Editor’s Note: Because wiretap laws vary by state, we do not advocate using cell phone parental control software to record phone calls, other audio or video. For example, some states require consent from all parties in a recording, and it may not be feasible to prevent your child from contacting someone living in one of those states.
Why Use Cell Phone Parental Control Software?
Smartphones are a great way to stay connected with your kids. However, children don’t always display good judgement when browsing the internet, and they may not yet know how to stay safe online. A cell phone can also distract your child from schoolwork and other responsibilities.
Whether your kids have their own smartphones or use yours to play games, cell phone parental controls can help you teach them safe habits and protect them from inappropriate content, such as violent videos, pornography and gambling, by monitoring their cell phone activity and limiting it as you see fit.
Our buying guide is designed to help you choose the best cell phone monitoring program for you and your children. We can also help you choose a good internet filtering program that helps you monitor and control what your children see while on a desktop computer or laptop. Many of these programs can also monitor cell phones, if you are interested in an all-in-one solution rather than just cell phone parental controls.
Best Overall Cell Phone Monitoring App
As one of the best cell phone tracking programs, PhoneSheriff is a powerful and versatile tool that helps you keep an eye on your kids’ smart device activity. It lets you create extensive instant alerts, set up restrictions on how your kids use their devices and monitor an impressive number of activity categories. The app lets you monitor how your kids use their smart devices and clues you in on who they talk to, what they see and how much time they spend doing what. Backed by friendly, responsive customer service, you can view and control your kids’ cell phone access as you see fit with PhoneSheriff.
Easiest Cell Phone Monitoring App to Use
An important thing to consider when buying cell phone parental control software is how easy it is to use. Some programs use an online portal you can access on either your own phone or a desktop computer. From this portal, you can set time limits, block specific sites or apps, and view chat and text histories from your children’s phones.
Some programs only let you change control settings and access features from the app on the phone you are monitoring. In these cases, the apps have protections that make it tricky to uninstall the software if you decide you no longer need it or want to change programs. Still, these same protections discourage children from accessing and dismantling the settings you’ve put in place.
The best cell phone monitoring solutions find a nice balance between being easy for parents to use and difficult for children to work around, all while not compromising on the important features and functions you need.
Mobile Spy is one of the easiest cell phone parent control programs to use. It is easy to install on the cell phone you’re monitoring and to log into the parent portal on the website. This all-around intuitive program is divided into two sections: logged information and alerts, which makes it easy to review tracked activity, set web filters and block apps. Mobile Spy logs deleted content such as texts, photos, and browser searches and history, including those your child viewed in incognito mode, which otherwise cannot be tracked. One of this program’s most impressive and powerful features is its live control panel, which lets you view most activity as it happens so you aren’t left waiting for updated reports and statistics.
Best for Tracking App & Email Use
Many cell phone monitoring and control programs require you to root your Android phone or jailbreak your iPhone to track certain apps and monitor email messages. This means you break into your phone’s most basic file structures to override permission-based files, alter file structures and control files using sudo commands. There are many risks associated with rooting and jailbreaking, so we do not advocate doing so.
Beyond the security risks, jailbreaking or rooting your device can prevent vital operating system updates and void the warranty. Any mistakes during the jailbreak process may destroy the device’s ability to function at all.
Qustodio lets you monitor chat history, app use, and text and email messages without rooting or jailbreaking your child’s phone, keeping the device secure and any warranties intact. It monitors an impressive amount of activity on your child’s smartphone, including texts, newly added contacts, photo messages and videos your child takes. Its detailed reports let you see exactly where your child has been and what they accessed using their device. Qustodio runs invisibly on your child’s cell phone, and it gives you the power to remotely lock the device.
Best App Blocking Monitoring Program
Monitoring your child’s mobile online activity isn’t only about tracking where they have been or locking them out completely. Blocking specific apps or websites is a good in between that gives your children some freedom. The best cell phone monitoring programs allow you, the parent, to blacklist specific websites, apps and even cell phone numbers so they can’t be accessed by your children. You can also do the opposite and whitelist apps and websites, giving permission for your children to access and use only these programs while automatically blocking everything else.
Net Nanny lets you track you kids’ internet activity as they browse on their smartphones, and it has powerful tools to block apps and websites. The software makes it easy to limit the kind of content your child has access to thanks to the built-in filter. You can block certain categories of sites such as those that deal with pornography or drugs. You can also blacklist specific websites and apps so you child can never access them or whitelist sites and programs you are ok with them using. In addition, you can block phone numbers you don’t want your children sending or receiving texts or calls from. Net Nanny alerts you if your child searches for specific keywords using their cell phone’s internet browser.
Best Cell Phone Controls & Device Compatibility
Not every monitoring app works on every type of smartphone. Most work on both Android devices and iPhones, but only a handful work on BlackBerry devices. Programs that cover all three operating systems are a good choice because they cover all your devices, so your child can use an old hand-me-down cell phone instead of the newest and most expensive model.
Mobistealth is a good choice if your child uses an older cell phone model since it is one of the few programs that is compatible with iPhones, Android and BlackBerry devices. It also works with all major cell phone carriers. You need to purchase a separate license for each phone you track, but you can monitor them all on one parental control dashboard on the Mobistealth website. From the dashboard, you can view past and real-time tracking data, a log of email and text messages, and a detailed contact list. This mobile phone monitoring software runs in stealth mode, meaning your children can’t see it installed on their phones – this keeps them from tampering with or uninstalling the program.
Best Budget Cell Phone Monitoring Software
Monitoring your kids’ cell phone activity shouldn’t break the bank. Full internet filtering software is expensive, even if it comes with mobile tracking capabilities. Cell phone parental control programs are subscription based, meaning you pay a little something each month to use the service. Most require you to pay for a full year up front, while a few offer a discount if you choose to pay a lump sum rather than in monthly installments. Most services charge under $20 per month, with some of the top cell phone monitoring companies charging under $10.
WebWatcher is a budget cell phone monitoring program that helps you track your kids’ smartphone activity to make sure they aren’t viewing inappropriate content or talking to dangerous people. You can view basic activity, such as calls and texts, along with the apps they have installed and their GPS location and history. The program also shows you low-resolution versions of any photos taken on the device. A single license costs much less than other, similar cell phone trackers.
As a parent, you do your best to raise your children and prepare them for adulthood. Along the way, you can get a little extra help from cell phone monitoring software to help teach them responsibility and time management while also protecting them from inappropriate content.