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2018 Best Parental Control Apps and Software Buyers Guide

Written by: Rebecca Edwards  |   Updated: June 7, 2018

Keep your kids safe online with the top parental control software, apps, and routers of 2018. To pick the best, we looked for parental controls with features like time limits, content filtering, and social media management. Check out our list for the best ways to protect your children from online threats.

Best Parental Control Software

Net Nanny

Best for computers and mobile devices

Best Parental Control Router

CUJO Smart Internet Security Firewall

Best whole home protection

Best Parental Control App

Boomerang

Best for tracking kids on the go

Things to Consider When Choosing a Parental Control Filter

You want to keep your children safe, whether it’s on the playground or in cyberspace. In both environments, you’ll do a better job of protecting your kids with some backup. When it comes to the internet, the best backup you can have is a parental control app or web filtering software. These tools help set safe boundaries that let your children explore the online world with limited risk.

In addition to identifying the best parental control tools on the market, we’ve also put together a quick-reference guide to help you identify the parental control features that will best protect your family.

What you want a parental control app to help you with

  • Content filtering
  • Safe browsing
  • Limiting screen time
  • Blocking unsavory apps and other downloads
  • Safe text and instant messaging
  • Social media monitoring and management

What you want a parental control app to show you

  • Online activity reports
  • Search history
  • Access requests
  • Time-extension requests
  • Bad language alerts
  • Content filtering updates

Spying vs. Filtering

All of the parental filters we recommend are monitoring tools that let you set limits and keep an eye on your child’s online activity. There are other products out there that are designed for covert observation of your kid’s search habits, texting, etc. In a word—spying. This spyware lets you see what’s going on without your children knowing.

We recommend having an open line of communication with your child to help foster and encourage good online habits. If you use spyware (Mobile Spy, PhoneSheriff, WebWatcher, mSpy) to secretly track your child’s online activities, you’re missing the opportunity to give them real tools that will help them stay safe online for a lifetime.

Top Parental Control Software of 2018

 

Net Nanny

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Norton Family Premier

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OpenDNS VIP Home

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Best for

Protecting computers and mobile devices

Identifying potential online problems

Tracking usage over time

Downside

No longer does social media monitoring

Not compatible with Macs

Doesn’t block all malware or phishing URLs

Trial Period

No

30 days

No

PC/Mac Requirements

Windows 10, 8, 7, Vista Mac OS X, 10.7 or higher

Windows 10, 8, 7, Vista, XP

N/A

Android App Requirements

Android 2.3 up to 4.4

Android 4.0 or higher

N/A

iPhone App Requirements

iOS 8 or higher

iOS 9 or higher

N/A

Max. Number of Devices

10

10

Covers entire home network

Pornography Blocking

Yes

No

Yes

Screen Time Management

Yes

Yes

No

Social Media Monitoring

No

Yes

No

Text Message Monitoring

No

Yes

No

Profanity Masking

Yes

No

No

Alerts and Reports

Yes

Yes

Reports only

Remote Access

Yes

Yes

Yes

Location Supervision

No

Yes

No

Best Parental Control Software

Net Nanny

Net Nanny

Best for computers and mobile devices

Net Nanny has been looking out for kids online since 1996. This parental control software has a great reputation and the awards to prove it—including the National Parenting Center’s Seal of Approval. We like that it keeps out the bad stuff without blocking the sites and info kids need to do homework and other approved online activities.

Pros

This parental control software tops our list because it helps keep your family safe on PC, Mac, or mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. With so many ways to access the internet, we like that Net Nanny works on just about any platform.

  • Flexible Screen Time Management
    According to Net Nanny, kids spend around seven hours of every day online—that’s more time than some children spend in a classroom. With Net Nanny, you can set limits for your kids’ online activities. You can establish how many hours per day each child has internet access, and you can limit time spent on certain websites that are known to be big time wasters.
  • Advanced Internet Filtering
    It’s scary to think about all the inappropriate content that your child could stumble across while surfing the net. Net Nanny helps allay those fears with a built-in pornography blocker and a tool that hides profane language from innocent eyes and ears.
  • Remote Management
    In addition to real-time alerts, Net Nanny lets you make on-the-spot changes to your settings. You can review access requests in real time and give approval when your child needs it—like when that history website they have to access for a report gets blocked.
Cons

Depending on how many devices you want to safeguard, Net Nanny comes with a higher price tag than the other parental control software solutions on our list. For one computer, it’s around $40 for a year of protection, and family plans range from $9 to $12 per device, depending on the number of devices you want to protect.

  • Social Media Monitoring No Longer Available
    Kids (especially teens) spend so much time on social media that this is one online area you won’t want to leave unprotected. Net Nanny used to offer social media monitoring, but Facebook and other social media platforms no longer support the service that was used. Net Nanny is working to fix this lapse and reinstate social media monitoring in the future.

Top Parental Control Routers and Firewalls of 2018

 

CUJO AI Smart Internet Security Firewall

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Circle with Disney

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KoalaSafe Family Friendly Wireless Router

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Best for

Protecting your whole home

Easy setup

Your budget

Downside

Expensive

Not compatible with all routers

No real-time monitoring

Monthly Subscription

Included

Optional, $10

No

Trial Period

No

30 days

No

Android App Requirements

Android 4.1 or higher

Android 4.2 or higher

Android 4.1 or higher

iPhone App Requirements

iOS 8.4 or higher

iOS 9 or higher

iOS 8 or higher

Safe Browsing

Yes

No

Yes

Screen Time Management

Yes

Yes

Yes

Stop/Pause Internet

No

Yes

Yes

Social Media Monitoring

Yes

Yes

No

Customized User Profiles

Yes

Yes

Yes

Alerts and Reports

Yes

Yes

Yes

Remote Access

Yes

Yes

Yes

Antivirus and Anti-malware

Yes

No

No

Hacking Protection

Yes

No

No

Best Parental Control Router

CUJO AI Smart Internet Security Firewall

CUJO AI Smart Internet Security Firewall

Best for protecting your whole home

CUJO keeps everyone (and every device) in your home safe from cyberattacks and other internet threats. This smart firewall protects your entire home network and each device that uses your Wi-Fi network—from mobile devices to security cameras.

Pros

CUJO’s protection goes far beyond other parental monitoring apps and software. In addition to providing a safe browsing experience for little ones, it also protects every Wi-Fi enabled device in your home from threats like hackers, malware, and viruses.

  • Protects Against Cyberbullying
    CUJO uses artificial intelligence and access controls to block inappropriate content and monitor online interactions. This means that CUJO’s protection is dynamic and can respond when a new threat—like abusive communication—is detected, without requiring you to manually update settings.
  • Won’t Slow Down Your Network
    Whenever you add extra controls to your Wi-Fi network, there’s a concern that it will clog up your internet speeds. CUJO has a 1 GB Ethernet connection that helps it do the heavy lifting to keep hackers at bay without messing up your binge-watching weekend plans.
  • Works on Any Wi-Fi Device
    CUJO keeps kids safe on smartphones, tablets, computers, gaming consoles, and other devices—including smart TVs and smart speakers like Amazon Echo.
Cons

CUJO is compatible with most routers, but there are some that won’t work. Make sure you check CUJO’s compatibility list before making a purchase. Also, there’s no protection outside your home. If your child goes online using cellular data or another Wi-Fi network, they won’t have CUJO looking out for them.

  • Expensive
    CUJO’s pricing is a little bit complicated and pretty hefty. You’ll shell out nearly $250 for the device and first year of service. Because there are more affordable options out there, we recommend evaluating how many connected devices you want to safeguard before shelling out the big bucks for CUJO. If you have multiple users on multiple devices and a smart home setup, then this AI firewall could be worth the cost.

Top Parental Control Apps of 2018

 

Boomerang

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Qustodio Premium

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ESET Parental Control for Android

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Best for

Tracking kids on the go

Monitoring kids on Facebook

Protecting multiple profiles and devices

Downside

Limited iOS function

Expensive

Android only

Trial Period

14 days

30-day money-back guarantee

30 days

Android App Requirements

Android 5.0 or higher

Android 4.0 or higher

Android 4.0 or higher

iPhone App Requirements

iOS 9 or higher

iOS 8 or higher

N/A

Safe Browsing

Yes

Yes

No

Screen Time Management

Yes

Yes

Yes

App Blocker

Yes

Yes

Yes

Time-Out Device

Yes

No

No

Social Media Monitoring

No

Yes

No

Safe Calling

Yes

Yes

No

Safe Texting

Android only

Yes

No

Alerts and Reports

Yes

Yes

Yes

Location Tracking

Yes

Yes

Yes

Best Parental Control App

Boomerang

Boomerang

Best for tracking kids on the go

Take parental controls and internet safety outside the confines of your home network. This parental control app lets you block apps, monitor texts, and check in on what your child is viewing no matter where they are.

Pros

Boomerang works on both Android and iOS, which isn’t always the case when it comes to parental control apps. The best part is that this app is installed on your child’s mobile device, not on your home network, so it monitors activity and blocks content on the bus, at school, and when they’re hanging out with friends.

  • Remote Control
    The Boomerang app gives you total control even when you’re not with your child. You can check in on their current location and even time-out their phone if you get a worrisome alert (or if they’re ignoring your texts). You can also block unacceptable iTunes content and filter dangerous apps while you’re in between meetings or running errands.
  • Time Limits
    This parental control app is smart about managing screen time. Boomerang subtracts time from your child’s predetermined limit when they play games, but it doesn’t penalize them for time spent on homework or educational apps. It also has a bedtime feature that makes all apps literally disappear when bedtime rolls around.
  • YouTube Monitoring
    We’ve all seen kids fall down the YouTube rabbit hole, but the Boomerang app helps keep them from falling too far. You can set rating restrictions and see a detailed log of your child’s YouTube viewing history. Best of all, you can block your child’s access to the YouTube app’s settings, so they can’t go in and take down your safeguards.
Cons

Apple doesn’t allow for many of the parental controls we like the most, so that’s a big bummer when you’re trying to look out for your kids on an iPhone or iPad.

  • Limited iOS Functions
    Boomerang has more iOS parental controls than other apps we looked at, but functionality is still somewhat limited. Some of the features iOS doesn’t allow include extending time remotely, individually allowing or blocking specific apps, and blocking access to device settings. Boomerang is working to increase iPhone parental controls, but you’ll miss out on some of this app’s best parental controls if your kids use Apple devices.

Watch Out for These Parental Control Workarounds

Kids are smart—and when it comes to mastering the digital world, they’re pros. Depending on the age of your children (and their determination to see the latest viral online sensation), the day may come when they try to outsmart the parental controls you’ve put in place. In fact, we found multiple negative reviews of every product we’ve featured posted by kids whose efforts to bypass the filters failed.

We don’t think you can get a better endorsement than a disgruntled child who couldn’t access something inappropriate, but in case your little geniuses start thinking outside the box, we want you to watch out for these workarounds that your kid might try:

  • Using a different network (public, cellular data)
  • Using a VPN (virtual private network that hides their activity)
  • Using a friend’s device
  • Using private browsing
  • Using browsers hidden inside other apps
  • Doing a hard reset of their device

Internet Safety Extras to Keep Your Family Safe Online

Parental control apps and routers aren’t the only way to protect your kids and teach them responsible online habits. We like these alternative ideas to help boost internet safety at home.

Product
Best For
Pros
Cons
Where to Find It
Time Tokens Time Tokens
  • Rewarding good screen time habits
  • Pros
  • Puts kids in charge of screen time
  • Rewards good choices
  • Makes unplugging fun
  • Cons
  • Appeals to younger children, so may not work for older kids
Smart Family Charging Station Smart Family Charging Station
  • Corralling mobile devices
  • Pros
  • Organizes mobile devices in one convenient spot
  • Works with Android and iOS devices
  • Helps enforce screen time limits
  • Cons
  • Works for six devices, so larger households may need more than one

Our Approach

Parental control filters

To find our top nine parental control apps and software, we looked at twenty-eight different parental control products, including apps, software, routers, firewalls, and other internet blockers. We combed through hundreds of reviews from internet safety experts and parents—and even took a look at what kids had to say. We also considered the top online threats that parents are worried about and how well each parental control filter managed those threats. Other considerations included price and how easy each product was to install, use, and update.

16 hours researched
28 products considered
4 experts consulted
800+ customer reviews
8 coffees consumed

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