Last week I made a case for why, “despite the hassles, confusion, worry and time it takes to supervise my kids online,” I think it's well worth allowing them there and monitoring them. Even if I could stop my two teens from using social media, I wouldn’t. (And I doubt I could pull it off if I tried.) So I end up spending a lot of time supervising what they're up to. My kids call this “stalking.” I call it parenting. Whatever you call it, it's a lot of work and involves a lot of worry. I find it a challenge, and I've been writing about technology since the creator of Facebook was in kindergarten. So I feel for parents who didn't start using social media until after their kids were online. And, frankly, the explosion of mobile devices that connect easily to social media from anywhere—much as I love them and fun though they are for the kids—has not made a parent’s job any easier.
This morning I sat in on a demo of Amber Child Safety, which only just launched, so I haven't had a chance to try it. Normally I test technologies thoroughly before I cover them here. But I want to share this one because it follows so nicely after my last post about the necessity of supervising kids online. Amber Child Safety aims to simplify—by providing powerful technical tools to back up your rules—the enormous task of monitoring a smartphone-wielding, social-media-savvy child, tween or teen while offering guidance to parents on how to keep an eye on things and what to look for.
It has three parts:
Amber Database (free) Provides a secure place to store information on your child that you can release to law enforcement with a couple of clicks if anything goes wrong. It interviews you to get exactly the information law enforcement will need—even if that information isn't what you would think to include.
Amber Internet ($9.95 per month) Helps you monitor and control social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. You'll need your child’s password to install it on their social media accounts. Then you'll get alerts when the service sees problems and be able to set limits. It gives you all sorts of choices about what to monitor, which will, of course, vary widely based on your child's age and your own rules.
Amber Mobile ($9.95 per month) This is the part that helps with the cell phone. It lets you set locations and get alerts when kids enter or leave those areas, prevents texting while driving and lets you create lists of people who can and cannot contact your child. It also lets you block sites altogether or at certain hours, a great way to reinforce house rules or intervene if grades start to slip because of late-night texting or gaming. And your teen won’t be able to uninstall it. I asked a lot of geeky questions about this that I won’t go into here, but it sounds like even my clever, determined 17-year-old would not be able to uninstall it. At the moment it works best on Android phones.
I plan to check this out more thoroughly in the future, but I just thought I’d share in case you're currently wrestling with late-night phone gaming, worrying about texting and driving, or concerned about any of the other myriad issues parents face in the Internet age.
Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at GeekGirlfriends.com.