Digital age parenting: Staying in the know with your child

Published: May. 6, 2017 at 11:15 AM EDT
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(05/08/17) - According to a study by Influence Central, the average age of a child getting a cell phone or mobile device is age 10.

As more and more kids get these devices at a younger age, clinical therapists say their risk for getting involved in riskier behavior increases, meaning parents need to be on top of what their kids are doing on their devices.

"It makes them really feel connected to the world, but they don't realize it's a great big world out there and everyone in the world is not nice," said Clinical Therapist Dr. Recco Richardson.

Richardson says the instant gratification of information creates a power struggle between parents and their children.

"It's fast, it's quick, it's entertaining, it's powerful, so to pull them away from that to go do homework or do their chores or to come and sit and eat dinner with their family, you might have a battle on your hands," he said.

That battle, he says, is not temporary - setting the stage for problems down the road.

"Parents should have access to how they're monitoring access to their child's technology," Richardson said.

There are many apps available to help parents do just that.

Kathryn Jackson, a mother of three girls, uses Life 360 with her oldest daughter, an app that helps keep families connected at all times.

"It was very streamline, you just downloaded it, and it gave me all the options. It was very workable and useful because I like to see where she is," Jackson said.

Jackson, who mainly uses the app to track where her daughter is, says it's not a matter of trust.

"It's for me, a safety issue," she said.

That allows her to not only see where her daughter is at, but if there is ever an emergency, the app allows the person to hit the alert button, which sends a voicemail, text and email to everyone in the circle.

"She said, 'Mom, I can see where you are too,'" Jackson said. "I would recommend it to any parent. I think that's part of the accountability and part of the responsibility of having a phone."

Many of the wireless providers also have their own apps to track activity on kids' phones - like AT&T's Family Map.

"That allows you to kind of know where your kid is at all times. You plug in your phone numbers into the app and you can set alerts to let you know if your child has arrived at baseball practice at 3:30 like they're supposed to be and if if they got home in time like they're supposed to be," said AT&T spokeswoman Teresa Mask.

AT&T Smart Limits shows who your child has been texting, while still giving them their sense of independence.

"It doesn't tell you what the text message says, but tells you how long they've been talking and how many text messages are going out," Mask said.

So while these apps and services are available, it's not an all around fix - just a way for parents to stay better connected and in the know.

"I just like to be aware of where she's been and where she's going," Jackson said.

The Life360 app is free for both Android and iPhone, however, some of the AT&T apps do run a small monthly fee.