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Home Advice & How-ToFamily How to Track Your Child’s Phone

How to Track Your Child’s Phone

by Spokeo

By the age of 14, more than 91% of American children own a smartphone.  Of these, a substantial proportion receive their first phone before they reach 10 years of age.  For parents, the most common motivation is to make it easier for their child to contact them in an emergency.  That comes at the risk of introducing a child to a vast array of apps, social media platforms and mobile tools that can compromise their safety — unless, that is, parents are vigilant and involved.  

To promote safe online behavior among children, here’s how parents can track their child’s phone. 

Why Track Your Child’s Phone?

A phone may be a lifeline in an emergency, but there is a dark side.  It’s also a beacon that broadcasts the owner’s location; a gateway to apps that can expose children to predators; a camera that can invade privacy; and a potential vehicle for cyberbullying or catfishing and scams.  Then there are the social side effects, too.  With the average teenager spending 43% of their waking hours glued to a screen, mobile access can end up limiting, rather than enhancing, their development.  

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In short, a phone is a gift that doesn’t necessarily keep on giving.  Responsible parents understand that they should track their child’s phone use, behavior and location. 

Monitor your child’s whereabouts

It’s every parent’s nightmare: Your child doesn’t turn up at the agreed time and place, and they’re not answering your calls.  Fortunately, parents can track their child’s location via smartphone.  Both Android and Apple phones offer a “Find My Device” feature that can track location via the cloud.  Simply activate the feature in settings (enable location sharing) and you can view, lock or erase any linked device remotely (even if it’s offline).  

Parents can go one step further by installing the Family Link app on Google, which not only tracks location but also monitors activity, and approves/blocks content or purchases.  Apple’s Family Sharing feature is the iOS counterpart, giving parents “Find My Device” tools as well as complete control over their child’s online content consumption. 

If you’re worried about the possibility of sex offenders in your neighborhood or are looking after a particularly vulnerable child, you can even use the free FBI Child ID app to store photos and vital information.  In that way, it’s all ready to share with law enforcement in a crisis. 

Manage your child’s smartphone activity

Without establishing parental controls on your child’s online activity, you’re forcing them to set their own boundaries.  That’s too much to ask of any child, not least because the apps themselves are designed to be irresistible.  

Don’t rely on the customary age restriction (minimum of 13) for most common social media apps.  These barriers to entry are easy for savvy children to bypass and offer no guarantee that the platform takes their safety seriously.  

Install Family Link (Google) or Family Sharing (Apple) if you want a comprehensive view of your child’s online activity, with the ability to:

  • Set daily screen time limits.
  • Block access to apps or content that is not age-appropriate.
  • Establish ground rules for device use.
  • Limit or block in-app purchases.

Smart kid with a smartphone? How to keep up

An important point to remember with Family Link and similar monitoring software is that they are intended for kids under 13 only.  In fact, once your child turns 13, Google invites them to manage their own account and opt out of Family Link if they so choose. 

But let’s not kid ourselves about children — they’ll find a way to hack controls, bypass settings and override limits from their friends or online tutorials.  For example, they could factory reset their device, clear data and storage from their phone, change their time and date settings, or send messages through voice assistants instead of apps.  

That’s why it’s important to explain to your child what you’re BOTH up against, namely Big Tech, toxic social media, scammers and predators.  They need to understand that you’re looking out for their safety, not intent on blocking their fun. 

Best Practices for Encouraging Healthy Phone Use

The safest conversation you can have with your kids about phone use is offline.  Outline the risks they face and that the purpose of tracking them is protection rather than punishment.  If they can buy into the goal of keeping the whole family network secure and age-appropriate, they’re more likely to take ownership of their online safety in the future.  Above all, it’s worth reminding children that a smartphone is still a privilege, not a right.  Permissions can be revoked and access withdrawn. 

How to Use Spokeo for Safe Phone Use

If you’re monitoring your child’s phone activity and spot messages, connections or activity you don’t feel comfortable with, Spokeo gives you a discreet way to complete your own background checks.  Run a reverse search of any email addresses or phone numbers that seem suspicious, to confirm who is interacting with your kids.  Spokeo is also a great tool for revealing if your child has set up profiles or accounts you don’t know about.  You can’t always stay one step ahead, but there’s no reason for you to lose sight completely.