Modern kids never know a time when they can’t connect to the rest of the world via the internet. In fact, they probably spend more time online than anyone else—more so than their parents, of course. If you’re a parent, this poses a problem, as there are explicit, intrusive, and illegal websites and apps that you don’t want your child to encounter. Parental control services can help you manage the growing number of devices your children use. Before you start implementing boundaries and boundaries, take some time to learn how your connected child uses technology.
This software and hardware solution allows you to block unwanted web content, limit screen time, limit use of risky apps, and more. Basically, they’re a way to help keep your kids safer on their computers and mobile devices. Communicate with your children before implementing any of these options, as it is important for them to feel that you respect their privacy. Otherwise, they will make sure to find a way out of any protection, even if you have your children’s best interests in mind. Additionally, as technology addiction becomes increasingly a problem, it is important for children to learn the value of good device habits for themselves.
Monitor Your Child’s Device
Gone are the days when a single parental control utility on a family PC was enough to keep your kids safe and productive. Modern kids use all kinds of internet-connected devices, and parental control systems have to keep up.
Before setting up a particular parental control utility, you should make sure that it supports all types of devices in your home. While all of the products in this batch support both Windows and Android, compatibility with macOS and iOS varies. Apple’s Screen Time feature for iOS, iPadOS, and macOS is quite capable and comes with the added benefit of first-party support. Microsoft (Family Safety) and Google (Family Link) both also offer first-party parental control tools. You should consider using this free first-party option before you pay for a third-party solution.
Note that some parental control utilities take advantage of VPN technology, running internet connections through local apps to enable content filtering. You’ll see a VPN icon when the utility is active, but that doesn’t mean the child’s connection is secured by a full-scale virtual private network, or that the device’s IP address is hidden.
Also check that the limit on the number of child profiles or devices won’t be a problem. Large families, for example, will appreciate that Norton Family and Kaspersky Safe Kids work on an unlimited number of devices. Most parental control software operates as a subscription service, so price levels tend to match device limits, although some offer free versions for basic protection on a limited number of devices. If your kids are really smartphone users, check out our collection of mobile parental control apps.
If installing parental control coverage on each of your family’s devices is starting to seem too difficult, consider a network-wide solution, such as Circle Home Plus. This system performs content filtering at the router level, so your settings affect every device on the network. Naturally, you don’t get the same level of granular control and monitoring that you get with local agents on every device, but it’s a much broader solution.
Some kids spend more time on game consoles than on other devices. The parental control services in this overview don’t cover consoles, but we can help you learn how to enable parental controls on game consoles.
Web, Deadline and App Filters
At the very least, a good parental control tool has content filtering features—the ability to block access to websites that fit into categories like hate, violence, and pornography. This type of filtering only really works if it’s browser-independent and works with secure sites (HTTPS). Without HTTPS filtering, smart teens can bypass the system using secure anonymous proxy websites or even uncommon web browsers in some cases. Using a VPN or Tor browser often breaks the strongest protections too. Most also have the option to permanently turn on SafeSearch, though that setting is often limited to Google, Bing, and sometimes YouTube. Your child can circumvent most SafeSearch restrictions by using a privacy-focused search engine like DuckDuckGo. Of course, the most capable solutions also keep detailed logs of your child’s web activity.
Access scheduling is another very common feature. Some services allow parents to set a daily or weekly schedule for device use. Others specifically limit the amount of time your child spends on the internet. Qustodio lets you set time limits on individual mobile and desktop apps. This is especially useful for kids who have a habit of playing games or using social media apps when they have to do homework. The most useful time-based settings apply to all of your child’s devices, so they can’t switch between them to circumvent limits.
Check out our coverage of additional ways to manage your child’s screen time across all of their devices, including options built into individual platforms.
Messaging and Social Media
As kids get older, content filtering may start to seem pointless. At some point, you start to worry more about their interactions with the wider world. Sure, if their friends come in person, you can at least meet them, but what about friends on social media and other contacts your child never mentions? Who are they, and what are your children discussing with them? While some supervision is acceptable, you should still respect your child’s basic right to privacy and encourage open discussion, rather than using parental control software as spyware.
Some services allow you to monitor contacts and messages and monitor potentially dangerous or unsanctioned situations. You can even block new contacts or view message content with some parental control software. Keep in mind that this is especially true for SMS texts; Messaging apps like WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Signal don’t fall under the same scope. Social media tracking can also give you a glimpse of your child’s social life, although many services are now only monitoring Facebook or have stopped monitoring social media entirely.
Parental Control and Video Streaming
You can use parental control software to block access to video streaming apps and sites, as well as limit how much time your child can spend using them. However, if you want to limit what your child can watch on Netflix, Disney+, and other video streaming services, neither of these parental control tools provides that capability. Instead, you need to dive into the settings of each video streaming service.
The parental control capabilities of video streaming services vary widely. Some don’t offer any options for limiting content, while others may just offer a kid-friendly mode that broadly limits the streaming library to content suitable for young children. The best services allow you to set rating limits on individual profiles and prevent your child from switching to unmonitored profiles without a password or PIN.
Notifications and Remote Management
Most children use mobile devices for at least some time, and many access the internet almost exclusively on their phones. Fortunately, many parental control services offer companion apps that let you view your child’s activity, set ground rules, and see notifications when they arrive. Companion apps like this are especially useful for responding to requests for access or time extensions on the go. Otherwise, you manage everything online or locally on your PC, where you have fine control over activity reports and restrictions. Any changes you make should be applied to your children’s devices when they are connected to the internet.
When your child tries to visit a blocked site, makes a post in an unclear language, or violates a rule, the best parental control services send you a notification through the channel of your choice, such as via app, web, email, text, or some combination of these options. .
When you go beyond the basics, parental control systems start to differ, with lots of advanced features to help them stand out from the rest. Among these standout features are YouTube monitoring, geofencing, and remote device lock. Microsoft’s Family Safety app even tracks your teen while they’re driving to encourage better habits on the road. You will also find advanced versions of the standard features. For example, the best content filter doesn’t just use a category database. They analyze page content, filter out profanity, and allow you to add custom keywords and categories that you want to block. We also like the service that supports two-factor authentication for account logins.
Make the right choice for your own family: Check out our full review of these parental control solutions. Some offer free trials, which are worth a try before spending your time and money.
Editor’s Note: We are aware of allegations of Kaspersky’s inappropriate ties to the Russian government. Until we see concrete evidence of these allegations, we will treat them as unproventreat them as unprovenand continues to rate Kaspersky security products based on performance, ease of use and value.