6 Best Parental Control Software for Windows PC in 2021
Even though my kids spend most of their time on their smartphones, they still manage to find time to use our Windows laptop as well. In my quest to give them the freedom to use these devices, while still being a responsible parent, I tested over 50 premium parental control programs over the course of a few months. I was surprised at how many of them, even some of the “popular” ones were not very good.
While all the programs are compatible with Windows, the ones I recommend also have very good mobile apps as well. I prefer the multi-platform capability because it allows me to have one program that monitors all of my family’s devices.
During my tests, Qustodio performed very well and had the best overall score out of all the programs I tested. It has a strong web filter, flexible screen time management tools, and a parent dashboard that I could access from any device. Best of all, Qustodio comes with a proven 30-day money-back guarantee. I tested this policy by requesting a refund after 22 days of use and I received my complete refund in just 3 business days.
Quick Guide: Rundown of the Best Parental Control Programs for Windows in 2021
- Qustodio: Excellent web filter, time management tools, and you can access the dashboard from anywhere
- Bark: The best social media monitoring tools, strong web filters, but no geofence feature
- Norton Family: Fully customizable web filter and screen time management tools, but no app based time restrictions
- Net Nanny: Excellent internet filter but social media monitoring needs improvement
- Kaspersky Safe Kids: Strong web filter but won’t work if you have McAfee antivirus
- Mobicip: Reliable web filter but weak on time management tools
Top 6 Parental Control Programs for Windows
1. Qustodio – #1 Parental Control software for window with Excellent Web Filter and Screen Time Tools
- Advanced time management tools
- Web filter has 30 categories
- YouTube monitoring
- Create unique profiles for each child
- Access parent dashboard from any device
The first thing that jumped out to me when testing Qustodio for Windows was that I was able to set up different user profiles for each kid, on one computer. This was important since my 16-year-old didn’t want to have the same web filter as the 7-year-old, and it would be impossible to enforce time limits if all the kids were grouped together.
Speaking of time limits, I was very happy with the flexibility of the screen time controls. I was able to set both a daily time limit and create a schedule that blocked the computer at specific times. Qustodio gives two options for what happens when the screen time is up:
- Lock Navigation: This disables the internet, but the computer is still functional. I liked this option, as it allowed my kids to use the computer for writing assignments on Word or PowerPoint, but kept them from getting distracted and going online instead.
- Lock Device: This option logs all users off the desktop. I found this to be a good option at bedtime.
The only issue I had with the schedule feature was that the schedule grid is broken up into hour-long segments, with no option to adjust it. So if, for example, I wanted the computer off from 6:00 – 6:30 for dinner — I wasn’t able to.
The web filter is fully customizable. It has 30 categories and gives the option to Allow, Block, or send me an Alert if the kids try to go to a site with that category. I tested the filter on Chrome, Firefox, and Edge and it worked very well.
The parent dashboard can be accessed from any device and makes it easy to set up the rules, time limits, and get details on what the kids are doing on the computer.
Qustodio has a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can try it yourself risk-free. I personally tested their refund policy by canceling my subscription during the 3rd week, which was quickly approved and I received my money back into the bank account within 3 days.
- Monitors 30+ of the most popular apps and social media platforms
- AI monitoring recognizes slang, emojis, and triggering keywords
- Plugins for Chrome and Microsoft Edge
- No limit on the number of connected devices
Bark is a bit different from the other parental control programs that I’ve tested. Its main focus is social media monitoring. It is compatible with over 30 of the leading social networks and will monitor the activities, chats, images, and posts on an account level. This means that it doesn’t really matter if the kids are chatting on the computer, phone, or tablet. Bark will be able to recognize what is going on, through smart AI keyword, emoji, and slang recognition.
I used the web filter to block access to specific websites and general website categories that I didn’t want my kids viewing. These included sites that write about, and have images, glorifying violence, drugs, and sex. The Screen Time management features allow me to choose a “bedtime” when the internet is blocked. The phone can still be used to make and receive calls, ut at least I know that my kids aren’t sitting in bed watching YouTube videos all night.
Bark has a really nice dashboard which I can log in from any device and see the reports and relevant information. Thanks to these reports, I found out that one of my kids was being cyberbullied on Snapchat and was able to help out before things got even worse.
Bark recently upgraded its Windows features to include a monitoring feature that works with most of the popular browsers. The software will monitor and create reports based on the website metadata, page titles, web searches, and some images and videos that are saved to the device.
Bark has two subscription options, Bark Jr. and Bark Sr. I got the Bark Sr. account which included all the premium features and has a free 7 day trial with no need to enter any payment information. This gave me plenty of time to connect Bark with my kid’s social media and email accounts, and see just how reliable the monitoring features were for PC.
- Customizable web filter
- Remote Learning accessibility
- Forces safe search results for major search engines
- Unlimited child profiles
One of the best things about Norton is how easy it makes everything. From installing the software and setting up child accounts to customize the web filters and the screen time limitations.
Of course, none of this would matter if the software didn’t work the way it should, so I challenged my kids to beat the app. They tried to extend their screen time limits, access websites I blocked, and watch YouTube videos to see if I knew what they watched or how much time they spent on it. I was happy to see that they were unable to bypass the restrictions and that Norton Family includes a link for the kids to ask permission to access what they can’t, so you can open a dialogue about it.
With its web filter, Norton Family gives me complete control over when setting the web restrictions. Based on the text, metadata, and images on the website, Norton Family uses AI to place every website into at least one of 47 categories. I felt comfortable letting my kids use their phones to browse the web since I couldn’t find any weaknesses in the web filter.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. You can try out Norton Family free for 30 days without having to enter any payment information. This will give you full access to all its features and unlimited account across multiple devices for your kids.
- Set Screen time limits
- Smart Filter
- Enforce Google SafeSearch
One thing I really liked about the Net Nanny web filter is that it doesn’t just block words (unless I instruct it to) but it understands the context. So for example, if my son was looking up a chicken breast recipe, it didn’t block it according to the “Sex” guidelines.
I set up different profiles for each of the kids and had them log in each time they got on the computer. This way, I was able to set up a detailed schedule and a daily screen time limit. I really liked that I could block the internet at any time and from anywhere, through the parent dashboard.
I signed up for the plan that includes 5 devices. They also have a Desktop Only plan, which is perfect if your kids don’t have a smartphone. Whatever plan you choose, you can try it risk-free with their 14-day money-back guarantee before making a decision
- Strong web filter
- Enforces SafeSearch
Kaspersky Safe Kids excelled at filtering the internet when I tested it with all major browsers. Despite my kids’ best efforts, which included browsing in Incognito and Private mode, the websites wouldn’t load.
In addition to the filter, Kaspersky enforces SafeSearch for Google and YouTube, which did a good job of removing inappropriate search results.
One problem I had with Kaspersky Safe Kids is that it’s not compatible with the McAfee antivirus software. I had to remove it, then uninstall and reinstall Safe Kids for it to work properly.
Safe Kids only has a basic time management filter. This means that you can set up either a daily time schedule or a daily screen-time limit per child — but not both, as some others allow. Once the time expires, Safe Kids will block the computer from accessing the internet.
I don’t recommend Safe Kids if screen time management is an important issue for you, but if you’re looking for a strong web filter, this is a good option, and you can get a 7-day free trial, with no credit card required.
- Thorough web filter
- Multiple screen time management tools
I was impressed with how easy it was to customize the web filter with Mobicip. It comes with three sensitivity levels that I could choose from, or customize it myself. In addition, I was able to add URLs, keywords, and search terms that I wanted to Allow or Block.
Mobicip includes several screen time monitoring features, including a “Dinner Time” option that locks devices at the same time. Unfortunately, when the computer is locked, the computer is completely unusable. All the kids can see is a screen with a timer counting down until the device will be unlocked. This was a problem for me since I want my kids to be able to use the computer for schoolwork, with just the internet turned off.
The dashboard, which can be accessed from any device, is one of the best I’ve seen. It uses great visuals, such as charts and graphs to illustrate what the kids are doing and how many alerts have been triggered.
Overall, Mobicip is a decent choice, although there are some improvements I’d like to see, such as a more intuitive lock screen, before I could move it higher on my list. It comes with a risk-free 7-day trial that you can take advantage of if you want to test Mobicip out for yourself.
How I Tested and Rated the Best Parental Control Programs for Windows
Over the course of several months, I purchased and tested over 50 parental control programs on my Windows 10 laptop and desktop. (but I made sure all the software I recommended here works well with Windows 8 and 7 as well, so you don’t have to worry about what version you are using).
The rankings were mainly based on the following criteria:
- Time management tools: The program must allow me to put screen time limits on the computer. It got bonus points if I could set up separate profiles for each kid.
- Web Filter: The program needs a strong web filter that works on multiple web browsers. My kids were able to find ways to bypass many of the filters or they would get notifications that pages were being blocked, even though the content was acceptable. The programs on my list proved to be too strong for my kids to bypass and they used advanced technology to recognize the context of the content.
- Ease of use: The easier a program was to download, install, and set up, the happier I was.
- Customer Support: I tested the customer support teams of every program I used. If they had Live Chat I would ask questions and see if I was dealing with a real person or a bot. When there was no live chat option I sent emails and opened tickets to test out the response time and quality of the answer. I also looked through the knowledge base and FAQ questions for each company to find answers to questions I had. I always tested the money-back policy to see if they would honor it and return my money.
Are there free parental control programs for Windows?
I tested several free parental control programs for Windows but wouldn’t recommend using them. Most of them were just partial releases of premium versions, and if you want to access the premium features you’ll have to buy the program. The few that were truly free just weren’t very good. If you’re on a budget I recommend Qustodio, which is one of the least expensive, but still reliable, parental control programs.
Can I monitor my computer without the kids knowing?
There are a few programs “spy apps” that I was able to install without my kids knowing. Obviously, it couldn’t have any screen limits or a web filter, because then the kids would know the program was running. These would just monitor what was happening on the computer, logging every keystroke, and recording everything. In my experience, this type of software should only be used in extreme situations, where you are scared for your child. It’s better to open a dialogue, explain the dangers of the internet and why you need to monitor their computer. Because, if they ever discover that you secretly installed a program on their PC that records their most private thoughts, it could cause irreparable damage to your relationship. I found that even though my kids knew I installed Qustodio, after a few days, they completely forgot about it since it runs in the background and doesn’t interfere with how they use the computer.
Can I monitor the computer from my Android or iPhone?
All of the parental programs on my list are compatible with Android and iOS. You’ll be able to login to your account and manage the computer from the dashboard.
Windows comes with built-in parental control, do I really need another program?
While it’s true that Windows 10 comes with parental control options, they are very limited. The web filter and time management features are very basic and don’t offer true protection. You’ll be much happier using Qustodio, which has excellent filters and screen time management tools.
A good parental control program for Windows should be a requirement for all parents. It will give our kids the freedom to go online while protecting them from potential harm.
After extensive research and testing, Qustodio was the best program I tested for Windows, and it’s what I’ve continued to use on my home computer. You can take advantage of Qustodio’s money-back guarantee and use all of its premium features for 30 days at no-risk, which is great if you want to test the program out before you commit to it. I tested the refund policy and received a full refund within a few days