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The best parental control apps for Android and iPhone 2021

best parental control apps

The best parental control apps for Android or iOS help you regain insight and peace of mind, and many of our top choices also include Windows and Mac software for your kids' computers. 

If you're a parent of young children or teenagers, you know how hard it can be to see what your kids do online. Ask yourself: Do your children have Snapchat, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger installed on their phones? Do you even know what those apps are?

Or do your children hide their screens as soon as you walk into the room? If so, they may be hiding something from you.

The best parental control apps for iOS and Android can often tell you where a child is physically, or alert you if the child is somewhere he or she shouldn't be, such as away from school during school hours. 

These apps can also tell who your kids talk to online, let you create schedules and limits for internet access, and block websites you don't approve of. Some log calls and text messages, and a few can show you the content of texts and instant messages.

But these apps work best as part of a comprehensive parental approach to teaching kids how to behave responsibly both online and off.

Talk to your children about how you expect them to act when they're online and to be wary of uncomfortable conversations and situations. Listen to them if they think your approach is too heavy-handed. And inform them that you will be monitoring what they do online. 

We don't review parental-control apps that can run in "stealth" mode to be invisible to the phone user. Many people use such apps to spy on their spouses or other adults. This so-called "stalkerware" is often a factor in domestic abuse.

We also stay away from apps that can record phone conversations. Doing so without the consent of at least one party involved is illegal throughout the United States, and several states require all parties to consent. 

There's no parental exception to these laws when it comes to minors under 18. Courts have ruled that a parent cannot record a child's conversation with another person unless the parent truly believes the child is in immediate danger.

What are the best parental control apps?

No parental-control app is perfect, but Net Nanny delivered the best mix of web filtering, location tracking and app management on both Android and iOS devices. It also works on Amazon Kindle Fire tablets, Windows, Macs and Chromebooks that support Google Play.

Norton Family was a close runner-up. It offers text-message logging and monitoring, but only on Android. It also monitors Windows PCs but not Macs.

On a tight budget? 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 unlimited devices, including PCs and Macs.

Many antivirus products have parental controls built in. To see how well those stack up against the stand-alone services, please see our overview of the best (and worst) antivirus software for parents.

All these parental-control apps can do more on Android than on iOS, due to Apple's tight app restrictions. So if you're really serious about keeping tabs on what your kids do online, get them Android phones instead of iPhones. 

Just be wary of any Android parental control app that you need to "sideload" on your own. There's usually a good reason it isn't in the official Google Play store.

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 using Google Play and a browser extension.

— ESET Parental Control for Android is cutting its subscription rates for multiyear plans, 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

The best parental control apps: Net Nanny

1. Net Nanny Parental Control

The best parental control app overall, and great for iOS

Reasons to buy
+Great design+Excellent web filters+Near parity between Android, iOS versions
Reasons to avoid
-No call/text monitoring-A bit expensive

Zift/Net Nanny, which we consider to be the best parental control app, 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. Its iOS abilities don't seem to have been affected by recent Apple policy changes, which is why we think it compares favorably to Apple's own Screen Time tools.

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. (Tom's Guide readers save $10 off each of Net Nanny's plans.)

Net Nanny recently added 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 several do on Android.

Read our full Net Nanny Parental Control review.
  

best parental control apps: Norton Family screenshot

2. Norton Family

The best parental control app for Android

Reasons to buy
+Great web filters and monitoring+Unlimited devices+Works with Windows
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive for a single device or child

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. It's also just 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 and text-message monitoring don't work in the iOS app at all.

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 use Macs instead of Windows PCs. 

Read our full Norton Family review.
  

best parental control apps: Kaspersky Safe Kids screenshot

3. Kaspersky Safe Kids

The best bargain among the best parental control apps

Reasons to buy
+Very affordable+Lots of free features+Monitors PCs, Macs too
Reasons to avoid
-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. Even better, Kaspersky's paid tier is only $15 per year (there's a 7-day free trial) and its free plan lets you set time limits, filter websites and manage other apps.

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. 

Likewise, a new feature that lets you block specific kinds of YouTube searches, 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. 

Still, if you don't feel a need to read your kids' text messages, then Kaspersky Safe Kids is well worth considering.

In March 2019, Kaspersky Lab filed an antitrust complaint against Apple for allegedly forcing the removal of features from Kaspersky Safe Kids, part of a crackdown on parental-control apps. Apple in June 2019 relaxed some of those restrictions, but the Kaspersky case continued. In August 2020, the Russian antitrust authorities ordered Apple to reverse its changes. We'll have to wait and see what Apple does. 

Read our full Kaspersky Safe Kids review.
  

Best parental control apps: Qustodio

4. Qustodio

The best multi-platform support among the best parental control apps

Reasons to buy
+Wide feature set+Monitors Macs, PCs, Chromebooks and Amazon Fire tablets+Powerful call, text monitoring on Android
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Outdated web portal

Qustodio has software for Macs, PCs, iOS and Android devices, Amazon Fire tablets, and, as of February 2021, Chromebooks. It also 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 2019. A Family Locator feature that shows you where all your kids are at once was added in September 2019. 

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. (Tom's Guide readers get a 10% discount.) In early 2019, Qustodio experimented with offering a much cheaper three-device plan for $40 per year, but that did not last.

Read our full Qustodio review.  

Best parental control apps: OurPact

5. OurPact

The best parental control app to get kids involved

Reasons to buy
+Excellent design, navigation+Gets kids actively involved
Reasons to avoid
-Limited web filters-No call or text monitoring-Can get expensive

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, Apple quietly expelled OurPact from the App Store, but in July of that year, after Apple eased up on its restrictions, OurPact was reinstated.

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.
    

Best parental control apps: Screen Time

6. 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

7. 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

8. MMGuardian

Full-featured but frustrating

Reasons to buy
+Wide Android feature set+Granular controls
Reasons to avoid
-Few iOS features-Can get expensive-Terrible user interface

MMGuardian has nearly every parental-control feature you might want on Android phones, but its abilities are somewhat limited on iOS and 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. 

On an Android phone, the parent can use MMGuardian to read every text and block any number. Unfortunately, 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 and SMS blocking. However, it recently added SMS and instant-message monitoring via a desktop app connected via Wi-Fi to a child's iPhone.

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. Some of these apps let you block and log the calls and texts a child makes and receives, but only on Android.

A couple even let you read a child's text messages, but none lets you listen in on call, because that's illegal. And most let you monitor your child's phone from a desktop computer web interface as well as your own smartphone.

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

Feature comparison chart

Feature
(bold = free)
ESET Parental Control for AndroidKaspersky Safe KidsMMGuardianNorton FamilyOurPactQustodioScreen TimeNet Nanny/Zift
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, iOSAndroid, iOS, Kindle Fire, Windows, MacAndroid, iOSAndroid, iOS, Kindle Fire, Windows
Web portal for parentsYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
Call loggingNoneAndroid onlyNoneNoneNoneAndroid onlyNoneNone
Text loggingNoneAndroid onlyYesAndroid onlyNoneAndroid onlyNoneNone
Text contentNoneNoneYesAndroid onlyNoneAndroid onlyNoneNone
Call blockingNoneNoneAndroid onlyNoneNoneAndroid onlyNoneNone
Text blockingNoneNoneAndroid onlyAndroid onlyNoneAndroid onlyNoneNone
GeofencingAndroid onlyYesNoneNoneYesYesYes, extra feeNone
Location trackingAndroid onlyYesYesYesYesYesYes, extra feeYes
Location historyAndroid onlyNoneAndroid onlyYesNoneYesYes, extra feeYes
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 focus 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 take 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 most recent 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.

The best 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 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.

Photo credit: Tom's Guide. Brian S. Hall and Sean Riley contributed to this report.

Paul Wagenseil

Paul Wagenseil is a senior editor at Tom's Guide focused on security and privacy. He has also been a dishwasher, fry cook, long-haul driver, code monkey and video editor. He's been rooting around in the information-security space for more than 15 years at FoxNews.com, SecurityNewsDaily, TechNewsDaily and Tom's Guide, has presented talks at the ShmooCon, DerbyCon and BSides Las Vegas hacker conferences, shown up in random TV news spots and even moderated a panel discussion at the CEDIA home-technology conference. You can follow his rants on Twitter at @snd_wagenseil.

  • 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