Best Parental Control Apps 2019

The digital age can be particularly challenging for parents of kids who have smartphones loaded with messaging apps such as Snapchat, TikTok or Kik. Your kids may really believe that their texts, tweets or viral videos can't wait until the following morning.

The best parental-control apps for smartphones can help you track your kids, see whom they are communicating with, block kids from viewing objectionable or dangerous websites, and even help kids understand the value of limits while preventing them from accessing adult content or communicating with strangers.

No single parental-control service we tested is perfect, but Zift (now Net Nanny) delivered the best mix of web filtering, location tracking and app management on both Android and iOS devices. (All of these apps can do more on Android than on iOS, due to Apple's tighter restrictions.)

Norton Family Premier was a close runner-up for best parental-control app. Unlike Zift, Norton's service offers text-message logging and monitoring, but only on Android devices. Norton Family Premier also lets you monitor Windows PCs.

Parents on tight budgets should consider Kaspersky Safe Kids. Its free tier includes web monitoring, time limits and app management, and its full-featured, paid plan is just $15 per year for an unlimited number of devices, including PCs and Macs.

1. Net Nanny Parental Control

Best overall and great for iOS

Rating: 4/5 stars

Pros:
Great design; excellent web filters; near parity between Android, iOS versions

Cons:
No call/text monitoring; a bit expensive

Zift/Net Nanny has excellent web-filtering technology and a modern, intuitive design. Among all the parental-control apps we tried, it comes closest to having feature parity between its iOS and Android versions. And its iOS abilities weren't 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.
  

2. Norton Family Premier

Top pick for Android

Rating: 4/5 stars

Pros:
Wide feature set; great web filters and monitoring; unlimited devices; works with Windows

Cons: 
Clunky parental app; expensive for a single device or child; no geofencing

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.

This service's location-tracking, time-scheduling, and web-filtering and -monitoring capabilities work on both iOS and Android, but time allowances are for only Windows and Android. App management and text-message monitoring don't work on iOS at all. There's no geofencing on either platform.

Norton Family Premier comes free if you spring for Norton's most expensive antivirus suite, Norton Security Premium, which is often discounted to as little as $55. At that price, getting Norton Family Premier along with Norton's excellent antivirus protection is a no-brainer.

Read our full Norton Family Premier review.
  

3. Kaspersky Safe Kids

Great parental control bargain

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Pros:
Very affordable; lots of free features; monitors PCs, Macs too

Cons:
Confusing user interface; web portal slow at times

Like Qustodio, Kaspersky Safe Kids lets you monitor your kids' activities on PCs and Macs, as well as on smartphones. But Kaspersky's paid tier is only $15 per year, and its free plan lets you set time limits, filter websites and manage other apps.

Location tracking and geofencing work in both iOS and Android, as do web monitoring and device scheduling, but app management is limited on iOS, and the iOS app can't monitor calls or texts at all. (In March 2019, Kaspersky Lab filed an antitrust complaint against Apple for allegedly forcing the removal of some features from Kaspersky Safe Kids.) But if you don't need to read your kids' text messages, then Kaspersky Safe Kids is well worth considering.

Read our full Kaspersky Safe Kids review.
  

4. Qustodio

Best multiplatform support

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Pros:
Wide feature set: monitors Macs, PCs and Amazon Fire tablets; powerful call, text monitoring on Android

Cons:
Expensive; no geofencing; outdated web portal

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, although there's no geofencing option. 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. The one big drawback is that Qustodio can get darn expensive, costing up to $138 per year for 15 devices. In early 2019, Qustodio killed its 15-device plan and replaced it with a much cheaper three-device plan for $40 per year, but that change now seems to have been reversed.

Read our full Qustodio review.
  

5. OurPact

Gets kids involved

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Pros:
Excellent design, navigation; gets kids actively involved

Cons:
Limited web filters; no call or text monitoring; can get expensive; now for Android only

Once the most powerful parental-control app for iPhones, OurPact was hobbled by an Apple rule change in late 2018 that nixed the service's geofencing, location tracking and time allowances on iOS. In early 2019, soon after our review was initially published, Apple quietly expelled OurPact from the App Store.

That's a shame, because until then, 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.
    

6. Screen Time

Does one thing very well

Rating: 3/5 stars

Pros:
Intuitive design; handles access well; task/reward system

Cons:
Pricey upcharges for location tracking, filters; no text or call monitoring

Screen Time does an excellent job of managing and scheduling kids' device access. Unfortunately, this app doesn't do a whole lot else on iOS devices. And it has baffling upcharges for location tracking and web filters, both of which come standard with other parental-control apps.

We liked how this service doles out additional screen time for chores or good deeds. But you can't block apps on iOS, and there's no geofencing or call or text monitoring at all.

Read our full Screen Time review.
  

7. ESET Parental Control for Android

Leaves room for improvement

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Pros:
Nice location features; solid web filters; unlimited devices

Cons:
Confusing user interface; no call or text monitoring; Android only

ESET Parental Control for Android sticks to one platform, but it doesn't shine even there, lacking text-message- and call-monitoring features. The free app management and time management do work well, as do the paid location tracking and geofencing.

Still, the yearly plan is not worth paying for unless you get it bundled with ESET Smart Security Premium. That's because Kaspersky Safe Kids does more at half the price.

Read our full ESET Parental Control for Android review.
  

8. MMGuardian

Full-featured but frustrating

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Pros:
Wide Android feature set; granular controls; good web filters

Cons:
Few iOS features; can get expensive; terrible user interface

MMGuardian has nearly every parental-control feature you might want, especially on Android, but the user interfaces are outdated and frustrating.

Both the iOS and Android apps offer location tracking and excellent web filtering. App management is strong on Android but primitive on iOS. On Android, the parent can read every text and block any number. Time management and screen-time scheduling are also Android-only.

Read our full MMGuardian review.

Feature comparison chart

Feature
(bold = free)
ESET Parental Control for AndroidKaspersky Safe KidsMMGuardianNorton Family PremierOurPactQustodioScreen TimeZift/Net Nanny
PriceFree to $30/yearFree to $15/yearUp to $70/year$50/yearFree to $84/yearFree to $138/yearFree to $40/yearFree to $90/year
Number of devicesUnlimitedUnlimited1 to 5Unlimited1 to 201 to 151 to 51 to 20
PlatformsAndroidAndroid, iOS, Windows, MacAndroid, iOSAndroid, iOS, WindowsAndroid
Android, iOS, Kindle Fire, Windows, MacAndroid, iOSAndroid, iOS, Kindle Fire, Windows
Web portal for parentsYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
Call loggingNoneAndroid onlyNoneNoneNoneAndroid onlyNoneNone
Text loggingNoneAndroid onlyAndroid onlyAndroid onlyNoneAndroid onlyNoneNone
Text contentNoneNoneAndroid onlyAndroid onlyNoneAndroid onlyNoneNone
Call blockingNoneNoneAndroid onlyNoneNoneAndroid onlyNoneNone
Text blockingNoneNoneAndroid onlyAndroid onlyNoneAndroid onlyNoneNone
GeofencingAndroid onlyYesNoneNoneYesNoneNoneNone
Location trackingAndroid onlyYesYesYesYesYesExtra feeYes
Location historyAndroid onlyNoneAndroid onlyYesNoneYesNoneYes
Web monitoringAndroid onlyYesYesYesNoneYesYesYes
Web filterAndroid onlyYesYesYesYesYesExtra fee, Android onlyYes
Time limitsAndroid onlyYesAndroid onlyAndroid onlyYesYesYesYes
SchedulingAndroid onlyYesYes (limited on iOS)YesYesYesYesYes
App managementAndroid onlyYes (limited on iOS)Android onlyAndroid onlyYesYesYes, Android onlyYes (limited on iOS)
App blockerAndroid onlyYes (limited on iOS)Yes (limited on iOS)    YesYesAndroid onlyYes

How We Test and Rate the Best Parental Control Apps

Evaluation Criteria
We focused on apps that emphasize proactively setting up filters and limits before your child uses the phone rather than merely tracking activities after the fact. We took the following criteria into account:

  • Price: How much does the service cost annually? How many children and devices can you monitor or control?
  • Installation: How easy is it to install and configure each app on a child's smartphone and a parent's phone? Are there cross-platform compatibility issues?
  • App management: How well does the app monitor, block or restrict app usage? Does the app let you see all the other apps on the child's device?
  • Filtering: What kind of filtering tools does each app offer, and how effectively do these tools restrict kids' access to content that you deem inappropriate ?
  • Time management: What kind of tools does the app provide for restricting the amount of time your child spends on his or her device(s)?
  • Texting and messaging management: Does the app let you review the content of your child's text messages? Can you create rules for or block specific contacts? Are you notified of new contacts? Do the features extend beyond the built-in messaging app? Can you block messaging apps altogether?
  • Location tracking: Does the app let you locate your child in an emergency? Does it provide a continuous log of their previous locations? Does the app allow you to create geofenced areas for your child?

Our testing was done on a Google Pixel 2XL running Android 9.0 (Pie), an iPhone 7 Plus, an iPad Air 2, and a 15-inch 2017 MacBook Pro running macOS 10.13.6 and Windows 10.

We tested each app on every platform it supported twice, from installation to testing to uninstall. We typically monitored activity from the MacBook Pro, but if apps offered control from a smartphone app, we tested those features as well. Calls and texts for monitoring purposes were made from a secondary Android device.

Android parental-control apps remain more robust than their iOS counterparts in most cases, especially with regard to call and text monitoring. But new additions to iOS have closed the gap somewhat. We will note areas in which there are discrepancies in the functionality offered on each platform, but we are not providing distinct ratings and reviews for the iOS versus the Android version of each app.

What We Didn't Include

Parental-control apps for mobile devices work best when they're part of a comprehensive approach to teaching your kids about behaving responsibly online. That means talking to your kids about what they should and shouldn't do with their mobile devices, clearly communicating how you expect them to act, and making clear that you will be monitoring what they do with their phones.

For that reason, we avoided testing apps that can run in stealth mode on a child's phone. There are many products that tout this capability, but some people use such services to spy not on their children, but on their spouses or on other adults, which is illegal in most U.S. jurisdictions and 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 without his or her consent, and no states allow the recording of phone calls without either party's consent.

Norton, Kaspersky and ESET, which has its own parental-control app for Android, 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 read The Best (and Worst) Antivirus Software for Parents.

Credit: Tom's Guide

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15 comments
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  • 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.
  • pkinuthia10
    Good review. I installed logskit android spy app. Have a look at it and include it in this list.
  • amy.hotmer
    Question..which is the best app if I have android and kids have iPhones?
  • 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!!!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!!
  • lbacud
    Why does this article say it's been published today (12/21/2018), when I'm getting comments from 7 months ago?
  • rgd1101
    2857811 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
  • imothep85
    Why STOP-IT is not listed? https://www.stop-it.be/
  • ayubshazma
    I did not realise there are so many parental control apps! I am using The familyTime for android and
    IOS for about half a year and its working fine for my kids.
  • aparish21
    I had used Screen Time Parental Control for over 3 years when my kids had Androids. One finally got an iPhone and it does not transfer to iOS well which is super disappointing as it was feature laden and easy to use. The feature i liked the most i cannot seem to find in any other app, is the "Block access to newly downloaded apps" - this gives ability to allow the child to download an app but has no access to using it until the Parent unblocks it. This seems like an essential "Parental Control" feature but i cannot find it in other apps, especially for iOS devices. Anyone know of an app with this feature?
  • marvelartlover
    Great review article, I really enjoyed all the article and not aware of most of the software. Thanks for the information.
  • marvelartlover
    Wow, the software is amazing and also it is very useful.