The best parental control apps for Android and iPhone 2022

Best parental control apps: Dark-haired boy of about 5 using smartphone while sitting on sofa.
(Image credit: Ann in the uk/Shutterstock)

The best parental control apps for Android and iOS can help give you a better understanding of how your children spend their time online on their tablets or smartphones. Many of them also offer Windows and Mac software for your child’s computer to give you a better view of their total screen time.

Regardless of whether you have young children or teenagers, seeing what they do online and the sites they access can be difficult without the right tools. Do they have Snapchat, WhatsApp or TikTok installed on their devices and are you familiar with these apps? Perhaps you’ve even seen your child hide their device’s screen as soon as you walk into the room? If this is the case, they’re likely hiding something from you and you can figure out exactly what it is with one of the best parental control apps.

Another great thing about the best parental control apps is that they can also help you find your child’s physical location or even tell you if they aren’t at school during school hours. Besides telling you who your kids are talking to online, these apps can even be used to schedule and limit their internet time as well as block inappropriate sites.

Whether you’re a new parent thinking about the future or you just want to gain further insight into the online activities of your children to help keep them safe, these are the best parental control apps available today.

The best parental control apps you can get today

Why you can trust Tom's Guide Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

The best parental control app out there

Reasons to buy

+
Intuitive, consistent design
+
Unmatched web filters
+
Reliable geolocation and time management

Reasons to avoid

-
A bit expensive
-
Lacks some features on iOS

Net Nanny, which we think is the best parental control app, has a modern, intuitive design and excellent web-filtering technology that analyzes pages rather than just blindly blocking them and lets you create filters of your own.

Among the parental-control apps we tried, Net Nanny comes closest to having feature parity between its iOS and Android versions. It 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 more than 100 apps on your kid's phone; the Android one lets you block them all. The built-in App Advisor gives you a heads-up on which new apps you should watch out for. (Tom's Guide readers save $10 off (opens in new tab) each of Net Nanny's plans.)

Net Nanny also includes content screening that works within social media apps and services, including Instagram, TikTok and YouTube, instead of blocking or allowing them entirely. 

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 a couple still do on Android.

Read our full Net Nanny review.
  

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)
The best bargain among the best parental control apps

Reasons to buy

+
Very affordable price
+
Full-featured on both free and paid tiers
+
Monitors PCs, Macs as well

Reasons to avoid

-
Web portal slow at times
-
Poorly designed mobile apps

Like Net Nanny, Kaspersky Safe Kids lets you monitor and control your kids' activities on PCs and Macs as well as on smartphones. Even better, Kaspersky's paid tier is only $15 per year (there's a 7-day free trial) for an unlimited number of child devices, and its free plan lets you set screen-time limits, filter websites and manage other apps.

The paid plan monitors social networks and offers location tracking and geofencing that work in both iOS and Android, as do Kaspersky's web monitoring and device scheduling. But app management is limited on iOS to blocking apps that have age restrictions. 

Likewise, a feature that lets you block specific kinds of YouTube searches (opens in new tab), and review YouTube search history if you're a paid user, works on Windows, iOS and Android, including the YouTube Android app — but not on Macs. 

The drawbacks, and they are minor, are that the mobile apps are clumsily designed, the web portal can be slow, and the web filters may not work with lesser-known browsers. Still, if you don't feel a need to read your kids' text messages (and in which case you'd need Qustodio), then Kaspersky Safe Kids is well worth considering.

We must mention that Kaspersky is a Russian company, although it has many operations around the world. It's not yet clear whether the current Russian invasion of Ukraine and the resulting economic sanctions on Russia will affect the operations of Kaspersky software. For more on this issue, please see our note about Kaspersky software at the end of this page.

Read our full Kaspersky Safe Kids review.
  

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)
A strong option for kids who use Android and Windows

Reasons to buy

+
Great web filters and monitoring
+
Unlimited children and devices
+
Works on Windows

Reasons to avoid

-
Mobile apps could be improved
-
Doesn't work on Macs

Norton Family'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, including recently added geofencing.

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 doesn't work in the iOS app at all.

However, Norton Family has very strong web filters, even on iOS, monitors Hulu as well as YouTube, and has a new feature called School Time to keep children focused during remote-learning class time.

Norton Family comes free if you spring for one of Norton's more expensive antivirus suites, such as Norton 360 Deluxe, which is often discounted to as little as $50 per year. At that price, getting Norton Family along with Norton's excellent antivirus protection is a no-brainer, unless your kids happen to use Macs. 

Read our full Norton Family review or save on plans with our Norton coupon codes
  

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)
The best parental control app for iOS devices

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent design and navigation
+
Powerful iOS feature set
+
Covers up to 20 child devices

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited web filtering
-
Can get expensive

Once the most powerful parental-control app for iPhones, OurPact's abilities have been whittled down a bit by Apple, which temporarily threw OurPact out of the App Store. However, it can still manage or block any iOS app, just as it can on Android. 

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. Its Premium Plus plan lets you get screenshots from the child's device, even on IOS, and you can block messaging and texting apps even if you can't read the messages themselves.

Yet its website filtering simply blocks porn, and the time-management interface is a bit clunky. OurPact will tell you where your child is, and its geofencing will tell you when a child arrives or leaves specific locations, but it can't tell you where your child has been. 

Despite these drawbacks, OurPact's well-designed interface and intuitive features make it a joy to use, especially if your kids have iPhones.

Read our full OurPact review.  

Google Family Link parental control app review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)
Well designed, very competent and totally free

Reasons to buy

+
Utterly free
+
Solid design
+
Excellent performance

Reasons to avoid

-
Doesn't support kids' iPhones
-
Very limited web filtering

Google Family Link is the only option on this page that's totally free. You may be pleasantly surprised by how powerful and useful it can be — as long as your kids happen to have Android phones or tablets. 

Google Family Link (opens in new tab) gives parents control over the system permissions each individual app has on a child's Android device. No other parental-control app we've reviewed has that ability. It also lets you decide which kind of apps, or any apps at all, your child can download from Google Play. 

There's no iOS version of the Google Family Link child app, but parents can use either iOS or Android to monitor kids' devices. We recommend Android for kids' apps anyway, as the Android versions of all these apps give parents much more insight and control.

A few drawbacks: Google Family Link has only one web filter, against "mature sites," and it doesn't work perfectly. The same single filter is available for YouTube. Location tracking is a bit primitive, and there's no geofencing. But the time-management features work well.

If you're primarily concerned about the apps your kids use, Google Family Link may be everything you need. And if you want an app that can do more, Google Family Link will work well alongside one of the other options on this page.

Read our full Google Family Link review.

Qustodio parental control app review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)
Wide multi-platform support, and can still log calls and read texts

Reasons to buy

+
Wide feature set at all prices
+
Broad multi-platform support
+
Call, text monitoring still possible on Android

Reasons to avoid

-
Fairly expensive
-
Unreliable web filtering

Qustodio supports iOS and Android devices, Amazon Fire tablets, Macs, PCs and Chromebooks. It also lets you set time limits for individual apps and individual devices.

This service's location tracking works on both iOS and Android, as do its geofencing and a Family Locator feature that shows you where all your kids are at once. You can manage about 6,000 apps on iOS, and all Android apps, but the web filtering doesn't work that well on either mobile platform.

However, Qustodio is one of the only apps we've recently tested that can still log a child's texts and calls, view the content of text messages or block phone numbers, at least on Android — and you have to sideload a special version of the app from Qustodio's website for it all to work. But if these features are important to you, then Qustodio may be the app to get.

The biggest drawback is that Qustodio can get darn expensive, costing up to $138 per year for 15 devices. (Tom's Guide readers get a 10% discount.)

Read our full Qustodio review.  

Best parental control apps: Screen Time

Does one thing very well

Reasons to buy

+
Intuitive design
+
Handles access well
+
Task/reward system

Reasons to avoid

-
Pricey upcharges for location tracking, filters
-
No text or call monitoring

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. 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 14-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.

Read our full Screen Time review.

Best parental control apps: ESET Parental Control for Android

Leaves room for improvement

Reasons to buy

+
Nice location features
+
Unlimited devices

Reasons to avoid

-
Confusing user interface
-
No call or text monitoring
-
Android only

ESET Parental Control for Android sticks to a single platform, but it doesn't shine even there, lacking text-message- and call-monitoring (and number blocking) features and implementing clunky controls on what it does have.

The app management and time management you receive with the free version of ESET Parental Control for Android do work well, as do the location tracking and geofencing you'll get if you pay for a subscription. (There's a 14-day free trial, plus steep discounts for multiyear plans.) And we liked the feature that lets a kid send an SOS message to designated phones with a single tap.

Still, the $30 yearly plan is not worth shelling out for unless you get it bundled with ESET Smart Security Premium. That's because Kaspersky Safe Kids does more than ESET Parental Control for Android on four times as many platforms and at half the price.

Read our full ESET Parental Control for Android review.  

Best parental control apps: MMGuardian

The only app that can read messages on iOS

Reasons to buy

+
Wide Android feature set
+
Granular controls
+
Can read texts, messages on iOS

Reasons to avoid

-
Can get expensive
-
Terrible user interface

MMGuardian has nearly every parental-control feature you might want on Android phones, including the ability to log, block and read text messages, and log and block calls. 

It's also the only app we know of that can still read texts and messages on iOS, although it can't block them, thanks to Mac and PC software that combs through an iPhone's backups. 

But the user interfaces are outdated and frustrating on both platforms. The iOS and Android smartphone apps offer location tracking and excellent web filtering, and MMGuardian now has an artificial-intelligence component to spot nudity in saved images. 

Time management and screen-time scheduling are Android-only, and the separate MMGuardian app for Android tablets has no location tracking. 

On iOS, MMGuardian's app management is primitive, and there is no call blocking. But if you're really interested in what your child is texting, especially on iOS, then MMGuardian is worth considering.

Read our full MMGuardian review.

How to choose the best parental control app for you

What you need from a parental control app mainly depends on the age of your children. If you’re the parent of a child under 12, you absolutely need the ability to block objectionable websites, but you might also want to consider an app that’s available on Amazon’s Fire tablets.

If you have teenagers though, you might want to let them look at some objectionable things online, but only if you’re aware of it. You may also want to see who your teens are chatting with online in messaging apps as well as where they are late on a Friday night. At the same time, you may also want to consider a service that monitors your kids’ Windows and Mac devices in addition to their smartphones.

The best parental control apps offer, at a minimum, a website filter, location tracking, screen-time limits with a scheduler and an app blocker that at least works on Android.

Other useful extra features include geofencing which alerts you if a child’s phone leaves a designated ‘safe’ area like their school or a relative’s house. Most of these apps allow you to monitor your child’s phone from a web interface on your computer as well as from your own smartphone.

A couple of these apps also let you block and log the calls and text messages a child makes and receives, and even read a child’s text messages. However, they require extra steps to do so. Still though, none of the best parental control apps let you listen in on a call, as doing so is illegal.

See the chart below for what each of our reviewed parental control apps offers.

Feature comparison chart

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Feature (bold = free)ESET Parental Control for AndroidGoogle Family LinkKaspersky Safe KidsMMGuardianNet NannyNorton FamilyOurPactQustodioScreen Time
PriceFree to $30/yearFreeFree to $15/yearUp to $70/yearFree to $90/year$50/yearFree to $84/yearFree to $138/yearFree to $40/year
Number of devicesUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited1 to 51 to 20Unlimited1 to 201 to 151 to 5
PlatformsAndroidAndroidAndroid, iOS, Windows, MacAndroid, iOSAndroid, iOS, Kindle Fire, WindowsAndroid, iOS, WindowsAndroid, iOSAndroid, iOS, Kindle Fire, Windows, Mac, Chrome OSAndroid, iOS
Web portal for parentsYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
Call loggingNoneNoneNoneNoneNoneNoneNoneAndroid onlyNone
Text loggingNoneNoneNoneYesNoneNoneNoneAndroid onlyNone
Text contentNoneNoneNoneYesNoneNoneNoneAndroid onlyNone
Call blockingNoneNoneNoneAndroid onlyNoneNoneNoneAndroid onlyNone
Text blockingNoneNoneNoneAndroid onlyNoneNoneNoneAndroid onlyNone
GeofencingYesNoneYesNoneNoneYesYesYesYes, extra fee
Location trackingYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYes, extra fee
Location historyYesYesNoneAndroid onlyYesYesNoneYesYes, extra fee
Web monitoringYesYesYesYesYesYesNoneYesYes
Web filterYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYesExtra fee, Android only
Time limitsYesYesYesAndroid onlyYesYesYesYesYes
SchedulingYesYesYesYes (limited on iOS)YesYesYesYesYes
App managementYesYesYes (limited on iOS)Android onlyYes (limited on iOS)Android onlyYesYesYes, Android only
App blockerYesYesYes (limited on iOS)Yes (limited on iOS)YesAndroid onlyYesYesAndroid only

How we test and rate the best parental control apps

Evaluation criteria

We focused on parental control apps that emphasize setting up filters and limits proactively before your child uses a smartphone rather than merely tracking activities after the fact. In our extensive testing, we took the following criteria into account.

  • Price: What is the cost of the service and how many children/devices are covered?
  • Installation: How easy is it to install and configure the app across each device?
  • App management: What level of control does the app provide when it comes to monitoring, blocking or restriction of smartphone usage?Does the app let you see all of the other apps on the child’s device/
  • Filtering: What kind of filtering tools does each app offer? How effectively does the app filter out content that you deem inappropriate?
  • Time management: What kinds of tools does the app provide for restricting screen time?
  • Texting and messaging management: Does the  app let you see the content of your child’s text messages? Are you able to create rules or block specific contact? Are you notified of new contacts? Does the control extend beyond the built-in messaging apps or can you block messaging apps altogether?
  • Location tracking: Does the app let you find your child in an emergency? Does it log their previous locations? Does the app let you create geofenced areas?

Our most recent round of testing was done on a Lenovo Yoga C940 running Windows 10, a Google Pixel 4XL running Android 11, and an iPhone 12 running iOS 14.2. 

We tested each app on every supported platform twice, from installation to uninstalling it. We typically monitored activity from the Lenovo Yoga C940 but for apps that offered control from a smartphone, we tested those features from an iPhone.

The best Android parental control apps are still considerably more robust than their iOS counterparts in most cases, with only OurPact offering feature parity to the other apps we tested.

We note areas in which there are discrepancies between the functionality offered on each platform, but we haven’t provided distinct ratings and reviews for the iOS or Android version of each app.

Regarding call and text monitoring, both Apple and Google have made it nearly impossible for any app to do so. Qustodio gets around this by offering a special version of the Android app that users can sideload; MMGuardian replaces the standard SMS app with its own on Android, and uses PCs or Macs to comb through phone backups on iOS.

Anthony Spadafora
Senior Editor Security and Networking

Anthony Spadafora is the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to password managers and the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. Before joining the team, he wrote for ITProPortal while living in Korea and later for TechRadar Pro after moving back to the US. Based in Houston, Texas, when he’s not writing Anthony can be found tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home. 

  • Graybush
    Archived comments are found here: http://www.tomsguide.com/forum/id-3359275/cellphone-monitoring-software-2015.html
    Reply
  • lcheacox
    MM Guardian seemed like a great app, but my 14-year-old son uninstalled it easily. (It doesn’t help that there are all kinds of how-to’s on the Internet.) I am waiting for a response from the company on what they’re going to do. Unfortunately, it seems most kids will always be more tech-savvy than parents.
    Reply
  • pkinuthia10
    Good review. I installed logskit android spy app. Have a look at it and include it in this list.
    Reply
  • amy.hotmer
    Question..which is the best app if I have android and kids have iPhones?
    Reply
  • lane.richardson
    Tom's Guide: really annoyed that the great and helpful comment I wrote got erased when I submitted. If you're going to make someone login BEFORE submitting a comment, the least you could do is save what's submitted so someone doesn't have to retype the whole darn thing!!!
    Reply
  • break19
    Kaspersky Safe Kids.

    It has free and premium features. The premium license is less than $20 a year, and is free to download.

    I can block either by certain times, or by usage time. It can be set up to either block completely, or just warn the child. You can either ban certain apps, or ban all but the ones you've whitelisted.

    If your child tried to access an app not allowed on their device, it shows up as a "request" on your own device, and you can approve it there.

    It's very powerful for its price point, but the UI could use a bit of polish. If you're moderately competent them you can easily figure it all out, though.
    Reply
  • tim.thomas.as
    I want to admit Time Boss for Android also. Despite the fact that the main purpose of the
    app to do remote computer support, multifunctional features of Time Boss
    let one use the application as remote parental control software.
    What makes it easy is absolute ease of use.
    Reply
  • sureshpagidipati
    I have tried Norton Premium and I see great disadvantage of not supporting Microsoft edge browser, (as of today they say it only support http sites ot https sites) but we cannot disable this browser in windows 10, which means it is easy to skip monitoring when this browser is launched, so here the ratings and cons list should be adjusted, they complain microsoft edge browser is too secure to implement monitoring and hence they will recommend to disable it! (which is not possible) and they want people still pay money for it!!
    Reply
  • lbacud
    Why does this article say it's been published today (12/21/2018), when I'm getting comments from 7 months ago?
    Reply
  • rgd1101
    21599475 said:
    Why does this article say it's been published today (12/21/2018), when I'm getting comments from 7 months ago?

    updated article
    Reply