Setting limits and keeping your children safe are two important responsibilities of parenting. Controlling what your child does on the internet isn’t always easy, but there are a variety of tools you can use to make the task less difficult.
Parental control apps allow you to limit how much time your child spends online, restrict access to certain apps or websites, and keep track of where your child is. There are a number of different parental control apps available on Android and iOS, including FamilyTime, OurPact, Kaspersky Safe Kids, and others.
Please note: There are thriving teen forums online discussing all the possible ways to get around parental controls, some with highly advanced or sneaky tactics. If you know teens, that shouldn’t surprise you, but it’s still something to prepare for. When picking a parental control app, don’t write down your password or login information (no matter how well you think you can hide it). You may also want to create a news alert for the software you choose, to help keep an eye out for any new vulnerabilities or workarounds. Some software can be bypassed with phone resets, customer service requests, and other tricks that you should know about.
Apple Screen Time
Is there any better tool than the one already installed on iOS? Apple’s Screen Time app has some pretty good parental control features built in, meaning this should be your first stop if you’re looking for some basic controls. Access it from Settings > Screen Time, and choose This Is My Child’s [device] from the device you want to set controls on. You can set restrictions on downloads from the App Store, content, and in-app behaviors (including in-app purchases). Time spent using the device can be restricted as well, including controls for specific apps. You can even stop your child’s device from being able to request specific permissions, like photos and location. On the minus side, you won’t get some of the more powerful features you’ll get on other apps, like geofencing. But if you’re worried too much about that and simply want to restrict content and screen time, Apple’s free option is a solid choice. Since it’s made by Apple, you’ll only find it on iOS. Find out how to use it in our Screen Time guide.
Google Family Link
Just as Apple offers its own tools for parental controls, so does Google. Unlike Screen Time, you’ll need to download Google Family Link, but it’s available for both Android and iOS. Like Apple’s app, it’s fairly basic, but it does offer everything you need to keep an eye on children’s screen time. Family Link is geared toward making sure kids can only access appropriate content, and keeping an eye on how much screen time they’re getting. Once set up, you can see how much time each child has spent in apps and which ones they’ve been accessing. You can set limits for individual apps and restrict whether in-app purchases are available or not. You can also decide whether to vet every app download your child makes, before they’re able to make it. So while you’re again not able to set up a geofence or track your child’s location, it’s still a great free option for keeping an eye on what your child is looking at on their phone.
FamilyTime does everything, allowing you to customize precisely what content your kids should have access to, set time limits, track location, and more. The software gives you tools to set homework and bedtimes, or just limit the total time your kids spend on their phones. There’s support for geofencing so you get alerts when a phone enters or leaves a specific area, and location tracking, so you can see exactly where your child is. On top of that, you can block or control usage on an app-by-app basis, apply internet filters, monitor calls and texts, and keep an eye on contact lists.
However, the free version only gives you access to a small subset of features. If you want the premium features, then there are different plans available. For example, it will cost you $27 per year for one device, and up to $69 per year for five devices, with tiers for two and three devices as well.
Qustodio is user-friendly, efficient, and excellent for parents who are short on time. It offers a dashboard that shows you all recent mobile activity for any connected device, including time spent on specific services like Instagram or Twitter. From there you can set time limits, track texts, filter out certain types of website, and block any game or app. Plenty of customization options make it a great parental control app to use when managing devices for kids of multiple ages, and it also works on Kindles and Macs, which is rare.
On the downside, the software is a little expensive at $55 annually for the five-device plan, but there is a free version with limited controls that you can use on just one device.
OurPact works a little differently than most others, but it’s very easy to get to grips with. It allows you to block messaging, apps, internet access, and to schedule screen time. You can also track your child, set up geofences to get real-time alerts if they go somewhere you’d rather they didn’t, and receive alerts when they install new apps. Information is very clearly laid out in the parental interface, so you can quickly decide whether to schedule, grant, or block a request. It’s easy to set complex schedules for different days and hours, and you can block entire categories of apps, and block all porn on their phone.
There are three tiers available for this app. The free tier lets you set a single schedule and five blocks and unlimited grants on a single device. $7 a month gets you the premium plan, which grants you unlimited use of the standard features, as well as app rules, time allowances, web filter, and more, for up to twenty devices. Finally, the premium plus plan gives you the ability to view your child’s device through remote viewing as well, and will set you back $10 a month. This app is available for Android and iOS.
ESET Parental Control
ESET has a decent parental control app, but it’s just for Android devices. The free version offers web guards, app blocking, time limits on games, and basic reporting. The premium version gives you website blocking, location tracking, parental messaging, and more detailed reports about what they’re doing. The parental message feature is a clever idea. It allows you to send out a message that your child is required to respond to before he or she can continue using the phone. You can try the premium features for free for 30 days, but then it costs $30 per year, per device.
Norton Family Premier
Norton is a big name in the field of antivirus software, and Norton Family Premier is a program for restricting and monitoring your kids’ behavior online. Family Premier offers parents a variety of features and makes it easy to manage all those options thanks to its clean interface. Among Family Premier’s most notable features is its robust web supervision, which allows you to block sites entirely, or simply keep a log of sites visited. You can also set Norton to issue warnings for sites that you may not want to ban, but would prefer your kids be careful on — for example, you might want to discourage them from spending all their time browsing memes on Reddit. Norton also lets you set time limits, shut down devices during specific hours of the day or night, and there’s app blocking, too. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work correctly according to a lot of reviews in the app store the iOS version is limited, and the Android app no longer lets you block calls or monitor text messages.
It costs $50 per year, but it doesn’t limit the number of devices you can have on an account, so simply install on any iOS or Android devices (or Windows desktops) your kids use.
Kaspersky Safe Kids
Some of our favorite mobile antivirus options have pretty good parental controls too, and Kaspersky Safe Kids falls squarely into that bracket. The child app comes with everything you’d want from a parental control app, including tools to manage and monitor their screen time, the ability to see their real-time location (with geofencing) and battery level, and Facebook activity monitoring. You can block access to inappropriate websites, apps, and games, and there’s expert advice from child psychoanalysts for the really tricky stuff. Unfortunately, limitations within iOS mean not all these options are available for iPads and iPhones.
Kaspersky Safe Kids is also one of the cheapest options on this list, at just $15 for a year’s access per device. It can get more expensive than other options if you’re installing it on many devices, but if you just need to monitor one device, it’s a great budget option.
Kidslox is a parental control app for Android and iOS that lets you block apps and websites on up to 10 different devices. It also enables you to set daily time limits for mobile use, so that children don’t spend all of their homework time looking at Facebook or Instagram. Helpfully, it features different modes, allowing you to switch from an unrestricted Parent Mode to a custom-set Child Mode or a completely restricted Lockdown Mode. It even lets you see where your children’s devices are. Kidslox provides you with a brief free trial when first signing up, but after that, it charges $5.99 per month (depending on your devices) for a monthly subscription — though you can save money with a $100 payment for lifetime cover. It’s easy to set up, although it requires that you download it on each app you want to monitor.