The best parental control apps for Android and iOS give you an idea of what your kids are doing online, which should give you some peace of mind or at least alert you to what’s going on. Many also offer Windows and Mac software for your kids’ computers, providing an all-encompassing view.
If you’ve got young children or teenagers, you know it can be hard to see what they do online. Do they have Snapchat, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger installed on their phones? Do you even know what those apps are?
Or have you seen your children hiding their phone screens as soon as you walk into the room? If so, then they’re probably concealing something from you and you definitely need one of the best parental control apps.
The best parental control apps for iOS and Android can also help you find a child’s physical location or tell you if the child isn’t in school during school hours, rivaling the abilities of the best GPS trackers for kids.
They can tell you to whom your kids talk online, can schedule and limit kids’ internet-access time and can block inappropriate websites. A couple of these apps log calls and texts or can even show you the content of texts and instant messages, although Apple and Google now make it more difficult to do so.
Overall, these apps work best when they’re part of a comprehensive approach to teaching kids how to behave responsibly both online and off. Talk to your children about how to act online and to be wary of uncomfortable situations. Listen to them if they think your approach is too heavy-handed. And be clear with them that you’ll be monitoring what they do online.
One note: We don’t review any parental-control app that can run in “stealth” mode so that the child won’t know it’s there. Such apps are often used to spy on spouses or other adults, and this so-called “stalkerware” can be 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 phone-recording laws. 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 consistently 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.
Kaspersky Safe Kids was a close runner-up, offering full-featured support on an unlimited number of Android and iOS devices, plus Macs and PCs. Its free tier includes web monitoring, time limits and app management, and its full-featured paid plan is just $15 per year.
Norton Family offers almost all the features a parent could want, including recently added geofencing, although its app-management abilities don’t work on iOS. Along with smartphone and tablets, it also monitors Windows PCs but not Macs.
Many antivirus products, including some from Norton and Kaspersky, 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 see and do more on Android than on iOS, due to Apple’s tighter app restrictions and system control. If you’re really serious about keeping tabs on what your kids do online, get them Android phones.
Just be wary of any Android parental control app that you need to “sideload” on your own. There’s usually a good reason that app isn’t in the official Google Play store. (We’ll make an exception for Qustodio, whose sideloaded version has abilities the Google Play app doesn’t.)
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
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 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, 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.
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 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.
Brian S. Hall contributed to this report.