Monitoring your child's mobile Internet activity

Monitoring your child's Internet activities used to be as easy as setting up the family desktop in the living room.

Now with smart phones and tablets, laptops and portable game systems, kids are online while on the go. So how can parents work to keep their kids safe?

With nine adopted kids, Roger Thompson's house is a high-tech hot spot, filled with every electronic gadget under the sun.

"My kids will be on the Internet from all over the house, or perhaps in the backyard or in the bathroom - you can't, you can't possibly monitor it manually," said Thompson.

That means Thompson has to work hard to stay on top of it all and make sure his kids are texting, chatting and surfing the web safely.

"Nine year olds today have iPods and iPads and Facebook and Twitter. We want to trust our kids but we want to be parents," he said.

So Thompson and others are turning to new mobile monitoring software, which allows parents to set Internet controls for almost any portable device. Basic software can be bought from a mobile app store for just a few dollars, while more advanced protection can be found for under seventy bucks. Some companies offer a free mobile upgrade to existing subscribers, while others charge a small monthly fee. What can it do?

"The software that's available now is able to monitor pretty much any style of communication that we're used to. You can monitor SMS messages, text messages, you can monitor emails, you can even monitor GPS location," said Tim Armstrong, a malware researcher.

Maybe you're concerned about bullying. A recent survey found more than half of teens have been cyber-bullied. With monitoring software you can capture calls, emails, chats and texts to make sure your child isn't a target.

"And while you can't avoid things like cyberbullying, you can react to them much more quickly before these things escalate," said Armstrong.

You can also monitor websites visited and set up keyword alerts.

"If a child sends an email with the word party in it or gambling in it or drinking in it, the parent can get a special kind of instant alert so they know that there's something going on that they really want to address immediately," said Jeani Park with Product Strategies.

A recent survey found 30 percent of young people have engaged in sexting at one time or another. With monitoring, you'll be able to see all photos sent and received from your child's phone.

"A copy of the photo is actually emailed to the parent's inbox so they can make sure their teens aren't sexting or sending inappropriate photos," said Park.

The new software can even keep tabs on your child's location using GPS. Just set up what's called a "geo-fence" and if your child leaves the perimeter, you'll be alerted.

"So really parents have the complete picture of who their kids are talking to, what kind of media they're sending and where they're located," said Park.

But while monitoring technology is advancing to keep up with the kids, experts suggest you still consider communication as your first line defense.

"If you have an educated parent, an educated child and you have an open line of communication, some of these monitoring and research softwares, you know, things to follow their behavior become less important," said Armstrong.

As for Thompson, he trusts his kids, but says it's still important to stay vigilant.

"We don't snoop. But the software is able to watch for trends that might be developing that we should be made aware of," he said.

Most of this software is not meant for secret spying. In fact, due to potential privacy issues, in some cases, teens may need to give their consent before it can be installed on their mobile devices.