Good parenting (never an easy job) can't be replaced by technology, but sometimes technology can help you be a better parent. Apps can give you tools and super parenting powers you never dreamed of before. While there are many parent app lists that can keep your child educated and entertained, here are some apps that will keep your kids safe and healthy.
With latest version of the Apple's mobile software (iOS 5), parents are getting an increased level of parental control over previous versions. With iOS 5 parents can control almost everything a child can do on their iDevice (iPod, iPhone, iPad). While that sounds great in theory, in practice it can be very frustrating. You can set restrictions on whether your child has access to Safari, Camera, FaceTime, Game Center, YouTube, the App Store, whether they can install or delete software, etc. Unfortunately these options are binary, your kid can surf or she can't, see YouTube or not.
When it comes to allowed content sold/rented/accessed via ITunes, iOS 5 has much better parental controls. You can set the age content level for music & podcasts, movies, TV shows and apps based on industry content ratings.
As an added bonus, you can use the new free Find My Friends app to track your kid's iPhone location in real time.
As good as iOS 5's parental controls are, they are still very basic and lack the robustness of a dedicated app that allows more nuanced control. For example you may have a teenager that needs to access the web via Safari but you still want to have some safe browsing and Internet filtering that is age appropriate. Enter the dedicated apps.
Child Safe Browser with Internet Filtering and Parental Controls
As a parent and a developer of the Mobicip Safe Browser (a popular Internet content filtering service for the iPod touch , iPhone iPad , Windows 7 and Linux, with parental controls and monitoring), I lead a team that thinks about children’s Internet safety 24/7. After exhaustive research with child development psychologists, high-tech law enforcement officials, Internet safety experts, school IT directors, teachers and parents, we have developed mobile Internet safety solutions centered around three content filtering levels:
- The elementary school level in our kid-friendly browser blocks social networking, gaming, shopping, entertainment, clothing, and news sites/content, in addition to the middle and high school level restrictions listed below.
- The middle school level in the Mobicip Safe Browser blocks online gambling, dating, liquor, and chat sites/content, in addition to the high school level restrictions listed below.
- High school level in the Mobicip Safe Browser is the least restrictive and blocks adult, sexual, weapons, violence, proxy, virus and hacking sites/content.
Our app costs only $4.99 (premium subscriptions are $9.99 a year allowing you more robust monitoring features on multiple devices).
While I believe very strongly that our kid safe browser with Internet filtering parental controls is the very best on the market, you do have other options. K9 and BSecure (both free) and SurfBalance ($4.99) are available, but we feel that their less-than-robust Internet filtering falls short of our high standard for child-safe browsers. Regardless of which you choose, even if it is a competitor, we urge you to install some kind of safe browser solution on all your kids' Internet devices.
Life360 (free or $4.99/month subscription for premium features) is a family locator app that instantly displays the GPS coordinates of all your family members (even if they don't have smart phones). The ability to work independent of a phone's software and hardware, gives this app a leg up over iOS 5's Find My Friends app. With Life360, you can send a message via the app to see if a family member is safe. Family members can check in at a safe location (school, home, Grandma's house, etc.). If a family member goes missing, you can send the authorities all their personal information (photos, GPS history, etc.). Of all the safety apps we tried, this one has by far the most comprehensive features list. As an added bonus, Life360 offers pocket-size GPS devices that can be used for children that don't have phones. Each device costs $99 to purchase and then $10/month for data service.
Someday, your kid might need to alert you that there is an emergency, but they need to do it subtly so that onlookers can't see. This is where the Silent Bodyguard, a secret panic button/location tracker app ($1.99), comes in. With the touch of an icon, the Silent Bodyguard app will send out an emergency SOS message to email, text, Twitter/Facebook with your kids' GPS location every 60 seconds without alerting onlookers.
You can't always be there (physically) for your kids. Every family wrestles with the question of what age their child should be given the responsibility of coming and going by themselves.
Here are two apps by lock manufacturers that come with wireless computer controlled hardware locks that you can install on your front door. These apps can email or text you automatically when someone enters your home. You can assign a specific entry code to each child so that you instantly know when each child is safe at home. If your kid forgets their entry code, you can often open the front door remotely.
The Lockitron uses your iPhone as the key. After you install the hardware on your front door, you just download the free app to your kid’s iPhone, and follow the simple instructions. You can even remotely open the door with your laptop.
The Schlage LiNK kit, offers some of the same features, but requires an $8.99 monthly charge to send/receive texts and work remotely. The system also works with Schlage's wired camera.
If you have a home security system like ADT, you can also download a free app called ADT Plus that can give you a full picture of your home from sensors and installed web cams.
(Live web cam view from ADT Plus sent to your phone.)
Home automation specialists like Control4, can build you a custom latchkey security system that you can run from your mobile phone. If you are going the home automation route anyway, it might be a good feature to consider.
If you want to keep your kids safe at home when you are not there, first install a kid-safe browser like Mobicip on their iPhone, iPod or iPad. You can also install some hidden nanny cams that you can access from your iPhone.
Kid Emergency Information Software:
The FBI's Child ID App (free) is one app you hope you never need.
You type in your child's vital statistics, shoot a picture of your kid with the iPhone's camera and you have all the information you need to pass on to authorities should your child go missing. The app includes a quick way to dial 911, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and to send your child's information and photo to authorities. The app also includes two very useful checklists detailing what to do in the first and second 24 hours a kid goes missing. While this app is designed for parents, one could easily see a teacher on a field trip using it (with the parents’ permission of course).
While the FBI's app is very good for a missing child, if your child has a medical condition, cough up $2.99 for iEmergency ICE Family Pro. If you or your child has a life-threatening condition, such as a serious allergy, this app's lock screen could literally be a life saver. Totally worth the three bucks right there.
But there's more. This app allows you (or anyone in your family who shares the app) to have complete medical history, doctor's phone number, insurance, etc for all family members. The app allows a first responder to instantly call your top emergency contacts.
If your child is having unusual health symptoms you may be wondering if it could be a sign of something serious. Find out with the WebMD Mobile app (free). There are a lot of health apps out there, but this one is considered the best because the content is approved by doctors in that field.
Sex Offender Finder:
Part of keeping your kid safe is knowing the dangers around you. Thanks to Megan's Law, sex offenders have to register with the authorities. With the Offender Locator Lite (free) app you can see a map of the local sex offenders, plus mug shots and a list of their crimes. (Life360 also offers sex offender mapping.) No matter where you are living, this app will definitely give you the creeps once you know how close they live to your home or school. But forewarned is forearmed, if you see any of these people hanging around your child you will know to get him or her quickly out of danger.
Raising a kid to be a safe and healthy adult is a challenge, but with these mobile apps you'll have the situation well in hand.
Suren Ramasubbu is the Founder of Mobicip.com, a popular Internet content filtering service for the iPod touch , iPhone iPad , Windows 7 and Linux, with parental controls and monitoring. Mobicip's mission is to provide a safe, secure and educational Internet experience for school-age children. Mobicip's dynamic content filtering technology helps parents protect their children from a new wave of Internet hazards stemming from mobility so they can learn and love the mobile web. By delivering an online safety net through its parental control solution, Mobicip gives parents and educators the ability to safeguard their children's mobile devices. Before launching Mobicip.com, Suren was an Operating Manager at Agilent Technologies, responsible for a division's enterprise web infrastructure strategy and team. At Agilent, Suren has led QA automation strategy, evangelized software engineering methodologies, and developed software for RF and mixed-signal electronic design automation. Suren has also volunteered as a consultant for educational technology projects and led successful United Way volunteering and fundraising campaigns. He holds a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering from Virginia Tech and an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.