Where are your kids? Apps, programs let parents track teens’ location and monitor digital lives

Every afternoon, Bronx mom Jayra Paredes checks her phone to track her kids on a map and make sure they’re where they said they’d be.

“After school, we’re like. ‘OK, where are they?’ It’s peace of mind for me,” said Paredes, who uses T Mobile’s Family Where.

The $9.99-a-month tracking app pinpoints the location of each phone on Paredes’ family account, and will send alerts if someone doesn’t arrive at a certain landmark on time or turns off the device.

“It sounds kind of overprotective, but I want to know where my kids are . . . My son is fine with it, my daughter’s like, ‘why are you trying to keep track of me?’ ” said Paredes, 36, a manager at a nonprofit.

Paredes’ daughter, Raquel Nuñez, 16, said she was initially upset to learn she was being monitored but now she understands where her mom is coming from.

“At first there was a concern of trust, but I know that she trusts me,” said the 10th-grader.

Parents who want to stay connected to their children during the secretive teen years now have multiple ways to keep tabs on them — through their smartphones.

Nearly 40% of U.S. teens have their own smartphone, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center study. Many options for parents go beyond monitoring kids’ whereabouts, to checking for cyber bullying or sexting.

The app and Web-based program TeenSafe gives parents a total window into a child’s digital life. An app called MamaBear also monitors cellphone activity and even sends alerts when a kid is speeding, while Ignore No More locks a teen’s Android phone until they call a parent.

Tina Sustaeta uses TeenSafe with her two oldest kids and checks it about once a month. She suspected something was up when her 16-year-old son started acting strangely — not eating, moping in his room.

“This was very unusual. He’s the one who is the clown in my house,” said the Austin, Tx family counselor.

So she logged in to pull up a control panel displaying his recent texts, browsing history and social media posts.

“I went in there and looked — and sure enough he had broken up with a girlfriend,” said Sustaeta, 46. “I used it as a way to know what to communicate with him, and open up a topic of communication.”

Sustaeta said she hasn’t told her kids that she uses the $14.95-a-month program, but made it clear to them that their phones aren’t entirely private.

“I have never once said to my kids, ‘You’re doing this, I know, because I went in there and looked.’” she said. “(But) the phone is my phone, it’s not your phone unless you pay for it.”

TeenSafe co-founder Ameeta Jain, who has used her program with her own kids, said she was inspired to start it after looking over her son’s shoulder and seeing that someone had made abusive posts on his Facebook page.

“I knew he wouldn’t tell me about it,” said Jain, who lives in Los Angeles.

Smartphone “spyware” is becoming a popular parenting tool, but experts are divided on whether these programs help protect kids from cyber-bullying and other dangers or cater to parents’ anxieties and invade teens’ privacy.

“Kids have to individuate. That’s the task of adolescence. The cell phone becomes an umbilical cord,” said child psychologist Michael Brody. “You have to have some trust with your kids, and some degree of credibility.”

Brody, who teaches at the University of Maryland, said parents should offer guidance about social media and talk often with their kids about bullying and other issues, instead of trying to keep track of them via their smartphone.

“If you know your child, and you have a bond with your child, it’s unnecessary to essentially spy on your child,” Brody said.

But Dr. Barbara Greenberg, a Connecticut psychologist who specializes in adolescents, believes parents should “absolutely” monitor kids’ phones — they just should make sure to be above board about it.

“I feel that parents should let their kids know that they are going to be monitoring. If the kids get angry, that’s ok,” Greenberg said. “You want to see if they are being bullied, or if they are bullying, you want to see if there’s any sexting going on. … Kids will say, ‘Oh, you don’t trust me.’ If you did trust them at this age, on social media, you’d be foolish.”

Source: Daily News