Setting limits and keeping your children safe are two important responsibilities of parenting. Controlling what your child does on the internet isn’t always easy, but there are a variety of tools you can use to make the task less difficult. Parental control apps allow you to limit how much time your child spends online, restrict access to certain apps or websites, and keep track of where your child is.
There are a number of different parental control apps available on Android and iOS, but not every option is a good one. It can be hard to keep control of kids while you’re with them, never mind when they’re off on their smart device — so you want to make sure the protection you’re using is the best. That’s why we’ve put together this list that includes both in-built options and powerful subscription-based services.
Please 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.
Apple Screen Time
Is there any better tool than the one already installed on iOS? Apple’s Screen Time app has some pretty good parental control features built in, meaning this should be your first stop if you’re looking for some basic controls. Access it from Settings > Screen Time, and choose This Is My Child’s [device] from the device you want to set controls on. You can set restrictions on downloads from the App Store, content, and in-app behaviors (including in-app purchases). Time spent using the device can be restricted as well, including controls for specific apps. You can even stop your child’s device from being able to request specific permissions, like photos and location. On the minus side, you won’t get some of the more powerful features you’ll get on other apps, like geofencing. But if you’re worried too much about that and simply want to restrict content and screen time, Apple’s free option is a solid choice. Since it’s made by Apple, you’ll only find it on iOS. Find out how to use it in our Screen Time guide.
Google Family Link
Just as Apple offers its own tools for parental controls, so does Google. Unlike Screen Time, you’ll need to download Google Family Link, but it’s available for both Android and iOS. Like Apple’s app, it’s fairly basic, but it does offer everything you need to keep an eye on children’s screen time. Family Link is geared toward making sure kids can only access appropriate content, and keeping an eye on how much screen time they’re getting. Once set up, you can see how much time each child has spent in apps and which ones they’ve been accessing. You can set limits for individual apps and restrict whether in-app purchases are available or not. You can also decide whether to vet every app download your child makes, before they’re able to make it. So while you’re again not able to set up a geofence or track your child’s location, it’s still a great free option for keeping an eye on what your child is looking at on their phone.
If you don’t want to rely on Apple’s or Google’s fairly limited options, then you might consider FamiSafe’s powerful suite of options. It offers real-time location (with history), geofences, app blockers, schedules, web filters, activity reports, and a lot more, making it an excellent all-in option. One very important feature is “YouTube Monitor,” which detects disturbing videos and allows you to monitor your child’s viewing history, and block videos or channels from being watched. FamiSafe is available across pretty much every device you might pass to a child, including Android, iOS, MacOS, Amazon’s Kindle, and even Windows PCs. A monthly plan will cost you $10 a month and protects up to five devices — or you can pay $20 every quarter (equal to about $7 a month) for 10 devices, or even $60 a year (equal to $5 a month) for a huge 30 devices.
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OurPact 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.
There are three tiers available for this app. The free tier lets you set a single schedule and five blocks and unlimited grants on a single device. $7 a month gets you the premium plan, which grants you unlimited use of the standard features, as well as app rules, time allowances, web filter, and more, for up to twenty devices. Finally, the premium plus plan gives you the ability to view your child’s device through remote viewing as well, and will set you back $10 a month. 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 to 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
There are plenty of mobile antivirus options with decent parental controls as well, as Kaspersky Safe Kids shows. This child protection app has everything a concerned parent could ever want, like screen time management and monitoring tools, a battery level checker, and Facebook activity controls. It even gives you the ability to view the child’s location in real-time as well as geofencing. Parents can successfully block inappropriate sites, apps, and games. You can also sign up for tips from child psychoanalysts for guidance through the more challenging situations. Unfortunately, iOS users will miss out on all these incredible options because of related constraints.
Kaspersky Safe Kids is one of the most inexpensive antivirus options on this list. For the low price of $15 per device annually, you can take control of your child’s safety. Of course, the cost adds up if you download it onto a bunch of different devices, but it’s a reliable, cost-effective option if you only need it on one.
Kidslox is an Android and iOS-compatible parental control app that lets parents block inappropriate content (apps and websites) on up to 10 devices. This app enables you to control how much time your child spends on their phone each day, so you can prevent them from scrolling through social media when they should be doing homework. Various Kidslox modes allow you to change from unrestricted Parent Mode to a customized Child Mode or a highly restrictive Lockdown Mode. It also tracks your child’s location through their device, so you always know where they are. When you first sign up for Kidslox, they give you a short, free trial. Once the trial ends, it costs $5.99 per month, depending on your devices. If you prefer, you can choose the money-saving $ 100-lifetime payment option. Overall, the app is easy to use and set up. Just note that you have to download it on each app you want to control.