If your kids have their own smartphones, you may want a way to track and control what they’re doing. The best parental control apps offer ways to limit time spent on devices, track usage and location, and block apps or games. Before we delve into the options, it’s worth noting that there are some free parental controls built in to most devices nowadays, so you may not need to spring for a third-party app at all. For example, Google’s Family Link is very handy, Amazon’s parental controls are excellent, and Apple offers some parental controls too.
FamilyTime (Android and iOS)
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 merely limit the total time that your kids spend on their phones. There’s also support for geofencing so that you get alerts when that phone enters or leaves a specific area, and location tracking, so that you can see where your child is. On top of that, you can block or control on an app-by-app basis, apply internet filters, monitor calls and texts, and keep an eye on contact lists.
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, up to $69 per year for five devices.
Qustodio (Android, iOS, Kindle, Nook)
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 racy sites, 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 Kindle or Nook devices, 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.
ESET Parental Control (Android)
ESET has a decent parental control app, but it’s just for Android devices. The free version offers 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 they can continue using their phone. You can try the premium features for free for 30 days, but then it costs $30 per year per device.
Web Watcher (Android and iOS)
If you feel the need to keep tabs on your child’s text messaging, including deleted texts, photos, web browsing, call log, and location then this might be the app for you. Web Watcher even allows you to delve into their activity on certain apps, including Tinder, WhatsApp, Kik, and Viber. You can also set time limits and even capture screenshots of your kid’s phone screen. Because it’s essentially spyware, with a stealth mode, it has to be installed outside the official app store. You’ll need to give it some serious security permissions, and it’s very invasive, so you should certainly think twice before considering it. The price may also give you pause, because it starts at $130 per year per device.
Norton Family Premier (Android and iOS)
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 and the iOS version is limited compared to the Android app.
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.
Final note: There are thriving teen forums online discussing all the possible ways to get around parental controls, some with highly advanced and/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.