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.

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Further reading

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.

Apple

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 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.

Android iOS

FamiSafe

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.

Android iOS Kindle

OurPact

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 th