The best parental control software is essential now more than ever as kids spend more time online and the dangers grow ever more complex. From social networking to gaming, children are under threat whether on a smartphone, computer, tablet or even games console.
Since even education moved to more online learning scenarios, children are getting a lot of screen time, often unsupervised. The best parental control software is like leaving them with safety boundaries that will give them some freedoms, but still keep them safe online.
From monitoring device usage to controlling it, the best parental control software has various uses. You might want to see what sites your little one visits or how long they spend on a certain app. Or perhaps you want to ban a certain software, website or area of the internet totally.
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From monitoring their social networking activity to online chats, there is a lot of depth to the controls which can afford parents more peace of mind.
The issue is there are so many threats, so many apps, and so many devices, it can be difficult to know where to start. That's why this guide clearly lays out the best of the best parental monitoring and control software.
Because wiretap laws vary by state, we do not advocate using parental control software to record phone calls, either 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.
1. Qustodio: Best parental control software overall
Qustodio has been one of the most popular parental control tools for years, and it’s no wonder when you consider that this software is powerful, versatile and surprisingly easy to use – and that it works on Windows, Apple, Android, iOS and Kindle devices.
The broad device support is bolstered by impressive features. You can use Qustodio’s online dashboard to see how your children use their devices, apps and web browsers in fine detail, and pre-set filters can be used to block all sorts of inappropriate content. The time controls are detailed and granular, and monitoring is included for up to fifteen devices.
Qustodio can block children’s access to social media and online gaming sites and monitor their social posts – as well as what their friends are sharing to your children’s social feeds – including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and YouTube. You’re able to monitor their calls and messages, screen files before they’re uploaded or opened, or even stop files being shared at all. You can apply time limits for different systems and apps – ideal if you want to restrict access to certain software while giving the kids free reign elsewhere. There aren’t many features missing.
It's easy to use, too. Once the app is installed on your children’s devices it runs invisibly and parents can monitor and control their children’s access and behavior from their own phone, tablet or PC. It runs invisibly, parents can block devices remotely, and it includes location trackers – and Android devices also get a panic button. You can use different profiles for different children – handy if you’ve got kids at different ages.
Qustodio does have a free version which includes web, search and application monitoring, web filtering, social activity monitoring and time limit controls, but you’ll have to pay to get access to the full range of features. Prices range between $54 and $137 for an annual plan, depending on how many devices you need to secure.
It's not cheap, but Qustodio does deliver fantastic features across a broad range of platforms – in a system that’s straightforward to use while remaining powerful. It’s our favorite parental control software, and proof that you get what you pay for.
2. Kaspersky Safe Kids 2021: Best budget control app
Kaspersky is one of the biggest names when it comes to online security, so it’s no surprise that the firm has a comprehensive parental control tool. Safe Kids 2021 works on Windows, Mac, iOS and Android devices, and it functions in a straightforward manner – install the app on your children’s devices and then install the parent app, and you’re ready to start.
You can use more than a dozen pre-set filters to protect your children from all kinds of inappropriate content, and you can block their YouTube searches if they’re deemed problematic. It’s possible to manage the amount of time your kids spend on their devices and in certain apps, and app restrictions can also be set based on category and age – so you can let your kids access certain software while restricting them elsewhere.
Safe Kids 2021 has advanced scheduling options, so you can stop your children accessing their devices or apps are certain times on particular days – handy if you want to get them to bed earlier on school nights. This app also has an impressive set of features that are specific to smartphones: it’s possible to set geographical safe areas and get alerts when your children stray, and conventional location tracking is available alongside a feature to send a warning if your kids’ phones are about to run out of battery. You can choose to get alerts via push notifications, text messages and emails.
Other apps do have more pre-set categories and more social networking features, but Kaspersky Safe Kids still delivers a broad range of abilities. There’s a feature-limited free version available, but the Premium option is our choice when it comes to affordable parental control – its annual price of $15 undercuts most rivals.
3. Net Nanny: Best for social media monitoring
Despite these small caveats, there’s lots to like about Net Nanny – it’s very adept with social media and has smart features elsewhere. It’s not too expensive, either, with prices starting at $39 and ranging to $89 to protect a huge 20 devices.
Many parental controls tools are sold by larger security companies, but Net Nanny is one of the most experienced firms that’s dedicated to parental control – it’s been going since the mid-90s.
Net Nanny has a superb range of core features. You can limit your kids’ screen time and give them specific online and offline hours, and you can use a broad selection of pre-configured internet filters – or personalize your own. Net Nanny has real-time pornography blocking, and it uses context-sensitive abilities to do a better job of filtering your children’s searches and to look out for harmful new trends.
Elsewhere, Net Nanny can block specific apps and websites, monitor your children’s YouTube usage, and it has a broad range of social media options that work on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and TikTok – which makes it one of the only parental control tools that does work on TikTok.
This app works across Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, and its solid state of features are improved by smart additions – you can get real-time notifications of search terms, curfew options to lock down apps at night and a location tracker. Parents can activate remote time-out sessions to instantly seize back control, and a smart feature is the Family Feed – a dedicated page in the parents’ app that instantly shows what the kids are up to. Different profiles can also be established for different children.
There are a few pros and cons that are specific to Net Nanny. Happily, this product offers detailed logging and reporting, and it has better parity than most apps between Android and iOS in terms of the features available on both platforms. It doesn’t monitor calls or text messages, though, and it can be difficult to initially configure the tools.
4. Norton Family: Best for schoolwork
Norton’s Family tool has a keen focus on versatility and schoolwork, with several features that are designed to help your kids be more productive – and for you to more easily keep an eye on their activity.
Norton Family has a feature that allows your kids to spend time doing their schoolwork without detracting from their allotted, overall screen time – so they can get their work done and then still enjoy their devices afterwards. And, if you’d like more control over how you monitor your children’s online behavior, you can choose to have activity reports available in the app, in Norton’s online portal or via email.
Beyond this, Norton Family has an impressive and comprehensive set of features. You can use dozens of filters to block unsuitable content, see their search histories to protect them from inappropriate content and established screen time schedules. You can get email alerts if children try to access blocked sites, parents can lock devices, and you can see which apps your children have been accessing – although this feature is only available on Android.
Impressively, you can see a list of your children’s YouTube videos alongside small clips of each video, and Norton uses a web portal alongside its apps so you can access its settings from any device. You can even set up transparent House Rules that your kids can see, and they can use Norton’s software to message you if they want to query those rules.
As with most parental control tools, there are caveats. Norton’s software doesn’t work on Macs, and some features are missing from its iOS app. It doesn’t allow location-specific zone alerts like some other apps, and there isn’t a free option.
Despite that, we like its focus on schoolwork and family unit, and its price of $50 for a one-year subscription for ten devices is decent – so it’s one of the best options for parental control tools. It’s also possible to get all of these features by buying Norton 360 Deluxe for $50 – and opting for that package unlocks loads of other security features, too.
5. Mobicip: Best for multiple devices
Mobicip offers many of the same features as its rivals, but it goes further in some respects – because it works on Chromebooks thanks to a dedicated browser extension. More conventional support for Windows, Mac OS, iOS and Android is available too, and a cloud-based browser dashboard completes the set – there’s basically no device that can’t handle this software.
The feature set is solid. You can pick from dozens of filters that sift through different types of content to help your kids avoid anything inappropriate, and the app has real-time scanning to pick up real-time threats. You can use Mobicip to filter and supervise video viewing in YouTube, Netflix, Hulu and other streaming apps, and you can set daily screen time limits to prevent your children from spending too much time on their devices. There’s even a Family Time option that locks down all of the devices that use Mobicip – handy if dinner’s ready.
You can manage and restrict app access using Mobicip, allow or block social media and gaming apps and websites and maintain a block list so certain apps can’t even be installed on your children’s devices. You can check their browsing histories, get real-time alerts if the kids try access banned apps and websites, and monitor their location – although geographic safe zones aren’t supported in this app.
Mobicip’s dashboards make tremendous use of charts and graphs to present information, and it’s easy to see what’s going on across multiple devices. The setup procedure is simple, too: you just set apps up on your parent devices and use QR codes to get your children’s hardware hooked up.
No free version is available, and Mobicip’s costs either $48 or $59 to protect five or ten devices – or a hefty $119 for a license that’ll protect twenty devices. It’s perhaps a little pricier than some other apps, but it’s very intuitive and versatile.
Standout features in Parental Control Software
There are loads of online threats that your children may encounter when they’re browsing the web or using apps on their smartphones, laptops and PCs – from cyberbullying and grooming to identity fraud and inappropriate, violent material.
There may be more threats than ever now, but there are also plenty of apps that can be used to help protect your family when they’re surfing the web.
These apps all offer different features, but there are certain key features that you should always look out for. It’s almost always possible to use pre-set blacklists to prevent your children from accessing inappropriate content on a whole range of topics, and most parental control apps also have scheduling tools to restrict how much time your kids spend online.
Common features include the ability to monitor search histories, supervise what apps they’re using and to watch over social media tools to check that their posts and conversations aren’t problematic. Parental control software also routinely has a dashboard that summarizes your kids’ behavior, and you can often use GPS tracking to check where they’ve been in the real world – another key aspect when it comes to keeping them safe.
Beyond this, apps tend to differentiate. You can sometimes find options that can restrict device access simultaneously, which is ideal if dinner is ready, and elsewhere it’s not uncommon to find tools for monitoring kids’ viewing on video websites. Other popular features include panic buttons, call tracking and game monitoring, and lots of apps include the ability to establish different profiles for multiple children – perfect if your kids are different ages and need to be protected from different content.
How much does parental software cost?
Most of the parental control apps on the market require a yearly or monthly subscription, and different subscription levels are available – usually based on how many devices you need to protect. If you’ve got a smaller family and only need to safeguard a handful of devices it’ll be cheaper, then, but you may have to spend more if you need to protect lots of hardware.
Prices start at $14.99 for entry-level packages but can range beyond $100 if you need more features and plenty of device protection. Most parental control apps cover at least three devices, even at their basic levels, and they all include a license for the parents’ main control app.
Happily, most parental control apps also include a free trial, so you can try before you buy – that’s important when these apps will form such a crucial part of your family’s computing and social media landscapes. Several tools also offer free versions too, although these often only come with a handful of the features that are included in the retail software.
How do I set parental controls on the internet?
Several internet browsers, including Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Apple’s Safari, have some settings that allow you to block specific websites by adding the URL to a blacklist. You can also set each app’s overall security levels to low, medium or high and the browser will automatically block websites that fall into those general categories. However, parental software is much more effective and easier to use to filter internet content, and it offers more versatility and power than the rudimentary filters and options that are included in the main browsers.
Good parental software includes internet filters that make it easy to block websites and content you deem inappropriate. You can block websites in categories such as pornography, drugs and alcohol, and violence. The program will not allow your child to access any website that falls under the categories you select. The best parental control programs have additional filter categories for online games, social media sites and instant messenger programs, and many apps also allow full customization.
Can you set parental controls for YouTube?
The quick answer is yes! There are several parental control programs that let you block YouTube entirely so your child can’t watch videos on the site. This is done by either selecting a preset filter category for video or social media pages, or by adding the YouTube URL to a blacklist within the program. Many apps also work with other video sharing and streaming sites, like Hulu and Netflix.
Other programs let you block chat applications, even within social media pages. This lets your child watch videos but not see or comment on them. Other apps have profanity masking features that block out vulgar connect, even in videos, so your child can’t see or hear them.