Thinking of installing a parental control app on your kid’s phone? You’re not alone. Plenty of parents use such apps to keep their kids safe online and to provide themselves with some peace of mind. Parental controls aren’t perfect, and in fact, there’s a lot of undesirable content that can slip through parental controls. And tech-savvy teens can easily circumvent many kinds of parental control apps. Nonetheless, a parental control app can be a good addition to a child’s Android phone, particularly if your child is too young to fully understand how to stay safe online.
As Brian X. Chen reports for the New York Times, a good parental control utility, either built into the operating system or added in the form of a downloadable app, should fulfill a variety of functions. It should prevent your child from viewing adult content in the browser, and it should prevent a child from deleting apps that you’ve installed on the phone. It should also monitor for so-called vault apps, and should block excessive in-app purchases. Additionally, it should prevent a child from burning through your data plan.
Chen tested out the parental control capabilities built in to iOS and Android and found that “Apple’s parental controls were detailed and took a while to set up, but they accomplished all of the restrictions that I wanted.” But Android, on the other hand, “was sorely lacking in features for regulating minors and only offered incomplete solutions for a small number of restrictions.” Android can restrict children from downloading apps and content at certain maturity levels. It can also prevent a child from downloading in-app content by requiring authentication for purchases. But it lacks features for blocking adult content in the browser or vetting vault apps, and it can’t disable cellular data use for certain apps.
So if your child has (or wants) an Android phone, what’s the best solution to keep them safe online? Find a good parental control app. Ahead, check out some of the best (and worst) parental control apps for Android. You’ll know which ones are worth the download, and which ones you should skip.
Best parental control apps for Android
Bark detects messages containing cyberbullying, sexting, and signs of depression or suicidal thoughts, and notifies parents when potential issues are detected. The app doesn’t interfere with safe behaviors and uses machine learning to go beyond simply scanning for keywords. It’s not a fully-featured parental control app, but can be a great solution if you want to build trust between you and your child while making sure that you know if something dangerous is happening.
2. ESET Parental Control
ESET Parental Control is a more fully-featured parental control app that takes a comprehensive approach to keeping young kids safe online. It uses age-based filters to manage which apps your child can and cannot access. It also blocks age-inappropriate websites and website categories. You can set time limits for the app and games that your child is allowed to use, and you can check the location of your child’s device or send a message that they must acknowledge before they continue using the device.
Limitly enables you to block apps, set time limits for apps, schedule device use, review which apps your child is using and how often, and prevent your kids from using apps that you haven’t reviewed and approved. It consistently gets good reviews. And it doesn’t hurt that the app is free, and has neither in-app purchases nor other costs.
4. Norton Family
Norton Family is a parental control app that’s consistently rated highly by reviewers and experts. The app enables you to track which sites your kids visit, and set rules for the kinds of websites that are allowed. You’ll see an alert when kids attempt to visit a blocked site, and you’ll also be able to check a map that shows the location of their device. Additionally, you can monitor the YouTube videos that your child is watching, and Norton Family shows you a 90-day history of what your child has been doing on their devices so that you can spot trends and habits.
PhoneSheriff can be used to monitor and block activities on your child’s phone or tablet. You can block phone numbers from calls or messages and set custom time restrictions for the apps on your child’s device. Additionally, you can monitor their text messages, get custom activity alerts, and use real-time location tracking and lock commands. The app is flexible enough to be appropriate for both tweens and teens.
Qustodio helps you understand how your children are using their phones, including apps and the web, so you can set appropriate limits to manage their online experience. Filtering technology automatically protects kids from unsafe content. Qustodio blocks inappropriate content, even in private browsing mode, and enables you to set limits for games and apps or even block specific titles altogether. You can monitor the time your child spends on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or WhatsApp, track messages and calls, and even set multi-device time limits. Further, you can track your child’s location and use the panic button to call for help in an emergency. Premium subscriptions cost $49.95 or $87.95 a year.
ScreenTime is a parental control app that enables you to manage the time your kids spend on their phones by setting a daily time limit on the apps you want to restrict. The app offers flexible controls for apps, enabling you to block social networks but allow educational apps during school hours, or prohibit games but enable reading apps at bedtime. You can temporarily lock all access when you need your kids off their devices, and keep track of the sites they’re visiting and the apps they’re using. You can also get an alert each time your child installs a new app, and opt to block certain apps completely.
TeenSafe enables you to view sent, received, and deleted messages and view logs of incoming and outgoing calls. It also enables you to see the location of your child’s phone, and view Instagram posts, comments, and followers. Additionally, TeenSafe lets you see which apps your child has installed, see search and browsing history, and view your child’s contacts. The app costs $14.95 per month.
Worst parental control apps for Android
OurPact aims to make it easy for parents to set limits on their children’s mobile screen time. You can create schedules, block internet and app use, or reward your kids with the “allowance” feature. But the app has an overwhelming majority of 1-star reviews on the Play Store (some from disgruntled teens, but others from users with bugs and problems to report). Users report problems like the order of their child’s apps being disrupted, or their game progress deleted. The app doesn’t enable you to block specific apps, just all of them at once. Blocking access to settings prevents kids from connecting to Wi-Fi. Additionally, OurPact isn’t a monitoring or filtering tool.
10. Quick Parental Control
Quick Parental Control is a parental control app that aims to protect kids who are using your smartphone or tablet. But it doesn’t offer enough features to really ensure that your kids will be safe online. All the app does is enable you to set an amount of time that your child can use your phone before you hand it over to them. That means that once you give your phone to your child — likely a young child who doesn’t know how to browse safely — there’s nothing protecting them from completing unsafe searches on the web or stumbling upon inappropriate content on YouTube.
StopItKids is another app that has good intentions, but lacks many of the features that would be necessary to really protect your children. The app enables you to see the sites that your child currently has open, block or unblock specific pages and sites, or send a message to your child’s browser. But the app lacks the ability to show you your child’s browsing history. It doesn’t send parents notifications of things like when their kids are online, when they try to access blocked sites, or when they spend too much time online. Additionally, the filtering doesn’t apply to YouTube videos, and some parents report that the app doesn’t work reliably.
12. Witigo Parental Filter
Witigo Parental Filter is another parental control app that has a high number of 1-star reviews in the Google Play Store. The app is based around a secure web browser, with language recognition in 31 languages, content categorization in five languages, smart filtering of 27 content categories, and whitelist overriding. However, multiple users report problems such as random shutdowns, and difficulty deactivating the software. Additionally, the app doesn’t offer the same flexibility in controlling apps as other parental control apps, which may be a drawback for parents of app-addicted kids.