Houston startup develops tech to protect children from online threats
Worry is an unavoidable part of the job description for any parent with children that continuously explore social media and other online applications and networks.
It seems as if with each passing day, a litany of horror stories centered around online bullying and online predators come to light replete with children who were approached and violated online and parents that had virtually no idea what their kids were up against.
But imagine a world where parents are able to not only monitor a child’s online activity, but are able to finally understand it, control it, and restrict it.
It’s a lofty task, but the team behind Parent ProTech, the one-stop shop for parental education on technology and applications that their kids use, are not only equipped to tackle it, they are passionate about finally giving parents the guide to parenting in the digital age.
“Our goal is to make everyone the best digital parent possible,” Brock Murphy, Parent ProTech co-founder, tells InnovationMap. “We understand technology and the role it plays in influencing the next generation. So we help parents when it comes to understanding the platforms, how to use them and how to unlock the parental controls that can be hidden, deeper into these platforms.”
Growing the tech platform
Murphy — with co-founder Drew Wooten and creative director Joshua Adams — launched the platform in September 2022. Since then, Parent ProTech has made its mark through partnerships with schools in Texas.
“Currently we’re at over 20,000 users and last week I closed a big deal with a national charter school, so they’re looking to launch in their Texas schools starting in August, which will pull us to 56,000 users signed up,” says Murphy. “The easiest way to get this important research into as many hands as possible was going to the schools.
“In Texas they have the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS, requirement, and so we’re filling some of the void when it comes to social and emotional learning when it comes to interacting with technology and others online, preventing violence and cyberbullying and different computer applications requirements that the state passes down to schools to teach to children.”
Brock Murphy launched Parent ProTech last fall. Photo via parentprotech.com
Murphy realized that there was a dearth in online protection when it comes to children when he first started looking at the data coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Based on the data, it was evident that children from ages 11 to 14 years old spent over nine hours in front of a screen per day and, according to FBI reports, have the potential to encounter some 500,000 online predators during that time.
“We’re highlighting the good, the bad and the ugly,” says Murphy. “And then we’re monitoring the different platforms, so when Snapchat added a new feature, for example, and inappropriate content was popping up on my entire teams’ Snapchat, we definitely wanted to flag the families.
“We alerted them about the new feature and the inappropriate content popping up and informed them about what to look out for and how they can do to combat it. These platforms are constantly changing, and parents are busy, so we’re taking this off their plate. We’ll monitor it and let them know when there’s something major that happens that could put their child at risk.”
For convenience, Parent ProTech is web-based and mobile compatible, but with an update planned in the next few months, it will be more personalized based on the age of the child and the parent’s philosophy on social media and screen time.
Mission-driven origin with constant updates
Murphy founded the company without an application development background. Before creating Parent ProTech, Murphy took a very interesting path that brought him to the Houston area. First, he interned at the White House, then worked for SpaceX in Brownsville, Texas. After that, he was lured away to a company headquartered in Paris, France. That company, eventually sent him to Houston to open up a local branch office.
Murphy says he's routinely been asked by parents, teachers, administrators, and families about technology and how to keep their family safe online. That curiosity was the seed planted in early 2021 that sprouted into Parent ProTech and laid the foundation for the team’s mission to help parents understand technology and the role it plays in influencing the next generation.
So for those parents that have no idea what Discord or YikYak is or are still shaking their heads at the popularity of TikTok, with all of its sometimes disturbing viral challenges, Parent ProTech has it covered.
“Essentially what we’ve built is a database for families and schools to dive into the different platforms and understand them,” says Murphy. “We’re diving deep into these platforms so parents can quickly get what they need to put parental controls in place. This way, they can rest a little easier knowing that their children will see the content they want them to see and not be exposed to inappropriate content.”
Additionally, Parent ProTech wants to be able to equip parents with the tools to keep their children from talking to strangers online.
Parents, of course, love the idea for Parent ProTech, but it wasn’t as attractive to the kids on the business end of the restrictions and monitoring.
“It’s not an easy conversation because parents are scared of pushing their children away,” says the Texas A&M alum. “Kids don’t want their mom to know when they’re posting on TikTok. And that push/pull can sometimes put parents in a position where they are overwhelmed and can cause a paralysis state where they don’t do anything at all.
“I met with some sophomores in high school, and they weren’t keen on what we do, but then I told them the story about the family in San Diego where the oldest of three sons was approached by a pill pusher on Snapchat because the Snapchat map was turned on and there was Xanax delivered to the mailbox and it was laced with fentanyl and the son passed away," he continues. "Those are the kinds of stories that get the kids to listen to what we’re saying and the importance of monitoring the activity on these platforms.”
Involving the experts
The Parent ProTech team doesn’t just rely on real news fodder, though, it also regularly consults with therapists and developmental professionals for the best results.
“We talk to child psychologists and therapists on how we would recommend parents talk about the restrictions and the changes they make when they deep dive into these platforms,” says Murphy. “And what we’ve found is the education of the parents on what the platforms actually are is really important. That helps with conversation starters and plans like if a parent wants to limit their child’s screentime to 15 minutes a day.”
Parent ProTech isn’t just providing technology knowledge and parental controls, it’s also helping families monitor their digital footprint.
“What you post today could come back and haunt you when you apply to medical school or that dream job,” says Murphy. “So we focus on that and how we can promote safety and well-being of our interactions with each other online.”
Moving forward, one of Parent ProTech’s biggest goals, outside of being that one stop shop for families/parents when it comes to safely navigating technology, is also being pro technology and promoting the tools and excitement that all of this advancement has on kids and the positive activity that can come out of it.
“We also want parents and kids to realize the potential there is with all of this advancement and continue pushing that message,” says Murphy. “We’d also like to develop some AI tools to help with bullying and inappropriate content to help prevent scammers from taking advantage of kids and elderly.”
Murphy also wants to put his time on Capitol Hill to good use by helping to advocate for various policy changes in Washington D.C. and state capitals that will help protect children online.
“We have to build this army of parents that want more priority of safety when it comes to children online and part of that is parents being more engaged in what their kids are doing and we’re here to help foster that.”