How to Monitor Who Your Kids Are Talking to Online

edited November 2023 in Lifestyle

With access to technology becoming easier and more common across various age groups, it is more important than ever to be able to monitor your child's online communications effectively. Given the sheer number of ways that a predator, scammers, or garden variety cyber bullies can wreak havoc on children's physical and mental well-being, it is crucial to have the ability to review messages and step in if the need arises. Find out more about monitoring who your kids are talking to online and ensuring that their digital activities are as safe as possible. 

Meta Has Recently Rolled Out New Tools for Monitoring Instagram and VR 

As one of the largest social media companies and a current industry leader, Meta followed up on their announcement in June 2022, promising many new features to help parents and guardians monitor their children's online activities. If your child consents to be supervised, you can monitor the VR (virtual reality) apps your teenager uses and block or allow specific apps. You can also receive automatic notifications whenever your teen makes any purchase from an app, review the total screen time on VR headsets using the Oculus app, and see your teen's list of Quest friends. Meta has also recently rolled out several new tools for parents to monitor children's activities on Instagram due to the popularity of the social media platform amongst teenagers. 

Known as Family Center, these new options can be easily accessed via a standard Instagram account and offer a host of both educational resources and technological tools for parents to utilize. For example, if you are concerned about how much your child spends on Instagram daily, you can collect the data for discussions about appropriate time management. Any agreements reached can be easily enforced by setting time limits on using the app via mutual understanding, helping to ensure that all parties walk away satisfied with the arrangement. 

Some other noteworthy features include the ability for parents to monitor activities on their children's Instagram accounts with their consent, see who follows them and who they follow, and be notified if their child reports being harassed or bullied on the platform. Being able to know about incidents of cyberbullying can be crucial to preventing further abuse from occurring. The Instagram Family Center also includes the Safety Center and the Education Hub to provide parents and children with tips, tricks, and information about staying safe online. 

Google's Family Link Lets You Monitor Your Child's Accounts Across Devices 

If your family prefers Google, Chrome OS, and Android, you are likely interested in a service that offers the same monitoring and activity tracking quality. Given the breadth of services that fall under the control of Google, including YouTube Kids, YouTube, and the Google Play Store, filtering out inappropriate content is key.  

By linking your child's Google Account to Family Links, you will be able to review activities across all the apps and services mentioned earlier and help ensure that any content they encounter will be age-appropriate and come from apps that you have approved. You can also rest assured that any limits on screen time you impose will be in effect across any device with Family Link installed to prevent late-night binge-watching sessions. 

Depending on the age of your child and how much they have been educated about the inherent risks of online activities, it may be in your child's best interests to have the ability to confirm the security and good management of account and app settings. With Family Link, you can view data and manage permission settings on the apps your child has on their smartphone, Chrome extensions they regularly use, and even individual websites. 

If you are the parent or guardian of a child and want to know that they have safely arrived at their intended destinations, you can even use Family Link to set up GPS-linked notifications. You will be notified when your child arrives and departs from a given location, such as their school. The programs also allow you to determine the available battery life of any connected device and call those devices through Family Link as needed. 

Fostering Communication with your Child or Teen is Vital for Online Safety 

Before you decide to impose your will upon your child and tell them how things are going to be for their activities, it is far better to afford them the courtesy of discussing the topic and explaining its importance. Given that the average person tends to chafe against rules they consider arbitrary and unfair, the tendency is all the more pronounced in young people who may lack awareness of the potential risks.  

Rather than introducing a child to the concept of surveillance by making them the subject of your personal investigations, consider sitting down with them and showcasing some relevant examples. Your kids may be less likely to make inappropriate posts online if they are made aware of the potential consequences. For example, the unwitting fraternity members in the first Borat film lost a defamation lawsuit after the judge determined their online profiles were in keeping with how they were depicted. 

Although many programs will require the permission of your child to utilize any monitoring tools, being aware of their online communications can help prevent cyberbullying, exploitation, and potentially worse. Having knowledge of their online interests will help ensure that they encounter age-appropriate content and avoid making significant mistakes. 

About Dan Martin: Daniel Martin is a technology researcher and writer with more than a decade of experience. He is a professional librarian and an experienced tech teacher, writer and blogger. Specializing in technology, Dan has taught courses in technology and writing at the college level, developed web pages for businesses and higher educational institutions, written on tech topics for leading national publications and created numerous how-to guides.


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