parents can also communicate with their kids through the wearable's two-way video call or text functionality, and an SOS button sends a 60-second audio recording of the child's surroundings to emergency contacts when pressed.
Price: $99 for the Guardian Kit plus $40 per month
Designed for children with special needs, AngelSense Guardian is a reliable security tracker for parents who are worried their children might wander off or escape from school. The GPS tracker attaches to clothing with a key lock. The app automatically creates a geofence when your child is in one place for longer than five minutes, and you'll get alerts whenever they arrive or depart from any location. Groups of people, such as teachers, caregivers, and emergency personnel, can be alerted with live location details all at once by the parent.
Price: Free for iOS and Android devices
Take advantage of free location-tracking apps on your smartphone like Find My Friends and Find My iPhone apps for iOS devices or Find My Kids, Find My Friends, or GPS Phone Tracker for Android devices. The apps and cloud-based features can give you an idea of where your child is at any given moment, or at least last located, if the device is on.
While your child would have to opt-in for this method, Glympse is a fast, free, and simple way for kids to share their location in real-time. They can send a map-based tracker to let friends and family know they're on the way and families can even set up a group for events like family reunions -- whether they're on a phone, tablet, or desktop. You can even set a destination and customize the message.
Price: Free plus $1.49 to $70 per item for various in-app products
Life360 Driver Protect, a location-tracking service for Android and iOS, keeps tabs on young drivers. The app includes roadside assistance, a "Safe Drive Review" report for parents to see precise locations, where their child drove (and how fast), arrival alerts, crash detection, and emergency response tools. While the app with some basic features is free, there are several in-app subscription services available for purchase.
Price: $4 per month for OnStar subscribers/OnStar-equipped vehicles
Those who own a vehicle already equipped with OnStar services can opt to subscribe to OnStar Family Link, which gives parents access to the location of their children driving the vehicle along with the option to receive scheduled email or text message alerts about those vehicles. Parents can get a boundary alert if the vehicle enters or exits a specified area. Destination alerts let you know if your teen made it to school or cut class.
Price: $67 for smart device plus $8 for monthly app data plan
Car-tracking gadgets like Bouncie give parents real-time driving insights on speed, acceleration, hard braking, and other trip trends, so they're data-equipped for any tough conversations with the newest family driver. The contract-free device updates parents on the vehicle's location while their teen is driving, when it's parked, and when it goes "out of bounds" based on preset geo-circles. The app will also alert you to upcoming expirations (license, registration, insurance, etc.) and help monitor your vehicle's health. Bonus points for roadside assistance.
Price: $25 per device plus $20 GPS tracking connectivity fee
Created with the guidance of law enforcement and driver-safety experts, MOTOsafety, which plugs into the OBDII port under the dash, encourages safe driving for teens. A web-based parental dash provides a daily report card for your teen driver, and parents can view the location, history, speeding and more on Google Maps -- all of which can be monitored from anywhere using the apps for iOS and Android.
The free EverDrive app aims to promote safe driving through score-based reviews, friendly peer-to-peer competitions, and rewards like discounts on auto insurance. By monitoring your teen's driving habits and delivering diagnostic reviews, it'll show parents data on speed, whether or not their phone was being used while in motion, GPS location, and more. The app runs in the background and automatically records and scores trips as you drive, so parents can keep tabs on their teen driver's habits and whereabouts in a less-invasive manner.