Cool (& Free) Technology That Helps You Keep Tabs On Your Kid

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Kids want their own cell phones, tablets, and laptops. Look, I get it. Computers are essential education tools at this point. And smartphones are a great way for them to document memories, share photos with friends, play games inexpensively, and even do a quick Google search to help with their homework.

Parents want access to their kids, too, so kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from personal tech. But here’s the thing: A lot of the parents I’ve chatted with are concerned about the lack of control they have after handing these devices over to their kids. There’s a lot kids can get into with tech. That’s why it’s super important to arm yourself with easy-to-use, smart tools to track what’s happening in your kids’ palms. And why not use technology to keep track of what they’re up to in life, too?

For starters, Trustify is a great resource for protective parents, from how to conduct background searches (new babysitter, anyone?) to keeping tabs on your kids’ devices. Since you (presumably) own your kiddos’ phones, definitely start with this list of easy and legal ways to track phones. The site also has information on GPS trackers in cars (since you probably own the cars they’re driving, you’re good there, too).

In addition to Trustify’s suggestions, check out some of our favorite technology tricks for knowing what’s up with your kids. Everything on our list is free, but parental peace of mind is priceless.

1. Check her browser history. Okay, this is very basic — but it’s still important to do. See, a simple browser history check is probably the easiest way to track what your kiddos are doing on the Web. This will show you what websites they’ve recently visited. If you attempt to check and the history has been cleared or is very paltry when you know they were browsing for a while, that’s a red flag and should signal that it’s time for a conversation with your kid.

2. Activate parental controls on his computer. To do this on a Mac, you’ll go to the Apple menu, click System Preferences, then Accounts. Click the Parental Controls to “on” next to each child’s name, and this will allow you to restrict and/or monitor functions including Internet and email. Windows users, you can also set limits and tracking for your kids’ unique profiles. You’ll find this under User Accounts and Family Safety Control Panel. Windows Vista allows you to restrict and record their Web use, block games and programs, and designate green-lighted screen times. (If your children are using your computer, you’ll want to set up separate profiles for everyone first.)

3. Monitor Facebook activity with the SecureTeen app. In addition to letting you see what they’re up to on this social site, this app sends an alert to parents when suspicious friend requests come through. You can also use it to block content using keywords you set. It has built-in Web history logs and blocks mature content you don’t want them seeing. You can use the app from your own device or log in via your computer to track what teens are up to without having to nag them verbally — it’s all just clicks away.

4.  Know where they’re at with Life 360. This easy-to-use app sends you alerts for the whole family as they come and go from various locations. It also lets you view their whereabouts on the in-app map. You can see your family’s location history on the app and share photos and texts securely within the app. Also useful for parents of teens? A driving report that allows you to see how they’re doing on the road while offering tips to improve driving safety.

5. Keep an eye on their driving with TrueMotion Family: Driving Safety. It gives you full access to their calls and texts while on the road. This app is especially helpful to make sure they aren’t texting and driving. It also shows you their driving speed and location whenever the car is going over 12 mph, so you’re always in the know, and it provides a numeric score on each car trip for speed and safety. For fun, you can draw up reports on how your teen’s driving ranks against other family members. A little friendly competition never hurt!

Photo: Getty