Covering the Business of Parenting Technology

by October 31, 2018

From tracking data to devices of spyware, here are ways to localize the new market of parenting technology. Photo credit to Pixabay user alphalight1)

With today’s technology, parents can watch out for their children — even if they’re not in the same room. Modern debates have included the opposite spectrums of “helicopter parents” versus parents who use technology as a babysitter.

Some worry about the ethics of “spying” on children and possible trust problems between parent and child. It’s even been the topic of an episode of the Netflix original series “Black Mirror,” which provides dark social commentary on current trends and technology.

Teenagers, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, make up 13.2 percent of the population. That equals about 42 million teenagers (in this case, between the ages of 10 and 19).

The number of teenagers is predicted to reach 45 million in 2025, but is also expected to be a minority part of the population, particularly since Millennials are having less children or forgoing parenthood all together

According to the Pew Research Center, 95 percent of teenagers have a smartphone, while 88 percent have computer access at home. Almost half say that they are online “almost constantly,” mostly on such platforms as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. And with more teenagers with technology, there are more guardians looking over their shoulders.

Here’s how you can further research the new parenting technology.

For Drivers

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the main cause of death for teenagers are “motor vehicle crashes,” backed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The CDCP claims six teenagers (ages 16-19) die every day from such injuries, with 31 percent being related to speeding in 2016. Over 3000 are because of distracted driving incidents in 2016.

With these concerns in mind, Ford touts MyKey, which includes controls for radio volume and vehicle speeds, as well as an alarm for unbuckled seat belts. Other car companies, such as Chevrolet and Volkswagon, advertise similar technology aimed at parents of teenage drivers. Some send location tracking information to parents’ phones in case of an accident or because of general concern. For new drivers, some corporations even advertise adaptive virtual reality technology to tutor people in driving.

Twenty percent of teenage fatalities were related to alcohol, according to the NHTSA. For teenagers who may be struggling with alcohol or other illegal substances, parents can, for example, install a device that won’t allow the car to move if the person is intoxicated.

For General Tracking

Apple has built-in location software, but other companies have expanded into a more focused market for parents. Tracking technologies can come in all forms, such as apps or physical devices that can include subscription plans, and with features that can include geo-fencing. (Geo-fencing allows parents to be alerted whenever their child leaves a designated “safe zone.”) Some others can include the ability to listen in on conversations, speed-dial the child or authorities or even games or a fitness tracker for the user. 

These worries, for example, have inspired a Wisconsin company to develop an app — “Mom I’m Okay” which sends push notifications to a phone. If the child does not respond, the location information can be accessed and given to law enforcement officials.

This company, Three Square Market, is known for micro-chipping their employees.) Several teen tracking-related devices are also available via Brickhouse Security, which touts its specialized GPS devices that can plug into cars. There are varieties by different companies, such as Verizon, that even sell GPS-tracking wristwatches and shoes.

Many lists of recommended tracking devices in recent years can be found in major publications such as the Huffington Post and USA Today. Multiple websites and blogs also suggest devices or provide compilations. For example, PCMag.com has a list of child tracking devices for comparison purposes based on price (some include payment plans for subscriptions), quality and even water-proofing ability.

They are not without its issues. mSpy, a parental-tracking app, for example, had a data breach of users’ personal information this year, in addition to the two times in 2015. In addition to location information, the app monitors calls, messages and social media usage.

For Behavior on the Internet

More than a quarter of parents monitor their teenager’s online activities, according to USA Today. The Pew Research Center reported in 2016 that 61 percent of parents look through websites that their teenager has visited, while 60 percent check social media.

Many parents set house rules–or add on a technology aspect. Some apps, such as Bark, simply monitor. Others resort to filters that outright block non-approved websites or activities, like KidsLox and NetNanny. Like the tracking devices, these services can be apps or software paid mainly through a subscription service.

Like tracking devices, companies and websites get in on the niche market. The 2018 Tom’s Guide, a tech-reviewing website, is one of these sites that advertise the “best parental control apps.” But in some cases, parental and child activities are separated all together. For instance, Facebook has a separate messaging system for children, Messenger for Kids.

What to Do

How many local parents use this kind of technology? Which companies, either local or national, profit? Have these companies seen an increase in orders or subscriptions the past few years? Are there generational differences (for example, Baby Boomers versus Millennials) in attitudes about using such technology to watch children? 

In terms of demographics, to compare the data in your area to national statistics, the U.S. Census has data on the amount of teenagers/minors in households, as well as in co-resident households. More background data can be found at the Pew Research Center, such as “On social media, mom and dad are watching” (2015), “Parents, Teens and Digital Monitoring” (2018) and “6 takeaways about how parents monitor their teen’s digital activities” (2016). 

Not just minors are tracked. People with disabilities, such as those with autism, or the elderly, also fall under the use of these devices, as well in romantic or sexual relationships. Also, consider how this technology may be used irresponsibly or in cases of abuse. Are there ways to get around this technology? Have there been complaints or legal action?