Best Parental Control Apps for Android – Tested in September 2021
With 4 kids who spend way too much time on their phones, I needed to find an app that, despite Android’s new regulations, could still be effective in filtering, limiting, and monitoring my kids’ Android devices.
I’ve tested over 50 parental control apps to find which features worked the way they were supposed to. Most of the apps I tested weren’t any good (including the popular Google Family Link) for a combination of the following reasons:
- The time management tools didn’t actually block the phone
- The web filters either didn’t work or were easy for the kids to bypass
- The app failed to send alerts to the parent account
- The app kept crashing after installing it
I did find 5 apps that stood out to me and that I felt comfortable using with my family and recommending for yours. If you want the quick answer, the best one I used is Qustodio which has the most customizable features and is extremely easy to use. It gives me all the data I need regarding what my kids are doing on their phones, on a well-designed dashboard. I found the web filter and screen time tools to be very intuitive, and most importantly my kids didn’t have a way to bypass them. You don’t have to take my word for it, when you can try it risk-free, with Qustodio policy of 30-day money-back guarantee. When I tried it myself and asked for my money back, I quickly received a full refund three days after my request.
Quick Guide: Here’s a rundown of the best Parental Control Apps for Android in 2021
- Qustodio Web filter with 47 categories, multiple time management tools and a very organized and easy to navigate parental dashboard
- Bark: Specializes in monitoring social media networks and email accounts but weak on location tracking
- mSpy: Keylogger and screen recorder, but root is required and it has no web filter.
- Norton Family: Customizable web filter, schedule based screen time tools, but poor social media monitoring
- Net Nanny: Excellent internet filter but the YouTube Monitoring feature doesn’t work well
5 Best Parental Control Apps for Android in 2021
- Advanced time management tools
- GPS Tracking and Geofence
- Web filter has 30 categories
- Access parent dashboard from any device
- No root required on Android devices
One of the things that really impressed me while testing Qustodio was how they handled a change in Google policy regarding monitoring phones.
Instead of just removing the Call and SMS monitoring feature, they made a full version of the app available through the Qustodio website. This showed me that they are dedicated to creating the best possible Parental Control program. There is also a version of the app available through the Play store, with the Calls and SMS Monitoring disabled, for those who don’t need the feature or are just more comfortable downloading apps directly from Play.
There were many standout features where Qustodio was better than the competition.
In my house, and I’m assuming it’s the same everywhere, there is a never-ending battle over screen time. The time management feature on Qustodio settled that issue in a heartbeat. I was able to set both a daily schedule and a daily limit on all my kids’ devices. Not only that, but since I can assign one child a tablet and a phone, they couldn’t use up their screen time on the phone and then go on the tablet.
Monitoring the time spent on apps and games is another area where Qustodio performed really well. I was able to set a time limit for each app and block apps that I didn’t think were appropriate.
This may be my favorite parental control app for Android, but it’s not perfect. The biggest issue I had is with the SOS feature. In my opinion, this feature has a lot of potential, if my kids are ever in trouble, they can click the SOS button, and I should get a message immediately with their location. Unfortunately, the feature was a little buggy, and I got the alert in the Promotions tab of my email.
In order to work, Qustodio needs Admin rights on any Android device. This seems a bit scary, and the three warning pages that you have to click through don’t make it any easier. However, it is a standard requirement of all premium monitoring apps. Without it, Qustodio can’t run in the background, block apps, or set time limits.
The app will run in the background of your kid’s devices, and during the testing period, my kids told me that they didn’t notice the battery draining any faster than it did before installing the app.
All of the Qustodio plans come with the same great features. The only difference is the number of devices you want to protect. It comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, which I tested by requesting a refund after using it for 22 days. True to their word, Qustodio didn’t ask questions and gave me a full refund after 3 days.
- Monitors 25+ Social Media networks
- Sends detailed alerts to the parent dashboard
- Recognizes slang, emojis, and triggering keywords
- Unlimited devices
- 7-day free trial
I found Bark to be a little different from most of the parental control programs I tested. It specializes in monitoring social media networks and can access messages, posts and recognize certain trigger words, including slang terms related to bullying, profanity, alcohol, drugs, and weapons, in over 25 popular social media apps.
Bark takes screenshots of anything that triggers an alert and sends an email or SMS (based on your preferences) to the parent account. The alerts can also be seen in the parent dashboard.
Unlike other parental control apps that only monitor some of the social media activity, Bark connects with your children’s social media and email on an account level. This means that you’ll be able to see what they’re posting and who they are chatting with even if they are using a second phone or logging on from a friend’s device.
The web filter is a recent upgrade on Bark and it works really well. It has 17 categories, and you can choose which ones you want to activate and prevent your kids from viewing that type of content. It can recognize slang, emoji’s and pictures, and the team behind Bark knows what to block or send a parental warning when it appears.
The screen time functions allow me to shut off the internet on the device at night, so I know that my children are watching Netflix or texting their friends when they should be sleeping. It also has an instant lock feature so I can shut it down when I need them to focus on something other than a screen.
I got the Bark Sr plan because it includes all the premium features and has a 7-day free trial. While this is less than what the other apps offer, I was very happy with the free trial since I could fully test it without giving any of my credit card details.
- Access to call logs, SMS, Chats, and Social Media activity
- Geo-tracking and Geofence capabilities
- Block specific app use
- Updates data every five minutes
When I installed mSpy on my son’s phone, there were no more secrets. The app uses a combination of a screen recorder that takes a screenshot at a set interval and each time a new action occurs on the phone and a keylogger that stores everything typed on the device. The data is then stored on a surprisingly easy-to-use parental dashboard, which made it easy to scroll through all the data.
mSpy does a lot more than just record the screen, it also has powerful monitoring tools. Once connected, it shows me a list of any app that is installed, and I have the control to block any app that I find inappropriate or dangerous for my child.
The app also has a geolocation feature that displays real-time GPS location. I can set up “Safe Zones” and “Forbidden Zones” and receive alerts each time my child enters or leaves one of these zones. I found this helpful in making sure he was coming home at night, leaving for school in the morning, and staying away from certain locations.
I had to root my son’s Android phone to install mSpy, and for that, I needed access to the phone for about 5 minutes. Thankfully, mSpy sent a detailed guide for the setup process when I signed up for an account. It came with a 14-day money-back guarantee, but I found that they will first try and solve your issues before issuing the refund.
4. Norton Family: Smart Web Filter and Multiple Screen Time Management Tools – Works on Unlimited Number of Device
- Comprehensive web filter
- Set screen time limits for all Android devices
- Block apps you don’t want your kids using
I am very happy with how Norton Family performed while I tested it on my kids. I was able to set limits for how much time they could spend on their phones per day, block inappropriate websites, and track their location in real-time so I know exactly where they are (the location tracking only works in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand).
The dashboard is the control center of the app. I can log in from any device and view all the data regarding my kids’ online activities. I can also make adjustments to the web filters and screen time limits, check out the kids’ real-time location and see what they are searching for on most major search engines.
One feature that stands out is the School Time option. It’s perfect for remote learning or even homework time. You can create a list of websites that your child needs for school or doing homework, and block everything else. This ensures that kids won’t be watching YouTube or hanging out on TikTok instead of doing their work.
You can try Norton Family for yourself free for 30-days without having to enter any payment information. At the end of the free trial, if you don’t want to continue using Norton Family, just stop using it. Your account will automatically be changed to a limited free account with no access to the advanced features.
- Separate Android apps for parents and kids
- Set Screen time limits
- Enforce Google SafeSearch
NetNanny for Android is an easy-to-use program. There are two apps available in the Google Play store, one for parents and one for kids. When you install the kid’s app, you will have to give the app permission to access the GPS, contacts, phones, apps, and more. Additionally, NetNanny needs to have Admin rights to run in the background and monitor your child’s devices, which is standard for any good monitoring app.
I liked that I was able to manage my kids’ devices through the parent app, without needing to get on my PC. It gave me access to the parent dashboard so I could adjust the daily time limits, block or pause my kids’ devices, and check in on their location.
One thing I liked was how NetNanny overcame some of the obstacles it faced with monitoring some Android apps. My kids quickly figured out a hack to bypass the NetNanny filters, by using the YouTube and Google apps, I didn’t get reports in the dashboard regarding searches or videos watched. However, I was able to stay one step ahead and block access to the apps, forcing them to use the browser.
Once they were using the browser, I started getting notifications regarding YouTube and Google searches on the dashboard.
The time management feature worked perfectly on Android, for both the daily limit and schedule. The kids can check how much time they have remaining before the device locks, and when it locks, all they get is a screen saying “Oh No! The internet is blocked.”
While there is a GPS and Geofence option, I discovered that my kids were able to turn off the GPS feature on their Android phones, and I didn’t see a way to prevent them from doing so through the app.
NetNanny offers a 14-day money-back guarantee, so you can test all its premium features risk-free (I tested their refund policy and got my money back in five days).
Where is Google Family Link?
To put it bluntly, despite its popularity, Google Family Link wasn’t very good and so I didn’t include it. It didn’t take very long for my 12-year son to find a way to use his phone when it was supposed to be locked. My other major issue with Family Link is the lack of a web filter or any real monitoring features.
I initially liked that it not only showed me how much time my kids spent on their phones, but it also breaks it up per app. However, I saw that it wasn’t always accurate (or not even close in some cases) and while it told me that one of my kids spent 3 hours on YouTube, there was no indication of what she was watching or searching for. I would think that since both YouTube and Family Link are Google products, having this information would be included.
Another major problem with Google Family Link is when a child turns 13, Google gives them the option of removing the supervision features from their account. Not only that, but any child who is even a little tech-savvy can simply create a new account, using a fake birthday, and their parents will have no idea.
How I Tested and Ranked the Best Parental Control Apps for Android
This was a long process where I bought over 50 parental control apps and tested them out on my children’s Android smartphones and tablets.
- Can my kids bypass these filters: I challenged the kids to try and find hacks or workarounds to avoid the filters. If they were successful, I tried blocking their hack, for example, many programs can’t monitor Android apps but have a feature that lets me block the apps. The programs that didn’t have a way for me to block the kids hack, I left off the list.
- Time management tools: Screen time addiction is a very real problem, and therefore finding a solution was a priority. Once again, I challenged the kids to use the phone or apps when it was supposed to be blocked, and if they could – I didn’t include the app on my list.
- Ease of use: Monitoring the kids’ Android devices shouldn’t be that difficult to manage. From downloading to setting up the limits, I wanted to make sure that you don’t have to be a tech or Android genius to get started. Therefore, any program that required an Android root was immediately eliminated.
- Customer Support: I put the customer service teams to the test. I used the Live Chat feature (when available) and checked if they were using real people or bots. I opened tickets and sent emails to test the response time, and I always tested the money-back policy to see if they would honor it and return my money.
Are there free parental control apps for Android?
While there are a lot of free apps that claim to monitor or limit your child’s Android device, I wouldn’t recommend them for several reasons. Most of the apps that were promoted as “Free” were just a marketing tool that was used to create an account. It included some limited features, but if you really wanted to monitor the Android device, you’d have to purchase a subscription to get access to all the features.
Any app that was completely free, and didn’t have a “pro plan” or “premium features” made me wonder “What’s the catch?” How does that company make money, and what are they doing with the data they collect from my kid’s phone?
If you want to try a parental control app for free, take advantage of the Qustodio 30 day money-back guarantee. After using it for free for a month, you’ll have enough data to see if it’s worth purchasing the app.
Can I monitor my child’s Android from my iPhone?
All of the recommended apps on this list work with both Android and iPhones. This means that you can download the iPhone app for yourself and see the parent dashboard, adjust the settings, and receive all the alerts.
Can I monitor my child’s Android device without them knowing?
For many of the apps, it depends on how tech-savvy your kids are and if you’re using web filters and screen time limits. These features will immediately let your kids know that you’re monitoring them. The only parental control app that I’ve tested on Android with a stealth mode that I recommend is mSpy. You will need access to the device for around 5 minutes for the installation, but once it’s on the phone, the installed software has a generic name and it runs in the background.
Can I see SMS and text messages on my child’s phone?
Google made a policy change and restricts parental control apps from the Play Store if they can read text messages.
However, there are some apps, such as Qustodio, that have the option to download the app from its website and record incoming and outgoing text messages. You can even try it yourself and check how it works at no risk to you with their 30-day money-back guarantee.
With so much going on, it’s hard for us parents to continually stay on top of our kids, especially when they are on their phones and tablets. Parental Control apps should be an essential part of your parenting toolkit. Throughout my extensive testing, Qustodio was consistently the best of the bunch, thanks to a customizable web filter and flexible screen time tools that my kids couldn’t bypass.
Qustodio comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can try it out for yourself at no risk to see if it works for your family. I put their refund policy to the test and asked for my money back after 22 days. The customer support quickly approved my request and I got my money back within 3 days.