The Best Parental Control Apps of 2023

After comparing 16 parental control apps and testing their performance, we believe Bark is the best option.
Best for social media
Bark
Bark
4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5
  • pro
    Excellent social media monitoring
  • pro
    Geofencing
  • pro
    Unlimited devices
Best contact management
MMGuardian
4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5
  • pro
    Some social media monitoring
  • con
    No geofencing
  • pro
    Up to 5 devices
Best free version
Qustodio
Qustodio
4 out of 5 stars
4
  • con
    No social media monitoring
  • pro
    Geofencing
  • pro
    Up to 5 devices
Most management tools
FamilyTime
4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5
  • con
    Limited social media monitoring
  • pro
    Geofencing
  • pro
    Up to 5 devices
Best for full access
SentryPC
4 out of 5 stars
4
  • pro
    Key logger for social monitoring
  • pro
    Geofencing
  • con
    Surcharge for every device
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Even though some new online safety brands have appeared on the scene since we first published our round-up, Bark is still our favorite parental control app. Bark can’t be beat in terms of email and social media monitoring, and our testers thought Bark was the easiest app to set up and use.

We prefer other parental control apps for specific features—like location tracking and contact management—and for more comfortable price points. Learn more about the differences between our top picks, and discover why other apps didn’t make the cut.

Bell
A note about monitoring Android vs. iOS devices

Apple has some strict rules about call/text monitoring and tracking. That’s why parental control apps can’t offer the same features for all devices or platforms. If your child uses an Android device, you should be good to go. If your child uses an iPhone or iPad, pay special attention to each brand’s iOS functions. 

Read more: iOS vs. Android Security: Which One Keeps Your Child Safer Online?



Compare parental control app prices

Product
Best for
Annual starting price
Free version available
Maximum number of devices
Trial period
Learn more
Read review
Best overall
Icon No  LightNo
Unlimited7 days
Best contact management
Icon No  LightNo
514 days
Best free version
Icon Yes  LightYes
10*3 days
Best management tools
Icon Yes  LightYes
5 3 days
Best for full device access
Icon No  LightNo
Surcharge for every extra deviceNone

Info current as of post date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

*$137.95 per year for 15 devices

Parental control app similarities

Our top five picks share these features:

  • App management
  • App usage history reports
  • Texting history reports
  • Screen-time management
  • Content filter
  • Website blocker 

We’ve organized the major differences in the chart below. To compare prices, see the chart above.

If you're not sure which features to prioritize, check out our guide to parental controls.

Compare parental control app features

Product
Best for
Email monitoring
Location tracking and geofencing
Social media monitoring
Remote time out
Learn more
Best overall
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes
Best contact management
Icon No  LightNo
Icon Yes  LightLocation tracking only
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes
Best free version
Icon No  LightNo
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
Best management tools
Icon No  LightNo
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes (Limited)
Icon Yes  LightYes
Best for full device access
Icon Yes  LightYes, with keylogger
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes, with keylogger
Icon No  LightNo

Info current as of post date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Best parental control app reviews

1. Bark: Best overall and most comprehensive message screening

Best overall
Bark
Bark
4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5
$49-$99
/yr

Info current as of post date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Bark earns our vote for best parental control app because it screens social media and other messaging avenues—like text messages, emails, and doc-sharing apps. No other parental control app screens so many messaging platforms at once—and we researched over 30 competitors just to make sure.

Plus, we were really impressed with the sensitivity of Bark's content filters and the immediacy of their alerts during testing. You'll know right away when your child needs some guidance.

pro
Pros
pro Computer monitoring
pro Email monitoring
pro Social media monitoring
pro Text message monitoring
pro Text, push, and email alerts
con
Cons
con Live location by check-in only
con No browsing or search history
con No call log
con No uninstall protection

But there is a catch to Bark—you don't get to see everything your child does online or on their phone. Bark's philosophy hinges on respecting kids' privacy when nothing's wrong. And if the content filters do catch something amiss, Bark gives practical guidance on how to have a conversation or seek counseling services. It doesn't give you the ability to lock down the phone apart from turning off its internet access. 

Bark's unique in this approach, so if you do want to have a more hands-on role in your child's digital life, the other parental controls on our list have you covered.

Read our full Bark app review to learn more about what it monitors and how it performed during our tests. And if you haven't bought a phone for your kid yet, check out our Bark Phone review to learn why it's even better than the Bark app.

“The Bark app and software oozes consideration for the user. The installation walkthrough was incredibly easy.” —Rebecca E., Bark tester

Video: Bark parental control app review

Play Video

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2. MMGuardian: Best contact management

Best contact management
MMGuardian
4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5
Starting from
$34.99
/yr

Info current as of post date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

MMGuardian is great for tweens or families with kids needing different levels of monitoring and intervention. 

For example, here are a few things you can do with MMGuardian but not Bark:

  • Read full content of all sent and received text messages
  • View call log history
  • Block phone numbers
  • View browsing history

Plus, MMGuardian is one of the few parental control apps that actually requires parents to approve all new app downloads. Finally!

pro
Pros
pro Excellent cloud-based parent dashboard
pro Web filter
pro Location tracking
pro Text monitoring
pro Some social media monitoring
pro Free 14-day trial
con
Cons
con Expensive plans
con No free version
con No email monitoring
con No geofencing

MMGuardian doesn't offer the same depth of social media monitoring as Bark, but it does cover some of the most popular apps like Facebook messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram. 

You can also track your child's location at any time without requesting a check-in. MMGuardian no longer offers geofencing, though, since it led to too many false alarms. 

Pricey for large families

MMGuardian isn't very affordable if your children use more than five devices altogether. The price for a single child device is around $35 a year, and it doubles to around $70 a year for five child devices, such as smartphones and tablets.

That price is comparable to FamilyTime, but you'd get better bang for your buck with Qustodio or Boomerang. And spending a little extra with Bark gives you unlimited device coverage.  

Read more in our full MMGuardian review.

3. Qustodio: Best free version

Best free version
Qustodio
Qustodio
4 out of 5 stars
4
Starting from
$0
/yr

Info current as of post date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

There aren't many free parental control apps available and most are borderline useless since the features are so limited. But that's not the case with Qustodio. Here's what you get for absolutely nothing:

  • Web, app, and search monitoring
  • Online content filter
  • Safe search
  • Facebook & Twitter monitoring
  • Time limits
  • Online reporting dashboard

The catch? You can only monitor one device. Otherwise, you'll need a Premium Qustodio subscription, which starts at about $55 a year for five devices.

pro
Pros
pro Excellent cloud-based parent dashboard
pro Web filter
pro Location history
pro Panic button
pro Some social media monitoring
con
Cons
con Expensive for large families
con 3-day trial period
con No email monitoring

We love the in-depth cloud-based dashboard, which shows you exactly what your child has been typing into search engines or YouTube and automatically flags concerning activity for you to review. 

You’ll see which apps and websites your kid spends the most time on, who they’re calling, and the content of their texts. There’s also social media monitoring, but it’s limited to Facebook, Twitter, and Yahoo Messenger. 

You can also set up rules and restrictions from this dashboard, but that’s where Qustodio’s user-friendliness takes a nosedive. Other apps offer simpler interfaces for parents.

Location tracking and history

The other neat feature we like about Qustodio is its “family tracker.” You can glance at it and see the current location of each child. Need to trace their steps? You can do that too with the “location history” function.

Get the full scoop of our testing experience in our in-depth Qustodio review, or learn how Qustodio compares to Bark, our top pick.

4. FamilyTime: Best management tools

Best management tools
FamilyTime
4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5
Starting from
$27.00
/yr

Info current as of post date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Whereas Bark screens tons of messages and lacks management tools, FamilyTime offers a plethora of management options but doesn't monitor social media messages. 

In our book, this makes FamilyTime a great option for younger kids and tweens. But FamilyTime does have some teen-specific features, like speed limit alerts.

pro
Pros
pro Geofencing and location tracking
pro Detailed history reports
pro Text and call monitoring
pro Web filtering and blocking
pro More iOS features than competitors
con
Cons
con Only monitors 5 devices
con Limited social media monitoring (YouTube and TikTok only)
con No email monitoring
con 3-day trial period

FamilyTime monitors text messages, general app and device usage, and web browsing history. If you detect an issue, here's how you can intervene:

  • Remote internet shutdown
  • Remote device shutdown
  • Uninstall protection
  • Time limits
  • Contact management
  • App installation management

We also like these unique features in the FamilyTime app:

  • SOS/panic button
  • Speed limit alerts
  • Location history
  • PickMeUp alerts
  • Contact Watchlist alerts
  • Gamified screen-time management with TimeBank and FunTime

Good functionality for iPhones

FamilyTime offers more functionality for iOS devices than competitor apps. For example, you can use geofencing and block apps on your child’s iPhone with FamilyTime, whereas Boomerang only offers those features for Android users. 

You still can’t track calls or texts on iOS devices with FamilyTime. That’s an Apple rule.

Learn more in our full FamilyTime review.

5. SentryPC: Best for full access

Best for full access
SentryPC
4 out of 5 stars
4
Starting from
$69.95
/yr

Info current as of post date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

For parents who want to see everything their child does on their phone, tablet, or laptop, SentryPC is the best option. 

Here's what you can view:

  • Full text content
  • Call history
  • Web history
  • App usage
  • Created and deleted files
  • Print jobs
  • Clipboard
  • Portable drives 
  • Keylogger

SentryPC also takes random screenshots of your child's device for you to review.

pro
Pros
pro Complete usage reports
pro Location tracking and geofencing
pro Uninstall protection
pro Time limits
con
Cons
con Surcharge for every device
con No contact management

Aside from surveillance, SentryPC offers basic screen time management, content filtering, and geofencing. It lacks a few other management tools like contact management and remote internet and device shutdowns.

Even though there's no social media or email monitoring, the keylogger is a catch-all that would show anything typed into the device.

SentryPC's online dashboard is a little clinical. There's a demo available on their website if you want to see it for yourself.

Finally, SentryPC is best if you only have one device to monitor. The first one costs around $70 a year, and each additional device license is another $30.

More brands we considered

We started out with a list of 30 parental monitoring apps. Here are some that didn’t quite make the cut for our top five.

6. Boomerang

Boomerang's main appeal is its affordability—about $16 a year for one device or $31 a year for ten devices. But most of its features are limited to Android devices, so skip this one if your child uses an iPhone.

We also like that Boomerang doesn't allow new apps to be downloaded until you give the OK. It also has good screen time management features. 

Boomerang just squeaked out of our top five. If you're on a budget, give it a closer look by reading our full Boomerang review.

7. Screen Time

Screen Time (not to be confused with Apple's parental control of the same name) has a free version that covers one Android device. The Premium subscription comes to about $84 a year. 

As long as your child uses an Android phone, you can read their full texts with Screen Time, monitor messages sent through WhatsApp, Viber, and Kik, and see all photos your child takes, sends, and receives.

There's no contact management, or call log history, but Screen Time has a nice buffet of other management tools. We especially like that it can block all new app downloads. 

8. Norton Family

Norton Family is best for parents and kids who already have an open dialogue about internet safety, since the dashboard is more for guiding your conversations than instituting a total device lockdown. It lacks the social media monitoring and app management of more comprehensive parental control software like Bark.

You can read more about our experience with our in-depth Norton Family Parental Control Review.

9. Circle Home Plus

The Circle Home Plus internet filter costs about $130 per year and controls any device connected to your home’s Wi-Fi. If that sounds good to you, we recommend Bark Home instead. It costs about $80, and you don’t need to pay an annual fee. 

You can read more about our experience with our in-depth Circle Home Plus review.

Circle also came out with an app that's now sold with Circle Home Plus, but it didn't knock our socks off. It doesn't monitor texts, emails, or social media messages and doesn't provide call logs or contact management. It's good for regulating screen time and blocking apps or content categories, though.

10. Mobicip

Mobicip offers a web filter, screen-time management, location tracker, app blocker, website blocker, and history report starting at around $48 per year for five devices. If you use Android devices, Boomerang offers those same features and more at around $31 per year for 10 devices.

If you use iOS, macOS, Windows, Kindle, or Chromebook, then Mobicip is a slightly more affordable alternative to Qustodio (but without the info-heavy reporting dashboard).

11. OurPact

OurPact offers a free version that lets you block apps and set up one schedule for screen time. If you want any other functionality, you need to pay nearly $84 per year. At that rate, you might as well pay for Bark and get social media monitoring and email monitoring.

We do think it’s cool that this parental control software lets you see a live view of your child’s screen, but its reporting dashboard lacks insight into web history, call history, and overall device usage.

Read more about our testing experience in our in-depth OurPact review.

12. Google Family Link

Google Family Link is free and lets you manage apps, control screen time, and track your child’s location. Google Family Link’s closest competitors are the free versions of Kaspersky or Qustodio, which don’t track location but do offer a web filter. We think web filtering is the more useful feature, but you can always install Google Family Link in addition to Kaspersky or Qustodio if you want.

13. Net Nanny

Once upon a time, Net Nanny earned a spot among the top parental controls. We’ve bumped it down the list because there are more affordable and easier-to-use alternatives on the market now. 

In fact, Net Nanny is one of the most expensive parental controls and offers no trial period. It took our tester an hour to set up Net Nanny for one device, and they were able to get around the web filter. We don’t see a reason to choose this brand, especially since it offers no message monitoring. 

14. Cocospy

Cocospy helps parents track where their kids are and what they are up to online. Its features include the ability to check WhatsApp, contacts, browser history, and call logs, plus geofencing. At around $70 per year, it's a little on the pricey side.

15. Kidslox

Kidslox takes the cake for location history. It not only shows your child's current location, but the route they took to get there and how long they lingered at stops along the way. You'll see corresponding addresses and times too. 

Location history is saved for 7 days. You can also set up geofences. 

Other than that, Kidslox offers average parental controls with no message monitoring. 

16. Canopy

Canopy offers the basics: web filtering, scheduled screen time, and geofencing. But it stands out in terms of sexting prevention and mature content screening. 

Canopy alerts you if it thinks your child has taken a sexual photo, and it also scans websites in real time for suggestive photos and replaces them with white squares. You have the ability to filter images with partial nudity too, like swimsuit photos. 

While Canopy's image AI is impressive, make sure this parental control app has all of the other features you want before you buy. Coverage for 15 devices costs over $190 a year—very expensive for large households.

17. mSpy

mSpy is an alternative to SentryPC but costs at least twice as much. It's an invasive parental control that shows you almost everything that happens on your child's device—including any captured photos and videos. It also can also monitor emails, texts, Facebook messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Snapchat, and seven other social media apps.

mSpy is very expensive compared to the competition and charges extra for technical assistance. We'd steer clear. 

Final word

We think Bark offers the most comprehensive monitoring service if you can spare about $100 per year toward your child’s online safety. It’s the only parental app that monitors email, and that’s just as important as monitoring text messages and DMs.

FAQ

We think Bark is the best app for parental control in terms of screen-time management and internet safety. If you want location tracking, geofencing, and location history, try FamilyTime or Qustodio.

A parental control app provides information about your child’s app usage, overall screen time, web searches and history, text message history, and more. You’ll receive a push notification, email, and/or text if the app detects concerning words in your child’s search history or text messages. Some parental control apps also monitor calls and social media activity. 

Exact features and reports vary by app. We recommend Bark for comprehensive phone and internet monitoring.

Yes. We like the free version of Kaspersky Safe Kids or Qustodio. Google Family Link is free too.

How we reviewed parental control apps

  • 30+ parental control apps considered
  • 27 data points assessed
  • 8 hours of testing
  • 50 hours of research

To find the best parental control apps, we set up different apps, tested them as both “children” and “parents,” and then addressed strengths and weaknesses. 

On top of hands-on testing, we dug into each app’s features, prices, compatibility, and customer reviews. We also consulted with other online safety experts. 

Three members of our team tried out the different apps, looking for how well each performed in these specific areas:

  • Setup and installation: how easy it was to install on different devices (including iOS, Android, mobile, and desktop), how much time it took, and whether or not there were any issues that came up.
  • Performance: Did the app do what it was supposed to do? Would it be easy for kids to work around it?
  • Features: what extra features were available, and did they deliver as promised?

Read more about our methodology.

Related articles on SafeWise

Disclaimers

*Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. Safewise.com utilizes paid Amazon links.

Certain content that appears on this site comes from Amazon. This content is provided “as is” and is subject to change or removal at any time.

Cathy Habas
Written by
Cathy Habas
With over eight years of experience as a content writer, Cathy has a knack for untangling complex information. Her natural curiosity and ability to empathize help Cathy offer insightful, friendly advice. She believes in empowering readers who may not feel confident about a purchase, project, or topic. Cathy earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Indiana University Southeast and began her professional writing career immediately after graduation. She is a certified Safe Sleep Ambassador and has contributed to sites like Safety.com, Reviews.com, Hunker, and Thumbtack. Cathy’s pride and joy is her Appaloosa “Chacos.” She also likes to crochet while watching stand-up comedy specials on Netflix.

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