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The best free parental control software for PC, Mac, iOS, and Android

Everything in this world has gone digital, and that includes homework (if you have kids). If your children are young, you’re probably not giving them laptops or free reign of the family computer. You’re probably not always able to monitor their screen activity, either.

That’s where parental control software comes in handy. Parental controls keep your kids safe from the dark web, and there’s a no-strings-attached version available for all operating systems. Keep reading to find out more.

Built-in OS features

Giving your kids technology designed for their age group is an excellent first step toward keeping them safe online. When they have access to more general computing devices, you can leverage parental control features built right into the OS. The parental controls for both Windows and MacOS provide a convenient and acceptable means for restricting web access and chat functionality, along with viewing detailed logs and monitoring email exchanges.

Windows Family Safety

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For Windows 10, you need to sign up for a Family Safety account. You can then add a specific child account (or more) to your family account that your kids can use.

This approach may be a little complicated, but it comes with a variety of benefits. You get activity reports for all online activity from the child accounts and block any apps, games, or sites you want.

For an idea of what apps are genuinely beneficial for kids, please take a look at some of our favorites.

You can also limit how much time they spend on the account and strictly control their purchasing activity. There are also some real-world safety features, including the ability to track your kids’ location as long as you use Windows mobile devices.

MacOS built-in parental controls

Macbook Air (2018) Review
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MacOS touts more than a few options for parental controls, each of which is accessible via the Parental Controls pane housed within the main System Preferences panel. The software includes options for blocking specified applications and websites. You can also block messages from particular people you deem inappropriate. Users must individually set accounts, but once done, users can also set time limits.

There are other options, too, such as the ability to hide profanity in most source content and prohibiting the computer’s built-in camera and disc-burning utilities. If there’s more than one Mac on a single network, users can even remotely manage said parental controls from a different computer entirely. It’s a reasonably comprehensive solution if you don’t mind spending some time in Mac settings making sure everything is correct. The catch is that you can only manage parental controls by individual user, so you’ll need to set up separate accounts for each child.

Apps and extensions

Windows and MacOS offer a decent selection of parental controls, but they can’t do it all by default. In the same vein, parental controls can be a challenge to set up on child-focused mobile devices. Here are downloadable programs that may be more suited to your particular goals.

Qustodio (Windows/MacOS/iOS/Android)

Qustodio

Qustodio has a very intuitive, easy-to-use interface that allows you to sign up for the free version of its software in moments. You manage everything from the dashboard, including social media monitoring, individual time limits for internet use, games, apps, and even tracking text messages and calls on the right devices. The real-time internet filter can detect pornography and ensure everything is blocked, even in private browsing modes.

Compatibility options are impressive since the software supports Kindle, Nook, Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS. However, Qustodio is trying to make as much money as possible with this program, so many features (like game blocking, location tracking, etc.) are behind paywalls. You can also only use the free version on a single device, which limits its applicability. Qustodio has a great set of features; we wish more of it were available for free.

Kidlogger (multiple platforms)

Kidlogger is an excellent option if you’d prefer to be covert instead of proactive. Instead of blocking sites, Kidlogger automatically tracks keystrokes, web history, and program use (automatically saving any screenshots taken on the computer). When installed on a smartphone, the app automatically logs any phone calls made by number and contact name. It is compatible with popular apps like Instagram and Discord, where parents may want to pay close attention, and updates continue to add more compatibility for the service.

The free version of Kidlogger is OK, but the premium versions add some oomph, though some of the features are downright invasive. If you want to monitor your child’s phone conversations and record WhatsApp messages, Kidlogger can do that. Unfortunately, the app doesn’t have native password protection, so if you’ve got a smart kid, you could end up being the one getting caught. The app is available for Windows, MacOS, Android, BlackBerry, and iOS. Like Qustodio, a free account limits you to one device, while paid versions offer more protection.

Zoodles kid-friendly web browser (Windows, MacOS, Android)

HTC/Zoodles

Zoodles takes the dramatic step of replacing the typical web browser with one built around children. This software is especially suitable for really young kids just getting to grips with accessing content online. Zoodles combines a filtered online experience with a walled garden of promoted, child-friendly content.

Available on a variety of devices and operating systems, Zoodles offers games, books, videos, and access to other age-appropriate content, all customizable by parents. There are activity reports to see what your child spends time doing and an adjustable recommender engine, which helps parents promote specific learning tools to their children through the application.

The regular free version stops there, but the advanced premium edition — $60 annually or $8 per month — adds many more features, including time management options, storybooks, individual site blocking, multiple languages, and more. You can get a free trial of the premium mode if you want, but it will start to auto-charge your account. Zoodles is excellent for younger kids, but remember that older kids will quickly learn to work around it.

FoxFilter (Google Chrome/Firefox add-on)

FoxFilter (Mozilla Firefox Extension)

FoxFilter provides users with a score of blocking filters based solely on individual keywords and sites. They also offer solutions for adding trusted sites to a curated list of forbidden content. Moreover, the add-on’s sensitivity settings can be tweaked to scan body content, title, and URL. Users can set notification and alert preferences detailing the type of content underlying each blocked site.

A quick way to implement parental control is by managing your preferences, which means you can block entire categories of websites with ease. If you’re new at using parental control software, we recommend relying on the software’s default list of warning words.

If you use too many keywords or add the wrong ones, almost every website around may end up blocked by your choices. As a FoxFilter user, you can get free support via email. Reach out to Inspired Effect if you run into any problems with this tool.

What’s next?

Don’t limit parental control to computer use. If you have teens or pre-teens, you need to extend protection to their Smartphones. You should check out our list of the best control apps for your kid’s smartphone. And we bet some of you are also interested in learning more about security on gaming consoles.

Don’t stop at making sure your kids are safe online: Be certain your activities on the web are also protected. Ensure you’re running a reliable antivirus solution and keeping your passwords shored up with our favorite password managers.

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