Filtering, Blocking & Monitoring
Recording & Alerts
Installation & Support
Best Parental Software
Why Use Parental Software?
Parents have enough to worry about without the added anxiety about letting their children use the internet. Kids can encounter dangers like pornography and predators on the web, and most parents do not have the time to sit beside their children, closely watching every keystroke and click they make. Parental software lets you see exactly what your child is up to when they use the computer for school work, gaming or social interactions, and it give you tools to make sure they are safe while online.
Each of the computer monitoring programs we tested tracks the websites your children visit and the terms they search for in search engines, and they provide you with a good summary of this activity either through an online parent portal or email notification. These programs differ in cost, the number of licenses you get with most basic monitoring package and extra features, which make each program as unique as your family.
How We Tested Internet Controls
As part of the testing process, we downloaded parental control software onto our home computers, as well as our children’s laptops; we also used the test computers in Purch Labs. This allowed us to see how the programs work in real-life scenarios, complete with disappointed and frustrated children who were blocked from accessing favorite sites and locked out when their allotted computer time had run out.
Because of our testing environments, we are able to provide feedback about things beyond the apps’ spec sheets – we know how easy it is to monitor with each program, how quickly each notifies you about flagged activity and how much lag each program creates on its host computer. These considerations helped us narrow down 19 parental control programs to the best 10, all of which we confidently recommend as powerful tools for keeping your family, especially your children, safe online.
Parents often worry about how much time their children spend online. Many parents work while their older children are at home, and it is difficult to control when they access the computer from afar. Further, some kids are a bit mischievous and sneak onto the computer late at night to play games or chat with their friends.
Parental time control tools limit the amount of time your kids can spend on the computer, internet or games. For example, you can allow two hours of computer time per day but block out the hours you are at work and sleep time so your child does not use the computer during unreasonable or unsupervised hours. You can also set time limits for specific programs, so games and internet use can be limited while in Microsoft Word is unlimited.
The overall best internet monitoring program we reviewed is Qustodio – it has all the tools you need to keep your kids safe online. The basic subscription lets you monitor three devices at once, including cell phones and tablets, and it is compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems.
Its 29 filter categories allow you to quickly block whole sets of sites, for example those that contain pornography or violence, without having to add individual URLs to the blacklist. When your child tries to access a forbidden site or searches for a flagged term, Qustodio notifies you immediately so you can take appropriate action, including locking the device your child is using. Its time control tools let you block internet use completely or restrict specific websites, such as social media and online gaming sites, during homework hours so your children can use the internet for important research but won’t get distracted by other, fun sites.
Qustodio is our Top Ten Reviews Gold Award winner for its many tools and features and because it is easy to use.
An important function of monitoring programs is blocking websites you don’t want your children to access. Most parental software has filters that include categories like pornography, violence, drugs and alcohol. When you choose a filter category, the software automatically blocks your children from accessing sites that fall under that classification.
The best parental control apps also block desktop applications such as installed games, word processors and web browsers. This ensures your children can’t access certain programs when they should be doing homework. Additionally, you can restrict access to the computer’s control panel so your kids can’t try to adjust or uninstall the parental control program.
Norton is a well-known name in the internet security industry, and it consistently receives high scores for computer protection from third-party testing labs like AV-Test. Its parental control software, Norton Family, meets these same quality standards.
Norton Family, our Top Ten Reviews Silver Award winner, has 47 filtering categories that include topics such as weapons, suicide, gambling and politics. It automatically blocks your children from accessing any site that falls into a category you deem inappropriate, though you can make exceptions for individual sites by adding their URLs to the whitelist. Norton Family lets you create multiple user profiles so each child has unique settings, meaning a younger child can be blocked from more websites and have more active filter categories than their older siblings.
One of the biggest threats online today is cyberbullying. Most of the time, it happens through private messaging or on social media. You can use parental software to view messages your child receives and the sender’s contact information. This is helpful, but often hours or days pass between when the message is sent and when you get an alert or can log into the parent portal to look at the browser and chat history.
Surfie by PureSight is one of the best control programs, and it has fantastic features specifically designed to recognize, stop and block cyberbullying. Surfie quickly runs a virtual background check on anyone who contacts your child to see if they have ever contacted someone or posted a message on social media that indicates they are a cyberbully. Even if nothing shows up in the initial screening, the program automatically ends interactions, blocks the individual and notifies you the minute they threaten or demean your child. You can look over the data and be the final decision maker on whether your child can continue to interact with the person. This is a powerful feature that stops potential cyberbullying quickly. Surfie by PureSight is our Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award winner.
As a parent, it’s shocking to discover your child has picked up a four-letter word or two and uses them when you’re not around. Most internet monitoring programs, such as Witigo, capture the chat and email messages your children send and receive so you can go through them to make sure they are using appropriate language.
Net Nanny has a unique feature called profanity masking. This tool changes swear words into nonsense symbols, such as “$%&*” as they are typed so your child can’t send them. Profanity in messages your child receives is also masked, as is any inappropriate languages on websites. You can add additional offensive words to the masking list. Net Nanny is the only website monitoring program we found that offers this feature, making it a popular option for parents.
All the programs we reviewed capture search terms or allow you to set alerts so you know when your child types restricted words into search fields, email messages or chat programs on the computer. Cell phone monitoring programs are specifically designed to capture and monitor this same activity on a smartphone. You can find additional information in our cell phone parent controls review.
There are a handful of programs in our review that work on both Mac and Windows devices, including our top pick, Qustodio. Other programs, such as WebWatcher, require you purchase a specific program for each device and operating system, though we found a parental monitoring program that is exclusively for Mac computers.
ContentBarrier is designed by Intego, a leader in Mac antivirus and internet security. This software only works on Apple devices, so developers focus on exactly how it interacts with other Mac programs.
This internet monitoring software has 23 filter categories that make it easy to block dangerous websites and unsavory content from your children. It also records what your child sees online by capturing screenshots, and it reports on activity from social networking pages while your child is logged in. It’s Predator Alert tools can identify words and phrases in chat and instant messages that may signal someone dangerous is talking with your child, and it instantly shuts down the program they are using to communicate and notifies you.
When your children use the internet, they can be exposed to dangers while safe at home with you. The web provides access to almost every piece of information known to man, so you can’t exactly ban you children from the internet without limiting their potential to learn and grown. With the best parental monitoring software, you can provide your children with appropriate access to beneficial internet resources while filtering out the elements that have the potential to harm the ones you love.