The world is now in a 6-inch device in the palm of your hands. Children as young as 10 have their own smartphones. There are apps that parents can install on their children's phones to restrict access to certain sites, control app usage, and set screen time remotely. However, it is quite difficult to monitor conversations, privacy issues aside.
The latest "Bois Locker Room" controversy, which erupted after a few male students of some Delhi-NCR schools were found objectifying and threatening fellow female students in an online chat group, has brought to light the need for parental controls.
But can apps and software really monitor conversations that tech-savvy teenagers have? It's near impossible.
Parental Control Apps
There are many parental control apps that are available for iOS and Android. Google's Family Link app comes in two parts – one for parents and one for children. The same goes for apps like Net Nanny, Nischint and eKavach, which are all available on the Google Play store or Apple's App Store.
These apps can set geo-fences to alert you if the child steps out of a designated area. They can monitor screen time and app usage time and send you reports of activity. They can allow you to block certain apps or websites or restrict access to the device itself remotely.
The purpose of these apps is to set a routine for the child. Certain apps can read SMS text messages as well, but not messages from Whatsapp, Twitter direct messages, Instagram Chats or Snapchat, as these are encrypted.
The latest "Bois Locker Room" controversy revolves around such chat groups.
If a parent wants to read messages that a child is sending in a chat room, it is possible by using spyware on the child's phone – although not easy.
Note, installing spyware could be illegal as it breaches privacy. Such software has to be installed only with consent, but it’s highly unlikely any teen would want a parent snooping on their conversations.
Apps like Teen Spy and mSpy don't come on the Android Play Store or Apple App Store for a reason – they don't fall within the guidelines of privacy that Apple and Google have set. These apps can be installed from third-party sources. Mobile anti-virus and anti-spyware software will have to be disabled for this.
These spyware apps offer all the features that parental apps like Net Nanny, Google's Digital Well Being, Google Family Link, Nischint, SecureTeen eKavach and others offer. But over that, Teen Spy and mSpy also install custom keyboards on the phone which then track keystrokes (known as keyloggers). Every message typed on the phone is recorded.
It even manages to track Whatsapp and Snapchat messages by logging or taking screenshots of notifications (if notifications are enabled) and then collating text replies, if the child responds to a message notification immediately. While this partially gives access to one side of the conversation, even these apps cannot read full encrypted messages on Whatsapp, Snapchat, or Instagram.
The Best Solution
One word: Trust.
Or you could try age-appropriate apps if the child is below 13 years of age. Facebook, for instance, has Messenger for Kids, which is a standalone app that allows for safe messaging and video chats with only approved contacts. Parents can monitor and set rules using the app.
However, for teenagers, technology isn't the best solution. While apps can set restrictions, they cannot build character. That is a completely different parenting subject, which technology can't solve, but only enable.