Editor’s Note: Because wiretap laws vary by state, we do not advocate using cell phone 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.
We spent 160 hours gathering information on cell phone monitoring software. We installed and used a few programs to get a feel for how they work, but we couldn’t physically test every program. This is because many mobile monitoring programs require you to root your Android phone or jailbreak your iPhone to track certain apps and monitor email messages.
Rooting and jailbreaking require you to break your phone’s most basic file structures to override permission-based files, alter file structures and control files using pseudo commands. Beyond the security risks, jailbreaking or rooting your device can prevent vital operating system updates and void the warranty. As such, we do not advise it.
However, we tested a few programs that don’t require bypassing permissions, and we believe Qustodio is the best option for cell phone monitoring.
Best Cell Phone Monitoring
Best Cell Phone Monitoring: Qustodio
Qustodio lets you monitor chat app use as well as text and email messages without rooting or jailbreaking your child’s phone, which keeps the device secure and any warranties intact. It monitors an impressive amount of activity on your child’s smartphone, including newly added contacts, images sent from or to your child, and photos and videos your child takes. Its detailed reports let you see exactly where your child has been and what they accessed using their device. From the parent portal or mobile app, you can adjust settings, including blocking access to web browsers and specific webpages.
The program comes with a minimum of five licenses, so you can protect multiple devices at once. It also runs invisibly on your child’s cell phone, and it gives you the power to remotely lock the device.
Budget Cell Phone Tracking
Budget Cell Phone Tracking: WebWatcher
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 with the device. A single license costs much less than other, similar cell phone trackers.
Mobile App Blocking
Mobile App Blocking: Net Nanny
Net Nanny lets you track your 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 its built-in filter. You can block certain categories of sites, such as those that deal with pornography or drugs, or blacklist specific websites and apps so your child can’t access them. The program also has a whitelist where you can add sites and programs you are okay 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 also alerts you if your child searches for certain keywords using their cell phone’s internet browser.
Older Device Compatibility
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 cell phones. It also works with all major cell phone carries. This means your child can use an old hand-me-down cell phone instead of the newest and most expensive model, but you also don’t have to worry about purchasing another program if you do upgrade.
You need to purchase a separate license for each phone you track, but you can monitor them all on one parent control dashboard on the Mobistealth website.
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. It can help you teach them responsibility and time management while also protecting them from inappropriate content.