When my son turned eleven, he announced, “I want to stay home alone!”

And that was a new phase in parenting. It started with the question, “At what age is it okay to leave the kids home alone?” And it won’t end until I am sitting on an empty nest. In between, there have been (and will be) more questions, worries, unplanned events, proud moments, messes, broken trusts, and parties that any parent ever wants to stop and add up.

Modern times, though, bring some slick tools that do more than their intended purpose. No, you can’t turn your microwave into a camera. But some technologies – even those you already have  — do double duty as robot babysitters for kids who are ready to stay home alone — or even drive the car.

Meet seven of the best high-tech spies in the parenting business.

The Smart Garage Door Opener

There is nothing more likely to wake me in a blind terror than thoughts of my car-key toting teenager on the road. Five minutes ago – or so it seems – this child was barely capable of navigating a fork from the plate to her mouth. Now she is piloting a 4000-pound vehicle? This lack of experience is exactly why cars are the number one killer of teens. If you have a smart garage door opener, it can help with your vigil. Set the garage-door alerts to ping your phone when it’s opened and you will know anytime the car goes out for an unauthorized drive.

The Front Door

Video doorbells are a parent’s best friend. Yeah, sure. They let you answer the door – and see who is there – even if you aren’t home. But – best part? — a lot happens, in the life of kids, at the front door. My daughter assured me that the cute boy she was spending a lot of time with was, “Just a friend.” The doorbell told me otherwise, when he got a kiss. Even when the video doorbell has a sign on it announcing it is a video camera, kids spill all in front of it. I have overheard kids discuss plans to skip school, watched from afar as parties gathered before ringing the bell, and watched friends sneak past that doorbell, long after I’ve been told, “Just me here, doing homework!” Trust. But verify.


Install this little fob into her car’s OB2 port, connect it to the app on your phone, and you will know everything you need to know. You can look at your phone to check on the health of the car, call for emergency assistance, and tell it to keep an eye your teen’s driving. It will alert you if she drives too fast, brakes too hard, or drives recklessly. And it will let you know when – and where – the car is parked. (See boys, above. ‘Parked’ has many meanings.) It will also alert you when the car starts up again. If she crashes the car, it will alert you. And it will help you find her so you can send help.

The All-knowing Router

Your router knows all. All you have to do is ask. If it has an app – many new ones do — it can tell you in a glance who is on your network. (If you have an old router, upgrade. Get one with parental controls or add the Circle with Disney.) Once you know where to look, you will be amazed at how much data you get. When my son gets home from school, his phone logs into the network automatically. If he invites a party over, some of them are also sure to log in. All I have to do is look to see if he is alone or has a posse in attendance. You can see who is there, when they arrived, when they leave, and – maybe – what they are up to.

The Locks on the Front Door

I am that friendly mom. The one that invites friends in and offers them cookies. I even give the close BFF’s their own door code to our keyless entry system. I don’t do it because I want to be everyone’s best friend. I do it because it’s good tradecraft. When kids type in their unique code, I know exactly who came and when. Sometimes a friendly visit is fine. But if that boy who is, “OMG, no! Not my boyfriend!” comes over when I’m out, I know what’s what. (See video doorbell above.)

A Cell Phone that Tells All

Most cell service providers offer some sort of service to let parents track the location of their kid’s phones. There is usually a fee associated with this, for which I am loath to pay. So, I tell my kids there is a price for having a cell phone: Me knowing where they are. For that, they have to install Life360 (Free for the basic plan) on that phone. This is not a bad deal for a kid who has nothing to hide. If they do have something to hide, and refuse to install it, not having a cell phone makes it very difficult to meet up with whatever that is. Once we have negotiated these terms, I have only to look at the app on my own phone to see where they are – and even if they are driving responsibly. (It offers a drive monitoring solution for a fee.)

Netflix is Watching You

This one is a bit creepy. But the information you get from Netflix, with little more than a Web browser, is great. My daughter tells me she is home, “doing homework.” I log into my Netflix account, glance at her profile, scroll to “Viewing Activity,” and discover that her ‘homework’ seems to mean showverdosing on Game of Thrones. Well, good thing I have a Circle with Disney attached to my the router. Her access to Wi-Fi? Turned off.

Even in a world where the microwave is still just a microwave, there is a lot a parent can see through the home appliances. I feel bad for my kids’ nascent sense of misadventure. But, as a parent, I feel worse for my mom. She was woefully under-armed in this perpetual game of cat and mouse. Sure, she was good at parsing mischief with nothing more than squinty eyes. But the tools I have? My parenting super powers have tactical precision.