My kid is an anomaly: he is a teenager without a cell phone. More often than not, I hear him say, “my life sucks,” all because we have not allowed him to have one. He turns 15 next week, and he is most definitely not in the “let’s whip out my cell phone during class” crew. He may thank us at some point, but for him, life feels utterly painful right now.
I don’t want my kid online every day talking to God knows who or absorbing God knows what. Our goal as his parents is to keep him safe. For us, that means also staying away from the internet. When he does have a cell phone, we want him to understand what it means to be responsible for it.
When we talk to our son about a cell phone, we treat it like a conversation in sex education — a serious conversation about what it means to be safe, and how every interaction has an impact on someone somewhere. According to a 2019 survey by Common Sense Media, an organization committed to educating parents and kids about technology and digital media, 69% of kids have a smartphone by age 12. I get why a parent might feel inclined to give their kid a cell phone, but I also know how much of a distraction it can become, even for my almost 40-year-old self. And that’s saying nothing of the issues it can present in terms of safety.
We know as parents that there is only so much we can do to help our kids while on social media, especially with our teens. If you’re one of the lucky ones whose teen says more than “Mom, it’s legit,” and “Nah, bruh,” then count yourself lucky. You should also know that your kid is not going to share everything about their social lives with you, including what they do online. But don’t worry, there’s an app for that.
These apps are compatible with most devices and give us the ability to provide a little extra protection when our teens are online.
TeenSafe is, in my personal opinion, one of the best ways you can have an extra few eyes on your kid’s internet usage. For about $15 a month, you can see all exchanges — from phone calls to deleted text messages — that your teen has on their phone. Websites like Snapchat and TikTok can be blocked so that your kid can focus on, say, school.
If your fear for your teen online is more around cyberbullying and online predators, SecureTeen is a slightly more expensive app at $39.99 a year. They advertise as the “one-stop-shop against harmful and detrimental online content.” One of the best features of this app is that parents can create a timetable within the software for their teens’ online time. For the teen to get access to the internet, it must first be approved by a parent, or else the connection will fail.
More for parents than teens, Bark is the kind of app I need. It helps parents stay in the know about new and popular trends online that their teen might be participating in. It also informs parents about communication via phone calls or text messages, sees what photos your teen is taking and sending, and reviews their browsing history. This free app allows parents to find their teen’s hidden or private accounts online.
Our kids are online today more than they ever have been before. Many teachers rely heavily on Google Classroom to communicate with their students. The temptation to go online is always in front of our kids — even my 6-year-old first-grader. The other day, she told me she finished with her math work and said, “Mommy, I Googled you, do you write for only Scary Mommy?”
These apps and others like them will give our kids an extra safety net while online when we cannot physically be next to them. They offer a little more peace of mind. They help mellow out the temptation of going on Insta, or Facebook, or TikTok for our kids, by giving us more control to help foster a healthier relationship with social media for them.
I know that one day soon, our son’s life will suck less; we will relent and get him a cell phone. But you’d better believe it’s going to come along with an app or two that help keep him a little safer whenever he is online.