5 Best FREE Parental Control Apps in 2021| PC, iPhone & Android
I’ve tested dozens of premium parental control apps; some worked very well and others not so much, but I wanted to see if I could cut some costs and find a free parental control app that really works.
It didn’t take long to see that most free parental control apps aren’t worth it. At least not if I actually want to stop my kids from visiting adult websites, monitor their app usage, limit screen time, and get real-time location tracking.
Some of them only offer the barest minimum in terms of features, hoping you’ll get frustrated and purchase a premium package. Others are full of intrusive ads, slow down the kid’s phones, are easy to deactivate, and the kids had no trouble bypassing the restrictions.
However, after testing over 30 free parental control apps, I did find 5 that I was able to use for my kids. Of all them, Qustodio was the best. It has comprehensive features, such as a web filter with over 40 categories, multiple screen time management tools, real-time and geo-tracking. I was able to access the data from anywhere through the secure cloud-based dashboard.
Even though it’s not 100% free, it does come with a proven 30-day money-back guarantee, So you can test it at no risk and get a full refund in case you’re not impressed. I found that 30 days is long enough to see what my kids were doing, what websites they visited, apps they preferred, and how much time they spent on their phones per day. With this valuable knowledge, I was able to set some family rules.
Short on Time? Here Are the Best Free Parental Control Apps — Tested in July 2021
- Qustodio: Excellent monitoring tools, comprehensive web filters, real-time geo-tracking, screen time management tools, and more.
- Norton Family: Customizable web filter, basic screen time tools, but geo-tracking is only available in specific countries.
- KidLogger: Monitors your child’s call log and can limit time spent on any app but doesn’t have a web filter.
- FamilyKeeper: Real-time notification and geo-tracking but not time limits or app blocking.
- OpenDNS: Works at the router level to block inappropriate websites but has no screen time controls.
1. Qustodio – Best Free Parental Control App for its Multiple Screen Time Tools, Comprehensive Web Filters & Real-Time Tracking
- Customizable rules for the whole family
- Call and SMS monitoring
- Rules and time limits for apps & games
- Real-time location tracking and geo-fence capability
- Proven 30-day money-back guarantee. No questions asked.
When it comes to monitoring my kids on their computers and mobile devices, Qustodio was the best free parental control app I tested. One thing that stood out was how easy it was for me to set up the rules, create a schedule for when my kids can use their devices, time limits for apps, and customize the web filter.
Once everything was ready, I installed Qustodio on my child’s phone and computer, and it ran in the background.
Qustodio has a well-organized, cloud-based parental dashboard that I can access from anywhere. This is where I can see all the important data it collects, lock all devices at any time, make changes to the web filter and check in on their real-time location.
One of my favorite features is the ability to create rules for every app and game on the phone. This way, I could limit how much time my kids spend on Netflix, Instagram, and YouTube, while giving them more time for using educational apps or even their favorite chat apps.
Qustodio comes with two different screen time monitoring tools, which I found really helpful in creating a schedule for the kids. First, you can set a daily allowance. For example, you can allow two hours per day and six hours on weekends. Next, you can set a schedule, blocking the phone throughout the day, for example, during school hours, homework time, and after bedtime.
The web filter has 40 categories, which allowed me to customize what types of websites each of my kids were allowed to visit. I asked them to find hacks to bypass the restrictions, such as going through incognito mode or trying to download different browsers, but unlike with other parental control apps, here, they couldn’t find a weakness.
The only downside with Qustodio is that their free version is a bit limited. It can only be used on one device and has limited features. There’s a way to bypass it when you take advantage of their 30-day no-questions-asked money-back guarantee that opens full access and lets you test Qustodio for yourself at zero risk. This will give you plenty of time to examine the data and see how your kids are using their phones and if there is anything that might concern you.
- Customizable web filter with preset rules based on age
- Automatically applies SafeSearch filter to Google, YouTube, Bing, and more
- Daily schedule and an overall daily limit for screen time usage
The first thing that stood out to me about Norton Family after installing it on my son’s phone is how transparent the app is. It creates a list of House Rules, so there are no surprises. My son knows how long he can use his phone each day, what websites he can visit, an understanding that keywords and videos he’s watching are being monitored, and more.
Norton Family recently introduced a Remote Learning feature that I really like. It blocks distracting apps and websites while the kids are supposed to study, do homework, or in class. I created a list of apps or websites that my child needs in order to complete his studies, and then the time spent on studying doesn’t count against his daily usage.
The web filter is very easy to set up and difficult to bypass. The app comes with recommended settings based on the child’s age, but since no two kids are really the same, it does give you the option to choose which categories to allow or block. There is also the option to set a category on “Warn,” which will alert the child that the website is potentially harmful. This is something you should only do if you trust your child will make the correct decision.
The screen time tool isn’t very flexible, but it still gets the job done. There are two options: a daily schedule that works in half-hour blocks and a daily usage limit, broken up into hour-long blocks. Norton Family also has an Instant Lock option, which I use when it’s dinner time, or I want my son to get off his phone and do the dishes or his homework.
With Norton Family, I was able to see which apps my son was downloading and using. While I couldn’t set time limits for each app like I could with Qustodio, it does give me the option to block any app with the click of a button.
With an easy-to-use parental dashboard that makes it easy to manage, you won’t be disappointed with the Norton Family app. You can use it free for 30 days (no credit card is needed!), and you’ll see exactly what your kids are doing on their screens every day.
- Place time limits or restrictions on specific apps
- Monitors call log and SMS recipients
I wasn’t sure what I would get when I downloaded KidLogger, an open-source parental control app. I used it primarily on my daughter’s Android phone and Windows computer, and I was surprised to see it didn’t have a web filter. Instead, the app keeps a detailed report of which website my daughter frequently visits, the keywords she is typing into search engines, and a list of the apps she uses.
I was happy to see that it does include the option to limit how much time she spends playing games or using different apps. Although I couldn’t set an overall daily screen time limit, KidLogger does give the option to block an app altogether.
One feature that I haven’t seen in any other free app is the screen capture feature. It works on Windows and Mac and can take screenshots and pictures with the webcam at set time intervals or whenever a specific search term is used. This way, there is no room for arguing or denying – I have the proof in pictures in the parental dashboard.
I don’t like that KidLogger gave me very little control over my daughter’s phone. It’s more of a spy app than a parental control app. As I mentioned above, there is no web filter, and there is also no way to set a general time restriction on the device.
KidLogger is the first open-source parental app that I tested, and to be honest, it surpassed my expectations. There are still some improvements that I would like to see before I continue using it, but if you’re looking for a free parental control app, it’s better than most other free options.
- Uses AI to recognize potentially harmful behavior
- See your child device battery level
FamilyKeeper is a perfect example of a company that gives its users a free taste of its features in hopes that you decide to upgrade to a premium paid package.
I installed the free parent app on my phone and the child app on my daughter’s phone. Through the app on my phone, I got real-time updates about where my daughter was all at times through the GPS tracking functions.
It uses AI to recognize potentially dangerous behavior on social media and chat apps and send real-time alerts if it detects the child is being cyberbullied, searching or visiting inappropriate websites, or spending too much time on the device. However, there are no web filters or screen time prevention features in the free app.
- Strong web filter that can’t be bypassed
- Can set up at the router level to automatically apply to all devices on your network
OpenDNS takes a unique approach to parental control – changing the DNS number in your control panel. This can be done on the router level or for a specific device. While it may sound confusing, OpenDNS has an easy-to-follow guide that walks you through the process. In the end, all you need to do is copy-paste the two DNS nameservers that OpenDNS provides over the ones currently on your system.
Once the DNS is changed, the app will block all websites deemed “tasteless, proxy/anonymizer, sexuality, or pornography.” Unfortunately, there is no way to customize the web filter, which is based on a predefined list, but it caught every adult or violence-based website that I tried to visit during my testing.
I don’t like that OpenDNS doesn’t provide a list of what websites are defined as tasteless, and there is no way for me to add websites to a blacklist if I don’t want my kids browsing it. Its other major weakness is the complete lack of parental control tools, such as screen time restrictions or real-time geo-location tracking.
There are some side benefits to using OpenDNS, such as improved internet security and faster internet speeds since OpenDNS is one of the largest DNS service providers in the world.
Risks Involved with Using Free Parental Control Apps: What Providers May Not Tell You
No one works for free, especially when you need to build a system with a complicated algorithm and the capabilities required to monitor online activities on computers and mobile devices.
Therefore, you should immediately be concerned when you see a company offering a completely free app that will monitor your child’s activity. Once the app is installed on the device, and you go through and agree to all the access permission requests, the company has unrestricted access to your child’s photos, contact lists, which social media sites they’re using, where they go, and the list can go on forever.
Putting the creepiness aside for a minute, they can use this data either to target your kids with advertising or outright sell the data to their partners or third-party marketers. This is one of the main reasons it’s always safer to pay a small price per month for a product knowing that no one will use your child as a product.
Security Fears with Free Parental Control Apps
Let’s say, for example, that we’re dealing with a company that isn’t interested in making money. They are ideological and just want to help parents. Ask yourself this question – would you invest money in a product that you’re giving away for free? Well, neither would these guys. They aren’t securing or encrypting their servers, leading to the potential for massive data. The hackers who steal this data can use it to commit identity theft, fraud, cyberbullying, blackmail, and more.
This is one of the main reasons I don’t recommend using a free Parental Control app. If you’re really on a budget but see the importance of having control over your kid’s phones and computers – get Qustodio and take advantage of its 30-day money-back guarantee. This way, at least you’ll have a strong sample size of how often your children use their phones, the apps they use, the websites they visit, and where they go. You can use this information to create a plan with your kids to make sure they are acting smart and safe online.
Free Parental Control Apps You Should Avoid – Hint: They Come Built-In with Most Devices
There are several free parental control apps that come from large, reputable companies. These companies have invested in security and seem to have decent features. I’m referring to Microsoft Family, Apple’s Screen Time, and Google Family Link. These programs and apps are developed by the very companies whose technology is on the device, and one would think they would easily have a complete set of features.
Unfortunately, the truth is that, at best, these apps are a nice addition to a premium parental control app, but they don’t work as standalone apps. While they might have some good features, they also all have serious flaws.
1. Microsoft Family
- No mobile apps
- Kids can create guest accounts and bypass any restrictions
- The web filter is not very thorough.
2. Google Family Link
- Only available for kids under the age of 13
- Any child can create an alternate Google account using a fake birthday and bypass any restrictions
- No filter for blocking inappropriate content
3. Apple’s Screen Time
- By changing the time zone, kids can prevent the scheduling feature from locking their phones
- Kids can uninstall and reinstall apps to get around app-specific time restrictions
- Siri can override the downtime and open iMessage
The reason these apps are no good is simple: there isn’t a good reason for these companies to invest in strong parental control features. Sure, it’s good marketing to have them and show the public how much they care, but it’s far from their primary concern. Just like I’d rather get my hamburger from a burger place and not from the local pizza shop, I’d rather find a parental control app from a company that focuses on protecting my kids from the dangers online, such as Qustodio. They stay on top of the latest online trends and understand what kids are searching or trying to search for on their phones and computers.
How I Tested & Ranked the Best Free Parental Control Apps in 2021
This was a lengthy process where I went through and downloaded over 30 free parental control apps on my phone, my children’s phones, and our home computer. Some of the apps I knew about from testing the premium apps, others I found online, and some were recommended by friends.
I kept each one installed on the device for up to a week to see what kind of data it collects, the user interface, and whether or not my kids or I could bypass the restrictions. Here are some of the factors that I used to create my rankings:
- Is it really free? I really only wanted to include apps that were 100% free – unfortunately, the old idiom is true – you get what you pay for. Therefore, I expanded my rules to allow some apps with free trials or money-back guarantees – provided that getting the refund wasn’t a hassle. This made Qustodio the clear #1 choice. I quickly got a full refund after using the app for 28 days.
- Does the app work as advertised? Before testing the apps, I carefully went through their website and read what features are included. If I saw that they were promoting screen time monitoring only to discover that it’s blocked behind a paywall after I installed it, I removed the app from consideration.
- Does the app slow down the phone or computer? I didn’t want to punish my kids by putting these apps on their phones. So, if I saw that the app was using up a lot of resources and slowing down the device, it was quickly uninstalled and received a poor grade. The best apps are those that work in the background, and the kids quickly forget they’re even on the device.
Why do you list paid apps on a free parental control page?
This is a fair question and one I debated with my team for a while before publishing the page. The bottom line is I don’t trust free parental control apps, but at the same time, I realize that people sometimes need a free option to protect their kids. By including trustworthy companies like Qustodio and Norton Family, which offer their services for free for a limited time, parents can get a peek into their children’s online lives, and based on that data, decide whether they need to invest in a paid subscription or not.
Are free parental control apps any good?
As with everything in life, you get what you pay for. There are plenty of risks involved with installing free parental control apps on your child’s device. If they aren’t properly secured, it can leave your child vulnerable to cyberattacks and hackers that can find a backdoor to accessing your child’s device. Additionally, the features are limited with 100% free apps, and that’s why I recommend taking advantage of the Qustodio 30 day money-back guarantee. It’s a secure app with premium features, and I personally tested the refund policy and quickly received my money back without any questions asked.
Can I just use the free parental control apps that come with my phone or computer?
In my experience, apps like Google Family, Screen Time, and Microsoft Family are so easy for kids to bypass that it’s not even worth configuring them. These companies don’t focus on updating the apps frequently because it’s a low priority for them. I prefer going with an app like Norton Family, which has a free 30-day trial and constantly updates its list of dangerous words, slang, and phrases.
Can I monitor my child’s phone with a free parental control app?
As with all features in free parental control apps, the monitoring tools are relatively limited. Each one offers just a taste. For example, FamilyKeeper will alert you of potentially harmful activities, KidLogger will take screenshots of your child’s device, and OpenDNS blocks adult websites. The only way to get comprehensive monitoring of your child’s cell phone for free is to get Qustodio and take advantage of the generous money-back guarantee or the Norton Family free trial.
Are free parental control apps safe?
No company is so virtuous that they’re going to develop a completely free parental control app that comes with premium features and no way to monetize it. This means that you have to look out for features that are locked behind a paywall, adware scams, privacy concerns, or dangerous or unnecessary files being installed along with the apps. This is why I prefer to use Qustodio; while it isn’t free for life, you can use it risk-free for 30 days and get a good insight into what your kids are doing online, and quickly find and fix any trouble they may be getting into.