Parental control apps are necessary 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. In addition, some of them log texts and calls to let you see who your child is communicating with. Such monitoring gives you peace of mind that your children aren’t accessing harmful or inappropriate content.
Nonetheless, remember that even the best parental control tool cannot do everything. Hence, the most effective way to ensure your children behave responsibly online is to have a compressive approach. First, consider explaining what they can or cannot access and letting them know that you monitor their devices. After that, you can monitor your children’s activities without fearing violating any ethical or moral obligations.
As for the ways to monitor your kids online, this in-depth article lists the best parental control apps to use today. You’ll also learn how to help your kids safely navigate the digital space and much more.
Top parental control tools – The quick list
Are you short on time? No issues. Here is a summary of the best parental control applications listed in this guide.
- 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 to let you 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 make it easy to establish healthy online habits for your children and limit distractions.
Want to discover more options here? Read along as 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 in the market. Hence, choosing the best for your needs can be challenging.
Therefore, after extensive research and testing, this guide mentions 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 is it just a marketing gimmick?
- Setup and installation – How easy is it to configure on different devices? What issues exist midway 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. 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 regulate what they can access.
Bark has a 24/7 detection feature that sends you a notification whenever it identifies a potential risk. It 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 inappropriate content. Having iMessages monitoring capabilities shows it’s a quality iPhone parental control app.
- Intuitive interface
- 24/7 monitoring of emails, social media apps, and browsing activities
- Easy to read reports
- Lacks discrete location tracking or geofencing feature
- iOS app may be difficult to install for some users
2. Kaspersky Safe Kids
Kaspersky Safe Kids is an ideal solution for parents as it comes with a comprehensive list of protection features. It also 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 like 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.
- Dedicated location tracking/geofencing feature
- Affordable cost
- Free version available
- App design isn’t impressive
- Web app may be sow sometimes
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 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.
- Catchy app design
- Robust web filtering
- Real-time alerts
- Expensive costs
- No free trial
Qustodio is another top parental control application letting you 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 can 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 more social media sites than 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 promptly send you a location-based notification if they are in trouble. Qustodio also has a family locator that lets you track your kid’s location from anywhere in real-time.
- Robust social media monitoring
- Cloud-based app
- SOS panic feature
- Expensive pricing
- Web filtering isn’t intelligent
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. It also helps 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.
- Tremendous device compatibility
- Robust content blocking
- Screen time limits
- Awful customer support
- Some customers complain about limited free trial
REFOG tracks your kid’s keystrokes, allowing you to see anything they text or search. This is great if your child uses the untraceable app to bypass the parental control software.
Another remarkable feature is 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.
- Smart keylogging
- Supports webcam shots
- Swift installation
- Lacks mobile support
- Lacks web filtering
SentryPC is your best bet if you look 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 lets you 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 use their devices.
You’ll get a notification if the app detects a naughty activity. It also lets you block it and apply 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.
- Detailed activity logs
- Smart web filtering
- Good for PC monitoring
- Lacks mobile app
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. You can also trust the app’s notification system that generates instant alerts if it identifies any risky behavior.
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 its slightly higher cost than its rivals, that too, with no money-back guarantee.
- Intuitive interface
- GPS tracking support
- Doesn’t require jailbreak for installation
- Costly subscription
- Only one device offered with single subscription
Surfblocker is an excellent parental control app but is only compatible with Windows devices. However, 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 also an option to block 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 feature makes it a great tool to reduce distractions when doing homework.
- Impressive monitoring
- Easy to install
- Smart content filtering
- Supports Windows only
10. Norton Family
Norton Family is a reliable option if you want parental control on Android. 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. It 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.
The app will send you an email alert when your child tries to open restricted content or a blocked site. You can then have a conversation with your child if it is something concerning.
- Tremendous monitoring features
- Customized scheduling
- Offers geofencing
- Mobile apps aren’t impressive
11. Boomerang Parental Control
You should ensure your children spend their online time productively in this digital age. 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 their device on the internet. You can also track the children’s location by setting a boundary.
- Offers location tracking
- Affordable pricing plans
- Limited iOS functionality
- Supports mobile devices only
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 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.
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 you don’t want your child to access.
- Offers free version
- Location tracking feature
- Supports app categorization
- Glitchy apps
- Lacks call and text monitoring
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 post and other interactions on social media sites.
You can always keep track of your child’s location with the location tracker. Its alert system also 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. It is a great feature to ensure that the children drive safely even if you are not there.
- Dedicated YouTube monitoring
- Location tracking feature
- Driver safety alerts
- Free version riddled with ads
- Lacks call monitoring
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.
Here are some of the main benefits of parental control apps for better understanding.
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 things like the installed apps, 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 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. It 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. It can have a detrimental effect on your kid’s physical and psychological well-being. So, with a parental control app, you can schedule your child’s time 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 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 aged 13-18 stay online for about 7 hours a day. They spend most of their time playing games or watching videos, especially YouTube.
What does this mean?
Today’s kids grow up in an environment different from what their parents experienced. For example, the abundance of social media platforms has simplified communications. Besides, it also helps the kids manage relationships and enjoy a greater sense of family. Similarly, 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‘ to measure popularity. Nonetheless, this can lead your kid to connect with strangers having bad intentions.
In short, your kids’ 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. It 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 parental control apps’ restrictions. 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 have open and regular conversations with your teens. It will help them make better decisions online, even when you are not watching them. The discussion can start with explaining 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 reinforce. Nevertheless, like with other apps, malfunction and glitches can occur. Therefore, maintain a good relationship with your child to 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 secretly monitor other people’s devices. For example, 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. But, conversely, parental monitoring is somehow ethical as you protect your child from inappropriate content.
Some parental control applications allow you to install them secretly on the child’s device. But, as mentioned earlier, kids are nowadays well-versed with technology, and they’ll eventually find out. It 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, NetNanny may be an ideal option if you have young children. 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 get the tool and protect your kids online.
The apps shared above are simple to install and use. Many of them are super easy to control, even the most advanced ones. However, if your child uses an iPhone, choose apps that do not require jailbreaking.
Ideally, you should install the parental app when giving your children their first phone. If the child is old enough, it is good to discuss the reason behind installing the app. It would help to tell them that the restrictions would change as they grow older.
Since parental control apps also monitor your kid’s location, it is crucial to secure the data. However, the apps reviewed above are safe and employ sufficient measures to protect your child’s privacy.
Children can easily be influenced or fooled by what they see on the internet. Parental control tools play a significant role in preventing this from happening. They allow you to set user permissions, set usage time, apply web filters and block inappropriate content.
Subscribe to a reliable VPN provider to protect your whole family. It will hide your IP addresses and secure internet connections on all your devices. Besides, you will also unblock geo-block content from around the world.