We spent 120 hours testing monitoring software on desktop computers, laptops and mobile devices, downloading each monitoring program on several test computers, both in our on-site lab and on my personal devices at home.
This gave us a good idea of how each program works in real-life settings. We also installed programs on my children’s devices, then sat back and waited for the sounds of frustration as they attempted to access sites such as Facebook and Steam, that we purposely blocked. This let us see how well each software’s filters work.
Qustodio is easy to install on computers, tablets and cell phones. It has 29 filter categories and captures both sides of your child’s chat conversations.VIEW DEAL ON Qustodio
As the children came upon popular sites that were blocked, we tested the programs’ whitelists and quick access features. Sometimes the kids sent a quick message through the monitoring program asking me to allow access to a specific website. We received this message through email or text alert and could then grant temporary or permanent access.
Most of the programs we tested let you block access to the web during specific times of the day, such as bedtime or when homework and chores need to get done. We tested all these time control features to make sure they worked properly.
Finally, we looked at the activity reports and evaluated how detailed they are. Some monitoring programs simply list the websites your child visited and the search terms they used. Others provide much more detail and include screenshots of the sites your kids visit, lists of blocked search terms entered, and both sides of chat conversations.
Based on our testing, we believe Qustodio is the best computer monitoring program because of its excellent safety tools, how easy it is to install and use on multiple devices, and the detailed reports it provides parents, including two-way transcripts of chat conversations.
Qustodio is easy to install on computers, tablets and cell phones. It has 29 filter categories and captures both sides of your child’s chat conversations.
Surfie alerts you when your child gets a message that contains tagged keywords, such as “don’t tell” or “you’re dumb,” so you can crack down on cyberbullying and online predators.
ContentBarrier is specifically designed for Mac computers and laptops. It lets you block inappropriate websites and set time limits for when your child can be online.
|Product||Price||Overall Rating||Pricing||Parent Controls||Tracking & Notifications||Minimum Subscription Cost (per year)||Minimum Number of Devices||Filter Categories||Time Management||Social Network & Cyberbullying Monitoring||Gaming Restrictions||Instant Message/Chat||GPS or Cell Phone Tracking||Online Searches||Instant Lock||Access Request||Text Alerts||Websites Visited||Emails Sent & Received||Chat Transcripts||Texts Sent & Received||Photo & Video Activity||Screenshot Logs||Summary Reports||Windows||Mac||Android||iOS||Chromebook||Kindle||Nook|
|Norton Family||View Deal||4.5/5||4.9||5||3.7||$49.99||5||47||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✖||✓||✖||✖||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✖||✓||✖||✖|
|Net Nanny Family||View Deal||4/5||4.9||3.7||3.7||$59.99||5||18||✓||✖||✓||✖||✖||✓||✖||✓||✖||✓||✖||✖||✖||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✖||✖|
|ContentBarrier X9||View Deal||4/5||4.7||4||3.3||$39.99||1||23||✓||✓||✓||✓||✖||✓||✖||✖||✖||✓||✖||✖||✖||✖||✓||✓||✖||✓||✖||✖||✖||✖||✖|
Qustodio has 29 filter categories, and when you choose one, the program blocks your kids from accessing any site with that type of content. Categories include pornography, violence, weapons, drugs and alcohol. It also has categories such as online shopping, gambling and games so you can keep your kids focused on more educational content.
If a site you’re fine with your kids visiting is blocked, you can add the URL to Qustodio’s whitelist, and the software unblocks it while still restricting access to other pages in the category. Likewise, if there is a site you want to block that doesn’t fall under a category, you can add it to the blacklist and Qustodio won’t let your kids access it.
On top of content blocking features, the program comes with time controls. These tools let you govern when your kids can be online so they can focus on getting chores or homework done and aren’t up late browsing the internet. You can also set exactly how much time they can be online in one sitting.
If you install Qustodio on your child’s cell phone, you can use it to track where they are. You can also capture every text your child sends or receives and disable text ability completely from the Qustodio app. There is also a panic button – if your child finds themselves in a dangerous situation, such as if they get lost on the way home from school, they can hit the button and the program sends you a text message with their exact location so you can get to them quickly.
Best for Cyberbullying
Surfie lets you tag keywords and phrases, such as “don’t tell” and “home alone,” and if someone sends them to your child through email or instant message, the program notifies you through texts so you can stop the conversation quickly.
This feature can also be used in reverse, so you can block your child from sharing personal information such as their full name, birthdate or address.
The program has specific social media monitoring tools that show you what your child posts on both their own wall and their friends’ walls, as well as videos they watch and images they see. You can also monitor their friends’ social media accounts, and if they post anything inappropriate you don’t want your child to see, you can step in and block them. This also works with online gaming site chatrooms, where your child may be talking with complete strangers while playing.
This monitoring program lets you completely block social media and online gaming sites so your kids can’t access them at all. It also allows you to disable instant messaging features on these types of sites – when you do, your kids can visit the webpages but can’t talk with anyone while there. When downloaded to your child’s cellphone, Surfie monitors and captures text messages between your child and their friends.
Surfie has 18 filter categories, so you can instantly block sites about topics such as pornography, violence, suicide or drugs. You receive a text alert when your child attempts to visit any of these sites or if they search with keywords related to any blocked category.
Best for Mac
Several monitoring programs are compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems, but we’ve found that the Mac versions tend to be more difficult to set up and not as effective as the Windows versions. ContentBarrier, however, is specifically designed for Mac computers and laptops, so it is much more powerful and effective at monitoring your kids’ online activity.
ContentBarrier lets you block access to websites based on content by selecting categories such as gambling, sex, alcohol and racism. You can also block specific websites and search terms by adding them to the program’s blacklist.
With this Mac monitoring software, you can disable all chat features or choose to block your kids from typing or receiving messages with dangerous or revealing words or phrases such as “come alone,” “phone number” or “don’t tell.” If someone your child chats with uses one of these words or phrases, ContentBarrier automatically shuts down the chat program and doesn’t allow access until you, the parent, allow it.
Norton Family isn’t the cheapest program available, but with the number of devices you can monitor at once, plus the multiple tools and over 45 internet filter categories, it is a great value for the price.
You can track everything your children do on five different devices, including mobile devices, and view screenshots of the websites, videos and images they are viewing. And if installed on a cellphone, Norton tells you when and who they are texting. Unfortunately, it doesn’t record these conversations, so you won’t know exactly what’s being sent back and forth unless the program happens to snap a screenshot while your child is texting. On top of monitoring your child’s online activity, Norton gives you time controls so you can block internet access all together during times when you kids should be asleep, in school, doing homework or participating in family activities.
Best for Cellphone Monitoring
Mobicip can monitor all your kids’ activities regardless of the device they’re on. It’s compatible with both cellphones and tablets, including Kindles and Chromebooks.
The Basic version of Mobicip requires you to manually enter the URL of each website you want to block from your kids individually. However, the Premium version comes with 30 filter categories that let you quickly block every website that falls under that category. If your child needs to access a blocked site – for example to research a hot topic for school – you can temporarily unblock the site long enough for your child to gather the information they need.
The reports Mobicip gives you list the websites your child has visited and those they tried to visit but were blocked from accessing. But there isn’t much more information than that. Other programs track and provide transcripts of text and chat messages as well as snapping screenshots of what your child is looking at and monitoring the videos they watch online.
Why Trust Us?
Top Ten Reviews has been testing monitoring software for 15 years, establishing ourselves as experts in the field. We stay on top of changes in the industry and keep an eye on the evolving threats online by subscribing to news outlets and online blogs that focus on internet security. We test, evaluate and review monitoring software several times a year, so we know the programs very well and understand how they work with new technologies.
Also, I am the mother of 10 children and grandmother to four. Keeping my children safe is my top priority, especially while they are online where so much information, both good and bad, is easily accessible. I use internet monitoring software at home, installing it on computers, laptops, cell phones and tablets. It creates opportunities to have good conversations with my kids about personal boundaries, cyberbullying and why restricting screen time is so important.
Am I Spying on My Children With Parental Controls?
There’s a difference between spying on your children and filtering the content they see. Nick Wingfield addresses these concerns in his New York Times article, Should You Spy on Your Kids? He mentions that parents who abuse and overuse this software will stifle the independence a child needs to develop into an adult. However, if your mindset is to keep your children safe and not about abusing power, you’ll be far from performing the role of Big Brother.
There are plenty of websites and apps out there that are dangerous and harmful to a growing mind. Protecting your children from these influences can be a good thing. If you notice that your child is searching for questionable content, it’s probably a good time to sit down and have a talk with them. They are growing and learning. The best way to process and understand their development is through open discussion.
How do I limit internet access at home?
Limiting the amount of time your child spends online is a good way to cut back on cyberbullying and encourage your child to engage in other activities like reading, sports and in-person interaction with friends and family members. It is also a good way to keep your child focused on homework, completing chores and getting enough sleep.
One way you can block your child’s internet access is through using an internet router filtering device, like Circle with Disney. This device connects to your router or modem and is directed to all the internet connected devices. It lets you turn off internet access to your child’s computers, cellphones, tablets, gaming consoles and other devices. However, these filters are not easy to set up, and some of them may require you to cut off access to all devices rather than just one.
Another way to limit online use is with a monitoring program like Qustodio. Qustodio includes time controls with its software that lets you set specific times your child can be online. And because you can create a different user account for each member of your family, each child and adult can have different time constraints without blocking others. These time controls also have timers so you can see how long your child is online each time they log on.
Use monitoring programs to combat cyberbullying and prevent teen suicide
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the third leading cause of death among children ages 10 through 14, and second for youth age 15 and older. While there are several factors that contribute to teen suicide, bullying in any form, including cyberbullying, is a large and growing contributing issue. Others include depression, exposure to pornography, drug addiction including prescription drug abuse, and extended periods on electronic devices.
We spoke to Lauran Warburton, a suicide prevention advocate and the founder of Live Hannah’s Hope, a non-profit organization that offers support and resources to help empower youth and support families left behind after suicide, and an advocate for the SafeUT app. Warburton, who lost her own daughter to suicide, offers several ways parents can help their children stay safe, connected and engaged, and some of the signs to look for that your child may be contemplating harming themselves. We at Top Ten Reviews encourage you to use these tips in addition to monitoring software as a way to keep tabs on your children, intervene when there is a problem and start healthy conversations with your children about self harm.
What to look for: Signs your child is thinking of self harm
Warburton shared with us that her daughter’s struggles began after an accident left her daughter with a concussion, which led to a change in mood, depression and isolating herself from friends. Other parents, especially those with children who play sports, sometimes see their children become addicted to prescription pain killers. As parents, you know your child best, and any major changes in their behavior may be a sign they are struggling. Additional signs include:
Hanging out with different friends, or no friends at all
Saying things like “nobody likes me” or “I don’t have any friends”
Spending lots of time online rather than interacting with people face to face
Sudden or extreme mood changes
Depression (doesn’t want to do anything)
Anxiety (afraid of doing anything)
It is common for children, especially teenagers, to have struggles and moodiness, but Warburton said it becomes a problem when the child doesn’t bounce back after a setback. Still, it is a challenge for parents to differentiate when their child is depressed or just sad. “I think the parent that is in tune with their child, they will know,” says Warburton.
How parents can help
Though it is terrifying to think of your child in trouble, it is important for parents to show love and support rather than anger or disappointment. Warburton’s biggest advice to parents is “don’t get mad. [And] don’t be ashamed to talk about” what’s going on with your child. Suicide, depression, bullying – these are all hard topics to talk about, but children feel better when they can share their feelings with their parents.
If you think your child is seriously thinking of hurting themselves, it is important to not dismiss your feelings and seek help from professionals who will provide guidance, support and resources to help you and your child.
More information on signs to look for and resources, including references for professionals available in your area, can be found on the National Suicide Prevention website, or by calling the National Suicide Prevention hotline: 1-800-273-8255.
How much does monitoring software cost?
While there are free programs, the best monitoring software comes with better protection, including multiple filter categories, text and chat transcripts and screenshot reports. You can expect to pay around $50 for a good, secure program that also includes between three and five licenses to monitor multiple devices.