Best Parental Control Apps
There are a number of benefits to giving your kid a smartphone. With one in their pocket, you’re able to connect with them anytime (in theory, anyway); they’re able to connect with others; and it provides a ton of entertainment and educational apps. There are also a number of drawbacks, including frightening realities such as online predators, bullying and access to mature content.
So, how do you make sure the benefits outweigh the dangers?
One way to help tip the scales is to install a parental control app on their mobile device. These apps allow you to set virtual boundaries as to what kids are allowed to do on their phones as well as the ability to monitor what they’re doing on them. While there are parental controls built into phones, computers and browsers, these third-party apps provide an extra level of safety and security. Here are some of the best parental control apps for iPhones and Android phones.
1. Best Overall: Net Nanny
In business since 1996, Net Nanny is one of the most trusted providers of parental control solutions in the industry. Their app is robust, with options to suit the needs of most any family. It’s available for both iOS and Android devices as well as computers and Kindle devices and is designed to filter out adult content by blocking apps and websites with inappropriate content. It also provides features that allow parents to set time limits on usage and to track the device’s location. The app is only available with the company's 5- or 20-device Family Protection Pass, and those plans start at $54.99 a year.
Net Nanny does what’s it’s primarily designed to do—filter content—extremely well. It uses artificial intelligence to look at every page before your child does and blocks out pornography and violent and drug-related content. Parents can also choose to block specific websites and apps, and a Profanity Masking feature will essentially bleep out vulgar words and pictures with characters (e.g. ####) without completely blocking sites that are otherwise okay.
To use the app, you have to purchase one of the Net Nanny Family Protection plans, which are a bit pricey. The five-device plan runs $54.99 per year, while the 20-device plan rings in it at $89.99 per year.
Nerd Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars
For a trusted, reliable option to help keep your kid’s phone safer, Net Nanny earns our top spot. It provides some of the most powerful filtering technology available so you can rest easier about what your child is viewing online. It also provides a nice array of other features including time management control and device location tracking. While most parental control apps offer limited iOS functionality, most of Net Nanny’s features work on iOS as well as Android. It’s a bit pricier than some other apps, but Net Nanny is a solid choice for parents looking for more control over and insight into what their kids are doing on their phones.
2. Runner Up: Qustodio
Founded in 2012, Qustodio earns top marks for functionality and ease of use. Their app, which is available for both Android and iOS devices as well as computers and Kindles, offers most of the features you want in a parental control app. They also offer a panic button which allows kids to call for help easily if they’re in trouble. Note that the panic button feature is only available for Android phones. While they do offer a free version of the app, it just provides basic capabilities such as filtering and the ability to set some time limits. For features above and beyond that, you’ll have to sign up for one of their plans, which start at $54.95 per year for up to five devices and go up to $137.95 a year for up to 15 devices.
Installing the Qustodio app on your child’s device is quick and easy. Parents create a free account, then install the app on their child’s device.
While the free version is a great start, if you want access to more advanced features, such as the ability to set time limits, YouTube monitoring and device location services, you have to purchase one of their premium plans.
Nerd Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars
If you don’t mind shelling out the money for it, Qustodio is a solid, easy-to-use option that will help make your kid’s phone safer. With a premium plan, it provides as much functionality as most any other app on the market with some nice extras such as social media monitoring and a panic button for Android phones. While it bills itself as the “internet’s best free parental control app,” the free version doesn’t provide much of the functionality most parents are looking for in a parental control app. The free version is a good first step, and upgrading to the premium plan will provide everything else you might need.
3. Kaspersky SafeKids
Kaspersky offers a variety of security products to protect PCs and mobile devices, including their SafeKids app. There’s a free version of the app that offers some basic functionality, including filtering, the ability to control app use and set time limits for device use. More functionality, including a GPS child locator, social network monitoring and real-time alerts, require a premium subscription, which is competitively priced at just $14.99 a year and covers all the children and devices in your family.
While there’s a free version that offers some protections, Kaspersky SafeKids’ premium version is just $14.99 a year.
Full functionality is not available for iOS devices. For example, when it comes to managing your kids’ apps, you can only set age-appropriate limitations, but you can’t block individual ones.
Nerd Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Kaspersky SafeKids offers an affordable way to monitor your kids’ phones. While the free version is a good start, the premium version provides much more of the functionality that most parents will likely want, and it covers all the devices in a family for one relatively low price. It may not be the most effective option for iOS devices as functionality is limited, but it’s a solid, affordable option for Android devices, especially for large families with lots of devices.
4. Norton Family Premier
Norton Family Premier offers a host of features to help parents keep their kids’ phones safer. They don’t offer a free version, but $49.99 covers an unlimited number of devices for all the children in your family. So, if you have a large family and lots of devices, it’s a relatively inexpensive option. Its iOS functionality is quite limited, however, so it may be a better choice for those using Android devices.
For one fee, you can monitor as many children and devices as you like.
Norton Family doesn’t offer a free option like some others on our list.
Nerd Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars
For families with lots of kids and mobile devices, Norton Family offers an effective and affordable option. The interface gets rave reviews for its ease-of-use and functionality, and there are no limitations as to how many devices or children you can cover for one annual fee. The major drawback is its limited iOS functionality, making it more useful for those with Android devices.
FamilyTime offers a robust suite of services for both Android and iOS devices, but it’s missing a key feature that most parents want—web filtering. It’s also pricier than many other options. A yearly subscription runs $45, which sounds competitive, but that only covers three devices. If you just have one kid, that may be a viable option, but it could get pricey quickly for larger families.
In addition to monitoring what’s happening on your kid’s phone, many parents also want to track their children’s whereabouts. Family Time provides geo-fencing and location-tracking technology that sends alerts when they arrive and leave certain places and lets you see where your kids are at any given time.
Because the yearly fee of $45 only covers three devices, this is an expensive option for large families with lots of devices, especially compared with the other options on our list that cover an unlimited number of devices.
Nerd Verdict: 3 out of 5 stars
While FamilyTime offers some great features for monitoring your kids’ smartphones and keeping them safe, they fail to offer content filtering. You can do that to some degree via your phone’s settings, especially on iOS, but it’s a feature that’s glaringly missing and one parents like as extra protection. It’s also an expensive option for larger families with lots of devices as the annual fee only covers three devices.
The bottom line
The apps and programs we've reviewed here should give you a good starting point when looking to control what type of content your children are exposed to - be it on the web, or via text messages.
As always, staying vigilant as a parent is the best protection. But, because we can't watch our kids 24/7, these programs are a great safety net to have in place.
About the Author
Julie Ryan Evans
Julie Ryan Evans is a writer and editor who has worked with a host of diverse companies including Microsoft, USA Today, Realtor.com, Brit + Co, CafeMom and SheKnows, among others. She has a master’s degree in nonfiction writing from The Johns Hopkins University and regularly covers topics including health and wellness, parenting, technology, finance, real estate and pop culture. While she currently calls the Orlando area home, she has lived everywhere from Hawaii to Austin, Boston and beyond.