Top apps for parents of teens

(Daria Nepriakhina via Unsplash)

There is no arguing technology has drastically changed the world we live in. For many of us, we may still remember using a pay phone or landline or navigating a paper map, but for our children these are foreign concepts. Technology has its benefits and conveniences, but it also has its drawbacks too. While it makes accessing information at our fingertips easy, which can be very helpful, it also allows our children to be exposed to a lot more, often at a much younger age. This balancing act is also true for how we parent in this digital age. Technology has made it easier to track our kids and monitor their online behavior, but the key is finding balance. We still want to give our kids room to make mistakes and room to make their own decisions. Here are my top three apps that give tweens and teens independence but also parents peace of mind: 

Bark: One of the biggest concerns for parents is how to keep their kids safe online. I have researched a lot of products and apps over the years and while Apple has greatly improved its parental control settings, the settings reset every time there is an iOS update. Bark has two options for parents — the first is Bark Phone which is a Samsung phone that comes with Bark’s app, location tracking, tamper-proof parental controls and email/text/social media content monitoring. Plans range from $39-$89/month. For busy parents who want all the bumpers for their teen’s first phone, this is a great option. It also allows you to add or remove safety features as your child gets older. Bark also has just an app option with all the same features, including location alerts, so you know when they arrive or leave school, home or practice. There is a premium option that scans your child’s online activities including texts, emails, web searches and saved photos and videos. Parents can also opt to receive alerts when a concerning issue arises, such as cyberbullying.

Life360: If you have a child who has a phone and are walking, biking, or driving places on their own, this app is a gamechanger.  Life360 allows family members to share their location, and it also tracks driving speeds and allows you to create geofences so you can choose to receive alerts when a family member enters or leaves a location, such as school or work. So, while my teens think I use it to keep tabs on them, it gives me great peace of mind from a safety perspective. I also encourage my children to use it to see my location so instead of calling or texting me asking where I am or how long until they are picked up, they can see I am on my way.

Uber: Many may not realize that before a few weeks ago, you had to be 18 to take Uber. While this was often not enforced, Uber’s new roll out of teen accounts (ages 13-17) is a huge bonus to parents and teens alike. Uber can help teens get where they need to be when the bus or a bike isn’t an option — such as when parents get tied up and can’t make it for a school pick up or at night or on the weekends. It gives teens independence to get where they need to go while also giving us parents reassurance. The new teen accounts guarantee top-rated drivers who have undergone a thorough background check, live trip tracking and status updates, and PIN verification which helps ensure they get in the right car. We encourage our teens to always Uber with a friend when possible, but these safety features give us additional peace of mind.

With each of these apps, the underlying theme is safety — safety getting your teen where they need to be, and safety online. The key to finding the balance between their independence and your peace of mind knowing they are safe is coming up with a consensual plan. Just like any technology, we want to use this as a tool and not in place of communication or in a way that breeds distrust by inhibiting their independence. Let them know when and what you are tracking on their devices and as they get older take more of the bumpers off. Also let them know why you are doing it. Most importantly, we  want to build strong relationships with our teens so that when they are facing a tough situation, they know they can come to us for help. 

Liz Farrell is the mother of three children and the founder of TechTalks, a consulting group to help schools and families have productive conversations around social media and technology. Comments: [email protected].

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