“Where is Andy? Did you call his phone?” Brad was torn between frustration and concern, so he settled for both.

“Of course, I did,” Brad’s wife, Janice, answered. “Just went to voice mail.”

“Why’d we get him the phone in the first place, if he won’t answer it?” Janice, recognizing this as a rhetorical question, didn’t answer. “What time was he supposed to be home?” Brad asked for the third time, a fact Janice chose to overlook.

She replied, “Ten.”

“Have you called Justin’s parents to see if they’ve heard from him?” That was one of the first things Janice had thought to do when Andy didn’t answer the phone. But she hesitated, afraid that would alarm the Warners.

“No, let’s give him another fifteen minutes to call back. If he hasn’t called, we’ll call again; and if he doesn’t pick up, then we’ll call the Warners.”

What parent of a teenager hasn’t experienced something like this? Your kid isn’t where he or she is supposed to be. You don’t know what he or she is doing. You don’t know if anything’s wrong. Technology was supposed to create all these connections and provide all this information, but it’s almost ten thirty at night and you still don’t know what’s going on.

In some ways, I need to watch that I’m not more complacent about where my oldest son is because he’s got a cell phone. Growing up, I received a veritable inquisition whenever I wanted permission to leave the house, especially at night. “Where are you going?” “Who are you going with?” “What are you going to be doing?” “Are any adults going to be there?” “When will you be home?” If I didn’t answer fully and correctly, the answer would be no. I wish I could say that I was always totally honest with my parents, but being a teenager, I sometimes downplayed certain aspects of my activities to gain permission. With technology, you have tools to gain answers when your kids won’t give them.

Some parents may experience discomfort at the thought of spying on their kids. It’s not spying if it’s your kids. You are the parent and have responsibility over and for them. Why should kids be the only ones to take advantage of technology?

  • Check out the phone and carrier your kids use for ways to monitor locations and activities. Any cell phone or smartphone can be located because it’s constantly communicating with the “mother ship” (Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, etc.). Large carriers have a service that allows parents to track their children’s whereabouts based on the location of their phones. You can set automatic alerts that will let you know where your children are at a certain time of day. You can view historical data to find out where your children have been over the past several days. This works best when the cell phone is equipped with GPS. Otherwise, the location can only be narrowed down to the nearest cell phone tower, and that could be a radius of several miles.
  • Check with your mobile carrier about a monitoring program that tracks the usage of your children’s cell phones or smartphones. If your carrier doesn’t offer the tracking or range of features you want, check out the monitoring programs recommended by Dr. Phil. He lists applications both for cell phones and for computers.[1]
  • Use safety features on each tech device.
    • If you’ve got a PC running Windows, you can create a separate account for your children and utilize the Family Safety Settings. Through weekly reports, you can monitor what they’re viewing and how long they’re online. You can block content or even applications you don’t want downloaded.
    • If you’re a Mac household, you can turn on the Parental Control to do the same sort of monitoring. If you’re not sure how to do this, my suggestion is not to ask your children. Instead, call the helpful tech person at your local Apple Store.
    • If your children have tablets, these same types of controls are available. Again, when in doubt, contact the manufacturer or the store where you purchased the items.

Still squeamish about these types of monitoring systems? Worried that you’re turning into Big Brother? The more you know about what your children are really doing on all those devices, the better. Either you’ll have confirmation that the rules and limits you’ve put in place are being respected, or you’ll have factual data when you need to confront your children over unacceptable behavior.

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 37 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.