Best Monitoring Software of 2018

Nicole Johnston ·
Internet Security & Appliance Editor
Updated
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We spent 120 hours testing monitoring software on desktop computers, laptops and mobile devices. We looked at each program’s time control features, checked how effective its filter categories are, and browsed its summary reports for information that can keep kids safe from cyberbullies, online predators and harmful content. 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.     

Best Overall
Qustodio
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 on Qustodio
$49.95@Qustodio
Best Overall
Qustodio
Best for Cyberbullying
Surfie
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.
View on Surfie
Best for Mac
ContentBarrier
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.
View on Intego
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
$54.95 Qustodio
4.9 4.7 5
$54.95
5
29
$59.9 Surfieapp
4.8 4.3 5
$59.90
3
18
$49.99 Us.Norton
4.9 5 3.7
$49.99
5
47
$129.95 Webwatcher
3.8 4.5 4.7
$129.95
1
None
$29 Kidlogger.Net
5 3.5 4.3
Free
5
None
5 4 3.3
Free
1
30
$59.99 Netnanny
4.9 3.7 3.7
$59.99
5
18
$39.99 Intego
4.7 4 3.3
$39.99
1
23
$199.99 Mspy
3 3.9 4.7
$199.99
1
None
Best Overall
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.
Pros
  • Monitors words and phrases in chat conversations
  • Has 18 filter categories
  • Comes with multiple licenses to monitor several devices at once
Cons
  • Doesn’t send access requests
  • Isn’t compatible with Chromebook
  • No live support available
$49.95Qustodio
Read the full review
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.
Pros
  • Monitors words and phrases in chat conversations
  • Has 18 filter categories
  • Comes with multiple licenses to monitor several devices at once
Cons
  • Doesn’t have instant lock
  • Isn’t compatible with Mac computers
  • No live support available
$59.90Surfie
Read the full review
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.
Pros
  • Designed exclusively for Mac
  • Includes 23 filter categories
  • Includes time controls
Cons
  • Not compatible with mobile devices
  • Doesn’t record chat conversations
  • Emails are not recorded
$39.99Intego
Read the full review
Best Value
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.
Pros
  • Comes with 47 filter categories
Cons
  • Doesn’t record text messages
US$49.99Norton Security
Read the full review
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.
Pros
  • Compatible with smartphones and tablets
Cons
  • Doesn’t track much online activity
$39.99Mobicip
Read the full review

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.

How We Tested

I downloaded each monitoring program on several test computers, both in our on-site lab and on my personal devices at home. This gave me a good idea of how each program works in real-life settings. I 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 I purposely blocked. This let me see how well each software’s filters work.

Through the testing, I learned that the more categories a program has, such as the 47 included with Norton Family, the easier it is to block or allow more specific content. For example, programs with more categories let us specify that we wanted to block mature games, not all online games.

As the children came upon popular sites that were blocked, I 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. I received this message through email or text alert and could then grant temporary or permanent access. As a mother, I was careful to test how well the programs filtered content in particularly unsavory categories such as porn, violence, gambling and suicide.

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. mSpy also lets you decide how long your child can be online. For example, you can set an access time from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. but also limit your child to an hour of online activity within that time frame. 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.

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:

Grades slipping

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.

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