Best Parental Control Apps for iPhone & iPad – Tested in 2021
I tested over 30 parental control apps for iPhone and iPad and was surprised how many of them had little to no value on iPhones and iPad.
Some of the common issues I found could be blamed on iOS regulations, while others were purely the fault of the software. The common issues included:
- No web filter on Safari
- Poor time-management tools
- Couldn’t block apps
- Kept crashing
- Slowed down the iPhone or iPad
I was only able to find a few parental control apps for iOS that worked well. You’ll find the top 5 apps that made the cut and performed the best in my tests in the list below. If you want the quickest answer, Qustodio was the app that performs the best during my test. it has a comprehensive web filter, multiple screen time management tools, and real-time geo-tracking. You can even try it yourself risk-free for 30 days with its money-back guarantee.
Quick Guide: Rundown of the Best Parental Control Apps for iPhone and iPad and in 2021
- Qustodio: The #1 Parental Control app for iOS with Strong Screen Time and Web Filter Features.
- Bark: Great for monitoring social media but doesn’t give real-time location alerts.
- mSpy: Keylogger and Records Screenshots but No Web Filter or Screen Time Limits.
- Norton Family: Customizable web filter, and screen time limits, but limited social media monitoring.
- Net Nanny: Excellent internet filter but the YouTube Monitoring feature doesn’t work well.
5 Best Parental Control Apps for iPhone and iPad in 2021
1. Qustodio – #1 Parental Control App for iOS. Comprehensive Web Filters, Customizable Screen Time Tools and Real-Time Geotracking
- Advanced time management tools
- GPS Tracking and Geofence
- Web filter has 30 categories
- Access parent dashboard from any device
Qustodio was able to succeed in monitoring my kid’s iPhone, where most other monitoring apps failed. For starters, the web filter is compatible with Safari (and Chrome). It also gives me the flexibility to choose the filter’s sensitivity, based on the kid’s ages, instead of having a default filter for the whole family. Qustodio checks the metadata, text, and images for anything that would trigger one of the 30 categories.
I challenged my children to find a trick or hack to bypass the filters, and after a few days, they had to admit defeat.
When I was testing Qustodio, I liked the time management tools, which allowed me to set a daily time limit and set up a daily calendar of when the devices are locked. The one problem I have with the calendar option is that you can only block time in segments of 1-hour chunks, which doesn’t fit with the schedule in our house.
One of the tools that truly gives me peace of mind is real-time location tracking. I can log in to the parent dashboard and see exactly where they are, superimposed on Google Maps. There’s no need to worry about where they’re going or where they are at any given time. It also has a geofence feature that alerts me when they enter or leave the radius of the location.
I was really happy that Qustodio works on multiple platforms, so I was able to access the parent dashboard from my Android phone and PC and monitor the iPhone and iPad in the house. The dashboard is user-friendly and makes it quickly see all the family activities and alerts at a glance.
Qustodio has 3 subscription plans that include all of the features and has a 30-day money-back guarantee. I tested the money-back guarantee and contacted the customer support team after 3 weeks of using the app. I told them that I don’t need it anymore and want my money back. I received a complete refund in just three business days.
- Monitors 25+ Social Media networks
- Sends detailed alerts to the parent dashboard
- Recognizes slang, emoji, and triggering keywords
With a recent update that added a web filter and screen time management for iPhones and iPads, Bark quickly became one of my favorite parental control apps. The web filter allows me to blocks specific websites and general website categories, such as anything related to drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, and more. The screen time management tools will shut off the internet at bedtime, making it impossible for my children to use their phones in bed, even after I tell them it’s lights-out.
I was able to connect Bark with over 30 social media apps on iOS. It scans all the content and sends alerts when it finds posts, messages, comments, or videos that deal with sex, drugs, violence, alcohol, weapons, suicide, and more.
Unlike Bark for Android, the iOS app can’t fully monitor some of the apps. For example, while it can monitor videos and pictures on Instagram, it can’t access DMs and searches.
Bark found a unique way to get around Apple’s strict monitoring guidelines. The app records everything that your child does on their iOS device, and then, every 6 hours, it will upload a backup to the Bark for Windows or Bark for Mac app, as long as you’re on the same wifi network. Once the upload is complete, Bark scans the day’s data and sends an alert or warning if it detects anything that it deems inappropriate. While you don’t get the information in real-time, I still thought it was a good workaround.
There are two Bark plans; Jr and Sr. The Jr plan includes screen time tools, web filters, and location check-in options, while the Sr plan also has social media monitoring tools. I recommend starting with the Bark Sr plan, which includes a 7-day free trial. This will give you enough time to determine whether you need the premium features or if you can get by with just the Jr. plan. In any case, you don’t have to enter your credit card information, so you can try it completely free.
- Keyloggers tracks all SMS, chats, and Social Media
- Screen Capture takes a picture every 5 minutes
- Geo-tracking and geofence
mSpy is the one “spy app” that I include on my list because it works really well, and there are times when it can literally be a life-saver. I’m talking about finding out if your child is being cyber-bullied, looking for or using drugs, drinking alcohol, or viewing websites that encourage harmful behavior.
Since it’s a spy app, there are obviously no web filters or screen time tools. Otherwise, your child will know it’s on the device. Instead, mSpy collects data on every action taken on the device. The keylogger feature records every outgoing text message, social media post, google search, and more. At the same time, the screen capture feature is set to take a screenshot every five minutes or with each action taken on the device. I found this to be helpful since there are some websites that I don’t recognize by name, and seeing the screenshots means that I don’t have to check out each website.
There is also a real-time tracking feature that saves your child’s location for up to 30 days. Not only that, I was able to create Safe and Forbidden zones and receive alerts when my child came and left these zones, so I didn’t have to ask him what time he came home the previous night or whether he made it to school on time.
You don’t have to jailbreak the iPhone or iPad when installing mSpy. As long as you have your child’s iCloud credentials, it can be remotely installed. Once on the device, the app runs in the background, under a generic name, and your child won’t know it’s on the device.
mSpy isn’t for everyone, and you can only use it on one device at a time. But if you need this level of monitoring for your child’s phone, it is well worth the subscription cost. mSpy has a 14-day money-back guarantee. However, they will only issue a refund if they can’t solve your problem.
- Customizable web filter
- School Time feature prevents distractions
- Installs a VPN so it can bypass iOS monitoring restrictions
Norton Family is more transparent than any other iOS monitoring app I’ve tested. It compiles a list of “House Rules” that let my kids know exactly what the app is monitoring, what types of websites they can go to and which are blocked, and how much time they can spend on their Apple devices.
I really like the flexibility of the Norton Family’s screen time management tools. It allows me to set up a daily schedule for when the kids can be online and a time limit to prevent them from being on their iPhones or iPads all day. It would be a big improvement if Norton Family added a time limit for each app, but for now, that isn’t an option.
Norton Family has a comprehensive web filter that limits or restricts websites based on 47 categories. I was able to choose which categories to block for each of my kids and set the monitoring level for each one as well.
The School Time feature can be activated when the kids are doing remote learning or homework. I was able to add specific websites that my kids need for remote learning or doing homework, and everything else was blocked. The time spent doing school work doesn’t count against the daily limit. This way, I know that the kids are focused on their studies and not just playing on the iPhone or iPad.
I found a hidden official page that gives a 30-day free trial, which I prefer over the money-back guarantee, where I have to give my credit card information and remember to cancel. Here, I was able to create an account without having to enter any credit card or PayPal information and got unlimited access, with all the features for free for 30 days.
- Set Screen time limits
- GPS tracking
- Enforce Google SafeSearch
Net Nanny is one of the top parental control apps I tested for iPhones and iPads. It made managing the amount of screen time for my kids really easy. It has two options, setting up a daily limit or a schedule, which breaks the day up into 15-minute segments. There is no option to put a time limit on each app due to Apple’s guidelines.
The web filter, which works with Safari, has 15 customizable categories. Not only that, but I was also able to create my own filters by adding words or phrases that I wanted Net Nanny to detect and alert me when used. There is also the option to allow or block specific websites or apps. This is helpful if you want to prevent your kids from using them, even if the general filter wouldn’t block them.
The Net Nanny parent app, which I was able to download on my Android phone and monitor my child’s iOS devices, has a Family Feed, which gives real-time updates on activities from all the kids. This made it easy for me to see what apps they’re using, or what they’re searching on Google, and whether they triggered any alerts.
The YouTube Monitoring feature needs to be improved for it to have any real value. A lot of the videos that my kids watched on the iPad didn’t show up on the Family Feed timeline. However, It enforces YouTube parental controls, which blocks inappropriate searches and videos.
I got the Net Nanny plan that includes 5 devices so I could test it out on several devices and took advantage of this great offer that includes a 14-day money-back guarantee.
How I Tested and Ranked the Best Parental Control Apps for iOS
I’ve tested more than 50 parental control apps and have very high standards when it comes to keeping my kids safe online.
Here’s what I require from a parental control app before I’ll recommend it:
- Do the filters work, and can my kids bypass them? One of the biggest issues that parental control apps are having with the new regulations is working with Safari or coming up with an alternative option to enforce the web filters. Many apps tried forcing downloads of its own web browser – these were often poorly designed, slow, and there was no way to prevent my kids from going back to Safari. Thankfully, I found several programs that either work with Safari or have good alternative browsers that my kids didn’t mind using.
- Time Management Tools: With screen time addiction being such a big issue, it was extremely important to find an app that has flexible scheduling and daily limit options. This was a little more difficult to find on iOS devices than it was with Android because Apple doesn’t want to give apps the power to block an iPhone or iPad. That being said, there were a few apps that can partially block iOS devices and this helped their ranking.
- Ease of Use: I didn’t want any app that required jailbreaking or hacking the iPhone and iPad. Ideally, all apps were found in the App Store and the download was easy.I was looking for a program that was easy for a non-iOS user like myself to install and manage. Extra points were given for apps that worked with multiple platforms so that I could download the parent app on my Android and Windows devices and manage Dashboard from there.
- Customer Support: I had a lot of questions for the customer support teams, mostly regarding whether a feature that was listed on the website works on the iPhone or not. I was surprised that several times I had to wait over a week for a response to a ticket, obviously, this hurt their rankings.
Are there free parental control apps for iOS?
While there are free parental control apps, I wouldn’t recommend using them. For the most part, these apps just advertise a free app, but only give you very basic monitoring tools for free. If you want the full version, you’ll have to pay anyways. If I saw a fully free program with no premium package, I had to ask myself why a company would offer their service for free. The answer was usually either they shared the data they collected or had ads that would show up on the parent app, which I found really annoying. I’d rather pay a small subscription fee, and have the peace of mind knowing there are filters in place to protect my children.
If you want to use a parental control app for free, I recommend you download a premium app and take advantage of its money-back guarantee. The best one I’ve tested, with a proven money-back guarantee is Qustodio. You’ll get access to all the premium features, and 30 days is enough time for you to get a good idea of how your kids are using their iPhones and iPads, and how time they spend on each app per day.
Why did Apple place restrictions on parental control apps?
According to Apple, they were protecting the privacy of its users from intrusive apps. Before the new regulations, the top parental control programs used mobile device management (MDM) applications that gave control of your data to a third party. Apple saw this as a breach of privacy and therefore made companies either remove or make adjustments to the MDM.
However, there is speculation that Apple was just getting rid of the competition so people would have to use its built-in parental controls. Unfortunately, Apple’s Screen Time has a list of weaknesses, and most kids can easily bypass the restrictions. Therefore, it’s recommended to choose one of the apps on this list, which are proven to work on iPads and iPhones.
If iPhones and iPads have built-in parental controls, why do I need to buy a parental control app?
For all its greatness, Apple isn’t in the parental control business. Sure, they have some basic time management tools, but it’s nothing when compared to Qustodio or other leading parental control programs.
Isn’t using a parental control app just a nice way of saying you’re spying on your kids?
I think there is a big distinction between spying and monitoring your children. As parents, it’s our job to protect our children which have become even more difficult once they have unlimited access to the internet 24/7. They are susceptible to cyberbullying, can learn about sex, drugs, alcohol, weapons, and pretty much anything else in an uncontrolled environment.
There are spy apps, which can be downloaded to a child’s iPhone or iPad without their knowledge through iCloud and monitor everything that happens on the phone. I wouldn’t be comfortable using this spy tech unless I felt that my children were in danger or could become a danger to him or herself.
No one knows your kids quite like their phones. They use it to search for information, talk with their friends, play games, join groups, and more. This is why it’s crucial to install a trustworthy parental control app on their devices.
I’ve tested more than 30 parental control apps for iPhones and iPad and Qustodio was clearly the best. It has comprehensive web filters, screen time management tools, and real-time geo-tracking. You can try it yourself risk-free with their 30-day money-back guarantee. I tested their refund policy by requesting my money back and within 3 days I received a full refund.