Every parent worries about their children’s safety. Whether its the nervousness when your young one is home late from school, or the fear that your teenage driver isn’t actually going where they say they are; there are apps and devices to help you and keep your children safe.
There are a few apps for Android and iOS that can track your child using GPS and even offer some additional features, but there are also several physical devices that can offer a few advantages over the smartphone apps. For instance, their batteries last much longer than the average smartphone, and your child doesn’t need a smartphone to use them. We’ll be looking at three of the best child-tracking apps as well as three of the best physical devices.
So what’s the best way to keep an eye on your children? Read on to find out.
SafeT’s Children Tracker app is a comprehensive way of controlling everything your children do on their phones. It’s in beta right now, and only available for Android, so iOS users can move on to the next section. However, if your children have Android phones and you want to see who they are calling and texting and when, as well as their location, this is the app for you.
The app is a simple list of the things that it is tracking, with on/off toggles on the right. The huge advantage here is that in the settings, you can enable a pattern lock for the app so that your child won’t be able to access the app and turn off any of the permissions. For even further security, you have the option to hide the app from the app drawer and only access it through a dial code. As long as your kid isn’t particularly tech savvy, you could install this app on their phone and they would have no idea. You should, of course, tell them that you are tracking their actions. Please don’t do anything unethical with this; it’s merely a tool for enhanced parental control.
The Children Tracker website is a breeze to use and navigate. There is a modern-styled sidebar on the left with options for location, timeline, statistics, calendar, and applications. You can view where they are and where they’ve been, as well as set up a “Geo Fence” which will alert you if they leave a specified area.
Unfortunately, the app doesn’t seem to be able to turn on the phone’s GPS, unlike some anti-theft apps, so the location won’t be very accurate unless the WiFi or GPS is turned on. The timeline gives you a streamlined view of everything they’ve done, from the URLs they visited (if they use the stock browser) to the content of their text messages. You can also view statistics that detail who they call or text the most, view their calendar, and see all the apps installed on their phone.
The best part about Children Tracker? It’s free. No subscription or anything. I can’t promise it will stay that way when they come out of a beta, but at least for now, it’s a very full-featured service for no cost. Visit their website or download the Android app to get started.
Canary is a child-tracking app with an emphasis on teens who can drive. It has both Android and an iOS versions, and the parent can track their child from either the website or one of the apps. When setting up the app, it asks if the device belongs to a parent or teen. In general, the website and the Android app have gorgeous, simplistic user interfaces and are very easy to use.
The app requires the parent’s password to launch, and that will stop your child from messing with any of the settings. They could uninstall it, but this is a problem with any app. Canary combats this by notifying the parent if the app goes 15 hours without reporting any activity. There aren’t many options in the app aside from “monitor driving” and “notify my child of infractions.”
The website is equally simplistic and similar to Children Tracker’s Website. There’s a sidebar on the left with options for Dashboard, Account, and Devices. Under each device, you can view reports to check on how fast they usually drive, what their top speed was, where they went, etc. For geofences, you can set up curfews, safe zones, and restricted areas. You can also set a maximum speed for them to be driving. To find out if your child is distracted while driving, it will notify you anytime they are going over 12 mph with their phone unlocked.
The service includes a free 7-day trial, and there’s a one-time fee of $10 to keep using it. If you wait until after the trial expires, that fee goes up to $15. If you have a driving teen, this app is a simple, inexpensive solution to make sure they aren’t texting while driving, speeding, or going where they aren’t supposed to. You can find it on the Web, or for Android or iOS.
Life360 is a great all-around GPS location app for the whole family. Unlike the other apps, which are meant for parents to track children/teens, this app is for everyone in the family to know where everyone else is. It doesn’t have a lock feature, so your kids can sign out or uninstall it easily, making it more of a voluntary participation app than the others. It will also allow your kids to see where you are, so no more claiming to go to the gym and hiding out at Starbucks.
Life360 has apps for Android, iOS, and even Blackberry. Curiously, there is an Android app called GPS Tracking Pro by a developer called Family Safety Production, but it is exactly the same as Life360.
The Android app is very well laid out, in my opinion. It opens to the “Family Map” which will show your location as well as hospitals, police stations, fire stations, crime reports, and all of your family members. Clicking on one of their faces in the lower left corner will give you some more options. You can force their device to update their location, message them, call them, and view their location history. In the upper right corner are options for sending out a “Panic Alert,” messaging your entire family, or checking in.
You can also create “Places” and get notified when your loved ones go to or leave one of those places, like home, school, or work, but you only get two Places for free. Nearly everything you need to do can be done from the app, but if you visit the website, you’ll just get a larger Family Map and options to edit info for your family members.
Life360 is free unless you want the premium features, which cost $5 a month. The premium version gives you a 24/7 Live Advisor, Roadside Assistance, the ability to locate non-smartphones, an unlimited amount of Places, $100 in stolen phone protection, and expanded history data.
For a more in-depth look at Life360, check out James Bruce’s article.
This little device is simple, easy to use, and foolproof. It’s a small, white circular device with a green rubber casing around it, and weighs only 1.4 ounces. There are no buttons, switches, or indicator lights to fiddle with, and Location Based Technologies (LBT) claims that it is waterproof, shockproof, and dustproof. Just attach it to your child’s backpack or belt with a metal ring or carabiner, and you’re good to go. This device is always on, so you don’t have to worry about it accidentally being shut off, and you can choose how often it reports its location. LBT claims a battery life of up to a week, but in CNET’s review, they found that it really only lasted for about three days. Of course, charging it is incredibly simple: just place it in the included charging cradle. No cables or rubber flaps over ports to deal with.
The device is paired with a Web version as well as iOS and Android apps so that you can track your children when you’re on to the go. CNET found the mobile versions to be highly capable and able of doing anything that you could do from the Web version, including viewing 60 days of location history, setting up geofences, and adjusting the battery-saving settings.
LBT’s PocketFinder Personal GPS Locator wins in two categories here: simplicity and longest name ever. You can find it for $150 on LBT’s Website or for $100 on Amazon. To function, it requires a $13 a month pay-as-you-go fee, although the device does come with two free months of service.
The Amber Alert GPS device is a small, rectangular, and comes in a variety of colors with thick black borders. It can also be clipped onto backpacks like the PocketFinder, but this device has a few indicators and a button. The three lights on the front indicate battery level, cell signal, and GPS signal. There is also a large SOS button if your child is ever in danger. As soon as they press and hold the button, it sends an email or text message to the parent. This device is only slightly heavier than the PocketFinder at 2.17 ounces and is charged via micro-USB.
The reason this device has a cell signal is to support two-way voice communication. At any time, the parent can communicate with the device and the child can respond. This can be helpful if your child has pressed the SOS button and you want to find out what is going on, although this feature is only included in the Premium package.
Amber Alert GPS also has both Parent (Android, iOS) and Teen (Android, iOS) apps. The Teen app updates their location periodically, and the Parent app allows you to check in on all your children and teens.
However, all these features come with a price. The device itself is $200 plus a $20 activation fee, and you’re required to at least sign a one-year contract for one of the monthly payment plans. The Basic Package is $15 a month while the Premium Package is $25 a month. The Premium Package gets you breadcrumbing, speed alerts, zone alerts, predator alerts, 2-way voice, and the mobile apps.
If you’re looking to save a little cash and you know that you’ll be using this device for a while, you can sign up for a three-year Premium Package contract and get the $200 device for free. Other options include pre-paying for the entire one-year contract upfront to save $20 on the device, or signing a two-year contract to save $40 on the device. This device won’t be easy on your pockets, but it might be worth it for the wide array of features.
The eZoom by Securus looks like a bleaker version of the Amber Alert GPS device. It has the same three indicators and an SOS button, but it only comes in one color option that is a combination of black and grey. It also claims to be water and dustproof and is charged via a mini-USB port hidden under a rubber flap. This is the heaviest of the three devices at 3 ounces.
You can visit Securus’s website to track the eZoom online or through their iOS or Android apps, and you can set up alerts if it leaves a specified area. It doesn’t have 2-way voice communication like the Amber Alert GPS, but it is a more versatile device with accessories like a battery extender and car mount.
However, it has pretty terrible reviews on Amazon, and the folks over at CNET found the location tracking to be subpar and the Android app to be slow and glitchy.
The device itself, at $100 on their website or $76 on Amazon, is the cheapest of the three devices, but the real cost is in the $20 monthly service plan. The plan requires at least a one-year minimum commitment, with no pay-as-you-go option like the PocketFinder. If you pay for a full year in advance, it is discounted to $15 a month, and if you pay for two years in advance, it comes out to $13 a month. There’s also a $30 activation fee, unless you opt for one of the pre-paid options, in which case the activation fee is $15.
If your children have an Android, iOS, or BlackBerry device, Life360 is easily the best all-purpose app for finding out where the whole family is. Driving teens may require Canary, and particularly troublesome children might be better off with Children Tracker, but Life360 is a phenomenal app for keeping your family close and connected.
If your children don’t yet have smartphones, PocketFinder is definitely your best hardware option. It’s the smallest, lightest option and the easiest to use. It doesn’t have any buttons or signal indicators to make it conspicuous, and it can be charged easily without plugging anything in. Plus, its $13 a month fee is minuscule compared to similar offerings from the Amber Alert GPS and eZoom, and it doesn’t require any lengthy contracts. Pick up a PocketFinder from LBT’s Website ($150) or Amazon ($100).
And since I know you only read this far if you have some children you really care about, learn how to keep them safe in an online world and think about using Kids Kontrol to keep track of all your child’s activities.
What do you think? Have you ever used any of these apps or devices? Which is your favorite? Did we miss any that you would recommend? Let us know in the comments below.
Image Credits: Children Via Flickr