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Last Updated: Feb 2024

Top 10 Best Parental Control Apps & Software for Your Kids

Thanks to parental control apps, you can keep track of your kids' online activity and help keep them safe from harmful websites and activities

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Frequently Asked Questions
What are parental control apps?+-

Parental Control apps let a parent view and monitor their children online, tracking browser history, blocking harmful websites, and even tracking activity such as texting, social media posts, and instant messages.

How do parental control apps work?+-

Once you install a parental control app on your device and your child’s, you can use it as a dashboard to view their activity, control when they have access to the internet, and track activity such as texting, social media posts, and instant messages.

How much do parental control apps cost?+-

Parental control apps range in price from free to hundreds of dollars annually, depending on the type of device you need to secure, the number of devices, and the level of functionality.

When should I install a parental control app?+-

Children are online at an increasingly young age. The unprotected internet is dangerous, with threats like grooming, explicit material, and cyberbullying. A responsibly used parental control app is a must, especially if your children are young. As they get older and more comfortable online, it makes sense to dial back and eventually remove the restrictions so that your child can get comfortable with the unprotected internet.

When should I stop monitoring my child’s online activity?+-

There is no specific age to stop monitoring, although it makes sense to start dialing back on restrictions once your child is in their teens. By the age of 14 or 15, it certainly makes sense to allow at least some access to the unmonitored internet.

Should I secretly install a parental control app on my child’s phone?+-

I would not recommend it. The best way to use a parental control system is alongside education about safe data practices in a mutually agreed-upon fashion. A secret installation does not allow for this. Secondly, you will have limited functionality from the app since if you use your secret app to block unsafe sites, your child will know it's there.

Can parental control apps completely protect my child from online threats?+-

While parental control apps can help protect your child from online threats, they cannot guarantee complete safety. It is important to talk to your child about internet safety and set guidelines for their online behavior.

Is it okay to use parental control apps without my child's knowledge?+-

It is important to be transparent with your child about using parental control apps. While it may be uncomfortable to talk about, it is essential to ensure trust and open communication in your relationship.

Are parental control apps invasive to my child's privacy?+-

Parental control apps can be invasive, but it is crucial to balance safety and privacy concerns. Look for apps that offer a reasonable level of privacy and transparency, and discuss the use of the app with your child to ensure mutual understanding.

We find the 10 best options, so you can make informed decisions on tons of products and services.

Why Every Parent Should Use Parental Control Apps

Internet use among children and adolescents is on the rise, with children coming online at a younger age. This paper from 2001 states that 59% of children and adolescents 5-17 use the internet in the United States. According to that same study, about 25% of 5-year-olds use the internet, rising to 50% by age nine.

Newer data from the NCES shows that 93% of children between the ages of 3 and 18 now have internet access. As you can see, internet use amongst young children has become an established reality in our society.

This makes the statistics on internet safety among young children even more disturbing:

  • 56% of children aged 11-16 have seen explicit material online.

  • 33% of children aged 12-15 have encountered sexist, discriminatory, or racist content online.

  • 10% of children aged 8-11 have encountered something online that they describe as nasty, or worrying.

Cutting off a child’s internet access to avoid these issues is not practical. It can cause significant harm to your child’s social life and ability to function in an increasingly digitized workplace as an adult. Parental control software allows you to monitor your child’s browsing, block inappropriate content, and set time limits on online activity while allowing your child to continue to browse the internet.

 What are Parental Control Apps?

A parental control app lets you monitor your child’s total online activity, actively blocks access to harmful websites, and even enables you to block apps during certain times of the day. Parental control apps are available for mobile and desktop devices. Most apps offer multiple versions, one for desktop and one compatible with an iOS or Android device.

A parental control app for mobile devices monitors app activity, not just internet browsing. You can use it to limit your child’s access to social media past certain hours or simply to see what apps your child frequents when they are online.

An effective parental control app also monitors social media activity. This is essential since the three most popular apps used by children after YouTube are the social media platforms TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat.

Benefits of Parental Control Apps

  • Protects children from inappropriate content: With parental control apps, parents can limit their children's access to inappropriate content such as violence, pornography, and gambling.
  • Prevents cyberbullying: These apps allow parents to monitor their children's social media activity, identify potential cyberbullying, and take appropriate action.
  • Limits screen time: Parental control apps help in setting time limits on screen time, ensuring that children do not spend too much time on their devices.
  • Tracks location: Some parental control apps offer location tracking, allowing parents to know where their children are at all times.

How does a parental control app work?

While individual apps work slightly differently, all parental control apps involve installing the application on your child’s device, and your own. You can access the password protected application from your own device to view a dashboard. Depending on what functions your app has, this dashboard may allow you to view your child’s browsing history, block or unblock certain websites, or even to track the location of your child’s device.

For shared computers, you can place parental controls on a single account, allowing you and other adult family members to have full access, while your child’s account remains protected. 

Keep in mind that parental control software is not a substitute for internet safety education and a dialogue with your child. It is still important to teach your child the basics of safe conduct online, and to maintain an open dialogue about your child’s online life.

The effectiveness of parental control apps?

Parental control apps have become popular tools for parents to protect their children from inappropriate content and limit their screen time. While these apps can be effective in restricting access to certain types of content and managing screen time, there are also concerns that they may be overly restrictive, intrusive, and may not be effective in preparing children to navigate the online world independently.

It is important for parents to weigh the benefits and risks of using parental control apps and use them in a balanced and thoughtful way, in combination with other strategies for promoting safe and responsible online behavior. Ultimately, parental control apps should be seen as one tool among many for protecting children online, rather than a comprehensive solution to the complex challenges of online safety.

When do parental control apps cross the line?

The ability to view the entirety of another device’s browsing history, control its browsing activity, and track location is essential for protecting your child online. Some children may not be open or comfortable with this sort of monitoring. The best way to get around this resistance is to have a mature dialogue with your child about the importance of online safety. 

Some parental control apps opt for a different strategy. These apps employ stealth software, essentially allowing you to view your child’s browsing activity without their knowledge or consent. 

The problem with this technology is that it is essentially spyware. Since the program is designed to be installed without the main user’s knowledge, there is theoretically nothing stopping you from installing it on any device you have access to, whether it belongs to a a child, a spouse, or a co-worker.

Important Features for parental control app

Every parental control app is different, but they should all come with at least some of these key features.

  • Web Filtering - A parental control app should allow you to filter the content your child can see online. Most filtering software is advanced and lets you choose what kind of content you wish to block. For instance, you can set the filter to block explicit content only or expand that to include suggestive or violent themes.
    As a child who grew up with such a program on their computer, I have a personal aside: try not to set it too broadly if your child needs to use the computer for schoolwork. It is very difficult to write a term paper about Alexander the Great when your computer blocks every mention of violence, suggestive themes, or alcohol. 
    Humor aside, there are easy solutions to this problem built into the program. You can create a whitelist of websites, and some systems let you make exceptions academic content.
  • Timed Access - Most parental control apps allow you to control the time your child can access the internet. This can be as broad as a complete internet access shutdown between certain hours or as specific as blocking a specific social media app during particular hours.
    While it is up to you how to use this application, consider that it might be best used for younger children and only to a limited extent. If your child is older, a complete internet block could be viewed as a severe punishment or humiliation by the child, incentivizing them to circumvent the application instead of working with you. It may also impede your child academically. In short, use carefully.
  • Texting and Messaging Management - Monitoring a child’s messages is a feature some but not all parental control apps offer. This sort of control can blur the line between safety and invasion of privacy and is best used as a method of last resort. On the other hand, it can be invaluable if you suspect your child is communicating with a dangerous or exploitative individual online. We recommend leaving this feature off unless you have a specific reason to use it, such as if you suspect your child could be a victim of grooming or bullying online.
  • Location Tracking - This feature may also be a potentially stealth feature, since the app will not notify your child that you are tracking their location. As with all parental control features, it is best to be upfront with your child about this feature. In any case, this feature is only really useful for mobile devices, and comes standard with most modern parental control systems.

How Much Do Parental Control Apps Cost? 

Parental control apps range significantly in cost, from free applications to annual subscriptions worth multiple hundreds of dollars. How much you need to pay will depend on several factors, including the number of devices you need to protect, as well as the device type. For instance, software for a Windows PC typically starts at $40/month, while Google offers a free parental control service for up to 8 devices.

How to choose the best parental control app for you

  • Features - Look for an app that offers the features you need, such as content filtering, time management, and location tracking.
  • Ease of use: Choose an app that is  easy to use and navigate, with a user-friendly interface.  Most parental control apps with mobile support offer at least some degree of app management. For best results, consider a service like Bark that actively scans texts and detects conversations that might be evidence of grooming or cyberbullying and sends you an alert. 
    If your child is messaging all day through multiple social media channels, actively monitoring their texts would be a full-time job, so having an AI handle the actual scanning significantly reduces your work as a parent
  • Cost -  Look for an app that fits your budget, and consider whether it offers a free trial or a money-back guarantee. Your cheapest option for parental control software will depend greatly on the type of device(s) you want to secure. For instance, using Google Family Link, you can control up to 8 Android devices for free. However, if you want to secure a Windows PC or Mac, expect annual subscription fees starting at around $40. Dedicated phone monitoring software with text message monitoring and location tracking starts at around $15/month.
  • Compatibility-  Ensure that the app is compatible with your child's device and operating system.
  • Installation - Most modern parental control software is easy to install. It is usually a simple matter of downloading the program or app onto every device that you want to monitor and every device you want to use for monitoring. Products like Intego that bundle parental controls with Antivirus software and other security features could take a little longer to install but also come with additional benefits
  •  Reviews: Read reviews from other parents to see their experiences with the app and determine its effectiveness.

Final note 

A parental control app, despite the name, is most effective when used in cooperation with your child, more as a form of education and protection than as a tool for direct control. Eventually, your child will grow up and will be exposed to the unguarded, uncontrolled internet. Consider parental control software equivalent to a bike's training wheels. 

Let your child browse the net in a safe environment, but give them enough room to experience autonomy and exercise good judgment. As your child gets older, dial back the settings on the parental control software. Your child will have greater needs for privacy and autonomy as they get older.

Work with your child to select an app that works for both of you. Most apps offer a free trial. Use it to try out different programs until you find one you both like. Remember that even the best parental control app is not a stand-in for online safety education - use this software as part of a larger, collaborative learning experience that teaches your child about safe conduct online.

How we created this
Compiled from “Best of” lists published by the world’s most trusted sources, and with our own recommended brands peppered in - this Top10 list aims to help consumers make smarter decisions.