For a lot of parents, the digital freedom kids have today isn't quite in sync with the digital controls parents have. Nowhere is that more apparent than with money. A new Atlanta startup, Greenlight, launched this year to change how parents and kids work together on finance. The product is a mobile software backed by a debit card provided by Mastercard that gives parents real-time controls and monitoring capabilities on how the Greenlight card is used.

Every transaction is a teachable moment

Greenlight was designed by parents. Dads Tim Sheehan and Johnson Cook, co-founders, were looking for a program that would give their families easy and instant store level guidance on kids' purchases. While there were plenty of pre-paid cards or debit cards, the founders didn't find the store-level and website-level controls they wanted.

"It's not just the convenience of not counting or losing cash--it's the family values around each transaction. Every transaction is a teachable moment," says Cook. They decided to build it in 2014. They bootstrapped through two years of coding. ATDC, an accelerator associated with Georgia Tech, brought them in and helped make introductions. MasterCard agreed to partner with them and that gave them the financial provider.

Early results? Parents are in

The app launched January 1. "We ramped up to a few thousand families in the first few weeks," Cook says. Greenlight's target customers are families that want to be active and engaged in their children's financial lives.

Sam Maguire, an Atlanta attorney, with a 10-year-old daughter is a case in point. "It keeps her on a budget, and helps her be fiscally responsible. The one feature that's awesome is it notifies you instantly--it pings your phone like a pop-up," he says. "Another thing that's nice is you can turn it off--one button--and it's offline for you, and for your child."

With reviews like that, we decided to experiment on our own son, who's 15. He was willing enough to try it, but he's got a part-time job and his own bank account. So for us, the controls features weren't a need--more of a feature but not one we were looking for. The app worked great, but it's definitely for parents who are looking for a focused approach. Ultimately, while the app worked great, we decided not to use it.

The big question for Greenlight is, will there be enough kids and enough parents in that age sweet spot for the card to take off?

What's next

Greenlight sees a big future, including parent-paid interest savings accounts for kids, financial education content, and tools that let kids donate to nonprofits of their choice.

It's early days for the startup and there are other cards, mostly from banks, that aim to help parents accomplish the same goals. That said, early customer reviews are promising. Time will tell if Greenlight earns a lasting place in the hearts of parents helping their kids learn financial responsibility.