UCF studies question effectiveness of child monitoring apps

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Several apps parents use to track their child’s online activity may do more harm than good, according to two University of Central Florida studies.

In two studies published this month by UCF, researchers concluded the apps designed to keep kids safe may be doing the opposite.

"Many of the apps focus on filtering inappropriate content, but they don't show you who your teen is engaging with on Facebook, or Kik or Instagram,” said Pamela Wisniewski, with UCF Department of Computer Science. "In this day and age, most of the risk is through social media and social networks.”

The problem, researchers said, is also parental control. The study found the tighter the parent's grip, the more likely teens were to be exposed to greater online threats and that completely contradicts the app's purpose.

"What we found is the teens who used these parental control apps had actually reported higher levels of offline peer problems and online risk experience,” Wisniewski said.

Another study found 79 percent of children gave the apps low ratings.

Teens said they supported “lazy parenting,” and that prompted more teens to rebel by seeking other online options.

UCF researchers said the bottom line to improve teen safety online means opening better communication channels at home.

“The use of these parental control apps are indicative of maybe a parent/teen relationship that's already strained, so the parent might not be providing the support that a child needs to navigate these social risks,” Wisniewski said.

UCF is working to develop its own teen approved app. Click here to help in the design of the app.