Filtering, Blocking & Monitoring
Recording & Alerts
Installation & Support
Best Parental Software
Why Use Parental Software?
We have been reviewing parental control software since 2011, spending more than 120 hours and testing 19 different programs looking for the best software on the market. The best parental control software we found is Qustodio. This software has all the tools you need to monitor and control your child’s internet usage on computer, cell phone and tablet. It has 26 filter categories, like pornography, gambling and violence, and will automatically block sites that fall under the category or alert you when they are accessed.
Qustodio has 29 filter categories and will block access to any website that falls under the classifications you select. These categories include topics like pornography, gambling, violence, drugs, alcohol and religion. You can choose whether to block a category or alert you to activity. For instance, you can block pornography completely, but only be alerted when you child accesses a religious website.
A Facebook-specific activity recorder shows you images that you child’s friends upload to the site. If you detect a threat of any kind you can block you child’s Facebook page completely. When you enable the file-sharing filter, your child can’t upload and share any files, whether as email attachments, social media posts or in video chats. It also lets you screen your children’s files before they receive them. Another tool, the parental time control program, lets you limit how long your child is online and you can block internet access during times when they should be focused on other activities. Because Qustodio lets you create individual profiles, each child can have their own time schedule.
While there are less expensive programs out there, Norton is a great value. The base package is competitively priced and has some of best features of any software we looked at. At 47, it has more filter categories to screen your children’s internet activities than any other program. These include common categories like alcohol, pornography and violence as well as more specific categories like weapons, plagiarism and suicide. This program can also block or monitor social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and gaming sites.
This software is also a great value because you can monitor up to 10 devices with the basic software package. This is far more than any other software we reviewed. Most software packages let you pay more to add accounts, but it’s rare to have so many licenses included upfront. You can monitor all devices with this program, including smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops.
Best For Profanity Masking
Net Nanny provides all the tools to let you see what your child is doing online and lets you set time limits so they can focus on other important things like homework and chores. It is also easy to install and use. It has 18 filter categories that it will automatically block. You can block all game sites online. You can also block games based on their specific content and the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rating. You can also filter or block chat activity using this software.
Net Nanny has a unique feature called profanity masking. This tool changes swear words into cartoon gibberish such as “$%&*” as they are typed so your child can’t send them. The profanity your child receives in messages or sees on websites is also masked. You can add other offensive words to the masking list if you see fit. Net Nanny is the only website monitoring program we found that offers this feature, making it a popular option for parents.
How We Tested
To test parental control software, we downloaded programs onto our home computers and children’s laptops. In this way we were able to see how the programs functioned in the real world. We got reactions from disappointed and frustrated children who were unable to access favorite websites with questionable material and were locked out when their allotted computer time was up. We also downloaded the programs onto our office computers and ran tests on it in a lab environment.
Our testing allowed us to see how easy it is to install and use each program to monitor activity on various devices. We could test to see how quickly each program notifies us of flagged activity and the amount of lag time on the host computer. This helped us narrow the 19 programs we tested to the best 10. We confidently recommend all of the programs in our lineup as powerful tools for keeping your children safe online.
Other Standout Features in Parental Control Software
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 it may take days to find out about it through a message or by checking the browser or chat history in your parent portal.
Surfie by PureSight has features specifically designed to recognize, stop and block cyberbullying. Surfie quickly runs a virtual background check on your child’s contacts to screen for cyberbullying history. When it detects that someone has threatened or demeaned your child, it automatically ends the interaction and notifies you. You can then review the data and communicate with your child to decide what steps to take from there. It’s a powerful feature that stops potential cyberbullying quickly.
Mac Device Protection
ContentBarrier is designed specifically for Mac OS devices and developers focused on exactly how it interacts with other Mac programs. It has 23 filter categories that make it easy to block dangerous websites or questionable content. It records what your child sees by capturing screenshots and reports on social networking activity. Its Predator Alert tool identifies words and phrases in chat messages that indicate someone dangerous may be interacting with your child. It instantly shuts down the program they are using and notifies you. You can then determine if it is a false alarm or if action needs to be taken.