Some companies offer services that update parents when children post unsafe information online.

As cyber bullying and inappropriate online behaviors become more commonplace in today’s technology-rich world, some companies are offering services that alert parents when their children are at risk or are misbehaving on a social network. Critics say the services amount to spying, but supporters say they open lines of communication and help children understand what is and is not acceptable online.

The services typically work like this: A parent opens a Facebook account and runs the monitoring service as an application. Once the parent and child are “friends” on Facebook, the parent invites the child to run the monitoring service as an application on the child’s own Facebook account.

When the child accepts the application, the parent is notified and able to view their child’s Facebook activities only when the service detects pre-selected words or phrases that the parent deems worrisome or inappropriate. Some services also send notifications when children establish new friendships on Facebook, or when their children are tagged in photos on the site.

Social media monitoring services include:

SafetyWeb

SocialShield

AOL Safe Social

Company representatives say the services are necessary even if a parent and child are “friends” on a social networking site, because sites such as Facebook let users choose how much personal information—including wall posts and photos—their different friends can see. These monitoring services notify parents regardless of the parent’s permission status.

Chicago-based TrueCare introduced a social media monitoring service that tracks a child’s use of popular social networking services, including Facebook and Twitter, for inappropriate content.

Parents are notified with real-time alerts whenever questionable content is found on a child’s social networking profile. TrueCare sends an eMail with the full content and context of the post, along with a link to the page.

The $9.99-a-month service will search a child’s social media accounts, including posts, photo captions, and friends’ posts, for more than 500 keywords from categories such as bullying, suicide, and drugs. It also includes an online reference dictionary of slang and acronyms.

“These problems, whether they be cyber bullying, damaged reputations, or online predators, are real issues that our kids deal with,” said David Barker, product manager for TrueCare. “Parents, schools, and teachers lack the tools, and perhaps the resources, to help kids protect themselves.”