As a concerned parent in the digital age, you want to keep your kids safe online. But with so many risks on the internet like cyberbullying, explicit content and predators, how do you protect your children while still allowing them to explore and learn? This is where parental control apps come in – specialized software to monitor your kids‘ activities across their different devices.
But with so many options to choose from, how do you pick the right one for your family? I‘ve tested and compared the top 7 parental control apps to help you make an informed decision. In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll provide insider tips and key considerations to picking the best app for your needs. I‘ll also share expert advice on balancing monitoring with privacy as your kids grow up.
Why Your Family Needs a Parental Control App
Before we dive into the options, let‘s discuss why a parental control app is essential in the first place. The statistics on online risks facing children are startling:
1 in 3 kids are victims of cyberbullying. This can lead to anxiety, depression and even suicidal ideation.
Pornography and other explicit content is just a few clicks away for kids of any age. Extended exposure can distort their perceptions of healthy relationships and sex.
Online predators target minors by posing as peers. They use grooming tactics to build trust for eventually meeting in person.
Parental control apps allow you to filter inappropriate content, block harmful sites and monitor your kids‘ communications. Features like time limits and location tracking further ensure their protection. While nothing can eliminate these risks fully, the right app provides an essential layer of security.
But parental controls are not just about protection. Used responsibly, they also facilitate learning good digital habits:
Time management tools encourage balancing screen time with offline activities.
Understanding which apps and sites you monitor teaches kids about online privacy.
Your guidance using the reports helps them make wise online decisions moving forward.
With both dangers and developmental benefits to consider, installing a parental control app is a proactive step towards your child‘s online safety and education.
Key Factors to Consider When Choosing an App
All parental control apps promise safety, but their features and approach can vary significantly. As you evaluate options for your family, keep the following key factors in mind:
Comprehensive Platform Support
Look for an app that works across your child‘s devices – smartphones, tablets, laptops, gaming consoles etc. Cross-platform support ensures you can monitor their activities easily from one dashboard.
Apps take different approaches based on a kid‘s age. For young children, keyword-monitoring to flag concerning content is essential. For teens who need more privacy, location-tracking and limit-setting are better fits.
While filters and alerts are necessary, beware of apps that collect excessive personal data without consent. As kids mature, some monitoring should be relaxed.
Every family has different standards – customizable controls like website-blocking and time limits are ideal to match yours. Ease of use is also important to tweak settings.
Premium parental control apps can cost upward of $40-60 per year. Look for apps with free versions or discounted multi-child subscriptions.
Keep these factors in mind as we explore the top options available in 2023.
The 7 Best Parental Control Apps
1. Qustodio – Comprehensive Features and Platform Support
Qustodio is my top recommendation for most families thanks to its combination of robust features and multi-platform support. It works across Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Kindle and game consoles. Their free version covers basic filtering, blocking and time limits.
Some key advantages:
- Granular content filtering – Block individual apps and websites
- Time management – Schedule specific time allowances and downtime
- Detailed activity reporting – Monitor texts, calls and social media
- Geofencing – Location tracking alerts when kids leave set areas
- Panic button – Kids can instantly alert you if in danger
For the full premium experience, their Family plan costs $54.95 per year and covers 15 devices – an affordable price for such wide coverage. While Qustodio doesn‘t have keyword monitoring, its breadth of platform support and features make it my top recommendation.
2. Bark – Best for Detecting Cyberbullying and Self-Harm
If your primary concern is cyberbullying and mental health issues, I highly recommend Bark. Their award-winning web and text monitoring uses A.I. to detect warning signs of cyberbullying, depression, suicidal ideation and more.
Some of their signature features:
- A.I. text analysis – Scans texts and messaging apps for signs of harm.
- Alert dashboard – Provides severity ratings and expert recommendations.
- Custom notifications – Choose what content flags urgent alerts.
- Monitoring across 30+ apps – Social media, texts, YouTube, emails and more.
Bark offers limited time and location tracking capabilities. However, its specialized monitoring fills a critical gap other parental control apps miss. Pricing starts at $9 per month for one child.
3. Norton Family Premier – Best for Multi-Child Households
Trusted security company Norton offers a parental control app focused on value for multi-child households. Norton Family Premier costs just $49.99 per year for up to 15 devices – an unbeatable price.
Some notable features:
- Age-based web filtering – Granular filtering by preschool, child and teen levels.
- Usage reports – Daily and weekly reports by child or device.
- Time limits – Enforce schedules and restrict overnight device use.
- Location tracking – Map your kid‘s location on demand or historically.
- App blocking – Block by category or individually.
While Norton lacks keyword monitoring, the combination of content filtering, time limits and location tracking provides comprehensive monitoring and controls for the price.
4. Kaspersky Safe Kids – Best for Android Users
Kaspersky is a trusted name in cybersecurity. Their Safe Kids parental control app focuses on Android devices while still supporting Windows and iOS.
- Real-time alerts – Get notifications about suspicious behavior or unwanted content.
- App blocking – Block apps by category or individually on Android.
- Schedule management – Set accessible times throughout the day per app or device.
- Activity reports – Detailed reports with screenshots on website visits, apps, searches and location history.
- Digital footprint scanning – Scans open databases for your child‘s exposed personal info.
With a free version available, Kaspersky is a great first parental control app for Android users before expanding to other platforms. Their premium plan is $14.99 per year.
5. Google Family Link – Seamless Integration for Android Users
For parents of kids with Android devices, Google Family Link offers tight integration with the Android ecosystem for seamless monitoring and control.
- App management – Review and approve new app installs on their device.
- Daily limits – Set usage limits across apps.
- Lock device – Remotely lock their device when needed.
- Location tracking – See real-time location on a map.
- Web restrictions – Block inappropriate sites or restrict based on content rating.
Since it‘s made by Google, Family Link offers the best control over Android. But it lacks the advanced social media monitoring and content filtering other apps provide. Still, it‘s a free and easy way for Android households to get started with parental controls.
6. OurPact – Best App Blocking for iOS devices
OurPact stands out for its Apple App Store restrictions – you can block or limit any app downloaded on your child‘s iOS device.
- Granular app blocking – Block apps selectively and schedule access times.
- Allow lists – Only permit use of certain approved apps.
- Geofencing – Receive alerts when your child leaves or enters set locations.
- Screen time limits – Limit daily use for overall device or by individual apps.
- Chore linking – Have kids complete chores to earn screen time.
OurPact offers limited content filtering, relying mainly on app blocking for iOS protection. But its select Apple App Store access makes it an ideal choice to manage apps on iPhones and iPads. Pricing starts at $7.99 per month for their Premium plan.
7. MMGuardian – Best Free Parental Control App
If you‘re looking for a free option, MMGuardian provides solid parental controls with all core features available in their free plan.
Useful controls include:
- App blocking – Block apps completely or just restrict adult apps.
- Time limits – Limit daily total usage or set schedules.
- Location tracking – See your child‘s location on a map.
- Web filtering – Block adult sites and content based on age.
- Text message monitoring – Monitor texts for concerning keywords.
MMGuardian has simple interfaces for both parents and kids, making it easy to set up. While the free version limits how many devices you can monitor, it‘s great for testing parental controls with basic functionality before paying for a premium service. It‘s available on Android and iOS.
Balancing Monitoring and Privacy as Kids Mature
While parental control apps provide vital protection, it‘s important to regularly reassess their use, especially as your children get older. Development experts suggest relaxing restrictions gradually as kids prove themselves responsible and mature enough to handle more independence.
Consider loosening limitations on:
- Social media – Give them access in view-only mode to start and then enable posting.
- Location tracking – Disable continuous monitoring and switch to on-demand checks.
- App usage – Remove time limits on responsible use and only block questionable apps.
- Web filtering – Use the minimum filtering needed to allow wider exploration.
Kids will inevitably make some poor choices. But by progressively allowing more freedom, they gain experience in policing their own behavior. Have open conversations explaining your decisions to remove restrictions – this maintains trust while transferring responsibility to them.
Take Control of Your Family‘s Online Safety
While the internet has many benefits, its risks are too serious to ignore. Take proactive steps to protect your children using the right parental control app. Carefully weigh the options to find one tailored to your family‘s needs and concerns.
My recommendations provide a starting point – extensively test options yourself using free trials. Being an educated and thoughtful digital parent will help guide your kids through the hazards of the online world. While no solution is perfect, the right controls foster safer exploration, positive habits and important conversations about the responsible use of technology.