Best parental control apps for your kid’s smartphone

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If your kids have their own mobile devices, you may want a way to track and control what they’re doing. The best parental control apps offer ways to limit time spent on the device, track usage and location, and block apps or games as necessary. Let’s take a look at the top apps that made our list. We’ve also got resources if you want parental controls for mobile game systems and gaming consoles.

FamilyTime (iOS and Android) — $1 to $2 per month

FamilyTime does a lot of everything, allowing you to customize your control options for the precise content or behaviors you want to prevent. The software gives you tools to set homework and bedtimes, or merely limit the time that your kids spend on their phones. Then it adds options for geofencing (you get alerts when that phone enters or leaves a specific area) and tracking. On top of that, you can block or control on an app-by-app basis, monitor texts, and keep an eye on contact lists.

While it’s great that FamilyTime meets so many needs, this is also a consideration for parents: The software suite may take some time to learn before you can use all the features effectively. It’s often better to get a simple control app that you know how to use rather than a complicated app that you don’t really understand, so FamilyTime may not be for everyone.

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Qustodio (iOS, Android, Kindle, Nook) — $55+ per year

Qustodio is user-friendly, efficient, and excellent for parents who are short on time. It offers a dashboard that shows you all recent mobile activity for any connected device, including time spent on specific services like Instagram or Twitter. From there you can set time limits, track texts, filter out racy sites, and set time limits for any game or app. It’s relatively noninvasive, but still effective — a great control app to use when managing devices for kids of multiple ages (it also works on the Kindle, if you want to protect Amazon devices). On the downside, the software is a little expensive at $55 annually for the five-device plan, and higher rates if you want to add more devices: You can check out our top free control software here.

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ESET Parental Control (Android) — $30 per year

ESET has a collection of features that allow for more subtle control than some of the other big child security apps available. It offers app and website blocks, but allows you to choose age-based features that you can switch as kids grow up, allowing them to access a wider range of websites in the future while still keeping them protected. There’s also a parent message feature, which sends out a message that kids are required to respond to before they continue using their phones (if you prefer starting with gentle reminders). As is common, you can set time limits on device use, although ESET also allows kids to request extra time. If you are particularly invested in Android, you may want to compare this option to Google’s own Family Link control app.

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Pumpic (iOS and Android) — $15 per month

Pumpic’s clean interface helps parents deal with the long list of tools that come with the app. You can track calls and texts, or block and limit them as you see fit. You can also monitor a variety of social media activities, along with any websites visited, with blocking options provided here as well. Pumpic also allows you to track device location and the history of where the device has been: For more direct action, you can choose to lock down or even wipe the phone at any time.

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OurPact (iOS) — $2-7 per month for full services

OurPact is a streamlined app that offers core parental control services without getting too complicated (and a more affordable pricing plan to match). You can block apps or internet access, create time schedules, and control access in real time as you need to. It’s not the best choice if you want to watch everything your kid is doing online, but it’s useful for protecting younger children and working out smartphone limits early on.

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Net Nanny (iOS and Android) – $60 per year

From a feature perspective, Net Nanny is similar to Qustodio or PhoneSheriff: The suite of features includes an internet filter, porn blocker, time schedules, alerts about activity, and usage reports. However, there aren’t as many options to control specific app access, so games and social media get less attention with this approach. There are also a couple extra features, such as a profanity filter that allows kids to visit web pages but blocks out the bad words. Net Nanny’s knowledge sources also deserve a shout-out — the company has one of the best collections of guides and tips for parents learning more about digital security.

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KidLogger (iOS and Android) — Free to $90 per year, depending on plan

KidLogger is a more aggressive option with a plethora of “spy” features for watching everything your kids do on their mobile devices. Reports include everything from web history recording and message/social media monitoring to random computer screenshots, detailed app usage, and records of all files and folders open (this extends to external storage as well). Basically, you can watch anything that goes on — as well as recording keystrokes and tracking time spent on the device. However, while it’s certainly a Big Brother approach, Kidlogger is relatively lax about actually blocking or limiting content, so it may ultimately offer more freedom for tweens and teens.

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Norton Family Premier — $50 per year

Norton is a big name in the field of antivirus software, and Norton Family Premier is a solid program for restricting and monitoring your kids’ behavior online. Family Premier offers parents a variety of features and makes it easy to manage all those options thanks to its clean interface. Family Premier doesn’t limit the number of devices you can have on an account, so simply install on any iOS or Android devices (or Windows desktops) your kids will use.

Among Family Premier’s most notable features is its robust web supervision, which allows users to block sites entirely, or simply keep a log of the sites kids visit. You can also set Norton to issue warnings for sites that you may not want to ban, but would prefer your kids be careful on — for example, you want to urge them not to waste all their time browsing memes on Reddit. Norton also lets users set time limits for their kids, shutting down their devices after a certain amount of time or during specific hours of the day.

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Final note: There are thriving teen forums online discussing all possible ways to get around parental controls, some with highly advanced and/or sneaky tactics. If you know teens, that shouldn’t surprise you, but it’s still something to prepare for. When picking a parental control app, don’t write down your password or login information (no matter how well you think you can hide it). You may also want to create a news alert for the software you choose, to help keep an eye out for any new vulnerabilities or workarounds. Some software can be bypassed with phone resets, customer service requests, and other tricks that you should know about.

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