Should You Monitor Your Child’s Online Activity?

Jason Hazlewood /
monitor kids online activity

In a world where cyberbullying, sexting, and predators lurk around every chatroom, it is understandable that parents want to protect their children online. Having a child get online without any supervision is like sending them to the middle of a large city alone at night, whether they are five or fifteen. The same hazards exist – scammers, exploiters, even kidnappers, and pedophiles are just as present online as they are in real life.

However, the Internet also presents unique opportunities for kids to learn, especially in ways that are entertaining. Kids can research and learn anything they want, from how to sing opera to how to assemble a computer, and all of this knowledge gives them a way to find their interests and passions. So kids need to be able to take advantage of the Internet, but they need to be able to do it safely.

Some parents respond to this by installing parental control software that tracks their child, their child’s web activity, and even the child’s mobile devices. Parental control apps have features including access to text messages and all apps on mobile devices, as well as password information for all accounts, from email to social media.

Other parents find these measures extremely invasive. The response from the kids is also mixed, as some kids being tracked develop mistrust and resentment while others who were not tracked met with tragedy because of anything from inappropriate content to being kidnapped and trafficked.

Some features are also meant to manage a child’s screen time. Kids can get involved in the Internet, especially social networks and online games. Parents can use software to set time limits to aid screen time management so the kids do something besides sitting at the computer all day.

Location tracking is another feature that families have been known to use on one another, not just the kids. Being able to locate one another in case of emergency has actually saved lives, young and elderly, simply because family members have been able to find one another in time to prevent injuries from accidents from becoming life-threatening.

There is a case for both points of view, and whether or not parents should use child monitoring software or apps is an individual decision that depends on many factors.

  • Kids mature at different levels and demonstrate different levels of responsibility. This can vary even within families, so monitoring your children’s online activity might vary from child to child.
  • Before kids are even allowed on the Internet, they need to be taught safe online practices, such as not giving out personal information and being mindful of what they post. While more recently, youngsters have faced consequences in their adult lives for immature things they posted on Facebook or Twitter when they were high school freshmen, it is more common that this personal information is used to exploit, harass, or even bully.
  • Parents need to set a good example by observing the same limits they impose on their children and observing the same netiquette. Proud parents post pictures of their kids at school or activities but are giving away valuable and dangerous information about their children’s habits and whereabouts. Parents who work on the Internet need to be clear about the differences between working and using it for entertainment.
  • Parents should always supervise their children’s online activities. This can be relaxed as the children get older but the important thing is ensuring that kids are not wandering into areas online that are not age-appropriate.
  • If parents decide to use monitoring software, they need to be open with their children about it and what is expected of everyone. Some kids really do need to be monitored, because they are innocent and can be lured in by nefarious actors. Others manifest behavioral problems online that parents can catch with monitoring.
  • Kids might also be communicating with unwanted influences, like bullies and harassers. Sexting is illegal in many states, and a child sending an inappropriate picture of themselves to another child can even be convicted of distributing child pornography. However, embarrassing pictures, whether they are sexting or not, can be emotionally stressful and even harmful when used to harass kids.
  • Another source of unwanted intrusion faced by kids is that some agents take advantage of their quest for identity and their impressionable nature to radicalize them. When parents hear that term, they think of hate groups and 8chan, but some ideas that kids can be drawn into online include anorexia, cutting, or drugs.
  • Most importantly, under no circumstances should parental apps be used to spy on your children. Sure, you might be able to access all their texts and emails through an app or limit their screen time, phone use, or device use, but even kids should be free to spend their time online as they want to without judgment. These apps are to keep them from harm, not to foment mistrust.

With so many things to consider, the choice to monitor your child’s online activities through an app or other software becomes dependent on your child’s relationship with the Internet. Stricter monitoring is obviously more important for younger children, but also provides an opportunity to teach them good Internet habits, which in turn could mean they require less monitoring when they are older. It is as important for parents to be responsible with parental monitoring as it is for their children to be responsible online.

Many Internet providers have parental controls as part of their package or an inexpensive addon. To find an Internet package with good parental controls, or compare the service you have with what’s available in your area, simply tell us your zip code. We’ll show you everything, from providers to their packages and rates, so your Internet can be part of your choice about monitoring your child’s online activity.