Best Parental Control Apps

Net Nanny is the best parental control app for families.

Boy on ipad
Photo: Emily Wade / Unsplash

Parental control apps are used by parents or caregivers to monitor and control different parts of their children's online lives. After installing the app, parents can choose to enable features that do things like block or censor inappropriate websites or images, limit screen time, track location, monitor text messages, and allow or disallow the use of certain apps. These apps also let you customize control settings for each device in your home while parental control routers limit the websites and services that can be accessed from any device on your home network.

The best parental control apps work seamlessly with your family's technology and control access to what is and is not allowed on your kids' devices. Top apps do everything from showing parents real-time snapshots of their kids' online activity to sending immediate notifications if any dangerous terms are searched. Here's a look at some of the best parental control apps on the market today based on overall control, monitoring and tracking capabilities, ease of use, and cost.

Best Parental Control Apps of 2022

01 of 07

Best Overall: Net Nanny

Net Nanny
Courtesy of Net Nanny

Key Specs

  • Pricing: $79.99/ year
  • iOS/Android: Both
  • Number of Devices: 5, though you can upgrade your membership to include up to 20

Why We Chose It

Net Nanny offers best-in-class web filtering technology to make sure sites visited are appropriate, every single time it reloads. With advanced tech that uses contextualization as well as normal scanning-wear, Net Nanny makes sure kids only have access to safe, kid-friendly websites.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Mid-range price for high-quality features
  • Easy-to-use Family Feed that makes seeing family activity simple
  • Real-time notifications when kids search for dangerous content

Cons

  • Standard plan only includes five devices
  • Does not monitor text messages
  • Does not monitor in-app content (Snapchat, Instagram, etc.)

Overview

Net Nanny uses advanced filtering technology to monitor internet activity so that parents can rest assured their kids are not being exposed to mature content. Instead of simply allowing some websites and blocking others (because the internet is always changing), Net Nanny scans every webpage (and every ad on every webpage) and categorizes it as safe or unsafe. This tough filtering is quite discerning by detecting contextual usage for words that can be either benign or inappropriate and categorizing the website as such.

Parents can also count on Net Nanny to let them know in real-time if their kids are searching for banned material or viewing anything related to potentially dangerous topics like porn, suicide, weapons, or drugs. They can also view their Family Feed at any time to see things like what apps their kids have been using, what they've been searching for, and how long they've been online.

In addition to setting screen time limits, tracking their kid's location, and monitoring their web usage, Net Nanny has in-app content screening—a key option that not all parental control apps offer. The biggest downside of Net Nanny is that it does not monitor text messages or calls, so parents will need to be vigilant about what their kids are accessing via messages sent and received.

02 of 07

Best for Location Tracking: Qustodio

Qustodio
Courtesy of Qustodio

Key Specs

  • Pricing: $54.95 for the basic plan, though prices increase as you add devices
  • iOS/Android: Both
  • Number of Devices: 5, with a max of 15

Why We Chose It

Qustodio offers high-quality location tracking on every device it covers. With real-time updates and the ability to see where all family members are on one screen, this app is a champion location tracker.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • View every kid's location at the same time
  • Monitor calls and texts
  • Activity shown in real time

Cons

  • Can get expensive quickly if you add devices beyond five
  • Less expansive content monitoring than some other apps

Overview

Qustodio is a simple-to-use app that works well on both iOS and Android devices. In addition to offering screen time limits, web monitoring, and call and text logging (on Android), Qustodio provides high-quality location tracking that will help you feel confident that you know where everyone in your family is whenever you want.

The Family Locator lets you see where all your kids are at once, as opposed to requiring you to check each family member's location individually. Location monitoring updates automatically and provides real-time data as kids move from location to location.

While Qustodio offers a mid-range price point for up to five devices, its plan quickly becomes more expensive when you jump to its15-device offering. Some reviews also note that its content monitoring is not quite as comprehensive as some other apps, meaning there's a slightly greater likelihood of kids stumbling upon mature content than with other apps.

03 of 07

Best for Younger Kids: Kaspersky Safe Kids

Kaspersky Safe Kids
Courtesy of Kaspersky Safe Kids

Key Specs

  • Pricing: $14.99/ year
  • iOS/Android: Both, though some features are limited on iOS
  • Number of Devices: Unlimited

Why We Chose It

Kaspersky gives parents of younger kids the features they need at an attractive price. With excellent web monitoring and the ability to block questionable YouTube searches, parents can keep their younger kids' devices free of adult content.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Monitors social networks
  • Offers location tracking on all devices
  • Blocks questionable YouTube searches

Cons

  • Limited app management on iOS
  • Varying functionality across operating systems
  • Does not monitor text messages

Overview

Kaspersky Safe Kids provides location tracking, screen time limiting, and general web browsing protection for an unlimited number of devices. The app can also limit searches on YouTube and monitor social media.

Some of the weaknesses of Kaspersky Safe Kids are things that probably won't matter much for younger kids, like the ability to read text messages (most young kids are not texting) and limitations around app monitoring on iOS devices. Additionally, its web filters are known to be less effective on some of the less popular browsers, which older kids may use as a workaround to access content that would otherwise be banned.

At just $14.99 per year, Kaspersky Safe Kids is a great, affordable parental control app choice for parents of younger kids.

04 of 07

Best for Older Kids: Bark

Bark
Courtesy of Bark

Key Specs

  • Pricing: $14/month
  • iOS/Android: Both
  • Number of Devices: Unlimited

Why We Chose It

Bark offers the best option for monitoring everything digitally-minded teens and tweens use. Parents can easily control everything via the family dashboard, from filtering websites and setting screen time limits to monitoring app content and setting location alerts. Bark also monitors more apps than any other parental control app on the market.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Monitors in-app content for 30 of the most popular social media apps
  • View everything easily from the family dashboard
  • Monitors text messages and emails

Cons

  • One of the most expensive options
  • Does not offer real-time family location

Overview

Bark goes beyond simple web filtering and offers parents the ability to see what their kids are doing via the family dashboard. The dashboard lets parents monitor text messages, manage screen time limits (including what apps can be used when), filter websites, and set location alerts. With unlimited devices, this option also works well for families with kids who use several devices each.

The ability to monitor text messages and 30 popular apps sets Bark apart from many parental control apps that can do one thing but not the other. Another stand-out feature allows parents to leave on wind-down apps like meditation or audiobooks to help kids relax and rest after their other apps have been shut off for the evening.

A potential downside to Bark is the inability to get real-time location results. Instead, Bark relies on check-ins, making it difficult for parents to track their kids' location in real-time. Bark is also one of the pricier parental control options, though parents who use it say it's well worth the monthly auto payment.

05 of 07

Best for Big Families: OurPact

Our Pact
Courtesy of Our Pact

Key Specs

  • Pricing: $69.99/ year
  • iOS/Android: Both
  • Number of Devices: 20

Why We Chose It

OurPact can protect up to 20 devices and lets you customize settings on each. This allows parents of large families or families with kids in various developmental stages to use one program to manage everyone's online life.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Manage up to 20 devices
  • Customization of settings for each device
  • Text message blocking

Cons

  • Location tracking does not show history
  • Web filtering does not filter as much as other apps

Overview

OurPact is a top parental control app to consider for its ability to cover a large number of devices and its customization options. These options are important for large families or families with kids of different ages (one in elementary school and one in high school, for example). Parents can connect up to 20 devices and customize settings for each. They can also block apps, the internet, or texts altogether (or during certain times), and set screen time limits for the device or individual apps.

OurPact's web filtering is not as Sophisticated as some other options on this list and mainly focuses on pornography, but it's still well-liked by parents who use it. Additionally, its location monitoring can show you where your kids are and alert you when your child arrives or leaves a preset location but does not show location history, which may be a concern for parents of older kids.

06 of 07

Best Free Option: Google Family Link

Google Family Link
Courtesy of Google Family Link

Key Specs

  • Pricing: Free
  • iOS/Android: Both
  • Number of Devices: Unlimited

Why We Chose It

Google Family Link is the most comprehensive free parental control app available today. It is an excellent choice for parents who are figuring out what features work best for their family and what they may need more of, or for families who want high-quality, yet basic, control of their kids' online activity.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Google Family Link does not have any monthly or annual fees
  • Suggests apps your kids might enjoy
  • Offers screen time management features

Cons

  • Allows kids to turn off parental monitoring at 13
  • More limited functionality than many paid services

Overview

For parents who are just wading into parental control apps or are comfortable with more basic monitoring, Google Family Link is a great option. Parents can turn on web filtering to avoid their kids accessing pornography, track their kids' location, and block or allow apps at their discretion.

Google Family Link also suggests apps that kids might enjoy and lets parents set limits on how screen time is spent. This can be particularly useful for helping kids develop good screen time habits. With these basic features, many parents can manage their kids' screen time experience enough to meet their needs. This app is probably better for younger kids though, as children can turn off parental controls at age 13.

This is the only free parental control on this list and it has features that many parents appreciate.

07 of 07

Best for Time Management: Screen Time

Screentime
Courtesy of Screentime

Key Specs

  • Pricing: $6.99/month
  • iOS/Android: Both
  • Number of Devices: 5

Why We Chose It

Screen Time is the best time management parental control app because managing screen time is its primary purpose. It lets parents monitor and control the amount of time kids spend on their devices or certain apps, and it can be set up to offer screen time as a reward for real-life chores.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Easy to set screen time limits
  • Parents can share credentials with all caregivers
  • Simple to reward real-life chores and good deeds with extra screen time

Cons

  • Does not offer web monitoring as a standard feature
  • Confusing differences in what's offered for iOS and Android users

Overview

If you're looking for an app that's primarily focused on setting screen time limits, Screen Time is a top choice. This app does not come standard with many features built into other parental control apps (like location monitoring or web filtering) but does let parents see their kids' device activity and set customized limits.

Screen Time has some distinct features that make it a good choice for tracking and controlling screen time. Parents can turn on "Free Play" to temporarily allow kids free reign on their devices without disturbing preset limits, a great option for car rides, plane trips, or sick days.

Another key feature is that multiple caregivers can share credentials, meaning screen time limits can be consistent for kids who live in two homes or spend time with multiple caregivers. The app does not offer call or text monitoring, and there are some buy-up features, like app blocking, that are not available to iOS users.

Final Verdict

Net Nanny is our pick for the best overall parental control app because it gives you plenty of tools to protect your kids from online dangers. It has high-quality monitoring that constantly updates what is allowed and what is blocked, which is reassuring for parents who don't want their kids to stumble onto inappropriate content.

If you have older kids, Bark may be a better choice since it monitors texts and emails, which can be a crucial feature for parents of tweens and teens.

No matter what parental control app you choose, be sure to talk with your child about internet safety and the steps they can take to keep themselves safe online.

Compare the Best Parental Control Apps

Company Pricing iOS/Android Number of Devices Screen Time Limits Location Tracking
Net Nanny
Best Overall
$79.99 per year Both 5 Yes Yes
Qustodio
Best for Location Tracking
$54.95 per year Both 5 Yes Yes
Kaspersky Safe Kids
Best for Younger Kids
$14.99 per year Both Unlimited devices for each child in the family Yes Yes
Bark
Best for Older Kids
$99 per year Both Unlimited Yes Yes
OurPact
Best for Big Families
$99.99 per year for premium Both 20 Yes Yes
Google Family Link
Best Free Option
Free Both Unlimited Yes Yes
Screen Time
Best for Time Management
$6.99 per month Both 5 Yes Yes

Guide to Choosing the Best Parental Control App

What Is a Parental Control App?

Parental control apps allow parents to monitor and control what their children have access to while using the internet on various devices. With options to block certain types of content or websites, manage total screen time or app usage, and monitor how kids spend their time online, parental control apps can help keep kids safe. Many of these apps have additional features that let parents monitor their kids' location as well as keep an eye on the messages they may be sending or receiving via text or in-app messaging systems.

Are There Any Drawbacks Using a Parental Control App?

Parental control apps can be a useful tool to help keep kids safe online, but some parents over-rely on them and don't take other safety measures. In addition to using parental control apps, parents should talk with their kids and teens about their online habits and behavior. "So many social-emotional issues are at play for tweens and teens in their online life," says Liz Repking, an internet safety expert and the founder of Cyber Safety Consulting, "Parents really need to be at the forefront of that as it comes down to topics like relationships, communication, self-image, self-respect, and more."

What Should I Look For in a Parental Control App?

The parental control app that's best for you will depend on things like the ages of your children, the devices they use, and your online safety priorities. As you research parental control apps, take note of whether things like location tracking, screen time limits, and text message monitoring are important to you. "Parental control apps do many things, from filtering content to reporting inappropriate behavior to monitoring time limits; no software does it all," says Repking. "Parents need to decide what the objective is and then find the software that addresses that."

You'll also want to make sure that the app you choose integrates well with the technology you use. Many apps or software do not work well with certain operating systems and can cause the device to get glitchy or slow the performance down significantly," notes Repking. "This results in frustration for both sides."

Finally, you'll want to be sure that your app of choice isn't too easily circumvented. "Put your teenager hat on and Google things like 'how do I work around X.'" suggests Repking. "The search will return info on how to circumvent the software, and if it seems easy, then your child can probably do it."

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do Parental Control Apps Work?

Parental control apps function in various ways, depending on the app. Most apps use some form of artificial intelligence to monitor keywords, images, and metatags when determining what to block and what to allow. Apps that monitor location generally use the device's internal GPS to let parents know where their child is. Those that turn screen time on and off connect directly to the device being monitored and allow or disallow access at the times a parent specifies.

Are Parental Control Apps Safe?

Most apps are considered safe by internet experts, though data breaches are always possible. Review each app's data safety policy to learn more about how they handle and store your family's personal information.

Is There an App to Monitor Your Child's Phone?

Many parental control apps can monitor your child's phone, though what they monitor will differ depending on their specific capabilities. Some monitoring apps can control the websites kids can and can't access when they're on their phones and using their home wifi network, as well as let parents see what their kids are searching or looking at. These apps can also track your kids' location via their phones and monitor calls and text messages.

Is There an App for Parents to Read Texts?

Many apps allow parents to view every incoming and outgoing text message on their child's phone. Bark, named our Best Parental Control App for Older Kids, is one example of an app that allows parents to view messages sent and received by their children.

While many apps monitor internet usage, not all can block, control, or monitor in-app messaging or text messages sent over SMS. If you want to monitor your child's phone, look for an app that prioritizes phone monitoring and allows you to view or control everything a child does on their device.

Methodology

This list was compiled after reviewing 15 of the top parental control apps on the market today. Factors considered include the ability to monitor and control screen time, location tracking features, cost, operating system capabilities, device limits, the sensitivity of censoring and blocking technology, and how parents can view and manage their kids' online activity.

These factors were deemed most important because they are what parents seem to care most about when choosing a parental control app for their child or children's device.

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