Parental Control Android – My Experiences
There are hundreds (if not more) of applications designed to help parents manage, control, and track the cell phones and cell phone usage of their children. I searched and read until I was blue in the face. I installed a dozen applications to try before realizing unwritten limitations, or hidden costs.
Every parent or guardian has different perceptions and goals on how they want to control their child’s android phone access, depending on personal beliefs, morality, and their children’s ages. My needs may be quite different than yours, and that is why I found so many of the programs to be lacking.
I bought smartphones for the kids because I wanted them to be able to communicate with me whenever they wanted without having to ask or tell anyone; and I wanted them to have a game device to keep them busy. I didn’t want to buy another Game Boy or whatever the latest game device is.
My situation: I have two step-children that live with their mother in Asia. All internet is “prepaid” and you pay for everything except incoming calls. Data is sold in packages by the megabyte. If you use all of the package, and do not turn off data, the carrier charges a ridiculous fee for internet use and will wipe-out your balance or “load” as it is referred to here, in less than 24 hours. I knew that other people in the house would gain control of my kid’s phones and steal their “load” or prepaid balance if I didn’t find a way to maintain control. Yes, sad but very true.
Without “load”, they would not have data, because there is no WIFI at the Mom’s house. And without data, they couldn’t use WECHAT to talk with me throughout the day. WeChat gives them the ability to leave me short voice messages whenever they want; and gives me the ability to hear their voices rather than cold, written text messages. It also assures me that it is really THEM sending me messages [Yes, their Mom might be telling them what to say, but at least I hear their voices].
The below list is what I hoped to accomplish. Within weeks, you will see that I abandoned almost every idea I had.
FIRST, I didn’t want to pay for an ANDROID PARENTAL CONTROL app, especially without knowing its full potential. I also didn’t want to add a credit card to my child’s google play account or purchase a Google play gift certificate to put on their account (Google should allow a person to “push” money into someone’s play account to pay for a one-off subscription, but that is another story). I felt that there must be enough free applications out there to meet my needs.
And for the record, when I say “FREE”, I mean FREE OF CHARGE. Not a misleading “free to download”! In my search, I found this market of apps to be the most misleading of any I have ever encountered. Everything was “free” until I actually installed the app, which is when I found the pricing … from $14.99 to $189.00! Even publisher’s websites did not disclose the pricing for their apps!
I searched the play store and directly in google, using the keywords of “parental android control”, “parent android”, “android tracker”, “prevent app use”, and “parental apps”, “parental tracker”, “child tracker”, “child android monitor”, “phone surveillance”, “monitor GPS”, “monitor SMS child”, and more.
The features I wanted:
1. Prevent access to most of the settings and controls of the Android system. Kids will “mess around” with settings and wreak havoc, causing the phone to not operate properly. Because who has to spend his time fixing these problems?? Me.
2. LOCATION TRACKING! I want to see a map of where the child’s phone is located. It didn’t need to be every five minutes, but a few times per day would be acceptable. At least I would know if the Mom dumped the kids at the sister’s house again. And yes, I would want to use tracking in case their phone got lost.
3. Control what programs (applications) are installed and accessed. They didn’t need dating apps or instagram or snapchat … or any programs like that.
4. A nice feature would be a simplified menu (especially for the younger child), keeping app icons grouped together (ie: touch one icon to see all games).
5. Another nice feature would be to review their SMS messages sent and received.
SECOND, in order to conserve limited data (purchased by the mb!), I needed a program (a “firewall”) that would allow program-by-program control as to which can access WIFI or DATA or both, because there were a few apps that I wanted to make sure would always get through to the internet. My biggest concern was keeping access to Facebook limited to WIFI access only, because Facebook is known to eat huge amounts of data.
1. I wanted to prevent all the games from accessing the internet unless the kids were connected to WIFI. I also wanted to make sure that no apps attempted to run updates unless connected to WIFI. They often visited another family member with WIFI so I was sure that they would get updated regularly.
2. As I mentioned, I wanted to block access to Facebook and Facebook MESSENGER (aka chat heads, or facebook bobble heads) unless connected to WIFI.
3. I wanted to allow them to use their browser to search the internet, but ONLY when on WIFI. I decided NOT to try and monitor the actual search.
THIRD, I wanted to restrict their ability to add contacts to call or text, to eliminate the desire of others in the household take control of the phone from the kids and use it as their own.
1. Block calls and texts to anyone not listed in their contacts and not on the approved “white-list” of contacts.
2. Prevent them from sharing their “load” or funds in their phone account by preventing access to the “share a load” command (commonly referred to here as “pasaload”). The ability to give, share or “pass” load or “prepaid phone funds” to someone else is not common for USA customers, but is very common here in Asia.
3. Prevent them from subscribing to any products, packages or services (ring tones, horoscope services, etc.). These types of services continue to take money from the account until cancelled! Most kids don’t understand this concept. In other words, it was my money paying for the phones and I wanted to have some control over how it was spent.
4. Prevent them from subscribing to any unlimited call or text promotions such as “unlimited calling” or “unlimited texting”. It was my money in the phones and that is not how I wanted it spent. Plus, if they could get subscribe to these unlimited services and call/text anyone for free, the kids would never have the phones in their hands — as unscrupulous and cheap adults living in the household would take the phone from the kids and use it as their own.
FOURTH, I wanted to have the capability of occasionally reviewing the pictures/images taken with their phones. I didn’t need this “real-time” and I didn’t want to use their limited data so I had to find a way to solve this problem. Famous last words – “I don’t think they will do that”. But I wanted a chance to see what images were stored on their phones to prove I was right.
FIFTH, I wanted all the parental control apps to run SILENTLY (aka “Stealth mode”), without the opportunity to uninstall or stop the apps, and without an “in-your-face” reminder that Dad is watching. “Stealth Mode” may not be what you choose, but it is something that I wanted.
THIS WAS ALL A GREAT PLAN … And over the next 6 months, you will read how my ideas, needs and goals changed drastically!