Do smartphone apps for safety give you a false sense of security?

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - You know you can use your smartphone for communicating on the go, for entertainment and so many other modern conveniences.

But have you ever thought of using it as a safety device? A host of new apps are aimed at just that: protecting you and your family.

Julia Roberts wants to know where her family members are at all times and counts on a locator app to help her.

"One of the reasons I do it is just so we can monitor their safety," Roberts explained.

Techmamas founder Beth Blecherman said for families like the Roberts, tech safety is trending with a growing number of apps designed to make you safer with your smartphone.

"You can actually track your child through the device," Belcherman said. "You can put on web filters. You can control access for them not to download any apps at all, you have to approve it."

Several apps monitor your children offline using GPS to pinpoint their location.

That's the case with Find My Kids, Family Tracker and the Life 360 Family Locator app that Roberts uses, which also tells her about nearby registered sex offenders.

 "I do look for where hospitals are and also where predators are. We do monitor that in the areas we go and especially where we live," Roberts said.

Other apps like Mamabear and Appcertain will tell you what your children are exposed to online through their phone.

They even offer controls to limit what websites they can visit, or who they add as contacts.

"With Appcertain, you can actually set curfews for digital devices for the kids, and I think that's really important because kids have a hard time managing their screen time," Blecherman said.

But when it comes to all this oversight, are parents crossing a line between safety and privacy?

Psychoanalyst Robin Stern of Yale University said age is an important consideration and privacy becomes more of an issue in the teenage years.

"What we know about brain development is that at about age 16, things get a lot better in kids' ability to make decisions," Stern said.

"So between 13 and 16, your kids probably need more monitoring than they will at 16 and beyond and again, it depends on the individual."

Some critics argue apps may sell you on a false sense of security.

Stern believes parents have to teach their children how to handle situations that could lead to trouble, and not just count on an app.

"No new innovation in technology is going to take the place of those important conversations about what do you do when you're confronted with a stranger, online, across the street, in the supermarket," Stern said.

Roberts knows her children think twice about what they do with their phones because of the steps she's taken, whether they like it or not.

Her 12 year-old daughter Quinnlin confirms it.

"I think of being more careful because my parents would know what I'm doing," Quinnlin said.

Blecherman pointed out that it's important for parents and kids to agree on the use of these apps.

She said otherwise, many teens might just find ways to work around various monitors and controls.

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