13 best parental control apps for iPhone and Android in 2021
Parental control apps are necessary nowadays to keep an eye on your young kids and even teenagers. These apps can also track your child’s physical location, set screen time, and block questionable websites or apps. Some of them log texts and calls so you can see who your child is communicating with. This gives you peace of mind that your children aren’t accessing harmful or inappropriate content.
Nonetheless, you should understand that even the best parental control tool cannot do everything. The most effective way to ensure your children behave responsibly online is to have a compressive approach. This means explaining what they can or cannot access and letting them know that you monitor their devices.
This in-depth article has the best parental control apps, how to help your kids navigate the digital space, and more.
Top parental control tools – The quick list
Are you short on time? No issue. Here is the summary of best parental control applications that you can use today.
- Bark – Wide-ranging social media monitoring to protect your kids from cyber threats and predators.
- Kaspersky Safe Kids – Receive prompt alerts if the app notices a concern. It also has geofencing technology so that you can know your kid’s location all the time.
- Net Nanny – Intuitive dashboard and flexible monitoring feature with mobile and desktop apps to protect your kids all the time.
- Qustodio – Has a family locator, powerful web filtering, and extensive monitoring tools to stop your kids from accessing malicious content.
- Mobicip – Configurable screen time schedules making it easy to establish healthy online habits for your children and limit distractions.
Want to discover more options here? Perfect. This article features 13 apps in total that you can get your hands on to monitor kids’ activities and ensure they stay safe online.
Our criteria for choosing top parental controls
There are thousands of parental control software, and choosing the best for your needs can be challenging. Therefore, after extensive research and testing, here are the best parental apps based on the following criteria.
- Performance – Does the app function as it should be? For example, is it effective at blocking what the child shouldn’t see?
- Features – What features sets it apart from its competitors? Does it deliver all the features, or it’s just a marketing gimmick?
- Setup and installation – How easy is it to configure on different devices? Are there any issues, and how much time does the setup process take?
- Ease of use – Is the interface user-friendly?
Privacy and parental controls: Filtering vs. spying
The parental control tools on this list let you control what your child can or cannot access online. This way, you create a safe space for your child to explore their curiosity. However, other tools allow you to spy on your child’s habits online.
Ideally, it would help if you prefer regulating what they can access rather than spying on your kids, especially teenagers. In fact, this can help to foster and encourage healthy online habits in your child.
Complete analysis of the best parental control apps
Since the following parental control software have gone through aggressive testing, you can trust them to keep your children safe. These apps have all the necessary features needed to monitor your kids, such as location monitoring, filtering technology, and much more.
All the applications listed below work with both Android and iOS.
Bark is our top pick parental control app. It is a flexible tool that will enable you to create a healthy environment for your child in many ways.
The app allows you to monitor the activities of a wide range of social media sites, including WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. Its purpose is not to restrict your kid’s internet usage but to limit what they can access.
Bark has a 24/7 detection feature that sends you a notification whenever it identifies a potential risk. This can include cyberbullying, signs of suicidal thoughts, online grooming, and more. For instance, it’ll notify you if your child starts looking for suicide or depression-related content so that you can act accordingly.
The app bears an intuitive dashboard showing easy-to-read activity reports that allow you to keep an eye on your kids’ activities even when you’re busy.
In all, this app can monitor iMessages/text messages, videos, photos, notes, voice memos, Chrome web browsing, WhatsApp messages, and Kik messages for any worrisome content. Having iMessages monitoring capabilities shows it’s a quality iPhone parental control app.
2. Kaspersky Safe Kids
Kaspersky Safe Kids is an ideal solution for parents as it comes with a comprehensive list of protection features. It offers both free and subscription-based versions.
The free version comes with a lot of helpful settings. For example, it has a blacklist option that blocks inappropriate and harmful content. Other features include app usage control, content filtering, and screen time management.
If you upgrade to the premium version, you’ll get advanced tools such as geofencing and real-time GPS location. Also, you can use social media monitoring, battery tracker, and instantaneous alerts if your kid tries to access malicious content.
3. Net Nanny
Net Nanny is a reliable parental control app that comes with robust safety features to keep your children safe online. It’s compatible with all the major operating systems, and the interface is super easy to navigate.
The app has a content filtering feature that enables you to block age-appropriate content. For example, you can block 18+ content and even create custom categories. This feature masks many things, including explicit photos, rude words, and adult videos, without restricting your kid’s internet usage.
It’ll notify you instantly if your child attempts to access blocked websites or apps. What’s more, the app will also send weekly activity reports so you can stay in touch with your kid’s online activities. Unfortunately, it automatically erases the logs after 30 days.
Qustodio is another top parental control application that will allow you to create online boundaries for your child. There is a free version with basic options, but you can upgrade to the paid version to access more features.
The app’s filtering technology is enabled by default to protect your child from harmful online content all the time. It even has an option to block specific websites like social media platforms and gaming sites. The app will also help you create screen time by setting daily limits.
Qustodio’s dashboard is intuitive, making it easy to monitor your child’s activity and ensure they’re using their devices appropriately. It works in incognito mode and can track the activity of more social media sites compared to other parental control apps. If you like comprehensive reporting, you can request weekly or monthly reports.
Regrettably, the SOS panic feature is only available on Android devices. It allows your child to send you a location-based notification promptly if they are in trouble. Qustodio also has a family locator that lets you track your kid’s location from anywhere in real-time.
Would you like to have the complete attention of everyone in the family? Mobicip allows you to lock all the household devices simultaneously at a click of a button. Additionally, you can block video streaming apps and sites to limit your child’s distractions.
The app has a clean interface with a minimalist design, making it effortless to navigate. You can also configure the settings and track your kid’s activity from a central place. This makes it easy to create daily and weekly screen time limits for all the connected devices.
Mobicip enables you to check up to four weeks of your kid’s browsing history from the control panel. It also has a useful content-blocking feature that lets you prevent your child from accessing specific sites and apps.
REFOG tracks your kid’s keystrokes, allowing you to see anything they text or search. This is great if your child tries to use the untraceable app to bypass the parental control software.
Another remarkable feature is the webcam monitoring. You can watch your kid’s activities in real-time, to ensure they’re not distracted when doing homework.
The app provides extended activity reports that you can access easily on your online account. Sadly, REFOG does not have mobile support, limiting your ability to track your child’s activities on your smartphone or tablet.
SentryPC is your best bet if you are looking for Google’s parental control on Windows and Mac. It provides comprehensive activity monitoring as well as extensive content filtering. You can also set a usage limit on each PC your child uses.
The SentryPC dashboard enables you to see detailed logs of your child’s activities on their devices. More importantly, you can even monitor keystrokes and take screenshots randomly. It has simple-to-read graphs and other visuals to keep in the loop with how your children are using their devices.
You’ll get a notification if the app detects a naughty activity. It also lets you block and apply and a new filter instantly if it is something concerning.
On the downside, SentryPC does not offer a mobile app. Nonetheless, you can still go ahead with your kids’ cell phone spying and access the dashboard on your tablet or phone’s web browser.
WebWatcher is an easy-to-use parental control app that you’ll install in less than 5 minutes. So, it is a good option if you are a beginner and don’t want anything complicated.
The most appealing thing about this parental app is its flexibility. For example, it allows you to check detailed data of your kid’s activities, or you can trust the notification system. The app will notify you if it identifies any risky behavior immediately.
Besides, you can see things like deleted texts, call logs, and screenshots to keep your child safe from potential predators. The app also has a GPS locator that lets you view your kid’s real-time location. However, the app misses out on the geo-fencing feature.
WebWatcher’s biggest downside is that it is slightly costly than its rivals and does not offer a money-back guarantee.
Surfblocker is an excellent parental control app but is only compatible with Windows devices. You will still get complete monitoring tools and brilliant filtering to protect your child from inappropriate online content.
The app’s interface isn’t as flashy as its competitors, but it is effortless to set up and navigate. Surfblocker is designed to prevent your kids from accessing inappropriate content when using their devices.
There is an option to blacklist specific sites and apps to keep them away from your child’s reach. You can even prevent your children from accessing the internet during certain times of the day with a password. This makes it a great tool to reduce distractions when doing homework.
10. Norton Family
If you want parental control on Android, Norton Family is a reliable option. It has all the necessary features you’ll need to monitor your child’s activities.
The app lets you lock your child’s internet access on their devices when you want. This can be helpful to ensure concentration during school hours.
Norton Family gives you a detailed report of your child’s internet search history so you can get a better understanding of their interest. For example, it shows you the sites the kid visits more frequently and the type of content they are accessing.
When your child tries to open restricted content or a blocked site, the app will send you an email alert. You can have a conversation with your child if it is something concerning.
11. Boomerang Parental Control
In this digital age, you should ensure your children spend their online time productively. Boomerang is an exceptional parental control app that will help you control how your kids use their devices.
It has an option for you to view the texts your child sends or receives on their device. If the app detects suspicious phone numbers or the use of inappropriate words, it’ll notify you.
Boomerang allows you to pause your kid’s online activities at any time. As a result, the child cannot access anything on the internet on their device. You can also track the children’s location by setting a boundary.
OurPact is the best iOS parental control app available today. It is an easy-to-use and effective tool that will help you monitor your child’s online behavior. As a parent, it gives you visibility of the web history to keep track of what they are accessing.
Like Qustodio, OurPact has a family locator feature that lets you share the live location of your child’s device to deal with emergencies. For example, it can be helpful when a child is stuck on a route and if the device is stolen.
Obviously, not all apps are appropriate for children. OurPact allows you to categorize apps as per schedule, permanently blocked, and always allowed. You can even stop those that you don’t want your child to access.
MamaBear is a superb YouTube parental control app. It will help you control your child’s usage time on the platform and the kind of videos they can watch. Besides YouTube activity, you can also monitor what the children are posting and other interactions on social media sites.
With the location tracker, you can always keep track of your child’s location. There is an alert system too that notifies you whenever your child goes out of range.
One of MamaBear’s most unique features is the speeding alert feature. It sends you a notification if your kid is driving beyond the speed limit. This is a great feature to ensure that the children drive safely even if you are not there.
Benefits of parental control programs
Today’s parents are bringing up kids in the modern age of digitization. Nowadays, children are using devices such as smartphones from an early age. That is why you need to use parental control tools to monitor what your child accesses online.
To make things clearer, here are some of the main benefits of parental control apps.
Monitor your kid’s devices
Parental control gives you visibility into your children’s devices. As a parent, it is your responsibility to ensure that your children engage in healthy online practices. You can check out things like the apps installed, most active app, time spent online, etc. Utilizing features such as SMS tracking, app usage tracking, and call monitoring will help you know your child’s day-to-day activities.
Shield your child from inappropriate content
Almost every parental control software comes with a feature to block sites and apps that are inappropriate for kids. For example, you can stop your kids from watching age-restricted content. In addition, you can prevent children from downloading applications without your permission.
Moreover, some parental control tools boast features to monitor social media sites. This will keep you in the loop on what your child is uploading or downloading on those platforms.
Screen time control
Watching funny videos, listening to music, and playing online games can be addictive to children if not done in moderation. This can have a detrimental effect on your kid’s physical and psychological well-being. With a parental control app, you can set the time your child spends on these apps. You’ll get a notification whenever the kid exceeds the time limit.
Tracks your kid’s location
Maintaining your kid’s security is not only about monitoring their online activities. Fortunately, you can keep connected to your child’s device and track their location. These apps can even help you to set a restricted area. You’ll get a notification immediately if your child goes beyond the safe boundary.
Peace of mind
Parental control apps give you inner satisfaction and peace of mind that your child is accessing safe online content. These apps also help you prevent cyber threats that might affect your child’s well-being.
Children and the social media
The internet has become widespread such that even children use it today. According to a Common Sense Media survey, the use of cell phones has spiked across all age groups, as the following table depicts.
|Kids’ percentage that owns smartphones today|
|18 years old||77%||91%|
|15 years old||71%||83%|
|12 years old||41%||69%|
|8 years old||11%||19%|
The survey showed that children between the ages of 8-12 years spend an average of 412 hours a day online. On the other hand, kids aging 13-18 stay online for about 7 hours a day. They spend the majority of their time playing games or watching videos, especially on YouTube.
What does this mean?
Today’s kids are growing up in an environment different from what their parents experienced. For example, the abundance of social media platforms has not only simplified communications. Rather it also helps the kids to manage relationships and enjoy a greater sense of family. Besides, through these platforms, children develop new skills, learn about other cultures, take online classes, and have an outlet to express their creativity.
However, what’s worrisome for a parent is that their child may be exposed to online bullying, violence, predation, and other evils online. Many social media platforms use ‘likes’ and ‘followers‘ as the measure of popularity. Nonetheless, this can lead your kid to connect with strangers having bad intentions.
In short, your kids’s online experience depends on how they use the internet. Therefore, parental control tools can help you define your child’s online habits. Still, to get the best results from the parental control apps, you need to have a conversation with your child. Teach your children to use online resources responsibly. This will help them form a healthy relationship with the digital environment.
How to help your kids navigate online safely
Depending solely on parental apps to control your child’s online content reach can give you a false sense of security. Nowadays, kids are more tech-savvy and will always find ways to circumvent the restrictions parental control apps impose. However, talking to your child about the importance of installing the app on their device can be handy.
Many family counselors out there keep urging that you should have open and regular conversations with your teens. This will help them make better decisions online, even when you are not watching them. The discussion can start with an explanation of why you are installing the parental control app. Make them understand that you are the device owner and have the right to check it occasionally.
After establishing the general rules, the parental control app will act as reinforcement. Nevertheless, like with other apps, malfunction and glitches can occur. Therefore, maintain a good relationship with your child so that they can come to you if they encounter something inappropriate.
Can parental control cross the line?
These applications are similar in many ways to spyware apps used to monitor other people’s devices secretly. They track the location, record cellphone conversations, and text messages. So, the main difference between the two apps is the intent.
Snooping or eavesdropping on a spouse or colleague without their consent is immoral and illegal in some countries. Conversely, parental monitoring is somehow ethical as you are protecting your child from inappropriate content.
Some parental control applications allow you to install them secretly on the child’s device. As mentioned earlier, kids are nowadays well-versed with technology, and they’ll eventually find out. This can, in turn, damage the trust you should have in your child. By contrast, if your child finds out that you are monitoring them secretly, they’ll try to find workarounds.
Thus, you have to learn to differentiate between too much and enough monitoring.
If you don’t show interest in your kid’s online activities, they might feel like you don’t care about them. As a result, they will turn to validation from elsewhere online, which can be dangerous. In contrast, too much monitoring can make your child lie or hide their online activities.
Besides on the playground, these days, you also have to protect your children online. Cyber threats targeting kids like predators, bullying, and misinformation keep evolving, and your kids may be in danger.
To combat these issues, open communication should be the first line of defense. However, parental control apps will help you stay ahead of anything inappropriate or harmful to your child.
The choice for the best app depends on your needs. For example, if you have young children, NetNanny may be an ideal option. On the other hand, families with teens can choose the Bark app to provide a comprehensive suite of tools. To decide better, you have to review your needs to use such an app and whether or not that app satisfies your requirements. You can then go ahead to get the tool and protect your kids online.
About the author
Tech researcher and writer with a passion for cybersecurity. Alex is a strong advocate of digital freedom and online privacy.