The Internet has flourished since its birth, and while there are a plethora of benefits that cannot be ignored, there are risks that also threaten not only the safety of adults but also of children - this is what the best parental control apps are for.
After all, according to "The Most Common Threats Children Face Online" from the Norton Protection Blog article, the most common threats that children encounter on a day-to-day basis are predators posing as children their age, inappropriate - or NSFW/L - content, cyberbullying, and phishing disguised as online content.
In other words, if you're a parent or guardian, you need to protect your children from these threats as they venture on the enigmatic Internet scape. What you'll need as tools to combat these threats are powerful parental control apps.
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Key Considerations When Choosing a Parental Control App
According to Growing Wireless' "Kids Wireless Use Facts," 37 percent of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 have access to a smartphone, which is a 37 percent increase from 2013 numbers. In other words, the presence of the smartphone and tablet is growing.
The parental control software you're seeking to protect your child with when he or she uses a PC or Mac (or Linux), needs to have the following features:
- Number of Devices Supported - The more devices that are supported, the better. Some mobile apps and software may only support up to three devices, some ten, and others unlimited. What app you should install depends on how many devices the family may have. After all, family safety is important.
- Filters - How well does the cell phone spy app restrict the explicit content that may be viewed? Does the app use specific web browser content filters? The best apps feature customizable and strong web filters to ensure that the child doesn't encounter explicit content.
- Time Limits - Are there set time limits for the child online activities to ensure that your child isn't distracted by the browser, apps, or PC games? A child can very much become distracted by such activities, which would dissuade them from important tasks such as homework or chores.
- Location, Tracking, and Geofencing Abilities - The best parental control apps sport location tracking app features and geofencing abilities to make sure that your child is in a safe environment. Geofencing technology - or technology that will alert you if your child goes outside of a dictated boundary - is certainly a useful feature.
- Installation Difficulty - How difficult is the installation? Find parental control software is one that is easy to install and easy to understand how it operates.
- Price - Is the price worth what you're receiving in the app?
- App Management - Not only should the mobile spy app have browser management functions but also app management functions. After all, most people spend more time with mobile apps compared to a smartphone browser, on both phone and tablet.
- Text Monitoring - Do the mobile spy apps allow you to monitor incoming and outgoing text messages? Are you able to block a contact on both mobile and tablet? Or can you block access to particular messaging apps that are deemed more mature compared to other chat apps?
How to Setup Parental Controls on an iPhone or iPad
If you don't want an app, you can always rely on the iPhone and iPad parental controls that are built in. This is known as Restrictions on both iPhone and iPad.
To turn on Restrictions, you'll need to do the following:
- Tap Settings > General > Restrictions
- Scroll down until you see Restrictions, then tap Enable Restrictions.
- From there, you can create a Restrictions passcode, which you will need to change your settings or turn off Restrictions.
You can then turn restrict a wide list of apps and features, as well as types of content such as:
- Music, Podcasts & News
- TV Shows
- Password Settings
You can also place restrictions on privacy settings, as well as settings and accounts.
Related: How to Block Your Caller ID
How to Setup Parental Controls on an Android Phone or Tablet
Unfortunately, Android devices do not exactly have specified parental controls (or a specific Android security app) built into the OS, but you can at least set up parental controls on Google Play.
To set up parental controls on Android smartphones, you can do the following:
1. Open the Play Store app
2. In the top left-hand corner, select Menu, then Settings, followed by Parental Controls
3. Turn "Parental Controls" On
4. Create a PIN
5. Finally, choose your filters for Apps, Games, Movies, and TV, or Music and Books
You can also add new user accounts if you are running Android 5.0 or higher on your mobile phone - sort of. There are some manufacturers that will disable this user account addition feature, no matter what version you're running (for instance, the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 does not have this feature... well it does, but you will need to do a little bit of "rooting" and coding).
To create a New User account, fully expand the notification tray by swiping down from the top edge of your screen using not one, but two fingers. Next, tap the circular icon on the top right-hand corner. Next, you can choose "Add user." From there you can create your child's account. That way, the both of you can share your phone and have a child phone within your mobile phone. Of course, you can always purchase a separate, safe child phone. After all, a kid phone would have limited functions compared to an adult phone.
Parental Controls Offered By the Major Carriers
Before I delve into the third-party cell phone parental control apps and software, it is important to discuss the available cell phone parental controls provided by your wireless carrier. Each of the four major wireless providers features their own cell phone parental control apps, of which I will elaborate below.
As far as Sprint parental controls go, the company offers a family safety essentials pack alongside any of its family plans. The family safety essential pack allows you to manage up to five phones on your parent account.
With this pack, you can utilize the Sprint Family Locator, Sprint Drive First, and Sprint Family Locator.
Sprint Family Locator - This tracker app provides the parent with real-time interactive satellite maps, complete with street addresses and landmarks - in other words, it acts as spy software.
With Sprint Family Locator, you can also be automatically notified of your child's location on specific days and times with the Safety Check feature. Furthermore, you can text the family member you're locating from your phone or from the Internet. Finally, the app is password-protected so children cannot break into this tracking app.
Sprint Mobile Controls - With Sprint Mobile Controls, parents and guardians can set phone usage limits by time of day or week and view the downloaded applications on their child's phone. Sprint Mobile Controls can be accessed through a simple web page, complete with an easy-to-read dashboard.
You can also view who your child is talking or texting, even during particular times. Not only that, but you can create a whitelist of phone numbers that the children can call or text.
Finally, you can set alerts for when there is concerning behavior.
Sprint Drive First - If you have a child who is driving, you can always rely on Sprint Drive First. When your car exceeds 10 miles per hour, the app will send all calls to the child cell phone voicemail, silence email alerts, and send texting auto-replies saying that you cannot answer because you're driving. However, you can set a list of numbers that can always reach you, and you can override the app with the "Exit" and "911" emergency buttons. There's a parenting mode for this app so you can monitor your child's activities when driving.
In terms of T-Mobile Parental Controls, the T-Mobile family plans come bundled with a spy app called Family Allowances, which enables parents and guardians to manage allowed numbers, minutes, messages, and downloads for all the lines on your standard account. However, Family Allowance settings do not work over Wi-Fi or with Wi-Fi calling.
If you're the administrator account, you can add Family Allowances, which costs you a small monthly fee, to your plan. Here are the available options with the service:
- Parent Line - Allows you to designate a Parent Line or parent account.
- Whenever Minutes - Shows the number of minutes spent on calls per account line (even child account line) for the current billing cycle. Furthermore, you can set a time limit for all calls except for Always Allowed numbers.
- Messages - You can view the total number of messages sent and received per account line. You can also set the number of text messages a line can receive and send.
- Downloads - You can view the amount of money spent on downloads per account line. You can also implement a current allowance for the child account to use on purchases for particular app downloads and in-app purchases.
- Schedule - You can either allow or prevent your children from using their devices during designated time periods, such as during school, homework, or during sleep time.
- Allowed and Not Allowed Numbers - You can add a maximum of 10 numbers to each list. You can also use Never Allowed numbers to always block access to certain calls and messages. International numbers are excluded from these lists.
Similar to Sprint and T-Mobile, the Verizon family plans have what is known as Verizon Family Safeguards & Controls - and more specifically, FamilyBase - when it comes to Verizon Parental Controls.
Verizon Family Safeguards & Controls include the following apps and services: Verizon Roadside Assistance, Internet Spam Blocking, Verizon Support & Protection, Total Equipment Coverage, Total Mobile Protection, and Usage Alerts, Family Locator, Service Blocks, FamilyBase, Block Calls & Messages.
The last four services are useful for parental control.
- Service Blocks - As a parent or guardian, you'll be able to control which apps and services your family members can use on their mobile device.
- Family Locator - Known to be a great tracker app, you'll be able to locate your children from your device or PC and even be alerted of their locations at specified times.
- Block Calls and Messages - You'll be able to block any type of unwanted incoming text, picture, or video messages from up to five different phone numbers for 90 days.
- FamilyBase - As another great spy software tool, you'll be able to view your child's wireless usage and be able to set controls or limits on data, voice, and messaging use. Furthermore, you can see all of the apps installed on your kid's device. Even better is that you can provide your child with an allowance to purchase apps or make an in-app purchase. Additionally, you can lock your child cell phone on demand or define restricted times of use. And finally, you'll be able to view and control the contacts your kid has made.
You'll be able to keep your tabs on your family's phone usage with AT&T Smart Limits, which allows you to check on daily phone and child activity. This spy app, which complements the AT&T family plans, grants you with the ability to receive customized alerts and weekly reports. You'll be able to also block cellular data, set up text reminders to switch to Wi-Fi when a set amount of cell phone data is used, set text and app or in-app purchase limits, block numbers, and limit phone use during specified times of the day or night.
You'll be able to also block cellular data, set up text reminders to switch to Wi-Fi when a set amount of cell phone data is used, set text and app or in-app purchase limits, block numbers, and limit phone use during specified times of the day or night.
The Best Parental Control App for iPhones
If the traditional settings on an iPhone don't cut it, you should look into parental control apps from the iPhone App Store.
More or less, the same iPhone parental control apps can be used on iPads as well.
In terms of iPad parental controls and iPhone parental controls, I would have to give the award to the iOS version of Norton Family Premier.
Norton Family Premier
Why? This is due to Norton Family Premier's robust service, complete with an easy-to-install tool, from the App Store, which allows parents to keep tabs on their children.
Not only that, but Apple has a lot of restrictions in place for mobile device managers, so you're fairly limited in the apps that you can download. The iOS version of Norton Family Premier contains web filtering tools for the Safari browser or Norton's browser. Furthermore, you can rely on age-based filters, and you can even customize these filters or whitelist particular sites.
Norton Family Premier also contains location-tracking services, anti-phishing, and daily and weekly reports on the sites explored by your child. Unfortunately, unlike the tools provided by your carrier, you can't block or restrict the apps your child uses, and you can't block specific contacts.
The Best Parental Control App for Androids
So if you don't have an iPhone or iPad, then you're probably searching for the best Android security app for your Android phone. Unfortunately, it's a tad easier on Android for children to access inappropriate content and infected-apps. You will be limited to protection options when it comes to social media - just like with iOS - as to monitor social media, you will need to ask for the child's account information (which they may not want to give up).
Fortunately, Norton's Family Premier is compatible with Android devices, too.
Norton Family Premier
The Norton Family Premier Android app is known for its fantastic location tracking, and easy-to-use interface and installation procedures. Not only that, but it features the ability to block individual apps. Furthermore, you'll be able to monitor multiple devices and multiple children. You'll be able to set up age-based web filters, app-monitoring services, location tracking, and time-restrictions.
The web filters have been touted as incredibly strong, going so far as to keep children away from shady sites. However, you won't be able to block specific people, which can be perceived as one of the few downsides of this Android app. Furthermore, you also cannot set time limits on particular apps.
You can also consider the Mobile Fence parental control software, which would protect your kids from both smartphone addiction and inappropriate content. This app, which can be downloaded on Google Play, features a powerful monitoring function and allows you to block apps and web browser content. Additionally, this app sports the Geo-Fence feature, which grants you the ability to be alerted when your child enters or leaves a designated safe zone.
Parental Control Software
There are various types of parental control software available for smartphone and tablet, which are more geared for children using laptops and desktop. Fortunately, if you cannot afford paid parental control software, you can always opt for free parental control software. Examples of free parental control software include Qustodio, OpenDNS Family Shield, and Kidlogger.
Here is one of the best paid parental control software, designed for not only PC and Mac but also iOS and Android:
Net Nanny is a fantastic blocker. In fact, PCMag touts it as a modern, multi-device world of parental control, complete with some of the best content filtering around. In fact, they've been around since 1996. You can purchase Net Nanny for not only Windows and Mac, but for Android (via Google Play) and iOS (via App Store) too.
Features include Internet filter, parental controls, time management, alerts and reporting, remote administration, user profiles and settings, profanity masking, pornography blocking, and social media filtering.
Related: The Dangers of Texting & Driving
Free Parental Control Apps
Whereas many parental control apps are paid, there are plenty of free parental control apps. Free parental control apps include:
- Kids Place
- Screen Time Labs
- And more.
Related: Check out our guide to the best mobile security apps for more suggestions.
Netflix Parental Controls
So, you now have knowledge of the available apps, as well as the best parental control app for the Android smartphone and iOS device, but it is also important to talk about Netflix parental controls. Why Netflix? Well, Netflix is the best streaming site (in our opinion)!
According to Expanded Ramblings, the total number of Netflix subscribers (as of April 2016) in the United States is 47 million - this is excluding the number of international Netflix subscribers. Furthermore, the number of hours Netflix users watched in 2015 was 42.5 billion streaming hours.
With children watching more quality shows on Netflix, you need to ensure that they do not encounter age-inappropriate content. Here is how you can do so:
- Enter your standard account settings by clicking your profile picture in the top right-hand corner of Netflix and selecting "Your Account".
- From there, you should see "Parental Controls" next to Settings. Click on that.
- You will then be prompted to enter your account password to manage parental controls.
- You will then need to set a Parental Control PIN (4 Digital), for content above the selected level. You can thus prevent certain types of media from being played based on the categorized ratings, i.e. Little Kids, Older Kids, Teens, and Adults.
You can also set up a profile for "Kids". To do so, boot up Netflix, and choose "Manage Profiles". You can edit the "Kids" profile, which is a default profile. From there, you can change which shows kids will be able to watch: for little kids only, or for older kids and below.
You can also view the child activity by clicking the "Viewing Activity" link in My Profile on your Account Settings.
YouTube Parental Controls
There is a lot of content on YouTube nowadays, ranging from PewDiePie to music videos, but a lot of content on YouTube is considered rather inappropriate. While some of the more graphic content is removed by YouTube, others aren't so. YouTube parental controls help with that.
Nevertheless, you should definitely monitor and restrict your child's YouTube viewing habits.
How do you set parental controls on YouTube?
On YouTube, sign into your account. If you're already logged into your account, click on your account icon on the right-hand corner and select "Restricted Mode".
Toggle Restricted Mode on. Restricted Mode hides videos that may contain inappropriate content flagged by users and other signals. This should help your child avoid most inappropriate videos. You can also help your child create responsible safe search tactics.
How do you put parental controls on Google?
You can set restrictive controls on Google easily. All you need to do is activate the SafeSearch filters by clicking here. While SafeSearch can help block inappropriate searches and images from Google Search, it isn't 100 percent accurate. This will somewhat ensure that your child will be able to use safe search functions.
How Do I Set Up Parental Controls on My Computer?
You can set up parental controls thanks to a specific Control Panel function on Windows 10 by performing the following:
- Access Windows Settings from the Control Panel
- Click on Accounts
- Click on Family & other people
- Click on Add a family member
From there you can either Add a child or Add an adult. After you create the profile, you can go to the Family Microsoft Account and sign in with your Microsoft administrator account.
Select the child whose settings you want to manage. You can then do the following:
- Recent activity: which allows you to see what websites your children have been visiting, what games and apps they've been using, and how much time they've been spending on devices.
- Web browsing: which lets you choose what websites your child can or can't visit.
- Apps & games: which allows you to limit the apps and games your child can download from the Microsoft Windows Store. You can also unblock any app or game you've previously blocked.
- Screen time: which lets you set the maximum amount of time the children can spend on their devices.
While technology opens up to new possibilities, children become vulnerable to these possibilities, sometimes venturing to dark corners. In these cases, you definitely need to protect your children. Hopefully, this article provides you with the parental control tool you need to do to arm yourself and defend your child from scams, predators, and more.
For more helpful strategies on how to keep your child safe using their mobile device, you can take a look at our cell phone safety guidelines for kids. For surfing the web and social media use, you can read our guide on Internet Safety & Online Privacy. For more information on the common threats, children face online, consult Norton's detailed article on the subject.