The best parental control apps for Android and iOS can give you a better understanding of how your children spend their time online when using their tablets and smartphones. Many of them also offer Windows and Mac software for your child’s computer to give you a more all-encompassing view of their screen time.
Regardless of whether you have young children or teenagers, seeing what they do online can be difficult without the right tools. Do they have Snapchat, WhatsApp or TikTok installed on their devices and do you know what all of these apps are?
Perhaps you’ve seen your child hide their device’s screen as soon as you walk into the room? If this is the case, then they’re probably hiding something from you which is why you definitely need one of the best parental control apps.
The best parental control apps for Android and iOS can also help you find your children’s physical location or even tell you if they aren’t at school during school hours much like one of the best GPS trackers for kids.
These apps can tell you who your kids are talking to online and they can also schedule and limit their internet-access time as well as block inappropriate websites. A couple of them can log calls and texts or even show you the contents of messages, though Google and Apple now make this more difficult to do.
The best parental control apps work best when they’re part of a comprehensive approach to teaching your children how to behave both online and in the real world. As part of this strategy, you should talk to your children about how to act online and to be wary of uncomfortable situations. You’ll also need to listen to them if they think your approach is too heavy-handed while being clear with them about the fact that you’ll be monitoring their online activity.
It’s worth noting that we don’t review or promote any parental control apps that can run in “stealth” mode so that your child won’t know they are there. These kinds of apps are often referred to as “stalkerware” and can be used to spy on spouses or other adults.
At the same time, we also shy away from apps that can record phone conversations as doing so without the consent of at least one party involved is illegal throughout the United States (opens in new tab) though several states require all parties to consent. There’s no parental exception to phone-recording laws either (opens in new tab) but courts have ruled that a parent can record a child’s conversation with another person only when they truly believe that their child is in immediate danger.
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.
What are the best parental control apps?
No parental control app is perfect but in our tests, Net Nanny consistently delivered the best mix of web filtering, location tracking and app management on both Android and iOS. It also works on Amazon Kindle Fire tablets, Windows, Mac, and Chromebooks that support Google Play.
Norton Family provides almost all of the features a parent could want, including geofencing which was recently added, though its app-management capabilities don’t work on iOS. In addition to smartphones and tablets, it also monitors Windows PCs but not Macs.
Many antivirus software suites, including some from Norton and Kaspersky, have parental controls built in. To see how well these stack up against stand-alone services, take a look at our roundup of the best (and worst) antivirus software for parents.
All of these parental control apps can see and do more on Android than on iOS, due to Apple’s more stringent app restrictions and system control. This means that if you’re really serious about keeping tabs on what your kids do online, you’ll want to get them an Android phone over an iPhone.
Still though, you need to be wary of any Android parental control app that you need to “sideload” on your own. There’s usually a good reason that an app isn’t available from the official Google Play Store. (We'll make an exception for Qustodio, whose sideloaded version has abilities the Google Play app doesn't.)
Editor's note: Future, the parent company of Tom's Guide, has chosen to stop doing business with Russian companies, including Kaspersky. We remain committed to helping our readers to source and find the best products and will offer multiple alternatives in the categories affected.
Parental-control-app news & updates
— Norton has added geofencing and automatic location alerts, plus customizable schedules for school days.
— Qustodio has added support for Chromebooks (opens in new tab) using Google Play and a browser extension.
— ESET Parental Control for Android is cutting its subscription rates for multiyear plans (opens in new tab), with two years of service going for $45 and three years for $60, representing discounts of 25% and 33%, respectively.
The best parental control app you can get
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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 service mainly depends on how old your kids are. If you're the parent of children under 12, you absolutely want to be able to block objectionable websites, but you might also consider an app that's available on Amazon Fire tablets.
If you've got teenagers, you might want to let them have a look at objectionable things online, but only if you're aware of it. You might also want to see whom your teens are talking to in messenger apps, and to see where they are late on a Friday night. And you might want to consider a service that monitors your kids' Windows and Mac devices as well as their smartphones.
The best parental control apps will offer, at a minimum, a website filter, location tracking, screen-time limits including a scheduler, and an app blocker that works at least on Android.
Useful extra features include geofencing, which alerts you if a child's phone leaves a designated "safe" area like school or a relative's house. Most of these apps let you monitor your child's phone from a desktop computer web interface as well as your own smartphone.
A couple of these apps let you block and log the calls and texts a child makes and receives, and even read a child's text messages, but they require extra steps to do so. But none lets you listen in on a call, because that's illegal.
See the chart below for what each of our reviewed parental control apps offers.
Feature comparison chart
|Feature (bold = free)||ESET Parental Control for Android||Google Family Link||Kaspersky Safe Kids||MMGuardian||Net Nanny||Norton Family||OurPact||Qustodio||Screen Time|
|Price||Free to $30/year||Free||Free to $15/year||Up to $70/year||Free to $90/year||$50/year||Free to $84/year||Free to $138/year||Free to $40/year|
|Number of devices||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited||1 to 5||1 to 20||Unlimited||1 to 20||1 to 15||1 to 5|
|Platforms||Android||Android||Android, iOS, Windows, Mac||Android, iOS||Android, iOS, Kindle Fire, Windows||Android, iOS, Windows||Android, iOS||Android, iOS, Kindle Fire, Windows, Mac, Chrome OS||Android, iOS|
|Web portal for parents||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Call logging||None||None||None||None||None||None||None||Android only||None|
|Text logging||None||None||None||Yes||None||None||None||Android only||None|
|Text content||None||None||None||Yes||None||None||None||Android only||None|
|Call blocking||None||None||None||Android only||None||None||None||Android only||None|
|Text blocking||None||None||None||Android only||None||None||None||Android only||None|
|Geofencing||Yes||None||Yes||None||None||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes, extra fee|
|Location tracking||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes, extra fee|
|Location history||Yes||Yes||None||Android only||Yes||Yes||None||Yes||Yes, extra fee|
|Web filter||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Extra fee, Android only|
|Time limits||Yes||Yes||Yes||Android only||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Scheduling||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes (limited on iOS)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|App management||Yes||Yes||Yes (limited on iOS)||Android only||Yes (limited on iOS)||Android only||Yes||Yes||Yes, Android only|
|App blocker||Yes||Yes||Yes (limited on iOS)||Yes (limited on iOS)||Yes||Android only||Yes||Yes||Android only|
How we test and rate the best parental control apps
We focused on parental control 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: What is the cost of the service and how many children and 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 regarding the monitoring, blocking, or restriction of 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? How effectively does the app filter out 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 see the content of your child's text messages? Can you create rules for, or block specific contacts? Are you notified of new contacts? Does the control extend beyond the built-in messaging apps? Can you block messaging apps altogether?
- Location tracking: Does the app let you find your child in an emergency? Does it log of their previous locations? Does the app let you create geofenced areas?
We tested each app on every platform that it supported twice, from installation to uninstall. We typically monitored activity from the Lenovo Yoga C940, but for apps that offered control from a smartphone app we tested those features typically from an iPhone.
The best Android parental-control apps remain considerably more robust than their iOS counterparts in most cases, with only OurPact offering feature parity among those apps that we tested.
We 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.
With regard to call and text monitoring, 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.
Editors' note on Kaspersky
Kaspersky antivirus products have been banned from U.S. government agencies and U.S. defense contractors, and we can understand why. Because the company is Russian and antivirus software can peer deep into a PC, using Kaspersky software would create an unacceptable risk for persons and organizations involved in national security and critical infrastructure.
Furthermore, the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has led most Western companies, including our own, to stop doing business with Russian companies. We have suspended our affiliate-sales relationship with Kaspersky.
We still think Kaspersky software is generally safe for home users. We've seen no evidence to convince us otherwise. Kaspersky researchers are well respected throughout the antivirus industry, and the company has publicly exposed Russian cyberespionage campaigns as well as those from the United States and other countries around the world.
We don't know whether the economic sanctions on Russian companies will result in Kaspersky software becoming unavailable or unreliable for users in Western countries. The Kaspersky company has moved many of its operations outside Russia, so it's possible there will be no effect on the software's operations.
Whether you choose to use Kaspersky software is up to you. We can only make recommendations on how well programs work and how easy they are to use. There is certainly software available that comes with fewer geopolitical issues attached.
Brian S. Hall contributed to this report.