Let's just start with the obvious: We all want to trust our kids to do the right thing and the idea of spying on them -- on- or off-line -- makes us feel a little dirty. That said, what a parent does is love and protect -- and if we don't know what the kids are up to, how can we keep them safe? With new apps coming to market every day, how does a parent sort through the chaos to figure out where their teens are going when they hole up in their rooms with their smartphones? Here's some information that might help:
1. Teenagers have not abandoned Facebook.
Facebook is humongous and is the favorite social media site of Baby Boomers. That said, kids didn't abandon it en masse when their parents got there. Affluent teens did jump the Facebook ship, but less-affluent and minority teens are still there in force.
In fact, Sedgrid Lewis, founder of SpyParent, says that for the most part, kids are sticking to the tried-and-true social media sites. The big four sites remain Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. "New apps are not gaining traction at all," Lewis told The Huffington Post.
A Pew Research study released last April said the same thing. The teens sampled (ages 13 to 17) reported that Facebook was the site they used most frequently (41 percent said that), followed by Instagram (20 percent) and Snapchat (11 percent).
2. You can follow their smartphone.
You want to know what Junior is up to? Literally, follow his phone.
Nearly three-quarters of teens have or have access to a smartphone and 24 percent say they are on it almost constantly. Phones and other mobile devices have become a primary driver of teen Internet use: Among these “mobile teens,” 94 percent go online daily or more than once a day, found Pew.
So how do you follow them around? Mspy.com tops Lewis' list. While there are many tracking and monitoring apps available, Mspy meets the challenges of the job, he notes. In other words, it works. Mspy allows a parent to track location, messages, Snapchats and Instagram posts, and more -- for a monthly fee.
3. No demographic is an exception.
African-American and Hispanic youth report more frequent Internet use than white teens, found Pew. Among African-American teens, 34 percent reported going online “almost constantly” as do 32 percent of Hispanic teens. Only 19 percent of the white teens admitted almost constant use.
African-American teens were the most likely of any group of teens to have a smartphone, with 85 percent having access to one, compared with 71 percent of both white and Hispanic teens. Phones are the primary driver of teen Internet use.
4. There are gangs on Facebook and other sites your kids frequent.
Yes, gangs. Cyber-bullying may not be the scariest thing out there. Gangs have had an Internet presence since the get-go. The Crips used to post messages like "Crippin' ain't easy, but it sure is fun," back in the days of MySpace. Think of it as online recruitment. Tech-savvy gangsters are on Twitter and Facebook, where they make threats, boast about criminal activity and network with people across the country just like everyone else.
4. Boys and girls behave just slightly differently online.
Boys reported to Pew that they visit Facebook most often (45 percent of boys vs. 36 percent of girls). Girls are on Instagram (23 percent of girls vs. 17 percent of boys) and Tumblr (6 percent of girls compared with less than 1 percent of boys).
5. The age of your teenager matters.
Older teens ages 15 to 17 were more likely than younger teens to cite Facebook (44 percent vs. 35 percent of younger teens), Snapchat (13 percent vs. 8 percent) and Twitter (8 percent vs. 3 percent) as their most often used platform, while teens ages 13 and 14 were more likely than their older counterparts to list Instagram (25 percent vs. 17 percent of older teens) as the platform they visit most often.
6. You aren't crazy: Too much time spent online isn't good for the soul -- or anything else.
Many parents stick with the "no Internet after dinner" rule. Others attempt to outlaw it during the school week but then allow the floodgates to open on weekends.
Like everything else in life, it seems the key is moderation.
But just keep in mind that self-moderation can be a tough expectation for teenagers. And electronic screen syndrome is real. It causes teens to be moody and lack concentration. There is also a real concern about sleep deprivation when they are online all night.
7. Your best defense may be to join them.
Yep. Utilize the software yourself. Download Twitter and follow your favorite news outlets or celebrities; use Snapchat to communicate with your spouse during the day. By using the apps, you will understand them better. Combine this with physically examining your teen's electronic devices at least once a week, said Spyparent's Lewis.