As Kids Go Online, New Tools For Parents To Spy : All Tech Considered As children get online earlier and stay there longer, a new crop of technology is evolving to limit what they can see — and to monitor their every move.
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As Kids Go Online, New Tools For Parents To Spy

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As Kids Go Online, New Tools For Parents To Spy

As Kids Go Online, New Tools For Parents To Spy

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

And now it's time for All Tech Considered.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: By the age of 1, nearly half of kids play games, watch videos or listen to music on a mobile device. That's according to a study of families in the journal Pediatrics. By the time they're teenagers, about three-quarters have their own smart phone or at least access to one. As just about every parent knows, getting kids online is the easy part. Protecting them is harder. NPR's Aarti Shahani reports.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Bryhem Clax has a 9-year-old stepson who watches a lot of YouTube.

BRYHEM CLAX: His profile - all you're going to see is Minecraft, nothing but Minecraft.

SHAHANI: The kid loves games, but even when his YouTube channel is all youth and innocence, the advertisements are not.

CLAX: Like, he'll go watch a game, but they just put up whatever - I guess it's just a random selection, whatever advertisement pops up.

SHAHANI: Suggestive ads - a man smoking, a woman dancing provocatively. It can get more racy than the stuff you see in TV commercials. And even if it's just for five or 10 seconds, Clax says...

CLAX: It's an impressionable time for a child.

SHAHANI: Cheryl West has had that awkward moment when she's just trying to help her kid with homework and Google search goes rated R.

CHERYL WEST: We were punching something in for, like, a health report, and there was naked men on there. And she's in middle school, and I was like, oh, whoa, whoa, whoa.

SHAHANI: West tried to protect her daughter by going to Best Buy and getting software to lock the computer, limit the websites that'll load, but that didn't work either.

WEST: She figured it out.

SHAHANI: She figured out the whole system and how to hack it. Like many ninth-graders, she knows computers better than her parents do.

WEST: I didn't realize it for a couple of weeks. I said, what's going on here? And she goes, I unlocked it, Mom. And I said, excuse me? They're unbelievable.

SHAHANI: There is so much a parent cannot control online. In part, it's because kids have their own free will. And in part, it's because the technology just isn't that evolved. While many sophisticated products exist to help employers monitor their workers, far fewer help parents manage kids.

PAUL JUDGE: If you look at the home network, it really hasn't changed in 10 years.

SHAHANI: Paul Judge is the founder of Luma, a new security startup for families.

JUDGE: You have that same kind of blue and black router that you purchased 10 years ago. Maybe you bought a new one, but it hasn't changed much. It hasn't gotten smarter.

SHAHANI: Luma revamps the home Wi-Fi. Using their smart phones, parents can see every wireless device attempting to use a network, block access, set levels of permission. Little Timmy just gets G-rated websites. Tina gets PG. And if there's a site that seems questionable but Timmy or Tina have a reason to go there...

JUDGE: They can actually press a button on the web app, and it will send a request to the parent. So even if the parent's off at work, you can allow it or deny it from your phone sitting at your desk at the office.

SHAHANI: Luma also lets you limit access by time of day. During homework time, just allow educational websites. During dinner time when there's dead silence at the table...

JUDGE: You can press a button, and it will pause the Internet. The kids have to look up and actually engage with their parents.

SHAHANI: Assuming their parents aren't too busy on their phones. Luma also lets you watch your kids, review every site they visited, and that surveillance power is becoming common. Microsoft built Windows 10 to give parents a weekly browsing report. Apps like PhoneSheriff and TeenSafe let you remotely read your child's call logs and text messages, even deleted texts. Parents feel conflicted about spying.

CLAX: Once you get to high school, I kind of feel like you got your bumps and bruises.

SHAHANI: That's stepdad Bryhem Clax.

CLAX: You know, as long as you're doing what you're supposed to do, you're not getting in no trouble and I don't see no drastic change in your behavior, then I wouldn't really so much as worry about what you watching.

SHAHANI: As he's talking, his partner, Joy Wilson, is nodding no. She completely disagrees with him.

JOY WILSON: I don't trust teens (laughter). I was one once (laughter).

SHAHANI: She says she'd like to spy on her kids until they're 18. Another mom, Frieda Taylor, says spying is her right.

FRIEDA TAYLOR: It is good. It should be done.

SHAHANI: Until what age?

TAYLOR: Until they get married (laughter).

SHAHANI: Clearly lots of room for debate. Aarti Shahani, NPR News.

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