How to Spy on Your Kids
From baby monitors to computer tracking software to cell phone GPS, there are several ways to keep an eye on your children, regardless of their age.
June 03, 2009 by Chuck McKenney

My wife and I are on the fast track to becoming “helicopter parents.” You know, those parents who hover over their children.

She recently dusted off the old baby monitor (wireless camera with TV monitor) so we could keep tabs on our 4-year old who moved to the bedroom on the third floor. I bought a set of Uniden two-way radios (or walkie-talkies as we call them) so we can hear his demands for another glass of water from our first floor living room. Our newborn son will eventually take his place in the room across the hall from us. Yes, I’ve been instructed to upgrade or get another monitor.

As our kids get older, there will be more to worry about. What web sites are they surfing? What are they watching on TV? Who are they calling on their cell phones? As teenagers, will they have parties when we leave town?

Fortunately for worry-warts like us, there’s technology to help us keep an eye on them. Whatever your parenting style, here are several ways to keep tabs on your kids.

Baby Monitors & Surveillance Cameras
For those who don’t want to get too tech crazy with their surveillance, try the Summer Infant Quiet Sounds Video Monitor. We’ve been using it for years. For $100, you get the 5-inch black-and-white monitor, night vision camera, sound lights and two channel selection (900 MHz). The picture isn’t crystal clear and the audio almost always has some low-level static, but unless you are trying to watch your child breathe, this monitor gets the job done. You’ll find similiar products at Babies-R-Us and Secure Baby. Pay attention to the frequency used by these monitors because it’s possible your cordless phone or other electronic devices could cause interference.

Need to watch two kids at the same time? Try the BebeSounds Color Video and Sound Monitor with 2 Cameras. For $220, you get a less cumbersome color LCD display, and the ability to toggle between cameras so you can monitor multiple children in different rooms.

Headed out of town but want to keep an eye on your teenagers? The Home Security Store has this Mini Color Pinhole Camera Kit for $55. Connect the penny-size camera to your TV, VCR, computer or DVR and record everything.

Cell Phones
Kajeet offers a full complement of parental controls. Block calls/texts from any phone number or block ALL numbers except for specific ones. The GPS Phone Locator helps you find your kid’s phone online anytime. Another benefit to Kajeet; its pay-as-you-go, no contract service. Check out CNET’s review:

Overall, we really like that Kajeet is trusting children with real full-fledged cell phones that will transition them easily into adulthood. The service also allows parents to really control their child’s cell phone usage via the Kajeet Configurator. It’s a pretty decent service that lets parents teach their kids responsible cell phone usage, and add that to its low pay-as-you-go pricing, and we think the Kajeet service is great for families.

Other options include: Firefly, Enfora TicTalk, and Verizon Migo.

Most operating systems have a Parental Controls feature. This is the cheapest and easiest route to monitoring computer use. You can find this feature on your Control Panel (or System Preferences for Mac users). It allows you to:

  • Restrict/block certain web sites
  • Prevent file downloads
  • Control access to games
  • Set time restrictions

Upgrade to software such as Net Nanny ($40), PC Tattletale ($50) and eBlaster ($99) and you can record all online activity including emails, chats and instant messages. The software packages this information into one tidy report and emails it to you.

Many cable boxes and TVs come with parental controls. You can block programs, channels, movies by rating, and adult titles from appearing in the program guide. For more guidelines, check out Control Your TV.

Afraid your teen has the need-for-speed when they’re behind the wheel? Get a car-monitoring device. It records speed, distance and location. There are two types of devices: black-boxes and real-time units. The black boxes record the driving data while plugged in under the dash. Unplug and download the data right to your computer. The real-time units work with GPS.

Check out AllTrack USA, CarChip, and DriveOK.

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