If your kids have their own smartphones, you may want a way to track their activities or even control what they can do. The best parental control apps offer ways to limit time spent on devices, track usage and location, and block apps or games. Before we delve into the options, it’s worth noting that there are free parental controls built into most devices nowadays, so you may not need to spring for a third-party app at all. For example, Google’s Family Link is very handy, Amazon’s parental controls are excellent, and Apple’s Screen Time some parental controls too. That said, let’s take a look at the top parental control apps that made our list.
FamilyTime does everything, allowing you to customize precisely what content your kids should have access to, set time limits, track location, and more. The software gives you tools to set homework and bedtimes, or just limit the total time your kids spend on their phones. There’s also support for geofencing so you get alerts when a phone enters or leaves a specific area, and location tracking, so you can see exactly where your child is. On top of that, you can block or control usage on an app-by-app basis, apply internet filters, monitor calls and texts, and keep an eye on contact lists.
The free version only gives you access to a small subset of features. If you want the premium features, then there are different plans available. For example, it will cost you $27 per year for one device, and up to $69 per year for five devices, with tiers for 2 and 3 devices as well.
Qustodio is user-friendly, efficient, and excellent for parents who are short on time. It offers a dashboard that shows you all recent mobile activity for any connected device, including time spent on specific services like Instagram or Twitter. From there you can set time limits, track texts, filter out certain types of website, and block any game or app. Plenty of customization options make it a great parental control app to use when managing devices for kids of multiple ages, and it also works on Kindles and Macs, which is rare.
On the downside, the software is a little expensive at $55 annually for the five-device plan, but there is a free version with limited controls that you can use on just one device.
This parental control app works a little differently than most others, but it’s very easy to get to grips with. It allows you to block messaging, apps, internet access, and to schedule screen time. You can also track your child, set up geofences to get real-time alerts if they go somewhere you’d rather they didn’t, and receive alerts when they install new apps. Information is very clearly laid out in the parental interface, so you can quickly decide whether to schedule, grant, or block a request. It’s easy to set complex schedules for different days and hours, and you can block entire categories of apps, and block all porn on their phone.
The free version and $2 per month subscription are too limited, so you’re looking at $7 per month to get the full benefit of this parental control app, but that covers 20 devices with unlimited blocks and access to all the features. This app is available for Android and iOS.
ESET Parental Control
ESET has a decent parental control app, but it’s just for Android devices. The free version offers web guards, app blocking, time limits on games, and basic reporting. The premium version gives you website blocking, location tracking, parental messaging, and more detailed reports about what they’re doing. The parental message feature is a clever idea. It allows you to send out a message that your child is required to respond to before he or she can continue using the phone. You can try the premium features for free for 30 days, but then it costs $30 per year, per device.
Norton Family Premier
Norton is a big name in the field of antivirus software, and Norton Family Premier is a program for restricting and monitoring your kids’ behavior online. Family Premier offers parents a variety of features and makes it easy to manage all those options thanks to its clean interface. Among Family Premier’s most notable features is its robust web supervision, which allows you to block sites entirely, or simply keep a log of sites visited. You can also set Norton to issue warnings for sites that you may not want to ban, but would prefer your kids be careful on — for example, you might want to discourage them from spending all their time browsing memes on Reddit. Norton also lets you set time limits, shut down devices during specific hours of the day or night, and there’s app blocking, too. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work correctly according to a lot of reviews in the app store the iOS version is limited, and the Android app no longer lets you block calls or monitor text messages.
It costs $50 per year, but it doesn’t limit the number of devices you can have on an account, so simply install on any iOS or Android devices (or Windows desktops) your kids use.
Kaspersky Safe Kids
Some of our favorite mobile antivirus options have pretty good parental controls too, and Kaspersky Safe Kids falls squarely into that bracket. The child app comes with everything you’d want from a parental control app, including tools to manage and monitor their screen time, the ability to see their real-time location (with geofencing) and battery level, and Facebook activity monitoring. You can block access to inappropriate websites, apps, and games, and there’s expert advice from child psychoanalysts for the really tricky stuff. Unfortunately, limitations within iOS mean not all these options are available for iPads and iPhones.
Kaspersky Safe Kids is also one of the cheapest options on this list, at just $15 for a year’s access per device. It can get more expensive than other options if you’re installing it on many devices, but if you just need to monitor one, it’s a great budget option.
Final note: There are thriving teen forums online discussing all the possible ways to get around parental controls, some with highly advanced or sneaky tactics. If you know teens, that shouldn’t surprise you, but it’s still something to prepare for. When picking a parental control app, don’t write down your password or login information (no matter how well you think you can hide it). You may also want to create a news alert for the software you choose, to help keep an eye out for any new vulnerabilities or workarounds. Some software can be bypassed with phone resets, customer service requests, and other tricks that you should know about.