The best parental control apps for smartphones can help you track your kids, see with whom they're communicating, block them from viewing objectionable or dangerous websites, and even help kids understand limits while preventing them from seeing adult content or chatting with creeps.
These apps work best when they're part of a comprehensive approach to teaching your kids about behaving responsibly online. For that reason, we do not test apps that can run in stealth mode on a child's phone. There are many products that tout this capability, but some people use these apps not to monitor their kids, but instead to spy on their spouses or on other adults. This sort of "stalkerware" is often a factor in domestic abuse. In addition, we did not consider apps that offered the ability to record a child's phone conversations.
State laws vary on the legality of recording someone you're talking to without his or her consent, and no states allow the recording of phone calls without either party's consent.
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No single parental-control service we tested is perfect, but Net Nanny formerly Zift delivered the best mix of web filtering, location tracking and app management on both Android and iOS devices. Norton Family Premier was a close runner-up for the best parental control app. Unlike Net Nanny, Norton's service offers text-message logging and monitoring, but only on Android devices. Parents on tight budgets should consider Kaspersky Safe Kids.
Norton, Kaspersky and ESET also make antivirus software, and many antivirus products have parental controls built in. To see how well those controls stack up against the stand-alone services, please see our overview of the best and worst antivirus software for parents. All of these apps can do more on Android than they can on iOS, due to Apple's tight restrictions.
A couple of the apps were in fact crippled by Apple in mid, and although they later had much of their functionality restored, Apple could yank the rug out from them again at any time. So if you're really serious about keeping tabs on what your kids are doing and to whom they're talking online, get them Android phones. Just be wary of any parental control app that you have to sideload -- there's usually a reason it isn't in the official Google Play store. Among all the parental-control apps we tried, it comes closest to having feature parity between its iOS and Android versions.
Its iOS abilities don't seem to have been affected by recent Apple policy changes. Net Nanny can track your child's location, display their location history, and set time allowances and schedules equally well on both platforms. The iOS version lets you block several dozen apps on your kid's phone; the Android one lets you block them all.
The only thing Net Nanny can't do on a smartphone is monitor calls or texts. No apps we tested can do that on iOS, but several do on Android. Read our full Net Nanny Parental Control review. Norton Family Premier's power and features are ideal for Android and Windows households with many children, offering nearly every feature a parent could want from one of the best parental control apps. This service's location-tracking, time-scheduling, and web-filtering and -monitoring capabilities work on both iOS and Android, but Norton's time allowances are only for its Windows and Android software.
App management and text-message monitoring don't work in the iOS app at all. There's no geofencing on either mobile platform. At that price, getting Norton Family Premier along with Norton's excellent antivirus protection is a no-brainer, unless your kids use Macs instead of Windows PCs. Read our full Norton Family Premier review. Kaspersky's location tracking and geofencing work in both iOS and Android, as do its web monitoring and device scheduling.
But app management is limited on iOS, and the iOS app can't monitor calls or texts at all. Still, if you don't feel a need to read your kids' text messages, then Kaspersky Safe Kids is well worth considering. In March , Kaspersky Lab filed an antitrust complaint against Apple for allegedly forcing the removal of some features from Kaspersky Safe Kids. Apple hinted in June that it might relax some of its tighter restrictions on iOS parental-control apps with iOS 13, but we haven't yet seen anything different and Kaspersky's complaint is ongoing.
Read our full Kaspersky Safe Kids review. Qustodio has software for Macs, PCs, iOS and Android devices and Amazon Fire tablets, and it lets you set time limits for individual apps and individual devices. This service's limited location tracking works on both iOS and Android, and Qustodio finally added a geofencing option in the fall of A Family Locator feature that shows you where all your kids are at once was added in September You can manage only a few dozen apps on iOS, as opposed to all Android apps. Web filtering is more powerful on iOS, while monitoring texts and calls works on only Android.
Read our full Qustodio review. Once the most powerful parental-control app for iPhones, OurPact was hobbled by an Apple rule change in late that nixed the service's geofencing, location tracking and time allowances on iOS. At its peak, OurPact was the only parental-control app we tested that could manage or block any iOS app. It can still do so for Android devices. OurPact also gets kids involved in managing the daily allowance of screen time that you give them, and it does a good job of scheduling. Yet, its website filtering simply blocks porn, and it can't monitor calls or texts at all, even on Android.
However, you can block messaging apps, and OurPact remains a joy to use. Read our full OurPact review. Screen Time -- not to be confused with the "Screen Time" feature in iOS -- does an excellent job of managing and scheduling kids' device access. Unfortunately, it doesn't do a whole lot else, at least on iOS devices.
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App management and web filtering are for Android only. Screen Time also has baffling upcharges for location tracking and web filters, both of which are arguably essentials and come standard with other parental-control apps. You can get both features in the day Screen Time premium trial. We did like how Screen Time lets you dole out additional, yup, screen time to kids who perform chores or good deeds.
But you can't block apps on iOS, and there's no call or text monitoring at all, although geofencing and location history were recently added -- for Android phones only. Read our full Screen Time review.
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