Monitoring your kids’ online activity used to be relatively easy. You simply limited their web access to a family computer that was kept in an open and highly trafficked area of the home. Now, though, most teens are using their smartphones to access the web, which makes it much harder for parents to see and monitor what they’re doing when they are online.

A teen that is clearly up to no good.

It’s important, as a good parent, you not give up the fight. With increased unmonitored access to the internet, teens are more likely to do things that could seriously hurt their reputations and futures. They’re easier targets for predators. So how do you keep track of your kids’ online activity?

1. Talk, Talk, and Then Talk Some More

Be open and honest about the type of behavior you expect from your kids and the company they choose to keep. Talk about the different situations they might encounter while surfing the web. Make sure your kids know they can come to you with any questions or concerns they have about things they see, hear, or experience online. Open communication is the best way to keep your kids safe.

Part of this talk needs to be about your child’s reputation.  It’s never too early to start learning about online reputation management. These days, any kid with basic Photoshop skills can take an innocuous photo and turn it into the talk of the school. Talk to your kids about being careful about what they post and share online and how the things they say and do can affect their reputations for years to come.

2. Foursquare? NOSquare

Make sure your teens know that part of the deal with their smartphone is your putting location tracking on it. All of the major cellular carriers allow parents to add this service to the phones on a plan for a small monthly fee. There are also apps that you can install to run in the background (that you can password protect to keep your teen from simply deleting).

At the same time, put the kibosh on the use of Foursquare and other “check in” services offered through social media. Theoretically you can set these up to only broadcast locations to a closed group of friends or family. At the same time, Foursquare ties in to both Twitter and Facebook and broadcasts check-ins publicly. Twitter’s location services will also post the location from which a tweet was posted. Make sure that setting is turned off.

You can admit it: You’re dying to know what she’s doing on that phone!

You can admit it: You’re dying to know what she’s doing on that phone!

3. Parental Controls

There are some apps you can install to run “invisibly” in the background of your child’s phone. Sometimes these apps can simply enforce limitations set by the parents (text message limits, surfing time limits, call time limits, etc). Others will allow parents to see everything a child is doing on his or her smartphone. It will record text messages, web surfing histories, social media activity, etc.

Think hard about the use of these apps. While the enforcement of limitations is something most kids expect, spying is an entirely different matter.

Remember, kids are savvy. If they know you can see everything they’re doing, they can simply borrow a friend’s phone instead of using their own. You don’t want to encourage your child to find ways to sneak around.

Installing the applications secretly is also dangerous. If your child finds out that you’ve been keeping such close tabs, you risk ruining any trust you’ve built with your child. This could be what keeps him from telling you when something questionable happens to him or within his social circle.

You know your kids better than anyone else. Trust your gut. You’ll come up with a plan that’s right for your family.

Contributor:  Erin Steiner writes about a variety of family and business topics all over the web. She lives in Portland, Oregon…and on the Internet.