What is a Parental Control App and Why it’s a Must in 2021

Shauli Zacks Last Updated by Shauli Zacks on February 15, 2021

After several frustrating years of trying to monitor my kids’ online activities on my own, I turned to parental control apps for help. It was a life-changing decision. Parental Control apps gave me the ability to:

  • Create screen time limits.
  • Set up strong web filters that block or restrict inappropriate websites.
  • Access the phone’s GPS to give accurate location tracking.
  • 24/7 monitoring tools to see what my kids are doing on their phones.
  • Manage online activities and get alerts and updates through a remote parent dashboard.

I also learned that parental control apps are more than just a way to protect my kids from porn, alcohol, and drugs online. It gave me a clue about my children’s interests and I gained a new perspective on their personalities that would have been difficult without the help of these apps. Additionally, it taught them the value of budgeting their time.

I bought and installed dozens of parental control apps on my children’s smartphones, tablets, and the family computer. I tested all the different features and asked my kids to try and bypass the restrictions so I could rank them properly.

At the end of months of testing 27 parental control apps, I can confidently say that Norton Family has the best collection of monitoring tools and special features.

Norton Family has a free 30-day trial, and unlike many of the other apps I tested, I didn’t have to enter any payment information to get started.

Try Norton Family – Free for 30 Days!

What are Parental Controls Apps?

No matter how much you trust your children, a parental control app should be the first app you install on their device. The reason is simple. Even if you have the perfect child, the temptations and dangers of the internet are too much for most adults — let alone teens and pre-teens.

A parental control app is not supposed to be a replacement for parenting. However, unless you’re a super-parent, it’s nearly impossible to physically monitor what types of games your kids are playing, who they’re talking to, how much time they’re in front of a screen, or where they are hanging out. This is where a parental control app helps you. With it, you can see and limit:

  • How much time the kids are on their phones
  • What apps they’re downloading
  • Which apps they’re actually using
  • What websites they’re visiting
  • Keywords and phrases that are used in search engines and YouTube

Think of the app as your personal assistant. It’s there to make your life easier with an assortment of tools designed to protect your children.

Try a Top-Rated Parental Control App for Free!

How Can Parental Control Apps Help Children Stay Safe Online?

The premium parental control apps have some essential features to help you protect your kids. It doesn’t matter which app you choose to use, as long as it has:

  • Strong Web Filter: This is a must. The best apps have a recommended web filter based on the child’s age and a customizable web filter that allows you to choose what types of websites to allow or block. This way, your kids won’t be able to see content that might be inappropriate or put them in danger.
  • Search supervision: There are different ways that parental control apps handle search supervision. Some automatically enable Safe Search, which blocks search results that violate the web filter. Others send the search terms used to the parent dashboard. This gives parents insights into what their kids are searching for and can take action if the searches are problematic.
  • Screen time limits: According to a recent study, American kids between the ages of 8 and 10 are staring at a screen for 6 hours per day, and that number jumps up to 9 hours a day for kids 11- 14. According to numerous studies, too much screen time is harmful to kids and can affect their sleep, studies, and social interactions. Use a parental control app to limit the amount of daily or weekly screen time for your kids. If they need the internet for their school or homework, I recommend getting Norton Family which has a special School Time feature.
  • Location Tracker: Are you nervous that your child met someone online and went to meet them in real life? Use the location tracking feature to get an exact location based on their phone’s GPS. The best Parental Control apps block the kids from disabling the GPS.

Benefits of Using a Parental Control App

When used correctly, a parental control app can improve communication between parents and kids. Instead of continually looking over their shoulders to see what they’re doing or taking the phone away in the evening and going through their apps and messages, you can let the app do all that. In the meantime, you should talk to your kids and explain the importance of having a web filter or screen time limits. In many cases, the kids will appreciate that you’re treating them like a young adult, which can be great for your relationship.

You can still check in on what the kids are doing on their phones, but instead of taking their phone and inspecting it, all of the data is organized and stored in a parent dashboard. I really liked how the Norton Family app managed and organized all the data. It sent me alerts when there was something that I had to be aware of, such as their search terms, websites visited, videos watched, social media interactions, and more.

5 Best Parental Control Apps in 2021— Tested and Reviewed

1. Norton Family – Best for Web Filters, Screen Time Management, and Location Tracking

NortonFamily
NortonFamily

Key Features:

  • Fully customizable web filter with 47 categories
  • Daily screen time limits and usage schedules
  • Forces SafeSearch for Google and YouTube
  • Remotely monitor all devices from a cloud-based dashboard
  • Get it free for 30 days – No credit card required

I was skeptical when I first started testing Norton Family since I assumed it would be treated as an add-on service to the antivirus software. It didn’t take long for me to see that my assumptions were very wrong.

Not only does Norton Family have every feature that I need to monitor my kid’s phones and tablets, but it was incredibly easy to set up. While Norton Family has four filter options to choose from, with age recommendations for each of them, I was able to customize the filters to allow or block different categories and create a whitelist and blacklist of websites that would override the web filter.

It comes with three screen time management tools. First, I set the usage schedule. This way, I knew the screens would be off during school hours and at bedtime. Then, I set a daily time limit, so they couldn’t just spend all their free time on the phone. One of my favorite parts of the screen time management tool is the exceptions for Remote Learning. This allows me to select specific websites that the kids need for school or homework and blocks everything else. Time spent studying doesn’t count against their overall time limit.

Everything is neatly organized on the parent dashboard, where I can see alerts, make adjustments to the time schedule and filters, and instantly lock the devices.

My kids even liked Norton Family because it clearly defines the House Rules for them, and they knew how much time they could be on their phones, what apps were blocked, and the types of websites that are off-limits. If they need additional time or access to a blocked website, they can make a request from their device instead of calling me or waiting for me to get home from work.

I took advantage of the Norton Family 30-day free trial and recommend you do as well. Unlike other parental control apps I tested, this wasn’t a money-back offer – I was able to get complete access to all the premium features without giving any payment information.

Get Norton Family – Free for 30 Days!

2. Qustodio – Top Notch Web Filter and Location Tracking with Geofence

Qustodio Vendor Image
Qustodio Vendor Image

Key Feature:

  • Strong web filter with 40 categories
  • Create a geofence with a radius of up to 200 meters
  • Multiple screen time management tools, including for specific apps
  • SMS and phone call monitoring
  • 30-day money-back guarantee

I really like Qustodio’s screen time management features. Not only could I set up daily time limits, but it also let me set limits for individual apps. This proved useful when I saw that my daughter was spending more than 4 hours a day on TikTok. I changed the permissions, giving her an hour on the app before it was locked for the day.

The web filter worked exactly as it should. I created a unique filter for each of my kids, and they weren’t able to turn it off or find ways to get to the blocked pages, even when they tried browsing in private or incognito mode.

The parent dashboard can be accessed from anywhere, and it has a simple user-friendly layout. The main page is filled with charts and graphics, giving a quick overview of all the child’s activities. You click on each one for a more detailed breakdown and to see any alerts that were triggered. All data is stored for 30 days, so you can compare the stats and see if there are any new apps that the kids are using or staying away from. These can be signs of cyberbullying or other problems that you can bring up with your kids.

There are three Qustodio plans, and all of them come with a 30-day money-back guarantee. I personally tested this policy by contacting customer support after two weeks of using the software. Without asking why I wanted to cancel the account, I was given a full refund within two business days.

Try Qustodio for Free for 30 Days!

3. Net Nanny – Comprehensive Web Filter that Understands Context

Key Features

  • Smart web filter with 15 categories
  • See what apps your kids are downloading and block ones you don’t approve of
  • Enable SafeSearch for Google and YouTube
  • Try it free for 14 days with a money-back guarantee

Net Nanny has some excellent features as part of the web filter that I haven’t seen elsewhere. I was able to create a blacklist of websites I wanted to block, even though they didn’t include them in the 15 filter categories. I found this helpful when I decided to block my son from playing online games on a website with open chat features. It also has a profanity filter that hides curse words behind ### signs.

The time screen tools are very flexible. Unlike other apps I tested, Net Nanny didn’t restrict the daily time limit to 15 or 30 minute blocks. I was able to enter the amount of time I wanted them on their phone. It also has a feature that instantly locks all connected devices, but I would prefer it to let me choose a specific child or device instead of an all or nothing option.

I signed up for one of the subscription options that included a 14-day money-back guarantee. However, I had to explain why I was canceling the account to the customer support team, and they only gave me a full refund when they couldn’t fix my problem

Try Net Nanny for Free for 14 Days!

4. Kaspersky Safe Kids – Comprehensive Web Filter Works With Major Browsers

Kaspersky Safe Kids vendor image
Kaspersky Safe Kids vendor image

Key Features:

  • Set time limits for each app
  • Web filter has 14 categories
  • Try it free for 7 days

While it’s not the best parental control app I tested, Kaspersky Safe Kids had a few features that I found helpful for monitoring my kids. The first is to permit certain apps to work even when the screen time limits are expired. This is helpful if I want them to access the phone, contacts, or messaging apps. It’s also useful when they’re doing math homework and need the calculator.

The real-time location tracking is also well done. I can see exactly where the kids are and set up a geofence based on their location history. I received alerts when they entered and left the geofence.

I used the 7-day free trial when testing Kaspersky Safe Kids. I was happy that I didn’t need to enter in my credit card information and then try and get them to give me a refund.

Test Kaspersky Safe Kids Free for 7 Days!

5. Mobicip – Very Clean and Intuitive Parent Dashboard

Key Features:

  • Comprehensive setup wizard makes it easy to set up multiple filters
  • Instantly lock child devices from the dashboard
  • Free 7-day trial

Of all the parental control apps I’ve tested, Mobicip has one of the most user-friendly parent dashboards. With colorful charts and graphs, I can quickly see how much time the kids are using their devices every day, which apps they’re using, the websites they visit, and the latest videos they watched.

I liked that the web filter has four sensitivity levels so that I could assign different levels for my kids. There’s also the option to create a custom filter and choose which apps and websites to block.

The biggest disappointment for me was the time management tools. It isn’t very flexible. I could only set limits using hour-long blocks, and when a phone exceeds the time limit, the entire phone is shut down, including the phone app.

Mobicip has a free 7-day trial, and while they take your credit card numbers, you won’t get charged until the trial period is over.

Get Mobicip for Free for 7 Days!

Free Parental Controls Apps vs. Paid Parental Control Apps: Are They Worth the Money?

I tried several of the big-name free parental control apps, including Google Family Link, and the free versions of premium apps, like Norton Family and Kaspersky Safe Kids. It didn’t take long to see that the old cliche “you get what you pay for” was true.

I was really disappointed with Family Link. I have friends who use it and seem to be happy with it. However, within a few days, my son informed me that he could bypass time restrictions by clicking on a link in WhatsApp and going to YouTube or other apps. I was also disappointed that it doesn’t have a web filter.

In addition to the limitations of the tools, I’d also be very wary of giving access to my children’s phone and data to a free app. These companies have to make money, and usually it’s by selling information to third party marketers, flooding the app with ads, or worse, installing malware or spyware on the device.

With all the potential danger of giving kids unrestricted access to smartphones, from screen time addiction to all the dangers on the internet, I feel that it’s worth the cost to protect my children with a quality parental control app.

Try a Top-Rated Parental Control App for Free!

Why Parental Control Apps are Important in the Digital Age

The internet is both the best and worst thing to happen for parents. Kids can use it for good; to learn new skills, get help with homework, watch videos, and play games. At the same time, they can be the victims of cyberbullies, unknowingly chat with sexual predators, watch videos that glorify violence, learn about getting drugs or alcohol, and find free porn sites. The list of bad things online is pretty much endless.

That’s why a good monitoring program is so important. These companies pay good money for the best and brightest engineers and tech wizards to create tools that are designed to protect your kids. Let them worry about the newest threats, hacks, and risks, and you can simply monitor everything from your dashboard to make sure it’s working properly.

Get a Parental Control App to Protect Your Kids Online!

Anyone who spent time on the internet knows that it’s not a safe place for kids. Installing a parental control app is really a no-brainer. Even if your kids don’t like it, they’ll understand and appreciate it in the long run.

Of all the apps I’ve tested in the past few months, Norton Family consistently stood out as the best option. It has all the features that I needed, from a customizable web filter, flexible screen time management tools, location tracking, and equally important, it’s easy to manage remotely.

You don’t have to take my word for it, Norton Family has a free 30-day trial, so you can test it out on your kids and make sure it’s the right parental control app for your family.

Try Norton Family – Free for 30 Days!

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Shauli Zacks
Shauli is an online privacy expert with a love of all things technology. He spent the past few years testing, comparing, and reviewing different software programs.